The weather is very changeable here in Manchester, I may have mentioned this before. This week, we’ve experienced at least two seasons. A couple of days of Summery heat, a nice dose of apricity (a nice word, that) and very welcome. On the other hand, one day, the cold, strong wind, seemingly fresh from Siberia, made for an unexpectedly unpleasant walk. Yes, I could have put on more and warmer clothes, but as I said, the ferocity of the gale was a big surprise. Never mind the weather: as a Brit, I could whinge about it for several hours.
It’s been a while, but after acquiring some new bags, we collected some litter from our local streets. There should be a law against driving over discarded drinks cans because the flattened items are so much harder to pick up with the bespoke litter-picker-upper. But then, I could whinge about the amount of littering for several hours too. Well, it makes a change from moaning about the weather.
We had a coffee break at Boxx2Boxx and that was nice, sitting outside in the Sun. Now if only they’d ban traffic from Palatine Road, it would be even more quiet and pleasant, but that will never happen. Yes, I could whinge about the amount of traffic until the cows come home. In fact, there are so many cars around here, they don’t all fit on the roads, they have to park on the pavements.
We paid a visit to Manchester and we chose to go in by bus. The first bus we’ve been on here, I think, since before the first lockdown. Most of the windows were open, but somebody had managed to close one of the windows that was fitted with a device to prevent it from being closed. It was a long ride into Manchester, over half an hour to travel just six miles or so. We agreed that there should be a fast, non-stopping bus service from outside our front door to the big city. But then, I guess that’s what Uber is for. Could I whinge more about the local bus services? Yep, I sure could.
Unfortunately, we chose a day right in the middle of the Conservative Party Conference, so we witnessed hundreds of police officers from several police forces keeping us all safe from the politicians in the city centre. St Peter’s Square was the venue for several protest groups, but we fought our way through into the Central Library.
Liesel was looking at some specific books, so I wandered around and amongst other things, came across this bust of Mahatma Gandhi. There are hidden, secret passageways in this library: it seems I find something new every time I visit. In 1980, Manchester became Britain’s first nuclear free zone.
In the music department, I resisted the temptation to play the piano and to play on the drumkit. One thing that did surprise me was the number of books about David Bowie.
My plan now is to write a book about David Bowie, and for a title, I can just pick one of his song titles. There can’t be much left to say about him, surely? It’s bad enough that some people play one of his records on each and every single radio show they cobble together. Ahem.
I mentioned the less than ideal bus service before, but very soon, Manchester’s public transport system will be improved. We look forward to the full implementation of The Bee Network, fully integrated mass transportation, and this includes facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.
There is a shortage of lorry drivers and of slaughterhouse workers in the UK right now, so farmers are having to cull 150,000 pigs. What a waste. There was a protest outside the library against this, of course.
We walked to a place called The Green Lab for lunch, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t a big green dog sitting outside. It’s a popular place, we were lucky to get seats, really. Another group of people were observed walking towards the library, carrying the Roma flag I think, blue and green with a red wheel. Amongst the delegation was a unicorn with his own security detail.
Our first day out in Manchester concluded nicely when we passed these buskers, singing the songs of Bob Marley and doing a very good job.
The exciting news this week is that we are resuming our childminding duties. We picked Martha and William up from school one day, so that Jenny could show us where to go. And on Thursday, we collected them both and brought them home to ours for a few hours.
It’ll take a while to get back into the swing of things of course, as they are both very tired at the end of an arduous schoolday.
We’ll get the balance right between satisfying their desire for post-school snacks and not filling them up before dinnertime. We shovelled the coal out of the tub again so that they could have a soak and a play in the bath together and afterwards, we watched something on TV. William knew what he wanted, and our TV setup is different to theirs at home, but he still took charge of the remote control.
Jenny and Liam arrived and we all ate together. Liesel went out to her WI Knitting Group meeting and missed Martha and William getting ready for bed. What an absolute pleasure to spend time with these delightful little people.
Again, my plan was to walk to the well-being walk in Wythenshawe, but once again, I left home too late. Having taken the plunge a few days earlier, I cheated and caught the bus to about the halfway point.
This was a nice, bright day, and I did like the look of the red and the blue here.
We walked through Painswick Park again and back to the main offices of Thrive Manchester. After which I walked all the way home. I’m not one to whinge, as you know, but the weather forecast is not looking good for the next week
The theme for the Radio Northenden show this week was Days. Listen here. And yes, it includes a David Bowie track, something from my Mum and Dad’s record collection as well as Sounds of the ’20s: that is, a song from the 1920s and a brand new release by a (fairly) local artist. Listen back here (in case you missed the link the first time)!
It’s been a long time coming, nearly two years, but we’ve been to our first gig indoors, in an actual indoor venue. And it was fab.
The original plan was to spend the day in Morecambe and then attend the concert in the evening. At one point, we even thought about spending the night, but in the end, we chose not to. To even be having discussions like this is a great step forward as we slowly get back to normal. Why? Because the pandemic and restrictions imposed have drastically affected our way of life.
The weather on Saturday morning was miserable, making a day at the seaside much less attractive. The drive was uneventful, and we parked close to the venue, More Music. Why? So that we could make a quick getaway after the show, without having to wander around a strange town in the dark. It looked a bit run down to be honest, but we knew we were at the right place when we saw this poster.
And by now, you might have worked out who we were going to see this evening.
We enjoyed a walk along the sea front, but I was surprised that there wasn’t much of the expected sandy beach. We walked along as far as the Eric Morecambe memorial statue and guess who we bumped in to? Jessica and Christian had also made the pilgrimage, and of course, we all had to pose with Eric. Why? Because he and his partner were the best of Saturday night TV entertainment in the ’70s and, as Jessica said, he’d brought us sunshine today.
While Jess and Chris wandered off for an ice cream, we continued our exploration of this strange little seaside town. Some of the sights weren’t very nice: the bloke sitting immobile on the pavement for instance. We later learned that he was probably under the influence of ‘spice’, a new (to us) recreational drug. Some of the shops could do with a lick of paint too. Comparing this town with the relatively well-kept splendour of London is obviously unfair, a tangible sign of the north-south divide.
We were impressed by the flood defences all along the front, though, with a nice wide promenade for pedestrians and cyclists and scooterists and skateboarders. Why? Flood defences were beached here in 1977 causing extensive damage to property. The West End Pier was lost, the remains being removed the following year.
There were a few people on the beach, soaking up the Sun. Yes, by now it had warmed up nicely, and the rain had moved away. The mudflats extend for miles, not somewhere we felt like exploring today.
They do like their bird sculptures here, fulmars, cormorants, maybe even pelicans. But other than common or garden gulls, I don’t think we saw any living seabirds. Those sitting on the water just floating by gave an indication of how strong the current was.
We walked along the pier, where someone was flying his drone. I gurned at it, just in case it was filming us. Why? Well, why not? Another bloke at end of pier was loudly regaling us with his drone stories. He’d gone out for a bike ride with some friends in order to fly his drone over the farms. The day started off badly when he didn’t open the garage door far enough and it came down with some force on his head. While flying his drone, a farmer came running out after him, shouting and hollering. He was complaining because some people use drones to photograph what farm equipment is left out and can therefore be stolen easily. Our friend here was totally innocent of course: my drone doesn’t even have a camera. The farmer promised he’d shoot it down if he ever saw that drone again. If he had a shotgun.
Our story-teller here had a bad experience with a glider once too. On its maiden flight, it nose-dived somewhere, never to be seen again.
Well, that was plenty of entertainment for the day, you’d think. But no. A woman was on the phone: Were you bulk buying? Did you get rid of that toilet paper you got last time?
That was probably referring to the current petrol shortage here, and the queues of cars at the forecourts. We filled up successfully, but that was because we needed fuel if we were to be able drive all the way home from Morecambe at the end of the day. Why? Because, as I said, we thought about staying the night and decided not to, weren’t you paying attention?
The pier itself can keep you entertained. There’s a maze and a hopscotch pitch as well as some jokes.
On what side does a lapwing have most feathers? On the outside.
We dined at Morecambe Tandoori, which seems very popular with the locals. Why? Our first choice of pizzas didn’t work out, but really, we weren’t that fussy. With some time to kill before the show, I went for another quick walk, really just an excuse to eat my daily apple. West End Gardens is a nice place to explore. Some sculptures depicting the ancient four elements certainly draw the eye.
“It was decided … to connect Wind with Sound and to make a sculpture inspired by the ancient aeolian instruments, where wind creates random changing sounds. As we began to explore ways of making this happen, the design developed into the form of seven stainless steel trumpets of varying heights, shapes and angles standing like sea horns proudly calling out in all directions. The 4m high, stainless steel sculpture has wires set in the trumpet spun cavity allowing them to resonates when the wind passes over them.”
“It was decided that the Element Earth should take the form of Rock and relate directly to the geology of Morecambe. This evolved into a ‘rock’ seat, a unique sculptural bench using found glacial stones. Six different shaped stones were split in half and and their top face polished. These were set into a curved section of Corten steel. The effect was a very unique looking seat 3m in length with six obvious seating points.”
And to think, when I first saw this, I just thought what a clever, different, park bench.
If you think I’ve undersold Morecambe, well, this mural should convince you to go for a week or two of its bracing sea air.
We joined the queue at the venue, and when we took our seats, by a table, in front of the stage we noticed that I was not the oldest person there, and Liesel was not the youngest. Each table had two or three chairs, and were quite apart from each other. It was organised to be as Covid safe as possible. I made my bottle of ginger beer last all night: no need to be walking about more than necessary.
Jessica and Christian came on first for a wonderful set, all their own songs, including a couple in which we, the audience, were invited to sing along. I caught myself singing along to most songs, but not too loudly, I hope.
Robyn Hitchcock was as entertaining as always: The Cheese Alarm again reminding me that there aren’t enough pop songs about cheese. Sadly, he didn’t perform No, I Don’t Remember Guildford, but maybe he remembers the time he sang that song in a radio studio with me sitting behind, breathing down his neck.
Because we were so close to the stage, it was difficult to get a good photo, so this will have to do. All three performed Robyn’s Brenda’s Iron Sledge together, a song I would like to join in with but not knowing the lyrics is a bit of a handicap. Don’t call him Reg. Why? It’s not his name.
What a great experience. Covid’s always at the back of our minds of course, but we felt safe tonight and enjoyed a terrific few hours of live music.
Late to bed, late to rise, of course. West Didsbury Makers’ Market takes place once a month on a Sunday, so we walked over to see what was going on. It was a pleasant walk along the river and to the market, which was very popular, much busier than I’d expected. Lots of craft stalls, but plenty of food too. The scones were huge and very tasty.
Liesel picked something up from Lakeland, the shop that is, not the gorgeous geographical region, after which we went to Quarry Bank Mill for a quick walk. Autumn is here so we expect to see some colour, but it was fascinating to see so many different colours here today.
We enjoyed more wandering around our local streets, despite the weather. After the storm, I looked for and found a rainbow, hiding between the houses.
It wasn’t really a storm on this occasion, just a bit of rain.
I haven’t been to a proper Macmillan Coffee Morning for a while, but I made up for it this year. The venue was Boxx2 Boxx and they were very busy on this occasion, good to see. Why? Well, I’ll always support Macmillan Care since they looked after my Mum all those years ago.
Liesel and I joined the well-being walk at Wythenshawe this week too. I thought about walking all the way there and back, as well as doing the walk itself. Driving all the way again to do a walk, like I did last week, felt wrong. So we compromised, drove halfway and then walked the rest.
I have no idea how somebody can build up enough speed in the short distance from the car park to cause this much damage.
We walked to the Lifestyle Centre, joined Chantel and a few others for a walk around Painswick Park and beyond.
Yes, of course I was tempted to have a go on this zipwire, but it’s probably for children, and I didn’t want to lag too far behind the group. Why? I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t want to get left behind or maybe I didn’t want to risk breaking the equipment or more likely, I was pretending to be grown up.
I had a couple of nasty technical issues this week that caused a few moments of panic. Acast, the app through which I listen to many podcasts, forgot all my subscriptions. It acted like I’d only just signed up. And the one podcast it claimed to know about wouldn’t play anyway. It looked like I’d have to re-subscribe to everything. And how can I possibly remember them all? In the end, I thought I had nothing to lose, maybe it’s just a stack overflow or something stupid, so I did a Force Stop on the app, and that fixed it. In other words: turn it off and turn it on again. There’s a tip for you.
The other one was when my PC forgot how to use its ethernet connection. It’s happened before, and it’s been resolved, but I’ve never found out why it’s gone wrong and why, seemingly, just as spontaneously, it’s started working again. So this week, I had to do the radio show via wifi, having turned off all the other wifi-connected devices. It seems to have worked.
The show itself was about Manchester. Why? Well, it only seems fair after the London-themed show last week. You can catch up here, if you missed it.
This is the first post in a somewhat cooler, damper, Autumnal October. When it was dreich and drizzly the other day, I wanted to go to bed and set the alarm for May. Why all the stupid questions? Purely so that the pun that comprises the title makes sense. As much as anything does in this neck of the woods.
After a storm, look out for a rainbow. Or, in our case, after a busy week away, let’s have a quiet week at home.
We welcomed Martha and William and their minders, not for Liesel’s birthday cake, but for home-made cream puffs. William was eaten by a donut while Martha was learning the fine art of French knitting.
This donut was originally made by Liesel’s Grandma, re-stuffed and refurbished by Liesel, so it’s now being enjoyed by the fifth generation.
It was lovely to witness the moment when it clicked, when Martha could see what she had to do.
Meanwhile, Liesel has very nearly finished her latest crochet project, another blanket.
It won’t be long now until it’s sent off to its new forever home.
We were asked to look after William for a few hours while Liam was working and Jenny was entertaining a friend. I suspect there was a lot of girly talk and girly midday boozing going on. But we got William, so that’s a bonus!
He brought his scooter and scooted around Wythenshawe Park, remembering the way to the playground, even though he’s only been once before.
Despite this photographic evidence, he did enjoy going down the slide, several times! He’s a very keen climber too and Liesel and I certainly got our exercise as we chased him around, from one piece of equipment to another.
There’s a small herd of farm animals, so we went over to smell them, I mean to look at them. Another family had a good chuckle as William gave a fairly good impression of the chickens clucking.
Back at home indoors, he wanted a bath, with a small selection of the dinosaurs. A few days ago, Sandra had given me one of her delicious fridge cakes. So chocolatey and tasty and more-ish. Yes, of course I shared it with Liesel and today, we let William try it. Well, it got the thumbs up, so thanks again, Sandra!
But probably his favourite treat was the carrot that he helped scrub clean.
There are some amazing things to see as you wander around Northenden. For example, I was surprised to see these dumped supermarket trolleys. Yes, surprised, because by rights, they should have been thrown into the river by now.
One day, I snapped a rose that was growing well beyond the bounds of its garden. I thought it was quite beautiful, and thought that someone was bound to snip it off for a loved one.
But then the following day, as we were walking by, Liesel also pointed it out and said this was a beautiful flower. So, as they say, great minds spot the same pretty flowers, sometimes.
Yes, in Northenden, the sunflowers grow so tall and powerfully, they need scaffolding to hold them up.
To mark the occasion of the Autumnal equinox, nature bestowed upon us the sight of a lovely sunset, the first one for quite a while. (Yes, I know we have a sunset every day, but this is the first colourful one we’ve witnessed for quite a while.)
We wandered over to Didsbury early one morning. La Chouquette provided the coffees, a pastry and the best loaf of bread that we’ve had for a long time. In fact, we started nibbling it on the way home.
And here’s the world-famous yarn-bombed pillar box.
No idea who the lady over the road is, holding the coffees. And I hope I’m not betraying any state secrets when I reveal the location of Batman’s residence.
I joined Chantel again for a couple of well-being walks, one in Northenden and one in Wythenshawe, the latter being a new venue. This walk took us into and around Painswick Park but unusually, I took no pictures. You’ll just have to imagine the pond, the geese, the ducks and what looks like another fabulous playground.
As promised, the radio show this week featured London, following our exciting trip there last week. You can listen back here.
In the last couple of weeks, we found out that three of our friends have passed on to the other side. I feel sad that we didn’t find out sooner, but I feel privileged to have had them all in our lives over the years. Farewell Mark, Peter and Gill. And lots of love to your families and friends.
That’s all folks! We’re off out soon so I suppose I’d better get ready…
The Sun was out and after breakfast, I set off for Surbiton station. I’d checked, and all three local stations, Surbiton, Tolworth and Chessington North were a 25-minute walk from our Airbnb. I thought I’d go to Chessington, for old times’ sake. But as I walked through the door, a moment of panic set in. Suppose I missed the train? I’d have to wait half an hour. There’s a much more frequent service from Surbiton. So I turned round and walked there instead. Yes, I could have caught a bus, but neither Liesel nor I were yet convinced that travelling on buses was a good idea. Hang on, what happened to Liesel? Well, she was going to Woodmansterne to visit an old friend, Claire, whom we hadn’t seen for ages. The plan was that Liesel would meet me later on in London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
We debated whether or not to get Oyster Cards, as our old first generation ones might no longer work, but in the end, I just used my phone. It seems TfL work it all out nicely, so the daily fare is capped. All I had to do was remember to scan in and out. Quite a challenge for someone who hasn’t used public transport for well over 18 months. But quite exciting at the same time.
It was pleasing to see that most people on the train were wearing masks. And also nice to see that the train wasn’t packed. No standing, and nobody had to sit right next to a stranger.
Travelling into London felt so normal, despite the masks. More graffiti than I remember on the walls just before Wimbledon. Battersea Power Station is looking good, nice and clean, although harder to see now thanks to the many blocks of undoubtedly luxury apartments built at Nine Elms, close to the newly relocated US Embassy.
Waterloo Station was London to me, when I was small. A small part of me still thinks that the trains now operated by South Western Railways aren’t the genuine article. No, a real, proper train has the green livery of British Rail’s Southern Region, with slamming rather than sliding doors.
And so my long-anticipated walk in London began. Through the unusually thin crowds at Waterloo Station, past a lot of newly installed seating, very welcome I’m sure. I recalled the time most of the seating was removed to make space for ‘retail opportunities’ according to ‘public demand’, they fibbed. Down the stairs by the War Memorial and towards the South Bank. Beggars, Big Issue sellers, discarded Metro newspapers, some things never change.
‘We’re so glad to see you’. ‘We’ve missed you’. ‘Welcome back to our home’. These were the messages that greeted me as I climbed the stairs towards the Royal Festival Hall. I don’t usually speak to concrete infrastructure, but I did say it was nice to be back, thank you.
I also nodded at the bust of Nelson Mandela as I passed by and smiled at the sight of the Modified Social Benches. This is the sort of thing we love about London. Nothing wrong with being quirky.
Usually at the point, I would nip into the RFH to use their facilities, but there’s no need to go into more buildings than necessary. But we do look forward to seeing live performances here, and elsewhere, as soon as we can.
The second-hand book stalls under Waterloo Bridge were not open today. I’ve squandered many an hour here, looking at books and maps and other things that I’ve no real intention of buying.
Outside the National Theatre, I acknowledged Sir Laurence Olivier and tried to recall all the plays we’ve seen here. One day, I hope to return to see a young actor perform here: hello Lesley!
Lesley was a barista at Boxx2Boxx in Northenden, look out for her on a stage near you! Many actors while between rôles have to take temporary jobs, and another one was operating the coffee stall right outside the theatre. He was due to go to rehearsals later in the day, but meanwhile, he made me a fine cup of coffee!
Thank goodness Boris Johnson’s vanity project, the Garden Bridge, was never built, it would have ruined this stretch of the South Bank. I wonder if he’ll ever repay the millions of pounds he squandered on it?
The Post Office Tower stood proudly way over there on the other side of the river. I’ve only been inside a couple of times: once soon after I’d passed my 11+ exam. And once just a few years ago when, for charity, I climbed the stairs inside. They said it was 1,000 steps, but in the end, there were only 870, more or less. I’d trained by climbing the long staircase at Guy’s Hospital, near London Bridge, towards which I was now walking, sometimes at my own default, fast pace and sometimes slowly, to take in all the sights.
The promenade along the South Bank is known as The Queen’s Walk. Well, I’ve never seen the queen there, but I have seen David Bowie. Not the real David Bowie of course, but a sand sculpture of his image, created soon after his death in 2016. In fact, the stretch of the beach revealed when the tide is out has been used for sand sculptures for quite a while, some of them ridiculously extravagant, considering their transient nature. Today, however, there was no sculpture. In fact, the normally pristine sand has been covered with darker coloured gravel. Which is a shame.
It had rained quite hard the previous day (when we were at Polesden Lacey) and some of the Queen’s Walk was still flooded. The Great Flood of London? No, just a big puddle.
Every time I walk by the Bankside Gallery, I think I should spend some time there. But I never do. The piece of art outside lifts the spirits though. It’s a nice bit of competition for Tate Modern, a bit further along.
The buskers were out in force today, at least four along this stretch. One played an accordion, one a guitar, one a mandolin and under one of the road bridges, we were treated to a tenor performing On The Street Where You Live.
Liesel and I had thought about seeing a play at The Globe: we would be outside, after all. But in the end, we missed out on Twelfth Night and Metamorphoses. But still, what a cool building to find by the Thames. My daughter Helen and I saw Macbeth here twenty years ago and I still regret not going the following week too, when we could have seen Macbeth performed in Zulu: uMabatha.
I still wonder if The Golden Hinde is in the best location. There’s just too much going on all around it, you can’t view it well from the side. It still reminds me of the model I had when I was younger. I wonder what happened to it?
Southwark Cathedral is a good sign that we’re approaching London Bridge. I first visited this cathedral in about 2000 when the author Michael Arditti was promoting his then new book, Easter. I bought a signed copy for Sarah and when I read it, well, it was a bit more racy than anticipated. Liesel and I visited the cathedral, as tourists, more recently.
‘There are two things scarce matched in the universe: the Sun in Heaven and the Thames on Earth’. Such is the quote by Sir Walter Raleigh inscribed on the wall just round the corner from London Bridge. And looking out on the Thames at that very moment, I witnessed the passage of an Uber Boat. This service is run in partnership with Thames Clippers, and is not to be confused with a U-Boat, something far more sinister. Another item to add to the long list of ‘Things to do the next time we come to London’.
HMS Belfast is famous for, amongst other things, its forward guns aimed at Scratchwood Services on the M1. There was no sign of them being fired today, but there were a lot of people on board a very interesting ship.
Liesel and I did the tour of Tower Bridge a few years ago, including avoiding walking on the glass panels in the floor of the high level walkway. Obviously, you always hope the bridge will open while you’re watching, but you have to time it just right. No sign of it opening today. And I wish I could stop thinking of the Spice Girls’ bus jumping over the opened bascules in the fabulous film Spiceworld. All expense was spared on the special effects.
London City Hall is I’m sure a hive of industry, especially as the Greater London Authority will be moving to new premises by the end of the year. We’ve only been inside once, and enjoyed walking up the spiral slope.
Over the river is the Tower of London. Again, a place I first visited as a child (I still have the little booklet, priced 1/6d) and again since then a few times with various family members visiting from afar.
I was taken aback by the number of people walking across Tower Bridge. As a pedestrian, you’re meant to keep left, according to signage on the ground, presumably to assist in Covid-inspired social distancing. I think more than 50% of people were complying, but I didn’t want to hang around longer than necessary and count!
One happy couple were being photographed, and it was fun to watch a professional photographer at work. The bride and groom spent a long time arranging the veil to blow in the wind, which to be honest, was not being very cooperative. Of course, I’m making an assumption: maybe they were models, not a newly-wed couple. In any case, I think they wanted City Hall and The Shard in the background of their pictures. Ah yes, The Shard, another place we should visit one day but £25 just to ride up in a lift seems a bit excesive.
I strained my neck looking up at the glass floor in the overhead walkway and felt a little queasy. The thought of someone falling through and landing on my head… Or me falling over backwards into the water below…
A quick check on my phone confirmed that I still had time to walk to the V&A, but I could always catch a bus if necessary. From now on, I would remain north of the river.
There’s a small section of an old Roman wall near the Tower, a reminder that in the past, Liesel and I have joined several organised walks around London. Nearby, there are paintings decorating the walls of an underpass. One of the portraits, by Stephen B Whatley, depicts Anne Boleyn, someone to whom I am distantly related by marriage, I recently discovered.
Tower Hill was my station of choice when I worked in the City, in Crutched Friars, to be precise. Lunchtime entertainment was sometimes provided by the Metropolitan Police Band. Today, it was mostly visitors milling about. I remembered where the public toilet was but I’d forgotten it cost 50p. Thoughtfully, they’ve installed a change machine so I changed a nice crisp £10 note for a pile of £1 and 50p coins. 50p for a pee though, that really is taking the p. On the other hand, I now had some loose change to throw into a busker’s hat, should I encounter another one.
This part of London is a fabulous mix of old and new architecture. Old stone churches and glass and steel office blocks. Through a small gap, along a narrow road, I spotted the Monument, the one that commemorates the Great Fire of London. We’ve climbed this edifice a few times, I have certificates to prove it.
It would have been nice to stick to the Thames Path, right next to the river, but there are several places where you have to deviate, thanks to building work. The smell of chlorine probably came from the swimming pool inside Nuffield Health Fitness and Well-being Club. If not, then maybe I should have reported a dangerous chemical leak.
The Queenhithe Mosaic tells the story of London right from its early days. This is a terrific work of art, 30 metres in length, and what a shame it’s so far off the beaten track. This is one of those things you can look at for ages. Yes, it too is on the list for a return visit.
My collection of photos of sundials continues to grow. Polar sundials aren’t very common, so I was pleased to find one. The lady sitting next to it offered to move, but I told her to stay put and add some scale to my picture.
Over the river, beyond the Millennium Bridge, sits Tate Modern. I wanted to go in today, but you have to book online. In this I failed abysmally. The booking site must work, there were plenty of people in there, but I struggled. It kept telling me about the need to book in advance, but I just couldn’t find the actual place where I could actually book an actual timeslot. Sometimes, I despair at my own incompetence. Although, bad web design is a factor here, I’m sure.
Neither did I go into the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral for a coffee, although I was tempted. I’d only had one so far today despite passing 101 coffee bars and vendors.
Looking south over the river, I caught my first glimpse of the London Eye. I didn’t feel the need to go on that again, but who knows, maybe we will if any future visitors are interested. I did have a dream once that it very slowly fell over and into the river but fortunately, each of the 32 capsules automatically converted to lifeboats.
And then over the river, I spotted the Oxo Tower. I’ve never ventured beyond the craft shops on the lower floors but I do recall one story related by a former postman colleague. Skip this paragraph if you’re under 18. Andy was very gleeful one day and if he told us once, he told us a dozen times that the previous evening, he’d taken his wife up the Oxo Tower. I know, I know. Then he asked us all whether we’d ever taken our wives or girlfriends up the Oxo Tower. Sorry if you’re having your tea.
I passed by one of the dragons that guards the City of London and entered the City of Westminster, walking along Victoria Embankment.
Near Temple Station, I found another sundial. It’s not much use though. Not because it wasn’t sunny enough, but flowers have grown over the useful parts.
Earlier, I said that Waterloo Station was London for me, when I was small. Everything else was a bonus, including Victoria Embankment, and it was occasionally my job to lookout for Cleopatra’s Needle, the obelisk guarded by two sphinxes facing the wrong direction. The obelisk was completed in 1450 BC and presented to the UK in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan, one Muhammad Ali.
As usual, when I pass by or walk over Waterloo Bridge, one old earworm rears its head, Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. I was still humming the tune to myself as I approached St Martin’s and Trafalgar Square. Ah, Trafalgar Square, that would be a good place to stop for a coffee, I thought. Not today. The whole square was cordoned off, probably being prepared for a future event. I was delighted to see the new work of art on the fourth plinth though. I couldn’t get close enough to read the plaque, so this is from The Greater London Authority website:
Heather Phillipson’s vast physical and digital sculpture tops the Fourth Plinth with a giant swirl of whipped cream, a cherry, a fly and a drone that transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square. Entitled THE END it suggests both exuberance and unease, responding to Trafalgar Square as a site of celebration and protest, that is shared with other forms of life. The live feed of Trafalgar Square picked up by the drone’s camera is visible on a dedicated website www.theend.today giving a sculpture’s eye perspective. (Good luck with that, I couldn’t get it to work.)
As I couldn’t walk across Trafalgar Square today, I walked around. This was when I acknowledged that I was on a giant Monopoly board. I’d just passed The Strand, here’s Trafalgar Square, I’d narrowly avoided Whitehall and was about to walk along Pall Mall.
There’s a new lion here too, between the Square and the National Gallery. It’s the only member of the Tusk Lion Trail that I saw on this occasion, a nice colourful beast. Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to hunt down some more lions on this trail one day.
Nelson watched over me as I crossed the roads and I was pleased to see the so-called diversity street crossing signs are still being used. They were installed for Pride 2016 and haven’t been replaced. Instead of a green man, when it’s finally time for you, a mere pedestrian, to cross the road, you see a couple holding hands, or maybe two male or two female symbols ♂️♂️ ♀️♀️ but green of course!
The Athenaeum is a lovely building to see, the home of a private members’ club that I haven’t been invited to join yet. I also passed by the back door of St James’s Palace only identifiable by the presence of two bored-looking but armed police officers. I found my way through to Green Park which was all but deserted. Even the squirrels sauntered across the paths rather than scurrying as they usually do. In the distance to my right, The Hard Rock Café on Piccadilly, but no, I wasn’t tempted to deviate for a coffee there either. In fact, I might still have a grudge against them. We tried to book a table once and they told us we couldn’t. Then, when we turned up, we couldn’t get in because it was fully booked. You should have booked, they said.
Hyde Park Corner is a nightmare whether on foot, or in a car or bus. It had to be negotiated though. I smiled when I saw Wellington Arch: I’m proud to say I cycled under it in 2005, naked. Here’s a link so some photos… oh no, sorry, I just remembered, I’ve closed that particular account. One day, I might repeat that most enjoyable bike ride around London. Not today though, I didn’t bring my bike.
Today’s long walk was taking place on Liesel’s birthday so as I walked by The Lanesborough, I wondered whether I should book afternoon tea. But then I remembered we probably wouldn’t have time. Plus, of course I wasn’t dressed properly for such a venue. We have had tea here before, though: I remember being slapped on the wrist when I tried to pour my own tea.
Knightsbridge was busy, but there was no avoiding it. I was surprised that the big street sign called the area Scotch Corner, especially since the shop after which it’s named, The Scotch House, hasn’t been there for years. I worked in the area for six years, and I was disappointed to see that the sandwich shop where I bought my breakfast after a long nightshift, Crumbs, has gone and been replaced by something far inferior.
But this pub, Tattersall’s Tavern is the first and only venue where I have consumed eight pints of beer in one sitting. That was after a very long shift at work, and in the end, just me and Bob, the manager, were leaning against the bar.
Harrods doesn’t change. Once, I went in to buy a pair of shoelaces, without success. Today, the window announced a coffee bar on the ground floor. That’ll be different, thought I. So I walked through. Do you think I could locate this coffee bar? No. Instead, I carried on and found a coffee at Steps Coffee Haus, across the road. Well, I just felt sorry for them, that their pop career hadn’t worked out. Tragedy.
Also at Harrods, many years ago, I met Ffyona Campbell. I often think of her when I’m on a ramble. She walked around the world in the ’90s and signed a book for me. The following week, Naomi Campbell was going to be signing the book that she ‘wrote’, even though, as it later emerged, she hadn’t even read it! On the other hand, it turned out Ffyona had had to ‘cheat’ in USA to keep up with planned media appearances, which is a shame. It must be painful to be extracted from The Guinness Book of Records like an unwanted, rotten, decayed tooth.
This is busy London, lots of pedestrians and lots of traffic, and I was torn between feeling imposed upon and just enjoying being in this vibrant city. I recognised some shops, but many were new to me, and the architecture is wonderful of course. Don’t ask me to describe the various styles, but when I see a new build that doesn’t fit in, I do wonder which developer bribed which councillor. Cynical? Me?
I reached the V&A just a few minutes before the agreed meeting time. This was when I received the dreadful news from Liesel that she’d only just left and would be quite late. I had both our tickets on my phone so I forwarded them to Liesel, telling her to use the second ticket, I’d use the top one. Yes, I could have waited a while before going in, but my bladder couldn’t.
In the end, although our electronic, timed tickets were checked by a person, neither was scanned electronically, so we weren’t in any real danger of being refused admission.
When Liesel arrived, I was sitting in the quadrangle with a nice cup of coffee and a large baguette, soaking up the Sun. Before I’d left this morning, Liesel had predicted that I’d walk over 20,000 steps. No way, José, I said. But she was right. At this point, the pedometer displayed over 23,000 steps. Liesel bought some (late) lunch too after which we went inside to look at some exhibits.
I quite liked the French Globe Clock, I think it would look very nice in our living room. But mostly, we looked at and admired the wrought and cast iron items. Why? I think we found ourselves going to galleries with the fewest people. In one room, a couple were dancing to the music in their heads.
Breathless is a collection of silver-plated brass instruments squashed by one of Tower Bridge’s 22-tonne lifting mechanisms. Who comes up with these weird ideas? In this case, one Cornelia Parker from Cheshire.
As it was Liesel’s birthday, it was her choice of places to eat out. She remembered a Japanese restaurant somewhere near the Southbank Centre, so we set off back along Cromwell Road, Brompton Road and Knightsbridge. Yes, I was retracing my steps, but it was a first time for Liesel to be walking along the A4. The A4! And yes, we could have caught a bus, but apart from the traffic, it really was a pleasant day for walking in the city. After crossing the glorified roundabout that is Hyde Park Corner again, we veered off to walk by Green Park, along Constitution Hill.
Of course, as tourists, we were perfectly entitled to take a selfie with Buckingham Palace in the background.
The Victoria Memorial was shining brightly in the early evening sunshine, and, what’s this? A new innovation in London transportation? A man was walking along the road, in a giant metal wireball, a steel zorb. We don’t know why, but he did say he was doing this for ninety days.
The Mall was much more busy than we’d anticipated, disappointingly so, really. I have fond memories of riding onto The Mall after my 100-mile Prudential Bike Ride back in 2014, in the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha. I dream of being fit enough to do so again.
I’ve been to the ICA, the Institute for Contemporary Arts, for a few events over the years but so far, Liesel’s missed out. Yes, it’s also on the list of places to visit one day.
Eventually we crossed the Golden Jubilee Bridge, again admiring the London Skyline to the east, beyond Waterloo Bridge. I resisted the urge to take a picture, since I already have several hundred. Unfortunately, the Japanese place has been replaced by a very stinky burger joint. So we went down to Wagamama for a very civilised meal. Plastic shields separate you from other diners, and I wonder whether they’ll keep these once the pandemic’s over? Or will we once again be forced to sit next to strangers on the bench? And you now pay by scanning a QR code on the menu, going to a website, typing in your table number and payment details. I’m not (usually) criminally minded, but I did think about entering somebody else’s table number, someone who perhaps has only ordered a couple of cheap drinks so far.
We walked back to Waterloo Station and returned to Surbiton.
I’d walked over 17 miles by this point, and while I didn’t say so at the time, I was quite relieved that Liesel had parked the car at Surbiton Station! The thought of walking back to our Airbnb after sitting down for half an hour on a train somehow didn’t appeal.
After a fairly good night’s sleep, we returned to the city. And we should have known it wouldn’t be straightforward. There’d been an ‘incident’ and all the trains were delayed. Sitting on a stationary train was the perfect opportunity to finish the book I was reading: Bitterhall by Helen McClory, so good, I gave it a 5-star review.
Later than planned then, we walked from Waterloo, along the river to Borough Market. We passed a couple of the same buskers as yesterday, and I was able to hurl some coins at them.
We were pleased to see that the Southbank Centre’s undercroft is still being enjoyed by skateboarders and graffiti artists: in fact, we caught one in the act. Also, being a bit later in the day, the book stalls were all out under the bridge, but we wasted no time browsing, we had a market with food to get to.
We acquired a picture of ourselves with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background thanks to a helpful pair of ladies who noticed that I was pretending to struggle taking the obligatory selfie.
We ate our way around Borough Market: the best chips we’ve ever had, a very cheesey cheese straw, a tasty spinach muffin. The market was nowhere near as busy as we’ve seen before, but someone talking on the phone said it was absolutely rammed.
One market’s not enough, so Liesel suggested visiting Spitalfields Market. It was a good excuse to walk along some long-neglected city streets. The Monument was gleaming in the sunshine, another selfie opp, of course.
On the way, we walked through Leadenhall Market, one of our favourites, which in contrast, was much, much busier than we’ve ever seen it. Possibly because in the past, we’ve only been here on a Sunday. The bars were all open and full of city workers probably talking shop, definitely speaking loudly, a sign of normality if ever there was one, although of course, the spectre of Covid was never far away.
Who would think that a big lump of red, molten, plastic bottles could result in such a fabulous work of art? Tatiana Wolska, that’s who. What looks like a big red balloon, in the shape of a small human, floats above us in the market, competing with the very decorative star-studded ceiling.
We found more Sculpture in the City in the form of Orphans, geometric solids made from orphaned paintings, those left behind by deceased people and unwanted by their heirs. Bram Ellens is responsible for this one, which is outside, exposed to the elements, so I hope it’s OK. I’m sure the artist knows what he’s doing.
We sat down for a break in the courtyard in front of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping in Fenchurch Street. This is just round the corner from where I once worked, in Crutched Friars, a strangely named street that we didn’t quite get around to re-visiting on this occasion.
In this courtyard is a lovely sculpture, a mirror-polished stainless steel ship, with water running down and over it, very refreshing. The office workers returning from their lunch breaks paid it no attention as they made their way upstairs, some in more haste than others.
Our wander continued, passing the site of Petticoat Lane Market, which is only open on Sundays. Lilian Knowles House was new to us, as was Donovan Bros Paper Bag shop on Crispin Street, what a quaint area. The shop was closed, but I wanted to buy some paper bags just to see if Donovan or his brother would put them in a big paper bag. And a good reminder that despite living in or near London for forty years or more, there is still plenty to explore.
We like these strange, old places, but some new ones are quite pleasing to the eye too. Of course, it was a nice sunny day today, I wonder if looks as good on a gloomy wet day?
The first thing that drew my attention in Spitalfields Market was a bronze representation of Mwashoti, an orphaned male elephant rescued a few years ago. He is just one of the Herd of Hope roaming the market, drawing attention to the plight of orphaned elephants.
The second thing I noticed was the second-hand hat stall. One day, I might decided to go for a 1950s titfer, but not today. We just walked around the market, a vibrant, colourful emporium. Yes, there was some tat, but a great place for people who collect, inter alia, old vinyl records. I had a quick browse, finding some David Bowie bootlegs that I’d not seen before. Tempted? Of course I was.
It was someone’s birthday and as she posed for photos with a cake, she was surrounded by some of the most colourful, costumed friends you could imagine. They were more than happy to have their photo taken by us more sedately dressed weirdoes.
Liesel was delighted to find Humble Crumble, a stall that she’d read about, selling pies. I think this is just one factor that later led Liesel to suggest that Spitalfields is her new favourite market in London, knocking Borough Market off the top spot.
Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee is another delightful sculpture that we admired just outside, before setting off to bus stop J.
Yes, after discussion, we decided to, gulp, mask up and take a bus back to Waterloo, our first bus ride since, as far as I can remember, before the first lockdown. I didn’t even use my Old Fart’s Bus Pass (or whatever it’s called) because, well, I just forgot I could.
Fleet Street, Hoare’s Bank, The Royal Courts of Justice, Waterloo Bridge: what a fascinating, very nice, evocative bus ride.
From Waterloo, we took a train to Kingston, and this concludes two days in our glorious capital city. It was an itch that I feel has been well and truly scratched, but there are plenty more things to do and see, including theatre visits and other live performances – in London and Manchester.
We look forward to travelling on the underground again. Liesel had taken the tube from Wimbledon to South Kensington yesterday, but I totally avoided it on this occasion. Before moving away from Chessington, I had planned to visit every one of the stations on the London Underground system. It might happen one day. We were a week too early to visit the 21st century’s first new ones though: Nine Elms Station and Battersea Power Station Station, both, bizarrely in Zone 1.
Let me paraphrase Lord Kitchener:
London is the place for me London this lovely city You can go to Didsbury or Manchester, Wythenshawe or Northenden But you must come back to London city Well believe me I am speaking broadmindedly I am glad to know my Mother Country I have been travelling to countries years ago But this is the place I wanted to know London that is the place for me.
We went a long way south this week, for the first time since before the first lockdown. What an adventure. But first, here’s Northenden in all its glory.
Some flowers manage to escape the confines of their own garden, which brightens up the local roads.
Liesel had some work to do so, sadly, it was down to me to look after Martha and William for a few hours while Liam and Jenny went off somewhere for some peace and quiet. I enjoyed the walk to their house, and back, in ideal weather conditions. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, just right, just like Baby Bear’s porridge.
By way of a mental exercise, I decided to count the numbers of cyclists, runners and walkers that I saw on the way over to Cheadle Hulme. In the end, there were 13 cyclists, 17 runners or joggers, some looking happier than others, and 35 people walking. But, there were also two people pushing their bikes. Do I add them to the cyclists’ or to the walkers’ tally? This is the sort of nightmare conundrum that statisticians have to contend with all the time. Oh well. Also, one dog, one cat, one buggy and of course, innumerable cars. More exciting stats later.
Martha and William both had so much to show me, toys, books, puzzles. Martha’s written the first story in her school book. Getting them to pose for selfies was fun: William got into the spirit, training for the new coal mine about to open in Cumbria.
There was a visitor in the garden. They weren’t bothered. True, it was only a squirrel, but even so, I thought they’d be more excited than their aged grandfather was! Jenny had prepared lunch for us all, thank you, and they ate very nicely. When it came time for dessert, it was Freddo chocolate bars or animal biscuits.
Later, both were still hungry. What do you want? Freddo? How about some fruit instead? I peeled Martha’s orange for her, while William peeled his own banana and very nearly put the whole thing in, in one go. Try harder, young man!
This dialogue didn’t really happen. I could have asked either, “What would you like to play with right now?” And the answer would be, “Whatever my sibling has, of course!” I’m sure most parents and grandparents have had this experience.
It’s a funny old universe, everything balances out in the end. Mummy and Daddy returned and I walked home. Martha and William were quite tired, but I was buoyed up and happy: what a remarkable demonstration of the law of conservation of energy.
I walked home a different way, a more pleasant route, away from the main road as much as possible. So we’ll remember that for the next time. It was nice to see some young people playing football on the school playing field, it reminded me of watching Asa and Gideon playing three years ago, at the start of our travels.
And so, Monday morning arrived full of expectation, the cue for us to pack for our trip down south. We still weren’t 100% sure it was the right thing to do, given the Covid situation, but it’s been so long, and there has to be a first time some time. It’s a thin line between being cautious and living in fear, after all.
The M6 is a marvellous feat of engineering and construction and I know there’ll be a big, big party on the day it is finished, when there are no roadworks, no improvements, just an unencumbered drive from A to B.
And it’s always good to see this.
It reminded me, I must try and find the album released by The Pies many years after the graffiti first appeared.
Rather than going straight to our accommodation in Tolworth, or Surbiton as our hostess would have it, we drove to Richmond Park, probably my favourite of all the London parks. We were mainly going for a walk, but we definitely cheered when we first saw the London skyline in the distance
A couple of sections of road in the park have been closed to motorised vehicles, in order to restrict the amount of rat-running. That was good to see, even if, on this occasion, it meant we had to drive much further to our chosen car park.
We walked through Isabella Plantation, a nice, peaceful haven. I’m sure it’s been affected by the pandemic, much of it is very overgrown. In places, you can’t even see the stream because the vegetation is so lush. Gardeners and volunteers have probably been unable to devote so much time to the usually well-groomed area.
We wandered over to and around Pen Ponds. We didn’t have the place to ourselves, we shared with a few other people and their dogs, as well as plenty of birds.
We probably have seen cormorants here before, but mainly it’s geese, ducks, coots and even when you can’t see them, you can certainly hear the ring-necked parrakeets.
I’d forgotten how much bracken there is in Richmond Park, and recalled how several years ago, there was a big scare about how carcinogenic the spores are.
At this point, we didn’t know why the roads were closed. So I walked down the steep Broomfield Hill and thought about stopping a struggling cyclist halfway up to ask if they knew why the roads were closed. But that would have been cruel. It’s always an achievement to ride up that hill without stopping and who knows, maybe one day I’ll do it again too. It was good to see so many cyclists in Richmond Park, but these weren’t the only ones we saw.
We found our way to our Airbnb in Tolworth Surbiton via Kingston. What’s this? County Hall has been sold? Surrey County Council’s HQ is now in Reigate, not Woking or Guildford as I would have expected. So who bought County Hall? I know when I worked at Kingston University, the then Chancellor wanted to buy it to expand his empire across the road. And the University’s Town House is a brand new building, not the pile of portakabins that it used to be. So many changes in such a short time.
After checking into our place, we set off for Byfleet to meet up with an old friend. Even though it’s been a long time since we’ve been here, it was all familiar. No real danger of getting lost, here.
Rosie took us to a nearby Indian restaurant for a delicious but very spicy meal which left me no room for dessert. It was while walking through the tunnel under the railway station that we saw more cyclists.
How wonderful to witness the reunion between Liesel and Rosie, after all this time!
I think it was Benjamin Frankin who said: “… but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and roadworks on Leatherhead Road.” And so it proved to be on this occasion as we drove the next day, yes, even further south, to Polesden Lacey. Is Leatherhead Road the most dug up highway ever?
It was raining and, in fact, this turned out to be the only rainy day of the whole week. Here we met up with Helen and Steve for lunch and a quick walk around the grounds. The House itself was closed, so we still haven’t been inside, despite so many visits to Polesden Lacey over the years.
In the rain, I started to sing Oh What A Beautiful Morning, but it wasn’t fully appreciated by my other half.
Atmospheric is possibly the word I’m looking for. Even when the rain stopped, you could feel it, on the borderline between drizzle and tropical-style humidity.
This sculpture was created by Iain Crafer, inspired by the local beech trees.
We bade farewell to Helen and Steve and before our evening assignation, we made a detour to Bushy Park, one of our favourite London parks. Here too, the main road through the park, Chestnut Avenue, has been closed to through traffic. How jolly civilised.
We had a very pleasant walk around, finding paths that neither of us remember trampling nor cycling on before.
If you look closely, you can see stags having a lie down in the long grass.
Here’s a heron in Leg of Mutton Pond, so I passed on greetings from his cousin in Northenden. And we probably would have made friends with this moorhen too, if only we’d had some food for him.
We spent two days in London. At the end of our second day, we caught a train to Kingston where we loitered for a while before setting off on another walk.
This sculpture is one of a set, constructed by Alex R T Davies, on display in Kingston. This goat really does have a traffic cone on his back, and we are invited to touch and even sit on him.
The Thames was very busy, with rowing boats with crews of 8 and of 2, paddle-boarders and swans.
Walking along the Thames to Surbiton in the early evening is a very pleasant experience, even if looking across the river means glimpsing the bright, setting Sun so, yes, there were moments when I couldn’t see much other than green blobs floating in front of me. Nevertheless, we found our way to one of our old haunts from a few years ago.
It was reassuring to pass another establishment to see that they’re still having trouble keeping the L stuck on. Every generation of vandals probably thinks they’re the first, the original!
In Allegro, the proprietor, whose name we ought to know by now, recognised us even though it’s been at least two years since our last visit. During the pandemic, he closed up shop and took advantage of the opportunity to refurbish the place. He only reopened a few weeks ago and very nearly had to close again. Someone driving away from Surbiton Station hit the accelerator instead of the brake, driving into the tree in front of the restaurant.
We enjoyed a nice meal with Helen and Steve and went back for our final night in Tolworth Surbiton, at least for the time being.
Early Friday, we got up, packed, and departed, stopping in Surbiton, yes, proper Surbiton, at The Press Room for some coffee to take with us. Even the Big Issue lady recognised me from two years ago, so I must have left an impression there.
We were meeting up with another friend on the way back, over in Gloucestershire. Sandra worked with Liesel many years ago, and we’d arranged to meet up for a walk around Sherborne Park Estate, which belongs to the National Trust. And what a pleasant walk it was too, just the sound of insects and birds and two women catching up on several years of gossip. We’d seen deer in Richmond and Bushy Parks of course, but none as spectacular as the one we saw here.
Down the road, we had a break outside Sherborne Village Shop and Tea Room. This was the most restrictive venue we’d been to all week. Only two customers at a time, wearing masks, which is fair enough, but you don’t know there’s someone else inside until you’ve crossed the threshold, then you get a good telling off.
There is a fabulous library cum defibrillator storage facility just down the road.
Regular visitors will know that I am not very lucky in my attempts to take pictures of dragonflies. But I got one today.
Oh, alright, I know it’s only a wooden model, but it kept still long enough for me to get my phone out and press the button. Something else I’ve always admired is the skill of the dry stone wall builders, here in the Cotswolds and elsewhere.
On the way home, we passed by Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold, both places we’d love to revisit properly, as well as Stratford upon Avon, and eventually we were back on the motorway system. We were soon reminded why we should never drive anywhere on a Friday evening. Google Maps was helpful though, telling us where the least worst hold-ups were. In the end, we drove along a section of the M5. I don’t think I’ve been on that motorway since the time Sarah and I were driving to Bristol to meet Ruth, when a thick pea-souper made us slow to a crawl, and we had to give up on that trip.
We successfully arrived at home, got the mail, had a quick gin and tonic, and welcomed the sensation of sleeping in our own bed.
Katie was kind enough to broadcast my pre-recorded radio show this week, thank you, two hours of Earworms, but hopefully not the annoying kind. You can catch up here.
What’s that? What about London? Watch this space…
I promised some more stats. So turn away now if you’re likely to be unimpressed.
The Earth’s circumference is just under 25,000 miles and at some point in the last couple of months, I passed the milestone of walking half that distance since I first using a Fitbit in April 2015. So, 5½ years to walk 12,500 miles, halfway round the world, that’s not bad, is it! That’s at an average of about 12,586 steps per day or an average of 11,413 steps per day since I stopped working as a postie in January 2016, so that just goes to show how far postal workers have to walk each day.
On our walk to Didsbury, we encountered more fly-tipped rubbish. We didn’t investigate but there may well have been evidence identifying the perpetrator of the crime. I always take a picture of this sort of rubbish with the intention of reporting it to the council. But I invariably forget to do so and then I find the picture a few days later, groan inwardly and tell myself that surely by now, somebody else has reported it.
Unusually for us, we had breakfast in out, by which I mean, we were inside a café, but out, not indoors at home. If you see what I mean. We live in a freedom-loving country of course (I know, I know) but who knew that nearly fifty years ago, it would no longer be legal to do much at all in some locations.
We walked back home a slightly longer way because we had errands to run. In Marie Louise Gardens, we collected a bag of sticks and fir cones. This is for a future project in which Liesel will construct some bug hotels with the ladies of the WI. We had some items to buy at the Co-op, and I let Liesel have the pleasure of going inside, masked of course. But most importantly, we collected a parcel from the Post Office, 3 kg of plastic dinosaurs, newly arrived from Liesel’s Mom in Alaska. And as someone suggested on Twitter, plastic dinosaurs are the most realistic replicas possible. Plastic comes from oil. Oil comes from dead, squished dinosaurs. So a plastic dino might easily contain some genuine dino DNA. We could in theory create our own Jurassic Park. We didn’t do that though, oh no. Instead, the following morning we left a trail of dinosaurs up the stairs and leading to our luxury apartment. From above, I watched William as he spotted one. Then another… Then another…
William brought his family over for brunch, but don’t worry, they had been invited and were all very welcome, and Liesel cooked up a magnificent banquet which we all throughly enjoyed, thank you.
“Do you like dinosaurs, William?” “Yes, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.”
It was such a nice day, we all went outside and sat in the shade of our old oak tree. The one we usually play hide’n’seek around. Or ‘tag’, even, but without actually touching because of Covid!
And we painted rocks. Well, I say rocks, but they were just small stones that we could find in the the confines of the communal car park. I remember burying some painted pet rocks before we moved away from Chessington. You can read about it here if you like.
Now we have a few more stones for someone to bury in future years.
We all did very well, didn’t we? And then indoors again, the contents of the toy box were investigated and distributed. Every now and then, William would remember there’s a baby in the flat below ours and try to keep quiet for a while. It’s becoming a habit, but he ate a raw carrot, straight from the fridge and scrubbed under the tap. This, despite the fact that the last time he consumed a whole carrot, it resulted in the production of large orange poo the following day! To protect her identity, I won’t name which one of us two produced purple poo the morning after consuming beetroot salad. Oh and speaking of poo, this is the class of advert we’re seeing at local bus stops:
OK, I’ll try not to mention poo again. Except to say that I will soon be receiving my bowel cancer testing kit, a biennial event that I always look forward to. Sadly, for me, Liesel provided an old tub to use, so I had no reason to buy a new one, one containing ice cream, for example.
Sometimes on a local walk, we retrace our steps, and that can be rewarding. We did so this week to stay in the shade of the local woods just a little longer on what was a surprisingly hot Summer day. And there’s nothing wrong with this little piece of uplifting philosophy, which I think we’ve probably walked by several times, and missed, as it’s on the other side of the gate post.
Some medical news, hooray. I went into Manchester to give blood and again, this was no problem, except I had to have a cold drink afterwards, not tea, but I did enjoy my Club biscuit and ginger nuts.
We both received text messages from our GP inviting us in for our flu jabs. Liesel called to make appointments for us, and after being on hold for 45 minutes, was told that there were no more appointments available. And there probably wouldn’t be until November. Hmm. Meanwhile, Liesel had also received an email from a pharmacy also inviting her in for a flu jab. We called their local branch and were able to go along later that same day to be jabbed. A couple of days afterwards, I received an email inviting me to come along for a Covid jab, which was very tempting. Yes, I am fully vaccinated already, but a trip to Manly, New South Wales, even if to visit this particular pharmacy, is very appealing right now!
Well, I don’t know if it was the flu shot or the reduced volume of blood in my system, or a combination of the two, but the following day, I just felt really tired, and breathless. This didn’t prevent us setting off to watch the nearest stage of the Tour of Britain bike race. We drove to Quarry Bank National Trust and then walked for about half an hour to our chosen viewing location on Mobberley Road.
It was another warm day, and I was conscious of walking much more slowly than my usual pace. Along the path, we found some nourishment in the shape of blackberries and damsons.
We set up camp by a bus stop and after consulting various sources, realised we had about an hour to wait. Why so early? Well, on one occasion, we just missed a race by a few minutes because roads were closed and we had to park further away than planned. The road closures seem to be better managed these days. We thought we’d have a good view of the cyclists coming towards us, and I took many, many test photos of the many, many police motor bikes as they preceded the race, checking the route and telling car drivers to get out of the way when necessary.
A local man came along and he wondered why the race was on a weekday, not at the weekend. Maybe he didn’t realise it was a stage race, a different route for eight consecutive days. He went home when he realised there was still quite a long wait. But didn’t make it back to join us, probably because one of the police officers was keeping traffic off the road. He also told us that as this very spot a few months ago, two buses had crashed into each other, head on, in the middle of the road. He pointed out the exact spot. He thinks nobody was seriously injured.
And then, suddenly, at 50kph or more, the leading group of five riders appeared, surrounded by cars and more motor bikes.
This leading, breakaway group, consists of Jacob Scott, in green, current leader in the King of the Mountains and Sprint competitions; Nickolas Zukowsky; Christopher Blevins; Leon Mazzone; and Robin Carpenter, who won the stage in Exeter, three days earlier.
If you think racing on a bike, 152.2 km, from Alderley Park to Warrington is hard, you should try watching the incredibly fast cyclists, taking some photos and applauding and cheering them on, all at the same time. No, actually, just cycling 152.2 km on a day out would be hard enough. That’s about 94 miles, a distance I’ve cycled maybe a dozen times or so, ever, and these guys do it every day as fast as their little legs will carry them. Châpeau, as they say!
Just a couple of minutes later came the peloton. 90+ cyclists at full pelt, and I’d forgotten how noisy a large group of cyclists can be. In a flash, they were gone. More motor bikes and cars and a long, long way behind, one lone rider who stopped and asked when the next bus was due. No, he didn’t, but I wonder if it crossed his mind.
A long time away from home for a mere two minutes of entertainment, then! Yes, of course, we watched the whole race on TV when we got home, but we didn’t make it on screen, which may be a blessing.
The Global6 support team parked up near us, for a natural break. Their bike wheels have green rims, and after the Tour is over, those wheels will be auctioned off to raise funds for Refugee Action.
As we walked back to the car at Quarry Bank, we ate some more damsons. I warned Liesel to watch out for the nettles, just as my shin found a particularly potent nettle bush. Thank goodness for Germolene.
We didn’t wander round the venue, but we did find our way to the restaurant and had a nice cup of National Trust decaff coffee plus a slice of raspberry Bakewell slice. It felt good to be building up my strength again after that relatively short but ridiculously knackering walk.
We were very lucky with the weather, we just felt a few spots of rain. But the cyclists had to contend with much worse on their way to Warrington.
This is the view from the comfort of our living room, gorgeous landscape and menacing dark clouds.
Another wander around Northenden was quite good for us wildlife fans.
The Jolly Roger is still flying at The Crown for the boat race a couple of weeks ago. I hope the pink bunny is soon reunited with her child. The squirrel posed beautifully. The heron was in its usual spot and he seemed to be finding things to eat in the very low river.
The shortest duration job I ever had was working on a building site in Notting Hill. I lasted one day and one hour. On the first day, I had to shift a load of toilets from there to over there. The next morning, I was told to move them all back again. Well, what a waste of time that was, I thought. But what drove me away was that is was raining hard all the time, plus the steel toe cap shoes I’d borrowed off my Dad, two sizes too small, had given me so many blisters, I just couldn’t get comfortable. But I did come away from the job with the ambition of being a hod-carrier. Yes, I wanted to be the bloke that carried dozens of house bricks or roof tiles on my shoulder while climbing a high, ricketty old ladder. Sadly, it seems that ambition will never be fulfilled. Local builders have installed a sort of conveyor belt to carry the tiles up to the guy on the roof. So that’s another ancient skill that will be forgotten in time, along with mining and sweeping chimneys.
The good news of course is that my real-life ambition of being a radio presenter is being realised, to a certain extent. This week’s show on Radio Northenden was presented from a desert island beach, with very few other people around, the waves crashing and I played lots of sunshiny, laid-back, chilled music, mostly evoking nice, peaceful places we’d all like to be sometimes, away from the hurly-burly and the hustle-bustle of every day life in the city. You can listen here.
And yes, of course we watched the next stage of the Tour of Britain on TV, the one from Carlisle to Gateshead.
We’ve been engrossed not only by all the sport on TV this week, the Paralympics and La Vuelta a España, but also the world-famous Northenden Boat Race. We witnessed this fund-raising event for the first time since moving to Northenden all those years ago. We thought about entering the race, but you have to bring your own inflatable dinghy or canoe, and we don’t have one. But next year, who knows?
We followed the sound of bagpipes, played by the Northenden Pipe and Drum Band. I think one of the drummers had had enough, look where he left his instrument.
The car park at Didsbury Golf Club was full of inflatable boats and pumps. But I was more interested in using their facilities and the coffee bar.
The boat race started at Simon’s Bridge, and we watched as innumerable dinghies set off at the same time. It wasn’t long before some of them turned sideways or even started going backwards.
Out of the blue, I heard a voice. “Are you Mick?” Well, yes, but who are you, I wondered. “I’m Colin.” Colin who? Not Colin Cook who put earthworms down my wellington boots when I was about 6 years old, surely? Ah, Colin. From Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 “I recognised your voice” he said. He’s the guy that takes my (slightly edited) Radio Northenden show and cues it up for broadcast on a Wednesday evening. What are the chances that we would end up standing so close to each other by the river?
As the boats drifted downstream – it would be an exaggeration to say they were being propelled by any serious, competent paddling – we started walking towards the Tatton Arms Bridge, where the race ended.
One vessel started sinking so the bloke got out to push. Fortunately, the river was quite low so he could walk along the river bed.
There were lots of people around, but it didn’t feel as crowded as the zoo did a few days earlier. Well, until we reached the other bridge, which everyone was trying to walk across. Glad it didn’t collapse under the weight of probably more people than it’s known since before the first lockdown.
Even those competitors who found themselves facing the wrong way finally made it to the end.
The pipers played a few tunes for the long queue waiting to cross the bridge. I briefly thought about joining this band. Then I remembered, I can’t actually play any of the instruments.
On the other hand, I haven’t tried this one, the big bass drum, yet. I’m sure our neighbours wouldn’t mind me practicing.
Liesel went straght home but I didn’t want to miss the subsequent action on the Village Green a little later.
This is one of the last boats to descend the weir. As far as we know, nobody actually fell into the water.
When the dust settled, the heron returned, scratching its head, wondering what the heck just happened?
While waiting for the last of the crowds to disperse, I sat on a bench near the playground. A lady sat at the other end and asked what was going on. She’d missed the boat race, so I showed her my photos. Such a strange situation: trying to maintain a safe distance from a stranger while, at the same time, holding my phone close enough for her to be able to see the images.
On the Village Green, the Lord Mayor of Manchester presented the prizes to all the winners and gave a little speech.
Lilly decorated the pavement for us. I don’t want to get her into trouble, but she did sign her own work.
This was outside Samosa Box. Guess what we had for dinner?
Some of the roads around here still have cobble stones along the edges. Unusually, this road had them on display. No cars parked on them, or half on the verge. I very quickly took a photo.
In other news Martha and William returned to school this week, looking very smart and very happy.
Liesel had a day out with her WI ladies, a visit to Manchester Jewish Museum. I dragged myself out of bed and we drove into Manchester together. Parking was no problem, just along the road a bit in a shopping centre. While Liesel was in the Museum, I went for walk into the city centre.
As you can probably tell, I take more photos that Liesel does. This is a rare one, taken inside the museum.
I took about half an hour to walk to St Peter’s Square in Manchester, outside the Central Library. It’s my first visit to the city centre for a long time, other than quick trips to donate blood.
I said hello to Robert Owen but he just looked at me stoney faced.
He is known as ‘the father of Co-operation’ and he stands outside the Co-op Bank’s headquarters.
What was so attractive about St Peter’s Square? The Gratitude exhibition. This is a collection of 51 statues, each decorated by a different artist, and the display is to show gratitude for the wonderful performance by all the NHS and other key workers during the pandemic.
Scattered pages from a square journal, each one a picture of our life in lockdown. The Isolation Chronicles contains snapshots of the pandemic – supermarket checkouts, nurses, vaccinations, deliveries, farming, 3D printers making visors. Designed by Sue Prince from the Peak District.
Inspiration for the design comes from the metaphorical poem ‘Good Timber’ by Douglas Malloch, which suggests that only by struggle can we overcome adversity and reach the other side. The trees in the design have fought and grown together so their uppermost branches can ‘hold counsel with the stars’. The woodland floor is laced with bluebells which are thought to symbolise gratitude. Designed by Gail Stirling Robertson from Scotland.
Faces of Lockdown depicts a collection of personalities from the last year, featuring politicians, scientists, TV characters and a Welsh goat! Designed by Hammo (Nick Hamilton), an illustrator and mural painter from Manchester.
You can see all the statues by downloading the Gratitude app for a mere £1.99, this display is here in Manchester until 12 September then it’s off to Edinburgh and London.
I couldn’t resist a visit to the library of course. Hip-hop is an art form that has largely passed me by, but I thought a visit to the Manchester Hip Hop Archive Exhibition might be educational. And it was. Lots of photos and posters and artefacts from the 1980s onwards. I even recognised some of the names, but I wouldn’t have known the context.
A lot of the culture revolves around urban art: graffiti and tagging of course, and some of that is very decorative. And the poems are as good as some of the really old ones we had to read at school.
I was going to try this but the librarian wouldn’t let me.
In the library, I met Erinma Bell MBE DL, Peace activist.
This sculpture is made from recycled hand guns, by Karen Lyons in 2016.
Andrew went to prison for 6 years during which time he lost his camera. The big loss though was his collection of 1000 photos of graffiti taken all around Manchester. After release, he sorted himself out, stayed away from drugs and alcohol and has embarked on the graffiti photo project again. There’s a display of hundreds of his pictures in the library in an exhibition called ‘Reds and K1000’.
After a coffee break in the library, I walked back to the Jewish Museum. On the way, I found another wee poem.
Liesel and I caught up with each other and I waited outside while she visiting her old friend Dunkin’.
One day, we’ll find out what this building is, with its amazing geometric pattern on the outside.
But mainly this week, it was Paralympic sport and a bike race in Spain. Both finish this weekend, so let’s hope we do a bit more during next week’s hinted-at heat wave.
My regular Tuesday night date with Jessica Lee Morgan reached episode 94 this week, and this will be the last one for a while. She’s out on tour, doing real live shows in front of real live people, and we’re all happy about that.
We’ve been engrossed by all the sport on TV this week, the Paralympics and La Vuelta a España. Our contribution is to scour the schedules, record and watch as much as possible, cheer on all the superstars and try to find time to go out for some fresh air once in a while.
It looks like there’s been a bit of a landslip here, by the river. Probably caused by the rain a couple of weeks ago. Either that, or somebody has flytipped some fencing and the extra weight has caused the earth beneath to move.
It’s always good to see a splash of colour in unexpected places, and St Hilda’s RC Church is no exception.
The golfers are back, you can just see them through the overgrown grass.
We didn’t find any golf balls this week. Either the players are better now, or we just can’t see them in the overgrown grass.
I thought this was a nice thing to do.
But reading the card was quite poignant, and personal: it looks like someone has left us far too soon.
There were no names, but it’s another indication that when you lose a loved one, you can do some crazy things, anything to take away the pain for a moment. Thoughts are with the family, whoever they are.
On another walk, we found these windfalls. But, like everyone else, we didn’t pick up any of the apples because the local tip is on the other side of the fence and, well, the stench was almost overpowering.
We walked over eight miles on this day, mostly along unpleasantly busy roads but we had a job to do. Jenny and Liam have taken Martha and William to the Lake District for a week, and our mission, which we chose to accept, was to put their bins out.
On the way, we found a hole in the wall. Not a cash machine, a literal hole in the wall.
This, plus the nearby bent, mangled and now sawn-off lamppost are testament to the quality of driving in the area.
We walked back home via Gatley Carrs where we enjoyed some wild blackberries. It was obvious that many people had been here before, the pickings were very slim.
It’s a very green park, but this very tall yet deceased tree certainly stands out.
Something else that stands out is, when you’re in The Northern Den coffee shop, you see another customer drinking coffee from a rival shop.
I’m sure Northern Den’s David didn’t put any unwanted fillings in the sandwiches ‘by mistake’. I don’t want to embarrass the offending customer, so I’ve slightly altered his appearance.
The heron’s been here a lot this week, he seems to like standing in the fast flowing waters of the weir, but he also made a guest appearance on the bridge near the old Tatton Arms.
We visited a new (to us) venue, Little Moreton Hall, a fascinating Tudor House.
The house is in pretty good nick for its age (aren’t we all?), although it’s a bit strange walking round inside, on floor that isn’t quite horozontal, but it was built on land reclaimed from marshes all those years ago. We had coffee and a scone, and we would have enjoyed the snack more if we hadn’t had to fight the wasps off. Some ducks came sniffing round too, and I tried not to laugh when one tried to take a chunk out of Liesel’s leg.
The house is the main attraction here, but we fancied a longer walk, so we went down the road a bit to Biddulph Grange Gardens. The Covid-inspired one-way system has now been dispensed with, so it was up to us to avoid all those other pesky people. It was very colourful in the gardens today.
We even saw things that we don’t recall noticing before, such as this old frog. Or is it a toad?
Well, it’s just sitting there, minding its own business, guarding the garden.
It was good to see so many bees and butterflies here too.
But of course the highlight of the day was visiting Lakeland. The shop, that is, not the mountainous, wet area a bit further north. It was a good opportunity for me to wander around while Liesel did some shopping, and in this not very photogenic part of the world, I took this picture.
But even that creature isn’t as strange as this one:
This week on Radio Northenden, I was Losing My Religion in a show entitled Mick’s Messianic Music Mix. Listen to the whole two hours here, if you fancy something a bit different.
I often listen to podcasts or radio shows in bed at night while waiting to nod off. When I feel myself drifting away, I put the earbuds under the pillow for easy access later on.
One morning this week, I noticed that one of the silicone in-ear tips had fallen off. I looked all over the place for it. Not under the pillow, not under the duvet. I even moved the bed out for a good look underneath, but it had totally disappeared. So, the last resort of the scoundrel, I went straight online to look for a replacement. In the end, I ordered a whole replacement headset for £3.95 rather than 4 replacement tips for £10, especially since I only needed one.
That evening, we watched some TV. As I stood up, I noticed a small black object where I’d been siting, and straightaway assumed I’d been sitting on a dead fly or something. But no, it was the missing earbud tip. How did it get here?
The only rational explanation is that when it became detached, it fell off the bed and onto my shorts which were hanging on the floor. When I dressed, it must have dropped into a pocket. I now realise I probably walked around with it all day. It reappeared in the evening when I pulled out a tissue or something.
It survived me getting dressed, visiting the dentist where I lay back in the chair for some treatment, a long, slow walk through the woods, a cup of coffee at the Northern Den (as mentioned before), a few hours in front of the PC and a couple of exciting hours watching action from the Paralympics.
Is this a miracle? I’m glad it turned up because if it hadn’t, the only other explanation is that it slipped through a wormhole into an alternative universe where it would have joined all our odd lost socks.
This week was a sandwich. An unusual sandwich in that the bread is absolutely delicious, full of nutrition and fun while the filling was a bit more mundane, mouldy cheese, rotten tomatoes and limp lettuce. Nothing wrong with some mundanity of course, but it’s funny the way things work out.
Saturday, we joined in with Tim’s Listening party online, a good reason to listen to Bic Runga’s Beautiful Collision album in its entirety. After which, while writing, I just let Bic Runga sing away for the next hour or so, until Jenny, Liam, Martha and William arrived.
We all went for a walk along the river, our usual route, to Simon’s Bridge and back, a total of over four miles, which I think both impressed and surprised Liam.
We were all impressed by the paddleboarders, and I’m sure we all thought we’d like to try that one day. They were spooked by the weir though. They had to remove the fins from the boards if they wanted to skate (is that the word?) down the slope of the weir, but one of the board’s fins was screwed in, and I think the whole of Northenden heard the call for the yellow bag with the screwdrivers.
Martha and William had a good time, finding two golf balls in the process. The second one was dropped into the river by mistake, I think William was surprised at re-discovering gravity, but no amount of peering into the Mersey was going to bring that ball back. Still, we’re one golf ball up on the deal.
I called Liesel ‘Liesel’ and William asked why. Liesel explained about our real, given names, and what other people call us. Then Martha joined in too, telling William that when he’s a Daddy, she’ll still call him William but his children will call him Daddy. He’ll still call her Martha but his children will call her Auntie. As Liesel said later on, we should have recorded that dialogue, because our grandchildren are the best.
When we got home, Martha again had to investigate Oma’s jewellery and try some of it on.
So that’s one slice of bread, a lovely day with our grandchildren. I’m sure you’re ahead of me. Here comes the filling, not as bad as I suggested, but comparatively plain and ordinary.
We walked into Didsbury. Liesel joined the ladies of the WI in Fletcher Moss Gardens for a chinwag while I wandered around almost aimlessly. I did sit in the rockery for a while, reading one of the seven books I’m in the middle of right now. My mid-August resolution is to finish (most of) those books before I allow myself to start a new one.
My wander wasn’t totally aimless, the final destination being the optician who adjusted my new spectacles very slightly. I’ll now give it another couple of weeks to get used to them again.
The walk to Didsbury includes Ford Lane. This is the only route to the golf course. Ford Lane is being resurfaced. How we laughed at the golfers driving to the golf course as we walked towards Didsbury. And how we laughed on the walk back home when we passed by the empty car park. Someone must have told them that they were about to be boxed in.
Most of the construction workers were, correctly, wearing hi-visibility clothing, but one of them must have been too warm.
Wednesday is Well-being Walk day in Northenden, organised by Thrive Manchester, and led by Chantel, who was on my radio show a couple of weeks ago. This week, there were about eight of us, walking slowly through the woods, glad that the drizzle remained slight. A cup of coffee at the Northern Den rounded off a pleasant morning.
I then walked home the long way, at a faster, for me more comfortable pace, and as I passed the barber, I noticed there was only one customer inside. Why not? So I did. I have never had such a short haircut, an all-over number five. I have never had such a cold head for so long. I sought professional help from Helen, what can I use to speed up the regrowth? Still, on the plus side, I don’t need to use as much shampoo, I don’t need to spend time combing what’s left of my crowning glory, and my hair won’t block up the shower any time soon. Liesel looks over from time to time and very kindly tries not to laugh too much.
Walking in the opposite direction, I really didn’t expect to see a mouse in Wythenshawe Park.
But worse than the rodent infestation was seeing the mess that the dinosaurs left behind. Dino Kingdom has packed up and is now presumably setting up elsewhere. But the churned up grass and the mud-covered paths are very sad to see. I hope the relevant authorities are being suitably remunerated for tidying up Wythenshawe Park.
So there’s your limp lettuce. And here comes the other slice of delicious bread in this ridiculous sandwich metaphor.
Chester Zoo was as busy as we’ve ever seen it. I think if Liesel and I had been on our own, we might have just turned around and gone straight back home. But with Martha and William, that would be a horrible thing to do. Thankfully, they weren’t perturbed by the hordes of visitors to the zoo. And maybe Liesel and I are just more sensitive because it’s been so long since we’ve been so close to so many strangers. With children, we’re walking along quite slowly, and I found it so intimidating when somebody was walking so close behind me. Tailgating.
Whinges apart, we had a great time, although animals were definitely not a priority for the children on this occasion. Top of the wish-list was the Treetop Challenge which I kept referring to as Treetop Adventure, much to Martha’s amusement. They were strapped in, walked around, enjoyed the rides down, and then, just as suddenly, William had had enough and Martha followed him off.
Next up: ice cream. Thankfully the queue wasn’t too long. Q: ‘Which animals would you like to see?’ A: ‘Is it lunchtime yet?’ And so, at 11.30, we sat down to eat lunch.
The baby giraffe was deserving of the oohs and aahs from so many families, while we sat there and consumed our lunch. Next on our agenda though was the playground, a water feature with rocks and a nightmare for people in charge of other people’s children. William and Martha enjoyed opening sluices and operating the Archimedes screw and lifting the ‘anchor’ which was in fact the plug that allowed all the water to drain away.
William fell asleep in the back of the car pretty much before we’d left the car park. Martha stayed awake the whole way home and, big surprise, so did I.
Jenny took William and Martha home but by the time I finished at 6.06, they were back, with Liam this time. Pizza was delivered, Jenny brought cake and we dined together. The toys were liberally distributed all over the floor, and I don’t think we’d have it any other way!
You know I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world, but on the final day of the Olympics, I got up before 2 o’clock in the morning to watch the last session of Track Cycling. There were ups and downs of course, but I enjoyed the spectacle. Laura and Jason Kenny now have more gold medals between them than many countries.
Laura was involved in a crash, meaning she was very unlikely to win the Omnium event, so it was good to see her smiling face a little later. And Jason’s Keirin win was out of this world, you should look it up on YouTube!
After the cycling, I thought about going for a nice early morning walk. But the rain was torrential. So I went back to bed instead, getting up in time for the Closing Ceremony later on.
The rain eased so I went for a potter and as if we needed reminding about the quantity of rainfall, the river was flowing fast and high. The island was totally submerged, no sign of a heron and all the geese have flown to higher ground.
A longer walk took me to Route 66.
No, don’t be silly, of course I didn’t go all the way to America. I can’t, partly because my passport is about to expire but mainly because we won’t be flying anywhere for a little while yet thanks to Covid restrictions. This plaque is actually inside the gents toilet near The Courtyard Café in Wythenshawe Park.
While in the park, I thought I’d go and say hello to the wild farm animals: goats, pigs and cows ‘guaranteed to be BSE-free’ according to the sign.
Meanwhile, it’s all change in Northenden. The milkshake place It Shake, or more likely Shake It has changed its name to The Dessert Café.
When on a solo walk, it’s always nice to be welcomed back home.
The squirrel was delighted to see me over the hedge, but as soon as I appeared on the drive, he was away and up the tree in less than a microsecond.
Dunham Massey was the venue and for the second time, we went for a walk away from the National Trust property, through the village and along the canal. I missed the opportunity of taking pictures of the cows but I did capture a horse! The canal was busier today too, with barges or narrow boats, all going in the same direction. We wondered whether there’s a one-way system in place?
We saw a very handsome heron on the towpath too, and I thanked him sincerely for being more cooperative than his relations in Northenden.
Amongst the other wildlife we saw were a pretty blue but very fast dragonfly, a caterpillar and a butterfly that might be moth really, even though they’re supposed to be nocturnal.
At one point, close to a golf course, we had a chat with a very pleasant young family. Mother said that her little boy had eaten enough blackberries by now. Father said that the field we were standing next to, now full of some kind of cereal, was full of sunflowers a couple of years ago. Well, we missed that. But it reminds us that even when we go on the same walk, we can see different, exciting things, as long as we time it right.
After the long and very pleasant walk, we found ourselves back in the deer park, where the natives were having their lunch.
But the funniest wildlife antics were displayed by a few strange specimens of homo sapiens. They’d come along to a National Trust place with their own table, chairs and the wherewithal for a very civilised picnic.
We just sat on a bench and enjoyed our white chocolate ice creams, since you ask.
Alderley Edge was the venue of another day out. The place makes me feel cold. I was working for a small software company at the time. One drizzly October day in 1986, I think it was, a colleague drove me to meet with someone in Alderley Edge. I can’t remember now if he was a potential customer or what, but all I do remember about him was, he had a huge CD collection, when such things were relatively new. The drive was fast, the weather atrocious, his house hard to find, and I felt cold, miserable and totally out of place. On the drive back, flashing blue lights in the rear-view mirror were the cue for my colleague to pull the handbrake on, hoping to slow the car down without brake lights giving the game away. A stern talking to was the result. But ever since that day, whenever I’ve seen a sign for Alderley Edge, I’ve broken out in a cold sweat. Thirty-five years on, and it was time for a return visit. On a much nicer day, with blue skies, a comfortable temperature and a fascinating new place to explore.
There’s a sandstone escarpment and in the past, there were copper mines here, hinted at by the green stains on some of the rock faces.
We enjoyed our walk through the woods, but it’s much more hilly than we’re used to. The views are spectacular, ruined only by people taking selfies in front of them.
We followed the Valley Walk, which meant of course that, after the recent rain, we would have to contend with some mud.
Liesel’s not a big fan of walking through fields with cattle but we had to go that way. I soothed the animals with my rendition of Oh what a beautiful morning, but I was glad to climb over the stile in the end.
On the way home, I noticed the bollard reflecting the sunlight and I thought, how colourful. I took its picture. Liesel said I was nuts. You decide.
It had to be done but this week, I said goodbye to a dear old friend. It’s been on the to-do list for a few years but at last, I closed a defunct bank account. They were good enough to give Sarah and me a mortgage all those years ago, but sentiment isn’t a good enough reason to keep an empty bank account and a credit card account that we no longer use. It should be a simple process, you’d think. I spoke to four different agents on the phone, assuring them that I really did know my own date of birth, that I would have to guess my credit limit since I haven’t used the card for years, and all the time at the back of my mind was, am I actually talking to people who work at the bank? Did I call the right number? Still, I can tick another box, hooray!
In additional medical news, I still have what in modern parlance should be called long midge bite. Old wounds that are taking ages to heal. I got bitten by something else this week. I thought I’d brushed against nettles or something, but the pain was too intense. I looked at my elbow and brushed off some sort of mega fly, called it a rude name, and I’ve had an itchy elbow ever since.