Horses and Club Biscuits

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

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Hello horses

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

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

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

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Here comes the Sun

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

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

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

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

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Biscuits and crisps

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

Chocolatté

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

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

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Keep Wythenshawe Tidy

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

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

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The path to nowhere

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

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

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

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We’re closed

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

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

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Howard Road and St Hilda’s Road

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

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

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Catholic church of St Hilda and St Aidan

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

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A pretty but possibly deadly plant

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

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

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St Wilfrid’s parish church of Northenden

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

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I see a little silhouetto of a bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palatine Road, Northenden

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

Castles

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

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

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Bombomb Studios. Don’t sweat, sparkle.

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

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

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Pull the plug, ring the change

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

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

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

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

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

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Emmanuel Church stained glass window

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

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

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

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

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Martha with a castle

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

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

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

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

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Farewell, old friend

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

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

2019 into 2020

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

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

Bike locker

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

Liesel’s completed Wasgij jigsaw puzle, wow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny and Martha

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

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

1 in 29, how does anyone manage that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few more of our new acquaintances.

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

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