Wanstead Park

Thursday 03 March 2022 – Wanstead Park, London.

27 April 2022 Update. This post has seen a huge surge of views in the past few days, presumably from lovely folk like yourselves looking for photos or info on Chalet Woods and the bluebells. This post was written well before bluebell season, but you can click here for bluebells.

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

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It’s been a long while since a muddy walk has featured in my life and after today’s stroll I’ve vowed to never leave it so long again. A similar vow was also made today about walking in Epping Forest, a place I frequented on an almost weekly basis a few years ago, yet had barely been to since I bought the flat in St Leonards in 2019. This became especially true when we relocated there during the lockdowns as working from home was not just the norm, but was actively encouraged. I intended to walk in Epping Forest in the month we were back in Walthamstow before we left for New Zealand, but like so many other things, I didn’t get around to it. My heart just wasn’t in it. I wonder (if I’m honest with myself, I know) that if I went to the forest, or even just for a decent walk, more regularly I would be in a much better place, and my heart would be in it (whatever ‘it’ is) again. A virtuous circle, unlike the vicious cycle I have been in.

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Wanstead Park is the most southern outcrop of Epping Forest. Looking on a map it doesn’t appear to be connected to the forest itself, though I’m fairly certain I could find a way between the two where I wouldn’t be fully exposed to the sky. A linked muddy trail under tree canopy looping between scrub and ferns and bracken and holly, and the only roads are roads that were crossed, not followed. It would be a grubby edgeland, empty cans and bottles, used tissues scattered everywhere, well used and abused by the human inhabitants that surround or pass through it. Not necessarily a path to take at night.

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A friend of mine who is now retired (I feel I’m turning into an old man as friends start to retire; however my mortgage lender tells me I’m years off joining them) has been walking some mutual friends dogs once or twice a week in Wanstead Park and earlier this week he invited me along on one of his walks, an offer I gratefully accepted. We caught the bus from Walthamstow to Wanstead, I was tempted to walk but in the end I was glad I didn’t as we walked far enough with the dogs and I’d have been even more knackered if I had taken those extra thousands of steps.

I’m not sure what breeds the dogs are or how old, they are small and whitish, extremely well behaved, and frankly, just lovely little dogs. One male and female, the female was the most adventurous. We collected the dogs and were in the forest almost immediately after leaving their home. The dogs were off the leash for the entire walk with the exception of the four road crossings; two there and two back, they knew the walk better than us. The first section of parkland we walked though was possibly Bushwood, though I’m not 100% certain of that. We walked past the rather impressive looking Belgravia Heights, which appeared suddenly when we momentarily popped out from under the trees. It would look great in the fog.

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Wanstead Park was opened to the public in 1882, two years after being acquired by the City of London Corporation, who also manage the wider Epping Forest. The land was enclosed during the reign of Henry VIII, about five hundred years ago, and was the manor ground of Wanstead House, originally a royal hunting lodge. After serious financial mismanagement the house was demolished in 1824 and parts of the grounds were sold off over the following few years. The park has a number of small man-made lakes with islands in the middle and paths round the outside. It’s a great place to walk and I’ve been here a number of times before, usually in late spring for bluebell season. I’ve never done the walk we did today, and I was surprised to find the park was much bigger than I’d previously thought.

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The Temple was originally built in the late 18 century, though numerous additions were made in subsequent years, it is believed the colonnaded middle was the original construction, and it is certainly the nicest part. The building has been fenced off ever since I’ve been visiting and I wonder if there is anything inside. The avenue created by the chestnut trees was only planted in the 1990s; it’s a lovely addition and really does draw your eyes towards the building when you enter the park from the west, as we did.

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Our walk took us along the paths that run alongside the ponds on the southern and eastern boundary of the park, we met quite a few other dog walkers on the way. This is a popular place and the dogs appreciated the opportunity to run unfettered and make a few friends on the way. After a few days of rain it was pretty wet everywhere and the River Roding that flows on the far side of the trees in the below photo was very full and very muddy. There was a lot of mud in the paths under the trees.

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Half way along the ponds we spotted The Grotto, which came as a complete surprise to me as I haven’t heard of it before. It’s original construction was completed in 1764 and it was built as a rich man’s pond side folly. Over the years that building has served a number of purposes though was destroyed in a fire in 1884 when it was being used as a boat house. The ruins have only been exposed in the last ten years, but are sadly all fenced off. They were a nice surprise.

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We stopped for a coffee at the popular tea hut in the park before walking back to where we started, eventually returning a couple of very muddy dogs to their owners. The dogs seemed to have as good a time as we humans did, at least I hope so. I suspect they slept well.

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It was a longer walk than I expected, though very enjoyable. It was so nice being out under the trees, walking in some mud and chatting with a good friend. I need to do more of this.

Challenge House

Anyone reading my blog over the past few weeks will have noted I have some antipathy to Auckland’s Central Business District, particularly the rampant, seemingly unregulated, and frankly, hideous construction that blights the city centre, and has done for years. It seemingly never ends; and I’m not talking about the work being done to build the new underground light rail system, which is something the city desperately needs. What the city doesn’t need right now is more commercial and residential blocks.

I absolutely agree with and understand that a city centre needs to move as its demographic changes. The city centre; particularly Queen St, is no longer the primary retail centre of Auckland it was in the 1960s and 70s, and it hasn’t been since suburban shopping malls arrived in New Zealand. As retail moved out to the ‘burbs during the finance boom in the 1980s the centre became further aligned with  business and new office blocks and shiny towers to mammon went up almost as fast as the older buildings came down. Buildings by the corporate raider Ron Brierley (jailed for possessing child pornography) and investment bankers such as Fay (accused of tax avoidance and insider trading) and Richwhite (only accused of tax avoidance) were erected to show how important and flush they were with other people’s money.

Admittedly the Fay Richwhite Building completed in 1992 and now known as 151 Queen St or the SAP building is one of the better constructions. I worked in a slightly less lovely office block next door in the 90s and was slightly jealous of its shininess; until someone jumped off the roof in the midst of the financial crash that followed the boom, when other people wanted their money back.

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There has long been a move to include more residential living in and around the centre, though the explosion of cheap and poorly built blocks of tiny flats for overseas students wasn’t what most people had in mind. This appears to have changed for the better with more attractive and thoughtfully designed (read more expensive) blocks, such as the one we live in, now being built. However, there appears to be a lot of inner city flats for sale (there are 1198 Auckland City apartments on realestate.co.nz today) and walking around the city I see a lot of apartments that appear to be vacant. Like cities and towns all over the world, absentee and second home owners buy property they rarely use, pushing up prices for everyone else and leaving city centres void of much needed life.

As I wander around the construction site that used to be Auckland’s heart I wonder if the work going on to build new towers for offices and flats is a final attempt by the monied class to remove the last remnants of a working class presence in the city. There seems to be a desire to finish the job started in the boom of new wealth in the 1980s to demolish the last of the small workshops, the warehouses and factories where the less privileged slaved for poor wages before schlepping back home to the suburbs. Each decade sees more of the old working city disappear and I find this monumentally sad. Blandness will eventually reign supreme.

I worked for a Brierley owned subsidiary when I arrived back in New Zealand in 1988 after a couple of years in London. Brierley bought the business, asset stripped it; flogging the good bits to another one of his companies, then making the warehouse and retail staff redundant. The building I worked in just up from the city centre, on Hobson St was demolished in 1991 and is still a small shabby car park to this day.

I walk along Wolfe Street on about 25% of my walks through and around the city because I love this derelict and half demolished building. It used to be Challenge House and was sold in the early noughties to be demolished for some new thing. However, there were issues with the consent to demolish so nothing happened and the first three floors were eventually turned into a very rough car park. The demo of the car park first finally started sometime in 2018 but stopped soon after. This is what it looked like in October of last year. It was graffitied and messy, with dangling plastic secure fencing on some levels, but no razor wire and no scaffold and no work being done.

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Almost the entire block is now being demolished to make way for a ’multi-level commercial project planned to maximise gross floor area ratios’ (whatever that means in normal people speak). Naturally the developers are backed by overseas finance  with a company registered in that bastion of financial openness, the British Virgin Islands; not that I’m suggesting they are carrying on with the property development and financial standards set by their predecessors (accusations of tax avoidance etc). A couple of the old buildings in the block will have their frontages preserved in a new found rush for facadism in Auckland, though that is as it says,  just a façade. Nothing much is preserved and even that small amount is not by choice.

The block includes the building that housed Food Alley a very popular hawker style food centre which I used to enjoy eating at when I was working in the city. it was a good place to meet friends, buy a beer and food from the multitude of, primarily Asian, food stalls. It was the closest Auckland got to Singapore style eating and that has been taken away. Maybe it was too radical for the good burghers of Auckland city.

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Weirdly, when I looked the address up on Google Maps, the shadow from one of the older towers casts a darkness over the building site; as if Google or the Gods don’t want to acknowledge the development is happening; or maybe its just the CIA have hidden something.

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When I was walking past last week I was shocked to find that the demolishers have come back, razor wire is all around the site and scaffold is now up and work has commenced on pulling this old, and frankly ugly, mess down. I took a few photos over the fence to remember the place as it will be gone when I’m back in New Zealand; possibly, I thought that last time I was here too.

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Though I’ve just called it an ugly mess, I am a little saddened by this, this graffiti covered relic of a bygone era was unloved by many but it was symbolic of the rush to knock down the old and rebuild with the new, even if the new had never been planned, financed or even agreed. ‘Pull it down’ they say, ‘once it’s gone it’s too late to protest and they will accept our cunning plan for a replacement. Bastards.

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The building on the other side of Wolfe St, number 6, was for sale in 2018, I’m not sure if anyone bought it. Built in 1912 it has been vacant for 23 years, and it still is. I wonder who owned it and whether it had been land banked until the money was right, though why it couldn’t have been repurposed for something and saved I don’t know, surely there would have been some value in restoring a heritage building? Perhaps I’m just a fantasist who longs for days past?

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Challenge House was nothing special; so much so I couldn’t find a photo on the internet of when it was built or being used as it was intended. So, given its current state it has to go.

Few of the other remaining early twentieth century buildings left in town are ‘special’ either, but that doesn’t mean we need to get rid of them. There is an excess of commercial and residential property in the city, and now its largely unaffordable, few see the city as a retail destination either. We just don’t need any more large buildings; investment should be made in preserving and re-purposing the last remnants of Auckland heritage, while there is one.

Challenge House is dead. Long live Challenge House.

10 days left

Monday 14 February 2022 – Auckland city.

Though I (we) don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, it was worth noting February 14 in 2022 for two reasons. Firstly, six months ago, on 14 August we finished our time in managed isolation and were free to roam new Zealand (for three days before the Auckland lockdown ruined any plans we had), and secondly, we were going to fly to Christchurch for a week long holiday that afternoon, but…

I cancelled that trip last week due to the rise in cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Though the daily infection rate is still very low (981 today) compared to the UK (35,000) it’s on the rise and the risk of getting ‘pinged’ and told to isolate for 10 days is rising with it. We can neither afford to have to isolate in hotel somewhere in the south island, nor do we want to miss our flight back to the UK on the 24 Feb, in 10 days. Perish the thought we actually got sick with Covid.

The primary reason for the trip south was to attend my nephew’s wedding in Dunedin where he is a student. It would have been the first time I’d have seen him, his brother and parents (his mother is my sister,) for a few years and we were really looking forward to having all the New Zealand based family together for the first time in ages. Due to Covid related risks none of the Aucklanders (mum, sister, son and other nephew and niece) are heading down to the wedding, which is a real shame. Eleanor and I were also looking forward to seeing some parts of New Zealand we haven’t seen before, Lake Tekapo for me, and hanging out with friends in Christchurch, a city I haven’t really visited since that terrible earthquake in 2011.

The days and weeks since we came back from Waiheke have been a real drag; with returning to the UK on the horizon, Eleanor working until last Thursday and the threat of Omicron growing exponentially I have really struggled with motivation and have done very little other than lie about reading a bunch of books; hoping somewhat for enough inspiration to get me out the door. It has been quite hot and extremely humid over the past week and having air-conditioning didn’t help me out of the flat’s front door.

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I’ve been missing a destination, after roaming the city off and on for weeks I’ve not only run out of steam I’ve also run of interest. It isn’t the nicest centre to walk in at the best of times (and with all the construction at the moment it isn’t the best of times). I need somewhere other than the library to visit, a café or bar for instance. The kind of bar I could find in London, or any British or European city doesn’t seem to exit in Auckland. I want a bar or café with a sofa, or a comfy corner chair to relax into; and these just didn’t seem to exist. It’s all backless bar stools at high tables, benches or criminally uncomfortable wooden or plastic chairs. These things are fine when hanging out with a group of mates (except for those bloody bar stools), however they’re hopeless to lounge in with a good book for a slow hour over coffee or a glass of pinot and I like a lounge, and I want to lounge in comfort.

Recently my friend Martha introduced me to the atrium of the De Brett Hotel House Bar and subsequently we’ve been occasionally meeting there for a mid-morning coffee. The coffee is good too. Eleanor and I went there for a glass of wine one evening after work last week and it’s exactly the sort of place I dreamt about. Quiet, decent wine and comfy chairs, it looks fab and the music isn’t as awful as pretty much everywhere else in Auckland; i.e. not 70s/80s and 90s ‘hits’. It also had the feel of a place where I could sit with a book and headphones over a drink and I wouldn’t feel like other punters were staring at me like I am some sort of bookish loaner freak.

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One of the books I read was ‘Flâneuse’ by Lauren Elkin. Eleanor was loaned a copy by a London friend before we left but didn’t get a chance to read it so got a copy out of Auckland Library, of which we are now both members. I enjoyed it more than Eleanor did, I think. 

One of the things the author mentions was the pleasure found in getting ‘lost’ wandering a city, something I still like to, and can do in London. I enjoyed the aimless, almost lost wandering in some of the places I have visited on my travels; places like Singapore, Hanoi, Paris, Barcelona and Valencia and I need to do more of this. It’s something that is seemingly impossible to do in, or near, Auckland’s city centre. Of course part of the reason for this is I’m pretty familiar with the city as I’ve lived here most of my life. Though having said that. I still like to place the blame for this squarely on the domination of the skyline by the sky tower. One of the benefits of walking under low cloud and in light rain is the absence of the sky tower.

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I know I could  get out of the centre and catch a bus out to Howick in the east or Beachaven in the north (I know the west pretty well) where I could lose myself fairly quickly, but who wants to walk in Howick or Beachaven? Not me. There is probably nothing wrong with those places, but I don’t want to walk suburban streets I want to walk in an urban centre, where there is some life and activity, some culture and some grit, and life goes on 24/7…

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I finished reading ‘Flâneuse’ as a period of bad weather arrived, the wind, rain and cloud bizarrely inspiring me to get out to try and take some photos. I managed a couple of short walks, but missed the worst of the weather, which was a shame as the rainy city was what I wanted to photograph as I’m a bit sick of the constant nice weather. Weather forecasting in New Zealand is an even more inexact science that it is in the UK.

As I was wandering around I decided to buy myself a new Canon 50mm lens, the ‘nifty fifty’, it is very cheap and probably my favourite lens. The one I bought second hand in the UK before we left isn’t as sharp as it should be and I broke the one before that. I ordered one online last week and will collect it later today. I will do some comparison shots between the two, hopefully it will prove the lens I have is too soft; it’s either that or I cannot hold a camera steady anymore which would suck massively. I will sell one when I get back to the UK, they seem to hold value there better than here. I guess having some ‘spare’ money is the only benefit of not travelling to the south island, though I still need to be careful with the cash. My sabbatical ends soon and I start work again on 7 March, (in three short weeks, where did that time go!)  but I won’t get paid until the end of the month.

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I walked around the High St area, which is pretty much my favourite small bit of Auckland.

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Then up to, along and around the back of K’ RD (Karangahape), avoiding the record shops on the way.

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As always once I am out, I enjoyed taking photos again and wish I could do more. However, I’m still suffering from a mental block, a lack of desire to do anything more than lie about reading. I found writing this post chore enough and it’s taken four days to get it to print. I had to make myself do something as I want to write and photograph more but just can’t. I’m hoping a return to the UK will boot me out of this ongoing and frankly rather tedious lethargy.

Anyway, I will close by saying it’s not all doom and gloom in my head and there is plenty I’m excited about and looking forward to.

Happy Valentine’s Day lovely xx

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Wentworth Falls, Whangamata

Monday 3 January 2022 – Whangamata, New Zealand.

There was a brief moment after I entered the bush as the others walked on down the gravel path towards the cars, their scuffed steps and voices receding into the short distance, when all I could hear was nothing at all. It was as if all the birds had collectively held their breath while they guessed my intent and the gentle breeze stopped disturbing the trees to allow them to listen to me blundering about below. A half second or two of silence and then the wind ruffled the tops of the punga ferns and the bird chatter and song started up again. A brief moment of what seemed like total silence, a thin gap between human sound and nature, like a line drawn in the sand that I was allowed to cross. It was heavenly.

I love punga trees as much as I love quiet; The punga is a tall fern, almost palm-like, that grows in most low-land New Zealand forest. I love the vivid green of their fronds and how they spread out canopy like. I have been trying to take photos looking up into the mixed fronds of neighbouring trees with a bright sky above. It has been difficult, the punga is a low to mid canopy tree, meaning there is often a taller or even two taller trees growing above, between it and the sun. I’ve yet to find exactly what I want, and today was no exception, though, I’m happy enough with this photo and more importantly enjoyed stepping off the track to it.

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With another scorching hot day and uneven waves that were no good for surfing and a little too rough for family swimming I was surprised but not that surprised to find a lot of cars parked on either side of the narrow road to Wentworth Falls. The car park is a ten minute drive from where we are staying in Whangamata and it was busy. Half of Whangamata must have had the same bright idea as us; a cool walk in the bush.

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I love the New Zealand bush. Though it’s just a bunch of trees and scrub, maybe some ferns and grasses; all grouped together there’s nothing like it anywhere else. Due to New Zealand’s long isolation from any other land mass there are plants and trees here that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet.

Before I go further, and leave any wrong impressions ‘the bush’ is what Kiwis call a forest; large, small or any size in between, if there are a bunch of trees together and those trees are primarily New Zealand natives then it is the bush. A pine forest is not the bush, it is a forest.

The bush is generally considered to be ‘safe’, and I say this in quotes as it’s not entirely safe; the bush can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, get lost or fall or otherwise hurt yourself away from other people, there are vast tracts of densely forested and unpopulated bits of New Zealand. However, New Zealand has no land animals that will kill you; there are no snakes, no majorly poisonous spiders, no crocodiles, no tigers/lions/other large cats/wild dogs with large teeth, nada. You can yomp around in the bush in bare feet to your heart’s content and nothing is going to fatally bite or sting you. There aren’t even any stinging nettles. However, there are lots of spiky things and some grasses with really sharp edges, so walking out of the bush with dried blood on your legs is not uncommon.

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Unlike the south east of England, and due to its volcanic and tectonic birth, the New Zealand landscape is very bumpy; steep sided valleys are everywhere, which means there are a lot of rocky fast running streams, and these often lead to some pretty fabulous waterfalls. I used to take a lot of photos of fast running water, lots of lovely tripod mounted long exposures to blur the running water. With no tripod those photos are impossible, though I still enjoyed watching and listening to the water.

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The bush was lush and cooling, it took us most of an hour to walk to the falls, mostly along a gravel path with a gentle gradient until close to the destination when, as you would hope when you are going to a waterfall, the path became a lot steeper. This is old gold mining country and there are a few bits of the old works still around. Though we didn’t have the time to do a proper explore I did find this huge stone wall, and I can’t tell you what it was for either. A mystery stone wall, with yeas of scratched graffiti and a punga stump in front of it.

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The falls have a have a total drop of 50 metres and are in three stages and would be fabulous after some heavy rain, though were pretty spectacular as it was, though hard to capture on a wide-angle lens at that distance. There were a few people at the viewing areas so we didn’t linger and hog the selfie spot. It would’ve been nice to just stand and listen to the water pounding on the rocks below, the wind in the trees and the gentle song of the birdlife, but it was not to be; too many humans.

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We walked up to the top of the falls to take a look at the view over the bush and out to sea. Glorious. I could spend all day here if I could, but sadly that was not the case today. Onward, upward (in this case downward to the car) and enjoy it while you can.

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Killing time

Wednesday 15 December 2021 – Auckland.

Ten days to Christmas, crikey! My first Christmas in New Zealand in ten years and I’m not entirely sure what I think about it, it’s certainly different to the last nine years. It’s hot to start with, too hot sometimes; there was a moment this morning as I was walking the bike path when the sun cleared the dense low cloud and it felt like walking in a SE Asian city. It was heavy, airless, hot and uncomfortable and luckily it only lasted a few short minutes before the sun disappeared behind some cloud and it felt like Auckland again. I was relieved. Heat and humidity will be our future so I have to get used to it, particularly as I am wanting to finish some travelling in hot and humid places.

This week seems to have gone by quite quickly, though to directly refute that I’m struggling to believe it’s only Wednesday, it feels like it should be much closer to the weekend. The heat and humidity feels worse this week and sleep at night has been hard to find and I feel jet-lagged most days. Not working means an afternoon lie down is possible, though I’ve yet to manage a nap that has refreshed. I’m constantly tired and can’t shake off the lethargy I was feeling last week, though as a bonus I’ve read more than I have in years. I have also been watching travel documentaries on Youtube which has been entertaining, interesting and not a little depressing. There’s still a lot of world I want to see, though I’m not sure I’m brave enough now to visit some of the places remaining on my list; but who doesn’t want to see the Sapeurs of Congo, Komodo Dragons, search for wild orangutans in Borneo or wonder at 1000 year old palaces or temples?

I went out for a walk mid-morning to avoid the worst of the heat and the expected afternoon rain. I have been walking infrequently over the past couple of weeks so have committed to get out more, even if it’s just to complete a mindless loop. I’m hoping that exercise will help break the lethargy as well as let me drop a few pounds. Eleanor bought me a book with some short walks in the centre of Auckland that looks at the city’s architectural history. The book reminded me that I’d yet to walk past my favourite city centre building, the Courtville Apartments, so with an end game in mind I set off out the door with the camera in my bag.

My other objective was to walk the ‘Pink Path’, more officially known as the Nelson Street Cycleway, it was opened in 2015 as stage one of a safe cycling and walking route from the top of town down to the water front. It’s built on an unused section of motorway off ramp and is a great safe short cut as well as a good use for a large chunk of old and unused infrastructure.

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The path starts between the Nelson Street Motorway off-ramp and the Hobson Street on-ramp, which makes for a good road challenge just to get there, these are busy and fast intersections and red light running is the norm. As the city has opened up the traffic has got significantly busier, noisier and dirtier. On a hot day waiting to cross is unpleasant.

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The path is about 1km (at a guess) and passes under Karangahape Road ( K Rd).

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There is a little bit of a view through the Perspex screens that slightly reduces the road noise from the motorways below. 

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The screens are quite grubby with car fumes and every single one seems to have some graffiti written in the filth. There is very little other graffiti elsewhere on the path.

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The path ends near, then crosses, Upper Queen Street, before continuing as the Grafton Gully Path, crossing under Symonds Street, down the side of the Symonds Street Cemetery and running alongside the Grafton Road motorway off ramp to the back of the university. The interesting looking Ironbank Building on K Rd. is also in the book Eleanor bought me and I could just see it popping out above the buildings between us.

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There is nothing to see on the Grafton walk, it is just a traffic-free way of moving through that part of town and is probably best done on a bike, at least the downhill bit. I was glad I was listening to music as I walked.

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I took a couple of photos at the back of the university buildings. There are some very colourful pohutakawa trees here, a nice contrast with the monochromatic building behind it.

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The Auckland High Court building was completed in 1868 and is one of the city’s lovelier buildings, or at the least frontage is, the building itself has been more recently expanded in generic blocky, yet practical brick. There are a number of gargoyles around the entrance and adorning the tower, one of them looks a lot like Queen Victoria, though less so from the angle I took this photo from. Without the wide-angle lens I couldn’t get the whole building in.

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Next to the court lies the Courtville Apartment building/s, my favourite residential building in the city centre, and second to The Pines tower block in Mt Eden, as my favourite in Auckland. I’ve always liked this three story block of flats. It was built in 1915 and has had some interesting occupants and I’m sure it still does. It was the first residential block built in New Zealand; people were not interested in apartment living in Auckland at the time so it was quite controversial. As it slowly ages and mould and the residue of diesel fumes seeps into the concrete exterior it reminds me of somewhere like New Orleans or one of the other Creole speaking towns left when the French were kicked out of America; a memory derived from television as I’ve never been to the American south. I can clearly see touches of the Laotian cities of Vientiane and Savannakhet in how the building is aging and the seasonal greenery;  both places I visited on my travels and coincidentally,  somewhere else the French were kicked out of. The hint of early 20th century Parisian design rather than that of London is quite unusual for vintage Auckland buildings, just look at the high court building next door. It’s that non-English Europeaness that I love so much about it.

Vive la difference.

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No sunset photo today, the weather has been more like this lately;

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I feel like I’m just killing time until we go back to London and then St Leonards-on-Sea in a couple of months. There is a lot of time to kill and most of me wants to make good use of that time and do some upskilling, or writing or more photography, however there’s a small part of me that is idle and tired and bored, and sadly that small part is dominating and I don’t do anything much at all.

The backstreets of the Wynyard Quarter

Friday 05 November 2021 – Wynyard Quarter, Auckland City.

I enjoyed taking and editing the black and white photos in the last post so much I decided to do the same again today, focusing on the less appealing parts of the nearby Wynyard Quarter in downtown Auckland; the bits behind buildings, the official car parks and those yet-to-be-built on places where people also park cars. There is a lot of parking available in Wynyard Quarter. Like Wednesday I set myself up to take black and white photos.

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The walk wasn’t as inspired as the one on Wednesday, the sun was a bit too bright for my photographic style and there were too many people out and about. I have also come to the realisation that I like walking hills more than the flat roads of a harbourside, which I guess some people my think is a little peculiar. It was forecasted to be raining in the afternoon, and I hung on as long as I could but the rain failed to materialise. I wanted the rain. Rain meant fewer people, a darker sky and opportunities for reflection, and I don’t mean personal reflection. I don’t take a camera if I am planning on some of that sort of reflection. The weather forecasting in New Zealand is absolutely hopeless.

As well as carparking I also found visitor bike parking, which isn’t something I have seen before, but mightily approve of.  

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Anyway, I took photos and I had fun in both the taking and the editing. Half a day was mostly used up, and really I can’t ask for much more than that at the moment. Let me know what you think of the photos!

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The area has either been built on or is being built on, and as I’ve previously mentioned I think this space has been designed quite well, the apartment blocks are low rise and mostly attractive and there is quite a lot of greenery about as well as plenty of pedestrian space (though not as much as car space).

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I am really looking forward to cafes and the barber properly opening.

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I have added two colour images to finish, the black and white conversion didn’t really work on these.

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The news of the week is Auckland Library is now open to online order and onsite collecting. I ordered and collected. This made me very happy, though I got a book about Angkor Wat and the Khmer Empire and now I’m sad as I can’t travel to the places I am reading about, maybe I should make better book choices.

The flâneur

Wednesday 03 November 2021 – Auckland City.

I want to get this off my chest now, before I get too far into writing and give you, dear reader a false impression that I’ve always had this impeccable taste in music. I’m going to start with a confession.

Prior to his untimely death in February 2020 I hadn’t really paid a huge amount of attention to the music of Andrew Weatherall and his various guises. Dance music wasn’t my thing and I never got excited by the legendary Weatherall produced Screamadelica album by Primal Scream. The indie nerd in me was more of a fan of the Screams’ earlier un-dancey guitar based pop. I was, of course, very aware of him as a popular and well regarded DJ and producer and he had performed in Walthamstow on more than one occasion to rousing and popular acclaim. I just didn’t do dance music.

Weatherall’s passing generated a tsunami of broken-hearted and loving messages in my Twitter feed supported by numerous eulogies and heartfelt stories in the mainstream press. The outpouring of love for this man compelled me to read those articles and I discovered there was a lot to like and I was quickly sucked into his world, becoming, like so many before, an avid fan. I now own some of his records and in this period since his death have become far more interested in electronic music and dub. My music world view has positively expanded in the past 18 months and this journey was very much down to his influence.

I read this piece in the Social online in the weeks after Weatherall’s death that spoke about him as a flâneur; a stroller or saunterer. Apparently he was known for his flânering around various parts of London, dropping into a record shop here, a bookshop there or stopping for a chat in a favoured café, an act we both love, and have in common. I was reminded of this at the weekend when I came across a Guardian piece from April of this year that I’d read and saved titled ‘Why cities emptied by Covid-19 are perfect for the modern flâneur’. With little else to do at the moment, and a determination to fall in love with Auckland city centre, flânering looked like a good use of time.

On Saturday night Eleanor and I watched a new documentary from Todd Haynes on the highly influential New York rock band The Velvet Underground. VU were a band I listened to a lot and if you look through my record collection you will find Velvet Underground influences in well over half of the artists represented there. Musically and attitudinally the Velvet Underground and Andrew Weatherall are almost polar opposite to each other, but in their chosen fields they are/were key innovators, both taking modern music in new and exciting directions.

Velvet Underground were heavily associated with the artist Andy Warhol and he was a key influence on their style and the imagery surrounding them. I was very inspired by the footage and photographs in the documentary, which were mainly taken in the late 1960s and early 70s. Those grainy and soft black and white images made me want to go out and take photos of the urban environment around me; not that I am in anyway trying to compare 2021 Auckland to 1970 New York.

Today was a particularly overcast day with a forecast of rain and it felt like exactly the right kind of day to take a camera and go flâneur. I set the camera to be as close to a 60s film camera as it could get; black and white, a fixed 50mm lens and to get the grainiest possible images, an ISO of 6400, the highest it goes. To inspire a creative side to the walk I made a new Andrew Weatherall playlist and donning headphones I left the flat. No fixed plan, just see where the roads, and more importantly the construction-closed footpaths lead me.

The camera was out almost immediately.

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I walked for two and half hours, mainly around the centre of town, primarily sticking to the side roads and the small number of alleyways and open malls linking roads together, keeping away from as much construction as possible. I was looking for images that spoke ‘urban’ to me, that touched on an older Auckland; the one from my youth. Though there is little left of either that city or my youth.

I had a good time, I’ve walked all these streets before so there were no great reveals, but in the past I rarely looked at things in detail or even spend any time just looking.

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Lorne Street.

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The University Precinct.

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Downtown.

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I had planned on taking some time to sit and write over a coffee around the High Street / Vulcan Lane intersection, the ‘coolest’ part of Auckland City, or at least the area with highest concentration of decent coffee. Earlier rain had left all the public seating wet so I huddled in damp jeans with a too hot espresso next to a couple of recently stubbed out cigarette butts on a stair under the covered entrance to a closed office; looking more a dishevelled street drinker than the modern and sophisticated flâneur I was posing as.

I was hoping to take in the air and make pithy observations in this most sophisticated corner of the city, and though most of the shops were open for click and collect, other than strategically and poorly parked cars there was not a lot to observe, pithily or otherwise. There was a group of six or so men in High Street, just around the corner from my humble perch, guffawing and talking overly loudly in that ‘look at us’ kind of manner the over-confident have. Though I couldn’t hear what they were saying the noise was distracting enough for me to not stay for longer than it took to finish the over hot-coffee. I had experienced this group once before; they look like they work in a small IT business, when I was waiting to pick up a book from the shop over the road. That time they were collectively leering at a young woman who was unfortunate to be walking down the street. The most obvious of the group is in his early forties and wearing the overly tight shorts and t-shirt combination of a philanderer who has found himself recently and unexpectedly divorced. A part of me is a little jealous, if I was wearing those clothes they would bulge in all the wrong places and there’d be an inch long strip of hairy and pallid belly emerging between t-short and shorts, and no-one wants to see that. I guess I managed to make some pithy observations after all.

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It started raining again, heavier this time, so I set off in the direction of home, taking one last photo on the way.

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Once home I uploaded all the images to my computer, I’d taken about 50 which is a lot for me. I use Adobe Lightroom to edit images for here and social media, though I rarely do much to the images other than a few basic tweaks to give the RAW files my camera creates a bit of life. Shooting in RAW means that though the camera thought I was shooting black and white today, the stored images were actually still in colour. This meant a Lightroom conversion back to black and white.

This isn’t the first time I have converted a colour image to monochrome, though with more time available to me and with some base images I actually liked, I took time to teach myself some new editing tricks and techniques. Spending some extra time converting and working on the photos gave me a lot of enjoyment; this is not always the case, and it very much added to the pleasure I got from flânering with camera.

I will do this again.

It was the 30th anniversary of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica a couple of weeks ago and it’s being re-released as a double LP along with a box set of ten 12 inch singles from the band from that period. I won’t buy either of the tjem.

Buildings of Auckland City

Friday 29 October 2021 – Auckland.

Three months ago today Eleanor and I boarded Emirates EK004 out of Heathrow, landing in Auckland a mere 28 hours later. On arrival, along with all the other passengers, we were taken straight from the airport to spend 14 days in a managed isolation hotel. That now seems such a long time ago, and some days it feels like we’ve not left isolation in these last Three months. This week in particular has felt inordinately slow and I am bored, bored, bored, and probably getting rather boring with my boredom too. Nothing that I’m actually allowed to do really appeals that much either. 

I’ve spent too much time this week looking through posts from when I was travelling and experiencing life beyond what feels like a city-sized extension to the four walls of the flat. I guess there’s some irony in that we’ve flown half way around the world to be in a country that is now more restricted than the UK. Travel isn’t always the answer I know. I worry that experiencing different cultures, even as a privileged tourist, is going to become difficult after Covid, and yes I worry about climate change and the impact the travel sector has on the planet and local environments as well. My plan to ‘finish’ mainland SE Asia and backpack through northern Thailand, Laos and Vietnam is looking less and less likely as time goes by.

Oh well. It’s good to have dreams, but now it’s time to get back to real life.

Wednesday and Thursday this week were solidly overcast with a clean, flat grey sky which was exactly the light I wanted for taking photos of some of the newer and taller buildings in the centre of Auckland city. 

On Wednesday I spent 90 minutes walking around the western ridge of the Queen Street gully, up and around Hobson and Nelson Streets. I took the 70-200mm lens and was mainly shooting buildings from distance. On Thursday I took the same lens and spent two hours on the Eastern side, up to and around Symonds St and Grafton Rd. There are a lot of construction workers about and a small part of me wished I had done this on a Sunday as I think it would be easier to get into the lanes and narrower streets that are filled with workers on weekdays. They all seem to be out on the footpaths eating or smoking whenever I walk past. I kind of enjoyed myself, it was nice to get out and walk and I always enjoy taking photos, though I’m not overly thrilled with all the output. Interesting architecture photography is more difficult than it looks. In a break from the recent trend, there are very few trees in the below images, though I suspect there will be more coming.

I think these photos are in the order I took them in. I am offering no context or comment, but am happy to say that the more I hang about in the city the more I like it, though I still believe the council has made some poor development policy decisions over the years. I was surprised at the number of empty buildings and offices there are across the city and wonder how necessary some of this constant and disruptive construction is. 

Wednesday – images taken from the east side.

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Thursday – images taken from the west side.

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The nikau grove

Monday 18 October 2021 – Auckland Domain.

Having finally restarted work on the novel I’ve been meaning to write for at least the past two years I managed to distract myself again with an idea for a short story. I’ve not achieved much with the novel though I at least have the broad concept. I’d completed enough research to finish a historical timeline that gives context and background to the plot, and then stupidly left the notebook I wrote it in back in London. I’ve now redone that work and typed it into a spreadsheet so at least I can’t leave it somewhere again, though typing takes away some of the pleasure and spontaneity of hand writing notes. I have a new notebook, which sadly still remains unsullied by ink or pencil lead. I hope to change that situation soon.

The short story I have embarked upon is partly set in Auckland Domain so it was fortuitous timing to get a call from mum asking if I would like to meet her there for coffee. I immediately said yes, packed the camera in a bag and power-walked my way up to the domain, surprisingly the walk took less than 30 minutes. Auckland is smaller than it appears from car windows.

We picked up coffee and a wee treat each from a café and had a pleasant half an hour chatting by the duck ponds. There were very few people about. After going our separate ways I wandered around taking some photos to use as visual prompts for the short story, though I have chosen to not upload them. This statue from 1955 does not appear to have an official name, though it seems to to be known as ‘The Three Muses’.

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Naturally all the other photos were of trees, there are some magnificent trees in the domain and I have a tree obsession at the moment. My next planned photowalk should have no trees at all, maybe.

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Eleanor and I have walked though the domain a couple of times recently though stuck to the roads on both occasions, as I was walking down the grass bank taking photos of the big open trees I discovered some bush tracks I didn’t know existed. There seem to be three of four interlinked trails here and I chose to walk down the Nikau Grove, and wow, that was a great choice! The nikau is New Zealand’s only native palm they can grow quite tall and have an old-style house-brush shape when allowed to grow free. I really like them for their usually quite reliable geometry, though in a dense grove of both mature and immature trees they are a chaotic mess of crisscrossed lines, bright reflection and deep shadow, and great to look at and photograph.

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It was absolutely my sort of place to take photos and I’m definitely coming back here once I get my hands on the tripod legs that are stored at mum’s house, I shipped the head over from London and have been waiting to reunite the two pieces. It was just a little too dim for hand-held photos and there was just a little bit too much glare off the shiny reflective fronds in those rare places where the midday sun penetrated the cover.

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It had rained heavily overnight and the small stream that runs through the trees had overflowed and was utilising the well worn path as the water made its way down hill. I managed to avoid getting wet feet by hopping from one side to the other. It almost felt like a jungle adventure, and with a bit of imagination it was a much needed, though very tame, thrill.

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All in all it was a very enjoyable and unexpected day out.

Now Phil, less procrastinating and get back to story writing!

P.S. I now have the tripod legs.

Exhibition Drive

Friday 15 October 2021 – Auckland.

Wednesday 13.

Another week or so has passed and in the main I haven’t done anything that I feel like writing about. However, I feel like writing something and with story writing inspiration at an all time low I’m writing this; as they say it is better to write something than nothing.

Auckland is in lockdown level 3.1, the not as strict sequel to lockdown level 3.0. We can meet people outside, though only one household at a time. There are 55 new cases as I write this (on the day I posted this it has leapt up to 94 (sad face) ) and given the New Zealand government’s desire to keep infections low until vaccinations are much higher, I’m not expecting any respite soon. Conversations have started (mainly in my head) about when we just decide to give up and go back to London. Even the thousands of cases a day, the petrol crisis, the energy crisis, the reduction of food on shelves and more Tory governance seems better than not being able to do anything. I was expecting to be on my way back from a quick visit to Australia as it was my granddaughter’s 5th birthday on Saturday, but sadly, due to Covid-19 I’ve not been able to go. To cap it all off one of my favourite bands played a gig in St Leonards on Saturday night and it made me a little sad to not have been there.

At least under lockdown level 3.1 – the not as strict sequel we can see people, so we caught the bus out to Henderson on Sunday afternoon and had a lovely catch-up with my mum, the first time we have seen her in over seven weeks. So much for coming to Auckland to spend time with family! I also caught up with a friend for a coffee yesterday and am planning (weather depending) on meeting another for a beer in a park tomorrow. Seeing people brings some relief from the feeling of being away from it all.

Friday 15.

Well the good news is I got to have beer (4 cans) in a park with my mate Jeff, and it was very enjoyable. It was the first drink I’ve had with a friend other than my bestie, Eleanor, since we arrived in Auckland 76 days ago, and the first drink I’ve had outside where we are living. I am looking forward to more.

After a failed attempt on Wednesday morning to get to Titirangi and walk Exhibition Drive to take yet more photos of trees I was successful this morning. Admittedly I failed on Wednesday by choice as the rain, while brief, was horizontal. Today was warm and sunny, the complete opposite. Too nice in fact.

It is a two stage journey from the city to Titirangi village with direct buses no longer running outside of rush hour. The train to the nice old Glen Eden station was mostly empty. One advantage of lockdown is pubic transport is almost a joy.

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Titirangi Village has changed since I was last there a couple of years ago, this building didn’t exist then, there was a small and smelly public toilet on this spot. I don’t particularly like it, the new building I mean, public toilets are handy; even smelly ones.

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I still like the old Lopdell House Gallery and the new extension tacked on the side. I was on the board of directors for a small community gallery that had a floor in Lopdell House for a year or so before I went travelling.  I wonder if it’s still there and if it will reopen once ‘normal’ life resumes.

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I bought a coffee and slice and walked the kilometre to the start of Exhibition Drive, eating and drinking my purchases on the way. Exhibition Drive is 3km long and is pretty much dead-flat, it runs along the side of a ridge out towards the Waitakere dams near Laingholm. The road was built to support a pipeline that takes water from the dams to a partially pump-house at the start of the path. I wonder what they’re doing with the building as it was complete when I last walked here.

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There are a few small gated tunnels along the way, and a couple of bits of pipe related machinery too. I have crawled through a couple of these tunnels in the past, before ‘political correctness went mad’ and things were secured. This is a terribly blurry photo, but the best of a bad bunch of blurry tunnel photos!

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I’ve run this path dozens of times over the years when I was less of a slug than I am now. As a closed road it’s a nice place to run and there were a few runners, walkers and cyclists out today. It’s tree lined with some great views to the south and west over the Waitakere Ranges and the Manukau Harbour.

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I took the big camera as the main purpose of this trip was to take photos, though it was a bit too bright for photography and I took less than I hoped and a few of those weren’t that great so won’t see the light of day. I nipped off the path into the bush a couple of times though there aren’t many places where you can as the road was carved out of the hillside. I’m glad I did as this is one of my favourite images from the day.

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At some stage after I left for the UK in December 2011 the Beveridge Track was opened, linking the far end of Exhibition Drive with the Arataki Visitors Centre on top of the ridge on Scenic Drive. I walked most of the way up to Arataki, only turning back when the path levelled out at the top of the climb and the number of other walkers starting getting high enough for me to be uncomfortable taking photos. I like to take photos with no-one around, plus a lot of people were not wearing masks and with a narrow path enclosed by trees this was almost like being inside. I will admit to not wearing mine when there was no-one else around, I’m sick of them.

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When I turned round for the walk back to Titirangi I swapped the wide angle 16-23mm lens for the 70-200mm to get a different perspective. It is my favourite lens, but heavy and not that great up close, so not ideal for use in the bush. In the right hands it does allow for a good photo to be taken though.

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I arrived back in Titirangi 2 ½ hours after leaving, a little tired from the walk, but happy for being in the bush again, even if it was just the fringe. It was nice to be among the trees, especially lots of New Zealand natives, and it is always so much more peaceful walking without cars constantly whizzing past. 

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P.S. I had some writing inspiration and have started a new short story AND completed some research into the novel, this time typing it onto the computer rather than writing into a notebook I seem to have left in London.