Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Spain again, but England is loath to let us go.

The journey from Oxford to our home in Spain is about 1,300 miles. We mostly take it slowly and endeavour to enjoy the trip: it’s like a holiday.

This time we travelled in our replacement camper van: it’s bigger than the old one which we had for ten years. We got as far as Dover without mishap. There we visited the castle which is enormous and commands an imposing position high above the famous white cliffs. There I learned that this stronghold was only once invaded – by a group of drunken townsfolk during the English civil war. We ate in an interesting restaurant called the Allotment and had a long conversation with a delightful pair. The mother was some sort of adviser to the EU in Brussels and the son captured pirates in different parts of the world. We were in awe.

Next morning we got up in plenty of time for the ferry to Calais. I went for a run, we ate breakfast, showered, then with an hour or so to go before departure I turned the key of the van. Nothing. It had a completely flat battery! I raced around trying to find someone with jump leads: no good. A kindly local lead me to Halfords, but it did open until 10 a.m. on Sundays! I ran back to the van removed one of the bicycles we were carrying and pedalled quickly to the ferry terminal arriving just before our boat was due to depart. There a friendly P&O Ferries employee rang a few people then informed me that it was OK: I could take a later ferry at no extra charge.

I cycled back to the van then walked once more to Halfords which was about a kilometre away and just opening. I explained my problem and asked if they could bring a new battery around and possibly fit it. The young man at the counter was willing to bring the thing around in his own car, but had to check with his boss. This man shook his head slowly and mouthed the stultifying words “health and safety”.

So, I had to carry the heavy battery back to the van – and it was heavy. At least two people actually said, “That ttttlooks heavy,” as I struggled along – such wits the Dover men. But I finally got there and began the difficult job of changing the batteries over: things are such a tight fit in modern vans. By two o’clock or so we had left the old battery at Halfords and were on our way across the channel. Not too bad really. The man at the ferry gate wanted to see the receipt for the battery before letting us through, but then gave us a ten-pound token to spend on board! I had a Cornish pasty, the last for at least three months.

France was as enjoyable as ever, but expensive for food and drink, and run down in places. Highlights of the journey were the Ouche Valley in the Bourgogne where we rode our bikes alongside the canal, and Villefranche in the Pyrenees, a magical walled town full of shops and restaurants.

We reached our village just in time to catch the end of the major fiesta where the firework-spitting bull chased us. We danced, were kissed by people we hardly know, drank far too much and finally went to bed at five in the morning. Nice to be back.

Monday, 12 August 2013

A fairy tale reborn

I started writing a long time ago. In the past much of my stuff was technical - reports, conference papers and such, then latterly books. But I also wrote things for my kids in the early days and did try to get one of my creations published. It was a long poem called the Bogle of Bump and I must confess that quite a lot of it was written during interminable meetings! Through the Campaign for Real Ale I met an illustrator, Liz Worsley, and she prepared some lovely drawings to accompany the poem. I offered the thing to a few publishers, but soon gave up. After all, the Bogle of Bump was really written for my girls, not for the public.

Later, the boys came along and I read the tale to them whilst showing them Liz's colourful pictures. I think they liked it. Time passed, the typewritten verses began to yellow and the pictures to fade then, possibly stimulated by my son's poem , The House of Stink, which is much better than mine and illustrated by himself (Rafe's a clever lad), I thought - why not resurrect my old story?

I dug it out, scanned the written sheets and passed it through some software to change the typescript into text, then scanned the pictures and chopped them up them to match each verse. Next, I used PowerPoint to combine the pictures and text exporting these as image files into the Kindle comic creator. It all took a long time - though not as long as writing the thing in the first place. And, thirty-nine years after reading it to Sheena, my eldest daughter, I uploaded the thing onto the Kindle Store: The Bogle of Bump was published as an eBook!

It's a story about a wicked witch and an ugly bogle called Bungi, together with pretty fairies who have lost their fairy light and their sight: good old-fashioned fairy tale stuff with a happy ending. I don't suppose it will ever sell many copies if any, but I offered it for free for a couple of days and there were a few takers in the USA, UK, Germany, Italy and Japan!

Of course, bogles and their like do not age, but since Bungi Bogle was born in my head it will be his fortieth birthday next year. When he was conceived, the Internet was just a whisper amongst academics and a secret tool of the military. There were no mobile phones or personal computers, microwave ovens were for the rich and the nearest thing to facebook was a pen pal or two. Nowadays, my Bungi Bogle is dancing around the World Wide Web!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

They're stealing my books!

On Thursday night I went to a strange do in Oxford. Held in a pub, of course, it consisted of a couple of plays without scenery and then an off-the-cuff performance which included members of the audience. It was a little odd, but rather fun. I didn't get involved in the extempore stuff, but did get talking to some of the actors over a pint afterwards. One was a bright young software engineer from Moldova (next to Ukraine, he informed me tiredly). His girlfriend is writing a book (who isn't?) so we got to talking about eBooks.

He was particularly interested, I recall, in protection. How could you ensure that your book wasn't pirated: copied then sold, or given away, by someone else? We talked a little about Digital Rights Management which is supposed to protect eBooks, but neither of us knew much about it. I told him that Smashwords (which sells eBooks in lots of formats) did not use it and claims that it is actually counterproductive: it's better to have your words out there regardless of the odd bit of pilfering, they say.

Recently, I made the exciting discovery that Smashwords had sold a number of copies of my novel, Shaken by China, in New Zealand and Australia. Since then I've been going a little Smashwords crazy. I now have seven books in their eBook shop and I told my Moldovan friend that I was quite happy with the odd person copying a book that they had bought of mine and giving it to someone else. It seemed to me a little like lending a paper book - but it isn't.

Next evening I did a search for "Hedy Rob Walters" I can't remember exactly why, I think I was trying to get to the Hedy Lamarr page of my own website without clicking the visitor count. Anyway, I was amazed at the sheer number of hits that came up and started to wade through them, then I came to this:

Yes, my Hedy Lamarr book available for FREE to anyone! I was stultified. That book took ages of research and months of writing and rewriting. I sell it through Amazon as a paper book and an eBook and though it does not sell in huge quantities, it does sell and I am gladdened by every sale. Meanwhile, I now find that anyone searching for my book can download it for free from this pirate website and I have no idea how long this has been so.

How did they get my book? I don't know. Why do they do it? Money, somewhere along the line, I suppose. How did I feel? Angry, despoiled, gutted, but unsurprised. I immediately bashed out a flame email starting with "How dare you..." and ending with the threat of action if the book was not removed within one week.
Later that night I met Jim in one of my favourite pubs in Oxford (Far from the Madding Crowd) and told him of my shock discovery. He was unperturbed. He told me that he had found one of his own publications offered for free recently and was pleased, but then he's an academic. Moreover, he also told me that he had software that can strip off any protection surrounding an eBook or document. So what can you do? Anyone else experiencing this?

Part way through writing this blog I found another shocker. Someone has put much of my novel, Shaken by China, onto their website for anyone to read. They call themselves Kilibro and claim to offer readers the opportunity to dip into books before purchasing them, yet they offer no means of purchasing the book! I'm afraid that the more I search for this sort of thing the more I will find. It's a rough world out there in the Internet.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

English Heritage and the Death of the English Pub

We have a new second-hand camper van! It has a fixed bed and table and other luxuries which wild campers and one night stayers relish.

We have also taken out a years' membership of English Heritage which gives us free access to hundreds of ancient building across the country.

Recently we combined the two by taking the camper van on its first outing and visiting a number of castles, stately homes and such to the north of us. The sites we visited were great, the state of the pubs we passed was dire.

Let's take Bolsover. We didn't like it at first so went searching for other places to stay. We tried two nearby villages. Both were run down, both had boarded up pubs and clubs. It was depressing and a little scary. Sufficiently so to send us zooming back to Bolsover which then looked quite attractive!

We found a free car park which was quiet and had a space big enough for the van and then set off in search of beer, food, and good company. The pub near the car park was OK...just OK. Beer was cheap and local and decent. The place was a bit corporate, quite large and largely deserted. We had a drink and went out to explore the town, soon coming to a nicer looking pub. It was closed! Not permanently I think, just closed because there was no one about on a Tuesday night. We walked to another place standing next to the castle. It was closed, in fact it had not yet opened. It was a Wetherspoon place due, we later learned, to open in a week or so. It was called the Pillar of Rock. 

We walked further up the hill and found another pub which was open, but should not have been. It smelled inside and the garden was an untamed jungle of rotting picnic benches surrounded by litter. No one spoke to us and the beer was well past its best, as was the pub.

We shared a nasty bag of fish and chips whilst gloomily watching other people popping into the various take-aways. Then we found a smashing looking pub on the main street, but on closer examination it was closed and up for sale. Then another nearby: closed. We returned to the first pub and sat in its yard where we watched  the cavortings of a dog with an enormous head and worried about the pub scene.

I know the stats. I know that many pubs are closing each week.  I know of many pubs that have closed. But I have never seen, or imagined, anything like this. Not on this scale. This is indeed the end of an era. To quote Hillaire Belloc once more (after carefully typing his name), ".... when you have lost your Inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England". Don't worry too much though, Belloc had not heard of Wetherspoon and was not a member of English Heritage!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Shoe shining again: eBook to pBook

Like proverbial London buses: you wait for ages and two come along together. So too with my blogs.

A few years ago I became a shoeshiner, cycling around middle-England shining shoes in the streets, pubs and offices of the old shoe-producing cities. Naturally, I wrote an account of my adventures, publishing it as an eBook in 2011. Someone has asked me to do a presentation on this subject in August and I realised a simple fact – you can’t take eBooks along with you. So I decided, with some trepidation, to turn the eBook into a paper book. The trepidation is a hangover from producing the first edition of my Hedy Lamarr book in this way some eight years ago. It was an awful experience, and costly, and I was never happy with the look or the quality of the book.

I would not say that making Being Down, Looking Up into a paper book was a doddle, but it was so much easier than those tense weeks all those years ago; especially concerning cover design. And the process is now free! I’ve already received the first version and with a few changes (you can never be sure of a book until you hold it in your hand), my first order is winging its way to me from the States.

I did make some changes: I included photographs, did a light edit and produced a new cover. It was really interesting to read my own account through again after all this time and it really brought the experiences back to mind. Some things I had forgotten, yet reading about them revitalises the memories and seems to refresh them. I suppose the brain is remaking connections to recollections that have eroded through lack of use. It does convince me that it’s all up there somewhere, though access may be lost. Maybe keeping a diary is a good thing after all.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Walking and Writing

Blogging sporadically lately. Too busy writing, editing, publishing, guiding, campaigning and just living.

On Tuesday I set off from Stow-on-the-Wold to walk to Oxford. Not a great distance for some I suppose, but my friend and I did not hurry. We completed the thirty plus miles in two days. Our last walk together was just about a year ago. We began that at Yoxford, in Suffolk, and headed for Oxford. My friend did not complete the walk: he lasted just three days before dropping out with badly blistered feet. I trudged on alone and it was during that long walk that the idea for my current book occurred.

3D Futures is, not surprisingly, set in the future! It is my first venture into this genre and I really enjoyed writing it: the future is an unknown and the imagination consequently untrammelled. It has three stories running in parallel: in one the rich and clever have left the earth, living forever below it, their minds existing in digital form in highly secure servers; in another a large number of people have escaped the earth in order to colonise distant planets. The earth itself is therefore left to the dispossessed and it swiftly descends into anarchy and violence, though the green shoots of civilisation are beginning to emerge. The stories are about people’s lives in these extreme situation and, though separate, are linked in surprising ways. The whole thing is held together by ‘historical’ digressions which provide the background to the three worlds.

I uploaded 3D Futures to the Amazon’s Kindle store on the day after completing my Costwold walk whilst sitting with my feet in a bowl of hot salty water – they really hurt. I do not think that I could have walked for a third day! I have launched the book at less than a pound (or dollar or euro) and now am waiting anxiously for any sales.

I did enjoy the walk across the Cotswolds despite my hurting feet. Along the way we stopped to look in wonder at stunning views of rolling green, yellow and red fields, at the soft hills and the forests and woods. We saw a number of gracefully prancing deer; clear, swift moving streams and rivers; and delightful limestone villages. In the Wychwood forest we met a young lady crouching amongst the ferns having a fag: she was hiding from her even younger charges who were there to learn bushcraft. We camped secretly on the fringe of Charlbury and enjoyed a night of beer, food and merriment in two of its four pubs. In the Three Horseshoes we ate fish and chips watched by two King Charles spaniels lounging on the opposite settle and we entered the quiz. We came last, but strongly suspect that the other teams were cheating (smart phones were spotted).
We examined the remains of a splendid Roman villa located in a lovely and isolated spot – that is until a train rushed by just a field away. And we managed the whole walk without the use of technology: in fact, technology seemed out of place in those delightfully remote footpaths.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Bumping and Streaking in Oxford

A long lull in blogging. It’s not that I have nothing to write; it’s just that I’m writing a lot. In fact, I’ve just completed a mammoth editing session and my eyes hurt. I finished writing my sci-fi novel about a month ago and, as some of you will know, the hard work then begins. I think it is just about ready now, but needs a few eBookers to read it through before publishing—any additional volunteers?
Had a good night out in Oxford on Saturday. Walked along the Thames with a friend and bumped into the crowds returning from the bumps race. The colleges of Oxford University row against each other twice a year and these May races are known as the Summer Eights. We watched as the students carried the winning boat back to its college with the Cox riding on its incredibly long hull. Wonderful atmosphere along the usually serene banks of the river —noisy, boisterous and joyful.
We had a few pints at the Prince of Wales in Iffley and were given waitress service by the charming and garrulous landlady who wanted us to stay, but we had to move on. Visited three pubs along the Iffley Road as we shuffled down towards the centre of the city: good beer in all of them.
By the time we reached the High, the light was beginning to fade so at first I thought that my eyes were deceiving me. Walking alongside University College, we heard the sound of heavy boots hitting the pavement on the other side of the street. Looking up, I saw six galloping students, strapping lads all wearing boots, yes just boots! They ran with expressions of serious intent and looked unwaveringly ahead. Shocking, yet surprisingly funny: especially after a few pints. No pictures, I'm afraid.
I am still acclimatising after our sunny adventures in Australia, etc. I have slipped back into guiding, and have led nearly thirty tours this month. Actually, my memories of Australia are mainly of the climate, the animals and the bad beer. Here my experiences are underlined by bad weather, tourists and good beer. My garden in Stow isn’t growing well at all, seeds are not germinating and it’s too wet to work on the soil. But, there is good news. Friends have visited our fruit trees in Spain and they are thriving amongst the weeds (the trees that is, not the friends) and already bearing young fruit. See the photo.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Australia: The Fatal Shore

Three weeks is not a long time to spend in this huge country and it’s true that we only nibbled at it, but then what a satisfying nibble.

High points for me were the mammals, the birds and the coast. I really did not expect to see a koala bear in the wild, but I did. At first I thought I had spotted a swelling in the fork of small tree. I left the track and getting closer saw that it was a furry grey ball. Standing beneath the tree we watched limbs slowly disentangle from the ball and a face appear. The koala looked down at us blearily and we looked back at it smilingly. A lovely encounter. 

Kangaroos we met earlier with wallabies too. And later, in a special reserve in Bunbury the tame ones
nuzzled our hands hoping for food.

I doubt that the wombats could ever be tamed. The ones I met reminded me of a hairy log with short strong legs. One passed within a foot of my foot, just rooting about and minding its own business. Like kangaroos they are marsupials, but their pouch is reversed so that it does not fill  with earth as they dig.

I did not dream that I would ever see a wild echidna; they are a little like a hedgehog with a long snout for rooting out insects. They are not marsupials: in fact they lay eggs! Such wonders. One night I met a possum, a creature hated in New Zealand as a destructive colonist. In the day along a little path leading to the famous limestone cliffs and islands near the Great Ocean Road we made the acquaintance of a bandicoot.

And the birds! They are so wonderful, so different. From the ibis that strolls around the streets of Sydney to the noisy and colourful parrots and lorakeets. Then there are the white and pink and black cockatoos who argue constantly. Everywhere there are Australian magpies which look like white and black crows and have a lovely, tuneful song, and we also spotted the splendid fairy wren, the male of which is an iridescent blue. Of course, we also saw the famous kookaburra often sitting on a telegraph pole. Margaret sang her song (learned as a brownie) to one of them, but it did not laugh. Oh, and not to forget the pelicans, and emus, and on and on.

I paddled in the sea with sting rays measuring at least a metre in width. They were flapping around taking food from the hands of children. On the same beach we watched the biggest catch of salmon that I will ever see in my life. And the waves, such mountainous waves that attracted the brave or foolish surfers bobbing about waiting for a big one on which to practice their admirable skills.

Whilst travelling I read the book The Fatal Shore, recommended by Fergus our son (he was the reason that we traveled to this great continent). It is an excellent account of the conditions in Britain that gave rise to transportation and the whole history of the use of the aborigines’ continent as a dumping ground for our felons. What a story, and what a country.

We did not meet any aborigines (it seems from the stats that many of them are in prison) but we did meet plenty of resident Australians: helpful, straightforward, friendly, and unpretentious people on the whole. Many own large 4by4 trucks and they live hard and play hard. Yet surprisingly, we found that there were many petty restrictions, but these were leavened for the locals by the freedom to surf in the lunchtime and generally take advantage of the wonderful country life.

Pubs, the best ones, were enormous: they often have a large public and lounge bar, a games bar for pool and darts, a bistro, and a pokey room for gambling. The beer is cold and fizzy on the whole. One place actually advertised “tooth crackingly cold beer”! In one remote place I met a man who had visited Manchester and complained to me of the flat, warm beer he had to drink there. “Lies heavy on the stomach,” he said, “no fizz to lighten it up.” There is no accounting for taste or for the willingness to buy expensive keg beer at more than £10 a pint in some places.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Drifting in New Zealand.

New Zealand was the last country to be colonised by man. It now has a population of nearly 50 million – most of which are sheep. It is famous for the invention of bungee jumping, jet boating and highway drifting – all semi-dangerous activities. Meanwhile it has no snakes and by far the most dangerous animal there is man.

We drifted from Auckland to Christchurch over a period of nearly three weeks, mostly in a motor caravan. I saw bubbling mud and smelt it (very bad eggs). I saw geothermal sawmills and an active volcano spewing smoke into the sky above Lake Taupo and burned my feet in the hot sands surrounding that cold lake. I discovered that the Maoris are mostly physically integrated, by interbreeding, with the second wave of colonials from Europe (and that they are big people). I actually hunted down a kiwi bird. In fact, I think I saw two of them in the artificial gloom of a special enclosure, but I’m not sure – it was pretty dark and they’re shyly nocturnal. I did see and befriended a couple of fantails – my favourite bird in NZ - one of them nearly perched on my shoulder. I also admired the tui with its smart silver ruff and so-white bow tie. I did not enjoy the beer from the brewers who have stolen the tui’s name – but let’s not get on to NZ beer.  But, let’s not forget the silver eye bird or the blue swamp hen. I shall miss them.

I was encouraged to hate the possums. They destroy the environment for other creatures and steal birds’ eggs. Enjoined to squish them if I spotted one on the highway, I neither spotted nor squished. They are sweet looking creatures and NZ is the only country where you can legally hunt them.

I love trees and New Zealand has plenty. I became familiar with lancewood, whiteywood, the different beeches and the enormous totara. Also the strange cabbage and fern trees and the two species of tea trees.
I visited my first glacier and sailed through my first fjord – you can do so much in this little country. I paddled my feet in the Pacific and the Tasman, drank rum and coke, coughed a lot and itched unmercifully because of my attractiveness (to sandflies).

I was both hot and cold, wet and dry, and I got nicely brown on the exposed bits. I drove nearly three thousand kilometres, but it seems like much more: roads in NZ are narrow, mostly twisty and steep, and dual carriageways are solely for the cities. Along the way the patterning on many roads intrigued me. At first I thought that there had been many accidents, but no, those tyre marks were deliberate. Some zigzagged up the road, others showed that the driver had performed a full 360 turn whilst burning rubber. Our only hitchhiker, Raj, told me that drifting is a national pursuit for young drivers. It’s easy: you build up a lot of speed, pull on the handbrake and … drift. It’s also cheaper than bungee jumping and drier than jet boating.

I can now speak like a Kiwi (not the bird). How’s this for ‘ten hard men’: “Tin haad min.” Sadly, I think that the famed winky-wanky bird of a certain rugby song becomes the winky-winky bird, which sort of spoils the point. And ‘ten tin sheds’ becomes tin tin shids. What can I say?

Of the Kiwi people? Lovely: friendly, helpful, smiley, talkative, polite – one man volunteered the parking lot in the front of his paint spray business as a night stop for our motor caravan. How kind.

Our trip ended in Christchurch. It was a shock to be there. You can watch disaster clips on TV and get some appreciation of a major earthquake, but to see the destruction with you own eyes is quite, quite different. At first we thought that there were a massive amounts of rough surfaced car parks until we learned that these are the plots where crippled buildings have been razed and removed. Then we thought it amusing to see an antique shop operating from a container until we came to  astrange part of the city where all manner of shops and restaurants operate from garishly painted containers whilst the owners await new premises. Then we wandered unawares into the vicinity of the crippled cathedral where street after street is fenced off, the fences enclosing tottering buildings and propped up facades. We became trapped in this awful wilderness and, tired and hungry, came across a park where some worthies were distributing hot dogs to the homeless – we had one.

There are two hundred empty white seats near that park, itself near the TV centre which collapsed causing the greatest number of casualties. Each of those white seats are empty, they represent those that died in the Christchurch earthquake of 2011. They overlook a strange and massive wigwam affair made of steel and cardboard which is a temporary replacement for the cathedral. Life goes on; rebuilding has started.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

A sad tale of travel and beer.

After a really enjoyable week in Taiwan drinking beer with the friendliest people in the world, I felt the need for a pint of something more tasty, less fizzy, than Taiwanese Gold Label as we set off for New Zealand.
Unusually, I had chosen a hotel in advance in Aukland: the Shakespeare which was also a brewpub so I felt in good hands. We arrived in poor condition after another eleven hour flight plus the hop from Taiwan to Hong Kong and I needed rest rather than beer. We slept a little in our crummy and noisy room in the Shakespeare, then went out to do a little exploring. Aukland’s an interesting watery city and immensely cosmopolitan. We made plans for the following day then fell into a pub which had a  happy hour in the Britmark area of town.

First shock was the price. As someone said to me next day when I bought a bottle of Aspirin and almost swooned at the price: “Don’t do the conversion, it only upsets you”. It did. Beer was £4.50 a glass and that was less than a pint and that was in the happy(?) hour.

“What would you like?” asked the helpful but unsmiling barmaid.

Faced with one of these cool, chrome dispensers of cold, carbonated beer I did not know what to say. There were four to choose from – all unknown to me. I explained that I was an Englishman from England and did not know which to choose. She asked me if I liked light beer and that confused me further.

“Would you like to try one?” she asked kindly, but frostily.

“Yes please,” I replied with ridiculous enthusiasm.

She gave me a taste of the first: it was cold, harsh and very gassy. My dislike must have shown in my face because she poured some of the next choice into a second tasting glass: cold, harsh and very, very gassy. Her face tightened as she gave me a taste of the third and hardened further when I grimaced at the fourth.
“Do you have any craft beers,” I asked exasperated. I had read that there were craft beers in NZ. She turned to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of German style wheat beer. I had enjoyed a German beer of that style in Taiwan so I bought the bottle. It was cold, harsh and fizzy. I drank it unhappily.

So we returned to our hotel. They had a brewery there and advertised fish and chips (an NZ staple) at a reasonable price. The fish and chips were…OK. The beer tasted, if you can call it taste, just the same as those four samples: harsh, fizzy, cold. Saddened, we went out to a liquor store and bought a bottle of rum and a big bottle of coke, smuggled it into our room in black bags and mixed a couple of strong ones in the tooth brush glasses. Very good.

Next day we had a nice time doing things in Aukland then took the ferry to Devonport where I explored the lookout hill and gun emplacement and Margaret searched for a restaurant. People here were much friendlier that in the city, naturally, and I was late back having spent a half hour talking to a local I met on Cheltenham Beach (I grew up in Cheltenham Spa). Margaret and I walked to a bar near the ferry and, in trepidation, I ordered a beer. The manager was called! He explained to me that He could not sell that beer to me! Why? Because the cooler had broken and the beer was too warm. I asked to try it. Amazing: I could taste it, it was OK , it was not too fizzy. I delightedly ordered one of those and was allowed to have one.

We decided to take the ferry back to the city after that and then took a taxi to Galbraith’s ale house, a pub purporting to serve cask-conditioned beer in the traditional British fashion. And here’s the good news: it was great. Beer served at 10-12 degrees C as it should be and pulled through a handpump. The food was great too, and everybody friendly. One young barman went off and printed a long list of pubs for me: pubs I might visit on our three week tour. How kind. Then he told me the bad news: Galbraith’s is probably the only pub in NZ that serves beer traditionally. I fear the American influence has turned the Kiwis into cold lager lovers. How sad. But I’ll survive. Beer isn’t everything is it?  And just in case we will be carrying emergency supplies of rum and coke as we tour the islands in our commodious rented campervan.