Solar upgrades

September 15, 2019

We have had our solar set up on our van for just over 8 years now. We’ve had a great run with our set up including the solar panels and the battery bank. We are told that AGM batteries should last only about 5 years but ours are still going strong, which is what happens when you;

a) buy decent batteries in the first place

b) look after the batteries

c) don’t overload their usage ie. we panic if the battery levels ever get below 80-85% full!!!

However, we did want to put in a new charger that would top up the van battery off the solar feed that serves the house batteries, as when we sit still for any length of time, the van battery starts to lose power and although we can top them up from running the engine, it seems silly to start the engine every day just to charge it up again although we do have a magic switch that allows us to start the van off the house batteries. A new charger would keep the battery topped up all the time with the excess solar. So it was off to see Wayne Hunt in Hamilton.

We had arranged to meet him at his premises opposite the Base shopping complex in Hamilton, after a bit of discussion we also opted to have a new solar controller put in, an MPPT controller which would allow better charging of the batteries especially when they are getting to nearly full. I had it explained to me once that putting the last little bit of power into the battery was like trying to fill a container of water to the very top, carefully and slowly trying to dribble in the last little bit in to get it absolutely full. Previously, on a sunny day and batteries at 96% full, we would get a maximum of 0 to 1.5 amps dribbling in. In stark contrast, today at 96% with a weak sun we are putting in up to 11amps with the inverter going as well. A great improvement.

Wayne had it all done quickly, efficiently and tidily, he also tested out a couple of other things for us and also told us that our initial set up done by Absolute Power all those years ago was very well done which is always good to hear and he also made a point of telling us that our batteries were in great condition and we must have looked after them very well. We were happily on our way in an hour or so.

The new digital VSR on the left and the new MPPT controller at the rear

We can highly recommend Wayne at Motorhome Solar in Hamilton for very friendly, excellent service and at a very reasonable price, plus he goes out of his way to explain in layman’s terms the ins and outs to people like me who have few clues on all things electrical!

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig.

September 10, 2019

There’s no place like home said someone, once, and it’s so true. Although I have to quickly add that we do feel at home in England as well, especially at Alex & Ian’s.

I remember in one of my tutorials at University we were asked to define where is home…is it where you live now? or where you were born? or where you were raised? or where you went to school? You hear immigrants in particular talking of ‘home’, I remember my parents talking of ‘back home’ meaning England. Is home defined by place, people or thing? There is no right answer, everyone has a different viewpoint.

Getting over jet lag, opening mail, sorting out stuff were the order of events over the first days back. We made appointments for Doctors visits for checkups, sorted out bits and pieces and in between tried to get body clocks onto NZ time.

We had a very pleasant surprise in the mail from England. A spice kit that Alex Ian and Callum had organised for us. It’s a monthly spice kit which arrives with all the spice mixes to make delicious meals. With full instructions on the meal preparations as well as a little history on where the meal originated, a list of how to remake the spice mixes for a repeat of the meal all included.

The kit and the note from Callum

It’s something we had seen in England as Alex had bough Ian a subscription for his birthday. You receive an email notification of what is coming up in the next months kit and options to change for another kit of your choice if you so desire as there are up to 5 choices each month. You can also put a hold on receiving it for a few months if you wish and restart when it suits.

We just love the curries in England, it’s always our first choice when we arrive and it’s our choice of farewell meal as well.

Of course we were keen to give the kit a go, with the shopping list in hand (included in the kit) it was off to the shops for the main ingredients.

We were cooking this

Tonight’s dinner

it also required us to make a dum aloo, potato dish, and a spicy tomato chutney to accompany the main dishes. We had only arrived back the previous day, I should have thought a bit more about that before embarking on cooking the meal. I got 9/10ths of the way through preparing it all when Jet lag hit me, I just had to go to bed right there and then before I fell over. Roy and Antony finished off the cooking and reported that the meal was fantastic.

The result

Really flavoursome and tasty with the only chilli heat coming from the tomato chilli chutney that accompanied the meal.

We had the rest of the meal the following day and I can attest to how deliciously flavoursome it was and plenty for all of us so a generous 4 servings as per the leaflet. We really look forward to receiving the next parcel.

We had to get a WOF for the car as well as register it, that was done the afternoon of our arrival. Then we both needed a WOF for ourselves at the Doctors, that done we then could head off down to Whakatane to be reunited with our van.

The trip to Whakatane was via Hamilton so we could call in to see Wayne Hunt, a motorhome solar expert, to sort out a time to have a new charger put in that would trickle feed the van battery off the solar so that when we sit still for any length of time the van battery will be fully charged negating the need to start the engine every other day. That done we then called in to see our dear friends Wade & Lindsay for a quick catch up and lunch before heading off to Whakatane.

We arrived at John & Jude’s late in the afternoon and then spent the next few days sorting ourselves out. John had kindly sorted out our RUCs and van registration whilst we were away so we just had to take the van in to get a COF. It was all done very quickly and efficiently without any hassles at Ted’s Testing Station in Whakatane. We can highly recommend them and we will definitely use them again.

We made a day trip up to Papamoa to see friend Estelle whose husband Bill passed away whilst we were overseas. It was then on into Tauranga to see my 3 nieces and great nieces to catch up with them before we leave the Bay and make our way north.

We can’t thank John & Jude enough for looking after our home on wheels whilst we were away, it was great to know that it was safe and sound in their care and well looked after.

The journey home

September 8, 2019

We waved our farewells, sitting in the back of the taxi blubbering, we valiantly pulled ourselves together to get a few words out to our taxi driver. He was already 30 minutes late due to traffic holdups and he was explaining to us that he would be taking us to Heathrow via a very roundabout route as there were major traffic holdups on the M25 – the motorway that circumnavigates London city.

The trip should take one and half hours, on a good day, 2 hours at the most we are told. He was telling us that we would be having a very memorable last drive in England, travelling through some very small country lanes, until we had to rejoin the M25.

Narrow country lanes

Then we meet traffic….who is backing up?

We went through a few pretty little villages, and we were enjoying the scenery on our journey through the countryside. His navigation system (Waze) was being constantly updated with reports coming in of accidents, holdups and other traffic info plus it had our expected time of arrival emblazoned across the bottom of the screen. We started off with an ETA of 6:00pm, which then extended to 6:30pm which then soon became 7:00pm, by the time we got to the multi lane motorway car park we had an ETA of 7:59pm. We finally checked in at 8:20pm.

During this travel time we were in contact with Alex as they were able to follow our progress through a tracking app on their phones as Ian had made the initial taxi booking for us. I’m sure they thought that we had been kidnapped and were being taken off somewhere deep into the countryside.

Back to our airport arrival. Fortunately, we always allow a lot of extra time for exactly this sort of event as we don’t mind being at the airport early. It means we can relax and partake of a favourite pastime, people watching. We didn’t have much time to relax or people watch as it was soon time to board but looking at our boarding passes, I was sure that we had not been allocated our preferred seats and on checking my phone app, I was right. When we came to board we queried why we had not been allocated our assigned seats, we were soon ushered to a senior staff person who apologised and reassigned us new seats, this time we were to have a whole row to ourselves…score!

I have to admit that the tears welled up again as the plane took off, it’s not easy leaving .

The flight was uneventful, we tried to sleep, I even managed to lie down along our row of seats but sleep eluded us. We were soon landing in Hong Kong where upon arrival everyone goes through a scanner to check your temperature. The current measles outbreak is worldwide and precautionary measures are in place everywhere.

Once through passport control and then customs we were met by our driver who was waiting to take us to our hotel in Central HK.

Streets of Hong Kong

By the time we checked into our hotel it was mid evening local time, a quick bite to eat, a shower and a good nights sleep was all that was on our agenda.

It was very hot and sticky weather in HK, not conducive to wandering around very much at all. Breakfast, repack and a late checkout we set off for the airport yet again hoping that any protests would not hinder our departure. We saw no evidence of any of the protests but we did note that our passports and travel docs were checked before we could take a step inside the terminal building.

Interesting shop seen on our way to the airport….can you read the sign?

Closeup of the sign

I did notice a shop sign on our return trip to the airport, a Bakery I thought. Just a minute, that says “Professional Barkey”, does that mean it sells keys for bars or maybe it’s something to do with dogs who bark a lot?

Once at the airport we settled in to wait for our flight and ended up chatting to a you g couple who were travelling with their baby. To cut a long story short, it seems that they had tried to book the seats that we had been allocated, being in the front row where there is a bassinet, they had booked the third seat in the row and the one on the row behind. After take off once the crew were out of their seats we asked if it would be ok for Roy to swap with the Dad so he could be next to his partner and baby. We couldn’t help notice that the exit row seats across the aisle were empty, the crew said please, you two move to the exit row (Roy & I) so the couple and their baby had the middle three seats to themselves and Roy and I had the two exit row seats. Everyone was happy and comfortable.

We were quickly through passport and customs in Auckland where I have to say that the NZ officials are the most welcoming we have encountered, they are always pleasant and polite making the homecoming experience a pleasant one.

Antony was waiting for us in the arrivals hall and we were soon on our way to Antony’s for the weekend.

All in all a memorable trip home. Now we start planning our return trip next year!

The final day

September 4, 2019

Alex and Callum, Roy & I went out for a leisurely brunch on our last day in England. We caught the bus into Bexley and found ourselves at a lovely cafe in the centre of town.

The temperatures were again going to hit the mid thirties and it was very warm even for mid morning. With choices made we set out to enjoy a lovely relaxed brunch.

Alex and Callum with Callum preferring to eat his fingers!!

The return trip home was via the B12 bus, the bus that we took frequently and became a bit of a running joke at how we knew the timetable and its route off by heart.

It was back home to pack our bags and make sure we had everything.

Just checking to see if Callum will fit in our bag (along with the Yorkshire Tea).

Everything was packed, bags set by the door ready for the taxi ride to the airport.

Grandma, Grandad and Callum

I am sure that saying goodbye gets more difficult every time and this time was gut wrenching. But we know we will be back again soon and we are fortunate to live at a time when communication is instant with video calling through one of the many means available to us.

It won’t be too long before we return though so we have that to look forward to.

We feel very privileged to have been able to be part of Callum’s life for the first three months of his life and look forward to watching him grow under the wonderful care and love of his amazing parents.

Family BBQ

September 2, 2019

Our last weekend in England and we were having a family BBQ at Brian & Julie’s (Ian’s Dad’s cousin), along with the rest of Ian’s family. This was a bank holiday weekend in the UK, a long weekend with Monday being a public holiday, and the BBQ was planned for Sunday afternoon, with the weather playing a large part in the planning. We needn’t have worried though with the hottest August Bank holiday weekend on record being recorded and the days temperature set to reach at least 32C.

We arrived at Julie & Brian’s and made our way out to their lovely garden where the gazebos were set up providing much welcome shade.

Brian was manning the charcoal BBQs with Roy giving a hand. Charcoal BBQs are a rarity for us these days as most people in NZ use gas fired BBQs mainly because of fire restrictions for NZ’ers over the summer months.

Brian and Roy manning the BBQs

Comparing notes behind a smoke screen

All sorts of fun and games were had by all generations.

Grandad Barry and Callum

I forgot to take any pictures of the table set out for the main event but needless to say it was all delicious and there was plenty to eat, it was some time later in the day before we got around to having dessert and cheese.

Panoramic shot

I had said I would make a dessert and thought I should make a pavlova as my homage to all things kiwi, but decided an ordinary pav would be a bit boring so instead made a brown sugar version with dates, almonds and chocolate. Topped with fresh whipped cream and raspberries it was rather delicious. Roy put together a cheese board and even made radish mice with the radishes grown in Alex & Ian’s garden, and it too also went down a treat.

Cheese board

Dessert and cheese….yes, I forgot to take pics of the main event!

Group photo

It was a wonderful afternoon and evening with lots of fun and laughter.

Thank you to the Denny family for making us feel so welcome and part of your family. We shall miss you all, until next time x.

Afternoon tea

August 30, 2019

We’ve been waiting to go to Danson Park for some time now. It’s a local park (local for Alex) that includes a large historic building, a water play park, mini golf, lovely large park grounds with lots of gardens and large trees as well as a small lake but we were going for afternoon tea at the 1766 built stone homestead.

Danson House

We had been putting off a visit until Alex was back eating dairy again and with normal transmission having been resumed, we headed off to partake in some goodies.

Roy and Alex

Bernice and Roy

Afternoon tea including scones with clotted cream

Coffee and walnut cake

We had a lovely afternoon, Callum slept the afternoon away so Alex could enjoy an uninterrupted tea as well. And just so you don’t feel left out, here are a few pictures of the handsome young man.

Callum

Tourist for a day

August 27, 2019

I decided that I need to play tourist for a day so I headed off into central London. Roy was coming with me as far as Woolich where he was getting off the train to catch another train on a different line that would take him into the Museums he was going to be visiting.

Roy getting off at Woolich

Me? Well I was heading into London Bridge and to get on one of the Hop On Hop Off bus trips and pretend to be a tourist for the day.

Tower bridge

Tower of London

Westminster and cathedral

Where the other half live

NZ memorial Hyde Park

Gates into the park

Horse guards

Where Boris lives, well it was Boris at the time of writing!

Then it was onto the water cruise on the Thames to Greenwich where I would catch the train back to Erith.

My attempt at a selfie

Oxo tower where we had lunch a couple of weeks ago

Canon Street Station as viewed from the river

The old and new, the Shard in the background, and a replica of the Golden Hind in the foreground between the buildings

Tower of London

Tower Bridge, including a view of the glass floor at the top span of the bridge.

I think the photos tell it all, not much more to say really. An uneventful trip back home with Roy and I arriving within 30minutes of each other.

Now Roy WILL write a blog one of these days on his visits to museums and libraries as well as his trips to various football matches, I just have to keep nagging reminding him.

Touristing over and done with for this trip. Until the next time.

Date night

August 25, 2019

We had a booking for dinner at Melucci’s in Bexley, just the two of us. We were told it was our date night?! Really? It’s been a while since we’ve been on a date! Do we remember what to do? What do we talk about? We were under strict instructions not to talk to each other for the day beforehand so we would have something to talk about over dinner, and we were even sent a list of possible chat topics which covered everything from North Korea Politics, Origami, Brexit, the best Nursery Rhymes to who would win the Rugby World Cup!!!

But before dinner we were also going out for lunch, Roy with Ian’s Dad Barry and his cousin Brian and me with Ian’s Mum Chris and cousin Julie. The fellas were off to a pub whilst us ladies were meeting up at a tea room in Bexley. However, when we got to the tea rooms, they were closed for the day so it was off around the corner to another tea room where we enjoyed a very nice lunch and an afternoon of chat. Apparently the fellas had a nice lunch and sorted out the problems of the world. And you guessed it, neither of us took pictures.

Back home on our respective buses (I’ve got this bus lark sorted) where it wasn’t long to wait before it was time to go out again.

Off we went, actually we were dropped off by Alex, and we rocked up to the restaurant in the Main Street of Bexley. My brother John & his partner Jude were here last year with Alex & Ian, we had been given rave reviews from them all so we were hopeful of a good meal. And we were not disappointed, we got good, honest Italian style food cooked with love and passion with great local ingredients. It’s not everywhere where you can go for a meal and they can give you the provenance of the meat; as in which farm the animals come from, how they are raised etc etc. and they obviously care about where their produce comes from. But it was the service from the owner and chef that really made the night, Christo does front of house and his wife Maria is the chef and they really make you feel welcome.

Roy’s bruschetta with the yummiest mozzarella

My arancini – simply delicious

We were well entertained by Christo, Maria and other staff and as well other customers who picked that we were kiwis and they chatted away with us over the course of the evening with no mention of Brexit!

Roy’s slow cooked beef short rib

My pork belly with the best crackling ever (half eaten).

Apparently John had the pork when he visited and he enjoyed it so much he ordered extra crackling! I can attest to the fact that it was the best crackling I’ve had in a very very long time.

All in all we had a great evening and yes even held hands as we walked back to the bus stop for our journey home! Enough said.

Worcester, Herefordshire and a little bit of Wales (Part 2)

August 22, 2019

We continue on our journey on the trail of Black & White timbered villages.

After we left the church in Kinnersley, we meandered though some beautiful countryside, coming across this house which the owner obviously did not want to conform to the Black and White theme

Red and Black House

Next we came to Eardisley, which is a village on the border with Wales.

Eardisley

Then it was onto Kington which is just 3km from the Welsh border. However it is to the west of Offa’s Dyke so we presume that at some stage it may have been part of Wales. Offa’s Dyke is a large linear earthwork that roughly follows the current border between England and Wales. The structure is named after an Anglo-Saxon king, Offa, who it is believed to have ordered its construction in the mid 700’s.

We meandered the Main Street, a sad looking Main Street that needs a bit of revitalisation with some shops and cafes rather than the multitude of charity shops.

Main Street of Kington (top) and the covered market in the lower picture.

From here we continued on to the pretty village of Presteigne where the road signs are also in Welsh as the town lies just inside the Welsh border.

Beautiful ornately painted building in Presteigne

There are many interesting buildings in Presteigne including this one which had a Green Man (a pagan symbol of fertility) carved into one of the posts, well hidden from general view.

12th century building with green man carved in the wood

We paused for a cuppa in one of the cafes in the high street before making our way around the town.

This row of houses were obviously built at different stages looking at the roof lines.

Multi level roof lines

On our way back to the car we came across another church so we wandered in for a look around.

Martin, Roy and Sue on our way into the church

Saint Andrews church is primarily a product of the 13th century however it incorporates remains of a much earlier 9th century Saxon building. The most interesting historical feature is a Flemish tapestry woven in 1510, now hanging in a frame on the north wall.

Tapestry (sorry about the reflections)

Showing the original colours.

In the Lady Chapel is a 15th-century Italian oil painting and a worn 13th-century coffin lid is set into a recess in the north wall.

Stained glass window

It was back to the car and off to the next town on our list, expertly navigated by Sue, via a few more of those typical English narrow country roads with high hedges on either side.

A wide section of road!

Our next stop was in Pembridge, again with a lovely collection of interesting and very old buildings.

Not all the building were painted white

Information board

Alms houses 1661

Above the Main Street we walked up to another church, St Mary’s, with original parts dating form the 12th century however a loose Romanesque pillar piscina remains from the Norman church. This church had a very interesting bell tower which is separate from the church, built in an unusual shape and open at the top. Martin could fill us in on all the interesting details, as we discovered, he is a bell ringer of some 40years experience.

Bell tower

Information board on the Bell Tower

Inside the church were more beautiful windows.

Inside the church

Outside there are lovely views over expansive lawns

Views from the church

We walked across the lawns and through the gardens and came out onto another street where there is the old market hall.

Market

Markets have been held here since 1239 when it was granted a royal charter.

Sue making her way to the market with its well worn and undulating floor.

Time to return home, again through Eardisley where we came across a thatched roofed Black & White building

Thatched roof

Have you ever noticed that the trip home is always quicker than the trip to wherever you are going? It seemed like we were home again very quickly where we set to organising dinner of Raclette.

Me, trying to take a selfie, missed taking it of me, missed Roy and got Sue who was fishing around for an implement in the cutlery drawer……but I did get Martin!

We had purchased the Raclette cheese from the cheese shop earlier in the day (see previous blog entry). Of course someone was particularly happy with Raclette……who doesn’t like hot melted cheese??!!

Worcester, Herefordshire and a little bit of Wales (Part 1)

August 20, 2019

It was time for us to meet up with another cousin, this time from my Dads side of the family. I think Sue and I are actually second cousins, or maybe cousins once removed…oh I never did figure out which was which but in any case it doesn’t matter. Roy and I hopped on yet more trains to make our way to Worcester where we were being picked up. However the train journey was not to be as easy as it should have been.

Map of the journey

We left Alex’s by catching the bus to the local train station in Erith, we got onto the train and had not long left the station when Roy went off to use the toilet. Some few minutes later the drivers very quiet voice came over the intercom saying something about a problem, and I think he said something about the toilets but I didn’t really hear or take in what he was saying. Next minute the train comes to a halt, again the drivers voice came over the intercom, with indecipherable announcements. Next I see the driver walking through our carriage, I think to myself – oh, there must be a problem, oh and Roy seems to be taking an awfully long time in the loo!!!

Yes, you guessed it, Roy was locked in the toilet and couldn’t get out so in desperation he had to activate the emergency button attracting the attention of the driver. Apparently this then activates the stopping of the train which cannot be deactivated until the driver manually deactivates it from the original activation point. And did I forget to mention that we were in the very last carriage of the train so it was a long way for the driver to make his way through the train to release the button, and Roy of course!! As a result the train was then running 18 minutes late. To top that off the train was now not going to Charing Cross due to another issue further along the line so we had to change at London Bridge then take the tube with one change of lines to get ourselves to Paddington Station. Fortunately we always allow a bit of extra time for events such as this so we still arrived at Paddington with 15minutes to spare to catch the train to Worcester.

We were met at the train station by a Sue & Martin who then took us to their home a few miles out in the beautiful countryside. Now, it’s rather special to be able to meet up with cousins after such a long time and instantly feel comfortable and at home. We spent the afternoon in the garden talking, laughing and reminiscing. They live in a lovely old farmhouse which just feels so comfortable and welcoming. We also have a bit in common, one being that they also have a motorhome in which they travel all round the country and Europe as well.

The following day we were off on an all day drive to do what is called the Black & White trail which takes in a number of villages which are known for their black and white Tudor style architecture.

The general route

Close up view of the route

First we had to negotiate the odd narrow country road

Expertly driven by Martin

Through the village of Bromyard which was our first view of the black and white timbered buildings

Pub in Bromyard

Our first port of call was the town of Leominster where we were stopping for morning tea. After finding a car park, we wandered off into the village where we found this establishment.

Someone thought this was his place!

And no, we didn’t partake of the delights available in Roy’s cafe, we were to venture further into town.

Martin striding ahead in the town square.

We were heading to another cafe for morning coffee, I came across this model in the centre of the square

It is a model of the market house erected on the site in 1633 and subsequently saved then moved and renamed Grange House. It is the finest remaining example of work done by the King’s carpenter John Abel.

Grange House today

Passing narrow alleyways with buildings overhanging and not a straight line in sight, we made our way to the cafe.

Coffee for morning tea

Oh, and guess what we found just around the corner from the coffee shop? You guessed it, a cheese shop! Yes, we did sample lots of lovely cheeses and possibly some purchases were made.

Cheese shop in Leominster

Narrow alleyway and sheepy art work

Time for us to continue on our travels.

Next town on our travels was Dilwyn.

Dilwyn houses

a lovely collection of black and white buildings, all beautifully kept as well.

Onto Weobley next, where we were to have lunch in a local pub. But first a wander around the village to check out some of the unique architecture.

Weobley architecture and magpie statue

We had a lovely lunch at the pub, whilst in the pub I noticed these stained glass windows which look very much like some of the windows we had in the private spaces of Pen-y-bryn Lodge.

Stained glass window

Further along the road in Weobley we came across the Old Grammar School dating from 1660.

Old Grammar House, note the angles of the walls and windows

Now a private home with all its interesting wonky lines, the school was in continuous use until the late 1880’s. It catered for up to 25 pupils on the ground floor with the masters accomodation upstairs.

From here we continued on our journey, but along the route to the next village we came across this church in Kinnersley. Actually, I say in Kinnersley, but this just really an area rather than a village as there was no evidence of a village apart from the church.

Kinnersley Church

The 12th century church has an unusual slightly separate tower. It has intricate paintings and coloured stencil work decorating the ceiling and arches of chancel and nave. These were done by the famous Victorian “Arts and Craft” architect Bodley, who is buried in the church yard.

A very good, well carved marble 17th century monument to the Smalman family is on the wall inside, however it is now strapped to the wall as you will see in the picture below. The monument was described by the architecural historian Pevsner as one of the best of its kind in the country.

Detail from inside the church

More detail from inside the church

Outside the church there was evidence of old entrance doors, later bricked up.

Bricked up entrance

On wandering around to the rear of the church we came across a very large castle, Kinnersley Castle.

According to Wikipedia “The Castle of Kinnersley, was originally a stone structure, thought to have been built during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135 C.E.). The Elizabethan building that now occupies the site has obliterated all but a few traces of the medieval castle.

Although it looks predominantly Elizabethan on the outside, it has many features of different periods. It was ‘renovated’ in the 16th century by the Vaughn family and houses a fine example of an intricate plasterwork ceiling in the solar, thought to be one of the oldest in Herefordshire. There are many green men and serpent hounds to be found on this ceiling, a lot of the detail is picked out in gold. On the stone overmantel of the fireplace, carved into the stone is a boy’s head with a serpent around its neck.

Kinnersley Castle

View from over the fence

Apparently the castle is only open to the public a couple of times a year.

Enough rambling, part two will be posted in a day or so.