Bowie, birds and bagels

Last weekend was a big David Bowie commemoration. We should have been celebrating his 74th birthday but instead, the world marked the fifth anniversary of his death.

I watched Lazarus, the musical that was one of Bowie’s final pieces of work, online, a recording of the London performance that I saw twice with our friend Helen, with Liesel joining us on one occasion. Liesel and I also saw Lazarus in Melbourne, and that seems a long time ago now.

And yes, it was just as enthralling for me the fourth time round.

Sophia Anne Caruso and Michael C Hall

Photos from TV screeens well never be as good nor as clear as those taken inside a theatre, of course. But you’re not supposed to take pictures in a theatre, apparently.

I stayed up late to watch A Bowie Celebration. This concert was put together by Bowie’s long-term piano player Mike Garson, and was shown online at 2am our time. Sadly, it was postponed for 24 hours, so I had to stay up late for a second night in a row, and that hasn’t happened for a long time. Actually, I grabbed a few hours kip before getting up, just in time, to enjoy three hours of wonderful and sometimes very moving music.

In real life of course, I would have run up to the stage and stolen the set list. Luckily, we can see the full set list here. Also in real life, Liesel would probably rather not let me run up to the stage!

Ian Hunter

It was good to see Ian Hunter perform his tribute to David Bowie, Dandy as well as All the Young Dudes and what’s scary crazy is, he’s 81 years old and still rocking and rolling. Many other Bowie alumni took part, including Tony Visconti (although we never saw him) and Rick Wakeman (confined to a very small box on the screen).  Yungblud never worked with Bowie of course, and I think he was trying to do a Covid test on himself with the microphone.

Other than those two events, there were about twenty shows on radio to enjoy, BBC and elsewhere, never mind what was on TV. I’m still catching up of course, and what with a slight backlog of podcasts, it’s a good job we’re in lockdown and I don’t have to go to work! Always look on the bright side, as they say.

[10,000 words omitted]

Well, if Robert Heinlein can use that device in his novels, so can I in a blog. I could have written so much more about the David Bowie weekend but that’s for another place. Maybe.

The week was full of four letter words: rain, snow, cold, wind, dull, grey. Despite that, we did venture out a few times, but again, we confined ourselves to our own postcode.

The river was surprisingly low early in the week, we could even see the bricks that make up the weir. And our old friend the heron was sitting there wondering where all the water had gone.

Heron

But no need to panic. Within a couple of days, the river was as high as before, totally hiding the weir and covering the island. Anyway, our friend flew off, of course, and we next saw him standing on the grass. So here’s a bonus portrait of the heron.

Bonus heron

One day, we’ll go along with some fishes in our pockets to feed him.

The larger volume of water just a couple of days later was enough to shift large bits of, if not whole, trees.

Tree bashing one of the pillars holding up the M60

There’s a new lake in Wythenshawe Park.

A big puddle

A few seconds after taking this picture and putting my phone away, those two dogs had a really good time running through the puddle and shaking water over some other passers-by. A big puddle, yes, and the grass on both sides was under water too. Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, oh no, we’ll have to turn round and go back the way we came.

What a nice young van

The sentiment on the back of the van: seconded!

In other local news, as well as coffee this week, I bought some bagels from Salutem. Possibly the best bagels I’ve had since we were in Anchorage over two years ago. Anchorage: that city so well-known for its bagels.

The drizzle didn’t prevent me from walking to the GP for a quick visit. I certainly didn’t expect to see flamingoes, but there they were, two of them, large as life in somebody’s garden.

Pretty flamingoes

To be honest, I’m not sure they’re real life flamingoes, I couldn’t see a pond  anywhere nearby.

Yes, it was only drizzling lightly, but the puddles in Sharston Road were out in force. You have to time it right as you walk on by.

43 bus making a splash

I’ve always wondered, given that Manchester is famous for its rain, why is its drainage so bad? This should be the capital city of run-offs and storm drains.

Karine Polwart

The end of the week saw the start of the 19-day long Celtic Connections. Liesel and I have wanted to visit Glasgow for a while for this music festival, but obviously, not this year. Instead, we’ll enjoy it online, like everything else. But we’re certainly not alone in wanting to be able to see live music again, sometime.

One day this week, I poured out my breakfast cereal only to realise I’d finished off the milk in my first cup of tea. Fresh milk would be delivered later, so I was reluctant to open the emergency bottle of long-life milk. And there’s no way I was going to separate the Shreddies from the muesli and the blueberries, not to mention the Weetabix crumbs, and return all the cereal to the various correct containers. Only one thing for it. I poured on the last of the Christmas Baileys and had a very nice start to the day, thank you very much.

This week on Radio Northenden (newly updated website, go and have a look), we went back to school, had a few lessons and said thank you to our teachers. Catch up here.

Locked down, locked in

In lockdown, we’re allowed out for exercise and for food shopping and to collect medication. As requested, the GP sends our prescriptions electronically, directly to the pharmacy. One day this week, we got extra steps in by visiting one pharamcy, walking to the other branch then all the way back to the first, where we finally collected what we’d been in for in the first place.

The occasional coffee to take away is fundamental to our mental well-being, as well, of course. All our shopping is done online, it’s all delivered by some very nice young men and, last week, by a very nice young lady.

Northenden’s very own mermaid

When you’re lurking inside a pharmacy while the staff are failing to find what you came for, all you can do is admire the tat on sale, such as this little ladyfish.

I was in danger of succumbing to a full-on panic attack when my PC lost touch with the internet.

Scary, misleading, error message

After failing to fix it by turning the PC off and on again, I went for a walk to breathe and to calm down and to try and think of possible solutions that didn’t involve a sledge hammer.

24 hours later, everything was back to normal. I have no idea what it was that I did but I tried to set things up as if for the first time. And tried again. Plugging and unplugging everything that I could think of. And tried again. Then it was all working again. So I don’t know what went wrong and I don’t know how it was fixed.

St Wilfrid’s Church in the sunshine

We enjoyed a few local walks this week, in the cold but sometimes in bright sunshine. Quite rightly I suppose, Liesel’s Mom queried why I went for a walk in the graveyard. Well, it was somewhere different to go. The gravestones were very slippery though, like a field of miniature ice rinks.
In the sunshine, the distant stones resembled a rather sophisticated stoney toast rack.

Graveyard
Artwork of the week

That picture was a mistake, phone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some people in the family are a bit better at taking pictures though. Just look at this one taken by Helen during a storm in Manly.

Lightning in Manly

This week marks what should have been David Bowie’s 74th birthday. Jessica Lee Morgan kicked off the celebrations on her regular Tuesday night online show.

I continued celebrating the great man on my own radio show on Friday afternoon . Listen back here: songs that David Bowie covered plus several of his songs covered mostly by female singers.

Another day, another walk and we have a new visitor, or maybe a new inhabitant, on the river. Is it a cormorant?

Cormorant

He didn’t move from his stone, despite quite a few people walking by on both sides of the river. Stone? Actually, it looks more like an old Roman plate, when you zoom in.

Shutters

Nice to see the cheeky grin on the shutters outside this closed beauty parlour. But hooray, the coffee shop next door, Salutem, was open.

The new year started off with some sad news for us. Sarah’s mother Myra passed away in her sleep. We saw her online last month on the occasion of her 90th birthday, and she was looking forward to celebrating in real life later on. We’ll miss our occasional visits to London with her, to the National Theatre, to the British Museum, to Pizza Express. And her occasional visits to Manchester. Martha and William love saying the words ‘Great Granny’. Yes, even when she was locked in her room at Premier Inn, hanging out of the window asking for help, she remained positive and upbeat.

When will I see you again?

There’s a new word to describe the no-man’s land between Christmas and New Year: Merryneum. The time of year when even more than usual, we don’t know what day of the week it is. And it still doesn’t matter really. Except when we miss Doctor Who because they showed it on a Friday, which is just bizarre.

It was much colder here in Northenden* and we took a break from our (not quite) daily strolls. *I know, it was colder everywhere, but Northenden is our universe for now.

Blue sky after rain

Blue skies are always welcome of course, along with bright sunshine. The Sun’s low, just above the horizon, even at noon, this time of year. So sun-hats are no good, the brim will never be wide enough. I am now wearing my beanie hat, to keep my the ears warm.

Following all the recent rain, the river is really high. The weir is totally submerged, its location given away only by surface turbulence.

The site of the weir

And what a shock to wake up one morning to the sight of snow. Yes, it was forecast, but it was still a surprise.

Fresh snow of Northenden

It soon melted, only to be replaced the following night. The clatter of the snowflakes pounding against the window disturbed my slumber.

More snow in Northenden

I took some pictures and crawled back into my pit.

Martha and William built a superb Snowman and Snowdog way over there in Cheadle. Sorry we couldn’t help out on this occasion.

William, Snowdog, Martha, Snowman

When William was asked why he’d put a glove on the side of the Snowdog, he pointed out that that’s what a Snowdog looks like. And, sure enough, Raymond Briggs’s Snowdog does have this embellishment.

I don’t know who built a snowman in our car park, but the next day, all that was left was his nose.

Snowman’s nose

We did come across this little chap on one of our walks. If we’d known, we would have brought the discarded nose with us and performed a transplant.

Snowman in Northenden

We felt it was probably too slippery and muddy on the river banks, so we gave them a miss this week. (Translation: we are wimps.) Looking down from the bridge, that was a wise move, I think.

The River Mersey

So, a pretty lazy week, really. Every noise outside is an invitation to look through the window. ‘What’s goin’ on?’ we ask, like some freak from EastEnders. Someone in the flats over the road received a delivery. When she answered the door:
Liesel: Is that the girl who goes out sunbathing sometimes?
Mick: I don’t know, I don’t recognise her with her clothes on.

What did we achieve this week? Well, Liesel completed her jigsaw puzzle, thank you Helen and Jenny.

Liesel’s 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle

And my New Year’s Day radio show is here.

As a special treat, we enjoyed our first Samosa Box. The food was delivered, still hot from the oven and the samosas were delicious. Support your local business!

Samosas and chips

Here are some statistics from 2020.

The good news is, I read more books this year than previously, thanks to the opportunity presented by lockdown. 41 books, 21 of which were by female writers. This is probably the first time I’ve read more books by women than by men, a conscious effort on my part. (2019: 33 books, 13 by women.)

On the other hand, I walked only 1530 miles in 2020 compared with 1748 in 2019, but we were on our Travels for half of that year. And, walking locally, it’s so easy to think, ‘oh that’ll do, I’m going home now’.

It was a funny old year, but I think we got by OK. We are looking forward to 2021. Happy New Year and thank you for joining Liesel and me on our antics. When will we see you again? Sometime soon, we hope. Why did that song come to mind this week? Because the temperature was Three Degrees.

Yes, we’re looking forward to the new year, but I can’t help but look back on decades past.

I always listen to Johnnie Walker’s Sounds of the 70s and last week’s episode was especially good. Johnnie’s wife Tiggy talked to him about his broadcasting career during the 1970s, and they played some of his favourite songs from that decade. Listen again here before it falls off BBC Sounds.

Out of the 16 tracks played, I’ve seen most of the artists either in concert or in passing.

1 Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

Liesel and I saw them at a reunion gig in Hyde Park, one of the first shows we saw together. Liesel was intimidated by the large crowd, she wasn’t used to that sort of thing. It was a great show, of course, all their songs are wonderful. But sadly, there was no chemistry between them, no eye-contact at all. The support act was The Everly Brothers.

In a previous life, I saw Simon and Garfunkel at Wembley Stadium, in about 1982, with Sarah and my sister Pauline and her then boyfriend John. Jobsworth Security Man wanted to take my camera away, no photos in those days. I followed him a short way to wherever he was leading, chose my moment, ran off, took off my jacket, and joined the others in the auditorium. My photos were of course rubbish. But the show was great.

2 Derek and the Dominos – Layla

Sarah and I saw Eric Clapton on the same bill as Elton John and Bonnie Raitt, at Wembley Stadium in 1992. The performance was good but maybe a bit subdued. It was a year after the tragic death of his 4-year old son Conor. He performed his very moving song Tears in Heaven, written in memory of Conor. We saw him again at Masters of Music in 1996.

3 Neil Diamond – I Am… I Said

Sadly no.

4 The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again

As part of Masters of Music for The Prince’s Trust, The Who performed Quadrophenia on a cold June day in Hyde Park in 1996. It was so cold, I bought myself an extra t-shirt to keep warm. I know. Sarah, me, Jenny and Helen were here for a full day of music. We also saw Alanis Morissette and Eric Clapton again. But it was so cold, we, along with many hundreds of other people, left as Bob Dylan took to the stage.

5 Lou Reed – Walk On The Wild Side

Sarah and I saw Lou Reed at Hammersmith Odeon around the time of his Magic and Loss album, March 1992. A great show but when on arrival, we saw him sitting at a bar, having a quiet drink, we were too intimidated scared to walk up and say ‘Hello’.

6 The Steve Miller Band – The Joker

Sadly no.

7 David Bowie – Life On Mars?

Sarah and I saw David Bowie five times in concert: Wembley Arena twice, Earls Court, Milton Keynes Bowl (with baby Jenny, 1983) and at the awful short-lived London Arena (with Jenny, 1990, and yes, she fell asleep again). We saw him again at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley Stadium. But the only time I met him was outside the gallery hosting his art exhibition in 1995. He was coming out just as Sarah and I arrived. I shook his hand and thanked him for the music and asked for an autograph. ‘I’m gasping for a cuppa,’ he said, ‘I’ll be back in ten minutes’, he said, walking away with his assistant. Two hours is plenty of time to feign interest in wallpaper designs and other weird paintings. I’m still waiting for my man to return.

8 Cockney Rebel – Judy Teen

I saw Steve Harley, the lead singer, as a guest at a David Bowie Celebration in 2017. The band was put together by Mike Garson, Bowie’s long-time piano player, along with many other musicians who have played with Bowie. Steve Harley sang his own song Sebastian as well as a David Bowie song. I have a photo of the setlist. The woman was holding on to it really tightly, fearing I might run off with it.

9 John Lennon – Stand By Me

Sadly no.

10 Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run

Sadly no.

11 Elton John & Kiki Dee – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

We saw Elton once with Eric Clapton (see above) and once before then at the Royal Festival Hall. The night before had been a Gala performance for a Royal personage which he must have found challenging, because he told us that tonight he could relax. The percussionist Ray Cooper stole the show.

Sarah and I also saw Kiki Dee at the Royal Albert Hall. She performed Don’t Go Breaking My Heart as a solo, despite the fact that from our lofty seats, we could see Elton lurking backstage. Good for him for not stealing the limelight.

12 The Eagles – The Last Resort

Sadly no.

13 Sex Pistols – Anarchy In The UK

Definitely no, I’m not even going to say I was at the famous 100 Club gig with 20,000 other people who were there in the tiny 350 capacity, iconic venue.

14 The Undertones – Teenage Kicks

Sadly no.

15 Patti Smith Group – Because The Night

I haven’t seen Patti Smith in concert, but I have had a deep and meaningless conversation with her. She curated the Meltdown Festival in London, 2005. As well as putting on several shows, she did some work with students from local schools. One lunchtime at the Royal Festival Hall, our paths crossed. I said ‘Hello’. She said ‘Hello’.

16 Jackson Browne – Running On Empty

Sadly no.

Liesel and I are looking forward to more live shows later in the year, as I’ve said before. Until then, radio and online gigs will have to do!