Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 2: New Zealand First Impressions

Arriving at Auckland international airport at 5pm on a weekday afternoon, the first thing that struck me, after the hustle and bustle of Sydney, was the shere tranquility. There was a rather small town air to the place – not dissimilar from Stornaway Airport, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, from which I took the first flight on a Wednesday morning in June last year. Auckland airport is somehow more refined, evidence of a richer economy than that of Lewis, but just as quiet, and inexplicably Local.

There is a quality to the light here. The Maori courtesy bus driver was very down to earth, friendly, polite without being subservient or wishing me a “nice day,” somehow just genuinely helpful and pleasant without being in any sense my inferior – so refreshing an attitude, that I really took to him and was very amenable to anything he suggested. He thought I might be better sitting on the bench waiting for 10 minutes than getting into the van and indeed I sat there, soaking up the atmosphere, looking at the sky and at the trees, in the strange but homely atmosphere that I can only attribute to the light….. and perhaps the stillness…. and the odd calm in the air that is a quality not of silence but of gentle sounds that do not invade one’s consciousness.

I fell in love with the place immediately.

View from CityLife Hotel Auckland
Of course once we were underway, and heading into New Zealand’s one big city (if 1 million inhabitants constitutes a ‘big city’ in today’s world) the traffic began to accumulate – it was rush hour after all – but with a few deft turns and short cuts the driver made short work of getting me to my hotel, disturbing me from my revery with the request to drop me at the front door, rather than at the back. Apparently one is usually dropped around the back, where the vehicles can turn. The front was fine by me, and I felt immediately welcome by all the staff, and the room is lovely. I haven’t had such a good room since I was in Ireland – at the IFIP conference in Limerick – with a lounge as well as bedroom and en suite. This room incorporates a small kitchen, too, and when I return from the Bay of Islands for my three day stay here I shall definitely be cooking! I love good food, and I love to cook it as well as to dine out on it, and I like nothing better than to buy local produce and prepare it according to whatever idea I may have of how the locals do it.

Such a good room, for what – at the exchange rate I was fortunate enough to get, during the recent stock market wobble – was just £80 per night. The cost of living here is much lower than in the UK. Certainly the salaries are likely to be lower too, but as a tourist with a UK income, I shall be well off here.

Trip Downunder Sept 07 – Entry 1: The Licence Saga

Sean and Brianna
Here’s the first entry for my downunder trip for September 2007. I have flown from Manchester to London, then London to Sydney, where I met up with Sean Bridges, a friend of 20 yrs standing, known to the world as Bikeboy – one of the best street performers in the world. In a quirk of fate he was returning from a month’s tour of Canada, with a few days stopover in the UK to see his son, and landed 7mins after me in Sydney! (George Bush arrived on Airforce One a couple of hours later!) Sean has just bought a new house and is yet to move in so, after meeting up with his Australian girlfriend Brianna we went to the Bondi Beach steak restaurant (Sean’s favourite eatery) and then stayed at cheap hotel together. The following day (yesterday) was a tour of Sydney courtesy of Sean and finally checking in to Wake-Up, Sydney’s best backpacker hostel, full of young people and activity and fun, while Sean drove off to Adelaide for his next gig.

At Wake-Up I spent what time I was able to, online, liaising with my lodger at home trying to correct the one big mistake of my pre-planning : I have forgotten to bring my driving licence! The card is something I used to always keep in my wallet. However my house was burgled at the beginning of August (hence the decision to bring forward my house-moving plans) and amongst the items stolen was my wallet. So everything of value has ended up in a cashbox since – including my new replacement driving licence. I am reminded of a journey to Spain in 2004 with my former business partner, who on that occasion was the one to forget his driving licence. I only had mine, I confess, because I always used to keep it in my wallet! Now I am victim of the same mistake. So my lodger has smashed his way into the cashbox for me, and scanned the card and paper licence and uploaded them via ftp to a temporary folder from where I have downloaded them, all in the hope that I can convince AVIS to let me hire a car tomorrow morning. He has also taken them down into Manchester’s Trafford Business Park and put them in a FedEx envelope that will arrive at my hotel on Monday next week. So if AVIS are not happy, at least I will be able to hire the car on Monday, and will have to get the coach up to the Bay of Islands for the weekend. Oh what fun. It is all part of the strange ID game that today’s increasingly small world presents us with. Papers! Papers! One must have one’s papers!

There are in fact a good number of reasons why this sort of thing should become more and more biometric – it is after all ME who has a licence to drive, and I should not have my holiday ruined because I do not have a piece of paper with me to prove it! Biometric identity management can indeed become increasingly non-invasive, picking up on one’s movements without the need for lengthy queues at passport control. A simple sub-cutaneous RFID tag could carry particular details for credit and access and licensing without the need for cumbersome paperwork. On the other hand, what a nightmarish scenario of ubiquitous computing surveillance of our every move? Big Brother would indeed then be watching us – all the time. The trade-off between the convenience and invasion of the world-travelling public for the purpose of security continues to be a thorny issue. Yet somehow the idea that it is the paperwork that travels and gains access seems contrary to the real issue – the paperwork is there to identify the individual. Identity fraud is a massively growing problem the world over, and Identity Management a growing arena of academic interest in the Information Systems field – I have a Masters student writing his dissertation on the subject at the moment, in fact – an Armenian, no less.

The lesson for now, I guess, is that we are still very heavily dependent upon our paperwork, and the need to keep it with us!

Portugal July 07

In July 07 I spent a week in Portugal with an old friend who has recently moved out there, staying with him and his young friend in their little flat near Sintra where they are living prior to my friend moving further south to the Algarve. We visited Sintra, and the Quinta de Regulare and Feather Palace there, and went for a drive in the lovely cabriolet beetle I hired out to the temple of Diana and the circle of Almendres – the greatest stone circle in the Iberian Peninsular. It was a lovely few days break, in baking weather (compared to the floods at home).

Portugal 2007

Egypt March 07

In March 2007 I made a trip down the Nile.  Nikki Dorakis and I flew to Luxor, from where we took the cruise up the Nile to Abu Simbel, and then back to Luxor to fly home.  So we missed the Pyramids, which will be for another trip, but got to see all the rest…

Egypt 2007

Auschwitz

Auschwitz

Also in September 2006, I visited Krakow, Poland, for a conference, and took a day out to visit Auschwitz. This is something one simply has to do, once in one’s life. My father’s mother’s family, the Bergmans, and her mother’s family, the Dembitzers, all Polish, would all have been despatched at Belson or Dachau, long before Auschwitz was built to despatch the rest of European Jewry. But Auschwitz is certainly the largest, and most awesome of the camps, and a death camp where on one day at the peak of its operations 100,000 people perished.

Auschwitz 2006

Carcassonne

In September 2006, before the start of term, I took the opportunity for a short weekend break in Carcassonne, which is my favourite French town, staying with a friend of 20 years standing, Arabella Churchill, in the delightful villa she and her husband have bought and done up in a
village nearby.

Carcassonne 2006

Canada

In July/August I went to Canada, for a stay in Montreal, to attend the first World OutGames with the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus. We also stopped off in Toronto and at the Niagara Falls before returning home.

Canada 2006

Scotland 2006

In June 2006 I headed off up to the Isles of Scotland again – this time going as far as Lewis, to visit the stones of Callanish.

Scotland 2006

Athens

2006 was a year of many travels – the first year in which my job, (which I started in 2004), began to require frequent trips abroad.   The year’s trips began in March with a visit to Athens, where I took the opportunity to enjoy the Acropolis and the Museums.

Athens 2006

 

Scotland 2005

Scotland2005

In the summer of 2005 I made a visit to the Inner Hebrides, Scotland.  I have been to Scotland many times, and this proved to be the first of many more visits – almost annual from now on.  My parents first took me when I was a child, and we went to Skye, and perhaps also to the Uists, though I don’t recall exactly. My next visit, under my own steam – in a Mazda 323 – was in 1995, when Luke and I visited Edinburgh, Drumnadrochit on  Loch Ness, paid a toll to drive over the new bridge to Skye, and went to Mull and my first visit to Lochbiue, and to Iona.  In 2001 I went with Jan for my first trip to Lewis, where we spent a week in a little cottage on the main road up from the ferry port on Harris, and spent almost every day at Callanais Stone Circle.

On this trip, in 2005, I went to Skye, and returned to Mull, to again visit Lochbuie and Iona.