The mundane tasks

We left Tauranga and headed back to Auckland to stay at Ardmore Airport where the Motorhome Association has a parking facility. Firstly, we must comment on the drive back to Auckland, we came over the Kaimai’s to join up with the new expressway just south of Cambridge. It took us a while to figure out where we were as the new road takes you past Cambridge and then bypasses Hamilton making the trip to Auckland very easy on motorway all the way. In fact at one stage we commented on the fact that we couldn’t quite work out where we were and we wondered where Hamilton had disappeared. A brilliant piece of engineering making it such a pleasant drive.

Hamilton over on the left
Guardians along the new motorway

Parked at Ardmore, it’s just 3 minutes around the corner to Antony’s so we headed round to see him. We have a few mundane chores to get done this week, blood tests first, doctors visits for checkups and prescriptions, a new tyre to be sorted and lots of other little jobs. You know the sort, the ones that in themselves are a 5 minute job but to get what you need, you drive half way around Auckland looking for what you need (even though you’ve checked that they say that they have what you need, and when you get there they don’t have it in stock….grrr), so all of that took a few days.

One of the jobs was to get a new tyre to replace the one that was now in the spare position. Only trouble was, we could not get the nuts undone to remove it from the back of the van, they had been tightened with the hydraulic air gun. Roy had been to Carters Tyres to order a replacement so he gave them a call to see if they could offer any assistance or advice. Not a problem, they would send round the mobile tech to take it off for us. Brilliant. He arrived within an hour and quickly had it removed, plus he then checked all the pressures on the van tyres for us again to make sure that they were still all ok. We could then take the tyre to the workshop and have the new one put on the rim. Antony came round to give us a a hand to lift the spare back into position and hand tighten the nuts this time. Another little job that became a bigger one ticked off the list.

On our wanderings we came across the Covid Vaccination centre in Papakura, we hadn’t had our second booster shots so time to get them done. What a great experience at the local marae where it was all set up, although we didn’t even have to get out of the car, it was all done quickly and efficiently. We were very pleasantly surprised to be extremely well rewarded for our attendance too!! (You can message me to ask for further details on that!!)

Then the weather really turned nasty so we decided to stay put until the Sunday once everything was clear. However, we couldn’t believe the number of caravans and small motorhomes that left the safe parking at Ardmore to venture out into gale force winds and torrential rain to continue their journey when warnings to being put out to avoid unnecessary travel especially with towing vehicles and high sided vans – madness.

Staying on for a few days meant that we could catch up with Antony, have a couple of meals together and generally be around to annoy him!

Eventually, all our chores were attended to, appointments kept, tests & checkups done (we are both well) it’s now time to move on.

Signs of the times

The following are a few pictures of interesting signs seen on our recent trip to the UK. The pictures say it all.

Dog waste bin. How apt!
Just In case you don’t understand the words the picture shows you what to do.
I had to take a second glance at this sign in the supermarket, I initially thought wow, polishing furniture much be a BIG thing here in the UK 😂. No, it’s food from Poland!
This was a sign on a lamp post in Newcastle, it says “l’m afraid of the dark“ then goes on to tell you to call the number on the poster to have the street light turned on for you.
An historic elopement sign!
Bus stop with my initials….BV
Which coffee would you like?
Clean up after yourself
Stay calm
Beach clean
Selection of signs seen around the Bristol foreshore
Self explanatory
Go Native and eat Durham Houmus aka pease pudding!!
Motto to live by
Take note of some of these and implement them into everyday life
No dogs or nuts allowed at this Scarborough School!
Good sign…shame they used OF instead of OFF
Just clean up after your dog!
Good name for a pub – The Wrong ‘un.
And if Covid wasn’t enough…
Really? They need a notice to tell them not to spit?
Yes indeed, socks and sandals are a thing here!

First week back in NZ

Birdsong, that’s what I’ve really noticed most since we have been back on NZ soil, the cacophony of wonderful birdsong that wakes us in the mornings and continues throughout the day until evening. I didn’t realise how much I missed that chorus of background song, even in Auckland City the song is everywhere but now that we are in the country the noise is almost deafening! Combined with the roar of the sea and I keep thinking my ears are ringing.

We spent our first couple of days back staying with Antony, trying to adjust to time difference and catching up on sleep. I’ve only just realised that this is the first time we have returned to NZ non stop without a layover half way. Every other return journey we have had a night or three around half way to break the trip but not this time. Although we haven’t had any jet lag as such (I always chew on the No Jet Lag tablets (they work for me)), it’s the tiredness and adjustment to time zone and seasonal changes that gets us.

After a few days of R&R in Auckland at Antony’s we headed down to Tauranga ready to pick up our RV, but first we stayed with Keith in Mt Maunganui and had a good catch up with my nieces Jenna, Amy & Rebekka, their husbands and my great nieces. Although still in a bit of a zombie state, just sleep deprivation rather than any jet lag, we had a lovely afternoon and evening sharing a Thai meal. And in my fog I forgot to take a single photo.

The following day we were off to collect the van, it was pouring with rain so not a nice day to be travelling. Anticipating all sorts of potential issues in the van from dampness, to mould, to mustiness, to mice and goodness knows what else, we were pleasantly surprised that everything was just fine with no evidence of anything unpleasant. As there was a break in the rain, we decided to just get a move on and unload everything once we reached the POP in Whakatane, our destination for the next few days.

The van started first time, and we were off. Just a 30minute drive and we arrived at the POP (Park over property) where we quickly settled in then started the clean before unpacking everything. With fingers crossed we started the fridge, it went first time, phew. We had done a basic supermarket shop on our way, getting in the essentials like bread, milk, butter, eggs, cheese, tea and some fresh fruit & veg so a cup of tea was essential before starting work. It wasn’t long before we had everything stowed away although I do have to admit that I had to search the memory banks to remember where we kept things! Well, it is 6 months since we left the van so I guess I’m allowed to forget a few things.

More shopping was done the next day to tide us over for the next week or so. We’ve already noticed how much more expensive the groceries are to what we paid for in the UK, but fuel is a lot cheaper here in NZ compared to England. So I guess it’s swings and roundabouts.

Next day we meet up with John & Jude in Whakatane for lunch, and to give John his gifts of flags, flags and more flags, a bottle of Pedro Ximinez and of course liquorice in all sorts of forms but mainly Pontefract Cakes and Nipits.

John opening his bag of goodies.

In return John had got some honey for me from Opotiki, lovely Manuka honey which is rather delicious. I had bought some earlier in the year and taken it over to Alex so I knew it was good. We had a long lunch and caught up on all their news before it was time for us all to get a few chores done.

The next day I had booked the van in for its COF with the new oven booked in for installation later that day. Some of you will recall the oven issues we had back in May this year, you can read about it here. So off we trot for the COF, at Ted’s in Whakatane, hmmm, but what’s this? One of the inspectors comes out holding his phone, look at this he says, one of the inside rear tyres has a huge bulge in the wall, you need to get it changed asap. Fortunately there is Bridgestone Tyres just next door so off we go. Unfortunately the young man is working alone today and is out on a job but he will be back soon we are told. A couple of hours later he returns, hmmmm he says, I don’t have any of that size tyre, it will have to be ordered in. “What about our spare?” I ask…”oh you have a spare?” he replies. Yes we do, so we took the cover off it only to find it had some occupants.

A very large birds nest.

We had checked all over the van when we picked it up for birds but we didn’t think of checking inside the cover of the spare on the back of the van! The nest was quickly despatched and he got to work getting the van jacked up…we can put down our hydraulic levellers if that would help! oh that’s amazing, he said, you are making my job so much easier. He quickly had the tyre changed, checked, torqued and he then checks all the tyre pressures. All done and dusted and that will be $40 thanks! That’s brilliant.

Next it’s off to Coastal Motorhomes for the new oven. We left them to do their thing whilst heading into town for a bit of retail therapy. It wasn’t long before we got the call to say it was all done and we could pick it up.

The new oven

I must say I am impressed with the new oven, it’s much more robust that previous iterations as it has enamelled interior walls to the oven, the cook top trivets are cast iron, the grill is much improved with the burner running across the middle rather than from front to back. It also has a cooling fan which switches on when the hob burners or oven have been in use.

Back to Ted’s to get the COF recheck and our sticker to say we are all good for another 6 months then off back to the PoP for the night.

I had to test out the oven so a batch of cheese scones it was. And damn delicious they were too.

Cheese scones. Note that the middle one on the right is the underside of the scones showing that yes they do get well cooked on the base.
Taste testing with chilli tomato relish…delicious!

Back to Tauranga for a couple of days, we are still fighting to get the sleep patterns back to some semblance of normality so a couple of days R&R, catching up with the nieces and great nieces before we head north.

The return journey

It was never going to be easy, saying goodbye, even though we know we will see them all again in February it’s still not a pleasant thing to do. After sorting, packing and organising ourselves it was time to leave, heavy sigh. Alex & Callum took us to Abbey Wood Station, where we said our hoorays whilst trying to keep it quick and upbeat, nice try, didn’t work!! Oh dear, I’ve set myself off again just writing this!!

We took the Elizabeth Line to Liverpool Street Station, drying the tears and composing ourselves along the way where we then had to transfer to the rail network to catch the train to Stanstead. Yes, we are flying out of Stanstead this time rather than Heathrow, I have no idea how it worked out this way but it did. Whilst in an elevator getting from one station to the other, we struck up a conversation with a young mum and toddler, we were OK until she asked if we had grandchildren…..poor thing, I think she was just as upset at my blubbering as I was. Again, I composed myself as we boarded the very crowded train to Stanstead, we just so happened to coincide our journey with early evening commuter hour.

At Stanstead, the bottleneck getting out of the station was just ridiculous as there are no electronic gates and with just three staff manually checking each and every ticket the queues were very long, just as well we have plenty of time before our flight.

Yes we are in the queue to check our luggage in not at a nightclub!!

We were through into the airport and next was time to check in our luggage. Having checked in with time to spare we headed off through security where yes, I set off all the alarms, so it was off with the shoes and into the full body scanner where it seems I have two artificial knees, one artificial hip and a bra!! From here it’s through all the duty free shops, and no, we do not stop to shop, but head through to the food outlets where we find somewhere to have dinner.

Shall we go to Weatherspoons?

Indeed we did end up at Weatherspoons as none of the other fast food outlets appealed so Weatherspoons it was. We finished our meal and headed to the gate where we were soon boarding, the first leg is to Dubai, just a 6hr flight.

The flight was uneventful and we were soon landing in Dubai having had very little sleep apart from the odd cat nap. We were off the plane very quickly and loaded onto buses for a 20minute ride to the terminal. This airport is massive, I don’t recall the airport from our trip over but we must have docked at the terminal as we certainly didn’t have to catch any buses. It was off the bus and into the terminal to find our way to our gate but not before setting off alarms again going through immigration and customs, a quick check and yes, I still have two artificial knees, a hip and a bra! We don’t have any time to dilly dally as our next flight is boarding.

Off to walk, ride escalators, elevators and a train ride to our gate and straight to boarding, no time to stop not even for the loo. We were quickly boarded but then had to wait as two passengers hadn’t boarded and they were trying to locate their luggage to offload. After about 20minutes two young women sheepishly walked down the aisle and we were then on our way. Only 18hrs 50minutes to go! The flight seemed to take forever, I watched a movie or two before becoming bored with that, tried to sleep but to no avail, got restless legs, went to the loo a zillion times, exercised my legs and feet, all the while watching the flight path slowly inch forward. We arrived in Kuala Lumpur for a refuel stop where we have to stay on the plane (hurry up Emirates and bring back the A380’s so there’s none of this 90minute stop to refuel). A number of passengers alighted and we were then on our way again.

This leg of the flight seemed to last forever, as we crossed Australia from just north of Broome to Brisbane it seemed never ending, then the final 3hrs across the Tasman were really painfully slow then hooray I can see the Manukau Heads appear ahead out of the clouds.

We touched down at 12:23, taxied to the terminal before disembarking. It was a quick exit through immigration via the electronic kiosks, then off to collect our luggage which promptly came through. I must note here that no other flights were in sight so the airport was particularly quiet. Pick up a bit of Duty Free that we had paid for on our outward flight all those months previously, and yes it was a bargain! From there it was through customs where we had declared food (remember all that liquorice?), a quick tick from them before our bags are X-rayed then it was a pass from the sniffer dogs and by 1pm we were outside waiting for Antony to pick us up. That’s the quickest we have ever exited through an airport. And a big thank you to all the welcoming staff members from customs to immigration, your smiles and “welcome home” were really appreciated. And an even bigger thank you to Antony for picking us up and having us to stay, we really appreciate it.

Antony drove us to his home but not before a quick stop at the supermarket for some essentials; milk for the cuppa and some gingernut biscuits to go with the tea, as well as some Vogels bread to have with Vegemite. We were at Antony’s by 1.45pm where we quickly removed the shoes and compression socks (they become quite uncomfortable after two days of continuous wearing), unload the car of all the luggage, and have a welcome home cuppa. After catching up on news we both headed for the shower, then it was time to run a couple of errands but oops, our car isn’t going anywhere as it has a flat battery. We did get it going after jump starting it off Antony’s car but the following morning it was completely flat again. Oh well, a new battery it is.

I lasted until 5pm before succumbing to sleep, apparently Roy managed another hour or two but that meant we were both awake at 4am the following morning. Never mind, we spend the next couple of days getting ourselves reacclimatised before heading to the Bay of Plenty to be reunited with our home.

Although we miss our UK family desperately, it is nice to be home in Aotearoa.

The final weekend

After an epic dinner at Fallow the previous evening, we were having another dinner celebration but this time at home with Ian’s family as a farewell for us. We decided on a Spanish theme for the evening which was easily sorted with lots of tapas to start with followed by a prawn paella, a chicken potato and chorizo dish along with lots of sides. It was a great evening with everyone enjoying themselves.

To finish off the evening, I had devised a devilish “taskmaster-style” task for everyone which consisted of guess the icecream flavour. I had mixed vanilla icecream with a number of different flavours….the faces of the participants were priceless as they tasted and tried to guess what was in the ice cream. There were proper ice creams for the children and they helped me by being the wait staff for the task.

The flavours were: 1.Roast Pork, Yorkshire pudding & gravy 2. Chili con carne & rice 3. Christmas pudding. 4. Pasta, sauce and Parmesan 5. Strawberry & yoghurt. 6. Marmite & Crisps (aka chips in NZ). And yes, they were still talking to me at the end of the evening!!!

The Denny/Vannini clan.

We can’t thank everyone enough for making us feel so comfortable and part of the family and particularly to Ian, Alex and Callum for putting up with this pair for the past 5 and half months. It goes without saying that we miss you all but we look forward to seeing you in February.

Fallow

It’s our last Friday night in the UK before we head home on Monday. I had read about a restaurant in London that sounded very, very interesting. Reviews were all raving about the ethos, innovation and creative food from this restaurant so we made a booking. Actually, Ian made the reservation, but more on that later.

The restaurant in Haymarket.

We headed into central London by train and then walked through the bustling West End to find the restaurant. We had a bit of time to spare so we popped into a nearby pub for a drink before dinner.

Fallow describes itself as being Conscious Gastronomy. They try to minimise waste, use and cook dishes using product that would not normally be utilised in interesting ways.

What followed was an evening of wonderful plates of food to share along with excellent service.

The menu

We started with Corn ribs, Fallow Charcuterie, Mushroom parfait, Beef carpaccio, picked white crab, smoked beef ribs and some sourdough.

Clockwise from top left: Mushroom parfait, Corn Ribs, Carpaccio, Charcuterie

Of the starters I think my favourite would have had to be the mushroom parfait, the texture was silky smooth with intense flavour.

The smoked cod’s head is one of the signature dishes but we decided against getting it as we saw one being delivered to the next table and it was very large. Instead, we chose to have lots of small plates so we could all taste and share.

Clockwise form top left: Fallow deer, Middle white pork, Hashbrowns with leek purée (complements of the chef), whipped salmon belly. I forgot to take a picture of my own main which was the sirloin steak of dairy cow as well as a couple of sides of spring greens and boulangerie potatoes. Trust me, they were all fantastic.

After all that delicious food, we opted to order just two desserts and share them.

Dessert a chocolate mousse with mushroom and black truffle. It was heavenly and silky smooth. My personal favourite was the Chelsea tart made with whey that has been slowly caramelised over almost three days. Essentially, it’s a grown-up version of condensed milk, served with a milk icecream.

You will see that in the above picture there is a sparkler which was delivered along with our desserts and we were wished happy anniversary. Anniversary? Oh that’s right, says Ian when I booked they asked if it was a special occasion so I ticked the anniversary box!!! Well, it was our 40th earlier in the year and Ian & Alex are coming up to 10 years together, so we will take that as our anniversary celebrations.

After such a lovely dinner over a few hours it was a nice relaxed walk soaking up London City buzz through the West End past all the theatres which were now emptying audiences onto the already busy streets and back to the train station at Tottenham Court Road for the Elizabeth Line train back to Abbey Wood.

Theatre District
Gielgud theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.

If you would like to know what had us all in fits of laughter in the taxi on the way home which resulted in the taxi driver opening all the windows, then ask Ian!

One very special meal shared with Alex & Ian, and each other of course, made for a fabulous way to end our holiday in the UK.

Museum visits

Eeek, where has the time gone? It’s time to get a move along and get a couple more museum visits in with Callum before it’s time for us to pack up and leave. So we are off to the Science museum, walk, bus, train, cab, walk, repeat.

Callum and grandad on the train.
In the cab (my selfie skills are not improving)

We had a great day exploring the museum, we started off in the area that has activities set up for preschoolers which Callum just loved.

Water activities with wheels, chutes and channels
Playing with the giant rubber Lego style blocks

Someone was getting a little hungry so we went upstairs to give him lunch. We were somewhat surrounded by lots of schoolchildren on an outing and it became very noisy, time to eat a hasty retreat. After Callum had his lunch we went back down to the preschool area as he said he wanted to go back to play there.

Lunch time
Building a tower, but can I build it taller than me?
Yes I can!

Off for a bit more of an explore around the museum however it was soon time to head back home before the afternoon commuter rush but first Roy and I needed a bite to eat. We walked down the road to grab something, we must have worn out Callum as he was fast asleep in the pushchair after two minutes! We ate our very late lunch then hailed a cab to take us back to Paddington Station, Callum slept the whole way back to the station which was just as well as we were held up for 20minutes getting out of Hyde Park as protestors had blocked the road. Callum woke just as we got to Paddington Station ready for the journey home.

The following week and we were all off to the Docklands museum on Alex’s day off. The weather has become quite autumnal and we had to break out our winter coats that we keep in London.

On the train wearing the winter coat

Off the train at Canary wharf and a short saunter to the Docklands museum.

Seen opposite the museum

We had booked a time slot for the play area so we had plenty of time to wander through the museum and do one of the other activities for children which requires you to find small toy rats hidden throughout all levels of the museum. This meant we had a good look at everything on all levels searching for the toys. Once we had found all the rats, it was time for us to head to the play area.

Callum intently loading up ships and trains in the miniature dock area.
Sliding down the super fast slide in the soft play area.
Loading up the ships hold…too much on one side and it tipped, a great balancing game. Callum loved this game, and once he had loaded it all up, we then had to unload it all ready for the next person.

I have to say that this is one of the best museums we have been to particularly for children to explore, it is very well laid out with lots of interesting displays including interactive activities dotted throughout. Once we had finished our time at the museum, it was time for some lunch so we headed to a pizza place along the Docklands foreshore in one of the old warehouse buildings. This area has undergone extensive rejuvenation over the past few years and is now a vibrant mix of offices, restaurants, cafes, museums, and apartments.

Pizza for lunch for us all
Afterwards we played table football
Boys versus girls…. apparently Grandma isn’t very good at this game 😜

Another couple of museums ticked off the list, until the next time.

Down to Downe to visit Down House

Barry & Matt invited Roy and I along with them to visit Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. We were picked up first thing and went on the 30min car journey to Downe (yes, the town has an ‘e’ but the house does not) but before we visit the house we have a late breakfast at the Spitfire Cafe in Biggin Hill which is not far away from Downe.

Spitfire Café, the inside is full of memorabilia of all kinds.
Matt & Barry caught mid mouthful.

After a hearty breakfast we were off to Down House for a self guided tour. Down House belonged to Charles Darwin, who lived here for 40 years until his death in 1882. Darwin was a naturalist, geologist, and biologist, widely known for contributing to the understanding of evolutionary biology. After moving to the house in 1842, Darwin and his wife, Emma, remodelled the house and its extensive gardens, which Darwin used as an open-air laboratory. It was here that Darwin developed his theory of evolution by natural selection and wrote his groundbreaking work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859).

Barry walking across the lawns at the back of the house, looking for the worm experiments that Darwin initiated.

We spent a good few hours wandering through the house listening to the audio commentary. Darwin was certainly a very interesting man who formed great scientific theories as well as being a very attentive and caring husband and father of 10, he was a hands-on father which was most unusual for these times.

The rear of the house
Looking at the house from the Sandwalk path. Darwin’s daily walk of several circuits of this path served both for exercise and for uninterrupted thinking. He set up a number of small stones at one point on the walk so that he could kick a stone to the side each time he passed, so that he did not have to interrupt his thoughts by consciously counting the number of circuits he had made that day.
The Sandwalk path

The gardens include a very large greenhouse which Darwin used to cultivate orchids, carnivorous plants and many more which he used for his theses and experiments. There are also very large vegetable, herb and flower gardens, which are tended to by expert gardeners who are using plants grown from original cultivars so for example there will be a place marker with “Cauliflower 1764”, indicating the year that that particular variety was originally cultivated.

It was a fascinating visit to this property, Darwin was not only a very clever man and scholar with extensive knowledge and views but a very caring gentle man and humanitarian who displayed many, many talents.

Many thanks to Barry & Matt for an excellent day out, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Foxes

The first time we came to London we were surprised to see a fox casually walking down the road, admittedly it was a quiet road. Since then we have seen them intermittently even in Alex and Ian’s back yard.

This time however we have seen many more, probably because we a living within 200 metres of a large wooded area Bostall Woods. Since arriving 6 June we have seen them quite frequently so here are a few pictures taken at the back of our house.

These first few are of a lone fox seen early morning around 12 June

Quite unconcerned
Spots me through window but continues to prowl
This one was spotted on the neighbours back shed and was there for a good two hours just relaxing

The following two pictures and clip are from 27th of July.

They appear to be from the same litter just having fun at the our house
And his/her’s offsider
It’s time to play!

Grandparent activities

In between trips away, days trips, and the usual daily activities we’ve been busy doing what most grandparents do, being as “helpful” as possible.

Barry and Roy were tasked with sorting out the roof on Callum’s playhouse. It was a two man (grandad) job they said.

Barry & Roy at work.

It was a simple job they said and was completed quickly. Not like the other job they had replacing the plug mechanism in the bathroom sink that then required multiple trips to the local plumbing shop, with the owner Steve and Roy now on first name term basis. It seemed that lots of plumbing bits were required and pipe work had to be changed as the original job was a bit of a botched one. But over a few days of fiddling, it was finally sorted.

Another day and we took ourselves off to IKEA in Greenwich, just because we can and anyone who knows me knows how much I like organisation. Whilst there we thought we should try the infamous meatballs, purely for research purposes of course.

Meatballs for us both
And a few purchases may have been made….the van will soon be organised beyond belief!

Another day and we took Callum into Bexleyheath for the morning. First stop was for a hot chocolate and a cookie. Although I’m not sure that he will get through the mountain of marshmallows and cream that were on top. In fact in the end I removed all the toppings as he doesn’t like sweet stuff, and certainly isn’t keen on marshmallows.

Churrrr….this looks good.

From there we took him to the library where we browsed and read a few books before selecting the take home books and catching the bus back home.

Just lying here chillin’
Back home and reading with grandma.

Another day and a local farmyard visit this time to feed a few animals.

Callum and grandad
Feeding the sheep

And another day Callum had to help grandad hose down the deck after some foxes had left their calling card.

Helping grandad wash the deck.

I’ve done a bit of baking with Callum but forgot to take any pictures as it’s difficult to manage baking items, sharp utensils, a 3yo, a hot oven never mind a camera as well!

Halloween activities at nursery

There’s been plenty of other activities and trips out and about which I shall write about soon. This is just a small sample of what keeps us busy!