M minus 4 days

This week has been the hottest of the year so far. In some places, even hotter than the long, hot Summer of 1976. That was the year they had to appoint a Minister for the Drought.

So hot, in fact, that all we want to do is sit still, enjoy some cold drinks and relax. Instead, we’ve both been working really hard to finish off the packing.

I spent about 5 hours this morning dismantling the tandem and packing it up into its two Samsonite cases. This should only take about 20 minutes, according to the DVD. The first thing that happened when I walked into the garage brought back happy memories of when I worked. I got a faceful of newly spun spiders’ web. Yuck. I can’t say I miss that feeling, nor the taste and I didn’t need to see the size of the tarantula that escaped. It was huge. And no, it didn’t offer to help with the tandem.

Meanwhile, Liesel was upstairs cleaning every available surface, and there are a lot of surfaces available when the things that used to live there have been packed. And there are a lot of things that sit around for years causing little to no trouble, until you want to take them to a new place. One day, I’ll let you know how many boxes we have, but there are literally too many to count accurately now. Dozens. Scores, even.

Sadly, we’ve packed the tools so a couple of last minute fixes won’t get done. The middle hook on the back of the bathroom door broke years ago and it’s still there. Not the useful part, the hook, just the backing plate.

There are lots of challenges that you don’t think about until it comes to the crunch. What should be take with us in the car so that we have it straightaway? Valuables? My PC? Important paperwork? Decisions, decisions!

What can we leave until the last minute? Bedding? TV, DVD player, Freeview box and all the associated cables? Breakfast stuff?

Yes, apart from all the physically hard work of moving stuff around, putting it into boxes, then moving the boxes around, it’s been quite a challenge knowing what to do next. So many lists have been compiled:

  • Things to do
  • What to take with us in the car
  • Businesses that need to know our new address
  • Things to do in the new place before we go travelling!

Liesel has been a trouper, despite her aches and pains. We’ve both used muscles we forgot we had. Here’s a tip: buy shares in Ibuprofen.

It was strange on Summer Solstice day: we brought everything down from the loft and Liesel was re-packing all the Christmas decorations. One day, well, one Christmas, we’ll get a nice big tree and show them off. Not this year though: we’ll be somewhere exotic. The travel plans keep changing. But we can’t concentrate on that until we have settled in our new place.

It’s been too busy for me to be too emotionally distracted. I’ve lived here for 33 years, lots of happy memories and some sad ones. It is definitely Liesel’s house now though, rather than Sarah’s. I think it’s fair to say that because we’ve been thinking about moving on from here for so long, I’ve been ‘grieving’ for this old house for a while, so it won’t be such a shock on the day we close the door for the last time. 33 years in one place: more than half of that time without Sarah, which just doesn’t seem right.

Facebook Marketplace should be a great place to give things away. But I’ve had responses from Bulgaria, USA and Switzerland. They’re not seriously going to come to Chessington just to pick up a free item of furniture. The way it usually worls is:

I put an item up on Facebook Marketplace with a price of £0, ie Free.

Within a minute someone asks: Is it available?

Within another minute, I respond: Yes, can you collect from Chessington today or tomorrow.

Then I sit back and watch the tumbleweed drift by. Never hear from them again.

But now and then, maybe one time in ten, someone follows through and does turn up to take the item away. And as I sit here in front of a fan (that somehow escaped being packed in a box) in the living, surrounded by nn boxes, three people have expressed interest in my old office desk but none of them have committed to coming over to take it away. The good news is, this is the last item of furniture that we need to dispose of. John, the rubbish man, is coming over tomorrow to take away the old washing machine and some other bits and pieces and if he ends up taking away the desk too, that would be a shame, but we can’t take it with us.

Yes, the old washing machine. The one that Sarah bought soon after she started work again once Helen started school. It’s done well, 26 years hard labour, but it leaks a bit and the on/off switch is broken. The kickboard hiding the thing that you unscrew when there’s a blockage has been kicked off. And it’s very slow by modern standards. We can’t responsibly pass it on to someone else, but everyone has their price…

I had a dream last night in which a nice looking iced bun the size of a loaf of bread had packing paper screwed up inside. In fact, apart from the icing, it was all paper. Such a disappointment. But I haven’t had a work-related dream for a while. The one in which, along with everyone else, I am being asked to perform a task so ridiculous, so time-wasting, so pointless, that we just know we won’t have time to complete the day’s delivery. But then, within the dream, I suddenly remember I’ve retired, I don’t even have to be here any more… and I wake up with a great sense of relief and a big smile on my face.

Liesel designed a beautiful card that we will send out once we’ve moved and we know with 100% certainty that nothing will go wrong with this whole project!

While I’ve been blogging, Liesel’s been writing the envelopes for the cards. It’s preferable to her other option: CPD. Continued Professional Development would entail sitting down with a hot laptop on her lap, and today’s weather is not conducive to such an enterprise. The smell of macaroni cheese is drifting through the door: a hot meal for a hot day, Liesel is to be praised for slaving over a hot stove. No wonder she doesn’t want to get up close and personal with a laptop as well!

Boxes and Cows

Boxes, boxes, we’ve never seen so many boxes. The good news is, Jenny and family moved house today, after a long, long wait. Originally, they wanted to move before Martha was born. Martha celebrated her second birthday in April. But now, they are officially SK8ers.

One of the bedrooms was inaccessible in the end, it was so full of boxes. There was the danger of running out of cardboard cartons, so Liesel and I went to the removal firm to pick up 20 more, and most of them were filled in the end.

And then, Alan, Liam’s Dad, and I helped unload another twenty or thirty cartons from the attic, not forgetting several plastic crates. What a big loft: much bigger than ours.

It was a pleasure to be able to help out, and for Liesel and me, it was confirmation that we’d been right to get rid of so much ‘stuff’ over the last couple of years.

And that’s good because, as far as our move is concerned, all of a sudden, our buyer’s solicitor wants to exchange and complete on the same day. Our solicitor advised against that: we can’t be in a position where, on the day of a potential move, our buyer changes her mind.

But if they’re that keen to get a move-on at last, we’re not complaining. We’re still trying to find out when our vendors will be able to move to their new build house in Glossop. It looks like mid-June is now out of the question, sadly. But if we’d moved this week, we might not have been able to help our family with their move, so it’s all worked out quite well.

We took Martha to Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry again one day and it is always a joy to spend time with her. She’s too young to understand the science of course but she loves running around and pressing the buttons, turning wheels, pushing plungers to make bubbles in three liquids of differing viscosities.

We travelled by train and then bus: the free Metroshuttle service is fantastic. And if we’d got off at the correct stop, we wouldn’t have had to walk so far back to the museum! Martha was nicely worn out by the time we’d had lunch, so she missed out of most of the return journey.

Martha
Martha

We spent some time looking after 6-month old William too. He’s a great little character. Usually, Mick walks up and down with him and he goes to sleep. Usually, when he sits with Liesel, he regurgitates some of his food onto her. Well, this time, Mick bore the brunt of his expulsions. On the other hand, Liesel experienced a rare leaking nappy! All of which he will be reminded of when he turns 18.

William about to move house

For these busy few days, we stayed at another excellent Airbnb b&b: thanks to Iris and Dave for their hospitality, the breakfasts and the local recommendations which will come in handy when we finally move to the area. They are also keen cyclists and it was good to see the bikes stored inside the house, something we’ll have to think about when we no longer have a garage.

One day, I’ll have the camera ready to take a picture of the cows walking across a bridge over the M60. We’ve seen them a few times now, an arc en ciel, a monochrome rainbow, a long line of black and white cows walking in single file, presumably to be milked.

It’s always lovely to spend time with Jenny and Liam, of course, and with the grandchildren, but this week was quite hard work, and the drive home could not end soon enough. We were doing fine on the road until we joined the slow-moving traffic just before Hampton Court. But eventually: home, sweet home.

Liesel went out, with our friend Helen, to what might be her final WI meeting in Chessington. It was a wine tasting evening and when I collected them later in the evening, neither of them were too intoxicated.

What a good night’s sleep we both had, though. My dream was weird, I can’t remember all the details, but it involved a wall (not Pink Floyd’s), Bond girls, a sports car and a TV game show.

A Pain in the Abdomen and a Pain in the Bum

This time 45 years ago, I was in the middle of my A-level exams. I took Pure Maths, Physics and Chemistry. In the middle of one of the papers, I had to be accompanied to the toilets as I felt sick. I was sick. I couldn’t continue and went home in agony. I’d been to the GP a couple of times already and he’d diagnosed my abdomenal pains as ‘exam nerves’.

Later on this Wednesday afternoon, I returned to the GP, saw a different one who, after a more thorough, intimate examination, diagnosed appendicitis and told me I had to get into hospital straightaway.

This was my first ride in an ambulance but I was in too much pain to really appreciate it. Mum was with me but I have no idea who was looking after my sister Pauline. Dad was at the Epsom Derby and didn’t get back until much later.

In hospital, I don’t remember the anaesthetic but I do remember the dreams of a golden staircase that went on and on. I woke up without an appendix, which someone described as a blackened gherkin, and I’m sure they asked if I wanted to keep it. Nope.

While in hospital, I missed one paper but took a Chemistry exam in the presence of one of my teachers, Jenny Nelson.

That was the end of school for me, and I missed out on all the end-of-term activities.

Even while I was at school and at university, I never had anxiety dreams about exams. So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning from an exam-related dream. Weird.

I was due to take a Chemistry exam but I couldn’t be bothered. I’d had enough. So I went to a coffee bar instead and ordered my default, latte and carrot cake. After a few minutes, I had a pang of guilt. Mum and Dad and teachers and everyone had such high expectations of me. I knew that if I ran fast, I would make it in time to take the exam: I knew they let people in up to half an hour late and I also knew that until now, I’d finished all my exams well before time was up. This also wasn’t an anxiety dream, just an alternative train of events that never really happened. In 1973, I’d never even heard of latte or carrot cake.

Appendicitis was my medical complaint from a long time ago. Liesel is currently suffering from a painful piriformis muscle which is literally a pain in the arse that sometimes radiates down her leg. Yesterday, in the torrential rain, we visited a physiotherapist in Earlsfield who examined Liesel, poked and prodded a bit and suggested some exercises that will hopefully alleviate the problem.

Did I say it was torrential? We’ve had thunderstorms on and off for a few days now, and thank goodness, we’ve mostly been able to sleep through them. There have been some pretty spectacular photos of the storms on Twitter.

Downpatrick Head

Maybe it was too much fresh air yesterday, maybe it was the beer I drank in the evening (not Guinness), but whatever it was, I am very grateful. For I won a radio competition to help Pink Floyd finish off their latest album, Dark Side of the Moon.

I went to the studio and was told to go into the recording booth with Roger Waters and Roger Dean. The three of us were to sing “That was the news”, one after the other, and this would become the refrain for one of the songs, Our Beauty. In fact, so that I knew what to do, Roger Waters played me the track from the CD.

Meanwhile, in the corner, sat a young girl reading the news. In the opposite corner sat (Jimmy S)a vile man blowing vile cigar smoke into the room.

As the news finished, I heard my own voice singing “That was the news”. Then everyone started laughing! The joke was on me: the radio station just wanted a post-news jingle and I’d unwittingly provided it.

Even within the drean, I then realised that (1) CDs weren’t around when Dark Side of the Moon was recorded (2) There is no such track as Our Beauty on it (3) Roger Dean wasn’t a member of Pink Floyd and (4) The Roger Waters I’d met was an imposter.

Dreams are strange phenomena: you make them up in your own mind and yet you can still be surprised by the things that happen or by what people say. They might come up with a perfectly reasonable answer to a question that you hadn’t thought about.

For example, there was the time I met Victoria Beckham.

“Oh, hello, Vicky”, I said.

“I hate being called Vicky”.

“Oh, sorry. What about Victoria?”

“Oh no, you don’t know me and I don’t know you.”

“Well, what should I call you, then?”

“What’s wrong with Mrs Beckham?”

That was me put in my place.

Today was our last full day in the west of Ireland and I think it’s fair to say: we’ll be back. We’ve enjoyed it immensely, but there is so much more to see. Even apart from that, we just enjoy being here, appreciate all that nature offers and love the friendliness of the people.

We went with Catherine to her favourite place, Downpatrick Head, on the north coast. In fact, this was the furthest north we’d visit on this trip.

It’s a cliff-top, windy place for a walk, and on a stormy day, the sea has been known to wash over the cliffs. Lots of birds, such as guillemots, are nesting on the cliffs and if I were a rock-climber, I’m sure I would want to climb the sea-stack.

Downpatrick Head Sea-stack
Downpatrick Head Sea-stack

The geology of the place is fascinating, some of the rock has cracked into squares, different from the hexagons at Giant’s Causeway. Who knows, maybe one day I will go back and do the Open University Geology course, which I once considered, but I chose another Maths course instead.

There are a couple of blowholes too which I’m sure are exciting to see on a good day, but for now, we were just happy to admire the views.

Liesel and Catherine
Liesel and Catherine adding to the natural beauty of Downpatrick Head

Back in Ballycastle, we enjoyed coffee and scones at Mary’s Kitchen, a really cute little place. According to the menu, Mary has turned grey over the ten years since she arrived, but her husband hasn’t, yet!

We had a quick look in the local gallery, Ballinglen, which had a display downstairs and a library upstairs where I could have spent a long time browsing through the books.

Catherine had to return to work, so Liesel and I set off towards Sligo but in the end, Easky was as far as we went. Knowing we have a long drive, back to Dublin, tomorrow, I think we were both happy to stop here, coffee, millionaire shortbread for me and a sandwich for Liesel, and a walk to the beach where we explored a 811-year old castle and watched a surfer fail to really get going.

Easky Castle
Easky Castle, built in 1207, now incomplete

Stairs & Ramps & Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

I couldn’t find the car in the multi-storey car park. My ‘best friend’ from school, Oscar, was with me but he was still of school age. He said he knew where the car was and he set off. I tried, but I couldn’t keep up with his youthful speed.

On one level, there were no cars, just a lot of children playing and laughing and having picnics. It was wonderful. As I stepped through the door onto another level, I realised it was one huge carousel, rotating slowly, but without any horses to ride. So colourful, though.

I ran up and down stairs, up and down ramps, but I just couldn’t find the car, nor Oscar. So I went to the ground floor, to the ‘customer services’ desk to see whether they could locate my car using the CCTV system. Well, they couldn’t because they only had black and white cameras and my car is red. But they did say that just a few minutes earlier, a young man had asked the same question. Aha, I thought, so Oscar can’t find the car either.

It was at this point of course that I woke up. I was feeling quite excited about the possibilities of having shared use facilities: half car park and half children’s playground. But also feeling quite disappointed that I had a red car: that would never happen in real life.

It’s Bank Holiday Monday and  of course, it’s raining. In fact it’s rained quite a lot recently, the bottom of the garden is quite soggy. The grass is growing and probably needs its first cut of the year, but electric mowers and water-logged lawns don’t mix.

Another small contribution to Mick’s 15 minutes of fame was broadcast last night on Tom Robinson’s Now Playing show on BBC 6 Music.

Intrigued? You can listen to the whole show until May 2nd.

 

63: better than 57 was

Liesel and I were in a shop and she asked me what sort of doughnut I wanted.

“Oh, a normal jam doughnut, with the jam at the back, please.”

As she was being served, David Jacobs walked by us, said “Hello” and walked behind the counter into the kitchen. Well that’s strange, I thought.

Then Liesel looked at me in horror and said, “Mick, you’ve spilt coffee on your shorts”, in a manner that implied I was always spilling coffee down my otherwise pristine, white shorts. I looked down and was horrified at the large brown stain. Then I realised, it was a map of the world, printed on my shorts at a quirky, jaunty angle. But the map is meant to be on the back: yes, I’d put my shorts on back to front. The text is meant to be on the front of the shorts.

Then of course, I woke up and realised, hooray, it’s my birthday.

I don’t know if dreams really mean anything but in this case, it was half right. I did meet David Jacobs just the once: at a Kingston Readers’ Festival event, he asked me if I knew the way to the lavatory.

When I was a child, sometimes as a treat when she took me and my sister shopping in Guildford, Mum would buy us a doughnut. I could never understand how doughnuts worked. Wherever I took the first bite, I wouldn’t find any jam until I’d nearly finished. It was always at the back.

On the other hand, I haven’t worn lily white shorts for a few decades, not since I gave up playing squash. And I have certainly never worn shorts adorned with a world map, nor any other decoration. And I don’t think I’ve spilt coffee on any of my shorts. The living room carpet, yes; the shorts, no.

Back to real life. Today was Mick’s birthday and we had a fun day in London with our friends Helen and Steve.

In the morning we enjoyed Abba Super Troupers: The Exhibition at the Southbank Centre. We walked through nine immersive rooms, taking in the music and creativity that saw four talented Swedish musicians shoot to international stardom. There was plenty of memorabilia, lots of music, and an opportunity to remix one of the songs in a replica of their recording studio.

In Gabriel’s Wharf, we ate all, well, some of, the pies at Pieminister. It had been warm enough briefly in the morning for me to take my coat off. Nobody else did. But walking around in shirt sleeves, albeit briefly, is a sure sign that at last, maybe, possibly, finally, Spring is on its way.

We continued our walk along the South Bank stopping at the Tate Modern for coffee and cake. Not birthday cake, but close enough, thanks for asking. While sitting in the café there, we saw the royal barge Gloriana heading towards Putney for the University Boat Race tomorrow. I think that at the speed it was travelling, it wasn’t being rowed and should therefore not be allowed to compete.

There was a group of people filming on the South Bank beach. Maybe a film, maybe a TV programme. But if in a drama, you ever see someone fishing in the Thames with a rod, let us know, we were there!In the turbine room, the current exhibition is Superflex One Two Three Swing, lots of swings each of which has room for three people, so Liesel and I had a go. Great fun: it’s so good to be allowed, even encouraged, to act like children once in a while.

Steve is a big, big fan of buses, so we went for a quick bus ride to pass some time, catching the RV1 from near the Tate Modern to Tower Gateway, then a 15 to Aldwych, then another RV1 back to the Southbank Centre.

At the Royal Festival Hall, we enjoyed the London Concert Orchestra playing music from James Bond films, and other related films and TV series. The two singers Louise Dearman and Oliver Tompsett did pretty well: we’ll never see Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Matt Monro, Lulu, Louis Armstrong and all the others performing their James Bond film songs live. Yes, I was nudged a few times for singing along, but come on, it is my birthday.

Abba Super Troupers runs until April 29th.

Superflex One Two Three Swing runs until April 2nd.

And if you’ve got this far, you may be wondering about the title. Why is 63 better than 57 was?

Today was a great day, in the greatest city on Earth, all good, nothing bad. It was my 63rd birthday. 63 going on 29.

But I had to work on my 57th birthday: and that was the day I got bit on the bum by a dog.