My church is 12!

Last Sunday my church – City on a Hill – celebrated its twelfth birthday. In person I’ve been part of the church for eleven of these twelve years but was in the loop from the beginning.

Our name, City on a Hill, comes from Matthew’s Gospel , chapter 5 verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” [ESV]. We started off as Docklands Church: St James Old Cathedral and St Jude’s Church had the vision of planting a church in Docklands, which then had a population of around 5,000 – it’s probably now three times that. Guy Mason was chosen to head up this project; we first met when I was visiting Melbourne in Easter 2007 and he’d just been appointed. Over coffee he outlined his vision, which was then light on detail but over the next six months a plan came together and on 28th October 2007 regular Sunday services began at the James Squire Brewhouse, kindly placed at our disposal by the then owners.

A year later I moved to Docklands. There was no doubt as to which church I would join. On my first Sunday I met lots of new people – the church had grown to around 100 – many names recognised from the emails I’d read over the months. Before long I’d been enlisted for setup – rearranging all the furniture for our service, then the mad scramble afterwards to make the pub ready for the lunch trade.

So why are we now City on a Hill? Word of this new church spread and our numbers increased to such a degree that we could not accommodate everyone. There was no suitable venue in Docklands so we had to move out, thus the need for a new name. On 9th May 2010 we held our first service at Hoyts Cinema, Melbourne Central. Taking over a 400-seat cinema when we had around 130 people looked (in ‘Yes Minister’ parlance) a courageous step but before too long we had to move to having two morning services, at 0900 and 1030 as well as our 1800 evening service.

And that was only the beginning: in addition to Melbourne Central we now have Melbourne West, Melbourne East, Geelong and Brisbane congregations, with Surf Coast and Gold Coast coming soon. And, coming full circle, we started a 1030 Docklands service at the new Hoyts Cinema this September. In total, several thousand people. Our stated vision is fifty churches in ten cities. Wait and see.

In my next piece I’ll venture a few thoughts as to why we’ve grown as we have.

Port Hedland winter holiday

With my annual visit to family in the UK trip being earlier this year, a space was left for a short winter break. Seeking somewhere warm, I decided on Port Hedland. Half my Australian friends looked blank when I told them of my plans: “where?”; a few in the know responded with “why would you want to go there? The only things to see are ships and trains”. Quite so, and that’s why I went there! In August the temperature gets up to about 30C, falling to the mid-teens overnight. The record summer high is 49C!

Winning Universe ore carrier

Winning Universe ore carrier

Port Hedland is up on the north coast of Western Australia, almost as far from Melbourne as you can go on the Australian mainland – about 2,000mi/3,200km as the crow flies. To get there took me a four-hour flight to Perth, then a further two-hour flight to Port Hedland. Port Hedland is the port from which most of Australia’s iron ore is exported, currently around 1.5m tonnes a day.

On day one (Sunday) I was made very welcome at St Matthew’s Church, then spent the rest of the day getting my bearings. I stayed at the Hospitality Inn motel, just across the road from the beach where I enjoyed peaceful early morning and evening strolls.

Mariners waiting for the launch

Waiting for the Mission’s launch

Day two was taken up with the first two of four tours. If you’re visiting Port Hedland do take these tours or you’ll miss out on a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise see.

In morning I joined the Mission to Seafarers harbour tour. After a talk on the port and the work of the mission we all went aboard the Mission’s launch for its trip round the harbour collecting seafarers who had been given shore leave – in most cases their berths don’t allow landside access. Back at the Seafarers Centre they have access to food, recreational activities, a shuttle bus to the local shops and, most prized of all, free wi-fi.

Port Hedland salt stacks

Port Hedland salt stacks

After lunch I was back on another minibus for the Eco Salt tour – the giant salt stacks on the outskirts of Port Hedland are the final stage of the salt production process. It starts with seawater being drawn into the first of eight concentration ponds, 7800ha in total. As the water evaporates under the hot sun, the remaining water is moved from pond to pond as it gets saltier and saltier.

For day three, realising that I wasn’t going to see much without a car, I went back to the airport to hire one. In contrast to some of the ‘phantom damage’ car hire ripoffs seen in UK, Avis’s policy shows a refreshing appreciation of driving in the Pilbara:
Please note our Fair Wear and Tear Guidelines are below. If there is damage to the vehicle that falls within these guidelines, we do not consider this chargeable damage.
– Stone Chips 25mm diameter without denting
– Scratches less than 25mm that have not penetrated the paint
– Dents less than 25mm in diameter and 2mm deep without paint cracking or flaking
– Wheel scuffs without cracking or gouging
– Minor scruffs that can be polished out
– Scuff/scrape marks under lower bumper

Day four, Wednesday, was largely filled with my last two tours. The first, run by the Seafarers Centre took us into Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) facility. Kudos to FMG for allowing the Centre to operate this tour as a way of raising funds. It was a enthralling experience to drive past the massive trains, loaders, conveyors and then along the quayside next to a ship about to be loaded.

Sunset

Sunset from Finucane Island

After lunch, taken in a 1930s US stainless steel dining railway carriage, my last tour: the Twilight Industry tour. This tour looked in on all the mining company sites from public roads finishing up with a drink watching the sun go down – which it does very quickly in the tropics. This and the Eco Salt tour only started this year, so I chose the right time to visit.

My trip to Port Hedland was all but over. I wish I’d stayed a little longer, but I went not knowing what to expect. Perhaps at some point I’ll go back, but there’s a lot of Australia I’ve yet to visit once.

Singapore Stopover Part 2

Singapore Maritime Gallery

Singapore Maritime Gallery

After a good sleep and late start I headed off on the Red Line to Marina South Pier so as to visit the Maritime Gallery, a small museum telling Singapore’s maritime story from the 13th century to today. There was lots to hold my attention so I ended up spending the rest of the morning there.

Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer

Then back one stop for a second, daytime, trip to Marina Bay for lunch, much less interesting than day one’s hawker stalls. I didn’t have enough time to visit the adjacent Science Museum and Gardens by the Bay – next year perhaps.
Instead I took a leisurely stroll (too hot to rush!) to the Singapore Flyer, and a chance to see Singapore from above – it was the world’s highest ferris wheel when opened (2008: 165m/541ft). Needless to say I enjoyed this very much.
It’s interesting to note how ferris wheels fell out of favour – the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna, was the world’s tallest from 1920-1985 – only to be rediscovered in recent years: I can see the (poorly situated) Melbourne Star from my window.

Pasir Ris Park

Pasir Ris Park

Back at the hotel I took a needed shower and change and headed east to Pasir Ris to meet up with Kate and see where she lives. Pre-visit my expectation was that Singapore would be wall to wall high-rises, but not here. The norm seemed to be blocks of around twelve storeys set in secure compounds containing various resort-style amenties  – pools, picnic areas, tennis courts etc – as compensation for a very small (by my standards) apartment. And, again not what I expected, a large park nearby.

Dinner over, we went our separate ways. The next morning I was back on a plane, looking forward (not) to the Melbourne winter. It was my first stopover, but won’t be my last. I enjoyed the change of scene and had none of the usual jetlag on my return home.

Singapore Stopover Part 1

Back when I lived in London I visited Melbourne 13 times; since moving to Melbourne I have made the return trip a similar number of times. With a few exceptions I have always flown via Singapore – there’s no better airport than Changi for a transit stop. Until this year, though, I’d never set foot outside the airport.

Why change now? In late 2017 a good friend, Kate, got a posting to Singapore and I promised to visit her on my next trip. A further incentive was that I always suffer more from jet lag when returning home, so the hope was that the break of journey would reduce this (it did!).

So for once my case left LHR with a tag saying SIN instead of the usual SIN|MEL. 13 hours later I’m queueing up at Changi’s immigration counter – slow and not what I expected. And then on to the train. Those of us who live in Melbourne, where an airport rail link is just a dream, are regularly reminded that every city of note except us has a fast airport-city rail link. Singapore does have a rail link: to get to my city centre pad (Hotel Jen, Orchard Road) meant two stops on the green line to Tanah Merah, then nine to City Hall, and two more on the red line to Somerset, about half an hour. Far from fast. Next time I’ll try and find a hotel on the green line.

Lau Pa Sat hawker centre

Lau Pa Sat hawker centre

But once checked in I was keen to explore. The time shift meant I was wide awake although it was now dark. I’d been told to go to local hawker stalls, not restaurants. Good advice – I ate well for a few dollars. Back at the hotel I enjoyed a late-night swim in the rooftop pool.

Off to bed, and I didn’t wake until about 9.00. I deliberately didn’t set an alarm so as to take some sleep. It was raining hard so I took myself off to the famous Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre. More good food. Not so a coffee, costing more than a decent meal.

National Museum of Singapore (1887)

National Museum of Singapore

As it was still tipping down, off to the Singapore Museum, housed in a fine building opened by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1887 where I spent several educational and enjoyable hours. I’d always wondered why Malaysia had allowed Singapore its independence, given its prosperity. I was surprised to learn that at the time of independence it was viewed as something of a basket case and best got rid of. Now, of course, it’s anything but, home to arguably the world’s best airline and a massive trading and financial centre.

Then back to the hotel for a shower and change, ready to meet up with Kate for an enjoyable reunion over dinner. My first 24 hours in Singapore were over.

Brooklands London bus rally 23rd June 2019

Ian Allan London Buses

I had one of these!

Back in my mid-teenage days I was an avid collector of London bus numbers. I don’t how I got started but it might be that I was given a copy of the Ian Allan London Transport buses and coaches book which listed every PSV in the LT fleet.

I got started while nearly all LT buses belonged to the RT family (RT/RTL/RTW), RM family (RM/RML/RMC/RCL) or were RF single deckers, though my bus number collecting coincided with the introduction of a number of new one man operated types – principally the central London Red Arrows and Swifts. On a good few occasions in school holidays I bought a Rover ticket and took myself off to new places to collect numbers of buses which would probably never visit SW London.

Bus rally long view

Just some of the buses on display

I was able to relive some of my past enthusiasm when, happily, my 2019 visit to my family in UK coincided with the annual Brooklands London Bus Rally – since 2011 Brooklands has been home to the London Bus Museum. If you’re ever in this part of the world (NE Surrey)  a visit to Brooklands is highly recommended whether there’s a special event on or not.

Many of the museum’s own vehicles were out on display, some running, and, bringing the story up to date, several operators sent along current models including a ‘Boris Bus’ and several hybrids including this very impressive 100-seat (+30 standing) Enviro400XLB hybrid tri-axle bus currently being trialled (too many post-1960s buses haven’t been properly evaluated in London conditions).

London buses RTW185 and RT113

RTW185 (1949) and RT113 (1939), both privately owned

But a special mention belongs to the many privately owned buses whose preservation depends on the huge amount of work and money expended on them by their owners. Thank you.

These two fine examples are just the sorts of bus I was chasing after 50 years ago!

Queen Elizabeth mini cruise 2019

Main staircase

Main staircase

This year I went somewhere new (to me), Brisbane, getting there in style on Cunard’s MS Queen Elizabeth. She’s one of eleven Vista-class ships, built by Fincantieri in 2010 and accommodates 2000+ passengers .
On the outside QE may look like many other cruise ships, but inside her decor reflects her Cunard ownership: top class Art Deco throughout the main public areas – I’m not known for my life of fine art, but I couldn’t help but enjoy such wonderful design and craftsmanship.

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

Queen Elizabeth at Circular Quay

The cruise was just four nights: we left a cold wet Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, then spent Sunday at sea, docking at Circular Quay, Sydney on Monday.
After a good relaxing day with a friend – riding Sydney Harbour ferries! – it was back on board for another two nights and a day at sea before arriving at Brisbane on Wednesday morning.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

This was only my second Cunard cruise and again I was upgraded to a suite! This meant dining in the more exclusive Princess Grill restaurant instead of the main dining hall. In my younger days I would have been scared stiff at having to dine with a group of ‘strangers’ but now I see it as something to look forward to – the chance to meet up with people I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered, meeting them over several evenings. My dining companions were very good company.
I did sample the famed afternoon white glove tea once, but you can only eat so much!

Music for our pleasure

Music for our pleasure

Filling the two sea days was no problem. As is the tradition, the captain conducted a well-attended Sunday morning service. An ad-hoc Christian Fellowship meeting was held on Tuesday morning which gave me a chance to meet another group of people. The QE has a large theatre used for stage shows in the evening; during the day it hosted a series of lectures. I went to two on whales and dolphins, and one on Captain Cook’s voyage mapping Australia’s east coast. Various types of music were offered around the ship. Much else to do as well, but not enough time. In no time we’d arrived in Brisbane and it was time to say goodbye … until next year’s cruise!

Memories of Junior School – The Teachers

Archdeacon Cambridge’s Junior School’s building, next to Holy Trinity Church, was twenty years older than the infant school, its foundation stone having been laid in 1841. I will share more memories of the building in a future post. Sadly, a quick Google search failed to produce a picture. Nearly sixty years on, my memories are vague, but perhaps some comments will flesh them out.

Compared with many modern schools, Archdeacon [as it tended to be known] was a small school, six teachers, head and school secretary – much like ‘King Street Junior‘, a BBC radio comedy. In my final year we had 42 in the class, so I would guess that there were about 200-240 pupils.

On entry, presumably following reports from infant school, pupils were put into one of two streams. Those judged (at age seven!) to have less academic potential were put in Mrs Stringer’s class for their first two years. Nearly sixty years on I remember her as a kindly soul. For their second two years her pupils would be passed on to a Mr Laing, then probably not far from retirement, who to us seemed to be dour unfriendly man. From what we gathered (perhaps incorrectly) he didn’t do much teaching, it having been determined that his pupils would never amount to much. Rather he supervised them as they did craft and other activities. All a bit sad in retrospect.

Meanwhile, those of us who were judged to be of average or better ability went through four classes, The first (year 3 in today’s parlance) was taken by Miss Weir, a middle aged lady who was a very effective teacher. In addition to her regular teaching, she conducted country dancing lessons. Away from school, she was a church organist in Hampton.

The next year’s class teacher was a Miss Cooper who returned from one holiday as Mrs Palmer. I have no memories of her, as four of us who were judged to be academically ahead were jumped a year and so missed being in her class.

So my next teacher was Mrs Atkins. I think she retired not too long after I left. She had a somewhat undeserved reputation as a stern disciplinarian but was another excellent teacher. One key thing I remember about her was that she drove a car, a Mini. The four of us who had jumped a year found ourselves with a different set of classmates but we soon fitted in.

For the last year (my last two years) we moved up to Mrs Piggott’s class. She was another excellent teacher, probably in her 30s, and she had a degree in maths. My enthusiasm for this subject was noted and encouraged. It must have been quite challenging to be teaching a class of 42, but a good number of us made it on to grammar school.

By today’s standards, the support team was modest. Mrs Hare, a quietly efficient no-nonsense lady was the school secretary, her duties including acting as school nurse, attending to sick pupils and the results of the inevitable falls. Mr Broughton, the school caretaker, was responsible for cleaning and, in the winter, maintaining fires and delivering buckets of coal to each class.

And last but not least was our head, Mr Brown. If my memory serves me, he’d been head since 1947. He, too, retired not too long after I left and was, underneath a rather bluff exterior, a kindly soul who really did care for the well-being of the school and its pupils. He like Mrs Atkins, drove to the school, but in contrast to her state-of-the-art Mini, he drove a blue sit-up-and-beg Ford Popular. Despite the antiquated buildings he ran a good and happy school.

A tale of two chairs

When I emigrated from UK to Melbourne in 2008, I came with a suitcase of clothes, followed soon after by two PCs sent by airfreight and then in due course 16 cartons of books, DVDs and souvenirs. Otherwise it was a case of starting from scratch.

For furniture I went to IKEA, not far from home though a tedious half-hour drive fighting Melbourne’s traffic lights and congestion. During my first two weeks here I went there nearly every day, buying another piece or two and then returning home to assemble it. In due course my apartment could have passed as an mini IKEA showroom – I’ve just had a tally up and I’ve got 31 pieces of IKEA furniture; the only items from elsewhere are my office desk and chair.

Two IKEA Ingolf chairs

Two IKEA Ingolf chairs

Initially to reduce clutter I bought just four Ingolf dining chairs to go with my (extendable) circular dining table, then one more as a bedroom chair. On the rare occasions when I needed to seat six I borrowed the bedroom chair and pressed my office chair into service.

Then last year I decided that it would be good to have six matching chairs when required. Thankfully when I checked the IKEA website the same chair was still on sale – one of the ways in which IKEA make money is by amortising their design costs over vast numbers of units: Poäng armchairs go back to 1978, Billy bookcases to 1979 – so off to buy one.

When I set to work assembling it, what was interesting was to see that in the intervening ten years the cost engineers had been to work. The picture shows old and new, superficially the same. What has changed is the weight – down from 6.7kg to 4.0kg (for bulk freight 160/ton now 250/ton) – and the way the chair is assembled. The older one comes with a ready made back/legs and front rail/legs and assembly involved linking these with two front/back rails. The new one came in an h-shaped box (which interlocks with another) containing two assembled sides, cross rails and X-rails. An interesting bit of cost engineering.

Warrnambool mini break

Warrnambool, ocean in background

Warrnambool, ocean in background

Christmas here marks the start of the summer holiday so not too much happens in January. With the forecast for Friday Jan 4th correctly predicting 42C in Melbourne, I hit on the idea of a mini-break to Warrnambool, a small city on the Southern Ocean, 265km/165mi SW of Melbourne, not somewhere I’d previously visited.

Why Warrnambool? The decider was that it’s at the end of one of our few surviving regional rail lines so I could sit back and let V/Line drive.This section of the coastline is known as the ‘shipwreck coast’ for good reason and as you look south the next landfall is Antartica – just the place to go if you’re escaping heat!

V/Line carriage reversible seats

V/Line carriage reversible seats

The comfortable trip took 3½ hours from Melbourne. I opted for first class, A$94 (about £50), v. $77.20 for economy, a no-brainer really. First class carriages have 52 seats v. 88 in economy – why V/Line set their pricing so as to make much less per carriage off their premium passengers I don’t know?

The first class seats are on swivel mounts and are rotated to face the direction of travel at each end.

Warrnambool station

Warrnambool station

The railway line from Melbourne reached Geelong in 1856 and was progressively extended, reaching Warrnambool in 1890. A fine station building survives.

With two nights and one full day there, I couldn’t see everything but I had a good time. I certainly escaped the heat: the forecast 30C for Friday was reached about 10.30 and then the temperature dropped sharply, making me wish I’d taken my cardigan.

Thursday evening was spent walking down to the beach and back through to city centre in search of a good dinner. Friday morning started off with a walk in the sun by Lake Pertobe – between 1974 and 1980 what was a swampy area was turned into a recreational lake surrounded by parkland.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

Then off to one of Warrnambool’s main attractions, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village. The museum is laid out like an 1870s period village and incorporates the original lighthouses and Warrnambool Garrison. A period-costumed guide gave us a really interesting and informative tour. Friday evening was spent at the huge summer market next to the lake, then on Saturday it was time to come home.

There’s much more to Warrnambool – in the winter, whale watching is a big tourist draw, and the city has also been brought to prominence by the film ‘Oddball’, in which trained Maremma dogs protect the fairy penguins from marauding foxes. It’s well worth watching.

Will I go back? Definitely as there’s lots more to see. I’ll either hire a car once down there or drive so I can go further afield. But I’ve got a few other Victorian train lines to check out first.