Grounded and Ghost Towns

Yesterday, the UK finally went into almost full lockdown. We’re not allowed to leave our homes except for a few very specific reasons. We knew this was coming so the last week was full of last opportunities. We’ll probably still go out for a (permitted) walk most days but we’ll also be riding the bike indoors. Yes, we retrieved my bike from the storage unit and it’s now on the wind trainer.

We didn’t have much shopping to buy at the Co-op but we had a nice walk by the river, staying the mandatory two metres away from passers-by.

Neeed a rest?

Our one big day out was to Dunham Massey. National Trust properties have opened their grounds to everyone, member or not, but the houses, cafés and gift shops are all closed.

The oldest oak at Dunham Massey

That was then. Subsequently, even the grounds have been closed because too many people were visiting. On the day we visited, it was easy enough to keep away from everyone else. And it was good to see some wildlife too.

Deer
Albino deer
Easy to miss this birdbox
Coot
Deer and non-socially distancing humans
Lion

I rescued a tired bumble bee from the pavement near home. My idea to go back to the shop to buy sugar and water for it was vetoed: fair enough.

Then, later in the day, Liesel asked me to remove a bee from our bedroom. It really looks like Spring is happening, with bees, blooms and blossoms brightening our lives.

We tried to place our regular Ocado order but unfortunately, everyone else is too.

The population of Rawtenstall ahead of us in the queue

Who knows when we’ll be able to get back online? We don’t want to go to the local shops more often than necessary.

All we can do is enjoy whatever nature throws our way (novel viruses excepted), especially the gorgeous and random splashes of colour.

Sunset over Northenden
Cherry blossom
Please let me know what this is
Two Suns in our window

Our weekly wander into Didsbury was weird. There seemed to be more people than usual to avoid on the path by the river but the town itself wasn’t as busy as usual.

Didsbury is coming like a ghost town

We visited Cidsin for a takeaway coffee and a brownie. They’re also selling some basic groceries such as bread, eggs and milk. Well, they were that day, but they’ve since decided to close completely.

Cidsin, Didsbury

This is the place where plain-clothed police officers go for their coffee and doughnuts. How do we know? The clue is in its name: CID’s in.

Rays of sunshine

I have had some strange birthdays but this year’s was arguably the most unusual. No birthday kisses or hugs. We went over to see the family and maintained social distancing by speaking to the children through the window.

I got a message from Martha
Happy birthday
Selfie of the day

I took advantage of the sunshine and walked most of the way home, enjoying the solitude and again the blooming marvellous colours of nature.

More blossom
Cheadle is coming like a ghost town
Even more blossom
Yellow tulips
Red tulips

So, Happy Birthday to me! Thanks for the delicious cake, Liesel.

Birthday cake: we’ll keep a slice for you

And how’s the Walking All Over Cancer thing going? So far, so good, thanks for asking. Only a week to go! Looking at my copious records, you can tell which days I’ve had to pace up and down the hall just to get the step count over the target of 10,000. Many thanks to those who have sponsored me already! And to those who may be in lockdown, stuck at home, with not much to do: you can sponsor me here, thank you very much 😉

While we’re stuck indoors, we’ll try to keep to some sort of routine, we’ll keep busy, alternating between doing something useful and having lots of fun. Online courses all seem to take more than the 3 hours a week they tell you and there are plenty to choose from. I’ve subscribed to more podcasts and radio shows than before. Plus, we have hundreds of CDs to sort, catalogue, file and even to listen to. I have a huge ‘To do’ list to address, as a last resort. My ‘recommended books’ list will keep me going for years. For now, we can go out for a walk each day, plus, we can cycle indoors so we have no excuse not to keep up a basic level of fitness. We hope everyone else in lockdown is keeping calm and carrying on too.

Isolating and Walking

It is the worst of times, it is the worst of times. Coronavirus, Covid-19, coronapocalyse, it’s all over the news. The government advises this, the health experts say that, the response to this global disaster is different in different countries, definitely do this, preferably do that, so much advice, and why isn’t the UK following WHO guidelines and testing, testing, testing? So it’s not the ideal time to visit hospital on two separate occasions for different examinations, unrelated to the current contagion. Did I pick up the virus? Or did I leave it behind for someone else to avoid? We’ll never know.

Somewhere over the rainbow

I waited for the bus home after my echocardiogram and was enormously cheered up by this rainbow. Not so much by the bus that rolled in declaring ‘Sorry Out Of Service’. Only after opening the door for a microsecond and then driving off did the driver decide to change the display, confirming that this was, in fact, the bus I’d been waiting for.

Things were better the day we took William to the zoo. He was interested in seeing the newborn Asian elephant, Riva Hi Way, of course but in a surprise move, he also asked to go to the Zipline. Literally. He rode the Zipline once before taking off the harness, he wasn’t bothered about walking and climbing the rest of the Treetop Challenge!

But he does like going into the forest, to explore and to hide and to pick up sticks.

William hiding in the forest

When I saw this graphic from a distance, I thought, Chester Zoo haven’t really got this human evolution thing quite right, have they?

Bear necessities

But it’s just showing all the different species of bear compared with a human. Very educational. The other mistake I made was when I saw a sign for ‘Beermats’ through the bushes. Not being a tegestologist, I wasn’t that interested. Only on closer inspection did I realise it was the sign for ‘Meerkats’. I resolved to clean my glasses.

Pretty little orange flowers

And if that’s not orange enough, what about this frog?

Golden mantella

Initially, William had asked to see the blue, poison-dart frogs, but we couldn’t see any in their tank. The volunteer suggested they’d been taken away for some reason.

Camel 1: I’m bored.
Camel 2: Me too.
Camel 3: Me three.
Camel 1: What shall we do?
Camel 2: I know, let’s have a game of noughts and crosses.
Camel 3: That’s a great idea. Have we got any paper and a pencil?
Camel 1: No, but I have some duct tape.
Camel 2: How will that help?
Camel 3: We could make up a noughts and crosses grid somewhere.
Camel 1: But where?
Camel 2: Well it was your idea, 3, so let’s use your hump.
Camel 3: Oh, alright then.

Like a camel with a sore hump

The other thing William specifically asked for was to see the lady who cleans up the elephant poo. Well, he saw the lady and he thoroughly investigated the poo.

William investigating a big dump

Don’t worry, we all washed our hands several times during the day and when we got back home.

We picked Martha up from Nursery and then, back home, she and William built and demolished several towers.

In this time of Covid-19, it’s harder than usual to make a GP appointment, even when they’ve sent a message asking us to do so. They answered my call after 20 minutes, I made my appointment and so did Liesel who hijacked my phone after listening to the ringing on her own for the same amount of time. But as the GP surgery doesn’t want potentially infected bodies turning up, we just each had a 20-minute phone consultation. Marvellous.

After admitting to our newly acquired cough, we’re now self-isolating. We think it’s just a post-holiday cold, and I’m a few days behind Liesel with the tickly and sore throat and cough, but here we are.

We’re allowed out for walks as long as we don’t socialise. The recent storms must have weakened this tree which appeared on the pavement between walking one way and walking back maybe twenty minutes later.

A recently fallen tree

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, goes the famous saying. But sometimes they spontaneously go and stand in a puddle while drinking the water.

A horse enjoying the water

The river is always a good place to see people doing silly things, such as jogging. But trying to row these canoes without putting them in the water seems a bit bizarre.

Wannabe canoeists

Another bit of a tree, a dead one, fell in and drifted towards the bridge.

Tree in the Mersey

When Liesel and I walked along the river, towards but not all the way to Didsbury, we passed fewer people than usual. Again, we noted the rough path, not ideal for walking on and definitely not much fun cycling on it, although we saw a couple of people try. One lady was pushing her bike. But if she’d been cycling on the other side of the river, along which we returned, she too would have had to negotiate the puddle that straddled the width of the road. We managed to get by without falling in.

A challenging wide puddle

It would be so easy to fall into gloom and despair while in isolation, so it’s good to see the Spring flowers are making an effort to cheer us up.

A very pretty roadside bed

While stuck indoors, I’m sure we’ll be doing a lot of reading, writing, TV and film watching, radio and podcast listening as well as puzzles. In fact, this weekend, for the first time, I successfully completed a Sandwich Sudoku in the Guardian. I was beginning to think these were a spoof, a hoax perpetrated by naughty work experience teenagers at the newspaper, as I have messed up every single one. Until this weekend, hooray! Here’s the grid if you want to have a go:

Place the digits from 1-9 in each row, column and 3×3 block. The clues outside the grid show the sum of the numbers between the 1 and the 9 in that row or column.

 

Spring Break

The world came into sharp focus, the colours became more prominent and vibrant, and so many different ones too! The clouds of pale, pasty, pastel colours disappeared. No, I hadn’t taken a psychedelic, mind-altering substance. I merely cleaned my glasses. It’s amazing what a big difference this simple activity can make to ones outlook. I should do it more often.

In the evening, we ventured into the big city to see a new stage version of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff was well played but not a very likeable character, so why both Cathy and Isabella were lusting after him beats me. One of my favourite actors, Samantha Power, played Nelly and really, the whole cast put on a wonderful performance. It’s on at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until March 7: please go along to admire the set, if nothing else! Here’s the review in the Guardian, although I might have given it more stars!

Sam Power as Nelly Dean

We probably won’t choose to sit in the front row of the first circle again: I probably shouldn’t fidget as much as I do anyway, but I felt very constrained by the lack of leg space.

We swapped babysitting days this week with the other grandparents. I collected the four charges while Liesel visited the hairdresser. Four? Yes, of course.

William, Gordon, Rapunzel and Martha

After we’d had lunch at our place, we took them to Catalyst in Widnes. ‘The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre is a science centre and museum, focusing on chemistry and the history of the chemical industry, next to Spike Island and the River Mersey in Widnes, Cheshire.’

It was fascinating to watch both Martha and William interact with the exhibits, even if, at the moment, the science is beyond them.

Martha concentrating on cubes
William feeding scarves into an air-driven labyrinth

There was the equipment to make a simple stop-action film but the most appealing option were the strong neodymium-iron magnets and the iron filings. Martha absorbed her daily RDA of iron through her fingertips, making flowers but steadfastly refusing to make a bridge between the north and south poles! We didn’t make it any further than the ground floor and there is plenty more to see, not just for little people.

We succeeded in keeping them both awake when we drove them home, much to their parents’ delight, I’m sure.
Back at home, Liesel and I finished off the perishable food, so it was a very strange supper. We did most of the packing now because we knew we wouldn’t have time in the morning, before leaving the house at a ridiculously early hour.

Yes, in case you haven’t guessed, we set off for some sunshine. Too much Winter so far here in Manchester and while we thought about joining Liesel’s parents in Hawaii, that’s just too far away. Instead, we’ve opted for the so-called Hawaii of the Mediterranean: Malta.

We caught the local bus to Manchester Airport, mixing it with everyday working people. We didn’t mind, I hope they didn’t, either.

We had a sort of breakfast while waiting for our gate number to be announced. This included the last few pieces of fruit from home. I don’t think we’ll ever get used to the wide variety of fashion on display at airports. In the same large hall, there are people dressed for the tropics and others dressed for the polar regions.

Going through Security was easy, much moreso than the last time Liesel flew out of Manchester.

I think this is the first time we’ve flown with Ryanair. At home last night, I had to pay to choose seats for the return flight before being allowed to print out boarding passes for the outward flight. And we had to do that in order to avoid paying an extortionate fee to check in at the airport!

But we did enjoy the opportunity to stand in several different queues before boarding the aeroplane, including once on an increasingly claustrophobic staircase!

The final queue, waiting to board the plane

My entertainment on the flight was plenty of reading and the pleasure of messing up two killer sudoku puzzles.

So, goodbye Manchester, hello Malta! Goodbye grey, hello blue skies! Goodbye 6°, hello 16°! Marvellous.

Blue sky and cranes

My glasses haven’t been tested in this way for a long time, but they went very, very dark when we left the building and walked into bright sunshine. When my eyes adapted, the first view warned us that the island is one big construction zone. Everywhere you look, there are cranes and half-built edifices. It’ll be great when it’s finished, of course. Even the pavements or sidewalks are bumpy and basically just a series of trip hazards for old stumble-foot here.

We caught a bus to our Airbnb in Paceville, St Julian’s. Any plans we had to sightsee on the way were dashed because the windows were covered in a glare-reducing film.

There’s a building site there, hidden from view

We’re staying on the top floor of the block, unfortunately facing away from the sea. We have to climb 91Âœ steps to our apartment, compared with 32 at home. Thankfully, the weight of our luggage was restricted by the airline’s rules! The half-a-step is at number 52, where the stair-mason must have had a bad day.

It’s going to take a while to get used to Maltese spelling and pronunciation. Here, when you want to finish a piece of writing, you have to dot some of the Ċs and Ä s and cross some of the ÄŠs, never mind anything else!

The building site over the road from our Airbnb

After meeting our Hungarian host, Barbara and settling in for a while, we went for a walk down the road. And I mean down. We’d forgotten what it’s like to walk up and down hills: Northenden, Didsbury and Manchester, even Chester Zoo, are all very flat. We dined in style at the local Wagamama’s: always good to try the local cuisine, we feel. The background music was by Take That, Natasha Bedingfield and Natalie Imbruglia.

After buying some basic groceries, we went back home, went to bed and while Liesel fell asleep quickly, I didn’t. I strongly suspect my Wagamama coffee wasn’t decaffeinated as requested. Still, I caught up on a couple of podcasts, read a lot, listened to another podcast, and, sometime after 2am, I think I drifted off and I hope my dreams don’t mean anything, they were weird, man.

Our first full day in the Republic of Malta started very slowly of course. Liesel suggested that maybe it’s a good job we can’t see the sea from here. If we could, she’d be sitting out on the balcony, disinclined to go out anywhere!

But after a slow start and a late breakfast, we did set off for a walk.
How lovely to get my legs out for the natives, they don’t know what they’ve been missing. It’s a lovely temperature here, yet they’re all walking around with jeans or trousers and thick coats and at least a couple had the nerve to look at me as if I’m the weirdo! T-shirt, shorts and sandals is perfectly adequate. I can already sense the vitamin D sizzling in my skin, so I feel great.

We walked about five miles, along the waterfront, from St Julian’s to Sliema and beyond.

St Julian’s Bay

We were pleased to see a Dublin pub, a Cuban club and the London Academy.

London Academy

Liesel only had her hair cut a couple of days ago and while I am in need of a tidy-up, this wasn’t the venue for me.
We did admire the many, brightly coloured balconies though and when we get home, we might invest in one for our luxury apartment in Northenden.

Strange multi-storey car park

Hire bikes are available but whether we follow up on that, I don’t know. The signs warning people over 12 years old not to cycle on the promenade were grim, but riding on a road narrower than the promenade amongst the traffic was even grimmer.

In other bad news, many signs told us that topless bathing was not allowed. So Liesel hastily put her top back on and we carried on, stopping for a break every so often, wishing we had children with us to play in the numerous playgrounds.

Litter bin pretending to be a hippo

As we wandered along, we heard bursts of music from cars and from building sites. The most popular artists seem to be Take That, Natasha Bedingfield and Natalie Imbruglia.

Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The rocky stony beach

Even if we’d seriously thought about bathing in the sea, the picture of twelve species of jellyfish would have deterred us. Only four of them give you a painful sting though, so that’s alright.

Beware jellyfish

The architecture was as mixed as the best that London has to offer. The contrast between neighbouring old and new is stunning.

Something old, something new

At TignĂ© Point, we stopped for lunch and coffee at a cafĂ© called French Affaire. I caught myself saying ‘merci’ rather than ‘grazzi’ so I won’t be embarrassing myself there again!

At the end of a small pier (or a long jetty), we found a collection of rusty padlocks (not to be confused with the 1980s band of the same name), presumable each a token of someone’s affection for someone else. Over the water was the much more impressive Fort Manoel.

Fort Manoel

We walked to the next bus stop, caught a bus into Valletta and another bus back home again. We will spend more time in the capital, but we both felt the need for a rest.

I paid a return visit to Valyou, the local supermarket and our evening passed in the company of film music, books and the steady rhythm of two-finger typing.

Barkis is Missing

We didn’t go far afield with William this week. But after a lunch of ketchup and all the trimmings, he thoroughly inspected the ceiling.

Things are looking up

Jenny and Liam went out for the evening leaving Liesel and me to babysit both William and Martha. Both of them cried for Mummy and Daddy, as expected, but they were easily distracted. I think we read them more books than they’re used to, and in the end, they settled down to sleep very well.

William, Martha, Oma, reading and slowly getting ready for bed (not Oma)

In technology news. I was ‘pleased’ to note that a month after ceasing all support for Windows 7, my PC spent an inordinate amount of time installing a new update. Thanks Microsoft for the minor panic attack when nothing happened for a very long time.

The River Mersey wasn’t as deep nor flowing as fast as I’d anticipated, despite the recent and ongoing storms, but the early Spring flowers are brightening the place up, despite the best efforts of storms Ciara and Dennis.

Springing up

There are, as I write, over 500 flood warnings around the country. The River Wey in Guildford is rising and I feel bad for people affected. During the floods of 1968, I missed a couple of days of school, because the buses weren’t running. There’s a plaque outside St Nicolas Church, in the town centre, showing the flood level from that year and another subsequent flood. I hope this one isn’t as bad or as destructive.

We went to see a fantastic film this week, The Personal History of David Copperfield. It was funny, true to the original novel by Charles Dickens although I did miss ‘Barkis is willing’. But all the characters are well portrayed and most are extremely likeable (apart from Mr Murdstone of course, he’s not very nice). I’m so glad I re-read the novel fairly recently. And the Savoy Cinema in Heaton Moor is a much better environment than most multiplexes. If I have any complaints (of course I do, I’m me), it’s that the nap of the velvet material covering the seats faces the wrong way. While watching the film, I’m almost imperceptibly sliding forwards. When it gets to the point of nearly falling off the seat, I try to slide back but there’s too much resistance. I have to jump back to start the whole process again. The poor people behind probably asked for their money back: they came to see a film, not some clown jack-in-a-box jumping about in front of them.

In medical news, I am receiving lots of sympathy from the grandchildren for the bruise I have on the inside of my elbow. I had a blood test and the nurse said something like ‘oops, I think you might get a bruise’. How right she was!

Martha and William both performed well in the swimming pool. And on the way home, we spotted some extensive damage presumably caused by the recent storms.

Mind your Rs

In the library, I tried eavesdropping on the two ladies conversing in front of me. I’m sure they were speaking English, but I couldn’t understand a single word they said. Both had very deep, sonorous voices, maybe the result of decades of smoking 40 a day. I could almost feel the bass rumble emanating from their larynxes. But the subject matter remains a secret.

In fact, it reminded me of when I was very small, trying to get to sleep upstairs while Mum and Dad were talking down below. I could detect when Dad was excitable or a little angry, I could feel rather than hear his deep voice but could not work out why he was upset. It was probably something I’d done.

Both of my parents succumbed to cancer in the end, although, certainly in Dad’s case, 101 other medical complaints were competing to be the final straw. A few friends have also departed far too early thanks to cancer or various types. It’s much easier to talk about now than it was even a couple of decades ago, but the C-word still evokes a certain element of terror. All I can do is to support efforts to raise money for research. To this end, I am challenging myself to walk 10,000 steps every day in March. And to make it worthwhile, please consider supporting me here —> Walk all over Cancer All contributions will be gratefully received, thank you, and I’ll be sure to write about my progress in this very forum! Thanks very much for your attention. That is the end of this public service announcement.

After watching the grandswimmers in the morning, we had a relatively relaxed afternoon. I did some stuff on the PC while listening to the wind and rain and hail. It wasn’t very welcoming outside, but Liesel and I did venture out, to one of our favourite restaurants, Greens in Didsbury. Thanks for the Christmas present, Helen and Adam: we had a wonderful but very filling Sunday roast. Too full for dessert, we took one home and I had it for breakfast the following day, well, vegan cheesecake makes a pleasant change from cereal and/or toast.

That’s that, then

We are currently experiencing an exceptional call load at the moment. We are currently experiencing an extremely high call level at the moment. We are currently experiencing a higher than usual number of calls at the moment. Sentences guaranteed to put you in a good mood for when you do finally speak to an actual person, and not just because of the tautology. I did that sort of job for a mere three months and it wasn’t a lot of fun, apart from the one-hour bike ride to work each way, every day. So I always try to be polite and friendly and throw in a joke or two: you can be cross with an organisation but whatever it is, it’s not the call centre’s underpaid staff’s fault.

But on this occasion, I wasn’t making a complaint, just trying to address something that I couldn’t do online. Imagine my delight when after a minute or so of these annoying messages, I was given the option of leaving my phone number, I’d retain my place in the queue and they’d call me back. They did so after about another ten minutes. All sorted. Well done Transport for London, problem resolved. Sadly, my punishment for moving away from London is that I’ll no longer be able to use my Senior Oystercard. So that’s that, then.

We visited Manchester Central Library. I wandered round aimlessly, still surprised and delighted by just how much is available here, not just books but displays and computers. In the music section, there were two young chaps playing on keyboards. Hang on, this is a library: shhh! But no, what a great place. Liesel attended a meeting where she was introduced to the world of volunteering in Manchester. Plenty of opportunities here. I walked over to the Arndale where I found Bagel Nash and succumbed to the temptation of a bagel and a coffee.

A bagel without coffee is like a life without love
The year of the rat

It’s the Chinese New Year, now the year of the rat.

Jenny brought William round for our childminding day: he likes playing at our place and when we tried to go out, he didn’t want to leave. Until, that is, Liesel suggested going for a drive. William took this to mean, he’d do the driving.

William at the wheel

He needed help to reach the pedals but rejoiced in telling us he was turning right. And then right. Liesel took over the driving duties and William fell asleep within a couple of minutes, in his seat in the back. When he woke up, we found ourselves at Dunham Massey.

Log Pile

There’s a small adventure playground here, the Log Pile. While William pushed up the last few zzzz, I wandered over to see what it was like. Well, it was damp of course, the logs were a bit slippery, and I think it’s probably for slightly older, taller children. That’s that, then.

Sadly, someone has left their friends behind.

Dunham Massey wildlife

We had a pleasant walk around the gardens. Some Spring flowers are poking through, but there’s a lot of work going on in the gardens: it’ll be fabulous later in the year when it’s in fuller bloom.

Snowdrops
It’s beginning to look a lot like Springtime

Yes, it does lift the spirits to see so much colour on display. The days are lengthening by 3 minutes a day or so.

William was delighted to find a Big Hole in the lawn. It was roped off, he walked all around it but, unusually for him, he didn’t duck under the tape.

William’s Big Hole

Obviously, this being a country park, with trees and everything, there are plenty of sticks lying around. William likes sticks. he likes picking them up. He likes throwing them into bushes and into streams. If there’s ever a job for a stick distributor and organiser, William’s your boy.

So, here we are, January 31st 2020. A black day in British history. The UK’s final day as a member of the European Union, after 47 years. I’m still waiting for someone to explain the benefits of leaving the EU, not the blue passports (which we could have had anyway), not more immigration control (that our government could have implemented anyway), but something tangibly better, more beneficial. Sorry, William and Martha, your potential futures have been substantially curtailed. That’s that, then.

It was nice to see the children on their last day as European citizens. Jenny and Liam had other plans. So Martha and William decorated pizzas, ate them, then had a bath. They went home, dressed in their PJs and presumably, went straight to bed.

The wind was loud and intimidating, so Liesel drove to Disbury. I walked but came home with Liesel in the car.

Swimming was fun, lots of splashing: nearly as much as we’d experienced when they were in our bath a couple of days ago!

Every bloke who has an ultrasound scan probably wants to ask the nurse whether it’s going to be twins. But I resisted. My scan, offered to all men at about my age, is to check for a possible developing abdominal aortic aneurysm. A large bulge in the aorta is bad. A slight bulge and they’ll keep an eye on it. No bulge at all, and you should never have to worry about this potentially fatal condition again. And I’m pleased to say I am the proud owner of a perfectly straight, perfectly round, 1.6cm wide drainpipe of an aorta. I didn’t get a picture but I’ll never forget what it looked like. That’s that, then.

At this month’s meeting of U3A, I signed up to join some groups, including a couple well outside my comfort zone. Let’s see how I get on!

And if you think this is a load of old rubbish, just look at this.

Keep Britain Tidy

Too many people chucking their rubbish out of cars as they wait at traffic lights: this is where you need CCTV!

Well, that’s that!

Burritos, Bowie, Bikes, Balls

A Mermaid greeted us when we went to look after William this week. Of course, it was Martha, not a real mermaid, and it was a shame she had to change into her uniform to go to nursery!

We endured a foggy drive to Chester Zoo this time, but unusually, on arrival, there wasn’t a cold wind in the car park. William set the pace as we walked around, often hanging around in the same area, especially when it entailed standing in the mud. He was as excited to watch a squirrel scurry by on the fence as he was to see the elephants.

Oma, William, elephant
The end of the line

The monorail is now being demolished, which is a shame: that was always a good way to pass some time, queueing up for a ride.

We did feel sorry for the penguins, though: someone’s taken the plug out of their pool and they were plodding around, looking a bit forlorn.

P-p-p-poor old p-p-p-penguins

William slept in the car in both directions and as soon as we dropped him off at home, Liesel and I went home. We had plans, things to do, places to be.

After waiting for a bus for too long and witnessing several going by in the wrong direction, we decided to drive into Manchester instead. We’d like to use public transport but it’s just not a good or reliable enough service in Manchester.

Listo Burrito

We enjoyed a burrito at Listo Burrito, infamous for its burritos, apparently.

A Bowie Celebration brings together several musicians who have worked with David Bowie at some point, whether playing live or on record. The Bowie Alumni Band was brought together by Mike Garson, who performed with Bowie over a thousand times. Tonight, the band played at Manchester’s O2 Ritz. Doors opened at 7pm. We arrived in very good time, to join a long line of even more eager people, all hoping to snare one of the few seats available. It’s an old dance hall, really, so it’s pretty much all standing around.

O2, the telcommunication company, obviously provide the wifi at this venue. But I got a better signal from Gorilla, a place over the road. We tried not to stare too much at the fellow audience members, some even older than me, many wearing Bowie t-shirts from his numerous incarnations. There were a few young people too but we saw nobody with the red Ziggy hairstyle or the Aladdin Sane lightning flash on their face.

Inside, we went upstairs and stood at the front of the balcony, overlooking the stage and the dancefloor below. We watched as the venue filled while listening to a Mike Garson record: Bowie Variations, which I can highly recommend.

A great view of the stage

Even though we were standing, we were able to lean on the barrier and we resisted being squeezed out by other people. Sadly, we’ll never see David Bowie live in concert again, but this would be a good second best. We’ll never see Beethoven in action either, but we still enjoy his music being played live, though not necessarily by people he actually performed with.

Tonight, the band played the whole of the Diamond Dogs album, sharing the vocals between three great but very different vocalists: Mr Hudson, Corey Glover and Sass Jordan.

It was loud, but very faithful to the original album. I sang along of course, and noticed a couple of faux pas on the part of the professionals. It should be ‘fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats’, even I know that!

I remember buying and playing Diamond Dogs for the very first time, in 1974, amazed that after Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie could still come up with some fantastic lyrics and wonderful tunes. Tonight we were both reminded just how much his music has a jazz influence, especially with Mike Garson in the mix.

What a shame George Orwell’s widow didn’t allow Bowie to turn 1984 into a musical, the original idea. Diamond Dogs is a mix between that and his own perception of some future dystopia: but not too far in the future.

We thought there’d be an interval after Diamond Dogs, but no, they kept going. Space Oddity next. By now, I had a slightly sore throat from singing along and my tinnitus had been turned up to 11, but it was worth it, such an emotional show for me, and for many others, no doubt.

Bowie Celebration: the Alumni Band

Suffragette City was very exciting, and if you’ve never heard 1500 people in unison shriek ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am’, well, it’s very therapeutic!

Rock’n’roll Suicide always brings a tear to the eye.

Everyone sang along to Heroes, another opportunity for the lacrimal glands to kick into gear.

Two hours and twenty minutes of wallowing in the past, fantastic. A good review and more photos can be seen here.

I never thought I’d need so many people

It was a most enjoyable show. But for the sake of us old codgers: a seated venue might be better. And please turn down the bass a tad because we’re already losing the higher frequencies, thanks!

I don’t know. We don’t go out in the evening for a while and then we go out twice within a few days! The 2020 HSBC UK National Track Cycling Championships finals took place at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester this weekend. We attended one session, on Saturday evening, and we undoubtedly witnessed some cycling stars of the future. My favourite cycling team is now Team Terminator: they’ll be back.

A great view of the track

The commentary was pretty good, if a little cheesey at times. But there was no ‘turning the screw’, nor ‘putting down the hammer’, nor ‘ lighting the afterburners’ but as Liesel pointed out, these clichĂ©s usually apply to road races. One of tonight’s races did ‘go down to the wire’, so anyone playing ‘cycling commentary bingo’ didn’t totally waste their time. Proud to have been part of an ‘awsome audience’, though.

Winner of the National Bobble Hat Wearing Championships

In years to come, we’ll be looking out for the new British Men’s Points Race Champion, ‘the Welshman from Wales’, Rhys Britton. I don’t know the name of the model sporting this rather delightful bobble hat, quite a distraction from the racing, to be honest.

Other names to look out for are Lauren Bell who won the Keirin, Hamish Turnbull, the new Sprint champ and Ella Barnwell, the new Scratch Race champion, taking over from Laura Kenny, who wasn’t here to defend her title on this occasion. I was watching the Derny bike rider leading the Keirin races and I thought, I could do that. If I were looking for a job.

It was an exciting night but next time, I think I’ll take my real camera, the medal ceremonies were just too far away  for good pics. The music and the roar of the crowd weren’t too loud today and the tinnitus was not affected, you’ll be pleased to know.

Not a bad action shot with a phone camera

In a change to normal programming, we looked after Martha and William on Sunday while their parents went on a secret mission.

The Ice Cream Farm was very busy today, the water was in full flow thanks to the numerous older children ready and eager to turn on the taps, use the Archimedes screw, open the sluices and generally send water to places it’s not supposed to be.

William v water

We played in the sand for a while too. Not ‘we’, I mean ‘they’, of course. Any sandcastle I might have built was soon demolished by William.

The children wore themselves out in the softplay area. Here is Martha carrying the balls to some small cannons, from which she was able to shoot across the play area, trying to hit the targets while missing the other children, mostly.

Martha v cannon balls

We drove home and despite the extreme state of exhaustion, sleep eluded us all. And indoors, Martha used Liesel’s crochet hook to demolish a skein of yarn.

Martha v yarn

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner on their return, and afterwards, Liesel and I spent over 12 hours untangling the yarn. Next time, we’ll make sure Martha untangles her own tangles.

Toad in the hole

Two bits of good news. My replacement bluetooth keyboard has arrived, and it works perfectly so, once again, I’ll be able to write blogs and other nonsense while away from home and not in a library or internet cafĂ©! Plus, my first toad-in-the-hole in the new luxury apartment came out very well. Very nice, very tasty, as they say.

I see icy

But it didn’t prepare us for what occurred the following morning. There I was, still in bed, Liesel came in, threw back the curtains and said I had to see this.
‘What, rain?’ I asked.
‘No, snow,’ she replied. Lo and behold, it was snowing. I said I wasn’t going anywhere today, thank you very much. Well, the snow didn’t last long and didn’t settle, but when I did go out for a walk later on in the sunshine, I was surprised at how cold it still was outside. I didn’t walk very far today. Brrr.

Horses and Club Biscuits

Received wisdom is that people are more friendly up north. But I’m not so sure about horses. I was often greeted by my horsey mates in the field by Merritt Gardens in Chessington. But these ones showed no interest in making friends with us as we walked past their cold and frosty field on our way to Didsbury.

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Hello horses

Yes, it was a cold, crisp and frosty day. We even came across some ice patches on the pavement. No major incidents to report, though, thank goodness.

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Simon’s Bridge, ‘cross the Mersey
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A very large duck or a very small island?

Liesel and I had some fun and some breakfast before walking home. It was still cold, but the Sun was peeping through, although still low in the sky.

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Here comes the Sun

After watching Martha swimming on a foggy Sunday, we went to the nearby Morrisons for some groceries. On sale inside? Pigeon pies, piled up at the end of each aisle. But it makes sense: it looks like their breeding their own ingredients.

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And a thousand pigeons o-o-on the roof…

Liesel attended her second of four Crochet lessons and obviously I’m going to say I think she’s hooked.

I met Jenny for a coffee before another visit to the ‘blood shop’ as she and Helen referred to it when they were younger, that is, the Blood Donation Centre.

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Biscuits and crisps

The selection of biscuits and crisps is always good but they excelled themselves today. I couldn’t force myself to sample everything on offer, but I did enjoy a chat with Mia, who made a cup of tea for me, and who too has a sister who lives in New Zealand.

Chocolatté

Our weekly walk to Didsbury was wiped out due to the strong, cold wind, apparently from Siberia but actually from the Atlantic. So we donned our wimp outfits and drove instead, did what we needed to do and then returned home for a late breakfast. And then, of course, we stayed indoors for the rest of the day.

Despite the wind, though, I did go for a few little jaunts in and around Northenden this week. Some signs are designed to be ignored, of course, such as this:

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Keep Wythenshawe Tidy

Again, the thought crossed my mind: I could have taken out the litter picker upper and performed a public service.

I followed a previously avoided footpath, expecting it to emerge at a particular place, on a particulr road, but no, it deviated, turned left and then left again, took me much further then anticipated.

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The path to nowhere

But what an adventure. I emerged in the middle of the industrial estate, deserted on a Sunday, and found my way home after a couple more detours. So where are the photos? Sadly, not much photogenic here. A railway line just visible through the bare naked bushes? The same path but a bit further along? The copious amounts of litter that I could have picked up with the right hardware? The even more copious, yet unreachable, litter way behind the fences?

Meanwhile at home, Liesel took down our Christmas decorations, slightly later than most people had. My contribution was to put the three boxes of ornaments and lights into our very small attic space. It’s beginning to look a lot like normal.

Some folks are still having a good time, and they enjoy telling us mere mortals all about it. Just what exactly are we missing out on here?

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We’re closed

I’ll tell you what we missed out on: this local tattoo parlour potentially lost a customer or two! Maybe next month.

I’ve been walking around the neighbourhood for a while and I couldn’t work out why the old sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles, starring Richard Briers and Pauline Wilton, kept popping into my head. It was on TV over thirty years ago and as far as I know, hasn’t been shown since. At last, I have solved the mystery. I’ve walked by or across this crossroads many times.

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Howard Road and St Hilda’s Road

Howard Road and St Hilda’s Road, named after two minor characters in an old TV show: Howard and Hilda, a married couple, best remembered because they usually wore jumpers with the same design.

While I have St Hilda’s in mind, here is the actual church which probably didn’t win many prizes for its architectural brilliance but I’m sure it’s very welcoming.

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Catholic church of St Hilda and St Aidan

In this bleak and slightly gloomy midwinter, the spirits are always lifted by a splash of colour. As mentioned many times in this place, my horticultural knowledge is minimal, so I’ll leave identification of this bush to the experts.

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A pretty but possibly deadly plant

Kenworthy Lane Woods is managed by the Mersey Valley Countryside Warden Service for people and wildlife. The Mersey Valley Joint Committee includes Manchester City Council and Trafford Metropolitan Borough. The Countryside Agency also have their logo on the very informative sign as does Red Rose Forest of which The Mersey Valley is a part. Well, it’s a nice walk through the woods, and there is plenty of evidence indicating the presence of people. But I’ve never seen any wildlife here bigger than a sparrow, which is a little disappointing.

We’ve walked by the cemetery several times now, on our way to the river or to Didsbury, but this week for the first time, I spent some time looking at the outside of our local parish church.

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St Wilfrid’s parish church of Northenden

As can be seen from the photo, the sky today was glorious, bright, uplifting, proper sky blue. The Sun was bright and made for some good photo opportunties, such as this familiar bird from the local playground.

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I see a little silhouetto of a bird

Today’s farewell message is to Microsoft Windows 7. As from this week, my PC’s operating system will no longer be supported. No security updates. No software updates. No tech support. So imagine my delight a couple of days later when my PC was taking a long time to turn itself off because… it was processing three updates to the operating system!

It seems mean to enjoy myself at a playground without a child. We returned later in the week, with William in tow. He had a great time climbing up the steps and the rocks, sliding down the slides and we all cheered up at the sight of the year’s first crocus. Spring is on its way!

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The year’s first crocus
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I’m the king of the castle
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Oma and William

William himself decided when he’d had enough fun outside, so we walked to the local coffee bar. LattĂ© for me, Americano for Liesel and a babyccino for William. He asked for  a chocolate bar to go with it, a Flake, so I went back to the counter to ask for one. I was expecting to pay extra, but no, it was given to me on a plate. In fact, the lovely girl gave me two Flakes. I presented them to William who immediately put one into his drink, which was cool enough to drink. Without any prompting or asking, he immediately gave the other one to me. I held out the plate to receive it, but that wasn’t what he wanted. Instead, William dropped the Flake into my still hot lattĂ©, where it dissolved very quickly, of course. So I had a slightly chocolatey lattĂ©. But really, I was just taken by William’s generosity and kindness, he could have kept both Flakes for himself and that would have been OK (just don’t tell his parents). We praised him for sharing, but it was a bit disappointing that I couldn’t show him my chocolate bar when he asked.

I collected Martha from Nursery and we had a nice chat on the walk home about all sorts of things. Not politics or religion though: I know my limits.

It has been an educational week. As I walked by a coffee bar, a couple of guys were outside, having a deep and meaningful discussion about the menu items. The one gem I took away from what I overheard was this: carrot cake is the same as carrot corn flakes. On the other hand, I did confirm that K athmandu is pretty close to the Himalayas.

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Palatine Road, Northenden

What I failed to discern though was why there’s a big gap in K athmandu. Just one of Northenden’s many mysteries.

Castles

In the olden days, we always used to keep the Christmas decorations up until at least Helen’s birthday, January 11th. Even though she’s now living half a world away, it seems mean to break that tradition. Oh, alright then: due to lethargy on both our parts, we haven’t quite got around to taking down the Christmas decorations.

We watched Martha and William at their first swimming lesson of the new year. Martha did something else that I’ve never managed in all my 29 years: she sat on the bottom of the pool. She actually went down, and sat there for a moment. If only I were that skilled I thought. Then on the way home, I saw my opportunity in Hyde.

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Bombomb Studios. Don’t sweat, sparkle.

I could do that, I thought; it looks like a nice friendly gym, I thought; I’d rather sparkle than sweat, I thought. At home I looked them up on the internet. Oh my. The consensus from the family is that actually, I’m not really cut out to be a burlesque dancer.

Just along the road, we passed these two children playing outside Hyde Town Hall.

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Pull the plug, ring the change

“Let me out of the car,” I politely requested. I walked home from close to our local Aldi and chose to go the long way. I visited Sharston Books, in the middle of the industrial estate, where there are hundreds of thousands of second-hand books on display. I didn’t buy anything but enjoyed browsing the variety on offer, over the space of several buildings, containers and sheds. As I left, I enjoyed a surreal conversation.

“Were you looking for anything in particular?”
“No, not on this occasion. But if I were looking for a specific title, would you be able to lay your hands on it fairly quickly?”
“We don’t usually buy second-hand books but we’re happy to accept donations.”

My head enjoyed its baffled scratch as I walked away, around a couple more blocks before finding sanctuary and coffee at home.

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Sharston Books, sorted by height
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A local splash of colour
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Another in the series of Northenden sunsets

It isn’t really a New Year’s Resolution but we are planning to spread our wings and infiltrate some local organisations. Liesel went to a WI meeting in Didsbury and met a group of nice ladies. We both went to a meeting of U3A, University of the Third Age. We enjoyed a talk about prominent men (and some women) of Warrington. We’ll join some specific groups over the next few weeks. The meeting was very well attended, a very full church in Didsbury.

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Emmanuel Church stained glass window

Thursday is the best day of the week, apart from having to get up at six o’clock in the morning! This week, we took William to the Ice Cream Farm, where we all had lots of fun playing with sand, with water and this time, we let him loose in the softplay area too.

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Tag and Happy, William brought some friends with him
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Ice Cream Tree
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William in water
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William in sand

Liesel and I took it in turns to follow him around a large, interesting, fun-filled but soft and safe labyrinth. Some of the steps were just a little high for William, but that didn’t slow him down, he just asked for help. The slide was great fun, and William enjoyed it too, several times.

After watching William demolish the sandcastles we’d carefully constructed, it was nice to see Martha at nursery: she was rightly proud of the castle she’d built.

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Martha with a castle

Yes, our Christmas decs are still up, several days later. As I write, it’s Helen’s birthday, Happy Birthday, Helen!

In other, sad, heart-breaking, news, a major change in lifestyle is looming. Look away now if you’re thinking there’s already too much bad stuff going on in the world and you can’t cope with any more.

So, farewell then, faithful Fitbit. I’ve been walking with a Fitbit Zip since April 2016, just under four years, and it has now lost the will to live. It’s not synchronising via Bluetooth any longer and batteries are lasting only five or six days rather than nearly six months, so it’s time to get a replacement. But you can’t get Fitbit Zips any more. They have been discontinued. All modern Fitbits are on wristbands and have many features that I’m not interested in, so it’s just not worth spending that amount of money they’re asking for. Plus, I don’t wear a watch and I really don’t want to wear a Tracker on my wrist. Liesel thinks that I am too obsessed with my Fitbit. I transfer all the data to a spreadsheet and I can produce many fascinating statistics. Plus, I need something to encourage me to go out for a walk. I’ve already caught myself saying, albeit in jest, “What’s the point of going for a long walk if I can’t record the number of steps?” No way am I obsessed.

The latest email from Fitbit summarises my achievements from 2019. My most active day was March 7, a long walk on our first day in Singapore. Needless to say, I just re-read the post and found a typo, 10 months after I typed it. I logged 23,053 steps on that day, a distance of 10.33 miles. Still shorter than a typical day as a postman. The email claims I walked 3,674,775 steps last year, a total of 4,664 km, although like most right-thinking people, I prefer to say it was 2,898 miles. Actually, I walked further than that. Sometimes I forget to take the Fitbit with me, sometimes I leave it behind on purpose, such as when playing in the sea, sometimes it doesn’t count because the battery’s dead. It says I had 22,743 active minutes, that’s like watching 175 feature films. Well, anyone that walks around while watching that many movies must really annoy the other audience members. And finally, the email claims I burned 558,348 calories, and that’s like eating 19,253 Crunchies. Oh hang on, it’s like doing 19,253 crunches! Without an active Fitbit, I will no longer receive such fascinating insights into my perambulatory activities.

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Farewell, old friend

In the first instance, I’m just getting a cheap pedometer. It means keeping my records manually, but future generations will appreciate my attention to detail on the spreadsheet. According to which, I am within a few days of completing 10,000 miles since the day I first started using the old Fitbit. I am pleased to report that since my retirement, my average daily stroll has been 10,929 steps in duration. If you count the period I worked as a postman, my daily average is 12,250 steps. But in reality, those figures would be slightly higher if the Fitbit had been more reliable over the last few weeks.

Still, 21,265,403 steps is something to be proud of: we all like big numbers. How anyone can think I’m obsessed with my statistics is beyond me.

2019 into 2020

Another year over and a new one just begun. I’ve lost count of the number of jokes about 2020 Vision and this being the only year named after a popular cricket format. MMXX. As a residential speed limit sign might say, 2020 is plenty plenty. I resisted the temptation to show π to 2020 decimal places, sorry, Liesel. Before the new year started we were in a period apparently known as Twixmas, a term I’ve never heard before, and I hope never to hear again. Oh well, this is why we love the English language, I suppose: anything goes.

If I were commuting, I would welcome this safe cycle parking facility that I came across by a Metro station. The Bike Locker Users’ Club is the sort of club I’d like to join, if I were a bike locker user.

Bike locker

While I was out on a long stroll, via the GP (don’t worry, it was just to take in a prescription request) and the bank, Liesel was at home completing the jigsaw puzzle she received for Christmas, just five days earlier. What a star!

Liesel’s completed Wasgij jigsaw puzle, wow!

There is still a lot to learn about our neighbourhood. Wythenshawe is, according to the sign, one of the greenest places in Manchester. What the sign doesn’t say is that it is also one of the most littered places in Manchester. Probably. You’re never more than three feet away from a discarded can or coffee cup or lolly wrapper. We must make more use of our litter picker-uppers. If David Sedaris and Ian McMillan can do it, then so can we!

Wythenshawe, the home of Wythenshawe Market
Farewell, old friends in the European Community

Presumably, this sort of support from the European Community will stop when the UK leaves the EU at the end of January. But still: blue passports, hooray!

I was listening to Serenade Radio in bed late on New Year’s Eve, some nice, relaxing, easy listening. The feed online was a bit delayed so I leapt a mile when all the local fireworks went off at what I thought was well before midnight! Liesel got out of bed to look at them, I couldn’t be bothered. Hello 2020, and Happy New Year.

Fireworks from Queenstown, NZ, not Northenden, UK, thanks, Helen

Meanwhile, in NZ, Helen and Adam enjoyed these fireworks in Queenstown, but despite the temptation, neither of them did a bungy jump. They’ve been in 2020 slightly longer than the rest of us and other than the smoke from the Aussie bush fires drifting across the Tasman Sea, there is nothing bad to report.

Liesel and I joined the wider family for a New Year’s meal at Alan and Una’s house. There were fourteen of us on this occasion: the same bunch of ne’er-do-wells from last week plus John and Geri, Paul’s parents. Geri, aka Nana Strawberry as far as William’s concerned!

Jenny and Martha

For the first time in ages, I think I may have eaten too much. Usually I stop as soon as I’ve had enough, but there was so much lovely food, thanks, Una!

Several mega-calories to burn off then, which I did the following day, walking to the GP (it’s alright, I was just collecting the prescription that I’d requested a few days ago), then to a pharmacy. Boy, was I glad I wasn’t on my bike when I saw this sign.

1 in 29, how does anyone manage that?

The gradient is greater than 1:29, it was hard enough walking up it, never mind cycling. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t even notice the very slight incline and wouldn’t have given it a first, never mind a second, thought, if I hadn’t seen the warning sign.

I was taken back to my childhood for a moment as I stood on a bridge and watched a very long train pass by underneath, on its way to Gatley.

Commuters in the area would love seeing a Northern Rail train this long, rather than the 3-carriage options that are over-crowded every morning

This time, though, it wasn’t a steam train and my Mum and I didn’t have a coughing fit as we were enveloped in clouds of smoke, and we weren’t picking off smuts for the rest of the day.

Liesel and I accepted the invitation to look after the children for a day while Jenny ‘filled in her tax form’. At first, I thought this was a euphemism for ‘have a nice relaxing massage without those pesky kids ruining the peaceful atmosphere’, but I think she really was filling in forms, judging by the ink blots on her fingers.

So we took William and Martha to the zoo where, as usual, we emerged from the car to a much colder wind than we had at home. Should have worn a thicker coat, said Liesel. As she always does. Only to forget on our next visit.

Puddles, elephants, bats, and the Treetop Challenge were today’s big hits. We saw just one lion in the new enclosure.

Lion planning her escape
Too high to climb it so I’ll just roll under it, if that’s alright
Treetop Challenge, safety harness, down a couple of short zip lines
Giant Owl butterfly: none of them wanted to settle on Martha’s sleeve this time

Unusually, we timed it right, and saw the penguins at feeding time. But the most entertaining aspect was watching one of the zookeepers waving his fish net around, trying to keep the seagulls away.

Penguins fighting off the seagulls with a little help from the keeper of the net

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, they are delightful children to spend time with, great fun, and very interested in the world. Their only fault is not appreciating good music when it’s on offer. “What song do you want me to sing?” I ask from the front of the car. “No song”, comes the chorus from the back. Oh well, their loss.

A bit of jiggery-pokery with the photo editor on my phone and I produced this masterpiece

The first Saturday of the year found us walking to Didsbury, along the river, past the golf course.

Just one of a few strange characters we met on our walk

As Liesel noted, all the runners and joggers seemed to be scowling today. Maybe they were carrying a bit too much extra flab after the Christmas feasting. Or maybe they were regretting their New Year’s Resolutions!

“Edgar?” I commented, “That’s a funny name for a dog.”
“No”, said Liesel, “He said ‘good girl’.”
Nothing wrong with my hearing.

Here are a few more of our new acquaintances.

Poor chap thinks it’s still nighttime
A family of Owls in Didsbury Park – there are some talented wood-carvers around
Outside the fish shop, believe it or not

Liesel couldn’t watch it all but I enjoyed the first episode (of 3) of the new TV drama based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Did someone say it was a bit scary? They did indeed. It is. Fantastic. And the only nightmare I had was another work-based dream, in which I was ‘invited’ to work for a few hours on a Sunday so I’d be ahead of the game on Monday. Trouble is, this is just the sort of nonsense Royal Mail might come up with in real life. It’s four years almost to the day since I last had to go to work, so why I still dream about it is a total mystery.