Disappointment haunted all my dreams

I know there are a hundred and one reasons we should be boycotting Nestlé, but I don’t think any will will match the majotr disappointment that I’ve suffered recently.

A few years ago, I started keeping the tin foil that wrapped 2-finger KitKats. Every week, I would wrap them together, and the still growing silver orb still takes pride of place on my desk. Martha was fascinated by it, but I had to stop her from unpeeling the dozens of layers.

Silver ball plus old pound coin for scale

Aluminium can be recycled, as can the paper sleeves these KitKats came in. No more. Tey are now wrapped in plastic foil. And they seem very proud.

Our local council doesn’t recycle this kind of plastic, but, fortunately, we’ve found somewhere else to take it. We just trust that it is being recycled properly, somehow, and isn’t just finding its way to the ocean via a more circuitous route.

In medical news, I’ve had cough which has gone on well past it’s best before date. Normally, I know such an annoying tickly cough will last about a week. This one just won’t let go, very disappointing. 

The baddest news of the week though is that our shower has leaked, so we have wet carpets, and amy water-based emergency is my worst nightmare.

[lots of words omitted, p.o.a.]

As recommended, I ordered some drain unpluggers from. I used to use a bent wire coat hanger to remove hair from the shower drain. But the shower drain here is a strange design. I’m hoping the lastic unplugger is flexible enough to go around the corner.

But on delivery, I was disappointed to see just one, not three, of these devices. Yes, the Amazon description does say “one”, but there are three in the picture and I usually rely on the picture.

And we didn’t win the lottery this week, again, but as Liesel said, maybe we should buy a ticket ourselves rather than relying on the generosity of strangers.

But it hasn’t all been disappointments this week. Oh no. We had a great time at William’s birthday party last weekend, with forty children, at least one parent each, and some with a sibling. The entertainer Chris had the children in the palm of his hand for two hours.

William running around

Even before the party started, William was running round the hall at a hundred miles an hour, and Chris told him to calm down, he’d run out of energy. But he never did.

Bucket heads

What I hadbn’t anticipated was that each of William’s forty guests would give him a present. I think he’s now planning to open his own toy shop.

William and Chris entertaining the troops

It was a good, fun afternoon, although I was disappointed not to receive a goody bag at the end of the afternoon. I don’t think any of the grown-ups did, which doesn’t seem right to me.

Liesel and I dined at Greens in Didsbury that night, it’s been a while since we were there last.

One evening, I used Liesel as a guniea, to test out my new toy, a pair of small lapel microphones that will allow me to record chats for the radio show. Well, it’s got to be better than holding the phone up to the microphone which doesn’t always give decent results! So I have a quarter of an hour recorded of me and Liesel talking nonsense, but the good news is, the sound quality is great, even if the subject matter isn’t.

Tuesday night on Boom Radio, Diana Luke played some songs for me and Liesel which was lovely, in the post 11pm slot called Luke of Love. Yes, of course I recorded it for posterity and for the grandchildren!

Our weekly Wednesday well-being walk was well attended this week, there were eleven of us traipsing through the woods, and even that big black dog coming the other way looked intimidated. It’s the end of November, but it’s been mild, and the plants are confused.

Raspberries

We left the raspberries for other people to enjoy.

The following was the day of the great flood, which left me tharn for the day, I didn’t leave the flat, I hardly moved at all.  In the eving, Liesel went out to join her knitting friends while I stayed in to watch a fascinating chat between Jon Ronson and Miranda Sawyer, thanks to the British Library.

Jon Ronson and Miranda Sawyer

Jon spoke about the books he’s written, which I’ve enjoyed over the years, and his podcast series, which are always fascinating.

But I made up for my lazy Thursday by getting up at stupid o’clock the following day to take the car in to be fixed.

An hour later, I walked back to collect the car. I am embarrassed to say that the problem was easily fixed by the turn of a knob on the dashboard. Nothing wrong with the fuses or anything else.

Sunrise over Northenden

The plumber came to look at the shower on Friday and he’ll be back next week to give us a quote and get it fixed.

Liesel and I went for a walk in the afternoon and were surprised and delighted to see that the motorway works by Riverside Park seem to have finished. The fences have gone and, best of all, two picnic tables and benches have been erected when the old bench used to be, a long, long time ago.

New benches in Riverside Park

Late in the afternoon, we drove over to Martha and William’s school for a Christmas fair. We were mainly there to watch Martha and her friends perform. Firstly, in Spanish, there were two songs wishing us Feliz Navidad.

She then took a starring rôle in a short drama, playing the part of Elf number 1. Unfortunately, they were performing outside in a space that wasn’t very well illuminated.

Martha and friends

So the best photo of Martha is this one of she and her co-stars in the Green Room, I mean, in William’s classroom.

Liesel suggested a show of acoustic music so that’s what we have this week, on Mick’s Music Mix.

I’m off now for a jolly good cough, some cough sweets and a packet of 40 Woodbines. I banished myself to the spare bed last night and I’m going striaght there tonight. Liesel doesn’t need me coughing up lungs right next to her.

Fruit and five

It wasn’t really much of a cliff-hanger, was it? I was in the middle of a visit to The Museum of Science and Industry last time. The main reason being to buy a birthday present for William. I had a quick look around the museum before walking back to HOME Manchester where I met Liesel. Liesel who had been having another crochet lesson. I think she’s hooked.

Hail hail?

For a moment I thought I’d missed a hailstorm, but this was the only evidence for such a phenomenon on this glorious day. Ice ice baby.

At HOME, I enjoyed the wildlife in the gallery, we’ve very rarely seen foxes since we moved to Manchester.

Fieldnotes by Brigitte Jurack

There are monkeys too, straw bales and all sorts of rustic items. We’re invited to decorate our own twigs too: no, I didn’t do anything rude. The Fieldnotes exhibition lasts until the end of January so if you’re visiting Manchester, go and have a look. The coffee here isn’t too bad either.

It was a good day for a wander around Manchester, so that’s exactly what we did. Next to the Central Library, the huge Santa seemed incongruous towering over the rightly vocal Iranian protestors.

Santa and Iranian protestors

The Christmas Markets are dotted all over the place in the city centre, and they certainly attract a lot of people. A couple of times, we felt so intimidated by the crowds, we took a detour.

A lot of people

After the pandemic (and yes, I’m aware, Covid is still a big deal), it is good to see so many people out and about, but maybe we’re just not used to being hemmed in any more.

Floral mural

Torrential rain greeted us the next day and I played the part of the cat in that Robert Heinlein story, the one that wandered round the house looking through all the windows, seeking out some decent weather. I was looking for a rainbow though. I knew there had to be one, with bright sunshine one way and dark clouds the other. In the end, I tracked it down. From our living room though, it was hidden by the oak tree.

Rainbow

We were a party of twelve in all, at the restaurant chosen by William to celebrate his fifth birthday. William joined Martha and cousins Annabel and Emily walking up and down the ‘cat walk’, the floor adjacent to our long table. Hands on hips, swaying and everything. A model 5-year old.

William v Spiderman

The only negative was when William was attacked by Spiderman, but he took it in his stride. And he was delighted with the cake, baked and decorated by Mummy and Daddy.

Yummy cake

And of course, Martha fully engaged with the cocktails.

Martha v cocktail

Back at home, we think we have sloes growing in the hedge. Maybe we should make sloe gin, but we’re not 100% sure that’s what they are. I should ask our horticultural correspondents.

Sloes

It was our turn again this week to collect the children from school. At home, their Oma helped them make their own pillows. They both operated the sewing machine very well, and the pillows now have pride of place.

Martha on her new pillow

It was the day before Thanksgiving and Liesel cooked up a real feast for us all, nut roast, sprouts, carrots, special mashed potatoes, gravy, apple pie and pecan pie with ice cream plus a bottle of wine. Sorry you weren’t invited as well. And I think we’re all pleased that the US President hasn’t thought to pardon a nut roast along with a turkey every Thanksgiving.

It was such a nice day on Friday that we just had to go for a pasty, I mean, go for a walk at Quarry Bank Mill. Yes, the pasty was very nice, very spicy. And wandering around as we approach the end of November, it was surprising to see the harvest of strawberry.

Strawberry

Some of the trees are beginning to feel the Winter chill though, so the volunteer knitters have dressed them appropriately.

Snug, warm tree

Who else can see ET in this tree?

Selfie of the day in front of the Mill

I’ve glad to say we didn’t get lost as we walked around the grounds. That would have been embarrassing this week especially, since Directions was the theme of the show for Wythenshawe Radio. Not on FM though, on this occasion.

The studio in Wythenshawe Forum is being refurbished and I’m hope to be able to go along and have a go with it sometime.

Wasting time

Some people have too much time on their hands. Not only do they do pointless stuff that takes up a large proportion of the day, but they film it and upload it to Tik-Tok or Instagram for the rest of the world to see. I watched a guy (I’m sure it was a guy) sharpen a pencil with a knife, then sculpt something from just the point. There was someone who drew a very sophisticated doodle, freehand but with remarkable geometrical accuracy. Then there was the man who walked to the front of a queue of obviously desperate gentlemen. After a while, the man at the head of the line let the newcomer in. He then proceeded to pick up the Gents’ door, which was just leaning against the wall, and walk away with it. Whoever devised the advert depicting a Q-tip being forced to compress the wax in someone’s ear just created something that I spent less than half a second on. Still don’t know what the ad was for. I don’t know how long it took that bloke (I’m sure it was a bloke) to slightly bend and stand up playing cards from several packs so that they topple over like dominoes when the fisrt one is pushed over. It’s a marvellous effect, very entertaining and, apart from videos of cats, exactly what the internet was designed for. All those illegal websites that they don’t want you to know about. I’m not going to risk visiting any of those potential virus-mongers, thank you. An oblivious pedestrian being hit by a tram wasn’t something we need to see. No, if I solve your ridiculous puzzle, it doesn’t mean I have an IQ of 190. No, I still don’t understand NFTs and I still have no interest in cryptocurrency. Those facts you guarantee I did not know? Yes I did. Or you’re wrong. I wonder how many attempts it took the golfer before she got that hole in one? I really doubt anyone is owed thousands of pounds if they worked in Sainsbury’s or Morrison’s during the last six or seven years. Out of context clips from Friends aren’t really that funny. And thanks but I’ll be saving 100% on Black Friday since I won’t be taking up any of your ridiculous offers at all. Yes, it’s so easy to laugh at the people making these short videos. Then I realise I’ve wasted hours and hours just watching them. No wonder I have such a long list of things to do.

A leaf

Sad to report that the weather is becoming more normal for the time of year. That is, colder and with lots and lots of rain, to the point where we’ve already had the first flood warnings here in Manchester.

Despite this, Liesel and I had a very enjoyable walk along a stretch of the Mersey that I’d not been to before, near Heaton Mersey. We parked by the Riverside Gym, crossed a dangerous road by a bridge and commented on the well-made path by the river, part of the Trans-Pennine Trail.

Cheadle Bridge
Dog in the river

I am very grateful that this dog didn’t shake itself over me. It has happened before, so now when I see a pooch having a dip, I keep a very cautious eye on it so that I can make a hasty retreat, if necessary.

Speaking of floods, I wondered if this couple knew something we didn’t?

People in a tree

We spotted a fully laden apple tree but the pickable fruit was gone, and I was dissuaded from climbing the fence to reach the more challenging apples.

The thought occurred that at least an apple scrumped from a wild tree won’t contain any plam oil, which seems to be ubiquitous, in just about every other food item. Even when they claim it’s from a sustainable source.

A local lady was walking her dog and while we were looking at the map, she asked if we were lost. We weren’t, but just making sure we weren’t going too far off course, so soon before sunset. Hearing Liesel’s accent, she asked where she was from. Alaska. Oh, I have a niece in Wisconsin, she said. Then, looking towards me, what about you? I’m a southerner, I said proudly, happy to elaborate on being asked a follow-up question, but all she said was, ‘Oh’.

I’m sure we’ll revisit Mersey Vale Nature Park on another occasion. Possibly on the day we walk all the way from home, long the river, to Stockport. But not any time soon if this rain keeps on coming like this.

Our regular Wednesday walk took us through the woods which I think we expected to be much more muddy. The bed of fallen leaves was quite nice to walk on. The other day when I walked that way, I saw a young lady picking up golden leaves, the more pristine ones, unsullied by human footfall. I wondered whether she was going to create some wonderful work of art. What a shame that I, an old bloke, feel awkward about engaging a young lady on her own, out and about, in conversation.

Back at Boxx 2 Boxx, the café has been decked out to resemble the jungle. Our absent host Jill is taking part in the ITV game show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

Crocodile in a hammock

I don’t know whether the crocodile is in honour of Jill falling out of her hammock on her first day in the Australian jungle, where the show is filmed.

It is now less than forty days to Christmas. It comes round quicker every year doesn’t it?

Christmas balls

This tree is fenced off in Wythenshawe Forum which I visited one evening for a meeting with many other Wythenshawe Radio volunteers. It was nice to put faces to the various voices: some matched my preconceptions, some didn’t look anything like I’d imagined. Did it occur to me take pictures of these new real-life friends? Nope. Sorry.

In medical news, Liesel had a bionic tooth fitted. She had to rest for the rest of the day, so it was down to me to visit John Lewis to buy a couple of crochet hooks. Mission accomplished. As I passed by the north pole, I decided not to visit Santa.

John Lewis’s bear

I was still half asleep when Liesel left to visit her crochet class. Half? More like 90%. But when I did eventually stir, I made haste to the bus stop where I waited a mere 30 seconds for the bus to take me into Manchester. This never happens. I usually see the back of the bus disappear up the road as I turn the corner.

Manchester rising

It was seasonably cool as I walked to the Museum of Science and Industry, following a less than optimum route. One day, I will know Manchester like the back of my hand. One day. Straight to the café at the museum, of course.

I enjoyed my Middle Eastern Meze Wrap but I checked the ingredients and yes, of course, as expected, there was plam oil.

Meze wrap

It’s been here for a while, but it’s still shocking to see something that I once owned in a museum.

BBC Microcomputer

My BBC Microcomputer was delivered on April 1st 1982. It finally gave up the ghost about fifteen years later in the middle of a ten-pin bowling game that Helen was playing. I tried to fix it with spares from another machine. However my soldering skills were and are rubbish, so I ended up with two totally useless computers. Who would have guessed that less than thirty years later, we would be wasting hours gazing at the small computer screens that are our smart phones? Smart phones, not-so-smart users.

Visit to Manchester to be continued next time. Will it rain? Will I meet anyone I know? Tune in next week for another exciting episode!

On this week’s radio show, I played some foreign language covers of popular English songs including a few suggested by the listener, for which I am very grateful. Catch up on over two hours of Mick’s Music Mix here:

In other news, I am pleased to report that our Michaelmas or Thanksgiving cactus (formerly thought to be a Christmas cactus) is blooming at exactly the right time again.

Michaelmas cactus

Time Travel

I haven’t fully investigated the physics and the maths behind the phenomenon but I know from experience that time does not pass at the same rate for everyone. In the morning after I wake up and can’t be bothered to get up straightaway, I close my eyes for ten minutes. Yet when I open them, a full hour and a half has passed by in the rest of the world. Somehow during that ten minutes, I must have been travelling somewhere at very nearly the speed of light, yet I have no recollection of the journey. From which I can only deduce that travelling at such high velocities has a deleterious affect on ones memory.

Let’s go back in time. A couple of weeks ago, we visited Quarry Bank Mill. At the time, I wasn’t allowed to post this photo of a two-headed Liesel.

Two heads are better than one

But this week, I didn’t bother asking 😉

We went for a walk along the river towards Didsbury, after some torrential rain, so I thought I’d go for an arty shot of my wife in a puddle.

Liesel in a puddle

After crouching down for the shot, which admittedly isn’t all that good, I oohed and ahhed as I stood back up. Clicked the knees back into place and carried on. It was getting dark as we returned home.

Probably the most exciting event this week was our acquisition of a new, smart TV set. It has about as small a screen as you can get these days, but it’s still bigger than our previous set. The only thing wrong with that one is that, for the last 15 years or so, we haven’t had reliable stereo. The left speaker doesn’t make a sound most of the time, but occasionally leaps into action, making both of us jump.

But now, we have an up to date TV, with access to thousands of TV and radio channels via several applications. It was easy enough to connect and set up. But just a few days later, it displayed an error message that made no sense at all. Technology’s great when it works.

I can now send pictures from my phone to the TV, so I took advantage of this feature in another attempt at an arty photo, this one, a picture of the TV showing what the phone sees as it looks at the TV ad inf.

The new TV set

Martha and William enjoyed a fireworks display and a funfair recently. I think the dodgems was a highlight.

Dodgy characters

More driving madness ensued on the day we collected them from school. Loads of traffic, roadworks and all the traffic lights were against us.

Rainbow over Gatley

Fortunately, Liam was able to nip down the road so that the children weren’t left stranded, alone, at school, sitting in the middle of the playground. Back at home, for some reason, both William and Martha wanted to have a bath. It’s been a while and it’s interesting to see how much bigger they are now, in the tub, and how seldom we had to request them to try and keep most of the water inside.

William the Coiffeur

William was playing with and styling his hair, monitoring progress in his reflection.

The third largest shopping centre in the UK is the Trafford Centre in Manchester. You might think we’d be there on a regular basis, for all our retail needs. But no. We paid our first visit since well before the first lockdown, in order to pick up a book from Waterstones.

Trafford Centre

After taking a bag of old CDs to Oxfam in Didsbury, I had a nice breakfast while Liesel went off for coffee with the ladies of the WI.

Oh no, what’s occurring? This week’s radio show was entitled Oh, Oh, Oh! Two hours of songs that include the word Oh! With help from Martha, William, the Two Ronnies and George Takei.

Or if you’re close enough to the transmitter in Wythenshawe, listen to the repeat broadcast on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 at 10pm Wednesday.

The Other Side

We booked tickets for a show in London quite a while ago. Since then, we’ve been planning a whole weekend. For various reasons, we decided not to go by train nor to drive. Instead, we travelled by National Express coach. This was a first for Liesel, and I’ve not used their services since well before Liesel came on the scene. We took a bus into Manchester and found the coach station easily enough.

Stickmen escaping Manchester

This shows how long it is since I’ve travelled by coach. In the coach station, I was expecting to be engulfed in a miasma of cigarette smoke and diesel fumes from coaches with the engines left running unnecessarily. But no, it was quite a pleasant atmosphere.

The coach stopped a couple of times on the way to London, but we still arrived at Victoria Coach Station 20 minutes early. A real bonus after being on board for over five hours.

From Victoria to Putney was quite easy and we checked into our accommodation.

The gig was at The Half Moon, Putney, and I knew exactly where it was. Just a short walk from our hotel, over Putney Bridge and along the road.

Thames from Putney Bridge

On the way, we bumped into Helen and Steve. What are the chances? A little further along the road and there it was. The Half Moon. On the wrong side of the street. Yep, I knew exactly where it was, so why it’s crossed the road, I don’t know.

We dined here before the show. And I met Alan in real life, someone I was friends with online until I left Facebook.

When we took our place at the table right in front of the stage, I also saw Sue, although we have met before.

So what was the show? ‘Those Were The Days’ as performed by Jessica Lee Morgan with Chris on bass and Paul Cuddeford on guitar.

Jessica at the keyboards

Jessica covered songs written by or made famous by female musicians from 1968 to 1976. Two hours of brilliant songs, beautifully performed. Yes, of course I sang along but I wasn’t pelted with too many rotten tomatoes.

We enjoyed the late night walk back over he bridge  and had a purple night’s sleep, as advertised.

Meeting someone at Liverpool Street Station is hard, we just don’t know it well enough, and certainly not the meeting points. So we agreed to meet Elakshi at a Starbucks. While waiting, we went next door to Pickwick’s for a nicer coffee.

Selfie of the day

Our friend Monica in Anchorage has a niece who’s studying here in the UK for a few months. We showed Elakshi round some of the more quirky sites in the city of London, including the Sculpture in the City trail.

No 8: Cosmos by Eva Rothschild

Cosmos, 2018 is composed of three 3.5 metre-high slatted structures which lean into and support each other, painted black on the exterior and sprayed in a coloured gradient within. An imposing physical structure, the work encourages both a physical and aesthetic response. Says Rothschild: “The external piece is quite forbidding. Its black shiny surface is like a set of disruptive gates.”

This was number 8 on the trail, but we managed to miss a few. All were interesting in their own way, even if it was easy to walk by and miss some without realising.

Leadenhall Market was looking quite tentacular today, and not just because of the stars painted on the ceiling.

Tentacles at Leadenhall Market

Our walk took us to Spitalfields Market where I just about resisted the temptation to look at the vinyl records on sale. We had lunch here in the crowded market before Elakshi had to head off for some proper study.

Elakshi, Liesel, Mick

Liesel and I then made our way to Covent Garden, yes, another market, where we planned to buy absolutely nothing. Except Liesel was thinking of a particular clothes shop she wanted to visit. In one of the art shops, there was a portrait of David Bowie. One that moved as you walk by. Spooky.

The Man Who Sold The World

On to Leicester Square and beyond to Trafalgar Square where I was pleased to see a new item on the 4th plinth.

Antelope by Samson Kambalu b. 1975, Malawi

Antelope restages a photograph of Baptist preacher and pan-Africanist John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley as a sculpture.

The photograph was taken in 1914 at the opening of Chilembwe’s new church in Nyasaland, now Malawi. Chilembwe has his hat on, defying the colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people. A year later, he led an uprising against colonial rule. Chilembwe was killed and his church was destroyed by the colonial police.

On the plinth, Chilembwe is larger than life, while Chorley is life-size. By increasing his scale, the artist elevates Chilembwe and his story, revealing the hidden narratives of underrepresented peoples in the history of the British Empire in Africa, and beyond.

At this point, we still hadn’t decided what to do in the evening. A film? A play? A musical? Another gig? In the end, we thought a comedy show would go down well and we spent a funny couple of hours in the company of Maisie Adam at Leicester Square Theatre.

Maisie Adam
Thames from Jubilee Bridge

The show finished early-ish so we decided to wander over to the South Bank for something to eat. You can’t go wrong at Wagamama. Oh yes you can. I chose a dish that I’ve had many times before but boy was it hot. Hot in the sense that it really stung my windburnt lips. And hot as in much more spicy than is usually the case. Phew. Once the steam stopped puffing out of my ears, I cooled my head down with a nice bowl of coconut ice cream. Phew indeed!

We went our separate ways on the Saturday. Liesel went south to spend the day with Rosie, walking from Surbiton via Kingston to Hampton Court along the towpath and having some giggly girly time together. Was I at all jealous? Well no, not at all, because I’d decided to pay a long overdue visit to the National Maritime Museam at Greenwich and then up the hill to the Observatory.

But as soon as I went outside, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. It was lovely and warm, verging on the muggy even, and the thought of sitting on buses and/or tube trains for hours to travel to Greenwich just wasn’t as attractive. Instead, I thought I’d walk part of the way and then maybe complete the journey on public transport. I headed in the direction of King’s Road and took in the sights and brought back some memories.

I passed by Parson’s Green, close to where I used to work in the mid-1980s. It hasn’t changed much. But another little patch of green is encouraging insects.

Rewilding Rave

It’s always good to see birds of prey, especially in the middle of a large city.

Church’s of Cheaney Famous English Shoes

I do feel sorry for this one though, tethered as it is to the roof of a glorified shoe shop.

Not all quirky sculptures are in the City of London.

Book Bench in King’s Road

It’s been nearly five decades since I downed a pint of beer in The World’s End pub. I decided not to revisit today, even though a small part of me wondered whether I’d bump into my old work colleague and drinking buddy Clive. But suppose I owed him money?

The World’s End second-hand book shop on King’s Road hasn’t changed much either. If anything, it’s even more crammed with stock so that potential customers have to move around one at a time, like chess pieces on a very crowded board. I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t have a copy of a book that I’ve been looking for for many years: The Nabob’s Garden by Frederica Bennett. I read it several times as a child but can remember nothing about it other than it had a green cover and no dust jacket.

I knew I was taking too much time ambling along King’s Road but I knew something was really wrong with the spacetime continuum when I looked at the clock over the road. The hands were spinning round very fast.

Clockhouse

This place looked very different in the olden days…

430 King’s Road in about 1975
Yarn-bombing in King’s Road

Dave the artist still exhibits his own paintings on King’s Road in the Open Air Gallery. He’s very friendly, go and have a chat if you’re passing by.

Dave the artist

I wandered by the old Chelsea Hospital and onto a street market, close to the Saatchi Gallery, where I had some lunch.

I thought I’d make use of the facilities at Peter Jones. But no. The Gents toilet was out of order and the nearest one was the accessible toilets. Downstairs.

Downstairs to the accessible toilet

I hope there’s another route to the accessible toilets, I wouldn’t want to bump down those stairs in my wheelchair.

And so to Sloane Square, where, a few days after she died, I saw the Princess of Wales standing outside the underground station. No dead people today, but a throbbing mass of living ones.

Do I get a train towards Greenwich? No. I decided to continue walking until I stopped. Through Eaton Square and onto the side entrances to Buckingham Palace. I know King Charles isn’t planning to live here for at least a few years, so it was good to see that services to the palace were being discommected.

Doscommection

Millions of people were loitering by the front gates of the palace on this cloudy afternoon but I was surprised by the brightness of the Victoria Monument’s golden angel.

Golden Angel

Time for some birdwatching in St James’s Park. Don’t feed or touch the pelicans, says the sign. Well, I didn’t even see any, just Egyptians, pigeons, ducks, geese, swans (black and white) and squirrels. And more pigeons. With whom I did not share by cinnamon doughnut and coffee.

Birds of St James’s Park

After leaving the park, I realised I ought to head back. I took a bus back to Putney, changed my clothes, then took another bus into Kingston.

Did I regret not making it to Greenwich? No, I had a fantastic walk and Greenwich and the museum will still be there next time. I also didn’t see much of the South Bank on this occasion, just Wagamama. Apart from a slight sense of disloyalty, I didn’t mind walking on the other side of the river this time.

The Thames and Kingston Bridge

I perambulated through Kingston, mostly familiar, but there have been some changes here, towards the river. The plan was to meet up with Liesel and Liesel’s cousin. Yes, her cousin Andi with her husband of just a few months Steve have moved to the UK, specifically to Richmond upon Thames.

I first met Andi and Steve on holiday in Hawaii ten or so years ago, when Helen and Adam and Jenny came too, not to mention Liesel’s extended family. We’ve also been with them to a few Dave Matthews concerts.

The waiters in the restaurant must have been rolling their eyes when after several attempts at taking our order, we still hadn’t stopped talking long enough to look at the menu.

In the end, we had a very pleasant and enjoyable meal, at Comptoir Libanais since you ask, after which they invited us back to their pad, a quick 65 bus ride away. I’m old enough to remember when the 65 went all the way to Chessington.

Steve, Andi, Mick, Liesel
Pomegranate tree

Their house is located in a very desirable location, close to the river, close to shops, close to the railway station. The pomegranate tree, as far as we know, is the only one in Richmond and it needs a bit of a trim, to be honest. Liesel and I left quite late but it was easy enough to get back to Putney, via Earls Court on the District Line.

And so our short stay in London comes to an end. At Victoria, we visited The Shakespeare for a late breakfast. Do you have a menu, I asked? We’ll bring a menu over when we’re open for food at twelve o’clock. I felt suitably chastised. No nut roast today so we settled for very disappointing nachos. I couldn’t drink too much beer knowing we’d be on the coach for five hours. Another long journey that passed quickly thanks to some podcasts and a book and some puzzles.

Somehow, the 43 bus from Manchester back to Northenden seemed really slow, stopping every thirty seconds…

Back to normal then? Well, nearly. I have picked up the cold that Liesel’s had for a few days. I hope I didn’t pass it on to Martha and William when we met up at Quarry Bank Mill.

Quarry Bank fungi
William and Martha sitting in a tree

In between climbing trees, and playing in the playground and walking and running through the woods and climbing muddy slopes, we didn’t do much here today.

William climbing

During the week, we went for our usual walks, noticing it become cooler as time went on. We walked to Didsbury and noticed that at last, after far too long, we are now able to walk on the other side of the Mersey between Palatine Road and Northenden Bridge. That path has been off limits while they jack up the motorway, or something.

The view from the other side

The radio show this week was based on Jessica’s show, Those Were The Days. I’d picked up the set list, asked all three musicians to sign it for me, and I used it for my own show. I played (mostly) the original versions of the songs plus a couple of extras.

And if you’re interested, here is the playlist from the gig:

Turn Turn Turn
At Seventeen
Big Yellow Taxi
New York
Both Sides Now
Who Knows Where the Time Goes
Natural Woman
Songbird
Make Hay
It’s Too Late
Killing me Softly with his Song
You’re so Vain

Mercedez Benz
Me and Bobby McGee
The Man Who Sold the World
Ocean Song
You’ve Got a Friend
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Hope Is
River
Texas Angel
Brand New Key
Jolene
Those Were The Days
This Wheel’s On Fire
Goodbye

I think my cold is receding, I feel less tired, less cold, less lethargic than I did yesterday, at least I was able to concentrate on this stuff for a while. The Covid tests have all come up negative.

And here we are: November already. Who knows where the time goes?

Goodbye.

Complicated

I think Martha enjoyed using the sewing machine. Oma helped her make a skirt using fabric that she likes, featuring Mirabel from the film Encanto.

The skirt’s coming along

While Liesel was sewing the more technically difficult parts, Martha and I played a half-hearted game of skittles in our long hallway.

On taking Martha home, we were invited in for a minute. We left several hours later, having joined the family and the other grandparents for pizza. Both the children were in great form, a reminder that going to school really does sap their energy.

I do like seeing the multitude of colours of the fallen leaves: crimson, yellow, amber, gold, beige, chestnut, red, ochre and, when the Sun’s illuminating the ground, glowing and even flaming in hue. The thought of shuffling through the piles of leaves isn’t as attractive as it used to be, I am more aware of what might be lurking, hidden in the depths.

Fallen leaves

Autumn is coming into our block of flats. I think a couple of leaves blow in every time someone opens the door. Can I be bothered sweeping them out again? No, don’t be daft.

Watching the cyclists and pedestrians in Northenden, still wearing what might be thought of as light, Summer clothing, is very reassuring. Sometimes I feel odd being the only one still out and about in shorts and a t-shirt (not that I’m bovvered) but until it becomes really cold, I don’t really need to put on more layers.

And it’s so peaceful when a convoy of electric vehicles drives by, so much quieter than the infernal combustion engines that most cars, including ours, still possess.

It still surprises me that whatever time we go out for a walk, locally, we see as many buses that declare themselves ‘Out of Service’ as we see actually in service, taking passengers from place to place. I’d be interested to see the drivers’ shift patterns: do they really start and stop at any hour of the day?

Liesel and I haven’t been out litter-picking for a while, we really should get back to it. But recently, we saw a few young men on our patch, picking litter while wearing hi-visibility vests. Is that the new uniform for Wythenshawe Waste Warriors? Or were they on community service? Neither of us felt brave enough to ask, just in case they were indeed axe murderers.

Liesel wandered along the road for this year’s flu jab. I was scheduled to get one as well, but my appointment was cancelled. As an official old fart, the recipe for my flu jab is slightly different, and the pharmacy had run out.

A partial eclipse of the Sun was visible from the UK, but I assumed we wouldn’t see anything because of cloud cover. But no, it was clear enough. I took a couple of pictures with my phone. The Sun was far too bright really, but, somehow, by luck, the phone camera’s internal workings conspired to present a much fainter image of the eclipsed Sun.

Partial solar eclipse

It’s that time of year again. So glad I don’t have to walk into fresh spiders’ webs as I plod up people’s garden paths early in the morning. But the engineering involved is still pretty impressive.

Spider’s web outside our luxury apartment

I was quite happy to visit the local community library to pick up a book that Liesel had reserved. I took her library card. But of course, it was about to expire, so I had to have the ticket updated. While there, I asked about mine. It too had expired but the volunteer assistant renewed it for me. So, what book? It describes the Coast to Coast walk, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, a trek that we’re thinking of doing next year.

In the library, a young lady was setting up a story time for young children. She had animals. I was invited to stay. I didn’t want to take up space, but I did ask the librarian what sort of animals. ‘She has cockroaches’. ‘I’m outta here’, I replied, after a millisecond’s careful consideration. No need to see cockroaches that close up thanks, we’ve seen plenty in the wild, in the tropics.

These flowers outside the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Assembly Hall were glowing in the sunshine. It seemed possible to squeeze the orange juice out them.

Orange flowers

My other errand was to drop off a bag of plastic at the Co-op, the plastic that our local authority can’t or won’t accept for recycling. I felt very welcome at Quirky Misfits when this chap greeted me at the door.

Quirky Misfits

Inside, I was introduced to a corn snake. A 5-week old that was having a kip in the tank. More zzzz than ssss on this occasion.

Corn snake

The snake attracted the attention of all the children that came in, too. Much more interesting than the cockroaches would have been, I think, and I look forward to seeing it again when it’s fully grown, about five feet in length.

The Wednesday walk was disrupted for me, pleasant though it was. I went to the Post Office to post a letter for Liesel. I waved my phone at the machine to pay, and it was rejected. A second attempt failed too. Luckily, I had cash in my pocket, probably left over from a couple of weeks ago when I had to pay the barber with cash.

It’s along story, but the problem was nothing to do with my phone, or the card, or the bank. It’s because I had the temerity to delete my Google account last night. It gave me a warning, a long list of things that might be affected, but I wasn’t concerned about any of those things. I’m pretty sure Google Pay wasn’t on that list. What a shame though that the only way I could find to stop Google nagging me to pay for more cloud storage when I didn’t even want the free storage, was to delete the whole account.

Goodbye Google

And sever the links to who knows how many other features. Grrr.

My card now works. I tested it in in the coffee shop just along a bit from the dental practice where Liesel went for a scan. But then I tried to use Google Maps to find a route home. It couldn’t find one. Again, the problem was that this app was connected to my now deleted Google account. I’ll never understand why this should prevent it from finding a route home though. Yes, it won’t be recording where I’ve been, but that’s OK, I don’t care that they don’t know where I’ve been. Grrr

Autumn draws on in Altrincham too

Oh and another thing. Yes, we went to Altricham. But at one point, we were in Timperley and/or Trafford and/or Sale. I think it’ll be a long time before I sort out my Manc geography, with all these places and place names that overlap. I thought Chessington and Hook were confusing enough: where is the boundary?

Rodents

‘Two coffees please. I’m sitting over there and he’s sitting over there.’

It’s not that Liesel and I weren’t talking to each other, it’s just that Liesel was sitting over there with the ladies, and I’m not a member of the Women’s Institute. So after enjoying my coffee, I walked home from Didsbury, in the sunshine, a perfect, colourful Autumn wander.

Autumn colours

At home, I am still in battle with Google. All I want to do is close or delete the account and sever all Google’s tentacles that inveigle their way into far too many aspects of my online life.  But, according to one site:

“… That said, Google Photos app has its quirks. Apart from not providing a satisfactory user interface for device folders (other albums in the gallery), it’s difficult to delete photos. Sure, you can just press the delete button, but that removes the photo from everywhere, the phone as well as the cloud storage.”

Which is exactly what I’ve been worried about. So to avoid this, I have to move the photos on my phone to a secret new folder that Google doesn’t know about. And make an external backup. Plus, you can’t ‘just press the delete button’ because there isn’t one, not in an obvious place anyway.

It’s reminiscent of my 30-year battle with bindweed. You have to get rid of every molecule or it just comes back. Trying to delete a Google account is also like an annoying game of whack-a-mole. Just as you think you have a handle on the situation, up pops another message saying what else will be affected. Or, more prominently, if you want more storage, it will cost so much per month. I don’t. I don’t even want the 15 GB free storage I seem to have acquired. Please release me, let me go.

For some light relief, I dipped into the news. You’ll be the first to know when it’s my turn to be Prime Minister for fifteen minutes. Or I could take a leaf out of the government’s handbook and blame everything on Putin’s war in Ukraine.

In other news. Helen has been allowed to donate blood in Australia at last. They’ve not wanted English blood for decades because of mad cow disease. The reward was crisps and gluten-free crackers. I much prefer our custard creams and bourbons and shortbread biscuits. Her new pad is slowly taking shape, building furniture, shopping at Costco with a friend, what an adventure!

For October it’s been quite warm, which makes it easier to get up and go out for a walk around the neighbourhood. We joined two well-being walks this week.

Northenden bus stop

This advert caught my eye and made me chuckle but I probably won’t be shopping there any time soon.

Liesel and I collected Martha and William from school later than usual this week. William had been at After School Club while Martha was studying Performing Arts. Ironic then that at home, it was William who took to the stage to perform a couple of songs using Makaton signs.

William the performer

No, it’s not really a stage, it’s just the coffee table that he’s not meant to stand on.

Mummy and Daddy went out so we fed the children, and tried our best to make sure they were in bed and asleep at a reasonable time. It was a real pleasure reading to them, something we haven’t done for a long time. And really fun to watch William making up a story that involved the fate of his mouse. Poor old mouse. As he moved around William’s bedroom, the mouse had to fight off the fox that threatened to eat him for dinner. Then after climbing the door, the Gruffalo threatened to eat the mouse for dinner. Mouse escaped, thank goodness, only to be eaten by the snake who was carefully concealed under a blanket.

Not a good day for mouses really, as I found a lost Mickey in Wythenshawe.

Mickey Mouse

Well, strictly speaking, it’s probably a young child who’s gone missing, we know exactly where Mickey ended up.

Here’s a tip. If you want to meet someone in Wythenshawe Forum, agree to meet under the clock. It’s just as iconic as the clock at Waterloo Station.

Forum clock

While I was in the Forum, Liesel was walking around Wythenshawe Park with her WI buddies. I’m so glad she shot some wildlife.

Squirrel
Autumn colours

The radio show this week is about Honey and bees and for some reason, it took a lot longer than it should have to edit to the right length. Got there in the end though!

Circles

Never let it be said that Liesel and I don’t know how to have a good time, whether together or separately. On this fine Saturday, Liesel went for coffee with her WI chums leaving me to my own devices at home. But not for long. I paid a quick visit to Wythenshawe Forum for my Covid booster jab. No chocolate biscuits on this occasion, but neither did I have to rest for 15 minutes before being kicked out. All I need now is my flu jab and I’ll then consider myself fully Winter-proofed.

The walk home, the long way, took me by the river where I was delighted to see the heron attempting to hide on the island.

Spot the heron

There are of course a zillion things more romantic than a Northenden sunset, but we have to make do with what we can get.

Sunset over Northenden

I have been tempted to paint a mountain view on the windows, but that idea has been vetoed by my wife. What about a stain glass window, then? If not mountains, what about a beautiful seascape? Nope. And nope.

We paid a return visit to Jodrell Bank where we met up with Jenny and Liam and the children. It’s been a while since we were last there, and the layout of the place and the car park all seemed unfamiliar.

We watched a couple of short films in the Dome, and even though it was warm and dark inside, I didn’t fall asleep.

The main attraction was the playground, where William and Martha had a great time climbing the frame and spinning fast on the mini roundabout made from an old washing-up bowl.

Spinning Martha
William walking on what can only be described as the rings of Saturn

We had lunch before wandering over towards what should be the main attraction, the James Lovell radio telescope. On the way, we encountered some strange, almost extraterrestrial lifeforms.

Toadstools

We also admired pictures from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, now in its 13th year. I would love to claim credit for these photos, but I didn’t spend hours, days, even weeks, outside, in the cold, taking multiple time exposures and stitching together several elements. I just walked along a path and took a few quick snaps with my phone.

Jupiter by Sergio Díaz Rulz

‘High clouds on Jupiter create intricate and beautiful shapes that swirl all over the planet. To get a colour image when there are only three colour channels (red, green, blue), some sort of filter-to-channel mapping must be done. PixInsight was used for the rest of the processing: custom white balance, deconvolution and wavelet transformation for detail enhancement, contrast and saturation curves. The resulting image, in CIE-LAB colour space, was then converted to RGB.’ – Sergio Díaz Rulz

This Image takes the Annie Maunder Prize to a new level this year. By using real data from a NASA research programme, the entrant has managed to encode the filters used to study Jupiter into shape and colour, creating a new and unique way to see the largest planet in our solar system.”

Our Moon by Göran Strand

‘When I took this photo it was -16°C and the air was filled with small ice crystals that made this halo possible. This regular 22° halo is more commonly seen around the Sun. The moonlight needs to be quite strong to make the halo visible, so it’s more common around the days of a full moon. To the left you can see the city lights of Östersund, Sweden, and in the foreground you can see the tracks from a rabbit that hopped up to the trees.’  – Göran Strand.

“I really love this picture as it beautifully captures the Moon in a way we rarely see it, showing us that even on a calm winter’s night, it can still take your breath away.” Melissa Brobby, Judge.

The fly is a bit annoying but feel free to believe it’s an alien spacecraft if you like.

James Lovell radio telescope

Martha was impressed at the scale of the telescope, even if she didn’t quite understand how it worked. We tried to walk around it but sadly, some of the grounds are out of bounds. William and Martha enjoyed the scientific exhibits outside, demonstrating such things as the conservation of angular momentum. I’m sure there used to be ‘toys’ to play with indoors too, but as I said, it’s been a long time since our last visit.

For some reason, the children weren’t interested in the wooden radio telescope prototypes that I found behind the scenes.

Wooden dishes

On our baby-sitting day, we collected them both from school and brought them straight back to our luxury apartment. Mummy and Daddy were off to school for Parent Teachers evening. I told Martha it was so the teachers could tell the parents how bad the children had been. She immediately corrected me, “How good we’ve been!”

At home, using some colourful, fallen Autumn leaves, some washi tape, paper and sellotape, they had fun making some bookmarks. At school, William had made a card each for Oma and Grandad which was very cute, even if his teacher had to help spell ‘Grandad’.

For the radio show this week, I played lots of black music to mark Black History Month.

Something went wrong with uploading to Mixcloud, I had several attempts and it didn’t work. I wondered at my incompetence, or if I’d hit some limit that I was unaware of. But no, it turns out there was a problem on their site. So, overnight, all three of my attempted uploads successfully completed. Anyone looking at my profile would wonder why there were three shows with almost identical names! Technology eh?

In medical news, I visited the dentist, the hygienist and the barber. My neck feels much colder now. I also visited a periodontist for the first time since we moved away from Chessington. I won’t go into details but you know that song Unfinished Sweet by Alice Cooper? That. On the way home, I thought I’d go for a wander in Wythenshawe Park while I processed a lot of information. I texted Liesel and we agreed to meet there.

We had a nice walk around the park, following the new cycle/pedestrian path. It looks pretty good, although it ‘s recommended that you cycle in one direction only, widdershins. In places, there are extra loops and bumps and challenges for wannabe mountain bikers.

Off-road skills

It started raining a few minutes before completing the circuit so we arrived back at the car a bit more damp than planned.

On TV, we’ve been watching the World Track Cycling Campionships and feel a bit sad that some of our favourite cyclists from 2012, London Olympics, are no longer competing, and we don’t know the current team nearly as well.

Autumn draws on

Well there I was, as I often am, lying in bed listening to a podcast, when I hear my name being called. Liesel is walking to Didsbury in fifteen minutes time and would I like to join her? Well no, not really, I want to hear the end of the show and then maybe another one… But no, I got up, got dressed, and we had a very nice walk by the river.

As always we looked out for the heron but he was hiding out somewhere. Instead, we saw a pair of shags and a swan on the river. A swan? That is very unusual.

Two shags and a swan

Autumn draws on apace as witnessed by the very pretty Autumn crocuses along the river bank.

Autumn crocuses

At Fletcher Moss, we had coffee, and I had my breakfast: a veggie sausage and fried egg barm. I knew it would be messy but I also knew it would be delicious. It was. And it was. I had to wash the yolk and ketchup off my fingers afterwards.

I don’t mind mushrooms in a dish, just not as the main component. But today, if I’d asked for mushrooms in my breakfast barm, I know they would have been really fresh.

Bench with mushrooms

You can pick your own right here. It looks like the weather recently has been highly conducive to fungi taking over the planet.

Autumn draws on

Liesel and her WI buddies were stationed outside the Co-op in Didsbury, handing out flyers telling people where they could recycle items that the local council can’t deal with. Sadly, we didn’t bring one of these very informative pamphlets home. My mission was to buy some filo pastry. Not in Didsbury, I couldn’t. Three shops don’t sell it and the other one had sold out. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was walking up and down the High Street, visiting each of the supermarkets at least once each, adding to the step count, I might have been a bit miffed.

Ford Lane is easily flooded whenever it rains, but we successfully negotiated the puddles without being splashed whenever Stirling Moss or Lewis Hamilton drove raced by on their way to their golf course.

Jenny and Liam have been married now for a few weeks. I said I’d post more of the official photos. Well here’s one.

Martha

Thanks very much to Marc the Photographer for this fabulous image.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Helen is moving into her new home. New furniture, new carpets, new address. We can’t wait to go and make ourselves at home there, somewhere in Brookvale, NSW.

Helen’s new flat

There is now of course a huge pile of packaging to be disposed of. Sorry, Helen, we didn’t keep one of those flyers for you. But I suspect your local authority does things differently anyway.

My solo walk to Didsbury was rewarded with a massage. I hadn’t realised that all my muscle were so stiff. It was a good work-out, not necessarily for me, but I did feel much better afterwards.

The Wednesday walk in the rain was wet and wonderful. Added to which, I got papped back at Boxx 2 Boxx afterwards!

Boxx 2 Boxx
Autumn draws on

One of the highlights of the week was going to the cinema. Without looking it up, I can’t remember the last time we were in a movie theatre. We saw Moonage Daydream, the first film about our favourite alien superstar sanctioned by the David Bowie estate. It’s a roller-coaster ride of Bowie music, interviews, videos, remixes, over two hours of Bowie magic. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s even only slightly interested in Bowie’s life and times and philosophy.

This was our first time at The Light in Stockport, a cinema recommended by Jenny, even though she hasn’t been there herself. Yet!

Another highlight was visiting the gym in Wythenshawe. Liesel swam for a bit. I spent some time on the treadmill and the exercise bike. But the woirst thing was, I forgot to take a pound coin for the locker. That’s the real reason I wasn’t totally motivated.

Here’s a book recommendation. I really enjoyed this one.

Sisters at the Edge of the World

It’s a period of history that we don’t know much about: the Roman invasion of northern Scotland. The characters and story are all very well written. It’s one of those stories that you don’t really want to finish. You want to know what happens after the events depicted. Highly recommended. Sisters at the Edge of the World by Ailish Sinclair.

The radio show this week was themed around Germany, in light of our recent trip. So, a few German musicians, some German music and songs that mention Germany, or a German city. If you missed it on Wythenshawe Radio, you can catch up here:

Freiburg im Breisgau

I fell asleep to the internal echoes of Eddi Reader only to be woken up three short hours later.

Skip this paragraph if you like because here I will list all the things that went wrong. A proper whingefest if you like. I’d booked a taxi for 3am. The service had been totally reliable on previous occasions, but today, there was no sign of a cab. The three of us (me, Liesel and Leslie) were standing outside like an ugly flytipped sofa, waiting, waiting. No message, no email. After ten minutes, I went online and booked an Uber. He was five minutes away, so that’s not too bad. I went online again to cancel the original cab. Just as he turned up. I told him he was too late, and he replied by saying ah yes, the cancellation had just arrived. Now if they’d sent a message at 3am saying he was going to be 15 minutes late, that would have been ok. But again, a lack of communication caused a problem. A minor problem, yes, but an unnecessary one. On the way to the airport, I looked at my email to check my electronic boarding pass was still there. It wasn’t. Yesterday, I clicked the option to add it to my Google Wallet. Ok, it said. Well, I don’t know whose Google Wallet it was sent to, but it wasn’t mine. And it seems that in the process, it deleted the email because, well, obviously, I shouldn’t need it any more. I restored the email to my inbox, and took a screenshot of the QR code. Just in case. Not my problem I know, but I did feel sorry for the lady in the next queue to ours who wanted to go to Nigeria but she didn’t have the relevant travel documents with her so she wasn’t able to check in to her flight. So of course, I started to worry that I too might need extra documentation to travel to Germany. Security is always a lottery. This time, the Fast Track Security queue, for which you can pay an extra £5 to join, was upstairs, while Normal Security was downstairs. Today, we had to remove all electronics, and, for the first time ever, this included toothbrushes and shavers, anything with a battery inside. But we didn’t have to take our shoes off. Although I found out later that Leslie had had a pretty good pat-down and had had to remove her footwear. I groaned when I realised that again my bag had been pulled aside. Inside, in the depths of my toiletry bag, the officer found a tiny tube of toothpaste. So small that I hadn’t seen it when I recently repacked the bag. So small that it had somehow got through security when I flew back from Anchorage last time. ‘Let’s fill our water bottles’ suggested Liesel. But could I find a water fountain at Manchester Airport Terminal 1? Nope. I’ll just fill the water bottles from the water jugs at one of the coffee shops then. Nope. If you want tap water at one of these places, you have to line up and ask for it. What else? Oh yes. I don’t like escalators when the handrail moves at a different speed to the stairs. You either fall over forwards or keel over backwards. You don’t? Oh, it’s just me then. Actually, I felt nowhere near as panicky as I had on my last flight. The queue for Leslie to check in was long, yes, but we could see it was making progress. And, we had plenty of time.

Liesel and I took it in turns to visit a couple of the coffee outlets for a sort of breakfast. Yes, we had lots of time to pass before our flight. Too much time maybe, but I wasn’t going to worry about that.

Goodbye misty Manchester

The flight from Manchester to Frankfurt was uneventful and I kept my beady eye on the steward as he handed out the chocolates. The plan was for Liesel and me to escort Leslie to Frankfurt and make sure she caught the right plane back home to Anchorage. This we did and, bonus, she didn’t have to go through security a second time at Frankfurt. It was a quick farewell in the end and I think Liesel and I will both miss having her Mom around.

We now had a couple of hours to kill at Frankfurt Airport before catching our train. I thought I’d seen enough of the place after several bus tours around the ginormous airport over the last few months, but no, there is plenty more to see. The border official let us through without any awkward questions: nothing about Covid nor stuff we were bringing into the country and, I’m glad to say, no awkward questions about paperwork that we didn’t know we needed.

Oompah band

This band of merry musicians put a smile on everyone’s faces as they oompahed through the airport.

The railway station was a reasonably long walk away but we were glad to get the steps in. At least it was all under cover, we didn’t have to go to the outside world at all.

Pringles tree

There are designated smoking areas which of course we’re no longer used to, so every now and then, we’d walk through a cloud of carcinogens. The worst place was on the platform for our train, so we didn’t hang around there longer than necessary.

It’s just over two hours on the train from Frankfurt to Freiburg and the time flew by. I read a good chunk of my book and glanced out of the window now and then, but the landscape didn’t really engage as it passed by at 160 kph.

Big chocolates, so many flavours, at Freiburg station

Our hotel was not even a ten minute walk from Freiburg station. Yes, we’re in a hotel, a Best Western, also known as Hotel Victoria. We settled into our very comfortable room in what is one of the most eco-friendly hotels in one of the greenest cities in Germany. Allegedly. All the power in the hotel is generated from solar panels on the roof, wind and, er, the burning of woodchips.

Solar panels and smoke

We dined at a Morrocan restaurant just round the corner and we were surprised that they only took payment in cash. So, while they kept Liesel hostage, I went for a walk to get some money out of a machine. The machine conveniently located next door didn’t recognise my card. The machine all the way back at the station did so I took out as many euros as I was allowed. On my return, I was pleased to see that they hadn’t got Liesel to do the washing up for them.

Rain had been forecast for most of our time here, so the sunshine on Sunday morning was a bonus. We walked into town, the old town, where we admired the architecture, commented on and tried not to trip on the cobbles, noticed and tried not to impede the progress of the many cyclists in town.

The Visitor Information office is in the old town hall, next door to the new town hall. I downloaded an app that guided us around the town: at least the commentary was in English. There’s a lot of history here, including an old Roman wall, very similar to the one in Chester, what’s left of it.

I mentioned the cobbles. Most streets are cobbled, and there are smaller stones at the sides, for pedestrians. In places, there are mosaics. This is one of the first to catch my eye, outside the town hall, der Rathaus:

Guildford

Guildford is just one of Freiburg’s several twin towns and sister cities in and beyond Europe, each of which is marked by one of these mosaics, contructed using pebbles from the nearby Rhine. Guildford has been home to such luminaries as Nobel-prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, code-breaker Alan Turing and is the birth place of musician Mike Rutherford, DJ Tony Blackburn, and, er, me.

While sitting in the square waiting for the 12 o’clock chimes, we were mobbed by a swarm of sparrows. They detected my phone and were about to depart but they were just a second too late… The main danger though was bonkers. They’re like conkers, only they fall out of trees and bonk you on the head. There are chestnut and horse chestnut trees all over town, you can’t walk anywhere without encountering chestnuts or their spiky cases.

A flock of sparrows

Oh look. In my bag I have some salt-peter, some sulphur and some charcoal. I know, I think I’ll go out and leave these random chemicals unattended on the stove. Boom. I’ve invented gunpowder. Actually, this story is attributed to a monk, Bertold the Black, who supposedly lived in Freiburg in the 14th century. There is a statue here honouring the monk for his invention, even though the Chinese beat him to it by several centuries.

Berthold Schwarz

Other features that you can’t avoid in Freiburg are the tram lines and the little canals alongside most of the roads. These drainage ditches are dry most of the time, and if you’re unlucky enough to fall into one, you’re destined to marry a Freiburger. Children play with little wooden boats when there is flowing water in these Bächle.

A typical Freiburg street

We never made use of the service but we saw quite a few of the bendy trams in Freiburg. The Cathedral tower is an impressive 116 metres tall, and the building is, by coincidence, 116 metres in length. Just as you’re marvelling at the architecture and the stone masonry, you turn round and encounter some absolute kitsch, totally out of place.

Freiburg Münster
Cute, not cute

Before you ask, no we did not buy a souvenir cuckoo clock.

No new buildings in Freiburg can be higher than the top of the Cathedral tower. There are over 100 gargoyles protecting the fabric of the building from the worst of the rain. Most are monsters or people, but this one is the funniest.

Freiburg gargoyle

We admired many of the mosaics that remain outside shops even though the shop itself may have changed usage over the years. I don’t mind posing for a photo so I was delighted to sit next to this knife.

Mick the Knife
Pillar of the community

This chap is just one of many who we saw embedded in the walls around town. The steps here lead up a hill which we decided to pursue on another occasion. And sadly, even the most aesthetically pleasing of towns and cities have their unfair share of graffiti artists. Arstist? Vandals.

Black cat

Here is another mosaic that we liked, and then we found out its significance. You wouldn’t want to be taken to The House of the Black Cat, because that’s where the local executioner, the hangman, lives.

Record shop

Of course I checked the window display of this record shop, and was surprised but mostly disappointed to find absolutely no reference to David Bowie. So my theory needs a slight adjustment: Every record shop still existing in the UK has, in its window display, either a David Bowie record or some other David Bowie merchandise.

By contrast, the destroyed synagogue’s memorial fountain is quite moving. Its shape reflects the ground plan of the old synagogue and the mirror-smooth surface is the perfect place for reflection. Literally.

We dined at a Thai restaurant just round the corner from our hotel. It was Sunday and we hadn’t anticipated that most places would be closed. There was nothing wrong with Thai Chi, for that is what it was called. The experience led me to suggest that more restaurants should have model villages inside their dining tables.

Model village

Monday started with another big breakfast in the hotel before we set off through the town and back to the stairs that we’d abandoned yesterday.

The Monday market was set up in the Cathedral square, with lots of well presented, fresh produce, 27 types of ham, 49 species of sausage, 56 varieties of cheese and best of all, 19 types of locally baked bread.

Market wares

We didn’t buy anything now, but later on, on the way back, we did buy a punnet of raspberries.

I would like to tell you how many steps there were, but I soon lost count. Eventually they gave way to a path which was quite a steep slope. We were determined to reach a certain point though, however long it took, however many times we had to pause to catch our breath or just to admire the view over the town. And the views were spectacular. We kept a close eye on the Cathedral tower, waiting for the moment when we would be looking down on it. We were gaining altitude pretty fast, or so our bodies thought, but that tower was keeping its place.

Selfie of the day from halfway up Schlossberg

On passing a small group of students, we realised that we too could have taken the funicular railway but we’re glad we didn’t! Nor did we ride it back down later on.

Funicular railway

There’s a playground on the hill too, in which the equipment resembles weapons of war. Bizarre, I know. The cannon could be used as a slide or a tunnel. The poles are lances and spears.

This is not a cannon

I was surprised to see vineyards here too. Surprised because, at the bottom of the hill, by the stairs, there was a sign saying the the path would be closed whenever it’s too icy or covered in snow. We’re at the edge of the Black Forest here and obviously it must get really cold in Winter. So, not an ideal environment I would have thought for growing grapes. I suppose they know what they’re doing!

Vineyard above the town

On and on and up and up. The well-laid path gave way to a dirt track. Proper signage was replaced by spray-painted red arrows on trees and rocks, directing us to our goal for the day, the viewing platform that we’d seen from way down below in the city centre.

Public lavatree

I’m always on the lookout for comfort stops, although I felt this one was just a bit too exposed. But it was just a few hairpin bends away from Schlossbergturm or Aussichtsturm Schlossberg or Castle Hill Tower.

Schlossbergturm or Castle Hill Tower

We sat down for a few moments admiring this very basic structure, before setting off to climb the 153 steps. Do something scary every day. I climbed steadily to the top, and I mean the very top, as high as I could go. It is very hard holding on that tightly to the handrail while trying to take photos without dropping the phone while the whole edifice is swaying in the wind which is now so much colder than it was at ground level, some 35 metres below. Although it seemed much further away, from my scared vertiginous viewpoint. Another surprise was being joined by Liesel whom I’d left sitting on a bench way down below, ready to catch me or anything I dropped.

Some of the first few steps up the tower

Each of the steps has a message from someone who’d sponsored the construction of this viewing tower. I like Klaus’s: This tower has always been a dream of mine.

The view from the top

This picture was taken from the top and it doesn’t reveal at all just how much I was shaking at this point.

Near the base of the tower is a display which incorporates a pair of binoculars. And if you look through these, you see an image of what the site looked like hundreds of years ago, when there was a castle or a fort here.

What it used to look like

Walking back down the hill was a bit easier, but you couldn’t totally relax with those gradients. At the first sign of a coffee shop, we stopped, me probably more eagerly than Liesel.

Liesel got stoned and had to have a lie down

We dined in an Italian restaurant that evening. Yes, of course I had a pizza. Then back at the hotel it was time for some pampering.

Mechanical foot brush

This device doesn’t offer a full-on pedicure, but I was able to give my feet a really good scrub.

Tuesday started with a big hotel breakfast and then a long, long pause in the proceedings, in our room, reading, doing puzzles, neither of us wanting to move. Or something. Liesel gave in first and she went out for a walk. Then after a few minutes, I decided to move too. I was still listening to something fascinating, so I thought I’d visit the hotel gym and have a quick walk on the treadmill while still connected to my podcast. I managed 25 minutes but I hope I can get over the tedium of this form of exercise when we get home and make full use of the gym in Wythenshawe, the one we so rashly joined last week.

I met Liesel outside later despite the rain, but usefully, the hotel had plenty of umbrellas to choose from.

Selfie of the day if it were 1940

It didn’t take long for us to pack and move out the next morning. We left our bags at the railway station while we looked around the Cathedral. Even though there are big signs asking visitors to stay silent, I was surprised that it was so quiet inside, given how many people were walking around.

Inside the Cathedral

We paid a return visit to one of the cafés we’d visited a few days earler, only this time we sat inside for our coffee and tasty treats.

We walked back to the station and spent time exploring while waiting for our train. One retail space was full of vending machines, selling everything from snacks and drinks to items of clothing and toothbrushes. It was a bit like Japan in that respect. There was even a popcorn machine, but Liesel wasn’t tempted to use it.

Something happened at the railway station but we never did find out what. An alarm went off, and everyone was evacuated from the station concourse. Those of us already on the platform waiting for a train were allowed to stay. The train ride back to Frankfurt was uneventful. This was followed by a ten-minute walk to our hotel for just one night. And not even a whole night, as we had another early morning flight. As luck would have it, the railway station, our hotel and the airport were all within walking distance of each other: or maybe Liesel planned it that way?

Our alarms were set for 5am. Walk to the airport, through security, to our departure gate, coffee and quick breakfast, flew to Manchester, taxied home, collected the mail and that’s it. We’re back. Did it really happen? Yes. The rest of the day was a blur. I was occupied but I can’t tell you what I did. A quick walk in the drizzle but I timed it badly, no massage for me today.

On Friday, I met up with some people to talk about Thrive Manchester, what can they do to support people and how can whatever that is be better publicised. Boxx 2 Boxx is a great venue for such meetings.

At home, I made progress on a couple of my ‘to-do’ items. The lists still grow faster than items are crossed off, of course.

The radio show this week, recorded before we left for Germany, was Hundreds and Thousands. It was approximately the hundredth show I’ve put together. You can hear it here: