The Other Side

We booked tickets for a show in London quite a while ago. Since then, we’ve been planning a whole weekend. For various reasons, we decided not to go by train nor to drive. Instead, we travelled by National Express coach. This was a first for Liesel, and I’ve not used their services since well before Liesel came on the scene. We took a bus into Manchester and found the coach station easily enough.

Stickmen escaping Manchester

This shows how long it is since I’ve travelled by coach. In the coach station, I was expecting to be engulfed in a miasma of cigarette smoke and diesel fumes from coaches with the engines left running unnecessarily. But no, it was quite a pleasant atmosphere.

The coach stopped a couple of times on the way to London, but we still arrived at Victoria Coach Station 20 minutes early. A real bonus after being on board for over five hours.

From Victoria to Putney was quite easy and we checked into our accommodation.

The gig was at The Half Moon, Putney, and I knew exactly where it was. Just a short walk from our hotel, over Putney Bridge and along the road.

Thames from Putney Bridge

On the way, we bumped into Helen and Steve. What are the chances? A little further along the road and there it was. The Half Moon. On the wrong side of the street. Yep, I knew exactly where it was, so why it’s crossed the road, I don’t know.

We dined here before the show. And I met Alan in real life, someone I was friends with online until I left Facebook.

When we took our place at the table right in front of the stage, I also saw Sue, although we have met before.

So what was the show? ‘Those Were The Days’ as performed by Jessica Lee Morgan with Chris on bass and Paul Cuddeford on guitar.

Jessica at the keyboards

Jessica covered songs written by or made famous by female musicians from 1968 to 1976. Two hours of brilliant songs, beautifully performed. Yes, of course I sang along but I wasn’t pelted with too many rotten tomatoes.

We enjoyed the late night walk back over he bridge  and had a purple night’s sleep, as advertised.

Meeting someone at Liverpool Street Station is hard, we just don’t know it well enough, and certainly not the meeting points. So we agreed to meet Elakshi at a Starbucks. While waiting, we went next door to Pickwick’s for a nicer coffee.

Selfie of the day

Our friend Monica in Anchorage has a niece who’s studying here in the UK for a few months. We showed Elakshi round some of the more quirky sites in the city of London, including the Sculpture in the City trail.

No 8: Cosmos by Eva Rothschild

Cosmos, 2018 is composed of three 3.5 metre-high slatted structures which lean into and support each other, painted black on the exterior and sprayed in a coloured gradient within. An imposing physical structure, the work encourages both a physical and aesthetic response. Says Rothschild: “The external piece is quite forbidding. Its black shiny surface is like a set of disruptive gates.”

This was number 8 on the trail, but we managed to miss a few. All were interesting in their own way, even if it was easy to walk by and miss some without realising.

Leadenhall Market was looking quite tentacular today, and not just because of the stars painted on the ceiling.

Tentacles at Leadenhall Market

Our walk took us to Spitalfields Market where I just about resisted the temptation to look at the vinyl records on sale. We had lunch here in the crowded market before Elakshi had to head off for some proper study.

Elakshi, Liesel, Mick

Liesel and I then made our way to Covent Garden, yes, another market, where we planned to buy absolutely nothing. Except Liesel was thinking of a particular clothes shop she wanted to visit. In one of the art shops, there was a portrait of David Bowie. One that moved as you walk by. Spooky.

The Man Who Sold The World

On to Leicester Square and beyond to Trafalgar Square where I was pleased to see a new item on the 4th plinth.

Antelope by Samson Kambalu b. 1975, Malawi

Antelope restages a photograph of Baptist preacher and pan-Africanist John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley as a sculpture.

The photograph was taken in 1914 at the opening of Chilembwe’s new church in Nyasaland, now Malawi. Chilembwe has his hat on, defying the colonial rule that forbade Africans from wearing hats in front of white people. A year later, he led an uprising against colonial rule. Chilembwe was killed and his church was destroyed by the colonial police.

On the plinth, Chilembwe is larger than life, while Chorley is life-size. By increasing his scale, the artist elevates Chilembwe and his story, revealing the hidden narratives of underrepresented peoples in the history of the British Empire in Africa, and beyond.

At this point, we still hadn’t decided what to do in the evening. A film? A play? A musical? Another gig? In the end, we thought a comedy show would go down well and we spent a funny couple of hours in the company of Maisie Adam at Leicester Square Theatre.

Maisie Adam
Thames from Jubilee Bridge

The show finished early-ish so we decided to wander over to the South Bank for something to eat. You can’t go wrong at Wagamama. Oh yes you can. I chose a dish that I’ve had many times before but boy was it hot. Hot in the sense that it really stung my windburnt lips. And hot as in much more spicy than is usually the case. Phew. Once the steam stopped puffing out of my ears, I cooled my head down with a nice bowl of coconut ice cream. Phew indeed!

We went our separate ways on the Saturday. Liesel went south to spend the day with Rosie, walking from Surbiton via Kingston to Hampton Court along the towpath and having some giggly girly time together. Was I at all jealous? Well no, not at all, because I’d decided to pay a long overdue visit to the National Maritime Museam at Greenwich and then up the hill to the Observatory.

But as soon as I went outside, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. It was lovely and warm, verging on the muggy even, and the thought of sitting on buses and/or tube trains for hours to travel to Greenwich just wasn’t as attractive. Instead, I thought I’d walk part of the way and then maybe complete the journey on public transport. I headed in the direction of King’s Road and took in the sights and brought back some memories.

I passed by Parson’s Green, close to where I used to work in the mid-1980s. It hasn’t changed much. But another little patch of green is encouraging insects.

Rewilding Rave

It’s always good to see birds of prey, especially in the middle of a large city.

Church’s of Cheaney Famous English Shoes

I do feel sorry for this one though, tethered as it is to the roof of a glorified shoe shop.

Not all quirky sculptures are in the City of London.

Book Bench in King’s Road

It’s been nearly five decades since I downed a pint of beer in The World’s End pub. I decided not to revisit today, even though a small part of me wondered whether I’d bump into my old work colleague and drinking buddy Clive. But suppose I owed him money?

The World’s End second-hand book shop on King’s Road hasn’t changed much either. If anything, it’s even more crammed with stock so that potential customers have to move around one at a time, like chess pieces on a very crowded board. I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t have a copy of a book that I’ve been looking for for many years: The Nabob’s Garden by Frederica Bennett. I read it several times as a child but can remember nothing about it other than it had a green cover and no dust jacket.

I knew I was taking too much time ambling along King’s Road but I knew something was really wrong with the spacetime continuum when I looked at the clock over the road. The hands were spinning round very fast.

Clockhouse

This place looked very different in the olden days…

430 King’s Road in about 1975
Yarn-bombing in King’s Road

Dave the artist still exhibits his own paintings on King’s Road in the Open Air Gallery. He’s very friendly, go and have a chat if you’re passing by.

Dave the artist

I wandered by the old Chelsea Hospital and onto a street market, close to the Saatchi Gallery, where I had some lunch.

I thought I’d make use of the facilities at Peter Jones. But no. The Gents toilet was out of order and the nearest one was the accessible toilets. Downstairs.

Downstairs to the accessible toilet

I hope there’s another route to the accessible toilets, I wouldn’t want to bump down those stairs in my wheelchair.

And so to Sloane Square, where, a few days after she died, I saw the Princess of Wales standing outside the underground station. No dead people today, but a throbbing mass of living ones.

Do I get a train towards Greenwich? No. I decided to continue walking until I stopped. Through Eaton Square and onto the side entrances to Buckingham Palace. I know King Charles isn’t planning to live here for at least a few years, so it was good to see that services to the palace were being discommected.

Doscommection

Millions of people were loitering by the front gates of the palace on this cloudy afternoon but I was surprised by the brightness of the Victoria Monument’s golden angel.

Golden Angel

Time for some birdwatching in St James’s Park. Don’t feed or touch the pelicans, says the sign. Well, I didn’t even see any, just Egyptians, pigeons, ducks, geese, swans (black and white) and squirrels. And more pigeons. With whom I did not share by cinnamon doughnut and coffee.

Birds of St James’s Park

After leaving the park, I realised I ought to head back. I took a bus back to Putney, changed my clothes, then took another bus into Kingston.

Did I regret not making it to Greenwich? No, I had a fantastic walk and Greenwich and the museum will still be there next time. I also didn’t see much of the South Bank on this occasion, just Wagamama. Apart from a slight sense of disloyalty, I didn’t mind walking on the other side of the river this time.

The Thames and Kingston Bridge

I perambulated through Kingston, mostly familiar, but there have been some changes here, towards the river. The plan was to meet up with Liesel and Liesel’s cousin. Yes, her cousin Andi with her husband of just a few months Steve have moved to the UK, specifically to Richmond upon Thames.

I first met Andi and Steve on holiday in Hawaii ten or so years ago, when Helen and Adam and Jenny came too, not to mention Liesel’s extended family. We’ve also been with them to a few Dave Matthews concerts.

The waiters in the restaurant must have been rolling their eyes when after several attempts at taking our order, we still hadn’t stopped talking long enough to look at the menu.

In the end, we had a very pleasant and enjoyable meal, at Comptoir Libanais since you ask, after which they invited us back to their pad, a quick 65 bus ride away. I’m old enough to remember when the 65 went all the way to Chessington.

Steve, Andi, Mick, Liesel
Pomegranate tree

Their house is located in a very desirable location, close to the river, close to shops, close to the railway station. The pomegranate tree, as far as we know, is the only one in Richmond and it needs a bit of a trim, to be honest. Liesel and I left quite late but it was easy enough to get back to Putney, via Earls Court on the District Line.

And so our short stay in London comes to an end. At Victoria, we visited The Shakespeare for a late breakfast. Do you have a menu, I asked? We’ll bring a menu over when we’re open for food at twelve o’clock. I felt suitably chastised. No nut roast today so we settled for very disappointing nachos. I couldn’t drink too much beer knowing we’d be on the coach for five hours. Another long journey that passed quickly thanks to some podcasts and a book and some puzzles.

Somehow, the 43 bus from Manchester back to Northenden seemed really slow, stopping every thirty seconds…

Back to normal then? Well, nearly. I have picked up the cold that Liesel’s had for a few days. I hope I didn’t pass it on to Martha and William when we met up at Quarry Bank Mill.

Quarry Bank fungi
William and Martha sitting in a tree

In between climbing trees, and playing in the playground and walking and running through the woods and climbing muddy slopes, we didn’t do much here today.

William climbing

During the week, we went for our usual walks, noticing it become cooler as time went on. We walked to Didsbury and noticed that at last, after far too long, we are now able to walk on the other side of the Mersey between Palatine Road and Northenden Bridge. That path has been off limits while they jack up the motorway, or something.

The view from the other side

The radio show this week was based on Jessica’s show, Those Were The Days. I’d picked up the set list, asked all three musicians to sign it for me, and I used it for my own show. I played (mostly) the original versions of the songs plus a couple of extras.

And if you’re interested, here is the playlist from the gig:

Turn Turn Turn
At Seventeen
Big Yellow Taxi
New York
Both Sides Now
Who Knows Where the Time Goes
Natural Woman
Songbird
Make Hay
It’s Too Late
Killing me Softly with his Song
You’re so Vain

Mercedez Benz
Me and Bobby McGee
The Man Who Sold the World
Ocean Song
You’ve Got a Friend
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Hope Is
River
Texas Angel
Brand New Key
Jolene
Those Were The Days
This Wheel’s On Fire
Goodbye

I think my cold is receding, I feel less tired, less cold, less lethargic than I did yesterday, at least I was able to concentrate on this stuff for a while. The Covid tests have all come up negative.

And here we are: November already. Who knows where the time goes?

Goodbye.

Autumn draws on

Well there I was, as I often am, lying in bed listening to a podcast, when I hear my name being called. Liesel is walking to Didsbury in fifteen minutes time and would I like to join her? Well no, not really, I want to hear the end of the show and then maybe another one… But no, I got up, got dressed, and we had a very nice walk by the river.

As always we looked out for the heron but he was hiding out somewhere. Instead, we saw a pair of shags and a swan on the river. A swan? That is very unusual.

Two shags and a swan

Autumn draws on apace as witnessed by the very pretty Autumn crocuses along the river bank.

Autumn crocuses

At Fletcher Moss, we had coffee, and I had my breakfast: a veggie sausage and fried egg barm. I knew it would be messy but I also knew it would be delicious. It was. And it was. I had to wash the yolk and ketchup off my fingers afterwards.

I don’t mind mushrooms in a dish, just not as the main component. But today, if I’d asked for mushrooms in my breakfast barm, I know they would have been really fresh.

Bench with mushrooms

You can pick your own right here. It looks like the weather recently has been highly conducive to fungi taking over the planet.

Autumn draws on

Liesel and her WI buddies were stationed outside the Co-op in Didsbury, handing out flyers telling people where they could recycle items that the local council can’t deal with. Sadly, we didn’t bring one of these very informative pamphlets home. My mission was to buy some filo pastry. Not in Didsbury, I couldn’t. Three shops don’t sell it and the other one had sold out. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was walking up and down the High Street, visiting each of the supermarkets at least once each, adding to the step count, I might have been a bit miffed.

Ford Lane is easily flooded whenever it rains, but we successfully negotiated the puddles without being splashed whenever Stirling Moss or Lewis Hamilton drove raced by on their way to their golf course.

Jenny and Liam have been married now for a few weeks. I said I’d post more of the official photos. Well here’s one.

Martha

Thanks very much to Marc the Photographer for this fabulous image.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Helen is moving into her new home. New furniture, new carpets, new address. We can’t wait to go and make ourselves at home there, somewhere in Brookvale, NSW.

Helen’s new flat

There is now of course a huge pile of packaging to be disposed of. Sorry, Helen, we didn’t keep one of those flyers for you. But I suspect your local authority does things differently anyway.

My solo walk to Didsbury was rewarded with a massage. I hadn’t realised that all my muscle were so stiff. It was a good work-out, not necessarily for me, but I did feel much better afterwards.

The Wednesday walk in the rain was wet and wonderful. Added to which, I got papped back at Boxx 2 Boxx afterwards!

Boxx 2 Boxx
Autumn draws on

One of the highlights of the week was going to the cinema. Without looking it up, I can’t remember the last time we were in a movie theatre. We saw Moonage Daydream, the first film about our favourite alien superstar sanctioned by the David Bowie estate. It’s a roller-coaster ride of Bowie music, interviews, videos, remixes, over two hours of Bowie magic. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s even only slightly interested in Bowie’s life and times and philosophy.

This was our first time at The Light in Stockport, a cinema recommended by Jenny, even though she hasn’t been there herself. Yet!

Another highlight was visiting the gym in Wythenshawe. Liesel swam for a bit. I spent some time on the treadmill and the exercise bike. But the woirst thing was, I forgot to take a pound coin for the locker. That’s the real reason I wasn’t totally motivated.

Here’s a book recommendation. I really enjoyed this one.

Sisters at the Edge of the World

It’s a period of history that we don’t know much about: the Roman invasion of northern Scotland. The characters and story are all very well written. It’s one of those stories that you don’t really want to finish. You want to know what happens after the events depicted. Highly recommended. Sisters at the Edge of the World by Ailish Sinclair.

The radio show this week was themed around Germany, in light of our recent trip. So, a few German musicians, some German music and songs that mention Germany, or a German city. If you missed it on Wythenshawe Radio, you can catch up here:

Freiburg im Breisgau

I fell asleep to the internal echoes of Eddi Reader only to be woken up three short hours later.

Skip this paragraph if you like because here I will list all the things that went wrong. A proper whingefest if you like. I’d booked a taxi for 3am. The service had been totally reliable on previous occasions, but today, there was no sign of a cab. The three of us (me, Liesel and Leslie) were standing outside like an ugly flytipped sofa, waiting, waiting. No message, no email. After ten minutes, I went online and booked an Uber. He was five minutes away, so that’s not too bad. I went online again to cancel the original cab. Just as he turned up. I told him he was too late, and he replied by saying ah yes, the cancellation had just arrived. Now if they’d sent a message at 3am saying he was going to be 15 minutes late, that would have been ok. But again, a lack of communication caused a problem. A minor problem, yes, but an unnecessary one. On the way to the airport, I looked at my email to check my electronic boarding pass was still there. It wasn’t. Yesterday, I clicked the option to add it to my Google Wallet. Ok, it said. Well, I don’t know whose Google Wallet it was sent to, but it wasn’t mine. And it seems that in the process, it deleted the email because, well, obviously, I shouldn’t need it any more. I restored the email to my inbox, and took a screenshot of the QR code. Just in case. Not my problem I know, but I did feel sorry for the lady in the next queue to ours who wanted to go to Nigeria but she didn’t have the relevant travel documents with her so she wasn’t able to check in to her flight. So of course, I started to worry that I too might need extra documentation to travel to Germany. Security is always a lottery. This time, the Fast Track Security queue, for which you can pay an extra £5 to join, was upstairs, while Normal Security was downstairs. Today, we had to remove all electronics, and, for the first time ever, this included toothbrushes and shavers, anything with a battery inside. But we didn’t have to take our shoes off. Although I found out later that Leslie had had a pretty good pat-down and had had to remove her footwear. I groaned when I realised that again my bag had been pulled aside. Inside, in the depths of my toiletry bag, the officer found a tiny tube of toothpaste. So small that I hadn’t seen it when I recently repacked the bag. So small that it had somehow got through security when I flew back from Anchorage last time. ‘Let’s fill our water bottles’ suggested Liesel. But could I find a water fountain at Manchester Airport Terminal 1? Nope. I’ll just fill the water bottles from the water jugs at one of the coffee shops then. Nope. If you want tap water at one of these places, you have to line up and ask for it. What else? Oh yes. I don’t like escalators when the handrail moves at a different speed to the stairs. You either fall over forwards or keel over backwards. You don’t? Oh, it’s just me then. Actually, I felt nowhere near as panicky as I had on my last flight. The queue for Leslie to check in was long, yes, but we could see it was making progress. And, we had plenty of time.

Liesel and I took it in turns to visit a couple of the coffee outlets for a sort of breakfast. Yes, we had lots of time to pass before our flight. Too much time maybe, but I wasn’t going to worry about that.

Goodbye misty Manchester

The flight from Manchester to Frankfurt was uneventful and I kept my beady eye on the steward as he handed out the chocolates. The plan was for Liesel and me to escort Leslie to Frankfurt and make sure she caught the right plane back home to Anchorage. This we did and, bonus, she didn’t have to go through security a second time at Frankfurt. It was a quick farewell in the end and I think Liesel and I will both miss having her Mom around.

We now had a couple of hours to kill at Frankfurt Airport before catching our train. I thought I’d seen enough of the place after several bus tours around the ginormous airport over the last few months, but no, there is plenty more to see. The border official let us through without any awkward questions: nothing about Covid nor stuff we were bringing into the country and, I’m glad to say, no awkward questions about paperwork that we didn’t know we needed.

Oompah band

This band of merry musicians put a smile on everyone’s faces as they oompahed through the airport.

The railway station was a reasonably long walk away but we were glad to get the steps in. At least it was all under cover, we didn’t have to go to the outside world at all.

Pringles tree

There are designated smoking areas which of course we’re no longer used to, so every now and then, we’d walk through a cloud of carcinogens. The worst place was on the platform for our train, so we didn’t hang around there longer than necessary.

It’s just over two hours on the train from Frankfurt to Freiburg and the time flew by. I read a good chunk of my book and glanced out of the window now and then, but the landscape didn’t really engage as it passed by at 160 kph.

Big chocolates, so many flavours, at Freiburg station

Our hotel was not even a ten minute walk from Freiburg station. Yes, we’re in a hotel, a Best Western, also known as Hotel Victoria. We settled into our very comfortable room in what is one of the most eco-friendly hotels in one of the greenest cities in Germany. Allegedly. All the power in the hotel is generated from solar panels on the roof, wind and, er, the burning of woodchips.

Solar panels and smoke

We dined at a Morrocan restaurant just round the corner and we were surprised that they only took payment in cash. So, while they kept Liesel hostage, I went for a walk to get some money out of a machine. The machine conveniently located next door didn’t recognise my card. The machine all the way back at the station did so I took out as many euros as I was allowed. On my return, I was pleased to see that they hadn’t got Liesel to do the washing up for them.

Rain had been forecast for most of our time here, so the sunshine on Sunday morning was a bonus. We walked into town, the old town, where we admired the architecture, commented on and tried not to trip on the cobbles, noticed and tried not to impede the progress of the many cyclists in town.

The Visitor Information office is in the old town hall, next door to the new town hall. I downloaded an app that guided us around the town: at least the commentary was in English. There’s a lot of history here, including an old Roman wall, very similar to the one in Chester, what’s left of it.

I mentioned the cobbles. Most streets are cobbled, and there are smaller stones at the sides, for pedestrians. In places, there are mosaics. This is one of the first to catch my eye, outside the town hall, der Rathaus:

Guildford

Guildford is just one of Freiburg’s several twin towns and sister cities in and beyond Europe, each of which is marked by one of these mosaics, contructed using pebbles from the nearby Rhine. Guildford has been home to such luminaries as Nobel-prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, code-breaker Alan Turing and is the birth place of musician Mike Rutherford, DJ Tony Blackburn, and, er, me.

While sitting in the square waiting for the 12 o’clock chimes, we were mobbed by a swarm of sparrows. They detected my phone and were about to depart but they were just a second too late… The main danger though was bonkers. They’re like conkers, only they fall out of trees and bonk you on the head. There are chestnut and horse chestnut trees all over town, you can’t walk anywhere without encountering chestnuts or their spiky cases.

A flock of sparrows

Oh look. In my bag I have some salt-peter, some sulphur and some charcoal. I know, I think I’ll go out and leave these random chemicals unattended on the stove. Boom. I’ve invented gunpowder. Actually, this story is attributed to a monk, Bertold the Black, who supposedly lived in Freiburg in the 14th century. There is a statue here honouring the monk for his invention, even though the Chinese beat him to it by several centuries.

Berthold Schwarz

Other features that you can’t avoid in Freiburg are the tram lines and the little canals alongside most of the roads. These drainage ditches are dry most of the time, and if you’re unlucky enough to fall into one, you’re destined to marry a Freiburger. Children play with little wooden boats when there is flowing water in these Bächle.

A typical Freiburg street

We never made use of the service but we saw quite a few of the bendy trams in Freiburg. The Cathedral tower is an impressive 116 metres tall, and the building is, by coincidence, 116 metres in length. Just as you’re marvelling at the architecture and the stone masonry, you turn round and encounter some absolute kitsch, totally out of place.

Freiburg Münster
Cute, not cute

Before you ask, no we did not buy a souvenir cuckoo clock.

No new buildings in Freiburg can be higher than the top of the Cathedral tower. There are over 100 gargoyles protecting the fabric of the building from the worst of the rain. Most are monsters or people, but this one is the funniest.

Freiburg gargoyle

We admired many of the mosaics that remain outside shops even though the shop itself may have changed usage over the years. I don’t mind posing for a photo so I was delighted to sit next to this knife.

Mick the Knife
Pillar of the community

This chap is just one of many who we saw embedded in the walls around town. The steps here lead up a hill which we decided to pursue on another occasion. And sadly, even the most aesthetically pleasing of towns and cities have their unfair share of graffiti artists. Arstist? Vandals.

Black cat

Here is another mosaic that we liked, and then we found out its significance. You wouldn’t want to be taken to The House of the Black Cat, because that’s where the local executioner, the hangman, lives.

Record shop

Of course I checked the window display of this record shop, and was surprised but mostly disappointed to find absolutely no reference to David Bowie. So my theory needs a slight adjustment: Every record shop still existing in the UK has, in its window display, either a David Bowie record or some other David Bowie merchandise.

By contrast, the destroyed synagogue’s memorial fountain is quite moving. Its shape reflects the ground plan of the old synagogue and the mirror-smooth surface is the perfect place for reflection. Literally.

We dined at a Thai restaurant just round the corner from our hotel. It was Sunday and we hadn’t anticipated that most places would be closed. There was nothing wrong with Thai Chi, for that is what it was called. The experience led me to suggest that more restaurants should have model villages inside their dining tables.

Model village

Monday started with another big breakfast in the hotel before we set off through the town and back to the stairs that we’d abandoned yesterday.

The Monday market was set up in the Cathedral square, with lots of well presented, fresh produce, 27 types of ham, 49 species of sausage, 56 varieties of cheese and best of all, 19 types of locally baked bread.

Market wares

We didn’t buy anything now, but later on, on the way back, we did buy a punnet of raspberries.

I would like to tell you how many steps there were, but I soon lost count. Eventually they gave way to a path which was quite a steep slope. We were determined to reach a certain point though, however long it took, however many times we had to pause to catch our breath or just to admire the view over the town. And the views were spectacular. We kept a close eye on the Cathedral tower, waiting for the moment when we would be looking down on it. We were gaining altitude pretty fast, or so our bodies thought, but that tower was keeping its place.

Selfie of the day from halfway up Schlossberg

On passing a small group of students, we realised that we too could have taken the funicular railway but we’re glad we didn’t! Nor did we ride it back down later on.

Funicular railway

There’s a playground on the hill too, in which the equipment resembles weapons of war. Bizarre, I know. The cannon could be used as a slide or a tunnel. The poles are lances and spears.

This is not a cannon

I was surprised to see vineyards here too. Surprised because, at the bottom of the hill, by the stairs, there was a sign saying the the path would be closed whenever it’s too icy or covered in snow. We’re at the edge of the Black Forest here and obviously it must get really cold in Winter. So, not an ideal environment I would have thought for growing grapes. I suppose they know what they’re doing!

Vineyard above the town

On and on and up and up. The well-laid path gave way to a dirt track. Proper signage was replaced by spray-painted red arrows on trees and rocks, directing us to our goal for the day, the viewing platform that we’d seen from way down below in the city centre.

Public lavatree

I’m always on the lookout for comfort stops, although I felt this one was just a bit too exposed. But it was just a few hairpin bends away from Schlossbergturm or Aussichtsturm Schlossberg or Castle Hill Tower.

Schlossbergturm or Castle Hill Tower

We sat down for a few moments admiring this very basic structure, before setting off to climb the 153 steps. Do something scary every day. I climbed steadily to the top, and I mean the very top, as high as I could go. It is very hard holding on that tightly to the handrail while trying to take photos without dropping the phone while the whole edifice is swaying in the wind which is now so much colder than it was at ground level, some 35 metres below. Although it seemed much further away, from my scared vertiginous viewpoint. Another surprise was being joined by Liesel whom I’d left sitting on a bench way down below, ready to catch me or anything I dropped.

Some of the first few steps up the tower

Each of the steps has a message from someone who’d sponsored the construction of this viewing tower. I like Klaus’s: This tower has always been a dream of mine.

The view from the top

This picture was taken from the top and it doesn’t reveal at all just how much I was shaking at this point.

Near the base of the tower is a display which incorporates a pair of binoculars. And if you look through these, you see an image of what the site looked like hundreds of years ago, when there was a castle or a fort here.

What it used to look like

Walking back down the hill was a bit easier, but you couldn’t totally relax with those gradients. At the first sign of a coffee shop, we stopped, me probably more eagerly than Liesel.

Liesel got stoned and had to have a lie down

We dined in an Italian restaurant that evening. Yes, of course I had a pizza. Then back at the hotel it was time for some pampering.

Mechanical foot brush

This device doesn’t offer a full-on pedicure, but I was able to give my feet a really good scrub.

Tuesday started with a big hotel breakfast and then a long, long pause in the proceedings, in our room, reading, doing puzzles, neither of us wanting to move. Or something. Liesel gave in first and she went out for a walk. Then after a few minutes, I decided to move too. I was still listening to something fascinating, so I thought I’d visit the hotel gym and have a quick walk on the treadmill while still connected to my podcast. I managed 25 minutes but I hope I can get over the tedium of this form of exercise when we get home and make full use of the gym in Wythenshawe, the one we so rashly joined last week.

I met Liesel outside later despite the rain, but usefully, the hotel had plenty of umbrellas to choose from.

Selfie of the day if it were 1940

It didn’t take long for us to pack and move out the next morning. We left our bags at the railway station while we looked around the Cathedral. Even though there are big signs asking visitors to stay silent, I was surprised that it was so quiet inside, given how many people were walking around.

Inside the Cathedral

We paid a return visit to one of the cafés we’d visited a few days earler, only this time we sat inside for our coffee and tasty treats.

We walked back to the station and spent time exploring while waiting for our train. One retail space was full of vending machines, selling everything from snacks and drinks to items of clothing and toothbrushes. It was a bit like Japan in that respect. There was even a popcorn machine, but Liesel wasn’t tempted to use it.

Something happened at the railway station but we never did find out what. An alarm went off, and everyone was evacuated from the station concourse. Those of us already on the platform waiting for a train were allowed to stay. The train ride back to Frankfurt was uneventful. This was followed by a ten-minute walk to our hotel for just one night. And not even a whole night, as we had another early morning flight. As luck would have it, the railway station, our hotel and the airport were all within walking distance of each other: or maybe Liesel planned it that way?

Our alarms were set for 5am. Walk to the airport, through security, to our departure gate, coffee and quick breakfast, flew to Manchester, taxied home, collected the mail and that’s it. We’re back. Did it really happen? Yes. The rest of the day was a blur. I was occupied but I can’t tell you what I did. A quick walk in the drizzle but I timed it badly, no massage for me today.

On Friday, I met up with some people to talk about Thrive Manchester, what can they do to support people and how can whatever that is be better publicised. Boxx 2 Boxx is a great venue for such meetings.

At home, I made progress on a couple of my ‘to-do’ items. The lists still grow faster than items are crossed off, of course.

The radio show this week, recorded before we left for Germany, was Hundreds and Thousands. It was approximately the hundredth show I’ve put together. You can hear it here:

Catching up at home

The rental car was returned without too much hassle. We reported the knocking sound from the back of the vehicle. The guy went straight to the rear, passenger side wheel arch to rock the car. It was almost as if he already knew about the defective shock abosrber.

Pauline, Andrew and I then took the tram into Manchester city centre where we spent the rest of the day. It was a nice day to wander around the city, through Castlefield, past Bridgewater Hall and The Midland Hotel.

Big bike at Deansgate

The most interesting site was Castlefield Viaduct. It opened to the public recently as a Sky Park. It’s a National Trust place and you’re supposed to book in advance online. But we hadn’t, of course, not even knowing the place existed before now. But we were allowed in for the tour with the 12 o’clock group.

New Life on the Viaduct

Various local communities are planting their own gardens, and the horticulture was well described by the two enthusiastic guides. Let’s hope everything thrives, and in the fullness of time, this will be a lovely, colourful sky garden. It’s a good place for views of the city too.

Tricyrtis
YHA Potato Wharf
On the Viaduct, a makeshift planter

We continued our wander and ate our lunch by the remains of a Roman Fort, enjoying the saxophone player’s busking.

Roman Fort, Castlefield

We came upon a record shop in the Northern Quarter. As I guessed, there was a David Bowie record in the window.

Record Shop

Liesel and I should spend more time exploring the Northern Quarter, or NQ to those in the know, there is some fascinating architecture and plenty of quirky shops.

Meanwhile, it was the first day back at school for Martha and William, both of whom look very smart in their uniforms.

We took the bus back home in late afternoon, it was packed of course. One cyclist on an electric bike kept pace with the bus most of the way home.

We walked to Didsbury and later went to Jenny’s place where we all had one final meal together. We watched a highlights video from the wedding weekend. The shock I felt when I realised that that old git on screen was actually me…

By coincidence, Helen and Pauline and Andrew were on the same flight out of Manchester. At Singapore, they would go their own ways to Christchurch and Sydney, according to taste.

It was a quick drop-off at the airport and the enormity of the occasion didn’t really strike until I was halfway home. I don’t know when I’ll see Pauline and Andrew again, in New Zealand but I hope it’s soon. Jenny took Helen to the airport, but I’d said my goodbyes the night before. And already, I can’t wait to visit her in her new home in Australia.

And then there were three. Just me, Liesel and Leslie in the flat now.

I prepared a radio show for broadcast on Friday. But it was never broadcast. Her Majesty the Queen passed away and the balance of the universe shifted. The important thing of course is that this show has been preserved on Mixcloud, I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out, after all.

We’ve had rain and thunderstorms so it was probably not a surprise that the tree stumps over the road have grown fungi overnight.

Tree stump fungi

Lady Heyes Touring Park is probably a good place to go for a camping or a glamping holiday. But Liesel, Leslie and I paid a visit to look at all the antiques shops.

Toby jug

Seeing a few Toby jugs or character jugs reminded me that my Mum had a huge collection. We still have a few small examples at home but the bulk of the collection has, I believe, found a happy new home. I had a quick look in the record shop here, but I will not be collecting vinyl again any time soon!

There were old stamp albums, old coins, old photogrpahs, lots of old stuff. Many years ago, I started to write an article about all the collections I’ve ever had. Maybe I should dig it out and finish it.

Easter Island Moai

This was an unexpected sculpture to find in the car park, and I’m not sure how accurate it is.

Walking around Northenden means we’re getting back to normal. Especially when you see the heron in its usual spot on the weir.

One big surprise though was finding that some trees in the woods have been cut down.

Recently cut down trees

It won’t be too long before they’re sprouting their own fungus. But back to normal is finding a fly-tipped sofa in the neighbourhood.

A Northenden sofa

It seems like a long time since we last collected Martha and William from school. But we’re now back on the rota, and this time, we took them back to our place. They were delighted to see Great Oma, Leslie, waiting for them. Spaghetti bolognese for supper was a bit risky, maybe, but I don’t think any tomato sauce ended up where it shouldn’t have.

Last Christmas, we were given a home-made voucher for a guided walk in Chester. And now was the time to cash in. The three of us drove to the Park and Ride car park next to the zoo, and we enjoyed the short bus ride into the city centre.

Liesel and I have driven through Chester in the past, on the way to Jenny’s following a week cycling in Wales. But this was the first time we’d spent any time there. All I knew about it was it was an old Roman town and it’s the birth place of Bob Mills, a comedian who presented a really good, fun show on GLR, all those years ago. Oh and that in Chester, you’re still allowed to shoot Welshmen with a bow and arrow.

East Gate clock

The three of us wandered around for a bit and found the venue for our guided tour.

The record shop didn’t have a David Bowie record in the window, so that was disappointing. But there was a David Bowie mug. So my theory has now been revised: Every existing record shop has, in its window display, either a David Bowie record or some other David Bowie merchandise.

Chester Cathedral

The Rainbow Tea Rooms were pleasant, we had a nice lunch there while, over the road, a Roman centurion was putting some children through their paces.

Roman centurion

I’m not sure about this though: a special place in the city for pigeons to gather and be fed. But we are encouraged not to feed them elsewhere in Chester.

Pigeon coop

At the appointed hour, we gathered outside the town hall for the start of the guided walk. While there, we spoke to Angela, a local journalist. She asked about our reaction to the death of Queen Elizabeth. She took my picture so there should soon be another small contribution to my fifteen minutes of fame.

I’m rubbish at names but our guide was Karen, or Mary Ann or more likely something completely different. We walked for well over the announced 90 minutes, all over Chester, in and out of the Gates in the Roman Walls. We learned about the Grosvenor family and how Chester grew over the centuries.

Small section of The Wall
Bell Tower

With all the Georgian and Tudor (real or fake) buildings around the city, it was a surprise to find this bell tower. It might be functional, and it might be keeping the weight and vibrations of several bells from damaging the cathedral itself, but I think it could do with a splash of colour.

It was fun to explore Chester, there are plenty of alleys and lanes to investigate further and I’m sure we’ll return sometime. I nearly forgot to mention that this was on Liesel’s birthday too. She’d made her own cake yesterday which we all enjoyed.

I prepared a radio show for this week, but as Wythenshawe FM is continuing to play ‘slow’, ‘respectful’, some say ‘boring’, ‘turgid’ ‘dirges’, along with most other radio stations, I again uploaded it straight to Mixcloud.

And so life in Northenden continues, until our next adventure.

Parties in Portland

After breakfast on another spontaneous workday for Liesel, we picked Suvan up and drove to Amrit’s office. I don’t really know what it’s like to work in there, but the view from the window is magnificent. A park outside and, of course, mountains in the background. I was tempted to fiddle with the office equipment, but I didn’t touch anything. Instead, leaving Suvan and Liesel to work, I went for a walk on yet another sunny day. I don’t know why sunny days in Anchorage still surprise me, but the word ‘Anchorage’ itself, I think, has a sort of synaesthetic link with cold and snow and discomfort.

The Cuddy Family Midtown Park has a playground and a pond and was very pleasant to walk through. Canada geese expect to be fed.

Be kind to geese

Not on my watch, baby! I didn’t have any food on me at all.

Anchorage Municipal Library aka Z J Loussac Public Library

Which is why almost as soon as I found the café in the library, I bought myself a muffin to go with the coffee. I made myself comfortable and spent the next few hours writing.

A few other people were there too, mostly studying or reading the newspaper. The homeless man used the facilities and made aggressive noises as if looking for a fight, but nobody paid him any attention and he soon wandered off.

I went for a longer walk, visiting New Sagaya for a coffee, that was good, but they had no WiFi, outrageous!

Telecoms

I passed by this telecommunications centre and checked, but no, my 4G signal was still not working properly. It comes and goes. Maybe I should have forked out for a local SIM card for these few weeks.

The signs of homeless people on streets or even in amongst the trees near the park is always  distressing. But the family flying the kite in the park cheered me up. Just as I arrived back at the office, I received a message from Liesel asking me to bring back an iced coffee. Well, if I’d had a decent signal, I might have received the message in time. Sorry, Liesel!

It was nice to see Amrit in the office now too, keeping an eye on Suvan and Liesel.

Back at home, after everyone else had gone to bed, I watched Spelling Bee on TV. This is a national contest for children aged 15 or under, and they do indeed have to spell some very unusual words. Just my thing, you’d think. And so it should be, but the TV presentation was awful. You see two contestants, then some waffle then a load of adverts. And I mean a lot of adverts. The interesting part of the show accounted for less than ten percent of actual broadcast time. What a shame for those children whose moment of glory was squeezed out by an advert for prescription only laxatives or something.

There are several channels playing music, called Music Choice. I found one playing Tiny Dancer, probably my favourite Elton John song, which I enjoyed before going to bed myself.

Woke up and got up early and had a jolly good stretch. Other than that, and a spot of packing, what a lazy day.

Mom drove us to the airport for the start of our next adventure. We flew to Seattle. But, before boarding the plane, what a palaver.

Going through Security, my Passport and boarding pass were deemed acceptable.  Then the queue split into two: Liesel went to the left, I to the right. Ok. Liesel was processed, scanned, bag X-rayed, no problem. Me? I’m just a trouble-maker.

I started to remove the electronics from my bag, as usual. Officer #1 aggressively: ‘Leave everything in your bag. If you want to take your things out, go to the back of the other line’. So I put my stuff back: Kindle, keyboard, and the pedometer which has caused so much concern on other occasions.

Do I take my shoes and belt off? ‘Yes, of course’. Was I beginning to get flustered? A bit. By mistake, I left the phone in my pocket, so that raised alarm when I went through the body scanner. (Meanwhile, nobody seemed at all bothered by the two trays with bags that nobody claimed ownership of.)

Officer #2 frisked me, and found the phone, which then had to go back and through the Xray machine in the other line. But wait, there’s more! The metal poppers on my pockets always set off a klaxon. Maybe your machine is a bit too sensitive?

So now I’m waiting for things from both sides: my bag, shoes and belt from this side and my phone from the other side, from where Liesel had emerged unscathed about three decades earlier.

I notice that the tray containing my bag has been pulled to the side. Officer #3 is going through another, female, passenger’s bag. Her problem? The ice pack keeping her insulin cool had thawed during the day. So it’s now full of liquid water. I expected Officer #3 to go through my bag, for whatever reason, in the fullness of time. I saw Liesel waiting patiently and tried very hard not to make any signs that might cause suspicion here in Paranoia Central. Officer #3  told me and the others waiting here to go behind the screen over there, which we did, about 5 or 6 of us. She looked through someone else’s bag first, but this was a quick process.

She then began to chat with a colleague.

Officer #4 (at last!) held up my my tray. ‘Is this anybody’s? No?’ Not giving me a chance, he started to take it away again. I had to shout that it was mine. I don’t like shouting at the best of times. But here? In a high sceurity zone? Where I really don’t want to attract any attention? If #3 hadn’t sent me so far away, I would have been on the spot when #4 picked up my bag.

He looked inside, and picked out my water bottle. Oh no. I think even he was surprised at how few drops of water there were inside. I wonder if he too thinks that this new machine is a bit too sensitive? Maybe we should leave our electronics in the bag and take out the water bottles? He was very polite as he gave me my tray but I was still stunned by the whole ridiculous process, I almost forgot to take it with me.

Still a bit war-weary I started to unhitch my hat from the bag, something I really didn’t need to do. I only tied it up there because it was a big deal last time, when it was perched on my head. What I should have been doing is putting on my shoes and belt. And breathe.

I know the rules change from trip to trip, from country to country, from airport to airport, but I think the rules should be consistent in the same place at the same time. And, if the new equipment being  tested (in place of the well-known Xray machine) can’t ignore a few drops of water in a bottle, then it would be no hardship for us to remove bottles from our bags, honest.

Liesel tweeted a complaint to TSA but has had no response. And having written it all down, I now feel purged of the whole sorry incident. Grrr. Whinge of the day.

What a relief to finally be able to sit down on the plane, a small QX E175, built by Brazilian company Embraer, although they’re now pretty much owned by Boeing.

There are no middle seats, everyone is by the window or by the aisle. And, according to the Alaska Air site: the E175 maximum takeoff weight is equivalent to approximately 10,000 Copper River salmon.

I read my book and did some puzzles but the main entertainment was provided by the gentleman sitting behind me. He had trouble stowing his bag under the seat in front. The steward was very patient as he spent several minutes trying to explain the concept of turning the bag sideways!

The flight was pleasant and what a surprise to see it turn dark outside after the Sun set.

Seattle

I suspect this is not the best photo ever taken from an aeroplane, of Seattle at night.

From the airport, a short bus ride took us to the car rental facility. The car was waiting for us and after a long, long day, Liesel drove us to our beds.

Red Roof was alright, and our room had been cleaned by Eulogia, which I thought was a beautiful name, specially since it contains all five vowels!

And you’ll never guess where we had breakfast the next morning? IHOP was a better bet than Denny’s, we felt. Neither of us could finish our omelettes. American portions win again.

We drove south through the state capital, Olympia, but I blinked and missed it. Apart from a couple of showers, it was a nice sunny drive to Portland, Oregon. We commented on how much longer the trucks and tankers are here compared with what we’re used to at home.

Funny old number plate

So: what did you think when you first saw this number plate? Liesel thought ‘squirt one’ but even though this isn’t an imaginary car, I read it as ‘square root of minus one’.

Our rental car on this occasion is a Toyota Prius and whenever we turn the engine off at the end of a trip, a message flashes up on the screen: ‘Check rear seats’. And every time I turn round to look, I see that they are in fact still there.

Also, it gives you a mark at the end of each journey telling you how good or bad a driver you are. Liesel was typically getting 70+ out of 100. (Once, later on, I sat in the driver’s seat trying to change the speed display from mph to kph. I was unsuccessful, drove absolutely nowhere, but was given  95 / 100!)

The plan was to meet people at The Rose Garden but we arrived a bit too late. Nevertheless, we had  a good workout here, walking up and down some of the steeper inclines.

Just a few of the gorgeous roses currently in bloom

The Oregon Holocaust Memorial was incredibly moving. As it should be.

Bronze representation of a child’s doll

The children’s toys are especially poignant. Such a contrast with the colourful roses just a short walk away.

We found our Airbnb in Portland, and it was no coincidence that we were greeted by Jyoti, Suvan, Gita and Troy as well as some of Jyoti’s relations who we’d not met before: sister Preeti, cousin Guddu, nieces Simran and Suchi.

We were gathered here for a few days to help Gita celebrate her graduation from Lewis and Clark College. She is training as Family Therapist and we’re all very proud of her.

Guddu put together a wonderful charcuterie but the main debate was on how to pronounce it. I think we spent most of the rest of the day chatting and eating and eating and mixing and chatting and eating. And dancing, although I still have this phobia of stomping on other people’s feet.

It’s the first time we’ve shared a b&b with lots of people we know, and there was a bit of a party atmosphere.

It was a bit overcast and even drizzly as we drove over to Gita’s house the following morning.

Pavement art

I think this literal splash of colour is celebrating June being LGBT Pride Month.

We walked to a nearby street food market on the site of Hawthorne Asylum. There was almost too much to choose from: food from Guyana, Korea, Japan, South Africa.

Rubbish!

The canopy over the table kept us dry: yes, it was still raining a bit. Despite this, we walked the long way back. Jyoti wanted to introduce us to Urbanite, a shop that sells everything, lots of old stuff, vintage items, treasures, works of art, things you don’t even know you don’t need.

Bluetooth speaker

This bluetooth speaker is bigger than usual, being based on the design of a drum. Try me! I did. I treated the shop to David Bowie singing Everyone Says Hi! What I really wanted to play was a recording of Martha and William laughing, but such an MP3 doesn’t exist on my phone. Yet.

After the fun and games in the shop, it’s despressing to see sights like this.

Tent in the street

Homeless people are living in tents all over the city. You might wake up one day and find someone camping on the pavement outside your luxury apartment. There are even ‘tent cities’ in some locations.

Back at Gita’s house, it was party time, party number 2! We met Gita’s housemates Jessica, Mark and Jackie. Many, many other people turned up, fellow students and tutors and family and friends. Music was provided by Abba, until the record stopped.

What a noisy, busy, happy hubbub. But so many people. Do something scary every day. OK. My opening line was something like ‘You’re not a big fan of big crowds. either, then?’ After which, Jan (I think that was her name, hard to be sure with all that background noise) and I had a really nice chat. I don’t why I find it so hard to talk to new people. Probably being told ‘you should be seen and not heard’ too often doesn’t help.

Pizza

A large truck pulled up outside and delivered a mountain of pizza, from CostCo, one of Liesel’s favourite places.

I spoke to Gita’s mentor about Prince and music and not at all about Gita, although I think I may have accidentally told Gita otherwise later on!

In the evening, there was the option of going to a parade, or going dancing, or going to bed. You have one guess…

In the morning, Liesel drove Guddu to the airport while I slept on obliviously. Liesel came back to bed but when we rose at about 9, there was nobody else around to say goodbye to. Today was the day of Gita’s Graduation ceremony, which looks like a marvellous affair.

Suvan, Gita and Jyoti

A rightly, very proud family, Gita’s worked really hard and I’m sure will continue to do so. Congratulations to you all.

Meanwhile, Liesel and I were driving north on Interstate-5. And that’s another story…

Black tulips and babies

Sadly, no space is deemed too small for the application of graffiti. Even the fairy doors in the local woods aren’t safe from such desecration.

Fairy door needs attention

It is now No Mow May in which we are invited to leave the lawn alone for the benefit of the very few pollinating insects left alive in this country. A lot of people are indeed not mowing, but sadly, the local council’s grass-cutters are out in force, cutting the grass and shredding the litter embedded therein. Ooh, I do like a whinge, don’t I?

We took Martha and William to Lyme Park for a nice, long, brisk walk in the sunshine. Well, that was the plan. After confirming the adventure playground was indeed open, we decided to play there for a while, then walk up to the folly known as The Cage, at the top of the hill, then return to the playground.

William is very adventurous and despite many pleas from us, he decided to cross the small stream via stepping stones and a log. Not the most stable of logs.

William and the wobbly log

He jumped onto the opposite bank, and gave a victory salute at the top. But oops, on the return trip, he slightly overbalanced and had to step into the water. He wasn’t too keen on wet shoes, socks and feet. And he momentarily sat down on a wet stone.

A few minutes later, when Liesel was helping him change his shorts, he apologised for ignoring her when she’d told him not to cross the water, which was very sweet.

Martha and William on a table top

They enjoyed many adventures and we hadn’t even reached the playground yet. Yes, you’re right. Martha is indeed wearing odd socks and, at this point, William is wearing no socks at all.

It was fun watching Martha going round and round on this strange little thing, with her ponytail flying.

Martha spinning

As she was spinning, I asked her what happens when she pulls herself in? Oh, it goes faster, she observed. And in this way, Martha discovered the law of Conservation of Angular Momentum.

The playground was great fun, so in the end, we didn’t make it as far as The Cage. Later, when Liesel and I fancied a cup of coffee, we parked the children up on the branch of a tree.

Martha and William sitting in a tree

Yes, again, you are very observant. Martha is indeed crossing her eyes, a trick that she’d learned from her cousin Emily!

Liesel and I didn’t really go to the café by ourselves, that would be irresponsible and we’d probably lose our jobs. We had coffee and we treated the children to an ice cream. Of course we did!

Our challenge now was to keep them awake on the drive back home, which I did quite successfully, even if one of the games was to kick my arm as quickly and as often as possible. The bruises weren’t too bad.

William enjoys his weekly dance class, and although we didn’t see him at his terpsichorean activituies, we did pick him up from the venue to take him to the zoo. We’ll miss these odd days out with William when he starts going to school 5 days a week, with his sister.

Where’s William?

He’s wearing his hoodie in this manner to keep the cold draught out. He did eventually succumb to sleep on the long drive to Chester Zoo.

As is often the case, it was a bit cooler here than at home, but that didn’t stop us from having a really nice day. Treetop Challenge is always number one on his list and today was no exception. Apart from seeing the elephants first.

William on the zipline

He now needs no assistance in finding his way around this Challenge, and he really has conquered the ziplines.

William (l) and Boris the Gorilla (r)

The Bird Flu crisis is now over and the flamingoes’ aviary was open for business. By which I mean we humans are now allowed inside and we can see these gorgeous pink creatures other than through a close wire mesh.

Flamingoes
William with an otter

We were so pleased that William was interested in seeing so many animals on this visit. He did want to visit the shop so we made a deal: we’ll go to the shop at the end but only if you don’t mention it again. And that worked pretty much all day. But then “You know that place I’m not allowed to talk about? Are we still going there?”

We went. But we also passed by the elephants one more time.

Baby elephant

Our challenge now was to keep him awake on the drive back home, which I did quite successfully, even if one of the games was to kick my arm as quickly and as often as possible. The bruises weren’t too bad.

Liesel had an appointment near home with a pair of physiotherapists’ very strong hands, so William and I visited Riverside Park playground back in Northenden. On the way, we picked litter, a job he really seems to enjoy. But of course, the playground was more fun. He made friends with Misha, a 6-, nearly 7-year old from Ukraine.

William and Misha

I had a nice chat with Misha’s Mum while his younger sister played with a doll and followed the boys around. Her husband is still in Ukraine and of course we hope the war ends soon so he can come and join his family.

Soon, everyone else had left the playground: just me and William left, waiting for Liesel to collect us and take him home.

After two days with a varying number of grandchildren it was time to move on and see some grown-up people. Late in the day, after I’d attended my medical appointments, we drove north to Windermere. By coincidence, we were staying in the same place as Helen and Steve from Chessington. We’d not seen them on our recent trip down south for various reasons, so it was good to catch up now.

We dined in a greasy spoon just down the road from the hotel, you know, the sort of place that sells all kinds of food: chips, pizza, kebabs, burgers. It was alright though.

Helen pointed out this picture in a shop window.

David Bowie

Well, we haven’t seen a David Bowie in a shop window for a couple of weeks, but this is a good one. The artist is Don Pearce and the artwork is outside our price range.

Liesel and I shared a four-poster bed and at first, we thought the mattress was too hard. But actually, it was alright and we both had a reasonable night’s sleep.

Breakfast was served by a lovely Scottish lady whose name I never did catch, after which we set off for Beatrix Potter’s old home, Hill Top, on the other side of the lake itself. Last time Liesel and I visited, many years ago, we took the ferry across and walked up the hill.

Many of the roads are very narrow and in some places, I couldn’t see what to do if we encountered another vehicle coming towards us. But we were very lucky in that respect.

The scenery is of course gorgeous, but this is also a good time of year to enjoy the azaleas and the rhododendrons as well. And the garden behind Hill Top is a very peaceful and pretty place to pass some time. The gardener, Pete, is doing a very good job.

Baby azalea

How do we know the gardener’s name is Pete? Well:

Gardener Pete

The parts of the garden that he’s not responsible for are totally Pete-free.

Black Tulips

When I first read The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas, as a school-boy, I thought it was a made-up flower. But no, they really exist and there are some here at Hill Top. One day, I might read the book again because I can’t remember the story at all.

Even though our tickets were timed, the house was still quite busy, just on the borderline of what we find uncomfortably crowded vis-à-vis Covid. Beatrix Potter had some cool stuff, including a doll’s house with furniture and other items that really aren’t made to scale.

Beatrix’s doll’s house
Selfie of the day

Bizarrely, I think of all the photos I took today, this is my favourite.

Watering can

It is so reminiscent of the Peter Rabbit stories, and I can only surmise that this is the original watering can from Beatrix Potter’s time.

Did I mention Peter Rabbit?

Warning: Peter Rabbit

We drove Helen and Steve back to Ambleside. Funny place, Ambleside: all the shops are named after mild exclamations.

Shops in Ambleside

We took Helen back to the guest house for a nap leaving Steve to enjoy a bus ride in peace and quiet.

The drive home was uneventful. But you can never go on the M6 without there being a traffic jam somewhere!

And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one week, Liesel dragged me to asked me if I wanted to accompany her to Ikea. We haven’t been for a while and the thought of those juicy tender 50p veggieballs, well, how could I refuse?

In a strange case of pareidolia, here’s one of the machines in the café looking particularly grumpy with that thing in its eye.

Smiley tea machine

And back in Wythenshawe, there were more goslings near the path in Painswick Park.

Baby geese on land

And as if they’re not cute enough, there was again another family in the pond.

Baby geese on water

I just hope they stayed safe from the fishing lines on the opposite side.

There was a park bench on which I decided not to rest awhile, because of the nettles growing underneath and up through the gaps. I didn’t want to give my arsenic.

Uncomfortably numb, potentially

Here is evidence of Liesel’s latest craftwork.

This cross-stitch was a labour of love, and will be part of a collection being put together by the ladies of the WI to commemorate the 1948 London Olympics. No further details are available at this time. But jolly well done, Liesel!

Last week’s Wythenshawe Radio show was Girls, Girls, Girls, so this week it had to be Boys, Boys, Boys. Catch up here. Or don’t.

A Tale of, like, Two Cities (Part 1)

It was like, the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of, like wisdom, I suppose, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, y’know? It was the season of, like, Light, it was the season of Darkness, man. I can’t even. I mean, it was the spring of hope, it was, like, the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had like nothing before us, we were all literally going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its, y’know, noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, like, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Know what I mean?

Can you imagine reading a whole novel written by a Generation Z Charles Dickens? Well, if the two young ladies chatting away on the bus nineteen to the dozen, talking about their upcoming exams and so much more, have anything to do with it, this will become the new normal! Actually, it was a very entertaining discussion, even if we oldies couldn’t  keep up with every single cultural reference. After alighting from the bus, we trudged to Manchester’s Piccadilly Railway station where we officially began our few days away, down south, in London. It was our first visit by train since well before the first lockdown, and since Virgin lost the franchise to Avanti West Coast.

My first panic attack occurred as we waited outside the station. I wanted to take a photo of something, but the message flashed up on the phone: Camera Failed. Oh no. Why? No idea. Turning the camera off and leaving it for a few minutes before turning it back on fixed the problem. By which time, I’d lost interest in whatever I was eyeing up for a picture.

Fortunately, we’d booked seats, but the train was crowded because an earlier one had been cancelled. Why? Because a plastic bag had lodged itself in the overhead cables and needed to be removed. I visualised a man up a ladder with a long stick, insulated against the 20,000 volts or whatever.

So, other than our train being oversubscribed, the journey was uneventful. Sadly, we mask-wearers were in the minority. We caught a bus to Waterloo Bridge and descended to the South Bank, where our first lunch or brunch was a small donkey. Well, a burrito. We had a little visitor, which we think is a one-legged, adolescent pied wagtail.

Pied wagtail

Our first accommodation was at a Premier Inn and of course we went to the wrong one first. But, it didn’t matter, I enjoyed seeing some paintings by Salvador Dalí.

Elephant

We dropped off our bags at the correct place and then set off for a longer walk back along the South Bank. The sites are interesting but then, so are all the people. We resisted the temptation of walking on the beach, but there were quite a few people down there. Sad to see Pieminister has gone from Gabriel’s Wharf, but we didn’t help their business by not visiting for years and years.

Busker

We enjoyed some Afro Cuban music thanks to these buskers near Blackfriars Bridge. Neither of us had any cash on us, so thank goodness these, and most other, street entertainers now have the means to accept donations electronically.

We continued along the South Bank, via Hay’s Gallery, the Golden Hinde, Tate Modern, though not necessarily in that order. The newly-wed couple near Tower Bridge seem very happy.

Happy couple

After crossing Tower Bridge, when again I was disappointed that it didn’t lift while I was on it, we walked by The Tower, thinking about the poor people who were taken in through Traitor’s Gate over hundreds of years. You can easily guess which treacherous group of people we would like to see taken in and be severely dealt with right now.

Traitor’s Gate

And you know how they used to keep wild animals such as lions in a menagerie at the Tower? Well, they still do!

Lions at the Tower

As we walked by, we noticed a strange vessel docked next to HMS Belfast in the Thames. From the northern bank, we could see it was in fact Le Champlain, a relatively small cruise ship. Will we ever go on a cruise? Never say never, but I think we’re more likely to join a small ship such as this rather than the small cities that cruise around the oceans.

We walked back over Waterloo Bridge and found these legs out on display.

Legs on the South Bank

I felt a bit miffed that my own lallies, on display for everyone’s pleasure, had some competition. I couldn’t find a plaque explaining this unusual work of art, and I certainly don’t know where the top half is.

As the Sun went down, we ate our evening meal then walked back to the correct Premier Inn where we had a really good night’s sleep. Quite right too, after such a long walk.

Waterloo Sunset

In other news, we noticed the numbers on the clock faces of Big Ben, The Queen Elizabeth Tower, have been painted blue. That scaffolding was up for a long time for a spot of paintwork, so we can only assume more extensive refurbishment has gone on behind the scenes.

In the morning, we walked along the road a bit and sat outside for breakfast, almost in the shadow of the London Eye. No, we weren’t tempted on this occasion, although the lack of a long queue was quite unusual.

We didn’t expect to see red squirrels in London, in Jubilee Gardens, and we certainly didn’t anticipate seeing a blue one.

Help keep Jubilee Gardens beautiful

Again, the opportunity is there for a quick, electronic donation, no need to dig around in pockets seeking old coins and buttons to throw in a hat.

We witnessed this young man practicing his parcours skills.

Parcours

I was going to have a go myself but, er, oh yeah, Liesel said not to, well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. We found our home for the next two nights, an Airbnb just a couple of minutes from the South Bank, behind the National Theatre in fact. We have a flat to ourselves, and given the location, we’ve decided to move in permanently.

Another day, another long walk. This time, we crossed Waterloo Bridge again and headed towards Covent Garden. The usual market stalls weren’t there, it was more of an Antiques Fair. All sorts of old jewellery, crockery and even old photos of perfectly ordinary people. I didn’t recognise anyone, of course, but what a shame, there are probably families somewhere who would love to have those pictures back.

Street market flower sellers from the 1970s

Liesel wanted to visit a clothes shop, Gudrun Sjödén, in Monmouth Street, near Seven Dials. I thought she’d be inside for about 10-15 minutes. Oh no. She didn’t appear again for well over an hour, having received such good and personal service inside. Go on then, Liesel, give us a twirl, show us what you bought.

Liesel’s new dress

I wandered around in ever increasing circles, finding lots of interesting places. I’m not really related, but it’s always good to check up on the dance shoe shop bearing my name.

Freed of London

A lot of London is undergoing building work at the moment, so it doesn’t all look its best. Someone who’ll never be forgotten though is David Bowie. He appeared in one form or another in at least four different shop windows over a couple of days.

Bowie in windows

The other thing that there’s a proliferation of in London (and elsewhere) is Candy Stores. Not good, old-fashioned, English sweet shops, but American-style Candy Stores selling all kinds of American sweets, Hersheys, cereals and probably chemiucals that aren’t legal in the UK. I’m so glad that Liesel isn’t interested in giving her custom to any of these places. But there are so many. Nearly as many vape shops too. Gone are the days when empty premises are taken over by betting shops or charity shops.

Seven Dials

This pillar has seven sundials at the top, which is an amazing coincidence given that it’s located at Seven Dials.

Just off Monmouth Road, there’s a small courtyard, Ching Court, which I had no reason to visit. But I did, and came across this wonderful expanse of colour which the people who are lucky enough to live here gaze upon every day.

Cineraria (I think)

We’re in London so of course we thought about taking in a stage show or a concert. But we didn’t, partly due to concern about Covid still, and partly through not quite getting around to booking tickets. One of the strangest and most unexpected shows on offer was this one:

Bonnie and Clyde

London’s most wanted musical. Spoiler alert: does it end in a hail of 88 bullets?

Nor did we engage in spectating at any sports events, except this one.

Police horses

These horses weren’t running very fast, and when they pulled up at traffic lights, the race was declared a dead heat.

I visited Forbidden Planet, the old science fiction and fantasy bookshop, but nowadays it’s more about collectables from the various franchises, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Marvel comics and more. Interestingly, one of the outlets in Seven Dials Market, where Liesel and I had a late lunch, has borrowed the name.

Planets

Liesel’s been looking for books by a particular author for a while. Let’s walk up and down Charing Cross Road, we decided, it’s all second-hand book shops. Well, not any more it isn’t. Candy stores and vape shops are common amongst other new emporia. Foyles is still there of course and just a couple of the old bookshops. But none had what we were looking for.

We wandered through Chinatown where they haven’t taken down the new year’s lanterns since February, so it still looks bright and vibrant.

Lanterns

It began to rain, so we ducked into the nearest available shop. It was the M&M shop in Leicester Square. We bought something for the grandchildren but, most importantly, we stayed dry.

Tonight saw the premier of the new film Downton Abbey: A New Era. Well, our invites must have got lost in the post but that’s just as well. Sorry to say, but the red carpet was being put in place, and, between you and me, it’s a bit tatty, held together with duct tape. I hope it didn’t become too squelchy in the rain.

Red carpet

Next stop for a coffee was the crypt at St Martin’s in the Field.

In the crypt of St Martin’s

Again, my wife curtailed my creative urges. Plus, I didn’t have on me the necessary marker pen. But I wanted to change the name of the bishop on this sign from Wah to Pigeon.

And speaking of pigeons, Trafalgar Square is so much better without them. I know in the olden days, my sister especially took great pleasure in feeding them but times change.

Earlier, I mentioned Big Ben and didn’t provide a photograph. Well, here is one.

Chocolate Big Ben

This chocolate model is in a shop window, with a sign telling us not to touch it. Well, we didn’t touch it, but while Liesel distracted the shop staff, I had a jolly good lick.

Oh yes, another new fashion in London seems to be leaving old pianos outside shops, whether suitably decorated or otherwise.

Old pianos

The end of the day saw us returning to out Airbnb flat for a good night’s sleep. Well, eventually. The children upstairs must have been jumping off the top of the wardrobe or something, and we half expected them to come through the ceiling to visit us. Once they went to bed though, it was nice and peaceful. Even the traffic outside wasn’t too bad, apart from a couple of motorbikes.

I’m so glad I recorded this week’s radio show last week, there’s no way I would have found time to do it here in London. It was on Wythenshawe FM 97.2 on Friday afternoon at 2, as usual, but feel free to catch it here.

And don’t panic, there is still plenty more to come from our few days in London. Friends! Shops! Nostalgia!

On Tuesday morning at 1.37, our ghosts were haunting the pharmacies of Northenden. A payment to the value of a prescription was taken from one of our cards. Fraud? Looks like it. Was the pharmacy bovvered when we reported the incident on our return? Not really. The solution was to take £9.35 in cash out of the till and give it to us. No paperwork involved. We’re grateful that we’re not out of pocket of course, but come on, that’s not how you address issues of apparently fraudulent activity. In an unusual move on my part, I tweeted a (rare for me) negative tweet about this situation. What happened next?

York

The excitement mounted as I prepared for an adventure. Two years ago, we bought tickets for a gig in York for April 2021. Due to Covid restrictions, along with many other shows, it was postponed. But its time has come. Liesel and I planned to make a weekend of it in York, a city that we’ve only visited once in the past.

Well, Liesel is still in Anchorage of course, and I didn’t want to miss the show. I also decided to go by train rather than by car. I haven’t been on a train for well over two years and I thought I’d see what it’s like these days: how many other passengers would be wearing masks? How crowded would it be?

Blue skies over Northenden

The blue sky was a welcome sight as I waited for the bus to take me into Manchester. The bus wasn’t too busy, and about a third of passengers were masked up. One hundred percent of the driver was not, which I found surprising.

In another first, I caught the train at Oxford Road Station. Despite the cold wind blowing through the station, I did not wait in this rather cute little waiting room.

Waiting room

It reminds me of Thomas Newton’s home planet inThe Man Who fell to Earth, which is strange. That’s today’s first reference to David Bowie.

I read a book during the 90-minute journey to York. Again, about a 33% success rate with face coverings, which is disappointingly low, I feel. Already, I felt I was mentally ticking the box that says ‘don’t travel by train again any time soon’. Which is a shame.

So I’m by myself, but of course I still had Liesel’s ticket. One of my online mates, George, agreed to use the ticket. And George met me in the forecourt of York Station, from where we walked all the way to the concert venue, The Barbican. This was handy because the hotel I’d booked for myself was right next door. Very convenient: almost as if I’d planned it that way. But that was only because all the Airbnb places that I found in York city centre turned out to be actually located in a suburb much further out of town!

George and I ‘met’ online while watching the one time regular Tuesday evening YouTube performances by Jessica Lee Morgan. And, by coincidence, it was Jess that we were here to see tonight, supporting and performing with Tony Visconti’s Best of Bowie. Yes, David Bowie. Sadly, Woody Woodmansey’s not with the band on this occasion, but I knew we’d have a good time anyway.

I checked into my hotel, and we had a coffee before walking back into York Centre. George had pre-booked a ‘meal deal’ at his accommodation, so I wandered around for a while, looking for somewhere nice to dine myself.

I’d forgotten what a pretty little city York is.

Micklegate

The wall surrounds much of the city, and you do feel like you’re entering another realm when you walk through one of these gates. And you sense you might just be under surveillance.

The Eye of Sauron

The Sun was still out and it was quite warm, the cold wind had dwindled, but even so, I was surprised to come across some ice sculptures.

Find Dick at the York Dungeon

Later on, I read up about it here. It says there were 40 exhibits, but over two days, I didn’t find nearly that many. Someone more organised would have looked at a map.

I just happened to glance into this shop window.

Metrobolist

The album that we all know as The Man Who Sold the World being sold at last under the name it was meant to have. No, I didn’t seriously consider starting a new vinyl collection. This might be a new remix by Tony Visconti, but I’m not sure my ears could tell the difference! Still, nice to see David Bowie referenced again.

As I walked over the fast-flowing and high River Ouse, I found this old place on the east bank.

Lendal Tower

Dating from about 1300, Lendal Tower was originally part of the City’s defences, with a defensive chains stretching from here to the Tower on the opposite bank. In 1677 it was leased to the predecessors of The York Waterworks Plc for five hundred years, at an annual rent of one peppercorn for use as a water tower. During the 18th century it housed a steam pumping engine modified to the design of John Smeaton FRS, then a proprietor of the Waterworks. It ceased to be used for those purposes in 1850. In 1932 it was refurbished and now houses the Company’s Board Rooms. So says a plaque on the side of the building.

I dined at The Orchid, a vegan restaurant. Of course, I hadn’t booked, so when I turned up at one minute past opening time, I was told I could eat there as long as I vacated my table by 7.30. I thought, well, if I can’t finish my meal in an hour and a half, then there’s something wrong. Plus, I didn’t want to miss any of the show of course.

And the food was lovely, very well presented and with very friendly service.

Very nice, very tasty

Unusually, I took photos before the dishes were empty.

I enjoyed a leisurely walk back to The Barbican where the scanner successfully scanned my ticket barcode on the first attempt. Things are looking up: maybe I should buy a lottery ticket. As I said, it is a very cute little place.

Scenes from York

Inside, there were hundreds of people, some wearing t-shirts depicting David Bowie from various eras. And, speaking of David Bowie, one thing I never expected to see was a portrait of him in monochrome Lego.

Lego Bowie

Jessica’s partner Chris was working behind the merch stall. I met up with George again as well as Sue, another regular at JLM’s Tuesday night online shows. Nice to see people in real life, isn’t it?

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

Jessica and Chris performed some new songs for about half hour including one which involved audience participation. I don’t think the quality of my singing was improved by the presence of a face covering.

After a break, Tony Visconti’s Best of Bowie took to the stage for two hours of Bowie hits and some surprises. The whole band was spot on, although on a couple of occasions, either the singer, Glenn Gregory, or I, misremembered the lyrics. Jessica played guitar and alto sax, though not at the same time, even she’s not that talented. I am very conscious of not taking too many photos during a show: I used to be quite obsessed with capturing every possible lighting arrangement and every available location of all the musicians. From where I was sitting, and from where George was sitting in Liesel’s seat we couldn’t really see Janette Mason on keyboards, but she did a great job.

The band

Actually, I think most of the audience was singing along to most of the songs. I wasn’t the oldest person there, and there were some teenagers too. So do I have a set list? It’s in my head and I should try and write it down before I forget but then it might already be too late.

Tony Visconti told the story of when they were playing, as Holy Holy, in New York on David Bowie’s birthday. He phoned David up and the whole audience then sang ‘Happy birthday’ to him. Just a couple of days later, they were in Toronto when they heard the news of his passing. They carried on the tour, but I’m sure the atmosphere was very different.

Thank you and good night

I hung around for a while and had a chat with Jessica and Smiley the drummer before setting off for the comfort of my suite, a whole five minute walk away.

Looks familiar

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who did a double-take on seeing this thin blue-suited duke hanging around like the rest of us.

What a great night, and I’m pretty sure Liesel would have enjoyed it too. Next time. Anyway, it took a while to wind down and get to sleep.

After breakfast, I set off for my day as a tourist in York. Of course, I had to walk along the wall for a while. Last time Liesel and I did this, it was drizzling lightly, but today, the Sun was out, the sky was blue and the spirits were well and truly lifted.

York City wall

I admit that sometimes I mess about with my photos for comedic effect. But this photo of Sir Thomas Herbert’s House has not been tampered with.

Sir Thomas Herbert’s House

This old, old, old building really does look that happy.

And, yes, of course I kept a lookout for more ice sculptures.

More ice sulptures

Sadly, a few had melted by the time I found them, as they’d been placed on the sunnier side of the street .

I quite enjoyed wandering around, but not surprisingly I suppose, the most uncomfortable I felt was at the market near The Shambles, which was really crowded. Other prople were having a good time out on the river.

Messing about on the river

The only place I visited properly was the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. In fact, I had lunch here before walking around looking a lots of old stuff. Funny how old buildings like this have the same sort of old smell, despite presumably being cleaned with modern chemicals with modern scents.

Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

The place has been flooded a few times over the centuries, and the high levels have all (I assume all) have been marked.

High Water Lines

I can’t imagine how much water is needed to reach that high from the river that far away. But I must say, I was pleased to have this place almost to myself on this occasion. I suspect that the art galleries and museums would have been far busier. Liesel and I will return sometime, I’m sure.

Something else that is guaranteed to make me feel good is the sight of a perfect reflection in the water. 

Reflections of my life

In Northenden, we have planters in the main street with flowers and they look delightful. In York, they’ve gone one step further and are growing food for the community.

Edible York 2013

Sadly, there wasn’t much to pick today apart from a couple of weeds, but it’s the thought that counts.

There is one landmark in York that I’ve nor mentioned yet. Well, here it is: Cliffords Tower.

Clifford’s Tower

I was going to bound up the slope like a gazelle but, er, I had my luggage, that’s it. Oh, and there was a fence that I couldn’t climb over.

The train back to Manchester was a bit more crowded as was the bus back to Northenden. Oh well.

Meanwhile, our Alaska correspondent has reported more snowfall in Anchorage. Liesel sent this picture which, it has to be said, made me shiver a bit.

Snow

I’ve mentioned my issue with intermittent unjustified shortness of breath before. This week, I visited the GP again and attended hospital for a chest X-ray. I really want to get to the bottom of this now.

Later that day, I started feeling a bit manky. Tickly throat. Cough. Headache. Rough sleep. I didn’t feel up to going out for any of the organised walks and sadly, neither did I feel up to looking after the children this week. Fortunately, I had recorded most of the radio show before I came down with this lurgy. It’s about Communication and an extended mix is available here:

Just when I thought I was getting over whatever the ailment is, the duvet decided to pick a fight with me. I realised I was lying under nothing but empty duvet cover. The duvet itself had somehow migrated to Liesel’s side of the bed leaving the empty husk behind. I tried shaking the duvet back into place but I think I’m going to have to start from scratch. Did I say ‘scratch’? Well, yes. There are in fact two thin duvets at work here, held together with a safety pin in each corner. Except it seems the one in my corner has undone itself and it poked through, threatening to stab me. A small scratch on the arm is bad enough but I don’t need this sort of adventure in the middle of the night, thank you very much. When it comes to battles with inanimate objects, there is no guarantee of victory.

Three nights out

If you’d said to me that I would see somebody fishing in the river, from a wheelchair, I would have said, good for them. I never expected to see such a spectacle, especially at this particular location.

Wheelchair fishing

If he rolls forward just a couple of inches, he will be on a steep slope heading for the Mersey. Who knew that angling could be such a dangerous occupation?

It’s funny the way things work out. We don’t go out much but here we are, going out three nights in a row, to vastly different shows.

First, to see The Blow Monkeys in Manchester, supported by Jessica Lee Morgan, who, yes, we only saw a couple of weeks ago.

The venue was called ‘Club Academy’. It’s very hard to find. There is ‘Manchester Academy’, which was deserted. There is ‘The Academy’, ‘Academy 1’, ‘Academy 2’ and ‘Academy 3’. As we were looking for our venue, we were approached by a couple of other equally confused concert-goers. But we got there in the end and enjoyed a great night’s music. We wore masks but most people didn’t. We’re not too enamoured of standing gigs any more, but we found a counter to lean on. Then, later on, when most people huddled in front of the stage, we went to the back of the auditorium and sat down, trying not to slide off a sofa that was built for people with much longer legs than ours. We felt positively Lilliputian.

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

From our original vantage point, Chris was mostly behind a pillar, but we knew he was there, top bass playing.

The Blow Monkeys

We’re not as familiar with The Blow Monkeys and their music, but we recognised some of their songs. I only wish the saxophone had been a bit louder in the mix.

Before leaving, we had a quick chat with Jess and Chris and, unless something changes, we’ll next see them in March, in York, playing with Holy Holy.

The second show we saw was at The Lowry in Salford. Danny Baker and Bob Harris Backstage Pass: a couple of old rock’n’rollers swapping rock’n’roll stories. This show was postponed from last year, and was a birthday present from a year before that, I think. Well worth waiting for, and as it turns out, this was the first night of their rescheduled tour.

We went into Salford a bit early, not having been there for a long time. It was good to walk around a different city. It’s very modern looking, with its Media City, new blocks of (no doubt luxury) apartments, nothing at all like it’s portrayed in the Ewan MacColl song Dirty Old Town.

Salford Quays
Salford Geese

Lots of people were proudly wearing their medals, having completed the Manchester Marathon. Some looked like they could do it all over again. Others really needed a lie-down, and fast.

Bee in the City: Blue Bee-ter

This blue bee was designed and decorated by Jodie Silverman and the sponsors are BBC Radio Manchester, Blue Peter and Peel Media Ltd. Blue Peter, Blue Bee-ter, what are the chances! The new Blue Peter garden is nearby, but we didn’t pay a visit.

As recommended by Jenny, we dined at Prezzo, although Wagamama was spotted nearby and we were very nearly tempted away.

The show was ‘sold out’ but there were plenty of empty seats. Whether this was because the audience was thinned out due to Covid, or because many people just forgot to turn up, we don’t know.

But it was a fabulous couple of hours of entertainment. Lots of stories from Bob and Dan, some of which we’d heard before, but that’s alright.

Danny Baker and Bob Harris

During the interval, we, the audience members, were invited to write a question down for them to answer in the second half. Bob Harris sings in the chorus of David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival, so I asked whether Danny Baker had appeared on any records. Well, at the start of the second half, Danny announced that his solo gig in Blackheath in January was sold out. He said that tickets sold quickly after he’d announced that every guest would be given one of his old 7-inch singles. Danny said that of course, these records might not be any good, he wouldn’t be giving away Memory of a Free Festival, would he? To which Bob replied, I’m on that record. ‘Are you?’ exclaimed Danny. So Bob told the story of how he and his then wife Sue, and some others, happened to be in the studio when David was recording the song. Producer Tony Visconti invited them up to sing along with the chorus. Bob asked if Dan had been on a record, and the only one he named was by Sham 69, and he told us some things about Jimmy Pursey, their lead singer. So, even though my question wasn’t picked out and read, it was answered.

I was hoping there’d be a meet & greet afterwards, but no. I have a photo of me with Danny Baker from a previous occasion but I do need to add Whispering Bob to my rogues gallery.

Hand-brake turn here. Key change. Nature really shouldn’t get involved in politics.

Saltire: The sky showing its support for Scottish independence

The third in our trilogy of nights out was an event in the Manchester Literature Festival. We saw Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo in conversation with with old chum Jackie Kay. Liesel and I both loved Bernardine’s book Girl, Woman, Other and, having heard her talking about her new book, we’re now looking forward to reading it, Manifesto.

Bernardine Evaristo OBE FRSL FRSA

And as she Tweeted:
MANIFESTO is the @BBC’s ‘Book of the Week’ starting this Monday 18th Oct at 09.45, as narrated by the authoress herself. Listen here.

I joined the queue afterwards to have our copy of the book signed, but I felt bad for Liesel standing all alone outside in the rain, so I gave up waiting and joined her to go home. In fact, she’d been sitting down inside, in comfort and warmth. Ms Evaristo will have to wait until next time to meet me.

She is a very special lady, sharing her birthday with daughter Jenny and with Kylie Minogue.

So, a very entertaining, educational and informative few days overall. Three nights in a row: it was a daunting prospect but we don’t need to make a habit of it. Having been in the presence of so many strangers in such a short period, we both tested ourselves for the plague covid, and we both came up negative.

Which meant that we felt comfortable picking up William and Martha from school on Thursday. The other grandparents provide childminding on a Tuesday. Liesel and I had filled in for them the previous Tuesday. William was aware of this iniquity. ‘Oma and Grandad have picked us up twice and Nana and Papa only once. After today, it will be 3-1’.

At home, this basic unfairness in how the universe operates was forgotten as snacks, fruit and vegetables were on offer. Martha and Oma made spiders from pipecleaners while William completed a new jigsaw puzzle with my assistance.

Martha told us about her meeting today, the School Parliament. But having (I assume) signed the Official Secrets Act, she didn’t divulge any of the details.

And, sorry, William, I don’t mind watching CoComelon on TV with you, with their nursery rhymes, both ancient and modern, but all I can think of is that an anagram of CoComelon is ComeColon.

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner before taking their babies home.

Pipecleaner spider

This is one of the very colourful but otherwise very scary spiders.

Autumn colours are slowly enveloping the trees as the temperature drops. Fallen leaves make the path a bit slippery too, especially when it’s been raining or there’s been a heavy dew. So to make things even more challenging, the grass verges are being cut and the trimmings liberally distributed over the pavements. But the colours are glorious.

Colourful tree

Yes, the sky is blue, the Sun feels nice on our backs as we wander around Northenden and Wythenshawe. Both well-being walks were well-attended this week, Liesel joined us in Wythenshawe, around Painswick Park and beyond.

Walking in sunshine
Matching tree and building
Gnarly old silver birch

Earlier in the week, I spoke to Andrew Foulkes from Northenden Players Theatre Club and to Dan Tiernan, comedian, about the upcoming Northenden Arts Festival. These chats formed the backbone of this week’s Radio Northenden Show. Hear all about it here. I know you’re wondering and yes, I did play David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival to illustrate Northenden Arts Festival. Find out more about the Festival and about Northenden Players here.

Much ado about nothing much

The last couple of days, I’ve come out of the shower feeling decidedly disoriented. What’s going on? Is there something in the water? Something in the air? It finally clicked.

World Map

This map of the world is totally misleading. It’s on the window blind and it’s a repeating pattern, so that’s bearable, even if we do see Australia north of Siberia. No, what really messes this thing up is… well, look where the equator passes through the Americas. Just wrong. And you can’t avoid looking at it while cleaning your teeth. According to this erroneous cartography, we here in Wick are further north than Anchorage, Alaska, and we know that’s not really true. Not in this universe, anyway. In fact, we later discovered we’re at the same latitude as Juneau.

Musical entertainment while waiting for the rain to ease off a bit before going out was provided by Wythenshawe FM 97.2 for a while, then Guy Garvey’s show from last Sunday on BBC 6 Music. There’s a coffee making machine here, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a go. The leaking water hasn’t affected the electric supply so far, and while Liesel’s Americano was bitter, my café au lait was alright. Any bitterness was disguised by the very sweet Edinburgh Rock that I bought yesterday. The sweetest substance in the known universe and my teeth have just gone on strike.

The rain is getting harder, not easing off at all. After consuming a 75g box of ‘A fruity assortment of chopped rock sweets’, I feel full of energy. They’re quite healthy really: 0% fat and 0% salt. But 0% protein and a mere 96.7% carbohydrate, ie sugar. I’ve been challenged to walk/run my 10,000 steps in the house today. Well, as I write, I’m up to 300, time for a sit down, I think. Liesel is crocheting and also looking forlornly out of the window every few minutes.

Our original plan when we knew it was likely to rain all day was to visit the Castle of Mey, mainly because it would be inside. Unfortunately for us, it’s fully booked. Oh well, more plans gang a-gley.

Guy Garvey just played four David Bowie tracks in a row, saying, quite rightly, that it has to be done from time to time. Hunky Dory is 50 years old this year. And it’s still as fresh as the day it was first released.

When it rains…

Well, this positive message on our bedroom wall caught my eye as I jogged around the house. Yes, it’s raining. Not mizzle, this is proper rain, and lots of it. I’ve looked for rainbows as suggested but you need the Sun for those and right now, we have 100% cloud cover, so that’s no good. Sometimes you look out of the window and marvel at the view. Sometimes you don’t.

Nice view

I’ve no idea what this place is, but I just want to go out and paint a mural on that blank canvas. Some mountains or a sea view would be nice. If only I had some artistic skill. Oh, and some paint. But I don’t think we’ll be going out to buy paint any time soon. Time for more steps…

Up to 3176 now. Apparently my perambulation is in the manner of a silly walk. It’s not silly, I’m just taking very small steps so I can fit more into each trek up and down the length of the house. What else did I find on the wall here?

A paddle

Yes, a paddle. Now that tells me we might need a paddle later, if this rain keeps up. In fact, it’s even harder now. I’ve been running around indoors like a BAF, like a numpty, but I haven’t found the boat yet. On the other hand, we can’t even find an oven glove, so they’re probably well hidden in the same place.

Guy Garvey is now playing four songs about rain. Just for us. Even though the show was broadcast four days ago, and recorded four days before that. Specifically for Liesel and Mick anchored down in Wick. And, speaking of anchors:

Anchor

Yes, more evidence that there is a nautical theme to this abode. And what could be more nautical than a boat? Or an ark? I did think about moseying on into John o’Groats to look for my hat, but, well, call me a wimp, I don’t mind a bit of rain, but this is a bit extreme.

In other news, Liesel has decided to walk around after she completes each row of her latest crochet project. I keep looking at the clock and it still says it’s twenty to twelve. Yes, I’m tempted to wind it up but it looks like one of those old-fashioned ones with a really loud tick. Other than the sound of the rain pounding on the roof, we’ve enjoyed the sound of birdsong here, quiet a few house sparrows, plus the odd helicopter flying over.

Liesel’s latest beautiful creation

Has today been a wasted opportunity? No, not really. It’s wonderfully therapeutic to be passing time in a strange house, with no commitments at all. Yes, we would love to have a better view out of at least one of the windows, but we’re warm and dry and content.

A couple of things I forgot to mention over the last few days though. Liesel and I were talking about the fact that we hadn’t seen any rabbits all the time we’ve been in Scotland, not even any droppings in the woods or fields or anywhere. Well, we finally saw a couple of bunnies in John o’Groats in a holiday camp that we drove through by mistake. And if they weren’t cool and cute enough, we also saw some chickens by the side of the road on the way to Duncansby Head. There were a couple of donkeys too, so they may all belong to a petting farm.

I’ve wasted passed a lot of time solving Arrow Sudoku puzzles on my phone. The latest one took me over 66 minutes. So far, I haven’t used the ‘Hints’ option because I want to solve the puzzle myself, but also, when I’ve looked at the Hints in other Sudoku apps, I haven’t really understood them. ‘Obviously this, therefore that…’ Well, it ain’t obvious to me, thank you very much!

Three hours passed in a haze of drugs, alcohol and debauchery. Oops, no, that’s our other blog. No, we read and crocheted and listened to Amy Lamé on 6 Music and it slowly dawned on us that it had, finally, stopped raining. We sent out a pigeon wild rock dove and it came back with an olive branch in its beak, so we knew it was safe to go out.

Castle Sinclair Glenigoe is a short drive from our palace along some dead straight but narrow roads, that could well have been built by the Romans, if they’d ever ventured this far north. Noss Head lighthouse is here too, and we notice that all the lighthouses around here are decorated in the same way: white, black and yellow.

Noss Head Lighthouse

Maybe there was a good deal on those particular paints in the local DIY shop.

The castles, for there are remnants of two different structures, are right on the edge of the precipitous drop into the sea.

Castle Sinclair Glenigoe

There are more sea stacks here too with seabirds who seem to prefer nesting on the far side, facing the sea rather than inland. Maybe they just don’t like people much, either. I imagine they were delicious eating when the castles were occupied.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity in structure between what’s left of the chimney stack and the sea stack.

A pair of stacks

Given the way the sea stack is being eroded, at the bottom, I don’t think it will be too long before before it crashes down into the sea.

One thing we didn’t expect to see on our walk around these ruins was the skull of a sheep. No idea where the rest of the beast is.

Shaun’s skull

I mentioned the fact that we don’t have a particularly inspiring or exciting view from any of the windows here in our Airbnb in Wick. Well, if you were using the latrines in the castle, this is the awful sight that would greet you.

Not too shabby
Northern marsh orchid

The other exciting place we visited was The Expensive Stinking Corporate Organisation, or Tesco for short. And I was amazed and delighted, not to say overawed to see this exciting new development ‘in-store’ as the marketing people but not real people like to say:

Amazing New Photo Booth

When will boffins stop inventing these amazing new things, eh? But what really irked me at this shoppers’ paradise was the fact that it has a better view than we do at our temporary residence.

The view from a supermarket

When the purchases were placed on the kitchen floor, the bags reminded us of other places that we dream of visiting again one day.

Bags for life aka shopping bags

In order to reach my target step count for the day, I went for a quick walk outside, in what was now quite a strong wind.

Wick John o’Groats Airport

Look at that poor old windsock straining against the wind, holding on for grim death. This airport is a mere 200 metres along the road from our current residence, but other than a couple of helicopters, we’ve not been disturbed by it at all.

I was delighted however to find a boat just round the corner.

Gem

I don’t think we’ll need it now it’s stopped raining, but good to know it’s so close. The bloke it belongs to is at home for a couple of weeks from the oil rigs and he’s looking forward to going fishing.

The ugly place next door whose identity I didn’t know earlier? Well, it’s Nucleus: The Nuclear and Caithness Archives. There are two very different archives here, one ancient and one modern. Because of Covid, it’s currently closed to the public, but I’m sure it’s a fascinating place to explore, especially on a wet day.

It is home to the archives of the UK civil nuclear industry which dates back over seventy years and include plans, drawings, photographs, film, microfiche and documents. Dounreay, the site of the UK’s first fast nuclear reactor, is not too far away, we’ll probably drive close by it.

Nucleus also houses the historical archives of the county of Caithness which date from 1469 to the present day and consist of documents in different formats including charters, minute books, correspondence, maps, photographs and plans. These historic collections are available to members of the public for family and local history research.

Nucleus

For those viewers who are keeping notes, or maybe even a spreadsheet, today’s musical entertainment has been provided by the rest of Amy’s show, which we interrupted when we ventured outside and Jo Whiley on Radio 2. We Got It On with Bryan Burnett on BBC Radio Scotland, he played songs that cheer us up. And finally, we tuned into Claire Benson as she presents her weekly Happy Thursday show on Radio Northenden!

In the end, then, against the odds, we enjoyed a very rewarding day and a total of over 11,000 steps were taken, the most enjoyable ones being out in the fresh air of course.