Category Archives: Cricket World Cup 2019

Hemingway and Che

Cuba is a funny place. When locals ask us where we are from and we respond with Australia, unlike elsewhere in the world where their response back to us is usually “kangaroo” here we get “Skippy” and often as not a rendition of the theme song of what is a 1960s Aussie TV show. Apparently it has played on and off on local TV for the last 15 years here.

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The other source of amusement is the characterisation of a more shaggy bearded Anthony as Che Guevarra. Over the 4 weeks since I last shaved I have accumulated a luxuriant grey beard and moustache. As an older grey bearded man I am frequently described as Ernest Hemingway the famous American author who spent such a large part of his life in Cuba between WW2 and the beginning of Castro’s rule in 1959. Interestingly despite Hemmingway’s support of Castro’s overthrow of Battista, his Cuban property was taken by Fidel’s regime along with all property owned by non Cubans.

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I feel incredibly sorry for these nice people. While it is good for the tourist to see a nation in a “time warp” where everything looks the same as it would have 50 years ago, albeit decayed, it is the people who suffer from lack of basics. One sees very few old people around is this an indictment of their health care? This is an intrinsically poor country with no mineral or oil wealth and basic agricultural infrastructure. At the height of the cold war all they had to offer the Soviets was the strategic location near USA and human beings. Cuban soldiers fought for and died as Soviet proxies around the world, most notably in Angola in the 1980s. I am not sure what the Cubans received in return but judging by the state of infrastructure it does not look like much.

Revolutionary museum choc full of anti American propaganda

Revolutionary museum choc full of anti American propaganda

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The plaque underneath this tank states that Fidel himself fired a shell from this tank that hit USS Houston while repelling the Bay of Pigs invasion

The plaque underneath this tank states that Fidel himself fired a shell from this tank that hit USS Houston while repelling the Bay of Pigs invasion

These are people who have been subjected to an ongoing 60 year experiment in socialist dictator government. They were introduced to it at gun point and have never had a chance to pass electoral judgement on their political masters. By every indicator the experiment has been an abject failure and there is no end in sight. In time Fidel and his revolutionaries will be despised and not admired by generations to come. The only way to achieve a fair outcome for these people is to relax sanctions and promote trade and contact with the west. That of course, will inexorably change the tourist experience her to be more mainstream and less of an adventure. So, my advice to anyone planning to visit Guba is to do it now before it all changes.

Pictures from across the harbour in the massive fort of San Carlos de la Cabana and looking across to Havana city:

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Revolution square:

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Castillo de San Salvador:

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The Malecon drive:

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Congress building:

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Havan’a good time

The drive in from the airport into a new country’s major city is always revealing and with increasing countries under your belt certain patterns become obvious. Regardless of how tired I am after a flight, all of my senses are heightened on the drive (usually taxi) in and my antennae rarely get it wrong! Cuba has been high on my list of must sees for a long time. When Obama relaxed the restrictions I thought that I had “missed the boat” but Trump’s reimposition of sanctions means that nothing has changed here. The drive in was a major surprise for me. All around is decay and decrepitude, not the worst I have seen but very comparable to some of the middling African nations I have been to. It gets me thinking.

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We are in the heart of the hotel in an Airbnb. As our taxi pulls up alongside a row of run down facades I lower my expectations accordingly and am presently surprised when the interior reveals a modern classy apartment, thanks Anthony for finding this place. Go figure!

View from our apartment

View from our apartment

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We hit the streets and all around the beauty that I expected is everywhere with grand albeit slightly crumbly buildings. Spanish era cathedrals and palaces crop up between narrow atmospheric alleyways and treed squares. Ancient 1950s Chevrolets and other American gas guzzlers cruise the streets as well as rickshaws and horses and carriages.

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This is an absolute gem for tourists which is already showing signs of evolution into the 20th century but still retains its 1960s charm.

Castille de la Real Fuerza

Castille de la Real Fuerza

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Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

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Plaza Catedrale

Plaza Catedrale

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Views in and from the Cathedral

Views in and from the Cathedral

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Plaza Vieja

Plaza Vieja

Plaza San Francisco

Plaza San Francisco

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Graffiti and propaganda

Graffiti and propaganda

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Anthony’s fluency in Spanish comes into its own here. We find a restaurant around the corner, one of many serving magnificently cooked lobster tail for the princely sum of $16 US! The waters around Cuba will be significantly depleted of lobster after we have spent a few days here. Bring it on!

Pigs might fly but they can swim

A short 25 minute flight takes us from Miami to Nassau, the capitol of the Bahamas. In keeping with the short distance between them this is a very Americanised Caribbean island group. Sun and sand, resorts and cruise ships, even designer label shops pander to the American “theme park” loving tourists. Nonetheless this chain of over 700 verdant islands sports stunning unspoilt beaches and mesmerising turquoise blue water. It truly is a tropical paradise.

All of the locals are bemused by the tourists’ desire to do one day trip over any other and that is to see the swimming pigs. With a not insignificant price tag of $400 US per person the tours are fully booked such is their popularity. We set out under clear blue skies and the first 90 minutes sees us speeding uncomfortably down to the stunning Exumas Cays. The first stop is at Iguana beach where these fascinating but ugly reptiles scamper around the beach curious rather than afraid of us.

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Another hour takes us past innumerable little islands, many of which have buildings. These islands belong to the ultra rich and famous and our crew point them out. This one belonged to Pablo Escobar, this to the CEO of Louis Vuitton, actor Tyler Perry, Johnny Depp and so the roll call goes on. Finally we reach our destination and yes the beach is home to about 20 porkers of varying sizes up to 250kg. As we pull into shore they start to swim out to us enticed by the free feed. Both human and porcine participants  are well sated by the conclusion of this face to snout encounter.

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Lunch is at the sailing club at Staniel Cay and, for me and and Anthony, this is actually the highlight of our trip. At the edge of the wharf is a staircase leading into the sea. Because of humans feeding fish scraps the water at the bottom step is literally alive with dozens of grey nurse sharks. Wading into the water and having these magnificent pelagics brush up against our legs is an otherworldly experience.

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The day finishes with a long swim at a deserted idyllic white sand beach. The perfect ending to a perfect day.

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I don’t like cricket, I love it!

The little island nation of Barbados is the most south easterly of the Caribbean chain and is the only Caribbean Island to have had only a Britain as the colonial master and it shows. This is a much more orderly little country with a relaxed and less frenetic pace. It is a stark contrast to some of the traffic and people madness of Jamaica. The result is also that this place is the de facto “head” of West Indian cricket. Barbados has the oldest national cricket team here and Kensington cricket stadium in Barbados was the obvious choice for the cricket world cup final in 2007.

Kensington stadium

Kensington stadium

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Driving around little towns on a Saturday afternoon we see local cricket matches played on village greens, the dark skins of the Barbadians contrasting with their dazzling bleached whites. We stop and watch. The nearest fielder engages in conversation and there is a natural rapport present.

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You can drive around the island in 3 hours and it has more than its fair share of golden beaches that invite one to swim and relax. This is not an island with lavish and garish resorts it is much more restrained but no less beautiful for it. Apart from the obvious cricket heritage it also boasts a couple of more quirky attractions. Firstly there is the George Washington house. Sensitively refurbished this house accommodated the 19 year old future first president of the USA who moved here for a short time with his brother Laurence who was suffering from TB. It was thought that the milder climate would be good for him. Sadly Laurence succumbed to the consumption a year later but George of course goes on to become the inaugural POTUS,

George Washington House

George Washington House

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In the heart of Barbados is the beautiful Harrison cave. Now I am a “sucker” for caves, love them. I was a bit put off with the idea that we would be driven around in a tram. Well it worked and the caves are beautiful. Interestingly it is the most active cave I have seen with the walls of a shaft dug 20 years ago already glistening with a limestone coating.

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Great little island, for me as a cricket buff what a shame the decline of the West Indian team means that test matches are rarely played here. I could very easily get used to coming back here!

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Garrison tunnels carved out of the limestone 30 feet deep by soldiers 300 years ago

Garrison tunnels carved out of the limestone 30 feet deep by soldiers 300 years ago

Tasting at Mt Gay Rum distillery

Tasting at Mt Gay Rum distillery

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Spieght town

Spieght town

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Dreadlock holiday

Hey mon! Want some ganja? Want to get high? This is Jamaica. Anywhere we go this is routinely offered, even to an old man like me walking around by myself. Amazingly the stereotypical “Hey mon” greeting is everywhere not just a media myth. These people are actually quite friendly but this country has a reputation for violence and travel advisories advise against tourism here. As we drive in from the airport we hear on the car radio a news article and interview quoting the murder rate as 3 times higher than in other Caribbean countries and government initiatives to reverse this trend. It brings the travel warnings into stark perspective.

The Spanish colonised this island in the 1400s. One hundred and fifty years later when the British replaced the Spanish the local Indian population had been wiped out. The slave trade repopulated Jamaica and it is descendants of those Africans who are today’s Jamaicans. Attaining independence from England in 1947 the country seems to subsist on sugar cane and tourism. Driving around the island the vibe is generally a sleepy tropical one.

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The tourist hub of Jamaica is the second city, Montego Bay. Comprising beaches and flashy expensive resorts it is all sun and sand and margaritas. We opt to stay in the more shambolic town of Ocho Rios where the steep mountainous spine meets the sea. The result is a hinterland of lush tropical rainforest, waterfalls and swimming holes.

There is a Carnival cruise ship in on our first day so we start early and beat most of the tour groups to the most popular Dunns River Falls. Nonetheless we are still greeted by a tacky US amusement park style surround and there is already a conga line of people climbing up the cascades that make up the waterfalls. Nonetheless it is fun and cooling from the intense tropical heat.

Dunn's River Falls

Dunn’s River Falls

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The next such falls we drive to, the Irie Blue Hole lacked the commercialism and crowds and was much more fun.

Irie Blue Hole

Irie Blue Hole

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For me the highlight of the day was dinner at Goldeneye. In 1946 Ian Fleming moved to a little town called Oracabessa in Jamaica and built a clifftop villa with a pristine beach below. From 1952 there he wrote all of the James Bond novels there, which spawned one of the most successful film franchises ever. His actual study and main accommodation is at the core of what is now a luxury resort. You can stay in his room for $8000US per night. Lesser rooms usually go for around $3000US per night. As per everywhere here there is no signposting and the only entry is through a guarded gate in the middle of a high stone wall. The only signage being “Private Access”

Securing a reservation went via a labyrinth of unanswered calls and chains of emails. Ultimately Anthony’s perseverance paid off and we secured a reservation. Photos of Sean Connery and Ursula Anders in the white bikini adorn the walls of the elegant dining space set in jungle overlooking beach pools and cabanas belonging to the individual rooms. Of course the “Vesper martini”” is de riguer. While the meal was surprisingly underwhelming for a luxury resort the ambience more than made up for it. Celebrities such as Beyonce, Johnny Depp and the Obamas among others come here. Sting wrote the song “Every breath you take” at Fleming’s desk. I suppose the barriers to outsiders coming is understandable. My guess is that paparazzi must try what we did all the time. The fact that we got in probably indicates that no celebrities were staying in house. We certainly did not see any.

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Enjoying a vesper martini

Enjoying a vesper martini

Our last day we completed a loop of the east coast of the island. Driving well away from the touristed areas chaotic towns gradually gave way to quiet hamlets and more rural scenery. Sugar cane is the predominant farming pursuit here but our little car had to dodge goats and cattle as well as the occasional sleeping dog.

Church at Port Maria

Church at Port Maria

Blue lagoon

Blue lagoon

Winifred Beach

Winifred Beach

Jamaican

Jamaican

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Reach Falls

Reach Falls

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My 12 meter jump into the Reach Falls

My 12 meter jump into the Reach Falls

The highlight of this last day was the drive out to the easternmost point of Jamaica to Morant lighthouse. The side road there was a dirt heavily potholed remote track winding between sugar cane fields. Arriving at the light house a large gate bars our way in and we are about to take a couple of pictures and turn back when we see the lighthouse keeper at a distance waving his arms. My initial impression was that he was telling us to go away, but on a second look he was motioning us to come in. Jack the lighthouse keeper greets us with a broad smile and handshakes. He shows us around and takes us to the top of the lighthouse. He has been there 29 years and when asked about it he ironically states he loves the job because he gets to meet people. When we sign the visitor’s book it is obvious that weeks go by without any visitors coming.

Morant lighthouse

Morant lighthouse

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We feel special and have seen a unique side to Jamaica away from the beaches and the luxury resorts.

Lisbon

In the 15th and 16th centuries little Portugal was a seafaring superpower colonising countries from Africa, through to the subcontinent, Asia and South America. Without a doubt Brazil was their largest acquisition but there are bits of Portuguese culture in places like Goa in India, Malacca in Malaysia and Macau in China near to our door step. Little Lisbon was a place of influence and power.

Today it is a small low rise European capitol with some historical precincts near the water front as well as a very pretty historic centre. A lot of the city reminds me of San Francisco with steep cobblestoned streets that ancient cable car trams rattle up.

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There is a bridge connecting the mainland with an island that is a dead ringer for the Golden Gate Bridge. As a walking city it is literally not one for the faint hearted as the steep hills leave one gasping for breath.

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It is my birthday and we have just one day here so we set a cracking pace. It is initially a cab out to the waterfront to see the 400 year old Belem Gate and nearby St Jerome monastery complex.

Belem Gate

Belem Gate

Jerome monastery

Jerome monastery

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Jerome monastery

Jerome monastery

Jerome monastery

Jerome monastery

Jerome monastery

Jerome monastery

Apart from being a beautiful Gothic complex it is extra special for housing the burial tomb of the famous 15th century mariner and explorer Vasco da Gama who was the first to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, the tip of Africa, and open up maritime trade with the East. It’s always special to be able to bring to life snippets of what you learn at school when you travel.

Vasco da Gama tomb

Vasco da Gama tomb

Squares, markets, historic neighbourhoods and the St Jorge’s castle on the hill fill this day before enjoying a decadent splurge on dinner. We indulge in a magnificent 9 course degustation in a 2 Michelin star restaurant called Belcanto, one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.

Market

Market

Praca do Commercio

Praca do Commercio

Praca do Commercio

Praca do Commercio

Praca do Commercio

Praca do Commercio

St George Castle

St George Castle

Lisbon from St George Castle

Lisbon from St George Castle

Lisbon from St George Castle

Lisbon from St George Castle

Lisbon from St George Castle

Lisbon from St George Castle

Lisbon from St George Castle

Lisbon from St George Castle

Lisbon Cathedral

Lisbon Cathedral

Santa Justa lift

Santa Justa lift

 

Douro Valley

It is an easy 2 hour drive east along a modern freeway to where the vineyards and wineries that make port are. This is a beautiful landscape of vine covered hills planted on steep terraces. The Douro River lazily winds through the valleys. Dotted around are picture postcard perfect little medieval villages and wineries perched high on the steep hills accessible only by driving up terrifyingly narrow winding drives. Getting around here is really white knuckle driving and mentally exhausting.

The compensation is the tastings of the various ports especially against the backdrop of 2 great vintages. Unsurprisingly it is the vintage ports that are the showstoppers and I am impressed at how versatile and approachable they are young. These are wines that I normally don’t touch until they are at least 10 years old. They can actually be very food friendly when young.

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Any port in a storm

Having watched Australia demolish the Kiwis and book a spot in the finals of the cricket world cup we arrive in Oporto in northern Portugal. I stand at the airport luggage carousel and the minutes tick by. The bags stop coming and ours are not there. For the second time in less than a week our bags have not turned up and this is both our bags and on a short haul flight from London. Modern technology means that as soon as we report the loss they can work out exactly where it is it is in Madrid. Unfortunately the response is a lame email which is never acted on with alacrity and we are at the mercy of the lost luggage department at Madrid. At that stage it is administered by a third party and the airlines don’t want to know us any more. Conveniently the numbers given by the third party as a contact point always seem to ring out. Luckily the bags arrive late the next morning just as we were about to go out and buy some spare clothes to wear.

Port was first made in the early 1700s when, yet again, England was at war with France. Affluent English gentlemen deprived of their favourite tipple of claret from Bordeaux looked further afield. Portuguese red wine was an easy solution except for the small problem of spoilage on the longer sea voyages over. The solution was simple, add some brandy to fortify the wine and it easily survives the hot sea journey. Port was born and this is the whole raison d’etre for this area.

The city of Oporto is actually the second largest in this little country. It straddles the mouth of the Douro river and is the commercial hub of the port trade and has been for hundreds of years. The river still sports a number of smaller barges but I can imagine 300 years ago that it would be congested with wooden sail driven caravels transporting the local wine. All around especially on the river banks are warehouses of some of the great port houses and for a wine enthusiast names such as Dow, Warre, Graham, Croft and Sandeman are all represented and evoke memories of tasting these great wines in the past.

Even if you are not a wine drinker this prosperous city is a great walking city, albeit hilly and one with magnificent buildings such as the cathedral, palace and even the railway station with its blue tiled walls. Hope you enjoy. It was difficult to cull these photos down so I hope I haven’t bored you all.

River banks at Oporto

River banks at Oporto

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Cathedral

Cathedral

Cathedral square

Cathedral square

Cathedral square

Cathedral square

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Cathedral

Cathedral

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Station

Station

Station

Station

Station

Station

Station

Station

Palace

Palace

Palace

Palace

Palace

Palace

Roll out the Barolo

Every time I have been to Italy and driven a car and each time I vow and declare never again! The combination of crazy aggressive drivers and narrow cobblestoned lanes never actually designed for cars renders the experience an absolute nightmare. Nonetheless a 2 day interlude has us in the foothills of the northern Italian Alps and the only way around is a rent a car. I am only minutes out of our arrival point of Genoa airport when I find myself questioning my sanity again. Circles of freeway layer over each other with confusing signage and exits and the inexorable push of crazy speeding locals all around. Arriving at the toll gate some toll gates are have signs with coins overhead some have what looks like credit cards. As I would be paying via card I pull into one of those and the realisation hits that this is for people with prepaid cards and sensors. The tolls are unmanned and within seconds there is a massive truck behind me honking its horn. As the swearing rolls off my tongue and I am tapping the toll booth in anguish the gate suddenly opens and I am in! Of course at the other end without a ticket to scan for payment there is major drama as someone has to be sent over to manually process me. Welcome to Italy!

The reason for this visit is the nebbiolo grape which produces the great red wine, Barolo eponymously named after the region. For me Barolo was a revealation when I attended a masterclass tasting around 12 years ago. Since then it has proved to be an expensive obsession and features prominently in my cellar.  I have preorganised a series of tastings with some of the best producers there.

The area is undertouristed gem. Rolling vine covered hillsides picture postcard little Italian villages and almost no other tourists. The 40+ degree heat is a disincentive to spend too much time walking around but we have our little airconditioned Fiat and we meander on little back roads between tastings and magnificent gourmet meals. The views are beautiful, the wine is beautiful and the food is to die for. There is absolutely no doubt that I will be back.

Enjoy this small collection of images of Barolo.

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Champagne cricket

A champagne cork pops loudly behind us provoking the inevitable ducking of heads. The teams are on the pitch practising last minute drills before the anthem and this is the one match we have really been anticipating. Yes this is Lords, the home of cricket and we are gobsmacked to find that one is allowed to bring a full bottle of wine in here to drink. This is presumably the only cricket ground in the world to allow this.

Of course the match is England vs Australia and at Lords of course we are heavily outnumbered. England come into the match ranked number one in the world and being on home turf there is a condescending smugness all around us. An Australian victory today is about as likely as a Scott Morrison win at the last election. England are as sure of victory as Shorten was and a loss for them today would leave their supporters as devastated as Labor was.

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Australia post a middling target and Anthony and I fear that we may be beating an early retreat. England comes into bat and in the first over the ball crashes into the stumps and sends a shockwave through the crowd. We dare to dream and ultimately prevail with a comfortable win. We have dented the home team’s chance of making finals and they lose their number one world ranking. Happy days! To their credit the crowd was very civilised towards us and we copped a few congratulatory handshakes. Very British!

As great as this experience was it was nothing compared to the elation I was to experience next. It has begun! I was privileged to be asked to be a support person for Chris and Tenae for the birth of my first grandchild. It was always going to be tight as I already had this trip booked and I was upset to be flying out before the birth. I was proud to be a part of the labour via the internet helping with the decision making and coaching throughout what would prove to be a long and complicated labour. I was up from 3 am that night to be involved and help out and regularly throughout the next day in Italy. Beautiful little Phoebe was born when we arrived in Barolo. Looks like will have to invest in some of this wine for her 21st birthday celebration. I haven’t met her yet but I love her to bits!

Tenae, Chris and baby Phoebe

Tenae, Chris and baby Phoebe