October and March in London

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

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

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

Mudlark

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

Elephants in Pimlico

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

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

Blake’s 7 (and the rest)

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

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

Newton, by William Blake

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

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

People watching old videos

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

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

Selfie of the day

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

Everyone is corrupt

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

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

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

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

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

The crypt of St Martin’s

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

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

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

Lemn Sissay and Samira Ahmed

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

Mick and Lemn

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

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

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

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

Sir Patrick Stewart OBE

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

We will, we will Block you

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

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

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

Puddles and Graphene

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

After breakfast, we took William to Chester Zoo again.

Cartoon elephants, trunks and tails entwined

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

William in a puddle

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

Autumn colours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stained glass window at Christ Church, Epsom Common

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

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

RIP Nigel, a wonderful generous, kind friend.

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

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

Sunset view over the River Thames from Riverside Vegetaria

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

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

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

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

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

Messengers, Bridget Riley, 2019

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

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

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

Geese in a puddle
View from St James’s Park

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

Heron

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

St James’s Park

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

The Athenaeum Club

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

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

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

Professor Sir Konstantin Novoselov

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

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

Schaffhausen Institute of Technology
National Graphene Institute, University of Manchester

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

Kerry, Naomi, Guy and Simon

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

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

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

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

Pile of choc chips (with Martha for scale)

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

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

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

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

Laptop innards, freshly cleaned

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

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

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

Kerry Hudson and Naomi Frisby

It was a fascinating discussion, and quite moving.

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

L: Is there a monkey in the bed?

M: There’s a fox and a penguin.

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

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

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

William with a very hard biscuit

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

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

Liam, Martha and the cake

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

William, Mummy and Daddy

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

Homes for people, not for profit

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

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

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

The world’s first Water Golf course

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

Mud on the road

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

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

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

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

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

Katie, Guy, Guy and Simon

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

Simon Armitage and Mick

Yes, I bought the new book.

Cathy, Emmeline and Maria

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

William, King of the Castle

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

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

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

William and a fly

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

A slightly damaged bus stop

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

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

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

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

William and Auntie Helen

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

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

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

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

Blue skies and Autumnal colours in Anchorage

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

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

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

Cathy Newman and Alex Clark

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

Mick and new bff Cathy

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

Emmeline Pankhurst

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

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

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

Cat and Catwalk

I’ll try not to mention it again, but it has rained all week. There are flood warnings in many local areas. One of our gutters leaks and I had to spend several minutes out in the rain showing a man which one was channeling Niagara Falls.

There aren’t enough pictures of cats in this blog, said absolutely nobody, so here is one.

Petra

This is Liesels’ parents’ cat, Petra, the tip of whose tail I’ve briefly glimpsed as she darts under the bed. She seldom ventures into the public arena so this is a very rare shot.

I looked after William again this week, but we didn’t go out at all, mainly due to that which I said I wouldn’t mention again. But we had fun. Well, I did, until he told me to stop singing, that is. OK with The Grand Old Duke of York and Baa Baa Black Sheep, but Jack and Jill was a no-no. Delilah was acceptable, he wasn’t keen on clapping to Is this the way to Amarillo?

After his afternoon nap, I went to pick him up from the cot and he said, “No, Grandad, I’m asleep!” So I had a lie down on the floor next to him and ten minutes later, he was properly awake.

You can guess why Martha was collected from nursery by Jenny in the car rather than as originally planned, by me, with William in the buggy and with Martha’s scooter.

During dinner, I had cause to go into the kitchen. Cheeky Martha decided to occupy my seat.

Who’s been sitting in my chair?

One of my favourite things is going to a seated event and finding myself perched behind someone with a big head or a big hat.

Nice big bun

But I think this is the biggest hair I’ve ever sat behind. The free event was at Manchester Art Gallery, a fascinating history of public transport provision in Manchester, especially buses. The story was told by Dame Barbara Castle, the Minister of Transport during late 1960s. She was instrumental in rationalising the bus networks in and around Manchester. Then in the 1980s, guess who messed up the whole thing again?

Bus Regulation: The Musical is only half an hour long, but that was probably plenty for the roller skaters going round and round, wearing various bus companies’ and transport authorities’ logos from over the years. I never saw Starlight Express in a theatre but I understand that musical also featured roller-skaters.

The wheels on the skates go round and round

My planned longer walk around the streets of the city was of course abandoned. Instead, I wandered around the Gallery admiring some old works by LS Lowry and some new, anonymous works.

Artwork, or, the roof leaks
Catwalk Outfit (evening dress and coat), 1994, Pierre Cardin

This is as close as I got to a selfie, today, with lace, sequins, crinoline and everything.

Liesel’s working hard in Anchorage for one more week and keeping an eye on the mountains as the snow level gets lower, day by day.

We had some sad news this week. Our friend, Nigel, with whom we stayed in July, passed away in the care home after being well looked after for several weeks. He was always kind and generous to us and we’ll miss him. Sending lots of love to Helen and her family at this very sad time.

The rain (d’oh!) didn’t enhance the Road Cycling World Championships that took place in Yorkshire this week. The men’s road race was re-routed because the bottom of the descent known as Buttertubs had turned into a lake.

The wheels on the bikes go round and round

Unfortunately, there was plenty more water to ride through. I watched on TV: hundreds of thousands of braver souls went and stood by the side of the roads in Harrogate and beyond, to show their support.

Buxton

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

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

William with a duck

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

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

William on an elephant

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

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

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

William on a train

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

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

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

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

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

Pavilion Gardens with some Peaks in the background

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

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

The ceiling in Cavendish Arcade

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

The Herb Garden in Hardwick Street

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

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

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

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

The Floyd Effect: Wall Around the Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No sitting and rearranging your bags

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

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

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

Buxton Opera House’s very ornate ceiling

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

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

Mick and Steve Delaney

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

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

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

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

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

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

Termination Dust on Chugach Mountains

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

Tour of Britain

Babysitting with back pain is not ideal. So I followed Liesel’s advice and went for a massage the following day. Babysitting the day after that was so much easier.

On the first day, the highlight was talking to his Auntie Helen in Australia. On the other day, I took him out for a walk around Waitrose and around the park.

William with a stick

Next time I take him to a supermarket, I’m going to put him in and chain him to the trolley. He picked everything and anything off the lower shelves, put it back, told or asked me what it was. Repeating “Put it back” on high rotation annoyed me, never mind the other customers!

In the park, he played with sticks and mud and made friends with the trees while looking out for squirrels (unsuccessfully) and pigeons (very successfully).

William and his new bff

He was tired when we got home but was revived with a handful of raisins.

A long, long time ago, Jasmina came round to measure up for blinds for our living/dining room. She came back with the finished items today, which is great. I now have to spend a day putting them up. Yes, it should be a quick and easy job, but I know from experience, five-minute jobs always take significantly longer than five minutes!

I walked in the sunshine for a while, taking advantage before the Autumn chill kicks in.

Fungus on a tree

I’ve walked past this tree many times, but I’ve not noticed the fungus before. Either it’s sprouted overnight, or the light caught it just right today, no other possible explanation.

Walking by the River Mersey, I took a picture of the only bird I saw.

Metal bird

Some sort of metal cormorant, I think, but I couldn’t find an explanatory plaque.

Depending on which sign you look at, this picture of the river was taken from the Trans-Pennine Trail, National Cycle Network Route 62, Northenden Riverside Park or Manchester’s Green Corridor Route 13. The kiddies’ playground is now complete and I’m sure William and Martha will make use of it soon.

Playground in Northenden Riverside Park

The Tour of Britain bike race finished in Manchester. They cycled 166 km from Altrincham, the long way round, through all ten of Manchester’s boroughs. Because of the circuitous route and ensuing road closures, I couldn’t decide where to go to watch the action. In the end, I watched a couple of hours on TV then caught a bus into Manchester, to be near the finishing line.

The finishing line on Deansgate

But there were some interesting sights on my indirect walk from the bus to this point, on Deansgate.

Giant bee in the Central Library
White Pillar Box celebrating England’s winning Cricket World Cup teams
Cow standing on back legs

The British Cycling team has been sponsored by Sky for many years. But their sponsorship deal expired and a replacement sought. Chemical and fossil fuel company Ineos took over. This fracking awful decision hasn’t gone down well with everyone. There does seem to be some conflict here, between a supposedly ‘green’ sport, cycling, and an environmentally destructive company.

Frack off Ineos
Cyclists welcome

I didn’t acquire as many freebies today as we received when we saw the Tour de France grand départ in Yorkshire 5 years ago.

Soreen, my total haul for the day
Ineos van celebrating the team’s Tour de France victories

There was a huge crowd here in Manchester and, as seen earlier on TV, in all the other towns and villages along the route.

Big crowd watching the big screen

I looked to see whether there was a high-level viewpoint that I could access, but no. In the end, I set up camp by the 500-metres to go mark. I lost count of the cars and police motor bikes that came by at 90mph, ahead of the racers.

Sorted for Eeees and whizzzz as Jarvis Cocker might say

The leading group of cyclists came by at slightly less than 90mph and I thought they’d have to slow down a bit for the 90° sharp left turn into Deansgate.

The leading group of cyclists

It was all too fast, I couldn’t identify anyone, and photos taken with my phone camera aren’t as clear as those taken at other races with a real camera. Today’s stage and the overall race was won by Mathieu van der Poel. Matteo Trentin came 3rd today and 2nd overall. I’m pretty sure those two are in this leading group.

A few lone riders came by and then, several minutes later, a second large group. Somewhere in there was Mark Cavendish, apparently.

I walked down the road to the Science and Industry Museum because I know the café there has a good selection of cakes, and I needed to top up on energy, after all that walking about.

Many years ago, during a previous cycling Tour of Britain race, we were in Worcester, waiting on the High Street for the peloton to come through. The first cyclist we saw was the local postman, who deserved his round of applause! Today, before being allowed to cross the road after the race, we had to wait for the last few cyclists to come through, plus the lantern rouge, the ambulance and final vehicles. Then, a minute later, the real final cyclist came by.

A big hand for the Deliveroo rider

I walked to catch my bus back home, but the road closures meant another long trek and Manchester continued to provide interesting sights.

Blue post box

There’s no sign telling us what this blue box is for. Maybe Royal Mail just run out of red paint that day.

A clamped car

I came across Manchester’s China Town, so I had a quick look.

China Town gate
The Moon, a whole, inflatable one
Some lanterns, with the Sun behind

It was good to get home, just in time to enjoy a pretty sunset.

A Northenden sunset

Next morning, despite a good night’s sleep, I took ages to get going. As if my body thought it had completed a 100-mile bike ride rather then watched some other people for a few seconds. But the good news is, I didn’t give a thought to my back pain from earlier in the week!