Touchdown in Anchorage

What a strange couple of days. Helen arrived from Australia one day, then Liesel and I went to Alaska the next. Oops, sorry: spoiler alert. Yes, it’s strange the way things worked out, but we’ll definitely spend more time with Helen later in the year.

Let’s start again. Helen was met at the airport by Jenny and William. We’d arranged to meet them later on, and William wanted to surprise us. When we arrived at their house, William was stomping about in his new Spidey shoes. The lights in the heels were flashing and he really wanted us to admire them. He invited me up to his bedroom which was darker, so easier to see the flashing lights. Then he pulled the bed covers back to reveal…
“Oh, a new cuddly toy?”
“No, it’s Auntie Helen!”

Helen’s plans this visit include a trip down south to see some friends. Today, we drove over to Bramall Hall, where we had lunch and spent some time feeding ducks and in the playground.

Liesel and Helen
William the duck feeder
Rhododendron

Back at home, Liesel and I did some more packing and I spent a long, long on hold on the phone before adding Helen to our car insurance policy. It didn’t cost anything in the end, but something as simple as that should be possible via the website. That would take some pressure off the under-staffed call centre.

Back at Jenny’s we had an Indian takeaway for our last meal before heading for Anchorage. Both William and Martha were in top form, very funny and engaging. Very happy to see Auntie Helen, and not just because she always comes bearing gifts. I was pleased to receive gifts of chocolate and TimTams, thank you Helen!

Helen, Martha and William with Jenny and Liam way over there

Liam drove us home in his car. We left our old jalopy for Helen to use. We went via the pharmacy to pick up the last of Liesel’s prescription. From the pharmacy where, at 8 o’clock that morning, we’d gone for the Covid test required before entering the USA.

Back at home, we finished the packing, prepared the flat to be deserted for a while and went to bed for a short sleep. The taxi picked us up at 4 in the morning. We thought we’d catch up on sleep on the long flight later on. Hah!

Manchester Airport was ridiculously busy that early in the morning, mostly for Easy Jet flights as far as we could see. We were off to Frankfurt on Lufthansa in the first place. It was good to be in the air, in my case, for the first time in over two years.

The myth of German efficiency was blown at Frankfurt Airport. We needed proof that we’d been vaccinated against Covid and a negative Covid test from within 24 hours. Without these documents, one uploaded at home yesterday and one stored on our phones and printed out, we would have had to complete a 7-page form supplied by the US authorities.

But at the first desk, the clerk didn’t even have a computer. So he couldn’t see our vax documents, nor my ESTA. Go to a second desk. The clerk here was busy chatting. Go to a third desk. At last, someone fully equipped to see that we were allowed to travel.

In the end, our flight was nearly an hour late taking off. Only at landing in Anchorage did we find out that some of the passengers were refugees from Ukraine. This ‘special’ group of people were allowed to disembark first. We didn’t know why: a sports team? A secret military operation? Nope, refugees, greeted by at least a couple of TV crews. I suspect if you see this footage, you’ll see me and Liesel at the back, gurning behind our masks.

Thomas Cook cup

The flight itself was uneventful, but this water cup brought back many happy memories of when I worked at this wonderful travel agents’ HQ in Peterborough. I wonder whether that horrible Cobol program IPP06 ever worked properly? Good to see the old stock being used and not just thrown away.

There be mountains

On seeing the first snow-covered mountain from the aeroplane, we knew we were very nearly at our destination.

On the Customs form, Liesel declared the chutney that we’d bought for a friend. This triggered a full search of all of our bags. They found an apple in mine, one that I’d forgotten to eat on the flight. I try not to commit crimes in the USA, yet here I am.

Going through immigration, the official asked to take a photograph of Liesel, something not previously required of an American citizen. When he asked to take my picture, I stood where Liesel had been standing. “Oh no sir, please stand over there, in front of the camera.” We suspect he didn’t get a picture of Liesel, but just didn’t want to admit that he’d asked for one in error. Welcome to the USA say the signs, and I always say to myself, I’ve never been made to feel so unwelcome anywhere.

Liesel’s Mom drove us home from the airport, and I think I just slumped for the rest of the day. I dozed off a couple of times in flight, but I didn’t have a long, satisfying sleep.

It was good to see Mom and Dad, Leslie and Klaus again: Liesel has of course been here quite recently, helping them both through various medical interventions.

Our first night’s sleep here was interrupted when Klaus had a diabetic hypo, and required assistance from 6 absolutely gorgeous paramedics. Liesel’s words, not mine: they were all wearing masks so I couldn’t gauge how attractive they were. But they were all very supportive, attentive, informative and helpful. And they arrived within a few minutes of the 911 call.

Our first full day in sunny Anchorage was taken up by walking in the great outdoors. And it really was sunny, and very warm. Liesel and I walked along part of the coastal trail starting near Westchester Lagoon.

Kayaking in the lagoon

It’s very picturesque with the snow-covered mountains in the background, and thank goodness all the snow has thawed in the city itself.

Sandhill cranes

The sandhill cranes were on the mud flats, where we are advised not to walk. We followed a railway line for a while and I though I heard the hoot of a train approaching, but we never saw one.

The cargo ship being towed to the Port of Alaska was huge. Apparently 80% of everything that comes into the state is imported through this port.

We walked back to the car through a nice, quiet neighbourhood. The New Sagaya supplied our first coffee of this trip and my first bagel.

We drove to Una and Phil’s house, about half an hour away.

Old, old, old, old car

We followed this old banger for a while and I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether it’s a Ford, a Daimler, a Buick, a Plymouth, a Chrysler or something else. Oh and look, there are mountains in the background.

Una’s parents are visiting from Florida too. Liesel and I haven’t seen them since Una’s investiture as a Judge nearly four years ago. Mom Lalita has written another book, this one about her family in India over several generations, and she kindly gave us a copy which we’re looking forward to reading.

Una, Phil, Liesel and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood: I think it’s fair to say it was a bit more affluent than where we’d been earlier in the day.

Just a small plane

There’s an airstrip just down the road, and later on, I filmed a small plane landing here.

Helicopter

Liesel turned down my invitation to sit on the chopper so I could take her picture. But here it is parked, or docked by the strip.

Just a small boat

There’s a new estate, or subdivision, here built in what looks like a big hole, just below the airstrip. I think these house are quite close together, given the amount of space there is in the largest state in the union. But you’re never too far from the sight of mountains.

New houses

Well that was a great walk, slightly hilly, hot and sweaty, but did I feel short of breath? Not at all. Not until I carried a bag of shopping up the short, steep drive back at home.

In the evening, Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon came over for dinner. While everyone else tucked into their marinaded steaks, I enjoyed my Quorn nuggets.

I think we both slept much better this second night. This, despite the fact that it’s only properly dark overnight for a couple of hours at this time of year. 

Packing and stacking

Well that was a strange week that was a strange week for the 1st time in many years we watched the Eurovision song contest well I didn’t watch it but it was on a didn’t watch it but it was on in the background I was doing something else had my nose in a puzzle I’ve had my nose in a puzzle roller book or something and looked up at the TV screen and I saw a Spanish singer’s bottom and I thought she’s getting my vote but I didn’t vote for anyone I didn’t vote for anyone in the end Ukraine one and the uk came 2nd for the 1st time in a 143 years.

That’s how good the dictation option is on my phone. It doesn’t seem too concerned with punctuation. And I’m sure I didn’t recite all those things twice all those things twice. But it is interesting to see how the screen changes as the phone tries to work out what I actually said. I’ll mostly edit the rest of this post, so it more closely resembles what I meant in the first place, in better English.

Liesel and I went for walk around around Northern Ireland (no, it was Northenden). We couldn’t believe the number of ladybirds we saw on the bushes, literally hundreds: it must be the ladybird mating season by the looks of it.

Ladybird giving another ladybird a piggy-back

The heron was on the island, cowering: I think he was hiding from the swarms of ladybirds, maybe he felt under threat.

Spot the heron

We also caught sight of that other occasional visitor to the river Mersey in Northenden: an old car tyre. Lovely to see him sitting near the island.

Tyres

And what’s this lurking in the bushes near Riverside Park? Somebody’s parked their scooter in a good place. I hope they can remember where they left it.

Where’s my scooter?
Artistic shot of the week

The day after I took this picture of the daisies on the lawn by our communal car park, the mowing crew came along and cut the grass, moss, dandelion stems and, sadly, the daisies.

My regular brain exercise each morning is to play Worldle, Wordle and Nerdle. This week I managed to achieve a winning streak of a hundred games. Except on the actual day, I forgot to grab a screenshot, so here it is from the following day! I was so proud, I even tweeted this image!

Liesel and I had a nice walk with the Northenden group, along the river to Simon’s Bridge and back. We sat outside for coffee at Box 2 Boxx, Shelly took a picture and it looks like I’ll appear in another advert soon, hooray!

And so it came to pass that we collected the children from school. Instead of taking them home, we took them to Bruntwood Park, through the woods behind their school. En route, William looked at a puddle, then looked at me, I slowly shook my head, he walked on by. We spent a lot of time in the fabulous playground, which was quite busy. Children were there from three or four different schools, going by their uniforms. William is definitely a climber.

William the mountaineer

We had a picnic on the glassy nose Yeah sausage rolls cumbers tomatoes and Victoria sponge cakes from a shop. In English: We had a picnic on the grassy knoll (just a raised mound of grass, really). We had pizza, sausage rolls, cucumbers, tomatoes and Victoria sponge cakes from a shop (ie, not home-made).

Martha the runner

There’s a great game there where the children have to run around and tap each post as the lights come on. It’s all electronic and they both found it great fun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Martha run so far, so fast and for so long. Thank goodness this was before we sat down for our picnic!

The different arrangements today for looking after the children were for a very special reason. We took them home at about 5.30 and then after going home to our place to get raedy, we drove into Manchester for a concert that we’d first booked in September 2019. It had been postponed twice because of the pandemic and Covid restrictions, but at last, tonight was the night.

We’d never been to the Band on the Wall venue before but it’s a good little place. Mostly it’s standing only, but I asked for a couple of seats for us old farts and they were very obliging. We were here to see Tom Robinson. The show was meant to celebrate his 70th birthday but that was two ago now. Before the support act, Lee Forsyth-Griffiths, appeared, Tom himself came out on stage and sang a couple of songs for us early birds, those of us who had bothered to turn up in time to see the support act. He performed a revised version of his old hit What if we live to be 50? This remixed, remastered, updated version What if we live to be 80? was quite funny, especially since it still referred to carrying a packet of three.

Lee sang a few songs and the presence of his Mam and his sister in the audience didn’t affect his potty mouth at all!

It was a pretty good atmosphere all night although there was one scuffle right in front of us because of one man who was very drunk, so he was escorted off the premises.

Oops, Tom, electric guitar, Tom as PM

The Hong-Kong… hahaha… The encore was Power in the Darkness during which Tom always does a skit on some contemporary issue. This time of course of course, he channeled Boris Johnson and as he said afterwards, it’s all beyond parody now.

As we left the venue, we walked through the bar, and at the back was another performer whose name I missed, a lovely soul singer. So we stood around and listened while she sang Dancing in the Street. Twice! This was a nice surprise and a good way to to end the evening

Not Martha Reeves

The rest of this sort of in-between a week was in between a week was taken up with packing and checking all the paperwork and checking all the paperwork and everything that we need to do for we need to do for our trip to Alaska next week next week yes we are going away for 4 weeks and all these last minute and all these last minute jobs it all take 5 all these last minute jobs that should just take 5 minutes take a long time and then you find something’s gone wrong now when anyone finds something’s gone wrong or what a nightmare but we’re getting there we’re getting there. I hope you get the gist. Basically, we prepared for a few weeks away in Alaska.

We visited Windermere last week, so this week’s radio show was about lakes and other bodies of water, lots of songs about rivers, oceans and a couple of lakes. Enjoy it, it’s the last one for a few weeks…

What’s that, the last one for a while? Yes, while we’re in sunny Anchorage to visit Liesel’s family and friends, I won’t be making more shows. I would have to take so much extra stuff with me and even then, I might not find the time. But if you really want to listen to some earlier radio (and non-radio) shows, this link gives you the full list available so far.

I also uploaded a special one this week, and that was the tribute to Sarah first put together last year. Unbelievably, it’s now 21 years since we lost Sarah and she is still much missed and loved.

Black tulips and babies

Sadly, no space is deemed too small for the application of graffiti. Even the fairy doors in the local woods aren’t safe from such desecration.

Fairy door needs attention

It is now No Mow May in which we are invited to leave the lawn alone for the benefit of the very few pollinating insects left alive in this country. A lot of people are indeed not mowing, but sadly, the local council’s grass-cutters are out in force, cutting the grass and shredding the litter embedded therein. Ooh, I do like a whinge, don’t I?

We took Martha and William to Lyme Park for a nice, long, brisk walk in the sunshine. Well, that was the plan. After confirming the adventure playground was indeed open, we decided to play there for a while, then walk up to the folly known as The Cage, at the top of the hill, then return to the playground.

William is very adventurous and despite many pleas from us, he decided to cross the small stream via stepping stones and a log. Not the most stable of logs.

William and the wobbly log

He jumped onto the opposite bank, and gave a victory salute at the top. But oops, on the return trip, he slightly overbalanced and had to step into the water. He wasn’t too keen on wet shoes, socks and feet. And he momentarily sat down on a wet stone.

A few minutes later, when Liesel was helping him change his shorts, he apologised for ignoring her when she’d told him not to cross the water, which was very sweet.

Martha and William on a table top

They enjoyed many adventures and we hadn’t even reached the playground yet. Yes, you’re right. Martha is indeed wearing odd socks and, at this point, William is wearing no socks at all.

It was fun watching Martha going round and round on this strange little thing, with her ponytail flying.

Martha spinning

As she was spinning, I asked her what happens when she pulls herself in? Oh, it goes faster, she observed. And in this way, Martha discovered the law of Conservation of Angular Momentum.

The playground was great fun, so in the end, we didn’t make it as far as The Cage. Later, when Liesel and I fancied a cup of coffee, we parked the children up on the branch of a tree.

Martha and William sitting in a tree

Yes, again, you are very observant. Martha is indeed crossing her eyes, a trick that she’d learned from her cousin Emily!

Liesel and I didn’t really go to the café by ourselves, that would be irresponsible and we’d probably lose our jobs. We had coffee and we treated the children to an ice cream. Of course we did!

Our challenge now was to keep them awake on the drive back home, which I did quite successfully, even if one of the games was to kick my arm as quickly and as often as possible. The bruises weren’t too bad.

William enjoys his weekly dance class, and although we didn’t see him at his terpsichorean activituies, we did pick him up from the venue to take him to the zoo. We’ll miss these odd days out with William when he starts going to school 5 days a week, with his sister.

Where’s William?

He’s wearing his hoodie in this manner to keep the cold draught out. He did eventually succumb to sleep on the long drive to Chester Zoo.

As is often the case, it was a bit cooler here than at home, but that didn’t stop us from having a really nice day. Treetop Challenge is always number one on his list and today was no exception. Apart from seeing the elephants first.

William on the zipline

He now needs no assistance in finding his way around this Challenge, and he really has conquered the ziplines.

William (l) and Boris the Gorilla (r)

The Bird Flu crisis is now over and the flamingoes’ aviary was open for business. By which I mean we humans are now allowed inside and we can see these gorgeous pink creatures other than through a close wire mesh.

Flamingoes
William with an otter

We were so pleased that William was interested in seeing so many animals on this visit. He did want to visit the shop so we made a deal: we’ll go to the shop at the end but only if you don’t mention it again. And that worked pretty much all day. But then “You know that place I’m not allowed to talk about? Are we still going there?”

We went. But we also passed by the elephants one more time.

Baby elephant

Our challenge now was to keep him awake on the drive back home, which I did quite successfully, even if one of the games was to kick my arm as quickly and as often as possible. The bruises weren’t too bad.

Liesel had an appointment near home with a pair of physiotherapists’ very strong hands, so William and I visited Riverside Park playground back in Northenden. On the way, we picked litter, a job he really seems to enjoy. But of course, the playground was more fun. He made friends with Misha, a 6-, nearly 7-year old from Ukraine.

William and Misha

I had a nice chat with Misha’s Mum while his younger sister played with a doll and followed the boys around. Her husband is still in Ukraine and of course we hope the war ends soon so he can come and join his family.

Soon, everyone else had left the playground: just me and William left, waiting for Liesel to collect us and take him home.

After two days with a varying number of grandchildren it was time to move on and see some grown-up people. Late in the day, after I’d attended my medical appointments, we drove north to Windermere. By coincidence, we were staying in the same place as Helen and Steve from Chessington. We’d not seen them on our recent trip down south for various reasons, so it was good to catch up now.

We dined in a greasy spoon just down the road from the hotel, you know, the sort of place that sells all kinds of food: chips, pizza, kebabs, burgers. It was alright though.

Helen pointed out this picture in a shop window.

David Bowie

Well, we haven’t seen a David Bowie in a shop window for a couple of weeks, but this is a good one. The artist is Don Pearce and the artwork is outside our price range.

Liesel and I shared a four-poster bed and at first, we thought the mattress was too hard. But actually, it was alright and we both had a reasonable night’s sleep.

Breakfast was served by a lovely Scottish lady whose name I never did catch, after which we set off for Beatrix Potter’s old home, Hill Top, on the other side of the lake itself. Last time Liesel and I visited, many years ago, we took the ferry across and walked up the hill.

Many of the roads are very narrow and in some places, I couldn’t see what to do if we encountered another vehicle coming towards us. But we were very lucky in that respect.

The scenery is of course gorgeous, but this is also a good time of year to enjoy the azaleas and the rhododendrons as well. And the garden behind Hill Top is a very peaceful and pretty place to pass some time. The gardener, Pete, is doing a very good job.

Baby azalea

How do we know the gardener’s name is Pete? Well:

Gardener Pete

The parts of the garden that he’s not responsible for are totally Pete-free.

Black Tulips

When I first read The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas, as a school-boy, I thought it was a made-up flower. But no, they really exist and there are some here at Hill Top. One day, I might read the book again because I can’t remember the story at all.

Even though our tickets were timed, the house was still quite busy, just on the borderline of what we find uncomfortably crowded vis-à-vis Covid. Beatrix Potter had some cool stuff, including a doll’s house with furniture and other items that really aren’t made to scale.

Beatrix’s doll’s house
Selfie of the day

Bizarrely, I think of all the photos I took today, this is my favourite.

Watering can

It is so reminiscent of the Peter Rabbit stories, and I can only surmise that this is the original watering can from Beatrix Potter’s time.

Did I mention Peter Rabbit?

Warning: Peter Rabbit

We drove Helen and Steve back to Ambleside. Funny place, Ambleside: all the shops are named after mild exclamations.

Shops in Ambleside

We took Helen back to the guest house for a nap leaving Steve to enjoy a bus ride in peace and quiet.

The drive home was uneventful. But you can never go on the M6 without there being a traffic jam somewhere!

And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one week, Liesel dragged me to asked me if I wanted to accompany her to Ikea. We haven’t been for a while and the thought of those juicy tender 50p veggieballs, well, how could I refuse?

In a strange case of pareidolia, here’s one of the machines in the café looking particularly grumpy with that thing in its eye.

Smiley tea machine

And back in Wythenshawe, there were more goslings near the path in Painswick Park.

Baby geese on land

And as if they’re not cute enough, there was again another family in the pond.

Baby geese on water

I just hope they stayed safe from the fishing lines on the opposite side.

There was a park bench on which I decided not to rest awhile, because of the nettles growing underneath and up through the gaps. I didn’t want to give my arsenic.

Uncomfortably numb, potentially

Here is evidence of Liesel’s latest craftwork.

This cross-stitch was a labour of love, and will be part of a collection being put together by the ladies of the WI to commemorate the 1948 London Olympics. No further details are available at this time. But jolly well done, Liesel!

Last week’s Wythenshawe Radio show was Girls, Girls, Girls, so this week it had to be Boys, Boys, Boys. Catch up here. Or don’t.

Walking in Memphis

Haha, no, not really, I’ve never been to Memphis. But we did do a lot of walking around our local ‘hood this week, three days in a row. Not as far as we wandered last week in London, of course.

Day 1. It was raining, but I didn’t let that deter me. Plus, I had to go out anyway to run some other errands. I was at first annoyed to see the Post Office was closed when it should have been open. I was concerned because I didn’t want to walk around in the rain any longer than necessary with a very important letter. The counter clerk let me in and I concluded my business.

Remember last week, the incident with the pharmacy? Well, they still hadn’t fulfilled my recent prescription. As requested, I paid a fifth visit only to be told once again that the item in question wasn’t in stock. It should be in tomorrow. I asked them to just send me a text message when it’s in, rather than having to go in every day of the off-chance. Two days later, I received the SMS, I went along, and eventually I was given my medication. Six visits for one prescription. I hope I never have to use this pharmacy again. Grrr.

Not only that, but there’s the issue of the fraudulent activity. Well, in the end, the card company said it wasn’t fraud, someone had just made a mistake. The money was refunded. So I returned the £9.35 in cash to the pharmacy, of course. But still, we’re unhappy with the staff’s lack of concern over what might have been a much bigger issue, whether fraudulent or otherwise.

Anyway, I interrupted the walk. It was wet.

A puddle

I don’t think I’ve included a photo of a puddle for a while, so here’s one for all the pluviophiles, limnophiles and toddlers.

Day 2. It’s hard to believe now, but I spent far too much time trying to remove dandelions from our garden in Chessington. Even then, I didn’t mind the odd one, but for some reason, it felt like they were taking over and not giving other weeds a sporting chance. But they can be quite attractive, when they’re in other people’s gardens or out in the wild.

What’s the time?

This walk started and finished at Benchill Community Centre, and on this occasion, Liesel and I were the only ones keeping Chantel company. It was a nice walk, despite being close to the very loud motorway.

Back in the Community Centre, we had coffee while being entertained by someone untangling a string of fairy lights.

Day 3. This is the walk that begins at Woodhouse Park Lifestyle Centre. I was on my own this time, as Liesel chose to join the WI’s walk for a different walk.

Painswick Park was more about daisies than dandelions on this occasion.

Daisies

Further round the lake, I think most of today’s group of nine oohed and aahed at the sight of this young family.

Mr and Mrs Goose and their babies

There was another family in the lake, so maybe the goslings were just taking it in turns to have their swimming lessons.

Liesel has taken up the craft of cross-stitch. Very small stitches with a very short needle with a microscopic eye. The good news is, I knew exactly where the magnifying glass was.

This week’s radio show was Girls, Girls, Girls. Due to some technical issue beyond my ken, the first hour stopped after just 17 minutes. It’s repeated next Wednesday at 10pm, or you can listen at your leisure here:

A Tale of, like, Two Cities (Part 3)

The story so far: we’ve been to London and now we’re back home in Northenden.

Jenny and the family were going away for the weekend so to enhance their packing experience, I was asked to look after William for a couple of hours. We went to Wythenshawe Park which he immediately recognised from a previous visit. He scootered straight to the playground from the car park.

I think it’s fair to say he had a go on all the equipment, and I certainly got my steps in following him around. There was no logic to his choice of activity. My only embarrassing moment was growling at the wrong child as they emerged from an enclosed slide.

Was there a climbing opportunity? Of course there was.

William, King of the Castle

He knew the way to the café too, where I had a coffee while he enjoyed a strawberry ice cream in a tub. He was very specific about the flavour and the container: no cone today. Do you want to go back to the playground? No, I want to go home now. Hmm, that was a problem because I hadn’t heard from Mummy yet: either they were still packing or taking a well-deserved break.

To play for time, I took him to Quirky Misfits in Northenden. I thought he’d be interested in the shelves stocked with skulls, not to mention the hot chocolate. Marshmallows yes please, but no cream.

William, King of the Hot Chocolate

And yes, I had another coffee. It would be rude not to.

Where was Liesel while I was having fun with our grandson? At her coronation. Having a crown fitted.

For my birthday, Jenny and Helen had given a walk around Manchester. Well, the day for the Manchester Music Walkabout Tour arrived.

We drove into the city on a clear sunny day and parked about ten minutes away from the meeting point, outside Bridgewater Hall.

Tower of Light

The Tower of Light is a visible commitment to sustainability, designed by award-winning architectural practice Tonkin Liu. This 40m high flue tower and shell lace structural façade encloses a highly efficient source of heat and power for some of Manchester’s most iconic buildings; Manchester Town Hall, Central Library, The Bridgewater Hall and Manchester Art Gallery among them. Reflectors moved by the wind reflect sunlight to fill the tower with shifting light during the day, while at night the gently-lit tower and white brick podium form a holistic energy landmark. One day, we’ll see it at night.

From a distance, I thought his building looked a bit like The Midland Hotel.

Looks like the Midland Hotel

I later discovered that it is in fact The Midland Hotel, it’s just that we approached it from a different direction. Slowly, slowly, Manchester landmarks are coming together to form a coherent, cohesive map in my mind.

Our guide, Emma, took us on a fascinating tour of places in Manchester of particular musical significance. There were 13 of us in the group, an ideal size for gathering round on the street and listening to her speak.

Free Trade Hall is where Bob Dylan turned electric in 1965 to calls of ‘Judas’ from the audience. The Sex Pistols played here just 11 years later. Both events seem a long time ago now, and as time goes on, more and more people claim there were present at these events. I know I was there: got the t-shirts and everything.

Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney

This plaque commemorates another small step on the road to giving the vote to women.

Emma spoke about the Madchester scene, Tony Wilson, the Bee Gees, Hollies, the Gallagher brothers, a nice potted history.

The Temple of Convenience is a pub located on the site of old subterranean public toilets. It’s celebrated as ‘there’s a hole in my neighbourhood’ in Elbow’s song, Grounds for Divorce. It’s close to where Guy Garvey of Elbow used to live and where they celebrated winning a Mercury award several years ago. Emma suggested having a quick pint here before moving on. It would be rude not to. So we did. Cheers!

The Temple

Naturally, the duration of the walk was much longer than the scheduled hour and a half!

Haçienda Apartments

These apartments, as the name suggests, are on the site of the Haçienda Club, a venue I never visited. I was aware of its existence from down south in London, and what it meant to the Manchester music scene, but now: luxury apartments. Could be worse I suppose: could be a multi-storey car park.

We thought about having a quick meal at the nearby Tiffin Room. Fate determined otherwise. It was closed. We were in the gap between late lunch and early evening dinner. If only we hadn’t stopped at the hole in the neighbourhood.

This concludes our Tale of Two Cities. London and, like, Manchester.

Another day, another walk. And we laughed at this example of neighbours being kind to one another.

The long and short of it

I wonder if the mowing family are just unfriendly? Or maybe the non-mowing family deliberately chose to keep a sort of wild-flower meadow outside their house? We’ll never know.

We saw this on our hike to Wythenshawe Park. Where we were surprised to find that, even at 2.30pm, the grass in the park was still covered in dew. On the other hand, our shoes probably needed a bit of a wash.

Where’s Liesel?

We know how to have a good time, as you know. It was a pleasant walk through the park, and no, we didn’t stop for coffee. Instead, we paid a visit to Aldi for some shopping, after which we walked a slightly longer way home, avoiding the busy industrial estate roads. And OMG, we need to go back to that quiet, secluded path next to the railway and pick up several bags of litter. We won’t be able to reach it all, there’s a fence, but in years to come, listen out for announcements such as: Your train’s been cancelled due to too many Coke cans on the line.

A Tale of, like, Two Cities (Part 2)

The story so far: we’re in London, now temporarily residing in a flat close to the South Bank.

We agreed it was probably too far to walk to Paddington Station this early in the morning, so instead we enjoyed a bus ride. Two buses in fact, changing in Oxford Street. Yes, Oxford Street, famous for Selfridges, John Lewis and the now ubiquitous Candy Stores.

Sarah wasn’t due to arrive from Exeter until about 10:30 so we passed the remaining few minutes at a coffee bar. Of course we did. In the station, I found the statue of Paddington Bear, from whom the railway terminus takes its name.

Paddington Bear

Liesel wanted to visit another clothes shop, but before setting off in the direction of St Christopher’s Place, Sarah forced us to sit down for another coffee. We hadn’t seen her since our visit to Exeter before Christmas, and to be honest, she hasn’t changed much.

It was a nice day for another long walk along the streets of London, but the sunny side was so much warmer than the other, shady, side of the street. And of course, it’s always good to explore places new to us.

Just a shop window

I thought this dress would look good on Liesel, but no, we didn’t even go into this shop. It’s in an area called Hyde Park Estate, which I’d not heard of before, and, as I confirmed when I looked at the map, it’s not even that close to Hyde Park. Probably an invention from the tortured mind of an estate agent.

As the plaque says:

St Christopher’s Close

“From a forgotten backwater to one of London’s loveliest shopping streets” 18th Century- Originally known as Barretts Court after the local owner John Barrett In the 18th Century and early 19th Century the area became a slum, situated off Tyburn Street, now Oxford Street, which lead directly to the Tyburn Gallows at Marble Arch. The last public hanging took place in 1783.

19th Century – Redeveloped in the 1870’s for social housing under the patronage of Octavia Hill, joint founder of the National Trust, the street also included a variety of historic trades – lampmaking, chandlers, cheese-mongers, drapers and bookmakers. The Lamb and Flag public house became a favourite haunt for anarchists.

20th Century – While adjoining Oxford Street became the busiest shopping street in Britain, St Christopher’s Place declined and by 1987 there were many empty properties. A major modern office redevelopment was proposed with the buildings being demolished.

It was then that Robin Spiro, a somewhat unconventional property developer, appeared on the scene believing, against the prevailing trend, that demolition was not the answer and that a period, small scale, shopping thoroughfare could successfully preserve something of the past in today’s busy world. And so St Christopher’s Place was transformed into one of London’s loveliest shopping streets.

It really is very cute. And surprisingly quiet given its proximity to Oxford Street.

We thought The Hour was a whole shop. But it turned out to be just one rack of clothes in a larger shop. I left the women there to do their thing while I went for another solo wander. From Oxford Street, it would be so easy to miss the turning into St Christopher’s Place, it’s a very narrow entrance. And certainly, over the decades, I have always missed it.

I wanted to pay a quick visit, a pilgrimage even, to Hyde Park, where I spent many happy hours and days when I lived, studied and worked in London. The window displays in Sefridges are as good and creative as ever. The current theme is SuperFutures, Tomorrow in the Making.

What if the wind could be candyfloss…

Future generations came up with the ideas and concepts. What if we could control the weather? Well, I’d probably whinge about it a lot less, that’s for sure!

What if houses could fly…

I wasn’t sorry to miss seeing the Marble Arch Mound, an unattractive £2,000,000 pile of mud, but I was sorry to see the state of the site now. I hope they’ll tidy the area up soon. Marble Arch, the place where I bought my first typewriter, where I spent too much time browsing in the Record and Tape Exchange and where we saw many movies in the late 1970s.

Over the road into Hyde Park, and specifically, Speakers’ Corner.

The Hecklers

The Hecklers are as important as the Speakers on a Sunday or whenever there’s a ‘debate’. My main contribution, once, was to half-heartedly wave a fist at someone but I can’t remember what annoyed me so much. That was a long time ago.

Hyde Park

I didn’t make use of the service, but I was happy to see the deck chairs out for hire on such a sunny day. This was close to the area where Liesel and I have enjoyed so much music over the years. The first concert we saw here together was Simon and Garfunkel supported by The Everly Brothers.

The lawn is being watered but so are some of the paths.

Nicely watered path

Liesel said she’d text me when she’d finished shopping. But after about three quarters of an hour, I thought I’d better make my way back anyway. I was excited to see a poster advertising Doctor Who: Time Fracture.

Doctor Who: Time Fracture, a ground-breaking immersive theatrical adventure, plunges you into the incredible universe of Doctor Who.

The Doctor needs you! The Universe as we know it is at stake – now is the time to step up and be the hero. For decades, in a quiet corner of Mayfair, London, a dangerous rift in time and space has been monitored by a group of loyal members of the long-thought-disbanded Unified Intelligence Taskforce – or UNIT for short. Until now they have managed to protect the people of Earth from the threat the rift poses but, weakened and beaten back as the Time Fracture grows out of control, they’re now close to defeat.

With 43 live actors and 17 different worlds to explore, take an epic journey across space and time, travel to exciting new (and old) places, confront menacing monsters and encounter ancient aliens – all while you battle to save all of existence!

Really exciting, right? So exciting, that I totally forgot about it until long after we’d returned home. And, it was fully sold out anyway.

Oh, here’s a surprise:

Candy Surprise

After meeting up with Liesel and Sarah, following a very successful shopping expedition, we gave consideration to lunch. We walked along Oxford Street towards a place that we know and love but instead, we ended up at Willows, on the roof of John Lewis.

View from the roof garden

We enjoyed a very nice, civilised meal in the sunshine, before, oh no, more shopping in John Lewis itself. I browsed the TV department and had a quick look at printers while Liesel and Sarah looked at shoes and handbags and other fascinating wares.

I can only look at TVs and printers for a finite amount of time before becoming overwhelmed. Technology is all so complicated these days. So I went out the back door of the shop intending to wait for the ladies in Cavendish Square. But I wasn’t allowed in, they’re setting up a funfair or something.

Cavendish Squere lilac (I think)

This lilac tree certainly stands out amongst all the London plane trees.

Time for another pilgrimage? Of course. We continued our walk along Oxford Street to Soho Square where we sat on Kirsty’s bench for a while after booting out the previous occupants. Yes, we should have brought flowers in memory of the late, great Kirsty MacColl, but we did play her song Soho Square and (quietly) sang along.

Sarah, Kirsty, Liesel

We said our goodbyes and left on buses travelling in opposite directions. Liesel and I dined at a restaurant near our accommodation, but what with the slow, uncoordinated and unprofessional service, not to mention the unwelcome visitors, we won’t be going back there again.

Our final night in London was uneventful. It didn’t take long to pack in the morning and to walk to Waterloo Station where I was delighted to look at a photographic exhibition. Another reminder that I really should take my real camera out sometime instead of solely relying on the phone camera.

Waterloo and hire bikes
Comet Neowise over Stonehenge

I think I remember when comet Neowise was around, and that whenever I looked for it, I just saw clouds. I would be very proud to have taken a picture like this. Congratulations to Historic Britain Runner Up James Rushforth.

Comet Neowise over Stonehenge
Comet NEOWISE passes over Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. It’s fascinating to think that this historic site did not exist when NEOWISE last passed the Earth. The comet is due to return in approximately 6,800 years, I wonder if the stones will still be standing? This is a single-exposure photograph taken early on the morning of July 2020. The orange glow is light pollution from the nearby villages of Durrington and Larkhill, and a passing lorry very kindly painted the rocks with light.

We caught a train to Chessington, a very familiar route of course, we lived there for so long. Walking past our old house felt very strange. It’s not our house any more of course, but after living there for 33 years, I can’t help be a little bit nostalgic. It’s none of my business, I know, but the carbuncle of a loft extension is just wrong.

Roof extension

Interesting to see that they haven’t replaced the windows that Liesel and I installed over ten years ago. And I was pleased to see that the tree planted in the street outside our house about 30 years ago is still thriving. As is our old lavender bush in the front garden, which will very soon take over the whole neighbourhood.

Round the corner and what a joy to see Dawn again after all this time. She had two years of massages to catch up on. That and a pedicure set me up for the day. She’s now working in a purpose built shed in her garden, although I’m sure there must be a better term than ‘shed’. I was treated first while Liesel went inside the house to work online for a couple of hours. And of course I went for a wander while Liesel herself was being pampered.

I bumped into my old postie mate Michael who seemed as surprised to see me as I was him. Duncan, our manager, has now retired. But I get the impression the job itself hasn’t improved. They’re discouraged from taking time off just because they have Covid.

What else is new in Chessington? Any yarn-bombing? Why, yes, actually.

Station Road at its best

The tile shop Versatile has moved down a couple of units. One of the many, many barbers in Chessington has moved from the station forecourt to North Parade. The party shop is now a, groan, mobile and vape store. Another hairdresser has become a tanning lounge. Good to see Jenny’s Café is still there though.

We caught a bus to our final accommodation on this occasion, the exciting Premier Inn at Tolworth. After dumping the bulk of our luggage, we ventured into Kingston.

Signal Park, Tolworth, cranes

This site has been under discussion for, what, 25 years? There were many inappropriate plans for over-development submitted over the years, so it’s good to see that, at last, the old and long derelict government land being developed. We need more housing. Signal Park has a selection of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments for sale or part-ownership.

Behind Tolworth Station, at the edge of the building site, look at the Crop-Ups, small planters for local people on the waiting list for allotments, growing all kinds of (to me) unidentifiable produce!

Crop Ups (not a Manchester bee)

We realised the error of our ways as the K2 took us the long way round Berrylands and Subiton, before arriving in Kingston. We could have walked to the next bus stop for a bus that would go directly into Kingston. Where, bizarrely, we realised how much colder it was. The swans and flamingoes on the Thames here are huge, there must be something in the water.

Birds on the river Thames

We had dinner at Comptoir Libanais, one of our favourite Kingston restaurants. I say dinner, but really, it was mid-afternoon, and there were very few other customers inside. The food was, as always, delicious.

Futon shop

We wandered aimlessly around the town for a short while and I’m not sure this Futon shop was here before. As I said to Liesel though, it’s nice to have a spring sale, but shouldn’t they have a sale on the rest of the furniture too?

An early, relaxing evening reading and doing puzzles and listening to the radio and podcasts was followed by a good night’s sleep, thanks for asking.

We ventured, by bus, into Surbiton where we had a late breakfast at another favourite venue, Allegro’s. We had the place to ourselves. After the full vegetarian breakfasts, and filling our flasks with coffee from The Press Room, just round the corner, it was time to set off home.

Two trains, then, and two buses today. As the train passed by Vauxhall, I had to check that The British Interplanetary Society was still there and thriving. From Waterloo, we caught a bus to Euston, but decided to get off at Russell Square and sit for a while.

Talkative girl

This young lady was having a very long telephone conversation with someone, husband or partner probably, but I suspect not a work colleague.

Where’s Liesel?

From Russell Square, we walked along the road to Tavistock Square. I think I already knew, but it was still strange seeing the juxtaposition between a statue of Gandhi, the man of peace and a memorial to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing.

Mahatma Gandhi
Hiroshima memorial tree

There was music in the air too, which we finally tracked down to the sax player having a jolly good time.

Saxophone player

And so, our short break comes to an end. Walk to Euston, train to Manchester, bus to Northenden, back to normal.

To be continued…

What? Really? Oh yes. Two cities, remember?

A Tale of, like, Two Cities (Part 1)

It was like, the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of, like wisdom, I suppose, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, y’know? It was the season of, like, Light, it was the season of Darkness, man. I can’t even. I mean, it was the spring of hope, it was, like, the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had like nothing before us, we were all literally going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its, y’know, noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, like, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Know what I mean?

Can you imagine reading a whole novel written by a Generation Z Charles Dickens? Well, if the two young ladies chatting away on the bus nineteen to the dozen, talking about their upcoming exams and so much more, have anything to do with it, this will become the new normal! Actually, it was a very entertaining discussion, even if we oldies couldn’t  keep up with every single cultural reference. After alighting from the bus, we trudged to Manchester’s Piccadilly Railway station where we officially began our few days away, down south, in London. It was our first visit by train since well before the first lockdown, and since Virgin lost the franchise to Avanti West Coast.

My first panic attack occurred as we waited outside the station. I wanted to take a photo of something, but the message flashed up on the phone: Camera Failed. Oh no. Why? No idea. Turning the camera off and leaving it for a few minutes before turning it back on fixed the problem. By which time, I’d lost interest in whatever I was eyeing up for a picture.

Fortunately, we’d booked seats, but the train was crowded because an earlier one had been cancelled. Why? Because a plastic bag had lodged itself in the overhead cables and needed to be removed. I visualised a man up a ladder with a long stick, insulated against the 20,000 volts or whatever.

So, other than our train being oversubscribed, the journey was uneventful. Sadly, we mask-wearers were in the minority. We caught a bus to Waterloo Bridge and descended to the South Bank, where our first lunch or brunch was a small donkey. Well, a burrito. We had a little visitor, which we think is a one-legged, adolescent pied wagtail.

Pied wagtail

Our first accommodation was at a Premier Inn and of course we went to the wrong one first. But, it didn’t matter, I enjoyed seeing some paintings by Salvador Dalí.

Elephant

We dropped off our bags at the correct place and then set off for a longer walk back along the South Bank. The sites are interesting but then, so are all the people. We resisted the temptation of walking on the beach, but there were quite a few people down there. Sad to see Pieminister has gone from Gabriel’s Wharf, but we didn’t help their business by not visiting for years and years.

Busker

We enjoyed some Afro Cuban music thanks to these buskers near Blackfriars Bridge. Neither of us had any cash on us, so thank goodness these, and most other, street entertainers now have the means to accept donations electronically.

We continued along the South Bank, via Hay’s Gallery, the Golden Hinde, Tate Modern, though not necessarily in that order. The newly-wed couple near Tower Bridge seem very happy.

Happy couple

After crossing Tower Bridge, when again I was disappointed that it didn’t lift while I was on it, we walked by The Tower, thinking about the poor people who were taken in through Traitor’s Gate over hundreds of years. You can easily guess which treacherous group of people we would like to see taken in and be severely dealt with right now.

Traitor’s Gate

And you know how they used to keep wild animals such as lions in a menagerie at the Tower? Well, they still do!

Lions at the Tower

As we walked by, we noticed a strange vessel docked next to HMS Belfast in the Thames. From the northern bank, we could see it was in fact Le Champlain, a relatively small cruise ship. Will we ever go on a cruise? Never say never, but I think we’re more likely to join a small ship such as this rather than the small cities that cruise around the oceans.

We walked back over Waterloo Bridge and found these legs out on display.

Legs on the South Bank

I felt a bit miffed that my own lallies, on display for everyone’s pleasure, had some competition. I couldn’t find a plaque explaining this unusual work of art, and I certainly don’t know where the top half is.

As the Sun went down, we ate our evening meal then walked back to the correct Premier Inn where we had a really good night’s sleep. Quite right too, after such a long walk.

Waterloo Sunset

In other news, we noticed the numbers on the clock faces of Big Ben, The Queen Elizabeth Tower, have been painted blue. That scaffolding was up for a long time for a spot of paintwork, so we can only assume more extensive refurbishment has gone on behind the scenes.

In the morning, we walked along the road a bit and sat outside for breakfast, almost in the shadow of the London Eye. No, we weren’t tempted on this occasion, although the lack of a long queue was quite unusual.

We didn’t expect to see red squirrels in London, in Jubilee Gardens, and we certainly didn’t anticipate seeing a blue one.

Help keep Jubilee Gardens beautiful

Again, the opportunity is there for a quick, electronic donation, no need to dig around in pockets seeking old coins and buttons to throw in a hat.

We witnessed this young man practicing his parcours skills.

Parcours

I was going to have a go myself but, er, oh yeah, Liesel said not to, well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. We found our home for the next two nights, an Airbnb just a couple of minutes from the South Bank, behind the National Theatre in fact. We have a flat to ourselves, and given the location, we’ve decided to move in permanently.

Another day, another long walk. This time, we crossed Waterloo Bridge again and headed towards Covent Garden. The usual market stalls weren’t there, it was more of an Antiques Fair. All sorts of old jewellery, crockery and even old photos of perfectly ordinary people. I didn’t recognise anyone, of course, but what a shame, there are probably families somewhere who would love to have those pictures back.

Street market flower sellers from the 1970s

Liesel wanted to visit a clothes shop, Gudrun Sjödén, in Monmouth Street, near Seven Dials. I thought she’d be inside for about 10-15 minutes. Oh no. She didn’t appear again for well over an hour, having received such good and personal service inside. Go on then, Liesel, give us a twirl, show us what you bought.

Liesel’s new dress

I wandered around in ever increasing circles, finding lots of interesting places. I’m not really related, but it’s always good to check up on the dance shoe shop bearing my name.

Freed of London

A lot of London is undergoing building work at the moment, so it doesn’t all look its best. Someone who’ll never be forgotten though is David Bowie. He appeared in one form or another in at least four different shop windows over a couple of days.

Bowie in windows

The other thing that there’s a proliferation of in London (and elsewhere) is Candy Stores. Not good, old-fashioned, English sweet shops, but American-style Candy Stores selling all kinds of American sweets, Hersheys, cereals and probably chemiucals that aren’t legal in the UK. I’m so glad that Liesel isn’t interested in giving her custom to any of these places. But there are so many. Nearly as many vape shops too. Gone are the days when empty premises are taken over by betting shops or charity shops.

Seven Dials

This pillar has seven sundials at the top, which is an amazing coincidence given that it’s located at Seven Dials.

Just off Monmouth Road, there’s a small courtyard, Ching Court, which I had no reason to visit. But I did, and came across this wonderful expanse of colour which the people who are lucky enough to live here gaze upon every day.

Cineraria (I think)

We’re in London so of course we thought about taking in a stage show or a concert. But we didn’t, partly due to concern about Covid still, and partly through not quite getting around to booking tickets. One of the strangest and most unexpected shows on offer was this one:

Bonnie and Clyde

London’s most wanted musical. Spoiler alert: does it end in a hail of 88 bullets?

Nor did we engage in spectating at any sports events, except this one.

Police horses

These horses weren’t running very fast, and when they pulled up at traffic lights, the race was declared a dead heat.

I visited Forbidden Planet, the old science fiction and fantasy bookshop, but nowadays it’s more about collectables from the various franchises, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Marvel comics and more. Interestingly, one of the outlets in Seven Dials Market, where Liesel and I had a late lunch, has borrowed the name.

Planets

Liesel’s been looking for books by a particular author for a while. Let’s walk up and down Charing Cross Road, we decided, it’s all second-hand book shops. Well, not any more it isn’t. Candy stores and vape shops are common amongst other new emporia. Foyles is still there of course and just a couple of the old bookshops. But none had what we were looking for.

We wandered through Chinatown where they haven’t taken down the new year’s lanterns since February, so it still looks bright and vibrant.

Lanterns

It began to rain, so we ducked into the nearest available shop. It was the M&M shop in Leicester Square. We bought something for the grandchildren but, most importantly, we stayed dry.

Tonight saw the premier of the new film Downton Abbey: A New Era. Well, our invites must have got lost in the post but that’s just as well. Sorry to say, but the red carpet was being put in place, and, between you and me, it’s a bit tatty, held together with duct tape. I hope it didn’t become too squelchy in the rain.

Red carpet

Next stop for a coffee was the crypt at St Martin’s in the Field.

In the crypt of St Martin’s

Again, my wife curtailed my creative urges. Plus, I didn’t have on me the necessary marker pen. But I wanted to change the name of the bishop on this sign from Wah to Pigeon.

And speaking of pigeons, Trafalgar Square is so much better without them. I know in the olden days, my sister especially took great pleasure in feeding them but times change.

Earlier, I mentioned Big Ben and didn’t provide a photograph. Well, here is one.

Chocolate Big Ben

This chocolate model is in a shop window, with a sign telling us not to touch it. Well, we didn’t touch it, but while Liesel distracted the shop staff, I had a jolly good lick.

Oh yes, another new fashion in London seems to be leaving old pianos outside shops, whether suitably decorated or otherwise.

Old pianos

The end of the day saw us returning to out Airbnb flat for a good night’s sleep. Well, eventually. The children upstairs must have been jumping off the top of the wardrobe or something, and we half expected them to come through the ceiling to visit us. Once they went to bed though, it was nice and peaceful. Even the traffic outside wasn’t too bad, apart from a couple of motorbikes.

I’m so glad I recorded this week’s radio show last week, there’s no way I would have found time to do it here in London. It was on Wythenshawe FM 97.2 on Friday afternoon at 2, as usual, but feel free to catch it here.

And don’t panic, there is still plenty more to come from our few days in London. Friends! Shops! Nostalgia!

On Tuesday morning at 1.37, our ghosts were haunting the pharmacies of Northenden. A payment to the value of a prescription was taken from one of our cards. Fraud? Looks like it. Was the pharmacy bovvered when we reported the incident on our return? Not really. The solution was to take £9.35 in cash out of the till and give it to us. No paperwork involved. We’re grateful that we’re not out of pocket of course, but come on, that’s not how you address issues of apparently fraudulent activity. In an unusual move on my part, I tweeted a (rare for me) negative tweet about this situation. What happened next?

The Savagery of Self-satisfaction

I think that was the first ever Easter during which I didn’t have any chocolate eggs of my own. I didn’t buy any for Liesel either. But over there in Cheadle, at 6 o’clock in the morning, William bounded into his parents’ room announcing that the Easter Bunny had been. He and Martha enjoyed their egg hunt in the garden on a glorious Easter Sunday.

Martha and William with their haul

Liesel and I next met up with the family for a walk at Alderley Edge. As mentioned before, this is quite a mountainous terrain, compared with the pancake that is Northenden and Wythenshawe. The views from up on high are quite spectacular. There is one rocky outcrop that must have been designed with photo opportunities in mind. I asked Martha to pick William up and hold him up high, to replicate that scene on Pride Rock from The Lion King. She declined using the excuse that William was too heavy.

Pride Rock

There’s plenty of opportunity for scrambling and climbing and more than once, Martha said that she wanted to be a mountaineer when she grew up.

Martha climbing

And I don’t think William will be too far behind.

Wiliam climbing

At one point, the path split into two, with short flights of steps going up to the right and to the left. Liesel went one way, and I went the other. From behind, I heard William say “Oh no, Grandad’s gone the wrong way.” Why did he assume I’d gone the wrong way and not Oma? You can go off people, you know!

Jenny, Martha, Oma way ahead of William

William’s not being left behind on purpose, but he won’t take ten steps when a hundred will get him to the same place! He will, however, stop and pose for carefully selected photographers.

Say cheese

The children returned to school the following day. In fact, this was the first day of term but the teachers had an Insect Day.

Liesel had reasons to be in Gatley so she dropped me off and I walked back home from there. I wasn’t expecting to see the Ukraine flag, but that’s why walking in different places can be so interesting.

Слава Україні!

Walking through Gatley Carrs, I was approached by a trio of ducks.

Mallards

Well, sorry, ducks, I had no bread nor any other inappropriate food to hurl in your direction. According to the sign, there are several other species of birds here, but I didn’t see or hear any. I did hear the hum of the nearby motorway though, it’s quite hard to avoid sometimes.

Stairway to heaven

The Wednesday walking group walked along the river to Didsbury and back this week. And then we stopped for a coffee at Boxx 2 Boxx.

Oma and I picked Martha and William up from school, and we were not expecting them to provide their own transport: William had his scooter and Martha rode her bike.

William the Scooterer

Martha comes out of class fifteen minutes after William, so while waiting for her, he said he was going to play in the mugger. This is a fenced off basketball or netball court. We’d not heard the term ‘mugger’ before, so we guessed it must be a northern term. But no. After several hours researching in a dusty old library, I discovered that in fact the term is MUGA, which stands for Multi-Use Games Area. This makes sense: there are markings on the soft playing surface, although no actual nets for any games. But it’s a good place to scoot around fast without having to worry about other people.

We brought the children back to ours where Martha indulged in some craft activities, while William went back in time and played with the stacking beakers that he used to play with in the bath. It’s always fascinating when you can see their brains ticking over. He counted as he placed the beakers on top of each other. Nine. But he knew there are ten in the set. A metaphorical scratch of the chin and he tried again, this time remembering to count the first one, the one that wasn’t moved, that wasn’t stacked on another.

What else is new? Well, it’s a joy having Liesel back. Her fried eggs are so much better than my own. I still don’t know what she does differently, but some of my own efforts were just embarrassing. I’m glad nobody else had to witness their existence. Yes, of course there are a million other reasons why I’m glad Liesel’s back from her long trip to Alaska, but the fried eggs, mmm.

The new laptop is great. It’s lovely being able to use a computer within a minute of turning it on. I’m sure it’ll slow down with time, but I have to turn the old one on on Tuesday if I want to use it on Thursday. (Slight exaggeration.) Also, what I do mostly at the moment is record and edit audio for my radio shows. And it is so fast. I can’t wait to start processing photos as well, that was another painfully slow process on the old desktop PC. Yes, there are a few things about Windows 11 that I don’t like and wish I could change, but so far, so much better. I won’t leave it as long the next time I need to upgrade.

I also have a new set of headphones. They’re not noise-cancelling but they do keep out a lot more extraneous noise than my very old, cheap set. And I’m hearing things in songs that I’d not noticed before. What have I been missing all these years?

Speaking of radio shows, I recorded two this week. Like I said, the new laptop is fast enough to let me do that. This week’s show features songs that have titles not reflected in the lyrics, such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Lazarus and so on. Wythenshawe Radio broadcast my show on Friday at 2pm but you can miss it again by ignoring this link:

You were asking about the title of this post? Well, I don’t remember the dream but that phrase, The Savagery of Self-satisfaction, was in my head when I woke up one day this week. Is it a book title? Is it a song? I had to look it up. And I was pleased to see it looks like the invention of my own weird and wonderful nocturnal mind.

No results

It reminds me of the olden days of Googlewhacking. And don’t get me started on Antegooglewhackblatts!

One egg is un oeuf

Something guaranteed to lift the spirits at any time is seeing a display of colour in everyday objects. Liesel uses these stitch markers with her crochet projects. Seeing them bathing in sunshine, on the otherwise fairly bland sofa, well, I couldn’t not take a picture really.

Stitch markers

The rain was torrential as we drove along the motorway. A fire engine overtook us on the inside, on the hard shoulder. A couple of minutes later, we saw thick black smoke ahead. We soon saw the source: it was a refuse truck, and the fire crew on our side of the road was attempting to extinguish the flames from the wrong side of the central reservation and its barrier. As we drove on, we noticed another fire engine stuck in traffic, on that side of the road. The children found it interesting, and we just hope nobody was injured. As Martha said, the rain would help put the fire out.

It was still raining lightly when we arrived at Chester Zoo, but it didn’t last long. Martha and William didn’t seem to even notice, while Liesel and I were wearing the brand new fully waterproof coats that she’d bought for us in Alaska.

We did see some animals at the zoo, but the main attraction were the playgrounds! The slides were still wet of course. As was everything else. Even climbing up the tree stumps with notches for footholds was risky, it was all too slippery.

I was expecting William to be Spiderman but no, Martha reached the top of the web first.

Martha’s web of intrigue

And of course, we had to capture the moment William spread his wings.

William the flamingo
Mick and friend

I’ve never been photobombed by a penguin before, but here is a poicture of me and my new coat!

For the first time in several visits, we actually saw an actual cheetah. Not running at 70mph, or hiding, but sitting on a mound way over there, through the haze.

Cheetah

It wasn’t too wet to sit on the elephant though. I assume other guests’ clothing had dried the poor old beast.

Liesel, Martha, William, elephant (bottom)

We enjoyed some good, local walks this week: Northenden, Wythenshawe and beyond.

In Wythenshawe, I was surprised to find some standing stones, signs of a really old civilisation here. Not as commercial an enterprise as Stonehenge, obviously, but quite interesting just the same.

Standing stones

This walk took us close to the motorway: a mere fence separated the traffic from our very loud chatting. Not the most pleasant of walking routes, to be honest, but it’s always good to see new things and new places.

Some of the insects in Benchill are huge, especially at the school.

School bug

Liesel did some laundry this week, including my jeans, for which I am very grateful. I checked they were dry before putting them on. Liesel had turned them inside out before washing them, which I probably would have forgotten to do. When I turned them outside out though, they seemed darker than I remembered. They really had needed a wash! I tried pulling them on, but they didn’t get far. Oh no, I thought, they’ve shrunk. I also wondered how come I’ve been wearing them for years without noticing some slight elasticity. Then I realised. I took them off, folded them up nicely and returned to the bathroom to look for my own legwear. Liesel is very welcome to her own, darker blue, elasticated Levis, thank you very much.

Liesel and I walked to Fletcher Moss park together for the first time in ages. We saw the heron too, always a bonus, he hasn’t been around for a while.

What a popular little park, so many groups of people must have decided to meet up for a Good Friday coffee and chat. We secluded ourselves in the rockery for a rest. And Liesel provided a running commentary on the mouse lurking in the bushes, that I totally failed to observe. Mouse, or baby rat? When Liesel told another couple about the rodent behind them, the lady shrieked and jumped up onto the bench. Well, she would have in a sitcom.

Acer or Japanese maple

Another day, another acer. How do you dig them up, I wondered? Acer spades, suggested Liesel.

Selfie of the day

Yes, I know it’s a rubbish photo. But the height difference between Liesel and me makes it hard to get a good picture, especially when you’re trying to get some blossom in the background as well. My head isn’t really eight times the volume of Liesel’s.

Easter Saturday was very exciting, we spent most of the time with Martha and William. The idea was for them to dye hard-boiled white eggs. Imagine the disappointment when the rarely seen (in the UK) white eggs turned up with a lion mark and other stamps! Fortunately, boiling them removed all this ink, leaving pristine shells for the childern to decorate. Oh, except William wasn’t interested, in the end! He played with the dinosaurs. I don’t think his lack of interest was due to the excitement of the Easter egg hunt around the salubrious setting of our small apartment. They both had a good time, and both were willing to share when one found more eggs than the other. Of course, probably too many were consumed, but, well, that’s Easter!

In fact, at one point, William decided he’d had enough, so he took himself off to bed for a quick nap.

William the kipper

When I say quick, I mean very short, less than a minute, a proper power nap if ever there was one!

The eggs turned out very well, though.

Martha the egg dyer

So that’s Mummy’s and Daddy’s breakfast sorted for tomorrow!

It was such a lovely day, we thought we’d also take them to the playground. And on the way there and back, we picked litter. There’s just so much to choose from around here.

William and Martha the litter-pickers

We saw the heron again, in exactly the same place as yesterday.

Heron on the weir

Why bother moving if you can catch all the fish you need in that one spot?

Martha and William had fun together on the swing and on the slide.

Martha and William the sliders

And before you ask, yes, this is a very short slide, they haven’t had a sudden growth spurt.

After returning the children to their parents (only leaving one small toy at ours by mistake) we came home to relax… What a gorgeous day.

The theme for my Wythenshawe Radio show this week was Death, pushing up the daisies, shuffling off this mortal coil. It wasn’t at all morbid or mournful or maudlin, but I was surprised at how many songs they are about the subject.

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As well as the regular show, I’ve put together a show that won’t be broadcast on any radio station. It’s a bit rude, there are explicit lyrics, lots of swearing, and other songs that you don’t usually hear on the radio. Plus a couple of poems. It’s all done in the best possible taste. But please don’t listen if you don’t approve of a bit of bad language. The idea came a while ago, but I gave it a lot of serious thought and consideration when I was laid low by the Covids.

Joybringers

It was a beautiful day over at Quarry Bank Mill. We met up with the grandchildren and enjoyed a walk and a chase in the fresh air. William loves climbing and he feels it’s his duty when at the summit to refer to us all down below as ‘dirty rascals’. And, as the King of the castle, quite right too.

King William

Meanwhile, Martha was being pursued along a watercourse by a troll, or was it Oma?

Martha under the bridge

Despite the recent dip in temperature, which I’m sure is temporary, the flowers are still giving it their best shot, brightening the place up.

Primroses

As we’re walking along, Martha announces that she wants to be eaten by a tree stump. That’s a strange ambition, we all insist. But, would you Adam and Eve it?

Martha swallowed by a tree stump

Now for some news from abroad. While Liesel was in Alaska, she finished her latest creative crochet project: a blanket whose forever home is with our really old friend Holly in Washington state.

Another crochetted blanket

Liesel’s got back into the routine very quickly with the WI, walks and meetings for coffee, not to mention the knitting group. I continue to plod around Northenden gazing forlornly upon the litter but not quite feeling the urge to do anything about it.

Liesel and I went over to Dunham Massey for  nice long walk, and again here, the flowers are blooming marvellous. As you’ll know by now, my horticultural knowledge is limited, by which I mean, laughable. But I do recognise and can name the odd bloom.

Tulips
Leopard’s Bane

Yes, this one’s in a pot, but I must admit when I first saw it from a distance, I thought they were pulling a fast one, selling dandelions. But as least they give you some free peat with this item.

Daffodils and friends

As we walked through the garden, we watched a young lady approach a tree. We thought she was going to give it a hug, but in the end, she just poked it. Well, hippy that I am, I felt sorry for the tree, so I gave it a hug and apologised for the human race.

Another tree that drew our attention was this Tibetan cherry, whose bark seemed to be soaking up the Sun.

Tibetan cherry

One thing we hadn’t anticipated was seeing rabbits in the garden, eating the exhibits.

Where’s the bunny?

Apparently, there’s a small gap in the fence and the rabbits moved in. The volunteers agreed that while they’re quite cute, they’re definitely in the wrong place.

Of course, the highlight of the week was helping Martha celebrate her 6th birthday. There were twelve of us in the house altogether, and I think Martha had a ball. Well, not literally a ball, but she did seem to have a good time.

Martha concentrating

In years gone by, we’ve celebrated Martha’s birthday out in the garden. Not today though. Instead, we enjoyed watching the hailstorm outside.

Hail hail Martha

Not only hail, and big hailstones at that, but we had lightning and thunder. So, by common consent, we stayed indoors and played with balloons.

William still thinks he’s Spiderman and he performs all his own stunts, leaping from one sofa to the other.

William mid-flight

The children, that’s William and Martha and their cousins Annabel and Emily, had party food while us grown-ups enjoyed a very tasty and very spicy Chinese takeaway. The birthday cake was delicious, held together by a fence of both mint and orange flavoured Matchsticks.

Martha and the cake

This week’s radio show has the theme of Pronouns. As ever, it’s first broadcast on Wythenshawe Radio WFM97.2 on Friday at 2pm, online, TuneIn app, smart speaker and locally on 97.2 FM. It’s repeated the following Wednesday at 10pm. And I’ll upload each show to Mixcloud. So there’s no excuse for missing it!