Hikes and bikes

I hope I never get bored with walking, hiking and generally welcoming the opportunity to be outside rather than indoors.

While Liesel stayed in with her Mom to start the process of ‘sorting stuff out (*)’, I accepted invitations from Liesel’s friends to join them.

Jyoti, Suvan and I had a nice walk in Kincaid Park, on yet another trail. Each one seems to be hillier than the previous one! We saw a moose and her baby but, other than a couple of birds, no more wildlife.

Moose and mooselet

Jyoti was kind enough to offer me fried eggs and toast for lunch and I’m too much of a gentleman to decline, so…

After a chat, we walked again, this time along the road where the roadsweeper swept by in a flurry of water and gravel from what may be a quarry over the road, or. more likely, a building site.

I turned left for home, Jyoti turned right to meet up with another friend. The rest of my day involved puzzles and looking at Liesel’s ‘stuff’.

(*) When I say ‘sorting stuff out’, I mean Liesel is going through her possessions deciding what to keep and what can go. At the same time, she is hoping to encourage her folks to get rid of some of their clutter too, 50 years of it.

This whole project will be a labour of love and hard decisions. Liesel and I spent two years selling things on eBay, giving away via Freegle (formerly Freecycle) and taking to charity shops. Sadly, some items ended up in a landfill site. Liesel’s parents’ house is even more chockerblocker fuller of stuff than ours ever was.

For my next hike without Liesel, Una and Jyoti took me to another skiing venue, Hillside. The only reason I didn’t have a go at the ski jump was, there was no snow. Also, the idea of climbing up that ricketty-looking structure is even more scary than actually skiing, never mind jumping. Plus, I’m not Eddie the Eagle.

Ski jump

It was great to see so many other people out today, too, mountain bikers, hikers, runners and I know that most of them are probably skiers in the Wintertime.

Back at home, the pile of stuff on the landing had grown. There is talk of a garage sale at some point.

Liesel and I went out to do some errands and we later watched Gideon playing soccer. His team won by a mile – but compared with the team he played with in Fairbanks a few weeks ago, they all looked so titchy!

Arsenal

The football pitch must be close to the airport, judging by the number of planes that flew over. We also saw a skein of geese. Flying south for the Winter? Not yet: they landed in the pond just behind the fence.

Gooses and gooselets

But most excitingly, my quest to take a good photo of a dragonfly continues. It they won’t land and sit still for me, I’ll just have to capture them in flight. So here are a couple of the best pictures so far:

Dragonfly

Liesel and I went to the gym where I spent some time on the treadmill, including a 12m37s mile. Liesel spent longer exercising here, but by the time we left, we’d both built up a good appetite.

It’s week two of the quest to acclimatise me to Japanese food. Tonight, we went to Sushi Garden. I thought I’d have a beer and asked for an IPA. I didn’t expect a bottle that big, a pint and a quarter of ice cold beer. No wonder I couldn’t finish my meal of two different vegetarian rolls. There was a lot of food there, to be honest. The first plate was enough for me but when the second plate turned up some time later, I knew then I wouldn’t complete the mission.

Then a lot of TV, more than we’d usually watch. Two early episodes of Father Brown but more interestingly, the first stage of this year’s Vuelta a España, the Spanish cycling grand tour. The commentary was cringeworthy but at least we found a way to fast forward through the adverts. And we turned off the annoying loud beeps that accompany every button press on the remote control.

Anchored Down in Anchorage

Mick is hoping to purge this earworm by mentioning it here. Anchored Down in Anchorage by Michelle Shocked is a great song, but I wish my mind would concentrate on a different one about AK or preferably, about something entirely different.

Monday was a day of rest. Asa’s interested in cookery and he scrambled some eggs for our breakfast. And we went out for some shopping, stopping at a coffee bar, of course.

Unfortunately named napkins

In the evening, we went to collect Gideon from his football practice. He enjoys playing in goal but for the time we were there, all the play was at the other end of the pitch. As I walked back to the car with him, he was dribbling his football and his control was very impressive!

The field has several colonies of mushrooms should they get hungry during a game.

The next morning, we went to the gym where our 12-year old Training Assistant, Hannah, got us to do some exercises. And tried to sell us more services, of course. We’d rather be outside walking or cycling but the weather recently has been a bit damp and the immediate forecast doesn’t look too good either. But we do need to build up strength and stamina before our long trek in Japan.

In the coffee shop afterwards (it had to be done!), we bumped into Suvan: we were planning to see him later in the day too at his Mom’s house.

In the afternoon, we took Asa and Gideon to the movies. Christopher Robin is very enjoyable, very gentle with some nice nods to the original Winnie the Pooh stories.

We went round to Jyoti’s in the evening for her gorgeous Indian food. Suvan was there too with his gorgeous new bride Kayla.

Liesel, Suvan, Kayla, Jyoti

We took Asa to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage. Gideon didn’t want to come because the animals make his hands smell. Which may be a euphemism for he wanted to stay in to play computer games. The weather was dry but a couple more degrees of heat would have been welcome.

The Center does take in orphaned and injured animals and, for us, provided a good way of seeing some genuine Alaskan wildlife albeit in an artificial setting.

Moose
Noncustomary speed limit
Musk oxen
Arctic fox
Sitka deer
Three-legged porcupine called Kit-Kat
Black bear
Black bear in the water
Wood bison
Not a real bear

On the way to AWCC, we stopped at the Alaska Bakery. I have never been defeated by a cinnamon roll before but this one was enormous. Cinnamon roll?It was a brick! I ate it in three sessions during the day. Yes, I should have taken a picture of it.

When we got back home, Liesel and I went for a quick walk up the road with the dog who was limping a bit and she knew when she’d had enough. It was just great being outside for so long today.

It’s not every day you get woken by the phone ringing at 7.00am. It was the crew delivering the new dishwasher and the new oven telling us they were on their way. We both stayed in bed until they’d gone.

Jyoti called as well to say she was coming over at about 9am and as it was 8.45, I knew I had plenty of time: she is Indian after all 😉 but she showed up just a few minutes later, and the three of us went for a walk to Kincaid Park and around the trails.

Asa and Gideon went for a quick bike ride to Kincaid too, and on their way back home, they told us that there was a moose around the corner with her baby. We didn’t know how the dog would respond so we turned back, and found a different rute through the park.

Jyoti and Liesel

We found Beercan Lake, aka Campbell Point Lake, the location of our marriage ceremony all those years ago.

In fact, we realised it was exactly our 12½th wedding anniversary, half a silver!

Liesel and Mick, without skis this time

After the walk, we went to a great resaurant called South for a late but very welcome breakfast. I liked one of the paintings on the wall but Liesel thought we probably wouldn’t be able to afford it. So I snuck a photo instead.

A terrific painting
Lending library, we’ve seen a few of these cute little boxes
Yes, we went into this shop

In the afternoon, we took both boys to Color Me Mine, a paint your own ceramics shop. It was a lot of fun but it’s fair to say that other customers had more artistic talent than we do. The items will be fired in the oven and we’ll be able to collect them in 7-10 days.

Like the local orange juice, 100% concentration
Liesel’s penguin

I don’t think I’ve played Monopoly for a quarter of a century or more but the rules came right back to mind. We played the Alaska edition which was fun, but the funniest thing was, Gideon’s cheating was more blatant than Asa’s. Even so, I was declared the winner in the end because I had more properties. But, really, the game lasts far too long for young folks and I even thought that when I was myself a young folk.

Monopoly

The Alaska edition has groups of land mammals, sea mammals, cities, natural features and the Chance and Community Chest cards have been given an Alaskan flavour. No “You came second in a beauty contest” here, it’s “You have won second prize in the miners and trappers ball costume contest”. You can go to jail for “exceeding legal fishing limits”.

Hope and Anchorage

On Friday, we spent time with a defence lawyer and a newly appointed member of the Anchorage Superior Court. We weren’t in trouble, but this was the first opportunity to catch up with old friends Una and Phil. It was Una who married us twelve years ago on the frozen Beercan Lake.

While in Anchorage city centre, I got a new pair of prescription reading glasses to replace those I’d left on the plane. At last, I can reduce the font size on the Kindle to something smaller than headlines.

Also, don’t laugh, but we joined the gym. We plan to go every day and exercise. Honest. Our joint subscription costs less than a sole membership at David Lloyd: there is a reason why the phrase ‘Rip-off Britain’ keeps coming to mind. On the other hand, our subs here don’t include sun-bed or spray-tanning.

The second-hand book shop Title Wave is still doing well, despite the rapid expansion in the use of Kindles and other e-readers over the last several years. I could spend hours there, and in fact, I did make a note of some books that I now want to download.

We visited the Kaladi Brothers Coffee shop for a coffee: this is the branch where newly married Suvan works, although he wasn’t in today.

Liesel drove us in her Dad’s prized, orange sports car. After being in the motorhome for over a week, I couldn’t believe how low to the ground its seats were. It’s funny the things you get used to in a short space of time.

Earlier in the day, we emptied the motorhome. OK, I’ll admit, mostly it was Klaus and Liesel who did that while I was still in bed. So much food to take indoors and try and fit into one of the fridges or freezers or cupboards, all of which are already groaning under the weight.

After our evening meal, Liesel and I went for a walk. We’d had an administratively productive day but my legs were begging for a bit of exercise. And I’m sure I slept better for it.

Actually, it's do they can find the hydrant in the snow
American gnome with fishing rod

On Saturday there was an open house day at the local weather station. It was packed and the lady at the entrance seemed surprised that we’d walked all the way. We didn’t own up to the fact that we only lived a mile or so away.

This would, I’m sure, be a fascinating place to work. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitor the weather, climate, volcanic activity, seismic activity, everything to do with a changing environment. A fascinating place to work, yes, but I’m not sure I’d want to be sitting at a desk looking at six or seven different screens all day. Lots of screens and lots of abbreviations to deal with. Bonus points if you know what these all stand for without looking them up: NOAA, WFO, WRN, NASA, NTWC, AAWU, APRFC.

Anchorage Weather Service

Dave Snider, a local weatherman, gave a good talk about his work and the work of the Weather Service here in Anchorage and in wider Alaska. Weatherman? That term’s doing him a disservice, to be fair. He talked about tsunamis, thunderstorms, the annual ice break-up in AK and the problems caused, mainly flooding. He was very kind to the lovely 5- or 6-year old girl who kept asking questions but was already quite knowledgeable about the subject.

Dave Snider

Every twelve hours around the world, over 800 weather balloons are launched simultaneously. We saw a launch this afternoon at 3pm. Five feet wide at ground level, the hydrogen-filled balloon’s latex expands to forty or fifty feet diameter at about 90,000 feet altitude, before bursting. The instruments, measuring temperature, humidity and more, continuously as the balloon ascends, fall back to earth, sometimes hundreds of mile away, with the help of a small, orange parachute. Only about 3% of the instruments are found and returned.

Some of the balloons don’t make it very far: a few trees had remnants caught in the branches, probably due to a rogue gust of wind. Also, you’re not allowed to smoke within 25 feet of the hydrogen tank.

Aaron and Jodi are both away for work this coming week, so Gideon and Asa will be staying with us. They all came round this afternoon for a quick visit.

Later on, Liesel and I drove over to Jyoti’s place to collect her. We were planning to spend time with Phil and Una at their cute, little cabin in Hope for the weekend.

Jyoti took us round to Suvan and his new bride Kayla’s place. She knocked. She called. She opened the door. Nobody responded. Their car was parked outside but they weren’t in. Weird. Gone for a walk?Nah.

It turns out they were in, hiding behind the sofa, thinking the neighbour was again here to tell them that their laundry had finished! I wonder if this neighbour is hard to get rid of once engaged in conversation? Very funny, though.

On to the Seward Highway for a nearly two-hour drive to Hope. The drizzle turned to heavier rain and it was still precipitating when we arrived.

The Sea View Café and Bar is just along the road from the cabin so we went there for our evening meal, the five of us. Beanburger, chips and beer for me, thanks for asking. And a live band too. A great way to round off the day and we didn’t get to bed until very, very late.

Sea View Café and Bar

Some of my Relatives are Aliens

Liesel drove Asa and me up to her old University to have a look around. There’s a spectacular view from the campus that Liesel enjoyed for three years as a student here.

What a view

The Museum of the North includes a history of Alaska from before even the Russians became interested in the land.

The art exhibition was interesting too, lots of items made by native artists, some of it very moving but all fascinating, being different from the western art that we’re so used it. Our friend Monica had recommended seeing the Decolonization exhibit that’s only here until September, so we were very lucky with the timing of our visit.

Decolonizing Alaska is a multimedia visual art exhibit featuring contemporary artists exploring and responding to Alaska’s history of colonization. A collaboration of more than 30 diverse Alaska artists, both Native and non-Native, the exhibit introduces new ideas around Alaska culture.

And it was very moving. Why westerners think it’s ok to go around the world trying to change other cultures is beyond me.

After a coffee and a cookie in the café, we set off for the excitement of shopping in Safeway. They’re very helpful, here, the checkout assistant scanned all the items while someone else packed them for us into brand new plastic bags. Lots and lots of plastic bags. We’re so used to not seeing this any more, we reuse our own ‘bags for life ‘ (aka ‘shopping bags’) but here in Safeway, USA, you can use as many plastic bags as you like. Who cares if they end up in the oceans killing the fishes and the whales?

We walked over the road to Fred Meyer, another supermarket. Yes, let me repeat that. We walked over the road. Walked. You just don’t do that in America.

We tried to get a local SIM card for Liesel’s phone but it’s an old one, only on 3G, but all the Alaskan providers are gearing up to be 4G-only. Using our phones here other than on Wifi will be very expensive, but we’re only out in the sticks, away from home for a couple of weeks.

Asa and I walked back to the campsite, not a long walk, but another welcome walk, and Liesel drove back later.

It’s been a bit of a disastrous trip so far, and I hope we can start it properly soon. I left my reading glasses on the plane into Seattle but didn’t realise until we were in Anchorage. Then we had the problem with Liesel’s 3G phone. Now, the Logitech keyboard has decided to play up. Some of the keys no longer work. We thought it might be a problem with the batteries, but sadly, not.

I felt eerily cut off, being in a campsite, in a strange town, with strange people (folks I haven’t seen for years, I mean, but come to think of it…), without free access to the internet, with a duff keyboard so I can’t easily blog. And without reading glasses so I can’t relax and read. Oh, woe, woe and thrice woe.

Showering in the motorhome is a different experience. There’s a limited amount of water, so you get wet, turn the shower off, have a scrub, then rinse off. And the control is very sensitive, just a half a degree turn between freezing cold water and scalding hot.

Aaron, Jodi and Gideon arrived in the afternoon having made really good time. They lit a camp fire in the evening, where we all gathered along with some of the other soccer players’ parents and grandparents. A sudden inability to keep the old peepers open drove us to bed again while it was still light.

Woke up and it was already light: still not convinced it really got dark in between.

I went for another wander around the campsite and saw the first real native wildlife. Only a grey squirrel, but it still counts. Not as exotic as a moose or a bear and not quite as big and scary, either.

Fireweed

Merry Christmas, everybody!
Silver birches

We watched the first football game of the tournament, The Alaska State Cup, today. Gideon plays in goal and sometimes midfield.

Later on as Liesel drove back into the campsite, we saw a pair of red-tailed squirrels. Still small but slightly more interesting.

Friday woke me up with my first mosquito bite. I’ve felt the odd tickle and brushed a few away, but this one snuck in under cover of darkness. If, indeed, there was any darkness.

We had another soccer game today, this time Asa was playing for Arsenal ’05. It was a much more interesting game, and I was pleased to get some good pictures. Klaus shouting out “Push it up, Arsenal” made me smile.

I think it’ll be a while before these English ears of mine, even though not belonging to a football fan, get used to hearing the score recorded as “four to zero” rather than “four, nil”. And when enquiring as to the name of an opposition team, “Who are we versing?”

Only recently have the local teams been using the term “soccer pitch” rather than “field”, even though that’s the usual terminology at home. I believe “nice hustle” means “that was a jolly good tackle, old chap”.

Asa taking a free kick
Gid taking a corner kick

Between Asa’s game in the morning and Gideon’s in the afternoon, Liesel and I visited the Rasmuson Library at the University so that we could borrow their wifi and catch up with things on the internet. Using 3G or 4G all the time is expensive: compared with the overall cost of this trip, it’s a minor expense but we do object to large telecoms companies ripping us off like that.

Aaron brought his boat with him and in the evening, he took Liesel, Asa and me for a quick trip up and down the Chena River. The water jet pushed us up to 40+ mph and we travelled quite a distance. Everyone else on, or by, the river waved, it’s a very friendly community.

I wondered why so many of the bankside trees were falling into the water. Then I realised: there were beaver dams and houses here and there, and it was quite a moment when we saw two or three beavers on a beach, looking quite toothy and pleased with themselves.

The wake from our boat caused a kayaker to capsize which wasn’t very nice, but then Liesel pointed out, he’d done it on purpose, just practicing his technique. When we passed him again on the way back, sure enough, he headed straight for our wake.

We went downstream as far as the Tenana river, quite wide in places and according to Aaron’s clever device, there were plenty of fish there.

We passed a ‘Fire Helicopter’: presumably it’s one that picks up buckets of water to dump on bush fires, something you wouldn’t expect to associate with Alaska, but it does happen. We saw the aftermath of a large fire on the drive up to Fairbanks.

Someone else had a water plane parked(?), docked(?), landed on his back garden next to the river.

A paddle steamer passed by us moving in the opposite direction and it left behind a long, long stretch of very bumpy water which would have woken us up if we’d been asleep.

There was a fish wheel, based on a native device to catch fish. Basically, they just swim into the bucket and the bucket is retreived. Easy!

There are lots of houses on the river front, some look in better condition than others, but some are just plain ugly. (I wouldn’t say that to an owner’s face, obviously, this is Alaska and everyone has really big guns.)

On the way back to the campsite, Asa drove for a while, not as fast as his Dad, but very competently, neither of us were at all worried.

Saturday morning was an even earlier start than the previous day. Both boys were playing a game at 8am. Asa’s team won but sadly, Gid’s lost quite badly. Very disappointing for him of course but he is learning that he has 8 other teammates on the field that the ball has to get by before it reaches him, the goalie, and if they are not working as a team the loss is everyone’s, not just on his little 9 year old shoulders. Nevertheless, he had some great saves today and stayed after his game for a friendly scrimmage. (We snuck off to a local bakery to eat lovely pastry. A reward for watching 8 am games!)

So it’s Saturday lunchtime in the University Library again, nice and quiet, I think there are only two other people here in this room and one of them is Liesel! It’s a cloudy day, much cooler than when we arrived in Fairbanks but it’s very pleasant.

Fairbanks

One night in Anchorage was plenty. We spent most of Tuesday driving east then north to Fairbanks. Klaus and Leslie have a massive motorhome which sleeps four and often more.

It was a very long drive and for most of the ride, I sat in the passenger’s seat in the front, gaping at the views of the mountains, the big, blue skies and the forests. Everywhere looks like a bit like somewhere else, of course, but the scenery here really is stunning.

We stopped just a couple of times on the way, and each time, when the traffic disappeared, the silence was loud. Not even the sounds of birds singing, no trees rustling in the wind, not even the sound of my own heartbeat, just pure, golden silence.

The road itself was, mostly, in a very good state of repair. Where there were rough areas, the potholes were nowhere as bad as at home. There were several stretches that felt like a rollercoaster ride, very bumpy, possibly due to climate change: the permafrost isn’s as permanent as we thought.

The mileage markers provided a progress report of sorts, but very slowly. Once the mountains and Denali National Park had been passed, all we saw was road and trees. Lots of trees. I like trees but it’s nice to have a bit of variety.

Asa and I played a quick game of “Man Bites Dog”, a card game in which reasonable sounding headlines are constructed from the words on five cards randomly dealt.

Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, was hidden behind cloud. For a while, we saw the top half and later on, the bottom half. One day, we hope to see the whole mountain at once.

First sighting of Denali

One thing we’ve not seen at home for many years is, after a long car journey, dozens of squished insects on the windscreen. Alaskans just use much less pesticide, I guess. Some of the bugs were quite big, judging by the size of the skidmark they left.

I’m sure everyone smiles when they drive over Ship Creek, with or without a paddle. Only to be outdone later by Sheep Creek. Not forgetting Dry Creek, Joseph Creek and many more. But I looked in vain for Jonathan Creek.

It was good to finally arrive at the campsite in Fairbanks. Good to get out and walk around in the fresh air. I always envisage Fairbanks as a cold, snow and ice covered place, but on arrival the temperature was 91°F, 32°C, not at all what I would have expected. Liesel had attended the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and has told tales of having to keep a car engine heated overnight so that it would start in the morning. And of having to keep her inhaler close to her heart to stop the contents from freezing. And how car tyres get so cold, the rubber solidifies to the point where, until they warm up with movement, they bump along the road. But here we were in a hot Fairbanks and everyone looked happy.

I wandered around the campsite, enjoying the sight and aroma of the fireweed, smiling at the Christmas trees by the so-called nature trail. There are over 50 pitches on this site, but it’s very nicely set out, plenty of space for each motorhome or van or truck or boat.

We are 64.8°N here and the Sun sets very late. There are maybe four hours of total darkness overnight. I knew this but even so, it’s disconcerting to go to bed when it’s so bright outside. I woke up a few times in the night and couldn’t work out whether it was still light from the night before, or maybe the Sun had risen on a new day.

We heard some planes and most of them had small propellor engines, so it was a surprise to hear and see the odd larger, passenger plane.

This is a good opportunity to introduce Liesel’s family here in Alaska. Her Mom is Leslie and her Dad is Klaus. We’re in their ginormous motorhome. Liesel’s brother is Aaron, who is married to Jodi. Their boys are Asa, 12, and Gideon, 9, who both play soccer, that is, proper football as opposed to American football! They’re both taking part in a soccer tournament here in Fairbanks this week, which is why we’re all here. Their teams are called Arsenal 05 and Arsenal 07 respectively but we don’t know why they picked that particular team name.

We’re Off!

We’re off! After a couple of rather hectic and busy days in Northenden, we are now in London for the weekend. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. And today, although not planned, we walked just short of 20,000 steps. I feel fine but Liesel’s piriformis is a PITA still.

We think we’ve done all the last minute jobs that need doing when you go away from home for a while, but I keep thinking of things. Did we turn off all the devices? Computer? TV? Internet? Yes, yes and yes. Windows all closed and locked? Yes. Gas turned off? We don’t have a gas supply so that shouldn’t be a problem, but it still crossed my mind.

When we go abroad for a break, whether short or long like this one, we ask each other, do you know where the plug adapters are? No. Of course not. They’re all together in a small basket somewhere. But we’ve moved house, and they could be anywhere in the spare room and its 99 boxes, crates and piles of stuff. Oh well, we’ll just have to buy a new one, or two.

In between overseas trips, we sometimes come across the collection of plug adapters and we wonder why we have so many. Funny, that.

Yes, we have our passports and our tooth brushes, thanks for asking. Anything else is a bonus. Each of our backpacks weighs 9.9 kg, 11 lb, which we hope will satisfy the airlines’ limits. Plus, we each have a ‘handbag’. And that’s it: we are travelling very light.

On Thursday, before serious packing ensued, we joined Jenny to watch Martha and William swimming. Both were great and very happy in the water. But trying to undress William when he’s all sweaty is not very easy. Babies aren’t supposed to have temperature control, but he was having a jolly good try! After her swim, all Martha was interested in was a snack. Fair enough. We had coffee and a snack and Martha had a babyccino with bonus, unexpected marshmallows on top. Not sure her Mum was too pleased about that!

After lunch at Jenny’s, we went home and sweltered in the sweltering heat, yearning for, craving for, almost begging for a thunderstorm.

Everything, packing, printing stuff, moving around, was hard work. No, not a lot got done.

On Friday, we drove to Jenny’s and handed over the car key plus keys to our flat. She has been volunteered to pay a visit every few weeks to check everything is hunky dory. Our car will blot the view from the children’s playroom for a while, but I think they’re too little to worry about that, for now.

Here’s today’s obligatory ‘Martha’s brilliant’ paragraph. There’s a map of the world on the wall of the playroom, carefully hand-painted by Liam. When asked where Grandad and Oma are going on holiday, she points to Alaska, says ‘America’. Where does Auntie Linda live? Also America, but she points towards New England. Auntie Helen? Australia and she knows where that is. Unfortunately, England is hidden by a decorative leaf but she knows that’s where we all live.
She noticed that the blue of Greenland (I know, weird) was the same colour as the blue key on her toy piano. ‘I will get down, show you which one blue is’, she said, a 10-word sentence. She expands on ideas too. Mummy was packing for a trip, and she asked Martha to ask Daddy for his PJs. ‘Can I have your PJs, Mummy wants to pack them’, she said.

Martha planning her own travels

William is good fun too. He’s just turned eight months, and is a wriggler. He now crawls at full speed, blink and you’ll miss him spotting the smallest scrap of paper on the floor, or making a beeline for the cables near the TV. His head is magnetically attracted to the coffee table, that’s where he chooses to do most of his rolling over and sitting up. He understands a lot, can make a lot of noise but despite my best effforts, I don’t think ‘Grandad’ will be his first proper word.

We had lunch again with them all before we left. We had no car, now, so we walked to the bus stop. But I hadn’t anticipated such an emotional parting. Suddenly, the enormity of going away and leaving this lovely family behind hit us. We’ll talk to them and even see them online of course, but not for a long time in real life.

We had a sorbet on the way home as it was still very hot out, and we caught the bus the rest of the way. Last minute jobs all ticked off. A rubbish night’s sleep with some happy but forgotten dreams preceded an early rise.

Last night was the fantastic sight of the longest duration lunar eclipse this century. Not for us in the UK though where the clouds won. I had a quick look out of the window and could see there was no point going outside for a clearer view.

Everything was turned off, unplugged, locked and bags zipped and strapped. We left. We bade farewell to our new home and set off on our adventures. What a strange feeling. It still feels like we’re on holiday living in a new place, never mind going away for an actual holiday.

We took the bus into Manchester, walked to Piccadilly Station, caught the train to London Euston. It rained en route but not for long. In London, a bus to Kings Cross and then the Piccadilly line to Northfields where we are staying in an Airbnb for a couple nights. I realised what a good idea this was: if we have forgotten something important, there’s a sporting chance of being able to go home and pick it up. Hope we don’t need to, though.

Roseanna, our host, is very nice and friendly and knows how to make her guests feel welcome.

After a rest, we got the tube back to Leicester Square: Roseanna advised us that a bus, while more pleasant, would take far too long to get there.

It was cooler now, with a nice breeze to ruffle our hair a bit: Liesel’s more than mine, of course, since she has much more. We visited some tat shops looking for a specific item of tat, ‘a souvenir of London’, so to speak. But I remember the song of that name by Procol Harum, and we don’t need that sort of souvenir!

We stopped for a coffee and a snack at what we thought was a Japanese place. Nope: it’s Turkish. An easy mistake to make. We can recommend Simit Sarayi.

English might not be their first language

We walked towards Piccadilly Circus then to Trafalgar Square. Today was the day of Ride London, when a lot of otherwise busy roads are closed to motorised vehicles so that cyclists can have a go. And what a pleasant sight that is: we were slightly envious when we saw lots of families riding by St Martin’s in the Field.

We wandered through Charing Cross station where they were playing Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond, for some reason. Then over the Millennium Bridge. ‘Bob Marley’ was singing one of my favourite songs, No Woman, No Cry. And, for the first time ever, after giving a busker some cash, I received a fist bump. Rasta.

On the South Bank, we decided not to walk on the beach.

The tide is high

Liesel called her Mom while I had a wander and tracked down an apple. Yes, still got to have an apple a day.

David in the Southbank skateboard park

We then walked along as far as and up onto Blackfriars Bridge where we waited for a bus. Not a sign. I looked at the app on my phone and it said there wouldn’t be one for at least half an hour. So we walked on, towards Kings Cross. A young Chinese girl had been waiting for the bus too, so we told her there wouldn’t be one for a while. We saw her several times on the way, also walking towards Kings Cross, or thereabouts.

There is a newly opened branch of Mildred’s and we were lucky enough to get a table straightaway. The original branch in Soho, where we’ve been a few times, is always packed and busy. And so was this new one. The food, all vegetarian and often vegan is terrific. We came away sated. Another recommendation for visitors to London.

Sitting next to us was a girl in a yellow skirt and her friend. She could talk the hind legs off a donkey and chose to do so, very loudly. Even the couple sitting on our other side kept giving her looks. No idea what she was blabbing on about, really, something about work, I think, but she didn’t waste a lot of time and energy breathing in. As they were getting ready to leave, I looked at Yellow Skirt’s friend. She had aged about thirty years in that time and looked bored stiff. Maybe it was her mother all along. It was noticeably quieter in the restaurant after they’d left.

A short walk to Kings Cross again, Piccadilly line again, back to our accommodation. The lighting in our room isn’t that bright but I can just see the keys on the keyboard. Liesel’s reading, listening to some music and nodding off.

Night night, Sooty, night night. No idea where that came from.

A pair of crocs

Yesterday, we registered with our local GP. It’s not as close as the ones we used in Chessington, being a bus ride away, but according to the reviews, it’s much better than the one just round the corner.

In the afternoon, we went to the Savoy Cinema in Heaton Moor to watch Ocean’s Eight. This is the first time we’d been to a cinema in a couple of years, maybe more. The ticket was my birthday present from Jenny and Liam, so thank you!

We opted to sit on a sofa which was very comfortable and although we thought we might be too far back from the screen, it was perfect, the screen was at our eye level.

We’d forgotten how many adverts you have to sit through before a film. Lots and lots and lots. But the film itself was good, not too challenging, we enjoyed it, even if the gang of eight females did have to enlist the help of a couple of men to carry out their heist! Rihanna was delightful but at first, I didn’t recognise her: she kept her clothes on.

But I’m sure we will revisit The Savoy Cinema at some point.

This morning, we had no dial tone on our phone. I tried both phones and both sockets in the flat. Nothing. Strangely, the broadband connection was still up and running. I called the supplier whose tests all indicated that there was nothing wrong with the line. But they’ll look into it further.

When we returned, several hours later, we had a dial tone. Which is great, of course, but it would be nice to know whether we’d been affected by a larger issue or if our local problem had been resolved.

More time was wasted today on hold trying to tell organisations our new address. Another reason not to move house too often!

Following on from the crocodile seen from the boat on Tuesday, there seems to be a theme in today’s Martha section.

William has finally, after being so close for so long, learnt how to crawl forwards, on his belly. Martha said, “William’s walking like a crocdile”. Very perceptive.

And as we left today, I said, “See you later, alligator.” Martha replied, “In a while, crocodile.” And I felt so proud 🙂 I’ve been trying to teach her that for ages!

And better late than never, here are pictures of William and Martha swimming under water a couple of days ago. A marvellous thing is Auntie Helen’s GoPro camera.

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Princess Katherine

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!

Women, swimmin’ and trimmin’

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.

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Even Big Ben is hiding from Trump

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.

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Liesel with some fellow Americans

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Mick and new best mate, Salena Godden

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!

20180713_1528573526870392706878023.jpgSome 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….

 

Liam, Martha, Jenny, William, Mick and Helen

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.

A Day of Two Halves

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:

The Irish Sea behind us

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.