Cookie monsters

We ventured as far as Dunham Massey for a lovely walk in the sunshine. So did a lot of other people. The queue of cars waiting at the entrance split into two, National Trust members keeping to the right. And yes, we VIPs felt very special as we overtook several ordinary people waiting to buy their tickets.

Autumn colours

Some of the stags were bellowing, it must be that time of year again. Bellowing? To be honest, some of them sounded more like pigs squealing in pain. But maybe that’s an attractive noise to some of the less discerning females.

Jackdaw
Straw flower

Liesel knows this as a straw flower, and it does indeed feel like it’s made from paper. We know it as salmon rose or Helichrysum brachteatum of course.

Selfie of the day

We had a few goes at this picture, trying to get the gorgeous burgundy red foliage in the background, but it still looks like my head is twice as big as Liesel’s.

In the evening we went out to a live concert. We hadn’t planned to, it was a spontaneous decision, something we should do more often maybe. Part of Manchester Folk Festival, we enjoyed the music of O’Hooley and Tidow supported by John Kelly and Lunatraktors. (*) We were back at Home, a venue which we quite like. O’Hooley and Tidow sing wonderful songs but the banter in between is just as much fun.

O’Hooley and Tidow, Lunatraktors, John Kelly

Still being cautious, we kept our masks on during the show and I think we will be doing so for a long time to come.

Our default walk along the river was exciting. We saw not one, but two herons, in different places. Well, it might have been the same one playing tricks on us, I suppose, but it’s nice to see they’ve (or it’s) come back.

We’ve been inundated with ladybirds during the last couple of weeks. They try to come into our living room and, sometimes, they succeed.

Ladybird

This little chap enjoyed walking around the snow-capped mountainscape that is my sock before being released and allowed to fly away home.

It was half-term this week and we were pleased to be able to look after Martha and William for a few hours. They helped decorate the halloween cookies carefully baked by Oma and they did quite a good job, despite ODing on the decorating icing and food colouring. Some of the results might not be biologically accurate.

Martha, William, Halloween cookies

Six-eyed bat, anyone?

I took William to the playground where we played and waited for Oma to bring Martha. They’re taking a long time, I thought, maybe they’ve got lost. I even wondered whether they’d gone to a different playground. But when they arrived, it turns out they’d been picking litter, as suggested by Martha. And luckily, we have the equipment.

William climbing
Sliding together
Swinging together

William had problems with the litter-picker-uppers, the grips was a little too hard to squeeze. So he handed the stick back and and lifted his hands to his face, in the manner of binoculars. “What are you doing, William?” “I’m litter-spotting.” Well, it’s a very important job.

We picked litter as we walked home and two strangers expressed their gratitude to Martha and William for doing a good job. Strangers? Well, one was our local councillor, Mary, and she was with the manager of the local retirement housing facility, Boat Lane Court.

It won’t become a habit, but for lunch, we got chips from the local chippy. Jenny came to take the children to another play venue, and I was sure the amount of sugar consumed earlier in the day would keep their energy levels up.

Northenden Arts Festival  is here. On the first afternoon, we saw Ali Davenport (*) read some of her own poems, mostly written during the lockdown. Members of the audience were invited to read their own poems and short stories too, and it was a very entertaining hour.

The second event we went to later in the evening was Plane Comedy. MC Colin Manford did a good job and he introduced two other comedians for our enjoyment, Dan Tiernan (*) and Mick Ferry. The show was sold out and the theatre felt crammed, but we kept our masks on and ourselves to ourselves. But we had a jolly good laugh at the comedy.

Dan Tiernan, Mick Ferry, Colin Manford

Yes, I managed half decent pictures of the men in the evening, but nobody needs to see my photo of the back of Ali’s head, no matter how artistic it is.

The Festival carries on all weekend and we have tickets for three more shows. So, five shows over four days.

Because we were looking after the children, we missed the weekly walk in Northenden on Wednesday. Sadly, Liesel missed the one in Wythenshawe, also led by Chantel (*),  on Friday because she was at home, working. I joined it after taking the bus most of the way. I’d like to walk there and back, of course, but that means dragging myself out of bed a bit earlier.

The weather was ideal for observing rainbows, and here’s one as seen from our luxury apartment

Rainbow

What’s at the end of this rainbow? A stunning block of flats.

The radio show this week was all about Insults and Name-Calling. You can catch up here, maybe have it on in the background to ignore while you’re doing something useful.

(*) What’s that parenthesised asterisk malarkey all about then? This week, I introduced an occasional new feature into the show: Who did we see in concert this week? I play a track by each artist. Also, on previous shows, I have spoken to Ali, Dan and Chantel, so it’s good to see them in the flesh. I spoke with Ali briefly, but we were herded out of the theatre before I had a chance to speak to Dan, a former fellow Radio Northenden presenter.

I try to keep up to date with this blog but sometimes I forget to mention odd things. This is as good an opportunity as any to bring some very late news.

For a few weeks now, we’ve been using a new gadget in the kitchen. It’s an Instant Pot, an electric pressure cooker that has taken the USA by storm, according to the blurb. We use the inefficient electric oven far less often, and the meals are, so far, always delicious. It can perform several functions when in the more-than-capable hands of a fantastic cook such as Liesel.

When we were in Borough Market a few weeks ago, I think I forgot to mention that Liesel bought some Bienstich, one of her favourite German delicacies. Custard cake. She approached the stall with a plastic tub in hand, and the guy knew straightaway what she wanted. If you’re ever looking for gift ideas for Liesel, don’t forget Bienstich.

We had tortillas for dinner a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the first batch were over-heated and discarded. When I picked up this lump of tortillas later, it felt really solid, like a paperback dropped in the bath. If you ever need a paperweight, let me know, and I’ll send the recipe.

Another Radio Northenden presenter, Hayley, and I met up for a coffee a couple of weeks ago. That’s the first time we’d met in person. Wasn’t this exciting enough to blog about at the time? Well yes, of course it was. I made notes and everything. But what’s the point of making notes if you don’t read them again afterwards?! Anyway, Hayley is lovely and we had a good chat and we know exactly how to fix all the world’s problems.

And finally, last week, our proud granddaughter was Gymnast of the Week.

Gymnast of the Week

She’s supposed to hand the trophy back after two weeks for the next recipient. I don’t know if she gets to keep it if she wins three times.

Forever Autumn

Autumn is making its presence felt more and more. The colours brighten the place up, almost compensating for the lack of sunshine.

Red on green

When my Dad passed away in 2007, one of the things he left behind was a partially consumed bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky. This week, after a mere 14 years, I finished it off.

Johnnie Walker

Before inheriting this item, it had been in his possession for at least 16 years: we’re pretty sure it was in the drinks cabinet before Mum died in 1991. So, a truly vintage drink. Cheers, Mum and Dad.

Another major achivement this week was completing a very difficult, 9-star killer sudoku puzzle. Over several days, it took me 2 hours to complete. 20 minutes is a more typical amount of time.

Killer Sudoku

I was so delighted that I think I skipped around the room a bit. What’s that? I spelt ‘achivement’ wrong? I don’t think so…

Together Everyone

See?

Something was messing with the structure of the universe one day as we walked by the river. There’s a glitch in the spacetime continuum.

Liesel on the bentch

It’s probably a publicity stunt for the new series of Doctor Who which we’re* looking forward to seeing when it returns to our screens at the end of the month. (*We? Well, I am, not sure about Liesel.)

Red on black

Most of the fallen leaves are yellow or brown, so a bright red one really shows up on the pavement.

Some of them haven’t fallen yet, of course, making for a nice cheerful wall.

Traffic lights

We enjoyed a walk through the woods in the drizzle and our reward was the sight of a rainbow beyond the baker’s van. Not the brightest rainbow we’ve ever seen, but much easier on the eye than the garish van.

Loaf’s good but rainbow’s better

On the other hand, this was a disappointing thing to see.

Pizza of the weel

You don’t order a pizza online and expect it to be delivered in a heap like this, do you?  It looks like someone’s taken a big bite out of it. But no: I carefully put it back together to make sure nothing was missing from this unsightly but ultimately delicious mess.

Red on blue

From our place, sunsets look OK but because of the buildings, they’ll never match a tropical sunset. The red sky this night was short-lived but very welcome at the end of the day, just the same.

We picked William and Martha up from school, both of us amazed at how much energy William has at the end of the day. While waiting for Martha to come out, he just can’t stop running around and playing tag with his friend and hiding in the bushes.

Where’s William?

The children kept us entertained for a couple of hours, crafting with Oma, doing a jigsaw puzzle, helping the dinosaurs fight each other, singing, rolling a ball to each other along our long hallway which we should turn into a more formal bowling alley. Martha told us about Rosa Parks, which is astonishing. She’s 5 years old and has already learned more Black History at school than I ever did.

Again, Liesel and joined a very gentle, well-being walk through Painswick Park and as well as the usual suspects in the lake, we saw a heron.

Heron

Well that’s strange, because we haven’t seen the heron on our stretch of river for a couple of weeks now. I would love to know where they go for a few weeks each year. If that’s our heron that’s migrated just as far as a park in Wythenshawe, I will be more than disappointed.

It’s halloween soon and this house is ahead of the game. Spooky.

Spooky

The radio show this week featured songs about Telephones. I spent way too much time editing together all the David Bowie references to phones that I could think of, in an exclusive megamix. You can hear it and the rest of the show here.

Or, if you prefer, catch the repeat on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2 on Wednesday at 7pm. On 97.2 FM if you’re in or near Wythenshawe.

Or, if you prefer, catch the repeat of the repeat on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2 on the following Friday at 2pm. On 97.2 FM if you’re in or near Wythenshawe.

Yes, the mad fools are repeating my show on a Friday afternoon, just before the new one goes out on Radio Northenden. And as we walked through The Forum Centre, where Wythenshawe FM has its studio, I thought I’d check out the listings for Friday 2pm.

WFM Schedule

As my sister Pauline pointed out: they’ve spelt my name wrong.

Three nights out

If you’d said to me that I would see somebody fishing in the river, from a wheelchair, I would have said, good for them. I never expected to see such a spectacle, especially at this particular location.

Wheelchair fishing

If he rolls forward just a couple of inches, he will be on a steep slope heading for the Mersey. Who knew that angling could be such a dangerous occupation?

It’s funny the way things work out. We don’t go out much but here we are, going out three nights in a row, to vastly different shows.

First, to see The Blow Monkeys in Manchester, supported by Jessica Lee Morgan, who, yes, we only saw a couple of weeks ago.

The venue was called ‘Club Academy’. It’s very hard to find. There is ‘Manchester Academy’, which was deserted. There is ‘The Academy’, ‘Academy 1’, ‘Academy 2’ and ‘Academy 3’. As we were looking for our venue, we were approached by a couple of other equally confused concert-goers. But we got there in the end and enjoyed a great night’s music. We wore masks but most people didn’t. We’re not too enamoured of standing gigs any more, but we found a counter to lean on. Then, later on, when most people huddled in front of the stage, we went to the back of the auditorium and sat down, trying not to slide off a sofa that was built for people with much longer legs than ours. We felt positively Lilliputian.

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

From our original vantage point, Chris was mostly behind a pillar, but we knew he was there, top bass playing.

The Blow Monkeys

We’re not as familiar with The Blow Monkeys and their music, but we recognised some of their songs. I only wish the saxophone had been a bit louder in the mix.

Before leaving, we had a quick chat with Jess and Chris and, unless something changes, we’ll next see them in March, in York, playing with Holy Holy.

The second show we saw was at The Lowry in Salford. Danny Baker and Bob Harris Backstage Pass: a couple of old rock’n’rollers swapping rock’n’roll stories. This show was postponed from last year, and was a birthday present from a year before that, I think. Well worth waiting for, and as it turns out, this was the first night of their rescheduled tour.

We went into Salford a bit early, not having been there for a long time. It was good to walk around a different city. It’s very modern looking, with its Media City, new blocks of (no doubt luxury) apartments, nothing at all like it’s portrayed in the Ewan MacColl song Dirty Old Town.

Salford Quays
Salford Geese

Lots of people were proudly wearing their medals, having completed the Manchester Marathon. Some looked like they could do it all over again. Others really needed a lie-down, and fast.

Bee in the City: Blue Bee-ter

This blue bee was designed and decorated by Jodie Silverman and the sponsors are BBC Radio Manchester, Blue Peter and Peel Media Ltd. Blue Peter, Blue Bee-ter, what are the chances! The new Blue Peter garden is nearby, but we didn’t pay a visit.

As recommended by Jenny, we dined at Prezzo, although Wagamama was spotted nearby and we were very nearly tempted away.

The show was ‘sold out’ but there were plenty of empty seats. Whether this was because the audience was thinned out due to Covid, or because many people just forgot to turn up, we don’t know.

But it was a fabulous couple of hours of entertainment. Lots of stories from Bob and Dan, some of which we’d heard before, but that’s alright.

Danny Baker and Bob Harris

During the interval, we, the audience members, were invited to write a question down for them to answer in the second half. Bob Harris sings in the chorus of David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival, so I asked whether Danny Baker had appeared on any records. Well, at the start of the second half, Danny announced that his solo gig in Blackheath in January was sold out. He said that tickets sold quickly after he’d announced that every guest would be given one of his old 7-inch singles. Danny said that of course, these records might not be any good, he wouldn’t be giving away Memory of a Free Festival, would he? To which Bob replied, I’m on that record. ‘Are you?’ exclaimed Danny. So Bob told the story of how he and his then wife Sue, and some others, happened to be in the studio when David was recording the song. Producer Tony Visconti invited them up to sing along with the chorus. Bob asked if Dan had been on a record, and the only one he named was by Sham 69, and he told us some things about Jimmy Pursey, their lead singer. So, even though my question wasn’t picked out and read, it was answered.

I was hoping there’d be a meet & greet afterwards, but no. I have a photo of me with Danny Baker from a previous occasion but I do need to add Whispering Bob to my rogues gallery.

Hand-brake turn here. Key change. Nature really shouldn’t get involved in politics.

Saltire: The sky showing its support for Scottish independence

The third in our trilogy of nights out was an event in the Manchester Literature Festival. We saw Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo in conversation with with old chum Jackie Kay. Liesel and I both loved Bernardine’s book Girl, Woman, Other and, having heard her talking about her new book, we’re now looking forward to reading it, Manifesto.

Bernardine Evaristo OBE FRSL FRSA

And as she Tweeted:
MANIFESTO is the @BBC’s ‘Book of the Week’ starting this Monday 18th Oct at 09.45, as narrated by the authoress herself. Listen here.

I joined the queue afterwards to have our copy of the book signed, but I felt bad for Liesel standing all alone outside in the rain, so I gave up waiting and joined her to go home. In fact, she’d been sitting down inside, in comfort and warmth. Ms Evaristo will have to wait until next time to meet me.

She is a very special lady, sharing her birthday with daughter Jenny and with Kylie Minogue.

So, a very entertaining, educational and informative few days overall. Three nights in a row: it was a daunting prospect but we don’t need to make a habit of it. Having been in the presence of so many strangers in such a short period, we both tested ourselves for the plague covid, and we both came up negative.

Which meant that we felt comfortable picking up William and Martha from school on Thursday. The other grandparents provide childminding on a Tuesday. Liesel and I had filled in for them the previous Tuesday. William was aware of this iniquity. ‘Oma and Grandad have picked us up twice and Nana and Papa only once. After today, it will be 3-1’.

At home, this basic unfairness in how the universe operates was forgotten as snacks, fruit and vegetables were on offer. Martha and Oma made spiders from pipecleaners while William completed a new jigsaw puzzle with my assistance.

Martha told us about her meeting today, the School Parliament. But having (I assume) signed the Official Secrets Act, she didn’t divulge any of the details.

And, sorry, William, I don’t mind watching CoComelon on TV with you, with their nursery rhymes, both ancient and modern, but all I can think of is that an anagram of CoComelon is ComeColon.

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner before taking their babies home.

Pipecleaner spider

This is one of the very colourful but otherwise very scary spiders.

Autumn colours are slowly enveloping the trees as the temperature drops. Fallen leaves make the path a bit slippery too, especially when it’s been raining or there’s been a heavy dew. So to make things even more challenging, the grass verges are being cut and the trimmings liberally distributed over the pavements. But the colours are glorious.

Colourful tree

Yes, the sky is blue, the Sun feels nice on our backs as we wander around Northenden and Wythenshawe. Both well-being walks were well-attended this week, Liesel joined us in Wythenshawe, around Painswick Park and beyond.

Walking in sunshine
Matching tree and building
Gnarly old silver birch

Earlier in the week, I spoke to Andrew Foulkes from Northenden Players Theatre Club and to Dan Tiernan, comedian, about the upcoming Northenden Arts Festival. These chats formed the backbone of this week’s Radio Northenden Show. Hear all about it here. I know you’re wondering and yes, I did play David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival to illustrate Northenden Arts Festival. Find out more about the Festival and about Northenden Players here.

Manchester by bus

The weather is very changeable here in Manchester, I may have mentioned this before. This week, we’ve experienced at least two seasons. A couple of days of Summery heat, a nice dose of apricity (a nice word, that) and very welcome. On the other hand, one day, the cold, strong wind, seemingly fresh from Siberia, made for an unexpectedly unpleasant walk. Yes, I could have put on more and warmer clothes, but as I said, the ferocity of the gale was a big surprise. Never mind the weather: as a Brit, I could whinge about it for several hours.

It’s been a while, but after acquiring some new bags, we collected some litter from our local streets. There should be a law against driving over discarded drinks cans because the flattened items are so much harder to pick up with the bespoke litter-picker-upper. But then, I could whinge about the amount of littering for several hours too. Well, it makes a change from moaning about the weather.

We had a coffee break at Boxx2Boxx and that was nice, sitting outside in the Sun. Now if only they’d ban traffic from Palatine Road, it would be even more quiet and pleasant, but that will never happen. Yes, I could whinge about the amount of traffic until the cows come home. In fact, there are so many cars around here, they don’t all fit on the roads, they have to park on the pavements.

We paid a visit to Manchester and we chose to go in by bus. The first bus we’ve been on here, I think, since before the first lockdown. Most of the windows were open, but somebody had managed to close one of the windows that was fitted with a device to prevent it from being closed. It was a long ride into Manchester, over half an hour to travel just six miles or so. We agreed that there should be a fast, non-stopping bus service from outside our front door to the big city. But then, I guess that’s what Uber is for. Could I whinge more about the local bus services? Yep, I sure could.

Unfortunately, we chose a day right in the middle of the Conservative Party Conference, so we witnessed hundreds of police officers from several police forces keeping us all safe from the politicians in the city centre. St Peter’s Square was the venue for several protest groups, but we fought our way through into the Central Library.

Gandhi

Liesel was looking at some specific books, so I wandered around and amongst other things, came across this bust of Mahatma Gandhi. There are hidden, secret passageways in this library: it seems I find something new every time I visit. In 1980, Manchester became Britain’s first nuclear free zone.

Nuclear free Manchester

In the music department, I resisted the temptation to play the piano and to play on the drumkit. One thing that did surprise me was the number of books about David Bowie.

Where the books were found by the golden ones

My plan now is to write a book about David Bowie, and for a title, I can just pick one of his song titles. There can’t be much left to say about him, surely? It’s bad enough that some people play one of his records on each and every single radio show they cobble together. Ahem.

I mentioned the less than ideal bus service before, but very soon, Manchester’s public transport system will be improved. We look forward to the full implementation of The Bee Network, fully integrated mass transportation, and this includes facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Bee Network bus

There is a shortage of lorry drivers and of slaughterhouse workers in the UK right now, so farmers are having to cull 150,000 pigs. What a waste. There was a protest outside the library against this, of course.

Don’t burn the pigs

We walked to a place called The Green Lab for lunch, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t a big green dog sitting outside. It’s a popular place, we were lucky to get seats, really. Another group of people were observed walking towards the library, carrying the Roma flag I think, blue and green with a red wheel. Amongst the delegation was a unicorn with his own security detail.

A rare Manc unicorn

Our first day out in Manchester concluded nicely when we passed these buskers, singing the songs of Bob Marley and doing a very good job.

Buskers

The exciting news this week is that we are resuming our childminding duties. We picked Martha and William up from school one day, so that Jenny could show us where to go. And on Thursday, we collected them both and brought them home to ours for a few hours.

It’ll take a while to get back into the swing of things of course, as they are both very tired at the end of an arduous schoolday.

William earning his snack
Martha fighting a biscuit packet

We’ll get the balance right between satisfying their desire for post-school snacks and not filling them up before dinnertime. We shovelled the coal out of the tub again so that they could have a soak and a play in the bath together and afterwards, we watched something on TV. William knew what he wanted, and our TV setup is different to theirs at home, but he still took charge of the remote control.

Jenny and Liam arrived and we all ate together. Liesel went out to her WI Knitting Group meeting and missed Martha and William getting ready for bed. What an absolute pleasure to spend time with these delightful little people.

Again, my plan was to walk to the well-being walk in Wythenshawe, but once again, I left home too late. Having taken the plunge a few days earlier, I cheated and caught the bus to about the halfway point.

Red and blue

This was a nice, bright day, and I did like the look of the red and the blue here.

We walked through Painswick Park again and back to the main offices of Thrive Manchester. After which I walked all the way home. I’m not one to whinge, as you know, but the weather forecast is not looking good for the next week

The theme for the Radio Northenden show this week was Days. Listen here. And yes, it includes a David Bowie track, something from my Mum and Dad’s record collection as well as Sounds of the ’20s: that is, a song from the 1920s and a brand new release by a (fairly) local artist. Listen back here (in case you missed the link the first time)!

Knitting

After a storm, look out for a rainbow. Or, in our case, after a busy week away, let’s have a quiet week at home.

We welcomed Martha and William and their minders, not for Liesel’s birthday cake, but for home-made cream puffs. William was eaten by a donut while Martha was learning the fine art of French knitting.

William v Donut

This donut was originally made by Liesel’s Grandma, re-stuffed and refurbished by Liesel, so it’s now being enjoyed by the fifth generation.

Martha v knitting

It was lovely to witness the moment when it clicked, when Martha could see what she had to do.

Meanwhile, Liesel has very nearly finished her latest crochet project, another blanket.

A blanket

It won’t be long now until it’s sent off to its new forever home.

We were asked to look after William for a few hours while Liam was working and Jenny was entertaining a friend. I suspect there was a lot of girly talk and girly midday boozing going on. But we got William, so that’s a bonus!

He brought his scooter and scooted around Wythenshawe Park, remembering the way to the playground, even though he’s only been once before.

William v slide

Despite this photographic evidence, he did enjoy going down the slide, several times! He’s a very keen climber too and Liesel and I certainly got our exercise as we chased him around, from one piece of equipment to another.

There’s a small herd of farm animals, so we went over to smell them, I mean to look at them. Another family had a good chuckle as William gave a fairly good impression of the chickens clucking.

Back at home indoors, he wanted a bath, with a small selection of the dinosaurs. A few days ago, Sandra had given me one of her delicious fridge cakes. So chocolatey and tasty and more-ish. Yes, of course I shared it with Liesel and today, we let William try it. Well, it got the thumbs up, so thanks again, Sandra!

But probably his favourite treat was the carrot that he helped scrub clean.

William v carrot

There are some amazing things to see as you wander around Northenden. For example, I was surprised to see these dumped supermarket trolleys. Yes, surprised, because by rights, they should have been thrown into the river by now.

Trolleys

One day, I snapped a rose that was growing well beyond the bounds of its garden. I thought it was quite beautiful, and thought that someone was bound to snip it off for a loved one.

Rose

But then the following day, as we were walking by, Liesel also pointed it out and said this was a beautiful flower. So, as they say, great minds spot the same pretty flowers, sometimes.

Sunflowers

Yes, in Northenden, the sunflowers grow so tall and powerfully, they need scaffolding to hold them up.

To mark the occasion of the Autumnal equinox, nature bestowed upon us the sight of a lovely sunset, the first one for quite a while. (Yes, I know we have a sunset every day, but this is the first colourful one we’ve witnessed for quite a while.)

Sunset over Northenden

We wandered over to Didsbury early one morning. La Chouquette provided the coffees, a pastry and the best loaf of bread that we’ve had for a long time. In fact, we started nibbling it on the way home.

Light of Didsbury

And here’s the world-famous yarn-bombed pillar box.

Pillar box v knitting

No idea who the lady over the road is, holding the coffees. And I hope I’m not betraying any state secrets when I reveal the location of Batman’s residence.

Batman’s mansion

I joined Chantel again for a couple of well-being walks, one in Northenden and one in Wythenshawe, the latter being a new venue. This walk took us into and around Painswick Park but unusually, I took no pictures. You’ll just have to imagine the pond, the geese, the ducks and what looks like another fabulous playground.

As promised, the radio show this week featured London, following our exciting trip there last week. You can listen back here.

In the last couple of weeks, we found out that three of our friends have passed on to the other side. I feel sad that we didn’t find out sooner, but I feel privileged to have had them all in our lives over the years. Farewell Mark, Peter and Gill. And lots of love to your families and friends.

That’s all folks! We’re off out soon so I suppose I’d better get ready…

Travels down south

We went a long way south this week, for the first time since before the first lockdown. What an adventure. But first, here’s Northenden in all its glory.

Yellow flowers

Some flowers manage to escape the confines of their own garden, which brightens up the local roads.

Liesel had some work to do so, sadly, it was down to me to look after Martha and William for a few hours while Liam and Jenny went off somewhere for some peace and quiet. I enjoyed the walk to their house, and back, in ideal weather conditions. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, just right, just like Baby Bear’s porridge.

By way of a mental exercise, I decided to count the numbers of cyclists, runners and walkers that I saw on the way over to Cheadle Hulme. In the end, there were 13 cyclists, 17 runners or joggers, some looking happier than others, and 35 people walking. But, there were also two people pushing their bikes. Do I add them to the cyclists’ or to the walkers’ tally? This is the sort of nightmare conundrum that statisticians have to contend with all the time. Oh well. Also, one dog, one cat, one buggy and of course, innumerable cars. More exciting stats later.

Martha and William both had so much to show me, toys, books, puzzles. Martha’s written the first story in her school book. Getting them to pose for selfies was fun: William got into the spirit, training for the new coal mine about to open in Cumbria.

Selfies

There was a visitor in the garden. They weren’t bothered. True, it was only a squirrel, but even so, I thought they’d be more excited than their aged grandfather was! Jenny had prepared lunch for us all, thank you, and they ate very nicely. When it came time for dessert, it was Freddo chocolate bars or animal biscuits.

Later, both were still hungry. What do you want? Freddo? How about some fruit instead? I peeled Martha’s orange for her, while William peeled his own banana and very nearly put the whole thing in, in one go. Try harder, young man!

This dialogue didn’t really happen. I could have asked either, “What would you like to play with right now?” And the answer would be, “Whatever my sibling has, of course!” I’m sure most parents and grandparents have had this experience.

It’s a funny old universe, everything balances out in the end. Mummy and Daddy returned and I walked home. Martha and William were quite tired, but I was buoyed up and happy: what a remarkable demonstration of the law of conservation of energy.

Gnarly old tree

I walked home a different way, a more pleasant route, away from the main road as much as possible. So we’ll remember that for the next time. It was nice to see some young people playing football on the school playing field, it reminded me of watching Asa and Gideon playing three years ago, at the start of our travels.

And so, Monday morning arrived full of expectation, the cue for us to pack for our trip down south. We still weren’t 100% sure it was the right thing to do, given the Covid situation, but it’s been so long, and there has to be a first time some time. It’s a thin line between being cautious and living in fear, after all.

The M6 is a marvellous feat of engineering and construction and I know there’ll be a big, big party on the day it is finished, when there are no roadworks, no improvements, just an unencumbered drive from A to B.

And it’s always good to see this.

The Pies

It reminded me, I must try and find the album released by The Pies many years after the graffiti first appeared.

Rather than going straight to our accommodation in Tolworth, or Surbiton as our hostess would have it, we drove to Richmond Park, probably my favourite of all the London parks. We were mainly going for a walk, but we definitely cheered when we first saw the London skyline in the distance

London from Richmond Park

A couple of sections of road in the park have been closed to motorised vehicles, in order to restrict the amount of rat-running. That was good to see, even if, on this occasion, it meant we had to drive much further to our chosen car park.

We walked through Isabella Plantation, a nice, peaceful haven. I’m sure it’s been affected by the pandemic, much of it is very overgrown. In places, you can’t even see the stream because the vegetation is so lush. Gardeners and volunteers have probably been unable to devote so much time to the usually well-groomed area.

Here be a hidden stream

We wandered over to and around Pen Ponds. We didn’t have the place to ourselves, we shared with a few other people and their dogs, as well as plenty of birds.

Cormorant

We probably have seen cormorants here before, but mainly it’s geese, ducks, coots and even when you can’t see them, you can certainly hear the ring-necked parrakeets.

Walk like an Egyptian

I’d forgotten how much bracken there is in Richmond Park, and recalled how several years ago, there was a big scare about how carcinogenic the spores are.

At this point, we didn’t know why the roads were closed. So I walked down the steep Broomfield Hill and thought about stopping a struggling cyclist halfway up to ask if they knew why the roads were closed. But that would have been cruel. It’s always an achievement to ride up that hill without stopping and who knows, maybe one day I’ll do it again too. It was good to see so many cyclists in Richmond Park, but these weren’t the only ones we saw.

We found our way to our Airbnb in Tolworth Surbiton via Kingston. What’s this? County Hall has been sold? Surrey County Council’s HQ is now in Reigate, not Woking or Guildford as I would have expected. So who bought County Hall? I know when I worked at Kingston University, the then Chancellor wanted to buy it to expand his empire across the road. And the University’s Town House is a brand new building, not the pile of portakabins that it used to be. So many changes in such a short time.

After checking into our place, we set off for Byfleet to meet up with an old friend. Even though it’s been a long time since we’ve been here, it was all familiar. No real danger of getting lost, here.

Rosie took us to a nearby Indian restaurant for a delicious but very spicy meal which left me no room for dessert. It was while walking through the tunnel under the railway station that we saw more cyclists.

West Byfleet Station underpass

How wonderful to witness the reunion between Liesel and Rosie, after all this time!

I think it was Benjamin Frankin who said: “… but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and roadworks on Leatherhead Road.” And so it proved to be on this occasion as we drove the next day, yes, even further south, to Polesden Lacey. Is Leatherhead Road the most dug up highway ever?

It was raining and, in fact, this turned out to be the only rainy day of the whole week. Here we met up with Helen and Steve for lunch and a quick walk around the grounds. The House itself was closed, so we still haven’t been inside, despite so many visits to Polesden Lacey over the years.

Looking south

In the rain, I started to sing Oh What A Beautiful Morning, but it wasn’t fully appreciated by my other half.

Atmospheric is possibly the word I’m looking for. Even when the rain stopped, you could feel it, on the borderline between drizzle and tropical-style humidity.

Raindrops on leaveses…
Selfie of the day
Beech nut sculpture

This sculpture was created by Iain Crafer, inspired by the local beech trees.

We bade farewell to Helen and Steve and before our evening assignation, we made a detour to Bushy Park, one of our favourite London parks. Here too, the main road through the park, Chestnut Avenue, has been closed to through traffic. How jolly civilised.

We had a very pleasant walk around, finding paths that neither of us remember trampling nor cycling on before.

Stag

If you look closely, you can see stags having a lie down in the long grass.

Another gnarly old tree
Heron

Here’s a heron in Leg of Mutton Pond, so I passed on greetings from his cousin in Northenden. And we probably would have made friends with this moorhen too, if only we’d had some food for him.

Moorhen

We spent two days in London. At the end of our second day, we caught a train to Kingston where we loitered for a while before setting off on another walk.

Party Animal

This sculpture is one of a set, constructed by Alex R T Davies, on display in Kingston. This goat really does have a traffic cone on his back, and we are invited to touch and even sit on him.

The Thames was very busy, with rowing boats with crews of 8 and of 2, paddle-boarders and swans.

Messing about on the river

Walking along the Thames to Surbiton in the early evening is a very pleasant experience, even if looking across the river means glimpsing the bright, setting Sun so, yes, there were moments when I couldn’t see much other than green blobs floating in front of me. Nevertheless, we found our way to one of our old haunts from a few years ago.

It was reassuring to pass another establishment to see that they’re still having trouble keeping the L stuck on. Every generation of vandals probably thinks they’re the first, the original!

Clocktower Café

In Allegro, the proprietor, whose name we ought to know by now, recognised us even though it’s been at least two years since our last visit. During the pandemic, he closed up shop and took advantage of the opportunity to refurbish the place. He only reopened a few weeks ago and very nearly had to close again. Someone driving away from Surbiton Station hit the accelerator instead of the brake, driving into the tree in front of the restaurant. 

We enjoyed a nice meal with Helen and Steve and went back for our final night in Tolworth Surbiton, at least for the time being.

Early Friday, we got up, packed, and departed, stopping in Surbiton, yes, proper Surbiton, at The Press Room for some coffee to take with us. Even the Big Issue lady recognised me from two years ago, so I must have left an impression there.

We were meeting up with another friend on the way back, over in Gloucestershire. Sandra worked with Liesel many years ago, and we’d arranged to meet up for a walk around Sherborne Park Estate, which belongs to the National Trust. And what a pleasant walk it was too, just the sound of insects and birds and two women catching up on several years of gossip. We’d seen deer in Richmond and Bushy Parks of course, but none as spectacular as the one we saw here.

Sherborne deer

Down the road, we had a break outside Sherborne Village Shop and Tea Room. This was the most restrictive venue we’d been to all week. Only two customers at a time, wearing masks, which is fair enough, but you don’t know there’s someone else inside until you’ve crossed the threshold, then you get a good telling off.

There is a fabulous library cum defibrillator storage facility just down the road.

Nice use of an old phone box

Regular visitors will know that I am not very lucky in my attempts to take pictures of dragonflies. But I got one today.

Dragonfly

Oh, alright, I know it’s only a wooden model, but it kept still long enough for me to get my phone out and press the button. Something else I’ve always admired is the skill of the dry stone wall builders, here in the Cotswolds and elsewhere.

Dry stone wall

On the way home, we passed by Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold, both places we’d love to revisit properly, as well as Stratford upon Avon, and eventually we were back on the motorway system. We were soon reminded why we should never drive anywhere on a Friday evening. Google Maps was helpful though, telling us where the least worst hold-ups were. In the end, we drove along a section of the M5. I don’t think I’ve been on that motorway since the time Sarah and I were driving to Bristol to meet Ruth, when a thick pea-souper made us slow to a crawl, and we had to give up on that trip.

We successfully arrived at home, got the mail, had a quick gin and tonic, and welcomed the sensation of sleeping in our own bed.

Katie was kind enough to broadcast my pre-recorded radio show this week, thank you, two hours of Earworms, but hopefully not the annoying kind. You can catch up here.

What’s that? What about London? Watch this space…

I promised some more stats. So turn away now if you’re likely to be unimpressed.

The Earth’s circumference is just under 25,000 miles and at some point in the last couple of months, I passed the milestone of walking half that distance since I first using a Fitbit in April 2015. So, 5½ years to walk 12,500 miles, halfway round the world, that’s not bad, is it! That’s at an average of about 12,586 steps per day or an average of 11,413 steps per day since I stopped working as a postie in January 2016, so that just goes to show how far postal workers have to walk each day.

Dinosaurs and bicycles

On our walk to Didsbury, we encountered more fly-tipped rubbish. We didn’t investigate but there may well have been evidence identifying the perpetrator of the crime. I always take a picture of this sort of rubbish with the intention of reporting it to the council. But I invariably forget to do so and then I find the picture a few days later, groan inwardly and tell myself that surely by now, somebody else has reported it.

Unusually for us, we had breakfast in out, by which I mean, we were inside a café, but out, not indoors at home. If you see what I mean. We live in a freedom-loving country of course (I know, I know) but who knew that nearly fifty years ago, it would no longer be legal to do much at all in some locations.

Whatever you do, don’t

We walked back home a slightly longer way because we had errands to run. In Marie Louise Gardens, we collected a bag of sticks and fir cones. This is for a future project in which Liesel will construct some bug hotels with the ladies of the WI. We had some items to buy at the Co-op, and I let Liesel have the pleasure of going inside, masked of course. But most importantly, we collected a parcel from the Post Office, 3 kg of plastic dinosaurs, newly arrived from Liesel’s Mom in Alaska. And as someone suggested on Twitter, plastic dinosaurs are the most realistic replicas possible. Plastic comes from oil. Oil comes from dead, squished dinosaurs. So a plastic dino might easily contain some genuine dino DNA. We could in theory create our own Jurassic Park. We didn’t do that though, oh no. Instead, the following morning we left a trail of dinosaurs up the stairs and leading to our luxury apartment. From above, I watched William as he spotted one. Then another… Then another…

Lille boy climbs to the top of the stairs

William brought his family over for brunch, but don’t worry, they had been invited and were all very welcome, and Liesel cooked up a magnificent banquet which we all throughly enjoyed, thank you.

A heap of dinosaurs

“Do you like dinosaurs, William?”
“Yes, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.”

It was such a nice day, we all went outside and sat in the shade of our old oak tree. The one we usually play hide’n’seek around. Or ‘tag’, even, but without actually touching because of Covid!

Under the oak

And we painted rocks. Well, I say rocks, but they were just small stones that we could find in the the confines of the communal car park. I remember burying some painted pet rocks before we moved away from Chessington. You can read about it here if you like.

Now we have a few more stones for someone to bury in future years.

Painted rocks

We all did very well, didn’t we? And then indoors again, the contents of the toy box were investigated and distributed. Every now and then, William would remember there’s a baby in the flat below ours and try to keep quiet for a while. It’s becoming a habit, but he ate a raw carrot, straight from the fridge and scrubbed under the tap. This, despite the fact that the last time he consumed a whole carrot, it resulted in the production of large orange poo the following day! To protect her identity, I won’t name which one of us two produced purple poo the morning after consuming beetroot salad. Oh and speaking of poo, this is the class of advert we’re seeing at local bus stops:

How do you poo?

OK, I’ll try not to mention poo again. Except to say that I will soon be receiving my bowel cancer testing kit, a biennial event that I always look forward to. Sadly, for me, Liesel provided an old tub to use, so I had no reason to buy a new one, one containing ice cream, for example.

Sometimes on a local walk, we retrace our steps, and that can be rewarding. We did so this week to stay in the shade of the local woods just a little longer on what was a surprisingly hot Summer day. And there’s nothing wrong with this little piece of uplifting philosophy, which I think we’ve probably walked by several times, and missed, as it’s on the other side of the gate post.

#StayStrong

Some medical news, hooray. I went into Manchester to give blood and again, this was no problem, except I had to have a cold drink afterwards, not tea, but I did enjoy my Club biscuit and ginger nuts.

We both received text messages from our GP inviting us in for our flu jabs. Liesel called to make appointments for us, and after being on hold for 45 minutes, was told that there were no more appointments available. And there probably wouldn’t be until November. Hmm. Meanwhile, Liesel had also received an email from a pharmacy also inviting her in for a flu jab. We called their local branch and were able to go along later that same day to be jabbed. A couple of days afterwards, I received an email inviting me to come along for a Covid jab, which was very tempting. Yes, I am fully vaccinated already, but a trip to Manly, New South Wales, even if to visit this particular pharmacy, is very appealing right now!

Well, I don’t know if it was the flu shot or the reduced volume of blood in my system, or a combination of the two, but the following day, I just felt really tired, and breathless. This didn’t prevent us setting off to watch the nearest stage of the Tour of Britain bike race. We drove to Quarry Bank National Trust and then walked for about half an hour to our chosen viewing location on Mobberley Road.

It was another warm day, and I was conscious of walking much more slowly than my usual pace. Along the path, we found some nourishment in the shape of blackberries and damsons.

Damsons

We set up camp by a bus stop and after consulting various sources, realised we had about an hour to wait. Why so early? Well, on one occasion, we just missed a race by a few minutes because roads were closed and we had to park further away than planned. The road closures seem to be better managed these days. We thought we’d have a good view of the cyclists coming towards us, and I took many, many test photos of the many, many police motor bikes as they preceded the race, checking the route and telling car drivers to get out of the way when necessary.

Police bikes

A local man came along and he wondered why the race was on a weekday, not at the weekend. Maybe he didn’t realise it was a stage race, a different route for eight consecutive days. He went home when he realised there was still quite a long wait. But didn’t make it back to join us, probably because one of the police officers was keeping traffic off the road. He also told us that as this very spot a few months ago, two buses had crashed into each other, head on, in the middle of the road. He pointed out the exact spot. He thinks nobody was seriously injured.

And then, suddenly, at 50kph or more, the leading group of five riders appeared, surrounded by cars and more motor bikes.

Breakaway group

This leading, breakaway group, consists of Jacob Scott, in green, current leader in the King of the Mountains and Sprint competitions; Nickolas Zukowsky; Christopher Blevins; Leon Mazzone; and Robin Carpenter, who won the stage in Exeter, three days earlier.

If you think racing on a bike, 152.2 km, from Alderley Park to Warrington is hard, you should try watching the incredibly fast cyclists, taking some photos and applauding and cheering them on, all at the same time. No, actually, just cycling 152.2 km on a day out would be hard enough. That’s about 94 miles, a distance I’ve cycled maybe a dozen times or so, ever, and these guys do it every day as fast as their little legs will carry them. Châpeau, as they say!

Peloton

Just a couple of minutes later came the peloton. 90+ cyclists at full pelt, and I’d forgotten how noisy a large group of cyclists can be. In a flash, they were gone. More motor bikes and cars and a long, long way behind, one lone rider who stopped and asked when the next bus was due. No, he didn’t, but I wonder if it crossed his mind.

A long time away from home for a mere two minutes of entertainment, then! Yes, of course, we watched the whole race on TV when we got home, but we didn’t make it on screen, which may be a blessing.

Global6 support vehicle

The Global6 support team parked up near us, for a natural break. Their bike wheels have green rims, and after the Tour is over, those wheels will be auctioned off to raise funds for Refugee Action.

As we walked back to the car at Quarry Bank, we ate some more damsons. I warned Liesel to watch out for the nettles, just as my shin found a particularly potent nettle bush. Thank goodness for Germolene.

We didn’t wander round the venue, but we did find our way to the restaurant and had a nice cup of National Trust decaff coffee plus a slice of raspberry Bakewell slice. It felt good to be building up my strength again after that relatively short but ridiculously knackering walk.

We were very lucky with the weather, we just felt a few spots of rain. But the cyclists had to contend with much worse on their way to Warrington.

Menacing

This is the view from the comfort of our living room, gorgeous landscape and menacing dark clouds.

Another wander around Northenden was quite good for us wildlife fans.

Northenden menagerie

The Jolly Roger is still flying at The Crown for the boat race a couple of weeks ago. I hope the pink bunny is soon reunited with her child. The squirrel posed beautifully. The heron was in its usual spot and he seemed to be finding things to eat in the very low river.

The shortest duration job I ever had was working on a building site in Notting Hill. I lasted one day and one hour. On the first day, I had to shift a load of toilets from there to over there. The next morning, I was told to move them all back again. Well, what a waste of time that was, I thought. But what drove me away was that is was raining hard all the time, plus the steel toe cap shoes I’d borrowed off my Dad, two sizes too small, had given me so many blisters, I just couldn’t get comfortable. But I did come away from the job with the ambition of being a hod-carrier. Yes, I wanted to be the bloke that carried dozens of house bricks or roof tiles on my shoulder while climbing a high, ricketty old ladder. Sadly, it seems that ambition will never be fulfilled. Local builders have installed a sort of conveyor belt to carry the tiles up to the guy on the roof. So that’s another ancient skill that will be forgotten in time, along with mining and sweeping chimneys.

Builder’s roof tile conveyor

The good news of course is that my real-life ambition of being a radio presenter is being realised, to a certain extent. This week’s show on Radio Northenden was presented from a desert island beach, with very few other people around, the waves crashing and I played lots of sunshiny, laid-back, chilled music, mostly evoking nice, peaceful places we’d all like to be sometimes, away from the hurly-burly and the hustle-bustle of every day life in the city. You can listen here.

And yes, of course we watched the next stage of the Tour of Britain on TV, the one from Carlisle to Gateshead.

Drum and Gratitude

We’ve been engrossed not only by all the sport on TV this week, the Paralympics and La Vuelta a España, but also the world-famous Northenden Boat Race. We witnessed this fund-raising event for the first time since moving to Northenden all those years ago. We thought about entering the race, but you have to bring your own inflatable dinghy or canoe, and we don’t have one. But next year, who knows?

We followed the sound of bagpipes, played by the Northenden Pipe and Drum Band. I think one of the drummers had had enough, look where he left his instrument.

Drum

The car park at Didsbury Golf Club was full of inflatable boats and pumps. But I was more interested in using their facilities and the coffee bar.

Didsbury Golf Course Club Room

The boat race started at Simon’s Bridge, and we watched as innumerable dinghies set off at the same time. It wasn’t long before some of them turned sideways or even started going backwards.

On your marks… get set…
Go!

Out of the blue, I heard a voice. “Are you Mick?” Well, yes, but who are you, I wondered. “I’m Colin.” Colin who? Not Colin Cook who put earthworms down my wellington boots when I was about 6 years old, surely? Ah, Colin. From Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 “I recognised your voice” he said. He’s the guy that takes my (slightly edited) Radio Northenden show and cues it up for broadcast on a Wednesday evening. What are the chances that we would end up standing so close to each other by the river?

As the boats drifted downstream – it would be an exaggeration to say they were being propelled by any serious, competent paddling – we started walking towards the Tatton Arms Bridge, where the race ended.

One vessel started sinking so the bloke got out to push. Fortunately, the river was quite low so he could walk along the river bed.

Get out and push

There were lots of people around, but it didn’t feel as crowded as the zoo did a few days earlier. Well, until we reached the other bridge, which everyone was trying to walk across. Glad it didn’t collapse under the weight of probably more people than it’s known since before the first lockdown.

Backwards

Even those competitors who found themselves facing the wrong way finally made it to the end.

Pipe Band

The pipers played a few tunes for the long queue waiting to cross the bridge. I briefly thought about joining this band. Then I remembered, I can’t actually play any of the instruments.

Drum and Drummer reunited

On the other hand, I haven’t tried this one, the big bass drum, yet. I’m sure our neighbours wouldn’t mind me practicing.

Liesel went straght home but I didn’t want to miss the subsequent action on the Village Green a little later.

Boat on the weir

This is one of the last boats to descend the weir. As far as we know, nobody actually fell into the water.

When the dust settled, the heron returned, scratching its head, wondering what the heck just happened?

Heron on the weir

While waiting for the last of the crowds to disperse, I sat on a bench near the playground. A lady sat at the other end and asked what was going on. She’d missed the boat race, so I showed her my photos. Such a strange situation: trying to maintain a safe distance from a stranger while, at the same time, holding my phone close enough for her to be able to see the images.

On the Village Green, the Lord Mayor of Manchester presented the prizes to all the winners and gave a little speech.

The winners and the Lord Mayor

Lilly decorated the pavement for us. I don’t want to get her into trouble, but she did sign her own work.

Lilly’s lilies

This was outside Samosa Box. Guess what we had for dinner?

Some of the roads around here still have cobble stones along the edges. Unusually, this road had them on display. No cars parked on them, or half on the verge. I very quickly took a photo.

Cobbles

In other news Martha and William returned to school this week, looking very smart and very happy.

Martha and William

Liesel had a day out with her WI ladies, a visit to Manchester Jewish Museum. I dragged myself out of bed and we drove into Manchester together. Parking was no problem, just along the road a bit in a shopping centre. While Liesel was in the Museum, I went for walk into the city centre.

Museum, formerly a Synagogue
Dr Chaim Weizman, first President of the State of Israel
Inside the Museum

As you can probably tell, I take more photos that Liesel does. This is a rare one, taken inside the museum.

I took about half an hour to walk to St Peter’s Square in Manchester, outside the Central Library. It’s my first visit to the city centre for a long time, other than quick trips to donate blood.

I said hello to Robert Owen but he just looked at me stoney faced.

Robert Owen

He is known as ‘the father of Co-operation’ and he stands outside the Co-op Bank’s headquarters.

What was so attractive about St Peter’s Square? The Gratitude exhibition. This is a collection of 51 statues, each decorated by a different artist, and the display is to show gratitude for the wonderful performance by all the NHS and other key workers during the pandemic.

Lots of Gratitude
The Isolation Chronicles

Scattered pages from a square journal, each one a picture of our life in lockdown. The Isolation Chronicles contains snapshots of the pandemic – supermarket checkouts, nurses, vaccinations, deliveries, farming, 3D printers making visors. Designed by Sue Prince from the Peak District.

Good Timber

Inspiration for the design comes from the metaphorical poem ‘Good Timber’ by Douglas Malloch, which suggests that only by struggle can we overcome adversity and reach the other side. The trees in the design have fought and grown together so their uppermost branches can ‘hold counsel with the stars’. The woodland floor is laced with bluebells which are thought to symbolise gratitude. Designed by Gail Stirling Robertson from Scotland.

Faces of Lockdown

Faces of Lockdown depicts a collection of personalities from the last year, featuring politicians, scientists, TV characters and a Welsh goat! Designed by Hammo (Nick Hamilton), an illustrator and mural painter from Manchester.

Stardust; We can be Heroes; Our Teacher Our Hero

You can see all the statues by downloading the Gratitude app for a mere £1.99, this display is here in Manchester until 12 September then it’s off to Edinburgh and London.

I couldn’t resist a visit to the library of course. Hip-hop is an art form that has largely passed me by, but I thought a visit to the Manchester Hip Hop Archive Exhibition might be educational. And it was. Lots of photos and posters and artefacts from the 1980s onwards. I even recognised some of the names, but I wouldn’t have known the context.

Rokin the Stoneage

A lot of the culture revolves around urban art: graffiti and tagging of course, and some of that is very decorative. And the poems are as good as some of the really old ones we had to read at school.

Breakdancing

I was going to try this but the librarian wouldn’t let me.

In the library, I met Erinma Bell MBE DL, Peace activist.

Erinma Bell

This sculpture is made from recycled hand guns, by Karen Lyons in 2016.

Andrew went to prison for 6 years during which time he lost his camera. The big loss though was his collection of 1000 photos of graffiti taken all around Manchester. After release, he sorted himself out, stayed away from drugs and alcohol and has embarked on the graffiti photo project again. There’s a display of hundreds of his pictures in the library in an exhibition called ‘Reds and K1000’.

Reds and K 1000

After a coffee break in the library, I walked back to the Jewish Museum. On the way, I found another wee poem.

Manc made

Liesel and I caught up with each other and I waited outside while she visiting her old friend Dunkin’.

Geometric

One day, we’ll find out what this building is, with its amazing geometric pattern on the outside.

It was a good idea to move my show to 4pm, because today, I would have panicking about not getting back in time. It was Crime and Punishment this week, all harmless murder, shop-lifting and mugging. Listen back here if you have a spare couple of hours.

But mainly this week, it was Paralympic sport and a bike race in Spain. Both finish this weekend, so let’s hope we do a bit more during next week’s hinted-at heat wave.

My regular Tuesday night date with Jessica Lee Morgan reached episode 94 this week, and this will be the last one for a while. She’s out on tour, doing real live shows in front of real live people, and we’re all happy about that.

No. Thank you! Great shows, Jessica and Chris

A Sandwich

This week was a sandwich. An unusual sandwich in that the bread is absolutely delicious, full of nutrition and fun while the filling was a bit more mundane, mouldy cheese, rotten tomatoes and limp lettuce. Nothing wrong with some mundanity of course, but it’s funny the way things work out.

Saturday, we joined in with Tim’s Listening party online, a good reason to listen to Bic Runga’s Beautiful Collision album in its entirety. After which, while writing, I just let Bic Runga sing away for the next hour or so, until Jenny, Liam, Martha and William arrived.

We all went for a walk along the river, our usual route, to Simon’s Bridge and back, a total of over four miles, which I think both impressed and surprised Liam.

Paddleboarders

We were all impressed by the paddleboarders, and I’m sure we all thought we’d like to try that one day. They were spooked by the weir though. They had to remove the fins from the boards if they wanted to skate (is that the word?) down the slope of the weir, but one of the board’s fins was screwed in, and I think the whole of Northenden heard the call for the yellow bag with the screwdrivers.

Liam and Martha
Jenny and William

Martha and William had a good time, finding two golf balls in the process. The second one was dropped into the river by mistake, I think William was surprised at re-discovering gravity, but no amount of peering into the Mersey was going to bring that ball back. Still, we’re one golf ball up on the deal. 

I called Liesel ‘Liesel’ and William asked why. Liesel explained about our real, given names, and what other people call us. Then Martha joined in too, telling William that when he’s a Daddy, she’ll still call him William but his children will call him Daddy. He’ll still call her Martha but his children will call her Auntie. As Liesel said later on, we should have recorded that dialogue, because our grandchildren are the best.

When we got home, Martha again had to investigate Oma’s jewellery and try some of it on.

Precious things

So that’s one slice of bread, a lovely day with our grandchildren. I’m sure you’re ahead of me. Here comes the filling, not as bad as I suggested, but comparatively plain and ordinary.

We walked into Didsbury. Liesel joined the ladies of the WI in Fletcher Moss Gardens for a chinwag while I wandered around almost aimlessly. I did sit in the rockery for a while, reading one of the seven books I’m in the middle of right now. My mid-August resolution is to finish (most of) those books before I allow myself to start a new one.

World famous Didsbury cobbles

My wander wasn’t totally aimless, the final destination being the optician who adjusted my new spectacles very slightly. I’ll now give it another couple of weeks to get used to them again.

Didsbury mural

The walk to Didsbury includes Ford Lane. This is the only route to the golf course. Ford Lane is being resurfaced. How we laughed at the golfers driving to the golf course as we walked towards Didsbury. And how we laughed on the walk back home when we passed by the empty car park. Someone must have told them that they were about to be boxed in.

Ford Lane roadworks

Most of the construction workers were, correctly, wearing hi-visibility clothing, but one of them must have been too warm.

Hi-vis cardigan

Wednesday is Well-being Walk day in Northenden, organised by Thrive Manchester, and led by Chantel, who was on my radio show a couple of weeks ago. This week, there were about eight of us, walking slowly through the woods, glad that the drizzle remained slight. A cup of coffee at the Northern Den rounded off a pleasant morning.

Walk in the woods

I then walked home the long way, at a faster, for me more comfortable pace, and as I passed the barber, I noticed there was only one customer inside. Why not? So I did. I have never had such a short haircut, an all-over number five. I have never had such a cold head for so long. I sought professional help from Helen, what can I use to speed up the regrowth? Still, on the plus side, I don’t need to use as much shampoo, I don’t need to spend time combing what’s left of my crowning glory, and my hair won’t block up the shower any time soon. Liesel looks over from time to time and very kindly tries not to laugh too much.

Walking in the opposite direction, I really didn’t expect to see a mouse in Wythenshawe Park.

Mickey Mouse

But worse than the rodent infestation was seeing the mess that the dinosaurs left behind. Dino Kingdom has packed up and is now presumably setting up elsewhere. But the churned up grass and the mud-covered paths are very sad to see. I hope the relevant authorities are being suitably remunerated for tidying up Wythenshawe Park.

Wythenshawe wastelands

So there’s your limp lettuce. And here comes the other slice of delicious bread in this ridiculous sandwich metaphor.

Chester Zoo was as busy as we’ve ever seen it. I think if Liesel and I had been on our own, we might have just turned around and gone straight back home. But with Martha and William, that would be a horrible thing to do. Thankfully, they weren’t perturbed by the hordes of visitors to the zoo. And maybe Liesel and I are just more sensitive because it’s been so long since we’ve been so close to so many strangers. With children, we’re walking along quite slowly, and I found it so intimidating when somebody was walking so close behind me. Tailgating.

Whinges apart, we had a great time, although animals were definitely not a priority for the children on this occasion. Top of the wish-list was the Treetop Challenge which I kept referring to as Treetop Adventure, much to Martha’s amusement. They were strapped in, walked around, enjoyed the rides down, and then, just as suddenly, William had had enough and Martha followed him off.

Treetop Challenge accepted

Next up: ice cream. Thankfully the queue wasn’t too long. Q: ‘Which animals would you like to see?’ A: ‘Is it lunchtime yet?’ And so, at 11.30, we sat down to eat lunch.

Baby giraffe

The baby giraffe was deserving of the oohs and aahs from so many families, while we sat there and consumed our lunch. Next on our agenda though was the playground, a water feature with rocks and a nightmare for people in charge of other people’s children. William and Martha enjoyed opening sluices and operating the Archimedes screw and lifting the ‘anchor’ which was in fact the plug that allowed all the water to drain away.

Martha and William back, back, back

William fell asleep in the back of the car pretty much before we’d left the car park. Martha stayed awake the whole way home and, big surprise, so did I.

I turned on the PC as soon as I got in because I had a radio show to do. The theme this week was Chemical Elements, if you would like to listen back.

Jenny took William and Martha home but by the time I finished at 6.06, they were back, with Liam this time. Pizza was delivered, Jenny brought cake and we dined together. The toys were liberally distributed all over the floor, and I don’t think we’d have it any other way!

Pastoral

You know I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world, but on the final day of the Olympics, I got up before 2 o’clock in the morning to watch the last session of Track Cycling. There were ups and downs of course, but I enjoyed the spectacle. Laura and Jason Kenny now have more gold medals between them than many countries.

The future Dame Laura Kenny

Laura was involved in a crash, meaning she was very unlikely to win the Omnium event, so it was good to see her smiling face a little later. And Jason’s Keirin win was out of this world, you should look it up on YouTube!

After the cycling, I thought about going for a nice early morning walk. But the rain was torrential. So I went back to bed instead, getting up in time for the Closing Ceremony later on.

The rain eased so I went for a potter and as if we needed reminding about the quantity of rainfall, the river was flowing fast and high. The island was totally submerged, no sign of a heron and all the geese have flown to higher ground.

Not an island

A longer walk took me to Route 66.

Historic Route 66

No, don’t be silly, of course I didn’t go all the way to America. I can’t, partly because my passport is about to expire but mainly because we won’t be flying anywhere for a little while yet thanks to Covid restrictions. This plaque is actually inside the gents toilet near The Courtyard Café in Wythenshawe Park.

While in the park, I thought I’d go and say hello to the wild farm animals: goats, pigs and cows ‘guaranteed to be BSE-free’ according to the sign.

Hello goat

Meanwhile, it’s all change in Northenden. The milkshake place It Shake, or more likely Shake It has changed its name to The Dessert Café.

Must pay a visit one day

When on a solo walk, it’s always nice to be welcomed back home.

Hello squirrel

The squirrel was delighted to see me over the hedge, but as soon as I appeared on the drive, he was away and up the tree in less than a microsecond.

Dunham Massey was the venue and for the second time, we went for a walk away from the National Trust property, through the village and along the canal. I missed the opportunity of taking pictures of the cows but I did capture a horse! The canal was busier today too, with barges or narrow boats, all going in the same direction. We wondered whether there’s a one-way system in place?

By the canal

We saw a very handsome heron on the towpath too, and I thanked him sincerely for being more cooperative than his relations in Northenden.

Hello heron

Amongst the other wildlife we saw were a pretty blue but very fast dragonfly, a caterpillar and a butterfly that might be moth really, even though they’re supposed to be nocturnal.

Hello butterfly or moth

At one point, close to a golf course, we had a chat with a very pleasant young family. Mother said that her little boy had eaten enough blackberries by now. Father said that the field we were standing next to, now full of some kind of cereal, was full of sunflowers a couple of years ago. Well, we missed that. But it reminds us that even when we go on the same walk, we can see different, exciting things, as long as we time it right.

After the long and very pleasant walk, we found ourselves back in the deer park, where the natives were having their lunch.

Hello deers

But the funniest wildlife antics were displayed by a few strange specimens of homo sapiens. They’d come along to a National Trust place with their own table, chairs and the wherewithal for a very civilised picnic.

Picnickers

We just sat on a bench and enjoyed our white chocolate ice creams, since you ask.

Alderley Edge was the venue of another day out. The place makes me feel cold. I was working for a small software company at the time. One drizzly October day in 1986, I think it was, a colleague drove me to meet with someone in Alderley Edge. I can’t remember now if he was a potential customer or what, but all I do remember about him was, he had a huge CD collection, when such things were relatively new. The drive was fast, the weather atrocious, his house hard to find, and I felt cold, miserable and totally out of place. On the drive back, flashing blue lights in the rear-view mirror were the cue for my colleague to pull the handbrake on, hoping to slow the car down without brake lights giving the game away. A stern talking to was the result. But ever since that day, whenever I’ve seen a sign for Alderley Edge, I’ve broken out in a cold sweat. Thirty-five years on, and it was time for a return visit. On a much nicer day, with blue skies, a comfortable temperature and a fascinating new place to explore.

There’s a sandstone escarpment and in the past, there were copper mines here, hinted at by the green stains on some of the rock faces.

Stained sandstone

We enjoyed our walk through the woods, but it’s much more hilly than we’re used to. The views are spectacular, ruined only by people taking selfies in front of them.

Selfie of the day
Crack in the rock

We followed the Valley Walk, which meant of course that, after the recent rain, we would have to contend with some mud.

Muddy footpath

Liesel’s not a big fan of walking through fields with cattle but we had to go that way. I soothed the animals with my rendition of Oh what a beautiful morning, but I was glad to climb over the stile in the end.

On the way home, I noticed the bollard reflecting the sunlight and I thought, how colourful. I took its picture. Liesel said I was nuts. You decide.

Bollard in the sunlight

It had to be done but this week, I said goodbye to a dear old friend. It’s been on the to-do list for a few years but at last, I closed a defunct bank account. They were good enough to give Sarah and me a mortgage all those years ago, but sentiment isn’t a good enough reason to keep an empty bank account and a credit card account that we no longer use. It should be a simple process, you’d think. I spoke to four different agents on the phone, assuring them that I really did know my own date of birth, that I would have to guess my credit limit since I haven’t used the card for years, and all the time at the back of my mind was, am I actually talking to people who work at the bank? Did I call the right number? Still, I can tick another box, hooray!

In additional medical news, I still have what in modern parlance should be called long midge bite. Old wounds that are taking ages to heal. I got bitten by something else this week. I thought I’d brushed against nettles or something, but the pain was too intense. I looked at my elbow and brushed off some sort of mega fly, called it a rude name, and I’ve had an itchy elbow ever since.