Cathy, Emmeline and Maria

My plans for Monday* changed when I was asked to look after William for a couple of hours: a bonus Grandchildren Day. Jenny took Martha to a softplay venue and dropped William off at my place. I took him to the nearby playground since it was a dry, sporadically sunny day. Lots of slides and swings and climbing walls all made especially for little people, but he preferred to climb the actual rocks. He only asked for help once.

William, King of the Castle

*To be honest, I didn’t have any significant plans for Monday.

William enjoyed collecting the conkers and throwing them into the ‘bushes’, mainly nettles. I warned him not to touch the nettles but he did once by mistake and said it was sharp, which I thought was quite perspicacious for a 22-month old.

There wasn’t a lot of wildlife around but he did acquire a new pet. He called it a bee, but it’s only a fly and I was glad it wasn’t a stinging or biting kind of fly.

William and a fly

I pushed him back home, in the buggy of course, and we went really, really fast, just like all the local traffic, but it wasn’t us that crashed into this bus stop, officer, honest.

A slightly damaged bus stop

I’ll add that picture to my collection of bent lampposts and walls and fences and bollards from Chessington.

The official Grandchildren day arrived with a very low temperature. I even dug out some long trousers. What I didn’t expect though was having to scrape ice off the car windscreen. I didn’t think it would be that cold, yet.

William and I didn’t go out today, due to long naps, hide and seek, reading books and watching Kung Fu Panda again. I never thought I’d watch a film more often than I’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey but I guess grandchildren have the power to change many things.

We had a chat with Auntie Helen on FaceTime. Helen shared her supper with William: aubergines, tomatoes and pasta and he played along beautifully.

William and Auntie Helen

We collected Martha from nursery, just a 10 minute walk away. I thought William might ask to be let out of the buggy, but no, he stayed in it all the way there and back. I took Martha’s scooter and she scootered home, never getting too far ahead. She was in a fantastic mood, very happy and very chatty, but shy about telling us what shenanigans she’d been up to all day. Pizza, chips and beans for lunch, apparently. I’m going to join her next week.

She wanted to change out of her uniform, into a dress. As requested, I took seven dresses out of her wardrobe so she could pick one. She chose number eight.

Meanwhile, way over there in Alaska, Liesel has started packing for the long trip home. We’d spent 10 months travelling with less than 20 pounds of luggage each. She is bringing back over 150 pounds of stuff, 3 really heavy bags. It’s too late to install a lift in our block of flats, sadly.

Between packing and working, Liesel has been able to go for walks with Una and Monica, and the Autumn colours are just as gorgeous as they were a year ago.

Blue skies and Autumnal colours in Anchorage

I think Liesel will be home before the snow descends onto Anchorage for which she is very grateful.

Manchester Literature Festival is now on. Liesel missed the first event we’d booked, being, at that very hour, enjoying a 7-hour layover in Chicago.

Cathy Newman has written a book called Bloody Brilliant Women, about the women who we don’t learn about at school, who weren’t given credit for their achievements. She was interviewed by Alex Clark at Manchester Central Library. And even though it was re-tweeted by Cathy herself, nobody took up my offer of the spare (Liesel’s) ticket.

Cathy Newman and Alex Clark

There was of course a lot of talk about feminism and equality and sexism but actually, I must just point out that, in this photo, despite the apparent posture, I am not mansplaining anything.

Mick and new bff Cathy

Afterwards, I passed by our old mate Emmeline Pankhurst again.

Emmeline Pankhurst

I think I’m getting to know my way around Manchester but for some reason, I seem incapable of finding the right bus stop when I’m coming home. I walk a long way in the wrong direction and, too late, I realise, if I’d turned left instead of right at a certain point, I could have saved a lot of shoe leather, or whatever the bottom of my trainers is.

I was enjoying Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein on the bus when a lady sat next to me, despite there being many empty double seats. Uh-oh, I thought, here’s trouble. I tried not to inhale too many of her ethanolic exhalations. I think I said yes and no and generally agreed with her at the right times. Yes, I too like a drink from time to time. I like Scotland too, and Ireland. Haven’t really been to Wales though. Yes, it is Sunday. Her name was Maria, she showed me her Scottish bus pass. She likes a drink but she tries not to have more than a couple of vodkas a day. I didn’t ask whether she meant a couple of bottles. Then the clincher, the moment I’d been waiting for. Could I lend her a few quid, she gets paid tomorrow, just to tide her over? I felt bad for declining the invitation but as I was now within two stops of home, I made a move to get off the bus and to enjoy some fresh air. I say fresh air: just the normal combinations of traffic fumes, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, but at least I no longer felt at risk of spontaneous combustion.

Just one more sleep until I go to the airport to pick Liesel up with her 150 pounds of luggage. I guess if the aeroplanes were able to take off with all that extra weight, our car should survive, even if it groans under the unusual load.

Buxton

Two more days this week looking after little William. It’s challenging at times, yes, but he’s a lovely little chap and a delight to spend time with. Martha’s at nursery now three full days a week which is great, but she comes home very tired.

William loves the zoo and this time, I let him off the leash, let him go wherever he wanted and I just tried to keep up with the buggy. Not a real leash, that wouldn’t be very nice, he’s not a dog. But it’s so liberating not having to say “no, this way” over and over again. The monorail is now out of operation, but William was more disappointed that the dinosaurs are no longer on show. So, overall, a little less scary for this Grandad.

William with a duck

The exotic animals are all out of reach of course, but William enjoyed making friends with the ducks. By ‘making friends’, I mean, chasing round a bit and then expressing surprise when they took flight.

He briefly got his leg stuck in a fence so I’m now looking forward to the day he gets his head stuck in some railings.

William on an elephant

His language acquisition is coming on leaps and bounds. He was slightly confused by the fact that both elephants and trees have trunks, though. I didn’t dare tell him that I too have trunks, for swimming in. And other people keep their luggage in trunks.

Then, at the end of the day, after dinner, unprompted, as we were saying goodbye, he said to me “Thank you for coming over” and I think we all went a little bit.

Our second day out was to Brookside Garden Centre but this has nothing to do with the only soap that I’ve watched and enjoyed on TV.

William on a train

We had a ride on the miniature railway but he was really taken by the shop, full of Thomas the Tank Engine models and books. I say taken, because he literally took one book outside, “to read on the train” so of course I had to pay for it before he was arrested for shoplifting.

There were only little fishes in the aquarium, but the coins in the wishing well caught his attention too. We played hide and seek in and around the willow tree.

And again, at the end of the day, I was thanked for my services.

Liesel has missed out on all this fun but, on the other hand, she has been celebrating a significant birthday in Alaska with family and friends.

Last time I went to Buxton, I cycled from Reddish and took the train back. This time, I drove, mainly because I would be coming back home very late at night. The Peak District is very pretty but I found nowhere to stop on the way to have a good look.

Pavilion Gardens with some Peaks in the background

I went into the tropical pavilion and when my glasses demisted, I could admire the tropical plants, ferns and a spider plant nearly as big as the one we had growing on our landing and down the stairs in Chessington.

I like Buxton but it’s a hilly place: I’d forgotten just how hilly. The Slopes is a green space, with slopes, yes, but with stairs too and very wlcome park benches spread liberally around.

The ceiling in Cavendish Arcade

I did find a fantastic place to eat, vegetarian and vegan food at The Herb Garden, just off the main road. Highly recommended!

The Herb Garden in Hardwick Street

Many years ago, Liesel and I were on a cycling holiday in the Peaks: we stayed at a b&b in Buxton. One day, we cycled, via Eyam, to Bakewell. We had been misinformed at the Tourist Information place: our plan was to catch a bus back to Buxton, with the bikes on a rack on the front. Only no such buses exist. So, late in the afternoon, we realised we’d have to ride back to Buxton, in a hurry, as we had a show to see at the Opera House. Riding along the A6 as it gets dark with fast moving traffic is not fun. Liesel threw her bike into the bushes at one point, saying “never again”.

Back in Buxton, we dropped the bikes off at the b&b, walked and ran to the Opera House and I think we had a bag of crisps for supper.

The concert was a Pink Floyd tribute band and while I enjoyed the music, I would prefer to have arrived in a better state, physically and mentally. Happy days, as they say!

Well, two things happened today and I’m not entirely sure they’re unrelated. First, Liesel has opted to stay a little longer in Alaska while the opportunity for work presents itself. Second, I found this poster in Buxton.

The Floyd Effect: Wall Around the Moon

I have a theory that Liesel just doesn’t want a repeat of the Pink Floyd Tribute act at Buxton Opera House incident: it would just bring back too many bad memories!

On the other hand, I now have an extra few days in which to tidy up our luxury apartment before she comes home.

I spent an interesting couple of hours at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. Many of the exhibits celebrate the wider Peak District, the geology, the history. At one point, Derbyshire was hundreds of metres below sea level, south of the equator. Plenty of fossilised sea creatures to be found in the Peaks, if you know where to look.

Selfie of the day with the popular Buxton Bear behind
Reflections by Steve Gresty

The photos by Steve Gresty of a limestone quarry are very unusual and, for me, another prompt that I really should use my real camera more often. “Limescape – The Shrouded Aersthetic” is the name of the exhibition, and visitors to Buxton are hereby encouraged to visit.

97 days until Christmas so let’s get the cards out

Spring Gardens is pedestrianised, very quiet and pleasant and full of charity shops. I recognised the figure walking towards me. “Steve?” I tentatively suggested. He stopped and confirmed it was he. Steve Delaney, the alter ego of Count Arthur Strong. I said I was seeing his show this evening at the Opera House and he said he hoped I’d enjoy it. I didn’t ask for his autograph nor a photo. But then, he didn’t ask for mine either, so we’re quits.

A new building but they’ve forgotten windows
The Sun setting behind Buxton Opera House
Why did the goose cross the miniature railway track?
Get your bike serviced here especially if you don’t need the rear wheel back

All this wandering around aimlessly and I suddenly realised that my bag had spontaneously become disorganised. All I needed was a nice space to spread out and rearrange the contents. Huh.

No sitting and rearranging your bags

The Crescent is a beautiful area, currently being refurbished and we might just go and buy one of the 80 apartments up for sale, even if they have put too many zeroes on the price tag by mistake.

The Crescent
Fill your bottles with pristine Buxton’s natural mineral water here, St Ann’s Well

And so it came to pass, I found my way back to Buxton Opera House for this evening’s performance of Count Arthur Strong‘s one-man show “Is there anybody out there?” By coincidence, this is also the title of a Pink Floyd song. It’s almost as if there is somebody out there putting this all together in some weird and wonderful way.

Buxton Opera House’s very ornate ceiling

No spoilers here, but the Count is a genius, an absolute star, very funny and the show includes, at no extra cost, a couple of wonderful tributes to those we have loved and lost. Science and music, a wonderful combination.

I met Steve again after the show for a quick chat and, of course, a photo opp.

Mick and Steve Delaney

The drive home was ok, I was surprised at how little traffic there was.

While Liesel’s been away working hard and having fun in Anchorage, I’ve been catching up on a couple of TV series that we missed because we were travelling. I saw the Tweets at the time about Line of Duty, mainly saying ‘wow’ so I’m glad to finally be catching up on that. And yes, with one episode to go, absolutely, wow.

But the one I’ve been looking forward to most is Doctor Who, the first series with Jodie Whittaker. Last year in Alaska, I got up early on a Sunday morning to watch the first episode which was, I believe, broadcast at exactly the same time across the universe. I’m limiting myself to one episode a day otherwise, as my Mum would say, I’ll get square eyes.

Appropriately, twice this week, I’ve encountered Whovian artefacts in real life, which is terrific.

Tardis in the aquarium at Brookside Garden Centre
Washing basket Dalek scarecrow: the theme for 2019’s dressed wells was ‘Space, Science and Sci-fi’

It’s the weekend of the Autumnal Equinox. Here in Manchester, we have some typical Mancunian rain although it’s still pleasantly warm. Meanwhile, over there in Alaska, the snow level is slowly moving down the mountains. “Termination dust”, it’s called, a sign that Summer is over. It looks as though Liesel might experience snow in the city before she comes home.

Termination Dust on Chugach Mountains

Martha and William excelled at swimming again this morning: it’s quite nice hearing William yell “Grandad” from the pool in such an echo-y space!

Not tired of London

After a day babysitting, it’s advisable to have a good night’s sleep and maybe a lie-in. This is exactly why I booked an early train to London. The real reason was the relatively cheap fare, of course. The bus that took me to Gatley Station carries on to Stockport. I could have done that and joined the train there rather than riding all the way into Manchester Piccadilly. Oh well, we’re still new here and still learning the ropes.

It made sense to go straight to my Airbnb in Kingston to drop off my heavy bag. Not that heavy, but no need to lug it around more than necessary. It was a relatively cheap b&b too, so a relatively cheap weekend away altogether!

The Fighting Cocks in Kingston, where we saw Tom Hingley and the Lovers play a few years ago
Out of Order, by David Mach, refurbished by him in April 2019, so it still looks sparkly and new

First on the list was to revisit the Press Room Café in Surbiton which was closed last time. Delighted to see it’s now reopened, and equally good to see the staff haven’t all been replaced or refurbished too drastically. The coffee was very welcome but, again, I chickened out of ringing the bell, by the door, on the way out to tell them so.

Press Room newly refurbed and open for business

After sitting on buses and trains most of the day, it was liberating to go for a walk, now. So, I set my controls for the River Thames.

As I joined the riverside path into Kingston, I was accosted by a very nice lady. She’d walked from Kingston and was disappointed that the path deviated from the river at this point. She was hoping to get to Hampton Court. I explained that she was on the wrong side of the river. We walked into Kingston together, swapping stories about our families. Hers involves India and Birmingham and the recent sudden death of her husband. Her name’s G’day but I’m pretty sure it’s not spelled that way.

Within a swan’s wingspan of Kingston Bridge, we shook hands and bade farewell, she turned round to walk back towards Surbiton.

Swanning about on the river

I visited John Lewis where, as I passed through the TV department, two partners asked if they could help. I didn’t say that I was only there to use the facilities. Which, in the end were closed, so I had to visit the Bentall Centre too.

There’s a new cinema complex coming to the Bentall Centre and this crane is doing the heavy lifting
Butterflies in the Eden Centre

I was taking this picture of the butterflies when an (even more than me) elderly gent said I should have been here when all the umbrellas were up there. Oh, when was that? A few months ago, he said. I didn’t tell him I’d seen such displays of brollies in more exotic locations than Kingston’s Eden Centre, but that didn’t matter, as he’d already shuffled away.

Surbiton’s iconic art deco station frontage

As planned, I met Helen and Steve at the Allegro café in Surbiton. The owner wasn’t in tonight so we didn’t have to explain our recent, long absences. Pizzas all round and I had a Peroni for a change. It’s always good to catch up with old friends, and some of us are really old, now, with frequent reminders of our own mortality.

Back at the b&b, I met my host, Jenny, and her young daughter whose name wasn’t Ermintrude, nor Peppa, nor Jehosophat, nor Pickle, nor anything else I suggested.

In the morning, as invited, I helped myself to breakfast before catching the bus to Chessington.

While all this was going on, Liesel was buying shoes in Anchorage so I think I win that one. On the other hand, daughter Helen was at the Intercontinental Resort Hayman Island, in the Whitsundays, and I have to say, the photos are stunning, so either it really is a gorgeous location or they have the best Photoshoppers in town!

Helen having a whale of a time on Hayman Island

With perfect timing, I hopped off the bus in Chessington and bumped into Michael the postman, who hasn’t aged more than about 22 years since I last saw him 18 months ago (only kidding). I thanked him again for continuing to forward mail that is still sent to our old Chessington address, although it is now a mere trickle, a rare drib and drab.

Peter and Janet can no longer easily tend their own garden but their neighbours are very kind, helping to keep the weeds under control and the grass cut. Peter invited me to join them for lunch which was kind: they usually go out for lunch these days and while the meals may feel boring and repetitive, having a reason to leave the house has to be a good thing.

We dined at Las Iguanas which has a menu of meals from south America, both meaty and veggie. I had an Argentinian beer, Rothhammer Real Golden Ale which was very acceptable.

We walked towards the station and I left them shopping at Waitrose while I took the train into London. I changed at Clapham Junction, catching an Overground train to Shadwell, somewhere I’ve not been, I think, for 40 years.

Clapham Junction

I walked to Gallery 46 to see an exhibition The Most Powerful Woman in the Universe, celebrated in blood, hairiness and art.

The artwork was variously funny, thought-provoking and just a little intimidating, although this may be because I was the only visitor at the time. It was a pleasure to meet the organiser, curator, whatever, Kelly.

Eve and Eve by Nancy Fouts
Madonna with Safeway Bags, by Nancy Fouts

My best buddy(!) Salena Godden, who I met on a march last year, is here on video, reciting her poem, Red. It is worth watching, here.

The gallery is close to the Royal London Hospital, where Sarah trained and worked for over a year back in the late 1970s. I found her old residence, but the statue of Edith Cavell wasn’t to be seen: I wonder if I just misremembered? Maybe I was thinking of this royal personage

Queen Alexandra

There is a blue plaque for Edith Cavell on Whitechapel High Street, but it’s currently hidden behind the hoarding surrounding the building works.

A Lone Protester but I think he was on his way home from a big protest in central London

Whitechapel Market is just as busy and colourful as I remember: the fruit and veg displays are a work of art and the clothing is so much brighter than typical western offerings.

Whitechapel Market
Muslim clothing shop in a former pub

Looking west, the skyline has certainly changed over the years: you can see The Gherkin and many other new buildings. I thought about walking in that direction, but a bus came along and forced me to climb aboard.

Looking west

Sight-seeing from a London bus is one of my favourite things: I just have to remember to get off somewhere useful. This time, I ended up near Tottenham Court Road, from where I walked to Waterloo.

Stretch limo near Soho Square, attempting a 3-point turn
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – one day, we’ll get tickets, one day
London is open but this fountain in Trafalgar Square certainly isn’t
St Martin-in-the-Fields in the Sun
London Eye and the Moon viewed from Jubilee Bridge
Waterloo Sunset viewed from the Royal Festival Hall terrace
Charlotte Campbell performing Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ at Waterloo

Me and my aching feet went straight to bed and I read about half a page of my book before drifting off.

After breakfast, I started walking towards Chessington. The plan was to catch the first bus that came by. Even though there were people waiting at most of the bus stops, I didn’t see a bus. I just kept walking to the next stop. In the end, I was off the bus route.

Good to see Tolworth is still the fly-tipping centre of the world

I didn’t see a single bus until I reached Hook Library and there was no point in catching that one, it was going in the wrong direction. So I continued south, towards the World of Adventures. Not only did I get my 10,000 steps in by 11am, I was bang on time at my destination!

Good to see the little children enjoying the playground in Woodgate Avenue

Stella and Ian shared their coffee and battenburg cake, and it was good to catch up on their news too. I mean, they shared with me, not just each other, that would be weird. Their family day out at Chessington World of Adventures the previous day reminded me that, yes, one day, I suppose we’ll have to take Martha and William there!

The train journey into Waterloo was uneventful, other than having to change trains at Wimbledon. Still, on the bright side, it wasn’t a replacement bus service, I suppose.

It was the final day of the Kiss my Genders show at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank.

Joan Jett-Blakk for President

For me, the main problem with all this gender fluidity mallarkey is using the correct pronoun, he, she or they. I don’t want to upset or annoy someone by getting it wrong. The people I spoke to here, albeit briefly: I think I got away with ‘you’!

Selfie of the day

I didn’t recognise many of the names, but Marc Almond is one of my favourite singers.

Marc Angelo Almond, by Del LaGrace Volcano

Del LaGrace Volcano seems like a fascinating character: they “have possessed and been possessed by a multitude of names, bodies and identities”. And the rest of us just plod on unchanging, never mutating nor migrating.

Rebellious badges

There was probably more to the film Looners, by Jankyn van Zyl, than I realised. In other words: I didn’t get it.

But I found The Memorial Dress quite moving. The names of 25,000 known victims of AIDs-related illnesses have been printed onto a black ballgown. It slowly rotates as you watch.

The Memorial Dress, by Hunter Reynolds

Outside, I strolled along the South Bank for a while, while my over-stimulated mind calmed down. The tide was out and so were the mudlarks. Some are very scrupulous, minutely inspecting every item that isn’t obviously just a plain old rock or stone.

Mudlarks on the Thames foreshore

Obviously, I have no idea what treasures these people found today, but there’s a small display of photos showing the types of artefacts found over the years, things lost in or deliberately thrown into the Thames over many centuries.

Foragers of the Foreshore
City pipe bowl: slave head

I’m so pleased Liesel made us dispose of the human thigh bone we found on the Thames foreshore a few years ago.

It’s strange being in a stranger’s house while they’re there, even as a paying guest. Before getting up and potentially getting in their way, I waited until Mum had fought her daughter to get ready for school and then leave. Other people’s cereal choices are always interesting. Small, bitesize Shredded Wheat with raisins glued in plus a few Cheerios, today. Not the ideal start to the day if I were about to embark on a long bike ride, so it’s a good job I wasn’t.

I rearranged the magnetic letters on the fridge into a small message of gratitude before making my way to London, to the Tate Modern.

Sand maiden

Very light drizzle accompanied me as I walked along the South Bank. The Royal Festival Hall is closed for a few days so I had to miss out on my usual natural break there.

Today’s show which I’d pre-booked was at Tate Modern. Olafur Eliasson In Real Life. This exhibition runs until January and is highly recommended. It’s fun, funny, clever and the perfect depiction of an imaginative soul with too much time on his hands!

Conveniently, I was able to leave my big bag in the cloakroom all day for a mere £4 donation. There’s a tip for anyone travelling to or through London.

This exhibition is well laid out, the map actually makes sense, which isn’t always the case.

Just one of Olafur’s hundreds of polyhedra

The Blind Passenger is a 39-metre long tunnel filled with fog. You can’t see more than a few feet in any direction. And while it’s easy to shrug off the warnings about possible claustrophobia, when you’re in the fog and all you can see is yellow, all you can smell is something slightly sweet and all you can hear are the squeaky doors and the other visitors trying to be quiet, it is a little bit spooky. Then you blink and you’re surprised by how thick, solid, heavy and purple your eyelids are. Maybe that’s just me.

The Moss Wall is made from Reindeer Moss. You’re not supposed to touch it but I think most people look around to make sure nobody’s watching before reaching out and having a quick, soft touch.

Moss Wall, by Olafur Eliasson

The Big Bang Fountain is a water fountain in complete darkness but every few seconds, a flash of white light illuminates the water. Every flash is a momentary, white Rorschach test. A map of the lower 48 states. A jellyfish. A brassiere. A bull with big horns. A bald man.

Your Uncertain Shadow is responsible for one of the images used in publicity for this show.

Uncertain Shadowy selfie of the day

If you haven’t been yet, go to this exhibition. Every item is interesting in one way or another.

Not my review but it could well have been

I walked outside for a while, braving the slight drizzle.

The Ship of Tolerance by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

The Ship of Tolerance will be here until early October. Each picture is drawn or painted by a local school-child.

Children want peace

One item on my bucket list relies on my (infinitesimal) musical ability. One day, I want to glue two old woks together, bash them about a bit with a hammer then take this contraption busking. Well, someone’s beaten me to it. He was sitting and playing outside the Tate and, to be fair, he was making a rather nicer, more melodic sound than I would have.

Busker with percussive instrument

Liesel and I have seen The Merry Wives of Windsor in the past, at Stratford upon Avon, and Dame Judi Dench was the big name on that occasion. This play is being performed this evening, nearby, but I would be on my train home by then. So, to compensate, I joined a rather large tour group in the Globe Theatre, just along the river from Tate Modern. The guide was Italian, of course, but it was a fascinating tour. It included sitting in two different parts of the auditorium to watch the rehearsal for tonight’s performance. Out of context, it wasn’t obvious whether the fits of giggles were part of the script or the actors just making each other laugh.

Water Point in the Globe Theatre

After watching a play, you’d want to acquire some props in the shop and reenact some of the more exciting scenes. But sadly, you’re not allowed to.

Please don’t fight in the shop

Back in the Tate, I spent some time in the drawing room. It’s actually the Bloomberg Connects Drawing Bar and you can have a go at drawing pictures on the screens which then get displayed and posted to Flickr. My drawing skills are on a par with my musical ability, but I enjoyed creating a special message for my beloved all those miles away.

Hello Liesel

There are thousands of other such drawings, so start here and look around.

You can see my more overtly political offering here!

Blackfriars is a lovely, modern station, straddling the river. I caught the Thameslink train to St Pancras from where it’s a short walk to the British Library. There, I tapped away at the keyboard with all the other young and studious people.

Quiet study in British Library

And from there, a short hop, skip and jump to the ever-congested Euston where I began the long ride home: two trains and a late, late bus. In the bookshop, the sight of this outfit brought me up short. I know it’s from a novel, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s publicising the sequel, The Testaments, but, whoa, that was unexpected.

Blessed be the fruit

Two trains and a bus, he said. Huh. The first train was over ten minutes late which was enough to mean missing the second train. So, a quick taxi ride it was instead, to round off a wonderful weekend.

TFL’s are no longer the only bikes for hire in London

These few days in London and Kingston, between two Grandchildren Days, was a good opportunity to catch up with old friends, visit some old haunts and explore some new ones. Taking such a late train home the night before an early rise is something not to be repeated too often, however!

Edinburgh

We enjoyed watching William and Martha swimming again for what would be the last time at such an early hour. From next week, their classes begin at 11.00am. We’re grandparently proud of their promotions!

The long drive north to Edinburgh was uneventful. Apart from a couple of bad accidents and the occasional downpour, that is.

High pressure rain cleaning the windscreen

Yes, off to the gorgeous capital city of Scotland for a couple of days to take in a very small percentage of the Festival and Fringe events.

Tebay is probably our favourite service station thanks to its Farm Shop. It’s not an online buying and selling site based in Yorkshire, whatever it says in the Uxbridge English Dictionary. The vegetarian sausage rolls and vegetarian Scotch eggs are highly recommended!

We hadn’t realised how many wind farms there are now: good to see that the gales and hurricanes that blow our way aren’t totally wasted.

Old energy vs new energy

Neither of us brought our passports but who knows? This might be the last time we visit Scotland while it’s still part of the United Kingdom.

Welcome to Scotland

Liesel commented that some of the landscape reminds her of her home state, Alaska.

Ecclefechan

Sarah, Jenny, Helen and I stayed in a b&b in Ecclefechan on what would be our final visit to Scotland all together. It remains Helen’s favourite placename to this day.

This time, Liesel and I are staying in Bathgate. That is the correct name of the place. In the past, I have also stayed at places called Lochhead and Pathhead. Over these few days, I think I referred to our present location using every possible combination of the words loch, head, gate, bath and path.

In the early evening, we caught a train into Edinburgh for our first event.

Bathgate Station: trains are under starter’s orders

We thought we had a nice, easy walk to the venue. But it’s been a while, we’d forgotten how hilly Edinburgh is. Not only that, we had to scale The News Steps. 124 steps, I think. We arrived at the summit breathless and not just because of the beautiful view of the city below.

Circa: Humans took place in a Big Top. A troupe of ten performers, very nimble and very strong, doing the sort of callisthenics that we do each morning, only slightly more skilfully, and with a musical accompaniment.

The music was at different times insistent, percussive, rhythmic and funny. One routine to the song The Impossible Dream proved conclusively that it is impossible to lick ones own elbows.

Stunts included human pyramids. Only, not always pyramids: in some cases, one guy bore the weight of two others.

The poster (photos of the performance not allowed)

Like most shows at The Fringe, this one lasted an hour. They had some fantastic ideas, very imaginative choreography and it was all executed flawlessly. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Humans thanking the audience

Twice in a row now, I’ve inserted a USB cable correctly on the first attempt. I think my luck might be changing. Or, maybe not. Although we’d planned to go into Edinburgh from Bathgate by train every day, our second attempt failed. It was a working day, and the station car park was full. In fact, over full: some cars were dumped in the most ridiculous places. So, reluctantly, we drove into the auld city. Both days, we managed to park close to the final venue of the day, making for a quick getaway.

Greyfriars Bobby (statue)

We admired Greyfriars Bobby’s well polished nose. He’s the dog that sat beside his master’s grave waiting for the opportunity to dig up some bones, I think.

We’ll bin our jokes if you bin your litter

The city was really tidy, on the whole, but the bin jokes should have been binned. What’s Beethoven’s favourite fruit? Ba-na-na-naaa.

The International Photography Exhibition at the Photographic Exhibition Centre exhibited about 230 photographs from over 2000 submitted from all around the world.

Photography Exhibition attendee having a rest (still life)

There were some imaginative pictures here though some had obviously received a certain amount of post-production doctoring, or editting. I was hoping to get some ideas for my own future pictures.

Railway lines – London to Plymouth by John Widdows

The damselfly photo was magnificent and as I said to Liesel, I wish they’d sit that still for me! And my photo of that photo was of course out of focus. Curses! But for the exhibition as a whole: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A few years ago, Jenny and I visited Edinburgh together. We enjoyed the veggie food at Henderson’s and I was glad to see it’s still going strong. Liesel and I had lunch of (veggie) haggis and mashed root veg, a mid-Winter meal, really, but outside, it was particularly dreich for that half an hour. The toilets here are interesting. They’re labelled ‘H’ for Hers and ‘H’ for His. The toilet paper is dispensed one single-ply square at a time from what can only be described as a very tight cat’s bum. You have to iron each sheet before applying it to your own. Actually, I think the ‘H’ stands for Henderson’s but the stylised gentleman and lady on the doors aren’t that different from each other, so I’m sure mistakes must be made.

The Edinburgh Wheel

We went for a sightseeing ride on the ferris wheel known as The Edinbugh Wheel, Festival Wheel or Big Wheel depending on who you talk to. It’s erected by Princes Street Gardens and I think I enjoyed the ride more than Liesel did.

View from the top, you can just see the Forth bridges in the distance

Along the road, we witnessed Master Bones dancing along to Ghostbusters. The puppetmaster was very skilful, even encouraging Master Bones to surpise an inattentive visitor sitting on a nearby bench.

Master Bones

While waiting to see his show, we witnessed The Reverend Richard Coles queueing at a van to buy a coffee or a g&t or something, yes, queueing with normal people. If we hadn’t been at the front of the queue into the venue, we might have walked over for a selfie opportunity.

The Reverend Richard Coles, Communard, vicar, broadcaster

He entertained for an hour, telling us his life story, A Simple Country Parson or, as he described it, Edinburgh’s only One Parson Show. It certainly deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Usher Hall is probably one of Edinburgh’s finest venues. The audience for the performance given by the 140-year old Shanghai Symphony Orchestra was much better dressed than for our other shows (present company excepted, sorry). It was part of the official Edinburgh International Festival. The first piece sounded a bit Chinese, some of the instruments were very reminiscent of the music played from stretched tapes in Chinese restaurants a few decades ago. But Qigang Chen’s The Five Elements was an unexpected delight.

Dvořák’s Cello Concerto was eye-closingly romantic and moving, but I’m not convinced that the soloist was Chinese, with the name Alisa Weilerstein!

Alisa Weilerstein with her cello
Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s view of the Usher Hall audience

I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, so I borrowed these from The Herald Scotland website. The highlight of the performance was Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, which I remember borrowing from Hammersmith Library over 40 years ago, so definitely time to listen to it again! There was a short encore and the conductor joked that he was now off to enjoy some Scotch whisky. A ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ performance.

Oor Wullie is possibly the most famous Scottish cartoon character, featuring in The Sunday Post newspaper since 1937.

Natural Healing, Oor Rail Bridge, Flowers of Scotland and Wullie’s Seat
Oor Crossing, Oor Coal Miner, illegible plaque and Oor Skeleton

There are over two hundred of these sculptures not just in Edinburgh but all over Scotland, each designed by a different artist. The Oor Wullie Big Bucket Trail is a fundraiser for children’s hospitals in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Edinburgh Castle

One of my favourite modern artists is Bridget Riley. Obviously, the doodles I come up with while speaking on the phone aren’t in the same league as her abstract, geometric paintings, but I find them fascinating. Yes, if you look at some of them for too long, you might begin to feel a bit nauseous, but we spent a long time wandering around this exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy.

Part of Cataract 3 by Bridget Riley

I walked by Cataract 3 while videoing the picture. The end result is much better than I anticipated. I showed some other attendees and they proceeded to copy my idea.

One work of art, Rajasthan, is painted directly onto the plaster wall. When it’s time for this exhibit to move on, it will be painted over and Bridget Riley with assistants will paint it again onto a wall in the new venue.

Rajasthan by Bridget Riley

Continuum is a reconstruction of an old structure that you can walk through. It’s a short spiral with black lines like a lunatic barcode on the walls which can make you forget where you are momentarily. Overall, this exhibit deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

We had a coffee in the café at the neighbouring National Gallery of Scotland. The two ladies on the next table were having an in-depth psychoanalytical session but we couldn’t work out which was the doctor and which the patient.

Surgeon’s Halls

After a lot of walking about the city, Liesel chose to visit the Surgeon’s Hall Museum while I went for a walk further afield.

Blue sky and cranes seen from the bottom of the climb

I’m glad I collected my jacket from the car because halfway up the stone steps to Arthur’s Seat, the heavens opened and the rain came down. No, not down: sideways. It was fairly incredibly windy, my back was drenched while my front stayed dry. At least until I turned round to walk back down.

View obscured by rain
Ominous clouds

The view of the city was diminished, you couldn’t even see the cranes decorating the city.

Liesel said to me, as we were walking along, “What I really miss is seeing elephants, maybe we should go to the zoo.” I replied, “Well, I’m hungry and I quite fancy a bagel, right now.” What are the chances of finding this shop round the corner?

Elephants and Bagels

The Voices of Bond was a nice relaxed show in a small venue, The Space @ Symposium Hall. The singer, Phoebe Katis, performed songs from the James Bond films and provided a narrative history of the Bond film franchise. Yes, she even used that particular F word. She and her band were very good, though I was disappointed that more audience members didn’t sing along, to drown my voice out, if nothing else.

Phoebe Katis

No, I don’t think that’s the real MI6 insignia, but even so, a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ show.

We went into the library to escape one short downpour and came across probably the most philosophical stairs in the world.

Library stairs

The Royal Mile was always very busy, probably a 50-50 split between entertainers and entertained. I watched this couple for the full six minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Top buskers

I think these were the best of the buskers, although the ones we saw and heard were all good, possibly helped by not being allowed to use any amplification.

Scott Monument

Sticking to our Scottish diet, we had The Best Pizza in the UK at a place just along the road from our final event.

Jeremy Nicholas is a public speaker and broadcaster. He was the MC at West Ham FC’s home games for many years which was lucky as he is also a staunch West Ham supporter. What Are You Talking About? is the name of his Fringe show this year.

What Are You Talking About? poster

The talk was very funny, lots of true stories though not all with humorous endings. We received some tips on public speaking and if I ever feel compelled to partake in such activity, I know where to go for some advice and training. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Over these few days, we’d confirmed that we can’t really do more than one late night in a row any more. Straight to bed and straight to sleep, the night. (Yes, a little Scottish thrown in there.)

The long drive back home was uneventful: we stopped at Tebay Services again.

So next time: we’ll go for a longer period, we’ll go to fewer shows each day, we’ll try and avoid too many late shows in succession. Plus, of course, Edinburgh is a lovely city to visit even without a Festival or Fringe. Yes, we gave all the shows five stars because they all really entertained us, doing things that we could never do ourselves. I’m sure they’d all give us five stars too for being such good audience members!

Back in Northenden

It’s going to take a while to acclimatise to Manchester. We expected some rain, eventually, not this much in just a few days. Luckily, we’re on the second floor, so we don’t need a boat, yet.

Learning the local language might take some time too. I visited Northern Den, the local coffee shop, and asked for a fried egg sandwich. Oops. I was given an egg barm. A barm cake is like a hamburger bun, a big, soft bread roll. Luckily, the word for ‘latté’ is ‘latté’.

We’ve had a chance now to process our ten months away from home.

We left home at the end of July, Day 1 and we left Melbourne for home on Day 316.

During that time, I walked 3,603,072 steps, a distance of 1665 miles. Liesel walked most of that distance with me. The hardest part was counting paces for that length of time, so it’s a good job I had a Fitbit to confirm my enumeration.

We enjoyed 27 separate flights, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word, with a wide spectrum of comfort. Often, you just have to write off the whole day if you’re flying somewhere, with all the queueing and waiting at airports.

We slept in 78 different beds during our travels, and again, with every possible level of comfort from hard on the floor, to mattresses made of marshmallow, with nylon sheets. But how lucky are we: our own bed at home is the best!

Yes, next time we may do some things differently. We’ll make more of an effort to learn some of the local language. We’ll do more research into the local food: finding vegetarian meals in Japan was a nightmare.

We managed well carrying just one small bag each, with one week’s worth of clothing. Liesel is delighted to be wearing something different here at home.

On just a few occasions did we wish we had a pair of binoculars. A proper camera with a decent zoom lens would have given better quality photos of small, faraway objects, but the phone camera was brilliant 99% of the time. I even managed a few shots of the stars at night.

While driving and even sometimes when hiking, there were a few times I wished I had my bike. But that would be a different kind of trip.

Overall, we had a marvellous time, it was a wonderful experience, and we would recommend a gap year adventure to anybody of slightly advanced years, who missed out in their youth.

There are quite a few places that we’d like to revisit and spend more time in. There are very few places that we have no desire to return to, but I think we’ll try to avoid extremely hot places where your energy is sapped, and you can’t fully appreciate the place.

As I think I said early on, I’m no good at remembering names of things, notably flowers and birds and trees. So I apologise for any mis-captioned photos: this blog was never meant to be a guide to the natural world, there are plenty of those already!

Some converstaions are universal. I think I’ve used every possible pronunciation of ‘latté’ over the ten months, and I’m sure some baristas just pretend not to understand this strange Englishman’s accent.

So many people commented on the colour of my Monzo card: hot coral. “You’ll never lose that”, they’d say.

When asked, I’d sometimes say I was from the UK. “Brexit? Hahaha! Theresa May? Hahahahaha!” So embarrassing.

When asked whereabouts in the UK do we live: “Manchester”. “Oh, Manchester United!!” or “Red or blue?”

We saw Fuji, Fiji and Coogee but bypassed Mudgee and Nadgee, ate a dodgy bhaji, listened to the Bee Gees, fed a budgie but not a geegee, used a squeegee in a shower.

We incurred no major injuries, although Liesel is still occasionally in pain if she walks too far, or sometimes even if she walks at all. Insect bites, splinters, sunburn once, minor cuts and a few broken nails are as bad as it got.

We’ve had a couple of days of medical appointments, walking around the local area and trying to find our way around the luxury apartment that we’ve hardly lived in!

Please drive carefully but feel free to park on and block the pavements
Ducks on the Mersey

Melbourne to Manchester

And we’re home.

On the way to Melbourne Airport, we noticed a few people in crazy costumes. It’s the weekend of Melbourne Comic Con. We left home during the weekend of Manchester Comic Con. What are the chances of that?

We saw some pandas, an unexpected bonus. No, not real ones. To celebrate 2017 Australia-China Year of Tourism, there are about twenty pandas at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

A row of pandas
A panda
A panda and a koala together

The first laugh of the day was provided by Etihad’s poster – we all know about tolerance in middle eastern countries.

Year of tolerance

It was a long flight from Melbourne to Manchester, lots of hanging around and sitting and not much sleep. Plenty of time to read, watch films and TV programmes, play games, eat the meals, enjoy some of them but mainly to reminisce and think about the last ten months’ adventures.

Looking down on England

Jenny met us at Manchester Airport with Martha and William and it was lovely to see and to spend most of the day with them all! Best of all, though, were the spontaneous hugs from a couple of children who haven’t seen us in the flesh for a significant portion of their lives. Jenny and Liam have done a brilliant job keeping us in their lives, thank you very much!

We went for a walk to a local place for breakfast, the idea partly being for Liesel and me to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime. Martha is a very competent scooter user.

Martha the scooterer
Selfie of the day (thanks, Liam)
William won’t let Oma ride Martha’s scooter

We watched Martha and William swimming in the afternoon, both very happy and very competent in the water.

The Welcome Home evening meal was Pie and Roast potatoes. Gorgeous! We should go away for ten months at a time more often…

Now we have a tonne of boring but necessary admin tasks to perform, household appliances to kick into action, medical appointments to keep and, when we have a moment, many boxes to unpack from last year’s house move!

Much more Melbourne

On the way to join Jyoti and Chris for breakfast, I was again reminded of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

My God, it’s full of stars!

Other than that, the walk and the tram ride were uneventful. Yes, Jyoti is back in town to spend time with Chris and so we decided to pester them too. Actually, Chris suggested the venue, The Auction Rooms. Liesel and I arrived first and there was already a queue of people waiting to be seated. So, a popular place with locals: always a good sign.

Chris, Jyoti, Liesel, Mick

It was wonderful to see those two love birds, gazing into each others’ eyes, holding hands and, in another place, the Morality Police would have been on the scene, blues and twos, no doubt! Chris had to work (we keep forgetting some people have real lives with jobs and everything) so the three of us went to the Museum.

The Revolutions: Records and Rebels exhibtion was previously shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Now in Melbourne, it includes reference to the fight for Aboriginal rights in the 1960s. It was fascinating, lots of memories for me. Unbelievably, at the time, I wanted to be a little older than I was. Not so keen on that idea, now!

Yes, it was all very interesting, and it’s just so sad and disappointing that some groups of people are still having to fight for equal rights, you know, real weirdos such as women, black people, gay people, Australian Aboriginal people. But we did leave with some fund-raising ideas for the WI.

How many joints in the jar?

The ’60s music was good, too, and we enjoyed watching The Who at Woodstock, just 50 years late to that particular party.

Roger Daltrey

There’s a replica of the first ever computer mouse, invented over 50 years ago.

Computer pointing device

I never knew until today that there was a road named after a top Australian rock band. AC/DC Lane is popular with visitors, partly due to the street art in the area. As usual, the creative work is ruined slightly by the boring, unimaginative tagging.

AC/DC Lane
Jimi, or not Jimi? That is the question
Melbourne

Vegetarian Paul McCartney would probably not be too happy with this tribute to his old band.

Wings night

We wandered around the 19th and 20th century Aussie art display in the Federation Square complex. We would have stayed longer, but at closing time, even we were politely asked to leave. The then new Sydney Harbour Bridge was still under construction but the painting’s finished.

The Bridge in-curve by Grace Cossington Smith, 1930

I was disappointed not to see any works by Michael Andrews: maybe we just missed him by a room or two, but this depiction of the red centre is quite evocative.

Central Australia by Sidney Nolan, 1949

On the way to the old Young & Jackson pub, we made a detour to another lane, where the street art is striking. One of the main news items at the moment here in Australia is about Freedom of the Press. The police raided the offices of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the home of a journalist, in an attempt to discover who leaked some secret information. Someone was quick off the mark with this image.

AFP USB
Binge thinking

Many years ago, my Dad told us about a pub he’d visited at the end of the Second World War. I don’t think he remembered its name but he said it was opposite Flinders Street Station. He told us about a painting on the wall inside, a girl called Chloe. After three or four visits to Melbourne, it was time to track this pub down. If it wasn’t Young and Jackson, then I don’t know where else to look. He visited when he ended his war, serving in the Royal Navy, here in Australia.

It is an old pub, yes, and it’s seen a few changes in the 74 years since Dad was here. But I was really pleased to find Chloe, now 144 years young, on the wall in the upstairs restaurant.

Chloe by Jules Lefebvre, 1875

Cheers, Dad!

Chris joined us for an early evening meal, before he and Jyoti went home. Liesel and I walked over the river to revisit the Arts Centre.

Lazarus

I’ve seen Lazarus twice in London, Liesel just the once, and it was just as good and fun and entertaining but a little sad this time: the David Bowie songs are timeless and always magnifico. The stage set was totally different, and both Liesel and I had a much better view of the stage on this occasion.

Tommy and Elly played by Chris Ryan and Phoebe Panarentos

Fewer people sung along than I expected, so I had to project more to compensate. No, I didn’t, I was sotto voce all the way.

What an unexpectedly busy day then: a museum, an art gallery, some street-walking, a couple of meals out and topped off with a musical performance. Thanks, Melbourne!

And so we come to the final, full day on our travels. We’re looking forward to being home, not necessarily to the 24 hour journey getting there.

After a bit of a lie-in, we went out and enjoyed egg muffins for breakfast. Thinking about home, and being away, it was disconcerting to see this on the wall.

Where are we now?

I had to visit the Optus shop to query a large mobile phone bill I’d been sent even though I’m on a different kind of plan. No need for the AFP to come after me when I get home, I’ve seen what they’re like at the ABC. Thank goodness the bill is for the previous user of my Aussie phone number: forget it, nothing to worry about, the clerk will sort it out. So, fingers crossed.

We visited the ridiculously expansive Queen Victoria Market, walked around for a bit, passing time until Jyoti and Chris joined us.

I bought a couple of apples. Jyoti bought a new coat. We admired the Melbourne skyline. We bought coffee.

Melbourne skyline or a futuristic painting?
Melbourne, Mick and coffee

Yes, Melbourne does like its coffee, there are so many coffee places to choose from, we even saw Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese coffee shops in close proximity this morning.

We listened to Rhys Crimmin busking in the market, he’s not too bad, played the didgeridoo as well as guitar, harmonica and a drum, a good old-fashioned one-man band.

Rhys Crimmin

He performed the Men at Work song, Down Under which always raises a smile.

Again, poor old Chris had to go home to work, leaving the three of us to have a jolly good time. We walked to Royal Park and it was very pleasant, the Sun was out, it was warm, I tried not to whinge too much about being forced, well, requested, to wear jeans today rather than shorts. But we’ll soon be back in an English Summer and I can get my legs out again, for everyone’s delectation.

Royal Park

This view reminds me of the album cover for Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge. So yes, now I have that music in my head.

Final day, last supper. Round at Chris’s with his missus, to coin a 25-year old phrase.

Our Aussie adventures conclude with this sunset as seen from Chris’s apartment.

The Sun goes down on our travels

So we bid farewell to Jyoti and Chris, and to our final Airbnb up on the 9th floor looking over an alleyway into an office block.

And farewell to Melbourne, to Australia, to our adventures.

Here we are at the airport, waiting, waiting…