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

Spring is sprung

It is now well over six months since I last had a haircut. The advantage of having long hair is that I now have a variety of styles to choose from. I can drag it forward, so that the fringe impedes my vision. Or, I can comb it back like my Dad used to do, and like I did until about the age of 16. So far, it’s not so long that I step on it as I’m walking along. Somehow, Liesel with her long, equally long-uncut hair, manages to keep it looking nice and tidy. When people have asked if there’s anything I’d like for my birthday, this year the response has been ‘a hairnet’.

There I was, walking innocently through Northern Moor, when I made a momentous discovery.

St Aidan’s Church, Northern Moor

We are living in, or at least very close to, the Diocese of Shrewsbury. That is a huge diocese. I remember the last (and only) time Liesel and I visited Shrewsbury. We were on a bike ride through the town. We passed by a bowling green and agreed that yes, that was a sport we might take up one day. A few yards further on, Liesel fell off her bike. In front of a policeman. I still don’t know how that happened, but I do know I got the blame. I’m so glad we’ve both forgotten that incident.

Liesel: I’m not going to order as much milk this week.
Mick: Why not?
Liesel: We still have a lot of that UTH milk, and we should use it up before it expires.
Mick: UTH?
Liesel: UTH, UHT, whatever it’s called.
Mick: UTI.
Liesel: That’s it, UTI milk.

On the whole, it was a grey week. Grey and miserable. The Sun peeped through occasionally, but on the whole, it was solid grey sky, sometimes different shades of grey, but whichever window we looked through, there it was, hovering over us like a dreaded exam.

Wythenshawe Park was busy in places, not helped by the fact that the main path was still flooded from the torrential rain last week.

Lonely bench

I didn’t buy a coffee in the café here on this occasion, but if I had, I would have got very wet feet sitting on the only unoccupied bench. While it was exciting to see some sky lurking in the grass, it did make the task of walking from one side to the other quite challenging.

Reflections of my life

Here is one attempt at blue sky breaking through the clouds, during the week.

Not enough blue to make a sailor a pair of trousers

This week takes us to the Spring equinox, so while some things are looking bright and beautiful, the sky isn’t firing on all cylinders yet. But then, in New South Wales there are floods: compare that with the horrendous bush fires they’ve had in recent dry, hot Summers. 

Sometimes I feel the world imitates art.

Mark Rothko maybe

The highlight of the week for me was driving into Manchester. This is the first time I’ve been outside my local postcode area for months. Manchester, the big city, a whole six and a bit miles away. It was less than a half-hour drive, but it felt much longer. How will I cope when we go a really long way? Chester Zoo? Formby? London?

There was a moment when I realised that yes, I can remember how to drive. I knew the way to my destination but I still set up my phone to guide me, just in case. The lady on my phone was very loud, but I couldn’t adjust the volume while gripping the steering wheel so tightly.

So, what prompted this venture into the almost unknown? A year since the last visit, it was time to give blood. We’ve both been vaccinated against Covid now, and I knew the venue would be as safe as possible. Because it’s been a year since I last went, I had to undergo a very long and thorough interrogation investigation into my recent health situation.

My blood flowed out as quickly as ever, but I’m so disappointed that none of the medics have referred to me as a ‘fast bleeder’ since the very early days, nearly half a century ago.

And, as a bonus, while resting afterwards, a beautiful nurse brought over the trolley for me, from which I selected a KitKat and a packet of Mini Cheddars. They’re still not offering hot beverages but I was delighted with my haul. I’ll be back!

Sky blue

And another bonus as I skipped out of the donation centre: proper blue sky with fluffy clouds.

The drive back home was interesting. I followed Google Maps’ suggested route, which seemed counter-intuitive, but at least it remembered to keep away from the motorway.

A window cleaner made us both jump when his brush suddenly appeared, spreading the dirt outside our windows. He was using one of those long poles with a supply of running water, and you can’t really scrub hard when you’re two floors down, holding a pole that long, but it’s the thought that counts.

A different window cleaner turned up a few days later and all he did was top up his water tank from a standpipe in the pavement. The following picture is not safe for work, for children, nor for people of a nervous disposition.

X-rated

My Radio Northenden show from last week was played out this week on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2. I listened for a short while on FM. Nobody’s complained so far, so I’ll be editing this week’s show for them too. Despite the grey skies, I thought it was only fair to celebrate Spring. So that’s what I did. Two hours of lovely, happy, Springtime music. And a couple of poems.

Spring is sprung, da grass is ris
I wonder where dem boidies is?
Dey say da boid is on da wing
But dat’s absoid
Da wing is on da boid.

Parks and Recreation

The weather here has been as strange as it can be. Hot and muggy, torrential rain and thunderstorms, but we have been out and about, a little further afield, so things are looking up. This week saw the release of a couple of new records. I joined Anna Neale and a few other fans as she launched her new single Anarchy. I surrepticiously tried to take  a picture of the Zoom screen but it didn’t really work. It was good to see the world premiere(!) of the accompanying video, even if Zoom couldn’t quite keep up. You should view the video here, not just for the song itself, but for my first ever (minor) contribution to a ‘pop video’. See if you can spot it. Answers at the bottom.

Anna Neale and Mick

The song itself talks about the decline in societal standards including littering and graffiti. But sometimes, we see something daubed on a wall and it’s a positive message. So much better than the boring tags, however convoluted and multi-coloured they are.

Some positive graffiti

It’s a bit more risky these days to walk on a golf course, but you never know what you’ll come across. I found a lawn mower behind a bank of trees. I assume the green-keeper left it there on purpose. There were no golfers around on this occasion, so I didn’t need my tin hat after all.

The business end of a lawn mower

I walked along the river, a little beyond Simon’s Bridge and rather than retrace our stroll from a couple of weeks ago, I carried on as far as the beach. I was surprised that it was free of litter, very unusual around here, sadly. In Millgate Fields, there are ground-nesting birds apparently, but I didn’t see nor disturb any.

Costa del Mersey

A few other people were out and about too, but I was surprised to see a couple with walking poles. The terrain around here isn’t that bad, really. I tried using walking poles once. Never again. Mobile trip hazards. I’m still not sure if this is the one and only local heron or if there are a few living at different places on the river. It would be nice to see more than one at a time, though!

Friend or stranger?
Another family of ducks

And so we come to the most exciting day since March. We gathered up our passports and ventured outside and away from the local neighbourhood. Away from Northenden, further even than Didsbury. Our wonderful car started at the first attempt and we drove to Lyme Park for a walk. This, like all other National Trust properties has re-opened, but you have to book a time slot in advance.

BDM

The cafés are still closed and only one toilet is open, but that’s OK, we had a lovely walk, on hilly grass and, best of all, there weren’t many people, so it was easy to maintain social distancing.

Lyme Park mansion house itself is still closed too, so we had no excuse to not carry on walking.

Lyme House and Liesel
The Cage (a folly) and to the left, Manchester in the distance

The views from the top of the hill near The Cage were pretty good. We couldn’t work out whether the haze was mist or just air quality returning to pre-lockdown levels already.

Little white flowers
Foxgloves

The only wildlife we encountered were some cattle. We did see plenty of evidence of deer, sheep and rabbits, but they were all hiding in the trees and bushes because they’re not used to seeing people any more.

Cattle

We had a good reason to venture into Cheadle too, one day, saving ourselves 40p as car parking fees have been suspended. While Liesel conducted her business, I walked around. I think the S4G guys were a bit concerned, but I wasn’t deliberately loitering near their van while they took millions of pounds in used fivers into the bank. The housewares shop should be cautioned for their misleading descriptions.

This tub is quite clearly yellow, not red

But the floral display in the High street is magnificent.

Cheadle High Street is blooming marvellous

As I was walking home later on, I bumped into an old friend, well, old enemy. I think I’ve mentioned before that I lost my Thirty Year War with bindweed in our garden in Chessington. Well, it’s thriving well in some gardens near where we live, but I am so glad I don’t have to fight that battle any longer.

Bindweed

In local news, we learned that the Nat West bank, which has been closed for as long as we can remember, has been used as a cannabis farm. It’s in the middle of our main street.

And, just along the road from us, we think there was one of two drugs raids taking place in Northenden. And we found out why the local authorities aren’t bothered about all the vehicles that are parked on pavements.

Police but no traffic warden

The second exciting record release this week is Jessica Lee Morgan’s ‘Forthright’ album. It’s her fourth and, I think, her best so far. I can’t wait to see her live in concert again. Meanwhile, she’s been performing on YouTube, in a virtual world tour.

Jessica Lee Morgan – Forthright

And in case you’re wondering, my bit of Anna’s video is at 22 seconds. It’s graffiti local to where we live in Northenden. ‘Live work consume die?’ Which nicely summarises just about everything!

PS a couple of people in real life have asked what podcasts we’re listening to. Well, I’ve started compiling a list right here, so please take a look. Over and out.

That’s Entertainment

Locked in, we get our entertainment where we can. Radio and TV of course but also puzzles, crochet, exercise, books and food. Yes, even the vegetables are keeping us amused at this strange time.

A carrot with a face

I wonder how many books there’ll be, ‘when this is all over’ titled something like Life in the Time of CoViD-19. How are we all coping? What lessons have we learned? How will life change from now on? You want more entertainment? The man over the road doesn’t have a car (as far as we know) but he objected to the cat sitting right in the middle of his drive. So he opened his living room window, attempted to squirt water at the cat, missed, spilt water indoors and knocked some pot plants off his window sill.

We’re still allowed out for exercise each day, but we’re limited to the local neighbourhood for our strolls. I don’t know why graveyards are so appealing, somewhere different, I suppose. Someone pulled back the layer of grass, the turf, from a hidden grave stone. I think this could be a new artform.

Here resteth the body of

It’s good to see that in general, people are avoiding each other out in the streets, by stepping out into the road where necessary, or crossing over where possible.

Not quite deserted street

It’s not always possible to keep six feet, or two metres from the next person. The worst offenders are runners who won’t deviate from their puffing and panting and sweaty course for anyone. And when you’re walking slowly along a narrow path, keeping several yards behind another walker, it doesn’t help when they decide to turn round and walk back towards you, passing within inches as you struggle to hold your breath for the next ten minutes.

Some good news though: we managed to place an order on Ocado as they consider Liesel a special case. We won’t get the delivery for a couple of weeks, but at least we got to the front of the queue.

On what would have been my parents’ 66th wedding anniversary, I looked out to watch the ISS, International Space Station, fly overhead, finding its way between a thin crescent Moon and Venus. Sorry, my photos were all nbg.

Reflections of my life

As can be seen here, the weather was gorgeous. But just a couple of days later, we adjusted the clocks for British Summer Time and this was the cue for cold north winds to return. It’s easier to stay indoors when it’s not so warm outside, but I think we were hoping for a longer Spring this year!

Selfie of the day

The local children are keeping us entertained with gorgeous rainbows in their windows.

Stay strong our kid

Liesel was messing about one morning, maybe a bit fed-up with just the two of us being confined together, so she decided to get a pet.

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

Speaking of tigers, one documentry series I enjoyed on TV was Tiger King. Spoiler alert: there are some strange people in America. Actually, ‘enjoyed’ probably isn’t the right word, but it is a fascinating and scary story.

We often find lost gloves and shoes on our walks, but hats are rarer.

Flat cap

Yes, we’re all waiting until ‘this is all over’ after which we will go through a long period of recovery.

Recovery

Meanwhile, I’ll occasionally be on the bike, going nowhere fast.

Mick on a bike

Yes, it does look like the aspect ratio is wrong but that’s because I’m pedalling so fast, the effects of relativity are coming into play.

Thanks again to all the generous sponsors for my Walk All Over Cancer challenge, which only has a couple of days to go. If you are the Anonymous donor, thank you very much and please reveal yourself to me in private so I can lace daisies in your hair. I am very grateful, thank you.

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 91½ 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 Ġs and cross some of the Ħs, 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 Tigné Point, we stopped for lunch and coffee at a café 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.