The Man in the Carriage

Below is the piece of flash fiction I submitted in April to the Bridport Prize, an international story competition. I was emailed overnight and advised I didn’t win. I was not shocked at this, though I think this is a good story. The reason for entering was to release some fiction into the world, with the hope that this action would lead me to write more as it gives me pleasure; once I get going. The getting going is the bit I struggle with.

There was no theme to the competition, the only rule being the story had to be under 500 words. I hope you enjoy it. I am still pleased with it, five months later.

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He’s staring at me through mingled legs and torsos from across the crowded carriage. Disapproval is written on his face. I don’t stare back, it’s an aggressive position I don’t want to take, however the need for the occasional furtive glance can’t be resisted. His eyes don’t shift and the fixed, disdainful expression remains.

I just know he loathes my ‘Out and Proud’ t-shirt and the hand-made ‘Fuck the Police’ ‘#blacklivesmatter’ sign clutched nervously between my ripped jeaned knees. I notice we’re both wearing Doc Martens, but there is no subliminal connection, my rainbow laces adding to the litany of complaints I list in my head on his behalf.

He’s old, square, out of place and he knows it. Those shiny enamel poppy and union flag pins on the collar of his Barbour jacket separate him from the rest of us; a joyous, scruffy, mixed mass of BLM supporters.

The wave of discomfort he’s radiating is palpable, I feel it through the bodies packed between us. Right here, right now isn’t where he wants to be, but it’s where he is and his Englishness dictates he won’t get up and leave, he must bear this. He’s carrying this cross for all right-minded Englishmen, for the silenced and marginalised majority; middle-aged, middle weight, middle England. His people, not mine.

The train stops, the clump of bodies thinning as I stand up, shrugging into my jacket, grabbing my sign.

“Come on Dad, let’s go”.

WheresPhil is 10 today.

15 September 2021 – Auckland.

There is some sort of symmetry to being back in Auckland for the tenth anniversary of the creation of the wheresphil blog and its first short post, The Plan. There is also some symmetry with my life as it was 10 years ago in that I am once again in a state of flux, though this time it is a ‘we’ that is in flux rather than an ‘I’, sorry Eleanor. 10 years ago I was about to sell my house and go travelling and now we are back from travelling and are looking for somewhere to live.

Anyway, 10 years. 10 flipping years!!

I genuinely cannot believe I am still writing so long after starting this thing, nor how much I enjoy the writing, particularly over the last 16 months as we have lived through a variety of levels of lockdown. The blog gives me a reason to go out and do things, take photos and go for walks and those things in turn gave me something to write about. Writing this blog for me rather than for the clicks, likes and comments means I am not tied to any specific cycle of posting or any particular subject, I write what I want and when I want. I like that.

I have not really done much with the site over those ten years. Though due to the volume of photos I have imbedded, I was forced to move to a paid-for version of WordPress. This has also meant I can have my own URL ‘wheresphil.org’ rather than the ‘wheresphil.wordpress.com’ address I had for most of those ten years. While I am not working I will have a look at some changes to the pages. Maybe teach myself some WordPress as I go. Maybe.

I very rarely go back and read old posts, other than to link to them as a reference in a new piece. On those rare occasions that I go back I get a little embarrassed about the number of typos, the poor grammar and sometimes garbled sentences. I have been tempted numerous times to just re-write entire posts, though I’ve never done so. However, I’m not above the odd tweak.

Happy birthday blog; you have grown and are doing well, and here is to a few more years. xx

A two hour walk to the supermarket

Thursday 09 September 2021 – Mt Eden, Auckland.

If you read the previous post then you will know how I was feeling this morning when I wrote it, not overly positive. However, the weather is reasonable; there is some sun forecast, so I chose to beat some of the blues and get out for a decent walk and pick up some bits to cook for dinner. Walking was a good idea and I felt much lighter by the time I returned. I had a route in mind that passed the only known piece of brutalist architecture in Auckland, the University of Auckland Medical School, so I packed the big camera just in case.

We are currently looking for somewhere to live for a few months after we leave the ‘modern loft style apartment’ in a couple of weeks. I find looking for accommodation stressful enough as it is, but it is a lot harder in lockdown as we cannot go and see anything.

We found a flat we both liked, which is not a simple thing, and registered with the rental agency. It is in a new build block in Grafton, far enough from the city to be away from the noise, yet close enough to be able to walk to work. It has two bedrooms and we would both have a space we could occupy during the day where I wouldn’t get in the way of Eleanor working, assuming work from home continues to be a thing.

I took a walk by the building again this morning and still liked the look of it. Which turned out to be a bad idea as we were advised late Friday that we didn’t get it as someone was willing to rent it for a year; something we are going to be up against a lot I suspect. Oh well, back to the drawing board at the weekend.

The flat was on the way to the Med School building, the first destination for today, and it turned out to be a major disappointment. It was definitely brutalist, or had been before some sort of modernisation took place. The external fabric of the old part of the building is that classic brutalist concrete, though it doesn’t have many of the harsh angles and features you see on London’s Southbank or Barbican, or maybe they are now covered by the new cladding and extensions? There was some great pipe work though. Along with loads of pre-cast concrete, having some of the usual interior bits as part of the exterior is a classic component of brutalist architecture.

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It was still nice being able to walk around and not have loads of people getting in the way of photos; one of the only benefits of lockdown I guess. It is a shame the building has been extended and re-clad in places, hiding some of its true and brutal nature. I knew I was going to be disappointed by the architecture of Auckland city, and so far I have not been disappointed in my disappointment. To be fair we didn’t return to Auckland for its buildings though.

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It was really nice to find some silver birches at the back of the building, they are lovely trees, though they are considered weeds by many in the UK as they grow so prolifically. Hopefully they will remain scarce and environmentally controlled in New Zealand.

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My onward trip to the supermarket took me through Auckland Domain and past Auckland Museum. The domain is a large park with small formal gardens and the lovely glass winter gardens; reminiscent of the Victorian buildings in London’s Kew Gardens. Alongside the formality of ‘proper’ gardens there are rugby and football fields, which double as summer cricket pitches. It is Auckland’s oldest park and a wonderful inner city green space.

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One of the choices we need to make is where to live, and one of the key components of that decision making is green space and places to walk. Auckland is blessed with lots of green space in and close to the city centre, as well as a harbour within an easy walk from downtown. This makes choosing to live near the city a lot more logical, and also means we can get away without needing a car for a longer period. All we need to do is find the somewhere that will have us on a short term, and one we can afford.

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The supermarket in Newmarket is inside a shopping mall, and it was a strange experience walking though a mall when all the shops, apart from the supermarkets, are closed and there are so few people around. A part of me wishes going to the supermarket was always this pleasant.

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The streets were very quiet as well, also very much to my liking.

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The walk perked me up a bit, a good two hours of strolling and taking photos was good for my soul and I am pleased that I did it today, and pretty much every other day too.

Maungawhau Mt Eden

Monday 06 September 2021 – Mt Eden, Auckland.

It’s Thursday, and three days later, as I write this and I’m bored (“I’m the chairman of the bored”, as Iggy once sung). I’m bored and frustrated and sick of lockdown and sick of being in a small flat with occasionally noisy neighbours. I feel like I cannot do anything or go anywhere; though obviously I can walk, but I am a bit bored with that too. Eleanor is working from home and I imagine she is getting bored with me moping around the place while she is trying to focus on work. I don’t envy her putting up with me. The heavy rain and wind yesterday did little to help my trapped feeling, though I did get out for a decent and spirit cleansing walk to the Domain and down into Newmarket this morning. I will write about that in the next couple of days, editing photos and writing these posts gives me something to do.

Back to Monday…

We moved from my sisters to an Air B n B we arranged back in April in Mt Eden on Saturday, so there are new streets to roam. We roamed a little at the weekend, though mainly to buy food and supplies for the flat. We are here for three weeks and I have concerns on the length of time we have left. I/we liked the flat, though it is not great as a work from home base, and the neighbours can be noisy. I am not a fan of noisy. 

As Eleanor settled into her working day I got out of her way and went for a longer roam taking in the cone of Maungawhau / Mt Eden and the posh supermarket on Dominion Road. It was a nice walk and I am really glad I took some water with me (I often forget) as it got quite warm during the two hours I was out.

Since I left New Zealand 10 years ago the use of the Maori word for things, particularly places, has proliferated, with signs all over Auckland in both te reo Maori (te reo = the language) and English. This is a good thing and I will try to use both the Maori and English names where I can. 

At 196 metres Maungawhau is the tallest of the 14 volcanic cones in Tamaki Makarau / Auckland, there are two cones on the hill and it is thought they last erupted around 28,000 years ago. The mountain was heavily used by Maori pre-colonisation and you can clearly see some of the defensive terracing and food storage pits, similar to those found at the Iron Age Loughton Camp in Epping Forest near where we lived in London.

A lot of the mountain was damaged during quarrying and the construction of a reservoir as well as the roads built to service those and take visitors to the top. There is a great 360 degree view of Auckland from the peak.

Maungawhau is a ten minute walk from the flat and I took the big camera with me for the walk. As well as being useful for taking photos, having a few extra kilos in a pack on a walk contributes a little to losing a few extra kilos of body. Something I need to do.

I took a few photos…

The central part of Auckland city, you can just see the building that houses the flat we are in, it is about a centimetre to the left of the base of the yellow crane at the bottom left of the photo.

We have taken a few walks around the area and have decided that we quite like the city fringe and are looking here for somewhere to live more long term. It would allow Eleanor to walk to work, and offers a range of walks as well as loads of cafes and restaurants; assuming they re-open. It is a bit more interesting than a purely residential area, and will be much less manic than the centre.

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The view over the west, where I used to live in Green Bay and over to my beloved Waitakere ranges, along with a vary tasty looking localised shower!

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I took a few photos of trees, as you would expect.

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I walked up to the trig on the peak, there were a few people on the top, most were masked up, which was good to see. The crater is about 50 metres deep and people are not allowed to enter it as it a site sacred to Maori.

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There is now a boardwalk around the crater and I walked round to the far side which has the view towards the city centre. I passed a couple of the ancient Maori food pits on the way. Like the ones at Loughton Camp, these do not look much, just grassed over holes in the ground, but they are an important connection to the history and heritage of Aotearoa / New Zealand.

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Auckland City.

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I took a small side path to a lower area of the hill, which was flat and I am guessing is a roof over the reservoir. There were these entrance hatches into the ground, something that always fascinates me. I am wondering if there is some sort of (not so) secret bunker under here and the authorities just tell everyone it is full of our drinking water so we keep away. I would love to look under one of those hatches, apparently they are monitored. Keeping the secrets.

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I love how this pohutakawa tree is growing sideways, I am guessing it was blown down in a storm and has just carried on the fight for survival.

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I found another side path to wander down that took me to Mt Eden village. I liked the handmade nature of the sign where the path ended and the road began, a change from all the plastic signs stuck all over the place.

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I walked for another hour, a loop down to Dominion Rd where I grabbed a few things for dinner before walking back home. I was a bit frustrated at the supermarket, with its large car park full of cars, yet there was nowhere for a person on foot to sit and rest, even the curbs were too low for comfortable sitting. It is just not good enough for a huge profitable corporate to not provide any facilities for pedestrians, just loads of space for bloody cars. No wonder so few people walk in this city.

The Modern Loft Style Apartment

Monday 06 September – Mt Eden, Auckland.

It’s 6:35 and Eleanor has gone for a pre-work stroll, but I’m still in bed. I might have dozed off for a few minutes after she left as I’m drifting between dream and lucid thought as the building starts to wake. At first I’m not sure if the noises are real or just the dying elements of an already forgotten dream. Daylight is filtered into the room through and around heavy red drapes that are two storys high. Shapes and sounds are fuzzy and not yet familiar; it is our second morning in this space.

From silence I hear the rush of water, I immediately think it is raining out and hope Eleanor has a coat, on closer listen and I realise the sound is coming from somewhere on the inside of the building. It is not any of our neighbours showers, it seems to come from deeper in the fabric, past our front door; seemingly coming from above and below simultaneously.

There is a loud metallic thud from somewhere in the walls, immediately followed by another, I listen intently but there are no further repeats, only that sound of rushing water. A loud ting follows a few minutes later, like an old water-filled radiator heating up, ting, ting, ting. There are no radiators, or anything else in the ‘loft style apartment’ ™ that could make that noise. I wonder where it is coming from. Every sound seems to echo more than is natural, this building is all square edges and concrete, sound is not absorbed; maybe it travels with the water through the pipes, only to appear for ears that are awake to hear it. There is a creak, gentle yet grinding, humming away in the background, competing with the water for my attention. I can only focus on one at a time, allowing the other to fade until the focus swaps.

Just before Eleanor returns 40 minutes after departing, the building is fully awake, and I start to hear the noises of people moving about; doors banging and footsteps of neighbours on the sheet iron stairs; identifiable and placeable sounds. The underground noises of the building stretching into its day fade away. I lie here for five more minutes and wonder if this 1930s warehouse now converted into ‘loft style apartments’ ™ wakes itself from memory, shaking and stretching a long lost limb before realising its glory days are gone and rolling back over to sleep some more. Much as I want to do.

We moved into the ‘loft style apartment’ ™ in Mt Eden on Saturday and are here for three weeks. Before moving in we contemplated extending the stay, and while the apartment is nice enough there is only one space (due to it being a ‘loft style apartment’ ™), which is impractical for both of us, especially with Eleanor working from home during the day.

The place was advertised as a ‘loft style apartment’ which we find rather amusing as it is on the ground floor, and the floor is probably just below street level. I guess they want some of that edgy New York feel, most of the flats in the building seem to have been advertised for sale using similar wording. I tried to find some information on the history of the building, but there is very little. It appears to have been built in the 1930s and was converted into flats in the 90s. I found reference to it once being a warehouse for the Farmers Trading Co. which would be ironic as we may move to a flat in the old Farmers department store building when we leave here.

The building doesn’t excite from the outside, and the common areas are a bit dark and bleak, verging on the shabby.

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The interior is OK; all white paint, concrete and light wood. it has been decorated in a slightly edgy New York style loft theme as well. I love the acoustic guitar, de rigueur in all the best rentals in 2021. It will remain unplayed during our stay, though I should not be speaking for Eleanor here so perhaps it will have its strings caressed. 

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The view out those huge windows is of a construction site, which may be in keeping with the broader theme, though I suspect that is purely coincidental.

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With just one open-plan space, other than the modern and dark bathroom, it would be perfect for one person. Sadly, however, we are two persons so we will move on.

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Pah Homestead and some big trees

Thursday 02 September – Auckland.

Flippen ‘eck, how can it be September already? Last time I looked it was only August!

For a year that has really dragged, the last 12 months have disappeared way too fast. Perhaps it is due to the exceedingly rapid approach of my 59th birthday, which, by my reckoning, is only one year short of 60 and then I will be proper old. If we are back in Blighty by then I will be eligible for free public transport in London, a sure sign of old age. Though knowing those bastard Tories they will change the rules just before its my turn and make it 61, then 62 etc. Maybe not having a free bus pass will keep me young?

Eleanor and I have been in Auckland for a month and two days, with only three of those days not spent in either managed isolation or New Zealand’s quite strict level 4 lockdown. We are expecting to be in some form of lockdown until October. Our timing wasn’t the best; maybe instead I should blame Covid and say it’s timing wasn’t the best?

Eleanor started her New Zealand contract on Monday, a job she managed to arrange from England (well done Lovely, x). I’ve been looking for work, though the lockdown has made that more complex. With Eleanor working and things being so expensive, me taking on a contract makes sense, it’s not as if we can bugger off on an extended road trip. Though I’ve been off work for just over a month and I feel partly rested, I haven’t had anything that remotely resembles what I would call a holiday. Some may say lounging around in a hotel room getting room service and reading books sounds like a holiday, but anyone who has read this blog for the last few years would know I like to do stuff on holiday, lots of stuff. Too much stuff usually.

I’ve been out walking for a couple of hours every day since my negative Covid test, even if one of those days was just to the supermarket (the long way) to get provisions. Spring officially started yesterday, though we didn’t experience an Auckland winter. It never got properly cold, though it hammered with rain on Monday night and there was some severe flooding in parts of Auckland, but not where we are thankfully. Unusual floods, another thing we seemed to have brought from London with us.

On Monday I took the camera for a walk down through Onehunga. I have started a series of photos of the old wooden churches and halls that dot the cities and countryside.

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Across the Manukau Harbour via this walk/cycle way that has been tacked on under the motorway bridge, to Mangere Bridge.

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There was nothing interesting on the far side (the grass was the same green), so I took a photo under the bridge and walked back. I had visions of walking to the stone fields, but they were further away than I thought, and I am lazy and was dressed in too many layers and needed a pee and all the toilets are closed due Covid. It was a listless walk, a walk for the sake of walking is not one of my favourite things. At least when we move to level three lockdown I can hunt for a coffee.

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On Wednesday I walked back to the harbour at Onehunga, and to a new walkway that has been built around the shoreline towards Waikowhai. I read somewhere ages ago that there was a plan to make a walkway right round this part of the coast and after spotting this on a previous walk I thought I would go and check it out when I next had the chance. I have lots of chance right now. I took a few photos, most of which were rubbish. The walkway is great!

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I passed this (I think) school building from 1920. It says ‘19 BOYS 20’ over the door it. Next door is the complimentary GIRLS building. They have been converted into houses and I think they are lovely. I took this on my phone.

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I also passed this very sad mini buried in a hedge on a quiet residential street and I wonder how long its been there? Decades possibly. I had a quite laugh to myself that someone had dumped a shopping trolley there as well.

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Today (Thursday) was glorious. Sunny and warm and the perfect day to go back to Monte Cecilia Park and take some photos of the Morton Bay Fig trees, then home via the supermarket to get more pinot; both noir and gris. Nice pinots are so cheap here compared to the UK and it is all I have been drinking since we arrived (he says while drinking a can of APA), though we are now on restricted Thursday-Saturday drinking to try and reduce any further belly expansion.

On Monday the legendary reggae/dub producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry died in Jamaica at the ripe old age of 85. After years of just dabbling with listening to dub I have been listening to and enjoying a lot of it over the past 18 months. His music was the perfect accompaniment to a walk under new spring sun. R.I.P The Upsetter.

Pah homestead was built by James Williamson (not the Stooges guitarist) in 1879 as a ‘gentleman’s residence’. It was the largest house in Auckland when it was completed. Monte Cecilia Park surrounds the building and is all that remains of the large original grounds, there are a large number of trees from the original grounds, including the oldest Morton Bay Figs in Auckland. It is a great residential park and it was nice to see there were a lot of people walking; both their dogs and their kids. Park walking in New Zealand means saying hello/good morning/gidday to lots of people which is fabulous and made more difficult with masks, and in my case headphones on.

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After a year of renovation the house was opened to the public as an arts centre and cafe in 2010, and is run by the council who took over the property in 2002. Prior to the council owning it the building had been used as a homeless shelter, migrant housing and nunnery since 1913 when the Sisters of Mercy (not the band) bought the house from the bank. It is closed at the moment.

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I spent an hour or so wandering the park taking photos of the Morton Bay Figs, they are just so magnificent and I have not really done their size and complexity and wonderful, amazing root systems the justice they deserve. Trees can be difficult to take photos of, especially when the sun is bright and the shadows deep.

I love how those huge roots look like the back of a massive great eel or some mythological worm rising and descending back into the earth.

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On Saturday we move out of my sisters’ place and into an Air BnB at the Eden Terrace end of Mt Eden for at least three weeks. It has been great staying here after coming out of MIQ, especially with Covid restrictions meaning we cannot see other people.  It gave us the chance to settle into Auckland, get some basic things organised and for Eleanor to start working from home, without having to worry about too much. Thanks sister of mine xx

I will miss our day time friend, and I think she will miss us next week when my sister is at work and their is no-one to provide daytime tummy rubs.

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Lockdown life

Friday 27 August 2021 – Auckland.

We have been out of managed isolation for 13 days, three of which we had the freedom to do what we wanted. However, the last ten have been in a Covid-19 enforced lockdown, and due to the continuing growth in infections, particularly here in Auckland, we have at least two more weeks of lockdown to look forward to. I suspect we won’t see a full relaxation of rules (i.e. I can go to a gig and drink beer) until October at the earliest.

The level 4 lockdown in NZ is as strict as the first lockdown we had in London, far stricter than the last two or three (I have lost count) we were subjected to in the UK before we left. In this lockdown we are allowed out of the house to exercise, to shop for food or medicine, to go for a Covid test or vaccination or to work if you are an essential worker. You cannot go out at all if you are showing symptoms or are a contact of anyone unfortunate enough to get infected. Exercise can only be done within 5km of home and the only shops open are chemists, supermarkets and dairies; what most of the world calls a convenience store. You can buy beer and wine in a supermarket, but not spirits. I want a brandy as my spirits, in both senses of the word, are low. I have no brandy, so a bath with book, brandy and music is out. There is no point in having a bath without brandy.

The last week has not been one of the best, I had a head cold; the first since I don’t know when. Cold symptoms are similar to the Delta variant of Covid so I went for a Covid test on day two of not feeling well, which was Tuesday. Though I was very confident that I didn’t have Covid, between having a test and getting a negative result you are not allowed to leave the house. I didn’t get the result until Thursday evening which was earlier than expected and of course nor having Covid was a great relief. The sister of mine that Eleanor and I are staying with works in the hospital and has been going into work, partly for her sanity and partly to give us some space, if I had Covid then she would be grounded along with us. No fun for anyone.

I have done well with the various lockdowns, albeit the last few weeks in the UK were at such a low level that being called a lockdown was pretty embarrassing for proper lockdowns. However this time I am struggling and have been up and down all week. Even though we kinda knew this was coming it came as a bit of a surprise. We both thought we would be settled somewhere before the inevitable arrival of Delta and could huddle down together as we are so used to doing. Having the first head cold in months didn’t help, especially with the initial uncertainty that I could have had Covid and all that that entails.

I am not enjoying being restricted in what I/we can do. I was looking forward to getting out to the bush and the west coast beaches; Piha and Karekare and up to Muriwai, where dad’s ashes were scattered 14 years ago. There is plenty of time to visit those places, but they are where I am happy and not knowing when I can walk on the sand or in the trees or see my mum and son and grandson again nor meet up with friends for the first time in a couple of years is somewhat depressing. I am not even thinking about the record shopping or gigs that are not happening.

I am a good reader, I am well into my eighth book since we arrived, I love books and am content lying around with music on and a book in my hand; but not all day every day. I want to do things, and I can’t. Admittedly if I was able to do things I might choose to sit around reading a book and not do anything at all, at least then it would be my choice.

I am not blaming the government (unusually) or anyone for this predicament we find ourselves in, it is what it is. I am just bored, getting fat (I know I can easily help that) and am worrying a little about money as New Zealand is SO expensive. Eleanor starts a contract on Monday which will help, but crikey we are burning through cash and that is just (mostly) buying food basics in the supermarket, fresh vegetables are not cheap. I never worry about money, so this is unusual. I guess it is all about not being in control at the moment. 

Moan over and I feel much better; thanks for listening, it was good to get it off my chest.

Last Saturday Eleanor and I walked down to the old two-lane bridge across the Manukau Harbour between Onehunga and Mangere. When I started work at Auckland Airport 40 years ago this was the way we went to work until the current motorway bridge was opened after years of delay in 1983. I was hoping to be able to walk to the middle of the old bridge, or all the way across to Mangere Bridge Township to take some photos, however the old bridge is now being broken up and a new pedestrian/cycling crossing is to be built. This was somewhat disappointing. Oh well, change is good and at least we got a decent walk in.

I know we went to the bridge on Saturday due to the time stamp on the photo, I would not have had a clue what day it was otherwise. The days are now blurring together somewhat. It is like being in managed isolation again but without three meals a day delivered to the door, though with longer walks. Being sick I didn’t do much else during the week other than read, cook and eat.

I was feeling a lot perkier on Friday and having been found Covid free the night before Eleanor and I went back up to Maungakeikei One tree Hill/Cornwall Park for another walk, and this time we went to the top. I puffed and huffed a bit on the way up, taking a photo is a welcome excuse to stop.

As you would expect the view from the top was pretty spectacular, though I didn’t really capture it that well. The cheap second hand 50ml lens is not very sharp so I may have to replace it with another one when money comes rolling back in again.

The money for the obelisk was bequeathed by Sir John Logan Campbell to honour the Maori people of the area, though it was built in 1940, 28 years after his death.

New Zealand is dominated by green, most New Zealand native trees are evergreen but there is a surprising variety of colour and shade across the various species. Viewed from above and mixed with a few European imports the patches of trees are beautiful.

Back in Cornwall Park I introduced Eleanor to the Morton Bay Fig tree which she says is now her favourite non-English tree, they are massive and magnificent and there will be more photos of them here soon, the ones I took today did not do them justice. These are not Morton Bay Figs, and I don’t know what they are, yet. My tree education is going to start now.

It was very enjoyable being out and getting to stretch the legs and I plan on doing a lot more of it over the coming week.

Cornwall Park Olive Grove

Thursday 19 August – Auckland.

I didn’t realise how much I loved trees until I started going to Epping Forest which was near where we lived in London. I started going there on my mountain bike but eventually took to taking slow walks with my camera. Not knowing how much I loved trees until going to London seems odd as I grew up in New Zealand and spent a lot of time running and riding around in forests. I guess all that moving about reduced the amount of standing and staring and just taking time to enjoy what surrounded me, namely trees. Lots and lots of trees.

I have taken photos in the olive grove in Cornwall Park in the past, and was looking forward to going back there when my sister invited us to stay once we arrived in Auckland and out of managed isolation. Cornwall Park is a great green space that mostly surrounds the more well known One Tree Hill, and my sister’s house is a ten minute walk away. Having the park so close has been a real boon now that we are in back into lockdown. When Eleanor and I walked in the park yesterday afternoon I decided to come back on my own and just spend some time walking around the olive trees and taking some photos.

The outing this afternoon was a positive lift after this morning when I had to cancel the small road trip to Napier we had planned for next week, our only planned break before Eleanor starts work on the 30th. This was the second holiday we have cancelled due to Covid outbreaks, and I am hoping it will be the last. At least all the bookings had free cancellation policies this time.

There are a range of tree species in the park, and I don’t recall the small kauri groves, but then I wasn’t interested in trees before I left for the UK 10 years ago. Kauri, particularly in Auckland, is very much an endangered species due to a long running fungus outbreak. The three small groves I found today were all roped off to prevent humans, dogs and the parks mammalian residents from walking over the roots. I didn’t cross the rope, though the ‘up’ photo suggests I did. I am a little more obedient than I used to be. These are quite young trees, kauri number among some of New Zealand’s oldest trees, Tane Mahuta is regarded as the oldest tree in the country at over 1250 years.

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There are also a number of Morton Bay Fig trees with their amazing root systems, I love these trees too. The variety of tree in this park is so broad and there will be at least one more tree-based photography visit in the next couple of weeks. I think this is the only positive to lockdown, though not spending any money unnecessarily maybe another, there aren’t that many.

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I have not been able to find much information regarding the olive trees, information on the internet is sparse. Cornwall Park was gifted to the people of Auckland in 1901 by Sir John Logan Campbell, who bought the land in 1853. After a visit to Italy Sir John organised the planting of 5000 olive trees in the park in the 1860s as part of an effort to introduce a winery. The olive trees came from South Australia and didn’t take to the soil and growing conditions in Auckland and failed to fruit economically. There are around 200 olive trees left and I love them. They are some of the oldest trees growing in the park, and the good news is that younger trees are growing too, so these sparse, twisty lovely trees will be there for generations to come.

I spent most of this visit in the olive grove and took a number of photos, most of which I was pleased with, a fairly rare event.

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It was good to see a number of newer trees growing to ensure the future of this part of the park. They are all fenced off as cattle and sheep roam this section of the park. I was careful to avoid the cow ‘land mines’ that litter the pathways  as I walked. Smile

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Three days of freedom

Wednesday 18 August 2021 – Auckland.

In some way it was inevitable, at least it didn’t come as any great surprise to us, though of course we’re very disappointed to be placed into lockdown just three days after coming out of the managed isolation hotel. As most everyone knows (and some have laughed at) the Delta variant of Covid-19 was identified in the community on Tuesday and the New Zealand government locked the country down later that night.

Though this was very frustrating as we have just come out of isolation after 16 months of mostly being locked down in the UK, I agree with what the government have done. There was some vindication of this action when nine more cases were discovered the following day as close contacts started getting tested. At least we are out of the hotel.

I expect that until the health services understand exactly how the infection got into the country then anyone in managed isolation will be confined to the room 24 hours a day. We are now staying with my sister near One Tree Hill in Auckland. Having such a large and diverse park like Cornwall Park, which contains the hill, nearby is very fortunate as it means we have a destination to walk to; and I have somewhere to take photos.

We left the managed isolation hotel at the pre-arranged time on Saturday, and it was all very smooth. I was impressed with how things worked in the hotel;  everything was friendly and efficient. Admittedly we are very low maintenance, understanding and compliant. The time passed reasonably quickly, and we were both surprised when Saturday rolled around. It didn’t take us long to pack and be ready and waiting to leave. We spent the entire morning watching Salvage Hunters, a series we have never watched before, will likely never watch again, though thoroughly enjoyed.

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We were picked up my son and grandson and delivered to my sister’s house where mum joined us all for lunch. It was strange giving everyone a hug, though I am a bit more used to it now, at least when it comes to mum. We were gagging for a walk that was more than walking round in circles in a car park so we were more than happy to be able to go to the park for a leg stretch after lunch. I didn’t take the camera, though I took a couple of photos on my phone.

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On Sunday my sister drove Eleanor and I, and her small (cute) Maltese dog, Millie, for a walk along Tamaki Drive. Mission Bay to St Heliers and back. I very much enjoyed being by the sea again as well as getting another decent walk in. Perhaps some of this excess belly will work off over the next week? When I see Rangitoto Island I know I am back in Auckland, it is one of my favourite natural landmarks anywhere in the world.

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Monday was a non-day really, Eleanor and my sister went into the city to do a few tasks and I stayed at home to do the same, but online. I also finished another book.  Though we have been in NZ for two weeks now I am still suffering from jet lag and can barely get through the day without wanting to, or having, a nap. Being stuck in MIQ meant we only partly adjusted to life in a different time zone. I expect we will catch up with ourselves fairly quickly now.

Tuesday saw us taking a morning shopping trip to Newmarket. I had downloaded the NZ Covid Tracer application to my phone; something I did not do in the UK; my trust of the New Zealand Government is slightly higher. We caught the bus to Newmarket so I did my first ever ‘scan in’. It is still mandatory in NZ to wear a mask on public transport, the only location with any form of mask rule. Most people were compliant on both bus journeys today, though anecdotally I know this is not always the case.

We had a brief explore of the shopping opportunities, which were significantly improved on last time we were here; Eleanor bought a couple of items. We shipped three box loads of stuff from the UK a few weeks ago and they were due to arrive while we in the isolation hotel. They are now not due to arrive until mid-September which is deeply frustrating; for instance, I have no proper winter jumpers. I was planning on buying something when we visit a discount mall tomorrow, so now regret not buying anything in Newmarket.

We had lunch with mum and my sister in a cafe in the new mall. It was good seeing mum again. Soon after we got home we caught the news on social media that a Covid case had been detected in Auckland. The news that night brought us the expected result; complete lockdown, minimum three days for most of New Zealand and one week for Auckland and Coromandel township, the locations where the infected person had been. Oh well, we had three days where we could do what we wanted to do and completely mask free. I wish we had done a bit more to be honest, at least visiting a restaurant or pub would have been nice.

Today we had planned on more shopping, I was going to buy the aforementioned jumper as well as stick my nose into a few charity shops to check out the vinyl offerings. Lockdown put paid to that so we just did a couple of walks. Eleanor and I walked up to One Tree Hill park and I took some photos. I will go back tomorrow on my own and take some more. I like it there.

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I have photographed the olive trees in Cornwall Park a few times over the years, not as often as I would have liked I guess, so these will be the focus of my visit tomorrow. They look fabulous and I am glad they are still thriving  in the cold of Auckland.

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I passed this, what looks to be abandoned, villa on the way. I was tempted to sneak a look, but who knows…

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We will follow the news over the next few days, the NZ PM Jacinda Adern leads a press conference each day where she updates the nation on what is happening regarding the Covid outbreak. These are excellent events, she speaks very clearly and the information imparted is detailed enough and I feel informed about what is going on. The contrast with the UK is marked. I know who I would much rather have as my leader, and it is not BoJo. Hopefully the next few days will bring positive news and we can get out and about sooner rather than later. Sadly, I suspect my hopes are going to get dashed.

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New Zealand. Managed Isolation, Day 13

Friday 13 August 2021 – Auckland.

Quarantine, Day 11, Wednesday.

The room here in Rydges (eighth floor, northwest corner) is pretty quiet, most of the time it sounds and feels like we are the hotel’s only residents. We know there are neighbours and people on the opposite side of the corridor, we have seen them, though we never hear them. I am assuming they do not hear us either.

As our days are not exactly filled with activity we have become excited by the routine of room-service delivered meals and my (our?) ears are tuned to the sound of room service working their way up the corridor to our room, the furthest from the lift. I can hear the gentle knock and the accompanying call of ‘room service’ mixed with the rustle of the paper bags the food is delivered in from quite a few rooms away. The Pavlovian response is to start to move towards the door, unhook and fit the mask and wait to call ‘Thanks’ when our door is knocked. I am waiting for this as I type, it is approaching lunch time.

I am not sure what I would do if we heard the knock coming and it didn’t arrive on our door.

After saying our room is quiet, I found the street noise really loud last night and had trouble getting to sleep, this is the first time it has bothered me and I hope it will be the last.

I had a solo walk this morning, Eleanor wasn’t feeling it, so I went down to the forecourt on my own. I was on my own for the first 15 minutes. It was great, I walked in a figure of 8 rather than round and round. One takes excitement where one can.

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The rest of the day was the same as every other day though with added bad day-time telly; reading, music, writing and eating.

Quarantine, Day 12, Thursday.

When I woke this morning and was still in that mild brain-fog stage before full consciousness (pre-coffee) I was unclear if it was Thursday or Friday and whether we had one or two more days to go. This confusion was only cleared when I checked the day on my phone. Time is starting blur, though I am surprised it took so long for that to happen.

Today is day 12 testing and there are some hotel departures this morning, a schedule was left by the lift doors. This means that the forecourt and ramp are closed to exercise for quite some time. I didn’t get to repeat my solo walk on the forecourt this morning which was a shame.

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We got called for our final Covid test, the much anticipated day 12 test mid-morning. It was good to get it out of the way. The result from this test will determine whether we get to leave on Saturday or not and I am assuming it will be negative and we’ll be good to go. The test isn’t too painful, a swab up the nose and a good wriggle around for a few seconds, it is irritating more than painful and I always need to sneeze after. The results will be with us before we are let out.

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We had our final roof walk at 1:30 which I much appreciated, the roof is the best place to walk and we are only allowed a walk there every second day. We took some selfies, hopefully the last ever masked-up selfie we will take. Sadly I suspect this will not be the case, there feels like an inevitability that the Delta Variant will make it’s way into New Zealand somehow. I just hope we get some ‘freedom’ time beforehand.

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I found a photo of us that I (shakily) took just before we left my flat before the move to London. I miss my flat. We were a lot thinner then, and it was only June!

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I finished reading another book today, the third I have read in isolation. A novella by J.G. Ballard that is providing some ‘inspiration’ for the short story I have started working on. We have also started watching the first series of ‘My life is Murder’, a light touch detective series set in Melbourne and starring NZer Lucy Lawless (Xena the Warrior Princess), the second series is set in Auckland and has just started on  ‘normal’ TV. It is enjoyable and light and perfect isolation watching.

I have been annoying Eleanor by asking to take photos of her as I am bored, eventually eliciting this response. Oh, well it kept us (me) entertained for a while.

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I was experimenting with some movement shots and I think she got a bit sick of shaking her head rapidly.  I fully understand, I would be the same!

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I went back to taking photos out of the window as the sun went down, it seemed less likely to respond with two fingers.

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Quarantine, Day 13, Friday.

Yay, the penultimate day. One more sleep and we are out of here!

Its mid-evening and I really cannot recall much about the day, it has all been a bit of a blur. There was no outside walking today as there are lots of people departing the hotel, apparently there has been a Covid positive guest who was moved out today as well.

This was not good timing for us as I received my negative test result about 10:30 and Eleanor didn’t get hers until after 4, and that was after ringing three times. It was a very stressful wait, though I was certain it would be negative, which is was. Though having to wait so long was quite unfair.

I finished the Hawkwind book this morning, isolation read number four. It is safe to say I am happy that I managed to get through quite a bit of reading in this very dead 14 days.

We watched TV, ate the required amount of way too much and shared a bottle of pinot gris. I took one final photo out the big window. We had some interesting sunsets, but nothing truly spectacular. Those will come tomorrow when we are gone.

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Tomorrow we leave and I might write up my thoughts on the two weeks. I will see how busy things get. I am not going to miss the room (obviously), but it has been OK and we have survived the two weeks in isolation relationship intact. There is no-one else I would want to be stuck in a hotel room, or anywhere else with.

Roll on seeing family, (awkward) hugs and a big walk outside tomorrow.