We go to Talkeetna

Jenny celebrated a birthday at home while Liesel and I were in Anchorage. I’m sorry we missed the party, but there’ll be plenty more later on. Happy birthday, Jenny!

Meanwhile, having been south to Juneau for a couple of days, it was now time to head north. We paid a return visit to Talkeetna, where we had our wedding party all those years ago.

The drive was uneventful, and sadly, one of the most notable features was the after effects of bush fires. Burnt trees from last year, or maybe several years ago. Despite the damage, some trees were trying to come back to life.

Burnt but regenerating trees

We drove through Willow, which at one point wanted to become the state capital. We stopped at Wasilla (famous for Sarah Palin) for coffee and use of WiFi (I went to Kaladi) and some shopping (Liesel went to Carrs). Nothing special.

In Talkeetna, we drove straight to Diane’s log cabin, where we stayed for a couple of nights. It’s secluded, in the woods, close to a pond (large pond, or small lake?) Surprise, surprise, Jyoti appeared!

Log cabin

The grebes on the water were determined not to swim too close to us. Maybe they had chicks to protect, but we’ll never know for sure. It was still warm and sunny, and we couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather.Diane,

Diane came by and we made our way into town. Well, Jyoti drive us into town.

Talkeetna itself was much more busy than we’ve ever seen it. There was the Arts Festival, there was live music and I’m sure some of the people were here to climb or explore Denali, the highest mountain in north America. Unfortunately, the Roadhouse has been closed since the pandemic. We were unable to go inside to check that the bottle top commemorating our marriage was still in place, nailed to the doorframe.

There’s a moose, loose, ootside the hoose

It’s always exciting to see wildlife but I wasn’t convinced by this moose. We spent some time looking at the various artworks on display. Would we like any of it in our flat? Yes, of course, some of it was really clever and attractive. Did we buy any? No. On another level, it’s just more stuff.

The live music was great though: I enjoyed listening to Lauren Crosby. She was meant to play the previous evening but, like us, her flight from somewhere extremely remote had been delayed. The organisers let her play a few songs this afternoon. I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes an appearance on my next radio show… watch this space!

Also: Ukulele Russ played ukulele versions of rock songs such as Van Halen’s Jump. Did I think to record it? Not until it was too late, sorry.

While the girls were looking at more stuff in shops, I went for a quick walk along the main street, in search of coffee. I’d heard about the world famous espresso milkshakes offered by Conscious Coffee and of course, I tracked it down after visiting the wrong emporium first.

Softball

There was a sporting event in town too: softball. This is a variation on baseball, which is a variation on rounders, and there was quite a crowd watching the game. Including Jim, Diane’s husband, who she tracked down by locating his bicycle.

Back at the cabin, we sat beside the pond for a while. Did I go in for a swim? No: I dangled my feet in up to my ankles and told myself, it’ll still be here tomorrow!

We ate dinner outside too and it was nice to have a long, light evening, by the pond, without being bothered by mosquitoes or midges.

No official name, so: Mick’s Pond

The pond doesn’t have an official name, but all the local people refer to it in their own way, referring to previous occupants of their property, or to the men who built our cabin.

In fact, it didn’t really get dark all night. For the usual reason, I was up at about midnight and again about 2am, and it was light enough to read by. Did I mention mosquitoes? Well, one did manage to find its way into the cabin.We heard the high-pitched whine, but we never managed to track it down. On the other hand, it didn’t track me down either.

I’ve missed Jytoi’s fried eggs on toast so I was delighted when she offered to cook my breakfast in the morning. In fact, I probably accepted the offer far too quickly, before it had been fully vocalised.

Liesel is working for lawyer Amrit. Amrit and her husband Siri also have a cabin near Talkeetna. Jyoti drove us over to see them. Cabin? It’s huge! It’s a big barn that, at one point in its history, could have been turned into a boarding school. It’s a fascinating place, full of stuff, it’s not for me to call it junk, but lots of old books and hundreds of boxes of other… clutter, yes, that’s the word.

Amrit’s barn

In a feat of strength, I helped Siri carry a huge DeWalt saw to the back of his car. This is probably the heaviest item I’ve lifted for many years. Muscles and back were OK, but that 30 seconds of exercise were enough to leave me short of breath for a few minutes.

After showing us around the cabin/barn, Siri took us for a hike through the woods. I thought we were headed for nearby Sunshine Lake, but we didn’t find it. Maybe we were walking the boundary of the property, like we sometimes walk the parish bounds at home, but there were no stakes marking the different properties.

Jyoti, Amrit, Liesel, Siri

Eventually, what drove us back was the devil’s club, a really thorny, prickly, aggressive looking plant that was growing at the edge of the trodden path, but occasionally on it. No need to scratch our delectable legs more than necessary.

Devil’s club

If it had started walking towards us, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I’m sure it was partly the inspiration for John Wyndham’s triffids.

When away from the others talking, it was so peaceful: the only sound was birdsong, but other than the large American robin, I didn’t see any birds here.

Birch bark

This birch bark felt like thick paper and it gave me the idea of maybe pulping wood, and turning into paper. It would be ideal for writing on and maybe even for wrapping birthday presents.

Back at the cabin, I thought about going for a swim in the pond. It would be refreshing, after the hot, sweaty walk in the woods.

Just jump in, they all said. No, thanks. I climbed down the steps very slowly, getting used to the temperature. Or, letting my lower legs grow numb with cold. The water was refreshing yes, but just a little too cold for comfort.

In the end, I swam for just a few minutes. When I climbed out, I lied that it wasn’t the cold water that beat me, but remembering the dead fish we’d seen floating by yestertday.

Jim told us that it really was worthwhile going on a flight around Denali. You land on a glacier and have a quick walk and a quick gawk. We didn’t have time on this visit, although the weather was ideal for such an adventure.

Denali

But near Talkeetna, is a fantastic lookout point, so this was the best sighting we had of the mountain.

After tea and crackers, we bade farewell to Jyoti, who was heading back to Anchorage prior to flying to Portland.

It was Diane’s birthday, and she invited us over to her place for cake. There, we met Stacey and Troy, local artists, woodworkers and generally all-round good guys. They were off to Portland soon, too!

Everyone in Alaska has dogs. And in any group of people, everyone else is fond of the dogs and one of us isn’t that interested. So guess who the dogs come over to bother every time? They sniff and puff and pant and sit by my feet and beg for a stroke and I’m thinking, you’d get far more attention from everyone else in the room!

It’s been dry lately, almost a drought in Alaska. So there’s lots of dust in the air. And it’s far less humid than at home. I suspect this change in conditions has affected my fingerprints. I rely on this biometric to start my phone a hundred times a day. But just lately, it hasn’t recognised my fingerprints at all. And after five attempts, I get locked out for 30 seconds.

Take me home, dusty roads

There’s a 9-hour time difference between Alaska and home, so that meant Liesel had to attend an online WI meeting early in the morning. I think she enjoyed showing off the cabin and the pond to the ladies of the WI, before getting down to WI business.

We packed, locked up and drove back to Anchorage, again stopping briefly in Wasilla. In Anchorage, we visited Kohl’s where Liesel bought some shorts for our next little trip. She hadn’t brought any with her from home because, seriously, who expects heatwaves in Alaska?

Mountains again

Of course I had to take another picture of the mountains. And of course, I had to share it.

Just be grateful I didn’t take pictures of the game shows we endured on TV, Wheel of Fortune, Double Jeopardy, and another one whose name escapes me. There are some vey excitable, excited people in America!

I slept pretty well, albeit with some strange, vivid dreams that shall remain private.

We need to talk about Juneau

Jyoti picked us up, me and Liesel that is. Not physically, but in her car. We spent some time at her place and went for a short walk in the woods nearby, overlooking the bluff. We sat outside her condo for a while, admiring the tree that’s been chopped down (for some unknown reason) but is slowly trying to come back to life.

Jyoti’s regenerating tree

It was entertaining to watch the relationship between the dog, Basil, and the cat. Don’t ask who’s in charge, because it’s very hard to tell.

Jyoti kindly drove us to the airport and then back home so that Liesel could pick up her passport. Then back again to the airport. Did you know, Ted Stevens Airport at Anchorage is the fourth largest cargo airport in the world? At least, according to the mural inside.

We were flying to Juneau, the isolated state capital, only accessible by air and by sea.

My pedometer caused grief as we went through security: just because you never walk anywhere, doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t keep records of our daily perambulations, Sir, I thought but didn’t say out loud.

The flight was delightfully short: everywhere should be this close. As the plane started its descent, we saw Southeast Alaskan mountains for the first time. You can never have too many pictures of mountains. (Oh yes you can.)

Mountains (southeast Alaska)

Michael drove the shuttle bus to our hotel. Entertainment here was provided by an Indian lady berating her husband. Sadly, not in English. The ingratitude of the wife rose an octave when she saw the fairly dilapidated state of the Driftwood Hotel. It really does need some TLC. It’s supposed to be a completely smoke-free environment, but our room had the faint tinge of cigarettes from years past, which almost but not quite concealed the aroma of cleaning chemicals.

Having said that, our room was clean and comfortable and secure enough. We were on the top floor. Our friend Monica was staying here too while working in Juneau for a week. The staircase closest to her room was taped off. I don’t think it was long for this world.

It was lovely to see Monica, and she really didn’t deserve the extreme pain and grief I caused while hugging her and squeezing the shoulder injured a few weeks ago when she slipped on ice. I was mortified. There was no way I could undo the damage. If you’re reading this, Monica: once again, I am truly, truly sorry.

We drove to Auke Bay where we ate at the Forbidden Peak Brewery. At these breweries, each person is only allowed to consume 32 oz per day of alcoholic beverages. None of us reached this target. I ate salad and chips, which is my default option at these meat-heavy places. Very nice, very tasty.

On the way back to Juneau, we stopped off at Mendenhall Glacier for a few minutes.

Mendenhall Glacier

It was too late to walk to and around the glacier on this occasion, but it’s been added to the ever-growing list of places to return to, one day.

A nearby hut displayed copious information about the glacier and the surrounding area. This hut had been invaded by a couple of families of swallows, we saw them nesting in the rafters.

Mountains (the view from our hotel window)

We slept well and as Monica was working, we rose quite early for breakfast. Needless to say, I was the slowest to get ready, but I soon caught up with Liesel and Monica at The Rookery. Even if Google Maps took me the really long way.

The barista drew a wonderful fern on my latté. I complimented him on his artwork, he said he’d give it a C. The second cup (yes, yes, I had a second cup, so what?) he thought he decorated better. C+.

Northern lights

The atmosphere is enhanced by photographs displayed on the walls. We won’t see the northern lights at this time of year in Alaska, so this is a good second best. Yes, I should have made a note of the photographer’s name, sorry.

Monica went to work, leaving Liesel and me to visit the museum. Which, strangely, is where Monica was working.

It covers the whole history of Alaska, from its first settlement from across the then Bering land bridge, the Russians, the Americans. Again, we were embarrassed by the white Europeans mission seemingly to disrupt and destroy any other culture that had survived for thousands of years.

Thunderbird screen

Xeitl X’een Thunderbird screen

In southeast Alaska, Tlingit clan history was preserved in precise detail between generations. Stories of their origins and early activities were passed orally over thousands of years. Elders coached young people to commit to memory these histories. Accuracy was very important. These histories are also represented in songs, personal and place names, and as symbolic crests on regalia, totemic carvings, and other decorated objects, To this day, clan history, tangible and intangible, is considered sacred property. This screen documents the history of the Thunderbird House of the Yakutat Tlingit. In the early 20th century, clan leader Frank Italio, Kuchein, commissioned the screen from artist Woochjix’oo Eesh (In Everybody’s Arms-Father), a L’uknax.ádi man. The Shangookeidi clan claims the thunderbird crest through their ancestors’ contact with the creature. At the center of the screen is the sculptural carving of the Thunderbird, and painted below this figure are two Shangookeidi ancestors. These figures may be young men, whose fatal encounter with a thunderbird’s feather is memorialized in a clan song. Four stylized raindrops fall down the sides of the screen, and two long black clouds float above the thunderbird’s wings. The faces all around represent hailstones, falling on the Thunderbird’s mountain home.

[Xeitl X’een Thunderbird Screen Thunderbird House (Xeiti Hit), Shangookeidi clan, Yakutat Tlingit, 11-3-845]

I’m glad I committed this story, from the museum, to memory: I just wish I knew what the Tlingit words all actually meant.

The focus was on south and southeastern Alaskan natives, which Liesel found particularly interesting since her previous knowlecge focused on the northern peoples.

Totem pole fragment of the first white man

This totem pole fragment marks the local people’s first encounter with a white man. You may think he looks familiar. The wood carver, over 100 years later, based his design on Abraham Lincoln, probably the most famous white person known at the time. The local Indians were considered a problem for the invaders. ‘The only solution of the problem of the Indian is found, it seems, in the simple theory that there are no good Indians except dead ones’. No, this isn’t from a current edition of The Daily Mail, it’s from Douglas Island News, December 1900.

Well, to cleanse our palates from the interesting, if sometimes disturbing, exhibits in the museum, we walked around Juneau, making our slow way towards the tram. There’s a map of the world marked out in studs on the boardwalk.

Map on the boardwalk (down by the sea…)

I wonder how many of the thousands of passengers from the cruise ships actually notice it?

Tram

This tram took us 1800 feet up Mount Roberts from where we enjoyed a terrific view of the town and the inlet. It’s a very popular destination for cruise ships, of which we saw four docked today, and a few different ones later on.

Cruise ships visiting Juneau

Disney Wonder: 2,400 passengers.
Viking Orion: 930 passengers.
Quantum of the Sea: 4,905 passengers.
Zuiderdam: 1,916 passengers.
That’s a substantial increase on the city’s resident population, about 32,000 people.

Up at 1800 feet, the last of the snow is melting. Liesel wasn’t interested in a snowball fight so, like a tourist, I just posed.

Mick v snow
So many restrictions!

Many towns have a surplus of pigeons. Not Juneau. No, here, ravens rule the roost, and I think their song (if it can be called a song) might well be my next ringtone.

Raven

Back down in town, our late lunch was a shared plate of nachos, nothing special, but with a nose-eye view of one of those ocean-going liners.

Take a bow

Our wandering continued, upwards. Inside the Russian Orthodox Church, we weren’t allowed to light candles in remembrance of our lost loved ones. It’s very dry here right now, and people are very conscious of the risk of fire.

Russian Orthodox Church

Cope Park marked the summit of our ascent on this occasion, nice and peaceful, with a river running through.

Did I mention how steep some of the roads are?
Cope Park

Given how much it snows here, I was surprised to see that most of the roofs aren’t as steep as this place.

Steep roofs (or is it rooves?)

There are stories of rooves (or is it roofs?) caving in under the weight of so much snow and ice. Yet we at home in England begin to worry when there’s more than half an inch of snow!

We found the Whale Fountain and sat there for a while. Monica set out to meet us but didn’t quite make it. Well, you wouldn’t, if you walk in exactly the wrong direction!

Takhu the whale
Takhu with bonus rainbow

I calculated the best place to stand in order to see rainbow colours in the water spray. Spherical geometry, trigonometry and knowledge of the refractive index of water all played a part. Really? No, I just stood with the Sun behind me, that worked.

We were delighted to see our hotel bedecked in bunting for Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Nope, it was for America’s Memorial Day this weekend. Monica was back from work now, and we walked over to a restaurant called Salt for dinner. Several of Monica’s colleagues joined us: Ellen, Sarah (from the UK), James and there I’m afraid my memory runs out. James’s partner is one of a set of identical triplets. By an amazing coincidence, Monica has met with another identical triplet, from a different family, all interested in the field of restoration and preservation

Thinking I might have dessert, I had a so-called starter as my main course, a salad in fact. But: American portions, no dessert for me.

It had been a busy old day, lovely to meet some new people of course, but I was glad to find myself horizontal in bed, with no desire to read nor listen to a podcast. Zzz.

Sandpiper ravens

Next door to our hotel is The Sandpiper, probably so-called because of the ravens that have taken up residence here. This is where we broke our fast before another day of sightseeing.

I think Liesel and I very quickly came to realise how much we liked Juneau. And how we would like to spend more time here. But the weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny on this occasion. It’s famous for its rain and occasional very strong winds, I wonder if we’d be so keen in such conditions? I commented on how nice it was not to see the the usual suspects, McDonalds and Starbucks, anywhere. Liesel said she had seen a McD, but it was much closer to the airport.

Impulse buying doesn’t only apply in supermarkets, when you grab a bar of chocolate at the check-out desk. Native gift shops are quite attractive too. There’s a lot here that we couldn’t buy, because we can’t take it out of Alaska, or into the UK, such as seal fur, walrus and mammoth ivory. But that didn’t stop Liesel buying a pair of earrings. Or me buying a tie. Yes. me, Mick, bought a new tie for the first time since I had long hair and a full beard. What on earth is going on?

Monica drove us to Jensen-Olsen Arboretum, where we enjoyed looking at and sniffing the flowers. Plus, a quick walk on the beach.

Jensen-Olsen Arboretum
Japanese wood poppy

A short drive away is the Shrine of St Thérèse. For someone who only lived to the age of 24, she seems like a good sort, and is very popular. The shrine did bring back a memory that I long ago buried though. When my Mum was dying, I wondered whether, as a lapsed Catholic, she might take some comfort from being visited by a priest. When I suggested this to Dad, the look of horror, fear, defiance, even hatred, on his face, told me that that was never going to happen. So sad.

National Shrine of St Thérèse
Merciful Love Labyrinth

No, we didn’t walk through the labyrinth: too risky, we might get lost. Or leapt upon by a hidden wild animal.

Driving back towards Juneau.
‘Why are those people letting their dog go to the other side of the road? And why are they taking pictures of it?’
‘That’s not a dog, it’s a bear.’

And it was, a black bear minding its own business noshing on something. Those people had stopped for the photo opp, but by the time we realised, we were too far away. Still, I can tick ‘black bear’ off the list, now!

There’s just one bridge between Juneau and neighbouring Douglas Island, and that’s where we spent the rest of the afternoon.

I’m so insecure in my cultural awareness, I had to make sure it’s still ok to call this thing a totem pole.

Totem pole

It is, and this bright colourful one is right by Savikko Park, which is partly a nice sandy beach. We watched some people having fun in the sea, which I assumed would be quite cold because over the other side, you can see freshly melted snow running down the mountains.

Mountain (from Savikko Park) > snow > ice > water

Further along, there’s a nice trail on and around the old Treadmill mine. If you want to set up a mine of your own, there is plenty of discarded old (and sometimes rusty) equipment just left lying around.

Flange (used for flangeing, I think)

Actually, just leave it all where it is. Some of the mines are nearly half a mile deep, and I am reminded how lucky I am to be around in a time and place where I didn’t have to work in such places.

Wharf

This is what’s left of the wharf where all the equipment and supplies were delivered.

For a late lunch, we had pizza at The Island Pub, as recommended by a couple of people.

Back in Juneau, we rested by the whale fountain for a while. I noticed how prickly the grass was, but maybe it’s for walking on, not lying on.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, people of Japanese ancestry living on America’s West Coast were forcibly removed and incarcerated in isolated government internment camps.

In May 1942, the seniors at Juneau High School left an empty chair during their graduation ceremony to underscore the absence of their Japanese-American valedictorian, John Tanaka. By extension, this empty chair honors all of the Japanese uprooted from their homes and communities.

The Empty Chair Memorial represents the void the people of Juneau felt for their missing friends and neighbors impacted by this injustice. The names of those interned are etched on the bronze floor.

A time may come when these names will be forgotten, but the symbol of the empty chair will remind future generations of the lessons learned from this compelling and poignant story.

Yes, we made the pilgrimage.

Empty Chair Memorial

Monica literally drove us to the end of the road. This was south, along Thane Road, through a place called Thane, to the signs saying ‘This is the end of the road, turn around, go back, here be dragons’, or something. A reminder that Juneau can only be reached by sea and air.

Speaking of which, we returned to the airport where Monica dropped off the rental car, and we went through security before our flight back to Anchorage. And, in another first-time-ever scenario, my hat was searched. I was too, but my hat looks big, so, do you mind if I have a look at it?

Note to self: when smuggling contraband, the hat is no longer a safe hiding place

In and around Anchorage

After a relatively long walk yesterday, we thought we’d take it easy and just walk up to the coffee shop and back. I say ‘just’ but even that little jaunt helps us achieve our daily target of 10,000 steps.

Our eyes were of course peeled for moose and bears. But in the end, the most exciting wildlife we saw on this occasion was a family of bald eagles. When we first saw the chick in flight, we thought it was a crow or something. Then, seeing it pursued by an eagle, we thought it was dinner. Then we realised: both parents were showing their chick the ropes.

Bald eagles

This was our first visit to Kaladi Brothers Coffee this visit and, since it wasn’t too busy, we enjoyed our coffee inside.

On the walk back home, Liesel pointed out a mound of snow that hasn’t yet melted. I didn’t recognise it as such, it was covered in so much debris.

Dirty snow

This is a typical Alaskan scene. Cooler boxes airing outside the garage, while a pair of waders is taking the air on the washing line.

Coolers and Waders (not to be confused with the 1970s prog rock combo)

It is a very outdoorsy place, and when the weather’s this good, it’s easy to see why. But the weather isn’t always this kind of course. When it snows, it snows. You can easily lose a fire hydrant in the snow. So to make it easier to find, they attach a red and white pole to it. This shows how deep the snow can be at its worst. You could bury an entire upright Liesel in it.

Hydrant, hi Liesel

As suspected, I starred in this week’s advert for Boxx 2 Boxx back at home.

Boxx 2 Boxx ad

Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary is a lovely nature reserve, and we can enjoy walking on its extensive boardwalk. Again, the Sun was out, the sky was blue and the temperature was perfect. And again, you can’t escape seeing mountains way over there in the distance.

Boardwalk

There are several species of bird here, although we only saw a few flitting here and there, too fast to identify. Another family of eagles owned the sky while very pretty blue tree swallows stayed nearer our level.

Swallows

Another first for this visit was seeing a moose.

Moose

It seemed to be enjoying what it was eating. But we’d noticed the water here was a bit oily. This is effluent from residential and industrial premises. But the vegetation here prevents the nasty chemicals from entering the main body of water, so it all seems under control. I just hope the moose aren’t ingesting something really nasty.

We collected Jyoti from the airport. Her journey back from wherever she’d been was delayed by a food truck crashing into her aeroplane. They hadn’t boarded yet, but I can imagine the groan running around a planeful of disappointed passengers. So, we collected Jyoti but no luggage. This didn’t appear until late the following day.

In the evening, Liesel and I met up with Aaron and Jodi for a meal at a place called Ginger. The food was great, very flavourful, but I’d forgotten how large American meals are, and I couldn’t finish my curry.

I’d also forgotten that American toilets are different. I washed my hands and stood there for ages waiting for the air dryer to come on, only to realise it was in fact a paper dispenser. I’m glad nobody was there to witness my incompetence.

It hasn’t rained here for a long, long time, which means everything is dry, and it’s very easy for bush fires to take hold. As at home, these are often started by people lighting fires and barbecues in inappropriate places.

Liesel got up early, ridulously early, to visit the Strech Zone. I thought she’d come back about 6 feet tall, but apparently it’s not that kind of stretching. Just the muscles, and just enough to make you feel uncomfortable afterwards.

After breakfast, we drove over to Jyoti’s place where Liesel swapped me for Suvan, Jyoti’s son. Liesel drove him to Amrit’s office where he now works, at least part time, and I went for a nice long walk with Jyoti.

A small 7-petalled wonderflower

There are some small flowers, including this one with an unusual number of petals. Someone will tell us what it’s called!

The terrain was hilly in the forest over the way, something I’m not really used to any more. Basil the dog carried the bear bells so we didn’t have to. On the way back, a motorist stopped to tell us that there was a bear the other side of the roundabout: the roundabout that we’d just walked around. Yes, I’d like to see a bear in the wild but no, I don’t want to be that close!

We returned to Jyoti’s condo and then proceeded to drink coffee on a friend’s porch. That’s a bit presumptuous, I thought, but hey-ho, I’m sure she knows what she’s doing. We picked up our coffees from Kaladi Bros and yes, we really did go and plonk ourselves in someone else’s back yard.

Jetty on Sand Lake

Back yard? Patio? Jetty? I didn’t want to admit to my ignorance by asking, but what a vista to gaze upon each morning.

Carrie (sp? not sure) is a paediatrician and now lives right next to Sand Lake. She has a couple of little dogs.

Dog or Yoda?

What a lovely, peaceful place she has here,  well back from the main road.

Meanwhile, Liesel was at work with Amrit and Suvan. Before going out for dinner, Liesel had some errands to run. As she drove us round, I became more and more disoriented. Yes, I know the mountains are in that direction, but I would have struggled to find my way back if I’d needed to.

Catherine and Hans live in a fabulous house up the hill in the Golden View area. And the view is spectacular, looking out over most of the city.

Sunset over Anchorage

Catherine baked quiche and we ate outside, watching the Sun set. This picture was taken just before 10pm, although neither of us realised it was quite that late. It stays light here for most of the night!

They told us about a house fire that had recently taken place close by, down the hill a bit, and they watched the helicopters flying by at the height of their deck as they brought in large buckets of water to douse the flames.

What a long day that was, and I’m sure we both fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

Touchdown in Anchorage

What a strange couple of days. Helen arrived from Australia one day, then Liesel and I went to Alaska the next. Oops, sorry: spoiler alert. Yes, it’s strange the way things worked out, but we’ll definitely spend more time with Helen later in the year.

Let’s start again. Helen was met at the airport by Jenny and William. We’d arranged to meet them later on, and William wanted to surprise us. When we arrived at their house, William was stomping about in his new Spidey shoes. The lights in the heels were flashing and he really wanted us to admire them. He invited me up to his bedroom which was darker, so easier to see the flashing lights. Then he pulled the bed covers back to reveal…
“Oh, a new cuddly toy?”
“No, it’s Auntie Helen!”

Helen’s plans this visit include a trip down south to see some friends. Today, we drove over to Bramall Hall, where we had lunch and spent some time feeding ducks and in the playground.

Liesel and Helen
William the duck feeder
Rhododendron

Back at home, Liesel and I did some more packing and I spent a long, long on hold on the phone before adding Helen to our car insurance policy. It didn’t cost anything in the end, but something as simple as that should be possible via the website. That would take some pressure off the under-staffed call centre.

Back at Jenny’s we had an Indian takeaway for our last meal before heading for Anchorage. Both William and Martha were in top form, very funny and engaging. Very happy to see Auntie Helen, and not just because she always comes bearing gifts. I was pleased to receive gifts of chocolate and TimTams, thank you Helen!

Helen, Martha and William with Jenny and Liam way over there

Liam drove us home in his car. We left our old jalopy for Helen to use. We went via the pharmacy to pick up the last of Liesel’s prescription. From the pharmacy where, at 8 o’clock that morning, we’d gone for the Covid test required before entering the USA.

Back at home, we finished the packing, prepared the flat to be deserted for a while and went to bed for a short sleep. The taxi picked us up at 4 in the morning. We thought we’d catch up on sleep on the long flight later on. Hah!

Manchester Airport was ridiculously busy that early in the morning, mostly for Easy Jet flights as far as we could see. We were off to Frankfurt on Lufthansa in the first place. It was good to be in the air, in my case, for the first time in over two years.

The myth of German efficiency was blown at Frankfurt Airport. We needed proof that we’d been vaccinated against Covid and a negative Covid test from within 24 hours. Without these documents, one uploaded at home yesterday and one stored on our phones and printed out, we would have had to complete a 7-page form supplied by the US authorities.

But at the first desk, the clerk didn’t even have a computer. So he couldn’t see our vax documents, nor my ESTA. Go to a second desk. The clerk here was busy chatting. Go to a third desk. At last, someone fully equipped to see that we were allowed to travel.

In the end, our flight was nearly an hour late taking off. Only at landing in Anchorage did we find out that some of the passengers were refugees from Ukraine. This ‘special’ group of people were allowed to disembark first. We didn’t know why: a sports team? A secret military operation? Nope, refugees, greeted by at least a couple of TV crews. I suspect if you see this footage, you’ll see me and Liesel at the back, gurning behind our masks.

Thomas Cook cup

The flight itself was uneventful, but this water cup brought back many happy memories of when I worked at this wonderful travel agents’ HQ in Peterborough. I wonder whether that horrible Cobol program IPP06 ever worked properly? Good to see the old stock being used and not just thrown away.

There be mountains

On seeing the first snow-covered mountain from the aeroplane, we knew we were very nearly at our destination.

On the Customs form, Liesel declared the chutney that we’d bought for a friend. This triggered a full search of all of our bags. They found an apple in mine, one that I’d forgotten to eat on the flight. I try not to commit crimes in the USA, yet here I am.

Going through immigration, the official asked to take a photograph of Liesel, something not previously required of an American citizen. When he asked to take my picture, I stood where Liesel had been standing. “Oh no sir, please stand over there, in front of the camera.” We suspect he didn’t get a picture of Liesel, but just didn’t want to admit that he’d asked for one in error. Welcome to the USA say the signs, and I always say to myself, I’ve never been made to feel so unwelcome anywhere.

Liesel’s Mom drove us home from the airport, and I think I just slumped for the rest of the day. I dozed off a couple of times in flight, but I didn’t have a long, satisfying sleep.

It was good to see Mom and Dad, Leslie and Klaus again: Liesel has of course been here quite recently, helping them both through various medical interventions.

Our first night’s sleep here was interrupted when Klaus had a diabetic hypo, and required assistance from 6 absolutely gorgeous paramedics. Liesel’s words, not mine: they were all wearing masks so I couldn’t gauge how attractive they were. But they were all very supportive, attentive, informative and helpful. And they arrived within a few minutes of the 911 call.

Our first full day in sunny Anchorage was taken up by walking in the great outdoors. And it really was sunny, and very warm. Liesel and I walked along part of the coastal trail starting near Westchester Lagoon.

Kayaking in the lagoon

It’s very picturesque with the snow-covered mountains in the background, and thank goodness all the snow has thawed in the city itself.

Sandhill cranes

The sandhill cranes were on the mud flats, where we are advised not to walk. We followed a railway line for a while and I though I heard the hoot of a train approaching, but we never saw one.

The cargo ship being towed to the Port of Alaska was huge. Apparently 80% of everything that comes into the state is imported through this port.

We walked back to the car through a nice, quiet neighbourhood. The New Sagaya supplied our first coffee of this trip and my first bagel.

We drove to Una and Phil’s house, about half an hour away.

Old, old, old, old car

We followed this old banger for a while and I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether it’s a Ford, a Daimler, a Buick, a Plymouth, a Chrysler or something else. Oh and look, there are mountains in the background.

Una’s parents are visiting from Florida too. Liesel and I haven’t seen them since Una’s investiture as a Judge nearly four years ago. Mom Lalita has written another book, this one about her family in India over several generations, and she kindly gave us a copy which we’re looking forward to reading.

Una, Phil, Liesel and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood: I think it’s fair to say it was a bit more affluent than where we’d been earlier in the day.

Just a small plane

There’s an airstrip just down the road, and later on, I filmed a small plane landing here.

Helicopter

Liesel turned down my invitation to sit on the chopper so I could take her picture. But here it is parked, or docked by the strip.

Just a small boat

There’s a new estate, or subdivision, here built in what looks like a big hole, just below the airstrip. I think these house are quite close together, given the amount of space there is in the largest state in the union. But you’re never too far from the sight of mountains.

New houses

Well that was a great walk, slightly hilly, hot and sweaty, but did I feel short of breath? Not at all. Not until I carried a bag of shopping up the short, steep drive back at home.

In the evening, Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon came over for dinner. While everyone else tucked into their marinaded steaks, I enjoyed my Quorn nuggets.

I think we both slept much better this second night. This, despite the fact that it’s only properly dark overnight for a couple of hours at this time of year. 

A Tale of, like, Two Cities (Part 2)

The story so far: we’re in London, now temporarily residing in a flat close to the South Bank.

We agreed it was probably too far to walk to Paddington Station this early in the morning, so instead we enjoyed a bus ride. Two buses in fact, changing in Oxford Street. Yes, Oxford Street, famous for Selfridges, John Lewis and the now ubiquitous Candy Stores.

Sarah wasn’t due to arrive from Exeter until about 10:30 so we passed the remaining few minutes at a coffee bar. Of course we did. In the station, I found the statue of Paddington Bear, from whom the railway terminus takes its name.

Paddington Bear

Liesel wanted to visit another clothes shop, but before setting off in the direction of St Christopher’s Place, Sarah forced us to sit down for another coffee. We hadn’t seen her since our visit to Exeter before Christmas, and to be honest, she hasn’t changed much.

It was a nice day for another long walk along the streets of London, but the sunny side was so much warmer than the other, shady, side of the street. And of course, it’s always good to explore places new to us.

Just a shop window

I thought this dress would look good on Liesel, but no, we didn’t even go into this shop. It’s in an area called Hyde Park Estate, which I’d not heard of before, and, as I confirmed when I looked at the map, it’s not even that close to Hyde Park. Probably an invention from the tortured mind of an estate agent.

As the plaque says:

St Christopher’s Close

“From a forgotten backwater to one of London’s loveliest shopping streets” 18th Century- Originally known as Barretts Court after the local owner John Barrett In the 18th Century and early 19th Century the area became a slum, situated off Tyburn Street, now Oxford Street, which lead directly to the Tyburn Gallows at Marble Arch. The last public hanging took place in 1783.

19th Century – Redeveloped in the 1870’s for social housing under the patronage of Octavia Hill, joint founder of the National Trust, the street also included a variety of historic trades – lampmaking, chandlers, cheese-mongers, drapers and bookmakers. The Lamb and Flag public house became a favourite haunt for anarchists.

20th Century – While adjoining Oxford Street became the busiest shopping street in Britain, St Christopher’s Place declined and by 1987 there were many empty properties. A major modern office redevelopment was proposed with the buildings being demolished.

It was then that Robin Spiro, a somewhat unconventional property developer, appeared on the scene believing, against the prevailing trend, that demolition was not the answer and that a period, small scale, shopping thoroughfare could successfully preserve something of the past in today’s busy world. And so St Christopher’s Place was transformed into one of London’s loveliest shopping streets.

It really is very cute. And surprisingly quiet given its proximity to Oxford Street.

We thought The Hour was a whole shop. But it turned out to be just one rack of clothes in a larger shop. I left the women there to do their thing while I went for another solo wander. From Oxford Street, it would be so easy to miss the turning into St Christopher’s Place, it’s a very narrow entrance. And certainly, over the decades, I have always missed it.

I wanted to pay a quick visit, a pilgrimage even, to Hyde Park, where I spent many happy hours and days when I lived, studied and worked in London. The window displays in Sefridges are as good and creative as ever. The current theme is SuperFutures, Tomorrow in the Making.

What if the wind could be candyfloss…

Future generations came up with the ideas and concepts. What if we could control the weather? Well, I’d probably whinge about it a lot less, that’s for sure!

What if houses could fly…

I wasn’t sorry to miss seeing the Marble Arch Mound, an unattractive £2,000,000 pile of mud, but I was sorry to see the state of the site now. I hope they’ll tidy the area up soon. Marble Arch, the place where I bought my first typewriter, where I spent too much time browsing in the Record and Tape Exchange and where we saw many movies in the late 1970s.

Over the road into Hyde Park, and specifically, Speakers’ Corner.

The Hecklers

The Hecklers are as important as the Speakers on a Sunday or whenever there’s a ‘debate’. My main contribution, once, was to half-heartedly wave a fist at someone but I can’t remember what annoyed me so much. That was a long time ago.

Hyde Park

I didn’t make use of the service, but I was happy to see the deck chairs out for hire on such a sunny day. This was close to the area where Liesel and I have enjoyed so much music over the years. The first concert we saw here together was Simon and Garfunkel supported by The Everly Brothers.

The lawn is being watered but so are some of the paths.

Nicely watered path

Liesel said she’d text me when she’d finished shopping. But after about three quarters of an hour, I thought I’d better make my way back anyway. I was excited to see a poster advertising Doctor Who: Time Fracture.

Doctor Who: Time Fracture, a ground-breaking immersive theatrical adventure, plunges you into the incredible universe of Doctor Who.

The Doctor needs you! The Universe as we know it is at stake – now is the time to step up and be the hero. For decades, in a quiet corner of Mayfair, London, a dangerous rift in time and space has been monitored by a group of loyal members of the long-thought-disbanded Unified Intelligence Taskforce – or UNIT for short. Until now they have managed to protect the people of Earth from the threat the rift poses but, weakened and beaten back as the Time Fracture grows out of control, they’re now close to defeat.

With 43 live actors and 17 different worlds to explore, take an epic journey across space and time, travel to exciting new (and old) places, confront menacing monsters and encounter ancient aliens – all while you battle to save all of existence!

Really exciting, right? So exciting, that I totally forgot about it until long after we’d returned home. And, it was fully sold out anyway.

Oh, here’s a surprise:

Candy Surprise

After meeting up with Liesel and Sarah, following a very successful shopping expedition, we gave consideration to lunch. We walked along Oxford Street towards a place that we know and love but instead, we ended up at Willows, on the roof of John Lewis.

View from the roof garden

We enjoyed a very nice, civilised meal in the sunshine, before, oh no, more shopping in John Lewis itself. I browsed the TV department and had a quick look at printers while Liesel and Sarah looked at shoes and handbags and other fascinating wares.

I can only look at TVs and printers for a finite amount of time before becoming overwhelmed. Technology is all so complicated these days. So I went out the back door of the shop intending to wait for the ladies in Cavendish Square. But I wasn’t allowed in, they’re setting up a funfair or something.

Cavendish Squere lilac (I think)

This lilac tree certainly stands out amongst all the London plane trees.

Time for another pilgrimage? Of course. We continued our walk along Oxford Street to Soho Square where we sat on Kirsty’s bench for a while after booting out the previous occupants. Yes, we should have brought flowers in memory of the late, great Kirsty MacColl, but we did play her song Soho Square and (quietly) sang along.

Sarah, Kirsty, Liesel

We said our goodbyes and left on buses travelling in opposite directions. Liesel and I dined at a restaurant near our accommodation, but what with the slow, uncoordinated and unprofessional service, not to mention the unwelcome visitors, we won’t be going back there again.

Our final night in London was uneventful. It didn’t take long to pack in the morning and to walk to Waterloo Station where I was delighted to look at a photographic exhibition. Another reminder that I really should take my real camera out sometime instead of solely relying on the phone camera.

Waterloo and hire bikes
Comet Neowise over Stonehenge

I think I remember when comet Neowise was around, and that whenever I looked for it, I just saw clouds. I would be very proud to have taken a picture like this. Congratulations to Historic Britain Runner Up James Rushforth.

Comet Neowise over Stonehenge
Comet NEOWISE passes over Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. It’s fascinating to think that this historic site did not exist when NEOWISE last passed the Earth. The comet is due to return in approximately 6,800 years, I wonder if the stones will still be standing? This is a single-exposure photograph taken early on the morning of July 2020. The orange glow is light pollution from the nearby villages of Durrington and Larkhill, and a passing lorry very kindly painted the rocks with light.

We caught a train to Chessington, a very familiar route of course, we lived there for so long. Walking past our old house felt very strange. It’s not our house any more of course, but after living there for 33 years, I can’t help be a little bit nostalgic. It’s none of my business, I know, but the carbuncle of a loft extension is just wrong.

Roof extension

Interesting to see that they haven’t replaced the windows that Liesel and I installed over ten years ago. And I was pleased to see that the tree planted in the street outside our house about 30 years ago is still thriving. As is our old lavender bush in the front garden, which will very soon take over the whole neighbourhood.

Round the corner and what a joy to see Dawn again after all this time. She had two years of massages to catch up on. That and a pedicure set me up for the day. She’s now working in a purpose built shed in her garden, although I’m sure there must be a better term than ‘shed’. I was treated first while Liesel went inside the house to work online for a couple of hours. And of course I went for a wander while Liesel herself was being pampered.

I bumped into my old postie mate Michael who seemed as surprised to see me as I was him. Duncan, our manager, has now retired. But I get the impression the job itself hasn’t improved. They’re discouraged from taking time off just because they have Covid.

What else is new in Chessington? Any yarn-bombing? Why, yes, actually.

Station Road at its best

The tile shop Versatile has moved down a couple of units. One of the many, many barbers in Chessington has moved from the station forecourt to North Parade. The party shop is now a, groan, mobile and vape store. Another hairdresser has become a tanning lounge. Good to see Jenny’s Café is still there though.

We caught a bus to our final accommodation on this occasion, the exciting Premier Inn at Tolworth. After dumping the bulk of our luggage, we ventured into Kingston.

Signal Park, Tolworth, cranes

This site has been under discussion for, what, 25 years? There were many inappropriate plans for over-development submitted over the years, so it’s good to see that, at last, the old and long derelict government land being developed. We need more housing. Signal Park has a selection of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments for sale or part-ownership.

Behind Tolworth Station, at the edge of the building site, look at the Crop-Ups, small planters for local people on the waiting list for allotments, growing all kinds of (to me) unidentifiable produce!

Crop Ups (not a Manchester bee)

We realised the error of our ways as the K2 took us the long way round Berrylands and Subiton, before arriving in Kingston. We could have walked to the next bus stop for a bus that would go directly into Kingston. Where, bizarrely, we realised how much colder it was. The swans and flamingoes on the Thames here are huge, there must be something in the water.

Birds on the river Thames

We had dinner at Comptoir Libanais, one of our favourite Kingston restaurants. I say dinner, but really, it was mid-afternoon, and there were very few other customers inside. The food was, as always, delicious.

Futon shop

We wandered aimlessly around the town for a short while and I’m not sure this Futon shop was here before. As I said to Liesel though, it’s nice to have a spring sale, but shouldn’t they have a sale on the rest of the furniture too?

An early, relaxing evening reading and doing puzzles and listening to the radio and podcasts was followed by a good night’s sleep, thanks for asking.

We ventured, by bus, into Surbiton where we had a late breakfast at another favourite venue, Allegro’s. We had the place to ourselves. After the full vegetarian breakfasts, and filling our flasks with coffee from The Press Room, just round the corner, it was time to set off home.

Two trains, then, and two buses today. As the train passed by Vauxhall, I had to check that The British Interplanetary Society was still there and thriving. From Waterloo, we caught a bus to Euston, but decided to get off at Russell Square and sit for a while.

Talkative girl

This young lady was having a very long telephone conversation with someone, husband or partner probably, but I suspect not a work colleague.

Where’s Liesel?

From Russell Square, we walked along the road to Tavistock Square. I think I already knew, but it was still strange seeing the juxtaposition between a statue of Gandhi, the man of peace and a memorial to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing.

Mahatma Gandhi
Hiroshima memorial tree

There was music in the air too, which we finally tracked down to the sax player having a jolly good time.

Saxophone player

And so, our short break comes to an end. Walk to Euston, train to Manchester, bus to Northenden, back to normal.

To be continued…

What? Really? Oh yes. Two cities, remember?

A Tale of, like, Two Cities (Part 1)

It was like, the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of, like wisdom, I suppose, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, y’know? It was the season of, like, Light, it was the season of Darkness, man. I can’t even. I mean, it was the spring of hope, it was, like, the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had like nothing before us, we were all literally going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its, y’know, noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, like, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Know what I mean?

Can you imagine reading a whole novel written by a Generation Z Charles Dickens? Well, if the two young ladies chatting away on the bus nineteen to the dozen, talking about their upcoming exams and so much more, have anything to do with it, this will become the new normal! Actually, it was a very entertaining discussion, even if we oldies couldn’t  keep up with every single cultural reference. After alighting from the bus, we trudged to Manchester’s Piccadilly Railway station where we officially began our few days away, down south, in London. It was our first visit by train since well before the first lockdown, and since Virgin lost the franchise to Avanti West Coast.

My first panic attack occurred as we waited outside the station. I wanted to take a photo of something, but the message flashed up on the phone: Camera Failed. Oh no. Why? No idea. Turning the camera off and leaving it for a few minutes before turning it back on fixed the problem. By which time, I’d lost interest in whatever I was eyeing up for a picture.

Fortunately, we’d booked seats, but the train was crowded because an earlier one had been cancelled. Why? Because a plastic bag had lodged itself in the overhead cables and needed to be removed. I visualised a man up a ladder with a long stick, insulated against the 20,000 volts or whatever.

So, other than our train being oversubscribed, the journey was uneventful. Sadly, we mask-wearers were in the minority. We caught a bus to Waterloo Bridge and descended to the South Bank, where our first lunch or brunch was a small donkey. Well, a burrito. We had a little visitor, which we think is a one-legged, adolescent pied wagtail.

Pied wagtail

Our first accommodation was at a Premier Inn and of course we went to the wrong one first. But, it didn’t matter, I enjoyed seeing some paintings by Salvador Dalí.

Elephant

We dropped off our bags at the correct place and then set off for a longer walk back along the South Bank. The sites are interesting but then, so are all the people. We resisted the temptation of walking on the beach, but there were quite a few people down there. Sad to see Pieminister has gone from Gabriel’s Wharf, but we didn’t help their business by not visiting for years and years.

Busker

We enjoyed some Afro Cuban music thanks to these buskers near Blackfriars Bridge. Neither of us had any cash on us, so thank goodness these, and most other, street entertainers now have the means to accept donations electronically.

We continued along the South Bank, via Hay’s Gallery, the Golden Hinde, Tate Modern, though not necessarily in that order. The newly-wed couple near Tower Bridge seem very happy.

Happy couple

After crossing Tower Bridge, when again I was disappointed that it didn’t lift while I was on it, we walked by The Tower, thinking about the poor people who were taken in through Traitor’s Gate over hundreds of years. You can easily guess which treacherous group of people we would like to see taken in and be severely dealt with right now.

Traitor’s Gate

And you know how they used to keep wild animals such as lions in a menagerie at the Tower? Well, they still do!

Lions at the Tower

As we walked by, we noticed a strange vessel docked next to HMS Belfast in the Thames. From the northern bank, we could see it was in fact Le Champlain, a relatively small cruise ship. Will we ever go on a cruise? Never say never, but I think we’re more likely to join a small ship such as this rather than the small cities that cruise around the oceans.

We walked back over Waterloo Bridge and found these legs out on display.

Legs on the South Bank

I felt a bit miffed that my own lallies, on display for everyone’s pleasure, had some competition. I couldn’t find a plaque explaining this unusual work of art, and I certainly don’t know where the top half is.

As the Sun went down, we ate our evening meal then walked back to the correct Premier Inn where we had a really good night’s sleep. Quite right too, after such a long walk.

Waterloo Sunset

In other news, we noticed the numbers on the clock faces of Big Ben, The Queen Elizabeth Tower, have been painted blue. That scaffolding was up for a long time for a spot of paintwork, so we can only assume more extensive refurbishment has gone on behind the scenes.

In the morning, we walked along the road a bit and sat outside for breakfast, almost in the shadow of the London Eye. No, we weren’t tempted on this occasion, although the lack of a long queue was quite unusual.

We didn’t expect to see red squirrels in London, in Jubilee Gardens, and we certainly didn’t anticipate seeing a blue one.

Help keep Jubilee Gardens beautiful

Again, the opportunity is there for a quick, electronic donation, no need to dig around in pockets seeking old coins and buttons to throw in a hat.

We witnessed this young man practicing his parcours skills.

Parcours

I was going to have a go myself but, er, oh yeah, Liesel said not to, well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. We found our home for the next two nights, an Airbnb just a couple of minutes from the South Bank, behind the National Theatre in fact. We have a flat to ourselves, and given the location, we’ve decided to move in permanently.

Another day, another long walk. This time, we crossed Waterloo Bridge again and headed towards Covent Garden. The usual market stalls weren’t there, it was more of an Antiques Fair. All sorts of old jewellery, crockery and even old photos of perfectly ordinary people. I didn’t recognise anyone, of course, but what a shame, there are probably families somewhere who would love to have those pictures back.

Street market flower sellers from the 1970s

Liesel wanted to visit a clothes shop, Gudrun Sjödén, in Monmouth Street, near Seven Dials. I thought she’d be inside for about 10-15 minutes. Oh no. She didn’t appear again for well over an hour, having received such good and personal service inside. Go on then, Liesel, give us a twirl, show us what you bought.

Liesel’s new dress

I wandered around in ever increasing circles, finding lots of interesting places. I’m not really related, but it’s always good to check up on the dance shoe shop bearing my name.

Freed of London

A lot of London is undergoing building work at the moment, so it doesn’t all look its best. Someone who’ll never be forgotten though is David Bowie. He appeared in one form or another in at least four different shop windows over a couple of days.

Bowie in windows

The other thing that there’s a proliferation of in London (and elsewhere) is Candy Stores. Not good, old-fashioned, English sweet shops, but American-style Candy Stores selling all kinds of American sweets, Hersheys, cereals and probably chemiucals that aren’t legal in the UK. I’m so glad that Liesel isn’t interested in giving her custom to any of these places. But there are so many. Nearly as many vape shops too. Gone are the days when empty premises are taken over by betting shops or charity shops.

Seven Dials

This pillar has seven sundials at the top, which is an amazing coincidence given that it’s located at Seven Dials.

Just off Monmouth Road, there’s a small courtyard, Ching Court, which I had no reason to visit. But I did, and came across this wonderful expanse of colour which the people who are lucky enough to live here gaze upon every day.

Cineraria (I think)

We’re in London so of course we thought about taking in a stage show or a concert. But we didn’t, partly due to concern about Covid still, and partly through not quite getting around to booking tickets. One of the strangest and most unexpected shows on offer was this one:

Bonnie and Clyde

London’s most wanted musical. Spoiler alert: does it end in a hail of 88 bullets?

Nor did we engage in spectating at any sports events, except this one.

Police horses

These horses weren’t running very fast, and when they pulled up at traffic lights, the race was declared a dead heat.

I visited Forbidden Planet, the old science fiction and fantasy bookshop, but nowadays it’s more about collectables from the various franchises, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Marvel comics and more. Interestingly, one of the outlets in Seven Dials Market, where Liesel and I had a late lunch, has borrowed the name.

Planets

Liesel’s been looking for books by a particular author for a while. Let’s walk up and down Charing Cross Road, we decided, it’s all second-hand book shops. Well, not any more it isn’t. Candy stores and vape shops are common amongst other new emporia. Foyles is still there of course and just a couple of the old bookshops. But none had what we were looking for.

We wandered through Chinatown where they haven’t taken down the new year’s lanterns since February, so it still looks bright and vibrant.

Lanterns

It began to rain, so we ducked into the nearest available shop. It was the M&M shop in Leicester Square. We bought something for the grandchildren but, most importantly, we stayed dry.

Tonight saw the premier of the new film Downton Abbey: A New Era. Well, our invites must have got lost in the post but that’s just as well. Sorry to say, but the red carpet was being put in place, and, between you and me, it’s a bit tatty, held together with duct tape. I hope it didn’t become too squelchy in the rain.

Red carpet

Next stop for a coffee was the crypt at St Martin’s in the Field.

In the crypt of St Martin’s

Again, my wife curtailed my creative urges. Plus, I didn’t have on me the necessary marker pen. But I wanted to change the name of the bishop on this sign from Wah to Pigeon.

And speaking of pigeons, Trafalgar Square is so much better without them. I know in the olden days, my sister especially took great pleasure in feeding them but times change.

Earlier, I mentioned Big Ben and didn’t provide a photograph. Well, here is one.

Chocolate Big Ben

This chocolate model is in a shop window, with a sign telling us not to touch it. Well, we didn’t touch it, but while Liesel distracted the shop staff, I had a jolly good lick.

Oh yes, another new fashion in London seems to be leaving old pianos outside shops, whether suitably decorated or otherwise.

Old pianos

The end of the day saw us returning to out Airbnb flat for a good night’s sleep. Well, eventually. The children upstairs must have been jumping off the top of the wardrobe or something, and we half expected them to come through the ceiling to visit us. Once they went to bed though, it was nice and peaceful. Even the traffic outside wasn’t too bad, apart from a couple of motorbikes.

I’m so glad I recorded this week’s radio show last week, there’s no way I would have found time to do it here in London. It was on Wythenshawe FM 97.2 on Friday afternoon at 2, as usual, but feel free to catch it here.

And don’t panic, there is still plenty more to come from our few days in London. Friends! Shops! Nostalgia!

On Tuesday morning at 1.37, our ghosts were haunting the pharmacies of Northenden. A payment to the value of a prescription was taken from one of our cards. Fraud? Looks like it. Was the pharmacy bovvered when we reported the incident on our return? Not really. The solution was to take £9.35 in cash out of the till and give it to us. No paperwork involved. We’re grateful that we’re not out of pocket of course, but come on, that’s not how you address issues of apparently fraudulent activity. In an unusual move on my part, I tweeted a (rare for me) negative tweet about this situation. What happened next?

York

The excitement mounted as I prepared for an adventure. Two years ago, we bought tickets for a gig in York for April 2021. Due to Covid restrictions, along with many other shows, it was postponed. But its time has come. Liesel and I planned to make a weekend of it in York, a city that we’ve only visited once in the past.

Well, Liesel is still in Anchorage of course, and I didn’t want to miss the show. I also decided to go by train rather than by car. I haven’t been on a train for well over two years and I thought I’d see what it’s like these days: how many other passengers would be wearing masks? How crowded would it be?

Blue skies over Northenden

The blue sky was a welcome sight as I waited for the bus to take me into Manchester. The bus wasn’t too busy, and about a third of passengers were masked up. One hundred percent of the driver was not, which I found surprising.

In another first, I caught the train at Oxford Road Station. Despite the cold wind blowing through the station, I did not wait in this rather cute little waiting room.

Waiting room

It reminds me of Thomas Newton’s home planet inThe Man Who fell to Earth, which is strange. That’s today’s first reference to David Bowie.

I read a book during the 90-minute journey to York. Again, about a 33% success rate with face coverings, which is disappointingly low, I feel. Already, I felt I was mentally ticking the box that says ‘don’t travel by train again any time soon’. Which is a shame.

So I’m by myself, but of course I still had Liesel’s ticket. One of my online mates, George, agreed to use the ticket. And George met me in the forecourt of York Station, from where we walked all the way to the concert venue, The Barbican. This was handy because the hotel I’d booked for myself was right next door. Very convenient: almost as if I’d planned it that way. But that was only because all the Airbnb places that I found in York city centre turned out to be actually located in a suburb much further out of town!

George and I ‘met’ online while watching the one time regular Tuesday evening YouTube performances by Jessica Lee Morgan. And, by coincidence, it was Jess that we were here to see tonight, supporting and performing with Tony Visconti’s Best of Bowie. Yes, David Bowie. Sadly, Woody Woodmansey’s not with the band on this occasion, but I knew we’d have a good time anyway.

I checked into my hotel, and we had a coffee before walking back into York Centre. George had pre-booked a ‘meal deal’ at his accommodation, so I wandered around for a while, looking for somewhere nice to dine myself.

I’d forgotten what a pretty little city York is.

Micklegate

The wall surrounds much of the city, and you do feel like you’re entering another realm when you walk through one of these gates. And you sense you might just be under surveillance.

The Eye of Sauron

The Sun was still out and it was quite warm, the cold wind had dwindled, but even so, I was surprised to come across some ice sculptures.

Find Dick at the York Dungeon

Later on, I read up about it here. It says there were 40 exhibits, but over two days, I didn’t find nearly that many. Someone more organised would have looked at a map.

I just happened to glance into this shop window.

Metrobolist

The album that we all know as The Man Who Sold the World being sold at last under the name it was meant to have. No, I didn’t seriously consider starting a new vinyl collection. This might be a new remix by Tony Visconti, but I’m not sure my ears could tell the difference! Still, nice to see David Bowie referenced again.

As I walked over the fast-flowing and high River Ouse, I found this old place on the east bank.

Lendal Tower

Dating from about 1300, Lendal Tower was originally part of the City’s defences, with a defensive chains stretching from here to the Tower on the opposite bank. In 1677 it was leased to the predecessors of The York Waterworks Plc for five hundred years, at an annual rent of one peppercorn for use as a water tower. During the 18th century it housed a steam pumping engine modified to the design of John Smeaton FRS, then a proprietor of the Waterworks. It ceased to be used for those purposes in 1850. In 1932 it was refurbished and now houses the Company’s Board Rooms. So says a plaque on the side of the building.

I dined at The Orchid, a vegan restaurant. Of course, I hadn’t booked, so when I turned up at one minute past opening time, I was told I could eat there as long as I vacated my table by 7.30. I thought, well, if I can’t finish my meal in an hour and a half, then there’s something wrong. Plus, I didn’t want to miss any of the show of course.

And the food was lovely, very well presented and with very friendly service.

Very nice, very tasty

Unusually, I took photos before the dishes were empty.

I enjoyed a leisurely walk back to The Barbican where the scanner successfully scanned my ticket barcode on the first attempt. Things are looking up: maybe I should buy a lottery ticket. As I said, it is a very cute little place.

Scenes from York

Inside, there were hundreds of people, some wearing t-shirts depicting David Bowie from various eras. And, speaking of David Bowie, one thing I never expected to see was a portrait of him in monochrome Lego.

Lego Bowie

Jessica’s partner Chris was working behind the merch stall. I met up with George again as well as Sue, another regular at JLM’s Tuesday night online shows. Nice to see people in real life, isn’t it?

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

Jessica and Chris performed some new songs for about half hour including one which involved audience participation. I don’t think the quality of my singing was improved by the presence of a face covering.

After a break, Tony Visconti’s Best of Bowie took to the stage for two hours of Bowie hits and some surprises. The whole band was spot on, although on a couple of occasions, either the singer, Glenn Gregory, or I, misremembered the lyrics. Jessica played guitar and alto sax, though not at the same time, even she’s not that talented. I am very conscious of not taking too many photos during a show: I used to be quite obsessed with capturing every possible lighting arrangement and every available location of all the musicians. From where I was sitting, and from where George was sitting in Liesel’s seat we couldn’t really see Janette Mason on keyboards, but she did a great job.

The band

Actually, I think most of the audience was singing along to most of the songs. I wasn’t the oldest person there, and there were some teenagers too. So do I have a set list? It’s in my head and I should try and write it down before I forget but then it might already be too late.

Tony Visconti told the story of when they were playing, as Holy Holy, in New York on David Bowie’s birthday. He phoned David up and the whole audience then sang ‘Happy birthday’ to him. Just a couple of days later, they were in Toronto when they heard the news of his passing. They carried on the tour, but I’m sure the atmosphere was very different.

Thank you and good night

I hung around for a while and had a chat with Jessica and Smiley the drummer before setting off for the comfort of my suite, a whole five minute walk away.

Looks familiar

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who did a double-take on seeing this thin blue-suited duke hanging around like the rest of us.

What a great night, and I’m pretty sure Liesel would have enjoyed it too. Next time. Anyway, it took a while to wind down and get to sleep.

After breakfast, I set off for my day as a tourist in York. Of course, I had to walk along the wall for a while. Last time Liesel and I did this, it was drizzling lightly, but today, the Sun was out, the sky was blue and the spirits were well and truly lifted.

York City wall

I admit that sometimes I mess about with my photos for comedic effect. But this photo of Sir Thomas Herbert’s House has not been tampered with.

Sir Thomas Herbert’s House

This old, old, old building really does look that happy.

And, yes, of course I kept a lookout for more ice sculptures.

More ice sulptures

Sadly, a few had melted by the time I found them, as they’d been placed on the sunnier side of the street .

I quite enjoyed wandering around, but not surprisingly I suppose, the most uncomfortable I felt was at the market near The Shambles, which was really crowded. Other prople were having a good time out on the river.

Messing about on the river

The only place I visited properly was the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. In fact, I had lunch here before walking around looking a lots of old stuff. Funny how old buildings like this have the same sort of old smell, despite presumably being cleaned with modern chemicals with modern scents.

Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

The place has been flooded a few times over the centuries, and the high levels have all (I assume all) have been marked.

High Water Lines

I can’t imagine how much water is needed to reach that high from the river that far away. But I must say, I was pleased to have this place almost to myself on this occasion. I suspect that the art galleries and museums would have been far busier. Liesel and I will return sometime, I’m sure.

Something else that is guaranteed to make me feel good is the sight of a perfect reflection in the water. 

Reflections of my life

In Northenden, we have planters in the main street with flowers and they look delightful. In York, they’ve gone one step further and are growing food for the community.

Edible York 2013

Sadly, there wasn’t much to pick today apart from a couple of weeds, but it’s the thought that counts.

There is one landmark in York that I’ve nor mentioned yet. Well, here it is: Cliffords Tower.

Clifford’s Tower

I was going to bound up the slope like a gazelle but, er, I had my luggage, that’s it. Oh, and there was a fence that I couldn’t climb over.

The train back to Manchester was a bit more crowded as was the bus back to Northenden. Oh well.

Meanwhile, our Alaska correspondent has reported more snowfall in Anchorage. Liesel sent this picture which, it has to be said, made me shiver a bit.

Snow

I’ve mentioned my issue with intermittent unjustified shortness of breath before. This week, I visited the GP again and attended hospital for a chest X-ray. I really want to get to the bottom of this now.

Later that day, I started feeling a bit manky. Tickly throat. Cough. Headache. Rough sleep. I didn’t feel up to going out for any of the organised walks and sadly, neither did I feel up to looking after the children this week. Fortunately, I had recorded most of the radio show before I came down with this lurgy. It’s about Communication and an extended mix is available here:

Just when I thought I was getting over whatever the ailment is, the duvet decided to pick a fight with me. I realised I was lying under nothing but empty duvet cover. The duvet itself had somehow migrated to Liesel’s side of the bed leaving the empty husk behind. I tried shaking the duvet back into place but I think I’m going to have to start from scratch. Did I say ‘scratch’? Well, yes. There are in fact two thin duvets at work here, held together with a safety pin in each corner. Except it seems the one in my corner has undone itself and it poked through, threatening to stab me. A small scratch on the arm is bad enough but I don’t need this sort of adventure in the middle of the night, thank you very much. When it comes to battles with inanimate objects, there is no guarantee of victory.

Dragon and umbrellas

Liesel’s still in Alaska, enjoying the extremely cold Winter there and spending time with her family and friends. It does look beautiful there, but I know I’d be fairly unhappy having to don seventeen layers of clothing to go outside. Only to return to a very well heated house. Plus, I can’t ski, no, not even on the flat. It’s a toss up whether I fall over to the left or right or forwards or backwards.

Monica, Neha, Liesel and Una
Narnia

Meanwhile, the excitement in Northenden builds. The pavements in Royle Green Road, just round the corner, are being resurfaced so that they’re more comfortable for the cars that park there. Plus, several months ago, I reported a hole in the pavement in Cinnamon Close. It was a small hole, but might have been indicative of something more menacing, such as a disused old mine underneath, about to subside. Well, the hole was filled in this week. It took four men in hi-visibility jackets to watch a fifth man doing all the work with a very loud lorry engine running in the background. If the council had asked, I could have plugged that hole myself with some old congealed porridge.

An ex-hole

The patch is much bigger than the hole was, so it should last a while.

The wind has brought down a few trees again. The path in Kenworthy Lane Woods was blocked, but not impassable. And as a guide, nowhere near as bad as the damage caused by that infamous storm in 1986.

Timber!

It was a pleasure to collect William and Martha from school this week. In an unprecedented move, William was second out of his class and Martha was first out of hers! They’re usually a bit later, so, bonus!

School field

Next to the football pitches, there’s a small area which looks disused, apart from collecting litter. I wonder if this is part of Forest School, that all the children visit at some point during the school year?

On this occasion, I took them back to their house where we played in the garden for a short while. Glad it was light enough, even if it was a bit cold still.

Martha and a swing

Inside, we played games, drew dinosaurs, and for dinner we had fish and chips. Well, I had a pie, thank you very much.

And when I returned home, I finished editing and uploading the radio show. It took longer than usual this week, because I had a nice chat on the phone with Jessica Lee Morgan. You can hear the show here, it’s called Bits and Pieces. Album of the Week is Pieces by Mary Hopkin which is gorgeous and you should buy it straightaway here or here.

I braved the bus and went into Manchester for a walk in a slightly different place. Chinese New Year is being celebrated his week and Manchester’s Chinatown was very festive. Because of Covid, there was no parade, but it was good to see a tiger (it’s the Year of the Tiger) and a dragon. Plus, I lost count of the Chinese lanterns all around Chinatown, zillions of them.

Year of the tiger
Dragon and lanterns

It was raining all day but maybe I shouldn’t complain too much, it hasn’t rained persistently all day for quite a while. Actually, I am going to whinge. It was raining all day. Not very nice at all. You can probably see the rain topping up Rochdale Canal.

Rochdale Canal in the rain

In the library, there is also a display of black and white photos from 1980s China.

Rainy Day in the Hutongs (alleys), Beijing, 1985

Actually, that picture could well have ben taken in Manchester today, the weather conditions were identical.

But what was I doing in Manchester Central Library in the first place? Other than sheltering from the rain? I was having a quick look at the newly released 1921 Census. It’s not a reliable source of information: many of the names I entered turned out not to exist. So even my limited knowledge of family history turns out to be wrong. For example, my cousin Susan, who is a few years older than me? Her parents, my aunt and uncle, emigrated to Australia in 1956. So it seems my memory of meeting my Aunt Pauline at that time is wrong. Susan? Turns out her name is Suzanne. Oh well. I was just playing around today, really, getting a feel for how the whole thing works. But with this and earlier censuses and all the other online records, I’m hoping to track down all my ancestors. One day, I’ll return with a proper plan of action.

Umbrella in the bin in the rain

When I left the library, of course it was still raining. Even the umbrella had had enough by this point.

Some elephants and a bench

There will be fewer photos than usual this time on account of, basically, the whole world is crashing down around me. A few days ago, my phone told me that it couldn’t write to the SD card but could read from it. Thankfully, I back up its contents on a regular basis, that is, most of the photos. Today, the phone won’t even read the SD card. It just doesn’t recognise it at all. As ever, the internet was very helpful. If your phone can’t recognise an SD card, you might have to reformat it. After spending an hour turning the phone off and on, removing and replacing the memory card, I still can’t see its contents. Imagine the delight then when, after turning the phone on one last time, I was greeted with this notification.

Bad news

As I write, I am waiting for the results of my latest lateral flow test. As I said to someone during the week, I’ll keep taking this test until I get the result I don’t really want. But, to be on the safe side, I’d recommend you don’t start reading this post until you’ve put your FFP3 N95 mask on.

So, where have I been? The only venue I can remember checking into this week was Chester Zoo. I took William there for the day while his Mum was continuing her civic duty in the criminal underworld and his Dad was working.

Adventure playground
Underwater penguin

William had his own ideas about what he wanted to see and I was happy to follow him round as he ran everywhere. I did a very silly walk to keep up. The zoo wasn’t as busy today, I’m glad to say, probably because it wasn’t that warm outside. The Treetop Adventure was closed (for staff training) so that was a little disappointing. One of the zoo keepers told William that this morning, there were 25 penguins in the pond, and could he check they were all still there. He gave up counting after about 30.

As I’d left my packed lunch at home, he sat quietly and ate his while I bought something unsatisfying.

In the shop, he wanted to buy a little gift for his Mum, Dad and sister. Despite my best efforts, he nodded off in the car on the way home. He was great fun, and the mental list of animals he wanted to see evolved during the day. ‘I changed my mind’ was his reason. Although, at home a few days earlier, he was reported as saying ‘I’ve swapped my mind’.

I joined Liam for an organised walk, a guided tour of Manchester’s Southern Cemetery. It was a very pleasant walk over to Didsbury, and I encountered a hero on the way.

Alan Turing mural

There are over 100,000 graves here in this cemetery, which was created because all the graveyards in Manchester were full. The knowledgeable guide told us about just a few of the more notable residents: Manchester Utd manager Sir Matt Busby, corrupt Conservative government minister Ernest Marples, artist LS Lowry and broadcaster and cultural catalyst Tony Wilson. But my sense of discomfort wasn’t helped by seeing this:

Oh no

It was like being in the most frightening episode of Doctor Who, ever. I tried not to blink, but you know how these things work.

Getting closer

I think these weeping angels are probably even more scary than Daleks and they’ve been haunting me since 1963.

Trying to send me back in time so it can make use of my temporal energy

I managed to escape and resume the tour. Phew. There are two chapels in the cemetery, one Anglican, one Catholic, both locked up. They’re listed, but not used. Which means of course that they’re st falling into disrepair.

Dilapidated chapel

We learned about Alcock and Brown at school, the first people to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. A few years later, Sir John Alcock crashed and died on a flight to Paris. That’s sad, but even sadder to me is the fact that this memorial was erected by his Mother.

Sir John Alcock

While I was walking around cemeteries and elsewhere, Liesel was skiing in Anchorage.

Liesel skiing

Or at least, she was, until a mini heatwave melted all the snow, overnight. Liesel’s also been very busy working and spending quality time with her family and friends.

But even though it’s (usually) unbearably cold, it can be extremely pretty too. Thanks for the photos, Jyoti!

Snowdrop

I’ve been watching the latest series of Ricky Gervais’s After Life. It stars Gervais as local journalist Tony. In the show, he deals with extreme grief following the death of his wife Lisa. I re-watched the first two series too: it’s very funny at times, moving and thought-provoking at others, a very well written and performed show. To mark the release of this third series of the hit dark comedy, Netflix has given 25 benches to councils across the UK. The benches were commissioned by the Suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) alongside Netflix in order to raise awareness surrounding mental health issues. CALM is an organisation we have supported in the past. One of the benches is in Wythenshawe Park, so after the regular Wythenshawe walk this week, I made my way over to the park to see if I could find the bench. I expected it to be in pride of place, on one of the main paths. Oh no. It’s well hidden, near the horticultural centre, behind the car park, a part of the Park that I’d never been to before. In fact, there’s a whole little village there, a few cottages, a post office, a phone box and a pillar box.

Hope Is Everything
CALM After Life – scan the QR code

In local news, the fence by the playground in Northenden’s Riverside Park has been repaired. No more sneaking in through the ‘back door’, you have to walk all the way round to the gate, literally dozens of yards away.

The fence without a gap

Just along the river, there’s a caravan park and I was surprised to see that one, possibly two, of the caravans have moved on.

No caravans

In Wythenshawe, I walked past this big colourful sign

Thank you

I’m not convinced I’d recognise Marcus from that image, but I’m sure he and his Mum are very proud to be adorning the shopping centre.

There’s a bathroom on the right. ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy. A Cilla Black fan on a bike. Yes, this week’s radio show was all about misheard song lyrics, mondegreens. Catch up here or listen to the repeat on Wythenshawe FM 97.2 on Wednesday at 7pm.

PS my Covid test was negative. I am probably not infected right now. That’s good news.

PPS My phone / SD card issue is much worse than I thought.

Very bad news indeed

Bad news because I’ve lost some recent photos: good job I WhatsApped a few from the zoo, they’ve all disappeared. And all the music is no longer available. Technology: stuff that doesn’t work properly yet.

Three walks and a ski

Yes, of course I miss Liesel, but I don’t miss the sub-zero temperatures she’s enduring over there in Anchorage. But all the fresh snow at least makes it more fun to go skiing. I don’t think Liesel’s been on skis for 16 years so she did well on the first day to fall over just a couple of times. This is cross-country, Nordic, skiing. I don’t know whether she’s planning to hurtle down a mountain any time soon.

Jyoti and Liesel

Yes, the facemask is a Covid defence measure but it keeps the cold wind off the face too. A bit. Liesel’s testing for the contagion every couple of days and, quite rightly, is being very cautious while visiting friends and family.

Meanwhile, what have I been up to at home? One of my main tasks is to watch and delete all the TV shows that Liesel has no interest in. Things such as nature shows where animals eat each other. I have many, many old music shows and some drama that Liesel finds too intense.

Northenden is a bit of a hole. No, that’s not right. But there is a big hole in Northenden, where some shops have been demolished to make way for, presumably, more luxury apartments.

A big hole

Jenny is performing her civic duty, having been called up for jury service, so my civic duty was to look after William for the day. I’d planned to take him to the zoo but as he wasn’t feeling 100%, we just spent the day in my own luxury apartment. We played and did puzzles and he beat me at snap by cheating. The day started well though when I had to scrape ice off the car.

Frost on the car windscreen

It did look pretty from inside the car, I have to admit. But I did realise that there’s a different pattern at work here too. If the car needs de-icing, it’s because we’ve planned to drive somewhere. If it’s a frost-free early morning, it’s probably because I have no plans to drive anywhere. And so it proved to be the case all week. The next time the car was frosted up was on Thursday, our usual child-minding day. Never mind, I thought, the ice will melt by the time I have to leave, at half past two. Oh no. I had to scrape the car that late in the afternoon too. I hope I’m not being unduly paranoid, but this is the very definition of sod’s law.

Anyway, I guess I did an OK job with William.

Selfie of the day

He awarded me an orange star and a number 1 sticker. But he certainly didn’t win any prizes for his skittles skills.

William and skittles

After taking him home, we all had some soup and Martha dressed very colourfully for Rainbows.

Martha the Rainbow

As I reminded Jenny, we’re still waiting to hear whether she has a place in Woodland Folk. We applied many decades ago, but I think the fact that we’ve moved house since then means we’ve missed the response.

Ice, ice, baby

I have to admit, this is Alaska, not Northenden. It’s been cold here too, but doesn’t this look pretty?

I completed a hat-trick of well-being walks this week: the usual Northenden and Wythenshawe ones but a group of five of us also embarked on the much longer trek to Chorlton Water Park. Liesel and I have walked there before but along the river. This time, our route took us through Kenworthy Woods. We heard more birds than we saw, but it’s always good to be out in nature.

Mersey, Mersey, me

It was a cold and frosty day. but a very pleasant walk. Some of the puddles were solid ice, and the lake itself had icy patches. What a shame I forgot to take my ice skates.

Chorlton Water Park

And then next day at Painswick Park, it was like being in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

A herd of geese

The geese were grazing as we walked by but something startled them and they all took to the air, flying over our heads and into the lake. This was the most scary moment of the day but we all came away with clean heads and shoulders.

WFM 97.2 at 2pm on a Friday is now the place to hear my show each week. It’ll be repeated on Wednesdays at 7pm but you can catch the latest show here. This week, the theme is ‘Beginnings’.