Keep on keeping on

We strolled up to the Northern Den to collect our brownies plus the coffee which we enjoyed while sitting on the wooden bench close to St Wilfrid’s Church.

Oreo brownies from Northern Den
Weird sort sequence…

One night, to convince myself I could still focus on something for long periods of time, post Liesel’s retirement to bed, I decided to sort our CD collection. Hercules would be very proud of my nine hours of more or less continuous struggle.

The Sun rose before I went to bed, one welcome, if unexpected bonus.

Sunrise over Northenden

We decided not to invest in this mobile burger business. I’ve hidden the phone number: we might reconsider sometime.

Burger business opportunity

The recycling centre round the corner re-opened but they’re restricting its use is determined by vehicles’ regnos.

Odd numbers only

No queue in sight, but Mr Jobsworth forced one even-numbered vehicle to turn round, go home. Ridiculous.

We’re still seeing weird things in the streets, together with some pretty flowers.

Lost Shoes (not to be confused with the 70s prog rock group correspondingly titled)
Pretty Flowers (not to be confused with the 70s prog rock group correspondingly titled)

It’s quite perilous strolling too close to one of the neighbourhood golf courses. My soft titfer definitely wouldn’t protect the bonce, I confidently predicted.

Golf sign

My new friend, the heron, introduced me to his chum, the crow, before flying off up-river.

The heron with his friend

Most fortuitous sighting of the week? The red growth in our hedge, complemented by the brightness of the Sun.

Red Hedge (not to be confused with Red Wedge)

Thus concludes the newest post. Short, but sweet this time, lovingly typed up without the use of one single letter ‘A’. (Well, just the one.)

Walking All Over Cancer

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 1. Sunday 1st March was the first day of my attempt to walk 10,000 steps daily, for a month, for Cancer Research. And what a good start to the campaign on this, our hottest Malta day so far.

I took 22,608 steps altogether and they were all most enjoyable. Well, all except one, at about 17,000 steps. We were ambling along on the flat rocky beach, soaking up some rays, when my left foot decided to go the wrong way. It twisted, I did a little dance, and sat down for a moment to recuperate. Three people up on the promenade help up a big red which I think means they were impressed by my spontaneous display of choreography.

I walked, limped and hobbled home. In Malta, you can only buy drugs from pharmacists and they’re mostly closed on Sundays. So, indoors, I rested, anticipating walking a shorter distance the following day, mostly in airports, as, sadly it’s time to leave this gorgeous little island.

I am sailing, I am sailing

Don’t worry: I won’t bang on about this Walk All Over Cancer malarkey every day, but I thought I might as well try and get some sympathy (and more sponsors, wink, wink) for my injury!

So how come I walked so far today? Mainly because I went out on my own for an hour, before Liesel joined me.

A cat named Scar

I was hoping to see some Malta Marathon runners in action, but I think the course was too far away. I did see a few folks running for fun, and I was surprised at how little road traffic there was.

There were more people down on the beach today, and even a few swimming in the sea.

People on the beach

The water was beautifully clear, and, with the bright sunshine, you’d think you’d see little fishes in the water, but no. Not even any crabs on the rocks. But there must be something there worth fishing for.

Cool, clear water

Later, Liesel and I did pass by some proud owners of medals and space blankets, a nice mix of old and young people, some struggling to walk home and some looking fresh, like they could do it all over again!

We paid one final visit to French Affaire for pastizzi (both of us), a crêpe (Liesel), coffee (both) and not carrot cake (should have been for me, but it didn’t show up).

We walked into and straight out of the nearby Point Shopping Mall and there was only one thing we needed here.

All you need is love

At this point, I still had two fully functioning feet, so walking back towards our Airbnb was a potentially easy, slow amble, watching people and trying to ignore the honking people in the traffic jams.

Twelve days in Malta was never going to be long enough, we knew that, but we have had a brilliant time.

Because it feels like Summer to me, I’m dressed for warm weather, so I stand out and it must be pretty obvious I’m a visitor. When I’ve mentioned Manchester to interested locals, there’s no need to mention its rain, they already know. And I can’t describe how happy I am that nobody has mentioned the UK leaving the EU, not even to have a good laugh at our expense.

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 2. This was one of those days not meant to be much fun, purely functional. Bus, walk, plane, walk, bus, home. I managed 11,481 steps with one slightly sore foot, just from walking to the bus stop, around the airports and around the flat back in England.

I was escorted by a security official at the airport in Malta. Having passed through Security, we found that the only pharmacy was back in the outside world. I had to be escorted back out so that I could purchase some painkillers. I got some funny looks: they probably thought I was being arrested, a trouble-maker.

And so we looked down upon the sunny uplands of England before landing at Manchester Airport. Sunny uplands? Well, yeah, but also: snow.

Snow on them hills

We caught the bus back home from the airport, and the driver was very relaxed, probably enjoying his book as much as driving the new, quiet, green, electric bus.

How to Drive Buses by Victoria BusStation

We try and convince ourselves it’s nice to be home, but when the rain comes down that much, it’s hard to get motivated to go out for a walk on our first full day back. But I did, notwithstanding the sore foot, and I completed the required number of steps.

In the evening, Liesel went to to a WI meeting, leaving me to watch the latest two episodes of Doctor Who. Wow, possibly the best two episodes for many a series, bringing together the current Doctor, the classic series, the novels and fan-fiction, as far as I could tell!

After a reasonable night’s sleep, Liesel ‘encouraged’ me to get up and go for a walk: she was motivated, plus, it was sunny. I was halfway through a podcast at the time, but the feeling of being miffed didn’t last long.

In the shower, I noticed the bruising to my foot had spread to heel and toes as well as the side. Very impressive. Yes, of course I asked Liesel to take pictures, but they’re far too graphic for this forum.

We walked to Chorlton, partly along the river, a much more interesting jaunt than my solo circuit in Northenden yesterday.

We admired the colourful graffitti under the motorway. Admired? Bemoaned. The geese by the Mersey didn’t bother us so we didn’t bother them either.

Geeses on the Mersey

We enjoyed the feeling of apricity on our faces, and the sight of many early Spring flowers. The only place we know in Chorlton is The Laundrette, a restaurant. Imagine my dismay when I looked it up on Google Maps to see that it was Permanently Closed. How disappointing. And only a 17-hour walk away too. Huh? Yes, I’d found a place in Wales, with the same name and same logo on the shop front fascia sign. Our Laundrette is still going strong, we broke our fast there before returning home. Because the Sun had been so bright, my glasses were ridiculously dark, I had to use an app on my phone to read the menu. We were happy that it stayed dry despite the 85% chance of rain.

Sorry to share some sad news. Last year, I acquired a pen at Ayers Rock Resort in Australia. It became my favourite biro, providing a very satisfying, smooth writing experience. A few nights ago, mid Killer Sudoku, it died. It ran out of ink. Its natural bodily juices are no more.

RIP Ayers Rock Resort pen

I gave it a decent Christian burial in the bin in our Malta b&b.

But the good news is, 4 days in, I have managed the planned 10,000+ steps every day!

My Eggs

Even the wind hasn’t been enough to deter us from a lot of walking. Sometimes it’s a bus ride followed by a walk. I think it’s fair to say we’re not looking forward to going home to be greeted by Storm Jorge and its cold, wet and windy so-called weather. T-shirt, shorts and sandals are my dress code de jour here in Malta, and I can put up with the funny looks from the strange locals, no worries.

The walk to St George’s beach was interesting, through a largely residential area of St Julian’s. One of the main hobbies here seems to be standing around on street corners chatting and laughing or, at a pinch, sitting in a stationary car, maybe lurking, maybe waiting for someone.

By the sea, I watched a couple of men fishing. I guess they caught something because the cat was having a party all by himself.

Angling

I didn’t walk to the casino, visible in the distance, but I found the sea again round the corner. St George’s Bay is, I’m sure, a very popular beach in Summer, but today, the only men sunbathing were wearing their business suits.

St George’s Bay
Sunbathers (not topless, that would be illegal)

Up the road and round the corner is a relatively new shopping centre and residential complex. This is the real centre of Paceville, but we don’t feel we’ve been missing out at all. There’s a Planet Hollywood and a Hard Rock Café not forgetting the obligatory Costa Coffee. Plus clubs, pubs and gambling dens.

Glass floor in Bay Street Shopping Complex

There’s a Women’secret rather than a Victoria’s Secret, but, as far as I could tell from a cursory 20-minute long glance, they’re selling the same kind of wares. Underwares.

Some of the architecture is fun, and it’s a shame so many of the buildings look a bit tatty, either faded in the Sun, or covered in a thin layer of dust from all the building work taking place.

Coloured balconies
I beg you pardon, I never promised you a roof garden

I was surprised the first time I saw cactuses growing here, just a week ago. But they’re all over the place. They’re prickly pears, imported from America, planted typically around fields to help reduce the force of the wind.

Prickly pear

The local cinema has 17 screens, but none of them were showing a film that particularly appealed this week.

It was a pleasant jaunt and the walk back was much faster, unexpectedly. I followed the bus route and I’m glad I didn’t catch a bus for what would have been for just one or two stops.

After a good night’s sleep and a slow start, the next bus took us in a south-easterly direction, to a place called Xgħajra. It is purely residential, of no interest whatsoever, which is probably why it’s not mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. So why did we go, then? Because once we got seats on the bus, we weren’t giving them up for anybody! Actually, the sea looked gorgeous here, not nice enough to want to swim in, but beautiful azure, lapis lazuli, a proper Mediterranean shade of blue.

The sea at Xgħajra

Back in Valletta, we walked around attempting to keep the warmth of the Sun on our backs, it was heaven. Liesel asked how long it would take to walk back home from here? If we took the ferry, about 55 minutes, was the answer. If we don’t take the ferry, nearly an hour and a half.

So, we went for the ferry. Thanks, Google Maps, we missed a vital turning at first. It wasn’t obvious that we had to cross the road, walk round in a loop and then walk under the road we’d just been on. It’s so easy to forget that the world is actually 3D.

A steep street in Valletta
Valletta-Sliema ferry

The single fare on the ferry was a mere €1.50. I suggested going back and forth several times as it’s so cheap, but the idea was vetoed.

The Dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta

The ferry ride was short and sweet and we took our time walking back home from Sliema, a route that is very familar to us now. But, of course, we still see things that we’ve not noticed before. Have you seen those fish, Mick? What fish? Those fish. Oh, those fish!

Fish

I thought for a minute we were in danger of seeing actual, real fish, in the sea!

By the diving school, I was impressed by the mural.

Pirate mural

If only all ‘graffitti artists’ were this talented, then there wouldn’t be so many accusations of vandalism. Less than 100 metres along the shoreline, though, we came across this.

My eggs

Well, maybe it’s funny in its own way, but we’re not in on this joke. It reminds me of the long-standing message daubed at Surbiton Station: ‘Foxes know’. Maybe both are secret messages between secret agents working secretly for secret organisations and we’re not supposed to know.

Gozo is a no-go. Yes, reluctantly, we decided not to visit Gozo on this occasion. We’re attempting to see as much of the main island as possible, but without feeling rushed or over-stretched. Anything we don’t see this time will still be here next time.

Unless of course, Malta does roll over into the Med. We found out today that due to local tectonics, Malta is rising in the west and sinking in the east. That’s why the cliffs at Dingli are so high and so interesting. It was a long bus ride there, but worth it. The views were lovely, and we even ate a decent lunch at a restauarnt called, by coincidence, The Cliffs, just near Dingli Cliffs.

Now we’ve found Maltese bread, we can’t get enough of it. And our lunch came with some today. My salad included quail’s eggs, something I’ve not eaten before. What are they like? Well, they taste like chicken’s eggs to me. The implication is, there are quails hereabouts. But we’ve not seen any birds other than pigeons and sparrows. Nice to see sparrows, yes, but it would be good to see something more exotic too. The sound of budgies came out of someone’s window, but it might as well have been a tape recorder.

Stick man on a stick tricycle, in Dingli

It was good to be out in the country, too. We saw more vegetation today than we have the whole time we’ve been in Malta.

Just a small bunch of local flowers

I don’t think I’m breaching any state secrets by posting this photo.

A big golf ball listening station (top secret)

It’s probably a secret listening station, but whether owned by Malta, Italy, UK, USA or someone else, we don’t know. But combined with ‘My eggs’ from yesterday, I’m beginning to think Malta is Spy Central.

Imagine my disappointment when I found a sign claiming that this is a ‘Navigation Transmitting Site’. A likely story.

A view from the top

We approached the edge of the cliff, but not as close as Jyoti would have ventured!

Another view from the top
Selfie of the day

Teetering right on the edge of Dingli Cliffs is this cute little chapel, the Church of St Mary Magdalen.

Marija Maddalena

Nearby was a stall selling Maltese coffee. Yes, of course I was tempted, but I’d had two coffees already by this point. Plus, if it’s anything like Turkish coffee that you can stand a spoon up in, I don’t think we’d get along very well. Thanks for the offer, though.

Yes, until today, we were beginning to feel that the whole of Malta is just one big city, one huge building site, so it was nice to see some greenery. In fact, as well as the pretty flowers, we saw not only our first butterflies in Malta, but also our first wasps. We saw a beetle. We saw a really big butterfly that was in fact a kite being flown by someone who we couldn’t see. And we saw a herd of goats and sheep just wandering along the road, with no concern for the honking drivers.

A sheep or a goat or maybe a shoat or a geep

I knew it was the day but I missed it by less than a minute! Yes, today, I took my 500,000th step since I started using a Pedometer rather than the Fitbit Zip that was eating batteries like Smarties.

Half a million plod plod plod

Training for my walking challenge next month is going very well, thanks for asking.

I’m aiming to walk at least 10,000 steps every day in March, come hell or high water or Storm Jorge. Please, if you can, help me raise some money for Cancer Research, just follow this link, please, thank you, thank you, thank you!

The bus ride home was long and relaxing and allowed plenty of time for the mind to wander. All the buses here display their route number at the front, along with the name of the next bus stop. I asked Liesel if there was a bus route 66 at all. Why? Because I want to get my kicks there.

Most of the drivers have been friendly, although many of them seem to be in a great hurry all the time. But if they see someone running for the bus, they will wait and open the door for them: something Manchester bus drivers could learn to do.

We’ve experienced a few clouds of cigarette smoke here, but it’s not been as offensive as in Paris a couple of years ago. There, it was almost compulsory to walk through a smoke-filled tent before you could get into a restaurant. Here in Malta, you’re just unlucky if the wind gusts the wrong way.

It is a remarkably multicultural, multi-ethnic place. We’ve heard 101 different languages spoken, some recognisable, some not, we’ve seen people from all around the world, visitors like us of course, students as well as locals and workers from all around Europe. We’ve never felt threatened nor in danger here. We’ve heard police sirens just a few times in the time we’ve been here whereas we’re used to hearing several each day at home in Northenden.

We arrived at our ‘hood, alighted the bus for the walk to Wok to Walk where we ate, and on the way we home, we bought another loaf of Maltese bread which, alas, we’ll have to consume all in one day!

Mellieha, Valletta and Mdina

We saw this advert on the back of the bus and our thoughts turned to those poor people, Liesel’s Mom and Dad, who are currently suffering sunshine in Hawaii.

Waikiki (in Hawaii, known as the Malta of the Pacific)

Not to be outdone, we caught a bus to Mellieha Bay, north of St Julian’s. It’s not really the tourist season yet, so there weren’t many other visitors. Plus, some of the restaurants don’t open for business until the end of February. Not that we would necessarily have visited any, most dishes are fish-based.

Wind in the willows

Yes, as the trees demonstrate, it was a little bit windy today. This was one reason my walk along the beach was solitary: Liesel didn’t fancy having her legs sand-blasted so she stayed at the BBC, the Blu Beach Club.

Għadira Bay

There were few people on the beach, so not surprising to see that the sunbeds, umbrellas and sand-wheelchairs weren’t available for hire.

Beach possibly designed by Mark Rothko

When I walked back to join Liesel, I realised I should have walked up the hill first, to visit these two churches.

Churches on the hill

Our Lady of the Grotto and the Parish Church of Mellieha would have been an 18-minute walk up, but it’s probably just as well I didn’t go. I was wearing shorts and many churches here don’t approve of such attire.

We caught the bus back to Sliema and I was watching our progress on Google Maps. Some funny juxtapositions came to light.

Call the midwife

After dining out, we waited for our final bus of the day. Due to incredibly bad timing, it was ‘rush hour’ and the ‘queues’ were long and wide and disorganised.

The bus driver in Sliema was an angry man. He demanded to know why we hadn’t caught the bus in front of his. Well, it was full, plus, we weren’t 100% sure it was going where we wanted to go. Oh, it is, he assured us. Even though he didn’t have a clue where we were headed. His driving was atrocious too, our first roller-coaster experience in Malta. Gentle acceleration and braking were not in his skill set. I suggested to Liesel it might be his first day. She said it might be his last day!

If we hadn’t already consumed a beer (me) and a mojito (Liesel), we might well have indulged once we reached the safety of Paceville and home.

Did I mention a mojito? I’m not saying it contributed in any way, but Liesel fell up the stairs on the way home, earning some bruises for her efforts, to fingers and ego.

It’s halfway through our stay in Malta and it was time to do some laundry. We couldn’t believe the wash cycle was 4 hours long. It wasn’t. I think we misread 40 minutes. We left the balcony door open through the night to help the drying process. Big mistake. We were invaded by mosquitoes. I woke up with a few bites and Liesel has just one.

We followed up on a flyer we saw a couple of days ago, and returned to Valletta for a guitar recital. We joined between 30 and 40 others in the peaceful St Catherine of Italy Church for a number of pieces played on a Spanish guitar.

Bernard Catania

The music was very relaxing, the church was cool, in more senses than one, and I realised how much I enjoyed guitar music other than the almost ubiquitous electric guitar. The only downside was, the church pews were wooden benches, not a great difference from the hard seats on the bus! He re-tuned a couple of times but never used a capo. Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tarrega was stunning: it really did sound like there were two guitars being played.

I had a quick look around the small church before we left, and I did like this painting, purporting to be something religious, but in fact just depicting a small child being dragged to church on a Sunday morning.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the last day of the carnival and the streets were still packed with people, many of whom were in costume.

Crowds in the streets

We stopped briefly in MUŻA, The National Community Art Museum but again, it’s not fully open right now.

Brother and Sister of the Artist by Vincent Apap, 1923

We spent a lot more time in the Museum of Archeology, with artefacts dating back to 5000 BC. It was all interesting, of course, but I would love to travel back in time to see just how accurate some of the archeologists’ interpretations are.

Woman in stone

Looking at an exhibition of work by the artist Celia Borg Cardona was time well spent. She likes to paint scenes or people from above, from high up.

Mellieha Bay by Celia Borg Cardona, 2010

This picture brought back memories from our visit there, oh, a mere 24 hours ago!

Conservation work is going on in this museum too, and it was was interesting to watch a couple of the restorators at work for a short while.

Working hard at conserving/restoring paintwork and tiles on the wall

St John’s has been given equal billing to St Paul’s in Mdina, the seat of the Archbishop of Malta, hence we visited our first Co-Cathedral today here in Valletta. It is incredibly ornate and I was allowed in because today I had covered my legs.

Welcome to St John’s

One of the main attractions of this venue was the opportunity to view Caravaggio’s largest painting.

Beheading of St John the Baptist by Caravaggio, 1608

We couldn’t get too close to the painting but it is more impressive in real life than this photo can possibly show. The painter chose a dramatic moment in the narrative of the Biblical event – the moment after the death-blow had been struck with the sword, but before the executioner severed the last tendons with the knife retrienved from behind his back.

View from the balcony

Whenever I visit a church, whether Catholic or Anglican, I like to light a candle for my Mum and Dad and Sarah. There are no real candles here, though. Instead you insert your coin into a box, and one of several LED candles bursts into light. Not as satisfying, I feel, but I can understand the reluctance to light real candles, having spent years washing centuries of candle soot from the paintings and other surfaces here.

Candle in the wind

We returned to Upper Barrakka for a coffee, looked down on a huge cruise-shop and walked back to the bus station through throngs of costumed funsters.

Selfie of the day, with Triton Fountain

As we were about to turn a corner, we were nearly bowled over by a fast-moving mobility scooter. The sign on the back said ‘I’m electric and eco-friendly but I can still drive like a twat’. I may have made the last bit up.

Triton Fountain nearer the end of the day

The plumber had been to our Airbnb to plug a water leak that we’d been unaware of. In the proess, he’d rendered one of the toilets unflushable. Good job I noticed before I really needed to flush!

It was a long ride to Mdina but well worth it, even on the barely padded seats on the bus.

Mdina Gate

What a great, old, walled city. The streets are narrow, even narrower than what has become normal for us. The only downside today was the wind, blowing strongly and coldly along the narrow streets. Every door was stunning, the knockers all different, and a couple of the restaurants won’t open until the end of the month!

Olive tree

We visited the Mdina Glass shop, studied some of the items, wanted to buy some but in the end, we don’t have the space, we don’t need more stuff and one of the lampshades we liked might not fit where we want it to go, anyway.

Mdina Glass

We wandered the streets, enjoying the warmth of the Sun when available, and remarking how quiet it was, without much traffic. Our voices and people’s footfalls echoed and now and then, we heard the bells of the horses and their carriages.

St Agatha’s Chapel
Narrow street

We found the wall, well, we could hardly miss it, but we weren’t prepared for the view from the top: we could see most of the way across the island. You could see your enemies approaching from miles away. The signs warned us not to climb on top of the wall as it was a sheer drop.

What a view
Let’s spoil you with another selfie

After a coffee and lunch (Liesel) or cake (me), we split up. My lallies were out and I wouldn’t have been welcome in St Paul’s Cathedral so Liesel explored inside while I wandered around the city.

A gnarly old tree

I found the Ditch Gardens, Il Foss Tal-Imdina, and can confirm there are 273 citrus and seven olive trees. Some have been cut back quite radically: I’m sure the gardeners know what they’re doing but it might be a while before they’re producing fruit again.

Ditch Gardens of Mdina

I found a pastizzi stand and he only had cheese ones on offer so I had a cheese one, while watching some little people in the playground. The sculpture was a bit out of place, I felt, but the artist was unacknowledged.

Kissing couple

No overtaking

We’ve seen just a handful of nuns in Malta, but we did come across St Dorothy’s Convent.

St Dorothy’s Convent
St Paul’s Cathedral

Meanwhile, Liesel was taking pictures inside the fascinating and interesting Cathedral.

Death in the Cathedral (not to be confused with Agatha Christie’s new one)
St Paul’s Cathedral
Things are looking up
Most elaborate door knocker

We sightseed (sightsaw?) from the bus back to Valletta and I think the biggest surprise was passing the American Embassy, apparently out in the middle of nowhere.

Local drivers do like tail-gating and using their horns, so I’m not convinced of the efficacy of this sign: ‘Chance takers are accident makers’.

The Sun set, it became dark very quickly and it was nice to see Venus before she bade farewell.

Valletta and Sliema

Guess what? I rashly did something I hadn’t done for over forty years and the chances are I won’t repeat the experience for another forty years.

I went out for a walk around Paceville with a couple of chores in mind. Plus, of course, the desire to clock up at least 10,000 steps. I am in training for a major challenge in March, remember.

Anyway, I was admiring the local flora and fauna, some of which is very surprising.

The tactful cactus by the roadside

Yes, I wondered too, and I can confirm, this is a real cactus. It looks a bit out of place amongst the dandelions and other small weeds flowers. I was going to walk to the top of the hill, but once the pavement disappeared and the road became too narrow for safety, I gave up.

Eventually, I found my way to the barbershop and I was invited to return an hour later. I passed the time back in Valyou buying just four items and managing to get one of those wrong. What I thought was moisturiser turns out to be moisturising soap, although the word ‘soap’ appears nowhere on the bottle. So confusing. How I yearn for the ’80s when everything was a system. A bar of soap was known as a ‘hand-washing system’. You knew where you were, then.

Anyway, back in the barber’s, I declined the offer of an espresso and asked for a glass of water instead. I enjoyed some nice easy listening, such as Adele and this was followed by the whole unexpurgated version of Gangsta’s Paradise. Coolio! In fact, they played the whole album.

What did I want? A trim and a shave. A wet shave? Oh alright then, yes please. So began a whole hour of being ‘pampered’. So much goo and gloop on my face and hair. Some of the product stung a bit, the green paste smelt a bit like chocolate, the hot, wet towel over the face was nice, once I got over the feeling of being water-boarded. All conveniently located orifices were poked, prodded, probed and shorn and  eyebrows were trimmed. But my first wet shave in nearly half a century wasn’t at all refreshing nor relaxing.
What a haircut
When I returned home, the first thing Liesel noticed was my red face and red neck. Several hours later, she noticed red spots of blood and other marks on my chin and cheek. And even the lighest shower later in the day made my face sting. ‘Is your face hurting?’ Yes, a bit. ‘Because it’s killing me!’ Haha. Liesel did like my new smooth skin, something she has no previous experience of. But it’s interesting, and disappointing, to realise that the skin on my face and neck hasn’t toughened up one iota since I was a teenager.
All you need is love
The shadow is cast mid-afternoon. The sculpture well located. Its twin casts a shadow on the water of the bay, but it’s not easily readable except, presumably, on a really calm day.

Meanwhile, Liesel nodded off at home in the Sun, which is OK, but she also forgot to put the chocolate fingers back in the fridge, and that’s not OK!
Sunset over St Julian’s
We can see the sunset from our fifth floor apartment, but as it’s behind a very built-up area, on a hill, it’s not as spectacular as some others we’ve witnessed.

In the evening, we went for a short walk for some dinner. Italian rather than Maltese, so we’re getting closer to proper local food. It was a bit chilly walking back: yes, even I have to admit that!

The plan was to get up early and set off for Valletta. Well, the first time I looked at the clock, it was just before 10am. I slept well despite the ridiculous work-related dream in which the house numbers were in the wrong order and I had both a bike and a trolley to contend with. So glad I don’t have to do that sort of thing in real life any more!

We caught a bus to Valletta, retracing some of yesterday’s walk. We didn’t realise beforehand that this is Carnival weekend, and we were delighted to see a collection of brightly coloured floats.
One of the floats
The square was very busy and most of the children were dressed in very elaborate costumes. We saw princesses and unicorns, Disney and Harry Potter characters but also quite a few fire fighters, soldiers and other public servants.
Policemen get younger every year
Luckily, he didn’t arrest us. But what a shame that it’s no longer deemed acceptable to take pictures of strange children in strange places, even when they’ve gone to the great effort of drawing attention to themselves.
Independence Monument
Here in the Independence Ground, I indulged in a crêpe and, being British, I chose lemon and sugar. The person in front plumped for a pancake covered in Nutella to which the young lady added three Kinder bars. In unrelated news, Malta apparently has the highest rate of childhood obesity in Europe.
The cat sat on the train

Elvis lives
Some of the music was a bit loud, which safely drowned out me singing along to Abba.
A bee but not a Manchester bee
Once past the city gates, Valletta occupies a mere 1 km by 600 m peninsula, at the end of which we find St Elmo Bay and Fort St Elmo.

Liesel had a rest in the warmth of the Sun while I set off in search of a public toilet. It didn’t look too far to walk on Google Maps but in reality, I had to walk all round the houses, up and up a hill, into a nice little park. I know, TMI maybe, but, mid-stream, a foghorn went off and I jumped out of my skin!
Cargo ship with a very loud foghorn
It was only this huge cargo ship, almost too big for the harbour, but it got my heart rate up for a moment!

I feel sad and disappointed that we’d missed out on Expo 2015 in Milan, probably on account of not knowing about it at the time. I’m sure it would have been good fun. But, no matter. On the way back to Liesel today, I went into (the back door of) the Malta Experience museum, by St Elmo Bastions, to see if I could buy a couple of coffees to take away. Yes, of course. I don’t think many people ask for this service, but all the tables were occupied.
Expo 2015 cup
No, we didn’t keep the cup as a souvenir.

As well as seafood, the main meat on offer here in Malta seems to be rabbit.
Rabbit, tastes of chicken, apparently
We did try our first pastizzi today: one cheese and one pea. Lava-hot molten cheese on an unsuspecting tongue was made bearable by the overall experience of very flaky filo pastry. Liesel’s not usually a fan of mushy peas but this was more than OK!

We were persuaded by a very persuasive man to go for a ride on his karrozin, a horse-drawn carriage. He offered us mates’ rates, €35 instead of €40 plus, he’d drive us all round the city for 40 minutes instead of 35! Well, he chucked us off after a mere twenty minutes and of course, with a tip, we paid €40 anyway. I told his horse it might be boring dragging visitors around Valletta all day, but at least he didn’t have to run the Grand National.

One thing we noticed in Valletta, and even away from the city, is the large number of memorials dedicated to World War 2. In fact, the first stop on our karrozin mini-tour was the World War 2 Siege Memorial.
WW2 Siege Memorial
Mick and Liesel with our horse (centre)
We both commented on how slippery the pavements were. Very smooth, totally different to the ‘textured’ (lumpy, bumpy, unfinished) sidewalks in Paceville. It was funny to see that even the locals would occasionally slip and slide on the smooth marble-like paving stones. On the other hand, where the gradient was too steep even for Maltese feet, they put in some steps.
A pair of sidewalks
We watched people in and around Upper Barrakka for a while. I found a cup of coffee for 40 cents, which was nothing special, but it came in a polystyrene cup! I’d rather have a 5-year old Milan Expo cup, thanks very much!

In terms of wildlife, we didn’t see much. Just a shark, a cat and an octopus, really.
A sleepy cat, a tasty octopus and a scary shark
We caught a bus back to Sliema where we dined and imbibed before walking back home. As soon as the Sun dipped below the built-up western part of town, we noticed a dip in the temperature. We’d been told that the tap water here is safe to drink, just not very nice. But we didn’t expect to be buying water all the way from Wales, in a glass bottle! Mind you, they probably get enough rain there to top up the supply.
Water from Wales
I can’t get over the irony of this town being quite hilly and bumpy, and yet our walking has primarily been fairly flat, along the water front. After a good night’s sleep, we again walked to Sliema. The plan had been to catch a bus back to Valletta and visit the National Museum of Archeology. But the queue at the bus stop was huge and very disorganised, we thought we’d rather walk than stand up on a bus.

For the first time since the 2012 London Olympics, we saw some water polo being played. Only little people, but it was good to see. If only I’d brought my cossie.
Water polo
Again, we enjoyed seeing what other people were up to, whether locals or visitors. Imagine you’re standing underneath a rusty drainpipe during a rainstorm. Well, that’s the only possible way that lady acquired hair that colour. We passed a lady painting the view, and I felt inadequate for merely touching a white button on my phone to capture the same scene. I suspect her picture has more soul, though. The man standing over there waiting to be drenched by an incoming wave was very brave/daft* (*delete as applicable).
An artist at work
A wannabe Cnut
Some of the pedestrian crossings appear to be sponsored by a chain of coffee shops.
Crossing the line
Well, this subliminal advertising didn’t work on us: despite what I said earlier, we made a return visit to French Affaire for coffee and lunch. And I uttered not a single word of French, except when Liesel asked me what French for carrot cake was, and I replied ‘gâteau des carrotes’, which I think is pretty close.
Diana failing to attarct us too
Of all the images they could have used, the late Princess of Wales doesn’t make me want to visit this place.
A new build on top of a more attractive older one
By now, it was too late to visit the museum, so we went home, listened to the radio and read our books. I succeeded in completing a couple of sudokus, wrote for a while and we fought the ant invasion in our fifth-floor Airbnb apartment!

It’s peaceful here but we do hear quite a few sirens in the distance, not to mention probably just one or two boy racers riding their motor bikes at 100 mph while still in first gear. The building works have stopped for the weekend, but we haven’t heard as many church bells as we expected on a Sunday.

Spring Break

The world came into sharp focus, the colours became more prominent and vibrant, and so many different ones too! The clouds of pale, pasty, pastel colours disappeared. No, I hadn’t taken a psychedelic, mind-altering substance. I merely cleaned my glasses. It’s amazing what a big difference this simple activity can make to ones outlook. I should do it more often.

In the evening, we ventured into the big city to see a new stage version of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff was well played but not a very likeable character, so why both Cathy and Isabella were lusting after him beats me. One of my favourite actors, Samantha Power, played Nelly and really, the whole cast put on a wonderful performance. It’s on at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until March 7: please go along to admire the set, if nothing else! Here’s the review in the Guardian, although I might have given it more stars!

Sam Power as Nelly Dean

We probably won’t choose to sit in the front row of the first circle again: I probably shouldn’t fidget as much as I do anyway, but I felt very constrained by the lack of leg space.

We swapped babysitting days this week with the other grandparents. I collected the four charges while Liesel visited the hairdresser. Four? Yes, of course.

William, Gordon, Rapunzel and Martha

After we’d had lunch at our place, we took them to Catalyst in Widnes. ‘The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre is a science centre and museum, focusing on chemistry and the history of the chemical industry, next to Spike Island and the River Mersey in Widnes, Cheshire.’

It was fascinating to watch both Martha and William interact with the exhibits, even if, at the moment, the science is beyond them.

Martha concentrating on cubes

William feeding scarves into an air-driven labyrinth

There was the equipment to make a simple stop-action film but the most appealing option were the strong neodymium-iron magnets and the iron filings. Martha absorbed her daily RDA of iron through her fingertips, making flowers but steadfastly refusing to make a bridge between the north and south poles! We didn’t make it any further than the ground floor and there is plenty more to see, not just for little people.

We succeeded in keeping them both awake when we drove them home, much to their parents’ delight, I’m sure.
Back at home, Liesel and I finished off the perishable food, so it was a very strange supper. We did most of the packing now because we knew we wouldn’t have time in the morning, before leaving the house at a ridiculously early hour.

Yes, in case you haven’t guessed, we set off for some sunshine. Too much Winter so far here in Manchester and while we thought about joining Liesel’s parents in Hawaii, that’s just too far away. Instead, we’ve opted for the so-called Hawaii of the Mediterranean: Malta.

We caught the local bus to Manchester Airport, mixing it with everyday working people. We didn’t mind, I hope they didn’t, either.

We had a sort of breakfast while waiting for our gate number to be announced. This included the last few pieces of fruit from home. I don’t think we’ll ever get used to the wide variety of fashion on display at airports. In the same large hall, there are people dressed for the tropics and others dressed for the polar regions.

Going through Security was easy, much moreso than the last time Liesel flew out of Manchester.

I think this is the first time we’ve flown with Ryanair. At home last night, I had to pay to choose seats for the return flight before being allowed to print out boarding passes for the outward flight. And we had to do that in order to avoid paying an extortionate fee to check in at the airport!

But we did enjoy the opportunity to stand in several different queues before boarding the aeroplane, including once on an increasingly claustrophobic staircase!

The final queue, waiting to board the plane

My entertainment on the flight was plenty of reading and the pleasure of messing up two killer sudoku puzzles.

So, goodbye Manchester, hello Malta! Goodbye grey, hello blue skies! Goodbye 6°, hello 16°! Marvellous.

Blue sky and cranes

My glasses haven’t been tested in this way for a long time, but they went very, very dark when we left the building and walked into bright sunshine. When my eyes adapted, the first view warned us that the island is one big construction zone. Everywhere you look, there are cranes and half-built edifices. It’ll be great when it’s finished, of course. Even the pavements or sidewalks are bumpy and basically just a series of trip hazards for old stumble-foot here.

We caught a bus to our Airbnb in Paceville, St Julian’s. Any plans we had to sightsee on the way were dashed because the windows were covered in a glare-reducing film.

There’s a building site there, hidden from view

We’re staying on the top floor of the block, unfortunately facing away from the sea. We have to climb 91½ steps to our apartment, compared with 32 at home. Thankfully, the weight of our luggage was restricted by the airline’s rules! The half-a-step is at number 52, where the stair-mason must have had a bad day.

It’s going to take a while to get used to Maltese spelling and pronunciation. Here, when you want to finish a piece of writing, you have to dot some of the Ċs and Ġs and cross some of the Ħs, never mind anything else!

The building site over the road from our Airbnb

After meeting our Hungarian host, Barbara and settling in for a while, we went for a walk down the road. And I mean down. We’d forgotten what it’s like to walk up and down hills: Northenden, Didsbury and Manchester, even Chester Zoo, are all very flat. We dined in style at the local Wagamama’s: always good to try the local cuisine, we feel. The background music was by Take That, Natasha Bedingfield and Natalie Imbruglia.

After buying some basic groceries, we went back home, went to bed and while Liesel fell asleep quickly, I didn’t. I strongly suspect my Wagamama coffee wasn’t decaffeinated as requested. Still, I caught up on a couple of podcasts, read a lot, listened to another podcast, and, sometime after 2am, I think I drifted off and I hope my dreams don’t mean anything, they were weird, man.

Our first full day in the Republic of Malta started very slowly of course. Liesel suggested that maybe it’s a good job we can’t see the sea from here. If we could, she’d be sitting out on the balcony, disinclined to go out anywhere!

But after a slow start and a late breakfast, we did set off for a walk.
How lovely to get my legs out for the natives, they don’t know what they’ve been missing. It’s a lovely temperature here, yet they’re all walking around with jeans or trousers and thick coats and at least a couple had the nerve to look at me as if I’m the weirdo! T-shirt, shorts and sandals is perfectly adequate. I can already sense the vitamin D sizzling in my skin, so I feel great.

We walked about five miles, along the waterfront, from St Julian’s to Sliema and beyond.

St Julian’s Bay

We were pleased to see a Dublin pub, a Cuban club and the London Academy.

London Academy

Liesel only had her hair cut a couple of days ago and while I am in need of a tidy-up, this wasn’t the venue for me.
We did admire the many, brightly coloured balconies though and when we get home, we might invest in one for our luxury apartment in Northenden.

Strange multi-storey car park

Hire bikes are available but whether we follow up on that, I don’t know. The signs warning people over 12 years old not to cycle on the promenade were grim, but riding on a road narrower than the promenade amongst the traffic was even grimmer.

In other bad news, many signs told us that topless bathing was not allowed. So Liesel hastily put her top back on and we carried on, stopping for a break every so often, wishing we had children with us to play in the numerous playgrounds.

Litter bin pretending to be a hippo

As we wandered along, we heard bursts of music from cars and from building sites. The most popular artists seem to be Take That, Natasha Bedingfield and Natalie Imbruglia.

Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The rocky stony beach

Even if we’d seriously thought about bathing in the sea, the picture of twelve species of jellyfish would have deterred us. Only four of them give you a painful sting though, so that’s alright.

Beware jellyfish

The architecture was as mixed as the best that London has to offer. The contrast between neighbouring old and new is stunning.

Something old, something new

At Tigné Point, we stopped for lunch and coffee at a café called French Affaire. I caught myself saying ‘merci’ rather than ‘grazzi’ so I won’t be embarrassing myself there again!

At the end of a small pier (or a long jetty), we found a collection of rusty padlocks (not to be confused with the 1980s band of the same name), presumable each a token of someone’s affection for someone else. Over the water was the much more impressive Fort Manoel.

Fort Manoel

We walked to the next bus stop, caught a bus into Valletta and another bus back home again. We will spend more time in the capital, but we both felt the need for a rest.

I paid a return visit to Valyou, the local supermarket and our evening passed in the company of film music, books and the steady rhythm of two-finger typing.

Winter bites back

What an unexpected surprise to find another Bee in the City. Well of course it was a surprise if it was unexpected, Mick, that’s the nature of a surprise. It probably cheers up all the patients and visitors to Wythenshawe Hospital.

Bee in the City

The bus driver ignored my outstretched arm and those of a couple of other potential passengers. In true British style, we looked at each other, tutted, rolled our eyes and the chap with the watch looked at it crossly. It was late in the afternoon but quite nice so I decided to walk home instead. I was never too far away from the rumble from the motorway but it was interesting to see new and different sights on the way home.

Beauty and the Beast

You’re never more than a couple of feet away from litter of course, but the newly blooming flowers more than made up for that ugliness.

Yes, it was a beautiful late afternoon, so the one thing I didn’t anticipate having to do the following morning was to scrape the frost off the car. So I left that for Liesel. But I did scrape Jenny’s and Liam’s cars when we got there. I mean, I scraped the ice off their windscreens, I didn’t caused damage to the paintwork.

William and I played hide’n’seek and we took it in turn to chase each other inside, while (not) watching The Lion King. In the car, he ‘drove again’, turning the radio up to 61 and then looking at me like it was my fault. ‘It’s hurting my ears.’

At the café in Fletcher Moss Park, The Alpine Tea Room, we all shared a large slice of cake. Well, William ate most of it and then declared ‘I don’t like it’. But as with Martha, I think when he says this, he really means ‘I don’t want any more of this at the moment.’ But we had all eaten paninis and salad for lunch.

William the Stick Man on his Scuttle Bug

William rode his Scuttle Bug, a small tricycle but with no pedals nor brakes, and we were glad that none of the downhill slopes were too steep. And of course, there were sticks that had to be picked up and collected.

We went on a Bear Hunt in the Rockery, but found no real signs of a bear. The cave looked a bit artificial too, to be honest, but we had a good time, walking through the forest, up and down the steps, walking over the streams, and yes, of course, throwing sticks into the water.

In the Cave

A pretty purple flower

Martha the swinger, Grandad the pusher

Not enough cake? Jenny invited us over to Bramall Hall the next day, with both children, and we had cake and coffee. Martha and William enjoyed the playground, giving us all palpitations whenever they ran or walked in front of the swings!

Liesel and I wandered over to Didsbury as usual on the Saturday morning, not at all deterred by the lower temperature nor the muddy paths. More and more flowers are coming out now, hooray!

More pretty purple flowers

But they, poor things, could not have anticipated the destruction wrought by Storm Ciara. Gale force wind, torrential rain, thunder and lightning, sleet, snow, hail. And yes, I think these have been the coldest days of this Winter so far. The wind and the rain competed overnight: anything you can do, I can do louder, I can do anything louder than you.

Needless to say, a certain amount of SAD, lethargy and sleeping sickness all set in. My desire to hibernate kicked in again. Not much walking or strolling took place for a few days. Ciara was closely followed by Dennis and if Ellen, Francis, Gerda, Hugh, Iris and Jan come along, I shall be very windblown and wet!

Hail, hail, rock and roll

Liesel’s been living in the UK now for over 14 years. She met a lady who asked where she was from. On being told that Liesel hails from Alaska, the lady said, ‘Oh, your English is very good!’

 

 

 

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!