The best part of today was looking after Martha for seven hours while her Mummy was ‘at work’.
This is going to read like a Granny’s boasting book, but Martha really is terrific. Very bright, interesting and interested, she has a fantastic vocabulary, she loves any opportunity to climb up stairs, often without holding on, and best of all, she eats like a trooper. If a trooper eats a whole bowl of cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, Babybels and a bag of Hula-hoops, followed by a pouch of strawberry and apple juice or whatever plus a bag of Paws, a fruit-based delicacy.
We took her to Salford where we went for a one-hour long boat trip on the Princess Katherine. We row, row, rowed the boat, gently down the stream and when we saw a crocodile, we didn’t forget to scream.
Martha began to count the many bridges we sailed under but they weren’t regular enough. She enjoyed seeing ducks, swans, geese, coots and a cormorant. She wasn’t so bothered about seeing Media City UK, BBC, ITV studios and the Coronation Street set.
The most disappointing aspect of seeing the river and the canal so close up was: they are really dirty, full of rubbish, fridges, scum and yet, fish are returning after a long absence.
We took Martha to the People’s History Museum. We thought she’d be fascinated by the history of people fighting for their rights and for better working and living conditions. Well, maybe in a few years’ time. Liesel and I found the subject matter and the exhibits interesting but Martha was more taken by the large bees on display.
A bit of family history. In the 1950s, my two aunts and their husbands emigrated to Australia. They took advantage of a relatively cheap ticket to sail, and joined the small population of ten-pound poms. I guess this is one of the posters that attracted them:
Sixty years on and my younger daughter Helen has moved to Australia too, but it cost her much more than £10!
Martha was becoming tired so a babyccino and a cookie was called for. (Oh, alright, we had a coffee and a cookie too!) She fell asleep in the buggy on the way back to the car park but as we’re not as adept at the transfer as her parents, she woke up when we put her back in the car seat.
A lovely day with a lovely child and we’re wondering, just why are we going away for a year? Oh well, c’est la vie!
Thursday was a busy day. The base of our new bed was delivered by a nice man from John Lewis and his grumpy junior partner. Liesel and I literally made the bed, thank goodness the instructions were fairly straightforward.
The mattress on top, lots of storage below, we were set for a good night’s sleep. The bed we left behind in Chessington kept us off the floor, but the last vestige of comfort disappeared ages ago. Liesel will say it’s never been comfortable, but it was OK when it was brand new, last century.
The other exciting event was the installation of our Internet connection. While Liesel was out taking loads of rubbish to the tip and returning an item to Ikea, I spent a couple of hours trying to get online.. So many usernames and passwords and so many places to enter them and over and over again it didn’t quite work. Every time the solid red light showed on the router, a puppy died. Such a palaver: it should just be plug in and go, by now, surely, in the 21st century? Eventually, it worked. Another one of those occasions where I have no idea what I did differently on the last go compared with several previous attempts.
How wonderful to hear Liesel come back home, walk in and say, “My phone’s got a wireless connection!” Just like that. After all that blood, sweat, toil and tears, her phone picked it up instantly. I think Liesel thinks I was sitting there while she was out, smoking my pipe, drinking Scotch and watching TV.
Online and in bed. Almost back to normal!
No lie-in though because on Friday, we went to London for the day. We joined the Women’s March to protest against Donald Trump’s visit to London. Liesel made her own placard, plenty of reasons why he is unsuitable to be a President, even if democratically elected by Russia.
The Virgin Train to Euston was packed: people were standing or sitting on the floor, all of which is unaccepatbel when you’re spending £60 or £70 to travel. I’ll know next time. If the online booking system doesn’t give me the option of reserving seats, it’s probably because they’re all taken. I think the system should say explicitly that all seats are taken, then at least you have the option of travelling later. But, standing for over two hours on a train was the worst thing that happened that day.
We made our way to Oxford Circus where we joined a large crowd of women, men and many others. The main focus of attention was the Baby Trump inflatable balloon that flew above Parliament Square for a couple of hours in the morning. Unfortunately, we’d missed that, but we did see the Baby before it embarks on, presumably, a world tour.
We walked, slowly, down Regent Street, Piccadilly, Haymarket, by Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall to Parliament Square. The idea was to “make some noise” and sure enough, lots of people were banging their saucepans and shouting and chanting. Some of the placards were very funny, and most people were quite happy to have their photos taken. Liesel’s placard was snapped too by many people. We met quite a few Americans who were following the advice from the US Embassy to “keep a low profile”. Really? Not a bit of it, the consensus was that this advice was ridiculous.
One highlight of the day for me was meeting Salena Godden, top poet, great performer, who I’ve been following on Twitter for a while and whose work I’ve enjoyed since hearing her on Radio 4 in the early days of Saturday Live.
We met up with Helen and Steve close to the Winston Churchill statue. Steve and I wandered off at times to hear the speeches, small the substances being enjoyed by others and to take more photos. A young lady approached Helen and Liesel and asked them to distract her child while she was strapped into the buggy. Helen and Liesel, neither of whom have extensive experience of child-rearing!
Some of the 70,000 of us on the Women’s March drifted away, but many joined in the other, bigger march which numbered 250,000 at its height. Meanwhile, Helen, Steve, Liesel and I walked through St James’s Park where we were greeted by the sight of a heron (hooray!) chomping on a duckling (not so nice). He looked very pleased with himself afterwards.
We enjoyed a coffee and a late lunch before walking to Waterloo. We caught a train to Earlsfield as Liesel had an appointment with her physiotherapist: a good idea after standing on a train for two hours.
The climate of hate in the UK is getting closer to home. Liesel’s physio, Emma is Australian. So is Emma’s partner. He too is a physio and his application to have his working visa extended has been rejected. He has to leave the UK within a couple of weeks. He’s going home to Australia. Therefore, so is Emma. So we are losing two top, well-qualified medics because it’s government policy, pretty much, to deter foreigners.
It felt strange, after a day in London, to be coming home in a northerly direction. But at least we gots seats on this train, even if I did have to run to find them!
Saturday morning, I listened to Saturday Live live for the first time in ages. It was being broadcast live from Mousehole, where Sarah and I enjoyed our honeymoon in 1979.
Saturday afternoon, we enjoyed a big family gathering at Jenny’s. Liam’s parents Alan and Una were there, as well as his sister Andrea and her daughters, Annabel and Emily. It was a lovely, sunny day so we spent most of the time in the garden, forgetting that England were playing in the World Cup 3rd place play-off (they lost).
Sunday was another early morning: Martha’s swimming lesson this week began at 9am. She did very well as usual. We saw William swim in the afternoon too. It’s wonderful that they both enjoy it so much in the water. And in between, Helen offered to cut our hair, so we all had a trim. That grey stuff on the floor after she cut my hair? I have no idea what that was or where it came from.
In the evening, we had a lovely Indian takeaway, from Coriander in Chorlton. This was in part to mark the occasion of Helen’s departure today (Monday) to the old ‘hood in London to visit friends and to attend a couple of weddings. By the time she returns to Jenny’s, Liesel and I will have gone, departed, set off on our Travels….
Yes, suddenly, we have less than two weeks to do all the admin that needs doing, to tell all outstanding bodies our new address and do whatever you do to a place before locking up and leaving it for several months. How many Es in eeeek?
Today for me was a lesson in patience, being kept on hold for ridiculous amounts of time, being told I didn’t need to register online accounts only be end up registering anyway because there was no alternative and then, being kept on hold for ten minutes only for the call to be cut off at exactly 5 o’clock. But the good news is, this evening, someone came round and gave us actual cash for some of our old packing boxes.
As predicted, a slight cloud cover this morning made us wonder whether that was Summer, then. But no, it’s still warm, and we took the day off to go to the seaside.
We’d been to Formby before, but today was much warmer. In places, the sand was too hot to walk on with bare feet. The last time I remember that happening in England was on the Isle of Wight, in 1978, pre children, pre marriage, a long, long time ago!
We had a lovely walk on the beach though: where the sand was still slightly damp, it was much more comfortable underfoot. And the offshore wind farm was doing a good job of blowing a cool, calm breeze our way. We watched a large ship navigate through the turbines, or so it seemed from our point of view. That would be a fascinating photo, I thought. But no. Due to bad planning, I’d left the camera at home. Instead, here’s a selfie that we took with Liesel’s phone:
We sat and lay down for a short while and I very nearly nodded off. But Liesel’s declaration of hunger prompted us to move off to find some lunch. A local Co-op provided sandwiches and crisps and, for me, a one-litre carton of chocolate milk. This is the drink of choice after a long bike ride and it was the best offering in the shop today. I must have been thirsty: it was all gone by the time we stopped at Sainsbury’s for some shopping.
It was a bit scary though. I was wearing a white polo shirt. These seem to attract food and drink stains, so the idea of drinking chocolate milk, from a carton, in a moving car, had an element of risk. But no spillage occured, the shirt is still pristine!
I thought the chocolate and the sugar would perk me up a bit. But no, it had the exact opposite effect. I really did need a nap, now. A cup of coffee in the supermarket didn’t help in this respect, either.
So, when we got home, I had to lie down and rest my eyes for a while. Meanwhile, Liesel was on the phone to our travel agent.
We have, she has, now booked our first few flights. So, we have the beginnings of the skeleton of our gap year travels. Plans to spend some time in Vancouver and/or take a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska have been shelved, this time round. Because we’re leaving home so much later than originally anticipated, we just want to reach AK before the really bad Winter weather sets in.
So that’s terrific. We’re under starters orders and we’ll soon be off.
Liesel also made a nice dip to take round to Jenny’s this evening. We went to join Jenny and Helen to watch England’s semi-final game in the World Cup.
On this day 33 years ago, Sarah, Jenny and I moved from Peterborough to Chessington, into the house that Liesel and I moved from just last week.
Although we were gathered together to watch a football game with Liam and his parents too, it felt strangely ‘right’ to be spending time with Jenny and Helen, and with the two grandchildren that Sarah missed out on.
Martha was fully supporting ‘our team’
and she knows ‘Football’s coming home’. I explained this motto to Liesel but as it’s from a song from 1996 and it has changed its emphasis and meaning over the years, I’m not sure I was convinced myself that I was telling the truth.
I also had to explain that World Cup Willie was the England mascot from the 1966 World Cup, not a medical complaint experienced by men who watch too much football on TV.
Well, England lost to Croatia and then Liesel and I came home instead.
Very exciting day, we had our first official visitors. Helen is here from Australia especially to see our new flat. Well, that, and to attend two weddings over the next few weeks. She visited us this afternoon with Jenny, Martha and William.
Martha was in top form, very chatty and curious about the things lying around. William was asleep and after he woke up and was fed, he was fun too. So close to crawling forwards but not quite, yet.
Helen arrived at Manchester Airport first thing in the morning and was met by the three of them. Martha and Helen chat to each other most days on the phone and I believe Martha still thinks Helen comes out of the phone when she’s here in person!
The other visitor we had was the washing machine engineer. The spin cycle wasn’t working and in the end we had a new pump installed. Still, this inherited machine is in a far better state than the one we disposed of before we moved!
Yesterday, Liesel and I built the chest of drawers that we’d bought at Ikea. It’s always satisfying when it all works out and there are no bits left over! Now a lot of our clothes have been put away and our bedroom is beginning to look like a bedroom rather than a storage unit. The second bedroom really is a storage unit right now! Wall to wall boxes, crates, cases and bikes.
Yes, we will get the bikes out soon, but this morning we went into Manchester by bus as we had a couple of things to do there. In a first for both of us, we have rented a safe deposit box. This will contain all our really valuable items while we’re travelling.
Manchester is, obviously, very different to London. We’re no longer used to paying fares on buses but that’s the norm here. Also, the buses don’t display the name of the next bus stop, something we just take for granted in London.
We noticed the pavements in the city centre are really dirty. Yes, lots of chewing gum but the surface just looks really mucky. Maybe it’s because of the long, hot, dry spell we’re having.
Piccadilly Gardens, a small patch of green, was very busy, lots of workers having their lunch breaks there by the looks of it. The heatwave continues. It’s tempting to ask, does it ever rain in Manchester? What were we worried about?
Part one of our new bed was delivered this evening. The mattress. The base arrives on Thursday and then, at last, we’re hoping for a good, comfortable night’s sleep! We’ll have our internet connection on Thursday, too and then, ta-daaa, we’ll be able to book our travels! There is a lot to do indoors still, but we’ve only been here a week and we feel we’ve achieved a lot.
Early Thursday morning, I drove Liesel to the railway station. Gatley is the closest, but Stockport made more sense. From Gatley, to go to London Euston, you’d have to change at Manchester Piccadilly or Crewe. It’s a 2-hour trip from Stockport. The train was packed, and Liesel had the pleasure of standing up in the train manager’s special little compartment. She was standing and chatting with a barrister, both really needed a seat for medical reasons. The train manager gave them permission to go and sit in First Class. Which was great, but the air conditioning was on full blast. But it would have been churlish to complain about that, so they did the British thing, whinged to each other, assumed stiff upper lips and enjoyed siting down, at least!
Meanwhile, I was having more fun, taking the first car-load of rubbish to the local tip. Lots of our packaging material that can’t really be reused, although the hundreds of emptied cardboard boxes are up for grabs.
The long process of informing businesses of our new address continues. Thames Water have sent their final bill from our old house. Great. But somehow, we have acquired two different account numbers with United Utilities, our new water supplier. This is the company that didn’t even know it had installed a new water meter here, so that I wondered whether I’d just read the wrong one! Fun and games with water companies!
Our solicitor sent another form for me to sign. He sent it by email, a PDF attachment. I was to print it out, sign it and post it back. So I had to set up my computer and the printer. But before that, I had to build the desk for the PC, the shelf unit for the printer and find all the other bits and pieces and cables. Here’s a tip: make sure all the tools and the nuts and bolts and screws for furniture are easy to find!
And we have no internet yet either, so it was with a great sense of relief that I was able to copy the PDF file to the computer via a USB cable. Not sure I could have done that with the old iPhone: top marks, nice, new Samsung Galaxy!
Form printed and signed. Now, where are the envelopes and the stamps?
In the local newsagent and the local Post Office of course. This was my cue (and excuse) to go for a walk in the local neighbourhood. Errands complete, I continued along Palantine Road to the bridge over the river Mersey. Yes, that river Mersey, the famous one. I followed it for a while and took the first interesting photo in this neck of the woods.
I suspect, in the fullness of time, when we’re more settled, we’ll be walking and cycling along the towpath a lot.
On Friday, I waited in for the Futon to be delivered. I was told it weighed 250kg and my first thought was, I hope it doesn’t fall through the floor.
I knew I’d never carry it upstairs on my own, and I suspect Liesel and I would have struggled together. So I went onto Grindr and looked for two, strong, strapping young men to come round and (help me!) carry the Futon up two flights of stairs. No, not Grindr. Google. I Googled a local removal company in the hope that they would help out at short notice. And I found one.
The delivery guy left our furniture on a pallet outside at the back of the flats. He wasn’t allowed to enter the premises for cock and bull ‘not insured’ reasons. So thanks to Dave and his mate who came by and did the heavy lifting for me.
And just in time too. I had to collect Liesel from the station after her very short return visit to Chessington.
She’d met up with our friend Sarah, up from Exeter, at Waterloo Station. Then in the evening, she went to the WI Book Group meeting, and they were kind enough to give her a £45 book token for Waterstones. This, plus the M&S vouchers she was given by the WI group as a whole is a sign of real affection and gratitude. Much more generous than Liesel’s former employers: she’s well out of that company.
It took Liesel and me about an hour to construct the Futon and it is really comfortable. Much nicer than the sofa we’d left behind 😉
We went round to Jenny’s for fish and chips (cheese and onion pie for me). Poor Martha was heart-broken when Mummy and Daddy ‘went out to the shops’. I remember when Jenny was inconsolable whenever her Mum went out too. I know it’s just a phase, but it’s horrible to watch, because there’s nothing really you can do. Except, on this occasion, they took Martha with them and she fell asleep in the car.
Today, Saturday, though, we went round to look after the children again. And again, Mummy and Daddy went out but this time, they couldn’t take Martha. It was lunchtime, and all we could do was try and distract her with Peppa Pig and encourage her to eat her lunch.
Which she did. Hollow legs has Martha: two Babybels, yellow pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, bread, crisps, cake, water melon, ice cream with a Flake. She was, by now a really happy bunny!
William’s a wonderfully laid-back little guy. He’s really happy playing by himself but he likes company too. Liesel had her first really dirty nappy changing experience with him! He is so close to crawling, but he just can’t quite get pushing his little legs. He can push himself backwards, rotate on his belly, roll over onto his back and onto his front. But not move forwards, yet!
And fidget. Boy, does he fidget. Always moving, arms twitching, legs kicking. I can hear my old teachers saying to him in the future, “Sit still, William”, “Stop fidgeting, William”, “Have you got ants in your pants, William?”
It’s been a joy to spend time with both of them after being so caught up in our own little house-move for so long. In the garden Martha had a great time in her paddling pool. Even William had a bit of a paddle. Fun and games with water!
After a while, I realised he was in need of a kip, so I carried him back inside and he very quickly fell asleep.
But all good things come to an end. And when Jenny and Liam came home this afternoon, Liesel and I went to a little bit of Sweden while their football team played England in the World Cup quarter finals. Yes, we bought some more furniture and other bits and pieces from Ikea. More heavy stuff to lug upstairs, but we manged this time. Here’s a tip: it’s OK to unpack Ikea furniture at the bottom of the stairs and carry it up piece by piece!
Never mind the World Cup, though, the Tour de France started today. Unusually, today’s first stage was a proper road race in which most of the main contenders fell off, broke wheeels or got held up by other crashes.
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.
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.
For these busy few days, we stayed at another excellent Airbnb b&b: thanks to Iris and David 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.
Melinda was mine ’til the time That I found her Holding Jim And loving him
So begins Neil Diamond’s song, Solitary Man, which shuffled into play in the car a few days ago. This song went through my mind today when I was in the depths of the forest. Not that I’m a solitary man, and I don’t think I’ve ever known a Melinda, but I was making the most of my solitude.
Today is the seventeenth anniversary of Sarah’s departure from us. Another Thursday 17th May. In some ways, it’s a lifetime ago but in other ways, it’s such a recent event.
I took advantage of the opportunity to go for a long walk my myself, while Liesel went shopping, did some cooking and otherwise had a relaxing day.
Within walking disance of Catherine’s house in Ballina is Belleek Forest Park. It was quiet, peaceful and I saw very few other people. The paths are well maintained, well sign-posted and there is a lot to look at.
I followed the river Moy for a while too, thinking I might get as far as where it enters the Atlantic, but looking at a map afterwards, that was far too ambitious.
The Crete Boom is a ship made of concrete that was used by the Royal Navy but now sits gathering moss and seaweed in the Moy.
I was surprised to see warning signs of Japanese knotweed in a couple of places: not the vegetation I would have sought out. The forest was of course full of trees, some of which I could identify and some of which I identified from the flyer I’d picked up. Sycamore, lime, beech, oak, willow, elm, hornbeam and Monterey pine trees are all there, standing tall and proud. And putting all the world’s problems into perspective: I didn’t want to think about Brexit, Trump, Iran, North Korea, Israel, Palestine, plastics in the oceans. I wanted to spend time with Sarah, who has missed out on all our adventures over the last seventeen years, missed out on meeting her grandchildren, and I tried not to go through the cycle of thinking how unfair it all was, and what if, and if only.
Instead, I recalled the happy times we’d had together, with regret that those times didn’t last longer, but equally pleased that we’ve all moved on. I am so proud of Helen and Jenny and I’m sure their Mum would be very proud too.
There are red squirrels in the forest, but I didn’t see any. I didn’t see any rabbits either, nor any other animals bigger than birds. But it was a beautiful day to commune with nature while my thoughts meandered backwards and forwards through time.
Hmm, yes, I was enjoying communing with nature. Meanwhile, some other folks had been closely communing in nature.
When I left the forest, I walked along the road for a while, having seen a sign for Moyne Abbey. I thought that would be a good place to stop, but after every brow of a hill, I could see no sign of an abbey. So as a last resort, I looked at the map on my phone and realised I was still an hour’s walk away. I went back to the forest, again saying hello to the cows and the bulls and the donkey and standing well to the side of the road when a tractor appeared.
In the forest, I followed different paths until I found Belleek Castle. Yesterday, Catherine had said there was a coffee shop here, so that became an urgent destination. Coffee and a scone. I recalled the holidays Sarah and I had had BC, before children, often in the Cotswolds, often in the rain. Tea shops rather than coffee shops usually supplied the scones for afternoon tea, but it’s funny to note how things have changed over the years, but not much, really.
Yes, I’m sure we will always miss Sarah, she and Liesel would have a lot of laughs at my expense, I’m sure, if they’d ever met.
Back at home, we enjoyed the pasta salad and the banoffee pie that Liesel had made, along with a bottle of beer from Catherine that Lochlainn has chosen for me!
Solitary Man? Not me, I’m a very lucky bloke, I’ve met and fallen in love with two wonderful women, I have two beautiful daughters and two fantastic grandchildren. This is what’s important, not the stupid stuff that I tend to whinge about a bit too often.
So, a million thanks and lots of love to all of you who have made and who continue to make my life as fantastic as it is.