A Sandwich

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

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

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

Paddleboarders

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

Liam and Martha
Jenny and William

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

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

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

Precious things

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

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

World famous Didsbury cobbles

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

Didsbury mural

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

Ford Lane roadworks

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

Hi-vis cardigan

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

Walk in the woods

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

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

Mickey Mouse

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

Wythenshawe wastelands

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

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

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

Treetop Challenge accepted

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

Baby giraffe

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

Martha and William back, back, back

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

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

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

Animals

Well that was a good week. We’re allowed out a bit more, now. The government’s roadmap to a return to normal life turned a corner this week with shops, pubs and other venues opening. So we went out for a walk and picked up a couple more bags of litter.

In other, totally separate and unrelated news, we have come into possession of several facemasks which we are prepared to sell at mates’ rates. Please send a message if you’re interested.

I bumped into Mary and Dave, fellow litter-picker-uppers, who gave us some more bin bags as we’re in danger of running out. I treated myself to a coffee and a blondie from The Northern Den and sat by the river for a while. It started snowing again. It was a lovely day, not too cold, really, but it snowed. Not nice, pretty, six-pointed snowflakes, but the small lumps of ice that looked like polystyrene.

Unexpected snow shower

There’s a new warning sign now, telling me not to jump in the river. Well, Liesel and I had no imminent plans to do so, but once hot Summer days come along, who knows what madness might overtake us?

Never jump into open water

Most of the colour in our world is provided by flowers, but sometimes, we see something a little bit different.

Magpie feather

I think this is a magpie feather but in any case, the photo doesn’t quite capture the vibrancy of the iridescence.

There was an horrific accident on Palatine Road this week. An Audi, by the looks of it, crashed into one of the posts that is supposed to deter motorists from parking on the pavement. An horrific use of the indefinite article at the start of this paragraph too.

Palatine Road RTA

And so to the first of our proper days out for a long, long time. We returned to Lyme Park and had a very pleasant walk, if shorter than usual, not being sure of our respective states of health and stamina. Don’t want to push things too hard, too soon. But never mind Lyme Park itself, in the farm next door, all the livestock came to see us.

Hielan coo

It’s always good to see highland cattle, although how they can see anything themselves through all that lockdown hair beats me. There were some sheep too and Liesel especially enjoyed watching the lambs gambolling up and down the hill.

Hielan coo too

These cows do need to have a meeting one day, and decide which is the correct direction of travel for their horns.

Big house at Lyme Park

Bug house at Lyme Park

We saw a few of these little bug hotels dotted around the various flower beds. At least, we think they’re bug hotels and not something more sinister.

The good news is that, on the way home, I remembered to take a photo of some grafitti that we’ve passed many, many times before. I ususally forget to have my phone ready. Today though, was different. Success. Mission accomplished. Game very much oveer.

Game oveer

While following a motorway maintenance vehicle, I though its warning lights looked familiar.

Warning lights channelling Thomas

Maybe it’s just me, but don’t they look like a collection of yellow Thomas the Tank Engine faces?

It was delightful to see our heron again this week. He does like playing games with me, though.

Heron

He stands in the same spot on the other side of the weir for ages. Then, as soon as I look away, he flies over to this side of the river. And, as if by magic, as soon as I make a move to take my phone out for a closer-up photo, he flies back to where he came from. You can tell he’s having a good time by his laughter lines.

And so to our second proper day out this week. We visited Chester Zoo and so did Martha and William along with Jenny and Liam, and we had a very nice day, thanks for asking. Usually, it’s colder here than at home, but today it was very pleasant.

It was the first time we’d been out with the children without a buggy. So yes, we’re at the zoo ostensibly to see the animals but really, I think Liesel and I were really here just to spend time with the children.

William standing proudly

I don’t think he’s in the cabinet, but William seems to have adopted the Conservative Ministers’ default power stance.

Martha sitting pinkly

Martha’s favourite colours are purple and pink, and here she is with matching heather.

The indoor venues at the zoo are still closed to the public, but there’s a nice little tunnel near the red river hogs (not pigs, as Martha corrected me) where Martha and William enjoyed making Grandad jump.

Booo!

Of course, it wouldn’t be a day at the zoo without at least one photo of captive wildlife.

The mane, if not the main, attraction

The lion was wandering around his territory while the two lionesses were resting their eyes in the warmth of the Sun.

One side effect of planning to go to the zoo was that I had to pre-record the radio show earlier in the week and then ask for someone to push the button and sent it out to the world, well, to Northenden, at 2pm on Friday. Thanks, Sanny, and we can all catch up on two hours of records about the weather right here.

I think it’s fair to say that our spirits have been lifted this week, by going out and by spending time with Martha and William. Plus, the Sun’s out, we’ve had blue skies, it’s warmer, Liesel’s projects are making good progress, I reached a significant stage in one of my own undertakings, Liesel’s had her second Covid jab and mine is booked for next week. Yep, things are certainly looking up, hooray!

As I write, it’s Liam’s birthday, and we’ve already paid them a quick visit, and watched Martha on her new bike. Yes, Liam’s birthday but seeing Martha on a bike is so much more exciting, sorry, Liam!

Martha pedalling like Billy-o

Both William and Martha were brandishing water pistols, not filled, but I’m sure one day we’ll feel the benefits of their cool, refreshing ammunition.

The Princess and the Martian

We’ve had lots of weather this week. A temperature range of about fifteen degrees. It’s warmer now and there are more signs of Spring. Even the village green is showing some more colour.

Northenden Village Green

One day, when the pandemic’s all over, and things are getting back to normal, there will be a Festival of Northenden on this village green. It’s only a small space, so we’ll have to attend in shifts. I’m sure that can be arranged, and it’s always good to have something to look forward to.

Princess Aurora

We found a princess in the woods. Very familiar but in the heat of the moment, we couldn’t identify her.

Thanks to Helen, we now know this is Princess Aurora. It’s always good to encounter real stars in our neighbourhood. Readers of a nervous disposition might want to look away now. We are sorry to report that just a couple of days later, Aurora had been decapitated.

Luigi, a friend of Mario


And if we ever need a plumber, we now know where Luigi lives.

Liesel and I celebrated our Crystal Wedding Anniversary this week. But a day late. This was so that we could have a meal from Greens in Didsbury and dessert from The Northern Den, both of which were closed on the actual day. Beautiful meal though, accompanied by the last of the wine from our visit to Heiffer Station two years ago.

Heiffer Station Merlot

It was a nice of drop of wine, too, thanks for asking: we’re going to have to go back and get some more one day.

Another highlight of the week was visiting the children (and their parents). We still find it very sad that we have to maintain a safe distance, and we can’t really interact.

William and Martha, scooterers

It was half-term so the home-schooling was taking a break.

Martha stripping the wallpaper

Martha’s been helping decorate her own room. First, draw on the walls, then rip the wallpaper off. Then leave the hard bit to Mum and Dad, removing several layers of paint hiding all sorts of defects and flaws in the plasterwork. And then, evenually, the exciting, interesting part of the job: the actual painting and decorating.

2,000 pieces, count them

Liesel finished the 2,000-piece jigsaw in double-quick time. I think I contributed about 5 pieces, but they made all the difference. It’s a collage of family photos from the last few years. Lots of sky and lots of grass all adding to the complexity.

More blankets

After concentrating on the puzzle for a while, Liesel has returned to her crochet project, a blanket each for William and Martha, but please don’t tell them and spoil the surprise.

William (left) and gingerbread man

Martha and William made gingerbread men but sadly, none for Grandad nor Oma. One day…

William supervising the decorating

William loves supervising the decorating project, it’s a bit of a mess in there at the moment, but he’s following all the health and safety guidelines.

Somebody worked really hard to dump this wooden pallet in the bushes in a park a long way from any residential or industrial property.

Let’s carry this pallet half a mile through the park

That was just one of the strange items Liesel and I came across during our litter-picking walk this week. We couldn’t fit it into our green bag of course, but we did take away the semi-deflated football and a trainer amongst all the usual litter discarded by rude and lazy people.

Wythenshawe Waste Warriors was the inspiration behind my radio show this week, which was Rubbish. All things rubbish, garbage, waste and litter, not to mention some Dirty characters. Martha’s contributions were absolutely fabulous, thank you. Listen back here.

We’re still consuming lots of TV and radio and podcasts of course, but we had some unusual online viewing this week too.

We attended the online funeral of Myra Jean Waring, Sarah’s mother, who died last month. Like everything during the pandemic, it was very different. The people attending in person wore masks and weren’t allowed to sing the hymns. The vicar Fiona conducted a good service and I think we all appreciated (Sarah’s brother) Michael’s eulogy. Afterwards, we family members had a chat online, just as we’d met up on Myra’s 90th birthday only a couple of months ago. But there was no post-funeral standing around eating sandwiches. These are strange times.

The following day, online, I watched NASA Live as Perseverance landed safely on the surface of Mars. You could feel the excitement from JPL and from all the contributors to the broadcast.

Mars

This is my picture of the first picture taken by the rover on Mars. Someone commented that Mars looks like their cheesecake. Well, they might have a point.

There is now a helicopter on Mars too, Ingenuity, and it will be interesting to see how that flies in the very thin Martian atmosphere.

At the risk of being overtly political, our government has spent ten times the cost of the Perseverance mission on a Covid Track and Trace system that has never worked properly.

On Valentine’s Day, we watched  was six hours of folk music. The Folk on Foot LOVEFest was a pretty good substitute for a live music performance.

More than twenty top folkies

Also on Valentine’s Day, we welcomed the launch of a brand new radio station, Boom Radio, aimed at us baby boomers who feel driven away from Radio 2 other stations who no longer play our sort of music.

We can’t visit Chester Zoo in person right now, but sometimes we enjoy watching their YouTube live broadcasts and videos.

Giraffes and their lunch

We probably watched the giraffes chomping for a bit too long, but it was interesting to see the sun bears and the tigers a bit more closely than if we were there in person, with too many other visitors. How will we cope with the crowds when that time comes back?

The deep dark woods

For example, in the woods, we feel violated and grossly inconvenienced when we see one or two other people. It’s wrong to feel that the place belongs to us, and us alone, but that’s what happens after being isolated for so long.

Twigs and sticks

We have no idea what this green twiggy knitting is, but it’s a very pretty colour. Just a shame about all the cans and bottles nestling within, but we’ll get in there one day.

At the risk of confirming my role as Grumpy Old Mick, can I just say that sometimes the internet is infuriating? I went to sign into a site that, admittedly, I’ve not used for a very long time. Over a decade, in fact. It says ‘There’s no such username, email address or password.’ Oh well, quite right, they probably deleted my details after a period of inactivity. So I clicked on ‘Sign Up’, as if for the first time. Why not use the same details as before? Because it then says ‘An account already exists for this username / email address’. I detect a slight discrepancy here. I do have another email address that I can use, and I can easily concoct a new username. But why should I have to? I tried to sign in again and this time, I clicked on the ‘Forgotten Password’ option. They sent me a link to ‘change my password’. So I did. I came up with a lovely new password. And, unbelievably, I was able to sign in, no problem, this time. And, as a bonus, I was able to access my activity from all those years ago. The trouble is, after all this faffing about, I’d forgotten what I wanted to do in the first place.

Benches, boats, birds and bottoms

We’re about to be locked down again, so our world isn’t going to broaden any time soon. But we still enjoy our almost daily walks in and around Northenden. And we did have a proper day out, just once, this week.

We walked over to Fletcher Moss Park where Liesel again met up with her WI ladies.

Men in three boats

The river was flowing slowly on this occasion, so the kayakers couldn’t just drift along. They probably needed the exercise.

Two swans

We haven’t seen swans on the Mersey for a long time, so this was a rare treat.

In the park, one of the memorial benches received some love, presumably from the family.

Love

While Liesel chatted with her friends, I took my coffee to the rockery, found a bench in the Sun and read my book. What I didn’t anticipate was having company of my own.

My mate, the robin

The robin and I had a good chat. I couldn’t apologise enough for not having any food, certainly no mealworm, about my person.

Crocus

I have a few books on the go at the moment: poems, short stories, non-fiction but no novel, and that is very unusual. So I was pleased when Jyoti recommended a science fiction book that I might enjoy. Thank you!

Walking back home through the park,  we passed a crocus, which is unusual this time of year. It’s jolly lucky we didn’t stomp on it by mistake.

We’re told this is a wild Autumn crocus, new to both of us.

Something else I didn’t expect to see in the park was a bat. Neither a cricket bat nor a vampire bat.

Bat behind the bench

Later on, we saw the herons, two of them, flying up and down the river. Maybe they hadn’t migrated after all. Or maybe they had but didn’t like it there and came home. Anyway, one stopped, waited, watched and finally grabbed for a juicy titbit in the water. He shook his head, but who knows whether he was swallowing a small fish, or just stunned from bashing his beak on the river bed.

Heron going for it

We had a good day at Chester Zoo, which I don’t think was as busy as last time. The temperature was perfect. But the animals were not at all cooperative, turning away as soon as they knew I was about to take their picture.

Beaucoups de derrières
Fascinating menu

Here are just a few of the animals that we saw, some more easily than others.

Selfie of the day
More Autumnal colours
Penguins
Himalayan monal

The beautifully iridescent Himalayan monal is the national bird of Nepal, and one of the few inmates to turn round and pose for a photo.

Liesel finished her second crochet blanket this week, and it’s a wonderful work of art. It has been exported to Chessington where I hope it lives happily ever after.

Liesel’s blanket

While Liesel’s busy crocheting, I can usually be found pursuing one of my interests on the computer. For instance, this week, I completed the ‘How to Read Poetry’ course. It was interesting but very intense and I learned a lot of new words and concepts.

Here’s a pretty leaf
It fell out of a tree
If I’d been there at the wrong time
It might have fell on me.

A pretty Autumnal leaf

Yes, I should probably do a ‘How to Write Poetry’ course too.

We wandered over to Gatley under a blue sky. Mostly. Big grey clouds appeared ominously, the temperature dropped a few degrees and we were convinced we’d be rained on before we returned home. But no, our luck held.

Blue sky over Gatley

We went for another walk, this time through Kenworthy Woods. The apples that we’d planned on sampling have long gone, and the few that remain are a bit moth-eaten, or squirrel-eaten. I left Liesel at the hairdresser where she kept her mask on, and enjoyed her first haircut in over six months.

I’ll never be a big fan of snails, but now that I am not growing plants that they find very nice and very tasty, I can almost admire their beauty.

Snail

This week on Radio Northenden, we went to the zoo: a couple of hours of music about zoos, zoo animals or some songs with a very tenuous link to the above. Listen here. Thanks again to Martha and William for helping out. Nobody could ask for better broadcast assistants.

Martha was VIP in her class one day at school, this week. This was because she turned up at school bearing a huge smile. Mummy said she was very proud of Martha. Martha said, ‘I’m proud of me, too. I’m proud of my mouth.’  

Autumn draws on

For the first time in a long while, we had three days out in quick succession this week. First up, another nice long walk at Lyme Park where we noticed the first signs of Autumn.

First Autumnal colours of the year

On the lookout

The sky was monochrome today, thirty-seven shades of grey, but at least the rain kept away this time.

Selfie of the day

Here’s the famous Lyme Park folly – I am referring to The Cage in the background, of course. Yes, I know, I know, I need a new hat.

Meanwhile, back home on the Mersey, the birds are having fun.

Duck playing football

Heron today, gone tomorrow

This heron was, unusually, sitting up on the grassy bank. The first time we saw it there, before I had time to get my camera out, it was chased away by someone’s loose dog.

Again, later on, we saw a second heron by the weir, giving a lecture to the geese, on this occasion.

We spoke about never having seen otters or water rats in our section of the Mersey, so it was a bonus when we  caught up with a giant otter a couple of days later. Not in the wild, but at Chester Zoo.

Giant otter v fish

Usually, we just miss feeding time, but today, luck was on our side. As we were peering at the otter way over there in the distance, a zookeeper came up and called his name. I wasn’t fast enough to capture the giant otter’s belly flop on film, of course, but he swam over to accept the fish that was thrown his way. Shame about the fence, I’ll photoshop it out one day.

It rained quite a lot today, but Liesel persevered and we had a jolly good time. The elephants were playing in the mud, in the rain. The rhinos were outside enjoying the lack of sunshine. Liesel asked someone about the duct tape on one of the camels’ humps. The poor old thing has a lesion and the tape is to prevent birds from pecking at it. I asked Liesel why she hadn’t asked whether it was a British Lesion or, since camels live in the desert, a French Foreign Lesion. Liesel wondered why I hadn’t asked the question. I said I didn’t want to look daft.

Baby meerkat

Someone had seemingly gone to a lot of trouble, dressing a mouse up to look like a miniature meerkat. Or meerkitten, I suppose. Very cute, though.

Our third major expedition this week was in an easterly direction, to Yorkshire. We visited another National Trust property, Wentworth Castle Gardens, near Barnsley.

Artichoke

The artichoke flowers drew our attention, but the bumble bees they attracted were probably more useful. We had a good walk here too. But: hills. We aren’t used to these hills, and we felt sorry for people pushing buggies, never mind those with wheelchairs. The views towards Leeds are spectacular though. We’d enjoyed the views all the way there, really, but there were far too many cars parked on what was the main road through some of the villages. They all need a decent bypass! More roads, please!!

Stainborough Castle

Stainborough Castle isn’t really a castle, but the edifice does have some castle-like features, lots of castellations and battlements. And a good view all round, of course.

Sun monument

The Sun monument is an obelisk with a golden orb on top. The actual Sun was too high in the sky to get a good shot of the two together. But, hey, the Sun was out, and we’re not complaining about that!

Archer’s Hill Gate

There seemed to be no reason for this gate to be located where it is. But it frames another stunning view over Yorkshire.

Selfie of the day

Regular viewers will welcome this rare occurrence of a second self-portrait this week. Yes, sorry, I know: the hat. Wentworth Castle isn’t open to the public, it is one of the Northern College buildings.

Hello and goodbye

We bade a sad farewell to a wonderfully entertaining old friend this week. The book of Sudoku puzzles we purchased in Japan over a year and a half ago is now propping up the world’s recycled paper mountain. All the puzzles were attempted, most were completed successfully and some remain not correctly solved, probably due to misprints in the given numbers, rather then our incompetence. Sayonara!

さようなら

We witnessed some unusual activity down on the river. A group of kayakers passed through Northenden on their way from Stockport to Liverpool. I doubt they were paddling all the way, but I’m sure the highlight of the trip was gliding down the weir, without falling out

Kayak

Single kayak, the other one hadn’t fallen out

Most of them carried on towards the Irish Sea but a couple decided to have a break on the island.

Quick break

One thing we don’t miss from Chessington is the eyesore that is Tolworth Tower. Sometimes, a setting Sun would illuminate it. We have our own version here too. A shorter block is visible from our luxury apartment, and it too is a blot on the landscape. But again, when the Sun sets, it almost glows and doesn’t look so bad, after all.

The Sun turning flats into gold

We went over to see the family again. Liesel had made some face coverings for Jenny and Liam, as we’ll all be compelled to wear masks inside shops from next week. We timed it so that we could spend time with William too, albeit at a safe distance.

Martha getting to grips with badminton

Liam trying to retrieve his hat from William

From one William to another. This building is close to where we live. Liesel and I learned a lot about William Morris and the British Arts and Crafts Movement some years ago, during the course of one of out Bicycle Beano holidays in Shropshire. Ah, Shropshire, oh to be that far away from home!

William Morris

It’s a nice memorial, but what a shame the building is now a carpet showroom. That’s progress, I suppose.

So there I was, ambling around the sordid streets of Northenden, when I came across this Royal Mail van.

Royal Mail van

Why did I did a picture of a boring old Royal Mail van? Because it’s foreign. Post Brenhinol tells me it’s Welsh. Why do we have Welsh vans in Manchester? According to the postal worker, they just supplied the wrong vans to our local delivery office. Can’t even rely on Royal Mail to deliver their own vans to their own offices, how ironic!

As I was taking the picture, a young man on a bicycle asked what I was doing. He seemed quite upset that I was taking a picture of a van. I said I thought it was interesting. He said it was like him taking a picture of my house. I thought, no it’s not, but never mind. The driver returned, I engaged in conversation with my (sort of former) colleague, and the interfering busybody cycled off. A couple of minutes later, I realised I should have told him that as a share-holder, I actually own the van. Several hours later I realised that what I should really have said was that I was off duty at the moment, but if he wanted to come down to the station later on to argue the toss, I’d be happy to see him there.

Northenden, especially the Mersey, is fast becoming the bird-watching capital of Manchester. Not that we know for certain, rarely going anywhere else at the moment!

Heron, cormorant, moorhen(?)

One, day I’ll go with a proper camera and get, better, closer-up shots of the heron and the cormorants, if they hang around for a while longer.

We did go further afield. Hello, outside world! We booked a visit to Chester Zoo, having not been since early March. And yes, of course there were roadworks and hold-ups on the motorway. The car park was quite full, which was disappointing. This was by far the furthest we’d travelled since the lockdown and we hoped for a good day, but from the first moment, we worried that it would be too busy to keep safely distanced.

Flowers, not to be too technical

Penguins

We stayed for a couple of hours and left just in time before the rain arrived. There were a lot of people there, and despite the zoo’s best efforts, with one-way routes, and Keep Left signs, far too many people just weren’t even attempting to maintain a safe distance. There are loads of hand-sanitising stations, though, which is good.

Wader

This little chap joined us while we ate our picnic lunch. Yeah, we found a picnic table away from the maddening crowd and felt comfortable and safe  for the first time, really.

We found a part of the zoo that was new to us, on this visit. A sunken garden with a magnificent sculpture. How come we’ve never seen this before? Probably because today, more than on any other occasion, we were deliberately walking away from and trying to avoid the larger groups of people.

Noah and the Four Winds Fountain Sculpture

As we were leaving, walking past the elephants, I spotted a large aeroplane. I thought it might be Boeing 747, a jumbo jet. I thought this was a great photo opportunity: a jumbo jet and an actual jumbo in the same shot.

But, no, it was just an Airbus pretending to be a whale, an Airbus Beluga.

Air whale

Too many people not social distancing

Back in Northenden, guess what? Yep: more flytipping outside Barnado’s, despite the wooden hoarding.

Barnardo’s

On the other hand, there are some pretty flowers around.

Shining Crane’s-bill

And if the zoo, the Mersey, TV, radio, podcasts, books and puzzles aren’t entertaining enough, some of my dreams recently have been absolutely amazing. I’d love to share them, but nobody needs to know that much about the inner workings of my psyche.

PS Thanks again to our aeronautical and botanical correspondent, Helen, for the informative comment below!

Isolating and Walking

It is the worst of times, it is the worst of times. Coronavirus, Covid-19, coronapocalyse, it’s all over the news. The government advises this, the health experts say that, the response to this global disaster is different in different countries, definitely do this, preferably do that, so much advice, and why isn’t the UK following WHO guidelines and testing, testing, testing? So it’s not the ideal time to visit hospital on two separate occasions for different examinations, unrelated to the current contagion. Did I pick up the virus? Or did I leave it behind for someone else to avoid? We’ll never know.

Somewhere over the rainbow

I waited for the bus home after my echocardiogram and was enormously cheered up by this rainbow. Not so much by the bus that rolled in declaring ‘Sorry Out Of Service’. Only after opening the door for a microsecond and then driving off did the driver decide to change the display, confirming that this was, in fact, the bus I’d been waiting for.

Things were better the day we took William to the zoo. He was interested in seeing the newborn Asian elephant, Riva Hi Way, of course but in a surprise move, he also asked to go to the Zipline. Literally. He rode the Zipline once before taking off the harness, he wasn’t bothered about walking and climbing the rest of the Treetop Challenge!

But he does like going into the forest, to explore and to hide and to pick up sticks.

William hiding in the forest

When I saw this graphic from a distance, I thought, Chester Zoo haven’t really got this human evolution thing quite right, have they?

Bear necessities

But it’s just showing all the different species of bear compared with a human. Very educational. The other mistake I made was when I saw a sign for ‘Beermats’ through the bushes. Not being a tegestologist, I wasn’t that interested. Only on closer inspection did I realise it was the sign for ‘Meerkats’. I resolved to clean my glasses.

Pretty little orange flowers

And if that’s not orange enough, what about this frog?

Golden mantella

Initially, William had asked to see the blue, poison-dart frogs, but we couldn’t see any in their tank. The volunteer suggested they’d been taken away for some reason.

Camel 1: I’m bored.
Camel 2: Me too.
Camel 3: Me three.
Camel 1: What shall we do?
Camel 2: I know, let’s have a game of noughts and crosses.
Camel 3: That’s a great idea. Have we got any paper and a pencil?
Camel 1: No, but I have some duct tape.
Camel 2: How will that help?
Camel 3: We could make up a noughts and crosses grid somewhere.
Camel 1: But where?
Camel 2: Well it was your idea, 3, so let’s use your hump.
Camel 3: Oh, alright then.

Like a camel with a sore hump

The other thing William specifically asked for was to see the lady who cleans up the elephant poo. Well, he saw the lady and he thoroughly investigated the poo.

William investigating a big dump

Don’t worry, we all washed our hands several times during the day and when we got back home.

We picked Martha up from Nursery and then, back home, she and William built and demolished several towers.

In this time of Covid-19, it’s harder than usual to make a GP appointment, even when they’ve sent a message asking us to do so. They answered my call after 20 minutes, I made my appointment and so did Liesel who hijacked my phone after listening to the ringing on her own for the same amount of time. But as the GP surgery doesn’t want potentially infected bodies turning up, we just each had a 20-minute phone consultation. Marvellous.

After admitting to our newly acquired cough, we’re now self-isolating. We think it’s just a post-holiday cold, and I’m a few days behind Liesel with the tickly and sore throat and cough, but here we are.

We’re allowed out for walks as long as we don’t socialise. The recent storms must have weakened this tree which appeared on the pavement between walking one way and walking back maybe twenty minutes later.

A recently fallen tree

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, goes the famous saying. But sometimes they spontaneously go and stand in a puddle while drinking the water.

A horse enjoying the water

The river is always a good place to see people doing silly things, such as jogging. But trying to row these canoes without putting them in the water seems a bit bizarre.

Wannabe canoeists

Another bit of a tree, a dead one, fell in and drifted towards the bridge.

Tree in the Mersey

When Liesel and I walked along the river, towards but not all the way to Didsbury, we passed fewer people than usual. Again, we noted the rough path, not ideal for walking on and definitely not much fun cycling on it, although we saw a couple of people try. One lady was pushing her bike. But if she’d been cycling on the other side of the river, along which we returned, she too would have had to negotiate the puddle that straddled the width of the road. We managed to get by without falling in.

A challenging wide puddle

It would be so easy to fall into gloom and despair while in isolation, so it’s good to see the Spring flowers are making an effort to cheer us up.

A very pretty roadside bed

While stuck indoors, I’m sure we’ll be doing a lot of reading, writing, TV and film watching, radio and podcast listening as well as puzzles. In fact, this weekend, for the first time, I successfully completed a Sandwich Sudoku in the Guardian. I was beginning to think these were a spoof, a hoax perpetrated by naughty work experience teenagers at the newspaper, as I have messed up every single one. Until this weekend, hooray! Here’s the grid if you want to have a go:

Place the digits from 1-9 in each row, column and 3×3 block. The clues outside the grid show the sum of the numbers between the 1 and the 9 in that row or column.

 

Burritos, Bowie, Bikes, Balls

A Mermaid greeted us when we went to look after William this week. Of course, it was Martha, not a real mermaid, and it was a shame she had to change into her uniform to go to nursery!

We endured a foggy drive to Chester Zoo this time, but unusually, on arrival, there wasn’t a cold wind in the car park. William set the pace as we walked around, often hanging around in the same area, especially when it entailed standing in the mud. He was as excited to watch a squirrel scurry by on the fence as he was to see the elephants.

Oma, William, elephant

The end of the line

The monorail is now being demolished, which is a shame: that was always a good way to pass some time, queueing up for a ride.

We did feel sorry for the penguins, though: someone’s taken the plug out of their pool and they were plodding around, looking a bit forlorn.

P-p-p-poor old p-p-p-penguins

William slept in the car in both directions and as soon as we dropped him off at home, Liesel and I went home. We had plans, things to do, places to be.

After waiting for a bus for too long and witnessing several going by in the wrong direction, we decided to drive into Manchester instead. We’d like to use public transport but it’s just not a good or reliable enough service in Manchester.

Listo Burrito

We enjoyed a burrito at Listo Burrito, infamous for its burritos, apparently.

A Bowie Celebration brings together several musicians who have worked with David Bowie at some point, whether playing live or on record. The Bowie Alumni Band was brought together by Mike Garson, who performed with Bowie over a thousand times. Tonight, the band played at Manchester’s O2 Ritz. Doors opened at 7pm. We arrived in very good time, to join a long line of even more eager people, all hoping to snare one of the few seats available. It’s an old dance hall, really, so it’s pretty much all standing around.

O2, the telcommunication company, obviously provide the wifi at this venue. But I got a better signal from Gorilla, a place over the road. We tried not to stare too much at the fellow audience members, some even older than me, many wearing Bowie t-shirts from his numerous incarnations. There were a few young people too but we saw nobody with the red Ziggy hairstyle or the Aladdin Sane lightning flash on their face.

Inside, we went upstairs and stood at the front of the balcony, overlooking the stage and the dancefloor below. We watched as the venue filled while listening to a Mike Garson record: Bowie Variations, which I can highly recommend.

A great view of the stage

Even though we were standing, we were able to lean on the barrier and we resisted being squeezed out by other people. Sadly, we’ll never see David Bowie live in concert again, but this would be a good second best. We’ll never see Beethoven in action either, but we still enjoy his music being played live, though not necessarily by people he actually performed with.

Tonight, the band played the whole of the Diamond Dogs album, sharing the vocals between three great but very different vocalists: Mr Hudson, Corey Glover and Sass Jordan.

It was loud, but very faithful to the original album. I sang along of course, and noticed a couple of faux pas on the part of the professionals. It should be ‘fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats’, even I know that!

I remember buying and playing Diamond Dogs for the very first time, in 1974, amazed that after Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie could still come up with some fantastic lyrics and wonderful tunes. Tonight we were both reminded just how much his music has a jazz influence, especially with Mike Garson in the mix.

What a shame George Orwell’s widow didn’t allow Bowie to turn 1984 into a musical, the original idea. Diamond Dogs is a mix between that and his own perception of some future dystopia: but not too far in the future.

We thought there’d be an interval after Diamond Dogs, but no, they kept going. Space Oddity next. By now, I had a slightly sore throat from singing along and my tinnitus had been turned up to 11, but it was worth it, such an emotional show for me, and for many others, no doubt.

Bowie Celebration: the Alumni Band

Suffragette City was very exciting, and if you’ve never heard 1500 people in unison shriek ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am’, well, it’s very therapeutic!

Rock’n’roll Suicide always brings a tear to the eye.

Everyone sang along to Heroes, another opportunity for the lacrimal glands to kick into gear.

Two hours and twenty minutes of wallowing in the past, fantastic. A good review and more photos can be seen here.

I never thought I’d need so many people

It was a most enjoyable show. But for the sake of us old codgers: a seated venue might be better. And please turn down the bass a tad because we’re already losing the higher frequencies, thanks!

I don’t know. We don’t go out in the evening for a while and then we go out twice within a few days! The 2020 HSBC UK National Track Cycling Championships finals took place at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester this weekend. We attended one session, on Saturday evening, and we undoubtedly witnessed some cycling stars of the future. My favourite cycling team is now Team Terminator: they’ll be back.

A great view of the track

The commentary was pretty good, if a little cheesey at times. But there was no ‘turning the screw’, nor ‘putting down the hammer’, nor ‘ lighting the afterburners’ but as Liesel pointed out, these clichés usually apply to road races. One of tonight’s races did ‘go down to the wire’, so anyone playing ‘cycling commentary bingo’ didn’t totally waste their time. Proud to have been part of an ‘awsome audience’, though.

Winner of the National Bobble Hat Wearing Championships

In years to come, we’ll be looking out for the new British Men’s Points Race Champion, ‘the Welshman from Wales’, Rhys Britton. I don’t know the name of the model sporting this rather delightful bobble hat, quite a distraction from the racing, to be honest.

Other names to look out for are Lauren Bell who won the Keirin, Hamish Turnbull, the new Sprint champ and Ella Barnwell, the new Scratch Race champion, taking over from Laura Kenny, who wasn’t here to defend her title on this occasion. I was watching the Derny bike rider leading the Keirin races and I thought, I could do that. If I were looking for a job.

It was an exciting night but next time, I think I’ll take my real camera, the medal ceremonies were just too far away  for good pics. The music and the roar of the crowd weren’t too loud today and the tinnitus was not affected, you’ll be pleased to know.

Not a bad action shot with a phone camera

In a change to normal programming, we looked after Martha and William on Sunday while their parents went on a secret mission.

The Ice Cream Farm was very busy today, the water was in full flow thanks to the numerous older children ready and eager to turn on the taps, use the Archimedes screw, open the sluices and generally send water to places it’s not supposed to be.

William v water

We played in the sand for a while too. Not ‘we’, I mean ‘they’, of course. Any sandcastle I might have built was soon demolished by William.

The children wore themselves out in the softplay area. Here is Martha carrying the balls to some small cannons, from which she was able to shoot across the play area, trying to hit the targets while missing the other children, mostly.

Martha v cannon balls

We drove home and despite the extreme state of exhaustion, sleep eluded us all. And indoors, Martha used Liesel’s crochet hook to demolish a skein of yarn.

Martha v yarn

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner on their return, and afterwards, Liesel and I spent over 12 hours untangling the yarn. Next time, we’ll make sure Martha untangles her own tangles.

Toad in the hole

Two bits of good news. My replacement bluetooth keyboard has arrived, and it works perfectly so, once again, I’ll be able to write blogs and other nonsense while away from home and not in a library or internet café! Plus, my first toad-in-the-hole in the new luxury apartment came out very well. Very nice, very tasty, as they say.

I see icy

But it didn’t prepare us for what occurred the following morning. There I was, still in bed, Liesel came in, threw back the curtains and said I had to see this.
‘What, rain?’ I asked.
‘No, snow,’ she replied. Lo and behold, it was snowing. I said I wasn’t going anywhere today, thank you very much. Well, the snow didn’t last long and didn’t settle, but when I did go out for a walk later on in the sunshine, I was surprised at how cold it still was outside. I didn’t walk very far today. Brrr.

2019 into 2020

Another year over and a new one just begun. I’ve lost count of the number of jokes about 2020 Vision and this being the only year named after a popular cricket format. MMXX. As a residential speed limit sign might say, 2020 is plenty plenty. I resisted the temptation to show π to 2020 decimal places, sorry, Liesel. Before the new year started we were in a period apparently known as Twixmas, a term I’ve never heard before, and I hope never to hear again. Oh well, this is why we love the English language, I suppose: anything goes.

If I were commuting, I would welcome this safe cycle parking facility that I came across by a Metro station. The Bike Locker Users’ Club is the sort of club I’d like to join, if I were a bike locker user.

Bike locker

While I was out on a long stroll, via the GP (don’t worry, it was just to take in a prescription request) and the bank, Liesel was at home completing the jigsaw puzzle she received for Christmas, just five days earlier. What a star!

Liesel’s completed Wasgij jigsaw puzle, wow!

There is still a lot to learn about our neighbourhood. Wythenshawe is, according to the sign, one of the greenest places in Manchester. What the sign doesn’t say is that it is also one of the most littered places in Manchester. Probably. You’re never more than three feet away from a discarded can or coffee cup or lolly wrapper. We must make more use of our litter picker-uppers. If David Sedaris and Ian McMillan can do it, then so can we!

Wythenshawe, the home of Wythenshawe Market

Farewell, old friends in the European Community

Presumably, this sort of support from the European Community will stop when the UK leaves the EU at the end of January. But still: blue passports, hooray!

I was listening to Serenade Radio in bed late on New Year’s Eve, some nice, relaxing, easy listening. The feed online was a bit delayed so I leapt a mile when all the local fireworks went off at what I thought was well before midnight! Liesel got out of bed to look at them, I couldn’t be bothered. Hello 2020, and Happy New Year.

Fireworks from Queenstown, NZ, not Northenden, UK, thanks, Helen

Meanwhile, in NZ, Helen and Adam enjoyed these fireworks in Queenstown, but despite the temptation, neither of them did a bungy jump. They’ve been in 2020 slightly longer than the rest of us and other than the smoke from the Aussie bush fires drifting across the Tasman Sea, there is nothing bad to report.

Liesel and I joined the wider family for a New Year’s meal at Alan and Una’s house. There were fourteen of us on this occasion: the same bunch of ne’er-do-wells from last week plus John and Geri, Paul’s parents. Geri, aka Nana Strawberry as far as William’s concerned!

Jenny and Martha

For the first time in ages, I think I may have eaten too much. Usually I stop as soon as I’ve had enough, but there was so much lovely food, thanks, Una!

Several mega-calories to burn off then, which I did the following day, walking to the GP (it’s alright, I was just collecting the prescription that I’d requested a few days ago), then to a pharmacy. Boy, was I glad I wasn’t on my bike when I saw this sign.

1 in 29, how does anyone manage that?

The gradient is greater than 1:29, it was hard enough walking up it, never mind cycling. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t even notice the very slight incline and wouldn’t have given it a first, never mind a second, thought, if I hadn’t seen the warning sign.

I was taken back to my childhood for a moment as I stood on a bridge and watched a very long train pass by underneath, on its way to Gatley.

Commuters in the area would love seeing a Northern Rail train this long, rather than the 3-carriage options that are over-crowded every morning

This time, though, it wasn’t a steam train and my Mum and I didn’t have a coughing fit as we were enveloped in clouds of smoke, and we weren’t picking off smuts for the rest of the day.

Liesel and I accepted the invitation to look after the children for a day while Jenny ‘filled in her tax form’. At first, I thought this was a euphemism for ‘have a nice relaxing massage without those pesky kids ruining the peaceful atmosphere’, but I think she really was filling in forms, judging by the ink blots on her fingers.

So we took William and Martha to the zoo where, as usual, we emerged from the car to a much colder wind than we had at home. Should have worn a thicker coat, said Liesel. As she always does. Only to forget on our next visit.

Puddles, elephants, bats, and the Treetop Challenge were today’s big hits. We saw just one lion in the new enclosure.

Lion planning her escape

Too high to climb it so I’ll just roll under it, if that’s alright

Treetop Challenge, safety harness, down a couple of short zip lines

Giant Owl butterfly: none of them wanted to settle on Martha’s sleeve this time

Unusually, we timed it right, and saw the penguins at feeding time. But the most entertaining aspect was watching one of the zookeepers waving his fish net around, trying to keep the seagulls away.

Penguins fighting off the seagulls with a little help from the keeper of the net

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, they are delightful children to spend time with, great fun, and very interested in the world. Their only fault is not appreciating good music when it’s on offer. “What song do you want me to sing?” I ask from the front of the car. “No song”, comes the chorus from the back. Oh well, their loss.

A bit of jiggery-pokery with the photo editor on my phone and I produced this masterpiece

The first Saturday of the year found us walking to Didsbury, along the river, past the golf course.

Just one of a few strange characters we met on our walk

As Liesel noted, all the runners and joggers seemed to be scowling today. Maybe they were carrying a bit too much extra flab after the Christmas feasting. Or maybe they were regretting their New Year’s Resolutions!

“Edgar?” I commented, “That’s a funny name for a dog.”
“No”, said Liesel, “He said ‘good girl’.”
Nothing wrong with my hearing.

Here are a few more of our new acquaintances.

Poor chap thinks it’s still nighttime

A family of Owls in Didsbury Park – there are some talented wood-carvers around

Outside the fish shop, believe it or not

Liesel couldn’t watch it all but I enjoyed the first episode (of 3) of the new TV drama based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Did someone say it was a bit scary? They did indeed. It is. Fantastic. And the only nightmare I had was another work-based dream, in which I was ‘invited’ to work for a few hours on a Sunday so I’d be ahead of the game on Monday. Trouble is, this is just the sort of nonsense Royal Mail might come up with in real life. It’s four years almost to the day since I last had to go to work, so why I still dream about it is a total mystery.

Walking not Walking

It wouldn’t be a trip back to our old neck of the woods unless there was a medical appointment involved. On this occasion, I spent an uncomfortable half hour in the company of my periodontist, Emily, mouth open and full of instruments of torture. Not much fun, but the alternative, no teeth stuck in my cake-hole would be far, far worse.

We visited Garson’s Farm in Esher, and I think we were both impressed by how much the shop and restaurant have expanded since the last time we visited. Oh, it’s now known as Garson’s Garden Centre and Farm Shop, sorry. Maybe it always has been!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

There was a lot of Christmas tat on sale, I think that’s the technical term, but we resisted the not very strong temptation to buy any of it. We stuck to our guns and just bought the few items of food on our notional list.

Back in Chessington, we visited Peter and Janet and their son Jonathan. For the second time in 5 days, we ate out at the North Star pub. My mouth regained consciousness, slowly, and I managed to eat, slowly.

The other day, I was disappointed that the Christmas tree had not yet been erected at Trafalgar Square. Today, we found it, maybe, at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.

Norwegian wood

Sadly, there was no performance at the Rose today, so what else could we do for the rest of the day? Walk around Kingston, of course, and maybe go to the cinema. So that’s what we did. We saw Knives Out which, after a bit of a slow start (I thought) turned out to be most enjoyable, with a good plot and some good actors.

Our entertainment started well before the main feature, though.  We were presented with a trail for the new Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker. “Oh no, not another one,” commented an audience member just a few seats away, “they must be in double figures by now!” Our main complaint was that the adverts and trails were too loud. Luckily the film was presented at a more reasonable volume. On the other hand, the people behind played Pass the Parcel with their snacks, rustle, rustle, just to remind us why we don’t visit cinemas very often!

Kingston’s Christmas stars

Two meals out on the same day? Why not! Liesel fancied going to Stein’s, Kingston’s top Bavarian beer and food emporium. The bowl of lentil soup I had will keep me going for days. Likewise, Liesel’s goulash was remarkably filling.

Liesel had planned to meet up with another old friend, Chris, in Dorking, and I was expelled from the car at the Mickleham turning off the A24. It was a bit cold and frosty and misty today, ideal for a spot of mountaineering. For the first time ever, I was going to scale Box Hill on foot.

Box Hill School is still being developed: I don’t think I’ve ever seen it without some sort of building work taking place. It was useful one day though, some years ago, when I had to change a tyre on my bike: I made use of a very conveniently located bench on the grounds.

St Michael and All the Angels’ Church stood out in the misty sunshine with a soldier from The Great War silhouetted perfectly and movingly.

Lest we forget

I’d never walked this way before, I anticipated having to walk along the road. So it was a relief find a path behind the hedge, running parallel to the road. But there wasn’t much traffic anyway, just a few cars and a couple of buses.

Onwards and upwards

I had a beany hat on to protect the lugs but despite the mist and the frost, the exercise was keeping me warm. The dripping water was not rain but melting ice, also looking glorious.

One drip photographed by another

After a while, I looked back and realised I’d climbed above the cloud level. I swapped hats: now, I needed a wide brim for protection from from the glare of the Sun. Solitude can be a wonderful thing, but I was really surprised not to see anyone else on the path, walking up or down.

Above the cloud

A small group of cyclists set off up the Zig Zag Road as I began my climb. I was soon puffing and panting a bit. Northenden and Manchester are great for walking but they’re both flat, so today’s incline was a bit of a challenge. Oh to have my legs back from 2014 when, on one famous day, I cycled up Box Hill three times as part of a long training ride.

The bridleway was a bit muddy in places, but the leaf cover provided protection. The plan was to meet Liesel at the National Trust Café at midday. The path I was following crossed the road and I had to choose between the Happy Valley Walk, Box Hill Hike and the Natural Play Trail. I knew the Café was roughly over there but when I found the road again, I realised I’d overshot by quite a distance. That was OK, I was able to backtrack, avoiding the loggers, and I found Salomons’ Memorial.

Salomons’ memorial, the Viewpoint

Leopold Salomons is memorialised for donating 230 acres of land to the National Trust in 1914.

Loggers, tree surgeons, whatever: the sound of power saws was totally at odds with the peace and quiet. And a reminder that real life continues.

Logs – future coffee tables, maybe

Usually you can look out over the valley below, admire the fields, compare the people with ants and literally look down on Dorking. Not today. Pearlescent cloud filled the valley. In the distance, Leith Hill peeked out.

Looking over the clouds towards Leith Hill

A white, empty universe in one direction, but turn around 180° to be rewarded with a magnificent, proper, sky blue sky.

And turning around…

Outside the National Trust Café, patches of frost survived but the Sun erased those as it moved alowly round the heavens. Plans to do some typing on a table outside were thwarted because they and the benches were still wet from the dew. Inside, I shared a table with a couple of strangers and a cup of coffee. My typing drove them away after a very patient half hour.

It was great: I’d enjoyed the exercise and the fresh air, and the sight of so many happy people hanging around at the top of the hill. Even the soft Christmas music added to the atmosphere. I eavesdropped on a conversation between a couple of cyclists. One had just cycled up and the other was about to ride down. He was warned to be careful as there was still ice on the road, and three cyclists had come off. My earlier cycle envy somehow evaporated at this news.

I mooched about while waiting for Liesel, watching the last of the frost melt. She collected me and we set off for home. We survived the M25 again, stopping at Cobham Services for a natural break. I bought my first ever Gregg’s vegan sausage roll which was enjoyable but I also take great pleasure from knowing that if Piers Morgan found out, he’d go apoplectic!

Sunset as seen from the M6

We went straight to Jenny and Liam’s house, where as well as the usual suspects, we were greeted by Uncle Adam, all the way from Manly. It was good to see him, even his bad influence on his young nephew.

William drinking Daddy’s beer

Grandchildren’s day delightfully rolls around once a week. It was time for a return visit to Chester Zoo. William had a lot of fun, and, to be fair, so did we. There were many school parties here today, so it was an educational visit. We learned, for example, that donkeys are baby giraffes. We managed not to get stomped by the herds of school children but some puddles did get stomped by William.

William found a puddle

Even the Zoo is gearing up for Christmas. There are lanterns and balloons everywhere, and a snow-covered paddock where all the animals get on very well.

Giraffes (pretend) in the snow (pretend)

One of The Lanterns

And on the next day, the heavens opened, it rained all day, we did very little: we didn’t leave the flat and I’m not even sure either of us went downstairs to collect the mail. A lazy, lazy day. We looked out of the window, we looked at weather apps that confirmed, yes, it was raining and would never, ever stop. I might go out for a quick walk, I lied. I didn’t even bother to get a picture of some tumbleweed tumbling by. We just sat there, looking at each other, and out of the windows, and at the TV, and at books. Lazy. I suppose it has to be done sometimes.