An Alaskan cruise

It was our first cruise and to be honest, we joined it because it was the only remotely affordable way of seeing Alaskan coastal scenery. We’d scoffed at the cruise scene in the past – we weren’t going to share a ship with a multitude of people and all that tacky glitz and tantara.

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Our ship, the Coral Princess, waiting for us at Whittier, near Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage.

The coastal scenery was as fantastic as we’d imagined. And it turned out that the cruise experience was pretty damn good too. We’d do it again, though the cruise location would have to appeal in its own right. We wouldn’t cruise just for the sake of cruising. Many people do, though.

It was really relaxing on board – there’s a lot to be said for a week of zero responsibility or pressure.

Well yes, there was some pressure – to be up-sold on goods and services that weren’t included in the basic cruise charge. But it was easy to ignore such blandishments, because what came with our basic cruise fee was fine by us. There were ample opportunities to hugely increase our overall cost but we refused to play the game. Bad cruisers!

We didn’t pay extra to eat in specialty restaurants. We didn’t buy concession tickets for drinks and espresso coffee. We didn’t get spa treatments, turn up for expensive wine tastings, throw our money away in the casino, have our photos taken by the ship’s photographer, go to lectures about tanzanite jewels (buy! buy!), or put Tag Heuer watches on our wrists. Nor did we participate in an art auction for tacky paintings (we walked out of a ridiculous session early in the week, explaining the auction).

We didn’t even bother with our allocated ‘free’ waiter-service restaurant. We started at the buffet restaurant and stayed there because the food was excellent and there was no waiting for waiters or food delivery.

There were plenty of very expensive shore tours we could have taken. We went on only one special tour – to the mushers’ sled dog camp near Skagway (loved it). We didn’t book it through Princess Lines, which charged more for the same thing. The rest of our shore time was spent doing long walks, some on routes we’d already researched. We enjoyed these very non-Kiwi towns.

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Sled dogs relaxing after hauling us around the Mushers’ Camp. This team and its owner (the woman in green) are working their way through the qualifying stages for the famous Iditarod Trail race

We shared the Coral Princess with 2000 fellow-passengers, but rarely felt crowded. The ship was big enough to lose them. There were lots of  different bars, restaurants, shops and sanctuaries such a card room, casino and library. We enjoyed quiet times in the library, sitting in comfortable chairs reading our Kindles while alpine scenery passed by the window. In the evenings we we enjoyed some quite classy stage shows.

Most of the passengers would have been aged 55+, but there were younger people, including children and teenagers. There was an exclusive kids’ area in the stern of the ship, which we stumbled into when exploring the ship. We were promptly thrown out.

Overwhelmingly the passengers were white Americans, but there were quite a few south and east Asians, especially Chinese. There was a smattering of Latinos. Afro-Americans were conspicuous by their absence and I don’t remember seeing more than about half a dozen of them.

We were in a cheaper ‘Oceanview’ cabin*, rather than a cabin with an outside balcony. But it was good – one of a handful in this cabin class that were as big as balcony cabins and had the ocean view on the wall rather than above the bedhead. There was extra seating, including a sofa, and we watched the scenery in some comfort.

*I can’t bring myself to use the inflated cruise industry term, ‘stateroom’. A cabin is a cabin, even when it’s a flash one.

Having no personal outside balcony was no problem to us – it wasn’t tropical lounging weather and there were plenty of other places we could get outside views.

A potential downside of our cabin location was that it was well forward on the ship, so we would have been thrown around in rough weather. We took the risk and were rewarded with a millpond.

Below are some of the mountains and glaciers included in a a video slideshow I’ve uploaded to YouTube – click here.

Or click here to take a look inside the Coral Princess.

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Not bad to wake up to on our first morning on board. On our way to the Hubbard Glacier.

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Hubbard Glacier. Fortunately a nice day, though it was chilly close to the glacier.

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Hubbard Glacier

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Some hardy souls just wore t-shirts.

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Further south we entered the spectacular Bay of Glaciers National Park. We spent most of the time here, at Margerie Glacier. Park rangers boarded the ship and described the sights in the theatre and out on the deck. The weather was drizzly and cold, but not bad enough to keep us indoors.

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Margerie Glacier. From time to time we saw and heard chunks of ice ‘calving’ off the face of the glacier and splashing into the bay.

As well as enjoying the mountain and glacier scenery, we called into three very isolated towns with colourful histories. They included two small towns – Skagway and Ketchikan – and the larger Juneau, which has 33,000 people. Juneau is the capital of Alaska. None of these towns can be reached by road.


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The Coral Princess tied up at Skagway. Click here for a video slide show of our visit to this town.

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Ravens welcoming us at the Juneau dock. These birds were huge and they were everywhere. Ravens are big in Native mythology (though the appellation ‘native’, for indigenous populations is no longer considered PC in New Zealand, in Alaska it’s still what it is). Click here to see the Juneau video slideshow.

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Parked in Ketchikan, right on the main street. Fortunately our cabin was on the port side of the ship, which on a southward cruise gives the best views. Binoculars are a must for this cruise.  Click here to view the Ketchikan video slideshow.



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Getting closer to the big pick

Yesterday I took some vineyard photos for a book I’m working on for the Wairarapa Archive, called The Look of Martinborough. The book will show how Martinborough has looked, from the earliest times to the present day. I’m writing some text, but it’s mostly photos – hundreds of them. As the earlier ones are black and white, I’m carrying that look through the whole book. It’s been interesting working in monochrome again for new photos – I’m having fun.

Right now the most distinctive look about our vineyards is bird-netting.

Claddagh Vineyard, Puruatanga Road.Claddagh Vineyard, Puruatanga Road.

devotus-nettingDevotus Vineyard, Puruatanga Road.

Posted in Martinborough wine, Vineyards, Wine | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Microsoft bad, good then bad again

onejpgFor several years I’ve made effective professional use of cloud storage on Microsoft’s SkyDrive, now known as OneDrive. I’d managed to accumulate about 25Gb of free storage on OneDrive and was using it to automatically back up files associated with current projects, plus my administration files. It was a bit of a kludge: I’d back up current work files to the cloud, then, once the jobs were finished, I’d archive those files elsewhere on my computer’s hard drive and to a USB hard drive.

Then earlier this year, Microsoft welshed on the deal and cut all users’ free OneDrive storage limit back to 5Gb. Bastards!

Office 365Five gigabytes was not enough, but there was a pretty sweet replacement deal on offer: a whole terabyte of cloud storage, plus free use of the latest Office 365 suite, for a fairly reasonable annual rental. I accepted the offer and now all my data files, including archived ones, live in the cloud. Two laptops plus two mobile devices are synced to it.

Since recently revitalising my older Dell Windows 7 machine via an OS reinstall, I find myself using that laptop quite a bit – partly because some of my key Photoshop plugins don’t work in Windows 10, which my Acer machine has. I set up OneDrive on the Dell and it immediately synced to my cloud storage, downloading about 160Gb of files. (Fortunately I have an unlimited broadband account!)

So now my files are always up to date, on the physical hard drives of two laptops and in the OneDrive cloud. And I still back up the most important files to a separate USB hard drive. Yes, I’m paranoid about backup but yes, I now have reasonable peace of mind.

Then a couple of days ago I upset the applecart by changing my OneDrive password – on the Dell. It worked fine and the sync to OneCloud was preserved. Not so dandy with my other laptop, which was now shut off from the cloud. The OneDrive icon in its System Tray wouldn’t stop ‘signing in’ and I couldn’t figure out how to tell it about my new password.

Fortunately, Microsoft came to the rescue. The company now has a pretty damn good ‘Answer Desk’ customer help system, based on text chat. After less than five minutes I found myself chatting back and forth with a very helpful young man from the Philippines. He offered to take over my computer and sort the problem out. I accepted and from there it was very simple. After a quick nosey round he went to OneDrive’s System Tray icon and told it to exit, then to restart. Bingo: OneCloud reconnected automatically, with no password being re-entered.

So simple, yet I never saw that solution on any of Microsoft’s web help pages.

A rip-off
Though I think the OneDrive/Office 365 deal, especially with the one terabyte of storage, is pretty good, Microsoft is grossly overcharging Kiwis compared with our cousins across the ditch. An annual subscription to the Home plan in Australia is Au$119. In New Zealand it is NZ$165. Right now the Aussie dollar isn’t worth much more than ours, and the Australian price would convert to NZ$123.50. Yet we’re being asked – sorry, told – to pay $165. How can they possibly justify such a difference? The software is delivered online and the product support for both countries is in the Philippines. Where are the extra costs to justify the Kiwi tax?

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Heaven forbid that I get seduced by an Internet craze

I’ve been fascinated by the speed at which Pokémon GO has seduced news media and co-opted them as as free advertising shills, in the few days since the Android and iOS app was launched. Being curious, and given that the app was free, I loaded it onto my phone this afternoon.

Extremely easy to set up and use, it sent me on a tour of our back lawn, promising a Pokémon in the vicinity. Sure enough a creature was there, beside our cat who was oblivious to its existence. Here’s what I saw. Moments later I tapped the red ball and captured the intruder.

I don’t know what would have come next and I don’t intend to find out. I’ve had my cheap thrill.


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Cemeteries here and abroad

Yesterday I was asked about a photo I might have taken at a cemetery. I couldn’t remember when I took it, or its likely filename. No problem for my Google Photos app. Searching for ‘cemetery’ found it easily.

Nearly every photo I’ve ever taken is in my Google Drive repository and the Photos app searches by both filename and what it recognises in a photo. It served up a few images that weren’t cemeteries, but mostly it was very accurate.

I found the photo I was after, but I also noticed there were dozens more cemetery photos from all over the world. It may be morbid, but Liz and I like poking around graveyards. And they have plenty of character to attract the photographer in me.

Here’s some of the photos, beginning with my own family:

My great-great-grandparents John and Jane MacGibbon in Mataura Cemetery, NZ, 2007

My great-great-grandparents John and Jane MacGibbon in Mataura, NZ, 2007.

Mataura Cemetery, NZ, 2007

Mataura, NZ, 2007.

My great-grandparents Thomas and Isabella MacGibbon, Anderson's Bay Cemetery, Dunedin, NZ, 2001

My great-grandparents Thomas and Isabella MacGibbon, Anderson’s Bay, Dunedin, NZ, 2001.

Kingston, NZ, 1979.

Su, Dan, Liz and Guy inspecting graves at the tiny Kingston Cemetery, NZ, 1983.

Kingston, NZ, 1979.

Kingston, NZ, 1979.

Waihenga Cemetery in Martinborough

Monuments in the pioneer Waihenga Cemetery in Martinborough, NZ. “One less at home, one more in heaven” is the rather curious sentiment on the left, while on the right the monument marks the grave of the entire Wilson-Smith family – mum, dad, son and daughter – who died in what was considered New Zealand’s most disastrous homestead fire to that date. The family’s cook also died in the blaze.

Maori grave, Martinborough, NZ, 2015.

Maori grave at the main Martinborough cemetery, NZ, 2015.

Maori grave, Martinborough, NZ, 2015.

Martinborough, NZ, 2015.


Waitangi, Chatham Islands, NZ, 2007.

Waitangi, Chatham Islands, NZ, 2007.


Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia, USA, 2015
The Bonaventure Cemetery was immortalised in John Berendt’s best selling book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, published in 1994. It was later made into a movie. In the book, the cemetery was highly spooky, with dastardly deeds in the dead of night. We still felt quite an atmosphere in daylight – partly because we’d read the book and seen the film, and partly because of the lush vegetation, including bright pink azaleas, palmettos, and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

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Bonaventure Cemetery angel Savannah


United Kingdom

Highgate Cemetery, North London, 2007.

Highgate Cemetery, North London, 2007. Best known for an elaborate tomb housing Karl Marx.

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Inside church in Cley, Norfolk, UK, 2014.

Inside St Margaret’s Church in Cley, Norfolk, UK, 2014.


Church of St Mary the Virgin, Turvill, Buckinghamshire, UK, 2007.

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Turvill, Buckinghamshire, UK, 2007.

Twickenham, London, 2007.

Twickenham, London, 2007.

Dunsford, Devon, UK.

Dunsford, Devon, UK, 2007.

Dunsford, Devon, &UK, 2007.

Dunsford, Devon, UK, 2007.



San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy.

San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy, 2007.

San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy.

San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy, 2007.

San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy.

San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy, 2007.

San Michele Cemetery Island - Venice, Italy. We passed the island while travelling to the Murano by vaporetto ferry.

San Michele cemetery island in the Venetian Lagoon, Italy, 2014. We passed San Michelle while travelling by vaporetto ferry to the ‘glass island’ of Murano.














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Call me a curmudgeon, but…

Princewith logoThere’s been a huge media wailfest about Prince Rogers Nelson since he died last week. The man is supposed to have been a total musical genius who changed music — if not mankind itself!

Let’s get some perspective. Sorry you didn’t make it, Prince, but you were just a better than average pop-soul-r&b performer who wrote very average songs and built up a mystique way beyond your actual musicianship with your androgenous antics (copying Bowie, who I also think was over-rated), fancy clothes, troweled-on make-up, bizarre guitar and renaming yourself, first with just your first name and then as an unpronounceable  graphic symbol.

You were by no means a musical charlatan. You had talent, but mostly you were famous for being famous.

I’ve always felt this about you and my mind was not changed by a solid session today of listening to your big hits. I heard nothing earth-shattering. Stevie Wonder’s songs – even Michael Jackson’s – have far more going for them.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think you took a lot of people for a ride.

Rest in peace.

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Spinning wool and World War I

Recently I created a new display on the history of spinning at The Wool Shed museum in Masterton. I got very interested in the subject during the development process, which included consulting with a local – and world-renowned – spinning authority, Mary Knox. And of course I do live with a spinning enthusiast.

My spinning history display at The Wool Shed, Masterton.

My spinning history display at The Wool Shed, Masterton. There was only a small space available and we had to shoehorn it in. Away from this view are several more historic spinning wheels.

Yesterday I was delighted to come across a great slice of local spinning history and I must find space for it in The Wool Shed display. The occasion was one of the Farewell Zealandia concerts at the splendid Anzac Hall in Featherston. This series of three concerts revealed many forgotten Kiwi-written songs from the World War I period. David Dell, the man behind the concerts, was director, compere and a singer. Most songs were sung separately by a male and a female singer, accompanied by a classy piano, cello and violin trio.

The songs came mostly from David’s Musical Heritage NZ Trust, which since the 1980s has done a sterling job of collecting old printed music, instruments, gramophones, music ephemera etc. David’s resources were invaluable when I wrote my Piano in the Parlour book, and he and I performed together at that book’s launch.

However, to get back to spinning…

One of the songs at the concert was called Spinning. It was written by a Masterton woman, Jane Morison, and published in 1918.

The First World War saw a resurgence of interest in spinning in New Zealand. It became a strong patriotic movement for women, who were very busy spinning wool and knitting it into garments for the ‘boys over there’.

Lydia McDonnell singing Masterton Composer Jane Morison's 'Spinning' song at the farewell Zealandia concert in Featherson, 24 April 2016.

Lydia McDonnell singing Masterton composer Jane Morison’s Spinning song at the Farewell Zealandia: Forgotten Kiwi Songs of WWI concert in Featherston, 24 April 2016.

Ms Morison’s song, dedicated to “patriotic school girls”, was noticed in the UK and the composer received a letter of thanks from the British prime minister, David Lloyd George. The lyrics are mawkish and the melody unsophisticated, but Lydia’s performance of the song was rather affecting.

We cannot all shoulder a rifle,
But there is the spinning wheel,
And work must be done, the war must be won,
For home and our country’s weal.
We cannot all enter the trenches,
Nor fight on a battle-field:
But we can spin yarn, with wool from the farm,
The spindle and distaff wield.

So we’re spinning, spinning, spinning,
While the world’s great war we’re winning.

’Tis not for lust of conquer,
’Tis not for the greed of gold,
We are fighting away with our ships of grey,
And warriors true and bold.
It is to protect our Empire,
From cruel tyrants’ sway—
So we’ll work with a will, our reels to fill,
For we have the game to play.

We are spinning, spinning, spinning,
While the world’s great war we’re winning.
—J.M., Spinster.


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