The Itinerary

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Set off Sunday 1 July across Greece to Parga (224 miles) on the west coast where I’ll be staying a few days with Eva, who used to work on Skopelos. Also working in Parga is Louise who worked on Skopelos for many years.
Then will probably leave the car on the mainland and travel over to Corfu, where I’ll be staying with Gilly for about 3 days. Will also be visiting Tina, my exlodger from years ago.
Back to the mainland and ferry to Venice, then on to Coburg (815 miles) where I’ll be meeting up with Dad, who is playing in a international Samba Band festival. After a short break in Coburg, Dad will be flying back to UK and I’ll be driving (511 miles!). Trying to find a passenger to share the petrol costs.
Will be driving back to Greece before the insurance runs out on 30th August.

Last Stage

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Spent all day at the Newspaper Library in Colindale, a thirty minute trek from Charing Cross. Been reading all day an American magazine from the 1880s called House and Home which amid all the recipes, Household hints and adverts, pictures of nice middle class people in the drawing room, gallery and park, promotes red republicanism and communism, threatening, amongst other things, to string up a few English people if they don’t leave the Irish alone (a comment heard occasionally in the Leharne household in days gone by). The Editor of this unusual magazine was one John De Morgan, the hero (or villain) of Plumstead in the 1870s who saved the common there so that Julia and Alex could set up the Plumstead Common Environmental Group 120 years later. De Morgan left for the US broke, tired and fed up, but you couldn’t keep him down and this was his first step on the way to becoming a tax inspector on Staten Island and a writer of penny dreadfuls/dime novels. They obviously didn’t have careers advisers in those days..

Yesterday was mainly spent at Greenwich. Steve and I went to the memorial service for an ex-colleague, the one time Deputy Vice Chancellor at Greenwich – John McWilliam. I nearly didn’t get there because I was unable to get dressed but that’s a different story and, in case you’re getting excited, to do with laundry and the concierge. The service was held in the Royal Chapel at Greenwich, very fitting in the sense that John was almost single handedly responsible for acquiring the Royal Naval College as a campus for the University. He was always full of extravagant, great, ambitious and sometimes just plain daft ideas and plans. The University archives are full of restaurants, student villages, hotels, lakes and other schemes that never quite came off, But when he did get it right it was often spectacular. When he turned up at an Executive Management Team meeting saying I’ve got this great idea (cunning plan?) for us to take over Greenwich, there was a collective Yeah Right! But yesterday proved him right. There was a lot of the great and the good there; some nice speeches and memories; lots of hymns and prayers and blessings. Quite formidable in one of the world’s most famous chapels. John was always full of energy and mischief and some sort of secular beano might have been a better meorial in some ways but this was impressive. After there was a reception and I had a deluge of ex-colleagues and friends of both Ann and myself to meet. A bit overwhelming trying to catch up with 30 different people, particularly as I was as interested in getting news and gossip as they were.

Most people are envious of those of us who live in New Zealand, thugh there was the odd (very oddd) one or two who look on in pity. It’s hard to explain everything to people, particularly when the main question is ‘When are you coming back?’ Originally I had intended just to see a small number of very close people and eventually I was able to separate them off and I spent an hour or so with my first VC and another hour or so with someone else who I particularly remember.

Interesting to hear what was going on but three years is a long time; many of my colleagues have moved on; and it seems best to let the University, with its grand and gorgeous campus, get on with its business. Maybe in twenty years time I’ll totter past there on my zimmer frame and work out how I felt about my time there.

So, just a few days now. Some more Library work tomorrow, a meeting with the world’s expert on the Tichborne Claimant, and some shopping at High and Mighty [a better title than Tall and Fat!]. And it’s still like a pleasant Auckland August day. Where the hell is that global warming!

Roasting Weather and stuff

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In spite of the roasting weather, I had two private evening hikes last week and I have another one on Friday; we’ll take the six o’clock bus to Panormos and walk back to Skopelos. Have come to terms with the fact now that the days of groups of 15-30 walkers is over. My book continues to sell well however and I will continue to be a thorn in the council’s side until all the paths are regularly cleaned and clearly marked.
Please note that I will be absent from the island from 1 July until 30 August – walking in the UK!

Full circle

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It’s now UK Monday evening and I’m back at the Charing Cross Hotel and back in the same room I had before, and back in a grey and sporadically wet London. Since the last post, I have been over to Kingston-on-Thames and Long Ditton, and then to Scarborough, Hunmanby and Hornsea. I’ve also rebooked my flight and am coming back a few days early (I’m suffering Mozeleyitis I think), so I’m now in the last week of my travels.

The conference was a UK/Australasia event, with me as the token kiwi (!). We started off in the Travelodge at Kingston for a night. I should have known what was coming when the front entrance was in a back alley; when there was a sign saying there was a revolutionary pricing structure starting at 26 pounds; when I saw the warning about the noise from the disco next door; and when we were offered breakfast at check in and asked to pay on the spot and then asked what time we wanted the breakfast box delivered. No rosemary and lavender shampoo and conditioner at this place! However it was cheap and cheerful and, after a dinner at Kingston’s best restaurant, it didn’t make much difference.

The seminar itself had a wide range of people from Universities, government, agencies. A couple of grumpy old men, three Vice Chancellors (all women) some civil servants and it was actually very useful. As it was only useful and interesting to about 300 people on the globe I won’t bore you all. It was based at one of these management centres that you seem to get all over England. They’re in the country (but not far from a city); they have nice walks, lots of trees, occasionally lakes, sometimes golf courses, often tennis courts, none of which anyone seems to use. In the middle is normally an old country house, rather messed about and a general feel of slightly dilapidated splendour. They seem, however, to provide the right environment for people to get excited about strategy, policy, plans and development (not easy). In the evening of the first day, the weather turns quite pleasant and I go and sit outside by myself for a while amongst the golf course, trees, tennis courts etc, and watch the the sun go down (ie about 9.30!). My first pleasant summer evening (and, it would seem, the last!)

The seminar finishes Saturday lunchtime and I hurtle off to Kings Cross to get the train to Scarborough. I always like travelling North on a train, so I look forward to it. The train is full and very fast and after just three hours and twenty minutes, I’m in Scarborough being picked up by David. We worked together at Greenwich for a long time and he has ‘retired’ and moved up to North Yorkshire where he and Maureen have bought five acres of land on a hill overlooking the North Yorkshire coast from Flamborough to north of Scarborough. Many years ago I remember David saying that when they retired he would have a house in the country and two dogs. He’s kept his promise but added 42 sheep, six geese, any number of chooks and five pigs (at the latest count)! Add to that several hundred rabbits, a labrador and a gorgeous view and this is rural idyll. In addition, the two of them seem to have taken over much of the organisation of the county, despite coming from one of the area’s most disadvantaged minorities – townies – and not even just townies, but Southerners, and even worse Londoners (think Remuerans in Invercargill). However, they seem to have taken to it, and it seems to have taken to them. David is a local councillor, and after five months, in the ‘cabinet; they’re involved in local organistions and have turned their hand to dramatics with David appearing in pantomime as Baron Hardup. So ‘retired’ doesn’t really mean much!

A large part of the day does seem committed to feeding, watering and tending the animals as well as keeping five acres trim. I don’t think they quite intended to accumulate so many animals – they bought the house for the view, and thought a few animals would improve the view – but I suspect they have discovered that life with sheep, pigs, geese and chooks has advantages over life in a University or bank (though the behaviour of the inmates may be similar on some occasions).

On Sunday, Maureen is doing a five kilometre walk to raise money for Cancer Research, and David and I head off to Hornsea where I’ve arranged to meet the tenant of our house, Derek. On the way we stop at a Sunday morning market where I buy a shirt and a sweat shirt for 7 pounds. The stall holder takes pity on me and reduces it to six. It’s just about as cheap as Shanghai (which I very vaguely remember having visited recently). The drive down to Hornsea is very pleasant, green with the land getting flatter and the sense of space, the sea nearby and the big skies. I thought Easy Yorkshire was pretty quiet but it seems relatively crowded compared with the North. Get to Hornsea with the sun popping out and it looks much as I remebered it, and seems as attractive as before. The house always makes me blink because it is so cute and unexpected and, apart from the garage doors, looks in good condition. Derek, who is an engineer, is just about to head off to St Petersburg, but we have a cup of tea. Although the house is too small for us, it doesn’t feel at all cramped and has the same nice, relaxed feel, helped by the warmth of the Raeburn in the kitchen. Apart from the kitchen ceiling falling in because of a bathroom leak, the house is in good order and Derek (and sometimes his daughter) clearly enjoy living there. So much so that when I explain we want to sell the house by October 2008, he is keen to come to an arrangement that means we won’t have to put it on the market, and he won’t have to leave. He brings me up to speed on some local gossip and then heads off to the airport. David and I have a mooch around Hornsea looking at some of our (Ann and I) old haunts and have a ceremonial fish and chips on the seat looking out over the North Sea. Not much has changed though another restaurant has closed down – food isn’t Hornsea’s strong point. I go to see if our neighbour Gary is around. His family has had an awful time over the last few years, and has effectively broken up in tragic circumstances, and I would have liked to talk to him. But I can’t find him though I do bump in to another neighbour who provides a bit more gossip and reminds me that Hornsea is being spoilt by skateboarders, graffiti artists, indeed anybody under the age of 21. She teaches at the School.

So eventually, having been to the sea, the park, the mere (where there are still several hundred geese and swans, and too many people from West Yorkshire), we head off up North again. I ask David to drop by Ulrome Sands, a place where Ann, Daisy and I used to go for a walk. The local road is closed because the cliffs have been falling down and a huge chunk has disappeared. The coastline here has been receding over the centuries and about 30 villages are reputed to be under the sea. Even in our time, Ann and I have seen, paths, roads, houses, caravans, and even a hotel disappear. There appears to be some desperate work going on to stop the current problem, whch seems worse than normal.

Then back to SpellHowe. By now the rain is coming in and David and Maureen have a soggy feeding time with their animals. One of the geese has a problem with its wing and the other geese have turned against it so it needs its wing binding and then isolating for its own safety. The two townies are magnificent!

Monday morning and its up early, off for the train and back to London. Tomorrow, its the memorial service at Greenwich which will be quite different and will mean I meet up with a lot of old colleagues and friends, and also meet up with my past again!!

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Well I’ve been hiding away in Libraries for the last three days. Apart from Ann, and the odd person in a shop, a cafe, or across a library counter, I haven’t spoken to any one. The chatterer is therefore banging on the door, so a blog!

What to talk about? It’s the UK. Then Weather! Everyone told me how hot it would be over here; it’s a tropical island now etc etc. I guess I missed that. It’s mostly been grey with the odd outburst of sun which makes it very pleasant. But the other morning I was sitting outside a cafe (not Costa) in shirt sleeves and it was so cold I had to move inside. Think Auckland in August!

On Sunday, went down by train to Dartford and went for lunch with Candice and Geoff. They also have a pleasant garden to sit in, eat and drink. Since I moved away from China, I’ve been keen to try other food experiences and my first three dinners in England were Fish and Chips, Curry, and now Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding! The three most popular English foods. Nice to catch up with C&G. They’ve had an interesting (ie fraught) couple of years but seem to have come out of the tunnel and are moving on. very relaxed.

So I’ve done a weekend of socialising and now it’s down to work. I’ve set myself a whole pile of old documents, old newspapers, old everythings to read while I’m here. Sadly, to me, this is exciting and for three days I retreat into the 1870s (well 1876 and 1877 to be exact). The Victorian period is not really some sort of nostalgic refuge (remember Mrs Thatcher and her Victorian values) and for a lot of (most) people it was horrific, but there is something fascinating to me and being locked in the archives reading musty old documents that almost nobody has read for a 100 years is heaven! The British Library has several hundred people with the same disorder and we spend twelve hours with our pencils or computers in silence.

As a result of working until about 7.30 I’ve sort of gone into retreat and apart from walking back from the BL in the evenings have been stuck in the hotel or a library. Walking up there and back is nice because it does take me through the part of London I like. On the Euston Road/Tottenham Court Road corner I bump into the new University College Hospital. The old one was a classic redbrick Victorian pile, gothic and gloomy. The new one is glass and green and 20 stories high. Clean, light and airy, with a reception that looks like a smart hotel lobby and rooms with paintings on the wall. It almost makes you feel sorry for Tony Blair. Over 100 of these new hospitals but the press tell me that that the NHS is a scandal and no one would go into hospital as they are death traps. The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee tells us that 95% of people who have been in hospital are pleased with their experience, whilst the polls say that 60% of the population don’t want to go anywhere near them. I nearly get to test this out when, while admiring the hospital and just opposite the A&E, I walk through a red light and nearly get run over.

Today I went to the Bishopsgate Institute Library just near Liverpool Street Station in the East End. This is one of those late nineteenth/early twentieth century places which had a Library, meeting and reading rooms, etc, all part of the attempt to educate the working classes. It’s in a wonderful, but very odd, Art Nouveau monstrosity of a building. It retains its working class roots and the archives are full of stuff that’s very interesting to me. When I arrive, the corridors are full of young people sitting on the floor reading intently. Realising that they are unlikely to be Victorian historians, I eventually fathom out that the building is also being used for examinations for the local University. Inside it is an old fashi0ned library with oak all over. They don’t assume you are a thief, a terrorist, or a vandal, so you just ask for what you want and they bring it. You can use pens if you wish. You can even bring water in. So a perfect environment.

To get there I have to experience the Tube for the first time in a while. In the morning, every line has a delay for signalling, fire brigade investigation, operational difficulties, etc though it all runs reasonably smoothly. In the evening it’s all perfect and they can’t find any problems for us, despite their best efforts. One of the odd things about being back in London is hearing all the British accents and rembering how much some of them annoy me!

As far as news in the UK is concerned the principal items are the celebration of 25 years since the Falklands War started and someone said nr on Big Brother. Oh the excitement!
Tmorrow I head off to Kingston University for a conference and on Saturday off to Yorkshire to stay with David and Maureen and also visit our other house. I wonder.

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7.30 on a Sunday morning. Last night was the first time after all the travelling that I got a good night’s sleep only for the fire alarm to go off at 5.50. Hundreds of people cascade out on to the Strand, some looking embarrassed by their nightwear and bath robes, some coming out with packed bags, and me with my T-shirt on back to front, no socks and a major scowl. Much amusement to the passing clubbers on their way home and the group of soemwhat dazed young men who appear to have been sleeping outside the station. No fire and probably a hoax.

Yesterday, headed down to Plumstead where we used to live. A grey day with threats of rain. The journey is one I’ve done hundreds if not thousands of times, but there’s always something to look at and I’m keen to see if anything new has been built. Immediately struck by the level of graffiti which rather puts Devonport into perspective, but also just how many buildings there all crammed together. I’d forgotten just what an efficient use of space the terraced house is, and the luxury of having your own ‘section’.

Arrive in Woolwich where the centre is undergoing major reconstruction for the arrival of the Docklands Light railway which will come under the Thames and end up in Woolwich in 2009. This will, it is expected, bring regeneration rather than the degeneration the town has experienced over the last 20-30 years. At the moment, however, it has simply led to the knocking down of some buildings and the appearance of a very large hole in the ground. You can see some early signs of pioneer regeneration,; new apartment blocks; a Costa coffee place (I promise to write a blog without mentioning Costa one day). In particular the old Royal Arsenal, for hundreds of years the base for providing weaponry to the British Empire, is being redeveloped as a residential area plus cultural quarter. This had started before we left, and the building goes on with some very fancy and very expensive riverside apartments and houses. Eventually, it will be it’s own little town. I suspect that much of it is investment oriented. When the first group of 500k (pounds) houses were sold, 22 of them went to South Africans (living in South Africa) unsighted. It’s a very quiet area, still with a feeling of being walled off from the rest of Woolwich. There’s a ferry goes up to the City in the morning and I suspect most of the people who live there are commuters whose social centre of gravity is the centre of London. There are some seriously heritage style buildings going back to the 17th century here. Interestingly, because it was an Arsenal no detailed maps were available until very recently and if you look at ordnance survey maps it’s just a big blank (to make sure the germans couldn’t find it). Occasionally they used to get things wrong and there would be a major explosion and all the houses in the area, including the one we lived in, have cracks in their structures because of this. Oh dear, I’m going into historian mode!

I visit the Greenwich Heritage Centre there which brings together the old Museum and the Local History Library (now called the Search Area). I’m wondering whether they have any information for my book and they give me some useful advice. Then walk out onto the waterfront and head back into Woolwich. A waterfront garden was built a few years ago aas part of the Thames Walkway development (you can virtually walk the full length of the Thames, nearly 200 miles). The policy of Greenwich Council is to let grass grow and encourage a sort of wildness which is often very interesting, but in this case the wildness looks like wasteland, particlarly as they put a skateboard park in the middle and this has been virtuallydestroyed and there is graffiti just all over (now where have I heard this story before?!). The Council seems to have lost interest and the paths have not been weeded. However I still love to walk along the river. Ann and I used to work around the corner and this was Daisy’s lunchtime walk.

Head up into central Woolwich and remember why everyone is looking forward to regeneration. Go through the centre and walk up the hill to where our house was (is). Going for lunch at Ed and Jan’s who live six doors away. They have a flat with the most heavenly garden. Both are green fingered and the garden is an urban oasis. They have three cats, a fox and three cubs, and an adult and a baby squirrel, as well as fish. So a lifestyle section really. The grey day is cheering up and we sit outside having a simple mediterranean meal and it’s all very peaceful. They have the chance to get online to Ann with athe webcam (they’re technophobes and this is part of an education campaign to get them to get a computer). I fancy a walk around some old haunts so Jan and I set of to look at our old house. A lot of new apartments have been built around the area including the conversion of the huge Victorian School. Our old house looks very similar though it’s now got window boxes. The houses on each side are still kept in disgusting condition by our disgusting ex-neighbours……Moving on quickly, we go upto the Common where the annual Plumstead Make Merrie is, I’m told, taking place. Established a few years ago by the Plumstead Common Enviromental Group – at this point Alex and Julia should stand up and take a bow – it combines opportunities for local volunteer groups, local retailers, and local people to use the common for the purposes originally intended. It’s very busy, a bit cheap and cheerful, but there are musical slots, play area for the kids, volunteer groups advertising their wares and somewhere, I suspect, some Morris dancers. A really nice feel on what has become a sunny day. Go across to the Environmental group stall and introduce my self to Nick Day who took over from Julia as the Chair and is doing a sterling job. Take a picture for Julia and Alex (coming your way soon). We then walk up to Jan’s allotment where she produces a great range of vegetable and herbs, and then wend our way back to Jan’s flat via the Indian shop which has been there since whenever. The young woman behind the counter was I’m sure the little girl who used to run around getting in people’s way when we first moved there. We lived in the area for maybe 15 years, so the whole thing brings back memories good and bad.

Then head off into another part of South London – Lee Green – to vist Steve, Maggie, Thomas and Rebecca. This is another traditional haunt. I can’t remember how often we went round there. Thomas and Rebecca, as always, seemed to have changed a lot since I lost saw them. Have a great evening. Another webcam session – the wonders of laptops, vodaphone and Wi-Fi. They’re contemplating coming back to New Zealand next year for a holiday. Rebecca remains resolute that she intends to live in New Zealand but only after she has made a fortune. She will then marry someone, move to New Zealand and lounge around and drink whiskey. Who am I to argue? I also discover that there is to be a memorial service for one of my ex-colleagues at Greenwich University – who I heard had died. It’s to be held in the Royal Chapel. John, who was never less than extreme in his ambitions, was the person who managed somehow to acquire the Royal Naval College at Greenwich as a University campus. Only he would have thought it possible, never mind pulled it off. So Steve and I decide to attend a week on Tuesday.

Get a cab back to Charing Cross through a very busy and lively London. At the hotel the clubbers are pouring out of the station on their way out for the evening. Me, well it’s well past Devonport curfew time, so I’m off to bed for a good nights sleep, which is where this blog started!-

London calling

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Well, my first day in London. Arrived last night after a 13 hour flight from Signapore with a 7 hour time shift so upgraded my room (I always forget how small London hotel trooms can be) and went to bed. Despite extensive use of Vicks First Defence, I had contracted a cold on one of the eight flights in the last ten days but managed to get 9 hours sleep and was up and about, ready to go by 10.00 (known as the middle of the day at 42 Mozeley Avenue).

I had booked in to the Charing Cross Hotel because of its location. Trains to virtually everywhere and near to galleries, theatre, shops etc and to anyone who lived in Plumstead the centre of London, if not the Universe. Ann and I spent a few pleasant, exhausted, post-shopping afternoons in the bar at this hotel, which is a slightly old fashioned hideaway type place. The hotel is the original hotel from when the railway station was built in 1865 so I was a bit worried that it might be rather Victorian inside but there’s a nice room overlooking the Strand with a view over to the church at St Martin’s in the Field which is covered in scaffolding, the ENO , the National Gallery and the edge of Trafalgar Square.

When I went out of the front door my automatic pilot heads me straight over to Charing Cross Road and up to Tottenham Court Road. To some people, this is not London at its best but for Ann and I it is what London is about. Old and New, flash and dilapidated, bookshops, theatres, galleries, cafes and restaurants. Everything looks very similar to three years ago though the cafes have often changed their name, the theatres their plays (though not the Mousetrap, which has been around nearly as long as me [55 years – the play, not me] and Blood Brothers which I remember opening but has now been on stage for 20 years). Les Miserables has left the Palace to be replaced by Monty Python’s Spamalot (“Sets the musical back several hundred years” says the marketing blurb). Busy, noisy but London.

Get on to Tottenham Court Road which is even more the technology fantasy land at one end, and the house decorator’s dream world at the other. I’m on my way to get a Reader’s Card for the British Library which is based at St Pancras. I used to use their Reading Room when it was based at the British Museum: the gorgeous old circular room (which you can still visit) where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital. The new building is huge and red brick, rather sparse and austere and it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. It took over twenty years to design and build. It turns out to be great place. There’s a nice ‘courtyard’ where you can sit and eat and drink and discuss your work. There’s even a shop. The delay in building worked to it’s advantage as it is technologically state of the art and very efficient and after ten minutes I emerge with a reader’s card with my photograph on it. One of the ironies of the British Library is that much of its stuff is stored at Woolwich, so in the old days I used to travel from Woolwich to the Library to be told I would have to wait six hours before the materials came from Woolwich! Now, of course, you just book it online in advance. very soon I’m told it will be all digitalised so I won’t even have to go there.

Having got that far, go to look at St Pancras Station, one of my favourite buildings. A huge neo-gothic fantasy with turrets, arches, colored bricks. It was almost knocked down in the 20th century as the British took their revenge on the Victorians but fortunately survived though was derelict for a long time. Like Charing Cross it has a hotel (well it used to have) but this is now being refurbished as 66 luxury apartments (“including a 10m pounds penthouse) and a 244 bedroom five star hotel to be opened in 2009. So I know where I’m staying next time. While I’m there I go on to look at Kings Cross which was being regenerated last time I visited. It still is. It has always been one of the more depressing parts of London and the station is the railway equivalent of Los Angeles airport (Ann and I were once attacked there by rampaging Old Age Pensioners – sorry Senior Citizens). It’s still dismal though you can see there will be changes.

Then I start to head back to the hotel but decide to cut through Bloomsbury. This is an area with some deadly modern architecture, but as you go along you keep finding outbreaks of Georgian and Victorian London. It’s also a combination of Council Housing and big houses and Victorian working class housing that has been gentrified. Every so often you get quiet shaded green squares where people are sitting out and having their luch and then round the cornera noisy traffic jams. It’s all very interesting. By now I have remembered just how many pubs there are in London and find myself asking the question I always used to ask – how come all these people (who aren’t tourists) are sitting outside drinking at two o’clock in the afternoon?! As always in Bloomsbury, I manage to get lost and visit Tavistock Square twice, but eventually find my way back towards Tottenham Court Road. I pass nostalgically by what used to be the much lamented Dillon’s Bookstore – the ultimate academic bookshop where you could even find my book! It’s now part of the Waterstone’s chain (there were even demonstrations when that happened). So that I can despair of modern progress I go inside, only to find that nothing has changed, except my book’s not there and there is a Costa’s Coffee Bar. Have a drink there (having been to a Costas in both Shanghai and Signapore) and it leads to a further outbreak of nostalgia – where’s my double shot flat white?!!) Somewhere in London some Kiwis have opened a coffee shop called Flat White, so I must track it down.

As I go along I’m looking for shopping and theatre opportunities. As always the musical rains, but there is a Jeeny Seagrove/Anthony Andrews play (must be early 20th century) and a political satire with Richard Wilson. So I’ll find something. Just to reassure Ann – there’s no Tom Stoppard.

Arrive back at Charing Cross but can’t resist a final revisit – Victoria Gardens down by the embankment, another Ann and Rob hideaway. A small peaceful little garden where people just go to sit, or walk through as they avoid the Strand. Our friend Ed used to be the Head gardener for Westminster Council, who run this garden so it brings back pleasant memories. I go to the cafe and read the London newspapers, and also feed the sparrows who clearly remember me. The newspapers provide some insights into London as it is. The headlines are “Tycoon defends Sex Slur” and “George Michael: I am ashamed”, so not much has changed there. I find out that the Royal Festival Hall is being reopened this weekend after a 115m pounds refurbishment. Many Londoners don’t like the building but I’ve always thought it was one of the best examples of post-war architecture and so will go over and see it. Howver thay are having an open weekend to celebrate (including a silent disco – ? -) so it will be packed. I think I’ll wait until next week. Amongst the other attractions this weekend are the World Naked Bike Ride which will have 1000 participants. One of the great things about London is not just the things you can go to, but the things you can’t or wouldn’t want to. I learn that iPods are now being fitted into the lapels of Marks and Spencers suits (“for men too busy, or too lazy to get out their iPods”) and Ann Summers – the sex shop – are selling something called the iGasm – don’t ask!

Return to the hotel rather weary and worn out but as an induction to London a nice reminder. Tomorrow head South to Plumstead and Lee Green to see Ed & Jan and the leharnes.

If it’s Wednesday, it must be Penang

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Gradually succumbing to American Touritis as the airports, taxis, hotels, meals turn into a blur. But there are lots of differences here in Malaysia. For the first time since I left Auckland there’s a full blue sky even if it is accompanied by 33 degrees and 99%humidity. We’re also surrounded by beautiful green hills and beautiful green gardens. Even the University we visited this morning is called the University in a Garden – The University Sains Malaysia. Everyone speaks English and the food is spicy. Arrived yesterday in Penang about 6.00 pm and leave tomorrow morning at 10.00 am, so another place I won’t be seeing much of. We’re here for a meeting between Malaysian Vice Chancellors and NZ VCs, so I get to pretend for 48 hours.

As always there’s a welcome dinner though, for reasons not fully explained, the dinner is also attended by 20 Australians and people from 15 countries in the British Commonwealth. Whatever Kiwis think about Australians, they’re not usually boring (as opposed to boorish) but I managed to sit next to the exception at dinner. Malaysia, being strongly Islamic, is not keen on alcohol, so it was guava juice and water. We did have a cultural performance, some traditional dancing, but by the time they got on stage most people in the room had lost the will to live so even that was a let down. Eventually, about 10 o’clock I saw a chance to escape, only to find out that the Chair of the New Zealand Vice Chancellor’s Committee wished to call an emergency meeting of us all – in a room without windows – to discuss the new legislation on tertiary education reforms. I thought the low point in my career was when I had to explain to North Shore City Council that the new bus station should be called Akoranga and not Barry’s Point, but this came close. The things I do for the future of New Zealand.

We had a morning meeting today, all big chairs, big titles and microphones and then a celebratory lunch (celebrating still being awake) which was actually quite tasty. However, to make sure we really enjoyed ourselves, they put on band – average age about 45 – who played some ‘all-time classics’, finishing off with My Way.

This is all a bit unfair, because, as usual, the Malaysians are wonderfully efficient, very charming and helpful, and very hospitable. It must be soemthing to do with putting too many Vice-Chancellors in the same building. We should stick to a maximum of two in any city at any one time.

Just going back to Chinese English names which all young Chinese now have (see an earlier blog) – the two receptionists at the checkout in Shanghai were Sky (male) and Cleopatra. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just give yourself another name – I feel a competition coming on! Now how about Troy, or Blaze……..mmm. And going back to street harassment in Shanghai, I was offered a ‘happy ending massage’.

So I leave Asia tomorrow heading for London via Signapore. A total of 15 hours in the air but I manage to end up in London at 7 o’clock in the evening. I think Friday will be a ‘go away, I don’t want to talk to anybody day’, after which it’s off to see the Leharnes and Jan and Ed. Despite what you read on this blog, it’s been a very interesting and productive 11 days (or is it 11 weeks?)

An even soggier Shanghai

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Last full day in China and off tomorrow for Penang for a dinner, a conference, a lunch and two nights sleep before setting off for the UK. However, I’ll be with seven much more important people – the Vice Chancellors of the other seven NZ Universities – so I’ll be able to take a back seat. The Conference is only half a day after which I have the option of visiting a University’s Poison Centre or going shopping (Mmmm… difficult one that). Visited two more universities today, one of which we will definetly (I can never spell that word) be visiting again. They even have a Foreign Visitors Guest Centre which is full of people from all over the world. We are looking for a small number of strong partnerships and we get many Chinese delegations visiting us in China, and we visit many Chinese universities, but this looks like a serious one. The fact that it is in Shanghai is a great advantage as that is always the stopping off point for our visits to China (now that there is a non-stop flight from Auckland). A further advantage is that it even has it’s own little museum of ceramics, calligraphy and painting – a very nice surprise.

Paul has headed off back to Waiheke and Peilin is off to Jinan and also to visit the Chinese side of his family in Beijing. I’m tidying up after the hectic week and about to pack. I’m trying to avoid talking about Tianjin – as I have done in each blog – mostly because I can’t think of much to say. Our partners there are great but it is big (5m people) and dirty and although it is developing and has a nice touristy cultural quarter, it’s a place to be avoided unless your employer sends you there. So that’s Tianjin.

The China Daily yesterday had a big feature on the recently published International Peace Index – ie a league table of how peaceful and peaceable countries are. The China Daily was quite pleased they had come 60th (out of 121) given their human rights record, rates of exceution of people, and the huge defense expenditure. We were quite pleased to point out to our hosts that New Zealand came second after Norway and before Denmark. Cynics would, of course, say that this must really be the Peace and Quiet index!

There has been a big debate going on about whether one of Shanghai’s leading government officials should be executed for corruption after he had fraudulently taken money to support, amongst other things, his 14 ‘publicly admitted’ mistresses. Exceution is regular here and fraud and general social misbehaviour are treated as seriously as murder.

Well I really do have to pack. The next blog is from London which is hopefully less soggy (famous last words)

Some bits and pieces

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Today, Peilin, Paul and myself visited Chrystal and her husband Steve in Pudong, the East side of Shanghai which has grown from nothing in 1990 to a city in it’s own right. Chrystal works at Yi-Fu Polytechnic who have had some sort of relationship to AUT for many years. She has visited Auckland several times including a trip to our house where she fell in love with the garden, Daisy and Sissy. Since then she has kept in touch with Ann and sent her a present, so I was there to take a return gift. She and Steve probably represent new China. A young couple in professional jobs but not particularly well off buying a new apartment and filling it with really cool Danish furniture, a 42 inch plasma screen, a top of the range cooker (for him). The apartment wouldn’t look out of place anywhere else in the world. Had a great visit and went out to (yet another) lunch. In the afternoon I went to the Shanghai Museum. Really good, it’s new, well laid out, well curated, with a particularly good ceramics collection and good jade, furniture, and minority artefacts – and a good shop. Then some shopping and another evening in the hotel. The three of us have spent a lot of time together and have got on well generally, but we have also spent a lot of time with other people being insufferably nice and so I guess we all need some time out. My treat is a club sandwich with chips in my room watching HBO.

Some bits and pieces:

the hotel I’m staying in – Le Royal Meridien – is brand new, French, really cool (and expensive). The designer is known as the Cultural Curator. It’s situated on floors 8-11 and 20-43 of the building as well as a bar on the 65th floor. It’s only problem is that it appears to be fairly full of very loud Americans. 10 years ago, there were modern hotels in China but they were not of the same quality as say Signapore, Hong Kong or Malaysia (particularly the service) but that’s no longer the case and all the international chains now have huge operations here. The service is fantastic.

I’m usually quite good with chopsticks, good enough that nobody notices that I’m not perfect. So, as the Lazy Susans pass by with their 20 dishes I can usually look OK. In Tianjin we went to China’s most famous dumpling restaurant which has been there since 1858. The host was the Chair of Boustead College and the son of Tianjin’s most famous (well infamous) Mayor. So it was a very plush afair. Even the chopsticks were upper class. Thet were bigger, fatter and glossier and I simply couldn’t use the them. Every time I tried to pick something up, the chopsticks seemed to collapse and soon people were ducking as food started flying all over. No one could avoid seeing it because they can’t eat until I do. The Chinese, as always not wanting to embarass their guests, kept a straight face but eventually brought me a knife and fork. The humiliation! As more and more dishes came out it got easier as I could pick the dishes I wanted to eat and could avoid the eels, fish heads, pigeons etc and stick to the chunkier stuff. It turned out that dumplings were easy so I stuck to them. Unfortunately, three days later they seem to have stuck to me.

I like Shanghai and the centre has really smartened up and it’s pleasant to walk along, except as a single white male I get constantly harrassed. Men are always coming up saying Rolex, Bags, DVDs and then when you say no, they say, Ladies Club (which don’t do sex), Ladies (who do), or Massage (which is). Even more difficult are the trail of young women, all rather studenty and preppie looking, who come up and say You’re tall; You speak English?; You Swedish? You want to go for coffee and help me with my English? You want to be my friend etc etc. Peilin tells me that some may be genuine, but the others are there to persuade you to go into cafes and restaurants and spend a lot of money for which they get commission. They’re very amiable and leave you alone when it’s clear you’re not interested, but it is quite difficult to just walk along and look at the shops.

All young Chinese, like Chrystal and Steve have an English name. Chrystal’s Chinese name means ‘clear’ so that’s why she chose Chrystal. Steve actually chose Stephen because he liked the sound, but then nobody would call him it. The other day we met a student who had chosen Beryl! I didn’t like to ask.

I will get round to talking about Tianjin eventually! Tomorrow is another of what we call Happy Happy days – meetings and meals, talking and toasting. After that however, it’s Penang anhd then no more banquets, speeches, toasts!.