Friday, May 25, 2018

More Old Stuff

There were a couple of things that we’d missed out on, so decided to use our final day in Malta to take a shorter day trip and try to fit them in. We again stopped late to make use of the swimming pool before leaving for the Ghar Dalam Cave. This is the site of some ice age fossils of dwarf elephants and hippopotami, and other creatures, which proved that during the Ice Age there was a land bridge between Malta and Sicily, due to falling sea levels as all the water was locked up as ice. It’s a fairly small museum with a load of bones in it. We did the museum part, learning about gigantism and nanism (which is not your nan saying “I don't like that forrin muck”) before touring the cave itself. The final area of the cave is blocked off as it is one of only two habitats for a rare woodlouse, Armadillidium ghardalamensis.

We call this "the bone room"

We drove back to the picturesque village of Marsaxlokk for a spot of lunch in one of the many waterfront cafes, before heading into the Three Cities to visit the Maritime Museum at Vittoriosa. This contains many artefacts and models from the maritime history of Malta, including some very impressive sailing ship models.

A little further along the way is the Fort of St Angelo, which was also an integral part of the defences of Malta from medieval times up to the end of the 19th century. There were some films which told the story, filling in the gaps from a naval perspective for the history of the island that we’ve so far seen.

After all that, we were pretty well done. The only final objective was to fill the car with petrol to take it back full to the rental place at the airport. As we have an early start in the morning, and I’m not confident that Maltese petrol stations will be open at 5:00am. We found a petrol station, pulled up, and started filling. At this point the owner comes out and says “you know we don’t accept credit cards? Cash only!” This was a bit of a bugger, as we’d been managing down our €€€ holdings in anticipation of our departure, and didn’t have enough to fill the car…or pay what we’d pumped so far! No problem, the friendly garage assistant got in the car and directed us to the nearest ATM, where we obtained sufficient cash to fill the car, then drove back and filled up the rest of the tank, paid, and made our way back to the apartment. Phew! What a palaver.

Our final night in Gzira will be spent at the same restaurant that we went to on our first night, as we liked that one pretty much and seem to have exhausted all the other decent establishments around here.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Around The South

We drove out to find the places on the red route of the hop-on hop-off bus. First off the rank was the Tarxien temple – a Neolithic megalithic temple. We fairly whistled round this site as we were somewhat illegally parked in the coach zone, but fortunately no coaches turned up and demanded droit de seigneur with our little Peugeot, so we got off scot-free on that one.

Neolithic temple carvings. More modern liths in background.

Next stop was the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk. We found a parking space pretty easily, and walked down to the tourist information office to get a map. We walked around a bit and decided it was very picturesque in one direction, but less so in the other, as there were all the signs of a large working port in that direction. Studiously keeping our backs to that side, we took lots of pictures of the picturesqueness. There was also a market, where we bought some table furnishings, and succumbed to the requirement to buy an “I’ve been to Malta” polo shirt – suckered in by the smooth-talking salesman who offered us two for 15.

Picturesque village
Some of the boats are smaller than the others
We drove up the coast road towards the windmill at Zurrieq, but failed to find it. Instead we found ourselves on a an increasingly narrow road, along which I seriously worried about our ability to get back out again, as the wing mirrors were literally millimetres from the walled sides of the road. At one point I had to get out and clear a minor rock fall from the wall so that we could pass. Thankfully we managed to get back to a “normal” road, and then back onto the more main roads.

As we drove along, there was a sign for a lookout point. We parked, and had a look around, and found the Blue Grotto. This is different to the Blue Lagoon, except in colour. We were quite high above it, but able to see tour boats going in and out. There was also a chap there hawking a falconry show (do you see what I did there? 😉), and we put on the glove and had a falcon stand on it, whilst we took pictures. A little further up the road was the turn-off to the Blue Grotto itself, so we went down there, and booked ourselves onto one of the tour boats. There was one waiting to leave, they just need another two people, so the queue meister beckoned us forward, and out to sea we went! Our captain took us around the various grottoes – others called temple, circle, and cat-trap were also included, and demonstrated the cyanobacteria which cause the blue glow. The water is very clear and despite being several metres deep, the sandy bottom is clearly visible. Groups of scuba divers were also expediting around the rocks. On the way back we were sailing into the wind so it was a little choppier, but we made it back to dry land without mishap. We debarked and walked up the hill a little way to get  pizza for lunch.

The Blue Grotto from above

Disapproving falcon disapproves of you
Do not underestimate the blueness

Our next destination was more Neolithic temples, at Hagar Qim. There is a new complex here, with a “4D” experience film, which promises 3D film and strobe lighting, water droplet effects, sight, smell and sound! I didn’t notice any smells, but the water droplets (during a huge thunderstorm) were welcome – in fact we could have used a few more of them to help us cool down! After the show, we walked around the two sites of the temples, learning about how hey were aligned to the solstices and equinoces, carvings of fat-bottomed girls, and the inevitable ritual objects.

More Neolithics
Final stop on this Cook’s Tour was the Limestone Heritage Centre. An unlikely venue, I’ll be the first to agree. It did seem to be enormously popular, however, as there was no room in the substantial carpark attached to the place. We parked along the side of the road, emulating a couple of others, and walked in through the open gateway. There didn’t seem to be any kind of ticket desk, so we wandered around and looked at the exhibits. It was only as we approached the end that we realised that in fact we’d gone in the back entrance, and that we should have walked all the way back to the front to buy a ticket! I think what had happened was they were hosting a function in the venue, as there seemed to be a lot of people crowded into what appeared to be a dining room as we entered.

Phew! That’s enough adventures for one day! We drove back to Gzira, and had an idea to check the pool. You’ll remember that the first day we did this it was overflowing with Italian adolescents so we beat a hasty retreat. On this occasion, however, there were but two German couples, so we got changed into our togs and headed back for a short swim again.

In the evening we went out along the seafront to look for another Sicilian restaurant from the panoply available to us. Unfortunately the one we decided on had no tables left outside, so we gave the Indian restaurant the pity vote. Turns out we needn’t have pitied them, as they turned away another family while we were there, “as they were fully booked”. So far as we could see we were the only people in the place. Weird.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Gozo And Comino

We booked a day tour to Gozo and Comino with Captain Morgan Tours. It was cloudy in the morning but we figured the day would improve over time. We arrived at the ship at 9:30, which turned out to be plenty of time. There was a short queue but nothing unmanageable. The crewman checked our ticket, and then strapped the correct-coloured wristbands to us so that we (and they) could make sure we were getting on and off at the right places.

We left at 10:00am and chugged out of the harbour and up the coast to our next pick-up point, Bugibba. As soon as we were under way, the bar opened, and yes, there were some folk determined to take advantage of the free beer and wine on offer straight away. At this point, however, we stuck to water. After picking up more passengers at Bugibba, the captain then informed us of the possibility of getting off at Comino and spending three hours there, with a boat tour to various sites around the island only accessible by sea, finishing up in the Blue Lagoon. We’d already booked to go to Gozo, so declined this offer.

We dropped off a number of passengers at Comino, then went on to Gozo. The captain told us what would happen when we got there: a visit to a tomato factory, followed by a church. Um. OK, we’ll go with the flow. The “tomato factory” turned out to be a Gozitan crafts outlet, where they attempted to sell us overpriced Gozitan produce, including some made from tomatoes.

As we reboarded our bus, we were treated to an impromptu piece of street theatre. It seems that one Italian couple had decided to sit in a different seat to the ones they’d arrived in, and the former occupants of said seats objected. There followed an argument which lasted about ten minutes, and involved around half the bus – i.e. all the Italian speakers, each of whom felt duty-bound to offer their opinion. Italians, eh? No wonder they lost the war (pick any war…they lost them all).

The next stop was a church at a place where god spoke to a woman, and then someone decided to build a church there because of this. This was a short stop just to take pictures, and fortunately no-one decided to change seats when we got back on the bus.

The driver then dropped us in Ir-Rabat, or Victoria as it’s known to English people, the principal town in Gozo. We managed to secure a table at a cafĂ© for lunch (there were about three different tour operators all dropping people in the same area at the same time, so this was an achievement) and had a rather hurried lunch, as the Italians had cut heavily into our schedule. We practically ran up the steps to the citadella, took a few snaps, and then headed back to the pickup point in time for the bus, as there was to be no hanging around for stragglers – if you’re not on the bus, you get left behind, as the boat is on a schedule.

The boat took us back to Comino, and we had around an hour on the island to visit, and swim in, the Blue Lagoon. This is a sandy lagoon with very clear water. We did New Zealand proud by marching purposefully into the water and diving straight in, unlike some lesser nationalities who crept in, waving their arms around, and generally behaving less than heroically. We had a nice long swim, then dried off and returned to the boat. From here on in the cruise was back to the pickup points. At one point the captain alerted us to the presence of dolphins, but we didn’t see any.

 After returning to our apartment to wash the salt from our bodies, we headed out to Ali Baba, a nearby Lebanese restaurant, for some (no shit!) Lebanese food.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


The day dawned sunny and bright, and we executed our second-best-laid plan to stay in the apartment in the morning. We first explored the offering of the hotel restaurant’s buffet breakfast, but decided we didn’t like the look of that, and wandered out into Gzira seeking nourishment. Our third-best-laid plan – breakfast at Ladybird CafĂ© – went the way of our first, when we quickly googled and found that they didn’t open until 9:00am. Instead, we selected CafĂ© Jubilee, who were both open and delighted to serve us breakfast. They delivered a top-rate eggs Benedict and some sort of muesli and yoghurt concoction for herself (from the “healthy” section of the menu).

We’d taken our time over breakfast with the intention of using the pool before heading out for the day’s activities. We found it almost unoccupied at 10:00am, thank Bob, and had a leisurely swim before embarking on the day’s venture.

First port of call was the tourist information place in the Bayview Hotel, where we booked ourselves onto a trip to Gozo and Comino for the following day. That done, we made the mistake of going to the bus stop for a bus into Valletta again. As full bus after full bus passed us without stopping, we went back to the hotel reception and got them to order us a taxi instead.

The driver dropped us at the entrance to the old town of Valletta, and we wandered along the main drag before branching off to the side streets to explore a bit further. We’d noted the position of the Archaeology Museum and hoped to visit that later. Once we’d had enough of our peregrinations we settled on D’Office as a handy place for lunch, and shared a Maltese Platter, washed down with a Cisk beer.
Picturesque view

A picturesque alleyway
 After lunch, we took in the Lascaris War Rooms. The guide there gave us a detailed story of the war in Valletta, how Malta was vital to the North African campaign, the role of the RAF and the Royal Navy in supplying the island, and how the war was won by Malta, singlehandedly. Our guide was very animated as he explained about how Malta was almost defeated by the German blockade, how the convoy barely made it through to resupply the RAF with aviation fuel, and how they were then able to affect Rommel’s campaign by cutting off his logistics. The war in the air, instead of being fought over Malta, was pushed back to Sicily where the German and Italian planes were based, as the Maltese radar system gave early warning of attacks. This resulted in fewer successful bombing raids on Malta as the bombers were shot down, or jettisoned their payload before reaching their targets. Later on, Malta was the base for the Allied attack on Sicily. Whilst successful, many of the tactics used and lessons learned were later employed in D-Day.

"You can't fight in here! It's the War Room!"
It was getting on a bit by then so we took in a quick walking tour of St. Elmo’s Fort, and then headed back into the centre of town to take a look at the Archaeological Museum, which contains Stone Age, Bronze Age and Phoenician artefacts from Malta’s distant past. We fairly raced around this (to be fair, there’s not a great deal here, just the usual collection of pots and “ritual objects”).

No, YOU'RE a ritual object!
We went back to the central bus station and found standing room on a bus to Gzira. It was 5pm by this time so we mixed in with all the commuters (who were probably saying “bloody tourists!”) and got off at Gzira.

We walked along the seafront to locate where our boat was leaving from the next morning, and also explored the restaurants up this end of town, which we’d ignored so far. One was called Il-Malti, and promised Maltese cuisine, so we decided to give that a try. I had rabbit, which is a local speciality here, and Nicola had a stuffed squid. Again, way too much food (we’d taken the precaution of not having starters), and frankly, you can keep the rabbit. It’s important to try these things, but it’s not compulsory to like them.


Mdina, pronounced Emdina, is an ancient city and former capital in the heart of Malta. It is an integral part of the history of Malta from biblical times, during the Crusades and the Middle Ages, and up to the Second World war. It is full of historicalness and shit. We decided it was worth a visit.

Our best-laid plan had been to follow the red hop-on hop-off bus which covers most of the tourist attractions in Malta. A couple of days ago, whilst sitting in the reception in the hotel sorting through our leaflets and attempting some kind of itinerary, we’d overheard a group of tourists complaining that they’d not been able to hear the commentary on the bus, nor see the sites properly (I don’t think they actually hopped off the bus, just expected to be able to see everything from its top deck). At this point we formulated our idea to simply follow its route.

I say simply, and described the plan as best-laid, so you’ve probably guessed that it gang aglay. And aglay it did gang. The road signs in Malta simply aren’t set up to help tourists follow the red route, as they should be, but instead indicate towns and villages that we have no interest in visiting whatsoever. I find this very disconcerting, and will be writing to my local councillor about it.

 As it is, we found ourselves on the road to Mdina, so made an executive decision that that was where we were heading anyway. Mdina is blessed with a carpark in the centre of town, and we took what appeared to be the penultimate spot in it. While we were congratulating ourselves it started raining, so we headed to the St Paul’s Catacombs and Wignacourt museum. Whilst the thunderstorm raged over us, we learnt about the history of St Paul, and also visited the tunnels which had been cut into the rock underground, where people sheltered from German bombs. Upstairs in the museum there was a bunch of stuff about churches which was a bit tedious, to be frank, along with a load of indifferent paintings of holy people. We kinda whizzed through that section, although they did have some interesting maps which we paused over.

They knew the world was round even in them days
After we’d stopped for a coffee, we emerged blinking into the sunlight. The storm had passed, and we were able to go about our business, which was mainly to visit the walled town of Mdina, just across the way. We found our way inside and wandered around for a bit, looking at the historicalness and the picturesqueness, before grabbing a quick lunch at Bacchus. In the afternoon we did the double bill of Knights of Malta (interesting, 3D film followed by waxworks tour with audio guide), and the Mdina Experience (boring film).

Nicola looking picturesque
After this, we decided that it was getting on a bit, and headed back to Gzira.

In the evening we went out to another Sicilian restaurant (they’re pretty common round here) where they gave us far more food than we could eat.

Monday, May 21, 2018


After sorting out our room in Gzira, we decided to venture out further into Malta. Our original intention was to take a bus into Valletta. There was a bus stop handily located at the end of our road, so we waited there for a few minutes for the bus to come along.

The first bus that arrived was full, and as no-one got off, the driver wouldn’t allow anyone on. The next bus was our old friend NIS – Not In Service – and the one after that was going in the opposite direction, to Bugibba. “Sod this for a game of soldiers” we said, “we’ve got a car. Let’s just drive somewhere. How about Bugibba?”

And so we set off towards Bugibba, following the coast road around Sliema and heading north. Bugibba is a short drive away (everywhere is a short drive away – Malta is a small place). We passed some coastal forts along the way and promised ourselves we’d look at them another time, before arriving in Bugibba and miraculously finding a parking spot on a side street, whilst we were looking for how to get into the town centre. Not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, we parked there and walked a couple of minutes to the main square. We quickly found a place for lunch, with the unappealing name of Bognor Bar & Restaurant, but the food was good enough. Nicola had been importuned on the street as we walked in, and handed a leaflet to The Fish Lounge. We dug out all our other leaflets and decided that our plan would be to go to the Fish Lounge after lunch, as it was just across the street, then get to the Tourist Information place and look further abroad. Bugibba is also home to the National Aquarium, and we thought that worth a visit.

The Fish Lounge is a fish restaurant. That is, it’s a restaurant for fishes. These particular fish, Garra rufa, will eat the dead skins cells from your feet. It’s a pedicure treatment that originated in Turkey. We booked a 20 minute session and sat there with our feet in the tanks, while fish ate away the dead skin cells from our feet! It feels a bit funny at first, but you soon get used to it, and it’s an enjoyable experience. We came away feeling our feet were nice and healthy.

Next, we went to the tourist information office and got a proper map of Bugibba, then drove out to the aquarium. There, we booked not just the normal visit, but also a backstage tour, where we were guided by the multilingual Alex, who escorted us and a French family. He showed us how and where they look after new fish, and also sick fish from the aquarium; the feeding of sharks and rays, including how they ensure that everyone is fed – necessary to stop them eating the other fish in the tank; the feeding schedule and the food preparation room (smelly!); and how they keep the tanks healthy and at correct temperature and salinity, as many of the fish and other creatures are highly sensitive to even very slight changes in their environment.  

After the guided tour we took the regular walk around the aquarium. They had many varieties of fish, from local species to reef fish, and also a reptile and arthropod section, which housed a red-kneed tarantula, amongst other specimens.  

We’d spent a good couple of hours at the aquarium, so after a quick beverage decided to head back to Gzira. We checked out the hotel pool, which was full of cavorting teenagers, and considered a plan to use the pool early in the morning when they were still in the land of nod. This plan, unfortunately, was thwarted by the hotel, who don’t open the pool until 10:00am. So unless we decide to stay late one morning, we’ll probably not make much use of the pool. And after all the fuss we made! 😉

In the evening we headed out for a drink at Sistina. They brought us menus and we decided, after a couple of beers on my part and a glass of rosĂ© for Nicola, that it looked quite reasonable, so moved indoors (it was getting a little chilly) and ordered ourselves a platter to share. It was enormous! It had salami, prosciutto and other cold meats; four different cheeses; plenty of pickled and dried vegetables, fresh cruditĂ©s, and some bread and biscuits. We manfully and womanfully managed to finish it.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

How To Hotel

Over the last few days on our travels we’ve stayed in three hotels: the Travelodge in Chichester, the Park Inn at Heathrow, and most recently the Blubay Apartments in Gzira, Malta. Now, the first two of these establishments are run by chains in the UK, and the third has at least three sites in Gzira, and possibly more elsewhere in Malta. So you’d think they’d know something about how to run a hotel.


On checking in to the Travelodge, the receptionist told us his computer had just crashed and he was waiting for it to reboot. OK, probably not much he could do about it, but possibly there’s some way a back-up system could be in place? Who knows. Whilst waiting, I thought I’d like a glass of water, but there were no cups next to the dispenser in reception. “I’ll just go and get some” he said, and duly did, but how hard is it to notice when the last one is used?

Arrival in the room was uneventful (see below for why this is not a given), but there was a strange piece of machinery in the room. This was the DIY aircon unit. You had to (a) figure out that it was the aircon, (b) connect the extraction hose to a hole in the wall, (c) switch on. We didn’t get past (a), frankly.

Invest in wardrobes? Hell, no. We’ll just give you a cheap rail and some hangers.

Unlike every hotel in the world, ever, there’s no hairdryer in the room. You have to get one from reception.

The shower, however, was the main event. Firstly, a shower curtain. Who uses shower curtains in hotels these days? (But see below.) It was mouldy, and dripped all over the floor. This is a thing that happens in bathrooms, and most bathrooms in hotels are equipped to deal with this eventuality by the installation of a drain. This was clearly too high a cost for budget chain Travelodge, though. The bathroom remained a lake for the duration of our morning. Other features of the shower included a soap dispenser with no soap, but a cover which dropped off to reveal the filth inside.

Diseased interior of Travelodge "nope" dispenser.

Park Inn by Radisson, on the other hand, sounds like a far better standard than Crapelodge. One of a large number of hotels servicing Heathrow Airport, when I booked it on it promised “0.7 miles from Heathrow Airport”. This may be technically true if you count the chain-link fence along the runway as Heathrow Airport, but it is in fact a 20 minute bus ride to Terminal 5. Nevertheless, one expects a better standard from Radisson.


I’d prepaid the room, so the check-in process should have been quick and easy. Instead, they use it as a sales opportunity: “Would you like to upgrade to a room closer to the elevators?” “Would you like to book a table at our restaurant?” “Would you like…?” Shut the fuck up and let me get to my room, please. Turns out, the room was the first one next to the lift anyway, so that was purely an attempted money-extraction exercise.

Still, the room was OK, right? Again, the concept of wardrobes seemed beyond them, and the rail to hang your coats, trousers or jackets on was less than three feet from the floor, so the bottoms dragged on the carpet. Let’s have a look in the bathroom, shall we? Yes, it’s big and spacious – in fact, we’ve been given a disabled-friendly room, with emergency cords scattered liberally about the place, and space to swing several cats both in the room and the bathroom. But, once more, the dreaded shower curtain. The bathroom was a wet room, but at least it had a drain, so only half of it turned into a lake when I took a shower. Le sigh.

Five days later, and we’re checking in to Blubay apartment hotel in Gzira, Malta. We located the apartment easily enough, but it doesn’t have any parking. We were fortunate to find a spot on the waterfront, and walked five minutes to reception, to check in. First up, they hit you for a tourist tax of 1 per night -  a total of 7. I hand over my card. “Sorry, we don’t accept card payments for less than 10”. They might want to work on this – it’s not very “Welcome to my country!”, is it? We then brought the car round to the front of the hotel, to unload our bags. Whilst I drove back around the block to try and find another parking space, Nicola was led two streets away to a separate building, where our apartment was. So what, exactly, was the point of unloading the car at the hotel? We wheeled our suitcases along the narrow pavements, to find our apartment.

These apartments, apparently, are where they think they can fob people off with something they hadn’t advertised on their shiny new website. Firstly, one of the principal reasons I’d chosen Blubay was the pool…which was not in our building, but the one we’d first checked into. Two streets away, you’ll remember. Other things wrong with the apartment were:

Air con didn’t work
Air con remote had no back
No batteries in the tv remote
European plug on the toaster (Malta has British-style sockets)
Only one drinking glass
Only one seat for the café-style dining table
The saloon-style bathroom doors “locked” with an elastic hair band
No hook or rail in the shower - so you had to shower singlehandedly
Telephone didn’t work
Room access keys didn’t work
No seal on the fridge so it leaked water and frosted up
No cooking utensils

Note the hi-tech lock system.

Naturally, we brought all this to the attention of reception. I’d’ve called them, but the phone didn’t work! So we walked around, taking both remotes with us, and a written list of our issues. The receptionist said that they’d be able to fix most of these “tomorrow” but we said that we wanted to be in the building with the pool. We were then advised to turn up at reception at 11:00 the following morning and ask to be allocated a room in their building, "as a lot of people are checking out on Saturday".

We took the precaution of turning up at 10:30, in case everyone else in our building had the same idea (we’d bumped into an English couple in the lift and found we weren’t the only ones unhappy with the accommodation), and explained all this to a different receptionist, who, thankfully, took it all on board and promised us a room. We went back to pack up our stuff, which would be carried over by hotel staff, and enjoined to check in again after 2pm.

We took ourselves off to Bugibba for the day, and returned late afternoon, to check in. The room they’d allocated us looked like what they put on the website: about three times the floor space of what they’d fobbed us off with earlier, a modern bathroom with room to swing several cats, should we be so inclined, and access to the pool.

But, BLOODY HELL! Why can’t you do this in the first place?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

United Kingdom

Avid followers of my Facebook feed (I fantasise that such people exist; indulge me) will have noticed that I have been checking in from venues outside of Wellington. Yes, we are on our travels in the Northern Hemisphere, where we are dividing our time between visiting families and having a holiday ourselves.

We landed in London’s Ye Olde Heathrowe Airporte at an ungodly hour on Wednesday morning, having been transported by Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong. Our journey was uneventful – the only notable observation was that New Zealand lounges are much nicer than Cathay Pacific’s lounge. We were greeted by Paul and Sacha, and, after a short delay to avail ourselves of UK-style SIM cards for our phones, we made our way back to Guildford. On our first day we didn’t want to exert ourselves too much so, after a short rest, we wandered down to the community cafĂ© where Sacha volunteers, and had a light lunch. After lunch we went for a short walk around the wetlands area of the Wey Navigation.

The next day dawned sunny but not so warm. I was still in short trousers, hardy New Zealander that I am these days. We went to visit the RHS gardens at Wisley in the morning, before heading into Guildford town for a spot of lunch at Franco Manca, and a little light retail therapy – Marks and Spencer was calling – before heading home in the afternoon.  

On Friday, we had an appointment in London with Nicola’s friend, Alison. We managed to navigate our way through the crowds to Waterloo, and then walked along the South Bank, noting what had changed building-wise since we were last there (the walkie-talkie is now finished, and the cheesegrater and scalpel are new).  We met up with Alison in Bermondsey, and went to lunch at ultra-hip Flour & Grape. I had to draw on a goatee beard before they’d let me in. After a late lunch, we took the Thames Clipper back along the river, and just about managed to miss the Friday rush hour on the train back to Guildford.

On Saturday, the weather looked like it was taking a turn for the worse. Nevertheless, we pressed on with our plan to go for a picnic at Dapdune Wharf, the National Trust property where Sacha used to guide schoolchildren and Paul now drives the boat tour on Saturdays. The Cumming clan joined us with the exception of Eli, who was on a flight to Tel Aviv. As we opened up the picnic goods we noticed a slight smattering of rain. As we went on, it got more and more like actual rain, and after we’d had enough we rapidly packed up and decanted ourselves into the tea room for tea and cakes. This prompted us to recount our adventure in Clissold Park, which was the site of a picnic in the rain before we left to New Zealand. Inevitably, the cakes had been left out in the rain, and we sang MacArthur Park.

We couldn’t hang around, however; we had a further engagement in the evening in Chichester, so we were driven to the station and made our way south. In Chichester it was proper raining, and as I’d left my waterproof behind in Guildford, had to dive into a shop for an umbrella as soon as possible. We then rendezvoused with the rest of Nicola’s friends, who were due to go off on a walking tour the following day, covering three cathedrals – Chichester, Winchester and Salisbury – over five days. We went out for dinner at Carluccio’s, which was to the required standard, and had a breakfast the following morning at Bill’s, who seem to have discovered the art of making a little bit of food look like a lot more than it is through artful arrangement on a plate. Their smashed avocado (there go my dreams of home ownership) was somewhat soured, literally, through the overapplication of lime juice. Clearly, avocados aren’t being smashed to order at Bill’s.

After breakfast we saw the walkers off on their bus to their starting point – one of the Witterings, I forget which – and then headed towards the station ourselves, to get back to Guildford in time for Sunday lunch with Sacha and family. Unfortunately there was a bus replacement service for part of the way, so a journey that had taken us just over an hour to get down took over two hours to return.

Our flight to Cyprus was leaving at 7:15 on Monday morning, so we had booked a hotel near Heathrow for overnight. We took the bus to Heathrow and the shuttle to our hotel, and had an early night, as we were due to be up at 4:00 the following morning.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Just A Phase

The Comedy Festival is officially under way now, and we headed to BATS Theatre to see fave performer Hayley Sproull perform her latest work, Just A Phase. We last saw her giving us her thoughts about being quarter Māori in Vanilla Miraka, and previously as Miss Fletcher and a member of A Slightly Isolated Dog. It feels like we’ve known her for ages!

In this show, she documents the phases that she went through as a younger person, starting with her first school dance in Wellington’s Scots College, where she and her friends dressed as slutty schoolgirls, and received detention slips for “being slutty”. For some people this may have been seen as a bad thing, but her reaction was “Result!”

It was in said detention that she met her new best friend, and became a Goth. This was definitely not just a phase, this was what she had decided to be for the rest of her life. It was around this point that she did the “reveal” of some photos of her looks so far. As she had decided to become a Goth, she needed a quick costume change, from a rack at the back of the set, to all black clothing. She also related how she economised on clothing, gave some handy tips on uses for tights, and the impracticalities of being a Goth in summertime.

The next phase, definitely not just a phase, was Emo. A quick change, into signature skintight jeans, studded belt, and Converse trainers. This was a particularly difficult phase for her, as she was well-adjusted and well-brought up, and liked both her parents. She sang us a song in the style of My Chemical Romance in which she thanked her Dad for part-funding her previous shows, and her mum for forcing her to take those piano lessons.

A quick change into Political involved anything appropriated from another culture (Nepal is good for this), and a Free The Nipple t-shirt. This was definitely not a phase, and was who she was now. During this section she gave us the song “Imagine” – “No, not that one”, she told us, although it was similar in outlook. “Imagine a world without wars…except, Star Wars, and Storage Wars”, that kind of thing.

Hayley has always been a performer who lays herself bare for her art, and whilst discussing the Free The Nipple t-shirt, she divested herself of her bra, and, eventually her shirt. Standing on stage with her hands covering her boobs, she invited the audience to perform a Mexican Wave. “I’ll go last” she said, bravely. As the wave ascended around the left side of the auditorium, then crossed over the back and came down to the front right, she lifted her arms in the air. With exquisite timing, the lighting man cut all the lights. Then there was a noise of scrabbling about on stage, and a muttered “huh, didn’t think this bit through” as she donned her (wrong) t-shirt by the time the lights came up again.

Her final phase can best be described as “current”, and involves getting a standard long bob haircut, removing her nose ring, having a steady boyfriend and doing the weekly shop. She gave us a final song, in which she apologised to her mum for showing her boobs on stage, and generally finished up.

Afterwards we went for dinner at Hot Sauce, which was also very enjoyable. We’d taken the precaution of booking this time, largely to ensure that they weren’t shut. They do a Chinese-style tapas menu, with skewers, bao, dumplings etc, so good for snacking on, and also good for ordering more if you feel you didn’t get enough first time round.