My Eggs

Even the wind hasn’t been enough to deter us from a lot of walking. Sometimes it’s a bus ride followed by a walk. I think it’s fair to say we’re not looking forward to going home to be greeted by Storm Jorge and its cold, wet and windy so-called weather. T-shirt, shorts and sandals are my dress code de jour here in Malta, and I can put up with the funny looks from the strange locals, no worries.

The walk to St George’s beach was interesting, through a largely residential area of St Julian’s. One of the main hobbies here seems to be standing around on street corners chatting and laughing or, at a pinch, sitting in a stationary car, maybe lurking, maybe waiting for someone.

By the sea, I watched a couple of men fishing. I guess they caught something because the cat was having a party all by himself.

Angling

I didn’t walk to the casino, visible in the distance, but I found the sea again round the corner. St George’s Bay is, I’m sure, a very popular beach in Summer, but today, the only men sunbathing were wearing their business suits.

St George’s Bay
Sunbathers (not topless, that would be illegal)

Up the road and round the corner is a relatively new shopping centre and residential complex. This is the real centre of Paceville, but we don’t feel we’ve been missing out at all. There’s a Planet Hollywood and a Hard Rock Café not forgetting the obligatory Costa Coffee. Plus clubs, pubs and gambling dens.

Glass floor in Bay Street Shopping Complex

There’s a Women’secret rather than a Victoria’s Secret, but, as far as I could tell from a cursory 20-minute long glance, they’re selling the same kind of wares. Underwares.

Some of the architecture is fun, and it’s a shame so many of the buildings look a bit tatty, either faded in the Sun, or covered in a thin layer of dust from all the building work taking place.

Coloured balconies
I beg you pardon, I never promised you a roof garden

I was surprised the first time I saw cactuses growing here, just a week ago. But they’re all over the place. They’re prickly pears, imported from America, planted typically around fields to help reduce the force of the wind.

Prickly pear

The local cinema has 17 screens, but none of them were showing a film that particularly appealed this week.

It was a pleasant jaunt and the walk back was much faster, unexpectedly. I followed the bus route and I’m glad I didn’t catch a bus for what would have been for just one or two stops.

After a good night’s sleep and a slow start, the next bus took us in a south-easterly direction, to a place called Xgħajra. It is purely residential, of no interest whatsoever, which is probably why it’s not mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. So why did we go, then? Because once we got seats on the bus, we weren’t giving them up for anybody! Actually, the sea looked gorgeous here, not nice enough to want to swim in, but beautiful azure, lapis lazuli, a proper Mediterranean shade of blue.

The sea at Xgħajra

Back in Valletta, we walked around attempting to keep the warmth of the Sun on our backs, it was heaven. Liesel asked how long it would take to walk back home from here? If we took the ferry, about 55 minutes, was the answer. If we don’t take the ferry, nearly an hour and a half.

So, we went for the ferry. Thanks, Google Maps, we missed a vital turning at first. It wasn’t obvious that we had to cross the road, walk round in a loop and then walk under the road we’d just been on. It’s so easy to forget that the world is actually 3D.

A steep street in Valletta
Valletta-Sliema ferry

The single fare on the ferry was a mere €1.50. I suggested going back and forth several times as it’s so cheap, but the idea was vetoed.

The Dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta

The ferry ride was short and sweet and we took our time walking back home from Sliema, a route that is very familar to us now. But, of course, we still see things that we’ve not noticed before. Have you seen those fish, Mick? What fish? Those fish. Oh, those fish!

Fish

I thought for a minute we were in danger of seeing actual, real fish, in the sea!

By the diving school, I was impressed by the mural.

Pirate mural

If only all ‘graffitti artists’ were this talented, then there wouldn’t be so many accusations of vandalism. Less than 100 metres along the shoreline, though, we came across this.

My eggs

Well, maybe it’s funny in its own way, but we’re not in on this joke. It reminds me of the long-standing message daubed at Surbiton Station: ‘Foxes know’. Maybe both are secret messages between secret agents working secretly for secret organisations and we’re not supposed to know.

Gozo is a no-go. Yes, reluctantly, we decided not to visit Gozo on this occasion. We’re attempting to see as much of the main island as possible, but without feeling rushed or over-stretched. Anything we don’t see this time will still be here next time.

Unless of course, Malta does roll over into the Med. We found out today that due to local tectonics, Malta is rising in the west and sinking in the east. That’s why the cliffs at Dingli are so high and so interesting. It was a long bus ride there, but worth it. The views were lovely, and we even ate a decent lunch at a restauarnt called, by coincidence, The Cliffs, just near Dingli Cliffs.

Now we’ve found Maltese bread, we can’t get enough of it. And our lunch came with some today. My salad included quail’s eggs, something I’ve not eaten before. What are they like? Well, they taste like chicken’s eggs to me. The implication is, there are quails hereabouts. But we’ve not seen any birds other than pigeons and sparrows. Nice to see sparrows, yes, but it would be good to see something more exotic too. The sound of budgies came out of someone’s window, but it might as well have been a tape recorder.

Stick man on a stick tricycle, in Dingli

It was good to be out in the country, too. We saw more vegetation today than we have the whole time we’ve been in Malta.

Just a small bunch of local flowers

I don’t think I’m breaching any state secrets by posting this photo.

A big golf ball listening station (top secret)

It’s probably a secret listening station, but whether owned by Malta, Italy, UK, USA or someone else, we don’t know. But combined with ‘My eggs’ from yesterday, I’m beginning to think Malta is Spy Central.

Imagine my disappointment when I found a sign claiming that this is a ‘Navigation Transmitting Site’. A likely story.

A view from the top

We approached the edge of the cliff, but not as close as Jyoti would have ventured!

Another view from the top
Selfie of the day

Teetering right on the edge of Dingli Cliffs is this cute little chapel, the Church of St Mary Magdalen.

Marija Maddalena

Nearby was a stall selling Maltese coffee. Yes, of course I was tempted, but I’d had two coffees already by this point. Plus, if it’s anything like Turkish coffee that you can stand a spoon up in, I don’t think we’d get along very well. Thanks for the offer, though.

Yes, until today, we were beginning to feel that the whole of Malta is just one big city, one huge building site, so it was nice to see some greenery. In fact, as well as the pretty flowers, we saw not only our first butterflies in Malta, but also our first wasps. We saw a beetle. We saw a really big butterfly that was in fact a kite being flown by someone who we couldn’t see. And we saw a herd of goats and sheep just wandering along the road, with no concern for the honking drivers.

A sheep or a goat or maybe a shoat or a geep

I knew it was the day but I missed it by less than a minute! Yes, today, I took my 500,000th step since I started using a Pedometer rather than the Fitbit Zip that was eating batteries like Smarties.

Half a million plod plod plod

Training for my walking challenge next month is going very well, thanks for asking.

I’m aiming to walk at least 10,000 steps every day in March, come hell or high water or Storm Jorge. Please, if you can, help me raise some money for Cancer Research, just follow this link, please, thank you, thank you, thank you!

The bus ride home was long and relaxing and allowed plenty of time for the mind to wander. All the buses here display their route number at the front, along with the name of the next bus stop. I asked Liesel if there was a bus route 66 at all. Why? Because I want to get my kicks there.

Most of the drivers have been friendly, although many of them seem to be in a great hurry all the time. But if they see someone running for the bus, they will wait and open the door for them: something Manchester bus drivers could learn to do.

We’ve experienced a few clouds of cigarette smoke here, but it’s not been as offensive as in Paris a couple of years ago. There, it was almost compulsory to walk through a smoke-filled tent before you could get into a restaurant. Here in Malta, you’re just unlucky if the wind gusts the wrong way.

It is a remarkably multicultural, multi-ethnic place. We’ve heard 101 different languages spoken, some recognisable, some not, we’ve seen people from all around the world, visitors like us of course, students as well as locals and workers from all around Europe. We’ve never felt threatened nor in danger here. We’ve heard police sirens just a few times in the time we’ve been here whereas we’re used to hearing several each day at home in Northenden.

We arrived at our ‘hood, alighted the bus for the walk to Wok to Walk where we ate, and on the way we home, we bought another loaf of Maltese bread which, alas, we’ll have to consume all in one day!

Mellieha, Valletta and Mdina

We saw this advert on the back of the bus and our thoughts turned to those poor people, Liesel’s Mom and Dad, who are currently suffering sunshine in Hawaii.

Waikiki (in Hawaii, known as the Malta of the Pacific)

Not to be outdone, we caught a bus to Mellieha Bay, north of St Julian’s. It’s not really the tourist season yet, so there weren’t many other visitors. Plus, some of the restaurants don’t open for business until the end of February. Not that we would necessarily have visited any, most dishes are fish-based.

Wind in the willows

Yes, as the trees demonstrate, it was a little bit windy today. This was one reason my walk along the beach was solitary: Liesel didn’t fancy having her legs sand-blasted so she stayed at the BBC, the Blu Beach Club.

Għadira Bay

There were few people on the beach, so not surprising to see that the sunbeds, umbrellas and sand-wheelchairs weren’t available for hire.

Beach possibly designed by Mark Rothko

When I walked back to join Liesel, I realised I should have walked up the hill first, to visit these two churches.

Churches on the hill

Our Lady of the Grotto and the Parish Church of Mellieha would have been an 18-minute walk up, but it’s probably just as well I didn’t go. I was wearing shorts and many churches here don’t approve of such attire.

We caught the bus back to Sliema and I was watching our progress on Google Maps. Some funny juxtapositions came to light.

Call the midwife

After dining out, we waited for our final bus of the day. Due to incredibly bad timing, it was ‘rush hour’ and the ‘queues’ were long and wide and disorganised.

The bus driver in Sliema was an angry man. He demanded to know why we hadn’t caught the bus in front of his. Well, it was full, plus, we weren’t 100% sure it was going where we wanted to go. Oh, it is, he assured us. Even though he didn’t have a clue where we were headed. His driving was atrocious too, our first roller-coaster experience in Malta. Gentle acceleration and braking were not in his skill set. I suggested to Liesel it might be his first day. She said it might be his last day!

If we hadn’t already consumed a beer (me) and a mojito (Liesel), we might well have indulged once we reached the safety of Paceville and home.

Did I mention a mojito? I’m not saying it contributed in any way, but Liesel fell up the stairs on the way home, earning some bruises for her efforts, to fingers and ego.

It’s halfway through our stay in Malta and it was time to do some laundry. We couldn’t believe the wash cycle was 4 hours long. It wasn’t. I think we misread 40 minutes. We left the balcony door open through the night to help the drying process. Big mistake. We were invaded by mosquitoes. I woke up with a few bites and Liesel has just one.

We followed up on a flyer we saw a couple of days ago, and returned to Valletta for a guitar recital. We joined between 30 and 40 others in the peaceful St Catherine of Italy Church for a number of pieces played on a Spanish guitar.

Bernard Catania

The music was very relaxing, the church was cool, in more senses than one, and I realised how much I enjoyed guitar music other than the almost ubiquitous electric guitar. The only downside was, the church pews were wooden benches, not a great difference from the hard seats on the bus! He re-tuned a couple of times but never used a capo. Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tarrega was stunning: it really did sound like there were two guitars being played.

I had a quick look around the small church before we left, and I did like this painting, purporting to be something religious, but in fact just depicting a small child being dragged to church on a Sunday morning.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the last day of the carnival and the streets were still packed with people, many of whom were in costume.

Crowds in the streets

We stopped briefly in MUŻA, The National Community Art Museum but again, it’s not fully open right now.

Brother and Sister of the Artist by Vincent Apap, 1923

We spent a lot more time in the Museum of Archeology, with artefacts dating back to 5000 BC. It was all interesting, of course, but I would love to travel back in time to see just how accurate some of the archeologists’ interpretations are.

Woman in stone

Looking at an exhibition of work by the artist Celia Borg Cardona was time well spent. She likes to paint scenes or people from above, from high up.

Mellieha Bay by Celia Borg Cardona, 2010

This picture brought back memories from our visit there, oh, a mere 24 hours ago!

Conservation work is going on in this museum too, and it was was interesting to watch a couple of the restorators at work for a short while.

Working hard at conserving/restoring paintwork and tiles on the wall

St John’s has been given equal billing to St Paul’s in Mdina, the seat of the Archbishop of Malta, hence we visited our first Co-Cathedral today here in Valletta. It is incredibly ornate and I was allowed in because today I had covered my legs.

Welcome to St John’s

One of the main attractions of this venue was the opportunity to view Caravaggio’s largest painting.

Beheading of St John the Baptist by Caravaggio, 1608

We couldn’t get too close to the painting but it is more impressive in real life than this photo can possibly show. The painter chose a dramatic moment in the narrative of the Biblical event – the moment after the death-blow had been struck with the sword, but before the executioner severed the last tendons with the knife retrienved from behind his back.

View from the balcony

Whenever I visit a church, whether Catholic or Anglican, I like to light a candle for my Mum and Dad and Sarah. There are no real candles here, though. Instead you insert your coin into a box, and one of several LED candles bursts into light. Not as satisfying, I feel, but I can understand the reluctance to light real candles, having spent years washing centuries of candle soot from the paintings and other surfaces here.

Candle in the wind

We returned to Upper Barrakka for a coffee, looked down on a huge cruise-shop and walked back to the bus station through throngs of costumed funsters.

Selfie of the day, with Triton Fountain

As we were about to turn a corner, we were nearly bowled over by a fast-moving mobility scooter. The sign on the back said ‘I’m electric and eco-friendly but I can still drive like a twat’. I may have made the last bit up.

Triton Fountain nearer the end of the day

The plumber had been to our Airbnb to plug a water leak that we’d been unaware of. In the proess, he’d rendered one of the toilets unflushable. Good job I noticed before I really needed to flush!

It was a long ride to Mdina but well worth it, even on the barely padded seats on the bus.

Mdina Gate

What a great, old, walled city. The streets are narrow, even narrower than what has become normal for us. The only downside today was the wind, blowing strongly and coldly along the narrow streets. Every door was stunning, the knockers all different, and a couple of the restaurants won’t open until the end of the month!

Olive tree

We visited the Mdina Glass shop, studied some of the items, wanted to buy some but in the end, we don’t have the space, we don’t need more stuff and one of the lampshades we liked might not fit where we want it to go, anyway.

Mdina Glass

We wandered the streets, enjoying the warmth of the Sun when available, and remarking how quiet it was, without much traffic. Our voices and people’s footfalls echoed and now and then, we heard the bells of the horses and their carriages.

St Agatha’s Chapel
Narrow street

We found the wall, well, we could hardly miss it, but we weren’t prepared for the view from the top: we could see most of the way across the island. You could see your enemies approaching from miles away. The signs warned us not to climb on top of the wall as it was a sheer drop.

What a view
Let’s spoil you with another selfie

After a coffee and lunch (Liesel) or cake (me), we split up. My lallies were out and I wouldn’t have been welcome in St Paul’s Cathedral so Liesel explored inside while I wandered around the city.

A gnarly old tree

I found the Ditch Gardens, Il Foss Tal-Imdina, and can confirm there are 273 citrus and seven olive trees. Some have been cut back quite radically: I’m sure the gardeners know what they’re doing but it might be a while before they’re producing fruit again.

Ditch Gardens of Mdina

I found a pastizzi stand and he only had cheese ones on offer so I had a cheese one, while watching some little people in the playground. The sculpture was a bit out of place, I felt, but the artist was unacknowledged.

Kissing couple

No overtaking

We’ve seen just a handful of nuns in Malta, but we did come across St Dorothy’s Convent.

St Dorothy’s Convent
St Paul’s Cathedral

Meanwhile, Liesel was taking pictures inside the fascinating and interesting Cathedral.

Death in the Cathedral (not to be confused with Agatha Christie’s new one)
St Paul’s Cathedral
Things are looking up
Most elaborate door knocker

We sightseed (sightsaw?) from the bus back to Valletta and I think the biggest surprise was passing the American Embassy, apparently out in the middle of nowhere.

Local drivers do like tail-gating and using their horns, so I’m not convinced of the efficacy of this sign: ‘Chance takers are accident makers’.

The Sun set, it became dark very quickly and it was nice to see Venus before she bade farewell.

Valletta and Sliema

Guess what? I rashly did something I hadn’t done for over forty years and the chances are I won’t repeat the experience for another forty years.

I went out for a walk around Paceville with a couple of chores in mind. Plus, of course, the desire to clock up at least 10,000 steps. I am in training for a major challenge in March, remember.

Anyway, I was admiring the local flora and fauna, some of which is very surprising.

The tactful cactus by the roadside

Yes, I wondered too, and I can confirm, this is a real cactus. It looks a bit out of place amongst the dandelions and other small weeds flowers. I was going to walk to the top of the hill, but once the pavement disappeared and the road became too narrow for safety, I gave up.

Eventually, I found my way to the barbershop and I was invited to return an hour later. I passed the time back in Valyou buying just four items and managing to get one of those wrong. What I thought was moisturiser turns out to be moisturising soap, although the word ‘soap’ appears nowhere on the bottle. So confusing. How I yearn for the ’80s when everything was a system. A bar of soap was known as a ‘hand-washing system’. You knew where you were, then.

Anyway, back in the barber’s, I declined the offer of an espresso and asked for a glass of water instead. I enjoyed some nice easy listening, such as Adele and this was followed by the whole unexpurgated version of Gangsta’s Paradise. Coolio! In fact, they played the whole album.

What did I want? A trim and a shave. A wet shave? Oh alright then, yes please. So began a whole hour of being ‘pampered’. So much goo and gloop on my face and hair. Some of the product stung a bit, the green paste smelt a bit like chocolate, the hot, wet towel over the face was nice, once I got over the feeling of being water-boarded. All conveniently located orifices were poked, prodded, probed and shorn and  eyebrows were trimmed. But my first wet shave in nearly half a century wasn’t at all refreshing nor relaxing.
What a haircut
When I returned home, the first thing Liesel noticed was my red face and red neck. Several hours later, she noticed red spots of blood and other marks on my chin and cheek. And even the lighest shower later in the day made my face sting. ‘Is your face hurting?’ Yes, a bit. ‘Because it’s killing me!’ Haha. Liesel did like my new smooth skin, something she has no previous experience of. But it’s interesting, and disappointing, to realise that the skin on my face and neck hasn’t toughened up one iota since I was a teenager.
All you need is love
The shadow is cast mid-afternoon. The sculpture well located. Its twin casts a shadow on the water of the bay, but it’s not easily readable except, presumably, on a really calm day.

Meanwhile, Liesel nodded off at home in the Sun, which is OK, but she also forgot to put the chocolate fingers back in the fridge, and that’s not OK!
Sunset over St Julian’s
We can see the sunset from our fifth floor apartment, but as it’s behind a very built-up area, on a hill, it’s not as spectacular as some others we’ve witnessed.

In the evening, we went for a short walk for some dinner. Italian rather than Maltese, so we’re getting closer to proper local food. It was a bit chilly walking back: yes, even I have to admit that!

The plan was to get up early and set off for Valletta. Well, the first time I looked at the clock, it was just before 10am. I slept well despite the ridiculous work-related dream in which the house numbers were in the wrong order and I had both a bike and a trolley to contend with. So glad I don’t have to do that sort of thing in real life any more!

We caught a bus to Valletta, retracing some of yesterday’s walk. We didn’t realise beforehand that this is Carnival weekend, and we were delighted to see a collection of brightly coloured floats.
One of the floats
The square was very busy and most of the children were dressed in very elaborate costumes. We saw princesses and unicorns, Disney and Harry Potter characters but also quite a few fire fighters, soldiers and other public servants.
Policemen get younger every year
Luckily, he didn’t arrest us. But what a shame that it’s no longer deemed acceptable to take pictures of strange children in strange places, even when they’ve gone to the great effort of drawing attention to themselves.
Independence Monument
Here in the Independence Ground, I indulged in a crêpe and, being British, I chose lemon and sugar. The person in front plumped for a pancake covered in Nutella to which the young lady added three Kinder bars. In unrelated news, Malta apparently has the highest rate of childhood obesity in Europe.
The cat sat on the train

Elvis lives
Some of the music was a bit loud, which safely drowned out me singing along to Abba.
A bee but not a Manchester bee
Once past the city gates, Valletta occupies a mere 1 km by 600 m peninsula, at the end of which we find St Elmo Bay and Fort St Elmo.

Liesel had a rest in the warmth of the Sun while I set off in search of a public toilet. It didn’t look too far to walk on Google Maps but in reality, I had to walk all round the houses, up and up a hill, into a nice little park. I know, TMI maybe, but, mid-stream, a foghorn went off and I jumped out of my skin!
Cargo ship with a very loud foghorn
It was only this huge cargo ship, almost too big for the harbour, but it got my heart rate up for a moment!

I feel sad and disappointed that we’d missed out on Expo 2015 in Milan, probably on account of not knowing about it at the time. I’m sure it would have been good fun. But, no matter. On the way back to Liesel today, I went into (the back door of) the Malta Experience museum, by St Elmo Bastions, to see if I could buy a couple of coffees to take away. Yes, of course. I don’t think many people ask for this service, but all the tables were occupied.
Expo 2015 cup
No, we didn’t keep the cup as a souvenir.

As well as seafood, the main meat on offer here in Malta seems to be rabbit.
Rabbit, tastes of chicken, apparently
We did try our first pastizzi today: one cheese and one pea. Lava-hot molten cheese on an unsuspecting tongue was made bearable by the overall experience of very flaky filo pastry. Liesel’s not usually a fan of mushy peas but this was more than OK!

We were persuaded by a very persuasive man to go for a ride on his karrozin, a horse-drawn carriage. He offered us mates’ rates, €35 instead of €40 plus, he’d drive us all round the city for 40 minutes instead of 35! Well, he chucked us off after a mere twenty minutes and of course, with a tip, we paid €40 anyway. I told his horse it might be boring dragging visitors around Valletta all day, but at least he didn’t have to run the Grand National.

One thing we noticed in Valletta, and even away from the city, is the large number of memorials dedicated to World War 2. In fact, the first stop on our karrozin mini-tour was the World War 2 Siege Memorial.
WW2 Siege Memorial
Mick and Liesel with our horse (centre)
We both commented on how slippery the pavements were. Very smooth, totally different to the ‘textured’ (lumpy, bumpy, unfinished) sidewalks in Paceville. It was funny to see that even the locals would occasionally slip and slide on the smooth marble-like paving stones. On the other hand, where the gradient was too steep even for Maltese feet, they put in some steps.
A pair of sidewalks
We watched people in and around Upper Barrakka for a while. I found a cup of coffee for 40 cents, which was nothing special, but it came in a polystyrene cup! I’d rather have a 5-year old Milan Expo cup, thanks very much!

In terms of wildlife, we didn’t see much. Just a shark, a cat and an octopus, really.
A sleepy cat, a tasty octopus and a scary shark
We caught a bus back to Sliema where we dined and imbibed before walking back home. As soon as the Sun dipped below the built-up western part of town, we noticed a dip in the temperature. We’d been told that the tap water here is safe to drink, just not very nice. But we didn’t expect to be buying water all the way from Wales, in a glass bottle! Mind you, they probably get enough rain there to top up the supply.
Water from Wales
I can’t get over the irony of this town being quite hilly and bumpy, and yet our walking has primarily been fairly flat, along the water front. After a good night’s sleep, we again walked to Sliema. The plan had been to catch a bus back to Valletta and visit the National Museum of Archeology. But the queue at the bus stop was huge and very disorganised, we thought we’d rather walk than stand up on a bus.

For the first time since the 2012 London Olympics, we saw some water polo being played. Only little people, but it was good to see. If only I’d brought my cossie.
Water polo
Again, we enjoyed seeing what other people were up to, whether locals or visitors. Imagine you’re standing underneath a rusty drainpipe during a rainstorm. Well, that’s the only possible way that lady acquired hair that colour. We passed a lady painting the view, and I felt inadequate for merely touching a white button on my phone to capture the same scene. I suspect her picture has more soul, though. The man standing over there waiting to be drenched by an incoming wave was very brave/daft* (*delete as applicable).
An artist at work
A wannabe Cnut
Some of the pedestrian crossings appear to be sponsored by a chain of coffee shops.
Crossing the line
Well, this subliminal advertising didn’t work on us: despite what I said earlier, we made a return visit to French Affaire for coffee and lunch. And I uttered not a single word of French, except when Liesel asked me what French for carrot cake was, and I replied ‘gâteau des carrotes’, which I think is pretty close.
Diana failing to attarct us too
Of all the images they could have used, the late Princess of Wales doesn’t make me want to visit this place.
A new build on top of a more attractive older one
By now, it was too late to visit the museum, so we went home, listened to the radio and read our books. I succeeded in completing a couple of sudokus, wrote for a while and we fought the ant invasion in our fifth-floor Airbnb apartment!

It’s peaceful here but we do hear quite a few sirens in the distance, not to mention probably just one or two boy racers riding their motor bikes at 100 mph while still in first gear. The building works have stopped for the weekend, but we haven’t heard as many church bells as we expected on a Sunday.

Spring Break

The world came into sharp focus, the colours became more prominent and vibrant, and so many different ones too! The clouds of pale, pasty, pastel colours disappeared. No, I hadn’t taken a psychedelic, mind-altering substance. I merely cleaned my glasses. It’s amazing what a big difference this simple activity can make to ones outlook. I should do it more often.

In the evening, we ventured into the big city to see a new stage version of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff was well played but not a very likeable character, so why both Cathy and Isabella were lusting after him beats me. One of my favourite actors, Samantha Power, played Nelly and really, the whole cast put on a wonderful performance. It’s on at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until March 7: please go along to admire the set, if nothing else! Here’s the review in the Guardian, although I might have given it more stars!

Sam Power as Nelly Dean

We probably won’t choose to sit in the front row of the first circle again: I probably shouldn’t fidget as much as I do anyway, but I felt very constrained by the lack of leg space.

We swapped babysitting days this week with the other grandparents. I collected the four charges while Liesel visited the hairdresser. Four? Yes, of course.

William, Gordon, Rapunzel and Martha

After we’d had lunch at our place, we took them to Catalyst in Widnes. ‘The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre is a science centre and museum, focusing on chemistry and the history of the chemical industry, next to Spike Island and the River Mersey in Widnes, Cheshire.’

It was fascinating to watch both Martha and William interact with the exhibits, even if, at the moment, the science is beyond them.

Martha concentrating on cubes

William feeding scarves into an air-driven labyrinth

There was the equipment to make a simple stop-action film but the most appealing option were the strong neodymium-iron magnets and the iron filings. Martha absorbed her daily RDA of iron through her fingertips, making flowers but steadfastly refusing to make a bridge between the north and south poles! We didn’t make it any further than the ground floor and there is plenty more to see, not just for little people.

We succeeded in keeping them both awake when we drove them home, much to their parents’ delight, I’m sure.
Back at home, Liesel and I finished off the perishable food, so it was a very strange supper. We did most of the packing now because we knew we wouldn’t have time in the morning, before leaving the house at a ridiculously early hour.

Yes, in case you haven’t guessed, we set off for some sunshine. Too much Winter so far here in Manchester and while we thought about joining Liesel’s parents in Hawaii, that’s just too far away. Instead, we’ve opted for the so-called Hawaii of the Mediterranean: Malta.

We caught the local bus to Manchester Airport, mixing it with everyday working people. We didn’t mind, I hope they didn’t, either.

We had a sort of breakfast while waiting for our gate number to be announced. This included the last few pieces of fruit from home. I don’t think we’ll ever get used to the wide variety of fashion on display at airports. In the same large hall, there are people dressed for the tropics and others dressed for the polar regions.

Going through Security was easy, much moreso than the last time Liesel flew out of Manchester.

I think this is the first time we’ve flown with Ryanair. At home last night, I had to pay to choose seats for the return flight before being allowed to print out boarding passes for the outward flight. And we had to do that in order to avoid paying an extortionate fee to check in at the airport!

But we did enjoy the opportunity to stand in several different queues before boarding the aeroplane, including once on an increasingly claustrophobic staircase!

The final queue, waiting to board the plane

My entertainment on the flight was plenty of reading and the pleasure of messing up two killer sudoku puzzles.

So, goodbye Manchester, hello Malta! Goodbye grey, hello blue skies! Goodbye 6°, hello 16°! Marvellous.

Blue sky and cranes

My glasses haven’t been tested in this way for a long time, but they went very, very dark when we left the building and walked into bright sunshine. When my eyes adapted, the first view warned us that the island is one big construction zone. Everywhere you look, there are cranes and half-built edifices. It’ll be great when it’s finished, of course. Even the pavements or sidewalks are bumpy and basically just a series of trip hazards for old stumble-foot here.

We caught a bus to our Airbnb in Paceville, St Julian’s. Any plans we had to sightsee on the way were dashed because the windows were covered in a glare-reducing film.

There’s a building site there, hidden from view

We’re staying on the top floor of the block, unfortunately facing away from the sea. We have to climb 91½ steps to our apartment, compared with 32 at home. Thankfully, the weight of our luggage was restricted by the airline’s rules! The half-a-step is at number 52, where the stair-mason must have had a bad day.

It’s going to take a while to get used to Maltese spelling and pronunciation. Here, when you want to finish a piece of writing, you have to dot some of the Ċs and Ġs and cross some of the Ħs, never mind anything else!

The building site over the road from our Airbnb

After meeting our Hungarian host, Barbara and settling in for a while, we went for a walk down the road. And I mean down. We’d forgotten what it’s like to walk up and down hills: Northenden, Didsbury and Manchester, even Chester Zoo, are all very flat. We dined in style at the local Wagamama’s: always good to try the local cuisine, we feel. The background music was by Take That, Natasha Bedingfield and Natalie Imbruglia.

After buying some basic groceries, we went back home, went to bed and while Liesel fell asleep quickly, I didn’t. I strongly suspect my Wagamama coffee wasn’t decaffeinated as requested. Still, I caught up on a couple of podcasts, read a lot, listened to another podcast, and, sometime after 2am, I think I drifted off and I hope my dreams don’t mean anything, they were weird, man.

Our first full day in the Republic of Malta started very slowly of course. Liesel suggested that maybe it’s a good job we can’t see the sea from here. If we could, she’d be sitting out on the balcony, disinclined to go out anywhere!

But after a slow start and a late breakfast, we did set off for a walk.
How lovely to get my legs out for the natives, they don’t know what they’ve been missing. It’s a lovely temperature here, yet they’re all walking around with jeans or trousers and thick coats and at least a couple had the nerve to look at me as if I’m the weirdo! T-shirt, shorts and sandals is perfectly adequate. I can already sense the vitamin D sizzling in my skin, so I feel great.

We walked about five miles, along the waterfront, from St Julian’s to Sliema and beyond.

St Julian’s Bay

We were pleased to see a Dublin pub, a Cuban club and the London Academy.

London Academy

Liesel only had her hair cut a couple of days ago and while I am in need of a tidy-up, this wasn’t the venue for me.
We did admire the many, brightly coloured balconies though and when we get home, we might invest in one for our luxury apartment in Northenden.

Strange multi-storey car park

Hire bikes are available but whether we follow up on that, I don’t know. The signs warning people over 12 years old not to cycle on the promenade were grim, but riding on a road narrower than the promenade amongst the traffic was even grimmer.

In other bad news, many signs told us that topless bathing was not allowed. So Liesel hastily put her top back on and we carried on, stopping for a break every so often, wishing we had children with us to play in the numerous playgrounds.

Litter bin pretending to be a hippo

As we wandered along, we heard bursts of music from cars and from building sites. The most popular artists seem to be Take That, Natasha Bedingfield and Natalie Imbruglia.

Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The rocky stony beach

Even if we’d seriously thought about bathing in the sea, the picture of twelve species of jellyfish would have deterred us. Only four of them give you a painful sting though, so that’s alright.

Beware jellyfish

The architecture was as mixed as the best that London has to offer. The contrast between neighbouring old and new is stunning.

Something old, something new

At Tigné Point, we stopped for lunch and coffee at a café called French Affaire. I caught myself saying ‘merci’ rather than ‘grazzi’ so I won’t be embarrassing myself there again!

At the end of a small pier (or a long jetty), we found a collection of rusty padlocks (not to be confused with the 1980s band of the same name), presumable each a token of someone’s affection for someone else. Over the water was the much more impressive Fort Manoel.

Fort Manoel

We walked to the next bus stop, caught a bus into Valletta and another bus back home again. We will spend more time in the capital, but we both felt the need for a rest.

I paid a return visit to Valyou, the local supermarket and our evening passed in the company of film music, books and the steady rhythm of two-finger typing.

Barkis is Missing

We didn’t go far afield with William this week. But after a lunch of ketchup and all the trimmings, he thoroughly inspected the ceiling.

Things are looking up

Jenny and Liam went out for the evening leaving Liesel and me to babysit both William and Martha. Both of them cried for Mummy and Daddy, as expected, but they were easily distracted. I think we read them more books than they’re used to, and in the end, they settled down to sleep very well.

William, Martha, Oma, reading and slowly getting ready for bed (not Oma)

In technology news. I was ‘pleased’ to note that a month after ceasing all support for Windows 7, my PC spent an inordinate amount of time installing a new update. Thanks Microsoft for the minor panic attack when nothing happened for a very long time.

The River Mersey wasn’t as deep nor flowing as fast as I’d anticipated, despite the recent and ongoing storms, but the early Spring flowers are brightening the place up, despite the best efforts of storms Ciara and Dennis.

Springing up

There are, as I write, over 500 flood warnings around the country. The River Wey in Guildford is rising and I feel bad for people affected. During the floods of 1968, I missed a couple of days of school, because the buses weren’t running. There’s a plaque outside St Nicolas Church, in the town centre, showing the flood level from that year and another subsequent flood. I hope this one isn’t as bad or as destructive.

We went to see a fantastic film this week, The Personal History of David Copperfield. It was funny, true to the original novel by Charles Dickens although I did miss ‘Barkis is willing’. But all the characters are well portrayed and most are extremely likeable (apart from Mr Murdstone of course, he’s not very nice). I’m so glad I re-read the novel fairly recently. And the Savoy Cinema in Heaton Moor is a much better environment than most multiplexes. If I have any complaints (of course I do, I’m me), it’s that the nap of the velvet material covering the seats faces the wrong way. While watching the film, I’m almost imperceptibly sliding forwards. When it gets to the point of nearly falling off the seat, I try to slide back but there’s too much resistance. I have to jump back to start the whole process again. The poor people behind probably asked for their money back: they came to see a film, not some clown jack-in-a-box jumping about in front of them.

In medical news, I am receiving lots of sympathy from the grandchildren for the bruise I have on the inside of my elbow. I had a blood test and the nurse said something like ‘oops, I think you might get a bruise’. How right she was!

Martha and William both performed well in the swimming pool. And on the way home, we spotted some extensive damage presumably caused by the recent storms.

Mind your Rs

In the library, I tried eavesdropping on the two ladies conversing in front of me. I’m sure they were speaking English, but I couldn’t understand a single word they said. Both had very deep, sonorous voices, maybe the result of decades of smoking 40 a day. I could almost feel the bass rumble emanating from their larynxes. But the subject matter remains a secret.

In fact, it reminded me of when I was very small, trying to get to sleep upstairs while Mum and Dad were talking down below. I could detect when Dad was excitable or a little angry, I could feel rather than hear his deep voice but could not work out why he was upset. It was probably something I’d done.

Both of my parents succumbed to cancer in the end, although, certainly in Dad’s case, 101 other medical complaints were competing to be the final straw. A few friends have also departed far too early thanks to cancer or various types. It’s much easier to talk about now than it was even a couple of decades ago, but the C-word still evokes a certain element of terror. All I can do is to support efforts to raise money for research. To this end, I am challenging myself to walk 10,000 steps every day in March. And to make it worthwhile, please consider supporting me here —> Walk all over Cancer All contributions will be gratefully received, thank you, and I’ll be sure to write about my progress in this very forum! Thanks very much for your attention. That is the end of this public service announcement.

After watching the grandswimmers in the morning, we had a relatively relaxed afternoon. I did some stuff on the PC while listening to the wind and rain and hail. It wasn’t very welcoming outside, but Liesel and I did venture out, to one of our favourite restaurants, Greens in Didsbury. Thanks for the Christmas present, Helen and Adam: we had a wonderful but very filling Sunday roast. Too full for dessert, we took one home and I had it for breakfast the following day, well, vegan cheesecake makes a pleasant change from cereal and/or toast.

Winter bites back

What an unexpected surprise to find another Bee in the City. Well of course it was a surprise if it was unexpected, Mick, that’s the nature of a surprise. It probably cheers up all the patients and visitors to Wythenshawe Hospital.

Bee in the City

The bus driver ignored my outstretched arm and those of a couple of other potential passengers. In true British style, we looked at each other, tutted, rolled our eyes and the chap with the watch looked at it crossly. It was late in the afternoon but quite nice so I decided to walk home instead. I was never too far away from the rumble from the motorway but it was interesting to see new and different sights on the way home.

Beauty and the Beast

You’re never more than a couple of feet away from litter of course, but the newly blooming flowers more than made up for that ugliness.

Yes, it was a beautiful late afternoon, so the one thing I didn’t anticipate having to do the following morning was to scrape the frost off the car. So I left that for Liesel. But I did scrape Jenny’s and Liam’s cars when we got there. I mean, I scraped the ice off their windscreens, I didn’t caused damage to the paintwork.

William and I played hide’n’seek and we took it in turn to chase each other inside, while (not) watching The Lion King. In the car, he ‘drove again’, turning the radio up to 61 and then looking at me like it was my fault. ‘It’s hurting my ears.’

At the café in Fletcher Moss Park, The Alpine Tea Room, we all shared a large slice of cake. Well, William ate most of it and then declared ‘I don’t like it’. But as with Martha, I think when he says this, he really means ‘I don’t want any more of this at the moment.’ But we had all eaten paninis and salad for lunch.

William the Stick Man on his Scuttle Bug

William rode his Scuttle Bug, a small tricycle but with no pedals nor brakes, and we were glad that none of the downhill slopes were too steep. And of course, there were sticks that had to be picked up and collected.

We went on a Bear Hunt in the Rockery, but found no real signs of a bear. The cave looked a bit artificial too, to be honest, but we had a good time, walking through the forest, up and down the steps, walking over the streams, and yes, of course, throwing sticks into the water.

In the Cave

A pretty purple flower

Martha the swinger, Grandad the pusher

Not enough cake? Jenny invited us over to Bramall Hall the next day, with both children, and we had cake and coffee. Martha and William enjoyed the playground, giving us all palpitations whenever they ran or walked in front of the swings!

Liesel and I wandered over to Didsbury as usual on the Saturday morning, not at all deterred by the lower temperature nor the muddy paths. More and more flowers are coming out now, hooray!

More pretty purple flowers

But they, poor things, could not have anticipated the destruction wrought by Storm Ciara. Gale force wind, torrential rain, thunder and lightning, sleet, snow, hail. And yes, I think these have been the coldest days of this Winter so far. The wind and the rain competed overnight: anything you can do, I can do louder, I can do anything louder than you.

Needless to say, a certain amount of SAD, lethargy and sleeping sickness all set in. My desire to hibernate kicked in again. Not much walking or strolling took place for a few days. Ciara was closely followed by Dennis and if Ellen, Francis, Gerda, Hugh, Iris and Jan come along, I shall be very windblown and wet!

Hail, hail, rock and roll

Liesel’s been living in the UK now for over 14 years. She met a lady who asked where she was from. On being told that Liesel hails from Alaska, the lady said, ‘Oh, your English is very good!’

 

 

 

That’s that, then

We are currently experiencing an exceptional call load at the moment. We are currently experiencing an extremely high call level at the moment. We are currently experiencing a higher than usual number of calls at the moment. Sentences guaranteed to put you in a good mood for when you do finally speak to an actual person, and not just because of the tautology. I did that sort of job for a mere three months and it wasn’t a lot of fun, apart from the one-hour bike ride to work each way, every day. So I always try to be polite and friendly and throw in a joke or two: you can be cross with an organisation but whatever it is, it’s not the call centre’s underpaid staff’s fault.

But on this occasion, I wasn’t making a complaint, just trying to address something that I couldn’t do online. Imagine my delight when after a minute or so of these annoying messages, I was given the option of leaving my phone number, I’d retain my place in the queue and they’d call me back. They did so after about another ten minutes. All sorted. Well done Transport for London, problem resolved. Sadly, my punishment for moving away from London is that I’ll no longer be able to use my Senior Oystercard. So that’s that, then.

We visited Manchester Central Library. I wandered round aimlessly, still surprised and delighted by just how much is available here, not just books but displays and computers. In the music section, there were two young chaps playing on keyboards. Hang on, this is a library: shhh! But no, what a great place. Liesel attended a meeting where she was introduced to the world of volunteering in Manchester. Plenty of opportunities here. I walked over to the Arndale where I found Bagel Nash and succumbed to the temptation of a bagel and a coffee.

A bagel without coffee is like a life without love

The year of the rat

It’s the Chinese New Year, now the year of the rat.

Jenny brought William round for our childminding day: he likes playing at our place and when we tried to go out, he didn’t want to leave. Until, that is, Liesel suggested going for a drive. William took this to mean, he’d do the driving.

William at the wheel

He needed help to reach the pedals but rejoiced in telling us he was turning right. And then right. Liesel took over the driving duties and William fell asleep within a couple of minutes, in his seat in the back. When he woke up, we found ourselves at Dunham Massey.

Log Pile

There’s a small adventure playground here, the Log Pile. While William pushed up the last few zzzz, I wandered over to see what it was like. Well, it was damp of course, the logs were a bit slippery, and I think it’s probably for slightly older, taller children. That’s that, then.

Sadly, someone has left their friends behind.

Dunham Massey wildlife

We had a pleasant walk around the gardens. Some Spring flowers are poking through, but there’s a lot of work going on in the gardens: it’ll be fabulous later in the year when it’s in fuller bloom.

Snowdrops

It’s beginning to look a lot like Springtime

Yes, it does lift the spirits to see so much colour on display. The days are lengthening by 3 minutes a day or so.

William was delighted to find a Big Hole in the lawn. It was roped off, he walked all around it but, unusually for him, he didn’t duck under the tape.

William’s Big Hole

Obviously, this being a country park, with trees and everything, there are plenty of sticks lying around. William likes sticks. he likes picking them up. He likes throwing them into bushes and into streams. If there’s ever a job for a stick distributor and organiser, William’s your boy.

So, here we are, January 31st 2020. A black day in British history. The UK’s final day as a member of the European Union, after 47 years. I’m still waiting for someone to explain the benefits of leaving the EU, not the blue passports (which we could have had anyway), not more immigration control (that our government could have implemented anyway), but something tangibly better, more beneficial. Sorry, William and Martha, your potential futures have been substantially curtailed. That’s that, then.

It was nice to see the children on their last day as European citizens. Jenny and Liam had other plans. So Martha and William decorated pizzas, ate them, then had a bath. They went home, dressed in their PJs and presumably, went straight to bed.

The wind was loud and intimidating, so Liesel drove to Disbury. I walked but came home with Liesel in the car.

Swimming was fun, lots of splashing: nearly as much as we’d experienced when they were in our bath a couple of days ago!

Every bloke who has an ultrasound scan probably wants to ask the nurse whether it’s going to be twins. But I resisted. My scan, offered to all men at about my age, is to check for a possible developing abdominal aortic aneurysm. A large bulge in the aorta is bad. A slight bulge and they’ll keep an eye on it. No bulge at all, and you should never have to worry about this potentially fatal condition again. And I’m pleased to say I am the proud owner of a perfectly straight, perfectly round, 1.6cm wide drainpipe of an aorta. I didn’t get a picture but I’ll never forget what it looked like. That’s that, then.

At this month’s meeting of U3A, I signed up to join some groups, including a couple well outside my comfort zone. Let’s see how I get on!

And if you think this is a load of old rubbish, just look at this.

Keep Britain Tidy

Too many people chucking their rubbish out of cars as they wait at traffic lights: this is where you need CCTV!

Well, that’s that!