Ode to London

As hinted at in the previous post: we did London.

The Sun was out and after breakfast, I set off for Surbiton station. I’d checked, and all three local stations, Surbiton, Tolworth and Chessington North were a 25-minute walk from our Airbnb. I thought I’d go to Chessington, for old times’ sake. But as I walked through the door, a moment of panic set in. Suppose I missed the train? I’d have to wait half an hour. There’s a much more frequent service from Surbiton. So I turned round and walked there instead. Yes, I could have caught a bus, but neither Liesel nor I were yet convinced that travelling on buses was a good idea. Hang on, what happened to Liesel? Well, she was going to Woodmansterne to visit an old friend, Claire, whom we hadn’t seen for ages. The plan was that Liesel would meet me later on in London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We debated whether or not to get Oyster Cards, as our old first generation ones might no longer work, but in the end, I just used my phone. It seems TfL work it all out nicely, so the daily fare is capped. All I had to do was remember to scan in and out. Quite a challenge for someone who hasn’t used public transport for well over 18 months. But quite exciting at the same time.

It was pleasing to see that most people on the train were wearing masks. And also nice to see that the train wasn’t packed. No standing, and nobody had to sit right next to a stranger.

Travelling into London felt so normal, despite the masks. More graffiti than I remember on the walls just before Wimbledon. Battersea Power Station is looking good, nice and clean, although harder to see now thanks to the many blocks of undoubtedly luxury apartments built at Nine Elms, close to the newly relocated US Embassy.

Waterloo Station was London to me, when I was small. A small part of me still thinks that the trains now operated by South Western Railways aren’t the genuine article. No, a real, proper train has the green livery of British Rail’s Southern Region, with slamming rather than sliding doors.

And so my long-anticipated walk in London began. Through the unusually thin crowds at Waterloo Station, past a lot of newly installed seating, very welcome I’m sure. I recalled the time most of the seating was removed to make space for ‘retail opportunities’ according to ‘public demand’, they fibbed. Down the stairs by the War Memorial and towards the South Bank. Beggars, Big Issue sellers, discarded Metro newspapers, some things never change.

‘We’re so glad to see you’. ‘We’ve missed you’. ‘Welcome back to our home’. These were the messages that greeted me as I climbed the stairs towards the Royal Festival Hall. I don’t usually speak to concrete infrastructure, but I did say it was nice to be back, thank you.

I also nodded at the bust of Nelson Mandela as I passed by and smiled at the sight of the Modified Social Benches. This is the sort of thing we love about London. Nothing wrong with being quirky.

More comfortable than it looks

Usually at the point, I would nip into the RFH to use their facilities, but there’s no need to go into more buildings than necessary. But we do look forward to seeing live performances here, and elsewhere, as soon as we can.

The second-hand book stalls under Waterloo Bridge were not open today. I’ve squandered many an hour here, looking at books and maps and other things that I’ve no real intention of buying.

Outside the National Theatre, I acknowledged Sir Laurence Olivier and tried to recall all the plays we’ve seen here. One day, I hope to return to see a young actor perform here: hello Lesley!

Sir Laurence

Lesley was a barista at Boxx2Boxx in Northenden, look out for her on a stage near you! Many actors while between rôles have to take temporary jobs, and another one was operating the coffee stall right outside the theatre. He was due to go to rehearsals later in the day, but meanwhile, he made me a fine cup of coffee!

Thank goodness Boris Johnson’s vanity project, the Garden Bridge, was never built, it would have ruined this stretch of the South Bank. I wonder if he’ll ever repay the millions of pounds he squandered on it?

The Post Office Tower stood proudly way over there on the other side of the river. I’ve only been inside a couple of times: once soon after I’d passed my 11+ exam. And once just a few years ago when, for charity, I climbed the stairs inside. They said it was 1,000 steps, but in the end, there were only 870, more or less. I’d trained by climbing the long staircase at Guy’s Hospital, near London Bridge, towards which I was now walking, sometimes at my own default, fast pace and sometimes slowly, to take in all the sights.

The promenade along the South Bank is known as The Queen’s Walk. Well, I’ve never seen the queen there, but I have seen David Bowie. Not the real David Bowie of course, but a sand sculpture of his image, created soon after his death in 2016. In fact, the stretch of the beach revealed when the tide is out has been used for sand sculptures for quite a while, some of them ridiculously extravagant, considering their transient nature. Today, however, there was no sculpture. In fact, the normally pristine sand has been covered with darker coloured gravel. Which is a shame.

It had rained quite hard the previous day (when we were at Polesden Lacey) and some of the Queen’s Walk was still flooded. The Great Flood of London? No, just a big puddle.

Every time I walk by the Bankside Gallery, I think I should spend some time there. But I never do. The piece of art outside lifts the spirits though. It’s a nice bit of competition for Tate Modern, a bit further along.

Bankside Gallery

The buskers were out in force today, at least four along this stretch. One played an accordion, one a guitar, one a mandolin and under one of the road bridges, we were treated to a tenor performing On The Street Where You Live.

Liesel and I had thought about seeing a play at The Globe: we would be outside, after all. But in the end, we missed out on Twelfth Night and Metamorphoses. But still, what a cool building to find by the Thames. My daughter Helen and I saw Macbeth here twenty years ago and I still regret not going the following week too, when we could have seen Macbeth performed in Zulu: uMabatha.

What a happy bin

I still wonder if The Golden Hinde is in the best location. There’s just too much going on all around it, you can’t view it well from the side. It still reminds me of the model I had when I was younger. I wonder what happened to it?

Southwark Cathedral is a good sign that we’re approaching London Bridge. I first visited this cathedral in about 2000 when the author Michael Arditti was promoting his then new book, Easter. I bought a signed copy for Sarah and when I read it, well, it was a bit more racy than anticipated. Liesel and I visited the cathedral, as tourists, more recently.

‘There are two things scarce matched in the universe: the Sun in Heaven and the Thames on Earth’. Such is the quote by Sir Walter Raleigh inscribed on the wall just round the corner from London Bridge. And looking out on the Thames at that very moment, I witnessed the passage of an Uber Boat. This service is run in partnership with Thames Clippers, and is not to be confused with a U-Boat, something far more sinister. Another item to add to the long list of ‘Things to do the next time we come to London’.

HMS Belfast is famous for, amongst other things, its forward guns aimed at Scratchwood Services on the M1. There was no sign of them being fired today, but there were a lot of people on board a very interesting ship.

HMS Belfast

Liesel and I did the tour of Tower Bridge a few years ago, including avoiding walking on the glass panels in the floor of the high level walkway. Obviously, you always hope the bridge will open while you’re watching, but you have to time it just right. No sign of it opening today. And I wish I could stop thinking of the Spice Girls’ bus jumping over the opened bascules in the fabulous film Spiceworld. All expense was spared on the special effects.

London City Hall is I’m sure a hive of industry, especially as the Greater London Authority will be moving to new premises by the end of the year. We’ve only been inside once, and enjoyed walking up the spiral slope.

Over the river is the Tower of London. Again, a place I first visited as a child (I still have the little booklet, priced 1/6d) and again since then a few times with various family members visiting from afar.

I was taken aback by the number of people walking across Tower Bridge. As a pedestrian, you’re meant to keep left, according to signage on the ground, presumably to assist in Covid-inspired social distancing. I think more than 50% of people were complying, but I didn’t want to hang around longer than necessary and count!

One happy couple were being photographed, and it was fun to watch a professional photographer at work. The bride and groom spent a long time arranging the veil to blow in the wind, which to be honest, was not being very cooperative. Of course, I’m making an assumption: maybe they were models, not a newly-wed couple. In any case, I think they wanted City Hall and The Shard in the background of their pictures. Ah yes, The Shard, another place we should visit one day but £25 just to ride up in a lift seems a bit excesive.

May all your troubles be little ones

I strained my neck looking up at the glass floor in the overhead walkway and felt a little queasy. The thought of someone falling through and landing on my head… Or me falling over backwards into the water below…

A quick check on my phone confirmed that I still had time to walk to the V&A, but I could always catch a bus if necessary. From now on, I would remain north of the river.

There’s a small section of an old Roman wall near the Tower, a reminder that in the past, Liesel and I have joined several organised walks around London. Nearby, there are paintings decorating the walls of an underpass. One of the portraits, by Stephen B Whatley, depicts Anne Boleyn, someone to whom I am distantly related by marriage, I recently discovered.

Anne Boleyn, g-g-g-… -g-great-grandmother n times removed, or something

Tower Hill was my station of choice when I worked in the City, in Crutched Friars, to be precise. Lunchtime entertainment was sometimes provided by the Metropolitan Police Band. Today, it was mostly visitors milling about. I remembered where the public toilet was but I’d forgotten it cost 50p. Thoughtfully, they’ve installed a change machine so I changed a nice crisp £10 note for a pile of £1 and 50p coins. 50p for a pee though, that really is taking the p. On the other hand, I now had some loose change to throw into a busker’s hat, should I encounter another one.

Despite much provocation and teasing, he kept perfectly still

This part of London is a fabulous mix of old and new architecture. Old stone churches and glass and steel office blocks. Through a small gap, along a narrow road, I spotted the Monument, the one that commemorates the Great Fire of London. We’ve climbed this edifice a few times, I have certificates to prove it.

Something old, something new (don’t click on the triangle, it’s a roof, not a ‘play’ button)

It would have been nice to stick to the Thames Path, right next to the river, but there are several places where you have to deviate, thanks to building work. The smell of chlorine probably came from the swimming pool inside Nuffield Health Fitness and Well-being Club. If not, then maybe I should have reported a dangerous chemical leak.

Dear America, we have guns on the streets too

The Queenhithe Mosaic tells the story of London right from its early days. This is a terrific work of art, 30 metres in length, and what a shame it’s so far off the beaten track. This is one of those things you can look at for ages. Yes, it too is on the list for a return visit.

My collection of photos of sundials continues to grow. Polar sundials aren’t very common, so I was pleased to find one. The lady sitting next to it offered to move, but I told her to stay put and add some scale to my picture.

Polar sundial

Over the river, beyond the Millennium Bridge, sits Tate Modern. I wanted to go in today, but you have to book online. In this I failed abysmally. The booking site must work, there were plenty of people in there, but I struggled. It kept telling me about the need to book in advance, but I just couldn’t find the actual place where I could actually book an actual timeslot. Sometimes, I despair at my own incompetence. Although, bad web design is a factor here, I’m sure.

Neither did I go into the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral for a coffee, although I was tempted. I’d only had one so far today despite passing 101 coffee bars and vendors.

Looking south over the river, I caught my first glimpse of the London Eye. I didn’t feel the need to go on that again, but who knows, maybe we will if any future visitors are interested. I did have a dream once that it very slowly fell over and into the river but fortunately, each of the 32 capsules automatically converted to lifeboats.

And then over the river, I spotted the Oxo Tower. I’ve never ventured beyond the craft shops on the lower floors but I do recall one story related by a former postman colleague. Skip this paragraph if you’re under 18. Andy was very gleeful one day and if he told us once, he told us a dozen times that
the previous evening, he’d taken his wife up the Oxo Tower. I know, I know. Then he asked us all whether we’d ever taken our wives or girlfriends up the Oxo Tower. Sorry if you’re having your tea.

I passed by one of the dragons that guards the City of London and entered the City of Westminster, walking along Victoria Embankment.

Here be dragons

Near Temple Station, I found another sundial. It’s not much use though. Not because it wasn’t sunny enough, but flowers have grown over the useful parts.

Spherical sundial

Earlier, I said that Waterloo Station was London for me, when I was small. Everything else was a bonus, including Victoria Embankment, and it was occasionally my job to lookout for Cleopatra’s Needle, the obelisk guarded by two sphinxes facing the wrong direction. The obelisk was completed in 1450 BC and presented to the UK in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan, one Muhammad Ali.

Cleopatra’s Needle

As usual, when I pass by or walk over Waterloo Bridge, one old earworm rears its head, Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. I was still humming the tune to myself as I approached St Martin’s and Trafalgar Square. Ah, Trafalgar Square, that would be a good place to stop for a coffee, I thought. Not today. The whole square was cordoned off, probably being prepared for a future event. I was delighted to see the new work of art on the fourth plinth though. I couldn’t get close enough to read the plaque, so this is from The Greater London Authority website:

Heather Phillipson’s vast physical and digital sculpture tops the Fourth Plinth with a giant swirl of whipped cream, a cherry, a fly and a drone that transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square. Entitled THE END it suggests both exuberance and unease, responding to Trafalgar Square as a site of celebration and protest, that is shared with other forms of life. The live feed of Trafalgar Square picked up by the drone’s camera is visible on a dedicated website www.theend.today giving a sculpture’s eye perspective. (Good luck with that, I couldn’t get it to work.)

The End and Horatio Nelson

As I couldn’t walk across Trafalgar Square today, I walked around. This was when I acknowledged that I was on a giant Monopoly board. I’d just passed The Strand, here’s Trafalgar Square, I’d narrowly avoided Whitehall and was about to walk along Pall Mall.

There’s a new lion here too, between the Square and the National Gallery. It’s the only member of the Tusk Lion Trail that I saw on this occasion, a nice colourful beast. Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to hunt down some more lions on this trail one day.

Designed by John Cleese and his wife, Fish

Nelson watched over me as I crossed the roads and I was pleased to see the so-called diversity street crossing signs are still being used. They were installed for Pride 2016 and haven’t been replaced. Instead of a green man, when it’s finally time for you, a mere pedestrian, to cross the road, you see a couple holding hands, or maybe two male or two female symbols ♂️♂️  ♀️♀️ but green of course!

The Athenaeum is a lovely building to see, the home of a private members’ club that I haven’t been invited to join yet. I also passed by the back door of St James’s Palace only identifiable by the presence of two bored-looking but armed police officers. I found my way through to Green Park which was all but deserted. Even the squirrels sauntered across the paths rather than scurrying as they usually do. In the distance to my right, The Hard Rock Café on Piccadilly, but no, I wasn’t tempted to deviate for a coffee there either. In fact, I might still have a grudge against them. We tried to book a table once and they told us we couldn’t. Then, when we turned up, we couldn’t get in because it was fully booked. You should have booked, they said.

Hyde Park Corner is a nightmare whether on foot, or in a car or bus. It had to be negotiated though. I smiled when I saw Wellington Arch: I’m proud to say I cycled under it in 2005, naked. Here’s a link so some photos… oh no, sorry, I just remembered, I’ve closed that particular account. One day, I might repeat that most enjoyable bike ride around London. Not today though, I didn’t bring my bike.

Today’s long walk was taking place on Liesel’s birthday so as I walked by The Lanesborough, I wondered whether I should book afternoon tea. But then I remembered we probably wouldn’t have time. Plus, of course I wasn’t dressed properly for such a venue. We have had tea here before, though: I remember being slapped on the wrist when I tried to pour my own tea.

Knightsbridge was busy, but there was no avoiding it. I was surprised that the big street sign called the area Scotch Corner, especially since the shop after which it’s named, The Scotch House, hasn’t been there for years. I worked in the area for six years, and I was disappointed to see that the sandwich shop where I bought my breakfast after a long nightshift, Crumbs, has gone and been replaced by something far inferior.

But this pub, Tattersall’s Tavern is the first and only venue where I have consumed eight pints of beer in one sitting. That was after a very long shift at work, and in the end, just me and Bob, the manager, were leaning against the bar.

Coming down to Tatts for a quick one?
Harrods

Harrods doesn’t change. Once, I went in to buy a pair of shoelaces, without success. Today, the window announced a coffee bar on the ground floor. That’ll be different, thought I. So I walked through. Do you think I could locate this coffee bar? No. Instead, I carried on and found a coffee at Steps Coffee Haus, across the road. Well, I just felt sorry for them, that their pop career hadn’t worked out. Tragedy.

Also at Harrods, many years ago, I met Ffyona Campbell. I often think of her when I’m on a ramble. She walked around the world in the ’90s and signed a book for me. The following week, Naomi Campbell was going to be signing the book that she ‘wrote’, even though, as it later emerged, she hadn’t even read it! On the other hand, it turned out Ffyona had had to ‘cheat’ in USA to keep up with planned media appearances, which is a shame. It must be painful to be extracted from The Guinness Book of Records like an unwanted, rotten, decayed tooth.

This is busy London, lots of pedestrians and lots of traffic, and I was torn between feeling imposed upon and just enjoying being in this vibrant city. I recognised some shops, but many were new to me, and the architecture is wonderful of course. Don’t ask me to describe the various styles, but when I see a new build that doesn’t fit in, I do wonder which developer bribed which councillor. Cynical? Me?

I reached the V&A just a few minutes before the agreed meeting time. This was when I received the dreadful news from Liesel that she’d only just left and would be quite late. I had both our tickets on my phone so I forwarded them to Liesel, telling her to use the second ticket, I’d use the top one. Yes, I could have waited a while before going in, but my bladder couldn’t.

In the end, although our electronic, timed tickets were checked by a person, neither was scanned electronically, so we weren’t in any real danger of being refused admission.

When Liesel arrived, I was sitting in the quadrangle with a nice cup of coffee and a large baguette, soaking up the Sun. Before I’d left this morning, Liesel had predicted that I’d walk over 20,000 steps. No way, José, I said. But she was right. At this point, the pedometer displayed over 23,000 steps. Liesel bought some (late) lunch too after which we went inside to look at some exhibits.

I quite liked the French Globe Clock, I think it would look very nice in our living room. But mostly, we looked at and admired the wrought and cast iron items. Why? I think we found ourselves going to galleries with the fewest people. In one room, a couple were dancing to the music in their heads.

Breathless is a collection of silver-plated brass instruments squashed by one of Tower Bridge’s 22-tonne lifting mechanisms. Who comes up with these weird ideas? In this case, one Cornelia Parker from Cheshire.

Breathless

As it was Liesel’s birthday, it was her choice of places to eat out. She remembered a Japanese restaurant somewhere near the Southbank Centre, so we set off back along Cromwell Road, Brompton Road and Knightsbridge. Yes, I was retracing my steps, but it was a first time for Liesel to be walking along the A4. The A4! And yes, we could have caught a bus, but apart from the traffic, it really was a pleasant day for walking in the city. After crossing the glorified roundabout that is Hyde Park Corner again, we veered off to walk by Green Park, along Constitution Hill.

Of course, as tourists, we were perfectly entitled to take a selfie with Buckingham Palace in the background.

Selfie of the day

The Victoria Memorial was shining brightly in the early evening sunshine, and, what’s this? A new innovation in London transportation? A man was walking along the road, in a giant metal wireball, a steel zorb. We don’t know why, but he did say he was doing this for ninety days.

A man in a zorb

The Mall was much more busy than we’d anticipated, disappointingly so, really. I have fond memories of riding onto The Mall after my 100-mile Prudential Bike Ride back in 2014, in the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha. I dream of being fit enough to do so again.

I’ve been to the ICA, the Institute for Contemporary Arts, for a few events over the years but so far, Liesel’s missed out. Yes, it’s also on the list of places to visit one day.

Eventually we crossed  the Golden Jubilee Bridge, again admiring the London Skyline to the east, beyond Waterloo Bridge. I resisted the urge to take a picture, since I already have several hundred. Unfortunately, the Japanese place has been replaced by a very stinky burger joint. So we went down to Wagamama for a very civilised meal. Plastic shields separate you from other diners, and I wonder whether they’ll keep these once the pandemic’s over? Or will we once again be forced to sit next to strangers on the bench? And you now pay by scanning a QR code on the menu, going to a website, typing in your table number and payment details. I’m not (usually) criminally minded, but I did think about entering somebody else’s table number, someone who perhaps has only ordered a couple of cheap drinks so far.

We walked back to Waterloo Station and returned to Surbiton.

Massive teapot samovar

I’d walked over 17 miles by this point, and while I didn’t say so at the time, I was quite relieved that Liesel had parked the car at Surbiton Station! The thought of walking back to our Airbnb after sitting down for half an hour on a train somehow didn’t appeal.

After a fairly good night’s sleep, we returned to the city. And we should have known it wouldn’t be straightforward. There’d been an ‘incident’ and all the trains were delayed. Sitting on a stationary train was the perfect opportunity to finish the book I was reading: Bitterhall by Helen McClory, so good, I gave it a 5-star review.

Later than planned then, we walked from Waterloo, along the river to Borough Market. We passed a couple of the same buskers as yesterday, and I was able to hurl some coins at them.

We were pleased to see that the Southbank Centre’s undercroft is still being enjoyed by skateboarders and graffiti artists: in fact, we caught one in the act. Also, being a bit later in the day, the book stalls were all out under the bridge, but we wasted no time browsing, we had a market with food to get to.

Urban artwork at its best

We acquired a picture of ourselves with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background thanks to a helpful pair of ladies who noticed that I was pretending to struggle taking the obligatory selfie.

Not strictly speaking a selfie

We ate our way around Borough Market: the best chips we’ve ever had, a very cheesey cheese straw, a tasty spinach muffin. The market was nowhere near as busy as we’ve seen before, but someone talking on the phone said it was absolutely rammed.

Borough Market and its bell
Borough market

One market’s not enough, so Liesel suggested visiting Spitalfields Market. It was a good excuse to walk along some long-neglected city streets. The Monument was gleaming in the sunshine, another selfie opp, of course.

Another selfie of the day

On the way, we walked through Leadenhall Market, one of our favourites, which in contrast, was much, much busier than we’ve ever seen it. Possibly because in the past, we’ve only been here on a Sunday. The bars were all open and full of city workers probably talking shop, definitely speaking loudly, a sign of normality if ever there was one, although of course, the spectre of Covid was never far away.

Who would think that a big lump of red, molten, plastic bottles could result in such a fabulous work of art? Tatiana Wolska, that’s who. What looks like a big red balloon, in the shape of a small human, floats above us in the market, competing with the very decorative star-studded ceiling.

Untitled by Tatiana Wolska

We found more Sculpture in the City in the form of Orphans, geometric solids made from orphaned paintings, those left behind by deceased people and unwanted by their heirs. Bram Ellens is responsible for this one, which is outside, exposed to the elements, so I hope it’s OK. I’m sure the artist knows what he’s doing.

Orphans by Bram Ellens

We sat down for a break in the courtyard in front of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping in Fenchurch Street. This is just round the corner from where I once worked, in Crutched Friars, a strangely named street that we didn’t quite get around to re-visiting on this occasion.

In this courtyard is a lovely sculpture, a mirror-polished stainless steel ship, with water running down and over it, very refreshing. The office workers returning from their lunch breaks paid it no attention as they made their way upstairs, some in more haste than others.

Our wander continued, passing the site of Petticoat Lane Market, which is only open on Sundays. Lilian Knowles House was new to us, as was Donovan Bros Paper Bag shop on Crispin Street, what a quaint area. The shop was closed, but I wanted to buy some paper bags just to see if Donovan or his brother would put them in a big paper bag. And a good reminder that despite living in or near London for forty years or more, there is still plenty to explore.

Liulian Knowles House
Donovan Bros

We like these strange, old places, but some new ones are quite pleasing to the eye too. Of course, it was a nice sunny day today, I wonder if looks as good on a gloomy wet day?

St Botolph Building

The first thing that drew my attention in Spitalfields Market was a bronze representation of Mwashoti, an orphaned male elephant rescued a few years ago. He is just one of the Herd of Hope roaming the market, drawing attention to the plight of orphaned elephants.

Mwashoti

The second thing I noticed was the second-hand hat stall. One day, I might decided to go for a 1950s titfer, but not today. We just walked around the market, a vibrant, colourful emporium. Yes, there was some tat, but a great place for people who collect, inter alia, old vinyl records. I had a quick browse, finding some David Bowie bootlegs that I’d not seen before. Tempted? Of course I was.

A load of old hats

It was someone’s birthday and as she posed for photos with a cake, she was surrounded by some of the most colourful, costumed friends you could imagine. They were more than happy to have their photo taken by us more sedately dressed weirdoes.

Why not stand out in a crowd?
Birthday girl

Liesel was delighted to find Humble Crumble, a stall that she’d read about, selling pies. I think this is just one factor that later led Liesel to suggest that Spitalfields is her new favourite market in London, knocking Borough Market off the top spot.

Old Spitalfields Market

Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee is another delightful sculpture that we admired just outside, before setting off to bus stop J.

Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee by Gillia and Marc

Yes, after discussion, we decided to, gulp, mask up and take a bus back to Waterloo, our first bus ride since, as far as I can remember, before the first lockdown. I didn’t even use my Old Fart’s Bus Pass (or whatever it’s called) because, well, I just forgot I could.

Fleet Street, Hoare’s Bank, The Royal Courts of Justice, Waterloo Bridge: what a fascinating, very nice, evocative bus ride.

Demon Barber of Fleet Street

From Waterloo, we took a train to Kingston, and this concludes two days in our glorious capital city. It was an itch that I feel has been well and truly scratched, but there are plenty more things to do and see, including theatre visits and other live performances – in London and Manchester.

Quebec House for students, in Kingston

We look forward to travelling on the underground again. Liesel had taken the tube from Wimbledon to South Kensington yesterday, but I totally avoided it on this occasion. Before moving away from Chessington, I had planned to visit every one of the stations on the London Underground system. It might happen one day. We were a week too early to visit the 21st century’s first new ones though: Nine Elms Station and Battersea Power Station Station, both, bizarrely in Zone 1.

Battersea Power Station way over at the back

Let me paraphrase Lord Kitchener:

          London is the place for me
          London this lovely city
          You can go to Didsbury or Manchester,
          Wythenshawe or Northenden
          But you must come back to London city
          Well believe me I am speaking broadmindedly
          I am glad to know my Mother Country
          I have been travelling to countries years ago
          But this is the place I wanted to know
          London that is the place for me.

My show on Radio Northenden this week might well be an homage to London. London is our capital city. Maybe I’ll call the show Capital Radio. That’ll confuse some people! Please join me at 4 o’clock, Friday afternoon right here, and say hello in the Chat box!

Travels down south

We went a long way south this week, for the first time since before the first lockdown. What an adventure. But first, here’s Northenden in all its glory.

Yellow flowers

Some flowers manage to escape the confines of their own garden, which brightens up the local roads.

Liesel had some work to do so, sadly, it was down to me to look after Martha and William for a few hours while Liam and Jenny went off somewhere for some peace and quiet. I enjoyed the walk to their house, and back, in ideal weather conditions. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, just right, just like Baby Bear’s porridge.

By way of a mental exercise, I decided to count the numbers of cyclists, runners and walkers that I saw on the way over to Cheadle Hulme. In the end, there were 13 cyclists, 17 runners or joggers, some looking happier than others, and 35 people walking. But, there were also two people pushing their bikes. Do I add them to the cyclists’ or to the walkers’ tally? This is the sort of nightmare conundrum that statisticians have to contend with all the time. Oh well. Also, one dog, one cat, one buggy and of course, innumerable cars. More exciting stats later.

Martha and William both had so much to show me, toys, books, puzzles. Martha’s written the first story in her school book. Getting them to pose for selfies was fun: William got into the spirit, training for the new coal mine about to open in Cumbria.

Selfies

There was a visitor in the garden. They weren’t bothered. True, it was only a squirrel, but even so, I thought they’d be more excited than their aged grandfather was! Jenny had prepared lunch for us all, thank you, and they ate very nicely. When it came time for dessert, it was Freddo chocolate bars or animal biscuits.

Later, both were still hungry. What do you want? Freddo? How about some fruit instead? I peeled Martha’s orange for her, while William peeled his own banana and very nearly put the whole thing in, in one go. Try harder, young man!

This dialogue didn’t really happen. I could have asked either, “What would you like to play with right now?” And the answer would be, “Whatever my sibling has, of course!” I’m sure most parents and grandparents have had this experience.

It’s a funny old universe, everything balances out in the end. Mummy and Daddy returned and I walked home. Martha and William were quite tired, but I was buoyed up and happy: what a remarkable demonstration of the law of conservation of energy.

Gnarly old tree

I walked home a different way, a more pleasant route, away from the main road as much as possible. So we’ll remember that for the next time. It was nice to see some young people playing football on the school playing field, it reminded me of watching Asa and Gideon playing three years ago, at the start of our travels.

And so, Monday morning arrived full of expectation, the cue for us to pack for our trip down south. We still weren’t 100% sure it was the right thing to do, given the Covid situation, but it’s been so long, and there has to be a first time some time. It’s a thin line between being cautious and living in fear, after all.

The M6 is a marvellous feat of engineering and construction and I know there’ll be a big, big party on the day it is finished, when there are no roadworks, no improvements, just an unencumbered drive from A to B.

And it’s always good to see this.

The Pies

It reminded me, I must try and find the album released by The Pies many years after the graffiti first appeared.

Rather than going straight to our accommodation in Tolworth, or Surbiton as our hostess would have it, we drove to Richmond Park, probably my favourite of all the London parks. We were mainly going for a walk, but we definitely cheered when we first saw the London skyline in the distance

London from Richmond Park

A couple of sections of road in the park have been closed to motorised vehicles, in order to restrict the amount of rat-running. That was good to see, even if, on this occasion, it meant we had to drive much further to our chosen car park.

We walked through Isabella Plantation, a nice, peaceful haven. I’m sure it’s been affected by the pandemic, much of it is very overgrown. In places, you can’t even see the stream because the vegetation is so lush. Gardeners and volunteers have probably been unable to devote so much time to the usually well-groomed area.

Here be a hidden stream

We wandered over to and around Pen Ponds. We didn’t have the place to ourselves, we shared with a few other people and their dogs, as well as plenty of birds.

Cormorant

We probably have seen cormorants here before, but mainly it’s geese, ducks, coots and even when you can’t see them, you can certainly hear the ring-necked parrakeets.

Walk like an Egyptian

I’d forgotten how much bracken there is in Richmond Park, and recalled how several years ago, there was a big scare about how carcinogenic the spores are.

At this point, we didn’t know why the roads were closed. So I walked down the steep Broomfield Hill and thought about stopping a struggling cyclist halfway up to ask if they knew why the roads were closed. But that would have been cruel. It’s always an achievement to ride up that hill without stopping and who knows, maybe one day I’ll do it again too. It was good to see so many cyclists in Richmond Park, but these weren’t the only ones we saw.

We found our way to our Airbnb in Tolworth Surbiton via Kingston. What’s this? County Hall has been sold? Surrey County Council’s HQ is now in Reigate, not Woking or Guildford as I would have expected. So who bought County Hall? I know when I worked at Kingston University, the then Chancellor wanted to buy it to expand his empire across the road. And the University’s Town House is a brand new building, not the pile of portakabins that it used to be. So many changes in such a short time.

After checking into our place, we set off for Byfleet to meet up with an old friend. Even though it’s been a long time since we’ve been here, it was all familiar. No real danger of getting lost, here.

Rosie took us to a nearby Indian restaurant for a delicious but very spicy meal which left me no room for dessert. It was while walking through the tunnel under the railway station that we saw more cyclists.

West Byfleet Station underpass

How wonderful to witness the reunion between Liesel and Rosie, after all this time!

I think it was Benjamin Frankin who said: “… but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and roadworks on Leatherhead Road.” And so it proved to be on this occasion as we drove the next day, yes, even further south, to Polesden Lacey. Is Leatherhead Road the most dug up highway ever?

It was raining and, in fact, this turned out to be the only rainy day of the whole week. Here we met up with Helen and Steve for lunch and a quick walk around the grounds. The House itself was closed, so we still haven’t been inside, despite so many visits to Polesden Lacey over the years.

Looking south

In the rain, I started to sing Oh What A Beautiful Morning, but it wasn’t fully appreciated by my other half.

Atmospheric is possibly the word I’m looking for. Even when the rain stopped, you could feel it, on the borderline between drizzle and tropical-style humidity.

Raindrops on leaveses…
Selfie of the day
Beech nut sculpture

This sculpture was created by Iain Crafer, inspired by the local beech trees.

We bade farewell to Helen and Steve and before our evening assignation, we made a detour to Bushy Park, one of our favourite London parks. Here too, the main road through the park, Chestnut Avenue, has been closed to through traffic. How jolly civilised.

We had a very pleasant walk around, finding paths that neither of us remember trampling nor cycling on before.

Stag

If you look closely, you can see stags having a lie down in the long grass.

Another gnarly old tree
Heron

Here’s a heron in Leg of Mutton Pond, so I passed on greetings from his cousin in Northenden. And we probably would have made friends with this moorhen too, if only we’d had some food for him.

Moorhen

We spent two days in London. At the end of our second day, we caught a train to Kingston where we loitered for a while before setting off on another walk.

Party Animal

This sculpture is one of a set, constructed by Alex R T Davies, on display in Kingston. This goat really does have a traffic cone on his back, and we are invited to touch and even sit on him.

The Thames was very busy, with rowing boats with crews of 8 and of 2, paddle-boarders and swans.

Messing about on the river

Walking along the Thames to Surbiton in the early evening is a very pleasant experience, even if looking across the river means glimpsing the bright, setting Sun so, yes, there were moments when I couldn’t see much other than green blobs floating in front of me. Nevertheless, we found our way to one of our old haunts from a few years ago.

It was reassuring to pass another establishment to see that they’re still having trouble keeping the L stuck on. Every generation of vandals probably thinks they’re the first, the original!

Clocktower Café

In Allegro, the proprietor, whose name we ought to know by now, recognised us even though it’s been at least two years since our last visit. During the pandemic, he closed up shop and took advantage of the opportunity to refurbish the place. He only reopened a few weeks ago and very nearly had to close again. Someone driving away from Surbiton Station hit the accelerator instead of the brake, driving into the tree in front of the restaurant. 

We enjoyed a nice meal with Helen and Steve and went back for our final night in Tolworth Surbiton, at least for the time being.

Early Friday, we got up, packed, and departed, stopping in Surbiton, yes, proper Surbiton, at The Press Room for some coffee to take with us. Even the Big Issue lady recognised me from two years ago, so I must have left an impression there.

We were meeting up with another friend on the way back, over in Gloucestershire. Sandra worked with Liesel many years ago, and we’d arranged to meet up for a walk around Sherborne Park Estate, which belongs to the National Trust. And what a pleasant walk it was too, just the sound of insects and birds and two women catching up on several years of gossip. We’d seen deer in Richmond and Bushy Parks of course, but none as spectacular as the one we saw here.

Sherborne deer

Down the road, we had a break outside Sherborne Village Shop and Tea Room. This was the most restrictive venue we’d been to all week. Only two customers at a time, wearing masks, which is fair enough, but you don’t know there’s someone else inside until you’ve crossed the threshold, then you get a good telling off.

There is a fabulous library cum defibrillator storage facility just down the road.

Nice use of an old phone box

Regular visitors will know that I am not very lucky in my attempts to take pictures of dragonflies. But I got one today.

Dragonfly

Oh, alright, I know it’s only a wooden model, but it kept still long enough for me to get my phone out and press the button. Something else I’ve always admired is the skill of the dry stone wall builders, here in the Cotswolds and elsewhere.

Dry stone wall

On the way home, we passed by Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold, both places we’d love to revisit properly, as well as Stratford upon Avon, and eventually we were back on the motorway system. We were soon reminded why we should never drive anywhere on a Friday evening. Google Maps was helpful though, telling us where the least worst hold-ups were. In the end, we drove along a section of the M5. I don’t think I’ve been on that motorway since the time Sarah and I were driving to Bristol to meet Ruth, when a thick pea-souper made us slow to a crawl, and we had to give up on that trip.

We successfully arrived at home, got the mail, had a quick gin and tonic, and welcomed the sensation of sleeping in our own bed.

Katie was kind enough to broadcast my pre-recorded radio show this week, thank you, two hours of Earworms, but hopefully not the annoying kind. You can catch up here.

What’s that? What about London? Watch this space…

I promised some more stats. So turn away now if you’re likely to be unimpressed.

The Earth’s circumference is just under 25,000 miles and at some point in the last couple of months, I passed the milestone of walking half that distance since I first using a Fitbit in April 2015. So, 5½ years to walk 12,500 miles, halfway round the world, that’s not bad, is it! That’s at an average of about 12,586 steps per day or an average of 11,413 steps per day since I stopped working as a postie in January 2016, so that just goes to show how far postal workers have to walk each day.

Dinosaurs and bicycles

On our walk to Didsbury, we encountered more fly-tipped rubbish. We didn’t investigate but there may well have been evidence identifying the perpetrator of the crime. I always take a picture of this sort of rubbish with the intention of reporting it to the council. But I invariably forget to do so and then I find the picture a few days later, groan inwardly and tell myself that surely by now, somebody else has reported it.

Unusually for us, we had breakfast in out, by which I mean, we were inside a café, but out, not indoors at home. If you see what I mean. We live in a freedom-loving country of course (I know, I know) but who knew that nearly fifty years ago, it would no longer be legal to do much at all in some locations.

Whatever you do, don’t

We walked back home a slightly longer way because we had errands to run. In Marie Louise Gardens, we collected a bag of sticks and fir cones. This is for a future project in which Liesel will construct some bug hotels with the ladies of the WI. We had some items to buy at the Co-op, and I let Liesel have the pleasure of going inside, masked of course. But most importantly, we collected a parcel from the Post Office, 3 kg of plastic dinosaurs, newly arrived from Liesel’s Mom in Alaska. And as someone suggested on Twitter, plastic dinosaurs are the most realistic replicas possible. Plastic comes from oil. Oil comes from dead, squished dinosaurs. So a plastic dino might easily contain some genuine dino DNA. We could in theory create our own Jurassic Park. We didn’t do that though, oh no. Instead, the following morning we left a trail of dinosaurs up the stairs and leading to our luxury apartment. From above, I watched William as he spotted one. Then another… Then another…

Lille boy climbs to the top of the stairs

William brought his family over for brunch, but don’t worry, they had been invited and were all very welcome, and Liesel cooked up a magnificent banquet which we all throughly enjoyed, thank you.

A heap of dinosaurs

“Do you like dinosaurs, William?”
“Yes, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.”

It was such a nice day, we all went outside and sat in the shade of our old oak tree. The one we usually play hide’n’seek around. Or ‘tag’, even, but without actually touching because of Covid!

Under the oak

And we painted rocks. Well, I say rocks, but they were just small stones that we could find in the the confines of the communal car park. I remember burying some painted pet rocks before we moved away from Chessington. You can read about it here if you like.

Now we have a few more stones for someone to bury in future years.

Painted rocks

We all did very well, didn’t we? And then indoors again, the contents of the toy box were investigated and distributed. Every now and then, William would remember there’s a baby in the flat below ours and try to keep quiet for a while. It’s becoming a habit, but he ate a raw carrot, straight from the fridge and scrubbed under the tap. This, despite the fact that the last time he consumed a whole carrot, it resulted in the production of large orange poo the following day! To protect her identity, I won’t name which one of us two produced purple poo the morning after consuming beetroot salad. Oh and speaking of poo, this is the class of advert we’re seeing at local bus stops:

How do you poo?

OK, I’ll try not to mention poo again. Except to say that I will soon be receiving my bowel cancer testing kit, a biennial event that I always look forward to. Sadly, for me, Liesel provided an old tub to use, so I had no reason to buy a new one, one containing ice cream, for example.

Sometimes on a local walk, we retrace our steps, and that can be rewarding. We did so this week to stay in the shade of the local woods just a little longer on what was a surprisingly hot Summer day. And there’s nothing wrong with this little piece of uplifting philosophy, which I think we’ve probably walked by several times, and missed, as it’s on the other side of the gate post.

#StayStrong

Some medical news, hooray. I went into Manchester to give blood and again, this was no problem, except I had to have a cold drink afterwards, not tea, but I did enjoy my Club biscuit and ginger nuts.

We both received text messages from our GP inviting us in for our flu jabs. Liesel called to make appointments for us, and after being on hold for 45 minutes, was told that there were no more appointments available. And there probably wouldn’t be until November. Hmm. Meanwhile, Liesel had also received an email from a pharmacy also inviting her in for a flu jab. We called their local branch and were able to go along later that same day to be jabbed. A couple of days afterwards, I received an email inviting me to come along for a Covid jab, which was very tempting. Yes, I am fully vaccinated already, but a trip to Manly, New South Wales, even if to visit this particular pharmacy, is very appealing right now!

Well, I don’t know if it was the flu shot or the reduced volume of blood in my system, or a combination of the two, but the following day, I just felt really tired, and breathless. This didn’t prevent us setting off to watch the nearest stage of the Tour of Britain bike race. We drove to Quarry Bank National Trust and then walked for about half an hour to our chosen viewing location on Mobberley Road.

It was another warm day, and I was conscious of walking much more slowly than my usual pace. Along the path, we found some nourishment in the shape of blackberries and damsons.

Damsons

We set up camp by a bus stop and after consulting various sources, realised we had about an hour to wait. Why so early? Well, on one occasion, we just missed a race by a few minutes because roads were closed and we had to park further away than planned. The road closures seem to be better managed these days. We thought we’d have a good view of the cyclists coming towards us, and I took many, many test photos of the many, many police motor bikes as they preceded the race, checking the route and telling car drivers to get out of the way when necessary.

Police bikes

A local man came along and he wondered why the race was on a weekday, not at the weekend. Maybe he didn’t realise it was a stage race, a different route for eight consecutive days. He went home when he realised there was still quite a long wait. But didn’t make it back to join us, probably because one of the police officers was keeping traffic off the road. He also told us that as this very spot a few months ago, two buses had crashed into each other, head on, in the middle of the road. He pointed out the exact spot. He thinks nobody was seriously injured.

And then, suddenly, at 50kph or more, the leading group of five riders appeared, surrounded by cars and more motor bikes.

Breakaway group

This leading, breakaway group, consists of Jacob Scott, in green, current leader in the King of the Mountains and Sprint competitions; Nickolas Zukowsky; Christopher Blevins; Leon Mazzone; and Robin Carpenter, who won the stage in Exeter, three days earlier.

If you think racing on a bike, 152.2 km, from Alderley Park to Warrington is hard, you should try watching the incredibly fast cyclists, taking some photos and applauding and cheering them on, all at the same time. No, actually, just cycling 152.2 km on a day out would be hard enough. That’s about 94 miles, a distance I’ve cycled maybe a dozen times or so, ever, and these guys do it every day as fast as their little legs will carry them. Châpeau, as they say!

Peloton

Just a couple of minutes later came the peloton. 90+ cyclists at full pelt, and I’d forgotten how noisy a large group of cyclists can be. In a flash, they were gone. More motor bikes and cars and a long, long way behind, one lone rider who stopped and asked when the next bus was due. No, he didn’t, but I wonder if it crossed his mind.

A long time away from home for a mere two minutes of entertainment, then! Yes, of course, we watched the whole race on TV when we got home, but we didn’t make it on screen, which may be a blessing.

Global6 support vehicle

The Global6 support team parked up near us, for a natural break. Their bike wheels have green rims, and after the Tour is over, those wheels will be auctioned off to raise funds for Refugee Action.

As we walked back to the car at Quarry Bank, we ate some more damsons. I warned Liesel to watch out for the nettles, just as my shin found a particularly potent nettle bush. Thank goodness for Germolene.

We didn’t wander round the venue, but we did find our way to the restaurant and had a nice cup of National Trust decaff coffee plus a slice of raspberry Bakewell slice. It felt good to be building up my strength again after that relatively short but ridiculously knackering walk.

We were very lucky with the weather, we just felt a few spots of rain. But the cyclists had to contend with much worse on their way to Warrington.

Menacing

This is the view from the comfort of our living room, gorgeous landscape and menacing dark clouds.

Another wander around Northenden was quite good for us wildlife fans.

Northenden menagerie

The Jolly Roger is still flying at The Crown for the boat race a couple of weeks ago. I hope the pink bunny is soon reunited with her child. The squirrel posed beautifully. The heron was in its usual spot and he seemed to be finding things to eat in the very low river.

The shortest duration job I ever had was working on a building site in Notting Hill. I lasted one day and one hour. On the first day, I had to shift a load of toilets from there to over there. The next morning, I was told to move them all back again. Well, what a waste of time that was, I thought. But what drove me away was that is was raining hard all the time, plus the steel toe cap shoes I’d borrowed off my Dad, two sizes too small, had given me so many blisters, I just couldn’t get comfortable. But I did come away from the job with the ambition of being a hod-carrier. Yes, I wanted to be the bloke that carried dozens of house bricks or roof tiles on my shoulder while climbing a high, ricketty old ladder. Sadly, it seems that ambition will never be fulfilled. Local builders have installed a sort of conveyor belt to carry the tiles up to the guy on the roof. So that’s another ancient skill that will be forgotten in time, along with mining and sweeping chimneys.

Builder’s roof tile conveyor

The good news of course is that my real-life ambition of being a radio presenter is being realised, to a certain extent. This week’s show on Radio Northenden was presented from a desert island beach, with very few other people around, the waves crashing and I played lots of sunshiny, laid-back, chilled music, mostly evoking nice, peaceful places we’d all like to be sometimes, away from the hurly-burly and the hustle-bustle of every day life in the city. You can listen here.

And yes, of course we watched the next stage of the Tour of Britain on TV, the one from Carlisle to Gateshead.

Drum and Gratitude

We’ve been engrossed not only by all the sport on TV this week, the Paralympics and La Vuelta a España, but also the world-famous Northenden Boat Race. We witnessed this fund-raising event for the first time since moving to Northenden all those years ago. We thought about entering the race, but you have to bring your own inflatable dinghy or canoe, and we don’t have one. But next year, who knows?

We followed the sound of bagpipes, played by the Northenden Pipe and Drum Band. I think one of the drummers had had enough, look where he left his instrument.

Drum

The car park at Didsbury Golf Club was full of inflatable boats and pumps. But I was more interested in using their facilities and the coffee bar.

Didsbury Golf Course Club Room

The boat race started at Simon’s Bridge, and we watched as innumerable dinghies set off at the same time. It wasn’t long before some of them turned sideways or even started going backwards.

On your marks… get set…
Go!

Out of the blue, I heard a voice. “Are you Mick?” Well, yes, but who are you, I wondered. “I’m Colin.” Colin who? Not Colin Cook who put earthworms down my wellington boots when I was about 6 years old, surely? Ah, Colin. From Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 “I recognised your voice” he said. He’s the guy that takes my (slightly edited) Radio Northenden show and cues it up for broadcast on a Wednesday evening. What are the chances that we would end up standing so close to each other by the river?

As the boats drifted downstream – it would be an exaggeration to say they were being propelled by any serious, competent paddling – we started walking towards the Tatton Arms Bridge, where the race ended.

One vessel started sinking so the bloke got out to push. Fortunately, the river was quite low so he could walk along the river bed.

Get out and push

There were lots of people around, but it didn’t feel as crowded as the zoo did a few days earlier. Well, until we reached the other bridge, which everyone was trying to walk across. Glad it didn’t collapse under the weight of probably more people than it’s known since before the first lockdown.

Backwards

Even those competitors who found themselves facing the wrong way finally made it to the end.

Pipe Band

The pipers played a few tunes for the long queue waiting to cross the bridge. I briefly thought about joining this band. Then I remembered, I can’t actually play any of the instruments.

Drum and Drummer reunited

On the other hand, I haven’t tried this one, the big bass drum, yet. I’m sure our neighbours wouldn’t mind me practicing.

Liesel went straght home but I didn’t want to miss the subsequent action on the Village Green a little later.

Boat on the weir

This is one of the last boats to descend the weir. As far as we know, nobody actually fell into the water.

When the dust settled, the heron returned, scratching its head, wondering what the heck just happened?

Heron on the weir

While waiting for the last of the crowds to disperse, I sat on a bench near the playground. A lady sat at the other end and asked what was going on. She’d missed the boat race, so I showed her my photos. Such a strange situation: trying to maintain a safe distance from a stranger while, at the same time, holding my phone close enough for her to be able to see the images.

On the Village Green, the Lord Mayor of Manchester presented the prizes to all the winners and gave a little speech.

The winners and the Lord Mayor

Lilly decorated the pavement for us. I don’t want to get her into trouble, but she did sign her own work.

Lilly’s lilies

This was outside Samosa Box. Guess what we had for dinner?

Some of the roads around here still have cobble stones along the edges. Unusually, this road had them on display. No cars parked on them, or half on the verge. I very quickly took a photo.

Cobbles

In other news Martha and William returned to school this week, looking very smart and very happy.

Martha and William

Liesel had a day out with her WI ladies, a visit to Manchester Jewish Museum. I dragged myself out of bed and we drove into Manchester together. Parking was no problem, just along the road a bit in a shopping centre. While Liesel was in the Museum, I went for walk into the city centre.

Museum, formerly a Synagogue
Dr Chaim Weizman, first President of the State of Israel
Inside the Museum

As you can probably tell, I take more photos that Liesel does. This is a rare one, taken inside the museum.

I took about half an hour to walk to St Peter’s Square in Manchester, outside the Central Library. It’s my first visit to the city centre for a long time, other than quick trips to donate blood.

I said hello to Robert Owen but he just looked at me stoney faced.

Robert Owen

He is known as ‘the father of Co-operation’ and he stands outside the Co-op Bank’s headquarters.

What was so attractive about St Peter’s Square? The Gratitude exhibition. This is a collection of 51 statues, each decorated by a different artist, and the display is to show gratitude for the wonderful performance by all the NHS and other key workers during the pandemic.

Lots of Gratitude
The Isolation Chronicles

Scattered pages from a square journal, each one a picture of our life in lockdown. The Isolation Chronicles contains snapshots of the pandemic – supermarket checkouts, nurses, vaccinations, deliveries, farming, 3D printers making visors. Designed by Sue Prince from the Peak District.

Good Timber

Inspiration for the design comes from the metaphorical poem ‘Good Timber’ by Douglas Malloch, which suggests that only by struggle can we overcome adversity and reach the other side. The trees in the design have fought and grown together so their uppermost branches can ‘hold counsel with the stars’. The woodland floor is laced with bluebells which are thought to symbolise gratitude. Designed by Gail Stirling Robertson from Scotland.

Faces of Lockdown

Faces of Lockdown depicts a collection of personalities from the last year, featuring politicians, scientists, TV characters and a Welsh goat! Designed by Hammo (Nick Hamilton), an illustrator and mural painter from Manchester.

Stardust; We can be Heroes; Our Teacher Our Hero

You can see all the statues by downloading the Gratitude app for a mere £1.99, this display is here in Manchester until 12 September then it’s off to Edinburgh and London.

I couldn’t resist a visit to the library of course. Hip-hop is an art form that has largely passed me by, but I thought a visit to the Manchester Hip Hop Archive Exhibition might be educational. And it was. Lots of photos and posters and artefacts from the 1980s onwards. I even recognised some of the names, but I wouldn’t have known the context.

Rokin the Stoneage

A lot of the culture revolves around urban art: graffiti and tagging of course, and some of that is very decorative. And the poems are as good as some of the really old ones we had to read at school.

Breakdancing

I was going to try this but the librarian wouldn’t let me.

In the library, I met Erinma Bell MBE DL, Peace activist.

Erinma Bell

This sculpture is made from recycled hand guns, by Karen Lyons in 2016.

Andrew went to prison for 6 years during which time he lost his camera. The big loss though was his collection of 1000 photos of graffiti taken all around Manchester. After release, he sorted himself out, stayed away from drugs and alcohol and has embarked on the graffiti photo project again. There’s a display of hundreds of his pictures in the library in an exhibition called ‘Reds and K1000’.

Reds and K 1000

After a coffee break in the library, I walked back to the Jewish Museum. On the way, I found another wee poem.

Manc made

Liesel and I caught up with each other and I waited outside while she visiting her old friend Dunkin’.

Geometric

One day, we’ll find out what this building is, with its amazing geometric pattern on the outside.

It was a good idea to move my show to 4pm, because today, I would have panicking about not getting back in time. It was Crime and Punishment this week, all harmless murder, shop-lifting and mugging. Listen back here if you have a spare couple of hours.

But mainly this week, it was Paralympic sport and a bike race in Spain. Both finish this weekend, so let’s hope we do a bit more during next week’s hinted-at heat wave.

My regular Tuesday night date with Jessica Lee Morgan reached episode 94 this week, and this will be the last one for a while. She’s out on tour, doing real live shows in front of real live people, and we’re all happy about that.

No. Thank you! Great shows, Jessica and Chris

Windows and ducks

We’ve been engrossed by all the sport on TV this week, the Paralympics and La Vuelta a España. Our contribution is to scour the schedules, record and watch as much as possible, cheer on all the superstars and try to find time to go out for some fresh air once in a while.

Landslip by the Mersey

It looks like there’s been a bit of a landslip here, by the river. Probably caused by the rain a couple of weeks ago. Either that, or somebody has flytipped  some fencing and the extra weight has caused the earth beneath to move.

It’s always good to see a splash of colour in unexpected places, and St Hilda’s RC Church is no exception.

St Mary’s Malankara at St Hilda’s

The golfers are back, you can just see them through the overgrown grass.

Duck

We didn’t find any golf balls this week. Either the players are better now, or we just can’t see them in the overgrown grass.

I thought this was a nice thing to do.

Happy Anniversary

But reading the card was quite poignant, and personal: it looks like someone has left us far too soon.

Love lasted very short

There were no names, but it’s another indication that when you lose a loved one, you can do some crazy things, anything to take away the pain for a moment. Thoughts are with the family, whoever they are.

On another walk, we found these windfalls. But, like everyone else, we didn’t pick up any of the apples because the local tip is on the other side of the fence and, well, the stench was almost overpowering.

Duck

We walked over eight miles on this day, mostly along unpleasantly busy roads but we had a job to do. Jenny and Liam have taken Martha and William to the Lake District for a week, and our mission, which we chose to accept, was to put their bins out.

On the way, we found a hole in the wall. Not a cash machine, a literal hole in the wall.

Hole in the wall

This, plus the nearby bent, mangled and now sawn-off lamppost are testament to the quality of driving in the area.

We walked back home via Gatley Carrs where we enjoyed some wild blackberries. It was obvious that many people had been here before, the pickings were very slim.

It’s a very green park, but this very tall yet deceased tree certainly stands out.

Sore thumb

Something else that stands out is, when you’re in The Northern Den coffee shop, you see another customer drinking coffee from a rival shop.

Costa coffee in Northern Den

I’m sure Northern Den’s David didn’t put any unwanted fillings in the sandwiches ‘by mistake’. I don’t want to embarrass the offending customer, so I’ve slightly altered his appearance.

The heron’s been here a lot this week, he seems to like standing in the fast flowing waters of the weir, but he also made a guest appearance on the bridge near the old Tatton Arms.

Heron

We visited a new (to us) venue, Little Moreton Hall, a fascinating Tudor House.

Selfie of the day
Wonky wall or wonky window?
Stain glass window

The house is in pretty good nick for its age (aren’t we all?), although it’s a bit strange walking round inside, on floor that isn’t quite horozontal, but it was built on land reclaimed from marshes all those years ago. We had coffee and a scone, and we would have enjoyed the snack more if we hadn’t had to fight the wasps off. Some ducks came sniffing round too, and I tried not to laugh when one tried to take a chunk out of Liesel’s leg.

Duck

The house is the main attraction here, but we fancied a longer walk, so we went down the road a bit to Biddulph Grange Gardens. The Covid-inspired one-way system has now been dispensed with, so it was up to us to avoid all those other pesky people. It was very colourful in the gardens today.

Begonias
Nice reflection

We even saw things that we don’t recall noticing before, such as this old frog. Or is it a toad?

Frog

Well, it’s just sitting there, minding its own business, guarding the garden.

It was good to see so many bees and butterflies here too.

Insects
Dahlia
Another dahlia

But of course the highlight of the day was visiting Lakeland. The shop, that is, not the mountainous, wet area a bit further north. It was a good opportunity for me to wander around while Liesel did some shopping, and in this not very photogenic part of the world, I took this picture.

Mick in a window

But even that creature isn’t as strange as this one:

Lakeland car park

This week on Radio Northenden, I was Losing My Religion in a show entitled Mick’s Messianic Music Mix. Listen to the whole two hours here, if you fancy something a bit different.

I often listen to podcasts or radio shows in bed at night while waiting to nod off. When I feel myself drifting away, I put the earbuds under the pillow for easy access later on.

One morning this week, I noticed that one of the silicone in-ear tips had fallen off. I looked all over the place for it. Not under the pillow, not under the duvet. I even moved the bed out for a good look underneath, but it had totally disappeared. So, the last resort of the scoundrel, I went straight online to look for a replacement. In the end, I ordered a whole replacement headset for £3.95 rather than 4 replacement tips for £10, especially since I only needed one.

That evening, we watched some TV. As I stood up, I noticed a small black object where I’d been siting, and straightaway assumed I’d been sitting on a dead fly or something. But no, it was the missing earbud tip. How did it get here?

The only rational explanation is that when it became detached, it fell off the bed and onto my shorts which were hanging on the floor. When I dressed, it must have dropped into a pocket. I now realise I probably walked around with it all day. It reappeared in the evening when I pulled out a tissue or something.

It survived me getting dressed, visiting the dentist where I lay back in the chair for some treatment, a long, slow walk through the woods, a cup of coffee at the Northern Den (as mentioned before), a few hours in front of the PC and a couple of exciting hours watching action from the Paralympics.

Is this a miracle? I’m glad it turned up because if it hadn’t, the only other explanation is that it slipped through a wormhole into an alternative universe where it would have joined all our odd lost socks.

A Sandwich

This week was a sandwich. An unusual sandwich in that the bread is absolutely delicious, full of nutrition and fun while the filling was a bit more mundane, mouldy cheese, rotten tomatoes and limp lettuce. Nothing wrong with some mundanity of course, but it’s funny the way things work out.

Saturday, we joined in with Tim’s Listening party online, a good reason to listen to Bic Runga’s Beautiful Collision album in its entirety. After which, while writing, I just let Bic Runga sing away for the next hour or so, until Jenny, Liam, Martha and William arrived.

We all went for a walk along the river, our usual route, to Simon’s Bridge and back, a total of over four miles, which I think both impressed and surprised Liam.

Paddleboarders

We were all impressed by the paddleboarders, and I’m sure we all thought we’d like to try that one day. They were spooked by the weir though. They had to remove the fins from the boards if they wanted to skate (is that the word?) down the slope of the weir, but one of the board’s fins was screwed in, and I think the whole of Northenden heard the call for the yellow bag with the screwdrivers.

Liam and Martha
Jenny and William

Martha and William had a good time, finding two golf balls in the process. The second one was dropped into the river by mistake, I think William was surprised at re-discovering gravity, but no amount of peering into the Mersey was going to bring that ball back. Still, we’re one golf ball up on the deal. 

I called Liesel ‘Liesel’ and William asked why. Liesel explained about our real, given names, and what other people call us. Then Martha joined in too, telling William that when he’s a Daddy, she’ll still call him William but his children will call him Daddy. He’ll still call her Martha but his children will call her Auntie. As Liesel said later on, we should have recorded that dialogue, because our grandchildren are the best.

When we got home, Martha again had to investigate Oma’s jewellery and try some of it on.

Precious things

So that’s one slice of bread, a lovely day with our grandchildren. I’m sure you’re ahead of me. Here comes the filling, not as bad as I suggested, but comparatively plain and ordinary.

We walked into Didsbury. Liesel joined the ladies of the WI in Fletcher Moss Gardens for a chinwag while I wandered around almost aimlessly. I did sit in the rockery for a while, reading one of the seven books I’m in the middle of right now. My mid-August resolution is to finish (most of) those books before I allow myself to start a new one.

World famous Didsbury cobbles

My wander wasn’t totally aimless, the final destination being the optician who adjusted my new spectacles very slightly. I’ll now give it another couple of weeks to get used to them again.

Didsbury mural

The walk to Didsbury includes Ford Lane. This is the only route to the golf course. Ford Lane is being resurfaced. How we laughed at the golfers driving to the golf course as we walked towards Didsbury. And how we laughed on the walk back home when we passed by the empty car park. Someone must have told them that they were about to be boxed in.

Ford Lane roadworks

Most of the construction workers were, correctly, wearing hi-visibility clothing, but one of them must have been too warm.

Hi-vis cardigan

Wednesday is Well-being Walk day in Northenden, organised by Thrive Manchester, and led by Chantel, who was on my radio show a couple of weeks ago. This week, there were about eight of us, walking slowly through the woods, glad that the drizzle remained slight. A cup of coffee at the Northern Den rounded off a pleasant morning.

Walk in the woods

I then walked home the long way, at a faster, for me more comfortable pace, and as I passed the barber, I noticed there was only one customer inside. Why not? So I did. I have never had such a short haircut, an all-over number five. I have never had such a cold head for so long. I sought professional help from Helen, what can I use to speed up the regrowth? Still, on the plus side, I don’t need to use as much shampoo, I don’t need to spend time combing what’s left of my crowning glory, and my hair won’t block up the shower any time soon. Liesel looks over from time to time and very kindly tries not to laugh too much.

Walking in the opposite direction, I really didn’t expect to see a mouse in Wythenshawe Park.

Mickey Mouse

But worse than the rodent infestation was seeing the mess that the dinosaurs left behind. Dino Kingdom has packed up and is now presumably setting up elsewhere. But the churned up grass and the mud-covered paths are very sad to see. I hope the relevant authorities are being suitably remunerated for tidying up Wythenshawe Park.

Wythenshawe wastelands

So there’s your limp lettuce. And here comes the other slice of delicious bread in this ridiculous sandwich metaphor.

Chester Zoo was as busy as we’ve ever seen it. I think if Liesel and I had been on our own, we might have just turned around and gone straight back home. But with Martha and William, that would be a horrible thing to do. Thankfully, they weren’t perturbed by the hordes of visitors to the zoo. And maybe Liesel and I are just more sensitive because it’s been so long since we’ve been so close to so many strangers. With children, we’re walking along quite slowly, and I found it so intimidating when somebody was walking so close behind me. Tailgating.

Whinges apart, we had a great time, although animals were definitely not a priority for the children on this occasion. Top of the wish-list was the Treetop Challenge which I kept referring to as Treetop Adventure, much to Martha’s amusement. They were strapped in, walked around, enjoyed the rides down, and then, just as suddenly, William had had enough and Martha followed him off.

Treetop Challenge accepted

Next up: ice cream. Thankfully the queue wasn’t too long. Q: ‘Which animals would you like to see?’ A: ‘Is it lunchtime yet?’ And so, at 11.30, we sat down to eat lunch.

Baby giraffe

The baby giraffe was deserving of the oohs and aahs from so many families, while we sat there and consumed our lunch. Next on our agenda though was the playground, a water feature with rocks and a nightmare for people in charge of other people’s children. William and Martha enjoyed opening sluices and operating the Archimedes screw and lifting the ‘anchor’ which was in fact the plug that allowed all the water to drain away.

Martha and William back, back, back

William fell asleep in the back of the car pretty much before we’d left the car park. Martha stayed awake the whole way home and, big surprise, so did I.

I turned on the PC as soon as I got in because I had a radio show to do. The theme this week was Chemical Elements, if you would like to listen back.

Jenny took William and Martha home but by the time I finished at 6.06, they were back, with Liam this time. Pizza was delivered, Jenny brought cake and we dined together. The toys were liberally distributed all over the floor, and I don’t think we’d have it any other way!

Pastoral

You know I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world, but on the final day of the Olympics, I got up before 2 o’clock in the morning to watch the last session of Track Cycling. There were ups and downs of course, but I enjoyed the spectacle. Laura and Jason Kenny now have more gold medals between them than many countries.

The future Dame Laura Kenny

Laura was involved in a crash, meaning she was very unlikely to win the Omnium event, so it was good to see her smiling face a little later. And Jason’s Keirin win was out of this world, you should look it up on YouTube!

After the cycling, I thought about going for a nice early morning walk. But the rain was torrential. So I went back to bed instead, getting up in time for the Closing Ceremony later on.

The rain eased so I went for a potter and as if we needed reminding about the quantity of rainfall, the river was flowing fast and high. The island was totally submerged, no sign of a heron and all the geese have flown to higher ground.

Not an island

A longer walk took me to Route 66.

Historic Route 66

No, don’t be silly, of course I didn’t go all the way to America. I can’t, partly because my passport is about to expire but mainly because we won’t be flying anywhere for a little while yet thanks to Covid restrictions. This plaque is actually inside the gents toilet near The Courtyard Café in Wythenshawe Park.

While in the park, I thought I’d go and say hello to the wild farm animals: goats, pigs and cows ‘guaranteed to be BSE-free’ according to the sign.

Hello goat

Meanwhile, it’s all change in Northenden. The milkshake place It Shake, or more likely Shake It has changed its name to The Dessert Café.

Must pay a visit one day

When on a solo walk, it’s always nice to be welcomed back home.

Hello squirrel

The squirrel was delighted to see me over the hedge, but as soon as I appeared on the drive, he was away and up the tree in less than a microsecond.

Dunham Massey was the venue and for the second time, we went for a walk away from the National Trust property, through the village and along the canal. I missed the opportunity of taking pictures of the cows but I did capture a horse! The canal was busier today too, with barges or narrow boats, all going in the same direction. We wondered whether there’s a one-way system in place?

By the canal

We saw a very handsome heron on the towpath too, and I thanked him sincerely for being more cooperative than his relations in Northenden.

Hello heron

Amongst the other wildlife we saw were a pretty blue but very fast dragonfly, a caterpillar and a butterfly that might be moth really, even though they’re supposed to be nocturnal.

Hello butterfly or moth

At one point, close to a golf course, we had a chat with a very pleasant young family. Mother said that her little boy had eaten enough blackberries by now. Father said that the field we were standing next to, now full of some kind of cereal, was full of sunflowers a couple of years ago. Well, we missed that. But it reminds us that even when we go on the same walk, we can see different, exciting things, as long as we time it right.

After the long and very pleasant walk, we found ourselves back in the deer park, where the natives were having their lunch.

Hello deers

But the funniest wildlife antics were displayed by a few strange specimens of homo sapiens. They’d come along to a National Trust place with their own table, chairs and the wherewithal for a very civilised picnic.

Picnickers

We just sat on a bench and enjoyed our white chocolate ice creams, since you ask.

Alderley Edge was the venue of another day out. The place makes me feel cold. I was working for a small software company at the time. One drizzly October day in 1986, I think it was, a colleague drove me to meet with someone in Alderley Edge. I can’t remember now if he was a potential customer or what, but all I do remember about him was, he had a huge CD collection, when such things were relatively new. The drive was fast, the weather atrocious, his house hard to find, and I felt cold, miserable and totally out of place. On the drive back, flashing blue lights in the rear-view mirror were the cue for my colleague to pull the handbrake on, hoping to slow the car down without brake lights giving the game away. A stern talking to was the result. But ever since that day, whenever I’ve seen a sign for Alderley Edge, I’ve broken out in a cold sweat. Thirty-five years on, and it was time for a return visit. On a much nicer day, with blue skies, a comfortable temperature and a fascinating new place to explore.

There’s a sandstone escarpment and in the past, there were copper mines here, hinted at by the green stains on some of the rock faces.

Stained sandstone

We enjoyed our walk through the woods, but it’s much more hilly than we’re used to. The views are spectacular, ruined only by people taking selfies in front of them.

Selfie of the day
Crack in the rock

We followed the Valley Walk, which meant of course that, after the recent rain, we would have to contend with some mud.

Muddy footpath

Liesel’s not a big fan of walking through fields with cattle but we had to go that way. I soothed the animals with my rendition of Oh what a beautiful morning, but I was glad to climb over the stile in the end.

On the way home, I noticed the bollard reflecting the sunlight and I thought, how colourful. I took its picture. Liesel said I was nuts. You decide.

Bollard in the sunlight

It had to be done but this week, I said goodbye to a dear old friend. It’s been on the to-do list for a few years but at last, I closed a defunct bank account. They were good enough to give Sarah and me a mortgage all those years ago, but sentiment isn’t a good enough reason to keep an empty bank account and a credit card account that we no longer use. It should be a simple process, you’d think. I spoke to four different agents on the phone, assuring them that I really did know my own date of birth, that I would have to guess my credit limit since I haven’t used the card for years, and all the time at the back of my mind was, am I actually talking to people who work at the bank? Did I call the right number? Still, I can tick another box, hooray!

In additional medical news, I still have what in modern parlance should be called long midge bite. Old wounds that are taking ages to heal. I got bitten by something else this week. I thought I’d brushed against nettles or something, but the pain was too intense. I looked at my elbow and brushed off some sort of mega fly, called it a rude name, and I’ve had an itchy elbow ever since.

Round the Bend

We’ve had an exhausting week at the Olympics. If sitting on the futon watching one and sometimes two screens were an Olympic sport, we’d have loads of medals. We really admire the skills of the skate-boarders and BMX riders, doing tricks that seemingly defy the laws of physics. The best trick though was the BMX cyclist who finished his routine then drop-kicked his helmet into the crowd.

Track cycling is always exciting, but at home, we are entertained almost as much by some of the commentary. I won’t name the guy who compared the Dutch cyclists to a fleet from the Netherlands sailing up the Thames to defeat the British and French fleets.

Laura Kenny and Katie Archibald

I think it’s fair to say that our favourite GB victors are Laura Kenny and Katie Archibald, winners of the inaugural women’s Madison at the Olympics. I very nearly put my cycling jersey on, you know, the one signed by Laura Trott. But I was too lazy to go and look for it.

The newly implemented Climbing event was the one that made my palms sweat the most. Liesel has a lot of wall-climbing experience, I’ve tried just the once.

One of our main discussion points revolves around the athletes’ outfits. They usually display the name of the vountry they’re representing. So: Great Britain, USA, Australia, all the English-speaking nations. Then there are Italia, España and others that display the name in their own language. But why do so many show their name in English? We’re looking at you Germany, Ethiopia, Czech Republic and Norway for example. I hope there’s a good reason, and I hope that it’s not because they’re catering to an American TV audience. After all, some event times were changed to suit them.

But we have moved away from our sofa from time to time, honest. There’s always something new to find in the woods. No teddy bears having picnics though.

Fallen tree, splitting the difference

You don’t have to venture far off the main path to find some entertainment.

Tyre swing

We didn’t test the strength of the rope but it’s good to see an old tyre being put to good use rather than dumped in the river.

Guess who we bumped into at Quarry Bank Mill? Only Jenny, Martha and William, that’s who. We had arranged to meet and we had a nice time including a very early lunch. I think that was so that we’d have time for an ice cream too.

Do not climb

This sign was by a tree that William wanted to climb, of course, but I think I’ll make a badge out of this image to wear next time they want to climb their ancient grandfather.

Oma and Martha, botanists

They playground has reopened and that was the perfect place for both children to demonstrate their climbing skills. And swinging skills.

William climbing

Maybe William will be climbing at the Olympics in Brisbane in 2032 while his sister takes the BMX medals.

William and Martha, swingers
William’s tyres

What can possibly be better than two grandchildren?

Four grandchildren

Another day, another potter around Northenden and it was good to see Jill Scott back from Tokyo. The GB football team lost out to Australia and the competitors have to go home as soon as they’ve finished, all part of the Covid precautions.

Jill Scott MBE

Swinging a baby isn’t really part of the training regime, but what a cute photo. As featured later in a Boxx 2 Boxx advert on Instagram.

Someone’s been busy cutting the grass on the river bank.

Short grass

Very good yes, but on the other hand, it would be nice to cut back the nettles overgrowing the upper path while you’re there!

On the other other hand, how nice that they’re turning the children’s playground in Riverside Park into an art gallery.

Art gallery

We were surprised to see a pair of ring-necked pararkeets flying by the river one day. The heron was around too, but he kept flying off along the river to escape the canoes and kayaks that he found so threatening.

I did something recently that is very ordinary but felt very strange. We ordered a pizza to be delivered and thought we should tip the delivery operative. I haven’t handle coins for nearly eighteen months. I emptied my tin of coins and had to scrutinise them very carefully: I didn’t want to hand over one of the old, circular pound coins by mistake. Even everyday British coins look exotic and foreign when you haven’t seen them for a long time. And the smell of dirty, metallic fingers when you’ve been counting those coins is so evocative. Anyway, the pizza girl got her tip, the pizzas were delicious and I’m sure we’ll be going back.

The radio show this week: what a disaster. I was doing my thing, playing records and talking to myself, but potential listeners were disappointed (!) to see the message ‘Off Air’. There was a problem with the server, and only the last 20 minutes of the show went out live. But if you want to listen to a couple of hours of songs based on books and literature, it can be found here.

I chatted with Ann, a volunteer from Northenden Community Library too, but the sound quality of the recorded phone conversation is embarrassing.

In medical news: I’m still suffering from the assaults I was victim to in Scotland. Every couple of days, I scratch a minor itch and realise, it’s the site of a midge bite. Some of the wounds are now quite big. The gits that keep on giving, as they say.

In the Wet

Art for art’s sake

We don’t know who the artist is, but it’s always a joy to come across a work of art when you least expect to. It’s definitely not a Banksy. Which is good, because this pillar supports a motorway, and it would be a real shame if someone were to cut a hole out in order to preserve the artwork, like they did with the hula-hoop girl in Nottingham. Well, such are the thoughts of insomniac me when it’s hot and sticky indoors. I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams too during the recent heatwave.

Liesel and I like mixing things up a bit, so we walked the other way along the river, towards Chorlton rather then towards Didsbury. Well, it makes a change. There were a few joggers and dog walkers as well, and on the other side of the river, a temporary encampment has been set up by the looks of it. If you need a new tyre for your car, there are plenty in the river here, easily seen when the water level is so low.

Overgrown river bank

After walking home we set out on another adventure. All the way over to Cheadle Hulme where we spent the afternoon in the garden with Martha and William and their Mummy and Daddy. Great fun, a lovely lunch, some fun and games and really, just being in the presence of grandchildren definitely boosts the spirits. Everyone should have some.

They’re easy to come by

They’re probably quite cheap at this site, plus there’s free delivery if you’ve signed up to Prime and you might help fund Bezos’s next trip into space.

Oma’s brownies

Nobody has ever complained about the lack of foodie photos in this space, but just to say, these brownies were very nice, thank you Liesel, very soft, more like a cake. So the question is, what’s the difference between brownies and cake?

On another little jaunt, a little pony came over to say hello. Well, not literally, that would have been incredibly newsworthy. I didn’t have anything to feed him, but neither did I ask ‘Why the long face?’

Neighbour

What could possibly beat an afternoon in the garden with William and Martha? Why, a day at the seaside with them, of course. For the first time in over sixteen months, we had passengers in our car, very important passengers too in the shape of our gorgeous grandchildren. It takes about an hour to drive to Formby, and I think they were as excited as we were!

Martha on the motorway

William told us he doesn’t like it on the motorway because it’s too loud. But he’s a very good backseat driver when it comes to traffic lights.

And then of course, it’s quite a long walk from the car park to the beach itself, but did they complain? They did not! They’re such good sports. And the delight when they finally saw the sea, well, that excitement should be bottled. There were a few other people around, but we had a lot of space to ourselves.

William waving at the waves

Lots of holes were dug, sand castles built, jellyfish poked despite our pleas not to and our picnic lunch was completed just before we had to move higher up the beach to escape the fast incoming tide.

Water lot of fun

Martha wanted to dig a deep hole, deep enough to find water. With a little help from Oma, she succeeded. Of course, then, William wanted to sit in the hole.

William in the hole

It was a very pleasant day on the beach, the Sun was out now and then, we enjoyed a perfect temperature with a slight, refreshing breeze. This was a bonus because it had rained on the way there and of course, we were concerned.

Later in the day, Martha told us that she likes being at the beach, but she doesn’t like going to the beach, because it’s such a long drive. And we thought that for a 5-year old to articulate such a distinction was something special.

We were sitting near the top of the beach and a bloke came by with a metal detector, so we tried to explain what he was doing. One of the funniest things we witnessed was William stalking the detectorist, walking with the gait of a short-armed T Rex. That would have been another £250 from You’ve Been Framed if we’d filmed it.

William v Detectorist
Selfie of the day

Unbelievably, it rained again on the way home, so phew, we were really lucky. They both fell asleep in the back of the car, following a quick snack of a gingerbread biscuit, a punnet of strawberries between them, an orange each and some gummie sweets.

Back at home, the first time they’ve visited for many months, remember, they investigated everything, all the cupboards, all the boxes and crates, all the ornaments, everything. Eventually, we encouraged them to blow the horn more quietly so as not to wake up the brand new baby in the flat below ours.

Martha wanted to have a bath because it’s so relaxing. They both had fun and kept most of the water inside the tub, which seems to have shrunk since the last time they occupied that space.

Dino Kingdom is now open at Wythenshawe Park. There were quite a few visitors there: I sneaked a peek through the gaps in the fence, but don’t tell anybody.

Horse riders

Hang on, those are horses, not dinosaurs. Yes, well spotted, they weren’t inside the confines of Dino Kingdom though, just walking around the park on a nice day.

Doyouthinkhesaurus?

That’s more like it. I reckon if he took a run and jump, he could easily clear that barrier and rampage around the streets of Wythenshawe and Northenden. But, don’t worry: he’s not real, this is no Jurassic Park.

Another dino

From my distance, I couldn’t work out whether these creatures were inflatable or animatronic. While walking from the car park to the entrance, you can’t miss a series of corny jokes. Don’t look at the next image if you don’t like spoilers.

I guessed A Dinosow

I walked home the long way, I’d like to say deliberately but no, my mind was wandering even more than I was. Still, I got home in time to play two hours of fabulous, uplifting songs for Radio Northenden, and you can catch up here.

What can be more exciting than spending a day on the beach with Martha and William? Collecting new spectacles, of course! We walked to Disbury, picked up our new specs, enjoyed a coffee and a snack in Fletcher Moss Park and walked home along the river.

Exercise is good

We saw this young lady attempting to uproot the rugby goal posts, but she didn’t get very far. She has been reported to the authorities so I hope she’ll soon see the error of her ways.

There were a few people having fun in the river, on kayaks and canoes. We didn’t witness any collisions, but their paddling skills were, let’s say, rudimentary.

Messing about on the Mersey

We more or less kept up with them as we approached the weir in Northenden, but we missed their descent into the torrents. They had a short rest on the island before continuing their journey, but we realised we don’t know where the next possible stopping point is.

What could be more exciting than successfully walking home, in new glasses, and not tripping over at all because what we see is now slightly different?

Blackberries

Yes, we enjoyed a few wild blackberries, not too bad, but certainly not the sweetest we’ve ever consumed.

We’ve enjoyed watching a lot of the Olympics this week, including the two medals we (we!) GB won in the BMX.

Future BMX champ

There’s a BMX track locally, so Martha was taken to have a go, with a spot of coaching from her Dad. They went early in the day, before the teenagers who usually occupy the venue have even thought about emerging from their pits. Thus begins her training for the Brisbane 2032 Olympics.

On the Beach

Those meteorologists don’t know what they’re talking about. First, they say Friday is the hottest day of the year so far. Then they say Saturday is the hottest day of the year so far. Well, which is it? Certainly we’ve had a few incredibly hot days this week, not quite 30° here in Northenden, but hot enough. I refuse to say it’s ‘too hot’, just because it’s warmer than we’re used to, but admittedly, it is challenging. We’ve had to dig out the fans at home and blow the dust off. Actually, the fans could have just blown the dust off each other, I suppose.

We found ourselves walking in the shade of the woods a lot this week. Even the birds seemed more hot and bothered, and subdued, than usual. But the fairies have been busy.

More doors

The Rorschach Test at the top is new (to me) and my first thought was that it resembled two bottoms looking at each other in the room behind the window.

I know it wasn’t scheduled but I took this photo of this week’s transit of Venus.

Transit

What’s that? You don’t think it’s real? OK, it’s the straw through which I slurped my first mango smoothie of the season. While at Boxx 2 Boxx I bumped into Dan the choirmaster again. It didn’t cost tuppence to talk to him, even though he did recently meet the actual Queen when his Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus performed for Her Majesty recently.

St Hilda and St Aidan

Here are St Hilda and St Aidan, patrons of our local Catholic church here in Northenden. Now I know I’ve been out in the Sun a lot recently, but look over St Aidan’s right shoulder. Up in the corner of the picture. Is that really the hand of God holding a cigarette?

Something was a-tugging at my toes. In my early morning torpor, I thought I was being woken up to go for a local walk while it was still relatively cool outside. But no. Liesel took me to the seaside instead. We were on the beach at Formby by 9.30, well before most people arrived. The tide was high so it wasn’t too far to go for a paddle. The very slight breeze was refreshing and we shared the beach with, literally, hundreds of jellyfish. It’s sad to see so many stranded like that. The dead seal made us wonder whether there had been an ‘incident’ at sea. Maybe some toxic effluent had ‘accidentally’ been released again. I hope not.

Selfie of the day
Jelly of the day
Skelly of the day
Spot the difference

Sadly, there was a lot of litter on the beach today, hundreds of people have enjoyed their days out and their picnics and they’ve left the evidence. Our litter-picking kit was at home, otherwise we might have done something about it.

Bathing cap
Sea urchin
Beach ball

We saw some ferries heading for Dublin and/or Douglas and we agreed that one day, we’d visit those places too. One of them was Stena Sealink. I got the look from Liesel when I told her that some of their ships operate just for women. Really? Yes, Stena Lady.

Again, we heard what sounded like gunfire from the beach. We concluded it must be bird scarers, there was no other explanation for the random distribution of shots. On the way home, we saw the sign for Altcar Rifle Range. Aha! Although, at times, it sounded more like Altcar Machine Gun Range.

We walked a long way today, along the beach, up and down to the water. Many more people were on the beach by the time we left. But the good news is, a proper toilet block has been built in the car park.

Back in Northenden, we enjoyed watching strange people out and about in the heatwave. There was a group of ladies doing exercises under a motorway bridge, tai chi or pilates, or maybe just gentle exercise. They were all in the shade of the bridge, apart from one perspiring glowing in the full glare of the Sun. I felt sorry for the dogs being taken out in the middle of the day, hot pavement, no socks or ice packs on their paws.

A couple of men were making signs at each other along the street, prompting us to wonder which house they were about to break into. More likely to be a drug deal, though, to be fair. We saw blokes wearing nothing on top and we saw people wearing thick anoraks. The runners looked even more miserable than usual and I thought, well, you could always stop for a minute. All carefully observed by us two mad dogs out in the midday Sun.

In the river, we spotted a supermarket trolley, a road cone and a chair all in one small stretch beyond Simon’s Bridge. And people were letting their dogs jump in to retrieve thrown balls.

We also saw people, humans, in the river, near the island. Swimming is understandable, but jumping in? Like the warning sign says, you don’t know what’s lurking beneath: sharp rocks, sharks, shopping trolleys.

We saw the heron most days but once, we saw an exotic white bird in the middle of the river. It was a great bustard. Well, I think that’s what I called it as it took flight before I even got my camera out. An utter, utter bustard. I was lucky enough to shoot some ducklings however.

Ducks

Even this lovely family are swimming away from me and my camera. Lots of DAs on show.

In medical news, I am still finding new bite marks from the midges in Scotland. I mean, the marks are on my skin, the bites were acquired in Scotland: stop confusing me. They’re different from, for example, the spider that got me on the back of my elbow this week. A different quality of itchy irritation.

The radio show this week was mostly songs in which the singer or band namechecks themselves. I had a chat with Chantel from Thrive Manchester, whom we met on the well-being walk last week, and she picked a couple of bangers for the show too. Here it is, if you want to listen back.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics have started and we sat through the Opening Ceremony. The end was better than the start, in case you haven’t watched yet. We’re looking forward to seeing some different sports and I have had to promise my sister that I won’t whinge about the BBC’s presentation for the whole two weeks. What they did to the Men’s Cycling Road Race this morning was diabolical. Cutting away at an exciting time to interview someone who was watching from home? Interrupting to show a glimpse of a different sport? Having to switch from one channel to another several times? Oops, sorry, Sis.