Keep on the Sunny Side

This year’s Easter Sunday featured no eggses for Liesel and me, but we did enjoy watching William and Martha playing with bubbles! Yes, of course, we would love to have been with them in their garden, but we’re all still in lockdown thanks to Covid-19. And it looks like we’ll be here for several more weeks, too.

Martha floating after a bubble
William chasing a bubble

We’re not getting out very often, in fact. I go out every two or three days for a walk and Liesel comes out less often. It’s nice to see so much support for the NHS. We clap for the nurses and doctors and porters and cleaners and all NHS workers every Thursday night, some people bang pots and pans, some let fireworks off, some blow vuvuzelas, but Liesel and I are just happy to lean out of a window and politely applaud. There is more support and gratitude expressed out on the pavements of Northenden too.

Awesome NHS

Stay at home, says the wall, but if I had followed the instruction, I wouldn’t have been able to read the instruction and it’s this sort of paradox that leads to rifts in the spacetime continuum.

Colourful leaves

As Spring progresses, we’re seeing more and more colour, hooray! Even the oak tree outside our flat is now showing some foliage: I was beginning to think it was a deceased deciduous but no, it’s doing alright! I wonder how the baby oak tree is doing in our old garden in Chessington?

Wall flower

Sit down with a cup of tea, because here comes a story about a potentially risky and ultimately pointless adventure. Regular visitors will know that I go to donate blood every twelve weeks or so. My appointment loomed and they kept sending me reminders, telling me it was still safe, that they were taking extra precautions to protect the staff and us donors from coronavirus, and it all looked ok for me to go along as normal. However, travelling by bus into Manchester didn’t seem to be such a good idea given the current isolation regime. So Liesel kindly offered to drive me in, despite the fact that she, as a more vulnerable person, is definitely meant to stay indoors. Well, I suggested, if you’re driving into Manchester anyway, why don’t you offer to give blood as well? That’s a good idea, said Liesel, and she proceeded to register online.

Everyone she told said it probably wasn’t such a good idea, really, but the messages we were now both receiving from blood.co.uk gave us confidence that this would be one of the safest, cleanest places we could possibly visit, outside our own home. Dear reader, if you can, please consider giving blood, you never know, you might need it back one day!

Blood day arrived, and we drove along almost empty roads to the Blood Donor Centre in Manchester. The man in the booth raised the barrier and we parked in a surprisingly crowded car park. Liesel went first, answered a few questions, and when she went in, I was requested to go and wait in the car: they didn’t want too many people inside at the same time. Well, of course, Liesel had the car key, so I couldn’t sit in the car. Instead, I took some exercise, walking round and round the car park, taking photos, enjoying the sunshine and changing direction whenever I saw another person within about 50 feet.

Scenes from a Blood Donor Centre car park

The time of my appointment arrived and I went in, answering a few basic questions. I didn’t see Liesel, so I assumed she was either still being processed or was in a back room somewhere. The nurse did the usual finger prick test and asked a few more questions. Since my last session, I’ve seen the GP about my shortness of breath issue, which has resulted in a number of medical tests. My next appointment has been postponed, because of The ‘Rona. Because it’s my heart that’s being investigated, they said they wouldn’t take my blood today. Well, that was very disappointing, but understandable: they don’t want me keeling over and having to visit the hospital over the road. They’ll be in touch in six months. I left with my tail between my legs. The receptionist nurse said that Liesel had donated, so that was good. It was also wrong. They’d tried, but they couldn’t find a vein, told Liesel she was too dehydrated and sent her away.

What a palaver! All that time and effort: giving blood, we thought, is one of the few things we can do at the moment for the benefit of other people. Oh well, it was a day out.

The empty field near Northenden’s Rosehill Community Farm and Garden
Bug box

Yes, I was daft enough to watch this Bug Box for a few minutes but saw nothing more interesting than a couple of flies.

Dead hedge? Or not dead?

The hedge around our apartment block is still covered in brown leaves that we feel should have fallen off last Autumn. But, for the first time, this week, there are signs of life. The new leaves are red rather than green, but a few days sunshine should sort that out. Looking forward to a lush, green barrier very soon.

Queen Anna from Frozen 2

Again, we have to enjoy the children’s activities from afar. Here is Queen Anna and apart from reluctantly taking off this costume at bedtime, Martha has been living in it for days!

On Liam’s birthday, we had another Zoom session, I won’t say how old he is but it’s the same age as Martha, just with a zero afterwards.

Daisies and dandelions

People have asked and yes, we do sometimes miss our garden in Chessington. I don’t miss my 30-year war with bindweed and dandelions, they were always going to win. But I would like to apologise to all the bees and butterflies that could have enjoyed the dandelions in my garden, if only my preference wasn’t always for other flowers (or weeds).

There’s not enough Martha in our lives at the moment, so we watched a different one perform from home on t’internet. Martha Tilston has been one of our favourite singer/songwriters since the early 2000s: I think I first saw her at Kingston’s Rose Theatre before it even acquired that name! Liesel and I have seen her live several times and we look forward to doing so again. But this online show was fantastic, we really enjoyed it, she sang many of our favourite songs.

Martha Tilston at home in Cornwall online on Facebook on Liesel’s phone

We even had a glass of whisky to accompany the show. It was only fitting then that we have a music session the following day. Liesel and I took it in turns to play some long neglected CDs:

      • Wynton Marsalis
      • Brave, the Disney film soundtrack
      • Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
      • Martha Tilston, Bimbling
      • (some of) D#rty F#n M#l# (which, correctly, Liesel described as gross)
      • Beatles, Let it Be Naked
      • Nilsson, Harry
      • O Brother, Where Art Thou? film soundtrack
From the last of these, one song in particular struck a chord:
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.
PS As I write Sanny has just played this very song on Radio Northenden, at my request, so I shall add that mention to my 15 minutes of fame as predicted by Andy Warhol. And by coincidence, Andy Warhol by David Bowie was the first song played on today’s show, the penultimate one. You can listen to all 14 shows here.

Release Me

Well that was challenge alright. I started Walking All Over Cancer in Malta, aiming to walk 10,000 steps every day in March. Looking at the detailed statistics, I can confirm that I walked a total of more than 332,438 steps. I know it’s more than that because once, I somehow reset the pedometer so it gave me a total of only 261 steps at the end of the day. I wonder how often I’ve reset it to zero without realising? Technology, eh?

Congratulations, me

Looking at the daily counts, it’s fairly obvious on which days I had to make up numbers at the end of the day by pacing up and down the hall, or running on the spot for a few minutes! 10,009 steps! Once again, a million thanks to all my sponsors and supporters, I am very grateful.

As I write, we’re still allowed out once a day for exercise, but that privilege might be revoked if too many people keep going out in large groups or having barbecues in the parks.

Horses

It’s always good to see wildlife when we’re out and about, but until that happens, we’ll just have to make do with these local horses.

Do not press this button

Every time I pass this pedestrian crossing, whatever time of day it is, I have been preceded by fifty other people. How do they know? In any case, there’s so little traffic these days, you can usually just walk straight over the road.

Messing about by the river

It’s usually easy to keep your distance from other people, runners, cyclists, walkers, but I was a tad disgruntled when I saw other people in the woods, coming towards me. We never see anyone else there, that’s why we like it, despite the thrumble from the nearby motorway. I couldn’t see any way to avoid them, so I turned round and retraced my steps.

Blossom
Camellias

Liesel’s been very busy in the kitchen too. We’ve had cookies, birthday cake, cherry dump cake, corn chowder, ch-ch-ch-cheesey chilli on chips and we loved Liesel’s first loaf of soda bread.

Liesel’s soda bread

Meanwhile, (it might as well be) fifty thousand miles away, Martha and William were taken out on a bear hunt, something Liesel and I look forward to joining in with once this new régime is done and dusted. I know we went travelling for ten months, so we didn’t see them for a long time, but that was our choice. This enforced isolation feels much, much worse and we really do miss spending time with them.

William and Martha in a deep, dark cave

It’s easy to spend too much time reading Twitter. One really useful piece of information came up though. The record that was number 1 in the charts on your twelfth birthday is your isolation song. Mine is Release Me by Englebert Humperdinck. Quite apt, under the circumstances, as well as being a favourite of my Mum’s. She went to see him in concert in Aldershot, where he was supported by Lance Percival, actor, comedian, calypso writer. Yes, we have plenty of time for reminiscing right now too!

That’s Entertainment

Locked in, we get our entertainment where we can. Radio and TV of course but also puzzles, crochet, exercise, books and food. Yes, even the vegetables are keeping us amused at this strange time.

A carrot with a face

I wonder how many books there’ll be, ‘when this is all over’ titled something like Life in the Time of CoViD-19. How are we all coping? What lessons have we learned? How will life change from now on? You want more entertainment? The man over the road doesn’t have a car (as far as we know) but he objected to the cat sitting right in the middle of his drive. So he opened his living room window, attempted to squirt water at the cat, missed, spilt water indoors and knocked some pot plants off his window sill.

We’re still allowed out for exercise each day, but we’re limited to the local neighbourhood for our strolls. I don’t know why graveyards are so appealing, somewhere different, I suppose. Someone pulled back the layer of grass, the turf, from a hidden grave stone. I think this could be a new artform.

Here resteth the body of

It’s good to see that in general, people are avoiding each other out in the streets, by stepping out into the road where necessary, or crossing over where possible.

Not quite deserted street

It’s not always possible to keep six feet, or two metres from the next person. The worst offenders are runners who won’t deviate from their puffing and panting and sweaty course for anyone. And when you’re walking slowly along a narrow path, keeping several yards behind another walker, it doesn’t help when they decide to turn round and walk back towards you, passing within inches as you struggle to hold your breath for the next ten minutes.

Some good news though: we managed to place an order on Ocado as they consider Liesel a special case. We won’t get the delivery for a couple of weeks, but at least we got to the front of the queue.

On what would have been my parents’ 66th wedding anniversary, I looked out to watch the ISS, International Space Station, fly overhead, finding its way between a thin crescent Moon and Venus. Sorry, my photos were all nbg.

Reflections of my life

As can be seen here, the weather was gorgeous. But just a couple of days later, we adjusted the clocks for British Summer Time and this was the cue for cold north winds to return. It’s easier to stay indoors when it’s not so warm outside, but I think we were hoping for a longer Spring this year!

Selfie of the day

The local children are keeping us entertained with gorgeous rainbows in their windows.

Stay strong our kid

Liesel was messing about one morning, maybe a bit fed-up with just the two of us being confined together, so she decided to get a pet.

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

Speaking of tigers, one documentry series I enjoyed on TV was Tiger King. Spoiler alert: there are some strange people in America. Actually, ‘enjoyed’ probably isn’t the right word, but it is a fascinating and scary story.

We often find lost gloves and shoes on our walks, but hats are rarer.

Flat cap

Yes, we’re all waiting until ‘this is all over’ after which we will go through a long period of recovery.

Recovery

Meanwhile, I’ll occasionally be on the bike, going nowhere fast.

Mick on a bike

Yes, it does look like the aspect ratio is wrong but that’s because I’m pedalling so fast, the effects of relativity are coming into play.

Thanks again to all the generous sponsors for my Walk All Over Cancer challenge, which only has a couple of days to go. If you are the Anonymous donor, thank you very much and please reveal yourself to me in private so I can lace daisies in your hair. I am very grateful, thank you.

Grounded and Ghost Towns

Yesterday, the UK finally went into almost full lockdown. We’re not allowed to leave our homes except for a few very specific reasons. We knew this was coming so the last week was full of last opportunities. We’ll probably still go out for a (permitted) walk most days but we’ll also be riding the bike indoors. Yes, we retrieved my bike from the storage unit and it’s now on the wind trainer.

We didn’t have much shopping to buy at the Co-op but we had a nice walk by the river, staying the mandatory two metres away from passers-by.

Neeed a rest?

Our one big day out was to Dunham Massey. National Trust properties have opened their grounds to everyone, member or not, but the houses, cafés and gift shops are all closed.

The oldest oak at Dunham Massey

That was then. Subsequently, even the grounds have been closed because too many people were visiting. On the day we visited, it was easy enough to keep away from everyone else. And it was good to see some wildlife too.

Deer
Albino deer
Easy to miss this birdbox
Coot
Deer and non-socially distancing humans
Lion

I rescued a tired bumble bee from the pavement near home. My idea to go back to the shop to buy sugar and water for it was vetoed: fair enough.

Then, later in the day, Liesel asked me to remove a bee from our bedroom. It really looks like Spring is happening, with bees, blooms and blossoms brightening our lives.

We tried to place our regular Ocado order but unfortunately, everyone else is too.

The population of Rawtenstall ahead of us in the queue

Who knows when we’ll be able to get back online? We don’t want to go to the local shops more often than necessary.

All we can do is enjoy whatever nature throws our way (novel viruses excepted), especially the gorgeous and random splashes of colour.

Sunset over Northenden
Cherry blossom
Please let me know what this is
Two Suns in our window

Our weekly wander into Didsbury was weird. There seemed to be more people than usual to avoid on the path by the river but the town itself wasn’t as busy as usual.

Didsbury is coming like a ghost town

We visited Cidsin for a takeaway coffee and a brownie. They’re also selling some basic groceries such as bread, eggs and milk. Well, they were that day, but they’ve since decided to close completely.

Cidsin, Didsbury

This is the place where plain-clothed police officers go for their coffee and doughnuts. How do we know? The clue is in its name: CID’s in.

Rays of sunshine

I have had some strange birthdays but this year’s was arguably the most unusual. No birthday kisses or hugs. We went over to see the family and maintained social distancing by speaking to the children through the window.

I got a message from Martha
Happy birthday
Selfie of the day

I took advantage of the sunshine and walked most of the way home, enjoying the solitude and again the blooming marvellous colours of nature.

More blossom
Cheadle is coming like a ghost town
Even more blossom
Yellow tulips
Red tulips

So, Happy Birthday to me! Thanks for the delicious cake, Liesel.

Birthday cake: we’ll keep a slice for you

And how’s the Walking All Over Cancer thing going? So far, so good, thanks for asking. Only a week to go! Looking at my copious records, you can tell which days I’ve had to pace up and down the hall just to get the step count over the target of 10,000. Many thanks to those who have sponsored me already! And to those who may be in lockdown, stuck at home, with not much to do: you can sponsor me here, thank you very much 😉

While we’re stuck indoors, we’ll try to keep to some sort of routine, we’ll keep busy, alternating between doing something useful and having lots of fun. Online courses all seem to take more than the 3 hours a week they tell you and there are plenty to choose from. I’ve subscribed to more podcasts and radio shows than before. Plus, we have hundreds of CDs to sort, catalogue, file and even to listen to. I have a huge ‘To do’ list to address, as a last resort. My ‘recommended books’ list will keep me going for years. For now, we can go out for a walk each day, plus, we can cycle indoors so we have no excuse not to keep up a basic level of fitness. We hope everyone else in lockdown is keeping calm and carrying on too.

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.

 

Walking and Shopping

International Book Day coincided with our Grandchildren Day this week. Martha looked bewitching as the main character from Room on the Broom.

Martha the Witch

In fact, all her Nursery chums looked pretty cute too: The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Buzz Lightyear, Batman, Pirate Peter and Max the Brave. Elsa from Frozen sang Let it Go which you will now have going round and round your head too, for the rest of the day. One of the teachers was Little Miss Sunshine. We collected Martha at the end of the day, and while sitting on the stairs at home, taking off her shoes, she said “I had a wonderful day!”

We had a pretty good day with William too, though we didn’t get as far as leaving the house. Entertainment was provided by us, by the TV and by a fox with a big healthy bushy tail in the garden. The whole fox was in the garden, not just his tail.

I’m walking every day despite the crook foot, probably against sound medical advice, but I can’t let all my supporters down! As I hirple around the streets of Northenden, I take the odd photo, say hello to the odd passer-by, and some of them are very odd indeed, but they think very highly of me, I’m sure.

I took my phone in here and asked to swap it for a new one but they said No

There’s not a lot of wildlife around here, but there are plenty of feral apostrophes if you know where to look.

Alway’s

The TV behind the reception desk was showing the latest news headlines: “Should all sports events be cancelled?” This is in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“If they cancel sporting events, they should close down all the pubs and clubs,” said receptionist number 1.
Number 2: “And public transport!”
Number 1: “But then we wouldn’t be able to get to work.”
Number 2, grinning: “I Know!”

Last week, a band from the 1970s and 1980s announced a reunion tour for later in the year. Not everyone is so keen on the idea, by the looks of this sign at the hospital.

Genesis are back on tour in November

And as I said to Liesel, I’m glad I didn’t have my heart set on seeing them, even though I was quite fond of their early work, with Peter Gabriel. I made the mistake of looking to see how much the tickets were going for.

That’s the price of a trip to London

To visit John Lewis is a great experience. To visit Costco is a marvellous experience. To visit both shops on the same day is almost too much fun for one person to handle.

We met Jenny, Martha and a sleeping William at Costco. Whereas John Lewis was so empty, we had four different assistants approach us at one point, in Costco we were in the company of hundreds of other customers, quite a few of whom were bulk-buying toilet paper.

Selfie of the day

I was playing around with my phone camera. I did have a quick look at the real cameras in John Lewis: the technology has certainly moved on in the decades since my last new one! Meanwhile…

Our luxury apartment block
Our sad-looking oak tree
Spring is on its way
Parking space

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.

London and Salisbury

Editors’ note: In the previous blog I should have mentioned that we store non-frozen and non-food items in the freezer. This is due to the lack of storage space here in the luxury apartment compared with our previous mansion. Yes, the nuts survived the deep freeze and, who knows, maybe their temporary frozen status enhanced the nut roast that we subsequently enjoyed for Thanksgiving! Using pots and pans straight from the bottom drawer of the freezer works ok too, you just have to remember to triple the recommended cooking time.

We missed out on breakfast at our b&b in order to meet up with Rosie, our friend from Law School all those years ago: instead, we had breakfast in Kingston. I took my leave, leaving them for some girl on girl action, that is, a shopping spree in Kingston. I wandered through the Bentall Centre on my way to the station. It’s all very pretty in there and on this occasion, I didn’t even notice the stench of Yo! Sushi!

Bentall Centre, Kingston upon Thames

I wondered why so many people were standing around looking down onto the lower ground floor, aka the basement. The security personnel were having a hard time removing people from the stairs. As if this futile exercise wasn’t entertaining enough, we were soon treated to the sound of some music and a troupe of dancing girls.

A troupe of dancers

I still have no idea what they were promoting but I don’t think it was The Apostrophe Protection Society. In some very sad new’s, the campaigning group closed down this week, in the face of laziness and barbarity. There are many apostrophe’s in the world, but far too many are just in the wrong place. Read all about it.

Liesel enjoyed her time in Kingston today: not too busy, not too crowded, not too Christmassy, it was just right. She returned to the b&b before going out for dinner in Dorking. She met a group of friends for a Chinese meal, and they spent several hours slagging off talking about their common former employer.

If I ever go missing, one of the first places to look for me, if you can be bothered, is London’s South Bank. I am drawn there like an apostrophe to a grocers list of ware’s.

On this occasion, I walked as far as Tate Modern, halfway across the Millennium Bridge and back again to Waterloo. It’s very photogenic, the people are fascinating to watch, the weather was kind and, tempting though it was to over-indulge, I only stopped twice for coffee.

Sand sculpture on the beach

The man who makes these sand sculptures is obviously very talented. And every time I see him, he seems to have acquired more and more buckets. We take photos, throw our donations down from the embankment, and every so often, he goes round and collects the coins that have missed the buckets.

St Paul’s Cathedral outshining the cranes
Bubbles outside Tate Modern

Another chap with too much time on his hands (says the chap spending far too long writing this stuff) was outside Tate Modern blowing bubbles. Or waving a magic bubble wand with dozens of holes to produce bubbles on an industrial scale. Everyone loves bubbles. I didn’t throw coins into his bucket, I didn’t want to affect the solution’s surface tension and thereby, the integrity of the soap bubbles. Also, sand sculpture man had gathered up my last few pennies and buttons.

I spent a happy few hours in the gallery, looking at the exhibits and then writing in a nice, quiet corner with a power point that, unfortunately, proved not to be connected to the electric supply.

Fons Americanus by Kara Walker

The last time I saw Fons Americanus, it was still a work in progress and covered by a big, big dust cloth. Today, I walked around it a couple of times: it’s well worth paying a visit as there are so many small, sometimes funny, details. Here is the artist’s own description.

Witness! The Fons Americanus
A small fishing boat (?)
St Paul’s from the 4th floor of Tate Modern

I accepted the invitation to Explore Materials and Objects. The first item was a carpet mounted on the wall, on which people had drawn pictures and written text, some funny and some very informative, such as this dodgy-looking URL:

Orange Carpet Untitled 1993 (carpet) by Rudolf Stingel
Jauba by Mrinalini Mukherjee, 2000

And yes, when you first see Jauba out of the corner of your eye, you think it’s a person standing there. Then you realise it’s a collection of textiles carefully formed into a solid object.

I passed some time in the Drawing Bar where I did find working power points, so I was able to charge up my phone. There were some funny pictures but the strangest was probably this dodgy-looking URL:

All my own work

You can see this one in all its glory on Flickr: scroll backwards and forwards too so that you can see that a wide range of talent carefully avoided the place today.

While I was the gallery, darkness fell and this was the cue for William Blake, or at least, one of his final paintings, to be projected onto the dome of St Paul’s. This was best viewed from the Millennium Bridge and it was encouraging to see so many people standing around, admiring the image.

Ancient of Days by William Blake on the dome of St Paul’s

Walking back to Waterloo, I was reminded how lucky we are that the so-called Garden Bridge was never built. We would have lost all these beautiful trees.

Illuminated trees on the South Bank

I made my way to Dorking and walked along the High Street to the Chinese Restaurant where Liesel and friends were still fully engaged in conversation. So much hot air inside and condensation on the windows, but it was good to see Holly, Sandra, Imogen and Di, albeit briefly.

On our second morning, Liesel and I did have breakfast at the b&b in Ashtead before we returned to London for another day of capital fun and frolics.

Covent Garden is full of Christmas cheer but the Tiffany’s display was a bit OTT, we felt!

Tiffany’s tree
Tiffany’s love

We split up in order to cover more ground more quickly but I soon found myself escaping from the crowds in order to listen to a tenor singing Nessun Dorma followed by a wonderful group playing Pachelbel’s Canon.

Musicians preparing

It was cold and clear today, ideal for a lot of walking. Covent Garden to Seven Dials to Chinatown to Regent Street to Old Bond Street.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Colourful Chinatown
Regent Street Christmas lights (probably look better at night)
F D Roosevelt and W S Churchill by Lawrence Holofcener, in Old Bond Street
Just another gorgeous visitor to London, modelling outside Ralph Lauren

There were many people shopping in what might well be the shopping capital of the world. You get charged 20p for a plastic bag in supermarkets but it seems that if you can afford to shop in posh, expensive shops in the West End, you can collect as many plastic bags as you like, bigger, thicker and much more substantial that the 20p ones from Sainsbury’s. We looked in some windows at all the stuff we don’t need.

In Piccadilly, we caught a bus for a couple of stops. You can have too much of a good thing, looking but not buying! We easily found our venue, The Harold Pinter Theatre in Panton Street. Before we entered, though, we ate Thai food just over the road.

Sir Ian McKellen is celebrating his 80th birthday by performing his one-man show at 80 venues around the country and now, at this theatre 80 times. We were very lucky to get tickets, but even from the Royal Circle, we had a good view of the stage.

Sir Ian McKellen in his trunk

Gandalf, Widow Twankey, all his top roles were reprised, including several Shakespeare characters. In fact, all 37 plays were mentioned, some quoted extensively. The show runs until January 5th, 2020 and we would both highly recommend this nearly three hours of pure entertainment.

No tree yet at Trafalgar Square

We walked back through Trafalgar Square, very disappointed to see that the annual gift of a Christmas tree from Norway hasn’t yet arrived. But how exciting to see so many pop-up food stalls outside the National Gallery: I bet the pavement artists and the gravity-defying Yodas love that!

The third morning in Ashtead found me adding Maltesers to my bowl of cereal. Just another, healthy, one of my five-a-day.

Cereal with Maltesers, not to be repeated

Today, we headed in a south-westerly direction: to Salisbury. The trip included several miles of the worst road surface in the universe, the M25 between Leatherhead and the M3. Loud and bumpy and loud. If our car had square wheels, it wouldn’t have been any louder. Why everyone doesn’t stop to check that their car tyres haven’t been ripped to shreds is a mystery.

Approaching Salisbury, we nearly drove into a very low-flying Chinook helicopter. There are military bases nearby, but I didn’t realise they operated so close to the city.

Another mystery is how our friend Sarah approached us from behind at the railway station while we were still waiting for her train to arrive!

Sarah’s private train from Exeter?
Salisbury Cathedral, very attractive to Russian spies and assassins, apparently

Never smile at a crocodile, so they say, but we had to smile at this one in Salisbury. Young children walking along, two by two, holding hands, in their hi-visibility vests, escorted by teachers in plain clothes. We smiled because earlier, we’d seen another school party where it wasn’t the children but the teachers in hi-vis safety gear. We wandered around the city, had a coffee and lunch at Boston Tea Party, and caught up on all the goss.

It must be at least fifty years ago but at the Guildford or Surrey Agricultural Show in Stoke Park, when a certain politician stepped back and stomped on my foot. Yes, I was physically assaulted by a future Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. I was reminded of this incident today when, close to Salisbury Cathedral, we came across a blue plaque in his honour.

The Rt Hon Sir Edward Heath
Salisbury’s Avon
Salisbury Cathedral spire with the Moon

In this shot, I was trying to get the ‘red star’ and the crescent Moon closer together, but the city conspired against me: I couldn’t walk far enough back, there were too many buildings in the way. I can sense Liesel’s eyes roll as I write that: she crossed the road and waited for me not understanding that even a failed artist must do what he can.

The drive back to Ashtead was uneventful and we drifted off to sleep imagining what manner of breakfast would greet us in the morning!

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