A Tale of, like, Two Cities (Part 3)

The story so far: we’ve been to London and now we’re back home in Northenden.

Jenny and the family were going away for the weekend so to enhance their packing experience, I was asked to look after William for a couple of hours. We went to Wythenshawe Park which he immediately recognised from a previous visit. He scootered straight to the playground from the car park.

I think it’s fair to say he had a go on all the equipment, and I certainly got my steps in following him around. There was no logic to his choice of activity. My only embarrassing moment was growling at the wrong child as they emerged from an enclosed slide.

Was there a climbing opportunity? Of course there was.

William, King of the Castle

He knew the way to the café too, where I had a coffee while he enjoyed a strawberry ice cream in a tub. He was very specific about the flavour and the container: no cone today. Do you want to go back to the playground? No, I want to go home now. Hmm, that was a problem because I hadn’t heard from Mummy yet: either they were still packing or taking a well-deserved break.

To play for time, I took him to Quirky Misfits in Northenden. I thought he’d be interested in the shelves stocked with skulls, not to mention the hot chocolate. Marshmallows yes please, but no cream.

William, King of the Hot Chocolate

And yes, I had another coffee. It would be rude not to.

Where was Liesel while I was having fun with our grandson? At her coronation. Having a crown fitted.

For my birthday, Jenny and Helen had given a walk around Manchester. Well, the day for the Manchester Music Walkabout Tour arrived.

We drove into the city on a clear sunny day and parked about ten minutes away from the meeting point, outside Bridgewater Hall.

Tower of Light

The Tower of Light is a visible commitment to sustainability, designed by award-winning architectural practice Tonkin Liu. This 40m high flue tower and shell lace structural façade encloses a highly efficient source of heat and power for some of Manchester’s most iconic buildings; Manchester Town Hall, Central Library, The Bridgewater Hall and Manchester Art Gallery among them. Reflectors moved by the wind reflect sunlight to fill the tower with shifting light during the day, while at night the gently-lit tower and white brick podium form a holistic energy landmark. One day, we’ll see it at night.

From a distance, I thought his building looked a bit like The Midland Hotel.

Looks like the Midland Hotel

I later discovered that it is in fact The Midland Hotel, it’s just that we approached it from a different direction. Slowly, slowly, Manchester landmarks are coming together to form a coherent, cohesive map in my mind.

Our guide, Emma, took us on a fascinating tour of places in Manchester of particular musical significance. There were 13 of us in the group, an ideal size for gathering round on the street and listening to her speak.

Free Trade Hall is where Bob Dylan turned electric in 1965 to calls of ‘Judas’ from the audience. The Sex Pistols played here just 11 years later. Both events seem a long time ago now, and as time goes on, more and more people claim there were present at these events. I know I was there: got the t-shirts and everything.

Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney

This plaque commemorates another small step on the road to giving the vote to women.

Emma spoke about the Madchester scene, Tony Wilson, the Bee Gees, Hollies, the Gallagher brothers, a nice potted history.

The Temple of Convenience is a pub located on the site of old subterranean public toilets. It’s celebrated as ‘there’s a hole in my neighbourhood’ in Elbow’s song, Grounds for Divorce. It’s close to where Guy Garvey of Elbow used to live and where they celebrated winning a Mercury award several years ago. Emma suggested having a quick pint here before moving on. It would be rude not to. So we did. Cheers!

The Temple

Naturally, the duration of the walk was much longer than the scheduled hour and a half!

Haçienda Apartments

These apartments, as the name suggests, are on the site of the Haçienda Club, a venue I never visited. I was aware of its existence from down south in London, and what it meant to the Manchester music scene, but now: luxury apartments. Could be worse I suppose: could be a multi-storey car park.

We thought about having a quick meal at the nearby Tiffin Room. Fate determined otherwise. It was closed. We were in the gap between late lunch and early evening dinner. If only we hadn’t stopped at the hole in the neighbourhood.

This concludes our Tale of Two Cities. London and, like, Manchester.

Another day, another walk. And we laughed at this example of neighbours being kind to one another.

The long and short of it

I wonder if the mowing family are just unfriendly? Or maybe the non-mowing family deliberately chose to keep a sort of wild-flower meadow outside their house? We’ll never know.

We saw this on our hike to Wythenshawe Park. Where we were surprised to find that, even at 2.30pm, the grass in the park was still covered in dew. On the other hand, our shoes probably needed a bit of a wash.

Where’s Liesel?

We know how to have a good time, as you know. It was a pleasant walk through the park, and no, we didn’t stop for coffee. Instead, we paid a visit to Aldi for some shopping, after which we walked a slightly longer way home, avoiding the busy industrial estate roads. And OMG, we need to go back to that quiet, secluded path next to the railway and pick up several bags of litter. We won’t be able to reach it all, there’s a fence, but in years to come, listen out for announcements such as: Your train’s been cancelled due to too many Coke cans on the line.

A Tale of, like, Two Cities (Part 1)

It was like, the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of, like wisdom, I suppose, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, y’know? It was the season of, like, Light, it was the season of Darkness, man. I can’t even. I mean, it was the spring of hope, it was, like, the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had like nothing before us, we were all literally going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its, y’know, noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, like, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Know what I mean?

Can you imagine reading a whole novel written by a Generation Z Charles Dickens? Well, if the two young ladies chatting away on the bus nineteen to the dozen, talking about their upcoming exams and so much more, have anything to do with it, this will become the new normal! Actually, it was a very entertaining discussion, even if we oldies couldn’t  keep up with every single cultural reference. After alighting from the bus, we trudged to Manchester’s Piccadilly Railway station where we officially began our few days away, down south, in London. It was our first visit by train since well before the first lockdown, and since Virgin lost the franchise to Avanti West Coast.

My first panic attack occurred as we waited outside the station. I wanted to take a photo of something, but the message flashed up on the phone: Camera Failed. Oh no. Why? No idea. Turning the camera off and leaving it for a few minutes before turning it back on fixed the problem. By which time, I’d lost interest in whatever I was eyeing up for a picture.

Fortunately, we’d booked seats, but the train was crowded because an earlier one had been cancelled. Why? Because a plastic bag had lodged itself in the overhead cables and needed to be removed. I visualised a man up a ladder with a long stick, insulated against the 20,000 volts or whatever.

So, other than our train being oversubscribed, the journey was uneventful. Sadly, we mask-wearers were in the minority. We caught a bus to Waterloo Bridge and descended to the South Bank, where our first lunch or brunch was a small donkey. Well, a burrito. We had a little visitor, which we think is a one-legged, adolescent pied wagtail.

Pied wagtail

Our first accommodation was at a Premier Inn and of course we went to the wrong one first. But, it didn’t matter, I enjoyed seeing some paintings by Salvador Dalí.

Elephant

We dropped off our bags at the correct place and then set off for a longer walk back along the South Bank. The sites are interesting but then, so are all the people. We resisted the temptation of walking on the beach, but there were quite a few people down there. Sad to see Pieminister has gone from Gabriel’s Wharf, but we didn’t help their business by not visiting for years and years.

Busker

We enjoyed some Afro Cuban music thanks to these buskers near Blackfriars Bridge. Neither of us had any cash on us, so thank goodness these, and most other, street entertainers now have the means to accept donations electronically.

We continued along the South Bank, via Hay’s Gallery, the Golden Hinde, Tate Modern, though not necessarily in that order. The newly-wed couple near Tower Bridge seem very happy.

Happy couple

After crossing Tower Bridge, when again I was disappointed that it didn’t lift while I was on it, we walked by The Tower, thinking about the poor people who were taken in through Traitor’s Gate over hundreds of years. You can easily guess which treacherous group of people we would like to see taken in and be severely dealt with right now.

Traitor’s Gate

And you know how they used to keep wild animals such as lions in a menagerie at the Tower? Well, they still do!

Lions at the Tower

As we walked by, we noticed a strange vessel docked next to HMS Belfast in the Thames. From the northern bank, we could see it was in fact Le Champlain, a relatively small cruise ship. Will we ever go on a cruise? Never say never, but I think we’re more likely to join a small ship such as this rather than the small cities that cruise around the oceans.

We walked back over Waterloo Bridge and found these legs out on display.

Legs on the South Bank

I felt a bit miffed that my own lallies, on display for everyone’s pleasure, had some competition. I couldn’t find a plaque explaining this unusual work of art, and I certainly don’t know where the top half is.

As the Sun went down, we ate our evening meal then walked back to the correct Premier Inn where we had a really good night’s sleep. Quite right too, after such a long walk.

Waterloo Sunset

In other news, we noticed the numbers on the clock faces of Big Ben, The Queen Elizabeth Tower, have been painted blue. That scaffolding was up for a long time for a spot of paintwork, so we can only assume more extensive refurbishment has gone on behind the scenes.

In the morning, we walked along the road a bit and sat outside for breakfast, almost in the shadow of the London Eye. No, we weren’t tempted on this occasion, although the lack of a long queue was quite unusual.

We didn’t expect to see red squirrels in London, in Jubilee Gardens, and we certainly didn’t anticipate seeing a blue one.

Help keep Jubilee Gardens beautiful

Again, the opportunity is there for a quick, electronic donation, no need to dig around in pockets seeking old coins and buttons to throw in a hat.

We witnessed this young man practicing his parcours skills.

Parcours

I was going to have a go myself but, er, oh yeah, Liesel said not to, well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. We found our home for the next two nights, an Airbnb just a couple of minutes from the South Bank, behind the National Theatre in fact. We have a flat to ourselves, and given the location, we’ve decided to move in permanently.

Another day, another long walk. This time, we crossed Waterloo Bridge again and headed towards Covent Garden. The usual market stalls weren’t there, it was more of an Antiques Fair. All sorts of old jewellery, crockery and even old photos of perfectly ordinary people. I didn’t recognise anyone, of course, but what a shame, there are probably families somewhere who would love to have those pictures back.

Street market flower sellers from the 1970s

Liesel wanted to visit a clothes shop, Gudrun Sjödén, in Monmouth Street, near Seven Dials. I thought she’d be inside for about 10-15 minutes. Oh no. She didn’t appear again for well over an hour, having received such good and personal service inside. Go on then, Liesel, give us a twirl, show us what you bought.

Liesel’s new dress

I wandered around in ever increasing circles, finding lots of interesting places. I’m not really related, but it’s always good to check up on the dance shoe shop bearing my name.

Freed of London

A lot of London is undergoing building work at the moment, so it doesn’t all look its best. Someone who’ll never be forgotten though is David Bowie. He appeared in one form or another in at least four different shop windows over a couple of days.

Bowie in windows

The other thing that there’s a proliferation of in London (and elsewhere) is Candy Stores. Not good, old-fashioned, English sweet shops, but American-style Candy Stores selling all kinds of American sweets, Hersheys, cereals and probably chemiucals that aren’t legal in the UK. I’m so glad that Liesel isn’t interested in giving her custom to any of these places. But there are so many. Nearly as many vape shops too. Gone are the days when empty premises are taken over by betting shops or charity shops.

Seven Dials

This pillar has seven sundials at the top, which is an amazing coincidence given that it’s located at Seven Dials.

Just off Monmouth Road, there’s a small courtyard, Ching Court, which I had no reason to visit. But I did, and came across this wonderful expanse of colour which the people who are lucky enough to live here gaze upon every day.

Cineraria (I think)

We’re in London so of course we thought about taking in a stage show or a concert. But we didn’t, partly due to concern about Covid still, and partly through not quite getting around to booking tickets. One of the strangest and most unexpected shows on offer was this one:

Bonnie and Clyde

London’s most wanted musical. Spoiler alert: does it end in a hail of 88 bullets?

Nor did we engage in spectating at any sports events, except this one.

Police horses

These horses weren’t running very fast, and when they pulled up at traffic lights, the race was declared a dead heat.

I visited Forbidden Planet, the old science fiction and fantasy bookshop, but nowadays it’s more about collectables from the various franchises, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Marvel comics and more. Interestingly, one of the outlets in Seven Dials Market, where Liesel and I had a late lunch, has borrowed the name.

Planets

Liesel’s been looking for books by a particular author for a while. Let’s walk up and down Charing Cross Road, we decided, it’s all second-hand book shops. Well, not any more it isn’t. Candy stores and vape shops are common amongst other new emporia. Foyles is still there of course and just a couple of the old bookshops. But none had what we were looking for.

We wandered through Chinatown where they haven’t taken down the new year’s lanterns since February, so it still looks bright and vibrant.

Lanterns

It began to rain, so we ducked into the nearest available shop. It was the M&M shop in Leicester Square. We bought something for the grandchildren but, most importantly, we stayed dry.

Tonight saw the premier of the new film Downton Abbey: A New Era. Well, our invites must have got lost in the post but that’s just as well. Sorry to say, but the red carpet was being put in place, and, between you and me, it’s a bit tatty, held together with duct tape. I hope it didn’t become too squelchy in the rain.

Red carpet

Next stop for a coffee was the crypt at St Martin’s in the Field.

In the crypt of St Martin’s

Again, my wife curtailed my creative urges. Plus, I didn’t have on me the necessary marker pen. But I wanted to change the name of the bishop on this sign from Wah to Pigeon.

And speaking of pigeons, Trafalgar Square is so much better without them. I know in the olden days, my sister especially took great pleasure in feeding them but times change.

Earlier, I mentioned Big Ben and didn’t provide a photograph. Well, here is one.

Chocolate Big Ben

This chocolate model is in a shop window, with a sign telling us not to touch it. Well, we didn’t touch it, but while Liesel distracted the shop staff, I had a jolly good lick.

Oh yes, another new fashion in London seems to be leaving old pianos outside shops, whether suitably decorated or otherwise.

Old pianos

The end of the day saw us returning to out Airbnb flat for a good night’s sleep. Well, eventually. The children upstairs must have been jumping off the top of the wardrobe or something, and we half expected them to come through the ceiling to visit us. Once they went to bed though, it was nice and peaceful. Even the traffic outside wasn’t too bad, apart from a couple of motorbikes.

I’m so glad I recorded this week’s radio show last week, there’s no way I would have found time to do it here in London. It was on Wythenshawe FM 97.2 on Friday afternoon at 2, as usual, but feel free to catch it here.

And don’t panic, there is still plenty more to come from our few days in London. Friends! Shops! Nostalgia!

On Tuesday morning at 1.37, our ghosts were haunting the pharmacies of Northenden. A payment to the value of a prescription was taken from one of our cards. Fraud? Looks like it. Was the pharmacy bovvered when we reported the incident on our return? Not really. The solution was to take £9.35 in cash out of the till and give it to us. No paperwork involved. We’re grateful that we’re not out of pocket of course, but come on, that’s not how you address issues of apparently fraudulent activity. In an unusual move on my part, I tweeted a (rare for me) negative tweet about this situation. What happened next?

York

The excitement mounted as I prepared for an adventure. Two years ago, we bought tickets for a gig in York for April 2021. Due to Covid restrictions, along with many other shows, it was postponed. But its time has come. Liesel and I planned to make a weekend of it in York, a city that we’ve only visited once in the past.

Well, Liesel is still in Anchorage of course, and I didn’t want to miss the show. I also decided to go by train rather than by car. I haven’t been on a train for well over two years and I thought I’d see what it’s like these days: how many other passengers would be wearing masks? How crowded would it be?

Blue skies over Northenden

The blue sky was a welcome sight as I waited for the bus to take me into Manchester. The bus wasn’t too busy, and about a third of passengers were masked up. One hundred percent of the driver was not, which I found surprising.

In another first, I caught the train at Oxford Road Station. Despite the cold wind blowing through the station, I did not wait in this rather cute little waiting room.

Waiting room

It reminds me of Thomas Newton’s home planet inThe Man Who fell to Earth, which is strange. That’s today’s first reference to David Bowie.

I read a book during the 90-minute journey to York. Again, about a 33% success rate with face coverings, which is disappointingly low, I feel. Already, I felt I was mentally ticking the box that says ‘don’t travel by train again any time soon’. Which is a shame.

So I’m by myself, but of course I still had Liesel’s ticket. One of my online mates, George, agreed to use the ticket. And George met me in the forecourt of York Station, from where we walked all the way to the concert venue, The Barbican. This was handy because the hotel I’d booked for myself was right next door. Very convenient: almost as if I’d planned it that way. But that was only because all the Airbnb places that I found in York city centre turned out to be actually located in a suburb much further out of town!

George and I ‘met’ online while watching the one time regular Tuesday evening YouTube performances by Jessica Lee Morgan. And, by coincidence, it was Jess that we were here to see tonight, supporting and performing with Tony Visconti’s Best of Bowie. Yes, David Bowie. Sadly, Woody Woodmansey’s not with the band on this occasion, but I knew we’d have a good time anyway.

I checked into my hotel, and we had a coffee before walking back into York Centre. George had pre-booked a ‘meal deal’ at his accommodation, so I wandered around for a while, looking for somewhere nice to dine myself.

I’d forgotten what a pretty little city York is.

Micklegate

The wall surrounds much of the city, and you do feel like you’re entering another realm when you walk through one of these gates. And you sense you might just be under surveillance.

The Eye of Sauron

The Sun was still out and it was quite warm, the cold wind had dwindled, but even so, I was surprised to come across some ice sculptures.

Find Dick at the York Dungeon

Later on, I read up about it here. It says there were 40 exhibits, but over two days, I didn’t find nearly that many. Someone more organised would have looked at a map.

I just happened to glance into this shop window.

Metrobolist

The album that we all know as The Man Who Sold the World being sold at last under the name it was meant to have. No, I didn’t seriously consider starting a new vinyl collection. This might be a new remix by Tony Visconti, but I’m not sure my ears could tell the difference! Still, nice to see David Bowie referenced again.

As I walked over the fast-flowing and high River Ouse, I found this old place on the east bank.

Lendal Tower

Dating from about 1300, Lendal Tower was originally part of the City’s defences, with a defensive chains stretching from here to the Tower on the opposite bank. In 1677 it was leased to the predecessors of The York Waterworks Plc for five hundred years, at an annual rent of one peppercorn for use as a water tower. During the 18th century it housed a steam pumping engine modified to the design of John Smeaton FRS, then a proprietor of the Waterworks. It ceased to be used for those purposes in 1850. In 1932 it was refurbished and now houses the Company’s Board Rooms. So says a plaque on the side of the building.

I dined at The Orchid, a vegan restaurant. Of course, I hadn’t booked, so when I turned up at one minute past opening time, I was told I could eat there as long as I vacated my table by 7.30. I thought, well, if I can’t finish my meal in an hour and a half, then there’s something wrong. Plus, I didn’t want to miss any of the show of course.

And the food was lovely, very well presented and with very friendly service.

Very nice, very tasty

Unusually, I took photos before the dishes were empty.

I enjoyed a leisurely walk back to The Barbican where the scanner successfully scanned my ticket barcode on the first attempt. Things are looking up: maybe I should buy a lottery ticket. As I said, it is a very cute little place.

Scenes from York

Inside, there were hundreds of people, some wearing t-shirts depicting David Bowie from various eras. And, speaking of David Bowie, one thing I never expected to see was a portrait of him in monochrome Lego.

Lego Bowie

Jessica’s partner Chris was working behind the merch stall. I met up with George again as well as Sue, another regular at JLM’s Tuesday night online shows. Nice to see people in real life, isn’t it?

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

Jessica and Chris performed some new songs for about half hour including one which involved audience participation. I don’t think the quality of my singing was improved by the presence of a face covering.

After a break, Tony Visconti’s Best of Bowie took to the stage for two hours of Bowie hits and some surprises. The whole band was spot on, although on a couple of occasions, either the singer, Glenn Gregory, or I, misremembered the lyrics. Jessica played guitar and alto sax, though not at the same time, even she’s not that talented. I am very conscious of not taking too many photos during a show: I used to be quite obsessed with capturing every possible lighting arrangement and every available location of all the musicians. From where I was sitting, and from where George was sitting in Liesel’s seat we couldn’t really see Janette Mason on keyboards, but she did a great job.

The band

Actually, I think most of the audience was singing along to most of the songs. I wasn’t the oldest person there, and there were some teenagers too. So do I have a set list? It’s in my head and I should try and write it down before I forget but then it might already be too late.

Tony Visconti told the story of when they were playing, as Holy Holy, in New York on David Bowie’s birthday. He phoned David up and the whole audience then sang ‘Happy birthday’ to him. Just a couple of days later, they were in Toronto when they heard the news of his passing. They carried on the tour, but I’m sure the atmosphere was very different.

Thank you and good night

I hung around for a while and had a chat with Jessica and Smiley the drummer before setting off for the comfort of my suite, a whole five minute walk away.

Looks familiar

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who did a double-take on seeing this thin blue-suited duke hanging around like the rest of us.

What a great night, and I’m pretty sure Liesel would have enjoyed it too. Next time. Anyway, it took a while to wind down and get to sleep.

After breakfast, I set off for my day as a tourist in York. Of course, I had to walk along the wall for a while. Last time Liesel and I did this, it was drizzling lightly, but today, the Sun was out, the sky was blue and the spirits were well and truly lifted.

York City wall

I admit that sometimes I mess about with my photos for comedic effect. But this photo of Sir Thomas Herbert’s House has not been tampered with.

Sir Thomas Herbert’s House

This old, old, old building really does look that happy.

And, yes, of course I kept a lookout for more ice sculptures.

More ice sulptures

Sadly, a few had melted by the time I found them, as they’d been placed on the sunnier side of the street .

I quite enjoyed wandering around, but not surprisingly I suppose, the most uncomfortable I felt was at the market near The Shambles, which was really crowded. Other prople were having a good time out on the river.

Messing about on the river

The only place I visited properly was the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. In fact, I had lunch here before walking around looking a lots of old stuff. Funny how old buildings like this have the same sort of old smell, despite presumably being cleaned with modern chemicals with modern scents.

Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

The place has been flooded a few times over the centuries, and the high levels have all (I assume all) have been marked.

High Water Lines

I can’t imagine how much water is needed to reach that high from the river that far away. But I must say, I was pleased to have this place almost to myself on this occasion. I suspect that the art galleries and museums would have been far busier. Liesel and I will return sometime, I’m sure.

Something else that is guaranteed to make me feel good is the sight of a perfect reflection in the water. 

Reflections of my life

In Northenden, we have planters in the main street with flowers and they look delightful. In York, they’ve gone one step further and are growing food for the community.

Edible York 2013

Sadly, there wasn’t much to pick today apart from a couple of weeds, but it’s the thought that counts.

There is one landmark in York that I’ve nor mentioned yet. Well, here it is: Cliffords Tower.

Clifford’s Tower

I was going to bound up the slope like a gazelle but, er, I had my luggage, that’s it. Oh, and there was a fence that I couldn’t climb over.

The train back to Manchester was a bit more crowded as was the bus back to Northenden. Oh well.

Meanwhile, our Alaska correspondent has reported more snowfall in Anchorage. Liesel sent this picture which, it has to be said, made me shiver a bit.

Snow

I’ve mentioned my issue with intermittent unjustified shortness of breath before. This week, I visited the GP again and attended hospital for a chest X-ray. I really want to get to the bottom of this now.

Later that day, I started feeling a bit manky. Tickly throat. Cough. Headache. Rough sleep. I didn’t feel up to going out for any of the organised walks and sadly, neither did I feel up to looking after the children this week. Fortunately, I had recorded most of the radio show before I came down with this lurgy. It’s about Communication and an extended mix is available here:

Just when I thought I was getting over whatever the ailment is, the duvet decided to pick a fight with me. I realised I was lying under nothing but empty duvet cover. The duvet itself had somehow migrated to Liesel’s side of the bed leaving the empty husk behind. I tried shaking the duvet back into place but I think I’m going to have to start from scratch. Did I say ‘scratch’? Well, yes. There are in fact two thin duvets at work here, held together with a safety pin in each corner. Except it seems the one in my corner has undone itself and it poked through, threatening to stab me. A small scratch on the arm is bad enough but I don’t need this sort of adventure in the middle of the night, thank you very much. When it comes to battles with inanimate objects, there is no guarantee of victory.

Blue and yellow

Well again there’s not much going on in real life in Northenden. But in my dreamworld, it’s all going on: I’m getting lost, I’m losing my bike, and sometimes I wake up feeling really good but I can’t remember why. In Anchorage, Liesel’s being arty and finding some colour.

Paint pouring

This paint pouring looks fun but very messy. We can’t wait to get the children involved. Ideally at their house of course, not ours 😉

It was rare this week, but always a joy to see the Sun even if we couldn’t really feel it. But it was cold enough for this pigeon to be frozen to the spot.

Falcon

Actually, I think this is the first falcon I’ve seen in Northenden, what a shame it’s not a real one. Maybe the buildings aren’t tall enough.

The river’s subsided significantly, but it has left a lot of debris behind, mainly trees, logs and of course the ubiquitous plastic.

Tree debris

I had an unexpected road trip. Jenny asked if I could pick her up from work as Liam was busy. Of course, I said, expecting to have to fight the rush hour at about 5 o’clock, maybe 5.30. But no, it was about 8 o’clock when I got the call. I don’t think I’ve ever driven into Mancheter in the dark before. Yes, we’ve driven home after a show but I can’t remember the last time either of us have actually set off anywhere that late in the day. What an adventure! See, I can have a good time now and then!

This Tuesday was pancake day. So I made pancakes for myself. I made the usual quantity, intending to keep some for the next day. Well, that didn’t happen. I just stuffed myself with all of them. All topped them off with the traditional fresh lemon juice and sugar.

Pancakes, first course

But, in a moment of madness, I ate them in a stack rather than rolled up. Two stacks, as it happens. I should go and consult the doctor and see if there’s anything they can do about me slowly turning American. Maybe it’s Liesel’s long-distance influence.

I didn’t visit Fletcher Moss Gardens this week, but I did start reading a book about the venue.

Fletcher Moss Gardens: Its History and Plants

It’s very informative, telling us about the plants there, some of which are quite rare. Which makes one wonder if they’re OK being inundated with flood water every year or so. I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

Child-minding day. William was dressed as the Gruffalo and Martha as Isadora Moon.

Gruffalo and Isadora Moon

When William came out of his class, I asked if he’d enjoyed International Book Day. “World Book Day” he replied, putting me in my place. It was fun seeing all the children, and teachers, dressed as some favourite literary characters.

There’s a tragedy unfolding in Ukraine right now and I’m seeing the flag everywhere I look.

School playground

Even the school playground is showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people. As usual, I’m wondering what I can do to help and I end up sending money to whichever organisations or individuals are offering practical help to the refugees.

Playroom

This week’s radio show celebrates World Women’s Day. Yes, I did that on purpose, because I can just hear William correcting me again: “International Women’s Day”. An all-female cast of performers of course. And thanks to Jenny for providing some brand new feminine jingles!

There was a power cut during the show’s first outing on Wythenshawe Radio so it dropped out for a couple of minutes. It’s being repeated on Tuesday 8th March at midday, that’s International Women’s Day, as well as on Wednesday at the exciting, brand new time of 10pm.

Northenden Village Green

And just a reminder that we are in meteorological Spring now, looking forward to the Spring equinox and Easter and we can finally forget the long, cold, wet and windy Winter.

Слава Україні!

Trivial pursuits

Hot on the heels of Dudley and Eunice came Franklin. Three named storms in quick succession wreaking havoc. Howling wind and driving rain is not conducive to a good night’s sleep, in my recent experience. Then, to add insult to injury, while searching for a podcast to listen to on my phone, up popped a message telling me to go to bed, my bedtime was 5 hours ago.

My breakfast view was obscured:

Rain on window

The rain was relentless, I felt certain I wouldn’t leave the house all day. But just as I was finishing writing last week’s blog post, Jenny called and invited me to join them for a walk in Fletcher Moss Gardens. By then, the rain had stopped and I decided to risk a walk over to Didsbury. As a last resort, I could always catch a bus, I suppose.

Ford Lane

A stretch of Ford Lane was flooded, so I had to cling to the railings at this point. The river was noticeably high too. Fletcher Moss had quite a few puddles, which proved useful later on when it came to keeping children entertained.

Flooded path to the rockery

I met up with Jenny, Liam, Martha and William, and sensibly the children were wearing Wellington boots. I think William walked or ran or jumped in every puddle we encountered on our walk. But at leat, on this occasion, he didn’t go into puddles so deep that his boots filled with water, like he’d done a few days earlier!

For half term, there’s a Broad Oak Hearts Train in the park, a series of 20 hearts for children to find, each depicting a popular children’s book or character. It provided structure to the walk. William ticked the numbers off on his sheet, while Martha wrote down all the characters on her self-made crib sheet. Why did she make her own? Because outrageously, the coffee shop was closed and that’s where you get the sheets from.

Rainbow fish
Water babies

Did I mention it was a bit wet in places?

William nearly in the Mersey
Water babies

As you can see, the Sun came out and that certainly lifts the spirits, even when it’s not particularly warm. But this was the lull before the storm.

The following day, the river Mersey was so high, that the flood gates were opened. The flooded area included Fletcher Moss and the golf courses. I don’t think it stopped raining all day, I certainly didn’t leave the house on this occasion.

River Mersey

But if I had, this is what I would have witnessed. The river now at its highest ever level in Stockport, and very close to record highs in Northenden and Didsbury. As a precaution, a few hundred houses were evacuated, but in the end, the Environment Agency and local councils controlled the situation very well.

In Anchorage, they’re still enjoying the snow. This is a speed-skating circuit as seen from Amrit’s office where Liesel is working.

Speed-skating in Anchorage

With the mountains in the background, it does look much more interesting than what we were experiencing.

The Winter Olympics have come to a close and I’m glad I watched the women’s curling final, live, from the comfort of my bed, very early in the morning. The men’s team had won silver, and this was GB’s last opportunity to win a gold medal.

Eve Muirhead

It was a good game and in the end I felt that I’d contributed to GB’s gold medal win, merely by staying awake long enough to watch the whole thing!

That was the weekend. The rest of the week was spent in the pursuit of trivial matters. Lots of five- or ten-minute jobs that I’ve been putting off. Putting tea in the tea caddy. Checking the toilet roll situation. Watering the plants. Emptying the bins. A bit of tidying up here, a spot of sorting out there. Paying bills. And of course, a quick walk to check up on things.

Where’s the weir?

I ventured into Manchester by bus in order to visit the blood shop, as Jenny and Helen used to call it. I donated and in return, I enjoyed some biscuits.

A not very convincing Disney castle in Manchester

During the week, the wind kept up and it was as cold and unpleasant as ever, just not as strong. One of the casualties of the latest storm was the estate agents sign outside our premises.

Estate agent’s sign – missing

Oh well, never mind. Maybe they should just take them away when they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Northenden Players Theatre Club put on a performance of Educating Rita this week, at the little theatre just up the road. It was a two-hander, and very well done. Both characters, Frank and Rita, were very convincing, and I realise I’d forgotten just how grumpy Frank can be. It was good to see a full house.

Martin Hulme and Freya Fulton as Frank and Rita

As I was walking home afterwards, I just fancied a bag of chips, with plenty of salt and vinegar, I’ve not done that for years. Alas, the chip shop was shut.

Child-minding day. As I was driving over, I was engulfed in a hail storm. It only lasted a couple of minutes but it was a reminder of just how exciting / unpredictable our weather systems are.

While watching Encanto, again, I helped Martha decorate her hairbands with various adornments, ribbons, bows, ties. I also managed to keep William awake until dinner time: he’s always so tired at the end of his school week!

This week on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2, I played pop songs that are based on or inspired by classical music.

Dragon and umbrellas

Liesel’s still in Alaska, enjoying the extremely cold Winter there and spending time with her family and friends. It does look beautiful there, but I know I’d be fairly unhappy having to don seventeen layers of clothing to go outside. Only to return to a very well heated house. Plus, I can’t ski, no, not even on the flat. It’s a toss up whether I fall over to the left or right or forwards or backwards.

Monica, Neha, Liesel and Una
Narnia

Meanwhile, the excitement in Northenden builds. The pavements in Royle Green Road, just round the corner, are being resurfaced so that they’re more comfortable for the cars that park there. Plus, several months ago, I reported a hole in the pavement in Cinnamon Close. It was a small hole, but might have been indicative of something more menacing, such as a disused old mine underneath, about to subside. Well, the hole was filled in this week. It took four men in hi-visibility jackets to watch a fifth man doing all the work with a very loud lorry engine running in the background. If the council had asked, I could have plugged that hole myself with some old congealed porridge.

An ex-hole

The patch is much bigger than the hole was, so it should last a while.

The wind has brought down a few trees again. The path in Kenworthy Lane Woods was blocked, but not impassable. And as a guide, nowhere near as bad as the damage caused by that infamous storm in 1986.

Timber!

It was a pleasure to collect William and Martha from school this week. In an unprecedented move, William was second out of his class and Martha was first out of hers! They’re usually a bit later, so, bonus!

School field

Next to the football pitches, there’s a small area which looks disused, apart from collecting litter. I wonder if this is part of Forest School, that all the children visit at some point during the school year?

On this occasion, I took them back to their house where we played in the garden for a short while. Glad it was light enough, even if it was a bit cold still.

Martha and a swing

Inside, we played games, drew dinosaurs, and for dinner we had fish and chips. Well, I had a pie, thank you very much.

And when I returned home, I finished editing and uploading the radio show. It took longer than usual this week, because I had a nice chat on the phone with Jessica Lee Morgan. You can hear the show here, it’s called Bits and Pieces. Album of the Week is Pieces by Mary Hopkin which is gorgeous and you should buy it straightaway here or here.

I braved the bus and went into Manchester for a walk in a slightly different place. Chinese New Year is being celebrated his week and Manchester’s Chinatown was very festive. Because of Covid, there was no parade, but it was good to see a tiger (it’s the Year of the Tiger) and a dragon. Plus, I lost count of the Chinese lanterns all around Chinatown, zillions of them.

Year of the tiger
Dragon and lanterns

It was raining all day but maybe I shouldn’t complain too much, it hasn’t rained persistently all day for quite a while. Actually, I am going to whinge. It was raining all day. Not very nice at all. You can probably see the rain topping up Rochdale Canal.

Rochdale Canal in the rain

In the library, there is also a display of black and white photos from 1980s China.

Rainy Day in the Hutongs (alleys), Beijing, 1985

Actually, that picture could well have ben taken in Manchester today, the weather conditions were identical.

But what was I doing in Manchester Central Library in the first place? Other than sheltering from the rain? I was having a quick look at the newly released 1921 Census. It’s not a reliable source of information: many of the names I entered turned out not to exist. So even my limited knowledge of family history turns out to be wrong. For example, my cousin Susan, who is a few years older than me? Her parents, my aunt and uncle, emigrated to Australia in 1956. So it seems my memory of meeting my Aunt Pauline at that time is wrong. Susan? Turns out her name is Suzanne. Oh well. I was just playing around today, really, getting a feel for how the whole thing works. But with this and earlier censuses and all the other online records, I’m hoping to track down all my ancestors. One day, I’ll return with a proper plan of action.

Umbrella in the bin in the rain

When I left the library, of course it was still raining. Even the umbrella had had enough by this point.

Some elephants and a bench

There will be fewer photos than usual this time on account of, basically, the whole world is crashing down around me. A few days ago, my phone told me that it couldn’t write to the SD card but could read from it. Thankfully, I back up its contents on a regular basis, that is, most of the photos. Today, the phone won’t even read the SD card. It just doesn’t recognise it at all. As ever, the internet was very helpful. If your phone can’t recognise an SD card, you might have to reformat it. After spending an hour turning the phone off and on, removing and replacing the memory card, I still can’t see its contents. Imagine the delight then when, after turning the phone on one last time, I was greeted with this notification.

Bad news

As I write, I am waiting for the results of my latest lateral flow test. As I said to someone during the week, I’ll keep taking this test until I get the result I don’t really want. But, to be on the safe side, I’d recommend you don’t start reading this post until you’ve put your FFP3 N95 mask on.

So, where have I been? The only venue I can remember checking into this week was Chester Zoo. I took William there for the day while his Mum was continuing her civic duty in the criminal underworld and his Dad was working.

Adventure playground
Underwater penguin

William had his own ideas about what he wanted to see and I was happy to follow him round as he ran everywhere. I did a very silly walk to keep up. The zoo wasn’t as busy today, I’m glad to say, probably because it wasn’t that warm outside. The Treetop Adventure was closed (for staff training) so that was a little disappointing. One of the zoo keepers told William that this morning, there were 25 penguins in the pond, and could he check they were all still there. He gave up counting after about 30.

As I’d left my packed lunch at home, he sat quietly and ate his while I bought something unsatisfying.

In the shop, he wanted to buy a little gift for his Mum, Dad and sister. Despite my best efforts, he nodded off in the car on the way home. He was great fun, and the mental list of animals he wanted to see evolved during the day. ‘I changed my mind’ was his reason. Although, at home a few days earlier, he was reported as saying ‘I’ve swapped my mind’.

I joined Liam for an organised walk, a guided tour of Manchester’s Southern Cemetery. It was a very pleasant walk over to Didsbury, and I encountered a hero on the way.

Alan Turing mural

There are over 100,000 graves here in this cemetery, which was created because all the graveyards in Manchester were full. The knowledgeable guide told us about just a few of the more notable residents: Manchester Utd manager Sir Matt Busby, corrupt Conservative government minister Ernest Marples, artist LS Lowry and broadcaster and cultural catalyst Tony Wilson. But my sense of discomfort wasn’t helped by seeing this:

Oh no

It was like being in the most frightening episode of Doctor Who, ever. I tried not to blink, but you know how these things work.

Getting closer

I think these weeping angels are probably even more scary than Daleks and they’ve been haunting me since 1963.

Trying to send me back in time so it can make use of my temporal energy

I managed to escape and resume the tour. Phew. There are two chapels in the cemetery, one Anglican, one Catholic, both locked up. They’re listed, but not used. Which means of course that they’re st falling into disrepair.

Dilapidated chapel

We learned about Alcock and Brown at school, the first people to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. A few years later, Sir John Alcock crashed and died on a flight to Paris. That’s sad, but even sadder to me is the fact that this memorial was erected by his Mother.

Sir John Alcock

While I was walking around cemeteries and elsewhere, Liesel was skiing in Anchorage.

Liesel skiing

Or at least, she was, until a mini heatwave melted all the snow, overnight. Liesel’s also been very busy working and spending quality time with her family and friends.

But even though it’s (usually) unbearably cold, it can be extremely pretty too. Thanks for the photos, Jyoti!

Snowdrop

I’ve been watching the latest series of Ricky Gervais’s After Life. It stars Gervais as local journalist Tony. In the show, he deals with extreme grief following the death of his wife Lisa. I re-watched the first two series too: it’s very funny at times, moving and thought-provoking at others, a very well written and performed show. To mark the release of this third series of the hit dark comedy, Netflix has given 25 benches to councils across the UK. The benches were commissioned by the Suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) alongside Netflix in order to raise awareness surrounding mental health issues. CALM is an organisation we have supported in the past. One of the benches is in Wythenshawe Park, so after the regular Wythenshawe walk this week, I made my way over to the park to see if I could find the bench. I expected it to be in pride of place, on one of the main paths. Oh no. It’s well hidden, near the horticultural centre, behind the car park, a part of the Park that I’d never been to before. In fact, there’s a whole little village there, a few cottages, a post office, a phone box and a pillar box.

Hope Is Everything
CALM After Life – scan the QR code

In local news, the fence by the playground in Northenden’s Riverside Park has been repaired. No more sneaking in through the ‘back door’, you have to walk all the way round to the gate, literally dozens of yards away.

The fence without a gap

Just along the river, there’s a caravan park and I was surprised to see that one, possibly two, of the caravans have moved on.

No caravans

In Wythenshawe, I walked past this big colourful sign

Thank you

I’m not convinced I’d recognise Marcus from that image, but I’m sure he and his Mum are very proud to be adorning the shopping centre.

There’s a bathroom on the right. ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy. A Cilla Black fan on a bike. Yes, this week’s radio show was all about misheard song lyrics, mondegreens. Catch up here or listen to the repeat on Wythenshawe FM 97.2 on Wednesday at 7pm.

PS my Covid test was negative. I am probably not infected right now. That’s good news.

PPS My phone / SD card issue is much worse than I thought.

Very bad news indeed

Bad news because I’ve lost some recent photos: good job I WhatsApped a few from the zoo, they’ve all disappeared. And all the music is no longer available. Technology: stuff that doesn’t work properly yet.

Double double W

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

Is this why Americans call Autumn ‘Fall’?

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

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

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

Bridgewater Canal

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

Worsley Delph

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

Worsley Woods*

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

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

One squirrel

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

Acer

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

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

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

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

Three squirrels

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

Christmas tree

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

Public jetty on Windermere

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

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

Pole cat

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

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

Walls inside The Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latest very colourful blanket

People of a nervous disposition should leave now.

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

Martha: she doesn’t mind the gap

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

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)!

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