Sunday, December 3, 2017

Xmas 2017

Yet another year rolls by and at the time of writing this England have just been thrashed in the first Ashes test at the Gabba. We have been here long enough to have witnessed that a few times. However we remain confident of clawing our way to series win!

2017 been a great year for us, if a little busy – so what’s new hey?! The biggest news is that we’ve finally moved back into Parkville. We were very happy in Gatehouse St for 11 years, sold it in 2010 to move to the UK and it’s taken eight years to return but we’re back! Australia is preoccupied with housing – the recent property boom has been crazy, resulting a very high prices, to the point that the youth of today fear they will never be able to buy where they would like to live.

Our new place is very similar to Gatehouse St and it has been amusing to see the reaction of our UK visitors and those Auzzie friends who visited us Bristol who comment on the fact that all our properties end up looking the same; with our furniture and general messiness.

Wodonga is delighted to return to Parkville. He actually dealt with the smell of doggy urine that greeted us on arrival much better than did his ‘human staff’!. Our first 48 hours were spent ripping up ‘wet’ carpets. Nice. As to Woody, well he is now 17 and going well for his age though losing some of the sharpness he once had. Bit like us really.

Our first renovation job was to turn the ‘shed’ in the back yard into a small hotel style bedroom plus bathroom. It’s on AirBNB (see and proving to be very popular with university academics, visiting medics as well as student looking to leave home for a night of passion close to Melbourne Uni. 2018 will see further, much less exciting but no less necessary, building projects such as installation of new plumbing and maybe a couple of new toilets!! Another sign of aging perhaps.

Nicky has even more jobs than this time last year. She made two trips to the UK to work at Plymouth Uni and to see family and friends. She is still Director of Cleft Services at the Children’s, as well as holding a research fellow position at the MCRI. And if that wasn’t enough she is now an accredited executive coach! A skill which she seems to feel the need to practice regularly on Stuart – much to his irritation!

The more shocking news is that Stuart is officially employed – shock and indeed horror! After only 2 years and 9 months he finally became principal double bass with Orchestra Victoria. Watch up for his memoirs – it will all be in there! The job started in July and has been busy and interesting since then. In November he took part in the inaugural Melbourne Conservatorium of Music bass day involving 200 participants – can you imagine? Unfortunately for Nic, she didn’t have to imagine, she had to suffer it!!!

Our chamber group, the one Stuart likes to call ‘Kammermusik’ but the rest of us still call ‘Parkville Ensemble’ has done a couple of concerts this year including participating in the first Melbourne Warehouse Music Festival (

We have slipped into a quiet holiday pattern in recent years which had us popping back to far North Queensland (Port Douglas) in June. It’s cold and wintery in Melbourne at that time of year, but beautiful at the top end, so is very popular. We went on another great birding day with local guru Del Richards which allowed Stuart to indulge in his obsessive nerdy birdy photography ( ). We are now approaching our next holiday back to Fitzgerald, our lovely beach house in Gippsland in December. It’s a crazy time of year where everyone wants you to finish bits of work, or catch up socially. So we bugger off to the beach just before Xmas.

And 2017 was a great year for visitors. We have a new large house with spare rooms so do come ‘down under’ and visit. First were Mo and Steve who left the UK and Ireland for some sun over Xmas. Xmas Day itself was stinking hot, well over 30, we were camped indoors, except for a few crazy Brits sunbaking outside. Poor Steve had to suffer lots of jokes about large spiders, then came face to face with one in his bedroom! Next came Niamh and Arthur, who created their own new visitor while in Australia with baby Felix arriving in September.

Caitie Gardner turned up for a few weeks in the middle of the year. We had never met Caitie before but not only was she charming but she was also very good a making beds thanks to her experience as a ‘chalet chick’! We caught up again with her in Port Douglas just before she left to return to the UK.

Long time friends, Mike and Catherine Aldren finally made it down under for a huge trip that included Darwin, Port Douglas then the cold of Melbourne before taking the interesting inland road to Sydney. This is a photo of Nicky with M and C on the beach at Port Douglas taking on an iPhone on a moving bike!

Deanie and Pete returned to Oz to attend Katharine Plows and David’s wedding in October. It was a wonderful day and great to spend quality time with the Plows family once more. D & P had another amazing trip which included the Singapore Grand Prix. Pete was quite restrained and only took around 10,000 photos!

Our ‘frenants’ (aka friends who have been tenants), Lisa and Scott, continue to work their way around the world by returning to Oz a second time. We first met them in Bristol in 2012 when they rented Canynge Road from us. They then turned up in Australia in 2015 only to return again this year via some time in Spain. They are now relocated to London – which made us wonder if they are really trying to avoid the US President – which is not only understandable but also turns out to be true!

And as we approach December we are looking forward to more Canynge Road reunions with the Melville-Thomas clan (from No 4) staying for a few days followed by Bob and Liz (from No 2) over Xmas which course will be accompanied by the obligatory trip to the Boxing Day Ashes test at the MCG.

In the meantime, we both wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year period. Please stay safe, well and in touch.  N&S (and of course Woody!!).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cape Paterson sunset 9/1/2017

Cape Paterson is beautiful. Many people don't know this, so its our little secret! Let them all go to Inverloch and we can keep this little corner to ourselves!
Stuey nipped down to do a rental handover, just in time or sunset at the Eco Village, now called The Cape, at the West end CapeP, just where the sun dips into the ocean.
The roos were out en masse...
The sunset was stunning...

And so too was the moonscape...


Sunday, January 1, 2017

New year at Yandoit

In what is becoming a bit of a tradition we spent New Year's Eve in Yandoit, at the most amazing property owned by Gordy and Jodie (aka Farmer JH). As you can see, fun was had by all...

Nicky and Mo have finally worked out how to get on. By ignoring one another and looking at long billed corellas on the Loddon River in Newstead!

As temperatures soared to 30+, the akubras and fly nets got a workout.

Team shot by the BBQ on New Years eve.

Over a short 24 hour period, Mo, Steve, Mirella, Jonnie, Stuart and Nicky - ate, drank and talked! Thanks to Steve and Mirella who each provided a course of smoked salmon, dill and crème fraiche on pancakes/pikelets! Thanks guys! Lamb rack done on the BBQ completed the savouries to be followed by Mo's amazing Chocolate soufflé.

Mimi - in true form went out hard and fast but faded rapidly towards midnight and indeed DID NOT see the New Year in conscious! Probably due to too much ENGLISH champagne, er sparking wine.

Steve survived the heat - of both the sun and the BBQ. His skin was slightly less translucent by the start of 2017 than it had been on his arrival in Aus. 

Nicky speaking of her admiration for her husband. Again!

The boys did us proud on the BBQ - and unlike last year there was no total fire ban so things went well. we hope you all had a as nice a day as we did - thanks again to Jodie and Gordie for letting us enjoy their place. A great way to see the NY in.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Xmas Day 2016

Its Xmas in Melbourne and time for another degustation day in North Carlton this year. Attendees were Ruthy, Richo and Katie, Mo and Steve, Louisa and Riccardo, Yi, Peter, Gwenda and Ian and of course us.

The theme of the day was Fairy Stories! So the hardest part of the meal was working out if a dish had any vague connection to a fairy story. We tried!

The first two courses were made by Richo, starting with 'The Little Mermaid', Kingfish Bacon, served with smoked salmon roe, washed down by a Moet rose...

The dish was a delight, great start to the day. The video work was a bit mixed, as Stuey stuffed up the focusing, but never mind. This is cancelled out by the excellent effort by the girls - Katie doing her bit in front of the camera with Nicky and Ruthy cackling in the background. The grog was starting to hit the mark and its only the first course!

Course 2 was a goats chevre with beetroot present in so many ways I would get RSI if I tried to type them all. This was matched with 3 contrasting pinot gris from Australian and New Zealand. It was just about voted as course of the day. Its fairy story was Three Billy Goats Gruff. I will let Richo explain, and for some reason this was enhanced by Katie doing the vertical splits...

Next up, course 3, was pork done three ways, AKA Three Little Pigs, of course, which consisted of:-
Pork belly - by Nicky
Pork cheek - by Steve, sabotaged by Nicky
Vietnamese pulled pork sliders with Asian slaw - by Stuey
This was helped along with 3 different Passing Clouds pinot noirs
We were treated to some magic tricks by Katie and her 'beautiful' assistant between courses. Many of them were remarkably similar to last Xmas. But that is OK.
Course 4 was called the Emporer's New Clothes....
The aim of this dish was to have a break and do some exercise, like go for a walk. That didn't happen as it was 37 degrees outside, so we all hunkered in with the air con!
Next came course 5, the beef dish, by Yi and Stuey. As Gwenda and Ian Langford were with us this was washed down with copious amounts of Mt Camel Ridge cab sauv and shiraz, from 04, 09 and more recent vintages.
Then we moved onto the sweet courses both by Ruthy. This was paired with a 2000 Calvados, when ensured that if people were not pissed beforehand they would be so after. First Course 6...
And finally the hansel and Gretel dish, course 7. Ruthys reference to asbestos was not literal. I hope!
The recycle bin got a bit of a hammering...

Monday, December 26, 2016

Xmas 2016

As you read this we are basking in an Australian summer. Xmas Day is forecast to be 36 degrees! It has been anything but that over winter, the coldest winter in our 20 years here. We didn’t come across the world for this much rain, we could have stayed in the UK!!

Xmas 2016 will be very similar to the previous year, and lots before that. A degustation day with Ruth, Richo and Katie, our god-daughter. This year we have Mo and Steve with us, and a few other friends, so the feast will start at midday and rock on late into the evening.

This will be followed by the Boxing Day test which will be the Pakistanis this year. We hope they put up a better fight than the Windies last year. Then it’s the Ashes again in 2017!

What a crazy world we live in. We have sat here in Oz watching the Poms vote for Brexit and the US vote for Trump. Irrespective of your views on each subject, both outcomes were a surprise that will lead to uncertain times. Life has been much quieter here in Australia. The rugby and cricket teams have been universally rubbish, and the Western Bulldogs winning the Auzzie Rules – as big a surprise as Trump and Brexit.

For us it’s been a year of saving for our new house. We signed the contract in Feb 2016 on a Victorian terrace back in Parkville, just around the corner from our old place (see above). But we don’t get possession until 31/3/17. Stuey went to an auction back in Oct 2015. It went for stupid money – the real estate market has gone bonkers in the last 2 years. So it looked like we had been priced out of Parkville….until two neighbours approached the agent that day as asked him to sell their places, via private sale. We were lucky enough to secure the one on the photo. But as the people in the house hadn’t got a place to move to, they needed a long settlement. So, possession on 31/3, house warming the following day – April Fools Day! So coupled with Stuart’s mother, Nor, moving from Poulton-le-Fylde back in to Manchester and Nic’s parents deciding it’s time to down-size, we’re keeping the real estate industry in business. However Woody, our one remaining cat is looking forward to returning to whence he came, over 16 years ago!

Just before Xmas we nipped down to Cape Paterson for a week, just as we did last year. Australia basically closes down on Xmas Eve – following that we have Xmas hols, the main Summer hols and financial year end for many institutions. So December is manic, trying to get things finished. So we run off to the coast.

Nicky has been working her many jobs with her newest career, as a professional coach, going really well – though sadly not quite well enough for Stuey to retire, but she is working on that. Her salaried jobs include a day at the Kids Hospital, one in the MCRI, and time with the Royal College and the Australian Dental Association. And if that wasn’t enough she has a long distance appointment at Plymouth University which gives her a good reason to make a couple of trips back to the UK each year.

Stuey did lots of music, the first half of the year with Orchestra Victoria, the latter half with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra plus a few trip to Tasmania. One of his highlights was doing the Elephant in OV’s production of Carnival of the Animals. Please note: Nicky made the costume – that girl guide badge was a sound investment all those years ago!

In January Stuey will go to Devonport in Northern Tazzie to coach the basses on a string camp, same as Jan 2016. It was knackering but great fun, with 150 participants in four orchestras aged from 7 to 70!

The first of our visitors for the year was Stuey’s Dad, Graham in Jan. We had a cricket net session with Charlotte, our friend who is an elite cricketer, and plays for the Sydney Thunder in the womens Big Bash 20-20 league. We then caught up with Barbara and P, Jane and Graham then Esther and Stephen. In addition to much eating, drinking and laughing, all were, or course, taken to Woodlands Historic Park, to see kangaroos in the wild…

…as Stuey’s new obsession is wildlife photography. It’s all Nicky’s fault as she bought him a ‘you-beaut’ 150-600mm tamron lens as a 25th anniversary present in 2015. The lens soon outshone the camera, so a new Canon EOS 80D ‘had to be bought’ in April and 10,000 pictures have been snapped this year, many of them birds. The yellow honeyeater was taken in Port Douglas on our holiday in June, was just one of over 100 different species that we saw over the course of a few days (not that it’s a competition of course!).

 Merry Xmas and here’s to a safe and less turbulent 2017, Stuey and Nicky


Saturday, June 11, 2016

One 'Del' of a day birding

Regular readers of the blog, er both of us, will remember that we popped up to Port Douglas in early June 2015. One of the highlights was our full day bird watching with Del Richards. We enjoyed it so much that we did exactly the same trip in early June 2016.

What Del doesn't know about the bird life in FNQ is not worth knowing. He is amazing, runs a bird show on local ABC radio, knows everyone we met or drove past and most importantly of all knows where the birds are how to get them to come out and say "G'Day"! He uses a combination of bird noises that he creates with a range of whistling techniques, and some pre-recorded ones in an iPod with small portable speaker. And it really works - in several locations we were looking at what seemed to be empty trees, then after a couple of bird imitations from Del the place was alive with birds. Genius.

The content of this blog entry is by no means a full catalog of what we saw - 87 species. I took almost 600 shots, many of which were left on the editors floor, but here are some of the better ones.

Del has as number of sites - he took us to most of the ones we visited last year, in the same week, first week of June, but we saw very different birds. We started in the middle of Port Douglas - the sports ground is a wonderful haven for honeyeaters and friarbirds

Next was a waterhole by a plush golf course at the Southern end of Port. Then we headed off up to  the tablelands, with a number of stopping of points before going thro Julatten, Mt Molloy and Mt Carbine. The burgers at Mt Molloy are worth the air fare alone!

The bird above is a brown falcon, and to the left is a bush stone curlew, plentiful around Port Douglas, especially at the Sheraton Mirage golf course

Below the birds are:-

A double eyed fig parrot - one of many 'firsts' for us on this trip

There are two common kingfishers seen around Port Douglas - the one above dining on a cricket is the forest kingfisher


A great bowerbird, in its bower


Birds were not the only wildlife on offer - most waterways in Port have big warning signs, for these...

Yellow Oriele

White browed crake

Yellow honeyeater

Lemon bellied flycatcher

Female leaden flycatcher

A roo, of course

There were plenty of raptors around and about. We disturbed two huge wedge tailed eagles, but I wasn't quick enough on the draw. But this Nankeen (or Australian) Kestrel posed beautifully

The dreaded BIF (Bird In Flight) photos are notoriously difficult to capture. But whistling kites make very good models.

This yellow bellied sunbird was one of a lot of brightly coloured birds, very different to the ones we get back in Victoria

Probably the star bird of the trip is the rainbow bee eater. Its very common, but wonderful to photograph due to the range of colours. Fantastic birds that tell me I am Up North

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Heart Morass

Heart Morass is a great birding site, close to Sale. Though I didn't manage to get any good shots we saw yellow billed spoonbills - quite different to the royal spoonbills we see at Venus Bay. They were in a tree, living comfortably with the cormorants and pelicans...

Pelicans are plentiful in this part of the world. Am still slightly amazed that they ever get off the ground
Marsh birds can be tricky to identify, but we are pretty sure that this fella is a black winged stilt
This is a common tern
But the big prize for the day was left until last. Between Sale and Bairnsdale we could see a pair of wedge tailed eagles, circling up high. On one occasion they dropped to allow us to get a half decent photo. There is no doubting what this bird is from its tail. It was huge.