Burritos, Bowie, Bikes, Balls

A Mermaid greeted us when we went to look after William this week. Of course, it was Martha, not a real mermaid, and it was a shame she had to change into her uniform to go to nursery!

We endured a foggy drive to Chester Zoo this time, but unusually, on arrival, there wasn’t a cold wind in the car park. William set the pace as we walked around, often hanging around in the same area, especially when it entailed standing in the mud. He was as excited to watch a squirrel scurry by on the fence as he was to see the elephants.

Oma, William, elephant
The end of the line

The monorail is now being demolished, which is a shame: that was always a good way to pass some time, queueing up for a ride.

We did feel sorry for the penguins, though: someone’s taken the plug out of their pool and they were plodding around, looking a bit forlorn.

P-p-p-poor old p-p-p-penguins

William slept in the car in both directions and as soon as we dropped him off at home, Liesel and I went home. We had plans, things to do, places to be.

After waiting for a bus for too long and witnessing several going by in the wrong direction, we decided to drive into Manchester instead. We’d like to use public transport but it’s just not a good or reliable enough service in Manchester.

Listo Burrito

We enjoyed a burrito at Listo Burrito, infamous for its burritos, apparently.

A Bowie Celebration brings together several musicians who have worked with David Bowie at some point, whether playing live or on record. The Bowie Alumni Band was brought together by Mike Garson, who performed with Bowie over a thousand times. Tonight, the band played at Manchester’s O2 Ritz. Doors opened at 7pm. We arrived in very good time, to join a long line of even more eager people, all hoping to snare one of the few seats available. It’s an old dance hall, really, so it’s pretty much all standing around.

O2, the telcommunication company, obviously provide the wifi at this venue. But I got a better signal from Gorilla, a place over the road. We tried not to stare too much at the fellow audience members, some even older than me, many wearing Bowie t-shirts from his numerous incarnations. There were a few young people too but we saw nobody with the red Ziggy hairstyle or the Aladdin Sane lightning flash on their face.

Inside, we went upstairs and stood at the front of the balcony, overlooking the stage and the dancefloor below. We watched as the venue filled while listening to a Mike Garson record: Bowie Variations, which I can highly recommend.

A great view of the stage

Even though we were standing, we were able to lean on the barrier and we resisted being squeezed out by other people. Sadly, we’ll never see David Bowie live in concert again, but this would be a good second best. We’ll never see Beethoven in action either, but we still enjoy his music being played live, though not necessarily by people he actually performed with.

Tonight, the band played the whole of the Diamond Dogs album, sharing the vocals between three great but very different vocalists: Mr Hudson, Corey Glover and Sass Jordan.

It was loud, but very faithful to the original album. I sang along of course, and noticed a couple of faux pas on the part of the professionals. It should be ‘fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats’, even I know that!

I remember buying and playing Diamond Dogs for the very first time, in 1974, amazed that after Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie could still come up with some fantastic lyrics and wonderful tunes. Tonight we were both reminded just how much his music has a jazz influence, especially with Mike Garson in the mix.

What a shame George Orwell’s widow didn’t allow Bowie to turn 1984 into a musical, the original idea. Diamond Dogs is a mix between that and his own perception of some future dystopia: but not too far in the future.

We thought there’d be an interval after Diamond Dogs, but no, they kept going. Space Oddity next. By now, I had a slightly sore throat from singing along and my tinnitus had been turned up to 11, but it was worth it, such an emotional show for me, and for many others, no doubt.

Bowie Celebration: the Alumni Band

Suffragette City was very exciting, and if you’ve never heard 1500 people in unison shriek ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am’, well, it’s very therapeutic!

Rock’n’roll Suicide always brings a tear to the eye.

Everyone sang along to Heroes, another opportunity for the lacrimal glands to kick into gear.

Two hours and twenty minutes of wallowing in the past, fantastic. A good review and more photos can be seen here.

I never thought I’d need so many people

It was a most enjoyable show. But for the sake of us old codgers: a seated venue might be better. And please turn down the bass a tad because we’re already losing the higher frequencies, thanks!

I don’t know. We don’t go out in the evening for a while and then we go out twice within a few days! The 2020 HSBC UK National Track Cycling Championships finals took place at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester this weekend. We attended one session, on Saturday evening, and we undoubtedly witnessed some cycling stars of the future. My favourite cycling team is now Team Terminator: they’ll be back.

A great view of the track

The commentary was pretty good, if a little cheesey at times. But there was no ‘turning the screw’, nor ‘putting down the hammer’, nor ‘ lighting the afterburners’ but as Liesel pointed out, these clichés usually apply to road races. One of tonight’s races did ‘go down to the wire’, so anyone playing ‘cycling commentary bingo’ didn’t totally waste their time. Proud to have been part of an ‘awsome audience’, though.

Winner of the National Bobble Hat Wearing Championships

In years to come, we’ll be looking out for the new British Men’s Points Race Champion, ‘the Welshman from Wales’, Rhys Britton. I don’t know the name of the model sporting this rather delightful bobble hat, quite a distraction from the racing, to be honest.

Other names to look out for are Lauren Bell who won the Keirin, Hamish Turnbull, the new Sprint champ and Ella Barnwell, the new Scratch Race champion, taking over from Laura Kenny, who wasn’t here to defend her title on this occasion. I was watching the Derny bike rider leading the Keirin races and I thought, I could do that. If I were looking for a job.

It was an exciting night but next time, I think I’ll take my real camera, the medal ceremonies were just too far away  for good pics. The music and the roar of the crowd weren’t too loud today and the tinnitus was not affected, you’ll be pleased to know.

Not a bad action shot with a phone camera

In a change to normal programming, we looked after Martha and William on Sunday while their parents went on a secret mission.

The Ice Cream Farm was very busy today, the water was in full flow thanks to the numerous older children ready and eager to turn on the taps, use the Archimedes screw, open the sluices and generally send water to places it’s not supposed to be.

William v water

We played in the sand for a while too. Not ‘we’, I mean ‘they’, of course. Any sandcastle I might have built was soon demolished by William.

The children wore themselves out in the softplay area. Here is Martha carrying the balls to some small cannons, from which she was able to shoot across the play area, trying to hit the targets while missing the other children, mostly.

Martha v cannon balls

We drove home and despite the extreme state of exhaustion, sleep eluded us all. And indoors, Martha used Liesel’s crochet hook to demolish a skein of yarn.

Martha v yarn

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner on their return, and afterwards, Liesel and I spent over 12 hours untangling the yarn. Next time, we’ll make sure Martha untangles her own tangles.

Toad in the hole

Two bits of good news. My replacement bluetooth keyboard has arrived, and it works perfectly so, once again, I’ll be able to write blogs and other nonsense while away from home and not in a library or internet café! Plus, my first toad-in-the-hole in the new luxury apartment came out very well. Very nice, very tasty, as they say.

I see icy

But it didn’t prepare us for what occurred the following morning. There I was, still in bed, Liesel came in, threw back the curtains and said I had to see this.
‘What, rain?’ I asked.
‘No, snow,’ she replied. Lo and behold, it was snowing. I said I wasn’t going anywhere today, thank you very much. Well, the snow didn’t last long and didn’t settle, but when I did go out for a walk later on in the sunshine, I was surprised at how cold it still was outside. I didn’t walk very far today. Brrr.

Horses and Club Biscuits

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

wp-1579711165444.jpg
Hello horses

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

wp-1579711262429.jpg
Simon’s Bridge, ‘cross the Mersey
wp-1579711336386.jpg
A very large duck or a very small island?

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

wp-1579711546001.jpg
Here comes the Sun

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

wp-1579711698495.jpg
And a thousand pigeons o-o-on the roof…

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

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

wp-1579711827014.jpg
Biscuits and crisps

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

Chocolatté

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

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

wp-1579281342292.jpg
Keep Wythenshawe Tidy

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

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

wp-1579281588654.jpg
The path to nowhere

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

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

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

wp-1579281931086.jpg
We’re closed

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

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

wp-1579283127854.jpg
Howard Road and St Hilda’s Road

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

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

wp-1579287926768.jpg
Catholic church of St Hilda and St Aidan

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

wp-1579288167795.jpg
A pretty but possibly deadly plant

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

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

wp-1579288637869.jpg
St Wilfrid’s parish church of Northenden

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

wp-1579288916163.jpg
I see a little silhouetto of a bird

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

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

wp-1579289515671.jpg
The year’s first crocus
wp-1579289647255.jpg
I’m the king of the castle
wp-1579289661882.jpg
Oma and William

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

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

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

wp-1579290876021.jpg
Palatine Road, Northenden

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

Castles

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

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

wp-1578738811995.jpg
Bombomb Studios. Don’t sweat, sparkle.

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

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

wp-1578738812085.jpg
Pull the plug, ring the change

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

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

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

wp-1578739466601.jpg
Sharston Books, sorted by height
wp-1578739466552.jpg
A local splash of colour
wp-1578739466524.jpg
Another in the series of Northenden sunsets

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

wp-1578740405139.jpg
Emmanuel Church stained glass window

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

wp-1578740405126.jpg
Tag and Happy, William brought some friends with him
wp-1578740460865.jpg
Ice Cream Tree
wp-1578740405113.jpg
William in water
wp-1578740405070.jpg
William in sand

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

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

wp-1578740512424.jpg
Martha with a castle

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

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

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

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

wp-1578741456410.jpg
Farewell, old friend

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

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

2019 into 2020

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

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

Bike locker

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

Liesel’s completed Wasgij jigsaw puzle, wow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny and Martha

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

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

1 in 29, how does anyone manage that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few more of our new acquaintances.

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

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

Christmas Presence

And that was it. All that anticipation and suddenly, Christmas is over. Just a few days of sitting around, eating, drinking, visiting, socialising, perambulating, being entertained and generally over-indulging. We’re now feeling bloated, we need some exercise, we’re making resolutions for the new year most of which will be forgotten or broken fairly quickly. I try not to make resolutions at this time of year for that very reason. I resolve to do better at any time of the year, even if it’s only for a brief period. Such as the time I chose to give up chocolate for the whole of February. Next time I give up my favourite confection for a while, it won’t be during the month that includes Valentine’s day and a wedding anniversary or two. Which, in a way, is itself a resolution.

Christmas Day, we visited the grandchildren of course, bearing gifts and food. Liesel was very busy in the kitchen, baking cinnamon rolls and scones, building a Christmas tree from fruit, making American-style fudge.

Fruit tree

And of course, Jenny made us ‘eggs’, a frittata-like dish from a recipe(*) passed down from Liesel’s grandmother.

The other grandparents, Nana and Papa, Una and Alan, were here too.

Elsa from Frozen

Elsa might look a bit uncomfortable here in her new bed. But don’t worry. Liesel had made her a nice soft mattress, a duvet and a pillow which Elsa and Martha were both very pleased with.

William with his new Chef’s hat, made with love by Oma

It’s fun watching the children ripping the wrapping and then ignoring the contents in favour of something older and more familiar. Martha was very keen to help William open his parcels, but he was happy to ignore her pleas and proceed at his own pace. Martha pulled most of the crackers, with different people at the other end, and was suitably excited about winning the toys and she laughed at all of the jokes!

Meanwhile, Helen and Adam spent Christmas with Pauline and Andrew in Christchurch, prior to their adventure touring the beautiful South Island of New Zealand.

We gathered again at Jenny’s on Boxing Day’s Boxing Day. Again, we were joined by Nana and Papa and this time, Liam’s sister Andrea, her husband Paul and their daughters Annabel and Emily joined us too. Certainly a full, and at times noisy, house! Great fun, though.

Welcome to the house
Playmobil flowers

Playmobil is much more detailed than I remember it being when Jenny and Helen were little. It’s a good way to keep parents occupied for several hours, putting the hundreds, if not thousands, of components together to make a zoo or a farmyard, or both.

I know it breaks all laws of nature, but this Christmas cake was very nice.

Igloo with penguins

This cake was the prize in a competition to guess how many used 4-pint plastic milk cartons were used to build an igloo. I saw the picture, guessed 212, but the real answer was 490, I think. Jenny’s guess was the closest at 485.

Speaking of igloos, the best programme I saw on TV over the Christmas period was The Last Igloo, slow TV at its best, good music and a fascinating insight into the life of one man in east Greenland. Catch it while you can!

Where’s William? Hide and seek

After a few days of slouching, not moving much, it was time to engage in some gentle exercise, walking around the streets of Northenden, spying on the natives. One man’s ringtone was the theme from the old TV series, The Prisoner. I watched the joggers not really enjoying their run along the river. There was a business conference taking place in Costa, apparently: a queue out of the door, and all the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen wearing illegible name badges. It’s nice of people to give their old stuff to charity shops, but such a shame to see so much dumped outside, in the elements, when the shop’s not going to be open for a few more days. Ooh, I think I’ll go fly-tipping but it’s OK, look, I’m giving it to chariddy.

Quite possibly the most ornate gate in the village
Animal, vegetable or mineral? Grass, bamboo, stalks, very pretty colour whatever this lifeform is
National Cycle Ntework route 62 looks challenging
Another Northenden sunset
And a few minutes later, it’s goodnight from the Moon and Venus

My soundtrack while writing today has been Johnnie Walker’s Sounds of the ’70s, on BBC Radio 2. If you fancy a music quiz courtesy of his guest, David Hepworth, follow this link.

One of my favourite Christmas songs is Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. I’m not usually a fan of her singing style: why sing one note when 120 will do, all hovering around the target note? Warbling, I call it. And so does a character in the book I’m reading right now, Thirst, by Kerry Hudson.

(*) Liesel’s grandmother’s eggs recipe:

Serves 10-12

10 eggs
½ cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 pint cottage cheese
1 lb jack cheese
½ cube butter, melted
2 cans ortega chilies, 4 oz each

Beat the eggs, stir in the rest of the ingredients.
Pour into well-buttered 9/12 inch glass dish.
Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes or until brown.

The following paragraphs are not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition.

I’m not one to complain as you know (!) but lately, everything’s been giving up in despair. It’s a conspiracy. Everything went wrong when we put our last house up for sale. The inanimate sitting tenants revolted. I have no idea what we’ve done to upset our present cohabitants.

We bought a new set-top Freeview box because the old one was no good at connecting to the internet and it was always displaying subtitles before the characters spoke their words, more than a little disconcerting, a perpetual spoiler alert.

The dishwasher was repaired after the door-lowering mechanism snapped allowing the door to crash to the ground. These things happen in threes, right? No. More than three.

The keyboard with which I travelled and blogged for 10 months forgot how to transmit a bluetooth signal. It no longer connects to my phone, so I’m temporarily writing this stuff on the old PC. Logitech offered to send a replacement, but only to my US address, since that’s where I bought the keyboard in the first place.

Now, a few days later, my Fitbit Zip appears to have caught the same malady. It no longer syncs on my PC. Nor with Liesel’s phone, which I used for a while when the Fitbit lost contact with the app on my own phone. Nightmare. All those thousands of steps being walked and no way to prove it afterwards.

The latest appliance to cause major disgruntlement in Mick and Liesel’s luxury apartment is the kettle. Press a button and the lid opens so you can fill from the tap. Nope, not any more. You need three hands: one to hold the kettle, one to manually lift the lid and another to turn the tap on.

Good night, everyone, sleep well, don’t have nightmares.

Solstice

We were waiting in for the dishwasher repairman and for a phone call, so inevitably, both occurred within a few minutes of each other. A few days ago, Liesel asked what was that big crash? I’d heard no crash. We later discovered it was the dishwasher door opening violently, rather than gently as it’s meant to. After making and receiving nine phone calls, speaking to at least five different operatives at three separate but related companies, I made an appointment. A text message confirmed the appointment for one day. Later, an email confirmed an appointment for a different day. British customer service at its best.

Anyway, the bloke turned up, we think his nickname was Grumpy, but he fixed the door and disappeared.

Meanwhile, I received my phone call about which, more later. In between times, it was an administrative, busy kind of day: bins (taking out), blog (writing), bread (baking and eating), bills (paying), books (reading) and breastplate (polishing).

dan and lou treehouse
The Treehouse with Dan and Peps

Before I got out of bed the following morning, I listened to the latest Treehouse Podcast, presented by Danny Baker and Lou Pepper. The story I’d related on the phone yesterday didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, after all, but I still don’t really enjoy hearing my own voice on this sort of thing. It’s a very entertaining podcast, and we would recommend subscribing!

It’s a busy time of year, of course, the lead-up to Christmas, but that didn’t prevent Jenny and Liam from going out to a wedding party. Liesel and I looked after William and Martha, watching some TV, reading some stories and finally, taking them to bed. We kept the volume low while watching Casino Royale and listening out for noise from upstairs. But they were good as gold and, next morning, Martha asked for Oma rather than Mummy, which is nice, but of course, we wern’t there!

Liesel’s so clever. She has been putting the new sewing machine to good use, making bags for Christmas presents, so we don’t need single-use wrapping paper, and she’s made some fun items for William and Martha for Christmas. Shh, don’t tell them.

In the afternoon, we walked to the West Didsbury Makers Market, and what a pleasant walk it was, too. We stayed away from busy roads as much as possible, and walked by the river instead. It was the day of the Winter Solstice, so the Sun was low and weak but it didn’t feel cold outside.

Short day, long shadows

It was a bit disconcerting when, for a moment, we thought we’d teleported to Kent. Is the M20 a Kentish motorway or a motorway of Kent?

M20 West

But no, not really, we found the market easily. This is the market where Liesel bought an armchair last time. On this occasion, we confined our purchases to cheese, a Christmas cactus, coffee and samosas.

We saw more people by the river on the way back, some with dogs, some with out-of-control dogs that jumped in the water. I muttered at the mutts, don’t you dare shake over me! But here’s a nice picture of us by the Mersey.

Selfie of the day

We passed by the old Tatton Arms pub, in Northenden, which is still boarded up closing down in 2008. It’s a great location, right by the river, and probably was a nice looking building, but what a shame it’s not open for business.

The tatty Tatton Arms pub sign
It just needs a bit of TLC

We thought be might see a pretty sunset over the river, but that was not to be. Instead, the last glimpse of the Sun was behind some not very photogenic houses. But, after the Solstice, we can look forward to the days now getting longer again.

The biggest splashes of colour were to be found, of course, in John Lewis. We only went for some ribbon, for one of Liesel’s projects, but somehow we had breakfast there too.

Lots of colour in this corner of John Lewis

Jenny had taken the children out for some last-minute shopping too and we offered to look after them for a couple of hours if she needed some time to hereself. She did. While waiting for them to return, I went for a quick walk around Jenny’s neighbourhood and was delighted to see how seasonal the place was. Holly and ivy both trying to hide, but I found them.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We took Martha and William home where they played well, ate well and even bathed well. Most water stayed in the bath, always a bonus.

Martha watering William to help him grow

While they were here, our doorbell rang. We weren’t expecting anyone, but guess what? A second engineer had come to fix our dishwasher. We had to let him in to take a picture of the offending item, to prove that he’d been, but what a waste of his time. It was only three days since the other bloke fixed it and, so far, the repair’s still holding up. I wonder if I’ll be invited to take part in a customer satisfaction survey on this occasion?

Before taking them home, we showed the children the marquee over the road, with its snowmen and railway and snowglobes and reindeer. They both quickly fell asleep in the car on the way back home!

And here we are on Christmas Eve. Liesel’s been in the kitchen, baking, while I’ve been staying out of her way. I went to the shop to buy some last-minute ingredients, and unexpectedly, there were more staff members than shoppers. I opened the microphone on my device here, so, as you read this, you should be able to detect the gorgeous aroma of cinnamon.

Cinnamon rolls (pre-icing)

My soundtrack has been some delightful choral Christmas music which is on BBC Sounds for another 6 days only, but it’s very relaxing and Christmassy.
Liesel and I wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas, lots of love and best wishes. And a million thanks for coming by and sharing our antics!