Walking not Walking

It wouldn’t be a trip back to our old neck of the woods unless there was a medical appointment involved. On this occasion, I spent an uncomfortable half hour in the company of my periodontist, Emily, mouth open and full of instruments of torture. Not much fun, but the alternative, no teeth stuck in my cake-hole would be far, far worse.

We visited Garson’s Farm in Esher, and I think we were both impressed by how much the shop and restaurant have expanded since the last time we visited. Oh, it’s now known as Garson’s Garden Centre and Farm Shop, sorry. Maybe it always has been!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

There was a lot of Christmas tat on sale, I think that’s the technical term, but we resisted the not very strong temptation to buy any of it. We stuck to our guns and just bought the few items of food on our notional list.

Back in Chessington, we visited Peter and Janet and their son Jonathan. For the second time in 5 days, we ate out at the North Star pub. My mouth regained consciousness, slowly, and I managed to eat, slowly.

The other day, I was disappointed that the Christmas tree had not yet been erected at Trafalgar Square. Today, we found it, maybe, at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.

Norwegian wood

Sadly, there was no performance at the Rose today, so what else could we do for the rest of the day? Walk around Kingston, of course, and maybe go to the cinema. So that’s what we did. We saw Knives Out which, after a bit of a slow start (I thought) turned out to be most enjoyable, with a good plot and some good actors.

Our entertainment started well before the main feature, though.  We were presented with a trail for the new Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker. “Oh no, not another one,” commented an audience member just a few seats away, “they must be in double figures by now!” Our main complaint was that the adverts and trails were too loud. Luckily the film was presented at a more reasonable volume. On the other hand, the people behind played Pass the Parcel with their snacks, rustle, rustle, just to remind us why we don’t visit cinemas very often!

Kingston’s Christmas stars

Two meals out on the same day? Why not! Liesel fancied going to Stein’s, Kingston’s top Bavarian beer and food emporium. The bowl of lentil soup I had will keep me going for days. Likewise, Liesel’s goulash was remarkably filling.

Liesel had planned to meet up with another old friend, Chris, in Dorking, and I was expelled from the car at the Mickleham turning off the A24. It was a bit cold and frosty and misty today, ideal for a spot of mountaineering. For the first time ever, I was going to scale Box Hill on foot.

Box Hill School is still being developed: I don’t think I’ve ever seen it without some sort of building work taking place. It was useful one day though, some years ago, when I had to change a tyre on my bike: I made use of a very conveniently located bench on the grounds.

St Michael and All the Angels’ Church stood out in the misty sunshine with a soldier from The Great War silhouetted perfectly and movingly.

Lest we forget

I’d never walked this way before, I anticipated having to walk along the road. So it was a relief find a path behind the hedge, running parallel to the road. But there wasn’t much traffic anyway, just a few cars and a couple of buses.

Onwards and upwards

I had a beany hat on to protect the lugs but despite the mist and the frost, the exercise was keeping me warm. The dripping water was not rain but melting ice, also looking glorious.

One drip photographed by another

After a while, I looked back and realised I’d climbed above the cloud level. I swapped hats: now, I needed a wide brim for protection from from the glare of the Sun. Solitude can be a wonderful thing, but I was really surprised not to see anyone else on the path, walking up or down.

Above the cloud

A small group of cyclists set off up the Zig Zag Road as I began my climb. I was soon puffing and panting a bit. Northenden and Manchester are great for walking but they’re both flat, so today’s incline was a bit of a challenge. Oh to have my legs back from 2014 when, on one famous day, I cycled up Box Hill three times as part of a long training ride.

The bridleway was a bit muddy in places, but the leaf cover provided protection. The plan was to meet Liesel at the National Trust Café at midday. The path I was following crossed the road and I had to choose between the Happy Valley Walk, Box Hill Hike and the Natural Play Trail. I knew the Café was roughly over there but when I found the road again, I realised I’d overshot by quite a distance. That was OK, I was able to backtrack, avoiding the loggers, and I found Salomons’ Memorial.

Salomons’ memorial, the Viewpoint

Leopold Salomons is memorialised for donating 230 acres of land to the National Trust in 1914.

Loggers, tree surgeons, whatever: the sound of power saws was totally at odds with the peace and quiet. And a reminder that real life continues.

Logs – future coffee tables, maybe

Usually you can look out over the valley below, admire the fields, compare the people with ants and literally look down on Dorking. Not today. Pearlescent cloud filled the valley. In the distance, Leith Hill peeked out.

Looking over the clouds towards Leith Hill

A white, empty universe in one direction, but turn around 180° to be rewarded with a magnificent, proper, sky blue sky.

And turning around…

Outside the National Trust Café, patches of frost survived but the Sun erased those as it moved alowly round the heavens. Plans to do some typing on a table outside were thwarted because they and the benches were still wet from the dew. Inside, I shared a table with a couple of strangers and a cup of coffee. My typing drove them away after a very patient half hour.

It was great: I’d enjoyed the exercise and the fresh air, and the sight of so many happy people hanging around at the top of the hill. Even the soft Christmas music added to the atmosphere. I eavesdropped on a conversation between a couple of cyclists. One had just cycled up and the other was about to ride down. He was warned to be careful as there was still ice on the road, and three cyclists had come off. My earlier cycle envy somehow evaporated at this news.

I mooched about while waiting for Liesel, watching the last of the frost melt. She collected me and we set off for home. We survived the M25 again, stopping at Cobham Services for a natural break. I bought my first ever Gregg’s vegan sausage roll which was enjoyable but I also take great pleasure from knowing that if Piers Morgan found out, he’d go apoplectic!

Sunset as seen from the M6

We went straight to Jenny and Liam’s house, where as well as the usual suspects, we were greeted by Uncle Adam, all the way from Manly. It was good to see him, even his bad influence on his young nephew.

William drinking Daddy’s beer

Grandchildren’s day delightfully rolls around once a week. It was time for a return visit to Chester Zoo. William had a lot of fun, and, to be fair, so did we. There were many school parties here today, so it was an educational visit. We learned, for example, that donkeys are baby giraffes. We managed not to get stomped by the herds of school children but some puddles did get stomped by William.

William found a puddle

Even the Zoo is gearing up for Christmas. There are lanterns and balloons everywhere, and a snow-covered paddock where all the animals get on very well.

Giraffes (pretend) in the snow (pretend)
One of The Lanterns

And on the next day, the heavens opened, it rained all day, we did very little: we didn’t leave the flat and I’m not even sure either of us went downstairs to collect the mail. A lazy, lazy day. We looked out of the window, we looked at weather apps that confirmed, yes, it was raining and would never, ever stop. I might go out for a quick walk, I lied. I didn’t even bother to get a picture of some tumbleweed tumbling by. We just sat there, looking at each other, and out of the windows, and at the TV, and at books. Lazy. I suppose it has to be done sometimes.

London and Salisbury

Editors’ note: In the previous blog I should have mentioned that we store non-frozen and non-food items in the freezer. This is due to the lack of storage space here in the luxury apartment compared with our previous mansion. Yes, the nuts survived the deep freeze and, who knows, maybe their temporary frozen status enhanced the nut roast that we subsequently enjoyed for Thanksgiving! Using pots and pans straight from the bottom drawer of the freezer works ok too, you just have to remember to triple the recommended cooking time.

We missed out on breakfast at our b&b in order to meet up with Rosie, our friend from Law School all those years ago: instead, we had breakfast in Kingston. I took my leave, leaving them for some girl on girl action, that is, a shopping spree in Kingston. I wandered through the Bentall Centre on my way to the station. It’s all very pretty in there and on this occasion, I didn’t even notice the stench of Yo! Sushi!

Bentall Centre, Kingston upon Thames

I wondered why so many people were standing around looking down onto the lower ground floor, aka the basement. The security personnel were having a hard time removing people from the stairs. As if this futile exercise wasn’t entertaining enough, we were soon treated to the sound of some music and a troupe of dancing girls.

A troupe of dancers

I still have no idea what they were promoting but I don’t think it was The Apostrophe Protection Society. In some very sad new’s, the campaigning group closed down this week, in the face of laziness and barbarity. There are many apostrophe’s in the world, but far too many are just in the wrong place. Read all about it.

Liesel enjoyed her time in Kingston today: not too busy, not too crowded, not too Christmassy, it was just right. She returned to the b&b before going out for dinner in Dorking. She met a group of friends for a Chinese meal, and they spent several hours slagging off talking about their common former employer.

If I ever go missing, one of the first places to look for me, if you can be bothered, is London’s South Bank. I am drawn there like an apostrophe to a grocers list of ware’s.

On this occasion, I walked as far as Tate Modern, halfway across the Millennium Bridge and back again to Waterloo. It’s very photogenic, the people are fascinating to watch, the weather was kind and, tempting though it was to over-indulge, I only stopped twice for coffee.

Sand sculpture on the beach

The man who makes these sand sculptures is obviously very talented. And every time I see him, he seems to have acquired more and more buckets. We take photos, throw our donations down from the embankment, and every so often, he goes round and collects the coins that have missed the buckets.

St Paul’s Cathedral outshining the cranes
Bubbles outside Tate Modern

Another chap with too much time on his hands (says the chap spending far too long writing this stuff) was outside Tate Modern blowing bubbles. Or waving a magic bubble wand with dozens of holes to produce bubbles on an industrial scale. Everyone loves bubbles. I didn’t throw coins into his bucket, I didn’t want to affect the solution’s surface tension and thereby, the integrity of the soap bubbles. Also, sand sculpture man had gathered up my last few pennies and buttons.

I spent a happy few hours in the gallery, looking at the exhibits and then writing in a nice, quiet corner with a power point that, unfortunately, proved not to be connected to the electric supply.

Fons Americanus by Kara Walker

The last time I saw Fons Americanus, it was still a work in progress and covered by a big, big dust cloth. Today, I walked around it a couple of times: it’s well worth paying a visit as there are so many small, sometimes funny, details. Here is the artist’s own description.

Witness! The Fons Americanus
A small fishing boat (?)
St Paul’s from the 4th floor of Tate Modern

I accepted the invitation to Explore Materials and Objects. The first item was a carpet mounted on the wall, on which people had drawn pictures and written text, some funny and some very informative, such as this dodgy-looking URL:

Orange Carpet Untitled 1993 (carpet) by Rudolf Stingel
Jauba by Mrinalini Mukherjee, 2000

And yes, when you first see Jauba out of the corner of your eye, you think it’s a person standing there. Then you realise it’s a collection of textiles carefully formed into a solid object.

I passed some time in the Drawing Bar where I did find working power points, so I was able to charge up my phone. There were some funny pictures but the strangest was probably this dodgy-looking URL:

All my own work

You can see this one in all its glory on Flickr: scroll backwards and forwards too so that you can see that a wide range of talent carefully avoided the place today.

While I was the gallery, darkness fell and this was the cue for William Blake, or at least, one of his final paintings, to be projected onto the dome of St Paul’s. This was best viewed from the Millennium Bridge and it was encouraging to see so many people standing around, admiring the image.

Ancient of Days by William Blake on the dome of St Paul’s

Walking back to Waterloo, I was reminded how lucky we are that the so-called Garden Bridge was never built. We would have lost all these beautiful trees.

Illuminated trees on the South Bank

I made my way to Dorking and walked along the High Street to the Chinese Restaurant where Liesel and friends were still fully engaged in conversation. So much hot air inside and condensation on the windows, but it was good to see Holly, Sandra, Imogen and Di, albeit briefly.

On our second morning, Liesel and I did have breakfast at the b&b in Ashtead before we returned to London for another day of capital fun and frolics.

Covent Garden is full of Christmas cheer but the Tiffany’s display was a bit OTT, we felt!

Tiffany’s tree
Tiffany’s love

We split up in order to cover more ground more quickly but I soon found myself escaping from the crowds in order to listen to a tenor singing Nessun Dorma followed by a wonderful group playing Pachelbel’s Canon.

Musicians preparing

It was cold and clear today, ideal for a lot of walking. Covent Garden to Seven Dials to Chinatown to Regent Street to Old Bond Street.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Colourful Chinatown
Regent Street Christmas lights (probably look better at night)
F D Roosevelt and W S Churchill by Lawrence Holofcener, in Old Bond Street
Just another gorgeous visitor to London, modelling outside Ralph Lauren

There were many people shopping in what might well be the shopping capital of the world. You get charged 20p for a plastic bag in supermarkets but it seems that if you can afford to shop in posh, expensive shops in the West End, you can collect as many plastic bags as you like, bigger, thicker and much more substantial that the 20p ones from Sainsbury’s. We looked in some windows at all the stuff we don’t need.

In Piccadilly, we caught a bus for a couple of stops. You can have too much of a good thing, looking but not buying! We easily found our venue, The Harold Pinter Theatre in Panton Street. Before we entered, though, we ate Thai food just over the road.

Sir Ian McKellen is celebrating his 80th birthday by performing his one-man show at 80 venues around the country and now, at this theatre 80 times. We were very lucky to get tickets, but even from the Royal Circle, we had a good view of the stage.

Sir Ian McKellen in his trunk

Gandalf, Widow Twankey, all his top roles were reprised, including several Shakespeare characters. In fact, all 37 plays were mentioned, some quoted extensively. The show runs until January 5th, 2020 and we would both highly recommend this nearly three hours of pure entertainment.

No tree yet at Trafalgar Square

We walked back through Trafalgar Square, very disappointed to see that the annual gift of a Christmas tree from Norway hasn’t yet arrived. But how exciting to see so many pop-up food stalls outside the National Gallery: I bet the pavement artists and the gravity-defying Yodas love that!

The third morning in Ashtead found me adding Maltesers to my bowl of cereal. Just another, healthy, one of my five-a-day.

Cereal with Maltesers, not to be repeated

Today, we headed in a south-westerly direction: to Salisbury. The trip included several miles of the worst road surface in the universe, the M25 between Leatherhead and the M3. Loud and bumpy and loud. If our car had square wheels, it wouldn’t have been any louder. Why everyone doesn’t stop to check that their car tyres haven’t been ripped to shreds is a mystery.

Approaching Salisbury, we nearly drove into a very low-flying Chinook helicopter. There are military bases nearby, but I didn’t realise they operated so close to the city.

Another mystery is how our friend Sarah approached us from behind at the railway station while we were still waiting for her train to arrive!

Sarah’s private train from Exeter?
Salisbury Cathedral, very attractive to Russian spies and assassins, apparently

Never smile at a crocodile, so they say, but we had to smile at this one in Salisbury. Young children walking along, two by two, holding hands, in their hi-visibility vests, escorted by teachers in plain clothes. We smiled because earlier, we’d seen another school party where it wasn’t the children but the teachers in hi-vis safety gear. We wandered around the city, had a coffee and lunch at Boston Tea Party, and caught up on all the goss.

It must be at least fifty years ago but at the Guildford or Surrey Agricultural Show in Stoke Park, when a certain politician stepped back and stomped on my foot. Yes, I was physically assaulted by a future Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. I was reminded of this incident today when, close to Salisbury Cathedral, we came across a blue plaque in his honour.

The Rt Hon Sir Edward Heath
Salisbury’s Avon
Salisbury Cathedral spire with the Moon

In this shot, I was trying to get the ‘red star’ and the crescent Moon closer together, but the city conspired against me: I couldn’t walk far enough back, there were too many buildings in the way. I can sense Liesel’s eyes roll as I write that: she crossed the road and waited for me not understanding that even a failed artist must do what he can.

The drive back to Ashtead was uneventful and we drifted off to sleep imagining what manner of breakfast would greet us in the morning!

Makers’ Market, Mist and Maid Marion

We watched Martha and William swim as usual on a Sunday morning, giving many thumbs-ups, ‘fantastic’ gestures and other signs of encouragement.

Afterwards, we visited the monthly Didsbury Makers’ Market for the first time.

Broken bollard – nothing to do with us, honest

There are a lot of arts and crafts here but we merely came away with bread, cheese, soya-based meat substitute products and, of course, an arm chair. Liesel’s been looking for one in John Lewis and other shops for ages but this one got her attention instantly. She asked the nice lady whether she could sit on it, here and now, in the market, in the middle of the car park.

Are you sitting comfortably, Liesel?
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The chair was delivered to our luxury apartment within a couple of hours, after the market closed, so we now have new furniture: well, second-hand, re-upholstered by the original owner’s granddaughter.

As requested, I went to put the frozen items in the freezer, only to find the door hadn’t been closed properly, so the whole thing was full of frost and ice. We hadn’t anticipated the pleasure of defrosting the freezer today, yet here we were. All the ice that’s disappeared from the Arctic during the last decade or so? It was in our freezer. Sadly, there were no exciting but forgotten food items lurking in the frozen wastes.

Luckily, this appliance was back in working order when Jenny, Martha and William came round to ours for lunch the following day. Spaghetti bolognese had been requested and this was thoroughly enjoyed by us all, especially the children.

William slurping spaghetti
Martha slurping spaghetti

They do enjoy playing at our place. But we don’t know which one of them changed the time on Liesel’s alarm clock so that it went off late, the next morning. We’d offered to look after William for an extra day this week while Nana is still recuperating from her lurgy.

Liesel went on her own to start with. I stayed in bed feeling sorry for myself after being woken up with a start: I cricked my neck, pain shot up through the noggin and I had a headache worse than any I’ve had for years. I caught up with Liesel later, though, and William helped us build towers of boxes.

William demolishing a tower of Dear Zoo boxes

William and I went to collect Martha from nursery. She has a snack there each afternoon but unfortunately, it was still being prepared when we arrived today. Scott the teacher helped by giving Martha an apple and a yogurt.

Martha and her yogurt

On the way home, it began to rain. And as the rain fell harder and harder, both children walked slower and slower. By the time we arrived home, both were soaked and upset. The trauma, if any, had been forgotten though by the time we returned for our regular babysitting day.

With William, we visited the Sea Life Aquarium at the Trafford Centre: an indoor venue, out of the rain. Yes, it’s still raining. William slept briefly on the way there and on the way back home. In between, he enjoyed running around, looking at some but ignoring some other ocean-going creatures.

Turtle
Pacific Sea Nettle Jellyfish
Lion fish
Our own little clown with a clownfish

William’s just about big enough to enjoy the play area here, too. And what a tidy little chap: he spent some time returning all the loose balls to the ball pool.

William and the Balls, not to be confused with the 1980s pop group of the same name

It was Thanksgiving Day so we had a lovely Thanksgiving meal, thanks, Liesel!

And as if we hadn’t had enough early starts this week: we had an appointment in Chessington for 1pm so that meant leaving Northenden by 8.30, on a cold and frosty morning. More ice to scrape: this time, from the car windows rather than from the freezer. Other than that, cold and crisp is OK and during our fairly easy drive south today, we enjoyed looking at the fields of frost and mist.

Bright sunshine, mist in the fields

Not so entertaining was overtaking this reprobate several times. Why does he keep overtaking us and then slowing down, wondered Liesel?

Bloke using his phone while driving on the M6

Because he’s on the phone, of course. I looked it up, but I could find no way to report this dangerous and illegal behaviour. He’ll just get a £30 fine and a slap on the wrist when he kills somebody, probably, so that’s alright, then.

We made good progress, stopping at a service station just once. Good progress until, with less than 10 miles to go, traffic came to a grinding halt on the A308 just before Hampton Court. Still, we arrived at our destination with ten minutes to spare.

It was good to see Dawn again. Liesel and I both had a massage. I had a pedicure and Dawn was very complimentary about my feet: a first for me!

On this occasion, we’re staying at an Airbnb in Ashtead, near Dorking where Liesel has plans.

In the evening, we drove back to Chessington to collect Helen and Steve, whom we hadn’t seen for very nearly a whole week! We went to see St Paul’s Players’ Christmas fund-raising show. But first, we dined and imbibed at the North Star, just over the road from the Parish Hall.

Amanda was very surprised to see us there and we were pleased to see her too, looking vey well.

Amanda, playwright, actor, director and a very generous soul

We’ve seen the story of Robin Hood many times, in many formats, but nothing quite like this performance! It was very good fun. If you’re in Chessington, there are very few chances to catch this show – but please do!

Robin Hood and Little John in a very exciting fight scene
Maid Marion plucking at our heartstrings

We didn’t buy any raffle tickets but don’t worry, we did contribute to the very good cause, Kingston Young Carers. Kingston’s Mayor, Margaret Thompson, was in attendance. I didn’t recognise her, although we have had exchanges on Facebook in the past. She probably didn’t recognise me, either, to be fair. The local MP, Sir Edward Davey, usually comes along to this event, and even takes part, but this year, he’s in the middle of a General Election campaign.

Attila the Nun on stage, reading a Holy Book

2 is a Magic Number

At the risk of this becoming yet another unnecessarily foodie blog, let me just say how much we all enjoyed the waffles for breakfast: thanks, Liesel!

We went into Manchester where Helen picked up a scooter from Shopmobility, located in and funded by the Harry Potter shop in the Arndale Centre. This is apparently the only non-profit HP shop anywhere: thanks, JK!

Who’s this scary Harry Potter charcter? No prizes, just for fun!

We wandered around the city, admiring the mix of old and new architecture not to mention the humour.

Giving beer a bad name

Helen, Liesel and I managed to lose Steve for a while, but we knew he’d probably catch up with us at Albert Square, the location of the Christmas Market. Lots of food here as well as arts and crafts, and not all Christmas flavoured, which I think is more interesting. We didn’t sample any of the beer though, nor the Christmas punch, even though the stall is very ornate.

Christmas punch

Neither did we go skating on the pop-up ice rink. But I did enjoy watching some very tentative skating for a short while: good to see I’m not the only one who can only go forwards and can only stop by grabbing hold of the rail at the side!

Skating on thin ice

There are a lot of people in Manchester sleeping rough, so how fantastic to find a bench suitable for homeless person to have a nap on.

Petrified rough sleeper

It’s a well-made sculpture, no doubt, but I sense a mixed message here: let’s think about these poor people; and let’s restrict their options.

Helen spotted Steve and called his name across the road. You probably heard her. I do know she’s responsible for causing some avalanches in Switzerland.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We do like a good busker, worth a couple of quid if they’re not ruining one of my favourite songs.

Bob Marley singing Redemption Song

Next day, Helen and Steve, our two guests, went off on their own adventure after Liesel and I dropped them off at the railway station in Didsbury. We broke our fast at Scholars and Saints where I took some photos of their photos and artefacts.

The car from The Prisoner

Later on, I went on a solo walk down to the river and beyond. It was a bit of a wild goose chase, really. Not literally a wild goose, it was more a very timid black heron, I think, that flew further along the river every time I approached shooting distance.

This is as close as I could get to the elusive heron

I’m British so I have a genetic predisposition to whingeing about the weather. But today, it was perfect, lots of blue sky and then, of course, the odd splash of colour was lovely to see.

Flowers, leaves and a bit of microphotography

Our long-term project to get to know the area continues. We finally visited John Rylands Library in Manchester. What a fascinating place, full of old books that you’re not allowed to take out. They restore old books here too. The gothic style of the building gives the impression of a church, hence…

Liesel and fellow traveller at prayer before the guided tour began
Fabulous vaulted ceiling
Light switches

These light switches look like gas taps because that’s exactly what they are. In the early days of electricity, the supply was fitted by gas workers and while they knew about gas taps, proper light switches were still to be invented.

People can’t see in from the street but these large windows, apparently made from the bottoms of bottles, let plenty of natural light in.

Big bright windows
Christmas tree waiting by our bus stop

This week, Grandchild day fell on his special day: Happy 2nd birthday, William!

William with his two favourite balloons, the orange ones

We took him to the Ice Cream Farm near Chester because it was such a lovely, warm, sunny day. I lie. It was freezing, with a bitterly cold, biting wind, straight from Siberia. He enjoys the sand and water play, and for much of the time, we were alone. This is ok, but it was up to us to keep the water flowing and that’s quite hard work: pumps, Archimedes screws, buckets.

He wasn’t entirely comfortable in his new all-in-one waterproof outfit, maybe we tightened it up too much, but we knew that if he were to fall over in the water, he wouldn’t get all his clothes wet!

William in his birthday suit, sort of
Inspecting the Strawberry Falls

Outside, we let him walk and run around a bit, but I think we were both pleased (and relieved) when he agreed it would be nice to go indoors and eat something. And yes, later, of course we had ice cream, despite the sub-arctic conditions outside.

The Flake didn’t last long

The poor, exhausted little chap fell asleep on the way home, of course, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t. Good job Liesel was driving, just the same.

While Helen and Steve were visiting other people further afield, I went for a quick walk to the supermarket and beyond. It’s good to see that some folks in Northenden know how to have a good time, but what a mess they left behind

Nitrous oxide capsules: no laughing matter

While Liesel was working for her Alaskan-based friend, I enjoyed another solitary walk, some puzzles, some writing, some radio and some podcasts.

Helen and Steve left for home, so we visited Didsbury for our usual Saturday morning activities. Mine involved lying down and being massaged, muscles stretched, popped, put back into place.

Today, two days after William’s second birthday, we went to his house for a family get-together. We were joined by Auntie Andrea (Liam’s sister) and Uncle Paul with their daughters Annabel and Emily. Papa was here too but poor old Nana, Una, stayed away with her flu-like contagion. Still, three grandparents out of four isn’t bad.

What a beautiful family: thy should be proud to have my genes, apart from the whingeing-about-the-weather ones
What a good blow, William!

His cake depicted characters from the hit children’s TV show Hey Duggee!, which we always enjoy watching on our babysitting days.

It was a great party, with hide and seek, dancing, jelly, balloons and presents; and of course, we all took many photos!

In this week’s edition of University Challenge, our two teams are: Annabel, William, Martha and Emily on the top, while Paul, Andrea, Liam and Jenny are on the bottom row

Wet and Windy Walks

Thursday is bin day so Wednesday is the day for putting out the rubbish and a limited amount of recycling: much less than we recycled in London.

Other uninteresting occupations include finding more items to sell on eBay. I did go for a nice walk in the ‘hood, via the Post Office.

No Grandchildren Day this week while they’re all sunning themselves at Center Parcs. It was a cold day, brrr, chilly. As a Brit, I am programmed to whinge about the weather, whatever it is. But the wind today was biting. Teeth as sharp as ice picks in and through my ears. I was sheltered from the worst of it in the woods, though. The rumble from the nearby M60 threatened to spoil the mood, but overall, what a pleasant stroll.

A fence with screws, Turner Prize winner

At least I know that, if I were to return to Kenworthy Woods on a scorching hot Summer’s day, there’s a fence where I can hang up my coat.

Peace and quiet in the woods

I had the place to myself, no people, no wildlife. Despite the recent rain, lots of it, the path wasn’t too soggy: the carpet of fallen leaves stopped mud from being splashed up my legs.

Welcome Autumnal colours

I walked round in a large (-ish) circle, back into the wind, trying not to laugh at the man fighing a losing battle with his leaf-blower. You need to reverse the polarity and suck ’em up instead, I didn’t say out loud.

To give the old lug-holes a break from the ice-picks, I wandered into The Northern Den. I really liked the look of their specials today, so that’s exactly what I had.

Specials of the day

Yep: I had absolutely nothing! Apart from the obligatory coffee.

Liesel joined me on the next trek, the next saunter: all the way to the local library, where the local Police Officers and Support Officers were offering local advice on local home security. One of them has been patrolling here for eleven years and reassured us that it is a safe area. We found the local bowling green too, but, quite rightly, it’s been roped off presumably for Winter, so we were unable to play on this occasion.

Waterlogged Bowling Green

Helen and Steve arrived from the deep south to spend a week and a bit with us. We met them in Manchester, late because our bus took its time getting there, plus, they arrived earlier than anticipated. Oops! We took a bus home and later on, drove into Disbury for a meal.

Helen and Steve had their own plans but Liesel and I spent our usual Saturday morning in Didsbury. We had a lovely walk in Fletcher Moss Park, something we’ve been meaning to do since we moved here. Well, it’s probably a nice park when it’s not flooded.

Fletcher Moss Park, partially flooded

This wasn’t a good day to start a regular ParkRun here, so we didn’t bother. Very sad to see this sign, though, having been reassured just 24 hours earlier that we live in a good area.

Stolen plant
Welcome Autumnal colours

Our guests came with us to watch Martha and William swimming this week: a perfect opportunity for Steve to nod off on the sofa in the cafeteria area! Both children liked having a slightly larger audience, I think.

Lyme Park had to close for a short while during the Summer, due to flooding. They also suffered from a small moorland fire earlier in the year. Nevertheless, despite the potential dangers, we paid a visit on this drizzly and chilly afternoon. We saw a couple of reindeer, but they weren’t moving about much.

Reindeer in the rain, dear

We didn’t walk far, either, mainly due to the weather, but despite that, very many people were visiting today, it was very busy.

Liesel said earlier in the day that she would love to see a tree with its trousers pulled down around its knees, so we were delighted to find this one.

Pollarded and re-growing tree

Steve and I walked up the hill to see the house, while Liesel and Helen stayed dry under a canopy.

The House at Lyme Park

Steve is a bit of a public transport enthusiast so his day was made when he saw the double-decker shuttle bus coming over the hill. Like a gazelle, he leapt across a patch of grass in order to take some photos. The bus’s headlights, reflecting from the wet road, welcomed him.

Steve and a bus

I know what you’re thinking: a whole blog post without a single picture of William and Martha? That’s an absolute outrage! It shouldn’t be allowed! Well, you didn’t have to read it, you can skip this whole paragraph and go straight to a fabulous picture of the whole family that I downloaded from Center Parcs’ CCTV security system.

Jenny, William, Martha and Liam

Actually, thanks for the photo, Jenny! But what about a selfie? We’ll save you from that: you can have too much of a good thing, you know!

Four Shops in One Day

The second most repeated comment (after “We have a lot of stuff”) in our luxury apartment is “Oh, what a surprise, it’s still raining”. There has indeed been a lot of rain recently. Many floods in Yorkshire and beyond, some places receiving a month’s rainfall in one day. This amount of rain cannot be good for anybody’s garden, which is how we used to justify the odd shower. But it’s hard to look positively on 6 days out of 7 of continuous rain. Neither of us want to go out when it’s raining that much, and this has a knock-on effect. Over the weeks, we’ve both felt a bit crook: headaches, lethargy and the desire to hibernate.

I had some errands to run so imagine my delight when I was able to walk to the GP practice in the sunshine. It was cold but the heat of the Sun and seeing blue skies really do lift the spirits.

So I continued walking and ended up in Heald Green, another little place we’ve ignored until now.

The pharmacist processed my prescription while I walked over the road to conduct some business at a rare branch of Lloyds Bank.

The pharmacist gave me my drugs and in the same tone of voice as if asking whether I’d like a cup of tea, he asked if I wanted a flu jab. Now? Here and now? Yes, it’s free, on the NHS. As a pharmacist, we won’t overcharge the NHS for providing this service. Actually, he didn’t say that last bit. OK then, I said. Last year, I had no reaction so I thought I’d be ok this time too.

I was going to walk all the way to Jenny’s house but me and a bus reached a bus stop at the same moment, so I cheated, and caught the bus. Please don’t tell anybody. But, not knowing the area all that well, I managed to overshoot my stop, so I probably walked the same distance in the end, just in a different direction.

Liam was out for the evening so he missed a wonderful Indian meal.

The fab four: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

I reached for a spoon and wham, suddenly my left arm, victim of the flu jab, experienced a bolt of electricity. Keep it moving, was the consensual advice. I did.

Next day, I felt cold and shivery. Not proper flu, but very unpleasant nonetheless. Helen came round briefly to say goodbye: our plans for meeting up with everyone for brunch were, sadly, cancelled. Too many of us not feeling too well.

My very welcome twelve hours sleep meant that I missed Helen’s early departure. And again, for reasons of less than optimal health, we didn’t go and watch Martha swimming. Poor old William and his ailment stopped him from going at all.

But the children and their parents are currently enjoying a break at Center Parcs., leaving us, Darby and Joan, at home to make our own entertainment.

We’ve been to our local Ikea a few times, but it still surprises me as we approach, how garish the big blue and yellow sign outside is. “There it is!” I exclaim, as excited as when we first see the sea on the way to the beach. I know I’ll get a couple of miles walking in at Ikea, so it has its uses.

Help is available

It’s a nice, helpful place, but I don’t know why they have co-workers rather than plain ordinary workers.

We pounded the aisles, bought some stuff for ourselves and for Jenny, ignored all the shortcuts and had a coffee halfway round.

I do like the made-up Swedish names for everything. There is no way you can tell from the name itself what the item is.

S T U V

I found this item interesting because it contains four consecutive letters of the alphabet in the correct order, and that’s quite unusual. But most disappointing was finding out that the toilet brush named Farage does not really exist. This well-named item turns out to be an internet joke. Oh well.

Yes, I’m at Ikea, of course I’d rather be at home

I do like a rhetorical question, don’t you? Even if they did leave out the question mark.

This sign has been reported to the Society for the Preservation of the Correctly Placed Apostrophe

Not too far from this branch of Ikea is a branch of Costco. This once was Liesel’s favourite shopping experience after she moved here to the UK from sunny Anchorage, Alaska. A little bit of America in England. I didn’t walk quite as far here as I had in Ikea, but every little helps, as one supermarket claims.

Costco sells everything form ink cartridges to car tyres, from gateaux to gates. Today, we were on the lookout for a sewing machine. Liesel’s wanted one for a while and during her recent trip home, she used her Mom’s machine and now she has the bug for sewage. Sewing, I mean, damn you, autocorrect.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have any on display, but we did find everything else we needed, including more Kleenex, a vital resource given the nature of our current ailments. It amazes me how much stuff some people buy, two or three trolleys full, in some cases.

After pounding these aisles and paying for the purchases, it was time to eat. The slowest moving queue in the world merely enhanced ones appetite. My slice of five-cheese pizza was ok, but I think I exceeded my recommended daily allowance of grease. I needed more than one hot coffee to displace the fatberg from my mouth.

Sew, next stop, John Lewis. Here, we found the ideal sewing machine and I forced myself to drink another hot coffee, purely for oral-cavity-cleansing purposes.

By far the majority of today’s nominal 10,000 steps took place indoors. It was not a good day to go for a walk outside. The rain continues, and for such a rain-soaked part of the country, it still amazes me how bad the drainage is. If the representative from Guinness World Records were here today, not only would the slowest moving queue have been recorded, but also the largest, deepest puddles, spead over the most lanes on a main road. Not to mention the most people in a queue at a bus stop being splashed by someone driving at speed through such a lake.

The final destination was The Futon Shop in Manchester. We recently ordered a new cover for our futon and came to collect it. Oops, too early. Read the email properly, doofus, they said, and come back in three days time. We will, of course, but to hide our embarrassment, I took some pictures of an attractive rocking chair that would match our futon, if it fits in the living room.

Rocking chair

Four shops in one day: not unusual in itself but this is as exciting as the week was to get.

I decided to make a sandwich for myself, with the jam we’d bought from Ikea. Imagine my disappointment on opening the jar to find a few strawberries, a packet of sugar and a sachet of pectin, complete with really good, explicit instructions. Ikea. Maybe I should have asked for help.

Four Generations in One Day

We now live quite close to the Peak District yet we have spent very little time there. We drove to Knockerdown Farm Cottages to meet up with Jenny, Liam, Martha and William. The views on the drive would have been better without the fog, but even so, it was a very pretty drive. It was the fog that often occurs after a night of heavy firework activity.

The view from Knockerdownaa

We had a good time, wandering around the premises. We enjoyed crêpes, the children enjoyed walking through gates, finding the TV remote controls. William fell out of a wardrobe: a long story, but the footage is well worth £250 from You’ve Been Framed, we think.

(Appy-polly-loggies if the picture appears sideways on your device, but the video should play ok.)

Martha had a go at table tennis and managed to hit the ball back a few times.There were some traditional, wooden children’s games too which were good fun.

Traditional wooden games

Liesel and I looked after William and Martha while their parents did whatever they were doing, and we said we’d provide alibis, if necessary.

Carsington Water, the 9th largest reservoir in England, is just along the road. Time for lunch and lots of fun in the water. No, not the water, the playground.

Martha swinging

On another occasion, we’ll probably go for a longer walk, maybe even take a boat out.

After a few days in Somerset and Surrey, Helen drove back and she and I met up for a coffee/tea and a nice chat. She went to collect Martha from nursery while I went to collect her granny, Myra (Sarah’s mother) from Stockport station. Myra’s credit card didn’t work in the machine at the hotel. She had used the card successfully earlier in the day. She wasn’t allowed to pay with cash as she had no driving licence nor passport. Her photo-id bus pass wasn’t acceptable. I couldn’t use my id to pay with Myra’s cash because it had a different address to that from the one given when the booking was made by Helen using Jenny’s address. In the end, I used my card. My phone buzzed telling me that payment had been taken. But Lisa behind the desk insisted that it hadn’t. Computer says no. She phoned tech support and someone else and in the end, called Jenny too. While this was going on, my phoned buzzed again: my card had been re-credited with the recent hotel payment. I tried again, payment made, payment received by the hotel, Myra received a key to her room, Lisa and I had a laugh about stupid technology. Because, of course, it was the computer that made up the stupid rule about not being allowed to pay by cash without id.

We had a big family meal round at Jenny’s: eight people in all, according to Martha’s accurate accounting.

Helen looked after William for his bonus swimming lesson the following morning, after which, everyone came round to ours for lunch. Well, all except Liam who was at work and Martha who was at nursery, so not really everyone at all, I don’t know why you said that, you’re just confusing the readers.

Helen and William in the pool

In the afternoon, we visited a local venue that we’ve driven by, and seen signs for, many times, always intending to visit one day: Bramall Hall, near Bramhall Park and yes, those are both correctly spelled.

We’ll have to visit the Hall another day as on this occasion, it would have been very difficult to lure William away from the muddy puddles.

William v muddy puddles

We went for a walk down to the river, where William had a good chat with the ducks.

Helen, Myra, William, Mick, four generations

Myra stayed for a second night at the hotel and on this occasion, she wasn’t locked in her room, so that’s a bonus! We all met up for coffee in John Lewis where we fully embraced the Christmas spirit. Both Martha and William enjoyed being let loose in the toy department, without being too disruptive.

Liesel and I escorted Myra to the railway station where, due to perfect planning, tip-top timing and a lot of luck, she only had to wait a couple of minutes for the train.

Liesel had ordered a bed for our spare room so that future guests won’t have to camp out on the floor, or use the futon in the living room. The mattress was delivered promptly but for the bed frame itself, we were given a delivery date of mid December, in six weeks time. So what a surprise when they sent a message to say that it would in fact be delivered the next day, between 9 and 11 in the morning. This meant moving lots of stuff out of the spare room, a task that we thought we could take our time over. But again, with perfect timing, we were able to be do this because we were at home on what would normally be our day of looking after William. Instead, Helen had a wonderful time with him.

Two strange men came in and made our bed for us. By which I mean they built our new, spare bed, taking about half an hour to do so. Liesel and I would have taken much longer and probably had bits left over.

The phrase uttered most frequently today was, “We have too much stuff” or variations on a theme. Despite getting rid of loads of stuff before we moved, here we are, still inundated with clutter.

I had lots of fun looking back through some of my old school books and university work.

Variable stars

Interesting to see that my handwriting in those days was neat and legible, much nicer than the scrawl I produce nowadays.

We also came across more paperwork from decades ago, including maps from my first trip to Australia in 1986.

Golden West

I felt a bit sad about recycling the old maps, but they’ll never be used again: technology has moved on and of course, the geography has changed. Some of the brochures had Sarah’s written notes too: I don’t know why this sort of thing is so emotionally hard to dispose of.

Meanwhile, Helen and William had a lot of fun. I think he wants to be a firefighter.

Fireman William