Three walks and a ski

Yes, of course I miss Liesel, but I don’t miss the sub-zero temperatures she’s enduring over there in Anchorage. But all the fresh snow at least makes it more fun to go skiing. I don’t think Liesel’s been on skis for 16 years so she did well on the first day to fall over just a couple of times. This is cross-country, Nordic, skiing. I don’t know whether she’s planning to hurtle down a mountain any time soon.

Jyoti and Liesel

Yes, the facemask is a Covid defence measure but it keeps the cold wind off the face too. A bit. Liesel’s testing for the contagion every couple of days and, quite rightly, is being very cautious while visiting friends and family.

Meanwhile, what have I been up to at home? One of my main tasks is to watch and delete all the TV shows that Liesel has no interest in. Things such as nature shows where animals eat each other. I have many, many old music shows and some drama that Liesel finds too intense.

Northenden is a bit of a hole. No, that’s not right. But there is a big hole in Northenden, where some shops have been demolished to make way for, presumably, more luxury apartments.

A big hole

Jenny is performing her civic duty, having been called up for jury service, so my civic duty was to look after William for the day. I’d planned to take him to the zoo but as he wasn’t feeling 100%, we just spent the day in my own luxury apartment. We played and did puzzles and he beat me at snap by cheating. The day started well though when I had to scrape ice off the car.

Frost on the car windscreen

It did look pretty from inside the car, I have to admit. But I did realise that there’s a different pattern at work here too. If the car needs de-icing, it’s because we’ve planned to drive somewhere. If it’s a frost-free early morning, it’s probably because I have no plans to drive anywhere. And so it proved to be the case all week. The next time the car was frosted up was on Thursday, our usual child-minding day. Never mind, I thought, the ice will melt by the time I have to leave, at half past two. Oh no. I had to scrape the car that late in the afternoon too. I hope I’m not being unduly paranoid, but this is the very definition of sod’s law.

Anyway, I guess I did an OK job with William.

Selfie of the day

He awarded me an orange star and a number 1 sticker. But he certainly didn’t win any prizes for his skittles skills.

William and skittles

After taking him home, we all had some soup and Martha dressed very colourfully for Rainbows.

Martha the Rainbow

As I reminded Jenny, we’re still waiting to hear whether she has a place in Woodland Folk. We applied many decades ago, but I think the fact that we’ve moved house since then means we’ve missed the response.

Ice, ice, baby

I have to admit, this is Alaska, not Northenden. It’s been cold here too, but doesn’t this look pretty?

I completed a hat-trick of well-being walks this week: the usual Northenden and Wythenshawe ones but a group of five of us also embarked on the much longer trek to Chorlton Water Park. Liesel and I have walked there before but along the river. This time, our route took us through Kenworthy Woods. We heard more birds than we saw, but it’s always good to be out in nature.

Mersey, Mersey, me

It was a cold and frosty day. but a very pleasant walk. Some of the puddles were solid ice, and the lake itself had icy patches. What a shame I forgot to take my ice skates.

Chorlton Water Park

And then next day at Painswick Park, it was like being in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

A herd of geese

The geese were grazing as we walked by but something startled them and they all took to the air, flying over our heads and into the lake. This was the most scary moment of the day but we all came away with clean heads and shoulders.

WFM 97.2 at 2pm on a Friday is now the place to hear my show each week. It’ll be repeated on Wednesdays at 7pm but you can catch the latest show here. This week, the theme is ‘Beginnings’.

Two departures and a birthday

One day, I look forward to walking the length of the Transpennine Trail, but for now, I’ll just be happy to come across the short section that passes through Northenden. No doubt, a highlight for many a long distance walker from Southport to Hull.

Transpennine Trail sign

But that’s in the future. This week, as usual, we stayed pretty local. Out on a walk one day, Liesel sent a message asking me to pick up some painkillers from the pharmacy. Both the pharmacies in Northenden were closed, so I jumped on a bus that stopped at exactly the right time, thinking that wherever I ended up, I’d find one that was open for business. And yes, of course, I realised I should do more of these mystery tours, it’s a good way to get to know the wider area.

On this occasion, I was taken to Sale where indeed I was able to buy what I needed. I also saw a massive bee.

Bee Tree

Two of them lovingly carved from an old tree. And by coincidence, the same bus driver took me back to Northenden.

Liesel and I went over to see the family between gym and swimming. No, not us, it was Martha at the gym and William who went swimming later.

Yee-hah

Martha would make a good cowboy and I can’t help feeling most westerns would be improved if they rode unicorns rather than horses.

Jenny and Helen took me out for a couple of hours to go shopping. I haven’t worn a suit for many years, probably decades, but the time has come to find one that fits. We visited a place called Peter Posh where I expected to be served by someone like Mr Grainger from Are You Being Served? with a tape measure draped around his shoulders. But no, a very helpful, and patient, young lady helped out. I tried on two suits and a waistcoat. In my mind, I’d built suits up to being the uncomfortable uniform of office work, of business men making things worse for the rest of us. So I was surprised to find that these ones at least were actually quite comfortable, and nobody laughed as they said I didn’t look too shabby.

The lesser spotted Mick in a suit and proper shoes

So, good luck, Mick, at the next job interview.

Helen’s birthday rolled up as it always does just after Christmas, and how fabulous it was that she was here to celebrate with us this year. She and I went for a nice walk at Dunham Massey. We found some footwear here and there,  just part of an activity designed presumably for children.

Beautiful boot by a bench

The rose garden was spoiled by the stench of bonfire.

Bonfire grrr

How disappointing. I know the gardeners are all volunteers and we’re very grateful for all their hard work, but there better ways to dispose of stuff you don’t need, especially green waste. We said hello to the robins as we wandered round. Or was it the same robin following us? I keep forgetting to take a bag of mealworms with which to feed them.

On one path, we passed someone familiar to me. I didn’t pester him. But Count Arthur Strong later confirmed that he had indeed been at the same venue. As he said, he’s like the Scarlet Pimple, here, there and everywhere!

Liesel and I attended Helen’s party in the evening but I think, on the available evidence, Martha and William were more excited than she was. We all enjoyed the party food and I can now reveal Helen’s best present.

A few snacks

Let’s hope these snacks all make it through customs when she goes home. In other words, let’s hope the customs officials aren’t hungry.

Helen, William and Martha with the cake

Liesel and I drove to Heald Green where, for the second week in a row, she took a PCR test for Covid. A negative result means that she can fly to Alaska. While waiting, I found a couple of frogs. I didn’t realise these amphibians were still adorning the streets of Stockport.

The frogs in Heald Green

The weekly Wednesday well-being walk in Northenden has resumed, and nine of us had a very pleasant stroll through the woods and around the streets. We stood outside the café with our coffees: sitting inside in a large group didn’t seem a good idea.

In the evening: pizzas again. A second opportunity to wish bon voyage to Liesel. In the morning, I jumped on the boxes to squash them before putting them in the bin.

It was so cold on Thursday morning, we had to scrape ice off the car. I took Liesel to the airport. She’s off to Anchorage to see her parents and her friends and to enjoy all that a deep Alaskan Winter can throw at her. For the rest of the day, I donned my chauffeur’s cap as I was quite happy to help Helen with her various errands.

Helen and I drove to Heald Green where she took a PCR test for Covid. A negative result means that she can fly back to Australia. While waiting, I renewed my acquaintance with a couple of frogs.

Next stop was Lester and Brown jewellers in Poynton where the High Street looks very slippery. The jeweller had taken an old brooch that neither Jenny nor Helen will wear, and made a pair of earrings for each of them, and as far as I can tell, he’s done a very good job.

Slick High Street

Next: Next in Handforth Dean where Helen returned a dress and picked up a new one for Martha to try on.

Next: Create-It in Cheadle to pick up  some mugs designed by the the children.

Next: Greens in Didsbury for lunch. Just a couple of other parties here in the restaurant and the food was, as usual, delicious.

And finally: Card Factory back in Cheadle where a couple of balloons were inflated: a dinosaur for William and a Unicorn for Martha.

New pets

Even though we’ve been living here in Northenden for over three years, I still used Google Maps all day. I don’t yet have a comprehensive mental map of Greater Manchester in my head. I’m sure it will come.

If I’m saying goodbye to one of the ladies in my life, it’s only fitting that we have pizzas. And so it was that we all met up at Pizza Express for a farewell meal. I won’t be having the hot jalapeño dough balls again. Steam blasted from my ears, and my nose didn’t stop running for ages. Incredibly hot and spicy. Helen was due to fly out from Manchester early in the morning so we said our goodbyes here.

I still can’t get over the wonderful surprise of actually seeing her here for Christmas.

Sisters are doing it for themselves

To lose one woman in my life, Mr Worthing, maybe regarded as misfortune. To lose two in the space of two days looks like carelessness. I think that’s from The Important of Being Earnest.

Liesel arrived safely in Anchorage and is already taking advantage of the very slightly different weather. Flying with Covid regulations and face masks adds an extra layer of anxiety to the whole travelling thing, but that’s something we’ll have to live with for a while.

Welcome to Alaska, Liesel

Earlier in the week, I’d pre-recorded and sent off the first radio show for Wythenshawe Radio in its own right. Unfortunately, due to events outside my control, on Wednesday evening, the previous week’s show was broadcast instead. Which is a shame, because it was a special one for Helen’s birthday. The correct show was released into the world on Friday afternoon. And I’ve uploaded a copy here if you’d like to catch up. There’s a news bulletin at the halfway point, but I left that out: nobody needs to hear the news more than absolutely necessary.

It’s a start

While Helen’s here, obviously we want to see her as much as possible. On the other hand, we don’t want her to catch some nasty contagious disease and take it back home. So we’re all doing Covid Lateral Flow Tests much more often now. And my daily sneezing fit is now more often caused by sticking a pipe cleaner swab up my hooter. But the negative tests give us enough confidence to be able to spend time together. It was a full house at Jenny’s and it was lovely to witness the antics of two very excited grandchildren on Christmas Day. The other grandparents, Alan and Una were there too. So with Helen, that was nine in the house. I think we’ll get away with it if we call it a business meeting. Yes, one of the talking points was the government’s flagrant breaking of rules that they themselves had put in place. Oh well. It’s Christmas, we were there to have fun and plenty of food.

It’s Christmas!

So many parcels, so many presents, books, and toys, so much food. And lots of photos.

Excitement

Thoughts of a late afternoon walk were soon discarded, but at least Liesel and I had made the effort earlier in the day. And we did burn off a few Christmas calories at Daddy’s disco later in the day. Lots of dancing and playing musical bumps and musical statues.

Daddy’s disco lights

Thanks Jenny for putting up with us all! And thanks for inviting us back a couple of days later, I guess we didn’t embarrass ourselves, or you, too much. We played a game of Junior Cluedo with Martha and William, and it was interesting watching them play well, concentrate and interact.

Princess of Wales and Colonel Mustard
Another photo

More food of course: Christmas cake, cheesecake, peanut butter and chocolate fudge, chocolates, oh and lots of real, proper food too.

And yes, we pulled Christmas crackers. The jokes don’t improve over the years, do they?

Guess who?

Spending time with the family was of course the highlight of the week, we didn’t go far from home, otherwise. A surprise bonus of some mild weather finished off 2021 nicely and the sunsets were a little unusual too.

Sunset over Northenden

One thing I’ve always wanted to see is a two-headed skeletal dog, and my wish came true this week.

Woof woof

I came across this monstrosity in Quirky Misfits where I bumped into a friend so we had a coffee. Yes, there’s a sign on the door saying dogs are welcome, but there are limits: skeletal bicephalids?

The river is rising again after a lot of rain. So much so, that the Mersey is bringing trees down from its upper reaches, in Stockport.

Trees and logs

The roiling river didn’t look very inviting, to be honest. But why the short post last week? Because we were invited over to spend some time in a hot tub. Helen rented it for a few days, a most unusual Christmas gift, but I hadn’t been in a hot bath like this since we were in Japan. Time for a wash.

In the hot tub: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

A good way to start the new year, I think you’ll agree. But that feeling of well-being can so easily be squished by industrial levels of incompetence.

When I need my prescription renewed, I send a message to my GP, they send it to the pharmacy, the pharmacy sends me a message when the meds are ready for collection. Not this time. In other news, both Liesel and I have received the Collection Codes that we now need to pick up Lateral Flow Tests from the pharmacy. So, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and pay a visit, even though I hadn’t received the expected message after several days. I queued for over half an hour.

On CCTV waiting to get over the threshold

They’re short-staffed due to Covid. They’d run of of Lateral Flow Tests, which many other people in the queue were also waiting for. But had they put a notice up in the window to save people time? Nope. Never mind, I can still get my prescription. Oh no I couldn’t. Despite there being a pharmacist behind the scenes, they weren’t fulfilling prescriptions either. Was there a sign in the window to this effect? Nope. Instead, the assistant gave me a printed copy of my prescription to take somewhere else. I asked why they hadn’t sent a message telling me that they were unable to help on this occasion? I got a funny look and directions to the nearest other pharmacy. Where, after a short walk along the road, I was given my drugs within ten minutes of arrival. Fantastic service. Unfortunately, they too had no LFTs in stock. Luckily, Liesel and I have also been ordering them online. Most often the site says none are available, but we have hit the jackpot a few times. We’re now testing after we’ve been in crowded places, which hasn’t happened recently, and each time before we see the family. We don’t want to give anyone Covid, especially Helen. But, in another quirk of misfortune, Helen has succumbed to a nasty bug leaving her hoarse and coughing and just not feeling very well. What she needs is some of that New South Wales sunshine. I think we all do.

Actually, waiting in that queue for half an hour wasn’t really a big deal. Liesel brought us coffees from a nearby emporium. And we would have been loitering for at least half an hour anyway, because we were waiting for Liesel’s iPhone battery to be replaced in the local electronics shop.

My insomnia isn’t helped by the fact that I’m not going out as much as I should. The weather’s just horrible. So much rain, sleet, snow, thundersnow, cold wind. Oh stop moaning about the weather, Mick. Unlikely.

One night, instead of podcasts, I started listening to CBeebies Radio. Between 9pm and 6am, they play Calming Sounds. I thought this might help the old brain to switch off. One night it was birdsong, and it was lovely, very relaxing. Another night, it was the sound of ocean waves. A lovely background noise, it relaxed my brain beautifully, but my bladder reacted in a totally different, and unhelpful, manner.

We had a couple of nice, local walks recently. One day was quite windy and there were crocodiles floating by on the river.

Not really a crocodile

And I did walk over to Jenny’s one day, too, making a detour by Micker Brook.

Micker Brook

The original plan was to meet Jenny and Helen and all by the Brook, but in the end, we all went for a walk in their neighbourhood, Martha on her bike and William on his scooter.

Back home, Martha continued with her project of mixing a potion.. What’s it for? Well, it’s poisonous but it also makes you invisible.

Martha and her potion

Liesel drove over and we later collected a takeaway from Bhaji Pala in Gatley. Why did we go all the way over there for our meal? Because it was Monday, Bank Holiday, so all the fish and chip shops were closed. The food was delicious. And a little bit late, maybe, but we had Christmas pudding too.

Flaming pudding

Liam drowned the pud in brandy and set it alight, much to the bemusement of the children. When I was a child, there would have been a thrupenny bit or even a sixpence inside, but we don’t do that sort of thing any more, apparently.

A couple of days later, I went over to babysit while Jenny and Helen went to the shops.

Green Goblin

William is now The Green Goblin thanks to some temporary hair colour that Helen applied. Martha’s hair was more variegated. I allowed my hair to be coloured a striped orange and yellow, but all this did was to highlight my bald patch. The photos have now been locked away in a vault somewhere.

I am working on what will be the first radio show to be broadcast solely on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2. But one afternoon I was distracted by the urge to tidy up the Studio, the Office, the so-called third bedroom. I say I got the urge, but in reality, the urge was imposed upon me by Liesel. Who shouldn’t even be here*! Yes, everything’s been put in its new location, plenty of stuff has been disposed of, and over the next weeks and months, it will undoubtedly once again revert to its status of ‘tip’. Sorry, there are no before and after photos. But we did come across tonnes more paperwork that we’re not sure we need to keep. So, add this to the list, Mick: go through each of those boxes again, again, again.

*Yeah, what do I mean, Liesel shouldn’t even be here? Well, she’d planned to fly off to Anchorage to see her family on January 6th. Iceland Air would take her via Reykjavik and Seattle. Unfortunately, the flight was cancelled due to expected bad weather in Iceland and by the time Liesel spoke to someone, the next flight was a week away. So that’s all rebooked now. But If you want to reminisce about bad quality 1970s style phone lines, feel free to call Iceland Air in London. Even the hold music sounds like the old Björk tape has been stretched a bit too much.

And again today, I awoke to the sound of rain being hurled at the windows. I don’t know if the glass in our windows is just intrinsically louder than what we had in Chessington, or if it really does rain harder sideways here in Manchester, but, man it’s loud!  

Surprise, Surprise

If all goes to plan, this post should be published on Christmas Day. So let me be the four hundred and ninety first person to wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases. You have many better things to do than read this, I know, but there are some surprises within, but probably nothing as exciting as your new socks.

I don’t think I’d heard of knafah cake before, but I was pleased to meet The Knafah Girl at Boxx 2 Boxx. I could have had a cake and a coffee and kept quiet about it, but instead, I bought a larger cake to take home. And it was delicious. Liesel and I agreed that we will repeat this experience. Pistachio and rose, since you ask. Did I take a picture of the very pretty middle eastern inspired dessert? No, sorry, but their website is very interesting.

Whenever I’m accused of playing a game on my phone, my response is that it’s not a game, it’s a puzzle. I’m still attempting slitherlinks and taking far too long to solve them. But I’m getting there. Just look at this one.

Finished at last

A supposedly easy puzzle that should take five minutes to solve. It took me well over two hours, on and off. But it passes the time, keeps the brain ticking over and makes a change from sudokus. And as for it being a puzzle rather than a game? Well, the app describes itself as a game, so I think I’ve lost that argument.

It looked like a nice day outside, so we thought we’d go and pick litter in the industrial estate, which we thought was particularly disgusting a few days earlier. Eight bags collected, a record for us in one day. There are no litter bins in one particular road, not that that would necessarily help with the problem, there are just too many lazy litterbugs.

What a mess

And then look at this. These bins haven’t been emptied for weeks, maybe months, and I’m sure this doesn’t help with the litter problem in the area. Just one windy day is all you need, and we’ve had a few of those lately. I hope that image hasn’t put you off your Christmas dinner.

But you’re not here for rubbish content. We enjoyed more pleasant walks along the river to Fletcher Moss Park and to Didsbury, under battleship grey skies.

Trees

Some people are leaving the purchase of their Christmas trees very late. Not sure about the one shrouded in spiders’ webs, but £20 is quite a bargain really.

Roses

The thought occurred: if someone offered me roses, would I expect a bunch of colourful flowers or a plastic tin of chocolates?

So, what’s this slitherlink thing, Mick? According to Wikipedia, “Slitherlink is played on a rectangular lattice of dots. Some of the squares formed by the dots have numbers inside them. The objective is to connect horizontally and vertically adjacent dots so that the lines form a simple loop with no loose ends. The number inside a square represents how many of its four sides are segments in the loop.” Other patterns are available too, and there is no limit to the size of the puzzle. Here’s one I completed later in the week to my delight and to Liesel’s shake of the head.

Hexagons

Only four times the expected solution time on this occasion, so yes, I think I’m getting there! The people over the road have been more gainfully, and seasonally, employed. Their front garden is beginning to look a bit like Christmas.

It’s Christmas!

Jenny sent a message inviting us over to try the cakes that Martha and William had made. Well, it would be rude not to. I was just putting the finishing touches to this week’s show and Liesel was playing with glue and cookie dough, although I am assured these were two separate projects.

We drove over to Jenny’s and rang the bell. I was all for singing carols on the doorstep but that idea was vetoed. William opened the door and close behind was a very excited Martha. Once inside, Jenny greeted us too, then a strange apparition appeared. Father Christmas, was here. Well, someone in an inflatable Santa outfit at least. I thought I recognised the face behind the beard. It took a minute for the cogs to engage but eventually, it clicked. This was Helen. My Helen. Here from Australia. What’s she doing here? How did she get here? I was stunned, almost speechless, my mind was blown and my gob was smacked. Really? Helen? Here? What a lovely surprise! But, really? I gave fat Santa a hug and expressed my surprise, a secret that she and Jenny had kept very well. I didn’t have a clue. A video was made of our arrival so my reaction is preserved for posterity. We also watched the video of Martha and William opening the door to Father Christmas earlier in the day, and within a second, Martha identified Auntie Helen!

I’d been led to believe that Helen was working right up until Christmas and then, Covid restrictions permitting, going off to Queensland, camping, or, I thought, more likely glamping. But no, here she was, in England, Plague Island. Yes, there wll be Covid tests and isolation but wow, what a lovely Christmas surprise for me. I couldn’t think of the words to express my delight. Still can’t, to be honest. We’ve seen Helen since that first meeting, so I know she really is here, and it wasn’t a dream, but still, at a deep level, it’s unbelievable.

William and Martha with Auntie Helen

What a strange feeling. Surprised that Helen’s here but, at the same time, it seemed perfectly normal to be in her company at Jenny’s place. As someone remarked, it’s a good job I hadn’t planned to go and surprise Helen down under!

As a bonus, the cakes baked and decorated by the children were very nice.

By comparison, the news that Greater Manchester is to get a Clean Air Zone seems pretty mundane.

Clean Air Zone

Liesel and I had a nice walk but we avoided the muddy woods. We kept to residential roads, even at the risk of being splashed as cars ploughed through the puddles.

Later on in the afternoon, we had visitors: Helen and her hosts Jenny, Liam, Martha and William. We gave the children an early present, because we thought they’d enjoy playing skittles in our long hallway.

Strike!

Liam was a good backstop, the balls were returned with remarkable efficiency.

Somehow the seven of us sat around our dining table without too much jostling of the elbows. Liesel’s home-made Indian food, since you ask, and very nice too. Followed by cookies which we all enjoyed decorating.

Cookie pride

There were some works of art here, such a shame that they’d all be consumed within a day or two. Some didn’t even survive a whole minute.

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

Thanks to Helen for taking this group picture, which is far, far better than my attempts.

And so the Big Day is looming over the horizon. But my penultimate show on radio Northenden went pretty well, I think. Listen to another two hours of Christmas music here. Or if you can bear to wait, it’ll be reapeated on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 next Wednesday at 7pm.

Merry Christmas, chaps and chappesses.

Blood, Bond, Broadband

It rained so much, the river was in full flow, so the birds migrated to the newly flooded golf course.

Birdies on the golf course

This was witnessed by Liesel, on an early morning walk, while I remained warm and comfortable in my pit.

A million congratulations and thanks to Wythenshawe Waste Warriors: they (we) have collectively picked up over 10,000 bags of litter this year, so far. Liesel and I added another small contribution, just walking up and down Royle Green Road and some of the sideroads. Bottles and cans should have a 10p (or more) deposit on them, that would help. There was a lot of drugs paraphernalia too, including for the first time a hypodermic needle. Very close to a school. But as I’ve mentioned before, we could do a roaring trade in used, discarded face-masks. If there were a market for such a thing.

Oversize mushroom

It’s been ideal weather for supersized mushrooms too. I suppose they’ll deal with the leaf litter and eventually take over the whole world.

500 years from now, people will look back at our times and laugh at the range of jobs people had. In the same way we cringe at Henry VIII’s master of the stool: not a pleasant job at all. In our case, they’ll be looking down their noses at leaf-blower operators. What’s the point of blowing leaves around? But we witnessed a whole different level of ridiculosity.

Leaf washer downer

I’ve concealed his identity to save him embarrassment. He was hosing the leaves off the pavement and grass verge, onto the road, eventually to block the local drains.

On a brighter note, we did visit a cinema, for the first time since before the world turned upside down. No Time To Die is the latest, much delayed, James Bond film. And jolly good it is too. People said it was too long, but it certainly didn’t drag. My only criticism is that some of the dialogue was hard to hear because of the background music and sound effects, which were very bass heavy. The Savoy Cinema in Heaton Moor is a good place, we sat on a sofa, but we declined the offer of coffee and wine in the auditorium.

Liesel suggested going on the well-being walk at Newall Green. It was a nice day, so why not? We walked to the venue, the Firbank Pub and Kitchen, arriving just on 11am, but there was nobody else there. Oopsie. This is an afternoon walk: we were two hours too early. So we had a quick look at Rodger’s Park, just over the road, before walking home.

Trees in Rodgers Park

I was missed out the next day too: I missed the Northenden walk, because I was on the phone. Two different people called me within half an hour, which is most unusual, I very rarely receive phone calls. Well, it was lovely to speak to Helen of course, from the comfort of my own bed, where I was lying, while soaking up the Sun.

We upgraded our Broadband connection this week, and the process was unexpectedly straighforward. The downside is, we’re now paying a lot more for it each month. But comparing the price with other providers, I think we’ve been lucky to have it so cheap for so long.

We walked to our GP’s surgery where my blood was taken to be sampled. We both commented on the amount of litter in some places, especially in and around the industrial estate. One day, we might venture that way with our bags and pickers.

Thursday is our child-minding day, and usually we take Martha and William home to our place to play. This week, we went a bit further afield. We saw The Lanterns at Chester Zoo. These are animals, made from paper (or a waterproof, paper-like membrane), illuminated, with many being animated. It is, as they say, totally enchanting. Martha really wanted to hug the butterfly as she slowly wafted her wings. Father Christmas was there too, and William really wanted to speak to him.

Penguins in Technicolor®

I tried to tell her that they were just ordinary wolves, but Martha insisted on stroking the werewolves.

Martha and the Werewolf

We arrived just before 5pm and it was of course already dark. Which is good, it makes the illuminations all the more impressive. But it also makes it harder to track down your children when they run off. And William loves running. Even in the dark.

The artificial snowstorm
Awestruck in the presence of greatness

Father Christmas was a jolly old soul, he managed to get the crowd to join in with his ho, ho, hos and his Merrrrrry Christmases. 

Dancing in the lights

We did wonder whether the real animals were impressed by the light show. Or scared. Or sedated.

Both William and Martha fell asleep in the car on the way home but the big surprise is that I didn’t.

The final Wythenshawe walk of the year was very enjoyable, just the four of us on this occasion, plus a dog who thinks he’s a meerkat.

Sandy the wannabe meerkat
Painswick Park

Yes, the Sun was out, the pond was pretty, the geese were chatty and all’s right with the world. Meanwhile, Liesel was in the Lifestyle Centre, volunteering. She got up at stupid o’clock while I just rolled over. Between 8am and 1pm, she witnessed and helped out as 600 people received their Covid booster jabs. Yes, we are aware of the irony of being in a closed space with hundreds of strangers, while still debating whether or not to go into people’s houses.

Painswick Park

A quick glance at this picture reminds me of Japan: that fence could easily be one of those cute little bridges in a Japanese garden.

Breakfast for me is usually a combination of blueberries, muesli, Weetabix and Shreddies. It’s a carefully honed operation, combining the ingredients in exactly the right proportion, while waiting for the kettle to boil and the tea to brew. So imagine my dismay when I caught myself pouring the Shreddies into the Weetabix tin one day instead of into the cereal bowl. The virus that causes such senior moments is very contagious. Later in the week, twice, Liesel was unable to locate the notebook she uses for her legal work. Once, it had fallen behind the sub-futon drawer where it usually resides, but the second time, it was in a different room altogether. I suggested tying it to a piece of string so she could hang it around her neck, but that idea didn’t go down well.

This week’s Radio Northenden show, my antepenultimate one, was two hours of Christmas songs. You can listen here.

I have just two more shows on Radio Northenden, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Radio Northenden has different plans for 2022, all change here. My little show will continue on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2, initially pre-recorded at home, but I hope to broadcast live from the studio eventually. I hope to find a way to upload my shows for people in different timezones who like to listen later on. Or they could get up in the middle of the night and tune in of course.

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. As usual, Liesel has done a brilliant job decorating and lighting up our living room. We don’t have room for a tree, sadly, something we never considered when looking at the place all those years ago.

Quirky tee weave (anag.)

The Christmas lights at Dunham Massey are very pretty. They’re probably even prettier at night, when they’re actually switched on. But we were there in the middle of the day for a pleasant walk. It’s unusal to be greeted by animals on the way in but today, we found this creature making a bid for freedom.

Deer

A lot of work has been done installing the lights. There are cables all over the place, and I think they’ll be shocked when the next electricity bill turns up.

Birch

I did suggest that they rename the place temporarily to Dunham Christmassey but the committee rejected the proposal.

Robin

This is probably the biggest, fattest robin on the site, but funnily enough, very soon after seeing this one, we saw a real life little fat robin looking cute and posing for photos.

House

And finally we found out why Dunham Christmassey was frowned upon. They’ve already purchased and installed the huge letters outside the house. Maybe next year.

The riverside walk near home was a bit muddy. It’s rained a bit, I may have mentioned that recently.

Path

The river was flowing fast and that seems to have driven the heron inland. We saw him sitting proudly on the fairway, and without a hard hat, despite the signs warning of low-flying balls.

Heron

One night, they sky was clear of clouds, so I thought I’d have a go at some  astrophotography with my phone.

Sky

Here is the stunning result. The Moon, Jupiter and a local street light.

But the real stars this weeke were William and Martha on our child-minding day. I think it’s fair to say they’re looking forward to Christmas. In the car, they both sung the songs they’ll be performing at school.

Then William came over the next day too where we played with dinosaurs and Superwings, watched a film, Robin Robin, and snacked a lot.

Oma was out, meanwhile, on a long walk with the WI. I think they’d planned a long walk, I don’t think they got lost or anything.

When Jenny collected William, they dropped me off at The Forum in Wythenshawe where I spent an hour in the company of Colin as be broadcast his lunchtime show from Wythenshawe Radio’s studio. The setup there is more complicated than my PC at home.

Later on at home, I joined in a Zoom call with Colin and Susie as they recorded her Christmas show. I think it’s fair to say I am now an official Wythenshawe Radio volunteer.

On Radio Northenden, this week’s show was The Blues, mostly the colour blue, and you can listen to the show here or to the repeat on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 on Wednesday at 7pm and again next Friday 2pm.

A very quiet week (anag.), I think you’ll agree.

Snow, man

We joined Jenny and Liam and the children for breakfast at their place, which was very nice. There I was reading a book to William, quite enjoying the story, when he suddenly remembered he had a chocolate croissant coming. So that was the end of that. I wonder how the story finished?

Liesel drove me home and then took Martha shopping. They were looking for fabrics with which to make some items for Christmas.

Fabrics chosen by Martha

Later on, Liesel and I went for a walk along the river. We don’t usually go out that late in the day. The Sun was low but we knew we’d be home before it was too dark. Or did we? I was conscious of walking just a little bit faster than usual.

Mersey and puddles

The river was high and flowing fast, leading to eddies and whirlpools. The ducks seemed to be having a hard time swimming upstream: well, we were entertained anyway.

And lo, as threatened, the snow arrived. Tentatively at first, but it soon settled. Did we go out and build a snowman? No, of course not. My instinct was to crawl under the duvet and hibernate until about May.

Snow on the ground, look: be quick, it doesn’t last long, and I apologise for the unappealing setting, but such is the view from our luxury apartment

Some small people did venture outside to enjoy the elements.

William (l), Snowman (centre), Martha (r)

Jenny and William paid us a quick visit during which William practiced his new skill: winking.

Masks are now mandatory again on public transport, so I was delighted to see about 50% of passengers on my bus suitably dressed. Yes, as many as 50%. I can’t believe it’s three months since the last time, but I ventured into Manchester to donate another armful of blood. Afterwards, I wandered into the city centre and confirmed that yes, it is very nearly Christmas.

Father Christmas outside the Central Library

I found a coffee shop in which to catch my breath and rehydrate and yes, I had a brownie too, as if I hadn’t consumed enough biscuits and crisps at the donation centre. It was nice to see Lesley the barista, formerly of Boxx 2 Boxx, working there.

I took the bus home and was glad to disembark. It’s hard trying not to take a breath for 30 minutes on a bus but I think I managed. If only all those other people had been wearing masks as well.

We have a new shop in Northenden: Quirky Misfits. Quirky by name, quirky by nature. I had a quick chat with Lydia (for the radio show) plus a lovely cup of coffee in the Beetlejuice themed coffee bar.

A skull for every occasion
Quirky Misfits

Walking home, I noticed that my barbershop is being refurbished. At least, I hope it’s being refurbished and not being replaced by something else. I don’t need a haircut yet but I will one day and where else do I go?

Massimo? Messymo

We picked some litter and found plenty of dumped, fly-tipped items as well. This activity was partly to pass time before we went over to pick William and Martha up from school. We had considered going for a walk somewhere else but really, there wouldn’t have been enough time. I know, I know, if I dragged myself out of bed before midday, it would help.

It’s the week of Hannukah, something the children have been learning about at school. We played the dreidel game and both of them picked up the rules very quickly. I think playing with chocolate coins made the game more interesting, at least to start with.

William and Jenny playing the Dreidel game

It was fascinating watching William learn how to spin the dreidel. As the picture shows, his Mum was doing rather well. At the end of the game, William and Martha took most of the chocolate home, but Grandad made sure to keep some for himself.

So the sequence of events is: we bring the children back to our place for a couple of hours. Then their parents arrive and we have a meal together. Then they all go home. Then we find what they’ve left behind by mistake. On this occasion, two pieces of paper from school, two hoodies and a coat.

After our regular Wythenshawe Walk, Oma and I met up with Jenny and William at Quarry Bank Mill, to hand over the previous evening’s forgotten items. We had a nice walk, admiring the yarn-bombed and decorated trees and bushes.

Christmassy tree

William threw sticks and stones off the bridges into the fast-flowing water.

In search of another stick

As we walked back up the slope, away from the river, he still wanted to throw stones in. So even though we’d climbed too many steps to count, he ran all the way down again to the waterside. I think William should be wired up to the national grid, he’s so full of energy. But perhaps one of the most surprising things about today was that after drinking his hot chocolate, he didn’t have a moustache.

The radio show this week, as mentioned earlier, features Quirky Misfits, the shop, but also two hours of quirky songs. Catch up here.

As I write, the idea of hibernation becomes ever more attractive. The rain is being hurled at the windows in a menacing manner. Liesel’s been out to meet some of the WI buddies over there in Didsbury, but I don’t think I’ll be going far today. I’ve looked out of several windows, but the vista’s the same everywhere. Rain. Bleeurgh.

Goosebumps and chicken skin

Salford Lads’ Club is a place that has escaped our attention until recently. I joined Liesel, some other WI members and a large group of others on a tour of the place. We met the guide outside the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester and we walked briskly to our destination.

Salford Lads’ Club

Its story is over 100 years old and many local lads have made themselves at home here. In particular, they are very proud of Allan Clarke and Graham Nash from the Hollies and Morrissey from The Smiths. Boxing and gymnastics have been popular over the years too.

Boxing ring

Liesel declined my invitation to go for three rounds in the ring, even though this was the first time either of us had been in the presence of such an opportunity.

Moz Mosaic by Mark Kennedy

This world-famous mosaic is arguably the highlight of The Smiths Room: it was previously located at Affleck’s Palace in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, another venue that has escaped my attention until now. But this is what’s exciting about getting to know a new city and a new neighbourhood.

Mick in a hat

Here’s a picture of Mick following Conservative government policy: rules are for other people.

We walked back into Manchester and then on the way home, we stopped off at Sainsbury’s. I had a quick look at the laptops in John Lewis but again couldn’t see what I was looking for, whatever that is. None of them come with CD players any more. Maybe I’m clinging to the past. But I’m not asking for a floppy disk drive or a punch card reader, just a CD or DVD reader.

The highlight of the week was William’s birthday party. This was the first time we’d met up with the wider family in nearly two years. We had a good time and more importantly, so did the birthday boy.

Alright William?
Bike, balloon and Batman birthday boy

It was good to see the other grandparents but I probably didn’t need to see the scars on Uncle Paul’s recently broken but now healing arm. Nothing personal, but that sort of thing is the reason I am not a doctor.

Superwings cake

We sang Happy Birthday and cheered as William blew the candles out in one go. Then we sat waiting expectantly for a slice of the cake. Martha came over giggling and presented me with the smallest sliver you can imagine. The other grandfather, Papa didn’t fare any better. What a swizz! We did receive a proper, decent slice in the end, but you can go off people, you know.

Another highlight of the week was meeting up with Jenny for a coffee one day. It’s been so long since we’ve spent time together, on our own, without children around. Let’s not wait another two years, Jenny!

Knowing the weather was about to get much colder, Liesel and I went out for a long walk along the river, towards Chorlton on a bright and sunny but noticeably cooler day.

Trees by the river

We saw a robin then we saw a man with a big zoom lens taking pictures of a different robin. He told us there were goosanders around the bend, and indeed we did see a couple of what I thought were mergansers.

Goosander or merganser?

Well it’s confusing because the Latin name for Goosander is Mergus merganser and my ornithological knowledge is as rubbish as my botanical expertise. Last week for example, I referred to our flowering plant as a Christmas cactus. Thanks to Ann, we now know it’s actually a Michaelmas or Thanksgiving cactus. In which case, its timing is spot on. How is it doing now, you ask?

Blooming marvellous

It’s very pretty, but while it looks sunny here, the temperature outside is hovering around 0° and it feels much colder thanks to Storm Arwen. Speaking of which, we must have had a mini whirlwind in the communal car park overnight, because the fallen leaves had all been blown into a nice tidy heap behind a neighbour’s car.

Arwen tidies up the leaves

So much for leave blowers. In fact, I’ve just decided my new years’ resolution. Next time I hear a leaf blower, I’m going to go out and reverse its polarity so it sucks instead. Much more useful.

Anyway, it’s Thanksgiving and once again, Liesel pulled out all the stops and gave us all a pretty substantial and very tasty Thanksgiving meal. This was after we’d picked Martha and William up from school and, as a treat, let them pick litter on the walk home.

Little pickles / Litter pickers

Yes, it’s a City of Manchester binbag and we’re picking litter in Cheadle Hulme, which is in Stockport, but I don’t think the authorities will mind too much.

Martha was very impressed with Oma’s peppermint pie, possibly because of its Peppa Pig pink colour. But it was very nice, and minty, and very different to the pumpkin pie that we’re still enjoying a couple of days later.

Sunset collection

We’ve had some pretty sunsets and we even spotted Jupiter one night. Saturn would have been visible if it wasn’t for the trees in between. Spot the odd pic out. Three are here in Northenden and the other is from Australia’s Blue Mountains: thanks, Helen, wish we were there with you!

Another highlight of the week was enjoying my first massage in nearly two years. The bones creaked, the muscles popped, the ligaments groaned, the second toe complained, but even my goosebumps had goosebumps at times. I’d forgotten just good it feels to be well and truly straightened out and stretched and poked and pummelled.

On a philosophical note: if there are numerous highlights in a short period of time, are any of them, in fact, highlights? Or do I just accept that I’ve had a very good week, thanks, even if the cold weather is now giving me chicken skin. And why is ‘goosebumps’ one word while ‘chicken skin’ is two words?

Let’s Dance! This was the title of my Radio Northenden show this week. Catch up here. It’s extra long this week because there were just too many good tunes to leave any out. A bargain for so-called Black Friday. Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 will get the usual two hours. Proof that Radio Northenden is much better value.

The Last of the Summer?

For the second year in a row, our Christmas cactus has leapt into bloom a few weeks early, brightening the kitchen with a wonderful display of almost fluorescent pink flowers.

The pinkest pink

Sadly we had to leave it behind when we went away for a few days. Yes, way down south to  Exeter to see our friend Sarah. It’s a long way but bizarrely, it’s a much easier drive to Exeter from Northenden than it is from Chessington. Motorways most of the way, M6 and M5 take us to within a stone’s throw of Sarah’s place.

Wellington

Naturally, on passing this sign, for a brief moment, I wished we were driving towards Wellington, New Zealand, especially now they’re heading into Summer. But we’ll be back one day, and meanwhile, we can enjoy everything that Exeter has to offer.

On arrival, we threw a stone at Sarah’s place and she showed us to the car park where we parked up and didn’t even think about the car until it was time to depart.

Sarah hasn’t changed a bit since we last saw her nearly two years ago and I think she was very happy to accept the blanket hand-crafted by Liesel.

Sarah and Liesel, blanket buddies

We went for a nice walk through the town, down to the river and the canal, and it was very pleasant even if the Sun had long since disappeared below the horizon.

St Leonard’s

This church spire is prominent, you can see it from most of the town so it acts as a good landmark.

While Sarah visited someone the following day, Liesel and I joined a guided tour of Exeter and we retraced some of our steps from the night before. The guide, Mike, was interesting and gave us a quick history of the town: Romans, wool, textiles, imports, exports plus some stuff he made up, probably. There are lots of old warehouses, all now being used for other purposes, most notably, coffee shops.

Abseiling tower

The abseiling tower is under-utilised, which is a shame. But no, we didn’t volunteer to have a go, either.

Exe and weir

The river Exe is no longer tidal in Exeter but the old chain ferry is still in operation across the river, just not this time of year. So that’s 50p each we’ve saved.

Liverpool

No, not really,  but this part of town stood in for Liverpool in the old TV series The Onedin Line. Filming was done carefully. Ships had the sails fully hoisted in some shots purely to conceal the gasometers over the river. These have now been dismantled.

And what a gorgeous day. The weather app said it was 13° today, but it felt much warmer than that to me. Even so, people were walking around wearing three or four layers of clothing. Me? Just a shirt and shorts. I got some admiring glances from the locals*. I got some funny looks from the locals*. *Delete as you see fit. All I can say is, I have a great metabolism which doesn’t complain about the temperature unless it is extreme. 

We walked around the town for a while and met up with Sarah later. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the museum was most enjoyable, with some terrific pictures and a few that were a bit distressing.

Keep Looking

I think if I had to pick a favourite, it would be this one of a lion through the grass. It was taken by Greg du Toit, from South Africa, in a reserve in Botswana. He wished to convey the feeling of standing on the edge of a wilderness, looking in through a dividing curtain. One day, Liesel and I hope to visit Botswana and see this for ourselves.

In the evening, we walked down into town again because we had tickets for a very special show. Count Arthur Strong and the team recorded not one but two Christmas Specials, which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 sometime. Probably around Christmas, come to think of it. One show this year and one next year.

Count Arthur String In the hat) and cast

On our final day down south (for now), Liesel and Sarah enjoyed a shopping expedition while I wandered aimlessly around town. I did look at the laptops on offer at John Lewis, but there wasn’t much choice here. I know there’s a worldwide shortage of microchips, but even so, what a disappointment. I walked around the town, back to the river, and beyond.

None Here

Steve McCraken has decorated the town liberally with these attractive birds. No idea why he uses the name ‘None Here’. And what a shame someone feels the need to spoil it with their own tag.

Grim Reaper?

An unusual feature to have on a shop front, and it’s not even an undertakers’ premises.

1988/89 was designated The Year of the Pedestrian. To mark the occasion, Devon County Council commissioned this statue.

Family of pedestrians by Carole Vincent

It’s good to see that local folks are still able to enhance this work of art. I think we all need googly eyes and coconut shell hats, that would cheer us all up. I think this ‘vandalism’ is more acceptable than boring old tagging because at least it’s creative and quite funny.

The drive home was long and uneventful. Lots of cones on the motorways, but I suppose they have to be stored somewhere.

And at home, we had a medical week. I went to the dentist, as did Liesel, but she also visited the physiotherapist and the beautician.

The Wednesday Walk in Northenden was good, we went along the river to Simon’s Bridge and back. Just a couple of muddy patches on the path.

In the evening, we attended a concert. This time, we saw Seth Lakeman at Stoller Hall in Manchester. He’s celebrating the 15th anniversary of the release of his album Freedom Fields. He and the band performed the whole album in the second half of the show, but before that, they also sang some songs from his new album. No, I didn’t buy the new CD. I would have, but when I went on my interval wander, I left my coat behind on the seat and my phone was in the pocket. And I rarely carry cash these days, of course, pretty much everything is contactless payment.

Seth Lakeman and band

Thursday is our childminding day. William came out of school as usual full of energy: he probably ran a mile by the time Martha came out and another by the time we got home.  This week, Martha told us about Grace Darling, a hero that Mr Price told me about at primary school a few years decades ago.

After some craftwork and playing, we ate dinner with Jenny and Liam. We asked William a question, and he didn’t answer immediately. Instead he started tapping his head with his forefinger declaring, “I’m thinking”. He carried on thinking until he reached that ‘aha’ moment at which point he did the head exploding sign.

A phantasm approached me, shimmering in the moonlight, almost glowing, in an unknown colour somewhere between white and gold. She spoke to me in hushed tones and I wondered where she came from.
“Are you a tooth fairy?” I wondered.
“Oh no, I’ve been promoted” said the ethereal being. “I have come before you on this momentous day, dear Mick, marvellous Mick, to grant you three wishes.”
“Three wishes?” I repeated. “And presumably I can’t use one of those wishes to ask for three more?”
“That is correct. Now think carefully.” So I gave it a great deal of thought. This might be my only opportunity to end world hunger. To stop all the wars. To finally end the climate crisis. But no: surely these things have been wished for a million times efore?
“Please, oh wonderful and exalted being,” I effused, “please arrange for the foliage fallen from our favourite oak tree, just outside, to be picked up and taken away before it blows around and blocks up our the drains.” A million leaves were in our communal car park, and it would be good to see them put to good use in someone’s garden.

And lo, in the morning, I beheld a wondrous sight. A flatbed truck in our car park and two men picking up the leaves. One was raking them into piles and the other was picking them up with the aid of a pair of outsize plastic grabbing gloves. They had several large bags of leaves and I thought they were doing a brilliant job. I silently thanked my nebulous visitor and again wondered why I’d been chosen to have these wishes granted.

Picking up leaves

I sat there enjoying a brew, listening to the radio and congratulating myself on a brilliant choice of first wish. I should have known better. The universe shattered like an old plate and I heard the dreaded noise that should not be named. The ubiquitous sound of a leaf blower. There, I said it. Yes, one of my heroes was down there blowing the last few thousand leaves off the hard surface and into the bushes. So disappointing. That tip I gave them? I felt like going down and asking for it back. If I’d given them one.

Leaf blower

And yes, of course, by the following morning, the leaves had found their way back onto the wider parking area. I realised that this wish-granting business is a bit of a con. I probably won’t bother with the other two.

Liesel went to CostCo and while I appreciate the invitation to join her, I decided instead to join the usual Friday Wythenshawe Walk. I just missed a bus, so rather than get off halfway and walk the rest of the way like I usually do, I thought I’d stay on the bus all the way. Big mistake. It goes all round the houses and waits in the bus station for several minutes. It really would have been quicker to get off and walk.

On arrival at the Lifestyle Centre, the start of the walk, I was surprised to see nobody else waiting, even though I was, in the end, only a couple of minutes late. I remember Chantel saying that the Wythenshawe Walk was cancelled next week, but I got to thinking, maybe I’d misremembered, and it was this week’s walk that was not taking place. It was such a nice day, I decided to walk around the circuit anyway and then have a cup of coffee. So off  I set for Painswick Park, around the lake, chatting with the geese and the moorhens.

Moorhen

Then I saw some familiar faces ahead. Yes, it was the gang of Wythenshawe walkers. I caught up and walked the rest of the way with them. Being British, of course I commented on how lovely the weather was, and how I wouldn’t complain if our whole Winter was like this. Then I received the devastating news that snow is forecast for next week. I now wish I hadn’t given away my last two wishes. It’s funny old waether: Autumnal, yet we’d be happy to have days this warm in the middle of Summer. Maybe colder days are a-coming.

I walked home, taking advantage of the nice weather and couldn’t help but notice this poster:

Turn and face the change

It’s very nearly a David Bowie lyric, after all.

The radio show this week is based on the theme of Dinosaurs, in honour of William’s upcoming birthday. No, he’s not a dinosaur, but he is a big fan of the old beasties. Listen back here or listen to the repeats on Wythenshaw FM 97.2 at 7pm Wednesday and again 2pm next Friday.

All day yesterday, every time I stood up from the sofa, Liesel’s started laughing. I could have taken it personally, but it wasn’t my fault. Apart from all the usual CostCo purchases, Liesel had bought me a new pair of shoes. I was trying them on for comfort, walking round the house. Comfortable, yes, but they squeak. The left one is especially loud, but the right one didn’t like being left out and soon joined in the chorus. So I squeak my way to the kitchen and to the radio studio. Squeak squeak squeak squeak. It reminds of of dear old Mrs Winters, the cleaner in our hall of residence, all those years decades ago. Her squeaky shoes were a good early warning to make ourselves decent before she came into the room. By my reckoning, she is now about 140 years old.

Double double W

Liesel met up with her WI mates in Didsbury for a coffee. I accompanied her to the venue, walking along the river for part of the route. We weren’t particularly aware of any strong winds recently, but one tree had blown down and was lying across the path.

Is this why Americans call Autumn ‘Fall’?

But despite the recent rain, the path wasn’t too muddy. Which is nice when you’re wearing your Sunday best shoes to meet the ladies of the WI. After depositing Liesel at the selected venue, I carried on to Withington, where I planned to have a coffee. Unfortunately, my chosen café wasn’t open on this occasion, so I waited until I’d walked all the way back to Northenden for my fix. Here are some of the unusual things I saw in Withington and beyond.

Big bird mural, Withington
Higher class of graffiti
Marcus Rashford without the messages of support

So that’s Withington. Next up, Worsley. We went there to follow a suggested walk from our book. And what a delightful place that is. We walked towards and along Bridgewater Canal and yes, we have visited other stretches of this canal in the past.

Bridgewater Canal

We followed directions to Worsley Delph, not knowing what such a thing was. It’s the entrance to the Duke of Bridgewater’s underground mines, and marked by a strange object which probably had some use in the past.

Worsley Delph

After a mile or so of the canal, we crossed the bridge and walked back, through Worsley Woods, to complete the circuit.

Worsley Woods*

*Blimey, this picture looked OK on my phone. Screw your eyes up and pretend it’s an impressionist painting, OK?

It will be interesting to see this place at a different time of year. We heard a few birds but saw even fewer: maybe there were just too many people around. The fresh air was welcome of course, but the fumes from the passing Environment Agency van were a bit strong.

One squirrel

Autumn colours, brown and yellow were definitely prominent today, so this splash of red from an acer was a surprise. Hard to miss, really.

Acer

After completing the 5-mile loop, we returned to The Horsebox which we’d seen on the way out. It really is a converted horsebox, selling coffee, tea and in our case today, the best hot chocolate we’ve had for ages.

As if that wasn’t enough adventure for one day, on the way home, we acquired a flat tyre. On the M60. We pulled off at the first opportunity and called our breakdown service. But within five minutes, a man on a motorbike stopped and offered to help. After 10 minutes, he’d swapped the driver’s wheel for the half-size spare. 10 minutes. Things like that make me feel useless. Last time I changed a wheel, it took me well over half an hour. Unfortunately, neither of us had cash, so we were unable to buy a pint for this Good Samaritan.

To warn other approaching drivers of our hazardously parked vehicle, I moved some cones out into the road: thank goodness they’d been left behind by someone.

We often see a squirrel on or close to the oak tree outside our flat, but there was a whole herd of them when I returned from a walk with the Northenden group of walkers.

Three squirrels

I usually stay for a coffee with this group after the walk, but on this occasion, I didn’t: Liesel and I had plans to visit Windermere, about 1½ hours north. Only 85 miles north but much, much closer to the north pole if the temperature difference is anything to go by. I was excited to see the first Christmas tree of the year, outside the local branch of Lakeland. Actually, it’s also the headquarters of the company. Liesel bought a couple of small items while I inspected the facilities.

Christmas tree

We set off for a walk down to the lakeside and on towards Bowness. We stayed on a path by the lake, in the woods, for as long as possible, but we had to walk through a sheep field with all the usual hazards therein. The terrain was varied and much more hilly than Northenden, of course. Good exercise, and a beautiful part of the world.

Public jetty on Windermere

It’s always good to see young people smoking pot at the end of a jetty. A small child asked her Daddy if there were fish in the lake. Yes. Fish you can eat? Yes, some of them.

We didn’t go into the Windermere Jetty Museum because by the time we got there, we had to return, otherwise we’d be out after sunset and if that happens, we turn into pumpkins, or something. We always keep a lookout for wildlife of course, and Liesel spotted this pole cat.

Pole cat

As we passed by the Bowness Bowling Club, I briefly thought we should take up that sport again. Again? We gave it a go in Chessington and the guy said I was ‘a natural’. A natural what, he didn’t elaborate.

And so, we found ourselves back in Windermere and guess who we bumped into? Helen and Steve from Chessington, that’s right, how did you know? We’d arranged to meet them here for a meal at The Smith. A nice place with a menu limited to only 8 kinds of pizza. So we had pizza. There were rock’roll artefacts on the wall and I think when it grows up, this place will be a Hard Rock Café.

Walls inside The Smith

It was nice to catch up with these southerners: they’d mainly come up to the Arctic Circle to visit Helen’s Godmother. Our drive home in the dark was uneventful, and we were aware of passing the spot where we’d got the puncture earlier in the week.

Well, I say uneventful, but we stopped for a break on the motorway and I bought some Minstrels for Liesel and some Liquorice Torpedoes for myself. I used to like those when I was young. Sticky lump of liquorice coated in a thin sugar-based candy shell. You could suck the colour off or crunch them and enjoy the burst of liquoricy, aniseedy flavour. I’ve not eaten them for decades believing them not to be vegetarian. Well, this packet assured me they were suitable for freaks such as me. The torpedoes were bigger than I remembered, but the same shape. And hard. They were coated in coloured concrete rather than the thin candy shell like you get with Smarties or even M&Ms. These old choppers of mine struggled to crush the outer layer, but when enough had dissolved and I could crush the item, I did enjoy the liquorice taste. Liesel agreed they’re not your teeth’s best friend. I forced myself to finish this packet over the next few days, but I won’t be buying Liquorice Torpedoes again. Along with Mars Bars and Irn Bru, that’s three childhood delicacies that I can no loner enjoy. What a shame.

Vincent van Gogh is one of our favourite artists so we had to visit an exhibition. Van Gogh Alive is set up in a marquee on the Piazza outside the BBC in Media City, Salford Quays. It’s an immersive experience. You walk through projected images of his paintings, some animated, and it’s all accompanied by very suitable music.

Popular artist, popular show
Bedroom, based on a painting
Selfie of the day

After the main event, you’re guided into a room full of sunflowers and, you’d think, that would be a great photo opportunity. But because the walls are reflective, making the room seem much bigger than it really is, you can’t get a decent picture without including people, even if those people are your own reflection.

But it is a great show, you’ll learn a lot about poor old Vincent. Five stars from Liesel and me, highly recommended.

On the way back to the car park, we stopped for a coffee. Liesel chose gingerbread latté, one of the Christmas flavours. Some strange new force in the universe messed with the wiring in my brain and I decided to have one too, only a large one. What a disappointment. Not very gingerbready, not very coffee-like, just very sweet, hot milk really, with a nondescript flavour. I won’t be having that again, thank you very much.

On TV this week, at last, we’ve caught up with the incredibly tense drama serial, Vigil. That is probably the most claustrophobic I’ve ever felt, even though I wasn’t on board the submarine myself. Good drama, but it made my palms sweat.

To complete the week’s W walks, I joined the Wythenshawe group, in Painswick Park and around, back to The Forum for a coffee.

This week, the radio show features songs requested by people from Northenden, from the rest of the UK and from all around the world: yes, I have a small but international audience. You can listen back here.

It’s been a labour of love, but the good news is, Liesel has completed another blanket via the medium of crocheting. It’s quite nice this time of year, working with a heavy, woollen blanket on your lap, but in the height of Summer, not such a pleasant experience! What a great job, Liesel. Another five star review.

The latest very colourful blanket

People of a nervous disposition should leave now.

At last, after having had it wobbled in front of our very faces for the last several weeks, Martha’s first tooth has fallen out.

Martha: she doesn’t mind the gap

She enjoyed a visit from the tooth fairy: it almost makes up for us grandparents not child-minding this week, as  we had a previous engagement with Vincent, but everything’s back to normal next week. Also, next week, we hope to visit places which begin with letters other than W.