Four Shops in One Day

The second most repeated comment (after “We have a lot of stuff”) in our luxury apartment is “Oh, what a surprise, it’s still raining”. There has indeed been a lot of rain recently. Many floods in Yorkshire and beyond, some places receiving a month’s rainfall in one day. This amount of rain cannot be good for anybody’s garden, which is how we used to justify the odd shower. But it’s hard to look positively on 6 days out of 7 of continuous rain. Neither of us want to go out when it’s raining that much, and this has a knock-on effect. Over the weeks, we’ve both felt a bit crook: headaches, lethargy and the desire to hibernate.

I had some errands to run so imagine my delight when I was able to walk to the GP practice in the sunshine. It was cold but the heat of the Sun and seeing blue skies really do lift the spirits.

So I continued walking and ended up in Heald Green, another little place we’ve ignored until now.

The pharmacist processed my prescription while I walked over the road to conduct some business at a rare branch of Lloyds Bank.

The pharmacist gave me my drugs and in the same tone of voice as if asking whether I’d like a cup of tea, he asked if I wanted a flu jab. Now? Here and now? Yes, it’s free, on the NHS. As a pharmacist, we won’t overcharge the NHS for providing this service. Actually, he didn’t say that last bit. OK then, I said. Last year, I had no reaction so I thought I’d be ok this time too.

I was going to walk all the way to Jenny’s house but me and a bus reached a bus stop at the same moment, so I cheated, and caught the bus. Please don’t tell anybody. But, not knowing the area all that well, I managed to overshoot my stop, so I probably walked the same distance in the end, just in a different direction.

Liam was out for the evening so he missed a wonderful Indian meal.

The fab four: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

I reached for a spoon and wham, suddenly my left arm, victim of the flu jab, experienced a bolt of electricity. Keep it moving, was the consensual advice. I did.

Next day, I felt cold and shivery. Not proper flu, but very unpleasant nonetheless. Helen came round briefly to say goodbye: our plans for meeting up with everyone for brunch were, sadly, cancelled. Too many of us not feeling too well.

My very welcome twelve hours sleep meant that I missed Helen’s early departure. And again, for reasons of less than optimal health, we didn’t go and watch Martha swimming. Poor old William and his ailment stopped him from going at all.

But the children and their parents are currently enjoying a break at Center Parcs., leaving us, Darby and Joan, at home to make our own entertainment.

We’ve been to our local Ikea a few times, but it still surprises me as we approach, how garish the big blue and yellow sign outside is. “There it is!” I exclaim, as excited as when we first see the sea on the way to the beach. I know I’ll get a couple of miles walking in at Ikea, so it has its uses.

Help is available

It’s a nice, helpful place, but I don’t know why they have co-workers rather than plain ordinary workers.

We pounded the aisles, bought some stuff for ourselves and for Jenny, ignored all the shortcuts and had a coffee halfway round.

I do like the made-up Swedish names for everything. There is no way you can tell from the name itself what the item is.

S T U V

I found this item interesting because it contains four consecutive letters of the alphabet in the correct order, and that’s quite unusual. But most disappointing was finding out that the toilet brush named Farage does not really exist. This well-named item turns out to be an internet joke. Oh well.

Yes, I’m at Ikea, of course I’d rather be at home

I do like a rhetorical question, don’t you? Even if they did leave out the question mark.

This sign has been reported to the Society for the Preservation of the Correctly Placed Apostrophe

Not too far from this branch of Ikea is a branch of Costco. This once was Liesel’s favourite shopping experience after she moved here to the UK from sunny Anchorage, Alaska. A little bit of America in England. I didn’t walk quite as far here as I had in Ikea, but every little helps, as one supermarket claims.

Costco sells everything form ink cartridges to car tyres, from gateaux to gates. Today, we were on the lookout for a sewing machine. Liesel’s wanted one for a while and during her recent trip home, she used her Mom’s machine and now she has the bug for sewage. Sewing, I mean, damn you, autocorrect.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have any on display, but we did find everything else we needed, including more Kleenex, a vital resource given the nature of our current ailments. It amazes me how much stuff some people buy, two or three trolleys full, in some cases.

After pounding these aisles and paying for the purchases, it was time to eat. The slowest moving queue in the world merely enhanced ones appetite. My slice of five-cheese pizza was ok, but I think I exceeded my recommended daily allowance of grease. I needed more than one hot coffee to displace the fatberg from my mouth.

Sew, next stop, John Lewis. Here, we found the ideal sewing machine and I forced myself to drink another hot coffee, purely for oral-cavity-cleansing purposes.

By far the majority of today’s nominal 10,000 steps took place indoors. It was not a good day to go for a walk outside. The rain continues, and for such a rain-soaked part of the country, it still amazes me how bad the drainage is. If the representative from Guinness World Records were here today, not only would the slowest moving queue have been recorded, but also the largest, deepest puddles, spead over the most lanes on a main road. Not to mention the most people in a queue at a bus stop being splashed by someone driving at speed through such a lake.

The final destination was The Futon Shop in Manchester. We recently ordered a new cover for our futon and came to collect it. Oops, too early. Read the email properly, doofus, they said, and come back in three days time. We will, of course, but to hide our embarrassment, I took some pictures of an attractive rocking chair that would match our futon, if it fits in the living room.

Rocking chair

Four shops in one day: not unusual in itself but this is as exciting as the week was to get.

I decided to make a sandwich for myself, with the jam we’d bought from Ikea. Imagine my disappointment on opening the jar to find a few strawberries, a packet of sugar and a sachet of pectin, complete with really good, explicit instructions. Ikea. Maybe I should have asked for help.

Four Generations in One Day

We now live quite close to the Peak District yet we have spent very little time there. We drove to Knockerdown Farm Cottages to meet up with Jenny, Liam, Martha and William. The views on the drive would have been better without the fog, but even so, it was a very pretty drive. It was the fog that often occurs after a night of heavy firework activity.

The view from Knockerdownaa

We had a good time, wandering around the premises. We enjoyed crêpes, the children enjoyed walking through gates, finding the TV remote controls. William fell out of a wardrobe: a long story, but the footage is well worth £250 from You’ve Been Framed, we think.

(Appy-polly-loggies if the picture appears sideways on your device, but the video should play ok.)

Martha had a go at table tennis and managed to hit the ball back a few times.There were some traditional, wooden children’s games too which were good fun.

Traditional wooden games

Liesel and I looked after William and Martha while their parents did whatever they were doing, and we said we’d provide alibis, if necessary.

Carsington Water, the 9th largest reservoir in England, is just along the road. Time for lunch and lots of fun in the water. No, not the water, the playground.

Martha swinging

On another occasion, we’ll probably go for a longer walk, maybe even take a boat out.

After a few days in Somerset and Surrey, Helen drove back and she and I met up for a coffee/tea and a nice chat. She went to collect Martha from nursery while I went to collect her granny, Myra (Sarah’s mother) from Stockport station. Myra’s credit card didn’t work in the machine at the hotel. She had used the card successfully earlier in the day. She wasn’t allowed to pay with cash as she had no driving licence nor passport. Her photo-id bus pass wasn’t acceptable. I couldn’t use my id to pay with Myra’s cash because it had a different address to that from the one given when the booking was made by Helen using Jenny’s address. In the end, I used my card. My phone buzzed telling me that payment had been taken. But Lisa behind the desk insisted that it hadn’t. Computer says no. She phoned tech support and someone else and in the end, called Jenny too. While this was going on, my phoned buzzed again: my card had been re-credited with the recent hotel payment. I tried again, payment made, payment received by the hotel, Myra received a key to her room, Lisa and I had a laugh about stupid technology. Because, of course, it was the computer that made up the stupid rule about not being allowed to pay by cash without id.

We had a big family meal round at Jenny’s: eight people in all, according to Martha’s accurate accounting.

Helen looked after William for his bonus swimming lesson the following morning, after which, everyone came round to ours for lunch. Well, all except Liam who was at work and Martha who was at nursery, so not really everyone at all, I don’t know why you said that, you’re just confusing the readers.

Helen and William in the pool

In the afternoon, we visited a local venue that we’ve driven by, and seen signs for, many times, always intending to visit one day: Bramall Hall, near Bramhall Park and yes, those are both correctly spelled.

We’ll have to visit the Hall another day as on this occasion, it would have been very difficult to lure William away from the muddy puddles.

William v muddy puddles

We went for a walk down to the river, where William had a good chat with the ducks.

Helen, Myra, William, Mick, four generations

Myra stayed for a second night at the hotel and on this occasion, she wasn’t locked in her room, so that’s a bonus! We all met up for coffee in John Lewis where we fully embraced the Christmas spirit. Both Martha and William enjoyed being let loose in the toy department, without being too disruptive.

Liesel and I escorted Myra to the railway station where, due to perfect planning, tip-top timing and a lot of luck, she only had to wait a couple of minutes for the train.

Liesel had ordered a bed for our spare room so that future guests won’t have to camp out on the floor, or use the futon in the living room. The mattress was delivered promptly but for the bed frame itself, we were given a delivery date of mid December, in six weeks time. So what a surprise when they sent a message to say that it would in fact be delivered the next day, between 9 and 11 in the morning. This meant moving lots of stuff out of the spare room, a task that we thought we could take our time over. But again, with perfect timing, we were able to be do this because we were at home on what would normally be our day of looking after William. Instead, Helen had a wonderful time with him.

Two strange men came in and made our bed for us. By which I mean they built our new, spare bed, taking about half an hour to do so. Liesel and I would have taken much longer and probably had bits left over.

The phrase uttered most frequently today was, “We have too much stuff” or variations on a theme. Despite getting rid of loads of stuff before we moved, here we are, still inundated with clutter.

I had lots of fun looking back through some of my old school books and university work.

Variable stars

Interesting to see that my handwriting in those days was neat and legible, much nicer than the scrawl I produce nowadays.

We also came across more paperwork from decades ago, including maps from my first trip to Australia in 1986.

Golden West

I felt a bit sad about recycling the old maps, but they’ll never be used again: technology has moved on and of course, the geography has changed. Some of the brochures had Sarah’s written notes too: I don’t know why this sort of thing is so emotionally hard to dispose of.

Meanwhile, Helen and William had a lot of fun. I think he wants to be a firefighter.

Fireman William

Nomovember

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a secret but I can now reveal that my beautiful daughter Helen is here in England all the way from sunny Manly. Manchester rain greeted her when she was reunited with her sister Jenny and niblings Martha and William at the airport. Helen brought some Tim Tams for us but no actual sunshine, blue skies or warmth. No, I’m not sure ‘nibling’ is a real word but it’s less clunky than saying ‘niece and nephew’ and has a parallel in ‘sibling’.

Liesel and I went to Jenny’s in the afternoon where we apologised to Helen for the atrocious weather and played with bubbles indoors, to Martha and William’s delight.

Auntie Helen and Martha

We stayed for supper and we even drunk some wine. That Helen is a bad influence. But she knows a thing or two about playing with Instagram, a skill we should all develop.

William and Auntie Helen

We missed the Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and New Zealand which possibly explains England’s wonderful victory: we didn’t jinx the team by our presence.

Martha and William had a larger than usual audience for their swimming lessons this week: Helen came too. Later in the afternoon, after I’d walked to Jenny’s house, we enjoyed looking at their artistic endeavours too.

A collage, a montage by Martha

Martha’s collage, made from 5p and 1p coins, morphed from a snowman into a polar bear.

Halloween is approaching and the Blood Donor Centre in Manchester was unusually spooky on this occasion.

Enter if you dare

The care staff were talking about the fancy dress party they’d be going to later and my attendant nurse was extolling the virtues of pumpkin pie. My blood flowed like a well-earned cup of tea, which is exactly what I had afterwards, along with too many biscuits.

Giving blood isn’t scary – and you never know when you might need it back

I said I’d meet Liesel at the Craft and Design Museum when I’d finished, a mere 23 minutes away from the Donor Centre by foot, according to Google Maps. I was therefore stunned and taken aback, not to say, immensely disgruntled when, well over halfway to my destination, and not wanting to overshoot, I checked Google Maps again and it told me I still had 20 minutes to go. So, not that I was feeling weak and feeble or anything, I called Liesel to apologise and we agreed to meet at home instead. In other bad news, my Fitbit battery had died. So all those thousands of steps today weren’t counted. In a coffee shop, I fought the blister pack and installed the new battery.

Break the ruling class

We (I mean Liesel) tidied up our flat so that we could accommodate our guests for a practice Thanksgiving meal. Nut roast, Yorkshire puddings, red cabbage, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce that William said was like jelly. Thanks for a fantastic meal, Liesel!

Martha used my PC to type her name. She also pressed other keys that turned the image on the screen upside down, a feature that I’d forgotten even existed!

Helen is here in the UK to surprise her friend Tracey who celebrates a major birthday this week. Helen drove to Somerset, Tracey was stunned into silence and they spent a day at the spa.

A man came by to take away some more of our packing boxes, thanks to Freegle, hooray! The flat is slowly, slowly becoming less clutterered. Still lots of boxes to process, though.

We took William to Chester Zoo again, and on the way, dropped some more stuff off at charity shops, hooray, hooray! We saw all the usual suspects at the zoo, and again, we commented on William’s world basically being an adventure playground.

A man high up in a tree

William weighed it up, but decided not to climb a tree, not even one with low branches that he found ‘in the forest’. Yes, of course he deviated from the carefully constructed path.

A very inviting arbour
William and a tree
Giraffes necking

William slept in the car on the way home again and I collected Martha from Nursery. While she removed the pulp and seeds from her Halloween pumpkin, William was happy to paint a picture of a pumpkin.

Proud Martha (right) with her pumpkin

Alan and Una came round as well and we dined together before Martha and William dressed up to go out Trick or Treating.

Speaking of ‘Treating’, I was hoping to treat the great British public to the wonderful sight of a brand new moustache. I started growing one early for Movember, the leading global organisation committed to changing the face of men’s health.

Well, Liesel didn’t like it so I thought I’d go for the best of three, and seek support from Jenny and Helen. They sided with Liesel. So I decided to go for the best of seven. Huh. I couldn’t even get Martha to lie that she liked the ‘tache. So, off it came, to Liesel’s delight. Given more time, it might have resembled that of a Sikh gentleman’s, or with some tweaking, a Hercule Poirot. No moustachioed Mick for Movember in this manor. Maybe next year.

Looking for people we know

We met our friend Helen in Surbiton for breakfast. I thought the lights were faulty in the restaurant but it was pointed out that buses stopping outside were blocking the sunlight. Obvious, really, no need to go on womansplaining, you two.

They took the bus into Kingston and I went for a walk to and beside the Thames. It was a good few degrees cooler by the river, I had to put my jacket on. Many people were messing about on the river, skiffs, yachts, dinghies, sailboards and I was surprised there were no collisions nor people overboard.

Sailing on the Thames

The sky and water and everything looked a bit grey and drab. The award for the most colourful restaurant today goes to the Thai Busaba near Kingston Bridge.

Busaba by the river

I walked as far as the bandstand in Canbury Gardens, before turning back to meet Liesel and Helen in the town centre. I think I’d given them enough time to do whatever shopping needed doing.

Bandstand in the Gardens

There was no music on this late October afternoon, but that is a main attraction during the warmer Summer months.

I watched a couple of guys playing tennis but they weren’t taking it too seriously. The man packing up his angling gear didn’t seem to have caught anything for his tea, but maybe sitting on a cold, lonely riverbank for a few hours was an end in itself.

There are some boats moored on the river in the town centre and as I returned, I passed by one that was belching smoke and stench direct from Hades.

Smoke on the water

I really wanted to put an upturned bucket over the chimney to force the culprits out. One of the first things Helen commented on when I met them, fortuitously outside T K Maxx, was the smell (from the boat) that had by now permeated the town. I took refuge in the Bentall Centre for a while where by comparison, even the smell from Yo! Sushi was acceptable. We all met up again in a café for coffee and cake: well, I’d had a reasonable walk from Surbiton.

We took Helen home to Chessington. And yes, of course we drove by our old house. The neighbours are building a loft extension and we are so glad we won’t have to put up with that!

Back at the b&b, we were relaxing, reading, listening to the radio, when my phone rang. That is very unusual. But it was the Rose Theatre. The other day, we’d tried to buy tickets for the show tonight, a jazz concert celebrating 60 years of Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. It was sold out so we put our names down for any returned tickets. And how lucky were we?

Back to Kingston then and to the Rose Theatre. I always look around to see if there’s anyone I know, and tonight I was delighted to find Stella and Ian. We agreed to meet after the show for a drink.

Before the performance though, I looked at the exhibited photos from the Canbury Camera Club and some of them were fantastic.

African paper wasp in Bontebok National Park

The music was fantastic, some well-known and some new (to me) tunes from 60 years at Ronnie’s. They also told the story of the club which I’ve only been to 2 or 3 times. The thought of it now still evokes thick smoke and cool dudes saying ‘nice’ a lot. Tonight at the Rose, though, we just enjoyed the music and the stories. The band was led by James Pearson, the club’s Artistic Director and Natalie Williams was the vocalist, even emulating Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing very faithfully.

Ronnie Scott’s All Stars in the Rose Theatre

Stella, Ian, Liesel and I walked along to The Druid’s Head, a pub that has certainly been cleaned up a lot since the last time I was there. We had a good chat and in my case, a welcome pint of Old Peculier.

The next couple of days include the long and uneventful drive back home, a walk to the Post Office and beyond, lots of tidying in the spare room, some writing and the usual end of month admin tasks (paying bills).

I did go for a longer walk one day, to Wythenshawe, to the Park and around in a big circle. It’s a pity we live so far from the nearest tram stop, it would be nice not to have to rely on buses all the time.

Bicycle storage at Benchill Tram Station
Hula-hoop up a tree

I do like a splash of colour and while the Autumn leaves are gorgeous, a blast of red from rosehips cheers up the place (and me).

Rosehips on a bush

Our car might have a couple of slow punctures, an issue that should be addressed imminently you’d think. But other than a couple of times having to add some air, they’ve been holding up. But when the time comes to get some new tyres for the car, I know exactly where we’ll be going. They sure know how to attract customers in this part of the world.

Free Jaffa Cake in your dreams

Oh, hang on, we don’t have a 4×4 or a prestige model so I guess we won’t be enjoying a free Jaffa Cake after all.

Grandchildren’s Day during the half-term break means we get both Martha and William to look after, hooray! We took them to The Hideaway in Partington, a nice softplay area and indoor playground.

William the Barista in the caff
Martha in the Happy Land

Yes, of course this reminded me of the old David Bowie song, There is a Happy Land and when I sent the lyrics to Janny and Henny, I was accused of being delirious. What a strange family.

There’s a ‘planetarium’ here too. Inside, Martha and I lay down on the floor to watch a series of films projected onto the hemispherical ceiling. Aimed at young children, I think some of the concepts were quite complicated: a space shuttle launch, all the planets, what causes the tides. Martha’s favourite planet is the one with the rings, Saturn, although she sometimes forgets its name.

William spent a lot of time climbing, and he’s not afraid of asking for help when he can’t quite manage!

We had a lovely dinner, again prepared by Liesel, including stuffed tomatoes.

Jenny told me that her boss also attended the Graphene lecture last week at the Royal Society. Not Lemn, but Dame Nancy Rothwell DBE DL FRS FMedSci FRSB FBPhS MAE, the President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester. I didn’t look that hard at the time, it was so unlikely I’d know anyone. But I would have said hello if I’d seen her there that evening: we go back a long way. She’s done very well since the days we were contemporaries at Queen Elizabeth College in London. Without consulting my old journals, I don’t know how often I would have stomped on her feet at the Sunday night discos in the student bar. Good old Nancy! Good times!

October and March in London

Two nights in a b&b not a stone’s throw away from the A3 was no problem. We’re still not sure whether we’re in New Malden or Tolworth or some no-man’s land in between. A perfect night’s sleep was only disturbed by encroachments onto the wrong side of the bed and the occasional walk to the facilities.

Liesel spent the day in Chessington and Surbiton with Dawn, then Helen, then Rosie. Beauty treatments (not that she needs any), coffee (always welcome), shopping (not sure that was necessary) And I wasn’t there to observe, participate nor spoil her enjoyment. Liesel got rid of me at Surbiton Station from where I took the train and spent the day in London, doing my own thing.

I walked from Vauxhall Station to Tate Britain to view the Mark Leckey exhibit. On the way, I resisted the urge to go and help the mudlark on on the beach by Vauxhall Bridge.

Mudlark

I think he had a metal detector and he was closely examining something of interest.

Elephants in Pimlico

At Tate Britain, I was delighted to spend time looking at the works of William Blake. His art and poetry have influenced generations, and whenever I’ve come across it, I’ve enjoyed his etchings, paintings and poetry.

There were far too many items on show here to take in, in one visit. But all his most famous works are here, and the captions explaining his work were just the right length. I was surprised and pleased that so many other people were here too, even if they did sometimes block the view: he’s a popular chap.

Blake’s 7 (and the rest)

Unusually for an artist of his time, at least he made a good living. And I think overall, he was a good, well-intentioned man.

While at the Royal Society last night, I looked out for a portrait or a statue of Sir Isaac Newton, but if there is one, it’s probably behind the scenes, away from the public gaze. However, here at the Tate, I did find William Blake’s painting of Newton doing trigonometry, as we all do, in the nude.

Newton, by William Blake

His book, Jerusalem, was on display, a long sequence of finely detailed pictures with very small, very hard-to-read, text.

I then found my way to Mark Leckey: O’ Magic Power of Bleakness. There were fewer people here, in a dark room, which was a lifesize replica of one section of a bridge under the M53, where he played as a child. I stood and sat in various places, near the wall, in the middle, on a seat. But the fast moving, old video footage, cut together in, to me, a random manner, just didn’t tell a story. I threw away all my old VHS tapes when they became unplayable. Maybe I should have spent time turning them into some incomprehensible form of art, too.

People watching old videos

I walked along Millbank towards Parliament Square, and as I got nearer to the Houses of Parliament, I noticed the increasing number of police officers. Some in pairs, some in larger groups, some standing outside buildings of interest, some looking like they’d rather be anywhere other than standing around in their hi-vis glory.

As usual, there are building works and there’s a long section where the now covered walkway has hemispherical mirrors installed on the ceiling. A perfect photo opp, I reckon.

Selfie of the day

College Green was full of tents and radio stations and TV cameras, plus a few police officers. Parliament Square was roped off, ‘to avoid damage’ to the grass. A very large police presence, but the only trouble-maker I saw was standing all alone, opposite the Houses of Parliament. He gave me a thumbs-up for taking his picture but I’ll save him from embarrassment here.

Everyone is corrupt

Whitehall itself is closed to traffic, probably because the XR crowd is occupying the road by Downing Street. There was some chanting, maybe only half-hearted because, as I wandered by, they were having their lunches.

Overhead, a helicopter provided the throbbing, monontonous soundtrack to my walk. I wonder how much CO₂ has been generated by police cars and vans and helicopters because of the perceived threat from Extinction Rebellion rebels?

There were more police in Trafalgar Square again but I didn’t see any in Leicester Square. So I started a riot in Leicester Square. No I didn’t.

I spent some time in the National Portrait Gallery, but again, I was unable to find the national portrait of myself. That would have been a much better selfie of the day. The blue cheese and salad ciabatta was nice but blimey O’Reilly, the onions were strong.

Over the road, I crept into the crypt of St Martin’s for a coffee. I was going to write there (I brought the keyboard) but in the end, I decided I would prefer to be out in the sunshine.

The crypt of St Martin’s

Liesel had sent a message that it was raining in Surbiton. My gloating was shortlived, though. By the time I emerged from the so-called ‘dead centre of London’, carefully avoiding the Christmas Shop, it was raining here, too. I walked through the subway to Charing Cross Station and, as I’d hoped, by the time I reached the Golden Jubilee Bridge, the rain had stopped and the Sun was out.

I did do some writing in the Royal Festival Hall while waiting for my evening entertainment. A few other gorgeous young people were here: typing, reading, working, making their coffees last as long as possible. I glared at the so-called assistant who tried to remove my cup while it was still half-full. Writing and watching people in London is a great way to pass the time.

Lemn Sissay is a wonderful poet and he was at Queen Elizabeth Hall to talk about his new autobiographical book, My Name is Why. It’s the story of his being brought up by foster parents. How does a government steal a child and then imprison him? How does it keep it a secret? He spoke about his experiences and was interviewed by Samira Ahmed. A fascinating story, a scary one.

Lemn Sissay and Samira Ahmed

As Chancellor of the University of Manchester, he is, in a way, my daughter Jenny’s boss. So I was very polite when I met him and bought his book afterwards.

Mick and Lemn

So, in the space of a week, I’ve shared space with a Poet Laureate, a Nobel Prize winner and a University Chancellor. I have undoubtedly inhaled some of their exhalations, so I hope I’ve absorbed some of their talent. So far, all I have is a bit of a sore throat.

You can never have enough of London, so the next day, I joined 999,999 other people in one of the largest marches ever, demanding a People’s Vote on whether we should leave the EU with the latest deal or to remain in the EU, after all. It was a good-natured protest and, in contrast with the last couple of days, I saw very few police officers on the route. As usual on these occasions, there were some very funny and some very clever placards and banners.

It’s called a march, but mostly is was a slow, slow dawdle, an amble, a shuffle, and every so often, I stopped or put on a faster-paced spurt. My lower back was very grateful. I wondered what would happen in Whitehall when we People’s Vote shufflers encountered the Extinction Rebellion protestors, but they must have been scared away.

The grass on Parliament Square will need some TLC now: the Keep Off signs were ignored today. On the screens, I watched Patrick Stewart and Sadiq Kahn give their speeches.

Sir Patrick Stewart OBE

I missed all the other politicians’ speeches as I tried to get away. Westminster Bridge was inaccessible, so I had to fight against the tide all the way back along Whitehall. I took advantage of those people with battering rams: buggies, wheelchairs and bicycles. That was the most uncomfortably claustrophobic I’ve ever felt for such a long period.

We will, we will Block you

Even the Golden Jubilee Bridge was packed today. I was glad to get back to Waterloo Station where, in the comfort of Carluccio’s, I met a most wonderful woman. Liesel had been along the South Bank to Tate Modern: she doesn’t like the slow pace of a protest march either, really.

But what a fabulous couple of days in London: it’s great being able to be this spontaneous.

The only disappointment is that, on the march, I didn’t meet the lady who’d accosted us in Didsbury last week. I did meet someone I haven’t spoken to for 20 years, though, almost to the day. Mark Ellen, writer, broadcaster, magazine editor and I last met at a meeting to discuss Saving GLR, the then threatened BBC radio station for London, and still, probably my favourite radio station of all time. He remembered the occasion, probably not me, and I was so taken aback so see and speak with him, I didn’t take a picture until he had walked away. And that photo is never going to see the light of day because it is so bad. You’ll just have to imagine Mick and Mark, bffs.

Puddles and Graphene

We have plans for later in the week, so we swapped our Grandchildren Day with Nana’s and Papa’s, the other grandparents.

After breakfast, we took William to Chester Zoo again.

Cartoon elephants, trunks and tails entwined

He always likes seeing the elephants and rhinos and giraffes but today, he particularly enjoyed the puddles. Walking through, running through, jumping in, gazing at and studying astutely.

William in a puddle

Autumn colours are beginning to appear, brightening up what might otherwise be a dull, grey season: fifty shades of grey clouds.

Autumn colours

We let William dictate the pace and the direction, most of the time. One distraction from the puddles was a well-placed rock which he is just a wee bit too small to climb, on this visit. But he tried. He also had a go at the equipment aimed at 4-year olds. We lift him on, he realises he can’t quite reach or manage, he asks for help and we lift him off again. It’s the only weight-lifting we do each week, no point in going to the gym, really.

I collected Martha from Nursery, making sure not to forget her bag like we did last time, d’oh! She told us about her day, in a very limited way. She didn’t say what it was, but I have a hunch she did have lunch as well as a mid-afternoon snack.

Manchester rain washed our windows overnight and in the morning, wished us well on our long drive south. It was the day of Nigel’s funeral and we left early. Don’t mind being late for my own funeral, but it’s just rude to be late for someone else’s.

We made good progress until, of course, traffic came to a halt on the M25 near Cobham. Literally, stopped: a complete standstill. All four lanes. Or was it five at that point? But we never found out why. Twenty minutes later, just as suddenly, we all started moving again. Weird.

To celebrate, we found a gang of eastern Europeans in Leatherhead, who hand-washed our filthy car, for a reasonable fee. They did a good job: so much so, that we no longer recognise our own vehicle in the car park.

We arrived at Randall’s Crematorium a bit early, as did many other people. We didn’t want want to crash the wrong person’s funeral, but, we didn’t see anyone we recognised loitering in the car park either. A lady came over eventually and asked if we were here for Nigel’s funeral. It turns out, she and Liesel have spoken on the phone in the past.

A quick service at the crematorium was followed by a longer memorial service at Christ Church, Epsom Common. We’ve driven, walked and cycled past this church many time over the years, but this was the first time we’d ventured inside.

Stained glass window at Christ Church, Epsom Common

And what a gorgeous church: the stained glass windows especially. The place was packed, a wonderful sight: Nigel was very much loved.

After the service here, we moved onto Leatherhead Golf Club: another place we’ve bypassed many times but never visited. We chatted with old friends Jan and Lucy and Peter for a while. Helen and her brother Stephen were being taken care of by the wider family

RIP Nigel, a wonderful generous, kind friend.

In the evening, Liesel and I dined at Riverside Vegetaria in Kingston. Ritchie, the owner was there and, as usual, asked after the girls, Jenny and Helen.

He told us that next month, the resaurant will be 30 years old. To celebrate, he’s offering a 30% discount on food. We hope to be back! Even if you’re not a veggie, you’ll find something here to whet your appetite! Highly recommended and award-winning restaurant. (We have not been paid for this advert.)

Sunset view over the River Thames from Riverside Vegetaria

We’re staying at an Airbnb located between New Malden and Tolworth, on the A3. Well, on the sliproad right next to the A3. An awkward b&b to drive to, but it’s OK, we can hear the traffic of course, but it’s not as intrusive as we feared. The only thing I didn’t like inside was the unpleasant smell that Liesel assured me was beef being cooked to death. Well, whatever it was, either those fumes or something else today caused my brain to generate some weird and wonderful dreams overnight. If only I could remember the plotlines.

Despite the light, early morning drizzle, we drove to Richmond Park hoping for a walk. But the precipitation persisted so persistently, I didn’t even bother to take a picture of the animals having their breakfast: a photo that would have been captioned ‘Rain, deer’.

And so to Surbiton, specifically to the Press Room for a coffee, and very nice coffee it is, too. The car park at Surbiton Station was full. Not a single parking space free. We took our custom and our car to Wimbledon instead where we caught the District Line train to Embankment. A long ride, yes, but perfect for reading a book on my Kindle with the new battery that I installed last week and which is still holding a good charge.

We walked up Villiers Street and on to Trafalgar Square. We were taken aback by the number of police officers standing around for no obvious reason: certainly any Extinction Rebellion protestors had moved on, with just a few Buddhists sitting on the stone stairs, saying their prayers.

We walked through the National Gallery, delighted to find Messengers, a new artwork by Bridget Riley, painted directly on the walls of the Annenburg Court.

Messengers, Bridget Riley, 2019

Several minutes’ study revealed no pattern to the dots, the messengers, the clouds, the angels. But it was a major achievement not to fall down the stairs while looking.

Part of the mosaic floor, similar to our landing at home

St James’s Park was also entertaining: squirrels running up visitors’ legs, young children feeding the ducks and gulls and being harrassed and harangued for more food, geese seeing how long they could hold their breath under water.

Geese in a puddle
View from St James’s Park

At least, on this occasion, we didn’t come across a heron with a duckling struggling in its throat. No need to see that again.

Heron

The pelicans were as content as usual, on their rocks, in the middle of the lake. I think they’re real, but we never see them eating or even fishing.

St James’s Park

We passed by the Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall, a stunning building with its Doric portico, statue of the classical goddess of wisdom, Athena and the bas-relief frieze, a copy of the Parthenon’s in Athens.

The Athenaeum Club

We found our way to The Royal Society, our venue for the evening’s entertainment.

Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace
King Charles II, founder of the Royal Society

One of the first online courses I took after retirement was about Graphene and other 2-Dimensional Materials. It was fascinating but very technical. It’s 15 years since Graphene was discovered and tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we attended a lecture given by one of its Nobel-prize winning discoverers, Konstantin (Kostya) Novoselov. I was very interested and Liesel was happy to have a kip, if the opportunity arose. In the end, I attended to the talk avidly while Liesel chatted with her friends on Whatsapp!

Professor Sir Konstantin Novoselov

Some of the slides were very detailed: far too much information to take on board in a few seconds. Interesting that as with most new materials, apparently, the first use is in sports equipment, tennis rackets, racing cars, bikes and boats for instance.

Schaffhausen Institute of Technology in Switzerland is the base for a lot of graphene based research. It’s close to the Rhein Falls, near the German border. One of its leaders, Serguei Beloussov (SB) also spoke tonight and he said the location of SIT was far more attractive than the University of Manchester, the home of our own National Graphene Institute, can’t think why!

Schaffhausen Institute of Technology
National Graphene Institute, University of Manchester

After the lecture, we walked back to Embankment, caught the tube back to Wimbledon and drove back to our b&b. Tonight’s odour wasn’t as offensive as last night’s, and it didn’t seep into our room, thank goodness.

Kerry, Naomi, Guy and Simon

This week’s good news is that Liesel has come home, hooray! The bad news is that I had to get up early in order to collect her from the airport. It was no hardship, really, and what a relief to fit the three large cases, weighing 150 pounds, into the car.

And what a wonderful, wet Manchester welcome for the traveller. It rained.

We went over to see Jenny, Martha and William in the afternoon. Martha is now spelling her name, phonetically, and Liesel was impressed at how William’s vocabulary has expanded during the six weeks she’s been away.

Jenny and Liam, with Martha’s and William’s help, will be making chocolate chip cookies for a long time: Liesel brought them back a lot of chocolate chips! Not 150 lbs, but the kitchen cupboard is groaning under the weight.

Pile of choc chips (with Martha for scale)

Walking around the dirty streets of Northenden is usually uneventful but one day this week, I should have been wearing a helmet cam. A sparrow hawk flew by me, throwing a pigeon into the window of Costa. The hawk performed an Immelmann manoeuvre, flew by my head again with its surprised yellow eyes lighting the way. Meanwhile, a bloke sitting outside the café, bent down, retrieved what I now saw was a half-a-pigeon and deposited the half-a-corpse into the bin. Very nonchalant, as if this were an everyday occurrence.

Later on, a helicopter flew overhead, and two fire engines blues-and-twos-ed by. A bit OTT, I thought, just for a dead pigeon.

Despite many requests, I haven’t persuaded Liesel to come for a walk with me, yet: I think the jetlag and general tiredness hasn’t quite worn off. Plus, she’s happier doing some yoga indoors, in the dry.

Liesel’s laptop goes to sleep very quickly, after just a couple of minutes of idleness. We thought maybe it’s overheating, so, wearing my electronics hat, I dismantled the computer in order to clean the fan. In the end, the fan wasn’t as mucky as we’d expected, no reason for it to stick.

Laptop innards, freshly cleaned

Only later, after going through all possibilities, did I find a second place where there’s an option to go to sleep after 5 minutes. After changing that, it now keeps going until you choose to turn it off. This is Windows 10 and we think this setting must have been introduced or changed during a recent upgrade: neither of us would have picked such a short idle period. But, the best news of all is that after putting the laptop back together, there were no bits left over.

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma is the somewhat lengthy title of Kerry Hudson’s first book which I can throughly recommend. As Naomi Frisby says, it has the best first line of a novel, ever, notwithstanding Charles Dickens’s “It was the best of times…”

And this evening, we enjoyed watching Naomi interviewing and chatting with Kerry, about the latter’s latest book, Lowborn. This Manchester Literature Festival event was, again, at the Central Library, so we took a bus into town.

Kerry Hudson and Naomi Frisby

It was a fascinating discussion, and quite moving.

Grandchildren Day arrived and for the first time in a while, we both looked after William all day. The conversation can be quite intellectual at times.

L: Is there a monkey in the bed?

M: There’s a fox and a penguin.

We are referring to William’s sleeping companions, in case you didn’t realise.

Later on, I heard myself say ‘Oh no, Rapunzel fell on the floor.’ The doll rolled off the sofa when I was making myself comfortable.

We took William for a walk to Waitrose. It wasn’t cold out but the best of Summer really has deserted us, now. He was happy with his babyccino but the barista was very generous with the chocolate sprinkles. The green frog biscuit looked attractive but the main ingredient seemed to be granite, his little teeth barely managed to nibble off some small chunks. He much preferred Grandad’s and Oma’s biscuits, shortbread.

William with a very hard biscuit

Later, in the park, he watched in awe as the squirrels ran up the trees, but he didn’t attempt to follow on this occasion.

After waking from his nap, he helped Oma make a cake. And after collecting Martha from nursery, she helped decorate the cake.

Liam, Martha and the cake

Oma enjoyed blowing out the three candles, very far short of her actual age, and the cake was delicious.

William, Mummy and Daddy

We’re getting back into our old routine, and this usually means a jaunt into Didsbury on a Saturday morning. So that’s what we did. And who knew people in Didsbury were so political?

Homes for people, not for profit

Not only is there a banner outside potential residential accommodation, but we were accosted by a lady inviting us to join the anti-brexit march in London next weekend. We were pleased to tell her that we’d already planned to be there.

Following my success earlier in the week with Liesel’s laptop, I donned the techy hat again and dismantled my Kindle. It used to keep charge for at least a couple of weeks, but this period has slowly been getting shorter. This week, I was charging it every day. I installed a new battery and I’m delighted to say, so far, touch wood, it’s still working ok. Never have I seen so many small screws in one device: 14 of them, each no more than a millimetre in length. Again, no bits left over afterwards!

The River Mersey was flowing fast again and one of the local golf courses was slightly waterlogged.

The world’s first Water Golf course

There were a couple of signs warning of floods, and sure enough, part of the road was wet and muddy, but not flooded enough, today, to justify turning back.

Mud on the road

Liesel and I went to see both children swimming. The highlight was, near the end of her lesson, when Liam threw Martha at Kirsty, the teacher, and she threw her back.

The part of the sparrow hawk is played by Liam, the part of the half-a-pigeon is played by Martha, the part of Costa’s window is played by the surface of the water

I walked part of the way home and despite my expectations, it stayed dry!

The afternoon was spent at home, listening to the radio: something old and something new. Amy Lamé played the whole of The Clash’s London Calling album, warts, naughty words and all.

In the evening, our next Manchester Literature Festival event was Guy Garvey with poet laureate Simon Armitage in conversation with Katie Popperwell. Delighted to say that Jenny came with us.

Katie, Guy, Guy and Simon

The lead singer from Elbow and the Poet Laureate are friends in real life, and the evening’s discussion was full of laughter, wisdom, modesty, camaraderie, warmth, truth, generosity and so much love, as someone tweeted.

Simon Armitage and Mick

Yes, I bought the new book.