We watched Martha and William swim as usual on a Sunday morning, giving many thumbs-ups, ‘fantastic’ gestures and other signs of encouragement.
Afterwards, we visited the monthly Didsbury Makers’ Market for the first time.
There are a lot of arts and crafts here but we merely came away with bread, cheese, soya-based meat substitute products and, of course, an arm chair. Liesel’s been looking for one in John Lewis and other shops for ages but this one got her attention instantly. She asked the nice lady whether she could sit on it, here and now, in the market, in the middle of the car park.
The chair was delivered to our luxury apartment within a couple of hours, after the market closed, so we now have new furniture: well, second-hand, re-upholstered by the original owner’s granddaughter.
As requested, I went to put the frozen items in the freezer, only to find the door hadn’t been closed properly, so the whole thing was full of frost and ice. We hadn’t anticipated the pleasure of defrosting the freezer today, yet here we were. All the ice that’s disappeared from the Arctic during the last decade or so? It was in our freezer. Sadly, there were no exciting but forgotten food items lurking in the frozen wastes.
Luckily, this appliance was back in working order when Jenny, Martha and William came round to ours for lunch the following day. Spaghetti bolognese had been requested and this was thoroughly enjoyed by us all, especially the children.
They do enjoy playing at our place. But we don’t know which one of them changed the time on Liesel’s alarm clock so that it went off late, the next morning. We’d offered to look after William for an extra day this week while Nana is still recuperating from her lurgy.
Liesel went on her own to start with. I stayed in bed feeling sorry for myself after being woken up with a start: I cricked my neck, pain shot up through the noggin and I had a headache worse than any I’ve had for years. I caught up with Liesel later, though, and William helped us build towers of boxes.
William and I went to collect Martha from nursery. She has a snack there each afternoon but unfortunately, it was still being prepared when we arrived today. Scott the teacher helped by giving Martha an apple and a yogurt.
On the way home, it began to rain. And as the rain fell harder and harder, both children walked slower and slower. By the time we arrived home, both were soaked and upset. The trauma, if any, had been forgotten though by the time we returned for our regular babysitting day.
With William, we visited the Sea Life Aquarium at the Trafford Centre: an indoor venue, out of the rain. Yes, it’s still raining. William slept briefly on the way there and on the way back home. In between, he enjoyed running around, looking at some but ignoring some other ocean-going creatures.
William’s just about big enough to enjoy the play area here, too. And what a tidy little chap: he spent some time returning all the loose balls to the ball pool.
It was Thanksgiving Day so we had a lovely Thanksgiving meal, thanks, Liesel!
And as if we hadn’t had enough early starts this week: we had an appointment in Chessington for 1pm so that meant leaving Northenden by 8.30, on a cold and frosty morning. More ice to scrape: this time, from the car windows rather than from the freezer. Other than that, cold and crisp is OK and during our fairly easy drive south today, we enjoyed looking at the fields of frost and mist.
Not so entertaining was overtaking this reprobate several times. Why does he keep overtaking us and then slowing down, wondered Liesel?
Because he’s on the phone, of course. I looked it up, but I could find no way to report this dangerous and illegal behaviour. He’ll just get a £30 fine and a slap on the wrist when he kills somebody, probably, so that’s alright, then.
We made good progress, stopping at a service station just once. Good progress until, with less than 10 miles to go, traffic came to a grinding halt on the A308 just before Hampton Court. Still, we arrived at our destination with ten minutes to spare.
It was good to see Dawn again. Liesel and I both had a massage. I had a pedicure and Dawn was very complimentary about my feet: a first for me!
On this occasion, we’re staying at an Airbnb in Ashtead, near Dorking where Liesel has plans.
In the evening, we drove back to Chessington to collect Helen and Steve, whom we hadn’t seen for very nearly a whole week! We went to see St Paul’s Players’ Christmas fund-raising show. But first, we dined and imbibed at the North Star, just over the road from the Parish Hall.
Amanda was very surprised to see us there and we were pleased to see her too, looking vey well.
We didn’t buy any raffle tickets but don’t worry, we did contribute to the very good cause, Kingston Young Carers. Kingston’s Mayor, Margaret Thompson, was in attendance. I didn’t recognise her, although we have had exchanges on Facebook in the past. She probably didn’t recognise me, either, to be fair. The local MP, Sir Edward Davey, usually comes along to this event, and even takes part, but this year, he’s in the middle of a General Election campaign.
We moved to Northenden thirteen months ago but have only lived here for three. Our gap year adventures are still at the forefront of our mindss but we are now, slowly, building up some sort of routine.
Despite our best efforts in Chessington, we managed to move house with things that we now realise we don’t need. In the process of unpacking, we are finding items surplus to requirements. So, we are making use of Facebook’s local marketplace, eBay and eventually, charity shops, Freegle and any other likely looking outlets.
Any excuse to leave the confines of our flat is more then welcome. We were invited to look after William one morning so we took him for a walk. We visited Oak Meadow, a small park in Cheadle Hulme.
William kept to the path, which was unexpected, he usually darts off in all directions. But he was our little David Attenborough for a few minutes pointing out ‘dog’, ‘squirrel’, ‘birdie’ and ‘pigeon’.
He fell asleep in the buggy so Liesel and I had our coffee in peace.
We’ll never use the padded cooler/picnic bag again, so that was added to the list of things to pass on to a more appreciative home. Jenny was interested so I took it into Manchester where we met up for coffee. I had another reason for being in the big city though. Last week, Sean from the Blood Transfusion Service called asking if I would like to make an appointment. If you’ll still have my blood, I said, after I’ve been overseas, visiting many exotic locations in the tropics and beyond. A long conversation later, I made an appointment, and here I was, about to give blood again, for the first time in over a year.
I met a Rebecca, a Becky and a Rob, scar tissue from previous blood-lettings was admired. Some of my plasma will be used to make drops for people with dry eyes. Who thinks up these things?
A cup of Yorkshire tea, a Mint Club biscuit and a packet of Mini Cheddars gave me enough energy to walk down the road to the Whitworth Gallery. I had a quick walk round, but Liesel and I need to spend more time here.
Thursday is grandchildren day and this week, we took Martha and William to the Ice Cream Farm, near Chester.
Martha and William had a lot of fun in the sand and water play area, limited to one hour because there were so many other children around.
Yes, it’s the Ice Cream Farm but in the end, we didn’t have any ice cream. I remember ICQ being some sort of messaging service in the olden days, but now when we’re talking about the IC queue, we are referring to the hundreds of people waiting in line to buy an ice cream. We left the park just in time, missing the rain by just a few minutes!
Martha wanted to play in the bath at our place, so we took them there. They insisted on having water in the bath, too, quite reasonable, we thought.
After a longer wait than anticipated, we collected our re-framed pictures from The Framery in Gatley. While Liesel drove them home slowly, I walked back. I followed the signs to and through Gatley Carrs, a nature reserve.
One squirrel and one magpie isn’t much of a tally, and the only other humans I saw were a Mum with two children having a picnic. It was a pleasant walk marred only by the rumble from the nearby motorway. The path was muddy and impassable in places.
I was pleased to see a notice board listing all the water birds that must have been hiding quietly in the bushes. Maybe I’ll see them another day.
Just as I was thinking how devoid of souls this park was, I found some. Well, memorials to loved, lost souls. A pet cemetery.
The walk home took me across the motorway that borders the park. I was surprised where the path joined Longley Lane, I knew exactly where I was, and would never have taken any notice of that path if I’d approached from the opposite direction. I passed lots of nettles, an apple tree, some blackberry bushes and a supermarket trolley.
I am so easily transported back to my childhood, and today was no exception.
This signal box is, as far as I can recall, exactly the same as the one I had with my train set when I was very young. Well, it’s a real one here, whereas mine was OO/HO scale.
Also, I can easily burst into laughter as I walk along the local roads.
The local speed limit is 20 mph but everyone thinks this is the minimum rather than a maximum speed. I couldn’t stifle the chuckles as a number 43 bus took off at one road hump and landed beyond the next. I’m guessing 90mph, but he may have slowed down a bit because of a slight bend in the road where it approached the next bus stop.
This sign in FFS brings a smile to the old fizzog too, but it’s a little close to the bone, maybe. We didn’t walk to or from Didsbury on this occasion, due to lateness, laziness, idleness and lethargy. Not to be confused with the law firm of that name.
At home, I did install the new toilet seat. It’s one that has an extra, smaller seat for smaller botties such as those of grandchildren. It means we don’t have to hold them up while they do what needs to be done.
A straightforward, ten-minute job, you’d think. And it really was. I spent far too long trying to get it perfectly straight. But that was impossible. You’d think the cistern and the toilet itself would be in some sort of alignment. Oh no. If the back of the seat is parallel to the cistern, it doesn’t sit square on the bowl. It turns out, the toilet has been installed at a slightly jaunty angle. And, now we’ve realised, we’ll notice the imperfection every time we go into that room. Still, it’s one more thing ticked off the list.
Sunday is swimming day, always a joy to see William and Martha enjoying the water, once the spectacles have demisted in the warm, humid pool room.
From swimming in Hyde, we drove to Chorlton-cum-Hardy for breakfast and a walk. It felt muggy, rain and thunderstorms possibly on the way, but we had a nice stroll through the graveyard and along the banks of Chorlton Brook, which isn’t a law firm either.
As we walked through the woods, I said to Liesel that we just don’t see enough Chinese lanterns caught in trees any more. More fallout from the failed brexit negotiations, presumably.
But look, it’s our lucky day!
And just as we were thinking how drab and dreary some of the shops look in Chorlton, we came across this pair, necessitating the wearing of sunglasses for a moment.
The Pun of the Day award goes to this estate agent
So in the space of a week, we’ve visited Cheadle Hulme, Manchester, the Chester area, Gatley, Didsbury and Chorlton cum Hardy. There are plenty more places to visit, other towns, villages and suburbs, but it’s good to see this list as it shows that we haven’t just been sitting at home all week, looking at four walls. The adventure continues!
Well, it really was, and while the rest of Charles Dickens’s introduction to A Tale of Two Cities is without doubt, beautifully written, it doesn’t apply to our gap year experiences. Long may this feeling of travelling, exploring and enjoying life, continue. Even though we are back home, back to normal and back to a certain amount of responsibility, we are looking at everyday things with a refreshed set of expectations. Great Expectations, you might say, if you wanted to acknowledge to enjoyment and entertainment provided not only by Charles Dickens, but by Tasmin Archer, many years later.
Living in Northenden is indeed slowly becoming the norm. The holiday feeling still persists, even if we do miss the temples, castles, crocodiles, wombats, kiwis, lizards, bullet trains, mangoes and sumo wrestlers.
Helen arrived from Australia, failing in her duty to bring some decent weather. It was quite cold and damp when we returned, and sadly for Helen, the weather hadn’t improved much since then.
Helen and Jenny needed some peace and quiet so they could enjoy their massages. We looked after Martha and William, always a joy but always exhausting. The advantage of being grandparents is, we can hand the children back later in the day, apologise for feeding them too much sugar, and leave the parents to fix the damage caused.
We visited the Northern Den café where Martha asked for “A babyccino with marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and a Flake bar on the side”. Well, no chocolate sprinkles here, nor a Flake: this child is more familiar with Costa’s offerings. And then, while looking for Flakes in the nearby Tesco, Martha spotted the Kinder eggs so that’s what we bought instead. Martha walked home with hers in her right hand and William’s in her left. She enjoyed her molten chocolate, William slept through the whole episode.
Later on, we all had pies at Jenny’s, yep, more pies. Who ate all the pies? Well, I’m trying!
We’re still moving in and before we unpack the last few dozen boxes, we need storage space. That means shelving. A sales rep came round from one of the big bespoke furniture manufacturers, measured up roughly and gave a rough estimate of more than twice our anticipated budget. Instantly, we translated the amount into so many flights to exotic, interesting places. We’ll get shelving installed, but from somewhere more reasonably priced.
Another visitor was the lady who will make Roman blinds for both our living room windows. She was very pleasant and friendly and made us realise how brusque the shelf person had been.
Helen and Jenny took William and Martha out. Both children are very curious about the world. Martha demonstrates this level of interest by asking questions. William’s method is to take things apart. Sometimes, those thngs can be put back together again, but not always. RIP one of our Red Nose Day Comic Relief Red Noses, rent asunder.
Liesel and I went into Manchester to collect our valuables from the Safe Deposit box. This included some cutlery which we needed, as we didn’t otherwise have enough for everyone to eat with, at the same time. Yes, we were invaded by the children, their parents and their Aunt Helen from down under.
Hooray, I did some DIY. As ever, all jobs took three times longer than they needed to, but I got there in the end. We can now hang mugs up in the kitchen. We have a much better storage unit in the bathroom. And the light fitting in the bathroom looks much better. Such a shame, then, that the light bulb we had won’t physically fit inside the globe. Add ‘slightly smaller bulb’ to the shopping list.
The weather was slowly improving and it was a pleasant walk back home from Didsbury one morning, along the Mersey.
There were spots and even larger patches of blue sky by now. I donned my hat at times to protect the top of my head from actual beams of sunshine.
I walked past some bindweed happy that my 30+ year war against the stuff in my Chessington garden was now over. And yes, I lost.
I’m very happy for other people to continue the bindweed wars if they wish, but I’m more convinced than ever that it will one day take over the whole planet.
Myra came up for the weekend, that’s Sarah’s mother, Martha and William’s Great-Granny. We planned to collect her from Stockport station but due to ‘an incident’, trains weren’t stopping there. So we went to pick her up from Manchester Piccadilly. This was no problem but Myra’s ticket was for Stockport so the electronic barriers at Piccadilly wouldn’t let her through. Nor anyone else with the same ticket. Why they didn’t just open the barriers and let everyone through, I don’t know, they just carefully opened the barrier for each passenger, one at a time, very slowly.
Back at Jenny’s, the shouts of ‘Great-Granny’ echoed around the house: we think they both just like saying the words!
In the garden, Martha did several roly-polies, insisting ‘They’re not head-over-heels, Grandad’. I had a go myself, just the once, but, er, I didn’t want to belittle Martha’s achievement: no problem with the disorientation I felt at all, oh no.
In the evening, we went to the Istanbul restaurant for dinner. The food was great, the service was good, the waiters seem to like young children, and we confirmed that William is a fast learner.
William drank the last of his ice cream from the bowl, following the example just set by his Grandad (me), to all the other grown-ups’ consternation and dismay. I’m just glad I didn’t lick the bowl, which was my first inclination.
We took Myra to her hotel for the night and collected her in the morning. But she was locked in her room. Once released, it transpired that she had just not pulled the heavy door quite hard enough. Hanging out of the window to get someone’s attention was the best she could do, as there was no phone with which to call Reception.
We watched Martha and William swim really well, before driving over to Dunham Massey, a National Trust property not too far away.
It was good to see that Myra and I weren’t the oldest objects here: the oak tree is over 500 years old.
It was a gorgeous day for a walk around the gardens. Martha and William sniffed the flowers, admired the bees, ran around, and scootered around while the rest of walked at our various, individual speeds.
We found a nice little bridge over a stream, ideal for playing Pooh Sticks, so Martha gathered up a few sticks and twigs. Fortunately, the disappointment wasn’t too bad as all the sticks just got stuck in the sludge where the stream used to be. William had no idea what was going on, he just wanted to jump in, I think.
The flowers were very pretty and as usual, I took too many photos of the bright colours. Despite the labels, I can’t remember the proper scientific, or even the common English, names for these yellow and purple blooms.
Some flowers have so many different names. though, in various parts of the country, so I could probably make something up and nobody would know.
When we dropped Myra off at Stockport station the following day, we were surprised and delighted to encounter some frogs.
This is all to celebrate Stockport’s Giant Leap into the future. Maybe we’ll find more frogs in the city centre on another occasion.
Meanwhile Helen flew off to Edinburgh on a purple aeroplane. Her flight back was on a disappointingly plain white plane. She is the last to have been nearly blown over by the strong wind up on Arthur’s Seat: Sarah and I in the early 1980s, Jenny while she was pregnant. Liesel is looking forward to the experience.
Liesel and I had a very pleasant trip to Ikea. She pointed out that the first route she learned to drive when she moved to the UK was to a branch of Ikea. History repeats itself. The first route she knows here in the north is the way to Ikea.
Helen was kind enough to cut our hair, as well as Jenny’s, Martha’s and William’s. Liesel and I stayed for lunch before going into Manchester. The International Festival began with a Yoko Ono installation.
In Cathedral Gardens, thousands of people rang Bells for Peace, as requested by Yoko via video. Some of the ceramic bells had been hand-made at workshops during the last few months. Yoko asked us to talk to each other, to talk to the trees and to name the clouds. Well, we were underneath one great big, grey cloud, 100%, so that raised a small laugh.
From Manchester to London, then. This has been the longest period I can remember without visiting our wonderful capital city, since I first moved there as a student nearly half a century ago.
The drive was much more pleasant than anticipated. The roadworks on the M6 have finished. Oh, hang on, no. They’ve just moved further along. We did miss the long purple sausage that used to live on the central reservation during the construction of the so-called ‘smart motorway’.
The first port of call was to visit my periodontist Emily in West Byfleet. Teeth cleaned and polished, I joined Liesel with Helen and Steve in the garden of the nearby Plough pub. (This is our friend Helen of course, not daughter Helen, she’s still up north with Jenny.) I couldn’t eat or drink with a numb and tender mouth but that didn’t prevent me from salivating.
We went to Claremont Gardens, probably the closest National Trust property. It was a good place to let my mouth thaw out and to walk around dodging the goose guano. I told one of the geese that I hoped I would be able to eat soon. He said he’d keep his feet crossed for me.
A black swan swam over and said “G’day, mate” and for a moment, I was back in Australia.
Steve and I walked around the lake while the ladies, well, Liesel and Helen, sat on a bench for a chinwag, a natter. A great opportunity to take pictures as if I were visiting a strange place for the first time.
I think we were both waiting for someone to fall out of a boat, especially one of the more obviously unbalanced ones, but we were disappointed.
The lake is home to mallards and coots as well as the swans and geese. But even where the water was clear, we didn’t spot any fish. Helen’s Dad, Nigel, who lives in Ewell, had very kindly offered to accommodate me and Liesel for a week so we rubbed our hands while planning how best to pester him.
A long anticipated visit to an exhibition in London dragged us out of bed quite early. Something we really didn’t need to see as soon as we left Waterloo Station was a seagull tucking into a struggling pigeon. We had been in London with Helen and Steve the day we witnessed a heron swallow a baby duck too. Coincidence?
The British Museum was hosting the Edvard Munch exhibition, Love and Angst. As an artist, obviously he was a tortured soul, that’s a given, but he produced much more than The Scream. I for one was hoping for more examples of that work, but there were just two versions here, buried in the middle of the display, potentially easy to miss.
He liked red skies, but ladies’ long, red hair, he found threatening. Probably the saddest painting was The Sick Child.
His 15-year old sister, Sophie, died from TB, and his Aunt Karen is mourning. Karen had looked after Edvard and his family following the earlier passing of his mother.
We caught a bus to the British Library to see some imaginary maps, based on real maps of old London, old New York and other old maps of old cities. I also found a new book to add to my Kindle list.
Every time I see what he achieved, studied, deduced, created, invented, I become more convinced that he must be a time-traveller from the future. He wrote backwards, from right to left, an unintended side-effect of his journey back through several centuries, I suspect. His scientific mind was way ahead of its time.
His study of water flow and rivers, on its own, is a solid body of work, even now. Not that water is solid, but you know what I mean.
For the first time, I wore some VR, Virtual Reality, goggles. I didn’t think this technology and my eyesight would be compatible, but this gentle introduction worked well. I was ‘walking’ through an imaginary city with hundreds of skyscrapers, blue sky and the Moon. I held on to the cable so I was tethered to real life, just in case I walked too far and collided with a real wall.
Surbiton beckoned. I had an appointment with my optician. While there, of course I had to visit my favourite coffee shop, The Press Room.
Well that wasn’t planned very well. It’s being refurbished and I had to postpone my coffee until later in the day. I met up with another old friend, Marie, in Orpington, for lunch. Oh, and for a coffee. I hope she visits us up in Manchester soon.
On the way back through London, I bit the bullet and did one of my least favourite things. I went shoe shopping. For sandals, to replace the old ones which have apparently acquired a slightly cheesey tang after walking around the tropics for several months.
From Wikipedia: [On the fourth plinth, there is a] recreation of a sculpture of a lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 by Isis, along with other artefacts in the Mosul Museum. [Michael] Rakowitz’s recreation is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representing the destruction of the country’s date industry.
Yes, of course, I had to walk through Trafalgar Square. It, together with Waterloo Station, was London, to me, when I was very young. But I am so pleased I found the rest of the wonderful city later on in life.
And so to Chessington, our own ‘hood, the place I lived for 33 years. It hasn’t changed much, but, ooh, there is a KFC where my old favourite caff, Unique, used to be.
The massage from Dawn was very welcome and well-timed as I had cricked my back somehow a couple of days ago. Afterwards, it felt much better, thanks, Dawn!
Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced more medical consultations than I’ve had hot dinners. Two hearing tests, bowel cancer test, blood pressure check, ECG, optician, periodontist, prescription renewals and a quick examination of ‘the warty thing’ growing on my leg. (Plus a haircut of course, thanks very much, Helen!) The main lesson that I learned from all this (apart from ‘don’t get old’) was: modern day scientific nomenclature isn’t as rigid, precise nor robust as it once was.
After Liesel and I had been respectively beautified and fixed by Dawn, the plan was to visit a showroomy place in Crystal Place to look at shelving suggestion. Liesel likes it, but I wasn’t so keen, just looking at pictures online. Unfortunately, the showroom was closed today. Instead we visited John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street. We found the same kind, String Shelving, spoke to a really helpful assistant, and yes, I am now a convert. It looks better in the flesh, with real things on the shelves, not so stark and industrial.
We also had a quick look at all the loudspeakers and other hi-fi components to replace the 30-year old system that we discarded when we moved house, since most bits didn’t work anyway. It’s quite exciting, buying new stuff for a new home! Who knew!
We had a Chinese takeaway at Helen’s house, while watching sport from Wimbledon and from the Tour de France. We drove past our old house and it seems to be occupied by a family of Japanese warriors. There are Samurai swordy things in the window.
With grim inevitability, we noticed that our erstwhile neighbours are still parking their cars in the shared drive. Not our problem any more.
We were pleased to catch up with Stella and Ian for coffee and cakey things, in their garden, in the sunshine, in Chessington. Their bathroom is being refitted and that’s a noisy process, but it will be great when it’s finished.
On the way home, I got out at Hook Parade shops to buy something. I visited Hook Café in the library. The owner’s doing very well. He recognised me, thought I’d won the lottery and emigrated!
We dragged Helen out of her house and took her to Hampton Court, where we admired the Rose Garden, the kitchen garden and had a late lunch. It’s an obvious thought, but I think for the first time since we returned, a month ago, I consciously registered just what a brilliant, beautiful, interesting, fascinating and historical place England is. I think living here, we just take it for granted much of the time.
By mistake I tried to enter the children’s playground without a ticket: it must be a new attraction. I did like the nearby guard dog though.
While Liesel and Helen went off to Tesco, I walked to Kingston along the Thames tow path.
It was a pleasant walk in the Sun, not many other people about, but as we’d seen at Hampton Court, there were plenty of bees and butterlies.
I saw an animal run across the path, too big to be a mouse, but I don’t think it was a rat, there was no tail to speak of. I communed with the blackbirds and robins too, but tried not to disturb the bicycle having a rest.
We’d all planned to meet up later on for an evening meal. Queen Anne watched as I sat in Kingston’s Market Place and wrote some words, enjoying the sunshine, watching people, not seeing anyone I knew from the olden days.
She doesn’t really look like Olivia Coleman who portrays her in The Favourite but here was another tenuous link back to New Zealand, where we saw the film with Pauline and Andrew.
At Riverside Vergetaria, there were six in our party, Helen, Steve and Nigel, Liesel, me and our Helen. Ritchie, the owner, seemed pleased to see us again after all this time.
I walked to Epsom while Liesel drove Nigel to hospital. The old market here is currently a building site and judging by the angle of the Sun, I was here at about a quarter to midday.
After a brief writing session in the library, I decided to visit the South Bank for a wander. Congratulations to the graduates from the London Business School who were gathered in and around the South Bank Centre, taking photos and looking gorgeous and justifiably proud.
It was great being back here, walking by the river, looking down on the beach, trying not to make eye contact with the street entertainers who were later, sadly, moved on by the police. I found an unoccupied bench, sat and wrote for a while. I think I’ve sold the idea of using a stand-alone keyboard connected to a phone by Bluetooth to a very nice young lady who asked.
The Turbine Room at Tate Modern has been home to many interesting installations over the years. It was empty today, though, unless the two small children running around were both, appropriately, named Art. Sixteen years ago, we lay down here and basked in fake sunshine and fog, an installation called The Weather Project, by Olafur Eliasson. There’s currently a retrospective show of his work here at Tate Modern. His latest idea is to bring in a million white Lego bricks with which we are invited to build future cities.
The seagull that ate the pigeon a few days ago was back. This time, he caught a pink fish from the Thames and proceeded to chow down here, on the beach.
This is why we love nature so much.
It’s good to see they’re still selling second-hand books underneath Waterloo Bridge by the BFI. The skateboarders and cyclists are still having fun in the Undercroft, below the Royal Festival Hall, a facility that was under threat a few years ago. The Spread Riverside is a Street Food Market, open five days a week, with every kind of street food you can imagine. I’ll definitely be back. I had a small pie today, natch.
We drove to Salisbury to meet up with Sarah, a friend who used to live close by but moved to Exeter some years ago. Salisbury is a good midway point to catch up.
We sat in the Cathedral refectory for over three hours, eating, drinking but mainly talking about our travels.
Salisbury is a busy little town, despite its recent reputation for attempted political assassinations.
In the grounds of the Cathedral, people were resting, playing, sunbathing and picnicking but there were also some works of art. They’re all interesting to look at but it was difficult to view them without something in the background to spoil the view. An old gothic building is OK, but boring old semi-detached houses not so much.
Maybe ‘art critic’ is not the career for me: that last sentence was written with far too much snobbishness!
We spent the night at The Talbot Inn Hotel in Ripley. A hotel named after Mick from The Style Council in a village named after the heroine from the Alien films: how cool is that?
We stayed on the top floor of this old coaching house, in a room complete with sloping floors, very low ceiling and beams. This is where Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton became ‘good friends’. In fact, our room was named Horatio.
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Yes, we were being watched and the Martians did soon invade the Earth. We humans won The War of the Worlds, of course, and one of the Martians has been displayed in Woking as a warning to others.
There’s also a statue of HG Wells, the author of the book as well as a pub named in his honour. Why Woking? We were here to have breakfast with Rosie but the short drive from Ripley was greatly extended by the difficulty in finding a parking place.
We broke our fast, I felt rotten eavesdropping on Rosie and Liesel talking shop, but so pleased to be well away from office politics.
The drive to Polesden Lacey was quiet, and followed some roads where I have often cycled in the past. We met up with our friends Sandra and Fred, their dog Clyde, Sandra’s Mum Carol who celebrated her birthday yesterday as well as Liesel and Sandra’s former colleagues Vicky and Diane.
One day, Liesel and I will go inside the house at Polesden Lacey, but again, we just went for a walk around the grounds. Last time I was here with Sandra, ten years ago, I did my back in and was off work for three weeks, a personal best for me. I also missed a Mott the Hoople reunion concert at Hammersmith Odeon where I’d seen them in 1973, supported by Queen.
The rose garden and the lavendar were very aromatic and my sneeze organs began working overtime. The gardeners here though do a really good job.
And so, after an ice cream with Helen and Steve back at Nigel’s house, Liesel and I set off for home, hoping to arrive before the Sun set.
Success! What a great drive: we didn’t stop at all, there were no traffic jams, no hold-ups, straight up the motorways, then straight up the stairs and then straight to bed.
Since we’ve been back in England after our adventures overseas, many, many people have told us how well we’re looking and how happy we seem. That is all undoubtedly true, though I for one find it hard to take compliments. I don’t know how to respond when someone says they’ve enjoyed following the blog: all I can manage is a weak, embrarrassed ‘thank you’.
But this morning as we watched Martha and William swimming, I was again reminded of my own inadequacies. Three-year old Martha has, voluntarily, swum further under water than I have in all of my 29 long years on the good Earth. Driving home from swimming, we were overtaken by this gorgeous pair. I think William was, by then, fast asleep in the back!
The rest of the day consisted of writing, washing, watching cricket and cycling on TV, and relaxing after a fun-packed week down south.
Cricket? Yes, we’re proud to say we witnessed the England Team win the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time in a nail-biting finish against New Zealand, in a game during which a couple of very obscure rules were revealed. Marvellous! One of England’s top players is Joe Root. His One Day International number is 66. So the back of the pyjama top he plays in says ‘Root 66’. Wonderful!
Cycling? Yes, one week into the Tour de France and we’ve caught up. No Mark Cavendish nor Chris Froome this year, so I guess we’re rooting for Geraint Thomas again.
We left Orange behind and drove towards the Blue Mountains. Preventative back burning is taking place, and we realised that the presence of smoke may affect our journey today.
We could see smoke haze in the distance, adding to the blueness of the mountains, but we didn’t want to arrive home smelling of old ashtrays.
We stopped for a second time in Bathurst, impressed by the extensive war memorial park. Bathurst claims to be the first inland settlement in NSW, with deep gratitude to a Mr Evans who opened up the west.
There may have been a place of execution here, if the pavement markings are to be believed.
The mountains would have moved towards us, I’m sure, but instead, we made the effort, mostly Helen, thank you!
The smoke was still too far away to smell, but there was a definitely pall in the distance. The view at or from Govett’s Leap was fantastic, though, the escarpments and the gumtrees. A couple of walking tracks are closed due to landslides, but we weren’t planning a long walk today.
As usual, a little picture on a small screen doesn’t do justice to the scale of this place, it’s immense and so impressive.
And then we go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like taking a selfie in front of a terrific view.
A café in an old theatre with an antiques display at the back seemed like a good venue for lunch, if only we could find such a place. Blackheath rose to the challenge, and we found ourselves in the Victory Café where I had a liquid lunch, though not in the conventional sense of the phrase: I had curried sweet potato soup, vanilla milkshake and water then jumped up and down to mix it all up.
You have to walk through all the crap old and interesting displays to visit the dunny but it’s very risky, the aisles are very narrow.
We went forth at Wentworth Falls, just a short loop, but a welcome bit of exercise after lunch. I could just stay there and look at this view all day. Not much happens, clouds glide by, birds swoop, leaves rustle in the breeze, but it’s so quiet and peaceful.
Either we travelled at warp speed or I nodded off in the car but we were back in Manly in no time.
While we were away, the plumber had been in to fix the toilet, to cement it securely to the floor. After using the facility, I put the seat down and closed the door. Only the door wouldn’t close, it was obstructed by the toilet seat. The plumber had tightened up the screws, but only after moving the seat forward by an inch or so.
I found a saw and was about to cut a notch into the door, so that it would close fully, without bashing into the toilet seat, but Helen said she’d rather get the plumber back instead, to move the seat back to its original position.
The sunset is usually good from Helen’s apartment and today was no exception.
Helen had to work the following day, someone has to, I suppose, so Liesel and I were left to our own devices. After Liesel visited the local spa for some treatment, I met her over the road for breakfast. We can recommend Sketch, it was one of the best breakfasts we’ve eaten out, and we’re thinking we might return before we leave Manly.
We caught an early ferry to Circular Quay where I had a chat with my new BFF, an Aboriginal gentleman playing the didgeridoo. He’d been to the UK as part of a group, travelling down to Devon and all the way up to John O’Groats. They’d even played at the Edinburgh Tattoo.
We were here to meet an old friend, Maggie, who’d moved back to Australia from Chessington over 30 years ago. It was good to catch up after all this time. Our children no longer need babysitting of course, but their children, our grandchildren, might. She brought a friend, Carol, who I don’t think enjoyed the long-ish walk to The Rocks area for lunch as much as the rest of us did.
Maggie is enjoying retirement too and we talked about a few mutual friends from Chessington who are no longer part of our lives. It’s always sad when you lose touch with people, but we can be quite philosophical about it.
There was a cruise ship in port, dwarfing some of the older Sydney buildings.
On the ferry back to Manly, I realised we hadn’t taken any photos with Maggie. I’ll try to remedy that when we meet up again in another thirty years!
Phhh-psst, sneezed the elf living in Helen’s kitchen. Bless you, said I. After several such exchanges, I investigated further. It’s not a little person after all. There’s a machine that squirts elephant repellant into the air every couple of minutes. And it works: there are no elephants in the apartment. No bugs either, so that’s a bonus.
This has been a very pleasant way to end the year, notwithstanding a minor lurgy that seems to have passed from Liesel to Mick. It’s been very quiet, on the whole. But there was that one night when I was woken up by the sound of a hundred squirrels foot-tapping and gnawing in the roof. Followed by hedgehogs (I think) (I hope) stomping on the gravel right outside our window. This set off the terrier next door which also sounded like it was in the room. I got up to investigate: Liesel slept through the whole lot. In the dark living room a deep voice growled, “Be ye not afeared, ’tis only I, Andrew”. He was sleeping on the couch for a while as it was too hot in his bedroom.
And so, when I returned to my room, assured that nothing untoward was occurring, I expected to drift away peacefully and slowly to sleep. The birds had other ideas. Sensing the imminent arrival of daylight, they all began shouting and squawking at each other, cheeping and chirping, whistling and warbling. I like being woken up by the dawn chorus, but preferably when I’ve had some actual sleep to begin with.
The four of us went to Diamond Harbour for a walk. It faces Lyttelton on the bay. The drive via Dyers’ Pass was spectacular as always, and you have to admire the cyclists riding up the steep slopes on such a narrow and busy road. There’s not much room for manoeuvre either, with a ditch close to the side of the road in some places.
Being a harbour, it’s quite hilly and poor old me experienced his old trouble again. I got out of breath really quickly and felt my heart was about to explode: the long-lasting side effects of my blood pressure meds from a few years ago, I suspect. Anyway, mustn’t grumble. But I probably will.
Phwee-ooooh!!!! These tissues are rubbish.
Stoddart’s Cottage was interesting, there was a lot of local artwork for sale and a few exhibits from the olden days. The lady running the place was quite friendly but not a fan of cyclists riding on roads. She used to live in Chessington: what are the chances?
Plans to walk up to Mt Herbert were revised, mainly because it was too far to go in one day, but partly because of my breathlessnessness, not that I’m complaining. Much. Liesel felt pretty good and Andrew was coping with his dodgy hip OK, too.
Orton Bradley Country Park was a short drive away and the car was parked in the shade. We did manage to walk up to Big Rock, literally a big rock at the top of the hill. Pauline and Liesel both climbed to the top of the rock but I chickened out: it was too steep for me in my sandals and I don’t like going back down afterwards, plus, being a little tired and short of breath didn’t help.
Chphhh-choooo!!!!!! Hoooo!!!! Yee-uk.
On the drive home, we stopped off at Governors Bay for a coffee at She Universe café. Well, I say coffee and café but really the main attraction at this chocolaterie was the chocolate drinks. Pauline and I had dark mochas which came complete with a chocolate teaspoon. Yes, decadent and very tasty but any hope of it being a cure for my lurgy were soon dashed.
Ah-ah-ah—shooooooo!!! Well, bless me.
I’d been sneezing all day, for couple of days, really, and there had been complaints about me causing tinnitus in others and potentially setting off seismic activity.
We were beginning to think that I’d picked up Liesel’s bug from a few weeks ago, albeit with slightly different symptoms. It might explain my breathlessness issues, the sneezing, which I’d put down to hay faver, and the slightly sore throat.
There is a campaign to save the jetty at Governors Bay, which extends over mudflats. It is in a much worse state than we expected, and we weren’t allowed to walk on it.
The Botanic Gardens were nice and quiet and provided shade from the hot sun. Amongst my other ailments, my sunburnt schnozz was now peeling and not very appealing.
The Avon is the main river that flows through Christchurch and we walked along its banks for a while. We thought about taking a boat out, or hiring a punt, but, no, sense prevailed, we stayed on dry land. Visited a pharmacy for some drugs for myself.
The Groynes is the name given to a recreational park to the north of Christchurch. (We went by car, not by public transport. I wanted to travel on the Groynes train, but that pun, alas, fell on deaf ears.) There are walking trails, fishing ponds, children’s play areas and best of all, boats for hire on the lake.
Liesel and I took out a double pedal-boat, as did Pauline and Andrew. It was gentle exercise, we enjoyed watching the fishes, including eels, which the boat-hire man fed by his little jetty. There were kayaks available, but having fallen out of one such in Sydney Harbour a few years ago, Liesel wanted me to stay dry this time.
Those of you who were with us in Anchorage will recall my many failed attempts to take a photo of a dragonfly. I had several opportunties here out on the water today, so here are a couple of the best shots.
For a few days now, we’ve been talking about visiting a ricketty house which I thought, here in Chch, didn’t really narrow it down much. Chch is a common abbreviation for Christchurch, recognised worldwide, in Chch. Anyway, Riccarton House, for that is what was meant, was closed today, but we were able to take a hike through Riccarton Bush.
Canterbury’s sole remnant of kahikatea floodplain forest, Riccarton Bush has national significance. For 300,000 years, the shifting gravels of the Waimakariri River triggered a changing mosaic of podocarp forests across the Canterbury Plains. In response to a continual cycle of flooding, forests established wherever suitable conditions were created, only to be destroyed in their turn. These 600-year-old kahikatea trees are the latest generation of a forest that established on this site 3000 years ago. They have survived through two cultural periods, Maori then European, that saw widespread fires sweep the Plains and native vegetation give way to pastoralism and cropping.
The paths are well-made and it’s a very peaceful place. I know I was having a bit of a whinge about the birds singing a few days ago, but here, in this forest, it was lovely to hear them, even if we couldn’t see them very easily. Pauline did, but she knows better what to look for and where to look.
There is a great, fun scheme going on where small rocks are decorated and left in places for others to find. I found one of Sophie’s rocks in a flower bed at Riccarton House and duly reported it to the relevant Facebook group
where I was told that someone’s 4-year old had re-hidden it! My task is now to hide it somewhere else, for the next lucky person.
I do feel bad now about the ‘pet rocks’ that I buried in our garden, back in Chessington, all those mnonths ago. No, not really.
The evening was rounded off again with a few hands of 500, accompanied by chocolate and Baileys. It’s a fun, fascinating game, until you begin to lose concentration, which I did. That’s my excuse, anyway. My partner Pauline and I won the first game, then Liesel and Andrew won the next two! Still, one out of three ain’t bad.
How did Sri Lanka get on in the Test Match against New Zealand, then? Well, it was an exciting game, but there was only about twelve minutes play on the fifth and final day. The score was as follows:
New Zealand won by 423 runs
New Zealand 178 & 585/4d
Sri Lanka 104 & 236/9
NZ claim series win by winning second test in Christchurch.
And so, as the lawn mower of destiny cuts the last few grass blades of eternity and the final slice of bread is burnt in the toaster, I notice it’s the end of the year. On a personal note, I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for eleven months now, with encouragement from many people, especially Liesel, my lovely wife and travel companion.
As I write, it’s mid-afternoon on December 31st and we’re planning to go out later, maybe to a movie, maybe to a show, what we end up doing, I really do not know.
In any case, a million thanks for reading this blog, and I hope you continue to do so in 2019. Liesel and I send you our very best wishes for the new year and we hope our adventures keep you entertained, informed and educated, the way Lord Reith would have wanted.
We’re staying in a cute little house in Hatsukaichi. Well, not as cute as some others, maybe. It’s a cuboid with a corrugated tin roof. It’s not made from paper, but we do think cardboard is involved.
It was really cold our first night here. The vents can’t be closed and they seem to let cold air in but keep the warm air out. Also, for the first time since we arrived in Japan, we’re having to use a toilet seat without a bottom heater. On the other hand, there aren’t several other buttons to cause mayhem with.
One thing I do like is the makeshift shelf unit installed above the toilet seat. This is a wonderful way to increase storage for such necessities as loo paper. I don’t think Liesel’s a big fan, though. I had similar ‘temporary’ shelves installed in our house in Chessington, in the main bedroom and on the landing… But when Liesel moved in, they had to go: they made her feel claustrophobic!
This was all in the future though when we stopped off at Himeji Castle. We programmed Google Maps to take us there, aware that there was a good chance we’d get lost. But no: as soon as we left the station, we could see the castle looking down on the town from a mile or so away. We would have to try very hard indeed not to find it today.
Himeji High Street (I’m sure that’s its real name) is a wide boulevard and decorated with a collection of sculptures.
They are mostly young maidens but there are a couple of chaps too, one wearing a hat.
But I think my favourite was Summer Hat Girl.
The first fort on the hill was built in 1333 and it’s been expanded, enhanced, rebuilt, augmented frequently ever since. It is an imposing building and hard to believe that wood forms the main structure.
I think every shrine, temple and castle that we’ve visited has at some point in its history been at least partially destroyed by fire and then rebuilt. Several times in a couple of cases.
But this castle should be safe from now on. A mythical being on the roof is protecting the castle against fire but, as the loud, young American boy wondered aloud, how does that work, then? The other thing in the castle’s favour is the ban on smoking.
We took our shoes off before entering the castle as is the custom. Then, within a few paces, I also removed my socks: the shiny, slippery, wooden floor was just begging me to go A over T.
We walked up six (I think) flights of stairs to the top of the castle from where we had a great view of the surrounding countryside.
We confirmed our suspicions: a Stone Drop is the place from where you can drop stones onto your enemies’ heads.
The last renovation was started in 1956 and completed in March 1964 – more or less the same day as Guildford Cathedral was finished. It never even crossed my 9-year old mind that building work was also taking place way over there in Japan. When they dismantled the old structure, they discarded old, rotting timber, of course. But they did find useful notes written by the original builders, and these helped enormously when they came to rebuild the castle.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of it becoming a World Heritage Site. I don’t know if this is why the admission fee was waived today, or maybe they were just pleased to see us.
Walking back down the main road, we passed a shop selling the most gorgeous wedding dresses.
And just in case we were becoming homesick, we found this sign in a department store.
We arrived at the aforementioned Airbnb and on the walk from the local railway station, we saw some cats in the street. We hadn’t seen real life cats for a long time, so this was a surprise.
Then, in our new house, we notice the clock has a cat theme too.
After dumping our bags, we went out for a quick walk, and we happened to stop at the restaurant right next door to the station. We had okonomiyaki which was a fantastic cabbage-based pancake. Bung some spuds in and it would become the world’s best bubble and squeak!
None of the staff could speak more than a few words of English, we of course can’t speak more than one word of Japanese, but we had a good chat just the same, about visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima. As a bonus, we were each given a satsuma for dessert.
My mission, which I chose to accept, was to sell some items left over from the Garage Sale a few weeks ago. We have old National Geographic magazines, old jigsaw puzzles, a set of German porcelain and some other bits and pieces. I’m not having much luck. Nobody showed any interest on eBay. Facebook Marketplace keeps giving me error messages. And Craig’s List won’t let me upload more than one photo at a time. It really is Mission: Impossible. But I shall persevere and I will make some progress before the end of the movie.
On the way to see her financial advisor this afternoon, Liesel dropped me off elsewhere. I had a fantastic massage: my muscles and bones creaked and groaned as she used thumbs, elbows, knees and feet to gain maximum pressure and leverage. She must have thought my fingers and toes were telescopic, the way she pulled at them, clicking each knuckle in turn. And she really messed up my hair with the head massage. But it was great, I think I feel better for it, much less tight and coiled up.
Afterwards, I walked home as it was warm, the sky was blue, the wind had died down and it was a thoroughly pleasant jaunt.
I was thinking how clean the roads are here compared with England. There are $1000 fines for littering, and sections of the highway are taken care of by different groups or organisations.
Today, though, I began to notice things that were out of place.
But never mind the rubbish, the views are still fantastic.
Apart from the views, though, walking around this part of Anchorage is not as interesting as, say, walking around Chessington. There, I can make it up as I go along and I can make sudden changes to the planned route, left, right, right, left, etc. Here in Anchorage, though, the roads are long and straight and I can’t deviate or decide to take a shortcut and take a long detour. There is one route from A to B and that’s it.
A cyclist stop to warn me that there was a female moose further down the road, and that she was a bit grumpy, so this cyclist and her children were going to cross the road. She set off, her daughter set off, but her son stayed put. His chain had fallen off so I did my good turn for the day and put it back onto the derailleur. I can report that Alaskan grass is just as good as English grass at wiping bicycle chain oil off my hands.
I was hoping, of course, to see some wildlife: moose, bear, wolf, yeti, wolverine, polar bear, sasquatch, orca, beaver, otter, marmot, marmite, eskimo, something big and interesting, but again, I was disapppointed. I did see and nearly trip over this alien though:
After supper, Liesel and I went for another quick walk, this time to Kincaid Park. Liesel is still suffereing some discomfort, sadly. Having a rest day or two helps a bit but walking any distance seems to bring back the pain to some extent. The Sun was low in the sky and really lit up this tree, you could almost warm your hands on it.
All the runners that passed us waved hello, such a friendly, young and fit bunch of people.