Tour of Britain

Babysitting with back pain is not ideal. So I followed Liesel’s advice and went for a massage the following day. Babysitting the day after that was so much easier.

On the first day, the highlight was talking to his Auntie Helen in Australia. On the other day, I took him out for a walk around Waitrose and around the park.

William with a stick

Next time I take him to a supermarket, I’m going to put him in and chain him to the trolley. He picked everything and anything off the lower shelves, put it back, told or asked me what it was. Repeating “Put it back” on high rotation annoyed me, never mind the other customers!

In the park, he played with sticks and mud and made friends with the trees while looking out for squirrels (unsuccessfully) and pigeons (very successfully).

William and his new bff

He was tired when we got home but was revived with a handful of raisins.

A long, long time ago, Jasmina came round to measure up for blinds for our living/dining room. She came back with the finished items today, which is great. I now have to spend a day putting them up. Yes, it should be a quick and easy job, but I know from experience, five-minute jobs always take significantly longer than five minutes!

I walked in the sunshine for a while, taking advantage before the Autumn chill kicks in.

Fungus on a tree

I’ve walked past this tree many times, but I’ve not noticed the fungus before. Either it’s sprouted overnight, or the light caught it just right today, no other possible explanation.

Walking by the River Mersey, I took a picture of the only bird I saw.

Metal bird

Some sort of metal cormorant, I think, but I couldn’t find an explanatory plaque.

Depending on which sign you look at, this picture of the river was taken from the Trans-Pennine Trail, National Cycle Network Route 62, Northenden Riverside Park or Manchester’s Green Corridor Route 13. The kiddies’ playground is now complete and I’m sure William and Martha will make use of it soon.

Playground in Northenden Riverside Park

The Tour of Britain bike race finished in Manchester. They cycled 166 km from Altrincham, the long way round, through all ten of Manchester’s boroughs. Because of the circuitous route and ensuing road closures, I couldn’t decide where to go to watch the action. In the end, I watched a couple of hours on TV then caught a bus into Manchester, to be near the finishing line.

The finishing line on Deansgate

But there were some interesting sights on my indirect walk from the bus to this point, on Deansgate.

Giant bee in the Central Library
White Pillar Box celebrating England’s winning Cricket World Cup teams
Cow standing on back legs

The British Cycling team has been sponsored by Sky for many years. But their sponsorship deal expired and a replacement sought. Chemical and fossil fuel company Ineos took over. This fracking awful decision hasn’t gone down well with everyone. There does seem to be some conflict here, between a supposedly ‘green’ sport, cycling, and an environmentally destructive company.

Frack off Ineos
Cyclists welcome

I didn’t acquire as many freebies today as we received when we saw the Tour de France grand départ in Yorkshire 5 years ago.

Soreen, my total haul for the day
Ineos van celebrating the team’s Tour de France victories

There was a huge crowd here in Manchester and, as seen earlier on TV, in all the other towns and villages along the route.

Big crowd watching the big screen

I looked to see whether there was a high-level viewpoint that I could access, but no. In the end, I set up camp by the 500-metres to go mark. I lost count of the cars and police motor bikes that came by at 90mph, ahead of the racers.

Sorted for Eeees and whizzzz as Jarvis Cocker might say

The leading group of cyclists came by at slightly less than 90mph and I thought they’d have to slow down a bit for the 90° sharp left turn into Deansgate.

The leading group of cyclists

It was all too fast, I couldn’t identify anyone, and photos taken with my phone camera aren’t as clear as those taken at other races with a real camera. Today’s stage and the overall race was won by Mathieu van der Poel. Matteo Trentin came 3rd today and 2nd overall. I’m pretty sure those two are in this leading group.

A few lone riders came by and then, several minutes later, a second large group. Somewhere in there was Mark Cavendish, apparently.

I walked down the road to the Science and Industry Museum because I know the café there has a good selection of cakes, and I needed to top up on energy, after all that walking about.

Many years ago, during a previous cycling Tour of Britain race, we were in Worcester, waiting on the High Street for the peloton to come through. The first cyclist we saw was the local postman, who deserved his round of applause! Today, before being allowed to cross the road after the race, we had to wait for the last few cyclists to come through, plus the lantern rouge, the ambulance and final vehicles. Then, a minute later, the real final cyclist came by.

A big hand for the Deliveroo rider

I walked to catch my bus back home, but the road closures meant another long trek and Manchester continued to provide interesting sights.

Blue post box

There’s no sign telling us what this blue box is for. Maybe Royal Mail just run out of red paint that day.

A clamped car

I came across Manchester’s China Town, so I had a quick look.

China Town gate
The Moon, a whole, inflatable one
Some lanterns, with the Sun behind

It was good to get home, just in time to enjoy a pretty sunset.

A Northenden sunset

Next morning, despite a good night’s sleep, I took ages to get going. As if my body thought it had completed a 100-mile bike ride rather then watched some other people for a few seconds. But the good news is, I didn’t give a thought to my back pain from earlier in the week!

Not tired of London

After a day babysitting, it’s advisable to have a good night’s sleep and maybe a lie-in. This is exactly why I booked an early train to London. The real reason was the relatively cheap fare, of course. The bus that took me to Gatley Station carries on to Stockport. I could have done that and joined the train there rather than riding all the way into Manchester Piccadilly. Oh well, we’re still new here and still learning the ropes.

It made sense to go straight to my Airbnb in Kingston to drop off my heavy bag. Not that heavy, but no need to lug it around more than necessary. It was a relatively cheap b&b too, so a relatively cheap weekend away altogether!

The Fighting Cocks in Kingston, where we saw Tom Hingley and the Lovers play a few years ago
Out of Order, by David Mach, refurbished by him in April 2019, so it still looks sparkly and new

First on the list was to revisit the Press Room Café in Surbiton which was closed last time. Delighted to see it’s now reopened, and equally good to see the staff haven’t all been replaced or refurbished too drastically. The coffee was very welcome but, again, I chickened out of ringing the bell, by the door, on the way out to tell them so.

Press Room newly refurbed and open for business

After sitting on buses and trains most of the day, it was liberating to go for a walk, now. So, I set my controls for the River Thames.

As I joined the riverside path into Kingston, I was accosted by a very nice lady. She’d walked from Kingston and was disappointed that the path deviated from the river at this point. She was hoping to get to Hampton Court. I explained that she was on the wrong side of the river. We walked into Kingston together, swapping stories about our families. Hers involves India and Birmingham and the recent sudden death of her husband. Her name’s G’day but I’m pretty sure it’s not spelled that way.

Within a swan’s wingspan of Kingston Bridge, we shook hands and bade farewell, she turned round to walk back towards Surbiton.

Swanning about on the river

I visited John Lewis where, as I passed through the TV department, two partners asked if they could help. I didn’t say that I was only there to use the facilities. Which, in the end were closed, so I had to visit the Bentall Centre too.

There’s a new cinema complex coming to the Bentall Centre and this crane is doing the heavy lifting
Butterflies in the Eden Centre

I was taking this picture of the butterflies when an (even more than me) elderly gent said I should have been here when all the umbrellas were up there. Oh, when was that? A few months ago, he said. I didn’t tell him I’d seen such displays of brollies in more exotic locations than Kingston’s Eden Centre, but that didn’t matter, as he’d already shuffled away.

Surbiton’s iconic art deco station frontage

As planned, I met Helen and Steve at the Allegro café in Surbiton. The owner wasn’t in tonight so we didn’t have to explain our recent, long absences. Pizzas all round and I had a Peroni for a change. It’s always good to catch up with old friends, and some of us are really old, now, with frequent reminders of our own mortality.

Back at the b&b, I met my host, Jenny, and her young daughter whose name wasn’t Ermintrude, nor Peppa, nor Jehosophat, nor Pickle, nor anything else I suggested.

In the morning, as invited, I helped myself to breakfast before catching the bus to Chessington.

While all this was going on, Liesel was buying shoes in Anchorage so I think I win that one. On the other hand, daughter Helen was at the Intercontinental Resort Hayman Island, in the Whitsundays, and I have to say, the photos are stunning, so either it really is a gorgeous location or they have the best Photoshoppers in town!

Helen having a whale of a time on Hayman Island

With perfect timing, I hopped off the bus in Chessington and bumped into Michael the postman, who hasn’t aged more than about 22 years since I last saw him 18 months ago (only kidding). I thanked him again for continuing to forward mail that is still sent to our old Chessington address, although it is now a mere trickle, a rare drib and drab.

Peter and Janet can no longer easily tend their own garden but their neighbours are very kind, helping to keep the weeds under control and the grass cut. Peter invited me to join them for lunch which was kind: they usually go out for lunch these days and while the meals may feel boring and repetitive, having a reason to leave the house has to be a good thing.

We dined at Las Iguanas which has a menu of meals from south America, both meaty and veggie. I had an Argentinian beer, Rothhammer Real Golden Ale which was very acceptable.

We walked towards the station and I left them shopping at Waitrose while I took the train into London. I changed at Clapham Junction, catching an Overground train to Shadwell, somewhere I’ve not been, I think, for 40 years.

Clapham Junction

I walked to Gallery 46 to see an exhibition The Most Powerful Woman in the Universe, celebrated in blood, hairiness and art.

The artwork was variously funny, thought-provoking and just a little intimidating, although this may be because I was the only visitor at the time. It was a pleasure to meet the organiser, curator, whatever, Kelly.

Eve and Eve by Nancy Fouts
Madonna with Safeway Bags, by Nancy Fouts

My best buddy(!) Salena Godden, who I met on a march last year, is here on video, reciting her poem, Red. It is worth watching, here.

The gallery is close to the Royal London Hospital, where Sarah trained and worked for over a year back in the late 1970s. I found her old residence, but the statue of Edith Cavell wasn’t to be seen: I wonder if I just misremembered? Maybe I was thinking of this royal personage

Queen Alexandra

There is a blue plaque for Edith Cavell on Whitechapel High Street, but it’s currently hidden behind the hoarding surrounding the building works.

A Lone Protester but I think he was on his way home from a big protest in central London

Whitechapel Market is just as busy and colourful as I remember: the fruit and veg displays are a work of art and the clothing is so much brighter than typical western offerings.

Whitechapel Market
Muslim clothing shop in a former pub

Looking west, the skyline has certainly changed over the years: you can see The Gherkin and many other new buildings. I thought about walking in that direction, but a bus came along and forced me to climb aboard.

Looking west

Sight-seeing from a London bus is one of my favourite things: I just have to remember to get off somewhere useful. This time, I ended up near Tottenham Court Road, from where I walked to Waterloo.

Stretch limo near Soho Square, attempting a 3-point turn
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – one day, we’ll get tickets, one day
London is open but this fountain in Trafalgar Square certainly isn’t
St Martin-in-the-Fields in the Sun
London Eye and the Moon viewed from Jubilee Bridge
Waterloo Sunset viewed from the Royal Festival Hall terrace
Charlotte Campbell performing Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ at Waterloo

Me and my aching feet went straight to bed and I read about half a page of my book before drifting off.

After breakfast, I started walking towards Chessington. The plan was to catch the first bus that came by. Even though there were people waiting at most of the bus stops, I didn’t see a bus. I just kept walking to the next stop. In the end, I was off the bus route.

Good to see Tolworth is still the fly-tipping centre of the world

I didn’t see a single bus until I reached Hook Library and there was no point in catching that one, it was going in the wrong direction. So I continued south, towards the World of Adventures. Not only did I get my 10,000 steps in by 11am, I was bang on time at my destination!

Good to see the little children enjoying the playground in Woodgate Avenue

Stella and Ian shared their coffee and battenburg cake, and it was good to catch up on their news too. I mean, they shared with me, not just each other, that would be weird. Their family day out at Chessington World of Adventures the previous day reminded me that, yes, one day, I suppose we’ll have to take Martha and William there!

The train journey into Waterloo was uneventful, other than having to change trains at Wimbledon. Still, on the bright side, it wasn’t a replacement bus service, I suppose.

It was the final day of the Kiss my Genders show at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank.

Joan Jett-Blakk for President

For me, the main problem with all this gender fluidity mallarkey is using the correct pronoun, he, she or they. I don’t want to upset or annoy someone by getting it wrong. The people I spoke to here, albeit briefly: I think I got away with ‘you’!

Selfie of the day

I didn’t recognise many of the names, but Marc Almond is one of my favourite singers.

Marc Angelo Almond, by Del LaGrace Volcano

Del LaGrace Volcano seems like a fascinating character: they “have possessed and been possessed by a multitude of names, bodies and identities”. And the rest of us just plod on unchanging, never mutating nor migrating.

Rebellious badges

There was probably more to the film Looners, by Jankyn van Zyl, than I realised. In other words: I didn’t get it.

But I found The Memorial Dress quite moving. The names of 25,000 known victims of AIDs-related illnesses have been printed onto a black ballgown. It slowly rotates as you watch.

The Memorial Dress, by Hunter Reynolds

Outside, I strolled along the South Bank for a while, while my over-stimulated mind calmed down. The tide was out and so were the mudlarks. Some are very scrupulous, minutely inspecting every item that isn’t obviously just a plain old rock or stone.

Mudlarks on the Thames foreshore

Obviously, I have no idea what treasures these people found today, but there’s a small display of photos showing the types of artefacts found over the years, things lost in or deliberately thrown into the Thames over many centuries.

Foragers of the Foreshore
City pipe bowl: slave head

I’m so pleased Liesel made us dispose of the human thigh bone we found on the Thames foreshore a few years ago.

It’s strange being in a stranger’s house while they’re there, even as a paying guest. Before getting up and potentially getting in their way, I waited until Mum had fought her daughter to get ready for school and then leave. Other people’s cereal choices are always interesting. Small, bitesize Shredded Wheat with raisins glued in plus a few Cheerios, today. Not the ideal start to the day if I were about to embark on a long bike ride, so it’s a good job I wasn’t.

I rearranged the magnetic letters on the fridge into a small message of gratitude before making my way to London, to the Tate Modern.

Sand maiden

Very light drizzle accompanied me as I walked along the South Bank. The Royal Festival Hall is closed for a few days so I had to miss out on my usual natural break there.

Today’s show which I’d pre-booked was at Tate Modern. Olafur Eliasson In Real Life. This exhibition runs until January and is highly recommended. It’s fun, funny, clever and the perfect depiction of an imaginative soul with too much time on his hands!

Conveniently, I was able to leave my big bag in the cloakroom all day for a mere £4 donation. There’s a tip for anyone travelling to or through London.

This exhibition is well laid out, the map actually makes sense, which isn’t always the case.

Just one of Olafur’s hundreds of polyhedra

The Blind Passenger is a 39-metre long tunnel filled with fog. You can’t see more than a few feet in any direction. And while it’s easy to shrug off the warnings about possible claustrophobia, when you’re in the fog and all you can see is yellow, all you can smell is something slightly sweet and all you can hear are the squeaky doors and the other visitors trying to be quiet, it is a little bit spooky. Then you blink and you’re surprised by how thick, solid, heavy and purple your eyelids are. Maybe that’s just me.

The Moss Wall is made from Reindeer Moss. You’re not supposed to touch it but I think most people look around to make sure nobody’s watching before reaching out and having a quick, soft touch.

Moss Wall, by Olafur Eliasson

The Big Bang Fountain is a water fountain in complete darkness but every few seconds, a flash of white light illuminates the water. Every flash is a momentary, white Rorschach test. A map of the lower 48 states. A jellyfish. A brassiere. A bull with big horns. A bald man.

Your Uncertain Shadow is responsible for one of the images used in publicity for this show.

Uncertain Shadowy selfie of the day

If you haven’t been yet, go to this exhibition. Every item is interesting in one way or another.

Not my review but it could well have been

I walked outside for a while, braving the slight drizzle.

The Ship of Tolerance by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

The Ship of Tolerance will be here until early October. Each picture is drawn or painted by a local school-child.

Children want peace

One item on my bucket list relies on my (infinitesimal) musical ability. One day, I want to glue two old woks together, bash them about a bit with a hammer then take this contraption busking. Well, someone’s beaten me to it. He was sitting and playing outside the Tate and, to be fair, he was making a rather nicer, more melodic sound than I would have.

Busker with percussive instrument

Liesel and I have seen The Merry Wives of Windsor in the past, at Stratford upon Avon, and Dame Judi Dench was the big name on that occasion. This play is being performed this evening, nearby, but I would be on my train home by then. So, to compensate, I joined a rather large tour group in the Globe Theatre, just along the river from Tate Modern. The guide was Italian, of course, but it was a fascinating tour. It included sitting in two different parts of the auditorium to watch the rehearsal for tonight’s performance. Out of context, it wasn’t obvious whether the fits of giggles were part of the script or the actors just making each other laugh.

Water Point in the Globe Theatre

After watching a play, you’d want to acquire some props in the shop and reenact some of the more exciting scenes. But sadly, you’re not allowed to.

Please don’t fight in the shop

Back in the Tate, I spent some time in the drawing room. It’s actually the Bloomberg Connects Drawing Bar and you can have a go at drawing pictures on the screens which then get displayed and posted to Flickr. My drawing skills are on a par with my musical ability, but I enjoyed creating a special message for my beloved all those miles away.

Hello Liesel

There are thousands of other such drawings, so start here and look around.

You can see my more overtly political offering here!

Blackfriars is a lovely, modern station, straddling the river. I caught the Thameslink train to St Pancras from where it’s a short walk to the British Library. There, I tapped away at the keyboard with all the other young and studious people.

Quiet study in British Library

And from there, a short hop, skip and jump to the ever-congested Euston where I began the long ride home: two trains and a late, late bus. In the bookshop, the sight of this outfit brought me up short. I know it’s from a novel, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s publicising the sequel, The Testaments, but, whoa, that was unexpected.

Blessed be the fruit

Two trains and a bus, he said. Huh. The first train was over ten minutes late which was enough to mean missing the second train. So, a quick taxi ride it was instead, to round off a wonderful weekend.

TFL’s are no longer the only bikes for hire in London

These few days in London and Kingston, between two Grandchildren Days, was a good opportunity to catch up with old friends, visit some old haunts and explore some new ones. Taking such a late train home the night before an early rise is something not to be repeated too often, however!

Grandchildren

I don’t manage 10,000 steps every single day but I do try. And I spent an hour pushing a dozing William, in his buggy, around Manchester, specifically around the University area, while Jenny took Martha to be experimented upon. Actually, Martha was following in my footsteps and helping a PhD student out with their research.

Blue plaques for University of Manchester alumni
An unexpected splash of colour
Behind those eyelashes, there’s a little William fast asleep

We had lunch then we all went to our various homes.

While Liesel’s gallivanting with Trudi et al in Anchorage, I’m going through the list of things to do while she’s away. Progress is being made, some DIY has been done by myself, correspondence has been responded to, some minor items have been crossed off the to-do list.

A momentous day for Martha: her first at Nursery. An hour on the first day, three hours the next two days then three full days a week. She was looking forward to going and enjoyed playing with the other children.

Martha in her new uniform

My job was to look after William while Martha was at Nursery. He’s a very funny little chap, but whereas cats like climbing into boxes, he just likes standing on them! He went down for his nap without objecting, giving me the opportunity to do some paperwork. Another tick on the to-do list.

Martha came home in time for lunch. We played with the ball for a while. Then, after packing, unpacking and repacking her backpack, we went on holiday to Australia. We went on a purple plane and she drove.

Selfie of the day on the purple plane. Martha, Mick and spare chins

Then we went on holiday to the aquarium, again on the purple plane.

We watched the end of Disney’s Cinderella, which Martha had started before going to Nursery. She asked lots of questions about the plot, why were the step-sisters so nasty? Very hard to explain that some people just aren’t very nice.

William then chose to watch Disney’s The Lion King, the original one. He knows all the characters’ names but doesn’t yet get the farting jokes! I asked Martha if she wanted to go for a walk, but the answer was a very half-hearted ‘yes’. Instead, she fell asleep on the sofa while watching The Lion King.

When she woke up, she packed her backpack again and took us on holiday to The Lion King!

Three holidays in one day, can’t complain about that.

Stop the Coup

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside. So we took Martha and William to Formby. We were hoping for a nice day, but not so nice that everyone else would be there. The beach was fairly deserted and we had a fantastic but short time there.

William playing on the beach

There was a strong, cold wind: several layers of clothing required. William had a go at building a sandcastle. Martha wanted to walk to the sea but the tide was out. Miles out. Halfway there, fighting the gale and the sand-blasting, she said she wanted to go back to the car.

William sat down in a puddle. To pass the rest of the day, we took them back to our place for a bath, which they both enjoy, despite there being no proper toys nor bubbles.

This would be the final Grandchildren’s Day for Liesel for a while. She jetted off to the Sun. Well, to Anchorage, to see her family and friends, to start work for Amrit and to decide which of the items we sorted out last year she really wants to bring back to the UK.

Don’t worry, I can look after myself. I’ll keep the piles of laundry and dishes separate so it’s easier for her to catch up on the domestic chores when she returns.

Her trip didn’t get off to a good start though. Manchester Airport was an awful experience. But things improved later. She met up with Holly briefly in Seattle then, on the final flight into Anchorage, she had a row of three seats to herself.

A welcome whole row for one person

Meanwhile, I went to Specsavers for another hearing test. It was much more thorough than the one at Boots, and the audiologist and I agreed that I don’t need hearing aids right now.

A wild bear in Wythenshawe

Martha’s in a new swimming group now, and again, I was amazed at what she can do. Swimming under her Mum’s legs? I couldn’t do that at 3 and I can’t do that at 93 either.

La Vuelta a España has started, the Spanish Grand Tour bike race. The first crash was when one of the team cars went around a corner too fast. I’ll watch the highlights programme each day and relay highlights of the highlights to Liesel.

Liesel spent time with Jyoti who, a couple of days later, left to spend some time with her parents before flying back to Australia.

Our lovely friend Trudi is visiting Alaska from Hawaii and I am disappointed to not be seeing her myself.

Liesel watched our nephews Asa and Gideon playing football, just as we did last year. So she’s been quite busy and with a bit of jet-lag to start with, she’s a little tired.

Monica, Jyoti, Una, Trudi, Liesel, together again, at last

I got my exercise one day by taking the rest of the bikes, the tandem and the rest of the cycling paraphernalia to the storage unit.

Bikes, bits and bobs

Up and down the stairs several times, carrying awkward items out to the car, which had to be locked every trip, I was perspiring very heavily.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stuff in our second bedroom, grrr. But we’re getting there. Someone might be able to sleep in there soon.

My first solo Grandchildren’s Day was great. I survived, both children survived and I think we had a good time.

Apologies if this video of Martha attempting to lick her own elbow appears sideways on your screen too. Just turn your device 90°!

Martha showed me the bruises and cuts and grazes on her arms and legs, none of which were too bad, just signs of being slightly too active maybe.

In the afternoon, we went for a short walk: I had some shopping to buy. As soon as Martha saw Costa, she said she wanted a babyccino. So both she and William had a small cup of frothy milk, with chocolate sprinkles and marshmallows.

Angels with dirty faces

When she saw this picture, Jenny suggested I’d taken them to an unskilled facepaint artist! And yes, of course I had a coffee too, it would be rude not to.

It’s time to get political again. I attended not only my first but my second protest in Manchester, both on the same day.

Another first: I rode a tram into the city centre. When I alighted at Deansgate, I couldn’t help but notice this outsize bike, which would get you nowhere fast.

What a big bike

It was a bright day, perfect for protesting. Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a worldwide organisation campaigning to save the planet from the climate emergency. So far, the protests have been peaceful disruption in city centres. They have set up camp in Deansgate, Manchester, for the weekend. This is the busiest, most highly polluted road in the city and now it’s blocked.

A boat on Deansgate
Camping on Deansgate

I didn’t spend too much time here because as I walked along Deansgate, the clouds darkened, the first few spots of rain fell, the first couple of umbrellas were deployed and I walked into Veggie Pret as if that had been the plan all along. A vegetarian Pret a Manger, the perfect place to hide from the rain for a while. And yes, I had a coffee, it would be rude not to!

Manchester and its rain as seen from Veggie Pret

Who says there are no good right-wing comedians? One comment I read about the XR rebels was that this is what the UK will look like after brexit, when there’s a soap shortage!

The rain began to ease off so I donned a hat and jacket and continued my walk towards Cathedral Gardens. This was the focal point of todays protest against Boris Johnson’s unprecedented long prorogation of parliament. There were all sorts of people here, labour supporters and tories, leavers and remainers, all incensed at the erosion of democracy in our country.

Manchester’s umbrella protest

The crowd bearing brollies was reminiscent of the crowds protesting in Hong Kong for similar reasons.

Some of the captions on the banners were, as usual, very funny.

Just some of the placards
Smokin’

EU blue and gold smoke bombs were let off. Speeches were given which I couldn’t hear being right at the back. The chants were mainly “Stop the Coup” and “Boris, Boris, Boris, out, out, out”!

As I wandered round I saw a few police officers, some on horses. I came across a larger concentration of hi-vis policemen and women. They were ‘protecting’ the pro-brexit, free-Tommy protesters. About 20 of them, so more than one PC each. Their one line was “We won the vote in 2016”. No interest in the illegal actions of the Leave campaign, the lies told, the promises made about sunlit uplands, easy deals and so on. A couple of them were agitating for a fight so this was my cue to head back to XR.

Because I dawdled, the “Stop the Coup” march to Albert Square caught me up so I joined in with a vocal contribution. This was just one of over sixty such protests all around the country. And beyond: some British Consulates in Europe also witnessed protests.

Thousands gather on Albert Square
The will of the people

Back at XR, I thought about having a coffee but decided to head home instead. It’s the end of the month so bills to pay, admin to deal with. I checked on eBay and it’s taken a few weeks but it looks like everything we put up for sale will be gone soon.

August fades to grey and September comes along to replace it, dragging leaves from trees, dropping the temperature slightly so children don’t feel so bad about going back to school.

I watched Martha and William swimming again, both doing their own stunts. I thought the dress Martha was wearing was very pretty. Turns out, it was made by Sarah, Martha’s granny, thirty-plus years ago. Wow.

Martha in a dress lovingly made by her Mum’s Mum

Edinburgh

We enjoyed watching William and Martha swimming again for what would be the last time at such an early hour. From next week, their classes begin at 11.00am. We’re grandparently proud of their promotions!

The long drive north to Edinburgh was uneventful. Apart from a couple of bad accidents and the occasional downpour, that is.

High pressure rain cleaning the windscreen

Yes, off to the gorgeous capital city of Scotland for a couple of days to take in a very small percentage of the Festival and Fringe events.

Tebay is probably our favourite service station thanks to its Farm Shop. It’s not an online buying and selling site based in Yorkshire, whatever it says in the Uxbridge English Dictionary. The vegetarian sausage rolls and vegetarian Scotch eggs are highly recommended!

We hadn’t realised how many wind farms there are now: good to see that the gales and hurricanes that blow our way aren’t totally wasted.

Old energy vs new energy

Neither of us brought our passports but who knows? This might be the last time we visit Scotland while it’s still part of the United Kingdom.

Welcome to Scotland

Liesel commented that some of the landscape reminds her of her home state, Alaska.

Ecclefechan

Sarah, Jenny, Helen and I stayed in a b&b in Ecclefechan on what would be our final visit to Scotland all together. It remains Helen’s favourite placename to this day.

This time, Liesel and I are staying in Bathgate. That is the correct name of the place. In the past, I have also stayed at places called Lochhead and Pathhead. Over these few days, I think I referred to our present location using every possible combination of the words loch, head, gate, bath and path.

In the early evening, we caught a train into Edinburgh for our first event.

Bathgate Station: trains are under starter’s orders

We thought we had a nice, easy walk to the venue. But it’s been a while, we’d forgotten how hilly Edinburgh is. Not only that, we had to scale The News Steps. 124 steps, I think. We arrived at the summit breathless and not just because of the beautiful view of the city below.

Circa: Humans took place in a Big Top. A troupe of ten performers, very nimble and very strong, doing the sort of callisthenics that we do each morning, only slightly more skilfully, and with a musical accompaniment.

The music was at different times insistent, percussive, rhythmic and funny. One routine to the song The Impossible Dream proved conclusively that it is impossible to lick ones own elbows.

Stunts included human pyramids. Only, not always pyramids: in some cases, one guy bore the weight of two others.

The poster (photos of the performance not allowed)

Like most shows at The Fringe, this one lasted an hour. They had some fantastic ideas, very imaginative choreography and it was all executed flawlessly. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Humans thanking the audience

Twice in a row now, I’ve inserted a USB cable correctly on the first attempt. I think my luck might be changing. Or, maybe not. Although we’d planned to go into Edinburgh from Bathgate by train every day, our second attempt failed. It was a working day, and the station car park was full. In fact, over full: some cars were dumped in the most ridiculous places. So, reluctantly, we drove into the auld city. Both days, we managed to park close to the final venue of the day, making for a quick getaway.

Greyfriars Bobby (statue)

We admired Greyfriars Bobby’s well polished nose. He’s the dog that sat beside his master’s grave waiting for the opportunity to dig up some bones, I think.

We’ll bin our jokes if you bin your litter

The city was really tidy, on the whole, but the bin jokes should have been binned. What’s Beethoven’s favourite fruit? Ba-na-na-naaa.

The International Photography Exhibition at the Photographic Exhibition Centre exhibited about 230 photographs from over 2000 submitted from all around the world.

Photography Exhibition attendee having a rest (still life)

There were some imaginative pictures here though some had obviously received a certain amount of post-production doctoring, or editting. I was hoping to get some ideas for my own future pictures.

Railway lines – London to Plymouth by John Widdows

The damselfly photo was magnificent and as I said to Liesel, I wish they’d sit that still for me! And my photo of that photo was of course out of focus. Curses! But for the exhibition as a whole: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A few years ago, Jenny and I visited Edinburgh together. We enjoyed the veggie food at Henderson’s and I was glad to see it’s still going strong. Liesel and I had lunch of (veggie) haggis and mashed root veg, a mid-Winter meal, really, but outside, it was particularly dreich for that half an hour. The toilets here are interesting. They’re labelled ‘H’ for Hers and ‘H’ for His. The toilet paper is dispensed one single-ply square at a time from what can only be described as a very tight cat’s bum. You have to iron each sheet before applying it to your own. Actually, I think the ‘H’ stands for Henderson’s but the stylised gentleman and lady on the doors aren’t that different from each other, so I’m sure mistakes must be made.

The Edinburgh Wheel

We went for a sightseeing ride on the ferris wheel known as The Edinbugh Wheel, Festival Wheel or Big Wheel depending on who you talk to. It’s erected by Princes Street Gardens and I think I enjoyed the ride more than Liesel did.

View from the top, you can just see the Forth bridges in the distance

Along the road, we witnessed Master Bones dancing along to Ghostbusters. The puppetmaster was very skilful, even encouraging Master Bones to surpise an inattentive visitor sitting on a nearby bench.

Master Bones

While waiting to see his show, we witnessed The Reverend Richard Coles queueing at a van to buy a coffee or a g&t or something, yes, queueing with normal people. If we hadn’t been at the front of the queue into the venue, we might have walked over for a selfie opportunity.

The Reverend Richard Coles, Communard, vicar, broadcaster

He entertained for an hour, telling us his life story, A Simple Country Parson or, as he described it, Edinburgh’s only One Parson Show. It certainly deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Usher Hall is probably one of Edinburgh’s finest venues. The audience for the performance given by the 140-year old Shanghai Symphony Orchestra was much better dressed than for our other shows (present company excepted, sorry). It was part of the official Edinburgh International Festival. The first piece sounded a bit Chinese, some of the instruments were very reminiscent of the music played from stretched tapes in Chinese restaurants a few decades ago. But Qigang Chen’s The Five Elements was an unexpected delight.

Dvořák’s Cello Concerto was eye-closingly romantic and moving, but I’m not convinced that the soloist was Chinese, with the name Alisa Weilerstein!

Alisa Weilerstein with her cello
Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s view of the Usher Hall audience

I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, so I borrowed these from The Herald Scotland website. The highlight of the performance was Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, which I remember borrowing from Hammersmith Library over 40 years ago, so definitely time to listen to it again! There was a short encore and the conductor joked that he was now off to enjoy some Scotch whisky. A ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ performance.

Oor Wullie is possibly the most famous Scottish cartoon character, featuring in The Sunday Post newspaper since 1937.

Natural Healing, Oor Rail Bridge, Flowers of Scotland and Wullie’s Seat
Oor Crossing, Oor Coal Miner, illegible plaque and Oor Skeleton

There are over two hundred of these sculptures not just in Edinburgh but all over Scotland, each designed by a different artist. The Oor Wullie Big Bucket Trail is a fundraiser for children’s hospitals in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Edinburgh Castle

One of my favourite modern artists is Bridget Riley. Obviously, the doodles I come up with while speaking on the phone aren’t in the same league as her abstract, geometric paintings, but I find them fascinating. Yes, if you look at some of them for too long, you might begin to feel a bit nauseous, but we spent a long time wandering around this exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy.

Part of Cataract 3 by Bridget Riley

I walked by Cataract 3 while videoing the picture. The end result is much better than I anticipated. I showed some other attendees and they proceeded to copy my idea.

One work of art, Rajasthan, is painted directly onto the plaster wall. When it’s time for this exhibit to move on, it will be painted over and Bridget Riley with assistants will paint it again onto a wall in the new venue.

Rajasthan by Bridget Riley

Continuum is a reconstruction of an old structure that you can walk through. It’s a short spiral with black lines like a lunatic barcode on the walls which can make you forget where you are momentarily. Overall, this exhibit deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

We had a coffee in the café at the neighbouring National Gallery of Scotland. The two ladies on the next table were having an in-depth psychoanalytical session but we couldn’t work out which was the doctor and which the patient.

Surgeon’s Halls

After a lot of walking about the city, Liesel chose to visit the Surgeon’s Hall Museum while I went for a walk further afield.

Blue sky and cranes seen from the bottom of the climb

I’m glad I collected my jacket from the car because halfway up the stone steps to Arthur’s Seat, the heavens opened and the rain came down. No, not down: sideways. It was fairly incredibly windy, my back was drenched while my front stayed dry. At least until I turned round to walk back down.

View obscured by rain
Ominous clouds

The view of the city was diminished, you couldn’t even see the cranes decorating the city.

Liesel said to me, as we were walking along, “What I really miss is seeing elephants, maybe we should go to the zoo.” I replied, “Well, I’m hungry and I quite fancy a bagel, right now.” What are the chances of finding this shop round the corner?

Elephants and Bagels

The Voices of Bond was a nice relaxed show in a small venue, The Space @ Symposium Hall. The singer, Phoebe Katis, performed songs from the James Bond films and provided a narrative history of the Bond film franchise. Yes, she even used that particular F word. She and her band were very good, though I was disappointed that more audience members didn’t sing along, to drown my voice out, if nothing else.

Phoebe Katis

No, I don’t think that’s the real MI6 insignia, but even so, a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ show.

We went into the library to escape one short downpour and came across probably the most philosophical stairs in the world.

Library stairs

The Royal Mile was always very busy, probably a 50-50 split between entertainers and entertained. I watched this couple for the full six minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Top buskers

I think these were the best of the buskers, although the ones we saw and heard were all good, possibly helped by not being allowed to use any amplification.

Scott Monument

Sticking to our Scottish diet, we had The Best Pizza in the UK at a place just along the road from our final event.

Jeremy Nicholas is a public speaker and broadcaster. He was the MC at West Ham FC’s home games for many years which was lucky as he is also a staunch West Ham supporter. What Are You Talking About? is the name of his Fringe show this year.

What Are You Talking About? poster

The talk was very funny, lots of true stories though not all with humorous endings. We received some tips on public speaking and if I ever feel compelled to partake in such activity, I know where to go for some advice and training. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Over these few days, we’d confirmed that we can’t really do more than one late night in a row any more. Straight to bed and straight to sleep, the night. (Yes, a little Scottish thrown in there.)

The long drive back home was uneventful: we stopped at Tebay Services again.

So next time: we’ll go for a longer period, we’ll go to fewer shows each day, we’ll try and avoid too many late shows in succession. Plus, of course, Edinburgh is a lovely city to visit even without a Festival or Fringe. Yes, we gave all the shows five stars because they all really entertained us, doing things that we could never do ourselves. I’m sure they’d all give us five stars too for being such good audience members!

Manchester Museum

I rode my bike for the first time in over a year and I didn’t fall off. Total distance covered: less than one mile, but it’s a start. Later in the week, longer rides were precluded by the monsoon season. A month’s worth of rain in less than a day. Thank goodness we’re on the top floor in our luxury block.

Martha and William are the highlights of the week of course. We might have a small moan when we drag ourselves out of bed early on a Sunday morning, but watching them both in the swimming pool, enjoying it and learning, is very gratifying.

Liam and William in the pool

We all, six of us, had brunch at The Laundrette in Chorlton. That’s a restaurant, not the place where you wash clothes, that wouldn’t be very nice, dropping crumbs on other people’s washing. Liesel and I again realised, we’d never drive as far just to eat out when we lived in Chessington.

Liam’s Dad, Alan, very kindly planed the bottom of the door leading from the hall into our living room. Just one of the unintended side-effects of having a new, thicker carpet installed last week. As part of the decluttering project in Chessington, I’d passed on my plane knowing that I wouldn’t be doing any more serious woodwork. But if I still had it, I’d be planing the door, several days later, very tentatively shaving a half a millimetre off at a time. Thank goodness for experts.

One sunny day, I took advantage and went for a long walk.

River Mersey

I saw and followed the sign towards St Hilda’s church. Somehow I missed it from which I can only deduce that Hilda is the patron saint of invisible churches. Or maybe I just wasn’t concentrating.

My route followed the river for a long way and I was beginning to think how relaxing it might be, out in a boat. Until, that is, I came across some very half-hearted rapids.

Rapids

I kept a list of all the wildlife I encountered, ducks, rats, otters, beavers, deer, moorhens, coots, foxes, bears… and the grand total was a big fat zero. A few insectsbuzzed about, busy doing what they do and that’s it: slightly disappointing.

Fallen tree

After so much rain recently, it looks as though this tree could no longer hang on by its root tips. It slid down the slope to a sad end in the river.

People who know me probably also know that the twelve-year old hiding within this old body often writes a certain three-letter word in the sand on beaches. Well, I am not alone, as this tag on a pillar supporting the M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road shows.

Bumbag

Grandchildren Day saw Oma playing with Playdough, Play-d’oh!, however it’s spelt, but she did let Martha join in a bit too.

Martha and Liesel and Play-Doh

After a nap (William and me), we took a bus into Manchester where we met Jenny for lunch. This was a bit of an experiment, really, to see how the children would cope with seeing their Mum halfway through a working day. Martha wanted to go back to work with Jenny, but other than that, we had a good time. Well, nobody was too traiumatised.

Liesel and I took the children to Manchester Museum, just down the road. Martha wanted to see the dinosaurs while William was more interested in the froggies. Taking pictures through glass in a darkened vivarium trying to avoid reflections of the few spotlights was a challenge. And we weren’t allowed to remove the frogs for photographic purposes either.

Green frogs
Cephalopod

It’s fascinating to see what interests them both and I’m not sure Martha believed me when I told her she had bones inside her just like those on display, just much, much smaller.

Both grandchildren fell asleep on the way back to Jenny’s and after watching the first half of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, we went to play in the garden.

Martha is flying

It was her Dad who threw Martha into the sky, not me, I’m not sure I could do that with someone else’s child.

And now, after a long, long break in the proceedings, it was time to finish off the VHS video digitisation project. I’d copied most of the videos onto the PC some years ago but had to make use of a professional service to copy some of the more fragile ones.

Windows XP

Booting up in Windows XP was a delight. Bish, bash, bosh, here’s the screen, you can do something straightaway. Not like Windows 7 or 10 where the disk thrashes about doing who knows what for a long, long time. Ooh, a bit of a rant crept in, there.

The quality of the footage is still very disappointing of course: I was reminded why I’d shelved the project for so long. Playing a newly created DVD on a proper DVD player revealed even more defects. But if I can get some stills from the videos, that will still be of value.

Another morning in Didsbury culminated in a very late breakfast at Greens. We took on enough energy to be able to install more shelves in the flat. We unpacked several boxes of CDs. A ridiculous number of CDs. I reckon if you have CDs that you can’t remember playing at all, or even buying, you’ve almost certainly got too many!

After a month’s rainfall yesterday, we had a gorgeous sunny day today. If it turns out to have been a month’s worth of sunshine as well, well, I think we’ll all be extremely miffed and very disappointed.

A Pair of Drawers

It’s only a few weeks since my last check-up at the optician’s, but maybe it’s time for a revisit. I saw the sign ‘Wythenshawe Park and Ride’. Is Wythenshawe really that popular? Is it a major retail centre? No, of course not. On closer inspection, the sign said ‘Wythenshawe Park and Hall’. That was handy because my destination on this afternoon’s walk was indeed Wythenshawe Park.

Wythenshawe Park

It’s a very popular park, lots of young families, people with dogs, folk sitting on most of the benches and the odd, very odd, individual such as moi wandering through.

Wythenshaw Hall was damaged in an arson attack in 2016 so it’s out of bounds while being restored.

Wythenshawe Hall

This 16th-century manor house will be an interesting place to visit when we’re allowed back in: a nice, easy walk from home. And if there’s a decent café there, even better!

Something took a big bite out of this tree

It is worth reporting hateful, horrible, racist people on Twitter because once in a blue moon, they do something about it.

Twitter does the right thing, for a change

I felt quite smug about this success, ridiculously so. For a minute or two, anyway.

Grandchildren Day saw us returning to Chester Zoo. We call it it Grandchildren Day. They call it Grandad and Oma day. That’s what they call us, Grandad and Oma. I’m sure they’ll come up with worse names for us as they get older.

It was a beautiful day so, even though we arrived just after opening time, the car park was full. Despite noting that we were in the Crocodile Zone and taking a picture of the nearby tree as a landmark, I spent far too long later on trying to find the car.

Big but easily missed tree by the car park

Poor Martha needed to be carried the last few metres, aeroplane style, arms flapping (hers, not mine). Needless to say, Liesel and William had found the car straightaway after leaving the zoo, while Martha and I fought our way through the shop.

Martha and William are always happy to see the elephants, rhinos and lions, but this time, there was equal delight watching the native squirrel leaping from tree to tree.

Squirrel

Later on, at home, under the climbing frame, Martha collected nut shells that must have been dropped by a local squirrel. Probably not the same one.

We spent some time in the adventure playground with lots of other small humans.

Martha on the slide

If you’re wondering: yes, Martha is now wearing spectacles and she loves carrying the case around.

Meanwhile, William watched a slightly older boy rolling down a slope. He tried to copy but didn’t quite get the idea that you can’t roll sideways when gravity is trying to pull you downwards.

William not rolling sideways

On the other hand, he had to swing on every reachable horizontal bar he could find. This is why he has very long arms.

William swinging

As if the day with William and Martha wasn’t exciting and exhausting enough: back home in the evening, we had to move as much furniture out of our living/dining room as possible.

Our first new northern carpet arrived and was installed early the following morning. It’s much deeper and softer than the old, probably original one, and the best thing is, we no longer have to look at the previous occupants’ furniture’s indentations. We’ll make our own marks!

I bit the bullet, overrode my reluctance, dismissed my innate sense of incompetence, concealed my fear of the whole scary enterprise and began to install the new furniture. The so-called String System attaches to the wall. Yes, I had to drill holes in the wall and all I could think of is that the whole edifice would come tumbling down, one day. There are shelves, cupboards and a drawer unit, consisting of two drawers: yes, a pair of drawers. A phrase that always makes me snigger.

Mick doing it himself

At last, 13½ months after moving in, we can unpack the last few dozen boxes of books, CDs, DVDs and all sorts of stuff. Stuff that we’ve lived without for a year but which suddenly, we can’t bear to be parted from! Too much stuff. Liesel was the chief (only) shelf filler, and I think she’s done a very good job. But yes, after a couple of years of decluttering in Chessington, we still have far too much stuff, so it’s not as minimalist as we’d hoped.

The shelves were populated very quickly

I enjoyed putting together the two cupboard units and the pair of drawers, chortle, despite the fact that one of the supplied screws could not be screwed in due to a defective head (the screw’s, not mine).

With the new storage in place, we are able to dispose of some older items. eBay is the obvious place although it’s just not as successful as it used to be. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. No, not Christmas, home. Not like, feel! It’s beginning to feel a bit like home!