January 2000: Toowoomba, Adelaide

10/01/00, 0407 (Japan time)

A glorious winter day, cloudless sky, stunningly bright sun casting long shadows, air dead calm, chill in the air offset by the warm sun. Near-empty train to Barons Court but very crowded on the Heathrow. Check-in delightfully trouble-free, security check slow but uneventful.

In the departure lounge, I did more than my share of shopping: a bottle of whisky for Marie and some scent and body lotion for Hester. I entrusted myself to the salesladies for both purchases, and I learnt something from the whisky lady. There was a special offer on Glenmorangie first-cask. She gave me a taste. I took a sip, but then she insisted on putting in "a teardrop" of water -- and against expectations, it really transformed the flavour. More experimentation needed; I am not yet convinced that I prefer it that way.

The other purchase was my first-ever compact camera from Dixon's. Again I took the salesman's recommendation. It has a zoom that goes from wide-angle to about 140, eyepiece adjustment for my eyes, and fill-in flash, the three things I was interested to have.

Finally, a bit more reading matter: Arthur C. Clarke's 3001 (dispensable), and a history of the Jews.

Flight about 35 minutes delayed, apparently waiting for two late passengers. But now underway, probably about Amsterdam (but I have an aisle seat in the centre block so all that is completely irrelevant).


I dozed a bit, but no serious sleep I'm afraid. Drinks came, then dinner (I had Japanese-style, but did find the pickles a mixed bag), and then the film. Meanwhile I finished 3001.

Perhaps Arthur C. Clarke has lost his touch a bit; I found it not a very good book at all, just not sufficiently involving. But I did find that one of his shafts struck home: the assertion that a high proportion of the human race is insane. As my eyes opened involuntarily and I saw the film flickering across the screen, I decided that anyone who watched it must be insane (and probably also the people who made it). Some of the characters carried rifles (but never seemed to use them), while others rode around in bearskins and cow-horns. Light came almost entirely from torches, but they burned so fiercely that they must have been powered by propane or something similar.

So I got to musing on the human dilemma. Maybe it is simply that we are set to play Prisoners' Dilemma and are not very good at it. And probably the simple tit-for-tat strategy that works so well in computer tournaments doesn't succeed if the game is not fair.

Perhaps the other book will explain to me why a Jew should think that his God required you to turn the other cheek, and forgive your brother 490 times.

A girl four places away has been carrying on an interminable conversation in which the word "relationship" crops up rather often. Whether it is a trick of the plane's acoustics or just her penetrating voice I don't know, but all her words are clear while those of her companion are just sludge. Which reminds me to note a book title spotted at the airport: "Women are from Venus, men are from Hell".


Now just four hours from Osaka by the timetable. A while ago I guessed that it might be getting light. Fortunately a window not far away had been left open, so I could see the outline of the wing. Since we are heading straight towards the dawn, it was brightening at nearly twice the usual rate. But then a stewardess came round and closed it with a long pole. They are showing some Japanese film where the heroes are young cyclists. Actually a lot more fun to watch than the other one. And, as it was in Japanese with English subtitles, I could listen to the jazz soundtrack and not miss anything.


The last two Friday evenings, something has painfully given way in my left ankle. Each time, it has continued to plague me on Saturday but I have woken quite cured on Sunday morning. Each time, I had been sitting for a while when it went; it is possible that I got up awkwardly each time, though I don't think so. The second time, I discovered that, by turning my foot in, I could walk with not too much pain (unless I came down awkwardly, when I would get a sharp shooting pain).

Of course this long flight makes me nervous. I promised (or threatened) Hester that I'd take her up Table Top, so I can't afford a mishap!


We are following a strange zigzag route. Crossing the coast of Siberia, we headed due south, making for Osaka, but then we turned eastward, and the screen is now giving us updates on the distance to Tokyo (though it still shows Osaka as the destination). It seems a very big loop just to approach Osaka from the east (if that is what we are going to do). Anyway, arrival time has been put forward a few minutes, so this must have been figured in from the start.

The closeup map shows the southern tip of Hokkaido, shaped like the tail of a frisky sea monster.

But now we have made such marked swing to the west that we got further away from Tokyo during the last update; sow flying along the west coast of Japan. And with the turn, we have begun descending and slowing. Now under an hour.


So, in the end, our path to Osaka would have looked like the wanderings of a drunken spider, but they stopped showing it in order to tell us about the airport layout instead. We continued on the same heading until almost due west of Osaka. I knew we were turning when suddenly a blast of sunlight hit me full in the face. After a while there were clouds, and then the view of the built-up Osaka shoreline with rugged mountains behind it, and then we were down. The crew's last words over the intercom were, "Have a nice day in Kansai airport", which is approximately what I have to do.

Through the extra security check, I bought a Coke, to serve the dual purpose of taking an echinacea pill and getting some change for paying the departure tax: they have the absurd system that the departure tax is 2040 yen, no note less than 1000 is available from the banks, and the machines issuing the tax receipt don't give change -- effectively a 50% surcharge on overnight passengers (as I will be on the way back). All governments are corrupt: Arthur C. Clarke is much too utopian about that.

Now the problem is to keep awake until I am on the plane and fed!


I walked to the far end of the terminal building and am now sitting watching the lights come on across the water, flashing beacons and a swirling illuminated display, as dusk falls over Osaka. I am beginning to feel the familiar sick tiredness of jet lag.

I spent a while editing my Montreal diary from 1987. I did write much better then; I seem to have lost the ability to bring people and places to life, if I ever had it. Things naturally connected then. But there is more: I could say that the side trip to Columbus had been very successful, because I had met Navin Singhi's family and we had found that we worked together well.

The sound of television is inescapable in the terminal, and is much more intrusive than departure announcements, or even the shielded sound of airport vehicles going past outside.

A notice I hadn't seen on the way in, posted by the quarantine station, gives details of various epidemics raging: dengue fever in Texas; influenza in Europe and USA; leptospirosis in Queensland; malaria in Malaysia; Israel spotted fever in Portugal; and listerosis in USA and Canada. Seems I have escaped from the flu only to be exposed to leptospirosis.

I had to transfer the duty-free stuff from the rather feeble London bag to a more substantial bag from the duty-free shop in Athens airport. This was the bag that had contained my shaver and toothbrush; so when I went to shave and brush my teeth, what did I not find but my toothbrush? No point turning everything upside down now; if it's gone, better to buy another in Toowoomba than here.

23:02 (Brisbane time)

Under way. Again I have an aisle seat, this time right at the back of the cabin where I couldn't see out of the window even if there were something to see. Let's just hope that they don't take too long with dinner - I need my sleep!

11/01/00, 04:40

The book is "The Sacred Chain: a History of the Jews", by Norman Cantor. I picked it up in a hurry, and may not have bought it had I read the blurb first -- who knows?

First impressions so far:

There is as yet no answer to the question "What is a Jew?" Maybe it will come later. Is it obedience to the Law, or is it descent by blood? His title is nicely ambiguous and could mean either. But he seems to be leaning in favour of the latter, and makes the point that the reason for counting descent through the female line is so that everyone can be sure? Why, then, are the Khazars given only the briefest of mentions? He should give Koestler's theory, if only to refute it. Many examples in history, notably the Jews themselves, show that a people do not just disappear from the face of the earth when they are defeated or conquered.


And a few pages later, we have Halevi and Maimonides championing exactly these two views!

Nice sunrise in the east, though I can only see it by craning my neck. I think the sun is just beginning to appear below a golden band of cloud.

At that moment the plane tilted and the orange-gold sun struck in through the window and painted everyone's hair.

The in-flight magazine has a one-page, extremely up-beat, account of the technological innovation that will take place in Japan in the next century -- extraordinarily like Arthur C. Clarke.


Out of the airport, no problems except for excessively long delay getting through customs (30 mins - no organised queueing at all!) Then a hour to wait for the Toowoomba Airport Flyer, so I got a juice and sandwich for breakfast and read some more. Comments later.

I was the last passenger on, so I got to sit in front, which suited me fine, since I got a panoramic view. The bus went a slightly unexpected way, over the Story Bridge and past the Gabba, along Ipswich Road. Then the road I know so well, looking as beautiful as ever. Lots of colour: frangipani, bougainvillea, laurel, even a bit of jacaranda flower (no silky oak or wattle unfortunately). The driver didn't seem to want to talk, so I let him get on with his driving.

Two new developments in road signs: they now give the distance to Darwin (which is over 3400km); and they give information about river basins ("You are now entering the Oxley Creek catchment area. Please care for it" and one for the Condamine at the top of the range).

Four drop-offs before me, all on the south side of town -- and then there were Marie, Hester and Rich in the garden.

Lovely to see them all. We had a cold lunch and then went to sort out my Adelaide ticket. (The travel agent had found that I could get it cheaper since I have an international ticket, but I had to bring it round for him to see. Then MasterCard seemed not to have heard of a Nat West credit card, so they had to phone London, who had to call back with some questions which I had to be asked and the answers relayed back. Quite unreal ...

Eventually the business was done and the young people and I went town town. We walked around Laurel Bank Park smelling the smelly plants for a while. Then down town for shopping -- a hat and a toothbrush, and leave Hester's films for processing -- and then a walk.

We walked up to the Grammar School. I was able to point out various interesting things on the way, such as a bunya pine. We got cold drinks in the shop on the Margaret-Mary Street corner, then went up the drive and looked around the school a bit. The front door was being painted, so we didn't try to go in (somewhat to Hester's regret).

We walked up past St Vincents and Glenowen, and then down the Old Toll Bar and on the path below Picnic Point. It was beautiful: cloud shadows on the distant blue hills filtered through the near trees, all kinds of flowers and plants, an echidna, three pigs, a tree full of rainbow lorikeets, several bushes full of tiny birds that we couldn't identify.

So back to get the films (later than we said, and only just in time before the shop closed). We had cold drinks in a streetside cafe and then walked back to Wyalla Street.

Marie had almost finished cooking a very nice stew with some veal from John and nice green vegetables, after which we had some apple cake the kids had got while I was at the travel agent, with fresh cream. Then we looked at some of the photos. Some really lovely ones -- I can see that there are some things for which a panoramic view is ideal.

We were all very tired by this point, so went to bed at half past nine.

12/1/00, 0815

And I slept better than I feared. I knew nothing until 4, after which I lay awake but relaxed until 5 then went back to sleep with minor breaks until 8. Now feel fine except for an ominous sore throat.

I forgot to mention that Marie has a pair of superb blue fairy-wrens living in her tree. They are quite tame, so I tried taking a photo of them. We will see what develops ...

16:39 Preston Peak vineyard in the morning. Lovely setting at the top of the Flagstone Creek road, fine view down the valley to Table Top. We arrived half an hour before the place opened and so just looked at the view.

We tasted their four whites and four reds and then a fortified dessert wine. Some a bit undistinguished but there was a nice 1999 sauvignon blanc, so we took glasses of it to the verandah and enjoyed wine and view together.

(Actually, the wine is made with grapes from Stanthorpe, as their vines are not yet producing. I gather they had a set-back from damp and mildew.)

Then to the Southern Hotel for all-you-can-eat for $10.95. Don and Ellen were there, Robbie couldn't make it. He was being seriously stalked by his ex-girlfriend and he had to go to the police station to get a restraining order. Food nice though just a little bland (but the beef satay and the pumpkin soup were really good). We stuffed and stuffed and stuffed ourselves.

Marie's idea was that the three of us would go for a walk while she went home to watch the cricket. But Rich decided he'd watch the cricket too so Hester and I went by ourselves. Marie's idea was that we'd walk to the top of the hill just south of the showground and be back in three-quarters of an hour. But, as I expected, the new houses with savage dogs and high fences had made the hilltop completely inacessible, and the whole took us two hours.

Much of it was too suburban, and I never feel happy with the way homeowners block public access. But there was a lovely bit down on the creek, and we saw ibis, huge white cockatoos, and galahs.

It was drizzling a bit when we started, but soon stopped. Later there were a couple of peals of thunder, which we tried to ignore. But then there was a noise like an approaching train: heavy rain on galvanized iron roofs. Fortunately we were quite near Glenvale Park, which had a convenient shelter, so we could wait out the downpour, which stopped as abruptly as turning off a tap.

Back home in time for the end of the Australian innings.

13/01/00, 07:28

Again I slept well though I woke up earlier that I would have liked and read for a bit. Last night we had a light supper (all that was necessary) between the innings, watched the rest of the match, looked at another packet of Hester's photos, and went to bed.

From first light the sound of horses exercising up and down the street outside can be heard.


We set off before 9:00 and got to the Bjelke-Petersen Dam about 11:40. John, Jenny and Craig weren't there yet. (Megan's jaw growth was found to be benign, fortunately, so only a tooth out and an operation; but she also has an ingrowing toenail, so she couldn't come. Gillian couldn't get time off work.)

Nice drive up. Marie keeping trying to catch me out on details of the geography. I was pleased to see that the Great Dividing Range watershed has been marked by a sign. Vistas of the Darling Downs, then the tumbled hills round Cooyar, the edge of the rainforest on the Maidenwell road, country pubs and stores. A kestrel hovering over the road.

Broken-off sign on the approach to Yarraman:


At the first stretch of water, there were large numbers of waterbirds, mainly black swans, pelicans and coots. But at the dam site, there were very few: a couple of pelicans fishing, a cormorant in the distance, a duck with ducklings out on the water, and a passing heron who stopped for a snack.

Talking of which, we certainly ate well. The barbecues were electric, no charge for fuel, just press the button and away it goes. It didn't seem to get very hot but it cooked the food (chops, veal, sausages and onions) remarkably quickly. Then there was salad, soft drink, billy tea (boiled on the electric plate, not very efficiently; the barbecues also included sockets for electric kettles), and cake, with watermelon to finish. Apostle birds and mickey birds came cheekily round to scavenge.

A nice enough place for a picnic, though nothing else to do afterwards, so we just chatted until it was time to go and milk the cows (actually well past time).

Lovely colours on the drive back in the afternoon sun: bright, almost lime green grass around Cooyar; red grass seeds shining in the sunlight; parchment-coloured dead prickly pear leaves; pallid gum leaves and stark white branches against deep grey storm clouds. We drove through the storm; it tipped down and nothing could be seen, but we came out of it into lovely evening light.


After a very light supper of mini-quiche and a lettuce leaf, we went out to look for the Southern Cross, but it was too cloudy to see much more than Orion nearly overhead and a fuzzy crescent moon.

So we went in and had the next batch of Hester's photos, taking us up to arrival in North Borneo, including some tourist-guide shots of her island off the east coast of Malaysia.

Then Marie got out the albums into which she has been putting the old Hall, Bentley and Cameron photos in some semblance of order and identifying (where possible) the subjects. I had seen them before, but they are very impactful all together. It is a little strange to think that Hester's great-grandfather ploughed behind a ten-horse team (on land no longer in the family's hands).

She also showed me a remarkable letter that has just come to light, written by Dad at the age of 23 in answer to a question about leather-plaiting in the Bulletin. It was many pages long, beginning by apologising for the fact that no books are available, and going on to describe how to prepare the leather as well as doing the many different kinds of plait. It had come to light in an old biscuit-tin in the recipient's house when it was being cleared after his death. The present owner of Aughamore had passed the man's daughter's letter to Helen, who had given it to Marie, who got in touch. A remarkable document and an amazing story. Marie said it felt like a voice from beyond the grave.

14/01/00, 08:28

Hester is trying to sort out her job and her house rent over the phone. Her own phone has an expired card and a flat battery, so we have to go to town to try to sort that out.


Back from a busy day.

We got up quite early and, after breakfast, went to sort out Hester's account (which needed some money put into it) and her mobile phone (which needed both a recharge and a new card). The first was easily accomplished: the Heritage building society could transfer the money just by filling in a form and typing something into the computer, and it will be in her account on Monday or Tuesday. The second was tougher. It took her about half an hour, for part of which we drank a cup of coffee, and at one point she came running out of the shop to the bank for some cash as the phone shop took neither credit cards nor EFTPOS.

Then out to Biddeston. We stopped and talked about my names for the trees; Hester was a bit surprised but I insisted that they were the trees' names! Then we looked at our old house, at the church (we went in and saw Bartie's window), and the school (we looked around the grounds; the most evocative thing was the second bottle tree, the one under which we had stood chanting our tables).

Then Hester, Rich and I set out to walk to Helen's house while Marie went to groom and ride her horse. It is a beautiful track through the bush. We saw a kangaroo (and if we'd had time, we could have walked through the scrub and started more of them), and a nice little group of fringed violets, saw the magnificent view north from the ridge, and talked about the history of Aughamore.

Helen had made us an excellent lunch of roast pork and veges, followed by peaches, ice cream, and cream, and for afternoon tea (of course) there were here asparagus pastries and her mince pies as well as Christmas cake. We fed the cow, talked about ancestors and horses and various other things, including the comments of the pros when I won the 880 at Southbrook Sports in (?)1964. We saw some grass parrots (not quite sure what kind) and lots of galahs.

One of Helen's photos was of her parents' wedding, and included all four of my great-grandparents on that side.

Apart from cricket (Australia playing India again), we spent the afternoon watching the sequel to "Pig" -- pure escapism, though Helen seemed to think it an accurate portrayal of Americans. (Better have her rant on that subject than on Paulene Hanson!)

Back into town. Hester and I did some laundry at the shopping centre at the end of Wyalla Street. We took the rest of her photos and looked at them, including the amazing story of the longhouse in Sarawak. Then a quick tea of scrambled eggs and ham, and down town for the finishing concert of the McGregor Summer School.

It was mostly fairly dire, for the simple reason that the performers couldn't play in tune, with the honourable exception of the big band who, although they didn't swing very much, were very well coordinated and spot on in timing and pitch. An interval drink helped me survive.

We noticed that one of the cellists was called Sheila Cameron, but though we tried, we failed to see through her disguise.

After the concert we noticed quite a few stars, even through the city lights, so we drove out of town a bit for a better look. They were blazing down, the Southern Cross and the Pointers clearly visible. We didn't make much of a job of identifying any others apart from Orion, Sirius, and Jupiter and Saturn near the moon.

And so home, and a cup of tea before bed.

15/01/00, 08:15

Johnny cake:

2 1/2 cups plain flour (1 wholemeal, 1 1/2 plain)
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 pint milk (skimmed)
Sultanas or chopped dates

Mix flour and sugar, add other ingredients and mix to dough (do not over-beat). Put into lined baking tin. Cook on fairly slow oven for 2 hours. (Test with knitting needle.) Turn out immediately and remove greased paper, recovering with tin or cloth until cool. Slice and butter.


That was prompted by a conversation at Helen's yesterday. She called in early this morning with a johnny cake, and also gave Hester the recipe. We are just about to sample it.

We were at Picnic Point at 9. After a futile attempt to buy souvenirs (we did get a bottle of water), we set off at about five past, round Tobruk Drive and down the trail onto South Street and the path to Table Top. We went up Table Top and down the other side, out onto the Flagstone Creek road and then up the road to the end of Spring Street, along to Ruthven Street and down to a service station with a payphone, where we called a taxi.

15:50 Now to description. Beautiful views, as I would expect. A big shower below the range, but we got no more than a few spots. Beautiful wildflowers, far more than expected: the top of Table Top was carpeted with fringed violets and black peas, and there were many other lovely flowers that I can't put a name to. Red cactus flowers on the tree pear (no ripe fruits, unfortunately). A small prickly pear growing in the top of a fencepost. A pair of crested hawks near the Flagstone Creek road, one of them eating a grasshopper. Also white-cheeked rosellas and rainbow lorikeets, to say nothing of galahs, crows and magpies.

The path down the other side of Table Top was terribly overgrown, and we had to fight through lantana and other prickly bushes, vines, and very tough grass. We were a bit scratched by the time we got to the bottom. We saw some huge white snail shells on the way down, some looking almost like fossils. We also saw a frill lizard on a dead tree pear, but couldn't get him to spread his frill.

We got cold drinks at the convenience shop in Middle Ridge, and went to Kearney Springs to drink them, where a butcherbird was scavenging.


We showered and had tea and johnny cake, and then took Hester and Rich down to the bus station. They made another attempt to get a souvenir for one of their friends, but everything was closed, so ended up with a few cans of XXXX. That was strange enough in itself. Hester and I went to Tattersall's Hotel, which had a bottle shop open at 4pm according to the sign -- but at half past four, it was still closed. So we asked at the bar, and the barman went to get the key to open it up. They had no six-packs of cans, only individual cans, but only six-packs were priced. So Hester agreed to buy six rather than four as she'd planned, and pay the six-pack price. But there were only five cans, so she got a can of XXXX gold as well.

Then to the bus-station to say goodbye, not long-drawn-out as Hester close to tears. So we left them there with twenty minutes to wait for the bus, and came home.

Marie is dragging me to some Church function tonight, and is considering driving to Brisbane tomorrow for a couple of hours at the cricket (Queensland are in a commanding position against Tasmania in what used to be the Sheffield Shield and is now the Pura Milk Cup, a name Marie angrily refuses to use).


Marie cooked steak and vegetables for our tea. We were going to have apple pie for pudding: Marie took out the apple pie and cut a slice, and found it was meat pie. So we just had ice-cream.

Then we went to a bush dance (English equivalent: barn dance) in the church hall to say goodbye to their priest who is leaving to direct some centre in America.

The band, calling themselves the Band O'Coots, were just about to begin a set as we arrived. After a couple of songs, they launched into the dances. Marie was keen to have a go, so we danced the first one. Then we sat down, but were inveigled into the next and then not allowed to escape for the third. Very energetic: I worked up a sweat for the second time today.

The band were very good, especially the caller (who also sang and played assorted percussion) and the lady who played the fiddle (excellent technique, and she knew the difference between soloing and accompanying). The bass player just plonked along, and the guitar man was inaudible, but when he sang harmony he couldn't hit the note, and when he took a turn at percussion he couldn't keep time.

After three dances and a song, it was suppertime, and a chance for Marie to talk (and introduce me) to some of her friends. An interesting snippet: one lady's husband is a priest, another's doesn't believe in God, but the two men get along like a house on fire. (Marie thought this strange.) By the by, the first lady is herself a priest; she has a job as hospital chaplain but her husband is unemployed. When I said that the idea of an unemployed priest was surprising, the response was that, despite the rigour of the selection and training, there are still more priests than are needed.

The band started again. Marie was determined to sit it out, but they sent along a little girl to batter down her defences. Fortunately there were a lot of rest periods! Then they did the Hokey Pokey, which Marie didn't want to miss, and finished with some sea shanties. And that was that.

16/01/00, 16:20

Another full day.

Got up quite early and finished packing. Marie boiled me an egg; it wasn't soft, but very tasty. Then we went off the farewell service for her rector Greg Jenks.

St Matthew's, Drayton, is a pleasant little church in a magnificent setting on top of a hill with a superb view over the Downs. The best view of all is from inside the church where the beautiful scene is framed by the doorway like a different world.

A nice service, based on a New Zealand form of service, and using a Catholic hymnbook. The most staggering change is to the Creed. Nowhere does it say that Jesus is the Son of God, but it does say with great emphasis that God is all-good: dualist?

The readings, God calling Samuel and Jesus calling Philip and Nathaniel, seemed to point to Greg accepting the call to a new and very different stage of his life. But in his sermon he pulled out some interesting stuff on the nature of faith, and on the need for community to help you hear and respond to the call.

After the service, a very dignified moment where Greg handed over the parish register and objectives document and his vestments. He gave it a touch of ceremony and a touch of humour. The bishop said a few perhaps not well chosen words about how Greg had offered a real alternative in redneck Toowoomba (he didn't actually say that but he said "right-wing fundamentalist").

At coffee I had a couple of very interesting theological discussions about the Spong book Marie lent me last time I was out, Humphrey Carpenter's book, Buddhism, the philosophy of mathematics, etc.

We set straight off to Brisbane after coffee, stopping along the way for some sandwiches and things for lunch. Finding the place (the new Alan Border Oval in Albion Park) was very easy. It is a lovely little ground; as Marie says, it has a "village cricket" atmosphere to it. it couldn't cope with large crowds, but you can sit under the trees if you bring your own chair, or in the small but elegant stand or the scaffolding overflow stand near the oleander bushes (which we did). There were sun and cloud; a storm vaguely threatened but didn't materialise.

Tasmania were batting, doggedly trying to save themselves from an innings defeat. In over two hours play that we watched, they put on about sixty runs and managed to lose two wickets; certainly Queensland looked well in control of the game, but Marie wanted to see "wickets falling like autumn leaves", and we certainly didn't get that. But it was good tense cricket: tight bowling, a very few nice strokes, but not terribly good fielding. Marie filled me in with details about all the Queenslanders and not a few of the Tasmanians.

At last I decided to go, not knowing how long it would take to find a taxi. As we walked behind the stand, an empty taxi pulled up. He was free, so he took us to the car and then took me to the airport. We drove along lovely Brisbane suburban streets with flowering trees and bushes everywhere, and arrived in such good time that I can get this written and still watch some of the Australia-Pakistan game.

18:26 (Adelaide time)

On the plane, they mentioned that one channel was receiving ABC radio. I tuned in just in time to hear the last two balls of the match, though the reception was very poor.

I'm sharing the flight with the South Australian girls' softball team.

I've gone back to Norman Cantor. He is certainly a master of arresting and shocking juxtapositions. Consider these two:

"It is a curious and disconcerting fact of cultural history that the blood libel appeared and moved simultaneously eastward alongside the Arthurian theme in medieval literature." (p. 172)

"The main point of Ricardian economics is identical with that of reform judaism's Haskalah-Kantian theology. Just as God in the latter is a creator whose majesty is humanly unapproachable, so the market is a universal, rationalizing structure that cannot be modified by human will or sentiment ..." (p. 266)

"In the first half of the twentieth century, Marxist-Leninist communism ran like a flash from Moscow to Western Europe, the United States and Canada ... It had some of the same affects and motives as the Sabbataian messianic movement in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." (p. 281)
All with careful documentation.


Finding no sign of an airport coach, I took a taxi to the University. Maths department shut, no signs. I found my way to the security lodge, where the porters were very unhelpful. No, they hadn't any record of a conference in geology. Or geometry either. They gave me Christine's extension and, with very bad grace, and let me look in the phone book for her home number, which I couldn't find. And of course there was nobody answering her phone except the machine.

So I walked into town and went into the first hotel I came to, opposite the railway station, which happened to be the Grosvenor Vista Hotel. They had a room and breakfast for $85, which I took (pleasantly cheap after London, where that much money wouldn't get you a grotty B&B in Woodford. I showered, and now am looking forward to the most comfortable night for some time!

(Even the taxi from airport to city centre was only three-quarters the price of a taxi from Albion Park to the airport in Brisbane.)

I was going to end tonight with a summing-up of the week, but will postpone that.

17/01/00, 09:12 The hotel was comfortable but noisy, even after I remembered to turn off the air conditioning. I woke at a reasonable time, had breakfast, checked out, and wandered in to the University, stopping for a paper along the way. Marie got her autumn leaves all right, provided that she got back quickly enough to see them: Kasprowicz took the last five in double quick time.

In the maths department, still no sign of Christine, and even the pure maths secretary hasn't a clue what is going on; she wasn't even sure that it starts today.

18/01/00, 08:57

And as usual at a conference, there will now be a delay between the doing and the writing. I am now sitting under a large Moreton Bay fig tree full of birds, writing my talk and my diary.

Christine turned up. It turned out that, when I told her I was coming and would book a flight, I thought that meant that she should let me know the exact timings so I could find an appropriate flight; she thought that she didn't have to respond and that not hearing any more meant that I wasn't coming. But she put me on the list, booked me a hotel (much inferior to the Grosvenor Vista, no hot water and they don't put the air conditioning on, and it's $75 for room only), and then took me to the student cafeteria which is to serve as the workshop common room. I am talking today and again on Friday. So I will get trellises out of the way first and save equidistant groups for the end.

We sat around in the cafe and had lunch; I idly thought up a few problems for the problem session (maybe just as well, as there wouldn't have been many otherwise). In the session, one good connection happened: Rudi Mathon said that he has solved the problem of partitioning the 4-sets of a 16-set into affine spaces, but didn't realise that this meant he had constructed a partial geometry.

Afterwards I took my stuff to the hotel and checked in, then got a bit more cash and went back to the cafe. We drank there until it closed, then went to the Exeter, then a very good noodle bar (where I had peanut noodles with kangaroo), then back to the Exeter. Lots of good talk.

An unusual three-piece started playing in the back of the pub: violin, cello and keyboard, making some very nice sounds and having an appreciative audience.

Coopers is a good beer, not only in taste (which it really has, unlike the more popular Australian beers) but also in the complete absence of any after-effects.

Adelaide, though, is not my favourite city. Entirely flat, the buildings undistinguished (just compare the Festival Centre to the Sydney Opera House, for example), its piddling little river filled with polluted water, and the parks too small to give any feeling of spaciousness. The bird life seems to be lorikeets, magpies, peewees and mickey-birds. The city is redeemed by its very fine trees: mature gums, Moreton Bay figs, pepper trees and pines, to say nothing of large numbers of planes (which are shedding their leaves, though they haven't turned colour, maybe because of dryness).

Tim was very impressed to learn from my web page that he is the great-great-grandson of Veblen.


Hendrik talked at 10:30 and again in the afternoon, and I talked at 11:30. Went quite well, although I had far too much material to put it all in; quite a few people want the notes, so I have promised them a preliminary copy of the Code Book.

Hendrik's talks were, first, some characterisations of the Moufang generalised n-gons by transitivity properties of the automorphism groups on n-gons or (n+1)-gons together with additional assumptions. (Transitivity is not enough: this was shown by Tits for n-gons by a free construction, and by Katrin Tent for the stronger condition of transitivity on (n+1)-gons by a Hrushovski-type construction (I think).) And second, some geometry of generalised polygons including some neat constructions of small ones.

I get to and from my room in the hotel by using Schindler's Lift.


We had an excursion to Morialta Park, where we were free to walk or run around the trails. I set off walking with Maska Law. It was a very steep climb at the start, and I thought he was leaving me for dead; but after a while he decided to take a short cut back, while I went on round the Stringybark Trail.

Lovely hilly country with eucalyptus scrub, cliffs and outcrops of red rock (with several dry waterfalls on the creek, which would be spectacular in a wet season). Fine view from the heights of the city of Adelaide with sunlight shimmering off the sea behind it. I tried a photo which probably won't work.

A few flowers (everlasting daisies, some wattle still blooming), but nothing compared to the Toowoomba country. Probably very different in spring. Apart from the vegetation, and lots of lorikeets, I saw an echidna by the track, quite somnolent (but it ran off while my camera was rewinding the film), and a superb blue fairy-wren (an old friend now!). Both creatures were pictured on the map, so they weren't lying.

I arrived back spot on the agreed meeting time. Everyone else was there already: either they had run the circuit, or they had turned back earlier. But uphill, even the runners had not been much ahead of me.


We arranged to meet at the Exeter at 9 o'clock. I had a shower (the hot water worked much better today) and then headed down town, arriving in good time.

A lovely sight: in the east, tumbled cumulus clouds took on a rose-gold hue from the setting sun, while a gibbous moon floated above.

In the event only Christine and Nick showed up. After waiting a reasonable time for anyone else to show up, we went to eat at the Greek restaurant. Nick had already eaten, so we got a selection of dishes (squid, meatballs, cheese in pastry, Greek salad, and taromasalata) and picked at it. Afterwards, I indulged in a long-forgotten experience, a glass of Benedictine with my coffee.

We had a good talk about a number of things, including the depressed state of the universities in Australia (which may be of real importance to me to know). For example, I learn that research funding of departments is calculated by a formula which involves 50% for completion rates of Ph.D. students, 40% for external research funding, and 10% for publications. And I thought the British system was flawed!

19/01/00, 07:55

This morning it's cloudy. I assume that it is cooler; in an air-conditioned hotel room it's impossible to know for sure. (The radio just said high of 27 today and 23 tomorrow and Friday; it's been in the high 30s.)

Nick is flying back to Brisbane on the same plane as I am on Saturday, so getting to the airport is sorted.

My nose caught a bit of sun in Toowoomba and has started to peel. Also, my shoes have begun to disintegrate, so that is one less thing to carry home.


Instead of the pricey Italian cafe, I walked in to the Gate One (the conference social centre) for breakfast. The squawking of lorikeets and carolling of magpies was drowned in the roar of rush-hour traffic.

17:05 After a while Tim came, and we had quite a long talk about Christine and doing mathematics and such things. Gradually other people drifted in.

Tim also said that the border between WA and the rest of Australia is the line drawn by the Pope to divide the world between Spain and Portugal (the second time, after the position of the Philippines was more accurately known). I hadn't heard this before, but it sounds right; after all, Captain Cook only claimed the east of Australia for King George.

At 10:30 we went down to the lecture room. The morning was on semi-partial geometries, with Mario giving a new construction and then Frank generalising it further. His latest craze is alpha-beta geometries, where any point off a line is collinear with either alpha or beta points on the line. To cut the class down a bit he assumes antiflag-regularity, that is, the number of "beta-lines" relative to a point is independent of the point. He made some sort of a case that this was interesting. Hmm.

After the session, we got the conference T-shirts, and our usernames and passwords for the conference accounts (at last). I logged on and found 130 emails waiting for me :-( I dealt with about a quarter of them before lunch, and the rest after the last talk, except for about half a dozen which have to be put on hold. One of them was a clarification of Alberto's problem which I had misunderstood. With the revised version, I was able to solve it over lunch and email the answer back to him before the first talk.

In the afternoon Celle talked about scattered subspaces (meeting every space of a spread in at most one point) and their use in constructing interesting blocking sets (for example, small non-Redei sets).

Tonight is the conference dinner. Tim praised the Indian restaurant (at which he is a regular) to the skies, so it has a lot to live up to.


Frank is wrong in saying that his antiflag-regularity condition is an extra assumption for alphabet geometries: it follows from the other axioms. I decided this walking down town to dinner. I also decided I might think about it a bit. Paul Fisher's name is a bait; he has a way of choosing problems I like.

The restaurant did live up to expectations. I had prawn pakoras, made from whole fresh (and delicious) prawns; then beef vindaloo, again made from good beef and very subtly spiced, each mouthful an explosion of flavour; then a thick creamy kulfi, recalling (as kulfi should) the story of the Buddha and the hundred cows; washed down with Kingfisher beer made in Bangalore.

Coming back, I decided that Adelaide does look better at night. The ugly roof of the festival centre is invisible, and the coloured lights add something to the aspect. The cathedral is nicely floodlit. I tried to take a photo of the city lights from my hotel room, but although I turned the flash off, it fired anyway; so that picture won't work.

20/01/00, 11:20

Went to the Gate One again for breakfast, long talk with Tim. Frank arrived and I put my point about alphabet geometries to him; he agreed against his will, while protesting that it was too early in the morning! Nick came and seemed suitably horrified that today was topological day.

Indeed very interesting. Andreas was doing things with topological inversive planes, which may possibly need only a circular order. Something else to think about.

Weather cooler, slight drizzle alternating with bright sunshine.


Fabulous talk by Burkard Polster, who designed the ambigram on the workshop T-shirt, on the general subject of ambigrams. One of the best things he'd done was to design ambigrams for the titles of some Escher pictures, fitting in with the reversals in the pictures themselves (Night and Day, Magic Mirror, Birds and Fish). I hope I can get hold of a copy!

One simple mathematical ambigram from Erlangen is the following, which reflects (and should be mounted on a glass door):

| X IV |
|      | = II
| II I |

Email from Marie and Hester; both seem to have enjoyed last week. It strikes me that while last week I was with my relations, and I am now reading Rodney Hall's "Relations", this week three of the people here are my mathematical relations.


Andreas' second lecture: he gave a topological version of Peter Wild's stuff on homology semibiplanes.

Rudi withdrew what he had said: he'd misunderstood the problem. He now claims that Luc Teirlinck showed that no such partition exists (indeed, that no two disjoint affine spaces can be found). That certainly agrees better with my intuition.

The barbie is cancelled -- too much trouble -- but we will still meet after dinner and some event will take place.

I have started thinking about inversive planes and have sketched out a preliminary programme.


Three hours walking along the river, mostly out one side and back the other (except where this wasn't possible, necessitating a couple of detours into the suburbs). A very pleasant park, with some fine "bark-pictures" on the trunks of trees. Some new birds: a brown heron, possibly a rufous night heron; wood ducks (not really new, but the ones in town don't swim in the water much), a willy wagtail, swamphens, a pair of black swans with one cygnet.

The river winds a lot, and there is a guided busway which roughly follows it. Of course, one seems to straighten out the river bends in one's mind, which has the effect of making the busway seem to bend much more than it actually does (as was clear when I was out on the streets).

A girl on a bike passed me, and at that moment her bike started making a very loud binding noise. She stopped, and I tried to help. Finally I twigged that it was her saddlebag scraping on the back tyre. Another woman, walking, asked me if I worked for Jim McLeod at the ABC.

The last hour, I went downstream, tagging along with the runners, who mostly weren't going much faster than I was. We went down as far as the weir and back on the other side.

Afterwards I walked up to town, as we had agreed to meet in the Exeter at half past eight. I was quite early, so I ate a baguette in an Italian place that seemed to be a Gate One clone (except not as good). Then I had a couple of beers in the Exeter while I waited. But nobody showed up, so I decided to have an early night, and maybe think about my talk tomorrow a bit.

21/01/00, 08:00

I went to bed and inevitably fell asleep. So I woke up quite early. (Probably a good pattern for the next few days.) Plenty of time to prepare my talk before setting out.

Marie's email said she had just got back to her seat when Kasprovicz was brought back into the attack, so she saw the lot. Hester said she had to restrain Rich from rushing into a shop and buying a bird book.

New birds this trip:

08:37 North Adelaide (into which I haven't penetrated very far) is like a country town: wide streets, old hotels on the corners with balconies and awnings.

18:00 And so the conference is over.

Catherine Quinn talked about a analogue of Wilbrink's results on unitals for maximal arcs of degree q in PG(2,q2).

Christine talked about a very simple proof that a class of polynomials (which arose in Dembowski and Ostrom, and more recently in the HFE cryptosystem) are permutation polynomials.

I talked about EPGs, and got rather more muddled trying to give the proof than I should have.

Tim closed the proceedings with a short history of his five-year odyssey too find the q-clans giving rise to the "Adelaide ovals".

For the very last, there was a recap, at which only I contributed. I clarified my exchange with Rudi, showed that alphabet geometries necessarily are antiflag-regular, and gave another open problem: determine the inversive planes for which S(a,b;c,d) is a separation relation on any circle C, this relation defined to hold if, whenever C' contains a and b and C" contains c and d, then C and C' intersect.

At lunchtime I got Celle to take a photo of me with my descendants.

Finally, we went to the Staff Club and had a few beers. The arrangement for the film tonight is that we will just turn up at the park gate good and early bearing refreshments, camping mats, and so on, and proceed to have a nice picnic before the film starts.

I haven't seen so much of Tim since he was a student; it was nice that we got on so well, and nice that these dynastic things matter to him. He told me that his Finnish surname means, appropriately enough, "Peterson".

Christine confirmed my sighting of a rufous night heron; it seems that they are found on the Torrens, and that they used to be called nankeen night herons.

The cold weather has markedly improved; it was very comfortable in the sun. However, we are threatened with more cold weather tonight, so perhaps I should take my waterproof (if nothing else, to sit on).

Christine's planned title for the next workshop, if there is one, is "2001: a projective space odyssey".

Marie said that yesterday was the hottest January day on record in Brisbane: 39 degrees. So it might be warm for my last night. At the moment it is a very comfortable temperature, and clouds cast their shadows on the hills (of which I have a good view from my hotel room).

More strange encounters: on the way up in the lift, a man told me that he liked my beard.

22/01/00, 08:20

I went shopping for stuff for the picnic and then headed down to the Botanic Gardens. I got there at twenty past seven just before the gates opened; by the time everyone was assembled fifteen minutes later and we went in, it was already quite crowded, and we had to camp near the back.

Excellent nibbles. I had bought peanuts in their shells and grapes (both much appreciated), also Dorritos and salsa and a bottle of wine. The film didn't start until it was dark enough (about nine o'clock), but the time passed quickly, and we had not finished by then.

I'm sorry I didn't get to see the Botanic Gardens in daylight. They have a fine collection of palms, and who knows what else?

I am sure I've seen Breakfast at Tiffany's before, but I could scarcely remember any of it. I think romantic comedy was less over-the-top then than now.

There is a film almost every night of the summer. They range from Casablanca to Blade Runner and include such outliers as Koyannnisqatsi. I gather that Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of their regulars, and is extremely popular.

When the film was over, it was overcast and cool; I was glad I'd brought my waterproof coat. We went to the Exeter for a final goodbye, but it was too crowded, so we went on to the Stag. Things were beginning to thin out, and we got a outside table. So home to bed well after midnight.

And now the travelling begins. I will order a taxi and pick Nick up, and he will give me a lift to Roma Street.

09:15 There are plenty of taxis, the man at the desk assured me, I will have no trouble finding one.

I strolled out and found the expensive Italian cafe closed. Just up the street I found an undiscovered jewel: the Black and White Snack Bar, doing breakfast for $3.95 -- a mountain of bacon, two fried eggs, four slices of toast, a cup of coffee, and "If it's not to your taste, don't pay".

12:35 (Brisbane)

I went out at ten and found a taxi straight away. Nick was ready early, so we were at the airport in plenty of time. We were put in two aisle seats in an exit row, with nobody in the window seat, so I have had a good view of the land (despite clouds over Adelaide, which threatened us with no view).

Best was at the start, with the red land and grey-green vegetation blending into blue in the distance, under an orange-yellow haze fading into deep blue sky, and little white clouds or longer black ones ambling by. Dead straight roads headed into the hazy distance, and saltpans lay like dried-up puddles.

Later we came to cultivation, and then, suddenly and strikingly, irrigation: green paddocks like glorified bowling greens huddled together in clumps amid the more arid grey-browns.


Then the Great Dividing Range, at first looking like a vast lake, a sea of trees reflecting no light. Over it, everything was green, valleys with little towns broken by the tangled ranges of the Scenic Rim.

A very striking phenomenon: a dark grey line, straight as a ruler, bisected a piled-up wall of magnolia-coloured cumulus clouds. It looked bizarrely man-made. But as we approached the cloud wall, it turned out that the line was formed by thin grey clouds marking the top of an inversion layer: brilliant blue above, murky grey beneath.

Approaching Brisbane, we followed the river from about Moggill, turning while just south of St Lucia, with a splendid view of the U of Q and then the city centre.

We were in about fifteen minutes earlier. Nick said that Gillian had developed a no-wait strategy for picking him up at the airport, but this time it meant a wait for us. It was fairly hot and humid, but apparently not as hot as it has been; Gillian told us horror stories of bitumen melting on the roads and people unable to sleep. (Nick had also told me that, when air conditioning was installed in all the teaching staff offices on his corridor, he was left out, as being mere research staff.) It did seem to affect people's driving. I saw a lot of dodgy manoeuvres. But they got me to Roma Street and dropped me off at the Transit Centre; I've got my ticket, checked my bag, and phoned Marie, and now am just waiting to board.


It's the slow coach, so I get to see Ipswich, Gatton, and Grantham. The change at Ipswich is that the big new bridge right by the town centre lets them zip in and out from the bypass, saving the long slog through all the suburbs strung out along the railway.

Gatton town centre doesn't look terribly prosperous; it's scarcely changed. The sprawl surrounding it has grown, though. But the dominant impression of the countryside is still deep, rich green grass. Paddocks of ripening sorghum or rich black soil add to the colour.

Grantham, town of fruit stalls, is completely unchanged, except that some of the houses have become antique shops. A sign of the times is "Old Toowoomba Road"; the road which replaced it has been superseded in its turn.

The one notable change in Helidon is that the station has become a small shop.

23/01/00, 05:12

Marie was there when the coach arrived so we just jumped in and went. By the time we got to Wyalla Street, with the heat and the travel, I was ready for a cold drink and a shower. Marie, bless her, had washed the dirty clothes I had left in Toowoomba, so I had clean underwear to change into. She also gave me some reading matter for the plane as an early birthday present.

We sat on the grass in the back garden under the trees for a while, and the fairy-wren turned up, with two mates. As usual, the ladies were a bit more timid, but he was as flamboyant as usual.

To Chris' place for dinner. A lovely evening. We met his new lady Chrissie, who is a trainee rural and remote nurse, and spends most of her time in Goondiwindi. We had roast lamb and roast potatoes, but as a compromise with the weather we had it with salad. Predictably, the ladies ganged up to tease Chris, who bore it cheerfully.

I was very glad that I was able to see some of his work. It is very varied: industrial, wedding, and wildlife photography. He still doesn't know whether he will get the contract for the New Guinea gas pipeline (that he was hoping for when I saw him a year and a half ago). Some of it is absolutely brilliant: a series of pictures of the products of the Toowoomba foundry, real works of art. Wedding photos, people in penguin suits or white dresses artfully posed by bales of hay or old cars with fixed cheesy grins, are not so interesting, although very good of their kind: he has a good touch with soft focus, and one of his trademarks is the shot with very short depth of focus. Most impressive was a series of sepia prints of children for a Rotary calendar: not an easy subject, I think.

So home to pack (a tough job given a mountain of Hester's stuff -- I had to use all my rucksack pockets and strap my coat on the outside) and to bed. I set my alarm. Marie wanted to hear the sound; fortunately, as it turned out, since I had the sound disabled. As a result, I woke up several times during the night, for the last time five minutes before it was due to go off, so I turned it off and got up.

Had breakfast, brushed my teeth, put the stuff in my bag, and was ready at five. The airport flyer came at ten past five. It was quite surreal, driving around identical Toowoomba streets in the half-light picking people up while my attention was fixed on writing. The sun came up dramatically from light mist while we were driving along Tourist Road. At 5:32, we had made the last pickup at the tip of the range, and are now underway.


The landscape was magically transformed by the early morning light. A round pond steamed like a witches' cauldron; grass seed-heads burned like slow white fire in the low sun; the mountains stood with their feet in milky white mist.

A sign in the Lockyer valley advertised melons for 6 cents.

At Hatton Vale, a balloon hung in the blue sky. I hope they had been aloft before dawn and seen the wonderful sunrise.

The City of Ipswich begins before the top of the Marburg Range. Mist began halfway down the other side, and wrought another transformation, drawing attention to different things -- graveyards, crows, cobweb-wrapped trees. As we proceeded, we were sometimes in the patchy mist, sometimes out, and occasionally on a hill overlooking a shining sea.

There was very little traffic on the road, and I was at the terminal at ten past seven, and in the departure lounge by half past. I'm now finishing off breakfast with a large coffee and a sausage and hash brown.

09:00 (Tokyo)

The weather in Tokyo is snowy, maximum 1 degree.

I have an excellent seat, a window seat on the left in front of the wing, and the visibility is very good. We took off northeast over the clear water of Moreton Bay, with speckles on the bottom (cloud shadows? mud patches) and a couple of dramatic waves like phase shifts. Over Bribie Island and the Sunshine Coast as far as Coolum, where we crossed the coast and flew over land. I could probably have made out Woop Woop, had I known where to look. A country of green patterned fields, dark wooded mountains, and sinuous rivers.

Huge dams, blue-black on their green background, like fractal Chinese dragon brooches. Then flocks of small fluffy clouds leading their shadows across the land: from tiny wisps to big chunks, not arranged randomly, but tending towards lines, Then a huge tangled river, so brown that it blends in with the land, except where clusters of orange or green fields stand out.

Then out to sea, hugging the coast, but with a clear view of water and islands, since the clouds are confined to the land. Past a large breakwater with several barge-like boats tied up and others coming and going; probably the coal terminal in some of Chris' photos.

Then the coastline dropped away, and we flew over the turquoise amoeba-like coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, while our eclectic lunch (beef and squash, salad, Black Forest gateau, bread but no cheese, noodles, pickles) was served up. Finally even the Reef dropped away, the last atolls looking like distant swimming pools, and we were left with only sea and sky.


And so it continued for a while. Beautiful silkscreen prints of clouds rolled past in the west, while the distant reefs were less real than the reflection in the calm water of a sunlit pile of cumulus, or a rainbow curtain of rain suspended from a dark cloud.

We reached New Guinea: a bay with huge muddy river estuaries, then impenetrable jungle. A wall of cloud cut off the best views, but later I could glimpse a north-flowing river among huge mountains, and then the north coast. The pilot was flying just below the cloud tops, manoeuvring through gaps. But after New Guinea, white-out swallowed us up.

13:15 Out of the cloud, and a long spell over the exquisite blue and white ocean.

The film was the absurd 13th Warrior again. So I contented myself with occasional surreptitious glances out the window.

The clouds built up, and the sea was shadow grey with white flecks. Then the sun sank in the sky, and the sea was hot metal with cloudy scum floating on it.

Meanwhile I finished Hugh Lunn's memoir of his time as a cadet reporter on the Courier-Mail in the early 60s. So close to my time and place; although none of the people in it were acquaintances of mine, many of the stories and jokes were very familiar.


After the film, I amused myself making a rough estimate of the spacing of the large swells (50 metres, two families at an angle to each other) and the small ripples (5 metres). But the further north we got, the more cloud and the less sea there was.

As the sun edged towards the horizon, the clouds became more textured, the light stranger. The plane edged down towards the abstract landscape; for a short time as we sank into it, we were in a Turner painting. But then we were in a thick cloud, with raindrops beating against the wing in the plane's lights.

18:40 Down over the neat fields and towns and on the ground at Narita, where it was raining steadily. First obstacle was chaos as the shuttle tried to get a huge crowd to the terminal. Unusually for Japan, it complained if it was overcrowded, and asked people near the doors to get off. But when I arrived, it seemed to have got to a point where nobody else would get off, so it sat there opening and closing its doors pathetically. By the third shuttle, I got on, only to have to get off again; but I made it onto the fourth.

Immigration and customs went smoothly. Airport information directed me to bus stop 33 for the Hotel Nikko Narita bus, which came after about five minutes. Now I am checked in and showered, but sweating like anything while sitting in my room.


When I had more or less stopped sweating, I donned the yukata thoughtfully provided by the management, and went looking for a snack. But the vending machines on the third floor only sold drinks. And worse, in trying to wear the Japanese slippers I did my ankle in again. So I rubbed in some goanna grease, put on some clothes, and hobbled down to the second floor to get a bag of nuts to have with green tea for my birthday dinner.

24/01/00, 07:23

I treated my ankle with hot water and goanna cream at night and again in the morning. Between times I slept fitfully and dreamed of horses. In the cracks I started reading the other book Marie gave me, The Last Magician, by Janette Turner Hospital.

The day is cloudy but fine, with small patches of sky. From my window, most of what I see consists of large hotels and car parks, but there is a small wooded hill not far away; but for my foot, I would have tried to walk there, to get a bit of exercise before the ordeal of the 13-hour flight. Ah well ...


There is a nice garden at the back of the hotel, overlooking a ravine with a little wood on the other side.

Breakfast, as I expected, was quite unlike the Nikko Kansai. All in together, all styles of breakfast, from cubed Spanish omelette and spaghetti and meatballs to Japanese stewed vegetables. I saw one man who had a plate with three croissants and a pile of chips on one plate, along with rice, soy sauce and pickles.

A significant fraction of the clientele consists of aircrew. But there are large numbers of Japanese civilians, which is a little perplexing. (Some families were speaking English, so probably Japanese Americans passing through.)

The organisation is well integrated. At check-in, I got not only my room key and breakfast voucher, but a little card telling me which bus to take to the airport. I assume that means I don't have to worry about which terminal to go to. They certainly take the nervous excitement out of travelling!


You have to keep awake, though. I was sitting in the lobby, happily working away on the BCP paper, when I happened to look up and saw a JAL check-in desk. So I have now checked in, and again have a window seat (probably over the wing though)

On the way back, a typically Japanese incident -- I was putting my ticket back in my bag, when an inconsequential scrap of paper fell onto the polished marble floor. Immediately a flunkey in Ruritanian uniform came rushing over to pick it up and return it to me. (Of course, the fact that I was limping slightly takes the shine off a good story.)


No departure tax ... I could have spent my yen on a better birthday dinner ...

03:57 (London)

Half an hour late taking off, due to the plane requiring some servicing. But the expected flight time is an hour less than scheduled.

The plane is equipped with the next level of in-flight entertainment, with a video screen at every seat and a controller to select menu, movie, audio, or game (and including a game controller). On the menu are such things as a destination guide, navigation map, and outside camera. (They showed us the take-off as seen by the camera, which mainly consisted of white lines on the runway. But at the moment it shows nothing but clouds.)

Magically, my ankle problem cleared itself while we were waiting to board the plane.


I am over the trailing edge of the wing, with a clear view behind. Japan was mostly shrouded in cloud, but after lunch, the sky was clear as we approached the Siberian coast. The water was coated with a thin layer of ice, twisted and stretched into fabulous shapes, not at all like planet Earth. Cracks and gaps in the ice showed up inky blue. The coast had towering mountains falling into the sea in huge pale cliffs, and rivers flowing out to sea in little bays with beaches, a sprinkling of snow over all. What I can't see behind me, the outside camera shows well: the tangled skein of a river, flecks of misty cloud.


Now over a vast area of mountains, stretching as far as we can see: huge steep mountains with no sign o any human activity. At one point we pass a wide valley with a braided river and some dead straight lines; then more mountains, more than you would think there could be in the whole world.

At one point I glanced up at the main screen, where they were showing commercials for their duty-free shop. There was an ornate engraved metal whatsit. I thought for a moment they were selling Siberian real estate for 1800 yen.


We've slowed: expected arrival time has been put back twenty minutes, so is almost according to schedule now. Also, the MAGIC I system has stopped responding to any of its controls, so I am stuck with the navigation map.


They finally admitted that the magic wasn't working, and said they could fix it in twenty minutes. Thirty minutes later, they said it would be another ten minutes. Twenty-five more minutes, and they admitted they couldn't fix it completely, but had recovered enough to show the movie. Exploration showed that the navigation map and outside camera have been reclassified as movies.

Meanwhile, I alternated between watching the tundra and reading my book. The exhaust stream from the engines are more prominent than I've seen before. Now and then we pass a wide river or an ice lake: beautiful, but tame compared to what's been.

After fifteen minutes, magic crashed again.


Gradually, as the infinite day continues, the sun immobile above the horizon, small human signs appear: straight lines, a fire in the middle of the icy waste. Then bunches of lines, and terrible plumes of smoke from chimneys. Then clouds took over; above the wing the sun hovers over a smooth white cloud field..


They patched the system up enough to show us The Matrix. Neill was right to recommend that film. Unlike almost any other fantasy film I've seen, it had consistency, and hung together well. Also, it was very good fun.

Film over, the system went down again, but I got a glimpse of the map while the closing credits were rolling: definitely in Europe, (there are fields down there), only a couple of hours out. It's spooky to see the sun higher in the sky than it was!


Clouds over the Baltic, but fine views of snowbound Sweden, the islands of Denmark, Germany (the Kiel Canal with lots of barges on it and wind farms on its banks). Two planes sped busily past the other way, and we overtook one, though I only saw its vapour trail before it passed to the other side. Then a short snowless patch, and once more cloud closed in, with only glimpses of land: the mouths of the Rhine, Southend to Canvey Island, Marlow to Henley. Then a fine view of Windsor Castle as we came in, and dramatic orange sunset sky below a heavy cloud curtain after we landed.