Sandwell Goes Down Under

Australia – June/July 2003

Ok, a bit of background first! I’ve been writing to these two very dear friends of mine (Lisa and Kylie) for many years now, and I’d been meaning to go over there for a while, without actually making it (for one reason or another). However in early June, my girlfriend at the time (Helen) decided to break up with me, and, for one reason or another, I figured that this was exactly the right time to get away from it all and go visit!

It was a very short-notice trip; I bought my tickets ten days before travelling, and there were very few flights left available. But after checking the prices, it seemed clear that I either had to go now, or wait until September. If I’d waited until July to go, it would have cost upward of £300 extra!

While on holiday I wrote a travel diary, detailing where I’d been and what I’d been thinking; also I took along with me my video camcorder so I ended up taking lots and lots of photographs, not necessarily great quality but good enough for online.

If you want to follow my progress, Lisa lives in Nambour on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, an hour north of Brisbane, whilst Kylie lives in the small country town of Hamilton, in Victoria, sort-of between Melbourne and Adelaide. And I never once referred to it as the middle of nowhere!!

So without further ado, here we go!

Day 00 – Welcome To Hell, Please Enjoy Your Visit

Day 01 – In The Bleak Mid-Winter

Day 02 – Normal Service Has Been Resumed

Day 03 – Weather With You

Day 04 – In Remembrance of Alberto the Frog

Day 05 – If You See Steve, Say “Hi”

Day 06 – Kentucky Fried Chicken And A Pizza Hut

Day 07 – Bob The Circus Performer

Day 08 – Make Cake Not War

Day 09 – Electric Dreams Are Never Real

Day 10 – Oops I Did It Again [Edited}

Day 11 – Hail To The Scottish Tourist Board

Day 12 – The Great Ticket Hunt

Day 13 – Daylight Saving Time

Day 00: Friday 27 & Saturday 28 June –
Welcome to Hell, please enjoy your visit!

Didn’t get up quite as early as I intended to. However I did manage to do the basics and the necessary packing [not last-minute packing tho – that was done at work LOL!]. Had a reasonably busy day at work actually; it also went quite quickly. Cleared up a few things from the meeting yesterday, but that all won’t get sorted out till late July anyway.

Met Phil at lunchtime, and he was even surprised I had a coke! Tsk! I don’t always drink – and I’ve had like way too much alcohol recently. Some of it I’ve even paid for :p !!

Left work at 3:30pm. And some of them still wondered if I was going to come back! Well, and especially given some of the discussions I had yesterday, the only way I’ll not come back is if the plane crashes. And it hasn’t yet!

Bus (139) was about 10mins late but I’d given myself just under an hour to get into Birmingham city centre so it wasn’t a problem. Got the train fine, but it was a little slow through to Dorridge as it was stuck behind a slower-moving train which couldn’t get out of the way. Reached Reading about 20mins late, so ended up catching a later Rail-Air coach than I had anticipated. I was supposed to check in at around 7:30pm at Heathrow – was I going to make it in time?!

The Rail-Air coach was incredibly popular – there must have been ooh all of 6 people on it! It took about 30-35mins to reach Terminal 1, then it moved on to Terminal 3. The coaches don’t go to Terminal 4 (where I needed to be), so we got a free cross-terminal transfer coach from T3. And it was a lot longer than I realised; it seemed to take an age, but then I suppose it had to go round the perimeter, and couldn’t obviously cut directly through the airport.

It is at this point that things get rather vague and messy. Timings, which in the airline industry are so vitally important, should be strictly kept and every minute accounted for. Organisation and structure should be easily accountable and visible. Mhrnkle.

Upon arrival in T4’s departure lounge it became acutely apparent that such organisation is not always to be expected. There were people everywhere, queues for check-in stretching back a lot further than they ought to have, and which after a while all seemed to merge into one. My flight on the computer screens says “Please wait”, despite the fact I should have checked in 15 minutes prior to the time I arrived, which meant that I didn’t have a clue which gaggle of people I should be trying to latch on to. Wherever people stood was always in the way of other people walking through. And the staff present were all seemingly in a state of panic and made headless chickens appear paralysed.

Eventually the check-in desk range was put on the board – now to find the queue! If in doubt – ask – but of course most of the would-be passengers didn’t know either! People even asked me LOL! We needed desks 31-42; when the queue finally settled down it was so long and snaked around so much that at one point wove in front desks numbered in the 70s!!

I ended up queuing between a chatty middle-aged couple in front of me, going to Melbourne but via Bangkok, and a young female student flanked by her parents who was going to Darwin. The chaos went on all around us but, like good English people that we all were, we didn’t complain, we just made some humorous comments about it all, and acted like it was normal.

We were in the queue for over an hour and a half. The staff looking after the front of the queue were getting worried and commenting that the flight might have to be held up.

We made it through eventually; although I’d asked for an aisle seat I ended up with the very last window seat. The seat next to me apparently was free but probably wouldn’t stay that way!

Went through security etc., wasn’t supposed to have too long before boarding so quickly popped into a duty free shop for a present for Lisa (typically English – hmmm a box of toffees in a tin shaped like a London bus!!). Then went to join the crowd at the boarding gate, which was just as manic. Technically speaking, there were two queues – one for first/business class, one for the rest of us, but this seems to have been largely ignored. Organisation was pretty minimal, and no-one really cared anyone.

While waiting, who should come up behind me but the student I was queuing with! And guess what – she’d been given the seat next to me!

Despite being one of the last to check in, we seemed to be one of the first on board. However it took so long for everyone to come through the airport that we ended up taking off around midnight – some two hours late! They did give a PA announcement about it though on the plane, apparently some kind of shift changeover of Heathrow Airport staff hadn’t gone smoothly. Our baggage was loaded onto the plane a while after the plane was full of passengers!

Anyway. The flight itself (just under twelve hours to Singapore) wasn’t actually too bad – I was expecting it to feel a lot worse. Before take-off me and the student had talked a bit – she was visiting her sister and spending ten weeks in Oz before starting her final year at Swansea Uni (she lived in Watford). She read a bit of my story too (Louise), and said she quite liked it and wondered if I’d ever publish it. Eventually however we did our own thing – in her case that seemed to be sleep! I wrote a bit of my story, had a couple of naps, walked around for about 45mins, and watched the flight map as we flew! Played a couple of onscreen games and listened to some music, including Diana Krall in concert in Paris.

Arrived about 7pm local time in Singapore, nice flight over the waterways, fairly scenic and a smooth and pleasant approach, almost calming. The flight stopped here to refuel, and also lots of people changed planes here (including the student next to me). We weren’t sure at first how long we’d be staying, but it was suggested it would be about an hour. I had a wander round the terminal, but didn’t do a lot else. It was more good just to be moving around!

Both on the Singapore and Melbourne flights, the airline food was nothing particularly special – purely sustenance fayre; the sort of thing you’d find in (futuristic) (military) dictatorships in literature and on TV to keep the people fed but bored and under control. Hmm maybe that’s an idea to stop air rage – drug the food! Meh.

To replace the student on the Melbourne leg we had a Singaporean citizen, but he disappeared after half an hour to sit with friends of his elsewhere on board.

Am I excited yet? No. Maybe I will be once I reach Brisbane. I’m becoming an emotional vacuum!

Hadn’t seen much daylight on Saturday, bit of an odd concept of a day really!!

Thought for the say – does a box of toffees count as food for the purposes of customs declaration? And would airline food?! LOL!

Day 01: Sunday 29 June –
In the bleak mid-winter.

Another breakfast was served. Of course at this point the actual time was pretty irrelevant; Saturday was probably the shortest day I’ve ever lived!! Which does make it hard to align your sleeping/eating patterns!

The last 45mins of the flight to Melbourne was particularly disorientating. They turned off the in-flight entertainment just as we passed over Adelaide so I couldn’t plot our course. (This was as opposed to the Singapore leg where we could see the flightplan screen even as we landed!) It was local time around 4am, and completely black outside, no light from anywhere on the ground was visible. And I don’t have a watch. So we landed without me having any concept whatsoever of time, distance, location, or altitude! Eerie.

It was good to get off the plane. Despite having a connection in Melbourne for Brisbane, we had to go through customs and baggage collection; effectively they were two completely separate journeys.

To answer my previous pondering – a box of toffees does count as food, but the folks at customs weren’t too bothered about that. They did keep the apple though that had been part of the food allocation from the airline – it wasn’t even as if I’d brought it the whole way with me!

Wandered through Melbourne airport. The lady at the information desk only really knew about travel between the airport and Melbourne city centre, and not to places beyond Melbourne (I was hoping she’d know how to get to Hamilton), but never mind, I’ve still got a week to find that out! Bumped into another couple of young travellers, who were off to Brisbane for a 9-week holiday (seems one of them had parents in the region); they were a little concerned they’d end up missing their flight but it turns out they were on the plane after me!

Checked my baggage in (I’d already got a boarding card from when I checked in at Heathrow – at Melbourne there was a separate desk for international passengers going forth on domestic flights).

Didn’t get to spend too long in the airport – about five mins after arriving at the gate, they called the flight!

I had a really good seat this time. It was an aisle seat, at the very front of the plane, directly behind business class. So not only did I have the aisle to stretch out in, but also since the two business class seats took up slightly less width than the three economy seats I could almost also stretch out directly in front.

There was a TV screen in front but I didn’t listen in, was too busy reading/writing. On board we were also given breakfast (which was now my third on the whole journey). The sun came up too and so we had a pretty nice sunrise through the windows.

Upon arrival in Melbourne it had been thoroughly miserably dark and wet – a bit like what I’d left London in (well Birmingham anyway). But the sun to Brisbane shone brightly and illuminated some weird scenery, mountainous, crusty! I was on the wrong side of the plane but occasionally I could see bits of coast.

We landed in Brisbane again to bright sunshine at around 8am (I think we were even slightly early!). Came off the plane, walked into the terminal, and immediately got called out. It being a domestic terminal of course, procedures are a tad different. Lisa and her parents were there waiting for me before I’d even had a chance to collect my luggage!!

(Security wasn’t that lax; Lisa’s mother had her nail file taken from her as she passed through to reach arrivals.)

Anyway. We picked up my bag and set off down the motorway. I never knew they drove on the left in Australia! The car was pretty full – it wasn’t just Lisa and her parents but also Jayden – Lisa’s nephew, seven years old, and typically seven.

Most of the family were hungry, so we stopped on route to get petrol (BP) and breakfast, at McDonalds. Fourth breakfast in around a 24 hour period, and despite its origin was probably the best thus far. So much for airline food. It was a reasonably sized dining area, with several food outlets (including a KFC that only opened as we ate) and children’s play area. Probably about a quarter of the clientele were barefoot, not what you’d expect to find in the UK, especially not in the bleak mid-winter!

It didn’t really take too long to get home, or maybe that’s cos when you’ve got a seven year old in the back of the car with you, you’re pretty easily distracted!

Lisa’s house is actually quite nice. One storey (am I the only person I know out of all my online pals abroad to have a house with stairs in?!). The layout is a bit odd, it seems to square off on itself, with more doors it could easily be a game in Takeshi’s Castle! I’m in a pretty sizable room at the front/side of the house, next to one of the bathrooms. Apparently an extension was added some time ago, which might explain why there are two bathrooms either side of a toilet. The garden’s pretty big too, and contains an industrial sized washing spindle!!

We chatted for a bit – I got asked lots of questions! – Had a spot of lunch – and then went out to take Jayden home. We went through Bli Bli, where Lisa used to live (village?), then stayed for a couple of hours at Jayden’s house.

The surrounding countryside is dominated by one crop. There are fields and fields of sugar cane! Unfortunately this seems to be a dying industry in this part of the world, but around Bli Bli, virtually everywhere you looked there were sugar cane plants, two metres high and beyond. And small, (narrow) railway lines that sugar cane trains run on.

It got dark pretty quickly, at first it looked like storm clouds but it was just night-time. This takes some getting used to – English summer conditions but dark by 5pm. It’s winter Jim, but not as we know it. Summers are melty-hot though so I’m glad I never went over at Christmas. This is pretty much the perfect time!

I know I’m passing over some of this quite quick but I was getting really tired at this point!

We called in at a chippy. The fish available were cod, flake, dory, or one or two others eventually (I had flake); could have it crumbed or battered (I had crumbed). Took a while to cook but it was a pleasant evening. Saw the Southern Cross in the night sky, obviously never seen that before! We had the fish and chips when we got home; chips a bit naff but the fish was lovely.

Long ago, at the McDonalds, I drew out some Aussie dollars, very colourful! However I hadn’t a clue how much they were worth! Just before I went to bed, Lisa checked up online and we found out that $1 is worth around 40p. My McDonalds “Big Breakfast” and large Coke had come to $5.90, or almost £2.40. The fish was around $4. Not yet bought anything that I can price relate to – so not yet worked out if this is going to be cheaper or not!

Went to bed around 8pm-ish, after nearly falling asleep in the living room a few times while watching TV! And they had two hours of Home and Away to watch on tape. Dang!!! 😛

Day 02: Monday 30 June –
Normal Service Has Been Resumed.

Well that was a long sleep! Woke up about 8am. Jet-lag? What’s that then?!

Wrote my travel diary before getting up. I think I waffle too much when I write things like this!

Me and Lisa went through a load of leaflets, well mainly me anyway, about what was in the local area. There were a few I had my eye on, but I’m only here till Saturday (probably) so we surely won’t get to do them all. I needed to go shopping; I needed to buy mini-cassettes for my camcorder, so I suggested going to do something else nearby.

After watching a bit of TV, we drove off. Lisa has a car that’s even older than mine!! It’s a ’73 Toyota Corona and it’s pretty much a classic! It works too, sounds it’s age but apart from the awkward seatbelt which was not designed for someone of my build (!) it was pretty good!

We went to the nearby town of Maroochydore; apparently it’s on the coast, not that I noticed. It’s the nearest decent shopping centre to where Lisa lives. All we actually went into was the shopping centre (a pretty big one); we had a look around for a shop that would sell tapes – found a couple and bought two, along with an electric plug adaptor. Paying by credit card is pretty hi-tec here, you type in your pin and everything! One day we’ll do things like that. In some places they’re even toying with a voice recognition system!

Had lunch in a food court area. Much more choice than in any food court shopping centre that I know; even bigger than the one in Macarthur Glen (Mansfield). We chose to have a pizza slice, garlic bread, and a coke. Then we decided to have another one. Lisa’s attitude to food is cool; “eat it” lol I can certainly cope with that!!

Once we’d eaten (fab it was too!), we decided to visit something touristy. Bli Bli Castle is a bizarre entity – it’s a purpose built small medieval castle!

Bli Bli Castle, looking exactly how you’d have drawn it!

It’s recently changed ownership and there are going to be medieval fayres in August. Although it only looks small on the outside, it’s quite intricate inside, with towers and passageways everywhere. Inside there’s actually quite a lot to see, including dancing dolls (although the music wasn’t working) all dressed up in clothing of many different world nationalities, a whole room full of play-dolls (eg Barbie) from around the world, diorama depictions of a number of fairytales, a small dungeon complete with cartoons, and a train set, amongst other things. There were also a couple of towers to go up, spiral staircases which in my younger days I wouldn’t have tried! Lisa kept commenting that it could be worse – could have to carry a kid up them! The view wasn’t too bad; it could be seen just how much Bli Bli had expanded over the past couple of years.

Bli Bli new town, from the castle

We spent a little time at Bli Bli Castle, before having a drive around the local area. Lisa took me down past where she used to live, the house in Bli Bli, which is down a dead-end and quite a way away from the rest of the town! The road led to the river, and the very last few bends were nothing more than gravel track. On the way back down the road we went past a small nature reserve which, when we have more energy (!), we’re going to go back!

After pausing in Bli Bli centre (one row of shops and a car park), we went back home. Spent a couple of hours typing up my travel diary then went online to send/check mail and do stuff. Lisa kindly typed my travel diary as I read it out – well I’m used to my writing and she’s used to her keyboard so that makes a perfect combo! Hopefully she’ll do it again!

Had a bit of food, then later we had a proper run through the leaflets. We’ve now got a couple of our days planned out but of course everything changes sometimes!

We stayed up quite late, watching TV, flittering between Aussie Big Brother 3 (which Anouska – evictee week one in UK BB 4 – will enter on Thursday), and some darkly depressing French film, before going to bed around 2am.

Deaths ; Katherine Hepburn (at 96 years old). One of those people I thought had died before – but I’m probably thinking of Audrey!

Day 03: Tuesday 01 July –
Weather With You.

Got up, well woke up anyway, around 8am. Looked out of the window – grey and cool. Decided to put a jumper on – glad I took a couple.

At least it’s not raining. But it appears I’ve brought the typical English weather. We passed through live Wimbledon tennis coverage on the TV last night, bright sunshine. D’oh, typical!

We had a visitor this morning … a 1½ year old called Regan. We actually met him on Sunday, but I was too tired to appreciate it! Lisa often babysits him – she’s talked about him lots before!!

We hung around home for a bit, watching kids TV, discovered an English cartoon I’d never heard of (The Snailburys). We left just before lunchtime, drove through Nambour (which Lisa isn’t really that keen on as a place) and to a place called Yandina. We had lunch in a pub in Yandina with an old friend of the family (Maxine) and a few of the people she knows. She runs a Bowen Therapy clinic. Anyway, it was a damn fine lunch (a roast chicken special); every Tuesday they do a cheap roast special which is apparently always fab! This was good – real food – relatively cheap ($5.90), and no coleslaw!!! :p Had a glass of Aussie beer too, “VB”, reminded me of something but can’t think what.

After lunch Lisa had a session of Bowen Therapy. I was going to have a wander around Yandina, but I got invited in to take part in a session and wasn’t in a position to refuse.

Bowen is a form of light massage, created on the Aussie Rules field to counteract sports injuries. It was pretty interesting – I spent the first half of the session on my back and the second half on my front – every couple of minutes a bit of me would be rubbed in a specific manner. It seems to be as much spiritual as physical. The masseur (Maxine) suggested that I have some stress in my life, noted that I had a slight problem in my lower back (which I think I always have done) as I tend to lean forward when I walk and again I always have done, also she wondered if I’d ever had a kind of whiplash injury (which to my knowledge I haven’t but I could always check that up!).

Felt a tad thirsty during it – apparently this is actually one of the aspects of Bowen Therapy. Upon stepping off the table I felt weirdly straighter than I have done for a while. Eerie; it seemed to work then! Lisa gets Bowen Therapy once a week; seems to work for her!

After leaving Yandina, we headed over the countryside to Coolum Beach, a small seaside resort that probably wouldn’t look too much out of place on England’s east coast. We drove down the coast, past Mount Coolum which looked quite strange being a large mound of rock in otherwise flat countryside, through Marcoola to the town of Mudjimba, which is actually where Jayden lives. We stopped for a bit and went onto the beach, there weren’t too many people there (mid-winter, remember! LOL) but it was pretty nice. I did get my shoes wet – standing at the very water’s edge, a small wave come up behind me when I wasn’t expecting it! But now I can say I’ve been in the Pacific Ocean!!

The Pacific Ocean at Mudjimba. Yes I know that island is nearer than Chile!

From the beach we went south, past the Novotel Twin Waters Resort (very posh – where the Queen stayed once), and went into the town of Maroochydore again. We stopped off in the Big Top Shopping Centre and had a spot of food (chips with gravy, a couple of yeast donuts, and a spearmint milkshake). They have all kinds of flavours of milkshake there, including lime, and “blue heaven” (and no, I’ve no idea what that was!). It’s good to actually come across someone like Lisa who enjoys food as much as I do, despite the fact she ate all the gravy!!

Came back home, by which time it was dark. Me and Lisa flaked out on the bed for a while (don’t worry, nothing happened between us!) and chatted about everything and nothing for a bit. Had an evening meal (steak and veg) then vegged out in front of the TV for a couple of hours before going to bed quite early. Was tired!!

Day 04: Wednesday 02 July –
In remembrance of Alberto the Frog.

Got up at 9:30am. This was not good cos we were supposed to have been up at around 7:30am, to visit Eumundi Market, which is this large, popular, craft market with products from skilled artisans and craft people. It only operates on Wednesday and Saturday mornings; the earlier the better. And we decided that around 9:30am was a little late to be heading off up there. Oh well we’ll get around to it sometime!

We headed off around 10:30am. Change of plan then; we headed out instead to the “Big Pineapple”. We’d passed it a couple of times before, it’s pretty easily recognisable as there’s a dirty great big pineapple by the roadside!

The Big Pineapple. You thought I was joking?!

In actual fact, the “Big Pineapple” is more than just the big pineapple itself. It’s a large pineapple farm that’s also a tourist attraction; there are many tours around it but we only did the Plantation Train Tour.

Apart from pineapples, the plantation also grows a few other plants and fruits – including some I’d never heard of! We took the plantation train, after looking around the gift shop, trying to think of things to buy as souvenirs for those back home. Problem is I can’t even think who to buy for – of course I need to buy sweeties for work but dunno what to buy my parents and stuff – am bored of buying thimbles and teaspoons!!

The plantation tour train, nearing the main station.

The train was cool, slow but cute. There was a kind of running commentary over the loudspeakers but actually quite often you couldn’t hear it because of the rumble of the train. It was all quite open plan. We rode past bushes of lots of different types of plants and fruit, before stopping at a small platform halfway round (“Koala Junction”). Just before that, the driver got out and gave us a brief demonstration of pineapples, how they’re grown, and the fact that the crop gets smaller for each subsequent year, so every two years they dig up the crop and replant it all! He also told us how to grow our own, like that’s going to happen in Birmingham! “Leave it to dry for a few weeks”, indeed!!!

At the station we got out and had a walk around. There were a whole series of animals to look at – almost like a mini zoo! The first thing to see were koalas, that looked just as cute in real life as they do in the form of teddy bears. Of course they’re danged fierce in real life and you wouldn’t want an angry one to come at you, claws flying!

Also in this section were some turtles, slow moving creatures in a sort of stop-motion early 80s cartoon way, they just didn’t seem to move in real time. Their shells were also flatter than I expected them to be – maybe I’ve just seen too many tortoises and want to compare them both!

We also saw lots of brightly coloured birds. They didn’t seem to be doing much but just resting on their perches, not that I suppose there’s a lot you could do, except maybe dive-bomb the turtles! They were pretty colourful though – reds, blues, greens, yellows – well all except the mega-pigeon, which, I don’t care if it’s a big exotic bird with heritage and plumage, it’s still a pigeon and therefore needs to be shot!!

A few emus were located along the far side – there’s an obscure looking bird. I’m sure a long neck could be useful for snaffling food, but Lisa wondered how they manage to keep their heads held up for so long – they must be pretty heavy.

Wandered through the local rainforest to the other part of the animal zoo. Here we saw lambs, more birds, and an angora goat. In an enclosed walk-through shed Lisa bought some animal food that we could feed a couple with later, and we popped by a rat, some guinea pigs, chickens, more birds with colours that made them not seem out of place in a rack of soft toys in a birthday card shop, and a family of pigs!

We came to some alpacas, llama-like creatures with a spit fetish. Fortunately they didn’t try to do anything nasty to us, we just gave them some of the food we’d bought. There were at least three of them in the pen but only one of them seemed interested in eating from us!

Me feeding the alpaca. And it likes me!

The last bit of the enclosure was given over primarily to kangaroos (there was also a large lake with birds and turtles). We did have to keep our distance as kangaroos are quite dangerous creatures! The ones we saw were pretty docile, in fact they all seemed to be asleep, or at least resting in the sun.

We didn’t feed them but, after spending a little while around them and the lake, we went back to the alpacas and gave them the rest of it. They were a little more active and all three were interested this time, although when Lisa tried to feed one of them, he didn’t want to know and turned away! (Though he was quite happy to eat from my hand!)

We wandered back to the train via a kookaburra, never seen one before but it’s one of those creatures that’s stereotypically Australian. The trains were every 30 mins but we’d spend nearly an hour here with the animals (longer than we expected?). Pretty soon we were on the train again, and apparently riding up the steepest hill/incline in Queensland! (cf the train who said “I think I can, I think I can” in the old kids story!) [Note that we could have walked up the hill from the animals back to the central zone with the gift shop but meh we’re lazy!!]

Lisa said every time she goes to the Big Pineapple she has to have an ice-cream parfait – today was no exception. They were big, fab, and cheap! She had strawberry, I had macadamia nut (a native of Australia, though we do know of them in the UK).

Had another quick look around the gift shop but nothing jumped out at me. We went up the big pineapple itself; it had some info on pineapple production in it; then at the top I looked out over the place while Lisa went down and took a few pics of me.

We drove off to find lunch, and headed towards Maroochydore. Unfortunately we didn’t time it too well. As we left the Big Pineapple we were overtaken by a fire engine travelling at some speed. Thought nothing of it until we got stuck in traffic a little way onto the Maroochydore Road and got passed by a couple of policemen! It soon became clear what was going on; evidently not long before we got there, there’d been a bit of a smash on the road and the road had actually been blocked off. We had to turn around and go another way, and indeed by the time we’d reached the main highway again, we noticed that the Maroochydore Road that we had just come down had been closed off by the police at that roundabout.

Lisa took the opportunity to show me her university, the University of the Sunshine Coast. It’s not that big – only about 6 or 7 buildings in total – but it’s in a nice location. And there can’t be too many universities that have a kangaroo park in the middle of campus!! Not that we saw any there – they must have been hiding somewhere!

Arrived in Maroochydore and went back to the Big Top Shopping Centre. We had lunch there – a small donner kebab (in a tortilla rather than pita bread), chips with gravy (we had our own this time), and a drink. Having discovered its existence yesterday, I had to have a lime milkshake.

Back in the days when I was but a wee nipper, we had a TV cartoon called “Bod”. Nothing terribly hi-tec, but each episode had a segment involving a character called Alberto the Frog, who had his animal orchestra. In each segment, he always did something to help someone and got a reward for it, which he chose himself and it was always a milkshake. There then followed a little competition to guess the flavour. Normally he chose strawberry or chocolate or something normal; however on one memorable occasion he chose lime. At the time, and for many years later, I thought “Like, what??”; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it for sale in the UK, nor was I sure if it really sounded that great! But having seen it for sale here, I just had to try it! And in fact it wasn’t too bad! I preferred the spearmint but I’d have it again!

We stayed eating for a bit before heading back home. Spent some of the early evening typing in the travel diary and looking at some photos of Lisa at the theme parks on the Gold Coast in the mid-90s, before watching a series of stand-up comedians from around the world on TV, some of whom had a particular fetish in making jokes about Adelaide. After food (lamb and veg for main, we went out to McDonalds for a McFlurry a couple of hours later), we went online for a bit, before watching some more TV (Big Brother!) and then going to bed.

Weather was better today, when the sun was out it was hot, when it wasn’t, it wasn’t! I feel at home here!!

Day 05: Thursday 03 July –
If you see Steve, say “Hi”.

It would appear that when on holiday, I tend to get up earlier than I would normally do. Haven’t quite got a handle on why yet. Today I was up, well awake anyway, even before Regan arrived for another morning of babysitting. I’m waking up in the 8am-9am region which would just be a tad too late to go to work from but I’m waking up naturally, that’s the odd thing!

So yes, Regan came again. He was pretty quiet until I pointed out that I knew someone back home of a similar age who might take an interest in 20 years; at which point he did get somewhat active and bouncy!

Once my camcorder had recharged (I was planning on taking a lot of pics today), me, Lisa, and Lisa’s father headed off to Bli Bli, to visit the Maroochy Wetlands Sanctuary (the small nature reserve we went past on Monday). All the info buildings were closed (I’d initially thought that was because we’d got there so early but in fact they were still closed on the way back), but of course the walk would always be open so off we went.

The wetlands forest, lots of trees.

We went through a small pseudo-rainforest, with mainly paper-bark trees (called so because their bark is quite thin and flimsy, resembling paper). As we entered the actual wetlands the trees suddenly changed to mangroves, which prefer wet (almost swampy) conditions. apparently the whole mangrove forest should be teeming with small crabs but for some reason we didn’t see any (Lisa washed last night). There were a number of birds there, and on the wooden boardwalk over the swampy bits there were a couple of areas where birdwatchers could stay and look out over the land.

The path ended at a small jetty on the Maroochy River. There were a couple of fisherman in the distance on what looked like a dinghy, and a speed boat passed us at one point, but other than that it was pretty serene. apparently, 50 years ago, much of the area was given over to sugar cane farming but that’s becoming a dying industry.

Maroochy River, looking out over one of the monoliths that abound in the area.

Apparently you can take boats from the jetty up and down the Maroochy River, although not far away is the sea so you mightn’t get too far!! The wetlands are situated where the freshwater of the river meets the tidal flow of the ocean, which leads to an interesting blend of nature and wildlife.

We spent about an hour and a quarter in the wetlands before heading off. We than drove around and about, eventually picking up Jayden and Heather from their house, and bringing them both back to Lisa’s, at which point we swapped cars. Lisa’s parents, Jayden, and Heather drove off to Yandina for the rest of the afternoon (to see Maxine); this left me, Lisa, Regan, and now Kelly (Regan’s mum). We headed off down the Bruce Highway to Australia Zoo.

Australia Zoo is quite large. It’s also not a normal zoo, in England at least, in the sense that in normal zoos over here you don’t get to hold pythons or have a main event of crocodile feeding. Australia Zoo is the home of the world-infamous Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. Although, despite everyone telling us to say “hi”, we didn’t see him!!

One of the many many crocodiles at the zoo – they all have names but of course I don’t remember what they are …

Apparently the zoo has expanded considerably since Lisa was last here with her bloke Andy last September, and is even still expanding now – they’re building a Crocoseum (5000-seater stadium – bigger than some non-league football grounds!) where they’re going to put on shows.

It wasn’t too expensive to get in actually, well less than I thought anyway! We had a bit of a dash through at first, cos we were hungry, and we headed straight for the food court area. It took unfortunately a little while to get my food (I had a burger – they needed to cook it (!)), by which time Kelly and Lisa had already eaten theirs! It also meant I’d have difficulty getting to the crocodile feeding in time – Kelly and Lisa went on ahead with my video camera while I ate, but in the event everyone else had gone before us so they didn’t get a good view anyway 🙁

There are a fair few creatures at the zoo; apart from the crocodiles (of which there are actually quite a few – as you’d expect!), there are also koalas, kangaroos, emus, camels, and the like, and we went round pretty much all of them. Most of the crocodiles seemed to be doing nothing more than sleeping, but it was still pretty impressive to be that close to them in the first place.

A koala looking cute.

At one point we were walking past a few animals with company. A goose-like animal was happily wandering along the path. It wasn’t too keen on having it’s picture taken though, and tried to attack me (but I kicked it off)! It still wandered around though, it left us somewhere near the emus.

We did see the otters being fed though. They were quite lively creatures running around and trying to look cute – although they’re pretty fierce creatures with a bit of a sharp tooth; even the zoo workers don’t touch them directly unless absolutely necessary!

The one other thing we did; just after lunch; we went to a part of the zoo where you could have your photo taken with a python. Quite a large thing. So we did! Regan had the first pic – though he wasn’t that keen on his own so Kelly had to sit with him. Then me and Lisa shared a photo – I had the head and she had the tail – I got to feel more as the snake slithered through my hands. It felt a bit like a tree bark, I felt like if I stroked it the wrong way bits would break off!

Me, Lisa, and the python. Before you ask, Lisa’s the one in pink! :p

We saw a lot more snakes later on in the visit, behind solid glass. On display were the 10 most venomous snakes in the world – all of which are native to Australia. Britain, with it’s one native, mildly venomous snake (the adder, or grass snake) seems boringly safe in comparison!!

I also stroked an albino red kangaroo that was heavily pregnant, felt pretty soft.

The gift shop was a bit crowded, so we didn’t spend long there.

We went back home; Kelly dropped us off before heading back to her place, and we flaked out for a while. I received a phonecall from Kylie, and we sorted out more about my trip to see her – she told me how to get from Melbourne to Hamilton, the times of the train etc. She also didn’t mind on what day I arrived, so I suggested that if I could change my ticket I would fly to Melbourne on the Sunday rather than the Saturday; that way I could spend an extra day with Lisa, and since Kylie would be at work anyway, it wouldn’t necessarily affect the amount of time that I would spend with her. It was nice to talk to her again after so long.

We decided to go out in the evening with Lisa’s parents. So that evening we went out to Nambour, and yeah it didn’t look like the best town on Earth lol! We searched around for somewhere to eat, didn’t really succeed that much, everywhere looked a bit naff. Many of the food places were also casinos, and actually looked pretty dodgy, seedy even. They also only tended to have a couple of people in them as well.

We ate in about the third one we walked into – the best of a bad bunch I guess. The food wasn’t great, no in fact it was pretty poor, but at least we all got free drinks with them! Lisa had a dabble on a video poker machine but despite at one point being 80 cents up, lost all her money in the end (yeah we’re only dealing with $5 here – the last of the big spenders!!).

To show you how bad it was, we then had dessert in McDonalds! And the dessert wasn’t just an M&M McFlurry, but also a cheeseburger!! Dang!

Came back home, went to bed relatively early. I got a text message from Melissa (who I work with) saying there was going to be a meeting about the future of my firm tomorrow lunchtime. Hmmm …..

Day 06: Friday 04 July –
Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut.

Dang! Maybe we should have had McDonalds! At writing this entry I’ve only just realised it’s American Independence Day! LOL!!

Today was, by all accounts, a bit of a lazy one. Didn’t start off too hopefully; I fiddled with my camcorder and noted that the auto-focus wasn’t reacting quite as quickly as normal, so the image was blurred for the first few seconds; this isn’t good!

Checked my emails; a couple of people were desperately seeking me – in this case that’s a good sign lol! I believe I can get regular net access at Kylie’s house too so I won’t miss out on anything, and nor will the folks at work – sometimes I may be a day late but I’m sending my travel diary entries to work, as I travel, so they can get up-to-date information as to how I’m doing and saves lots of questions when I get back. Am sending them only to Melissa; she’ll redistribute them to the others (I hope); she’s a sweetie anyway and I hope she doesn’t mind being Miss Postman!

Didn’t do a lot else in the morning; in fact we left home around 1pm! Our first port of call was Nambour town centre; while it does look slightly better in the daylight, with people milling around, it isn’t really that great a place even so. I think the word is “functional”. Still, it’s more useful than Oldbury. [Having said which a chocolate teapot would have more going for it than Oldbury!]

Lisa had to go to the bank, while she did so I went to a travel agent to try to get my flight time/date to Melbourne changed. Unfortunately it seemed that the only flights still available with seats on both left ridiculously early in the morning – everything else was full! The only explanation anyone could come up with was that it was the school holidays and everyone was flying around the country! I had a bit of a chat with the travel assistant, she said that recently, because of one thing and another, while Europe was still popular (because of family etc), the most popular destinations for Aussies to go on holiday to were New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and America. Travel to Asia was right down, as were the numbers of Asians holidaying in Australia!

Anyway. I got my ticket changed to fly out from Brisbane at 8:10am on Sunday morning, and I promised to buy Lisa a pizza to apologise for the fact that yet again she was having to get up at a ridiculously early time (“sparrows fart”, an expression I have heard back in England – Helen’s used it).

We left Nambour and headed to the coast. First we called in at Kelly’s house, cos Lisa’s camera had ended up there yesterday, before reaching Maroochydore. This time however we didn’t stop there but instead passed right through to the seaside resort of Mooloolaba, just a couple of miles down the coast. We were going to go to an Italian pizzeria called Augello’s, which keeps winning awards for being the best pizza place in Australia (every year since 1999). Unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed; reopen at 5:30pm!

Lisa was hungry (as always), and I hadn’t had breakfast (let alone lunch), so we decided to go to KFC in Maroochydore for some snack food. Lisa also needed to get a photo copied (the one with me and her with a python), so we went back to Maroochydore, to the shopping centre we went to on Monday (Sunshine Plaza). She tried to get her photo copied in one place but their printing machine had broken so we went to the Kodak shop in Kmart instead. In between time we ate in a KFC, located beyond the food court in an area of cafes and shops overlooking (and crossing) a small waterway, I suppose like a very small version of Brindleyplace.

Part of the shopping complex. I’m sure it’s stable.

After eating, and copying the photo, we went to a coffee shop, and then to a popcorn store. I retrieved the photos from where I’d left them when I’d bought two postcards before the coffee shop (!), and eventually headed back to the car.

Lisa’s parents had decided to join us for evening meal but they wouldn’t be there till 6:30pm. We had a drive around the far end of Mooloolaba then stayed in the car a bit. Mooloolaba is a seaside resort; it seems to be the sort of place to come and show off. Flash cars, flash bodies, flash seafront buildings. It’s a bit like how I’d imagine Miami to be (but obviously on a much smaller scale).

Upon reaching Augello’s, we found it was full and the next free table for four would be in about an hour, so we booked it and had a wander up and down the sea. Along the seafront there is something that just simply wouldn’t work in Britain. Public barbecues. People bring their stuff and find a seat to sit in. Just off the promenade are a series of tables with frying grilles embedded in them; the idea being is that you use them to have your own barbecue, without having to bring one!

Also on the seafront is the “Loo with a View”, a slightly bizarre iron structure (with an even more bizarre piece of modern art in front of it made of metal and trampolines (?) that wouldn’t look out of place in several English cities) that functions as both a look-out station over the sea, and public toilets. The toilets themselves don’t have much of a view (in fact they’re pretty naff), but they’re convenient for the beach I suppose.

Wandered onto the beach. Rather peaceful, dark, and odd to think that in a direct straight line the next major land of any significance is Chile in South America!! Was wearing my walking sandals and they got somewhat wet and sandy, not good; I was squelching for the rest of the evening LOL! Despite the fact that it was dark, there were still a number of people playing with balls on the beach.

We then walked up and down the shops on the promenade (what the difference is between a promenade and an esplanade I don’t actually know!), to pass the rest of the time before going to eat. It was mainly cafés that lined the route but there were a few clothes shops as well. Eventually we ended up back at Augello’s just at the right time – which was convenient!

It was still quite crowded and our table didn’t have too much legroom but otherwise it was pretty cool; you’re going to have to expect that in a place that’s so popular! We only had a pizza each, and a jug of water (no other drinks or starters or anything – I did notice they had a fine selection of liqueurs and I was tempted to ask to see if they had a lemonella but couldn’t be mythered in the end. Lemonella is this really strange drink, best served chilled, that tastes exactly like alcoholic lemon meringue pie); I went for the Moroccan Chicken pizza – I was tempted with the Mount Vesuvius, with all its chilli and hot salami – but the Moroccan Chicken won over because of the lime chutney topping. Which was fab, by the way! The staff themselves were busy taking turns reading the back of my T-shirt – I was wearing one bought in Rome (ironically enough) with a humorous diatribe on European citizens on the back (a photo of which will follow shortly).

After the pizza we wandered up and down the promenade again, eventually settling in a Starbucks café for a post-pizza drink (and, in some cases (Lisa), a post-pizza snack!). I had a chocolate frappuchino, an iced creamy drink which Lisa took one sip of and wanted desperately to know what it was. I don’t like coffee but places like Starbucks cater for that, cheaper than the ones in the UK too (maybe I just live in an expensive country!).

We headed back home, and arrived just in time to catch the end of the MTV movie awards on TV, which Lisa had been keen on watching, meh. We flaked in front of the TV for a bit eating our popcorn before resettling for a long session in front of the computer. Went to bed ridiculously late, given we were to have a rather early start in the morning. Whoops!

Day 07: Saturday 05 July –
Bob the Circus Performer.

Yes, this time we made it up in time! I was awake just before my alarm went off at 6.30am. Course we didn’t get out the house till gone 8am but meh that’s not my fault :p

Eumundi isn’t actually that far north, just a handful of km beyond Yandina. It’s also not a terribly big town, so the market being there means that it’s very crowded and pretty hard to find a parking place if you get there even just a little too late – fortunately however we easily found a parking space very quickly and very close to the market, an example of being in the right place at the right time. And knowing where to look, of course!

The market itself id probably justifiably popular. It didn’t look all that big at first, but with a bit of exploration it could be seen to go on for quite some way – there were stalls everywhere and the paths between them were pretty narrow so the whole place was quite crowded!

Me and Lisa ended up walking round on our own; she was flittering from stall to stall pretty quickly, but I did get a chance to get a general overview. I was looking round for souvenirs but didn’t really find too many things that were appropriate. There was a certain Latin American flavour to some of the stalls, which isn’t really what I’d expect for Australia. But then I guess there’s a little bit of everything here.

I didn’t buy any souvenirs from there in the end. I think I thought that some were a tad expensive, for what they were. Also there were stalls there with paintings and furniture – imagine the postage costs on them?!? :p We did buy a couple of snacks, some Rocky Road (kind of like fudge mixed with nuts and marshmallow), and some Dutch profiteroles with strawberry syrup. I also had a caramel milkshake.

Along the way we passed by a circus performer making animals out of balloons for the passing kids. Both of us have always wondered about how to do that! Mind you, I’ve never been very good with balloons anyway; I’ve never even been able to blow one up successfully!!

Apparently Lisa knows a couple of the circus freaks that were there today; she knows them via the Internet. We passed by them at one point and one (Terry) was juggling with knives and then on a unicycle – his colleagues were helping by holding on to the unicycle as he climbed. And it’s one of these colleagues (David) that Lisa knows quite well – but not necessarily by sight! She sent him a text message as they finished and we walked away; he sent a text reply which showed he was unimpressed in an amused sort of way (brat!). LOL!

We saw another performance later on. This time it was just Terry performing for the crowd. As we got there he was playing with diablos (I’ve dabbled, at Uni, but never got the hang of it, even with one. He was at times playing with up to three!! My circus skills start and end with being able to keep three balls in the air indefinitely!); he wasn’t always successful at it but he blamed that on the wind – what he did succeed at, was very impressive!

And then for his last trick – hee hee well he was on his unicycle again, this time he was to juggle with a rubber plunger (!), a beach ball, and a flaming torch. The actual juggling didn’t last that long – it was the methodology used to get there that made it noteworthy. Without his helpers he needed some assistance from the audience, most of whom were kids sitting down; as one of the few visible adults, one of the people he called upon was me! Lisa was hiding behind the bloke in front … not sure if she didn’t want to be called out of shyness, or if it was because it was Terry …

Didn’t actually have to do that much really – prance around at the start introducing ourselves (there were five of us in all), but then we got our roles. One had to hold the items to be juggled, and throw them up at the required time; one had to light the torch (at the indicated moment) and look after the fire blanket, just in case; while the three of us left (including me) had to hold on tight to the unicycle before and while he was getting on to it. It was a bit heavy to try to stop moving but we managed!

Terry juggling with fire!

I passed on Lisa’s regards afterwards but not sure if they got through. Anyway, we pottered around afterwards, sat on a small hill for a while (wrote a couple of mini-letters to two penpals)) and watched over the circus performers (Lisa’s idea!), but they didn’t seem to be doing much else that day. There were a couple of camels that people were riding on that were going round the outside of the market but we were just happy being lazy! Eventually we arranged to meet back up with Lisa’s parents for a snack on the other side of the market; me and Lisa shared a large box of nachos from a hot dog stall that had temporarily run out of sausages (they were cooking some but they weren’t ready yet!).

After nibbles, I went with Lisa’s father to buy myself a wallet; mine was still functional but the coin holder part of it had broken in Las Vegas (the zipper had come off cos I’d overfilled it!). I found one for $26, dunno if that’s good or not but it is apparently genuine leather!

We had a bit of a drive in the country in the afternoon. To the west of the Sunshine Coast, the land rises quite sharply and there’s a series of hills and valleys that look very picturesque and probably wouldn’t seem out of place in Yorkshire or somewhere. At one point we stopped off at a lookout viewpoint and I took a few pictures of the scenery beyond – it was pretty beautiful, but of course pictures can’t make up for actually being there.

The Sunshine Coast isn’t just sun, sea, and sand!

Also en route, we stopped by a field of sugar cane, so I could take a picture of it. And they are indeed tall plants; they towered high above Lisa’s father as he stood next to them! Some of the cane itself can get well over two meters, and that’s not counting the leaves on the top which add considerably more to its height! Impressive fields, they are.

Lisa’s father demonstrating how tall sugar cane is, and now not to harvest it.

We headed for a village called “Montville”, which is this nice, quaint, touristy place in the hills. Unfortunately it seems a lot of other people had the same idea, as there was literally nowhere to park! We decided to have lunch further on up the road, in the town of Maleny, and come back to Montville later.

Maleny is apparently noted in the area for being the “hippy town” of the area, sort of like California without the beach, a place where just about anything goes. Not that I saw much of that sort of thing, indeed nothing more than the occasional skateboarder (it’s built on a severe hill!) – but then I suppose it is mid-winter! We found a nice little café and had a spot of lunch there (I had a Caesar salad with added chicken, and in iced chocolate shake), very pleasant.

Lisa was, by now, hankering to get back home, but on the way back we did pass through Montville again, and a few people had left so there was a space where we could park. It is quite a weird little place; all that the entire village seems to be is a small, touristy, purpose-built shopping village – a series of small, quaint, craft-shops cafés, and specialist stores. We spent quite a bit of time in an Irish-themed shop; I could have brought back some Blackpool Rock (yes, even imprinted with those words!) but decided that would have been a little surreal, even for me!!

On the way back, I don’t remember how it started, but we started backing comments about Bob the Builder, and singing the theme song but inserting different occupations instead of Builder. So we ended up trying to sing, er, Bob the Undertaker, Bob the Chef (try it, it sounds odd!), and er, Bob the Information Technology Specialist! Yeh I know it sounds odd, but it passed the time and it amused us (guess you had to be there!). We even carried on this silly conversation long after we arrived in the McDonalds in Nambour (! – And anyone would think we were addicted?!). We also en route had a conversation about sweet and sour marinated bulls’ balls, which caused Lisa to almost choke with giggles. Again, I guess you had to be there ….

The evening was a bit odd. Lisa showed me a few more of her past photos, before Jayden and Heather turned up. Jayden was in a typical 7-year old mood swing and then got told off for it – he was hankering to leave from then on and wouldn’t talk to us for the rest of the night.

We spent the evening online a lot but we were pretty tired and went to bed early. Another early start tomorrow – my fault!

Day 08: Sunday 06 July –
Make Cake Not War.

Got up c.5:20am. We left the house at around 5:45am. Lisa’s mother claimed we’d left around 4 minutes late, but didn’t think it would matter.

The sun rose as we did the 100km/60mile journey, so by the time we got there, it was daylight. I suspected I’d be getting yet another breakfast on the plane!

When we reached the airport, the queue at the check-in was very long, but there was none of the disorganised chaos that was present at Heathrow. Instead it was nothing more than simply a long queue! At points, they did call forward flights that were due to depart, and there was no hassle.

Lisa and her parents came with me all the way to the departure gate, which was nice. Apparently Lisa doesn’t do goodbyes, but I made sure she did this one! They waved me off as I walked down the corridor to the plane. They’d be back at home before I’d be in Melbourne.

I did indeed have breakfast on the plane. The TV also showed the same run of programmes as on the flight to Brisbane exactly one week ago, so I didn’t listen in. It was quite a boring journey, and with no way of knowing the time, it made things quite tricky (cos I don’t know how long there was left to go!).

We landed in Melbourne pretty much on time. It was a simple matter to get through the airport, and equally simple to find the coach to take us to the city centre. It didn’t take too long actually, and it dropped us off fairly centrally, at Spencer Street Station, which conveniently was where I had to take the train from to Hamilton, some six hours hence!

Six hours!!! I wasn’t sure I knew how to pass the time but I figured I’d manage to find something. It was actually a pretty nice day; when the sun was out it was really warm, although quite cold when the sun went in. I bought my train ticket at the travel booth – one way (I didn’t know how/when I’d be getting back), and logically a one-way ticket was half the price of a return. How very logical; I only wish UK travel was the same. Once done, I set about walking into the city centre.

The street I walked down (Collins Street) was quite large and wide, with impressive, imposing buildings; very commercial. Parts of it, in my first impression, reminded me a bit of some of the wide boulevards of Paris or Rome; it was certainly reminiscent of a European style.

Collins Street, business-type area.

I needed some food. Lisa obviously is a bad influence on me, because I headed straight for the KFC!! Much needed! Stayed there for a while, before heading deeper into the city.

From a distance, past St.Paul’s Cathedral, I saw some rather odd architecture, and there seemed to be lots of people milling about. I went over to have a closer look, and got lost in a gaggle of people and passion.

This, and other similar buildings around the square, won design awards. Why???

At one end of the long square (Federation Square) was a stage on which a variety of people were performing, at times musicians, at times dancers. Above the stage was a large LCD screen with messages flashing on it. In the centre of the square was a large sheet of brown paper upon which people were writing messages on. It turns out that what’s actually happening is a “letter” to Kofi Annan, general secretary of the UN; basically the letter is 100 meters of greetings and good wishes to the people of the world – the idea being that people can write on the parchment something that springs to mind, a greeting, a good wish to someone, or everyone, and when completed the whole roll of paper would be sent to the UN and addressed to all the people of the world, to show what the people of Melbourne are thinking.

The longest letter in the world. Although one I wrote to Rachel once went to at least 10 pages of narrow-lined A4 …

Most of the comments were promoting peace and love – a lot of them written by children and teenagers. The musicians were from all over the world and demonstrated all kinds of different musical styles. There were lots of people just hanging round, reading the letter, writing on it, listening to the music.

The best comment on the letter!

I stayed there for quite some time, even wrote a few messages myself, before retiring to a nearby café for a nice refreshing drink (a frozen berry crush drink, made from raspberries, strawberries, apple juice, and ice). Was in the café for about an hour, writing the travel diary and just generally looking around, trying to ignore the middle-aged woman in a red top sitting on a nearby table who was complaining all the time, before heading back to the letter to write a final couple of comments and then finally heading off. Nice location though.

Walked down to the Robbie Burns monument in the Treasury Gardens (still haven’t figured out what it was doing there at all!), before wandering down Bourke Street, and through the shops there, before heading back to the station. I definitely got the impression that Melbourne was quite a European city; part of Bourke Street even reminded me of New Street, Birmingham.

Bourke Street, Birming … er, no, hang on … I’m not home yet :p

Spent a bit of time on the platform of the station before catching the train. I was getting really nervous, also all day I’d had a headache, probably caused by not enough sleep. By the time we left the station, the sun had set, so I didn’t get to see much scenery.

It was a dull journey to Ballarat, where the train terminated and I’d have to get a rail-link coach to Hamilton. I grabbed a meat pie in Ballarat station (“meat” was the pretty non-descript name given by the guy I bought it from!), and waited for the coach. It was flippin’ freezing!!

Don’t remember too much about the coach journey, except that it was 176km to Hamilton (and 99 to Colac, where Kylie used to be), and then I woke up just as we arrived in Hamilton bus station!! Well that saved worrying about meeting Kylie for too long!

Cold and dark and windy. Alone in the middle of nowhere. After a few minutes James turned up in his car, and took me back home. And it’s a really nice house (again no upstairs LOL), but a big kitchen that Helen would have approved of, a large living room/dining room in a sort of L-shape (which itself opens out into the kitchen – it’s all very open-plan), and three decent bedrooms. Kylie’s room has ensuite facilities, lucky bleeder!!

Watched a bit of TV, and James playing on his computer, before Kylie came home. James went to bed shortly after, and me and Kylie sat and chatted a little to each other before she went to bed too (she has to start work at 7am!). I stayed up online (broadband 512k connection), watching the final of the men’s singles tennis, before going to bed myself.

Day 09: Monday 07 July –
Electric Dreams are Never Real.

OK, so today was quite a lazy day. Not as lazy as it could have been; I thought I’d wake up around 11.30am but actually ended up getting up at 9:30am.

Not that I made much constructive use of this extra time! I spent most of the next few hours online – hey if you give me unlimited net access, I will play around LOL!! I did clear up a few of my e-mail accounts and chatted online to a couple of netpals. Mainly though what I did was finish writing and typing up my travel diary thus far. This took somewhat longer than I had imagined – I was still typing it at lunchtime when James came back for lunch!

Had an egg sandwich. This actually took more effort than it sounded, having to run around and find stuff in the kitchen cupboards (and of course different people put different things in different places, or not have some things at all!), and then decide what to eat.

After he left for work again, I was all alone in the house for a couple more hours. Flicked around the TV channels to see what was on (they’ve got satellite), came upon just before the start of the very 80s film “Electric Dreams”. Felt I just had to watch it! Guess I always meant to. Was all right, a bit weird, and yes sometimes I lose it with computers as well!

I’ve always thought odd things about the nature of friendship contained within penpalling/netpalling. It is true that no matter how far away someone is, you can be with them in an instant, or at least feel so, with words on paper, or a screen. Obviously it’s even more true online as the person you’re talking to can actually talk straight back. But of course familiarity breeds feelings, which are not necessarily rational, especially if they’re about someone you’ve never met. Now of course while sometimes upon meeting, events beyond your wildest dreams can occur (as with me and Laure; indeed initially between me and Louise, all that time ago), under normal circumstances people just live in idle fantasy worlds where reality is akin to sobriety. And no amount of dreaming can turn them into solid fact. And why would it? The universe does not work that way.

Ended up having cricket on the TV in the background (England doing surprisingly well – although it was only against Zimbabwe!0, while typing up my travel diary. Kylie came back home around 3.40pm, and suggested we go out for a sort of orientation drive around Hamilton.

It’s not a big place, but it is bigger than I expected. It’s laid out in a sort of grid pattern and there is a certain suggestion of small-town America in the styles of houses and the general feel of the town. We passed by her mother’s house (where she was living when we first started writing), said “hello” to Fraggle – her lovely dog – before heading out into the nearby countryside.

She took me to two waterfalls; I’ve always liked waterfalls so that was cool. The first of them (Nigretta Falls) was in amongst the trees down a side road – you could look out from a viewpoint right over it, or go down some stairs to take a closer look. After staying at the top for a few minutes, I went down the stairs to take a few pics down below; Kylie stayed at the top.

Nigretta (not Niagara!) Falls.

The second waterfall (Wannon Falls) was a bit further on, and we think, on a different river, or at least a different branch of it. This was a much grander affair with a much bigger drop. They appear to have recently fenced it off though so you can no longer go down to the water’s edge but instead have to stay on the cliff-top. Apparently this waterfall used to be the scene of drunken parties at the bottom; and both waterfalls were popular destinations for would-be suicidees!

Wannon Falls. Compare and contrast!

Went home – James was already there – and stayed for the rest of the evening. Kylie and James are definitely more sociable than I am; more people popped by and called on the phone in one evening than I get in a whole year! I suppose it helps to have siblings who live close by, and if you live with someone too, someone you can get along well with.

Lisa was a Home and Away fan, Kylie is a Neighbours fan. So no matter where I go I can’t escape the Aussie soaps!! LOL!!

Went to bed rather late again, after two glasses of wine. It was quite a pleasant evening, nice food (chicken/pasta, ice cream/choc syrup), and nice ambience. But one thing permanently in the back of my mind, worryingly the one thing I guessed but didn’t want. I know the answer to what I had to find out, and it’s almost certainly the wrong one.

Day 10: Tuesday 08 July –
Oops I did it again [edited].

Today felt weird. This is not the place to explain why. It’s supposed to be a “Travel” diary!!

Woke up early again. It’s definitely a holiday thing! Went online, discovered that my netpal Sheralee didn’t even realise I’d gone on holiday LOL! Dang oh well she was drunk anyway! Nice girl, just a bit young! :p

After checking the weather forecasts, we decided to for a “little” drive, firstly to Colac as Kylie had to drop off some uniforms to the bank where she used to work, and then along the coastal road. We figured we’d do the Grampian Mountains tomorrow.

So we set off. It was almost two hours to Colac, and pretty flat, unmemorable, farming country. We passed through a few villages, some of which Kylie said “ooh that’s a nice pub there, we’ll have to go there sometime!”. Given that I’m only here until Friday morning, and given that Kylie tries not to go out the night before she works, that doesn’t really give us a lot of time! And “next time” might never happen – it’s taken me at least 9 years to make it this far the first time, and Kylie’s still thinking of working abroad for a year, and who knows, she might never come back!

Reached Colac at around lunchtime. She had a bit of catching-up session with her friend Carol at the bank, who Kylie said acted like a kind of mother-figure to her while she was in Colac. We had lunch from a nice bakers/deli shop (toasted focaccia sandwich and a pie), which we ate in the car, and then we drove down to the coast.

This was more interesting scenery. Pretty steep hills and a bit of pine forest. The road seemed to be forever rising. Every so often we’d pass through very small villages, some with only a couple of houses in them, that seemed pretty much miles from anywhere. Kylie said she wouldn’t personally like to live so far out of the way; a bit different to Laure and Helen!

When we reached the coast, we ended up on a road running along the cliff top, overlooking the sea far down below. It was quite spectacular, and a little weird. We stopped off at a touristy site called the “Twelve Apostles”, a series of rocky columns and outposts of irregular shapes originally part of the land but over the millennia had been partly washed away through the action of the sea.

Some of the 12 Apostles. The name was changed in the 1800s to reflect a more spiritual feeling (it’s a very popular area for shipwrecks!).

It was strange to look out over the sea and think – just like I had done in Mooloolaba – that the next piece of land in e direct straight lane was a completely different continent, in this case, Antarctica!

Another nice Durdle Door (or is that more of a catflap) rock effect.

We passed by a couple of other places to look out to sea, before arriving in the town of Warrnambool, yet another place where Kylie has lived – albeit for only a year or so. We drove around the harbour complex a bit, and then had a brief look around the town. It seems like quite a nice place actually; a bit functional but nothing too awful.

The last place we visited on the journey was a town called Port Fairy. Lisa had looked on a map to see where I was going, and stated that she wanted a postcard from Port Fairy, simply because of the name (her nickname is Sugarplum, as in the Sugarplum Fairy, and she likes anything to do with fairies), so we obliged! We went to the seafront to see people trying to surf in very small waves – although there was much better surf a couple of miles down the road at another part of the coast. The tide was right in; some steps leading down to the beach had waves lapping at the bottom!

We found a postcard shop in the town, then went to a café for a mid-afternoon snack (peppermint tea and apple crumble). Apparently, Port Fairy is quite exclusive – waiting lists for some holiday cottages to rent are up to a year in length! It’s one of the nearest points on the coast to Hamilton, and indeed is sometimes nicknamed “South Hamilton” due to the numbers of people from there that holiday in Port Fairy.

We then drove straight back home to Hamilton. By the time we got there the sun had set; we’d been out all day, driving all day even, and it was really nice. Gawd knows how far we travelled, around 450km I think!

The evening was very very sociable, a few friends of theirs came round for drinks (wine) and food (spaghetti bolognaise, chocolate pudding), the making of which was an incredibly relaxed affair (“*how* much sugar are you putting in?” – “It’ll bubble over the top of the tin / No it won’t!”). There were so many of us that everything on the recipe that Kylie had, had to be doubled

Although she put it on the TV, much to the disgust of others round the table, there was so much conversation going on that Kylie missed the Beverly Hills 90210 Reunion Special! We ended up watching some weird and wonderful video clips from James’ computer on the TV instead.

One of their friends, John, ended up playing on James’ computer long into the night, and presumably stayed over. The rest of us went to bed around 1am-ish.

Day 11: Wednesday 09 July –
Hail to the Scottish Tourist Board!

Woke up at 9:30am and did my travel diary. John was indeed still around and playing on the computer. He’d gone to bed around 5am, a symptom of computer game playing I know all too well – I used to have evenings of playing Civilisation where I’d start at say 6pm, blink once and it’d be 2am!! No food, no drink, no watch, no staring out the window, no need for anything more than the screen!

Kylie got up late; she apologised for appearing out her room just after 11am. Apparently she’d woken up just after 9am … and then went back to sleep again! D’oh!

Although invited to come with us, John declined, which I think was a good thing, after all I hardly knew him and I was here to meet Kylie. We eventually all departed anyway at roughly the same time – midday. (Bizarrely just in time to see James come back for lunch; he was a tad surprised to see us!)

We were indeed headed to the Grampian Mountains. They’re not as far off as the coast, only about 30km from Hamilton to the village of Dunkeld, which is right on the edge of the mountains. On the way we stopped at the foot of Mounts Sturgeon and Abrupt, for the view. The Grampians actually start pretty abruptly; three sides around Dunkeld are pretty flat!

Mount Sturgeon and Mount Abrupt. If they’d been in England would it have been called Sturgeon Pike? What a Plaice that would be!

It’s about 60km from Dunkeld to the town of Halls Gap, which is generally regarded as being the centre of the mountains, even though it does in fact also lie on the edge of them! It’s a nice, quaint, little village, full of backpackers/tourists – though I’m not sure what the public transport links are like to get there! The road to it was very pretty, much of it was forested and beyond the trees were the mountains, looming, rough, almost a tad unfriendly – but we figured they’d be excellent for rock-climbing. We noted several places en route that we made a mental suggestion to come back to, should we have time.

It was quite cold weather up in Halls Gap. There was mist and cloud at the top of some of the peaks, and it felt a bit chilly when we stepped out of the car to go for a walk. But Kylie figured that the walk would warm us up.

We didn’t actually walk that far really, just a round trip of a couple of kms. It was really nice to be in the countryside here; it felt very clear and fresh. We walked along a small stream to a point where it flowed nicely over a series of smooth slabs of marble-like stone. These were called the “Venus Baths”, quite simple but still quite nice.

Not the world’s best picture of a horizontal waterfall but, meh, * shrugs!

We walked from there back to the car park, and then into the town centre. Apparently, every time she comes here, Kylie always has an ice-cream; indeed she has been known to come all the way out here purely for that reason! But we didn’t do that yet; we had a bit of a hot snack first! kangaroo souvlaki kebab/tortilla; kangaroo’s a bit chewy, a bit like beef, or more ‘gamey’.

We did a bit of souvenir shopping too. It was a nice location for shops; it reminded me of the sort of area round a Lake District youth hostel. The shops themselves looked like they were based on the design of log cabins. We had a look in several; Kylie suggested if I were to buy souvenirs in Australia then this would be the best place to do it. So I had a look around and bought lots of junk, including (of course) a boomerang and a small didgeridoo!!

Halls Gap town centre. Feels a bit like I’m in the Lake District.

Only then did we have an ice-cream, a cone with two (Kylie) or three (me) scoops of different flavours – it took me a while to eat mine!! I’m sure there’s something really odd about eating an ice-cream up in mountains in the middle of winter but, hey I’m on holiday and that’s what the locals do so who am I to complain?!

We took a slower ride back to Hamilton, visiting the spots we passed by on the way out. Whilst still in Halls Gap we passed by a few grazing kangaroos, semi-wild, which was interesting – we could drive up right next to them and they just looked at us strangely!

Roadside Kangaroos. They even looked at the camera for me!

Our first stop-off were the Silverband Falls, just off the main road. This involved a 700m trek through the forest (Kylie wondered how many steps there would be but there weren’t any!), to a slightly odd waterfall. Water flowed from above, and then disappeared! It appeared to filter through a series of pebbles/stones, and then drop underground; presumably though in wetter weather the whole base of the falls would be underwater. Certainly along the path there was what looked like a dried-up river bed running next to us all the way to the falls.

The Silverband Falls, what little of it there is.

A little further drive on, we turned off to visit Mount William, a potentially cruel 8-10km drive uphill all the way. Steep uphill. The views we caught sight of on the way up briefly through the trees were very picturesque. The “top” of the mountain though was a bit of an anti-climax – the road ended 8km up the hill in a rather dull parking area, with no view as it was hidden by trees – and the remaining 1.8km to the summit was a “strenuous walk” according to the sign; we couldn’t drive it as there was a locked gate across the road! It had taken quite a while to get there too; we weren’t sure which summit we were headed to on the way up, and the one we supposed it might be (and indeed was) always seemed to be so far off.

The journey down was a bit more interesting, it was also more fun (Kylie the rally driver!), and disappointingly much quicker. We stopped a couple of times where we could, to admire the view. At one spot the view was very impressive – looking out over Victoria Valley, mountains either side, it was a sea of cloud; it was like being in an aeroplane! And we were the only people around, the only sound was what sounded like falling water – either a waterfall in the trees or rain coming from the clouds, we couldn’t decide. Anyway it was very picturesque and really nice!

It looks better on video; but it’s nothing like being there, was very eerie!

The third and final place we stopped was Jimmy’s Creek, a small stream in a heavily wooded area, apparently with leeches (!). There are also sometimes koalas in the trees but we didn’t see any. The spot is a good picnic site, and there were paths leading deep into the forest, but it was getting late by now so we didn’t take them.

On the way home, just before Dunkeld, we nearly hit a kangaroo! It was in the middle of the road, just sitting there, but when we got really close, and before I’d had a chance to take its picture, it hopped off.

We didn’t do a lot that evening, it was just mainly the three of us. James set up my camcorder so they could both see all the pics that I’d taken since my arrival in Australia – Kylie chose a few from the ones we’d taken together of the waterfalls, so we copied them to James’ computer. I also uploaded a few to my website so the folks at work could see them. When I get back I’ll do the website properly.

Day 12: Thursday 10 July –
The Great Ticket Hunt.

Day of rest. Kylie on a morning shift (7am-3:30pm), so (like Monday) I had a pretty free morning. I spent much of it on the computer (now there’s a surprise!), actually partly designing the webpages for this travel diary! We will be able to do it properly when I get back home, but I’ve got a prototype working for days 06 to 10 (4-8 July).

Had another egg sandwich, this one with onion. It really was a lazy daytime! James came home for lunch, with a KFC (admitted he couldn’t be mythered to cook!).

I wandered out for a walk about 2:30pm. I needed to get a couple of things from Hamilton, including my ticket for the journey back to Melbourne. I’m not looking forward to it at all; I’ll be travelling probably for a total of a day and a half, if you count getting from Hamilton all the way to my house. And not a break in between!

It was very quiet in the residential area, but the town centre itself was a little busier. It’s not that bit a town centre really, a bit like a small suburb of Birmingham. I bought my ticket then wandered up and down the high street a bit. Bought a thank-you card for Kylie and James, and then lunch from a small bakery with not a lot left in stock – a meat pie and a caramel slice. I ate it overlooking two churches in another residential area, full of trees; Kylie had taken me past them during the orientation drive on Monday.

Hamilton churches; one Anglican, the other Presbyterian (we think).

I sauntered back home; Kylie had just arrived and was about to pop off for a bit to, uhm, the town centre! She invited me along, so I went. We didn’t spend long there – there were a couple of things she had to pick up. When we got home again, I had a shower while Kylie arranged things for the evening and also for her plans next week.

Me and Kylie went out in the evening, with her friend Stu. We went to a bar/restaurant/gambling room in the centre of Hamilton (called “Central”, logically enough!); unlike Nambour it wasn’t sleazy at all. Apparently it had recently been modernised and actually looked pretty nice inside; it looked all nice and new – especially the bright dark blue carpet and the wooden surrounds. The passageway in was lined with panels that looked a bit like luggage lockers!

Stu lost $5 on a dog race; this was after he complained he couldn’t afford the higher-priced meals! I had chicken filled with cashews (in a sauce), chips, and salad, for about $17 so eating out is a bit cheaper in Australia. My desert (“A Piece of Heaven” was how it was listed on the menu!) was chocolate cake and marshmallow ice-cream in hot fudge sauce, was fab, and was only $4.90.

Dropped off Stu and went back home. Sorted out my money; this led to me and Kylie going through all kinds of coin stores that her and her brother had, seeing what unusual designs and commemorations they had on them. She worked in a bank in Colac, and hence handled a lot of funny money, some she could keep as souvenirs. She had many ordinary Australian coins minted to commemorate something or to promote some special event, but she also had some foreign coins too – the ones from New Zealand and Fiji I could understand as they’re very similar to Australian coins so could easily slip through the hand. She also had coins from Papua New Guinea, old English 50p and 10p/2 shilling coins, and, for some bizarre reason, a 1989-issued 100 Dinar coin from Yugoslavia! Jelena has been informed!! She also had an official, commemorative, still packaged, $5 coin of Don Bradman. Also with the coins were a small collection of shark’s teeth (still sharp!), and a handful of commemorative badges from her time at the bank that may be worth a little something.

Kylie and James went to bed early (about 10:30pm), after watching “The Footy Show” (which is about Aussie Rules Football, but the show is similar in style and content to some of those more light-hearted preview shows for real football that can be seen on Sky Sports). I stayed up online till around 1am, the idea being if I had less sleep the night before, then I’d be more likely to sleep on the plane better.

I sent mail to a couple of people’s profiles through the Friends Reunited Personals site, and did a spot of packing. Searched around for about half an hour trying to find my plane ticket, and thought I’d lost it, but it turned up after a thorough search of one of my bags, though there is a potential problem with it. It appears that at the check-in in London, instead of ripping out the outward portion on both my tickets, he ripped off both portions of my London-Melbourne flight and didn’t touch the Melbourne-Brisbane ticket! Well I hope that doesn’t cause too much a problem. Getting up at 6:30am; this is not going to be a fun day tomorrow!!

Day 13: Friday 11 July –
Daylight Saving Time.

Kylie woke me up at 6:30am; it was not a pleasant feeling to have 5 hours sleep and the knowledge that you’re going to be travelling pretty much non-stop for the next 36 or so!

Checked e-mails one final time before heading off. It was still dark, cool but not as cold as when I arrived. Kylie gave me a lift to the bus station (it was only a couple of minutes away by car), and saw me off. She was either going to go back home for a bit of a jog, or go back to bed. I think we both knew which one was more likely!

The journey back to Ballarat wasn’t too bad actually, seemed to go by quite quick (and I didn’t feel too emotional about leaving, simply more tired!). The first few km actually retraced our steps from Wednesday a bit as the coach passed through Dunkeld, but then diverged east (on Wednesday we’d gone north), but it didn’t take the short-cut to Dunkeld that Kylie did! 😛 I saw the countryside that I’d missed on the way out here, but since I’d seen a bit of the area now anyway (the drive to Colac was just a bit further south), so it wasn’t anything really new.

Had about a 45min wait in Ballarat station, read a newspaper. Then came the hour and a half train ride to Melbourne. I ended up sharing a bank of seats with two young boys and two adults, whose relationship to the kids; indeed to each other; I was unable to fathom out! I’d automatically assumed they were married but from the things they said and the way they were talking, it would appear not! Oh well.

From Melbourne (a fairly nice day) I transferred to the skybus coach to the airport. Again fairly swift, highway all the way, no problems at all.

Had a brief brain fart at the airport though; I didn’t read the travel screens correctly at first and got into a complete fuddle cos I couldn’t find what check-in desk I needed!! Meh, a bit of careful reading later and I was 7th in the queue! I had arrived at the airport just over 3hrs before the flight was due to depart, and they hadn’t opened the check-in desks anyway!

The check-in lady sorted out my ticket problem with the minimum of fuss. After a brief phone call to her supervisor, all she needed to do was take the white customer portion of my ticket, which she kindly photocopied for my records, which was nice of her. She even gave me an aisle seat without me needing to request one! Cool!!

Pottered around in the departure lounge for a bit – bought some macadamia nuts as an edible present for people back home (Kylie having given me lots of vegemite to take back which may not be classified as edible by the people I’m giving them to!), and a packet of mints for the journey, and that was about that. While waiting at the gate early on, I got accosted by a customer satisfaction feedback lady and got to answer a few questions!

The flight to Singapore took about 8hrs. It was a little confusing to calculate since I believed on the way out, Singapore was 3 hours behind where I was in Australia, whereas on the way back it seemed to only be 2 … Watched the Q-Comedy channel (including “Everybody loves Raymond, Kath & Kim, and My Family), and then listened to the comedy radio recording, including an extract from “Radio Active”, gosh I remember that being on Radio 4! And the TV spin-off (KYTV) too! Oh happy days! 😐

At Singapore we actually had to change planes (which was different to last time). We had maybe an hour to waste, so I wasted it, just stood around (been sitting for 8hrs, fancied a change!) watching the world go by. I spent 15 mins or so waiting in a queue for free Internet access – checked my mail but there wasn’t any. Damn you, friends reunited personals advert posters!! The connection to the net there felt really slow; I’d have expected it to have been quicker.

There were a couple of problems with the new plane when we boarded (after spending what felt like an extraordinary amount of time after going through the gate, waiting to be allowed on the plane). A couple of the small engines that powered the internal systems weren’t working, so while the plane was on the ground, things like the inflight entertainment system and the air conditioning weren’t working, so it was getting very warm on board. Once the plane was airborne though, the main engines did their job and everything was normal.

This second section of the flight was to take over 12 hours, much longer than on the way over. Presume it was because of the predominant winds. I passed the first couple of hours by watching the whole run-though of the Q-TV documentary channel (something about what can go wrong when making films in Hollywood, and an edited version of Michael Palin’s Sahara), and then had a bit of a snooze for a total of maybe 5 hours. When I wasn’t sleeping I was heavily involved in writing my story (Louise); I think I’ve got as far as starting section 5 but not having typed up any for ages I don’t know if sections 3 and 4 are really long enough! Of course their length is going to be skewed a bit since there’s a lot more dialogue in them then in either sections 1 or 2.

Apparently we were racing against another plane over Germany, a BA plane which was also presumably from Singapore, to try to reach Heathrow first! No plane’s allowed to land before 5am so it’s always nice to be the first plane in each day! Of course we have no idea if we were or not!!

Landed at Heathrow. Took an age for my bag to come through the baggage carousel, probably 20 minutes after the first bag appeared. Mine was one of the last few to appear – maybe the earlier you check-in the deeper into the plane your bag is so the longer it takes to get it out?! Also the baggage handlers were a bit overworked since apparently a couple of planes had arrived earlier than scheduled.

Actually, on the flight, it was interesting glancing out of the windows and on the flightplan viewscreen. We were always on the daytime side of dawn, but only just, all the way from central Asia. We were following the dawn very closely, almost riding on it, and we were seemingly never far off it!

Eventually found the right bus stop at Terminal 4 to catch the free shuttle to Terminal 3 and the railair coach to Reading. Reached Reading only about 5mins before a train to Liverpool (via Birmingham and Oxford – thus linking three candidates for European City of Culture 2008) was due to depart so that was convenient! Very few people in it, was very relaxing and pleasant ride. Nice morning, sun was out, smooth ride … and we were 7 mins early arriving in Banbury!! Honestly, I go away for two weeks and Virgin decide to run a rail service!! Surprisingly, it arrived in Birmingham on time too!

Lovely day in Birmingham, pleasant and warm. Got bus back home, via the local shop, nothing had changed, car hadn’t moved, I had lots of mail and a couple of answerphone messages. Did a bit of admin online, and then had a snooze. I arrived home just after 10am; pretty much exactly 36 hours after leaving Hamilton. I’d made it!

Not that I really want to be here, England holds no appeal for me any more. I could live in Victoria I think; it’s similar to England but so much different as well. But of course that’ll never happen. Oh well. Here’s to the next holiday; though three trips of a lifetime in nine months is a tad excessive, don’t you think?