Vaccine and Maxine

I can announce that in a very real way, there is light at the end of this very long, dark, isolated tunnel. The end is indeed nigher. I received my first Covid vaccination this week and it was quite an emotional experience. I floated out of the centre singing about my invincibility! Well, not really, but I am a very happy and grateful bunny.

This event took place on the 42nd anniversary of the day Sarah and I married in Headcorn. And, as if to remind me just how cold it was on that February day, I had to scrape ice and snow off the car before driving to the vaccination centre. I can’t remember the last time I did that. Not because the weather’s been really warm of course, but because we just haven’t been  anywhere.

My appointment was at exactly the right time too. As I sat down, one of the volunteers brought in hot chocolate and biscuits for the staff. ‘Perfect timing’, I uttered. She gave me a biscuit and then said ‘You might as well have one of these as well’.

Vaccination and bonus biscuits

‘Don’t flash them about, otherwise they’ll all want one!’ So please don’t tell anybody.

Liesel and I went out for our first litter picking walk this week, too. We didn’t go too far from home, but did we collect much? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.

Absolute rubbish

It was chilly but thankfully the cold east wind wasn’t too strong today.

We watched some more online entertainment this week, of a political nature, unusual for us, but fascinating just the same.

Christopher Eccleston

Christopher Eccleston read a story about the 1984 miners’ strike which was very moving, about how one family had fallen apart. There followed a discussion which reminded me of a lot of the goings-on at the time.

Karen, the host from Hosmans; Maggie Gee; Maxine Peake

The following evening, we watched the always delightful Maxine Peake read a story about the night cleaners’ strike of 1972. The ensuing discussion included Maggie Gee, an author whom I met several years ago at Kingston Readers’ Festival.

These two events were hosted by Housmans bookshop in London. Won’t it be lovely when we can visit in real life? Any bookshop. Anywhere, really.

Despite the baltic conditions, Liesel and I did venture out for a wander by the river, which has receded to its previous, low, safe levels. And here’s an early sign of Spring.

Little biddy crocus

On the other hand, here’s a sign that really, we’re still in the depths of Winter.

I see icy fields

This is the field where we sometimes have a chat with the horses, but they were out of sight today, hopefully indoors, sitting round a nice warm fire, watching daytime TV.

Liesel spotted a block of ice on top of a fence post.

Block of ice

Well, not really on top. It looks like the pole filled with water which then froze, and as it expanded the ice escaped through the top. I haven’t seen anything like this since the really olden days when we had milk delivered in bottles. The milk and cream would freeze, expand, push the top off the bottle, and reach for the sky.

We didn’t see our heron today, but we did see this happy couple gliding by.

Mergansers – or are they?

You can win a bonus point by telling us what these birds really are.

There was a slight smell of smoke in the air and we finally tracked down the culprits. They were burning some wood on the golf course which, a couple of weeks ago, had been the flood relief plain.

Fire on the golf course (not to be confused with the latest single by Sophie Ellis-Bextor)

When you see that much wood deposited, you realise just how powerful the river must have been during those few days.

One of the funniest things we saw was this dog.

Offenbach? No, it’s Haydn

It was down by the river, hiding form its owners who were delighted to be playing the game.

The island has been revealed for the first time in a while. And, with the grim inevitablity of Paul McCartney performing Hey Jude with far too much audience participation at one of his concerts, there is already a car tyre lying there.

Tyre Island

Northenden is proud to announce that it has become the new headquarters for NATO.

NATO HQ – or is it?

I don’t want to breach their security or anything, but this compass is on the pavement outside Boho Tanning and Beauty and Himalayas Tea in Palatine Road. And yet I don’t think I’ve noticed it before.

Something else new to Northenden (well, new to me in Northenden):

Our very own busker

He didn’t mind me taking his picture, even though I had no cash on me to put in the hat that he didn’t take off. I offered him a coffee instead but he declined, saying it was too cold for this game and that he was going home. I next saw him at the bus stop.

On a palindromic date, 12/2/21 or 12022021, I presented a show on Radio Northenden posing the question, What is Love? Two hours of silly love songs. This is in honour of my 42nd anniversary with Sarah, mentioned above, my 15th with Liesel next Tuesday and it being Valentine’s Day on Sunday. Love is in the air, everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, every sight and every sound. Oh, I just realised, I didn’t actually play that particular song. But please listen if you want some of that love thang.

Slightly further afield, there was excitement on Mars too. The first ever spacecraft from a middle eastern country, the United Arab Emirates, has gone into orbit around the red planet. And this is quite a coincidence because also this week, I started reading my first ever book of Palestinian science fiction! Who knew there was such a thing? It’s a collection of short stories, looking forward to 2048, a hundred years after the Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestians fled or were expelled from their homes. Thought-provoking to say the least.

Palestine+100 published by CommaPress.

The most recent book I finished was Salena Godden’s Mrs Death Misses Death. I wrote a review, not as eloquent as all the others I’ve seen, but it’s from the heart:

This book turned up on my Kindle on the day of publication, and I started reading it straightaway. I’ve been a fan of Salena and her poetry for a long time so I knew this would be good. And it really was. It’s happy and sad and funny and thought-provoking all the way through, not at all maudlin as you might expect from a book about Death. I was torn between reading it quickly to see how it ends and reading it slowly to soak up and appreciate the whole story. I know film and TV rights have been acquired and I am intrigued to see how that develops. But I also know I’ll be re-reading this book very soon, and I very rarely do that. I can’t get over how clever some of the sections (chapters?) are, with their use of language.

Highly recommended! Mrs Death Misses Death published by Canongate.

Here’s a blast from the past, probably about eleven years ago. And another coincidence: remember the UAE spacecraft is named ‘Hope’.

We were in a small town in Alaska called Hope, with some friends. The plan was to go for a walk, or hike, through the woods.

The trail was very pleasant, it meandered and undulated a bit and after a while, I was offered a pair of walking poles, to ‘help’. Why would I need them, I can trip over my own feet quite well, thank you.

‘Try just one then’, someone suggested. Oh all right.

So now I had three things to guide safely to ground level: two feet and a stick. And, inevitably, I put the pole down just off the edge of the path, expecting it to meet a solid surface, but it didn’t: it was like finding an extra step when you think you’ve reached the bottom of the stairs. Yes, of course I tripped and fell over. I was aware of being close to the edge of a bluff, a drop of several dozen feet.

Well, I wasn’t worried for myself. I was more concerned about 3-year old Neha to whom I was giving a piggy-back at the time. I successfully rolled over to protect her, blamed the stupid stick that I didn’t want in the first place and couldn’t apologise enough to Neha’s Mom*.

Walking poles? Portable trip hazards if you ask me.

*We are still friends.

 

Nothing much

There has been a lot of sitting about this week. As usual. We tend to sit when we’re doing our things. And when we’re not doing anything.

Mick: I’m going to write this week’s blog.
Liesel: But nothing happened this week.
Mick: Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something.
Mick in his head: And if not, I’ll make something up.

So here we all are, living in a rainbow.

It would be rude to put up a picture of someone else’s Christmas lights (that doesn’t usually stop you) but it’s nice to see them going up, as we approach the end of November.


The cold, dark evenings don’t stop the vandals from venturing out, unfortunately.

Picnic table out of order

Usually, we don’t use this picnic table beside the river because (a) someone else is sitting there (b) we didn’t bring a picnic or (c) most often, it’s just wet from all the rain.

It’s a bit late in the month, but here is our local war memorial in Northenden. We just haven’t been for a walk in this direction for quite a while.

War Memorial

We try to look up, not down, but some sights are just too horrible to ignore. Some people.

Fly-tipped oil drums

Things really are desperate when I resort to posting photos of what’s left of a chicken.

Feathers

I was going to collect them and make a feather boa for somebody’s Christmas, but Liesel said No.

If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Well, I went down to the woods and I was surprised. One of the trees in Kenworthy Woods has been turned into a Christmas tree by three delightful cousins, Isabelle, Isaac and Jacob.

Merry Christmas, everybody

We’re all invited to go along and add our own baubles and tinsel. At the time of writing, there is a more conventional Christmas tree outside our local Tesco, but it hasn’t yet been decorated.

We went for a walk later than usual one day. Fearing that it might be dark by the time we got back home, I think we both walked a little faster than we intended. A jolly good work-out. And our reward was seeing some colour in the sky. Not quite the Northern Lights, but we’ll take anything colourful right now.

Sunset over the Mersey

A little bit of pink and a little bit of orange.

Twilight zone

One day we walked by the pub. There was a queue outside, and a group of people over the road with their pints, sharing space with the wheelie bins.

Ivy fighting its way through the fence

Everyone in Northenden will probably tell me this sign has been here for years, but I’ve only just noticed it.

Go slow

At least with a 20 mph speed limit in the residential areas, some drivers might slow down to 40 or so, so that’s good.

We succumbed to temptation and purchased a Treat Box from The Northern Den: a chocolate orange cookie, a white chocolate and raspberry cookie, a jammie dodger cupcake, a Kinder Bueno cupcake, a biscoff brownie and an Oreo brownie.
You want a photo? They didn’t last long enough! This cake wasn’t part of the deal, but it looks delicious.

Another fine cake from Dani’s Bakehouse, Northern Den

No I didn’t try a fingerful of icing, but it was close.

We were sitting at home doing nothing much when our ears perked up at the sound of clip-clopping. That sounds like horses, we said to each other. It was a funeral passing by, which is sad, but conversely, the most interesting thing that’s happened in our neighbourhood this week.

Funeral procession

The theme for the radio show this week was Happiness (please listen here), so I had to include songs of that name by Ken Dodd and Tom Hingley, and you don’t often see those two in the same room.

Mick the DJ

This is a picture of me with the equipment for my Radio Northenden show, microphone and headphones.

Next week’s show is about Connection. Please send me your song suggestions and I’ll see what I can fit into the two hours. And don’t forget to tune in to Radio Northenden at two o’clock on Friday afternoon, it’ll be lovely to see your name up on the screen! (
I don’t normally say what’s coming up next week because I haven’t decided a whole week in advance, but next week’s show should be special.)

Hmm, as we thought, not much occurred this week, so here’s something I made up. Well, my subconscious made it up to keep me entertained while I was sleeping.

Me and my old school friend Oscar flew to Sydney for the weekend. We then drove north to Hayman Island, Queensland. I knew we had to book in on the mainland before taking a boat to the island itself. We found the resort shop which was full of disappointingly cheap and nasty tourist tat. We booked our tickets and accommodation and then ate in the greasy spoon canteen. I had a good look round, but then I couldn’t find Oscar. He’d gone missing. I kept looking for him, I asked the receptionist where the nearest hotel was, Oscar might have gone for a kip. Oh no, there are no hotels here, she snootily replied. Then she remembered. Oh, there is a backpackers one just over there, pointing across the road, behind a fence. Well, it was nearby, but it was a long walk. I asked at their reception desk whether Oscar had booked in, the guy said he didn’t know. Then I remembered I could try and call or message him, but my phone was nearly dead, and in any case, the Internet was very slow. A pretty girl said, ‘There are problems with all the phones around here, I feel sorry for the girls.’ Girls? ‘Hookers.’ Oh well, my friend Oscar’s out here somewhere if you want try and find him. ‘Oh, I’m not a prostitute,’ she told me in no uncertain terms. I thought, well you’re pretty enough.
Notes:

  • In real life, I haven’t seen Oscar since he left for San Diego in about 1984.
  • Flying to Sydney for the weekend is not really a viable option.
  • Driving from Sydney to Hayman Island is not a quick trip. It’s probably a 24-hour drive.
  • Hayman Island is a beautiful resort in the Whitsundays. Hello, Adam! Have a look. Dream. One day…
  • I don’t know if there is a shop and/or a greasy spoon restaurant on the mainland attached to the resort, in real life.
  • Also, in real life, we’d book everything in advance.
  • I’m not really a sexist pig who thinks every pretty girl could or should be on the game.

This is why I rarely tell people my dreams: they need so many explanatory notes and don’t make sense to anyone, not even me, sometimes. Yes, I would love to be able to meet up with old friends. Yes, I would love to be able to go somewhere warm and sunny. But at least my dreams are still Covid-free.

Pedalling and walking

Manchester is now in Tier 3 restrictions. This change won’t affect Liesel and me too much: we don’t go out to places, we can still walk around our neighbourhood, we still enjoy the odd takeaway coffee and we weren’t socialising at all. Not even with our grandchildren which is by far the most upsetting thing about this whole crazy situation.

We found more fruit growing in Northenden.

Quince

We had quinces in Chessington too, but even though I lived in that house for a third of a century, I never ate one nor made jam with them. I think I was put off partly by not being 100% certain they were real, edible, quinces, but also by the fact that we often saw one with a single bite taken out, by a fox or a squirrel, or whatever. But just one bite? That tells me, they just weren’t very tasty.

Our default walk is along the river, towards Didsbury and back. On one occasion, the following discussion took place.

Liesel: Look, there’s some Queen Anne’s Lace.
Mick: Oh, I thought it was Fox something, not Foxglove.
Liesel: Uh?
Mick: Fox’s something. Fox’s parsley.
Liesel: You mean Cow Parsley?
Mick: Yes, that’s what I said. You call it Queen Anne’s Lace?
Liesel: Yeah.
Mick: Is that the same as Cow Parsley, then?
Liesel: I dunno. Maybe.
Mick: I’ll look it up when we get home.

So I looked it up, and they are indeed the same plant. Other names include Wild Parsley, Adder’s Meat, Devil’s Meat, Bad Man’s Oatmeal, Keck (like the observatory in Hawaii), Wild Carrot, Bird’s Nest, Bishop’s Lace and Anthriscus sylvestris. Or, if you look elsewhere online, they’re not the same thing at all, but very similar. Please don’t trust any botanical information on this blog. Or on the rest of the internet.

As well as the vegetation, we do enjoy seeing our friends, the herons, geese, ducks and mergansers.

Heron
Heron

It was good to see the Environment Agency cutting back some of the grass, part of the flood protection scheme.

Flood risk
Lawn mower by Simon’s Bridge

Actually, the path was supposedly off limits today, but we didn’t realise until we saw the sign at the other end of the closed section.

Footpath closed

On at least one occasion this week, I went out for a walk without my phone, without the camera. I am so pleased we didn’t encounter anything unusually photogenic.

I had to pre-record my radio show this week so that I could attend the hospital appointment that clashed.

Selfie of the day

They asked me to take my mask off and put theirs on. I’m not sure it was better than the cloth one that Liesel had madefor me: it slipped off much more easily and more often.

Still, I enjoyed the 15 minutes on a supine cycle, pedalling at about 65 rpm, increasing my heart rate, while they monitored the performance of my old ticker. I think it’s good news, nothing wrong with the arteries, but I still have no explanation for the sporadic episodes of breathlessness that accompany the most innocuous of activities. For instance, a few days ago, I had to sit down and catch my breath after towel-drying my hair. So, to prevent that sort of thing happening again, I’ve decided to stop taking showers.

We really are in strange times and it’s messing with our minds. Each year, we watch the Tour de France and La Vuelta a España on TV. This year the races have all been re-scheduled for later in the season. Plus, we’ve been able to watch the highlights from Il Giro d’Italia as well. So that’s all three of the cycling Grand Tours available for our viewing pleasure.

But, even more unusually, this year the Giro and the Vuelta overlap by a few days. This makes keeping track a little more difficult.
‘They haven’t mentioned Chris Froome at all today.’
‘That’s because he’s not in this race.

Even worse when the commentator says the cyclists are approaching Borneo.
‘Borneo? That’s a long way from Spain.’
‘This is Italy.’
‘Ah. Well, Borneo’s a long way from Italy too. And it doesn’t snow this much in Borneo, I suppose.’

In fact, they were in Bormio, a small town in north Italy, and I’d misheard.

What else have we been up to? We binge-watched both series of the TV drama ‘Liar’. It was quite intense, something I enjoy but Liesel struggles with, sometimes.

The theme of this week’s incredibly long radio show was Dreams and Dreaming.
Martha is the star of the show, no doubt!

Here we are, now entertain us

We’re still in lockdown, self-isolating, embedded in the frontline at home, finding new and interesting ways to keep ourselves occupied and entertained. The weather certainly lifts the mood, now it’s warmer and sunnier, but we’re not allowed out more than once a day for a quick spot of exercise. It’s disconcerting when you see so many shops closed for business, with the shutters down. Some have displayed notices, but not all. Any plans we had to acquire tattoos for instance have been put on hold for the time being. Oh well.

Closed for the next few weeks

There is a lot of community spirit, but what a pity we can’t socialise more: it just feels wrong to ‘chat’ with a neighbour by shouting across the road, just to preserve social distancing. There’s plenty of colour to enjoy. When you’re restricted to a short perambulation around the local area, you do appreciate any splashes of colour.

More rainbows

Daffodils

Forget-me-nots and tulips

There are many fewer people walking and cycling and running, so it’s quite easy to maintain social distancing. But it is weird to see one of the busiest local roads all but deserted. One beneficial side effect of there being less traffic is that we can more easily hear the birds singing their songs of joy.

An unusually empty Princess Parkway, looking towards Manchester city centre

Wythenshawe Park was pleasant too. Not too many people, and all keeping away from each other. It hasn’t rained for a while, so I was surprised to see the last puddle in the north-west of England catching the Sun.

Sun puddle-jumping

Wythenshawe Park

This week, Martha celebrated her 4th birthday with her immediate family at home where, sadly, there was no party. We couldn’t join her in person, but we did join other family members online using Zoom, video-conferencing software that is usually used for long, boring and probably unnecessary business meetings!

Zoom with: part of William, Martha and Liam; Liesel and Mick; Andrea, Emily and Paul; Adam and Helen in Australia; Alan and Una

Jenny and Birthday Girl balancing on Daddy’s head

The big 4

But if we couldn’t celebrate Martha’s big day properly, the wider universe did. It chose tonight to reveal the year’s biggest full Moon, a Supermoon, a Pink Moon: the Moon very nearly at its closest to the Earth, appearing 14% larger than usual. It would have been a terrific sight if it wasn’t for the clouds that appeared during the course of the evening. Other people managed to get some decent photos though so I captured this one from TV the next day.

Local News programme showed viewers’ photos of the Moon

Nearly a whole one

The following night, I did see the 99%-full Moon and took this picture, with my phone camera, through the bathroom window. This reminds me how much I am looking forward to using my real camera again at some point, when things get back to normal. In fact, I was going to investigate the latest technology and look into maybe buying a new camera this year.

Indoors, we’re still doing lots of stuff. We miss going to the theatre so it was nice to see the National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors streaming on YouTube. We saw the show in real life a few years ago and we enjoyed it just as much the second time around. On TV, we’ve started watching Star Trek: Discovery and after the first of two series, I think we can safely say it’s engaging, moral and much more intense than the original series half a century ago!

We have a new radio station for a couple of weeks: Radio Northenden. It’s our local, parochial, isolation station! Sanny Rudravajhala is broadcasting from the spare room in his house round the corner from where we live. Listen here, every day until Sunday 19th, 4pm.

Radio Northenden

Just a couple of hours a day, but he and his wife Katie are playing some good music, there’s plenty of chat, guests and nonsense. Best of all, of course, he played my choice of music: Ain’t Bin to no Music School by Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds. This band hails from nearby Wythenshawe, and when I bought the 7″ single in 1976 or ’77, it never occurred to me that I’d be moving to the area a mere 42 years later!

Another day, another walk.

Thank you, keyworkers

Blossoming tree

We’ve passed these pollarded trees many times, but at last, they’re blossoming, showing signs of life, which is lovely.

Spam, spam, spam, spam

This spammer couldn’t decide whether to increase my level of concern over CoViD-19 or to make me panic about potentially losing my Netflix account. In the end, he just put both messages in the one email. I don’t like to generalise but spammers can be a bit thick sometimes.

Like many other folks, I’ve noticed my dreams have been much more vivid during this period of isolation. I haven’t worked for over four years now, yet work is still the subject of many dreams. For instance, I turned up early one morning but couldn’t get into the delivery office because there was too much mail inside. It had all been sorted into bags (nice blue bags, not the red ones they use in real life) but they were all over the tables and all over the floor, stacked high. Then there’s the road where the house numbers aren’t at all in the right order. Dreams are also taking me back to school and college and shopping centres where I leave and can’t find my way back in so I wind up getting further and further away, on the North Downs walking towards Guildford, until I wake up with a great sense of relief.

Valletta and Sliema

Guess what? I rashly did something I hadn’t done for over forty years and the chances are I won’t repeat the experience for another forty years.

I went out for a walk around Paceville with a couple of chores in mind. Plus, of course, the desire to clock up at least 10,000 steps. I am in training for a major challenge in March, remember.

Anyway, I was admiring the local flora and fauna, some of which is very surprising.

The tactful cactus by the roadside

Yes, I wondered too, and I can confirm, this is a real cactus. It looks a bit out of place amongst the dandelions and other small weeds flowers. I was going to walk to the top of the hill, but once the pavement disappeared and the road became too narrow for safety, I gave up.

Eventually, I found my way to the barbershop and I was invited to return an hour later. I passed the time back in Valyou buying just four items and managing to get one of those wrong. What I thought was moisturiser turns out to be moisturising soap, although the word ‘soap’ appears nowhere on the bottle. So confusing. How I yearn for the ’80s when everything was a system. A bar of soap was known as a ‘hand-washing system’. You knew where you were, then.

Anyway, back in the barber’s, I declined the offer of an espresso and asked for a glass of water instead. I enjoyed some nice easy listening, such as Adele and this was followed by the whole unexpurgated version of Gangsta’s Paradise. Coolio! In fact, they played the whole album.

What did I want? A trim and a shave. A wet shave? Oh alright then, yes please. So began a whole hour of being ‘pampered’. So much goo and gloop on my face and hair. Some of the product stung a bit, the green paste smelt a bit like chocolate, the hot, wet towel over the face was nice, once I got over the feeling of being water-boarded. All conveniently located orifices were poked, prodded, probed and shorn and  eyebrows were trimmed. But my first wet shave in nearly half a century wasn’t at all refreshing nor relaxing.
What a haircut
When I returned home, the first thing Liesel noticed was my red face and red neck. Several hours later, she noticed red spots of blood and other marks on my chin and cheek. And even the lighest shower later in the day made my face sting. ‘Is your face hurting?’ Yes, a bit. ‘Because it’s killing me!’ Haha. Liesel did like my new smooth skin, something she has no previous experience of. But it’s interesting, and disappointing, to realise that the skin on my face and neck hasn’t toughened up one iota since I was a teenager.
All you need is love
The shadow is cast mid-afternoon. The sculpture well located. Its twin casts a shadow on the water of the bay, but it’s not easily readable except, presumably, on a really calm day.

Meanwhile, Liesel nodded off at home in the Sun, which is OK, but she also forgot to put the chocolate fingers back in the fridge, and that’s not OK!
Sunset over St Julian’s
We can see the sunset from our fifth floor apartment, but as it’s behind a very built-up area, on a hill, it’s not as spectacular as some others we’ve witnessed.

In the evening, we went for a short walk for some dinner. Italian rather than Maltese, so we’re getting closer to proper local food. It was a bit chilly walking back: yes, even I have to admit that!

The plan was to get up early and set off for Valletta. Well, the first time I looked at the clock, it was just before 10am. I slept well despite the ridiculous work-related dream in which the house numbers were in the wrong order and I had both a bike and a trolley to contend with. So glad I don’t have to do that sort of thing in real life any more!

We caught a bus to Valletta, retracing some of yesterday’s walk. We didn’t realise beforehand that this is Carnival weekend, and we were delighted to see a collection of brightly coloured floats.
One of the floats
The square was very busy and most of the children were dressed in very elaborate costumes. We saw princesses and unicorns, Disney and Harry Potter characters but also quite a few fire fighters, soldiers and other public servants.
Policemen get younger every year
Luckily, he didn’t arrest us. But what a shame that it’s no longer deemed acceptable to take pictures of strange children in strange places, even when they’ve gone to the great effort of drawing attention to themselves.
Independence Monument
Here in the Independence Ground, I indulged in a crêpe and, being British, I chose lemon and sugar. The person in front plumped for a pancake covered in Nutella to which the young lady added three Kinder bars. In unrelated news, Malta apparently has the highest rate of childhood obesity in Europe.
The cat sat on the train

Elvis lives
Some of the music was a bit loud, which safely drowned out me singing along to Abba.
A bee but not a Manchester bee
Once past the city gates, Valletta occupies a mere 1 km by 600 m peninsula, at the end of which we find St Elmo Bay and Fort St Elmo.

Liesel had a rest in the warmth of the Sun while I set off in search of a public toilet. It didn’t look too far to walk on Google Maps but in reality, I had to walk all round the houses, up and up a hill, into a nice little park. I know, TMI maybe, but, mid-stream, a foghorn went off and I jumped out of my skin!
Cargo ship with a very loud foghorn
It was only this huge cargo ship, almost too big for the harbour, but it got my heart rate up for a moment!

I feel sad and disappointed that we’d missed out on Expo 2015 in Milan, probably on account of not knowing about it at the time. I’m sure it would have been good fun. But, no matter. On the way back to Liesel today, I went into (the back door of) the Malta Experience museum, by St Elmo Bastions, to see if I could buy a couple of coffees to take away. Yes, of course. I don’t think many people ask for this service, but all the tables were occupied.
Expo 2015 cup
No, we didn’t keep the cup as a souvenir.

As well as seafood, the main meat on offer here in Malta seems to be rabbit.
Rabbit, tastes of chicken, apparently
We did try our first pastizzi today: one cheese and one pea. Lava-hot molten cheese on an unsuspecting tongue was made bearable by the overall experience of very flaky filo pastry. Liesel’s not usually a fan of mushy peas but this was more than OK!

We were persuaded by a very persuasive man to go for a ride on his karrozin, a horse-drawn carriage. He offered us mates’ rates, €35 instead of €40 plus, he’d drive us all round the city for 40 minutes instead of 35! Well, he chucked us off after a mere twenty minutes and of course, with a tip, we paid €40 anyway. I told his horse it might be boring dragging visitors around Valletta all day, but at least he didn’t have to run the Grand National.

One thing we noticed in Valletta, and even away from the city, is the large number of memorials dedicated to World War 2. In fact, the first stop on our karrozin mini-tour was the World War 2 Siege Memorial.
WW2 Siege Memorial
Mick and Liesel with our horse (centre)
We both commented on how slippery the pavements were. Very smooth, totally different to the ‘textured’ (lumpy, bumpy, unfinished) sidewalks in Paceville. It was funny to see that even the locals would occasionally slip and slide on the smooth marble-like paving stones. On the other hand, where the gradient was too steep even for Maltese feet, they put in some steps.
A pair of sidewalks
We watched people in and around Upper Barrakka for a while. I found a cup of coffee for 40 cents, which was nothing special, but it came in a polystyrene cup! I’d rather have a 5-year old Milan Expo cup, thanks very much!

In terms of wildlife, we didn’t see much. Just a shark, a cat and an octopus, really.
A sleepy cat, a tasty octopus and a scary shark
We caught a bus back to Sliema where we dined and imbibed before walking back home. As soon as the Sun dipped below the built-up western part of town, we noticed a dip in the temperature. We’d been told that the tap water here is safe to drink, just not very nice. But we didn’t expect to be buying water all the way from Wales, in a glass bottle! Mind you, they probably get enough rain there to top up the supply.
Water from Wales
I can’t get over the irony of this town being quite hilly and bumpy, and yet our walking has primarily been fairly flat, along the water front. After a good night’s sleep, we again walked to Sliema. The plan had been to catch a bus back to Valletta and visit the National Museum of Archeology. But the queue at the bus stop was huge and very disorganised, we thought we’d rather walk than stand up on a bus.

For the first time since the 2012 London Olympics, we saw some water polo being played. Only little people, but it was good to see. If only I’d brought my cossie.
Water polo
Again, we enjoyed seeing what other people were up to, whether locals or visitors. Imagine you’re standing underneath a rusty drainpipe during a rainstorm. Well, that’s the only possible way that lady acquired hair that colour. We passed a lady painting the view, and I felt inadequate for merely touching a white button on my phone to capture the same scene. I suspect her picture has more soul, though. The man standing over there waiting to be drenched by an incoming wave was very brave/daft* (*delete as applicable).
An artist at work
A wannabe Cnut
Some of the pedestrian crossings appear to be sponsored by a chain of coffee shops.
Crossing the line
Well, this subliminal advertising didn’t work on us: despite what I said earlier, we made a return visit to French Affaire for coffee and lunch. And I uttered not a single word of French, except when Liesel asked me what French for carrot cake was, and I replied ‘gâteau des carrotes’, which I think is pretty close.
Diana failing to attarct us too
Of all the images they could have used, the late Princess of Wales doesn’t make me want to visit this place.
A new build on top of a more attractive older one
By now, it was too late to visit the museum, so we went home, listened to the radio and read our books. I succeeded in completing a couple of sudokus, wrote for a while and we fought the ant invasion in our fifth-floor Airbnb apartment!

It’s peaceful here but we do hear quite a few sirens in the distance, not to mention probably just one or two boy racers riding their motor bikes at 100 mph while still in first gear. The building works have stopped for the weekend, but we haven’t heard as many church bells as we expected on a Sunday.

2019 into 2020

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

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

Bike locker

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

Liesel’s completed Wasgij jigsaw puzle, wow!

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

Wythenshawe, the home of Wythenshawe Market

Farewell, old friends in the European Community

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny and Martha

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

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

1 in 29, how does anyone manage that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lion planning her escape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few more of our new acquaintances.

Poor chap thinks it’s still nighttime

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

Outside the fish shop, believe it or not

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

Feeling hot, hot, hot

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

Potatoes and a dead tree

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

African long-necked birds

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

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

Selfie of the day

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

Orange flowers

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

Hydrangeas

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

Quarry Bank Mill garden

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

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

Whitworth Hall

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

Here’s Jenny

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

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

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

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

William fighting a pig

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

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

Martha relaxing

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

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

In the paddling pool

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

Mick, Martha tharn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire appliance

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

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

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

Sky High in KL

We’re staying in a complex here in Kuala Lumpur that includes a Creativity Hub. It could be a shopping mall but good for them, there are several ‘shops’ where people display their artistic wares and crafts instead. In the foyer, we found a diorama, a detailed model of somewhere south of Melaka, I think.

Model Malaysia

The sky is a lovely shade of blue which adds to the authenticity.

KL Forest Eco Park gave us an opportunity to walk about outside for a bit. I lost count of the number of stairs. Come to think of it, I even lost count of the number of flights of stairs we had to climb in order to reach the canopy walk itself.

Boat lily (I think)

High up in the canopy, the heat was just as intense, despite the shade, but the noise from the city was slightly dampened. I can’t work out why it seems so loud in this city, more motorbikes, yes, but traffic is traffic.

Canopy walk and one of its towers

Typical cityscape seen from the canopy

After climbing all those stairs, it was a delight to discover that we didn’t have to backtrack and climb down. And neither did we we have to climb down at the other end. We exited the eco park at just the right place, very close to the Kuala Lumpur Tower.

KL Tower seen from the canopy

What a shame we won’t be here on April 21st. Every year, there’s a running race up KL Tower’s 2058 stairs. I’d be up for that. I conquered BT Tower’s 1000 steps a couple of years ago, no problem. (In the end, there were only 870, sorry but thanks if you sponsored me: we were all short-changed!)

A challenge that we’ll miss

We bought tickets for the highest possible observation deck, the Sky Deck. In a world first, Liesel got a senior ticket. By mistake, I hasten to add.

As an aside, usually in restaurants, the waiters take a moment to understand that we both want to order the same item. I don’t know if we have funny accents, or their English is nearly as bad as ours, or if it’s really unusual in Malaysia for two people in a party of two to both order the same thing. Lots of questioning, checking, double takes. We get what we ordered, but the ordering process is unnecessarily troublesome. Here, at KL Tower, surpringly, “one adult and one senior” was interpreted as “two seniors”. Much to Liesel’s chagrin and my delight!

There are four lifts in KL Tower, one of which was out of order, so we waited a while before being transported up 300 metres to the Sky Deck. In a lift with 21 other people. After the 54 seconds ascent, it was a relief to be able to breathe again.

The view over the city was good, just a bit hazy so hard to see the hills in the distance.

Petronas Twin Towers

I was surprised to see that the Petronas Twin Towers appeared to be just a little taller than the KL Tower itself.

Our tickets also included a Sky Box. I don’t know why they thought we needed a device to receive digital television broadcasts from the Astra satellite at 28.2°E, but that was just a misunderstanding. Here, the Sky Box is a glass box that overhangs the observation deck. You can walk on it, sit on it and have your photo taken on it. Nope. Palms are sweaty enough already, thanks very much.

Eeeek Sky Box

Another surprise as we walked around the Sky Deck, edging past not one but two Sky Boxes, was spotting another pair of Petronas Towers. Who knew?

Petronas Towers

Palms sweaty enough already, did I say? Imagine staying at Platinum, going for a swim, and getting out of the wrong side of the pool.

The palm-sweatingly placed Platinum pool

Back down on planet Earth, we found our way to St Mary’s Cathedral. It started off as a cute little wooden church, and it is still expanding. It’s not big nor highly decorated but we were entertained by the organist for a while, in the cool. I recognised the tune he was playing, but couldn’t quite remember who wrote it. Bach? Maybe. Definitely not Vengaboys, thanks, Shazam! The pipe organ was built for the church in 1895 by Henry Willis who also made the organ for St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the original Grand Organ of the Royal Albert Hall.

St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral

It was a short walk to Dataran Merdeka, Independence Square. We didn’t see it at its best, due to building works. But next to the square is an early example of Moghul architecture in Malaysia. Known as Sultan Abdul Samad Building, it now houses a couple of government ministries. But just along the road is the National Textile Museum and this was our next respite from the heat outside.

The magnificent Sultan Abdul Samad Building

Nicely decorated lampposts

We would love to be able to go for a long walk around the city, but we are, let’s be honest, wimps, and the heat is just too much. Added to which, every time you survive crossing the road is a bonus, just ridiculously stressful. But we enjoy museums, and this one especially is right up Liesel’s street.

Examples of Batik

We discovered how batik is done: there are many more stages than we thought. Not something you can easily knock up at home.

There was some lovely jewellery here too. Here’s a preview of Liesel’s birthday present.

Ear studs

Round gold earrings with a central star design and studded with roughly-cut colourless stones. They were worn by Malay and Nyonya women in Melaka during the 1940s.

Not convinced by the Malaysian remake of Doctor Who

The Grab app to grab a cab works really well and the drivers are all very skilled at negotiating the traffic, the motorbikes, the jay-walking visitors, ahem. But there’s a competition to see who can have the most impaired view through the windscreen.

Are we there yet? How would I know, I can’t see a thing!

Stickers plus religious artefacts plus mobile phone plus everyday dirt all add to the adventure.

The National Museum of Malaysia repeats a lot of the history we’ve seen elsewhere. I feel so proud that the British came along to save the locals from the clutches of Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch invaders. Independence Day in 1965 is still a cause for great celebration. Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

Grand entrance to the National Museum

What a lot of stairs to climb up to enter the museum. You think that’s bad enough? Wait until you see the stairs you have to walk up to access the disabled toilet!

Grand entrance to the disabled toilets

Pengkalan Kempas is near Port Dickson and is the source of these monoliths: carved granite, known as “sword” and “rudder”, found near the grave of a sheik who died in 1467.

Two carved granite monoliths

There were more royal seals here, and to pretend they’re older than they really are, the dates are given using the Islamic calendar. This is the seal of Sultan Omar Ibni Sultan Ahmed, 1286 AH.

Seal of authenticity

1286 AH is 1869 AD, more or less.

Kris handle from Bali

The 100-year old Balinese Kris is a dagger, a weapon, but the workmanship of the handle is stunning. The hilt is in the form of a squatting Hindu deity with a decorative copper ring at the base.

The ceramic plate has a colourful geometric design, definitely Islamic influence here.

Just like our Sunday best dinner service at home

Would I like a new pair of slippers for Christmas? Yes, if they’re as cute as these ones.

Comfy slippers

There’s a lot of history here in Malaysia, and as we discussed, Liesel and me, we’re so disappointed that none of this was taught us at school. Certainly my history lessons mainly involved the lives of the kings and queens of England. The East India Company was mentioned but only as a Great, British enterprise to be proud of. We were totally oblivious to other cultures, overseas, at that time.

So when we’re reading descriptions of the items on display, and reading stories, there are always references to people and places that are meaningless to us. The overall impression we have though, is that Chinese, Indians, Malays, all the various peoples in the region traded with each other, and all got along pretty well. Some people converted to Islam, some didn’t, there was no big falling out. Until the Europeans came along, maybe just to trade at first, but then to take over, to invade, to conquer.

It’s interesting to see how successfully Malaysia is managing, in its multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual ways. I’m sure there is an element of racism in some places, but it’s not as overt as it is in little England right now. Here’s funny thing: you have to read it.

Ancestral Origins of the Rulers of Melaka

So, Bat came from a cow’s vomit? I thought that was just Nigel Farage!

It’s time for Conundrum of the Day. The universal sign for a restaurant or a café seems to be an icon depicting a knife and fork.

Signs of the times

But in Malaysia, in a restaurant, you’re usually given a spoon and fork to eat with. I use the spoon as if it were a knife, to cut and to push the food. We sometimes do get a knife and fork, but rarely. And there was that one time when I was given a fork and fork by mistake. Strangely, we’ve never been offered chopsticks, not even in Chinese places. Explain that!

The Mid Valley Megamall is as big and as bad as it sounds. It’s a short distance from the museum but the cab took ages to fight its way through the traffic.

While inside the mall, we missed the rainstorm. But we did walk up and down, miles and miles of shops, even though we had no intention of buying anything. Nice to see a ToysЯUs and a Mothercare, even though supposedly, both have gone out of business.

I did look in the bookshop for a Slitherlink Puzzle book, to no avail. Meanwhile, Liesel was walking around the furniture shoppe testing out the chairs (quite right too).

Every now and then, we detected the slight stench of durian, not very strong, but we were surprised they were allowed to sell such things in a mega mall. Liesel wondered why I was taking so many photos inside a shopping arcade. Well, this portrait was specially requested, even though M&S Foodhall didn’t have anything we required.

Liesel and Marks & Spencer

But the other pictures can provide plenty of fuel the next time your favourite radio presenter asks you to build a person out of shops’ names.

The Body Parts Shoppes

Yes, I did make one of them up!

And then, very nearly a disaster. I received a message from the service provider telling me that I’d nearly used up all my allocation of data! Not only that, my phone was down to less than 20% charge. There was a very real possibility that I might not be able to Grab a cab to get home. Luckily, I squeezed out enough bandwidth and energy, and we didn’t have to walk all the way back to our residence.

But we did walk home from the vegetarian restaurant where we had a nice meal, apart from the mushrooms that were made from leather so not totally vegetarian at all.

There must be something strange in the food here. If you’re not bovvered by other people’s dreams, you are permitted to leave the room here and now.

I was thinking about riding my bike to school. I remembered doing so before (I never did in real life) avoiding the main road, the A3100, but riding a road parallel to it. (There isn’t one IRL.) But as I was about to set off, I realised that I would never get up Holloway Hill in Godalming on the old 3-speed postman’s bike. (Holloway Hill is long and steep and they’ve now installed handrails on the steepest part, IRL.) This was on a Thursday and I knew that Friday would be my last day of school so I parked the postman’s bike by the house over the road (from my childhood home) and caught the bus to school as usual.

The sense of relief on waking up almost brought tears to my eyes. No school, no postman’s bike, phew.

Wonder

Living in a new place or maybe the air quality or the different impurities in the tap water has affected my dreams. I wake up with a feeling of, that was fun, that was strange or that was exhilarating or whatever but with no recollection of what it actually was.

Saturday morning though, I remembered enough for it to make some sort of sense. Hah: a dream that makes sense? That’ll be a first.

A boy was seeking attention by repeatedly knocking on our door. He was about 13 or 14 years of age. He claimed to be a cycling champion in his age group. But he wouldn’t give us his name. We met his Dad at the gym. He’s been discharged from the Army, he said. While chatting, he was plucking the odd hair from his chest, the waxing wasn’t 100% effective. He didn’t seem to be all that proud of or supportive of his son, which we thought was a bit of a shame.

At home, we looked up ‘cycling champions’ and we found a photo of the boy straightaway. He went by the professional name Mex Tex and that made sense, his shirt had had the word Mex embroidered on the chest.

The next time we met his Dad in the gym, we said we’d found his son on the internet but weren’t sure of his real name. He blanched. He said that he was trying to keep a low profile and that was why he’d changed his haircut and was attempting to alter his whole appearance.

He said that he’d tried to impress on his son the necessity to change his appearance too. But so far, all he’d done was to change his name to Mex Tex, a ridiculous name.

We asked why it was so importent to look different and he blanched again. He told us that he wasn’t discharged from the Army, he’d deserted, and if he was caught, he would be shot.

That’s when I woke up. I would love to see the movie.

The weather had changed. It was raining when we woke up and it was still raining after breakfast. Even after a nice, long chat with Roseanna, we didn’t really want to go out.

I’m not generally one to knock religion, but as I walked up the stairs, I very nearly knocked a picture of Jesus off the wall. Oops!

We stayed in our b&b until noon and set off for Covent Garden for a coffee at the London Transport Museum. The plan was to meet Helen and Steve and watch the end of the Prudential 100-mile bike ride and the professional race afterwards. But the weather was unreliable. Instead, we walked along the Strand and over the Millennium Bridge again (no Bob Marley today), to the Southbank Centre. It’s Chorus Weekend, and we enjoyed listening to some choirs in the Riverside Terrace Café.

In fact, I joined one. Yesterday, I’d turned down the opportunity to learn some Spanish dance steps outside the National Theatre. My two left feet would have stomped too many other people. Today, though, we members of the public were invited to form a choir, learn and perform a song. I can’t sing for toffee, but I reckoned I wouldn’t cause anyone any actual physical damage. And someone said, once, a long time ago, that we should all do something scary every day. Well, this was my scary thing today.

First we had to do some strange choreography, though. Moving feet, stamping, kicking out, waving arms in the air, not my thing at all. Fortunately, this did not form part of the eventual performance.

The lesson was led by a guy from The Choir With No Name. Another member, Brian, sang bits of old songs while we volunteers joined in. Lazy Sunday Afternoon was fun. ‘’ello, Mrs Jones, ‘ow’s your Bert’s lumbago?’ he sang. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ three of us responded in an old lady’s voice!

We learned the Emeli Sandé song ‘Wonderful’. It contains a variety of whoas, woahs, oohs and other woah-oohs. Three part harmony, and I was with the lowest of the three, bass baritones, tenors and me. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we ain’t falling under. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we are full of wonder.
The final performance was helped out by a professional singer doing the solo parts, thank goodness. The thought occurred though that I’m glad to be leaving the country tomorrow, before I’m arrested for offences against the musical arts. If you ever come across a bootleg tape of The Riverside Terrace Café Choir, you can choose to leave it where it is or acquire it and I’ll sign it for you!

The Riverside Terrace Café Choir

We were joined by Helen and Steve for another farewell. We watched and sang along to the West End Musical Choir, still in the Riverside Terrace Café.

Afterwards, we went to Giraffe for our last supper in England for a while. The rain was still on and off and the farewells were again a bit emotional adding to the precipitation.
Monday morning arrived after a very fitful sleep, I got up 99 times to visit the loo, I think. Liesel, once she drifted off, slept quite solidly until it was time to get up. I set my own alarm this time, thanks, Martha, but in the end, I was up

well before it went off.
No time for breakfast at the b&b, we packed, repacked and left for a packed tube train to Heathrow. Butterflies were kicking in so thoughts of a really big, substantial breakfast dissipated and I just had a vegetarian sausage sandwich.

Red sauce, brown sause or no sauce at all? No, no and no: I had Tabasco. Liesel had eggs.

We have bulkhead seats on the plane, so we have plenty of legroom, but unfortunately for us, on this Boeing 787-9, the toilets are in the middle, not at the back. Right near us. As I type, we’ve just entered Canadian airspace. It’s dark on our righthand side but still bright out of the other side.

Going back to cycling again. Geraint Thomas did win the Tour de France, the first Welshman to do so, and a very popular winner too.

London is the place to be

London this lovely city.

This calypso was going through my mind as we set off for London this morning. Little did I know that later in the day, we would hear Lord Kitchener’s performance on a Pathé newsreel. But that is getting ahead of ourselves.

Today was the day of the annual Hook Scouts fair on King Edward’s field, off Hook Road. You know, the field where the travelling community set up camp for a few days before the Epsom Derby. Liesel’s WI Group, the Hook and Chessington Branch, had a stall there. We went down with the chocolate brownies Liesel had baked for them to sell. We tried to help erect the tent, but the poles didn’t seem to be from the same set. So, reluctantly, we caught a bus towards Surbiton. While we’d been waiting for the other WI women to arrive, I’d walked around the field one final time. I gazed upon the playground where a young Jenny and a young Helen spent many happy hours.

I realised: today would be a day of reminiscence, of nostalgia, of remembrance. We’d been so caught up recently with all the packing and stacking, the boxing and coxing, that I hadn’t really thought about the enormity of the move we’re about to make.

In Surbiton, I suggested one final coffee at The Press Room: probably the nicest coffee around, and a nice place with nice staff. We’ve sometimes paid a coffee ahead, so that a homeless person can claim it later on. There’s a bell by the door which you can ring if you like the coffee. I’ve been too much of a coward to give it a go, but today, I applied a very light tinkle, there was a guy right next to it and I didn’t want to give him a heart attack.

This would be our final day in London before we move to Northenden. Lots of things to do, it was hard to choose. There was a march in support of the NHS. My favourite walk is probably along the South Bank. There was a food fair at Parsons Green. Then Liesel remembered there’s a temporary work of art in the Serpentine. Yes: In the Serpentine. I passed a lot of time in Hyde Park when I lived nearby in the 1970s, so I was more than happy to revisit one more time.

There seems to be a lot of finality here, today. I know we’ll be back as visitors, but it’s a strange feeling knowing that, after this weekend, London won’t be our home city.

We caught the District Line train at Wimbledon and got off at High Street Kensington, which is on Kensington High Street. By this convention, the next station along should be called Gate Notting Hill, but it isn’t, something that has baffled me since I first lived there in 1973.

We walked towards Hyde Park, and Liesel suggested walking up the road where all the embassies are, Kensington Green. I didn’t know if we’d be allowed to. I think in the 1970s, at the height of the IRA terrorsit campaign, we were probably too intimidated by the large numbers of police officers at the entrance to enter this road, so we never walked along it. Today though, a couple of armed officers, a barrier, several bollards and a sign telling us not to take photos did not deter us from walking up what turned out to be a nice, peaceful, quiet road, right in the heart of London. We tried to guess the embassies from the flags and we got most of them right: Israel, Russia, France, Norway, Finland, but we failed to recognise Kuwait and we don’t know whether the two crossed swords flag was Kenya or somewhere else.

But I was still too much of a coward to risk taking a photo.

We walked through Kensington Gardens, towards the Round Pond and we thought about visiting the Serpentine Gallery. The long queue put us off: no need to be standing around in the hot Sun when we could be walking around in the hot Sun! We crossed the road and had a quick look at the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fountain and lots of people were having lots of fun in it. One little boy splashed me and I was outraged. No, actually, I wanted him to do it again, but I didn’t say so!

Then we saw it. The London Mastaba. An almost pyramid-like structure weighing 600 tonnes constructed from specially made oil drums. And sitting right in the middle of the Serpentine. We considered getting a boat out so that we could get up close and personal but in the end, after lunch, we left the park and caught the bus.

On the way out, we passed the playground where I spent many a happy lunch hour watching the children play, when I worked in Knightsbridge. It was OK in those days to be a young, single, unaccompanied bloke in a children’s playground. Times, sadly, have changed.

Liesel was grateful for the bus ride, a chance to have a break from the walking. It was hot on the bus too, though, even though we sat at the back, on top, where we thought we’d benefit from maximum ventilation through the windows. It was hot ventilation. It was a hot day.

We disembarked at the British Library, a venue that we should have taken more advantage of over the years. There’s an exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the MS Empire Windrush.

Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land is on until October. It is fascinating, moving and in places makes you ashamed to be British. It’s not just the present Tory Government led by Theresa May that has created a hostile environment for migrants from the West Indies.

It was here that we heard Lord Kitchener singing his paean to London. It was one of many sound clips and films of poetry, interviews, reminiscence from and by the Windrush generation.

I looked around and noticed the wide range of people visiting the British Library, people from all over the world, some undoubtedly British, some visiting from overseas, but something you see all over London all the time. And my heart sank anew at the current state of western politics. Brexit and Trump are the dominating themes, both giving permission to the racists and fascists to be even more openly hateful than before. I can’t imagine anything worse than living and working in a place where everyone is just like me.

It was a bit cold in the room with all the sacred texts: old Bibles, Qu’rans, some books bigger than our suitcases, some of them really gorgeous, even if we can’t read the incredibly ornate writing, even when it’s apparently in English. Seeing works of art like this makes reading a book on a Kindle seem a bit underwhelming.

Another cup of coffee while Liesel spoke to her Mom then we caught another bus to Aldwych. We walked along the Strand, via Covent Garden, past Stanley Gibbons who sold some of my stamps a few years ago, and on to the Jubilee Bridge one more time. I had to take a picture of the view of course.

Waterloo Bridge. St Pauls Cathedral. The Shard. The Thames. The South Bank. London.

We caught a train to Kingston and dined at Stein’s, a German place. The vegan sausages and the vegetarian schnitzel were both off, so I had a cheese platter. It was nice, but there’s always too much cheese and not enough bread for me! It was filling though. And then we then caught the bus back home.

Altogether, according to the Fitbit, we walked over 9 miles today. This is much further than planned and indeed, much further than Liesel thought she’d manage with her piriformis injury. With exercise and physiotherapy, we’re hoping this problem will disappear over time, allowing us to walk much longer distances without discomfort.

Two more sleeps in sunny Chessington until we move away from the greatest city on Earth.