Winter bites back

What an unexpected surprise to find another Bee in the City. Well of course it was a surprise if it was unexpected, Mick, that’s the nature of a surprise. It probably cheers up all the patients and visitors to Wythenshawe Hospital.

Bee in the City

The bus driver ignored my outstretched arm and those of a couple of other potential passengers. In true British style, we looked at each other, tutted, rolled our eyes and the chap with the watch looked at it crossly. It was late in the afternoon but quite nice so I decided to walk home instead. I was never too far away from the rumble from the motorway but it was interesting to see new and different sights on the way home.

Beauty and the Beast

You’re never more than a couple of feet away from litter of course, but the newly blooming flowers more than made up for that ugliness.

Yes, it was a beautiful late afternoon, so the one thing I didn’t anticipate having to do the following morning was to scrape the frost off the car. So I left that for Liesel. But I did scrape Jenny’s and Liam’s cars when we got there. I mean, I scraped the ice off their windscreens, I didn’t caused damage to the paintwork.

William and I played hide’n’seek and we took it in turn to chase each other inside, while (not) watching The Lion King. In the car, he ‘drove again’, turning the radio up to 61 and then looking at me like it was my fault. ‘It’s hurting my ears.’

At the café in Fletcher Moss Park, The Alpine Tea Room, we all shared a large slice of cake. Well, William ate most of it and then declared ‘I don’t like it’. But as with Martha, I think when he says this, he really means ‘I don’t want any more of this at the moment.’ But we had all eaten paninis and salad for lunch.

William the Stick Man on his Scuttle Bug

William rode his Scuttle Bug, a small tricycle but with no pedals nor brakes, and we were glad that none of the downhill slopes were too steep. And of course, there were sticks that had to be picked up and collected.

We went on a Bear Hunt in the Rockery, but found no real signs of a bear. The cave looked a bit artificial too, to be honest, but we had a good time, walking through the forest, up and down the steps, walking over the streams, and yes, of course, throwing sticks into the water.

In the Cave
A pretty purple flower
Martha the swinger, Grandad the pusher

Not enough cake? Jenny invited us over to Bramall Hall the next day, with both children, and we had cake and coffee. Martha and William enjoyed the playground, giving us all palpitations whenever they ran or walked in front of the swings!

Liesel and I wandered over to Didsbury as usual on the Saturday morning, not at all deterred by the lower temperature nor the muddy paths. More and more flowers are coming out now, hooray!

More pretty purple flowers

But they, poor things, could not have anticipated the destruction wrought by Storm Ciara. Gale force wind, torrential rain, thunder and lightning, sleet, snow, hail. And yes, I think these have been the coldest days of this Winter so far. The wind and the rain competed overnight: anything you can do, I can do louder, I can do anything louder than you.

Needless to say, a certain amount of SAD, lethargy and sleeping sickness all set in. My desire to hibernate kicked in again. Not much walking or strolling took place for a few days. Ciara was closely followed by Dennis and if Ellen, Francis, Gerda, Hugh, Iris and Jan come along, I shall be very windblown and wet!

Hail, hail, rock and roll

Liesel’s been living in the UK now for over 14 years. She met a lady who asked where she was from. On being told that Liesel hails from Alaska, the lady said, ‘Oh, your English is very good!’

 

 

 

That’s that, then

We are currently experiencing an exceptional call load at the moment. We are currently experiencing an extremely high call level at the moment. We are currently experiencing a higher than usual number of calls at the moment. Sentences guaranteed to put you in a good mood for when you do finally speak to an actual person, and not just because of the tautology. I did that sort of job for a mere three months and it wasn’t a lot of fun, apart from the one-hour bike ride to work each way, every day. So I always try to be polite and friendly and throw in a joke or two: you can be cross with an organisation but whatever it is, it’s not the call centre’s underpaid staff’s fault.

But on this occasion, I wasn’t making a complaint, just trying to address something that I couldn’t do online. Imagine my delight when after a minute or so of these annoying messages, I was given the option of leaving my phone number, I’d retain my place in the queue and they’d call me back. They did so after about another ten minutes. All sorted. Well done Transport for London, problem resolved. Sadly, my punishment for moving away from London is that I’ll no longer be able to use my Senior Oystercard. So that’s that, then.

We visited Manchester Central Library. I wandered round aimlessly, still surprised and delighted by just how much is available here, not just books but displays and computers. In the music section, there were two young chaps playing on keyboards. Hang on, this is a library: shhh! But no, what a great place. Liesel attended a meeting where she was introduced to the world of volunteering in Manchester. Plenty of opportunities here. I walked over to the Arndale where I found Bagel Nash and succumbed to the temptation of a bagel and a coffee.

A bagel without coffee is like a life without love
The year of the rat

It’s the Chinese New Year, now the year of the rat.

Jenny brought William round for our childminding day: he likes playing at our place and when we tried to go out, he didn’t want to leave. Until, that is, Liesel suggested going for a drive. William took this to mean, he’d do the driving.

William at the wheel

He needed help to reach the pedals but rejoiced in telling us he was turning right. And then right. Liesel took over the driving duties and William fell asleep within a couple of minutes, in his seat in the back. When he woke up, we found ourselves at Dunham Massey.

Log Pile

There’s a small adventure playground here, the Log Pile. While William pushed up the last few zzzz, I wandered over to see what it was like. Well, it was damp of course, the logs were a bit slippery, and I think it’s probably for slightly older, taller children. That’s that, then.

Sadly, someone has left their friends behind.

Dunham Massey wildlife

We had a pleasant walk around the gardens. Some Spring flowers are poking through, but there’s a lot of work going on in the gardens: it’ll be fabulous later in the year when it’s in fuller bloom.

Snowdrops
It’s beginning to look a lot like Springtime

Yes, it does lift the spirits to see so much colour on display. The days are lengthening by 3 minutes a day or so.

William was delighted to find a Big Hole in the lawn. It was roped off, he walked all around it but, unusually for him, he didn’t duck under the tape.

William’s Big Hole

Obviously, this being a country park, with trees and everything, there are plenty of sticks lying around. William likes sticks. he likes picking them up. He likes throwing them into bushes and into streams. If there’s ever a job for a stick distributor and organiser, William’s your boy.

So, here we are, January 31st 2020. A black day in British history. The UK’s final day as a member of the European Union, after 47 years. I’m still waiting for someone to explain the benefits of leaving the EU, not the blue passports (which we could have had anyway), not more immigration control (that our government could have implemented anyway), but something tangibly better, more beneficial. Sorry, William and Martha, your potential futures have been substantially curtailed. That’s that, then.

It was nice to see the children on their last day as European citizens. Jenny and Liam had other plans. So Martha and William decorated pizzas, ate them, then had a bath. They went home, dressed in their PJs and presumably, went straight to bed.

The wind was loud and intimidating, so Liesel drove to Disbury. I walked but came home with Liesel in the car.

Swimming was fun, lots of splashing: nearly as much as we’d experienced when they were in our bath a couple of days ago!

Every bloke who has an ultrasound scan probably wants to ask the nurse whether it’s going to be twins. But I resisted. My scan, offered to all men at about my age, is to check for a possible developing abdominal aortic aneurysm. A large bulge in the aorta is bad. A slight bulge and they’ll keep an eye on it. No bulge at all, and you should never have to worry about this potentially fatal condition again. And I’m pleased to say I am the proud owner of a perfectly straight, perfectly round, 1.6cm wide drainpipe of an aorta. I didn’t get a picture but I’ll never forget what it looked like. That’s that, then.

At this month’s meeting of U3A, I signed up to join some groups, including a couple well outside my comfort zone. Let’s see how I get on!

And if you think this is a load of old rubbish, just look at this.

Keep Britain Tidy

Too many people chucking their rubbish out of cars as they wait at traffic lights: this is where you need CCTV!

Well, that’s that!

Burritos, Bowie, Bikes, Balls

A Mermaid greeted us when we went to look after William this week. Of course, it was Martha, not a real mermaid, and it was a shame she had to change into her uniform to go to nursery!

We endured a foggy drive to Chester Zoo this time, but unusually, on arrival, there wasn’t a cold wind in the car park. William set the pace as we walked around, often hanging around in the same area, especially when it entailed standing in the mud. He was as excited to watch a squirrel scurry by on the fence as he was to see the elephants.

Oma, William, elephant
The end of the line

The monorail is now being demolished, which is a shame: that was always a good way to pass some time, queueing up for a ride.

We did feel sorry for the penguins, though: someone’s taken the plug out of their pool and they were plodding around, looking a bit forlorn.

P-p-p-poor old p-p-p-penguins

William slept in the car in both directions and as soon as we dropped him off at home, Liesel and I went home. We had plans, things to do, places to be.

After waiting for a bus for too long and witnessing several going by in the wrong direction, we decided to drive into Manchester instead. We’d like to use public transport but it’s just not a good or reliable enough service in Manchester.

Listo Burrito

We enjoyed a burrito at Listo Burrito, infamous for its burritos, apparently.

A Bowie Celebration brings together several musicians who have worked with David Bowie at some point, whether playing live or on record. The Bowie Alumni Band was brought together by Mike Garson, who performed with Bowie over a thousand times. Tonight, the band played at Manchester’s O2 Ritz. Doors opened at 7pm. We arrived in very good time, to join a long line of even more eager people, all hoping to snare one of the few seats available. It’s an old dance hall, really, so it’s pretty much all standing around.

O2, the telcommunication company, obviously provide the wifi at this venue. But I got a better signal from Gorilla, a place over the road. We tried not to stare too much at the fellow audience members, some even older than me, many wearing Bowie t-shirts from his numerous incarnations. There were a few young people too but we saw nobody with the red Ziggy hairstyle or the Aladdin Sane lightning flash on their face.

Inside, we went upstairs and stood at the front of the balcony, overlooking the stage and the dancefloor below. We watched as the venue filled while listening to a Mike Garson record: Bowie Variations, which I can highly recommend.

A great view of the stage

Even though we were standing, we were able to lean on the barrier and we resisted being squeezed out by other people. Sadly, we’ll never see David Bowie live in concert again, but this would be a good second best. We’ll never see Beethoven in action either, but we still enjoy his music being played live, though not necessarily by people he actually performed with.

Tonight, the band played the whole of the Diamond Dogs album, sharing the vocals between three great but very different vocalists: Mr Hudson, Corey Glover and Sass Jordan.

It was loud, but very faithful to the original album. I sang along of course, and noticed a couple of faux pas on the part of the professionals. It should be ‘fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats’, even I know that!

I remember buying and playing Diamond Dogs for the very first time, in 1974, amazed that after Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie could still come up with some fantastic lyrics and wonderful tunes. Tonight we were both reminded just how much his music has a jazz influence, especially with Mike Garson in the mix.

What a shame George Orwell’s widow didn’t allow Bowie to turn 1984 into a musical, the original idea. Diamond Dogs is a mix between that and his own perception of some future dystopia: but not too far in the future.

We thought there’d be an interval after Diamond Dogs, but no, they kept going. Space Oddity next. By now, I had a slightly sore throat from singing along and my tinnitus had been turned up to 11, but it was worth it, such an emotional show for me, and for many others, no doubt.

Bowie Celebration: the Alumni Band

Suffragette City was very exciting, and if you’ve never heard 1500 people in unison shriek ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am’, well, it’s very therapeutic!

Rock’n’roll Suicide always brings a tear to the eye.

Everyone sang along to Heroes, another opportunity for the lacrimal glands to kick into gear.

Two hours and twenty minutes of wallowing in the past, fantastic. A good review and more photos can be seen here.

I never thought I’d need so many people

It was a most enjoyable show. But for the sake of us old codgers: a seated venue might be better. And please turn down the bass a tad because we’re already losing the higher frequencies, thanks!

I don’t know. We don’t go out in the evening for a while and then we go out twice within a few days! The 2020 HSBC UK National Track Cycling Championships finals took place at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester this weekend. We attended one session, on Saturday evening, and we undoubtedly witnessed some cycling stars of the future. My favourite cycling team is now Team Terminator: they’ll be back.

A great view of the track

The commentary was pretty good, if a little cheesey at times. But there was no ‘turning the screw’, nor ‘putting down the hammer’, nor ‘ lighting the afterburners’ but as Liesel pointed out, these clichés usually apply to road races. One of tonight’s races did ‘go down to the wire’, so anyone playing ‘cycling commentary bingo’ didn’t totally waste their time. Proud to have been part of an ‘awsome audience’, though.

Winner of the National Bobble Hat Wearing Championships

In years to come, we’ll be looking out for the new British Men’s Points Race Champion, ‘the Welshman from Wales’, Rhys Britton. I don’t know the name of the model sporting this rather delightful bobble hat, quite a distraction from the racing, to be honest.

Other names to look out for are Lauren Bell who won the Keirin, Hamish Turnbull, the new Sprint champ and Ella Barnwell, the new Scratch Race champion, taking over from Laura Kenny, who wasn’t here to defend her title on this occasion. I was watching the Derny bike rider leading the Keirin races and I thought, I could do that. If I were looking for a job.

It was an exciting night but next time, I think I’ll take my real camera, the medal ceremonies were just too far away  for good pics. The music and the roar of the crowd weren’t too loud today and the tinnitus was not affected, you’ll be pleased to know.

Not a bad action shot with a phone camera

In a change to normal programming, we looked after Martha and William on Sunday while their parents went on a secret mission.

The Ice Cream Farm was very busy today, the water was in full flow thanks to the numerous older children ready and eager to turn on the taps, use the Archimedes screw, open the sluices and generally send water to places it’s not supposed to be.

William v water

We played in the sand for a while too. Not ‘we’, I mean ‘they’, of course. Any sandcastle I might have built was soon demolished by William.

The children wore themselves out in the softplay area. Here is Martha carrying the balls to some small cannons, from which she was able to shoot across the play area, trying to hit the targets while missing the other children, mostly.

Martha v cannon balls

We drove home and despite the extreme state of exhaustion, sleep eluded us all. And indoors, Martha used Liesel’s crochet hook to demolish a skein of yarn.

Martha v yarn

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner on their return, and afterwards, Liesel and I spent over 12 hours untangling the yarn. Next time, we’ll make sure Martha untangles her own tangles.

Toad in the hole

Two bits of good news. My replacement bluetooth keyboard has arrived, and it works perfectly so, once again, I’ll be able to write blogs and other nonsense while away from home and not in a library or internet café! Plus, my first toad-in-the-hole in the new luxury apartment came out very well. Very nice, very tasty, as they say.

I see icy

But it didn’t prepare us for what occurred the following morning. There I was, still in bed, Liesel came in, threw back the curtains and said I had to see this.
‘What, rain?’ I asked.
‘No, snow,’ she replied. Lo and behold, it was snowing. I said I wasn’t going anywhere today, thank you very much. Well, the snow didn’t last long and didn’t settle, but when I did go out for a walk later on in the sunshine, I was surprised at how cold it still was outside. I didn’t walk very far today. Brrr.

Horses and Club Biscuits

Received wisdom is that people are more friendly up north. But I’m not so sure about horses. I was often greeted by my horsey mates in the field by Merritt Gardens in Chessington. But these ones showed no interest in making friends with us as we walked past their cold and frosty field on our way to Didsbury.

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Hello horses

Yes, it was a cold, crisp and frosty day. We even came across some ice patches on the pavement. No major incidents to report, though, thank goodness.

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Simon’s Bridge, ‘cross the Mersey
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A very large duck or a very small island?

Liesel and I had some fun and some breakfast before walking home. It was still cold, but the Sun was peeping through, although still low in the sky.

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Here comes the Sun

After watching Martha swimming on a foggy Sunday, we went to the nearby Morrisons for some groceries. On sale inside? Pigeon pies, piled up at the end of each aisle. But it makes sense: it looks like their breeding their own ingredients.

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And a thousand pigeons o-o-on the roof…

Liesel attended her second of four Crochet lessons and obviously I’m going to say I think she’s hooked.

I met Jenny for a coffee before another visit to the ‘blood shop’ as she and Helen referred to it when they were younger, that is, the Blood Donation Centre.

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Biscuits and crisps

The selection of biscuits and crisps is always good but they excelled themselves today. I couldn’t force myself to sample everything on offer, but I did enjoy a chat with Mia, who made a cup of tea for me, and who too has a sister who lives in New Zealand.

Chocolatté

Our weekly walk to Didsbury was wiped out due to the strong, cold wind, apparently from Siberia but actually from the Atlantic. So we donned our wimp outfits and drove instead, did what we needed to do and then returned home for a late breakfast. And then, of course, we stayed indoors for the rest of the day.

Despite the wind, though, I did go for a few little jaunts in and around Northenden this week. Some signs are designed to be ignored, of course, such as this:

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Keep Wythenshawe Tidy

Again, the thought crossed my mind: I could have taken out the litter picker upper and performed a public service.

I followed a previously avoided footpath, expecting it to emerge at a particular place, on a particulr road, but no, it deviated, turned left and then left again, took me much further then anticipated.

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The path to nowhere

But what an adventure. I emerged in the middle of the industrial estate, deserted on a Sunday, and found my way home after a couple more detours. So where are the photos? Sadly, not much photogenic here. A railway line just visible through the bare naked bushes? The same path but a bit further along? The copious amounts of litter that I could have picked up with the right hardware? The even more copious, yet unreachable, litter way behind the fences?

Meanwhile at home, Liesel took down our Christmas decorations, slightly later than most people had. My contribution was to put the three boxes of ornaments and lights into our very small attic space. It’s beginning to look a lot like normal.

Some folks are still having a good time, and they enjoy telling us mere mortals all about it. Just what exactly are we missing out on here?

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We’re closed

I’ll tell you what we missed out on: this local tattoo parlour potentially lost a customer or two! Maybe next month.

I’ve been walking around the neighbourhood for a while and I couldn’t work out why the old sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles, starring Richard Briers and Pauline Wilton, kept popping into my head. It was on TV over thirty years ago and as far as I know, hasn’t been shown since. At last, I have solved the mystery. I’ve walked by or across this crossroads many times.

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Howard Road and St Hilda’s Road

Howard Road and St Hilda’s Road, named after two minor characters in an old TV show: Howard and Hilda, a married couple, best remembered because they usually wore jumpers with the same design.

While I have St Hilda’s in mind, here is the actual church which probably didn’t win many prizes for its architectural brilliance but I’m sure it’s very welcoming.

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Catholic church of St Hilda and St Aidan

In this bleak and slightly gloomy midwinter, the spirits are always lifted by a splash of colour. As mentioned many times in this place, my horticultural knowledge is minimal, so I’ll leave identification of this bush to the experts.

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A pretty but possibly deadly plant

Kenworthy Lane Woods is managed by the Mersey Valley Countryside Warden Service for people and wildlife. The Mersey Valley Joint Committee includes Manchester City Council and Trafford Metropolitan Borough. The Countryside Agency also have their logo on the very informative sign as does Red Rose Forest of which The Mersey Valley is a part. Well, it’s a nice walk through the woods, and there is plenty of evidence indicating the presence of people. But I’ve never seen any wildlife here bigger than a sparrow, which is a little disappointing.

We’ve walked by the cemetery several times now, on our way to the river or to Didsbury, but this week for the first time, I spent some time looking at the outside of our local parish church.

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St Wilfrid’s parish church of Northenden

As can be seen from the photo, the sky today was glorious, bright, uplifting, proper sky blue. The Sun was bright and made for some good photo opportunties, such as this familiar bird from the local playground.

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I see a little silhouetto of a bird

Today’s farewell message is to Microsoft Windows 7. As from this week, my PC’s operating system will no longer be supported. No security updates. No software updates. No tech support. So imagine my delight a couple of days later when my PC was taking a long time to turn itself off because… it was processing three updates to the operating system!

It seems mean to enjoy myself at a playground without a child. We returned later in the week, with William in tow. He had a great time climbing up the steps and the rocks, sliding down the slides and we all cheered up at the sight of the year’s first crocus. Spring is on its way!

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The year’s first crocus
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I’m the king of the castle
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Oma and William

William himself decided when he’d had enough fun outside, so we walked to the local coffee bar. Latté for me, Americano for Liesel and a babyccino for William. He asked for  a chocolate bar to go with it, a Flake, so I went back to the counter to ask for one. I was expecting to pay extra, but no, it was given to me on a plate. In fact, the lovely girl gave me two Flakes. I presented them to William who immediately put one into his drink, which was cool enough to drink. Without any prompting or asking, he immediately gave the other one to me. I held out the plate to receive it, but that wasn’t what he wanted. Instead, William dropped the Flake into my still hot latté, where it dissolved very quickly, of course. So I had a slightly chocolatey latté. But really, I was just taken by William’s generosity and kindness, he could have kept both Flakes for himself and that would have been OK (just don’t tell his parents). We praised him for sharing, but it was a bit disappointing that I couldn’t show him my chocolate bar when he asked.

I collected Martha from Nursery and we had a nice chat on the walk home about all sorts of things. Not politics or religion though: I know my limits.

It has been an educational week. As I walked by a coffee bar, a couple of guys were outside, having a deep and meaningful discussion about the menu items. The one gem I took away from what I overheard was this: carrot cake is the same as carrot corn flakes. On the other hand, I did confirm that K athmandu is pretty close to the Himalayas.

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Palatine Road, Northenden

What I failed to discern though was why there’s a big gap in K athmandu. Just one of Northenden’s many mysteries.

Castles

In the olden days, we always used to keep the Christmas decorations up until at least Helen’s birthday, January 11th. Even though she’s now living half a world away, it seems mean to break that tradition. Oh, alright then: due to lethargy on both our parts, we haven’t quite got around to taking down the Christmas decorations.

We watched Martha and William at their first swimming lesson of the new year. Martha did something else that I’ve never managed in all my 29 years: she sat on the bottom of the pool. She actually went down, and sat there for a moment. If only I were that skilled I thought. Then on the way home, I saw my opportunity in Hyde.

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Bombomb Studios. Don’t sweat, sparkle.

I could do that, I thought; it looks like a nice friendly gym, I thought; I’d rather sparkle than sweat, I thought. At home I looked them up on the internet. Oh my. The consensus from the family is that actually, I’m not really cut out to be a burlesque dancer.

Just along the road, we passed these two children playing outside Hyde Town Hall.

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Pull the plug, ring the change

“Let me out of the car,” I politely requested. I walked home from close to our local Aldi and chose to go the long way. I visited Sharston Books, in the middle of the industrial estate, where there are hundreds of thousands of second-hand books on display. I didn’t buy anything but enjoyed browsing the variety on offer, over the space of several buildings, containers and sheds. As I left, I enjoyed a surreal conversation.

“Were you looking for anything in particular?”
“No, not on this occasion. But if I were looking for a specific title, would you be able to lay your hands on it fairly quickly?”
“We don’t usually buy second-hand books but we’re happy to accept donations.”

My head enjoyed its baffled scratch as I walked away, around a couple more blocks before finding sanctuary and coffee at home.

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Sharston Books, sorted by height
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A local splash of colour
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Another in the series of Northenden sunsets

It isn’t really a New Year’s Resolution but we are planning to spread our wings and infiltrate some local organisations. Liesel went to a WI meeting in Didsbury and met a group of nice ladies. We both went to a meeting of U3A, University of the Third Age. We enjoyed a talk about prominent men (and some women) of Warrington. We’ll join some specific groups over the next few weeks. The meeting was very well attended, a very full church in Didsbury.

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Emmanuel Church stained glass window

Thursday is the best day of the week, apart from having to get up at six o’clock in the morning! This week, we took William to the Ice Cream Farm, where we all had lots of fun playing with sand, with water and this time, we let him loose in the softplay area too.

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Tag and Happy, William brought some friends with him
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Ice Cream Tree
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William in water
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William in sand

Liesel and I took it in turns to follow him around a large, interesting, fun-filled but soft and safe labyrinth. Some of the steps were just a little high for William, but that didn’t slow him down, he just asked for help. The slide was great fun, and William enjoyed it too, several times.

After watching William demolish the sandcastles we’d carefully constructed, it was nice to see Martha at nursery: she was rightly proud of the castle she’d built.

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Martha with a castle

Yes, our Christmas decs are still up, several days later. As I write, it’s Helen’s birthday, Happy Birthday, Helen!

In other, sad, heart-breaking, news, a major change in lifestyle is looming. Look away now if you’re thinking there’s already too much bad stuff going on in the world and you can’t cope with any more.

So, farewell then, faithful Fitbit. I’ve been walking with a Fitbit Zip since April 2016, just under four years, and it has now lost the will to live. It’s not synchronising via Bluetooth any longer and batteries are lasting only five or six days rather than nearly six months, so it’s time to get a replacement. But you can’t get Fitbit Zips any more. They have been discontinued. All modern Fitbits are on wristbands and have many features that I’m not interested in, so it’s just not worth spending that amount of money they’re asking for. Plus, I don’t wear a watch and I really don’t want to wear a Tracker on my wrist. Liesel thinks that I am too obsessed with my Fitbit. I transfer all the data to a spreadsheet and I can produce many fascinating statistics. Plus, I need something to encourage me to go out for a walk. I’ve already caught myself saying, albeit in jest, “What’s the point of going for a long walk if I can’t record the number of steps?” No way am I obsessed.

The latest email from Fitbit summarises my achievements from 2019. My most active day was March 7, a long walk on our first day in Singapore. Needless to say, I just re-read the post and found a typo, 10 months after I typed it. I logged 23,053 steps on that day, a distance of 10.33 miles. Still shorter than a typical day as a postman. The email claims I walked 3,674,775 steps last year, a total of 4,664 km, although like most right-thinking people, I prefer to say it was 2,898 miles. Actually, I walked further than that. Sometimes I forget to take the Fitbit with me, sometimes I leave it behind on purpose, such as when playing in the sea, sometimes it doesn’t count because the battery’s dead. It says I had 22,743 active minutes, that’s like watching 175 feature films. Well, anyone that walks around while watching that many movies must really annoy the other audience members. And finally, the email claims I burned 558,348 calories, and that’s like eating 19,253 Crunchies. Oh hang on, it’s like doing 19,253 crunches! Without an active Fitbit, I will no longer receive such fascinating insights into my perambulatory activities.

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Farewell, old friend

In the first instance, I’m just getting a cheap pedometer. It means keeping my records manually, but future generations will appreciate my attention to detail on the spreadsheet. According to which, I am within a few days of completing 10,000 miles since the day I first started using the old Fitbit. I am pleased to report that since my retirement, my average daily stroll has been 10,929 steps in duration. If you count the period I worked as a postman, my daily average is 12,250 steps. But in reality, those figures would be slightly higher if the Fitbit had been more reliable over the last few weeks.

Still, 21,265,403 steps is something to be proud of: we all like big numbers. How anyone can think I’m obsessed with my statistics is beyond me.

2019 into 2020

Another year over and a new one just begun. I’ve lost count of the number of jokes about 2020 Vision and this being the only year named after a popular cricket format. MMXX. As a residential speed limit sign might say, 2020 is plenty plenty. I resisted the temptation to show π to 2020 decimal places, sorry, Liesel. Before the new year started we were in a period apparently known as Twixmas, a term I’ve never heard before, and I hope never to hear again. Oh well, this is why we love the English language, I suppose: anything goes.

If I were commuting, I would welcome this safe cycle parking facility that I came across by a Metro station. The Bike Locker Users’ Club is the sort of club I’d like to join, if I were a bike locker user.

Bike locker

While I was out on a long stroll, via the GP (don’t worry, it was just to take in a prescription request) and the bank, Liesel was at home completing the jigsaw puzzle she received for Christmas, just five days earlier. What a star!

Liesel’s completed Wasgij jigsaw puzle, wow!

There is still a lot to learn about our neighbourhood. Wythenshawe is, according to the sign, one of the greenest places in Manchester. What the sign doesn’t say is that it is also one of the most littered places in Manchester. Probably. You’re never more than three feet away from a discarded can or coffee cup or lolly wrapper. We must make more use of our litter picker-uppers. If David Sedaris and Ian McMillan can do it, then so can we!

Wythenshawe, the home of Wythenshawe Market
Farewell, old friends in the European Community

Presumably, this sort of support from the European Community will stop when the UK leaves the EU at the end of January. But still: blue passports, hooray!

I was listening to Serenade Radio in bed late on New Year’s Eve, some nice, relaxing, easy listening. The feed online was a bit delayed so I leapt a mile when all the local fireworks went off at what I thought was well before midnight! Liesel got out of bed to look at them, I couldn’t be bothered. Hello 2020, and Happy New Year.

Fireworks from Queenstown, NZ, not Northenden, UK, thanks, Helen

Meanwhile, in NZ, Helen and Adam enjoyed these fireworks in Queenstown, but despite the temptation, neither of them did a bungy jump. They’ve been in 2020 slightly longer than the rest of us and other than the smoke from the Aussie bush fires drifting across the Tasman Sea, there is nothing bad to report.

Liesel and I joined the wider family for a New Year’s meal at Alan and Una’s house. There were fourteen of us on this occasion: the same bunch of ne’er-do-wells from last week plus John and Geri, Paul’s parents. Geri, aka Nana Strawberry as far as William’s concerned!

Jenny and Martha

For the first time in ages, I think I may have eaten too much. Usually I stop as soon as I’ve had enough, but there was so much lovely food, thanks, Una!

Several mega-calories to burn off then, which I did the following day, walking to the GP (it’s alright, I was just collecting the prescription that I’d requested a few days ago), then to a pharmacy. Boy, was I glad I wasn’t on my bike when I saw this sign.

1 in 29, how does anyone manage that?

The gradient is greater than 1:29, it was hard enough walking up it, never mind cycling. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t even notice the very slight incline and wouldn’t have given it a first, never mind a second, thought, if I hadn’t seen the warning sign.

I was taken back to my childhood for a moment as I stood on a bridge and watched a very long train pass by underneath, on its way to Gatley.

Commuters in the area would love seeing a Northern Rail train this long, rather than the 3-carriage options that are over-crowded every morning

This time, though, it wasn’t a steam train and my Mum and I didn’t have a coughing fit as we were enveloped in clouds of smoke, and we weren’t picking off smuts for the rest of the day.

Liesel and I accepted the invitation to look after the children for a day while Jenny ‘filled in her tax form’. At first, I thought this was a euphemism for ‘have a nice relaxing massage without those pesky kids ruining the peaceful atmosphere’, but I think she really was filling in forms, judging by the ink blots on her fingers.

So we took William and Martha to the zoo where, as usual, we emerged from the car to a much colder wind than we had at home. Should have worn a thicker coat, said Liesel. As she always does. Only to forget on our next visit.

Puddles, elephants, bats, and the Treetop Challenge were today’s big hits. We saw just one lion in the new enclosure.

Lion planning her escape
Too high to climb it so I’ll just roll under it, if that’s alright
Treetop Challenge, safety harness, down a couple of short zip lines
Giant Owl butterfly: none of them wanted to settle on Martha’s sleeve this time

Unusually, we timed it right, and saw the penguins at feeding time. But the most entertaining aspect was watching one of the zookeepers waving his fish net around, trying to keep the seagulls away.

Penguins fighting off the seagulls with a little help from the keeper of the net

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, they are delightful children to spend time with, great fun, and very interested in the world. Their only fault is not appreciating good music when it’s on offer. “What song do you want me to sing?” I ask from the front of the car. “No song”, comes the chorus from the back. Oh well, their loss.

A bit of jiggery-pokery with the photo editor on my phone and I produced this masterpiece

The first Saturday of the year found us walking to Didsbury, along the river, past the golf course.

Just one of a few strange characters we met on our walk

As Liesel noted, all the runners and joggers seemed to be scowling today. Maybe they were carrying a bit too much extra flab after the Christmas feasting. Or maybe they were regretting their New Year’s Resolutions!

“Edgar?” I commented, “That’s a funny name for a dog.”
“No”, said Liesel, “He said ‘good girl’.”
Nothing wrong with my hearing.

Here are a few more of our new acquaintances.

Poor chap thinks it’s still nighttime
A family of Owls in Didsbury Park – there are some talented wood-carvers around
Outside the fish shop, believe it or not

Liesel couldn’t watch it all but I enjoyed the first episode (of 3) of the new TV drama based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Did someone say it was a bit scary? They did indeed. It is. Fantastic. And the only nightmare I had was another work-based dream, in which I was ‘invited’ to work for a few hours on a Sunday so I’d be ahead of the game on Monday. Trouble is, this is just the sort of nonsense Royal Mail might come up with in real life. It’s four years almost to the day since I last had to go to work, so why I still dream about it is a total mystery.