Makers’ Market, Mist and Maid Marion

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.

Broken bollard – nothing to do with us, honest

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.

Are you sitting comfortably, Liesel?
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

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.

William slurping spaghetti
Martha slurping spaghetti

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 demolishing a tower of Dear Zoo 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.

Martha and her 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.

Turtle
Pacific Sea Nettle Jellyfish
Lion fish
Our own little clown with a clownfish

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.

William and the Balls, not to be confused with the 1980s pop group of the same name

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.

Bright sunshine, mist in the fields

Not so entertaining was overtaking this reprobate several times. Why does he keep overtaking us and then slowing down, wondered Liesel?

Bloke using his phone while driving on the M6

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.

Amanda, playwright, actor, director and a very generous soul

We’ve seen the story of Robin Hood many times, in many formats, but nothing quite like this performance! It was very good fun. If you’re in Chessington, there are very few chances to catch this show – but please do!

Robin Hood and Little John in a very exciting fight scene
Maid Marion plucking at our heartstrings

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.

Attila the Nun on stage, reading a Holy Book

October and March in London

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

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

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

Mudlark

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

Elephants in Pimlico

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

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

Blake’s 7 (and the rest)

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

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

Newton, by William Blake

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

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

People watching old videos

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

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

Selfie of the day

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

Everyone is corrupt

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

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

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

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

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

The crypt of St Martin’s

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

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

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

Lemn Sissay and Samira Ahmed

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

Mick and Lemn

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

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

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

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

Sir Patrick Stewart OBE

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

We will, we will Block you

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

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

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

Not tired of London

After a day babysitting, it’s advisable to have a good night’s sleep and maybe a lie-in. This is exactly why I booked an early train to London. The real reason was the relatively cheap fare, of course. The bus that took me to Gatley Station carries on to Stockport. I could have done that and joined the train there rather than riding all the way into Manchester Piccadilly. Oh well, we’re still new here and still learning the ropes.

It made sense to go straight to my Airbnb in Kingston to drop off my heavy bag. Not that heavy, but no need to lug it around more than necessary. It was a relatively cheap b&b too, so a relatively cheap weekend away altogether!

The Fighting Cocks in Kingston, where we saw Tom Hingley and the Lovers play a few years ago
Out of Order, by David Mach, refurbished by him in April 2019, so it still looks sparkly and new

First on the list was to revisit the Press Room Café in Surbiton which was closed last time. Delighted to see it’s now reopened, and equally good to see the staff haven’t all been replaced or refurbished too drastically. The coffee was very welcome but, again, I chickened out of ringing the bell, by the door, on the way out to tell them so.

Press Room newly refurbed and open for business

After sitting on buses and trains most of the day, it was liberating to go for a walk, now. So, I set my controls for the River Thames.

As I joined the riverside path into Kingston, I was accosted by a very nice lady. She’d walked from Kingston and was disappointed that the path deviated from the river at this point. She was hoping to get to Hampton Court. I explained that she was on the wrong side of the river. We walked into Kingston together, swapping stories about our families. Hers involves India and Birmingham and the recent sudden death of her husband. Her name’s G’day but I’m pretty sure it’s not spelled that way.

Within a swan’s wingspan of Kingston Bridge, we shook hands and bade farewell, she turned round to walk back towards Surbiton.

Swanning about on the river

I visited John Lewis where, as I passed through the TV department, two partners asked if they could help. I didn’t say that I was only there to use the facilities. Which, in the end were closed, so I had to visit the Bentall Centre too.

There’s a new cinema complex coming to the Bentall Centre and this crane is doing the heavy lifting
Butterflies in the Eden Centre

I was taking this picture of the butterflies when an (even more than me) elderly gent said I should have been here when all the umbrellas were up there. Oh, when was that? A few months ago, he said. I didn’t tell him I’d seen such displays of brollies in more exotic locations than Kingston’s Eden Centre, but that didn’t matter, as he’d already shuffled away.

Surbiton’s iconic art deco station frontage

As planned, I met Helen and Steve at the Allegro café in Surbiton. The owner wasn’t in tonight so we didn’t have to explain our recent, long absences. Pizzas all round and I had a Peroni for a change. It’s always good to catch up with old friends, and some of us are really old, now, with frequent reminders of our own mortality.

Back at the b&b, I met my host, Jenny, and her young daughter whose name wasn’t Ermintrude, nor Peppa, nor Jehosophat, nor Pickle, nor anything else I suggested.

In the morning, as invited, I helped myself to breakfast before catching the bus to Chessington.

While all this was going on, Liesel was buying shoes in Anchorage so I think I win that one. On the other hand, daughter Helen was at the Intercontinental Resort Hayman Island, in the Whitsundays, and I have to say, the photos are stunning, so either it really is a gorgeous location or they have the best Photoshoppers in town!

Helen having a whale of a time on Hayman Island

With perfect timing, I hopped off the bus in Chessington and bumped into Michael the postman, who hasn’t aged more than about 22 years since I last saw him 18 months ago (only kidding). I thanked him again for continuing to forward mail that is still sent to our old Chessington address, although it is now a mere trickle, a rare drib and drab.

Peter and Janet can no longer easily tend their own garden but their neighbours are very kind, helping to keep the weeds under control and the grass cut. Peter invited me to join them for lunch which was kind: they usually go out for lunch these days and while the meals may feel boring and repetitive, having a reason to leave the house has to be a good thing.

We dined at Las Iguanas which has a menu of meals from south America, both meaty and veggie. I had an Argentinian beer, Rothhammer Real Golden Ale which was very acceptable.

We walked towards the station and I left them shopping at Waitrose while I took the train into London. I changed at Clapham Junction, catching an Overground train to Shadwell, somewhere I’ve not been, I think, for 40 years.

Clapham Junction

I walked to Gallery 46 to see an exhibition The Most Powerful Woman in the Universe, celebrated in blood, hairiness and art.

The artwork was variously funny, thought-provoking and just a little intimidating, although this may be because I was the only visitor at the time. It was a pleasure to meet the organiser, curator, whatever, Kelly.

Eve and Eve by Nancy Fouts
Madonna with Safeway Bags, by Nancy Fouts

My best buddy(!) Salena Godden, who I met on a march last year, is here on video, reciting her poem, Red. It is worth watching, here.

The gallery is close to the Royal London Hospital, where Sarah trained and worked for over a year back in the late 1970s. I found her old residence, but the statue of Edith Cavell wasn’t to be seen: I wonder if I just misremembered? Maybe I was thinking of this royal personage

Queen Alexandra

There is a blue plaque for Edith Cavell on Whitechapel High Street, but it’s currently hidden behind the hoarding surrounding the building works.

A Lone Protester but I think he was on his way home from a big protest in central London

Whitechapel Market is just as busy and colourful as I remember: the fruit and veg displays are a work of art and the clothing is so much brighter than typical western offerings.

Whitechapel Market
Muslim clothing shop in a former pub

Looking west, the skyline has certainly changed over the years: you can see The Gherkin and many other new buildings. I thought about walking in that direction, but a bus came along and forced me to climb aboard.

Looking west

Sight-seeing from a London bus is one of my favourite things: I just have to remember to get off somewhere useful. This time, I ended up near Tottenham Court Road, from where I walked to Waterloo.

Stretch limo near Soho Square, attempting a 3-point turn
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – one day, we’ll get tickets, one day
London is open but this fountain in Trafalgar Square certainly isn’t
St Martin-in-the-Fields in the Sun
London Eye and the Moon viewed from Jubilee Bridge
Waterloo Sunset viewed from the Royal Festival Hall terrace
Charlotte Campbell performing Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ at Waterloo

Me and my aching feet went straight to bed and I read about half a page of my book before drifting off.

After breakfast, I started walking towards Chessington. The plan was to catch the first bus that came by. Even though there were people waiting at most of the bus stops, I didn’t see a bus. I just kept walking to the next stop. In the end, I was off the bus route.

Good to see Tolworth is still the fly-tipping centre of the world

I didn’t see a single bus until I reached Hook Library and there was no point in catching that one, it was going in the wrong direction. So I continued south, towards the World of Adventures. Not only did I get my 10,000 steps in by 11am, I was bang on time at my destination!

Good to see the little children enjoying the playground in Woodgate Avenue

Stella and Ian shared their coffee and battenburg cake, and it was good to catch up on their news too. I mean, they shared with me, not just each other, that would be weird. Their family day out at Chessington World of Adventures the previous day reminded me that, yes, one day, I suppose we’ll have to take Martha and William there!

The train journey into Waterloo was uneventful, other than having to change trains at Wimbledon. Still, on the bright side, it wasn’t a replacement bus service, I suppose.

It was the final day of the Kiss my Genders show at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank.

Joan Jett-Blakk for President

For me, the main problem with all this gender fluidity mallarkey is using the correct pronoun, he, she or they. I don’t want to upset or annoy someone by getting it wrong. The people I spoke to here, albeit briefly: I think I got away with ‘you’!

Selfie of the day

I didn’t recognise many of the names, but Marc Almond is one of my favourite singers.

Marc Angelo Almond, by Del LaGrace Volcano

Del LaGrace Volcano seems like a fascinating character: they “have possessed and been possessed by a multitude of names, bodies and identities”. And the rest of us just plod on unchanging, never mutating nor migrating.

Rebellious badges

There was probably more to the film Looners, by Jankyn van Zyl, than I realised. In other words: I didn’t get it.

But I found The Memorial Dress quite moving. The names of 25,000 known victims of AIDs-related illnesses have been printed onto a black ballgown. It slowly rotates as you watch.

The Memorial Dress, by Hunter Reynolds

Outside, I strolled along the South Bank for a while, while my over-stimulated mind calmed down. The tide was out and so were the mudlarks. Some are very scrupulous, minutely inspecting every item that isn’t obviously just a plain old rock or stone.

Mudlarks on the Thames foreshore

Obviously, I have no idea what treasures these people found today, but there’s a small display of photos showing the types of artefacts found over the years, things lost in or deliberately thrown into the Thames over many centuries.

Foragers of the Foreshore
City pipe bowl: slave head

I’m so pleased Liesel made us dispose of the human thigh bone we found on the Thames foreshore a few years ago.

It’s strange being in a stranger’s house while they’re there, even as a paying guest. Before getting up and potentially getting in their way, I waited until Mum had fought her daughter to get ready for school and then leave. Other people’s cereal choices are always interesting. Small, bitesize Shredded Wheat with raisins glued in plus a few Cheerios, today. Not the ideal start to the day if I were about to embark on a long bike ride, so it’s a good job I wasn’t.

I rearranged the magnetic letters on the fridge into a small message of gratitude before making my way to London, to the Tate Modern.

Sand maiden

Very light drizzle accompanied me as I walked along the South Bank. The Royal Festival Hall is closed for a few days so I had to miss out on my usual natural break there.

Today’s show which I’d pre-booked was at Tate Modern. Olafur Eliasson In Real Life. This exhibition runs until January and is highly recommended. It’s fun, funny, clever and the perfect depiction of an imaginative soul with too much time on his hands!

Conveniently, I was able to leave my big bag in the cloakroom all day for a mere £4 donation. There’s a tip for anyone travelling to or through London.

This exhibition is well laid out, the map actually makes sense, which isn’t always the case.

Just one of Olafur’s hundreds of polyhedra

The Blind Passenger is a 39-metre long tunnel filled with fog. You can’t see more than a few feet in any direction. And while it’s easy to shrug off the warnings about possible claustrophobia, when you’re in the fog and all you can see is yellow, all you can smell is something slightly sweet and all you can hear are the squeaky doors and the other visitors trying to be quiet, it is a little bit spooky. Then you blink and you’re surprised by how thick, solid, heavy and purple your eyelids are. Maybe that’s just me.

The Moss Wall is made from Reindeer Moss. You’re not supposed to touch it but I think most people look around to make sure nobody’s watching before reaching out and having a quick, soft touch.

Moss Wall, by Olafur Eliasson

The Big Bang Fountain is a water fountain in complete darkness but every few seconds, a flash of white light illuminates the water. Every flash is a momentary, white Rorschach test. A map of the lower 48 states. A jellyfish. A brassiere. A bull with big horns. A bald man.

Your Uncertain Shadow is responsible for one of the images used in publicity for this show.

Uncertain Shadowy selfie of the day

If you haven’t been yet, go to this exhibition. Every item is interesting in one way or another.

Not my review but it could well have been

I walked outside for a while, braving the slight drizzle.

The Ship of Tolerance by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

The Ship of Tolerance will be here until early October. Each picture is drawn or painted by a local school-child.

Children want peace

One item on my bucket list relies on my (infinitesimal) musical ability. One day, I want to glue two old woks together, bash them about a bit with a hammer then take this contraption busking. Well, someone’s beaten me to it. He was sitting and playing outside the Tate and, to be fair, he was making a rather nicer, more melodic sound than I would have.

Busker with percussive instrument

Liesel and I have seen The Merry Wives of Windsor in the past, at Stratford upon Avon, and Dame Judi Dench was the big name on that occasion. This play is being performed this evening, nearby, but I would be on my train home by then. So, to compensate, I joined a rather large tour group in the Globe Theatre, just along the river from Tate Modern. The guide was Italian, of course, but it was a fascinating tour. It included sitting in two different parts of the auditorium to watch the rehearsal for tonight’s performance. Out of context, it wasn’t obvious whether the fits of giggles were part of the script or the actors just making each other laugh.

Water Point in the Globe Theatre

After watching a play, you’d want to acquire some props in the shop and reenact some of the more exciting scenes. But sadly, you’re not allowed to.

Please don’t fight in the shop

Back in the Tate, I spent some time in the drawing room. It’s actually the Bloomberg Connects Drawing Bar and you can have a go at drawing pictures on the screens which then get displayed and posted to Flickr. My drawing skills are on a par with my musical ability, but I enjoyed creating a special message for my beloved all those miles away.

Hello Liesel

There are thousands of other such drawings, so start here and look around.

You can see my more overtly political offering here!

Blackfriars is a lovely, modern station, straddling the river. I caught the Thameslink train to St Pancras from where it’s a short walk to the British Library. There, I tapped away at the keyboard with all the other young and studious people.

Quiet study in British Library

And from there, a short hop, skip and jump to the ever-congested Euston where I began the long ride home: two trains and a late, late bus. In the bookshop, the sight of this outfit brought me up short. I know it’s from a novel, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s publicising the sequel, The Testaments, but, whoa, that was unexpected.

Blessed be the fruit

Two trains and a bus, he said. Huh. The first train was over ten minutes late which was enough to mean missing the second train. So, a quick taxi ride it was instead, to round off a wonderful weekend.

TFL’s are no longer the only bikes for hire in London

These few days in London and Kingston, between two Grandchildren Days, was a good opportunity to catch up with old friends, visit some old haunts and explore some new ones. Taking such a late train home the night before an early rise is something not to be repeated too often, however!

Stop the Coup

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside. So we took Martha and William to Formby. We were hoping for a nice day, but not so nice that everyone else would be there. The beach was fairly deserted and we had a fantastic but short time there.

William playing on the beach

There was a strong, cold wind: several layers of clothing required. William had a go at building a sandcastle. Martha wanted to walk to the sea but the tide was out. Miles out. Halfway there, fighting the gale and the sand-blasting, she said she wanted to go back to the car.

William sat down in a puddle. To pass the rest of the day, we took them back to our place for a bath, which they both enjoy, despite there being no proper toys nor bubbles.

This would be the final Grandchildren’s Day for Liesel for a while. She jetted off to the Sun. Well, to Anchorage, to see her family and friends, to start work for Amrit and to decide which of the items we sorted out last year she really wants to bring back to the UK.

Don’t worry, I can look after myself. I’ll keep the piles of laundry and dishes separate so it’s easier for her to catch up on the domestic chores when she returns.

Her trip didn’t get off to a good start though. Manchester Airport was an awful experience. But things improved later. She met up with Holly briefly in Seattle then, on the final flight into Anchorage, she had a row of three seats to herself.

A welcome whole row for one person

Meanwhile, I went to Specsavers for another hearing test. It was much more thorough than the one at Boots, and the audiologist and I agreed that I don’t need hearing aids right now.

A wild bear in Wythenshawe

Martha’s in a new swimming group now, and again, I was amazed at what she can do. Swimming under her Mum’s legs? I couldn’t do that at 3 and I can’t do that at 93 either.

La Vuelta a España has started, the Spanish Grand Tour bike race. The first crash was when one of the team cars went around a corner too fast. I’ll watch the highlights programme each day and relay highlights of the highlights to Liesel.

Liesel spent time with Jyoti who, a couple of days later, left to spend some time with her parents before flying back to Australia.

Our lovely friend Trudi is visiting Alaska from Hawaii and I am disappointed to not be seeing her myself.

Liesel watched our nephews Asa and Gideon playing football, just as we did last year. So she’s been quite busy and with a bit of jet-lag to start with, she’s a little tired.

Monica, Jyoti, Una, Trudi, Liesel, together again, at last

I got my exercise one day by taking the rest of the bikes, the tandem and the rest of the cycling paraphernalia to the storage unit.

Bikes, bits and bobs

Up and down the stairs several times, carrying awkward items out to the car, which had to be locked every trip, I was perspiring very heavily.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stuff in our second bedroom, grrr. But we’re getting there. Someone might be able to sleep in there soon.

My first solo Grandchildren’s Day was great. I survived, both children survived and I think we had a good time.

Apologies if this video of Martha attempting to lick her own elbow appears sideways on your screen too. Just turn your device 90°!

Martha showed me the bruises and cuts and grazes on her arms and legs, none of which were too bad, just signs of being slightly too active maybe.

In the afternoon, we went for a short walk: I had some shopping to buy. As soon as Martha saw Costa, she said she wanted a babyccino. So both she and William had a small cup of frothy milk, with chocolate sprinkles and marshmallows.

Angels with dirty faces

When she saw this picture, Jenny suggested I’d taken them to an unskilled facepaint artist! And yes, of course I had a coffee too, it would be rude not to.

It’s time to get political again. I attended not only my first but my second protest in Manchester, both on the same day.

Another first: I rode a tram into the city centre. When I alighted at Deansgate, I couldn’t help but notice this outsize bike, which would get you nowhere fast.

What a big bike

It was a bright day, perfect for protesting. Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a worldwide organisation campaigning to save the planet from the climate emergency. So far, the protests have been peaceful disruption in city centres. They have set up camp in Deansgate, Manchester, for the weekend. This is the busiest, most highly polluted road in the city and now it’s blocked.

A boat on Deansgate
Camping on Deansgate

I didn’t spend too much time here because as I walked along Deansgate, the clouds darkened, the first few spots of rain fell, the first couple of umbrellas were deployed and I walked into Veggie Pret as if that had been the plan all along. A vegetarian Pret a Manger, the perfect place to hide from the rain for a while. And yes, I had a coffee, it would be rude not to!

Manchester and its rain as seen from Veggie Pret

Who says there are no good right-wing comedians? One comment I read about the XR rebels was that this is what the UK will look like after brexit, when there’s a soap shortage!

The rain began to ease off so I donned a hat and jacket and continued my walk towards Cathedral Gardens. This was the focal point of todays protest against Boris Johnson’s unprecedented long prorogation of parliament. There were all sorts of people here, labour supporters and tories, leavers and remainers, all incensed at the erosion of democracy in our country.

Manchester’s umbrella protest

The crowd bearing brollies was reminiscent of the crowds protesting in Hong Kong for similar reasons.

Some of the captions on the banners were, as usual, very funny.

Just some of the placards
Smokin’

EU blue and gold smoke bombs were let off. Speeches were given which I couldn’t hear being right at the back. The chants were mainly “Stop the Coup” and “Boris, Boris, Boris, out, out, out”!

As I wandered round I saw a few police officers, some on horses. I came across a larger concentration of hi-vis policemen and women. They were ‘protecting’ the pro-brexit, free-Tommy protesters. About 20 of them, so more than one PC each. Their one line was “We won the vote in 2016”. No interest in the illegal actions of the Leave campaign, the lies told, the promises made about sunlit uplands, easy deals and so on. A couple of them were agitating for a fight so this was my cue to head back to XR.

Because I dawdled, the “Stop the Coup” march to Albert Square caught me up so I joined in with a vocal contribution. This was just one of over sixty such protests all around the country. And beyond: some British Consulates in Europe also witnessed protests.

Thousands gather on Albert Square
The will of the people

Back at XR, I thought about having a coffee but decided to head home instead. It’s the end of the month so bills to pay, admin to deal with. I checked on eBay and it’s taken a few weeks but it looks like everything we put up for sale will be gone soon.

August fades to grey and September comes along to replace it, dragging leaves from trees, dropping the temperature slightly so children don’t feel so bad about going back to school.

I watched Martha and William swimming again, both doing their own stunts. I thought the dress Martha was wearing was very pretty. Turns out, it was made by Sarah, Martha’s granny, thirty-plus years ago. Wow.

Martha in a dress lovingly made by her Mum’s Mum

Going Places

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.

Welcome to Oak Meadow

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.

William napping in the buggy

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.

Give blood – you never know when you might need it back

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.

Hanging about

Thursday is grandchildren day and this week, we took Martha and William to the Ice Cream Farm, near Chester.

William should get time off for good behaviour

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.

Martha and the Archimedes Screw (not the detective novel of the same name)

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.

Gatley Carrs lake

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.

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.

Supermarket Trolley in the Wild – artist T.Esco.

I am so easily transported back to my childhood, and today was no exception.

Signal box

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.

Max speed 20 mph

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.

Wanna be in our gang?

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.

Ivy Green woods
Sign of the times

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.

Chinese lantern in a rowan tree

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.

A brace of brightly coloured shops

The Pun of the Day award goes to this estate agent

Sherlock Homes

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!

Feeling hot, hot, hot

We returned to Quarry Bank Mill for a walk around the gardens on a gorgeous, proper Summer’s day.

Potatoes and a dead tree

There are more potatoes growing there then you could reasonably expect to fry on a Friday night in a Manchester chippy. But there are plenty of other vegetables too, all being tended by apprentice gardeners.

African long-necked birds

And, totally unexpectedly, here’s a comma after the word ‘and’ just to annoy the newly installed Secretary of State for the 18th Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg. As I was saying, we unexpectedly found some fab sculpture from Africa. We would love to acquire more artwork for our luxury apartment and support the African artists, but not today.

Not that I was ever any good, but today’s selfie was one of the worst.

Selfie of the day

My excuse is, it was so bright, I couldn’t see the screen properly. The flowers are pretty, though.

Orange flowers

Some of the flowers were so happy, they almost glowed in the sunshine, reflecting the sky.

Hydrangeas

The gardens are well maintained, and the stroll was very enjoyable. From some vantage points, you could almost imagine these being Japanese gardens. But not quite: there were a few weeds and not everything was regimented to the nth degree.

Quarry Bank Mill garden

One place I never expected to visit was the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Manchester. But life is full of surprises. Wearing my guinea pig hat, I helped with some research into Parkinson’s which, sadly, is close to our hearts after spending time with Nigel recently. The researchers were very professional and friendly, refunded my bus fare and didn’t even want the 20p change: riches beyond my wildest dreams!

Oxford Road, Manchester, with no traffic other than buses and taxis was at its best in the sunshine, proudly displaying its gothic beauty.

Whitworth Hall

Whitworth Hall is where Jenny’s Graduation ceremonies took place all those years ago. Speaking of whom, I met Jenny for lunch after my morning in a windowless office.

Here’s Jenny

She claims to have been at work but I’m convinced she was dressed for a party. On such a hot day, it was good to have Indian food for lunch just along the road from her office.

I walked most of the way home but when I caught a bus for a long, boring stretch of busy road, I regretted not joining it sooner. Entertainment was provided by a drunk or drugged-up man shouting at a woman who, according to him, had been nasty since she got on the bus, nobody likes her, and everyone else just wanted her to get off. I’ve no idea what her perceived crime was, but his was the only voice I heard. Eventually, the driver intervened and asked him to alight.

Thursday was a long, exhausting but fun day. It was our first time looking after Martha and William for the whole day while Mummy and Daddy are at work. This will be our regular day with the children for a while.

And they were really good. It was the hottest July day ever and the hottest day since August 2003, when Liesel and I first met. It really was a scorcher.

William fighting a pig

We thought about staying at home all day and playing in the garden, but in the end, cool, cool fountains beckoned and we decided to go to Stamford Park. The trouble is, so did everyone else. The park was so crowded, I was on the verge of a panic attack. William and Martha just stood and looked at the hundreds of children playing in the water and I think they were as inimidated as Liesel and I were. Quite scary.

We queued for and bought ice creams but both lost interest before finishing, not a common occurrence.

Martha relaxing

We’d brought a picnic, which we ate under the shade of a tree that dropped small chestnutty things onto my head. Maybe small chestnuts, come to think of it, but I’m no arborialist. Arborist? Martha was amused, which is the main thing.

Back at home, we did play in the paddling pool in the garden.

In the paddling pool

Yes, the poor old palm trees need some inflation. In fact, the whole thing has a slow puncture and by the end of the afternoon, the paddling pool looked very sad and deflated. Martha and William weren’t, though, they were both a bit tired but it was, we felt, too late for them to have a nap.

Mick, Martha tharn

Yes, I could have Photoshopped myself tidier hair, but I think the natural look is important.

A quick snack and a rest in front of Peppa Pig and Thomas the Tank Engine was enough for them to recover.

We ate dinner with Jenny and Liam before going home, where we collollapsed, as a friend of ours used to say.

We went to bed and I think both fell asleep very quickly. In the middle of the night, I heard a bee-bee-bee-beep, very loud, over and over, and I was just wishing that annoying vehicle would stop reversing.

Then: “Mick!” exclaimed Liesel. “What?” I grunted as I left my dream and sat upright in bed.

Liesel told me about the fire alarm going off. In our block. As if I could miss it. I could smell no smoke and just wanted to lie down and go back to sleep. But we did get up, we got dressed and left the building. The occupants of the other four flats never appeared. There was no sign of fire nor smoke, so I deduced that the heat of the day had somehow affected one of the smoke detectors. Of course, we had no idea how to turn the alarm off.

And it could be heard from quite a long way away, as a quick walk ascertained. Liesel called 101 then 999. We saw a woman over the road leaning out of her window. She came over to talk to us and we said the fire brigade were on the way. We just wanted somone to turn the alarm off. We didn’t need a fire appliance with blues and twos but Liesel was delighted to see the eight young, fit firefighters in uniform.

They knocked on the doors of the other four flats, which we thought was a bit sad for the occupants (not really), but still, nobody else emerged.

Eventually, one guy turned the alarm off. The alarms are all connected, within the building, but not to the fire station. His theory is that with the windows on the landings being left open because of the heat, insects had been attracted to the bright lights in the communal areas and stairwells, and that one must have infiltrated a smoke alarm and set it off.

Fire appliance

We’d only told the management company a few days ago about the lights being on for 24 hours a day, so we called again the next day to tell them what had happened. The lights are supposed to be on a timer and connected to the motion sensor.

After our day with the children, we didn’t need any more excitement, but it found us. And, after such a hot day, how ironic that when we were standing outside at about two o’clock in the morning, it began to rain. It only lasted five minutes, but, although initially annoying, the shower proved to be quite refreshing!

After the interrupted night’s sleep, I couldn’t get any peace the next day. The door bell was working overtime. First, some furniture was delivered. Then a man came, three days early, to fix the dishwasher. Then the postman wanted me to sign for something. Then Liesel phoned to ask me to help her carry up the shopping she’d just been out for. It’s all go, chez nous.

Tranquility

Chester Zoo is featured in a TV series and it’s also the closest to where we live. We had a good day there with Jenny plus Martha and William and Auntie Helen. I told myself there was no need to take any pictures, we’ve seen all these animals before and they won’t have changed much.

The latest news is that just a few days ago, a chimpanzee gave birth and yes, the baby’s very cute, though we didn’t need to see the mum dragging her innards behind her like a really old, tatty, plastic bag. Sorry if you’re having your tea, but don’t worry, I didn’t waste any film on that.

We enjoyed being buzzed by the fruit bats in a dim, dark and very ammoniacal habitat. I’m not convinced their sonar had been correctly calibrated.

Fruit bats

William described one of the large, newly installed, predators as ‘scary’ which is quite perspicacious: I thought it was scary too, and I know it wasn’t real. But all the dinosaurs and predators are big, they all move and most are quite vocal. Rroarr!

Dire wolf
Martha being held by Helen with a Giant Bear behind (Winner, Obvious Caption Awards, 2019)
Quetzalcoatlus

The playground was great fun, with, amongst other equipment, a long, high slide. Martha found herself hanging around for a while.

Martha dangling

And as usual, children just can’t help copying each other.

Monkey see, monkey do

We were able to get remarkably close to an orang utan, just separated by the thickness of the glass. I don’t know if he/she was happy or not, but we humans were all being observed closely.

Looking into the eyes of an orang utan

The main objective of visits to zoos, of course, is to wear the the children out, and today, William was the first to succumb.

William having a nap

On this day, fifty years ago, I was enjoying a Geography lesson. The teacher wore a bright, primrose yellow dress and I’m embarrassed to say, I can’t recall her name. But I remember the lesson because she let us watch the launch of Apollo 11 on TV, slightly more interesting than the market towns of East Anglia. Saturn 5, you really were the greatest sight.

To celebrate this 50th anniversary, tonight was a full Moon and a partial eclipse. I went out for a walk late at night, but the light pollution near where we live is terrible. Not only that, I hadn’t realised just how many tall buildings there are all around. I did see the eclipse but I don’t think we’ll see a good sunrise or sunset from where we now live.

Partially eclipsed Moon

Another day out with the grandchildren found us at Stamford Park, Stalybridge. It still feels strange seeing these northern placenames on roadsigns.

It was a lovely, peaceful day, perfect for a gentle walk or, if you’re Martha, running around and climbing on all the playground equipment, or, if you’re William, running around and faceplanting in the sand.

Playing in the fountain

Later in the week, we had a couple of meals with the family, once at our place, once at Solita and then, all of a sudden, it was goodbye to Helen. She flies back home to spend some time with Adam before he jets off somewhere for work. I’m still no good at selfies so I’m glad Helen always manages to press the right button. Or, aims in the right direction and presses the button at the right time.

Helen, Liesel, Martha, Mick, William, Jenny, Liam

Didsbury in Bloom has won many awards for its floral displays over the years. And it is indeed a pretty nice little village to wander round.

A big bee (not scary)
One of many beautiful planters in the back streets

Liesel and I walked home, even though it threatened to rain. We had a stroll around Marie Louise Gardens, just off the main road. I like reading the plaques on park benches, there’s always a story, but I’m amazed at how many have a word spelt wrong. ‘A beautiful child and beautiful women’. It detracts from the sincerity of the message, somehow.

One advantage of letting the buddleia grow wild over the pavements is that it deters people from parking their cars there, which is a fairly ubiquitous phenomenon in Manchester.

Buddleia

There’s not much wildlife around here, so imagine our delight when we encountered some horses in a field.

Wild, wild horses

In the evening, we travelled by bus into Manchester, and walked to the Cathedral. It’s a busy old city, even early on a Saturday evening. We can never get away from cigarette smoke completely, but tonight was the first time we’ve had to hold our noses as we battled our way through clouds of the stuff.

The Cathedral has been a place of welcome and hospitality for over 1300 years. But for reasons well within our control, we arrived a little late, couldn’t find adjacent seats and the view of the performers was less than optimal.

Obstructed view

Yes, we should have left home just a couple of minutes earlier, then we would have caught the bus that we saw departing and avoided a 13 minute wait for the next one. Lesson learned. The restricted view didn’t spoil my enjoyment though. These old ears were very happy with the acoustics, and I couldn’t even hear the sound of traffic or people from outside during the quiet passages. This was a classical concert, with music by Mozart, Bach, Albinoni and a surprise tango, Oblivion, by Piazzolla. Nobody else got up to dance around the aisles, so I sat back down.

Stained glass window

The main piece at ‘Vivaldi – The Four Seasons by candlelight’ was The Four Seasons by Vivaldi. The conductor of the London Concertante chamber orchestra also read the sonnets that Vivaldi wrote to accompany the music. It was all very enjoyable. There was applause between the movements of every piece, almost the musical equivalent of grocers’ apostrophes, but there was no chatting amongst the audience members, something that’s de rigueur at modern music gigs.

It was still quite light at the end of the performance so the candles weren’t as delightful and homely as they might be in the depths of Winter.

Music by candlelight
The angelic keyboard player

In domestic news: number 1 on my ‘to do’ list is to bring together all the other ‘to do’ lists. There’s a lot to do. Good job I like lists. And doing things.

I stayed up to watch the Eagle land at Tranquility Base but I wasn’t allowed to stay up to watch the first Small Step taken by Neil Armstrong. Outside, looking up, I remember not being able to see the two men on the Moon but not wanting to disappoint my parents, I said I could. Fifty years ago, wow.