Surprise, Surprise

If all goes to plan, this post should be published on Christmas Day. So let me be the four hundred and ninety first person to wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases. You have many better things to do than read this, I know, but there are some surprises within, but probably nothing as exciting as your new socks.

I don’t think I’d heard of knafah cake before, but I was pleased to meet The Knafah Girl at Boxx 2 Boxx. I could have had a cake and a coffee and kept quiet about it, but instead, I bought a larger cake to take home. And it was delicious. Liesel and I agreed that we will repeat this experience. Pistachio and rose, since you ask. Did I take a picture of the very pretty middle eastern inspired dessert? No, sorry, but their website is very interesting.

Whenever I’m accused of playing a game on my phone, my response is that it’s not a game, it’s a puzzle. I’m still attempting slitherlinks and taking far too long to solve them. But I’m getting there. Just look at this one.

Finished at last

A supposedly easy puzzle that should take five minutes to solve. It took me well over two hours, on and off. But it passes the time, keeps the brain ticking over and makes a change from sudokus. And as for it being a puzzle rather than a game? Well, the app describes itself as a game, so I think I’ve lost that argument.

It looked like a nice day outside, so we thought we’d go and pick litter in the industrial estate, which we thought was particularly disgusting a few days earlier. Eight bags collected, a record for us in one day. There are no litter bins in one particular road, not that that would necessarily help with the problem, there are just too many lazy litterbugs.

What a mess

And then look at this. These bins haven’t been emptied for weeks, maybe months, and I’m sure this doesn’t help with the litter problem in the area. Just one windy day is all you need, and we’ve had a few of those lately. I hope that image hasn’t put you off your Christmas dinner.

But you’re not here for rubbish content. We enjoyed more pleasant walks along the river to Fletcher Moss Park and to Didsbury, under battleship grey skies.

Trees

Some people are leaving the purchase of their Christmas trees very late. Not sure about the one shrouded in spiders’ webs, but ┬ú20 is quite a bargain really.

Roses

The thought occurred: if someone offered me roses, would I expect a bunch of colourful flowers or a plastic tin of chocolates?

So, what’s this slitherlink thing, Mick? According to Wikipedia, “Slitherlink is played on a rectangular lattice of dots. Some of the squares formed by the dots have numbers inside them. The objective is to connect horizontally and vertically adjacent dots so that the lines form a simple loop with no loose ends. The number inside a square represents how many of its four sides are segments in the loop.” Other patterns are available too, and there is no limit to the size of the puzzle. Here’s one I completed later in the week to my delight and to Liesel’s shake of the head.

Hexagons

Only four times the expected solution time on this occasion, so yes, I think I’m getting there! The people over the road have been more gainfully, and seasonally, employed. Their front garden is beginning to look a bit like Christmas.

It’s Christmas!

Jenny sent a message inviting us over to try the cakes that Martha and William had made. Well, it would be rude not to. I was just putting the finishing touches to this week’s show and Liesel was playing with glue and cookie dough, although I am assured these were two separate projects.

We drove over to Jenny’s and rang the bell. I was all for singing carols on the doorstep but that idea was vetoed. William opened the door and close behind was a very excited Martha. Once inside, Jenny greeted us too, then a strange apparition appeared. Father Christmas, was here. Well, someone in an inflatable Santa outfit at least. I thought I recognised the face behind the beard. It took a minute for the cogs to engage but eventually, it clicked. This was Helen. My Helen. Here from Australia. What’s she doing here? How did she get here? I was stunned, almost speechless, my mind was blown and my gob was smacked. Really? Helen? Here? What a lovely surprise! But, really? I gave fat Santa a hug and expressed my surprise, a secret that she and Jenny had kept very well. I didn’t have a clue. A video was made of our arrival so my reaction is preserved for posterity. We also watched the video of Martha and William opening the door to Father Christmas earlier in the day, and within a second, Martha identified Auntie Helen!

I’d been led to believe that Helen was working right up until Christmas and then, Covid restrictions permitting, going off to Queensland, camping, or, I thought, more likely glamping. But no, here she was, in England, Plague Island. Yes, there wll be Covid tests and isolation but wow, what a lovely Christmas surprise for me. I couldn’t think of the words to express my delight. Still can’t, to be honest. We’ve seen Helen since that first meeting, so I know she really is here, and it wasn’t a dream, but still, at a deep level, it’s unbelievable.

William and Martha with Auntie Helen

What a strange feeling. Surprised that Helen’s here but, at the same time, it seemed perfectly normal to be in her company at Jenny’s place. As someone remarked, it’s a good job I hadn’t planned to go and surprise Helen down under!

As a bonus, the cakes baked and decorated by the children were very nice.

By comparison, the news that Greater Manchester is to get a Clean Air Zone seems pretty mundane.

Clean Air Zone

Liesel and I had a nice walk but we avoided the muddy woods. We kept to residential roads, even at the risk of being splashed as cars ploughed through the puddles.

Later on in the afternoon, we had visitors: Helen and her hosts Jenny, Liam, Martha and William. We gave the children an early present, because we thought they’d enjoy playing skittles in our long hallway.

Strike!

Liam was a good backstop, the balls were returned with remarkable efficiency.

Somehow the seven of us sat around our dining table without too much jostling of the elbows. Liesel’s home-made Indian food, since you ask, and very nice too. Followed by cookies which we all enjoyed decorating.

Cookie pride

There were some works of art here, such a shame that they’d all be consumed within a day or two. Some didn’t even survive a whole minute.

Jenny, William, Liesel, Martha, Liam, Mick, Helen

Thanks to Helen for taking this group picture, which is far, far better than my attempts.

And so the Big Day is looming over the horizon. But my penultimate show on radio Northenden went pretty well, I think. Listen to another two hours of Christmas music here. Or if you can bear to wait, it’ll be reapeated on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 next Wednesday at 7pm.

Merry Christmas, chaps and chappesses.

Blood, Bond, Broadband

It rained so much, the river was in full flow, so the birds migrated to the newly flooded golf course.

Birdies on the golf course

This was witnessed by Liesel, on an early morning walk, while I remained warm and comfortable in my pit.

A million congratulations and thanks to Wythenshawe Waste Warriors: they (we) have collectively picked up over 10,000 bags of litter this year, so far. Liesel and I added another small contribution, just walking up and down Royle Green Road and some of the sideroads. Bottles and cans should have a 10p (or more) deposit on them, that would help. There was a lot of drugs paraphernalia too, including for the first time a hypodermic needle. Very close to a school. But as I’ve mentioned before, we could do a roaring trade in used, discarded face-masks. If there were a market for such a thing.

Oversize mushroom

It’s been ideal weather for supersized mushrooms too. I suppose they’ll deal with the leaf litter and eventually take over the whole world.

500 years from now, people will look back at our times and laugh at the range of jobs people had. In the same way we cringe at Henry VIII’s master of the stool: not a pleasant job at all. In our case, they’ll be looking down their noses at leaf-blower operators. What’s the point of blowing leaves around? But we witnessed a whole different level of ridiculosity.

Leaf washer downer

I’ve concealed his identity to save him embarrassment. He was hosing the leaves off the pavement and grass verge, onto the road, eventually to block the local drains.

On a brighter note, we did visit a cinema, for the first time since before the world turned upside down. No Time To Die is the latest, much delayed, James Bond film. And jolly good it is too. People said it was too long, but it certainly didn’t drag. My only criticism is that some of the dialogue was hard to hear because of the background music and sound effects, which were very bass heavy. The Savoy Cinema in Heaton Moor is a good place, we sat on a sofa, but we declined the offer of coffee and wine in the auditorium.

Liesel suggested going on the well-being walk at Newall Green. It was a nice day, so why not? We walked to the venue, the Firbank Pub and Kitchen, arriving just on 11am, but there was nobody else there. Oopsie. This is an afternoon walk: we were two hours too early. So we had a quick look at Rodger’s Park, just over the road, before walking home.

Trees in Rodgers Park

I was missed out the next day too: I missed the Northenden walk, because I was on the phone. Two different people called me within half an hour, which is most unusual, I very rarely receive phone calls. Well, it was lovely to speak to Helen of course, from the comfort of my own bed, where I was lying, while soaking up the Sun.

We upgraded our Broadband connection this week, and the process was unexpectedly straighforward. The downside is, we’re now paying a lot more for it each month. But comparing the price with other providers, I think we’ve been lucky to have it so cheap for so long.

We walked to our GP’s surgery where my blood was taken to be sampled. We both commented on the amount of litter in some places, especially in and around the industrial estate. One day, we might venture that way with our bags and pickers.

Thursday is our child-minding day, and usually we take Martha and William home to our place to play. This week, we went a bit further afield. We saw The Lanterns at Chester Zoo. These are animals, made from paper (or a waterproof, paper-like membrane), illuminated, with many being animated. It is, as they say, totally enchanting. Martha really wanted to hug the butterfly as she slowly wafted her wings. Father Christmas was there too, and William really wanted to speak to him.

Penguins in Technicolor®

I tried to tell her that they were just ordinary wolves, but Martha insisted on stroking the werewolves.

Martha and the Werewolf

We arrived just before 5pm and it was of course already dark. Which is good, it makes the illuminations all the more impressive. But it also makes it harder to track down your children when they run off. And William loves running. Even in the dark.

The artificial snowstorm
Awestruck in the presence of greatness

Father Christmas was a jolly old soul, he managed to get the crowd to join in with his ho, ho, hos and his Merrrrrry Christmases. 

Dancing in the lights

We did wonder whether the real animals were impressed by the light show. Or scared. Or sedated.

Both William and Martha fell asleep in the car on the way home but the big surprise is that I didn’t.

The final Wythenshawe walk of the year was very enjoyable, just the four of us on this occasion, plus a dog who thinks he’s a meerkat.

Sandy the wannabe meerkat
Painswick Park

Yes, the Sun was out, the pond was pretty, the geese were chatty and all’s right with the world. Meanwhile, Liesel was in the Lifestyle Centre, volunteering. She got up at stupid o’clock while I just rolled over. Between 8am and 1pm, she witnessed and helped out as 600 people received their Covid booster jabs. Yes, we are aware of the irony of being in a closed space with hundreds of strangers, while still debating whether or not to go into people’s houses.

Painswick Park

A quick glance at this picture reminds me of Japan: that fence could easily be one of those cute little bridges in a Japanese garden.

Breakfast for me is usually a combination of blueberries, muesli, Weetabix and Shreddies. It’s a carefully honed operation, combining the ingredients in exactly the right proportion, while waiting for the kettle to boil and the tea to brew. So imagine my dismay when I caught myself pouring the Shreddies into the Weetabix tin one day instead of into the cereal bowl. The virus that causes such senior moments is very contagious. Later in the week, twice, Liesel was unable to locate the notebook she uses for her legal work. Once, it had fallen behind the sub-futon drawer where it usually resides, but the second time, it was in a different room altogether. I suggested tying it to a piece of string so she could hang it around her neck, but that idea didn’t go down well.

This week’s Radio Northenden show, my antepenultimate one, was two hours of Christmas songs. You can listen here.

I have just two more shows on Radio Northenden, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Radio Northenden has different plans for 2022, all change here. My little show will continue on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2, initially pre-recorded at home, but I hope to broadcast live from the studio eventually. I hope to find a way to upload my shows for people in different timezones who like to listen later on. Or they could get up in the middle of the night and tune in of course.

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. As usual, Liesel has done a brilliant job decorating and lighting up our living room. We don’t have room for a tree, sadly, something we never considered when looking at the place all those years ago.

Quirky tee weave (anag.)

The Christmas lights at Dunham Massey are very pretty. They’re probably even prettier at night, when they’re actually switched on. But we were there in the middle of the day for a pleasant walk. It’s unusal to be greeted by animals on the way in but today, we found this creature making a bid for freedom.

Deer

A lot of work has been done installing the lights. There are cables all over the place, and I think they’ll be shocked when the next electricity bill turns up.

Birch

I did suggest that they rename the place temporarily to Dunham Christmassey but the committee rejected the proposal.

Robin

This is probably the biggest, fattest robin on the site, but funnily enough, very soon after seeing this one, we saw a real life little fat robin looking cute and posing for photos.

House

And finally we found out why Dunham Christmassey was frowned upon. They’ve already purchased and installed the huge letters outside the house. Maybe next year.

The riverside walk near home was a bit muddy. It’s rained a bit, I may have mentioned that recently.

Path

The river was flowing fast and that seems to have driven the heron inland. We saw him sitting proudly on the fairway, and without a hard hat, despite the signs warning of low-flying balls.

Heron

One night, they sky was clear of clouds, so I thought I’d have a go at some  astrophotography with my phone.

Sky

Here is the stunning result. The Moon, Jupiter and a local street light.

But the real stars this weeke were William and Martha on our child-minding day. I think it’s fair to say they’re looking forward to Christmas. In the car, they both sung the songs they’ll be performing at school.

Then William came over the next day too where we played with dinosaurs and Superwings, watched a film, Robin Robin, and snacked a lot.

Oma was out, meanwhile, on a long walk with the WI. I think they’d planned a long walk, I don’t think they got lost or anything.

When Jenny collected William, they dropped me off at The Forum in Wythenshawe where I spent an hour in the company of Colin as be broadcast his lunchtime show from Wythenshawe Radio’s studio. The setup there is more complicated than my PC at home.

Later on at home, I joined in a Zoom call with Colin and Susie as they recorded her Christmas show. I think it’s fair to say I am now an official Wythenshawe Radio volunteer.

On Radio Northenden, this week’s show was The Blues, mostly the colour blue, and you can listen to the show here or to the repeat on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 on Wednesday at 7pm and again next Friday 2pm.

A very quiet week (anag.), I think you’ll agree.

Snow, man

We joined Jenny and Liam and the children for breakfast at their place, which was very nice. There I was reading a book to William, quite enjoying the story, when he suddenly remembered he had a chocolate croissant coming. So that was the end of that. I wonder how the story finished?

Liesel drove me home and then took Martha shopping. They were looking for fabrics with which to make some items for Christmas.

Fabrics chosen by Martha

Later on, Liesel and I went for a walk along the river. We don’t usually go out that late in the day. The Sun was low but we knew we’d be home before it was too dark. Or did we? I was conscious of walking just a little bit faster than usual.

Mersey and puddles

The river was high and flowing fast, leading to eddies and whirlpools. The ducks seemed to be having a hard time swimming upstream: well, we were entertained anyway.

And lo, as threatened, the snow arrived. Tentatively at first, but it soon settled. Did we go out and build a snowman? No, of course not. My instinct was to crawl under the duvet and hibernate until about May.

Snow on the ground, look: be quick, it doesn’t last long, and I apologise for the unappealing setting, but such is the view from our luxury apartment

Some small people did venture outside to enjoy the elements.

William (l), Snowman (centre), Martha (r)

Jenny and William paid us a quick visit during which William practiced his new skill: winking.

Masks are now mandatory again on public transport, so I was delighted to see about 50% of passengers on my bus suitably dressed. Yes, as many as 50%. I can’t believe it’s three months since the last time, but I ventured into Manchester to donate another armful of blood. Afterwards, I wandered into the city centre and confirmed that yes, it is very nearly Christmas.

Father Christmas outside the Central Library

I found a coffee shop in which to catch my breath and rehydrate and yes, I had a brownie too, as if I hadn’t consumed enough biscuits and crisps at the donation centre. It was nice to see Lesley the barista, formerly of Boxx 2 Boxx, working there.

I took the bus home and was glad to disembark. It’s hard trying not to take a breath for 30 minutes on a bus but I think I managed. If only all those other people had been wearing masks as well.

We have a new shop in Northenden: Quirky Misfits. Quirky by name, quirky by nature. I had a quick chat with Lydia (for the radio show) plus a lovely cup of coffee in the Beetlejuice themed coffee bar.

A skull for every occasion
Quirky Misfits

Walking home, I noticed that my barbershop is being refurbished. At least, I hope it’s being refurbished and not being replaced by something else. I don’t need a haircut yet but I will one day and where else do I go?

Massimo? Messymo

We picked some litter and found plenty of dumped, fly-tipped items as well. This activity was partly to pass time before we went over to pick William and Martha up from school. We had considered going for a walk somewhere else but really, there wouldn’t have been enough time. I know, I know, if I dragged myself out of bed before midday, it would help.

It’s the week of Hannukah, something the children have been learning about at school. We played the dreidel game and both of them picked up the rules very quickly. I think playing with chocolate coins made the game more interesting, at least to start with.

William and Jenny playing the Dreidel game

It was fascinating watching William learn how to spin the dreidel. As the picture shows, his Mum was doing rather well. At the end of the game, William and Martha took most of the chocolate home, but Grandad made sure to keep some for himself.

So the sequence of events is: we bring the children back to our place for a couple of hours. Then their parents arrive and we have a meal together. Then they all go home. Then we find what they’ve left behind by mistake. On this occasion, two pieces of paper from school, two hoodies and a coat.

After our regular Wythenshawe Walk, Oma and I met up with Jenny and William at Quarry Bank Mill, to hand over the previous evening’s forgotten items. We had a nice walk, admiring the yarn-bombed and decorated trees and bushes.

Christmassy tree

William threw sticks and stones off the bridges into the fast-flowing water.

In search of another stick

As we walked back up the slope, away from the river, he still wanted to throw stones in. So even though we’d climbed too many steps to count, he ran all the way down again to the waterside. I think William should be wired up to the national grid, he’s so full of energy. But perhaps one of the most surprising things about today was that after drinking his hot chocolate, he didn’t have a moustache.

The radio show this week, as mentioned earlier, features Quirky Misfits, the shop, but also two hours of quirky songs. Catch up here.

As I write, the idea of hibernation becomes ever more attractive. The rain is being hurled at the windows in a menacing manner. Liesel’s been out to meet some of the WI buddies over there in Didsbury, but I don’t think I’ll be going far today. I’ve looked out of several windows, but the vista’s the same everywhere. Rain. Bleeurgh.