All posts by tonyives

About tonyives

A Yorkshireman of a certain age who likes most genres of music and most makes of old car. Travel is a joy, not least to escape the British winter. Travel by bicycle is bliss and if I’m not lost in music then I’m lost in a daydream about a hot day, tens of miles to cover and the promise of a great campsite and a beer. I like to think I’m always learning and becoming wiser. On the latter point then evidence is in short supply.

Australia & New Zealand – Days 13 and 14

Electronic Wonderland

I was in Sydney three years ago and always felt it was grander and bigger than Brisbane. The taxi drive in from the airport confirmed this. At night it really looks wonderful.

The taxi ride was complimentary from the hotel we’d booked. The taxi driver, thanks to the hotel or details had the wrong address for the hotel and this luxurious ride ended, we discovered, 300 metres from the door. Oh how we laughed about this error with our three heavy bags and two rucksacks. We were smack in the middle of the CBD (Central Business District). In fact Anna and I were confused as to the hotel we’d booked and had no idea it was so expensive at about £220 per night without breakfast. (I do appreciate people reading this in the south of England will observe that a Premier Inn on the outskirts of Hounslow at Easter costs about the same amount.)


The hotel is well furnished, quite classy but has made some considerable missteps. Every corridor is in darkness, a bit like a nightclub without Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing On The Ceiling’ at volume 10.

A 12 year old must have been asked to propose the electronics. You had to present your key card to the lift call button and it would bring the lift, whence you can only ascend to the floor activated by your card. There were folk who’d just checked in bewildered by this weird arrangement as they searched for floor buttons in the lift. The gym had one static bike. However is was a ‘Peloton’ bike and you had to join or log in to the software to get any performance data. All building doors were activated by cards or mysterious hand waves over wall sensors etc. Needless to say our coffee machine wouldn’t work/pierce the pods to make a drink. There was near panic as a Yorkshireman barrelled his way to the Reception Desk with the offending article under his arm. ‘Next time Sir, please just call and we’ll swap it’…. what and miss the alarmed look on your face, in front of other guests, about defective appliances? Oh yes and only two of the three lifts were working; this meant wearying queues at peak times. On our last night a tannoy went off in the room advising a fire alarm, somewhere on the 30 floors, had gone off and we were to await further instructions. Having seen Towering Inferno Anna and I immediately dressed and descended to the ground floor. Here we witnessed firemen leaving the building. It was a false alarm. Someone on the11th floor had burnt something whilst cooking. Never a dull moment. I’m looking forward to the request for feedback from could be an essay.

The Harbour Bridge and the Opera House are magnificent monuments. I’d done a walking tour in 2020 but did it again with ‘Business Class’ and I have to say Kieren was outstanding. Funny, in control and interesting with a mix of history, art, animal life, ethnic explanation and architecture. A top man, not all guides are this exceptional. He told the agonising story of the building of the Opera House that was over budget and continued to be designed well after the construction had started. The concern was enough to have the brilliant Danish architect (who won the design brief competition in 1957) eventually marginalised as the overspend and delays mounted. Ultimately he was replaced and offered a junior role, that he rejected, so that he resigned and went home to Denmark. In fairness his replacements didn’t address the delays and created appalling acoustics (since rectified.) When the Queen opened it in 1973 the architect Jørn Utzon wasn’t even invited. Relations were later patched up between the government and the Dane but it wasn’t a ‘good look’ given the unmatched iconic status of the building globally. Literally a wonder of the world.

In comparing my walking tours then the 2023 one had more recognition of the indigenous people. It’s a new theme. The Aborigines have been in Australia for 65,000 years and all of a sudden, in three years, the Australian (whites) are talking about them and pointing out the fact that they now fly their indigenous flags! Kieren also apologised for those who entered the old Custom House at Circular Quay about the swastikas inlaid in the marble floor. This apology was due to their Nazi connotations. I reckon that unless you’re over 60 and European then you’ve got little idea or sensitivity about their appropriation by the German National Socialists. You had to seek them out on the floor as you entered the building. The building was built and used in the 19th Century long before Hitler and Australia had no fascist sympathies. The swastika has been around since 500 BC in Eurasian art and I’ve seen them proudly displayed in Malaysia. It seems that you can never apologise enough nowadays.

The mighty Kieren
There were originally 50 species of bird in Sydney these cages represent them and contain sounds of the bird. On the pavement, beneath, the bird is identified.

Culturally there were other crimes that still persisted. I speak of the male mullet and moustache. Like the eradication of rickets and leprosy I thought such a look was long gone, it’s last recording was, I thought, in the 80s. Sadly not. Much to my distress whilst watching Aussie Rules ‘’Footy’ on the hotel TV I came across Bailey Smith. Surely as a child his parents should have opted to have him inoculated? Unspeakable? I agree.

I expect his mother still loves him…

We walked around the city and took a ferry across to Manly. Here we watched the surfers in overcast conditions show their skills before enjoying the views on the way back to Circular Quay.

Captain Ives

As I discovered last time, when I cycled out of the city, the suburbs are smart, often exclusive and interesting. Sydney has a population of over 5 million, about a fifth of the whole nation. If I had to live in an Australian city then it’s my pick.

Nice spot for a wedding?
Apparently the two animals on the National shield are incapable of walking backwards. Forward Australia!
Australian roadworks (or idiots with coloured spray paints employed by the council)
Underneath the Harbour Bridge this wonderful grand piano sat awaiting a pianist. No evident vandalism and a great spot to tinkle the ivories. (Yes, I know that phrase is probably now politically incorrect. Relax, the keys have been nowhere near Jumbo.)
I’ve cycled over that.

My first wife relaxed her grip on the purse as regards dining and some of the food was terrific.

Kingfish with potato, feta, avocado, tomato and onion
Protein restoration

Australia & New Zealand 2023 – Days 11 and 12

Meeting old Friends

Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city and the capital of Queensland. I’d been here before and stayed in a hostel about a mile out of town. This time I was located in an apartment, with kitchen, in the Central Business District with my ‘Business Class’ buddy who never ‘slums’ it.

It was handy being so centrally located as everything we wanted to do and see was nearby. The next morning itinerary priorities were set and Anna marched off to have her nails done! This released me to find a record shop and I happily flicked through the second hand LP’s looking for treasure. I intend to write a separate blog about visiting record stores abroad. I have something to say, elsewhere. Central Brisbane is ordinarily busy with tourists and many young folk, in fact there are 100,000 students in the city at three universities. Many of the students live and study in the centre of the city. It inevitably gives it a vibe and late night buzz.

I wanted to cross the Brisbane river and visit the South Bank Parklands, it was a highlight last time I came. This is a curated area with animals, swimming pools, rainforest, restaurants and children’s play areas. It’s delightful.

You needed to have swimming pools in this area to prevent anybody going into the river. Bull sharks lurk within and are flesh eaters. The good news is that as humans are not their usual lunch they will probably break off after tasting the menu. Clearly not a game you’d want to play however. There are 3,000 up and down the river.

There was much to admire and see. The scale is big and modern. However despite the restoration of 19th Century buildings it seemed, to me, a nonsense to then bury the artefacts in the midst of glass and steel skyscrapers. Was it ‘lip service’ to the planners and conservationists whilst the developers and money makers got their way? Sadly much of this development seems similar to the Far East where there seems to be no sentimentality about architectural history and an appetite for mixing concrete in every increasing quantities. One could argue this happens everywhere, including central London, but it seems very aggressive in Brisbane.

A little buried?

After visiting the far river bank we got one of the free ferries back to our side and disembarked at ‘Riverside’. It was here later we met Katie and Matt for drinks and a meal. Matt is an Aussie but Katie is not! She’s a close friend of our Favourite Youngest. Katie’s been known to our family for about 25 years. She started and finished school with Sophie (and Katrina). The inevitable happened that after a year out Down Under she found someone and has decided to stay. In order to secure her visa she’s had to spend into four figures and submit endless documents and links to social media to demonstrate the veracity of her relationship and intention to stay with it. She awaiting the result about a long term residency.

Moi, Katie, Matt & ‘Business Class’

One of the beauties of this climate are the evenings. Sitting outside in the warm balmy evening is a true pleasure.

We often take a city walking tour on our holidays and Anna arranged one with the ‘Brisbane Greeters’: a group of volunteers who give up their time, for free, to show tourists around. John was our guide, a mere sprog at 83 years old, and a font of all knowledge. He’d been born in England but arrived in Australia in 1948; he knew his way around. The website said no tipping was expected? This seemed hard given the four hours he led us.

What is obvious is the dramatic growth of Brisbane in terms of population and development over the last couple of decades. The ambition of the city holds no bounds and they’ve secured the 2032 Olympic Games. Quite why you’d want to host it isn’t something I can understand but I’m sure it’ll go well and be a success. Melbourne held the games in 1956, Sydney in 2000 and maybe Brisbane felt it should have a turn?

In the evening our cultural journey continued with attendance at the rugby league derby between the Dolphins and the Broncos.

The Dolphins are a newly formed team and Karl, our man in the city and much mentioned throughout my blogs organised the tickets. It was a wonderful occasion in the balmy evening in a world class stadium.

Dolphins 12 Broncos 18

We were amongst 51,000 fans who irrespective of their allegiance sat together and roared their men on loudly. We were Dolphin fans as Karl’s daughter’s partner plays for the Dolphins (but was absent on the night with injury.) The NRL is the most competitive and highest quality league in the world and it was quite something to enjoy the aggressive rugby and match day experience with light shows, flares, dancing and trumpet solos!

It was super to meet up with Karl and he’ll be back in the UK next month before a trip to the onward flight to the USA to go down Route 66.

Don’t spill your beer!
Phins Up!

The next morning we got an early bus to the airport for the last of our Australian destinations, Sydney. A big shout out to the quality of public transportation in the city, easy and cheap.

Australia & New Zealand 2023 – Days 9 and 10

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Day 9 saw the driving catch up with us: we were weary. So we mooched about Hervey Bay and generally chilled. Hervey Bay generally has older residents and I was pleased to bring down the average age for the time we stayed there. It looks like a retirement spot. It’s a big place with large stores, dealerships and a two lane highway through it. However, the end of the town we stayed at was residential and close to the beach. We enjoyed our first Australian stroll on the sand and along the pier. The layout at the front with showers, toilet blocks, walkways was fantastic along with outdoor gym equipment.

The drive

We’re conscious that with New Zealand coming up we’ll be eating out every night. So we used the B&B’s excellent kitchen and had some omelettes that evening. Sometimes something very plain is a welcome change. We have a cold bag and have been carrying vegetables, cheese, butter, milk etc from place to place. It also provides a useful place to stow the white wine and beer.

Young Anna striding out

Refreshed we rose the next morning to find a rainy day and drove up to nearby Maryborough. This has a sad place in my heart as it is where I was told to abandon my 2020 bike ride from Melbourne to Cairns as Covid was shutting down the UK and I best get back whilst I could. I found the campsite where Trailfinders delivered the fatal blow on a late night call. At the time I had to find my way back to Brisbane to get a flight home. Not a piece of cake given that I had to quickly get back south with a bike. I couldn’t ride it and there was no rail link. One of the buses that runs up the coast came to my rescue. It was a fraught and stressful time. The problem came with packing the bike for shipment on an aeroplane. With shops shutting as part of the Lockdown and it also being the weekend I was struggling to get a box. You may find my blog at the time interesting (there again, you may not!).

So we looked around the campsite. Three years later the REO Speed Wagon is still there. A veritable trucking classic. (You may know the name from the 70s American rock band who nicked the name.) I also took a photo of the very spot my ride was ended in a phone call.

I was stood here using the charging points for my phone

The drive to Brisbane was in the rain and the temperature plummeted to 24°C! The traffic started to build and the inevitable road works slowed our progress. We initially thought we’d swing by Noosa Heads, then Gympie but as time was lost in the traffic we only had just enough time to visit Kin Kin. I’d stopped here, sleeping on the boundary of a cricket ground in 2020. The nearby cafe/restaurant left a very favourable impression on me and so returned.

‘Black Ant Gourmet’, Kin Kin
Oh look, another pie!

We continued and hit traffic jams on the outskirts of Brisbane. We dropped the wonderful X3 at the airport and caught a train link into the centre of Brisbane. In the early evening a rush of people came at you on the streets. It was also quite arduous wheeling and lugging our baggage in this busy place but we eventually found our apartment and settled in. I set off to find a ‘bottle shop’ or off licence for some wine. It was tomorrow we’d explore the city.

I’d read somewhere that we’d taken the ‘Easter’ off our eggs to protect some members of our society from offence. Clearly not troubling them here.

Australia & New Zealand 2023

Beetroot and Hot Cross Buns – Days 7 & 8

The simple reality was that there were a lot of miles to drive before Brisbane and we needed to eat up the road. Mackay won’t live long in the memory but my early morning wander will. I dared to turn on my mobile to get the Leeds score. We won, good old Wolves saw fit to lay down and die in supporting our survival plan. This temporary agony relief should see me through to New Zealand and the resumption after the international fixtures break.

However the Sabrina Sugar Shed will live longer in the memory. It was about an hour south drive. We’d driven for hundreds of miles past sugar cane fields and Anna had found a place where it was all explained. We gave up an hour and a half to have the cultivation and sugar extraction process explained.

It all starts with an acknowledgement to the indigenous Elders before the tour begins. This is common on any public event. It seems appropriate in some instances but odd in others ie. before our flight from Melbourne to Cairns it was read out? The parallel with the USA and the native Americans seems complete. That is, the Europeans came and swept them to the margins whilst abusing or killing them. Especially in Australia there was an energetic and active campaign to have many indigenous children abandon their culture and become ‘western’ in the mid 20th Century. Despite all the kind words/acknowledgement today these people are marginalised in the economy or societal structure. It seems irretrievable and many here and in the USA are in a desperate place.

After harvesting the cane it needs to be quickly processed before it goes off and the raw cane is brought by rail to the mill on an agreed schedule with the farmer. Here it’s cut, crushed; the juice squeezed out. Then the juice is filtered to extract the bugs, bits of toads, extraneous weeds and all sorts of stuff that should ensure you now forever reduce your sugar intake. The refining continues until crystallisation and it’s then one step away from human use. That’s achieved in a controlled environment away from the mill. The vast majority is exported in bulk. This little operation made some samples up in chutneys, liqueurs, candy floss etc. using the product for us to drink or eat. The farming doesn’t involve a lot a labour and it’s not uncommon for the farmer to have another form of income. Typical of a lot of Australia the large mill behind our tour is Singaporean owned.

Ready for the Outback

Soon back on the road we were headed for Rockhampton, or as our colonial cousins call it….. Rocky. As we left the Shed we innocently enquired as to a good place to take a break and have a coffee on our drive. ‘Nah, that’s one long boring drive I dread’ she encouragingly replied. Excellent news.

What again?

The drive down The Bruce Highway was tedious but had to be done. We did pull into Marlborough where the local general store was doing great business in sandwiches and drinks. A steely elderly lady was running the show and here in the middle of literally nowhere she didn’t roll her eyes when the present Mrs Ives requested oat milk in her coffee. This reprieve was followed by that other Australian idiosyncrasy of putting sliced pickled beetroot into sandwiches. Strange but very common down the coast. Positively weird in a burger and bun but I have adapted with good grace.

The only other excitement came by being pulled over by a traffic cop to blow into a breathalyser. Obviously I was clear but the roads are full of signs urging people to rest up and seldom does the speed limit exceed 100kph (60mph). I think road crashes and high death rates and drinking must have historically been high on these long dull roads.

Rocky came into view and we found our hotel. Being Sunday night the dining choice was limited but a pizza and halloumi salad was found and then a long walk along the Fitzroy River to settle it before lights out.

Imagine a complete cacophony of birds in the trees

Back into the car I’d persuaded the Tour Guide to abandon the A1 to take the A3 south. This less direct route offered more of ‘Australia’. Our first stop was Mount Gordon and it’s historic railway.

Just a facade. The line shut in 1987

Whilst now an attractive but small town it had been important for much of the 20th Century as a town at the bottom of a railway route to the top of a mountain. The mountain contained gold, silver and a lot of copper. The railway excitement came via the need for it to ascend a 20% gradient. There was a video and exhibits explaining how it was done. That is a rack and pinion addition to the steam engine and railway line. I could explain more but I’m sure it would have you all slumped across your mobile/PC or tablet by the end of several paragraphs. I found it very interesting!

So back in the car we got to Bileola or as they say in Queensland ‘Bilo’. (I bet you never saw that coming.) Or ‘Bilewaya’ to use it’s Sunday name. Here we found a brilliant bakery and coffee shop. Given it’s location amongst tractor dealerships, farming supplies outlets, petrol stations and veterinary practices it was a delightful find. After coffee and hot cross buns it was time for more culture and we visited a heritage museum.

Skippy runs away from me

The exhibits were a little tired but the grounds contained kangaroos. Yippee my first ‘Roos in the wild. Entrance was AS$5 each (£2.80). Anna took pity and bought some coasters with aboriginal art on them. Predictably they were made in the People’s Republic of China. The lady manning this centre helped us find a route to our next night stop that didn’t involve driving on a gravel road. I didn’t fancy getting stone chips on the Beamer. The car had been a terrific boon and I stepped out of it in Hervey Bay after 351 miles fairly fresh.

On the latter stages of the country road drive we saw one car in a hour. This wasn’t early morning it was mid afternoon! The whole day had been driving in rolling wooded countryside. The trees were different to Europe but it could have been France.

Back on the A1 roadworks were regular features including wild kangaroos to our left and right grazing at dusk. After a long day driving and a desire to get the drive complete lots of restricted speed limits and traffic lights were not welcome. At about 6.30pm we pulled up at our B&B in the rain.

Australia & New Zealand 2023

Southbound – Days 5 and 6

With a ceiling and standing fan we survived the night and emerged sort of refreshed the next day. The jet lag is finally receding.

The accommodation in daylight was commendable and alongside our room were guests from Germany and French speaking Canada. The latter were impressed with my language skills after all you never know when ‘le stylo de ma tante’ can come in useful. Breakfast was superb up on the verandah and we talked with the landlady, Dawn, originally from County Durham. With all that travel she was very interesting and helpful and we were sorry to say goodbye and head south.

Ours is the room on the right

The night before we’d seen some wallabies or small kangaroos in the wild on the grass at dusk. This morning there was one in the undergrowth. Sadly it didn’t photograph well as Mother Nature had enabled the small animal to merge into the trees it was sat amongst.

We set off south for Townsville stopping at Ingham for a coffee. Here we strolled along the parade of shops to stretch our legs.

Peering in the windows and ambling slowly we must have appeared lost as a chap asked us if we needed directions. In the brief exchange I told him we were from England. ‘Oh, where abouts?’ I duly told him and enquired if he had relatives over there or had visited? ‘Nope, I’m 67 years old and I’ve been abroad to Tasmania and New Zealand!’ Clearly not nomadic. We found a cafe, had a coffee and then set sail again.

Over the next few days we have to drive long distances every day. This means less notable attractions but lots of The Bruce Highway. This is a single carriageway with light traffic but a large number of roadworks. It’s an easy if not interesting drive unless you turn off. I cruise at just over 60mph. I spent some time changing all the units of measure on the car to imperial instead of metric. This should cheer the car rental company when they get it back. As we drive we listen to podcasts, my music, the BBC or my moaning about other drivers.

Port Douglas to Mackay

Townsville is Queensland’s second largest town after Brisbane. We got there in 33°C and after checking in I departed to find some trainers. I’d brought a pair from Blighty but found that they were strangling my instep. I needed to be able to walk! Given the adidas discount I can obtain from the Favourite Youngest Daughter the thought of buying any trainers away from England (and the discount) indicated how much discomfort I was in. I ended up in Athlete’s Foot where I was measured, assessed and found some shoes from the Sale! They fitted like Cinderella’s slipper. It was memorably great service. I skipped home a free man.

I’m ready for a Strictly after 5 minutes on here

That night Mrs Ives fancied a curry and across the road we sat outside on the street at a restaurant in the delicious heat consuming a tasty meal before a long stroll to jostle the bhajis, rice and, in my case, Rogan Josh to the bottom of my stomach.

Readers of my previous Australian adventure will recollect that I temporarily lost my passport for a night. This time it remained in my pocket. Unfortunately it was not extracted prior to going into the wash. It is now a sorry sight. If I don’t return or get out of Australia it’ll be down to a non too ‘delicate’ wash.

Tissues between the pages to mop up the damp 😩😬🫣

The next town to reach was Mackay. This we achieved after detours into Bowen, a one horse town without the horse, and Airlie Beach, a grim resort with much residential housing a bustling marina. Bowen was founded in 1861 by the British after they landed, threatened and dispersed the aborigines (who had probably been in this area for centuries.) The town has a mixed economy but I suggest it houses many workers operating a deep water port for the export of coal about 19 miles north of the town. On a sleepy and fiercely hot Saturday afternoon there was little life on the streets. I did however love the murals and my first pie on this trip.

Minced beef or ‘standard’ with mushy peas beneath the crust.

Airlie Beach is further south and is a more bustling prosperous place. It’s a jumping off point for Great Barrier Reef cruises and looks a lively, noisy place with bars and restaurants. There’s a lot of nice houses further out and tourism seems the ticket. Whilst there a bus pulled in and bedraggled millennials staggered off with rucksacks so large and heavy that I couldn’t lift them let alone carry them. One had a Canada patch on his luggage: he’d come a long way.

Airlie Beach marina

Eventually Mackay was reached and we checked into another hotel. Again it had a gym and I donned my cycling shorts to spin, and listen to Radio Four on my Air Pods, and Anna took a swim. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.

Australia & New Zealand 2023

In the Mountains and Down The Coast – Day 4

It was goodbye to the serene and manicured Port Douglas as the sun was starting to heat up the day at 7.30am. As is the way in these parts the trades were all hard at work trying to get a head start on their jobs before the real heat kicked in. The ‘council’ workers were trimming, mowing and cutting: their work looked terrific.

The drive was slow as we hugged the coast line on a treacherously windy road. The sea was mill pond flat and the sun was glinting off the surface looking alluring and exquisite. The destination was Freshwater Station, on the outskirts of Cairns. We were catching a ‘scenic’ train that ascended 327 metres up to Kuranda. This town was historically important at the top of the mountain for bringing supplies to the many gold mines there. Latterly it was important for the Australian Armed Forces during WW2. The construction of this epic climb started in 1877 and it was initiated because there was starvation in these communities due to being cut off with harsh weather. The access to these settlements otherwise was tortuous. The railway was a solution. The epic feat of engineering came at a price. It resulted in 32 deaths from the construction and many more from disease. The length was 33 kilometres; involved 15 tunnels and 55 bridges.

The start

The workers were mainly Irish or Italian and the days terribly hard. I can’t imagine working in such perilous sheer conditions in over 30°C heat with mosquitos draining you. In fact, despite it being the wrong era and country, it all seemed redolent of ‘Bridge Over The River Kwai’. We wended our way up slowly, and later, down the climb. We were hauled by two diesels from the 1970s.

There were some dramatic sights on the journey.

At the top there were no gold mines but something much better: koalas. I’d long wanted to see these sleepy fellows. There was a sanctuary.

Thrown into this cornucopia of native wildlife were crocodiles, a cassowary, geckos, birds, frogs and some wallabies. A parrot befriended Mrs Ives.

He is helping Anna identify which one he is
And make it snappy….
A cassowary

There were lots of arts and crafts on displays and some of it was very pleasing not least the aboriginal art.

The return train ride was a little painful as the open windows of the early 20th Century carriages invited the mosquitos in and they dined royally on my legs. On arrival back at the station we turned the BMW south and hit the Cairns rush hour. We worked our way through that and were soon turning off the Bruce Highway for our B&B at Mission Beach.

The accommodation was fine and run by some Brits who seemed peripatetic judging by their time living in various parts of Oz, Texas and the Middle East. The room was delightful, as were the other facilities, but without air conditioning it was a hot little oven.

After checking in we did a quick turn round and went out to find some food. The B&B recommended a few spots and in the dark they were hard to find. However, we decided by default to go to the Mission Bay Tavern. We had no idea what it was like but from the road it was brightly lit and seemed a bit ordinary. However inside we truly fell on our feet. It was the classic Australian pub. By this time the temperature had plummeted to 27°C.

Beyond the pub were many diners at the back including us!

We had standard pub fayre along with some Castlemaine XXXX. It was grand! Any way after this it was back to sweat off the drink and food at the B&B room (sauna).

Australia & New Zealand 2023

Rain Forests and Coral Reefs – Days 2 & 3

Australia has a fearsome reputation as regards customs. Television programmes on British TV have ‘fly on the wall’ coverage of passengers opening their bags to divulge a pig’s head in aspic or snake testicle powder being confiscated as a health risk. With some excitement we were advised about a camera crew from Channel Seven filming another episode on landing at Melbourne. We did actually see the cameraman shooting and a customs officer wading through the suitcases of a traveller. He was probably in the process of giving up various body parts of pickled goat for the bin and receiving a large fine.

The journey continued as we had a further flight up to Cairns. This was a c1,500 mile domestic shuttle with Australian holiday makers heading north. At Cairns was the collection of the hire car. Previous experience has taught me not to select the smallest, cheapest car. It took a few missteps to learn this. I’d plumped for a Nissan Duke or equivalent. Imagine unalloyed joy when the key fob bore the BMW logo. Due to a shortage of motors I got an upgrade to an X3. Anna was less excited by my good fortune as I kept minimal attention on the road as I paired the iPhone with the car’s Bluetooth and looked for Car Play. This latter facility immediately enables the phone’s Sat Nav, music, UK radio and telephone. The first stop was to buy a SIM card for our stay. For $30 (£17) I got 40GB of data and free calls back to the UK. From here it was a drive of about an hour up to Port Douglas.

Our lodgings for three nights

We let ourselves into the flat and attempted to stave off going to bed until, in my case, 7pm! The next morning started at some time after 4am and shortly thereafter Anna revealed the day’s itinerary. It was heading north to the Daintree National Park. To get to there we had to take a ferry for 150 metres crossing of an estuary. For this we paid $45 (£25) for a return ticket! Clearly there must have been an error as I never meant to buy a share of the ferry company.

My latest investment

At the Daintree Discovery Centre we had a long conversation with a native (disappointingly not wearing a wide brimmed hat with corks on strings hanging down) about his move from Melbourne, his fireman grandfather from Hackney and his inexplicable enthusiasm for Arsenal. We ascended to walk a steel platform in the rain forest canopy. The graphics and accompanying audio explained the plants and animals that grew or lived here. It was very educational and thought provoking. The threat to cut down these forests globally is heartbreaking. (Australia would never contemplate such a thing.) The forests helpfully absorb CO2, have unknown, as of yet, medicinal properties in the plants and many unique species of animal. If the alternative is logging back to bare ground for cereal farming and cattle ranching it’s a terrible, irreversible, waste.

The canopy
They even care about mosquitos. (Yes, the little ba#*ards bit my leg! So much for playing nice.)
As with all notable Australian wildlife there were many signs and details upon this giant bird but no sighting, other than the stuffed one. I’m on the left.

However, as with all these natural world plights there are people involved. The average life span of an indigenous native in a rain forest is probably 20 or 30 years short of those in ‘civilisation’ and in those years they receive poor health care, little education and live in difficult environments of flooding, cyclones and diminishing stocks of food and space. The possibly patronising misty eyed view of their being ‘one with nature’ and ‘living the dream’ doesn’t wash. Imagine living in the 13th Century in your current location knowing what the 21st offers despite it’s tribulations? Clutching my hurting head with such profound thoughts we visited the beaches nearby and they looked like film sets for ‘Castaway’.

(Tom Hanks was just out of shot)

The next day saw us take to the water. We set sail for an hour and a half from Port Douglas to see the coral off the beach of Low Isles, so named by Captain James Cook. The catamaran had over 50 tourists on board. It was a brilliant day. The boat was luxurious and the crew fabulous. It appeared nothing was too much trouble and customer service was the name of the game. When we got there we were fitted out with snorkel, flippers, lycra suit, mask and in my case a life jacket. (Tony’s a poor swimmer and the crew decided in the sea I’d be best to have some buoyancy! By comparison Anna is part fish.) The lycra suit was mandatory to avoid jellyfish stings: ‘tis the season apparently.

Eat your heart out Roman Abramovich

The coral was beautiful as we hovered above it. I drank probably as much sea water as the fish as I took some time to work out the top of the snorkel pipe should not be put in the water. There were many different types of coral and lots of tropical fish of many varied colours and sizes. I have to say it was just like the many documentaries I’m sure you’ve seen. Wonderful.

Outbound to the beach.
Low Isles

When we got back to boat we had a splendid buffet lunch and then went out again on the sea in a glass bottomed boat to see more coral and fish. Amongst the party were Americans and the question was asked ‘what species was Nemo?’ Other questions included ‘could you hunt any of the turtles?’ At this point I felt I could have made a living selling tickets for this dialogue.

‘Looking for Nemo’

Anyway to the accompaniment of live music we returned to shore. That’s another ambition ticked off.

Australia & New Zealand 2023

Getting there…

So as I’m sat here in Emirates Economy I thought I’d start to scribe. This is a 12 hour and 40 minute flight from Dubai to Melbourne and I’ve reckoned, in my jet lagged fog, that I should have enough time to pull together a few words. I’m sat in ‘stowage’ and the present Mrs Ives is sat about 8 yards above me in Business Class, no doubt quaffing champagne and perusing her sumptuous menu whilst luxuriating in enough space to park a double decker bus. Strange our estrangement, n’est pas?

Mine is the one to Dubai

By way of a stark contrast the bearded, tattooed millennial in shorts in the seat in front me shoved his seat into recline when the Fasten Seat belt light went out. As a consequence I’m about a foot away from the back of his seat. Clubbing him to death crossed my mind and I did recollect that historically entry into Australia for an Englishman necessitated a criminal record. I say club as we weren’t allowed to take on board anything sharp. However, as we’ve planned to be away for 5 weeks it’d likely make a mess of my availability for the duration.

Here I come

The trip involves flying to near the top of Queensland (Port Douglas) and driving down to Brisbane. From here we fly to Sydney. After a few days here we join a G Adventures tour in New Zealand where we’ll discover both islands. Overall a total of nine flights: Greta please forgive me. Quite an adventure. I was in Australia in 2020 when in a difficult conversation in the washroom at a campsite in Maryborough I was told by the travel agent to get back to Brisbane to fly out immediately. Delay might have led to my being in difficulty escaping during the Covid pandemic. It was not an easy project to return 150 miles south to catch a flight and organise a cardboard box for my bike whilst all the shops were shutting down and it was a weekend.

Yes, I know we need to address the elephant in the room or 8 yards above me downing Veuve Clicqout. I was scheduled to come out three weeks earlier and cycle from Brisbane to Cairns. Anna would join me after this 1,000 mile spin. A leg injury put paid to that and so I abandoned and rescheduled to fly out with Anna. As I was initially flying Economy and it also cost several nearly £700 to rebook the flights I stayed with Economy. Anna’s living the dream and spending some of her father’s inheritance to reach the colonies in comfort and indulging in that elusive blessing of sleep. When we meet at various airports I urge her not to worry and go into the executive lounges to enjoy the comfort, hot food and drinks. Frankly folks we can all agree that this magnanimous attitude makes me one helluva guy doesn’t it. (She never reads my blogs and so I can type what I like!)

Loading and still alone

(The leg injury has much improved although a hospital appointment is ahead. I want to be fit for some cycling in France in July and also to have the facility to burn some calories so that I can eat biscuits and sweets without feeling naughty.)

I’ve lost track of time on the flights through different time zones. I think it’s about 9am in York and early afternoon wherever I am! My night’s sleep the night before the flight was on the floor of a very cold room in Whitby. Copious revelry with pals, lots of beer and red wine the night before around the harbour’s hostelries wasn’t the best preparation for a gazillion hour set of three flights. However, I’m told I’ll get more sensible as I get older and grow up.

I think I’ve now had three meals. I won’t forget the last one, it brought on an unwelcome bout of nostalgia. The chicken and rice came in a thick sauce that had the pungency and taste of the spent gun powder you got on a strip from a cap gun. I appreciate that for younger readers this may mean little as they probably stopped selling cap guns in 1967. (Google will help.) If you’re none the wiser I think the clue lies in the words ‘gun powder’. Despite my 1960s and 70s boarding school mentality to finish up any food that gets put in front of you I had to admit Guy Fawkes would have been enormously disappointed at my abandonment.

Explosive and inedible chicken lurks beneath

The millennial girl next to me is a stone mason from Frankfurt. (Oh be fair no one could make this up). Her English is limited and my German non-existent. Had I known the German for chisel I’m sure the conversation would have flourished. She’s quietly impressive in that for the whole duration of the flight she hasn’t needed to visit the toilet once. On the other side of the aisle is a South African woman who is the regional manager for Massey Ferguson tractors in Africa. She’s heading to Melbourne for a conference. Some of you may know I once worked for Ford Tractors. So from here we gaily chatted about Power Take Off drives, the merits of four wheel drive and the regional peculiarities for homologation. I suspect disembarkation can’t come soon enough for her. The other passenger of note was a Brummie living in Adelaide who was returning back after having seen two home games for ‘the Villa’. We bonded over the frailties of our respective football teams.

I think I’ve got the measure of the Aussies and so future blogs may be salty. Then there’s the Kiwis to pick on. Fasten your seat belts….

Record Of The Week # 142

Elle King – Come Get Your Wife

King comes from a rock background complete with tattoos and piercings. On this country offering she brings blues and rock tinctures; this inevitably gives the album considerable attraction and personality. She’s got a slightly raspy voice that can hold and belt out a tune: more Etta James than Carrie Underwood. This is her third release and she works with Ross Copperman (Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Brett Eldredge, Darius Rucker et al), as the co-producer. The affair has a Bro-Country vibe in terms of hooks, pace and arrangements but Copperman isn’t afraid to use a banjo or fiddle to actually make this a proper country music record. This use of traditional acoustic instruments adds to the tunefulness but there are also some terrific rock guitar riffs throughout.

Dierks Bentley turns up on Worth A Shot and their voices meld well over a vibrant rock arrangement that seems typical of much of the album. It’s not their first duet, it follows Different For Girls from 2016. Miranda Lambert, a pal, also lends a voice on Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home). It’s the lead single off the album and has a great video. Whilst never clumsily resorting to vacuous Bro-Country tropes I really liked Try Jesus, it selects the Good Shepherd as Plan B after disillusion with the opposite sex – “I’m gonna try Jesus / See what all the fuss is about / Thinkin’ I should try Jesus / ‘Cause every other man let me down”.

Refreshing by their acoustic nature are Crawlin’ Mood and Bonafide. The weaving of fiddle and banjo is a great sound and it’s interesting to hear her in this different setting. She signs off with Love Go By, it’s wonderful blue-eyed soul. She sings the song and ushers in an irresistible gospel chorus behind her. The backing is dialed down so any emotion in her voice is upfront and clear.

Eight of the tracks are co-writes with Nashville ‘A listers’, this calibre of collaborator has ensured that the album contains some excellent compositions. If King has a history in rock then taking that stage and studio experience and applying it to something like country pop works out to be a fine marriage. King’s been around for many years, paid her dues and had radio Number 1’s in a number of rock genres. Clearly country is now her career and I wish her success, this is a fine release.

Record Of The Week # 141

Various – Stoned Cold Country

“It’s a love letter to the Rolling Stones from Nashville” says the curator, and the man behind the project, Robert Deaton. Apparently it ties in with it being 60 years (and nine months) since the Stones performed their first gig at The Marquee in London. Their catalogue is a wonderful tour of American roots music whether it’s pop, blues, soul or rock n’ roll but the country music connections are less convincing despite Gram Parsons being a one time buddy of Keef and a few tracks here and there. (Their tongue in cheek pastiche, Far Away Eyes, off Some Girls remains a favourite of mine.) If there’s a challenge in taking a selection of terrific vocalists and unleashing them on a few of the greatest rock songs ever written it’s that some of the charm is in Jagger’s idiosyncratic and unique delivery.

All the arrangements are beautifully constructed with formidable musicianship. The creations are broadly faithful to the originals if updated and I was impressed by the ‘no expense spared’ approach to strings, B3 organs, horns, girly backing vocals etc. In the blurb there’s no appearance of one of the English (US) language’s most pernicious words … ‘reimagining’. I’m pleased about the absence of desecration but this approach makes it karaoke with artists lending their voices.

The album starts very strongly but then starts to drift to still crafted but less memorable tracks. Few tracks have country flourishes although pedal steel can be prominent as on Maren Morris’ wonderful Dead Flowers or Little Big Town’s sterilised Wild Horses. The combination of The Brothers Osborne & The War and Treaty is inspired as this gospel infused version of It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It) is truly epic. Ashley McBryde really leans into (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and she should wave the fee for having had so much fun. Brook & Dunn, blues guitarist (Nashville?) Marcus King, Steve Earle do memorable versions of their covers and Lainey Wilson brings her sensational southern drawl to the funeral paced You Can’t Always Get What you Want and captures the essence of the song.

It’s a really nice album with few songs you’d skip. I’m sure many artists couldn’t believe their luck being invited and paid to sing songs they’ve probably played sometime in their career. If you like the Stones and country music fill your boots. I did!

Record Of The Week – # 140

Bruce Springsteen – Only The Strong Survive

The Boss’ catalogue stands up there with the best of popular music. However, I lost interest in him in the 80s and Bruce, in fairness, has ploughed on ever since with fairly crafted affairs that always have something to say. I’m unenthusiastic about older artists’ recorded output after their peak. I mean who wants the latest Neil Young, Elton John or Paul McCartney offering?

However my interest was piqued when, on social media, I saw a clip of Springsteen bashing out that hallowed Northern Soul classic Do I Love You (Indeed I Do). It’s a remarkable soul number that gets you from the first few bars. Ironically the composer and performer, Frank Wilson, decided with Tamla Motown, not to release the record in 1965 and destroyed all but 5 copies of the 250 initially pressed. As the record seeped out and became a Northern Soul staple it was re-released in 1979 and everyone could get a copy. Of the 5 original remaining 1965 copies one fetched near £26,000 in 2009.  That’s ridiculous for a 7 inch single but also testament to the magnificence of the record.

Springsteen has done the song justice and with his lion’s roar of a voice. Throughout the reproduction is faithful to the originals. The producer, Ron Aniello, has played most of the instruments – bass, drums, guitars, percussion, keyboards, vibraphone etc. and the only other players are the backing vocalists and the E Street Band horns. With such a construction it’s clear Aniello has listened closely to these 60 and 70s originals and, in effect, paid homage.

The curation speaks of Springsteen’s youth and what he heard of the radio. In fact I feel the same with versions of What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted (jimmy Ruffin), When She Was My Girl (The Four Tops), I Forgot To Be Your Lover (William Bell) and Someday We’ll Be Together (Diana Ross and the Supremes). All these played on my Triumph Herald car radio, crackling on AM. However it’s the former member of the Impressions, Jerry Butler, who provided the title track and also Hey, Western Union Man that are newer delights to my ears.

Springsteen has a majestic voice that’s maybe short on subtlety or sweetness but here he lives every song and has the range to sit above the arrangements and literally take your hand and lead you onto the dance floor. I’m not sure I’ll be listening out for the next Springsteen release but this, however, is a 5 star gem.

Knees, Taxis & Words – Week 4 : 2023

Well it’s been a long time ‘no write’ and we’re well into the new year! All is well and good in the House of Ives yet, sadly, not on the mobility front. I should be jetting off in mid-February to cycle in Australia before Anna joins me. However, problems with a calf muscle and knee have stopped that. How I got this injury in late December is a true mystery but it’s been quite a blow for a bloke who likes to ride his bike or even take a long walk. In showing my knee to various people the last doctor was curious as to why there was no hair around my knee on what was a previously hairy leg? Ruefully I told him that one physiotherapy session resulted in surgical tape being applied to the area to help the healing process. That was fair enough but eventually removing it was more painful than the injury.

The issue arose after painting a kitchen ceiling with three coats of white emulsion at the Favourite Eldest’s house in Reddish. I really have no idea what I did wrong but there you go. I’m trying to be patient and stoic with my inactivity (yet others around me may disagree.)

I don’t often have to take tests or examinations at this age but I stepped up to get a Private Hire Licence. This is the same as a taxi licence in many ways but different in that I am not allowed to pick up random folk, it all has to be pre-booked. Why? I hear the nation ask. This means I can now drive the tour bus on my guiding trips with up to eight passengers. Learning not to swear (aloud) at other motorists with a bus full of paying guests will be a bigger test.

Probably like you I’ve always thought it was a doddle to get a licence. Far from it, I’ve taken a medical, had a driving assessment (I had to pass), taken a series of tests where I had to achieve a pass mark – Highway Code, numeracy (I got one wrong!), council policy on passengers and safe guarding. I also had a DBS check and demonstrated that I was proficient in English. A fair bit of this was done around Oxford and so some travel was involved. Next time you take a taxi then you’ll know that your driver has jumped through hoops to be your chauffeur.

Tour guide wise I’m scheduled to lead five tours, starting in June, in the Yorkshire Dales. Check out Jules Verne. After learning my trade last season I’m feeling confident and looking forward to getting out there again.

Wordle, is that a thing for you? Anna, I and our favourite eldest do it first thing every morning . Our average scores are very similar. So out of a maximum of six allowed attempts, to get the five letter word, we, on average, complete it in just under four. (That’s been worked out based on our hundreds of goes). Anna usually completes it last, after we’ve circulated our scores, and if she’s finding it hard asks me for clues. Obviously I view this as cheating in this very competitive morning mental exercise and don’t help her. However, she’s probably the best out of the three of us (but don’t tell her).

Tony’s not really a doggy person. The spaniel ignores indifference…

Despite my hobbling it’s been a timely opportunity to arrange holidays going forward. We’ve now got pencilled in Australia (without bike), New Zealand, Scotland, France and Spain. That takes us up to October. Part of my Spanish jaunt is with three old friends. The first of which I met in 1974 Neil) and the other two I met in 1978/9 (Tim and Paul).  We go back a long way and our three nights in Malaga will provide a good opportunity to catch up. I’m good at staying in touch with old friends.

Records Of The Year 2023

I have to start by telling you that I’ve written 30 album reviews for Country Music People (CMP) this year. I receive records/files to review from the magazine. In addition but not for review I ask for lots of major artists albums and recommendations from the editor. As a consequence my list is distilled from a lot of music. I add to this my own purchases or streamed favourites.

Not many of the albums make it to be my ‘Record Of The Week’, and amongst the discarded artists are some platinum acts, which is a measure of the disappointing quality that’s been coming my way this year. However, I’m happy to volunteer these as my best of the year.

1. Ashley McBryde presents Lindeville

With the world now at her feet McBryde convened a Nashville workshop with other artists and friends; this was the result. Anna and I saw her at Leeds University in the spring and the former refectory where I saw B B King, The New York Dolls and Sparks amongst many others was sold out and jumping. So Leeds does Country music, obvs. Here are a set of vignettes about small town America dripping humour, heartbreak, getting by and nostalgia. The production values and variety of country sounds are exceptional.

2. Molly Tuttle – Crooked Tree

As I mainly write about Americana for the magazine I regularly get the acoustic roots genre of bluegrass to write about. Frankly, it’s like lager, always consistent but never memorable. I have a theory that his other writers have vetoed receiving it! However, I’ve found complete joy with this release. This is a wonderful combination of melody, voice, musicianship and stories. Truly vibrant and refreshing. She’s a star, look out for her.

3. Jaimee Harris – Boomerang Town

This Texan bowled up to The Crescent in York last month and her brief set was wonderful with confessional and intimate songs about small town America. Her voice is a delight and she can write and play a tune. I think she’s destined for a lot of recognition and success with this album.

4. Amanda Anne Platt – The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea

Platt has been on the periphery of real stardom and recognition for years and despite a long time band behind her she’s the lead and writes and sings interesting Americana Country songs that come together like a series of short stories. Her tunes and lyrics on the 20 track album are excellent and a new release from her is like a much anticipated meet up with a dear old friend.

5. Kameron Marlowe – We Were Cowboys

Commercial Country Pop isn’t my bag generally. I have visions of no one listening to this easy sound on the radio as they flip burgers in South Carolina or take the kids to school. This may not be his time but if the next album is anywhere near as good as this he’ll be cluttering every US country radio playlist. He’s got a terrific voice, better lyrics than most bro-country and some great tunes.

6. Bruce Springsteen – Only The Strong Survive

The Boss has been granted an indulgence by his record label and this three sided LP is a selection of Soul music covers. His bellow of a roar, some well chosen classic songs and a faithful creation of that 60s sound make this a compelling listen. Maybe I’m a Soul boy at heart (where are my dancing shoes)?

7. Mary Gauthier – Dark Enough To See The Stars

This is a quote from Martin Luther King , which took Gauthier’s fancy to include. She’s a unique artist that draws you into stories with raw and disarming emotion about events and times that we all know so well. The lyrics border on poetry and the tunes fit like a glove.

8. Willie Nelson – A Beautiful Time

‘A legend’ doesn’t do his stature justice. This album of crafted tunes veers lyrically dangerously close to a valedictory with his reflection on a long and successful life. Sentimental, humorous and full of wisdom. I’d usually be suspicious of the creative merit of an album made by a chap 89 years old but class will out. Beautiful indeed.

9. Edgar Winter – Brother Johnny

Thanks to the Mighty Jessney of Vixen 101 fame I get to listen to a lot of blues. A lot of it is rollicking and heartfelt fun but not all of it sticks in the memory. Winter now a sprightly 75 released a tribute album to his blues legend brother, Johnny, who died in 2014 at the age of 70. (Frankly, judging by what Johnny ingested or drunk during his life it was a miracle he clocked up such an age!) This is a 17 track tribute with a list of guitar wielding guests that can’t be beaten: Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh etc. A complete joy.

10. Various Artists – Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson

If you haul out John Prine, Tyler Childers, Luke Combs, Ashley McBryde, Eric Church and their like and pair them with this strong Country songwriter’s catalogue then you’ve nailed one of the albums of the year. Unlike a lot of tributes then Anderson is still alive and this compilation is a terrific introduction to his talents

Record Of The Week # 139

Jaimee Harris – Boomerang Town

(I went to see Mary Gauthier play a club in York and supporting her, and also playing acoustic guitar for her, was her partner Jaimee Harris. (There’s a review of the gig on the website) Mary was good Jaimee was similarly memorable and coincidentally Harris was releasing a new album at the time. This is that album. A true find.)

Surprisingly this is only Harris’ second album. When you hear the depth and quality of her songwriting you’ll realise she has a lot to say with a wonderful engaging voice that trills. The aching melodies colour these vignettes perfectly. A berth on the prestigious Thirty Tigers label suggests her opportunity has come. Originating from Waco, Texas, she’s steeped in the great pantheon of singer songwriters from the state; this knowledge informs her songwriting and not least the lyrics that seem seldom to waste a word.

The ten songs here are adapted but autobiographical about her life and demons. There’s a deep dive into her personal troubled history of addiction (The Fair and Dark Haired Lad) and often coping with loss (Fall (Devin’s Song). A further song about death, How Could You Be Gone, is one of two co-writes with Mary Gauthier and this song has already appeared with Gauthier taking the lead on her own 2022 Dark Enough to See The Stars. It’s an unusual take on grief as the narrator wanders around the funeral of a close friend in a distraught state attempting to cope with their bewildering loss and the stultifying demands of the occasion.

The songs are acoustic based with sparse additions of strings or electric band accompaniment. It all creates an intimacy for her confessional story telling. Her title track, Boomerang Town,relates the story of an early life of two young lovers. With her plaintive tones she paints a bleak picture of a grinding and hopeless life in a small town and the overwhelming desire to escape. However, it appears futile to have such an aspiration. I immediately thought of Springsteen’s The River with its protagonists’ early demise and the inevitable life of drudgery preoccupied with existence rather than living. You’re left thinking ‘what might have been’.

Two songs seem to be lighter and let some sunlight into this often-intense listen. Good Morning, My Love has a beautiful tune and as she plays guitar Mark Hallman plays a selection of keys to sweeten the chorus. Love Is Gonna Come Again is an uplifting ballad giving reassurance to the listener that despite their low state then things will get better. Courtney Marie Andrews has recently arrived as an Americana songbird with a considerable gift as a songwriter; I’d now add Harris as a contemporary.

Confessions of a Tour Guide – Part 4 (Final)

In my last blog (about being a tour guide this year) I write about some guest foibles and the highlights and that all tour should finish with tips!

Guest Foibles

One of my opening questions at the briefing is “what are you especially looking forward to during the week?” The men have no particular idea having scanned the itinerary months ago and probably having forgotten it by now. This can be true for the females but less so and there are always a couple of activities that excite. One was the Pilgrim’s Walk across from the mainland to Holy Island. This can only happen when the tide is out. I had one lady say that she’d gone into remission with breast cancer and this had been an ambition before and after her treatment. I was happy to help although the magic of the walk always escapes me. On both walks I’ve had two women fall over on their faces in the mud half way across. As a guide you’re horrified but they both saw it as hilarious and are probably still dining out on the story.

Nearly smiling. Two and half miles of waterlogged sand…

One guest advised that she needed to find a hairdresser to wash her hair. I half understood this. Obviously I have little fleece but having three females in my life I am always staggered by what they put on their hair let alone what they pay at the hairdressers. This was difficult to resolve as we were deep in the Dales and finding a sheep shearer might have been easier. One guest wanted details on what professional women’s football games were on in London at the weekend. Of course you can look at Google but where are the grounds, how do you best get there and how much?

The Highlights

I mentioned that a well curated tour is the most vital thing for success., followed by some decent weather. To think my ‘office’ was Hadrian’s Wall, the Northumberland coastline, Alnwick Castle, Malham Tarn, the Black Sheep Brewery or Fountains Abbey then you can appreciate that there was pleasure in introducing the guests, mostly southerners, to the magnificent landscapes. I never tired of that despite repeat visits. I have a sketchy knowledge of the history but that is improving and I enjoyed learning more, in fact I could have a dart at Mary, Queen of Scots, as my specialist subject on Mastermind. I did tell the other guides on our shared WhatsApp group that excitingly she stayed at one of the attractions I was taking the guests to. Quickly one wiser sage came back and said ‘Tony, she stayed every where!’ True, was in exile in England for 18 years and rolled from one stately pile to another with her entourage of over 50 people. She could fund this number as she was a widow of a former King of France on a very good stipend…enough now Tony.

There is considerable pleasure to gain command of the tour. You start hesitant but eventually you not only know where to go and what to say but you also get sufficient knowledge to deal with changes and variations without due concern. Another thing is that if the tour goes well for a couple of days the guests build up confidence in you and then if things go wrong they’re more forgiving and tolerant.

The ruins of Bolton Abbey, the Yorkshire Dales

Some guests are hilarious and or interesting. One American guest took it in her stride a night when the party took on itself to go for a pizza in Settle. The Italian owner was cook, wine waiter and maitre ‘d. He was also a wind bag who took ages to do any of these jobs. This led to delays in the food arriving. It was my night off and so the next morning they all told me about this frustrating night. Were they unhappy? My American guest described this as ‘dinner and a show’ in terms of entertainment!

The amazing Gordale Scar, in the Yorkshire Dales

Often the news headlines would be discussed at breakfast. I kept quiet as my politics were usually not theirs but there was one sad story about an aggressive dog being put down for some terrible attack. The consensus was that the owner should have been destroyed instead! Another guest produced a video on his phone of his dog. I was encouraged to have a look, not an obvious delight for Tony. To my amazement his dog was walking on a tread mill! This is how it often took its exercise. He also recounted a story where his wife popped out for an hour and a half forgetting that the dog was on the tread mill. When she returned Rover was still plodding along!

One driver who was with us for a few days was seemingly relaxed and experienced. However one incident was very tense where he met an oncoming car as he finished crossing a single lane bridge. The woman in the car was gesticulating suggesting he was wrong to not give way. This was a strange point of view given the size of the bus and the fact he was already on the bridge. Anyway, cringingly he stopped beside the grumpy driver, wound down his window and started to debate the merits of her analysis. Fortunately it was relatively brief and the guests thought it was hilarious. I can smile now but surely keep your emotions under control with drivers you’ll never see again and you’re with a bus full of customers? 

Warkworth Castle on the Northumbrian coast

There’s only a certain amount you want to learn about guests and certainly only a limited amount you want to tell them. However, conversations start and you can end up down a proverbial rabbit hole. One British resident male guest had a career in IT and ended up a US national. As ‘I peeled the onion’ of his life it had started with a period of time as an ice cream salesman in Kansas. If this wasn’t a very baffling progression then he had chosen to remain a dual national. From here a detailed expose on the tax realities of such a status were revealed. The gist being that Uncle Sam got first dibs before HMRC swept up the balance of the due levy. From here another conversation of why retain both citizenships ensued. It never came with an answer I thought was compelling but there again stuff like Brexit or Scottish Independence never hinge on the logic of monetary arithmetic do they.

As a guide then most of the other professionals you deal with whilst out and about are usually on your side and one meeting that touched me was at Hardraw Force Waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales. Leading the party I turned up at the counter to pay for the guests to walk up to the waterfall. The lady behind the counter was a little terse and sought our help on using the technology to pay for the visit. I also needed a receipt and this was another challenge for her. Anyway we did the transaction and the guests went up to see the attraction whilst I stayed behind. It transpired that she was nearly blind and that using the technology was a bordering on impossible. She told me she had terminal ‘blood cancer’ and that the treatment had led to her blindness. She owned this attraction with her family but she’d had to manage the admissions for the day.

Within Alnwick Castle on a private tour

As I helped her she was so grateful and I was offered chocolate bars and coffee for free. Frankly I was so glad I’d helped let alone needed to receive any gratuity. As they say ‘be slow to judge people’.

I must mention the camaraderie of the guides. This wasn’t just when working together but before, after or during a tour you’ve always got someone to ask about lunch solutions, train pick ups, walking short cuts, rescheduling and the like. If you have the experience then you’re happy to share and you know the pressure the guide is under time wise so that everyone responds with alacrity.


I worked for two tour operators on the four tours. Each operator’s brochure mentions tipping the guide/s on the holiday. Personally whatever I might receive then it was never going to be used to pay a bill or change my life. However, it does provide a fillip and boost for feeling you’ve done a good job. Everyone likes a ‘pat on the back’. 

The amazing Vindolanda

Before I started there were folklore stories about Americans being very generous and I knew what Anna and I had tipped on our holidays. Surely it’d be a pleasant surprise when they personally sought me out to press cash into my hand before they left? No, frankly it was miserable and I mainly came away thinking that the British were simply mean. The older the guest the lower the tip (or non existent) and as you’ve read then those are the guests who you help most, ask the most questions (sometimes repetitively) , re-arrange dining arrangements for and you have to listen to most to as they regale you with endless anecdotes. The simple fact is that many are lonely and this is a social event as much as a, say, sightseeing or walking holiday.

On average I received less per guest than they spent on cheese, as gifts for family and friends, when we visited the Wensleydale Creamery. For the hours spent, and the care given, this is awful. On my last tour I received no tips. In fact that’s not quite true as one guest organised a cash transfer for me. However, I needed a bank account in the country they originated from to access the dosh. I didn’t and so it remained uncashed. On this last tour I helped and accommodated one guest whose infirmity made their attendance very risky given the unavoidably difficult terrain we visited. If they had taken me to one side, at the end, and simply given me a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for my care it would have been lovely. If there’s one ‘take away’ from guiding then I shall have little or no expectation of gratuities on the next tour!

So next year? Well, I’m up for it and I’ve ‘learned’ my territory so that it should be less time consuming pre-tour and generally less stressful. During the winter I’m taking the necessary steps to get a Private Hire licence. (This is expensive and onerous but the land agent is helping financially.) In the uncertain world of recession and global headwinds who knows how the opportunities will work out but I’m hopeful it continues.