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.

New Zealand. Managed Isolation, Day 10

Quarantine, Day 8, Sunday.

Phew, made it over the hump of half way, sanity intact. I think. Eleanor may have a different view.

We managed to get out for a 30 minute walk first thing(ish), before breakfast or coffee at least. The only reason we made it out before coffee was because we didn’t have any left, and we had misread the opening time on the hotel coffee shop info sheet and thought it closed. As we walked we observed the barista through the café window busily making coffee so I double-checked once we were back in the room and ordered an immediate flat white fix. This was the first coffee we have ordered and it was very enjoyable too, as was breakfast. 

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Our supermarket order arrived not long after breakfast so life will return to normal tomorrow as we now have more ground coffee for the pot. Coffee is an important part of the day. I know I should give it up as caffeine is really bad, one day…

The afternoon walk on the roof was cancelled due to the terrible weather.

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I am actually enjoying the rain and the relative coolness that comes with it. The room gets quite warm and stuffy when the sun is on the big window. To replace the walk exercise we ordered new bedding and spent 10 minutes changing the bed, trying to give it a hotel quality finish. This is more difficult than it sounds, so my respect for hotel staff has gone up another notch.

On the subject of hotel staff… The staff here at Rydges; hotel, defence force, aviation security and others, have been magnificent, always cheerful, helpful and friendly. We have hada lot more interaction with the various teams than you do in a normal hotel, it is very well organised and I absolutely appreciate the work they do and the cheery way they go about it. Other than each other they are the only people we have had actual contact with so far.

We started watching Starsky and Hutch, from the first series made in 1974. It is surprisingly not terrible and I imagine we will watch more episodes.

Quarantine, Day 9, Monday.

Not a lot of sleep was had last night. A pre-season friendly football match between my team, Arsenal and Eleanor’s, Tottenham Hotspur was on at 1:00am and we ‘got up’ to watch it. We have been together for eight years, and the North London Derby, as this game is known as, happens at least twice a year, sometimes more if we meet in cup competitions. This is only the second time we have watched it together. Our clubs have a bitter rivalry going back to 1913, when Arsenal moved from their original base in Woolwich, south London to Islington in the north. The rivalry does sometimes come across in our supporting and it has been agreed that it is best to not watch this game together; in normal circumstances. Anyway it was a stupid game and not worth waking up for, Arsenal lost.

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I didn’t really sleep properly after the game and was tired all day, fortunately other than a 9:15 roof walk we had nothing else planned…

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We managed to stick to that plan and did nothing else all day, though I did start to scratch out some idea for the short story I wanted to start in MIQ and have failed to do so. It was a fairly listless day.

Quarantine, Day 10, Tuesday.

Four more sleeps.

I spent the first waking hours of this morning, that horrible time when I wake between 2 and 3am and don’t drift back to sleep until after 5, thinking about what things will be like when we get out into the real world.

I am a little apprehensive of this, particularly what (if anything) people expect of me/us. I am of the impression that a lot of people in New Zealand don’t get what it has been like living in a Covid world for the past 15 months. For instance, apart from the occasional elbow bump, the individuals who delivered my two vaccinations and the occasional brush of fingers as I passed a glass or a plate to a friend on those rare occasions we socialised (within the rules of course), I have not touched anyone other than Eleanor since March 2020. There has been no shaking of hands, nor mwah mwah kiss on the cheek or hug goodbye. I am socially awkward at the best of times, and I am not sure how to respond once we can see friends and family in an environment with no restrictions, or any need to have restrictions. It is going to be uncomfortable and I am hoping that people will accept that I/we need time to adjust. An for God’s sake please don’t stand too close to me in a queue.

This world is very different to the one we have just left and I might have to take public transport just to be in the same space as other people wearing masks.

Over the weekend we chose our menu for this week and have drastically reduced the amount of food we are given each day. There is still too much given the low number of calories we are burning, but the volume is less than last week. Today was the only day this week I asked for a cooked breakfast; it was poached egg on corn fritter day and that was my most enjoyed breakfast from last week.

After breakfast we secured a walk in the forecourt. I was surprised by this as it was 9:30 and I thought our chance of getting an un-booked and immediate walk would be low. There was  another couple out and we talked to them for most of the walk and it was very enjoyable, the first time we have properly conversed with people since we arrived. It helped that it is a nice, though cool day.

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It was interesting to see how many uncollected breakfasts were outside other doors on our floor as we walked back to the room. I think that now we are three days into week two some people are just spending more time in bed; for most there is no real need to get up, it’s not as if you can do anything. This may explain why we managed to get a walk in at the first call.

I am still tired, though a lot perkier today, I even spent some time writing as well as reading and perusing social media. Today did not feel like a total waste.

I have not been taking many photos, hence the lack of images in this post. I was hoping to take at least one photo each day, though have barely been able to achieve that. The view has gotten kind of boring and I am lacking in imagination. Maybe tomorrow I will try harder, one of my goals for this time in isolation was to come up with some photography ideas for our time in New Zealand. Writing and taking photos, maybe that was one creative goal too may for isolation. I had forgotten about how bad jet-lag impacts me.

Unless something unexpectedly exciting happens then this day is done. So it is time to click that publish button.

New Zealand. Managed Isolation, Day 7

Saturday 7 August 2021 – Auckland.

Quarantine, Day 4, Wednesday.

The days seem to be moving fairly quickly. So far so good.

Last night I booked an 8:00am walk on the ‘ramp’, a short ramp down into the basement car park below the hotel. We can only walk on the ramp, no deviating into the car park, no walking too close to the street. An airforce person stands there, masked up, watching us. It is only us on the ramp, one bubble at a time. No running.

Most of the time I don’t feel like we are being detained, so get annoyed with people on the MIQ BookFace group we belong to who moan about being in prison. However, being watched by someone in a uniform and a mask does make the situation somewhat prison-like. The BookFace group has been useful and it was where I found out about bringing useful things like sticky hooks for the room, or getting someone to drop off crockery and cutlery. However, I will leave it once we leave isolation and I have it muted now. There is a lot of moaning and there are far too many stupid questions. My tolerance for stupid is notoriously low.

The walk was nice, no roof above us, and as Eleanor pointed out, it was the first time in a week we have walked somewhere that was not dead flat. We have a nice view of the back of Auckland District Court.

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The rest of the day passed in a blur of typing, reading, eating, drinking and the Olympics. Pretty much the same as yesterday (though today we watched the movie Yesterday, which was something we didn’t do yesterday, nor will we do tomorrow). I am writing this tomorrow morning, and really cannot remember anything that stood out from yesterday, or today.

I drank a Fanta, a first in a long time, it was nice and I will have one next week too, but never again, it is too sweet. What happens in isolation stays in isolation.

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Quarantine, Day 5, Thursday.

The day started with a second Russian Dolls watching session with our friends in London and Spain, we watched the last four episodes and agreed it was a very good series. We now need to choose the next series to watch, that one was fun. Truth be told, the day started with coffee and social media in bed, like every other day since lockdown started in March 2020.

I managed to grab an immediate outside walking slot outside when I rang reception, I did not think this was possible, and was very happy to get 30 minutes of walking outside while Eleanor did some exercise in the room. That is the longest we have been apart in the last week. I listened to an old Hawkwind album as I walked and enjoyed it immensely.

I needed to change the contact details on my bank account from my UK phone number to my new NZ number. This is a lot harder than it should be, mainly because all the banks send a text to your old number before you can change it to a new one. Before we left the UK I had (foolishly it now turns out) stopped calls and texts coming to my UK number. I wasn’t going to answer them so there seemed to be no point in receiving them.  Ah ha, I thought, I can log into my mobile account on the Vodafone website and change that feature so I can receive the texts, except the website sends a text to authorise the login… I got there eventually. I considered it a proactive use of otherwise dead time.

We got our day three Covid test result today, as expected they were negative, though there is always a small moment of nervousness before they come through.

The big news for the day was we booked our meals for next week. This was very exciting. We were provided lunch not long after we arrived way back on day zero. What we failed to notice at the time was the feed bag (neigh) had a note attached with a QR code. Hidden behind this QR code was the menu for the week and we could have chosen from an, albeit, limited range of options. Oh well, the food has generally been good. I take excitement where I can.

We managed to get one more walk on the ramp late in the afternoon, we are only allowed on the ramp every second day, sharing is caring and all that.

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There was another nice sunset.

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Quarantine, Day 6, Friday.

We both had the best sleep so far, I am so glad we are getting to process jetlag ourselves, normally I would be falling asleep on mum’s sofa in the early evening while she chats to me. It will be good to not do that when we get out. I am still tired, though this is a reasonably normal state.

We woke up to grey sky and rain, and it remained like that all day. This was a bit of a relief as I told Eleanor (and anyone else who asked) that Auckland is cold and wet in August. on Tuesday our room was 26.5 degrees with the sun beating in through that large window.  I was finally seeing some cold and wet and felt vindicated.

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The big news for the day was fish and chips for lunch, and they were good, it is good to know that that English tradition of fish ‘n chip Friday exists in New Zealand. The only wrong thing with fish ‘n chips for lunch today was we had cancelled the hotel dinner as we were going to order a pizza for dinner. Two big meals in one day, oh well. Explains the waistline I guess. Obviously we went ahead with the pizza order, it was OK.

I had a solo walk in the covered roof space this afternoon, more Hawkwind on the headphones, LP 3 listened to now, still enjoying it and cannot believe I was so disdainful of the band for so long. For a brief moment I was alone in the space, other than the masked up airforce person making sure I behaved myself; no running, no touching the hand rails, mask on at all times. I haven’t been alone for quite some time and am absolutely looking forward to it.

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We have been doing one of the jigsaw puzzles mum dropped off, there is limited space for them and the light is terrible in the evening, but it is almost done, tomorrow we will have the excitement of finishing the seemingly impossible to complete sky.

The rain stayed for the whole day. There is so little to take photos of in, or from the room, so here is some more rain from the room’s big window. I have not desaturated the image, it is just very grey out there.

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Quarantine, Day 7, Saturday.

Half way through and just starting to get a bit bored, though I have yet to start doing anything I planned to do over these two weeks so that must be a good thing. I was planning on writing a short story, or at least starting one. I have a couple of ideas, but am lacking in enthusiasm at the moment. Too tired. There is plenty of time…

Awful sleep, misreading the watch I was up and making coffee at 5:05am, thinking it was after 6. This has left me feeling tired and disconnected all day, and we have run out of coffee with none due until tomorrow.

I had booked a ramp walk for 11 today and mum dropped by while we were out and  gifted us some more oat milk, pre-planned obviously. It was great to briefly see mum, though it is really windy and we were 4 metres apart so could be barely hear each other. A few muffled half-shouted words were all we managed. It was nice though!

We have given up on the puzzle it’s gotten too difficult, the sky is a nightmare, for every piece I put in I am taking another piece out as it is wrong. We don’t have a great workspace so time on the puzzle is spent bent over the low top and we are both feeling it in our lower backs. Time to pack this one away and start the next. 

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We did our own thing this afternoon, happily. I am half way through reading Richard Osman’s ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ and am determined to finish it today, I only started it this morning. It is a lot of fun. Obviously I am not reading a book here.

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New Zealand. Managed Isolation, Day 3

Tuesday 03 August 2021 – Auckland.

There is a knock on the hotel room door, ‘Good morning, health check!’ booms the cheery voice from outside. Mask on, we open the door to be greeted by someone in full PPE (Hands up anyone who knew what PPE meant before Covid-19), we have our temperature taken and are asked how we feel. 30 seconds and it is done, the only regular daily contact with someone from outside the room.

Quarantine, Day 2, Monday

We started our second day at 7:00 am with a Zoom call with friends Paul and Paula; Paula in London and Paul at their holiday home in Liria, Valencia, where we have enjoyed a number of holidays. We have been remotely watching TV with them on a weekly basis since the start of lockdown and are currently watching the series Russian Doll. It was great to be able to carry on with normal things from the other side of the world. Admittedly they were drinking wine and brandy and we were eating breakfast, so it was not quite normal, I should have had a brandy with my coffee.

Breakfast arrived as we watched. I was expecting a repeat of yesterday’s cereal, but today it was pancakes with banana and maple syrup, and it was a good as it sounds. I have gotten fat during the last few weeks and am now the heaviest I have ever been. I had some vague hope of losing some of the fat while in isolation, but this seems completely forlorn and I have no idea why even thought that, the food has been plentiful and nice. Tomorrow we are going to ask for no ‘treats’ in our food package. (This has yet to happen).

Here is the room, pre-covid test result and tidy up. 6 metres at the widest, else a 4m by 4m box with a bathroom. 

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Note the masks hanging on the door handle and key card. We have to wear masks at all times outside of our room, even in the outside exercise area.

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We got the great news of negative Covid tests around mid-day so were issued the fabled and crucial ‘blue band’ which we have to wear when we leave the room.

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We are allowed out to walk in an area out the front of the hotel any time of the day, as long as there is space, you have to ring reception first. We can also book a time slot to walk on a roof terrace and the ‘ramp’. I am excited to see what these are. I am guessing we were some of the last to get our blue bands, so we didn’t get to walk outside immediately, in fact we did not get to walk outside until close to 5:00pm. I think the promise of being out of the room is more the reality than actually getting out.

I did 30 minutes of walking in the room again, that’s two days done. My aim is wear a track in the carpet. I was listening to a 60s freak beat playlist I created a while back, good walking with hips swinging music.

We finally did the unpack of the suitcases and setup of the room, we had been holding off doing this until the test results came in. A positive test would mean a move to a more specialised facility and we didn’t want to jinx it by settling in.  It was good to get organised and the room feels a lot better now.

Now we know we are not going anywhere we placed an order with a supermarket, which was delivered in the afternoon. No food, though there was some wine, it was mostly things like shampoo, vitamin supplements and things too large or heavy too bring with us. Like putting things away, having proper shampoo and moisturiser etc made the room feel a lot more homely.

It has been great having the Olympics on the TV in the background as we go about our day, though I missed the events I wanted to see the most; the BMX and skateboarding.

Quarantine, Day 3, Tuesday.

We woke about 2:00am again, like last night it took a long time to get back to sleep, though unlike last night there was a heck of a storm, with some really high wind shaking the hotel. As I was wide awake I took some night photos out of the small high window, standing on a chair to do it. Looking down Hobson St towards the seafront. We did get back to sleep once things settled. Thankfully.

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Breakfast was the best yet and I wish I had taken a photo. Poached eggs on corn fritters with salsa and guacamole. It was really good. Yum.

I had to make some hard decisions when packing my bags for this trip and it took three goes to finalise the content of the suitcase and backpack. I had to make a number of sacrifices and left behind my tablet, the 24-105 lens for the big Canon camera as well as the small Panasonic camera. I was only allowed 30kg and didn’t really want to pay the high price to purchase more weight allowance. Even with those sacrifices my two bags totalled 31.5kg and I was grateful to Emirates for not charging me, nor for weighing my 10kg of carry-on, a further 3kg over the limit. Phew.

What I was not prepared to compromise on was bringing the cafeteria, coffee and the milk frother. These have certainly made the mornings nicer.

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Mum brought some more goodies in the morning, including a couple of jigsaw puzzles, we were hoping to be able to go and see her and wave through the fence from the outdoor walking area, though this was closed again today as it was day three testing day. We were called up for our tests just as mum would have arrived, so in some ways it was good we were not outside. A further two day wait for results. There is one more test on day 12, just before we leave.

Eleanor had a surprise delivery of a lovely and huge bunch of flowers from her new employers, her contract starts on 30 August. I am rather envious; I have never had an employer send me flowers before I start work as a welcome to the country. Lovely.

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The rest of the day passed quickly enough, Olympics on the TV provided a background to reading, photo editing and blog writing. I finished (reading) the novel I started on the plane and have now started reading a hefty tome on the space rock band Hawkwind, a band I long derided as hopeless acid-head hippies. My music tastes have changed over the years, and it is time to learn something about, and listen to a band that are key influencers on so much music that I like. 14 days in isolation seems like a good time to listen to Hawkwind. This book contributed to my overweight hand luggage.

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At 6:00pm we had an appointment with the level 10 walking area, there is a removable roof though it was mostly shut, just a fraction open to the night air. I stood in that spot and took these two photos on my camera. It was nice feeling even a slight breeze of air that was not from the aircon.

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We had a 30 minute walk and shared the space with two other ‘bubbles. I enjoyed stretching my legs, and getting an opportunity to start wearing in a new pair of boots.

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The floor has windows on two sides and it was really nice just walking and staring outside, a much bigger view to the one we have in our room.

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Three days done.

New Zealand. Managed Isolation, Day 1

Sunday 01 August 2021 – Auckland.

Thursday 29 July, London Heathrow.

I left my home in New Zealand on 27 December 2011 to go and see the world, and today, nine and a half years later I leave home again, this time to go to New Zealand. This return has been a long time in the planning, Eleanor had to apply for a visa and then we had the challenge of booking a place in New Zealand’s managed isolation system before we could book our flights. Covid-19 has certainly made travelling more difficult, but here we are, sitting in the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport, supping the first pre-flight nerves reducing gin. Phew.

I am not sure what direction this post is going to take as I start writing, it will probably ramble all over the place, we will see. I doubt I will finish it before the plane takes off in two hours time.

Sunday 01 August 2021, Auckland.

Well, I guess that second paragraph was prophetic, maybe too much so, as I didn’t write anything further in the airport and only made some vague scribbles in my notebook as we flew. Oh well.

Today is day one of 14 in managed isolation in Auckland. We arrived in New Zealand yesterday, but that only officially counts as day zero. New Zealand’s very strict border policies mean that you have to spend 336 hours from the time you land at the airport in an isolation facility of the governments choosing. None of this ‘promising’ to stay at home stuff like they have in the UK. 336 hours is 14 days, they use hours to give people an exact time they can expect to leave. We landed at 11:02 on Saturday and will be released at 11:02 (ish) 14 days later. We are being picked up from the hotel by my son on 14 August, so 13 sleeps to go.

The flight over was OK. Long, as you would expect given New Zealand is on the other side of the world, but I have had longer journeys to and from. The plane was fuller than I expected but nowhere near what it is normally like and all three legs of the journey were reasonably comfortable.

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We had 110 minutes in Dubai airport, long enough for a coffee and the long walk between arrival and departure lounge. It was good to stretch our legs. Dubai is fully open and the difference between it and Heathrow was marked. Dubai was buzzing, there were lots of people, and I would guess 95% of them were wearing masks. Heathrow was pretty deserted, there were only five flights leaving on Thursday evening, which explains the lack of travellers, and the fact that lots of the retails outlets were closing at 7:30pm. I am guessing that only half the people waiting were wearing masks. Maybe the UK’s attitude to mask wearing and Covid in general is the problem and people just don’t want to risk coming here, or maybe I should say ‘going there’ as I am now on the other side of the world.

The plane stopped in Kuala Lumpur to refuel, though we were not allowed off the plane. Those going to Malaysia were allowed off, which provided a bit more room. Eleanor and I have a row of three seats each for the final and longest leg to Auckland. Though naturally the arm rests on my seats were broken and one of them didn’t fold up so I could not lie down. Oh well. I had books and music and watched some terrible films.

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New Zealand!

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It took ages to get through the six check points at Auckland airport; medical, customs, immigration; at least twice, and those who ask you about fruit. It was frustrating, but understandable. We were then shoved onto a bus and it was revealed we would be doing our two week isolation at Rydges Hotel in downtown Auckland. We had no idea where we would end up, but it was looking quite possible we could end up in Christchurch; which we would have been quite happy with. Rydges wasn’t even on the radar so it was a bit of a surprise.

We were on the fourth of five buses, each with only a handful of people on it, the idea being to keep social isolation as much as possible, and if one is infected then there are less close contacts, who have to isolate as well. The process of getting into the hotel was slow, thorough and organised, run by the air force and it showed. It was a relief to finally get into our room, though we had to wait a few hours for our bags, and that much wanted shower.

The room is OK, basic at best, and we were pretty disappointed in it to be fair; however the following day, after a good sleep and some good food, we are warming to it. We are never going to love it as we have seen photos of rooms in other hotels that look amazing, some even have Nespresso machines, balconies and baths. We have the bare minimum. Spartan is almost the word. 

We had the first of three Covid tests late on Saturday, day zero, the next is on day three and the final on day 12. There is a two day wait for results; hence the final test being on day 12. You are not allowed out of your room until the day zero results are in, and negative.  I is going to be a long two days wait I think, we are very looking forward to being outside after 48 hours in airports, planes, buses and the hotel room.

Sunday was spent in the room, dozing, reading, eating – there is a lot of food and so far it has been great. I managed to do a 30 minute walk in the room, back and forth over the 6 metre width. It was OK. We had read a lot about isolation and had a number of tips for making it better. I had packed washing line and clothes pegs and some stick on hooks, the hooks worked best. There is almost nowhere in the room to hang the washing line so I am experimenting with sticky hooks stuck to a window, hopefully the small load of washing won’t come crashing down in the night.  The hotel will do two loads of washing for us, one a week, so we will do the small stuff every couple of days; partly for something to do.

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We had arranged for my sister to drop off plates and bowls and cutlery to make eating more enjoyable, eating from cardboard take away bowls with wooden forks is not nice. Some hotels supply proper eating utensils, ours doesn’t, as I said it was basic…. 

Lunch day zero, sandwich, salad, cakes, fruit and water. We sent the roast beef sandwich back as we asked for vegetarian food, they sent another salad. We had a repeat of a meat meal on Sunday night so are now thinking they think there is only one pescatarian and not two.

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Breakfast day one. Healthy! Muesli in the bowls.

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The best feature of the room is the view out a huge window, we can see the harbour bridge which is great, sadly there are no windows that open, so no chance of any ‘fresh’ air. This was a major disappointment as we have had three days of aircon, and were looking forward to opening a window.

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There is nothing we can do about it, and I have moved on from the initial frustration. The main thing is we are here, and so many are still waiting to come over. I have talked to mum, my sister and my son which has been great, and we look forward to being able to see them soon.

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There ends day one in isolation, and this post, which didn’t go anywhere I thought it would when I started it on Thursday.

Hoping to get our test results early tomorrow so we can at least get out for a walk in the carpark….

New Zealand Music Month, 2009 Gig photos

Auckland 2009
New Zealand Music Month.

The second and final post for New Zealand music month.

For a few month across 2008 and 2009 I did some gig photography for an Auckland based website. In the end it just got too much and I could not sustain late nights taking photos as well as working a busy job and a family; albeit only one of the kids was at home by then. Looking at the dates of these photos it looks like I stopped in March and then did a couple more months in July and August. I did get to some great gigs, mainly by New Zealand bands; though I did get to see legendary English band Spiritualized.

DHDFDs,
Kings Arms, January.
I absolutely loved seeing these guys, completely bonkers, and they could play too.

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Set On End,
Somewhere, January.
Metalcore band from West Auckland who were good friends of my son Dom.

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X-Features,
Support for Spiritualized, Powerstation, January.

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Hasselhoff Experiment,
Cassette 9, February.

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Head Like a Hole,
Kings Arms, February.
Wellington’s Head Like a Hole were a must see gig when they first started coming to Auckland in the early 90s. Absolutely insane live.

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Lawrence Arabia,
Early evening gig in a Cafe on K’Rd, March.
I was contacted by the band after the photos went up and some were used in a print article in NZ Musician magazine. The only time any of my gig photos have made it into print.

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The Randoms,
Somewhere on Nelson St, July.

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Silhouette of the guitarist from Frayden,
Somewhere on Nelson St, July.

Shadow Play

Piece War,
Support for Shocking Pinks, Cassette 9, July.

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Shocking Pinks,
Cassette 9, July.

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Drab Doo Riffs
Cassette 9, July
Karl Steven was probably the most engaging live vocalist in NZ at the time, it was great watching him perform, I have a lot of photos.

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Brand New Math,
Support for Handsome Furs, Cassette 9, August.

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 And that was the end of my short-lived, unpaid career as a gig photographer. It was mostly fun, but also hard work. With such terrible public transport in Auckland, a lot of people drove into the city for gigs, which meant they were always on really late, often finishing at 2am, even mid week.  One of the (many) things I love about the UK is most gigs are done by 11pm, getting home early is something I very much appreciate.