Party, plants and Petra

It was good fun going through photos for a couple of days, on Klaus’s computer, on Facebook and some really old, physical photos. They made for a fascinating slideshow at the party to celebrate Klaus’s life.

Klaus

Here is former marathon runner Klaus, with baby Liesel and her grandmother, with a freshly caught fish and barbecuing. Here’s Klaus’s obituary.

There was far too much food for the hundred or so people who turned up, so it’s been leftovers all week. Huli-huli chicken and kalua pig are two Hawaiian dishes that Klaus was especially fond of. The family have been enjoying the leftovers for a few days now.

Klaus was famous for his sense of humour. He was always telling jokes, so with that in mind, we set up a Joke Board, inviting contributions from the guests. Well, needless to say, some of the jokes are too rude for this family-friendly blog, but here goes anyway:

Joke board

Fifteen years ago, Liesel and I visited Bremen with Klaus and Leslie, a family reunion with some long-lost German relations. One of the side-trips was a tour of Beck’s brewery. Afterwards, we were given some samples to try: six, I think, small glasses of various beers and lagers. Which one did you like best, Klaus? To everyone’s surprise, he picked the non-alcoholic beverage. I imbibed some Beck’s today, it seemed the right thing to do. Prost!

Amongst the guests was Holly, our friend who flew up from Washington. Liesel and I were happy to give up our bed and sleep on the blow-up bed for a couple of nights, even if it did make farty noises every time one of us moved.

On one of our walks to Kincaid Park, Liesel picked both of the raspberries. Yes, there were only two ripe ones on the bush, but there’ll be plenty more soon. Maybe all that rain helped speed up the ripening process.

Yellow toadflax

It’s nice to be out in the Sun again, of course. And we do like seeing the odd splash of colour.

Red elderberry

At least, I think this is elderberry. But I wasn’t confident enough to pick the berries with a view to making elderberry wine. Well, I can’t help thinking about the times you were a wife of mine. You aimed to please me, cooked black-eyed peas-me, made elderberry wine. That Elton John song came to mind and was my earworm for the rest of the day.

Fireweed

Well, I think this is fireweed, it’s quite prolific in some places.

Selfie of the day: Holly, Jyoti, Liesel, Mick

I have to confess: Holly took this picture: if I’d tried to take a selfie, there would have been at least half of someone’s face missing.

There is a cat who lives in the house with Leslie. Her name is Petra and she is very shy, timid, secretive. I have often seen the tip of her tail disappear around the corner as she heads towards her favourite hiding place, the back of the closet. But one day, I was at home on my own, glanced down from the den, the upper landing. I saw the cat. The cat saw me. The cat crouched, ready to move off. I slowly extracted my phone. Turned the flash on. And I now have photographic evidence that the beast exists.

Petra

As you can see, her headlights are on full-beam. And this is the face that greets Leslie when she wakes up each morning. Luminous green, scary, starey eyes and everything.

Liesel, Holly and I walked on the boardwalk at Potter Marsh. One of those borderline days when even I was taking off and putting on my coat as the wind cooled and warmed up again.

The water in one of the streams was a bit murky, but it was good to see the salmon swimming upstream

Salmon

No birds to speak of, but I had some success with the dragonflies. One was on a lady’s shoe, so we helped it escape, and out of the way, we didn’t want anyone to stomp on it.

Dragonfly on a stranger’s shoe

And then there was this chap.

Dragonfly on the fence

He was very cooperative, he stayed very still, but at least he was alive. Or she, I don’t know how you can tell. I was able to get a nice close-up without him flying off.

Face to face with a dragonfly

We drove up to see Catherine and Hans. Their rhubard crumble was delicious. Holly knew Catherine from a long, long time ago. Holly and Liesel were travelling in Europe and spent some time with Catherine and Hans in the Netherlands. We had a good chat, enjoyed the view and the sunshine. George the Bernese mountain dog lives with Catherine and Hans. He wears children’s grippy socks indoors so that he can walk on the wooden floors without slipping.

George

When he’s out for a walk, he’ll let you know he’s had enough by lying down on his back, in the middle of the road.

Later that afternoon, Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon came round with friends visiting from Germany: Fee, Jorn and Philip. It was a raucous evening, and again, there were stories about Klaus.

Jyoti, Liesel and I had a quick walk around Little Campbell Lake, also known as Beercan Lake. The ladies had a longer walk than I did, but it was nice sitting on the bench, watching the young people in their kayaks. This lake is where Liesel and I were married all those years ago. It was frozen at the time, so a very different vista today.

Beercan Lake

In Kincaid Park, near the chalet, we admired the multi-coloured bench.

Bench

It was windy here today, and a few people were flying kites. The clouds were fascinating to watch, swirling and whirling around. Someone suggested it was like a scene from Harry Potter.

Kites and clouds in Kincaid Park

Indoors, I was quite busy doing some DIY. The key lock box combination is … haha, I nearly revealed it. I tightened up the screws holding up the hanging basket bracket. I changed a lightbulb outside the garage, quite possibly the most awkward lightbulb in the world, in a brass and glass case, with a hole not quite big enough to fit a bulb and fingers at the same time. Duct tape, as is often the case in Alaska, was my saviour.

Last week’s radio show was themed around Religion, but as someone commented, it’s not at all dry and preachy. Please give it a listen here.

If you would like to see a list of all the shows that I’ve uploaded from Wythenshawe Radio and beyond, then please follow me, mick_the_knife, on Mixcloud, you’ll be notified every time a new show appears.

An unexpected job was to clear out some cr I mean rubbish, old stuff, from the garage. Some was thrown away but a lot was taken to the charity shop. This provided the day’s scary moment. Do something scary every day, someone once said. Well, I don’t manage to every single day, but I made up for quite a few days on this occasion. I had to climb up the ladder several times, to take things down from high shelves and to put other items up there. My palms were sweaty, but I didn’t show my fear to Liesel and her Mom. I am very proud of my stoicism. Ladders and me have never really got along. This was after Liesel had taken me to the local supermarket, Carrs, for my second Covid booster jab. I have a slightly sore arm, but otherwise, no problem. The bonus was, the pharmacist gave me a voucher, so we got 10% off the groceries we bought. $12 saved. That’s almost as good as the chocolate I was given with my very first Covid jab, last year. Almost! 

My time in Anchorage is nearly over. Before I arrived, Liesel and I had the following telephone conversation. (Remember, on my last trip, I ((very) briefly) swam in the lake at Nana’s Cabin in Talkeetna):

Liesel: When you come over, will you bring my swimsuit?
Mick: Yes, of course, where is it?
Liesel: Under the bed, I think.
Mick: OK. Why?
Liesel: We’re going to Talkeetna and I thought I might go for a swim in the lake.
Mick: Oh great, I’ll bring my budgie smugglers too.
Liesel: You’re not going.
Mick: Uh?
Liesel: I’m going with Mom and Jyoti after you’ve gone back home. (There was an evil cackle at this point, or maybe I imagined it.)

Huh.

Wows and woes

You’ve probably seen this picture before, but it was undoubtedly the best photo I saw this week, the first taken by the James Webb Space Telescope and released to the public.

Gaze in awe

Galaxies 13.5 billion years old with gravitational lens effects, I couldn’t stop gawping at this picture for a very long time.  It reminds me, I still want to be a spaceman.

Closer to home, these poppies brighten up an otherwise dreary part of Northenden.

Poppies

So where else have I been this week? The dentist where again the hygienist asked the same questions about my oral hygiene regime and I reminded her that I am 145 years old and I will continue to look after my teeth and gums as well as I can.

Not sure if it’s more exciting or not, but I took the car in to have a light bulb replaced. Not a 5-minute job as you’d expect, because they had to take out the wheel arch to access it. Why do they design cars that way?

What is definitely more exciting and interesting is that the heron was not in his usual spot this week, on the weir. He was in the river, halfway to Didsbury.

Heron

I went with Jenny and William and Liam to a suit hire shop, funnily enough to hire a suit, for a future event. Later in the week, I went clothes shopping, by myself, not my favourite pastime, and came home with a pair of shirts and a pair of shoes. Not trainers but actual, Italian leather shoes.

Martha and William both enjoyed their sports day at school, and not only because all the children got an ice lolly afterwards. It was a very nice day for the event.

Liesel reported a couple of earthquakes from Anchorage. At home, three pictures fell off the walls within 24 hours. Now, I’m not saying the earthquakes caused this, but what a coincidence. One frame broke and by luck, the glass remained in tact. Another one, I think the Blu Tack just melted in the heat, same as the rest of us.

I may have mentioned my very long to-do list from a few weeks ago. Mostly quick jobs that weren’t so quick in the end for one reason or another, mostly ticked off now, and this week I succeeded in preparing, recording and editing three radio shows. That was quite a feat, and I probably won’t repeat it.

In Anchorage, Liesel has been working with Amrit and Suvan again, staying out of the scorching Alaskan sunshine. There’s a heatwave here in the UK, but Anchorage was much hotter for a while.

I enjoyed a few walks locally this week, including a couple with the well-being walking groups. And in a repeat performance from two months ago, I got up ridiculously early on Saturday morning, to take a taxi to the airport for my flight to Frankfurt and then onwards to Anchorage for a couple of weeks.

This week’s radio show is all adverts. Well, a few actual adverts but mostly songs that have been used in commercials over the years. Sing along to a couple of old favourites!

Blossom and birthday

Liesel is in Alaska until the end of the month, working from home and sometimes in an office, and spending time with her Mom and Dad both of whom are recovering well from recent surgery. But mainly, she’s enjoying the snow and the spectacular scenery while walking and hiking with friends.

Jyoti and Liesel and the mountains

Nearer home, I’m now Covid free but I did have a few days of extreme lethargy. Yes, I know I can be a bit lazy sometimes, but this was a totally different feeling. I listened to my body and did very little. And when I did do something, I became fatigued very quickly. But slowly, slowly, things are getting better.  All helped by the much more pleasant weather of course, blue skies and sunshine, even if I couldn’t take full advantage for a while.

But when I did go out for a quick walk, it’s all change in Northenden. The island in the Mersey has had a Brazilian.

The bush has gone

The vegetation on this island was quite useful: it used to catch some of the plastic whenever the river was in flood. Well, this bush has now been well and truly trimmed. And, inevitably, you can see an old discarded tyre.

The village green continues to evolve. Where there were crocuses and snowdrops just a couple of weeks ago, the daffodils are now taking over.

Daffodils

So, having taken the plunge, I decided to join the regular organised walk in Northenden. About 10 of us walked through the woods and round the block before enjoying a coffee at a coffee shop. So this was my first time mixing with people since my Covid. Chantel had succumbed recently too, so we compared notes and symptoms.

The walking group

It was my birthday this week too. Happy birthday to me. Jenny invited me over for supper and, of course, this was the first time I’d seen the family for nearly three weeks. We had an Indian takeaway and Jenny baked a beautiful big cake for me, thank you!

Martha, William and the cake

And thank you Jenny and Helen and everyone too for my pressies: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate and beer! And a walk around the Manchester music scene.

Not only that, but the laptop I ordered has arrived. It’s a refurbished Acer with all new components, built to my specifications. So at last, I’m going to have to wean myself off Windows 7 (and Windows XP) which I still use on my old desktop PC, and get to grips with Windows 11. The laptop came fully loaded with Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Works and Yahoo GeoCities. I don’t need to take advantage of the offer from AOL of 999 free hours of internet access this month.

After a quick visit to the hospital to be wired up with a heart monitor, I thought I’d go for a walk in Wythenshawe Park.

Young jockey

I still remember the first and only time I’ve been on board a horse. I was six years old, we went to the Epsom races, and I was lifted up onto what may have been one of the actual race horses. It was very high up and it didn’t move, thank goodness, but that experience has meant that I’ve never since mounted a horse. These young people seemed to be enjoying the experience, though.

Some trees are now blossoming: I was surprised how much has changed in the 10 days that I didn’t really venture outside.

Blossom

I was sitting on the bench listening to the birds when I was chucked out. Yes, I was in the horticultural centre and they close at 4.30. I think that’s the first time I’ve been kicked out of a park. So, a quick drive home and then supper? Well, no. I couldn’t go directly home because police vehicles were blocking Church Road. I drove the long way round and decided to go for another quick walk just to see what the excitement was.

A whole section of Church Road was closed, buses were on diversion, and a white-van man was remonstrating with a PCSO because he couldn’t make his delivery. The PCSO said there had been a fatality and later on, I overheard a conversation in which it was revealed that a hit-and-run driver had killed an elderly lady. I’ve not been able to verify this. Neither have I seen anything in the news about a collision between a cyclist and a vehicle which again delayed my drive home after joining the organised walk in Wythenshawe the following day. That completes this weeks tragic news from Northenden.

It was a very pleasant walk in Wythenshawe, but whether it gave my portable ECG device anything to get excited about, I don’t know.

A nice, friendly looking tree

As I was walking through Kirkup Gardens (I think it was Kirkup Gardens) a young lady gave me something to plant in my garden. What a nice thought. She’s from Manchester Forever, the only charity that raises money to fund and support community activity right here in the Wythenshawe area. So that might be an organsation to find out more about later on.

As seen from the bathroom window

I mentioned my post-Covid lethargy earlier. This is the reason why my Wythenshawe Radio show this week was a repeat from last year. There’ll be a brand new one next time. A celebration of Spring.

As I sit here on the sofa writing, listening to last week’s Cerys Matthews show, the Sun is streaming in through the window and I’m thinking I can’t wait to post this so I can go out for a quick walk! A great sign I think that the lethargy really has gone and I just need to slowly build up my stamina again after a week or so of not doing very much at all. The lesson from this is, avoid Covid if at all possible. I’ll be wearing a mask when necessary, and keeping social gatherings to a minimum. And I’ll be getting any vaccines on offer at the earliest opportunity. The government might be acting like the pandemic’s over, but we should all carry on being cautious. Stay safe!

Not much

The title sums it up. Not a lot happened this week. So, I was feeling a bit under the weather and lo, on the third day, I tested positive for Covid. Yes, after two years of being incredibly cautious, I picked it up. Whether from York, or public transport, or the streets of Notrthenden, or medical facilities, I’ll never know for certain. But at least I have it while Liesel’s 4,500 miles away in Anchorage.

One NHS site said I had to isolate for 10 days, another said 5 days and until I test negative two days in a row, while the governemnt’s advice is to do absolutely nothing to protect other people.

My symptoms did not include the classic loss of sense of smell and taste. No, it was more like a really bad cold, headache, earache, mucous glands working overtime, some fatigue and even more lethargy than usual. But mainly, it was coughing. It started with a tickly throat, turned to a sore throat, that eased and I’m still left with a niggly cough that won’t quite let go.

Covid testing centre

Help slow the spread of #COVID19 and identify at risk cases sooner by self-reporting your symptoms daily, even if you feel well 🙏. Download the app https://covid.joinzoe.com/

I joined Zoe two years ago and I’ve been reporting Liesel’s and my Covid status every day, all our tests, all our vaccinationss and lately for me, all the symptoms. Zoe told me to go for a PCR test, just to confirm my positive LFT results and this involved a walk to the test centre in Wythenshawe. Which was hard to find, but really obvious once I got there. Maybe being geographically challenged is a symptom. And this was my last visit to the outside world for several days. The result came through a lot more quickly than they’d predicted.

Another beneficial side-effect, if I can call it that, is that I was able to take part in a trial of an antiviral drug which may or may not speed up my recovery. Remember licorice comfits? I had to take four capsules bigger than those twice a day for five days. And as I said, I still have a cough, though nowhere near as frequently as a few days ago.

I think I was unlucky to catch Covid but I think I was pretty lucky that I only had it mildly. At least I’m still around to talk about it.

How did I keep myself occupied whilst confined to quarters? Radio, podcasts, TV, puzzles, books and eating and sleeping. Oh, and spending far too much time falling down rabbit holes on the internet. There’s some good stuff there, but there’s an awful lot of crap as well. Still, it passes the time. No matter how I try, I can’t get up to 10,000 steps a day pacing up and down our hallway.

Meanwhile, in another time and place, William became Gymnast of the week.

Flamingo of the week

I think the award was for forward rolls and other stunts rather than for standing on one leg, but we are all very proud of him.

And much further away, Liesel was greeted by a visitor lurking in the bushes.

Moose

Now if I’d planned this thing properly, that moose would have been standing on one leg as well. As would this little chickadee, enjoy the offerings in Liesel’s parents’ garden.

Chickadee

In Anchorage and here right outside our apartment in Northenden, the squirrels know that Spring is very nearly here and they’ve been playing kiss-chase up and down the trees and all over the place. Very entertaining.

The weather has improved a lot this week. In fact, it was so nice, I opened windows. Yes, fresh air blowing through the flat for the first time this year felt pretty good. Hopefully, the miasma of coronavirus has been well and truly smited. Smote. Smitten? Got rid of.

I did go out for a walk in the sunshine, a short walk, but it was nice to pay a quick visit to Quarry Bank Mill. I avoided people as much as I could, of course.

Greenhouses

In a couple of weeks, I think more flowers will be out and it will look quite pretty.

No, not beavers

I need a better map so I’m not sure whether this is the River Bollin or one of its tributaries, but it was flowing pretty fast. No, I don’t think this blockage is the result of beaver activity. It’s more likely to be the accumulated woodwork from the many times William and Martha have played Pooh sticks here.

This week’s Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 radio show was a bit more challenging, as I had to record it between coughing fits. Still, you can listen to it here:

So, to summarise: not much.

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.

Mindblowing

For some reason, I had to go to Brighton and deliver mail there. Or was it Portsmouth? Anyway, I don’t know my way around either place. And the addresses on the mail consisted solely of just one cryptic word. How am I supposed to deliver mail to places when I don’t know where they are? I just had to keep asking the locals. I must have managed ok in the end though, because when I got back to the office, someone pointed out that I’d forgotten to take all the packets and parcels out with me. The sense of relief that engulfed me when I woke up was almost overwhelming. Why am I still having anxiety dreams about the last job I had? Usually, at a certain point in the dream, I realise that I’m retired and actually, I don’t have to be here at all. Sometimes I’m aware that I haven’t been taking my days off for a few weeks, to the point that I’ve lost track of which day is my day off. I think I’d rather have a proper scary nightmare than these dreams about Royal Mail and the many, many ways in which they can make a straightforward job so stressful. In  my dreamworld, because of problems in the Chessington Delivery Office, I’ve been variously despatched to the basement, to New Malden and to Waterloo Station to prepare the mail for delivery. I’ve been unable to enter the Office because it’s so full of mail and parcels, that there’s no room for actual people to go in and do anything with it. I’ve never had anxiety dreams about exams or moving house or other stressful events, nor indeed about any other jobs. So I’m hoping that by telling you about this recent, horrible, nighttime experience, the scenario will be expunged from the repertoire in my dreamworld mechanism.

In the real world, things just plod on normally, uneventfully. Except that this week I succumbed to the games Wordle and Nerdle. I wasn’t convinced at first, not sure about what I was meant to be doing, but after a couple of days, I quite enjoy a few minutes of mental exercise each day. This is in addition to my daily allowance of an hour attempting a Slitherlink puzzle, which is ridiculously addictive. It’s always a disappointment when the app timer tells me ‘time’s up’ and it takes immense willpower not to extend the time for today, but sometimes I just have to eat etc.

Jenny invited me over to share some of the three tonnes of spaghetti bolognese she’d prepared in her cauldron. It was fun to spend time with the children, Martha fresh from her swimming lesson.

Martha and William enjoying a cold dessert

It was wet and windy and we were issued with flood warnings, but on this occasion, the level of the river went down quite quickly. Our local councillors were on the case, monitoring the situation, and there was no need to open the flood gates. One victim of the strong winds was our oak tree. It lost a few digits, bigger than the twigs that usually blow off.

Chips off the old block

We’ve been advised to wear hard hats when we leave the block of luxury apartments. By the river, the birds are clinging on tight so they don’t get blown into orbit.

Partridge in a pear tree

There are signs of Spring approaching though. Our local village green is gradually turning purple as the crocuses make an appearance.

Northenden Village Green

I haven’t been for a long time but I was amazed to see how much Kingston station has changed over the last couple of years.

Kingston Station

No, this is Kingston in the south of New Zealand’s South Island, which is a bit more remote than The Royal Borough of course. Thank you Pauline for sending the pictures, and glad you’re having a nice break.

Northenden welcomes careful drivers
Boxx 2 Boxx in a puddle

Walks around Northenden and the local area are always fun but the cold, biting wind really did get on my nerves this week. I told it to go back where it came from. To no avail. The contrast between that and the intermittent warmth of the Sun was striking.

Dayglo plants

There are splashes of colour, especially when the Sun’s at the right angle. And Fletcher Moss Park is also showing early signs of Spring.

Fletcher Moss
Tree-lined avenue

On the way to school to pick up William and Martha, the clouds put on a good show. I wasn’t the only (grand-) parent taking pictures.

Here comes the Sun

While waiting for Martha to come out of her class, William decided he was a caterpillar, crawling under the climbing apparatus.

William the caterpillar

We played at their house for a while before setting off for mine.The plan had been to bring them back here and have takeaway pizza for dinner. But Jenny had forgotten. The pizza was good, so good in fact, that I ate the leftovers the following day.

I battled the cold wind again as I walked around Wythenshawe with the group, once I dragged myself out of bed, that is.

This was the first week of the Winter Olympics and I’ve enjoyed some of the sports, especially the curling, which is very slow and methodical. The ice hockey is far too fast, I can’t see what’s going on. I suggest using a much bigger, heavier puck, to slow it down a bit. And as for the skiers and snowboarders doing multiple twists and turns in the big air, well, it probably isn’t as easy as they make it look.

Liesel continues to bounds out of bed very early every morning over there in Anchorage. She continues to work hard, doing legal work. (She’s probably having more fun doing illegal work, but she’s not telling me about that.) This week, her Dad, Klaus, had his heart surgery and is doing very well. Liesel’s been chauffeuring Klaus and her Mom Leslie to hospitals and shops. Good to see she’s staying out of trouble, so far, at least.

While Klaus had heart surgery, I visited the dental hygienist just to show solidarity.

This week’s radio show was about Art and Artists It’ll be repeated on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 next Wednesday at 7pm, but for your convenience, it is available here:

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.

Two castles and a battlefield

Yesterday I expressed a desire to see a red squirrel. That wish didn’t come true, but we did see a blue one.

Blue squirrel

We saw this chap just down the road, here in Inverness, one of a series known as The Go Nuts Art Trail, raising funds for the Highlands Hospice. This one’s design is based on Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Today we were tourists. Our first destination was Brodie Castle, named after the anti-hero from the American TV drama series Homeland. We saw a plume of smoke as we approached Inverness Airport and hoped it wasn’t another terrible incident on the road. No, just a harmless factory of some sort.

Nice smoke

But nicer than that is the fact that the runways at Inverness Airport are configured to look like a snowflake when viewed from a suitable height.

Brodie Castle looks alright, so we thought we’d ruin the view by standing in front of it.

Selfie of the day

Each room had its own guide, and they spoke for up to ten minutes. The tour groups were kept separate of course. But it was quite dark inside. Actually, it was pretty dismal outside too. The library was probably fascinating: I would love to have studied the children’s books in case there were any that I remembered from my own childhood, but there just wasn’t enough light.

What could beat seeing a blue squirrel? Seeing the biggest white rabbit in the whole of Scotland, of course.

White rabbit

The sign said to download an app that would animate this large rodent, but I couldn’t get it to work. The playgrounds on the castle site are fantastic, it would be a great place to bring children, or grandchildren, one day.

We had a nice walk around the grounds but while wandering around inside the castle itself, it started to rain. What a shame. Also, we were too late in the year to see the daffodil collection, put together by Ian Brodie after his awful experiences in the Boer and First World Wars left him with what we now know as PTSD. But if we can’t see thousands of golden daffodils, we can enjoy seeing the biggest monkey puzzle tree we’ve ever seen.

Monkey puzzle

It is a truth universally acknowedged that when Mick and Liesel go travelling in the UK, it is likely to rain. It used to rain when Mick and Sarah bed and breakfasted around the country too. We’ve enjoyed so many picnic lunches inside a car, watching the rain cascade down the windscreen while the windows fog up inside. Oh well, we tell ourselves, while chewing sandwiches in a car, in a car park, again, all this rain is what makes Scotland so beautiful.

According to William Shakepeare, Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor, resided at Cawdor Castle. Not in real life he didn’t, because the castle wasn’t built until 300 years after Macbeth died.

Caravan

This isn’t the sort of caravan we anticipated seeing a lot of in Scotland. And no, nor is it our accommodation on this occasion. It’s outside Cawdor Castle, which was the next stop on our tour.

I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, as usual, but I did have a waterproof(-ish) jacket on too. The guide in the castle accused me of being dressed inappropriately. I pointed out that I was dressed correctly, it was the weather that was behaving badly.

Tartan carpets
Bike parking facilities

For a moment, I thought we’d entered an American house.

French arms

Too many firearms for one wall. This castle is occupied by one lady for half the year, and the rest of the time, it’s open to us visitors. Again, lots of historic artefacts. But again, I think I enjoyed walking around the gardens more, despite the weather.

Cawdor Castle
Minotaur in a maze

There’s a maze in the gardens, but we’re not allowed to enter it. Maybe they’ve lost too many visitors to the minotaur in the centre. We think it’s a minotaur, but we didn’t bring our binoculars with us today. Although they would have been useful as we watched some birds from a distance, finding something tasty on the path nearby. We saw a thrush, some chaffinches and a yellow thing that was too fast to identify.

Mum and baby

What a brilliant work of art. From this angle, the sculpture is of a Mum and her baby having a cuddle, but from the other direction, it’s a pair of hands supporting them both. Very clever.

Holding them up

Another record breaker was this iris.

Iris

This is the deepest purple iris we’ve ever seen, and it looks spectacular with a few drops of rain water.

On the way back to our b&b, we stopped at Culloden Battlefield. We’d been before, with Liesel’s Mom and Dad, and the place has lost none of its sense of eeriness. We know the terrible story, how many lives were lost senselessly. The grey clouds were perfectly matched the feeling of foreboding.

Culloden Battlefield

I went for a walk around the site, trying to avoid the other visitors. To be fair, they probably weren’t that keen on me, either. I found a couple of the memorial stones that we’d missed last time.

Clan Donald

This headstone marks the traditional site of a grave locally believed to be the resting place of the MacDonalds who fell in action during the battle. This stone was erected by members of the Clan Donald Society ‘to honour all MacDonalds killed at Culloden and in battle elsewhere’. A sad but salutory reminder of how lucky I am that I’ve never been involved in any conflict.

Memorial cairn

A very different day today, just pootling around rather than driving a long way to reach a destination. There’s plenty of that still to come of course.

So what’s gone wrong so far? My first injury was incurred yesterday when I was bitten on the ankle by some bug or other. I’d forgotten all about it until this morning after my shower when I noticed the wound was bleeding. The second injury was caused by hard furniture. My shin detected the coffee table in our lounge. It didn’t break the skin but there is a contusion, which, given we’re in Scotland, I’m naming Robert. Robert the Bruise.

As I write, we’re listening to the golden voice of Eddi Reader, but earlier we re-played my radio show from January, the one with Scotland as its theme. The one in which my microphone wasn’t working for a long time. Lots of fabulous Scottish music, but also an embarrassing amount of dead air.

Back to the egg

We like a bit of nature, but we’re not so keen on wasps. So when one was posing on the outside of our kitchen window, how could I resist?

Wasp

Luckily, he stayed outside. I probably could have done with the exercise, chasing him round the flat, trying to encourage him to go back outside, but he was quite happy where he was.

Meanwhile, some people in Northenden thought they could have fun polluting the river. I’m sure they had a great time, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what the ducks and geese and fish get up to in the Mersey.

Costa del Northenden

Tony Bennett famously left his heart in San Francisco, but someone left theirs in the woods near us.

Wooden heart

It was lovely to spend a sunny afternoon in the garden with William and Martha. They both seemed to like the blankets their Oma had made for them, and William wasted no time making himself comfortable!

Good night, William

We sat in the sunshine, enjoying a picnic lunch, we soaked up the Sun, and I was surprised that the water pistols didn’t make an appearance. I say water pistol, but William calls it a water crystal.

We played What’s the time, Mr Tod, which morphed into What’s the Time, Mr Wolf and lots of chasing ensued. Plus, both Martha and William watched the bumble bees doing their thing with the clover.

Bumble bee
Martha’s unorthodox swinging technique

We all receive a copy of the magazine from Chester Zoo every month or two, and Martha, with Oma’s help, repurposed the current issue into headwear. She is also secretly training to be a model, none of us told her to pose this way, it just came naturally.

She’s a model

A couple of days later, I drove into Manchester and just like my last visit there, it was purely practical. Straight to the Blood Donation Centre, then straight home. But I was delighted with the choice of biscuits on offer this time. I had a mint Club biscuit for the first time (I think) since the 1980s. The nurses, all the medics, were very welcoming and friendly. The health check questionnaire has been revised, and now, gay men are not excluded from donating blood, something that was deemed impossible, in the 1990s.

Our world is slowly expanding. We paid a visit to Stratford upon Avon where we met up with Helen and Steve from Chessington. It was warm but overcast, a nice day to mooch around a perfectly delightful little town. Lots of touristy shops, and just about everything has a connection with Shakespeare.

On the two-hour drive, we were reminded of things that we haven’t seen for a long, long time. The M6: the roadworks seem to have largely been completed. The Pies graffiti is still there on the bridge. We actively listened to the traffic report on Radio 2, although nothing affected us today. I scored 12 points on Ken Bruce’s Pop Master, over two rounds.

The four of us went on a 45-minute cruise on the Avon. Edward Elgar was quite rude about the then new theatre when it was built, so I had to laugh when the boat crew played Nimrod. Well, I didn’t laugh, I usually cry when I hear that tune, but it seemed so out of place. Something by Shakespears Sister might have been more appropriate. And then, they played The Swan fron Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, much better suited to the situation: see the picture after the next one (sorry, spoilers).

All Saints Church

Actually, the commentary was very informative. What happened to Shakespeare’s head after he was buried is really sad and unnecessary. Of course, it would be rude to venture out onto the Avon and not take a picture of a swan. So here it is.

Swan of Avon

We learned that swans are the heaviest flying birds in the world, and sometimes in Stratford, rather than fly, they use the locks to get from one place to another along the river and canal system.

We enjoyed this actor outside the theatre. He recited a couple of speeches, from Henry V or maybe Richard III: my English teacher would be horrified if she thought I didn’t know.

Not Sir Laurence Olivier

We had lunch at Boston Tea Party, another branch of the place we’ve been to in Salisbury several times. A long time ago, before the pandemic, that is. What’s nice about this place, at least according to the menu, is that they use Chew Valley organic milk from happy, jaunty, loveable, huggable cows.

The menacing pink sheep took us all by surprise, just standing there, guarding a shop. No, we hadn’t been drinking.

Pink sheep

But just when we thought we were beginning to understand Stratford upon Avon, we had to accept that, yes, it is a bit strange. As this inscription on the pavement confirms.

It’s too weird for me

And something else weird is occurring in Stratford. There are two golden post boxes, painted gold to celebrate local gold medal winners from the 2012 London Olympics. Only one of these two has a plaque attached. And the other one says that James Roe won a gold medal for rowing. Really? Nominative determinism?

James Roe the boat ashore

Stratford is a nice, quiet little town, but it could do with a few modern high-rise buildings to drag it from the 15th into the 21st century.

Just 531 years old

The most exciting part of driving home was spotting some new graffiti on one of the bridges over the M60.

Smoke Pies

I suspect this relates to the old Pies graffiti, daubed by the band of the same name over twenty years ago, maybe even longer. But what a surprisingly pleasant drive home, no traffic hold-ups at all. The car managed its longest trip in over 15 months, it didn’t complain once. Which is just as well, because we’re soon off on another adventure which is why this piece of nonsense has appeared earlier than usual this week.

Also, because we had made plans, I pre-recorded my radio show this week. You can listen live here on Friday at 2pm or catch up here soon after 4pm. The theme this week is Holidays, which is a remarkable coincidence, since we’re all going on a Summer holiday.

The Wall

It’s Quiz Time! Yes, however long it takes you to read this post, that’s how long you have in which to guess what I did today for the first time since about 1996/7. So, not really a quiz at all, just a guessing game. And there are no prizes either. If you scroll straight to the bottom, then you are a rogue and a vagabond.

Most of the country were looking forward to the final episode of Line of Duty on TV. I even rustled up a snack for me and Liesel.

Cheers!

I broke into the bottle of whisky that Liesel bought for my birthday. Sorry to say my birthday chocolate was nowhere to be found, long sinced enjoyed secretly in my secret lair aka my studio.

A lot of viewers thought this final episode was an anti-climax, but I’m not so sure. There are still a lot of unanswered questions and loose threads. No spoilers here, but having watched all, yes all, of the preceding episodes during the week, it does make sense, there were clues.

Whinge of the week can be summed up in two words: the weather. Meanwhile, in NSW, they’re backburning in the bush, so Sydney catches the smoke and residents can’t breathe. On the plus side though, all that muck in the atmosphere makes for some pretty sunsets.

Sunset in Manly NSW

This is what Helen has to look at from her flat every evening. The bad news is that there are now a couple of Covid cases in NSW, with all that that implies: visits to other states may be prohibited.

Northenden continues to surprise me. I’ve been walking the same streets for a couple of years, but I’m still seeing things I’ve not noticed before. Often for the simple reason that I’ve been on the other side of the road.

Sorry Protection Sells

The outside wall of this house has been beautifully(?) decorated, I can only imagine how glamorous it is inside.

As Spring (sort of) makes progress, the leaves on the bushes on the island in the river are nicely hiding all the plastic rubbish that was caught up during the floods a few months ago. The heron has been a bit elusive this week, but he knows how to tease: I can just see him lurking behind the fence!

Foliage hiding the rubbish

Liesel was having problems with her laptop this week. It spontaneously reboots for no obvious reason. I had some ideas and so did Liam, thank you, Liam. Part of the diagnosis involved leaving a Zoom call open while doing something else on the laptop: not quite testing to destruction but trying to see if it was over-heating or something. I had installed a program to show us the temperature of the innards (sorry about the technical language). I was the other participant in Liesel’s Zoom call and I was messing around with different backgrounds.

Selfie of the day

I wasn’t really Zooming on the beach. And my hair isn’t really in a cloud of candyfloss. Have you guessed yet what did I do today for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century?

The other thing I did was turn off the laptop’s option to automatically reboot. So, if something does go wrong from now on, we should have a chance to see any error message that might pop up. And yes, of course we’ve done the first thing any decent IT support person would suggest: we’ve given the computer a jolly good talking to.

We had a lovely walk at Quarry Bank again this week, and I won’t mention the weather.

Fluffy clouds

Except to say, blue sky and fluffy clouds in one direction were very pretty. The solid grey lumps of lead in the opposite direction not so much! We felt a few spots of rain and even hail, but nothing too horrible.

Azaleas and rhododendrons

As I’ve mentioned before, we love a splash of colour, that always lifts the mood.

Pink rhododendrons

As Liesel pointed out, this rhododendron is more of a tree than a bush.

Yellow rhododendrons

And as Liesel reminded me, I don’t think we ever saw Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park at the real height of its flowering rhododendron gorgeousness. Just before and just after, yes, but not on the actual day.

It was that time again: I visited the dental hygienist. Meanwhile, Liesel visited  her beautician way over there in Gatley. But then she drove to CostCo, a trip that I missed out on. After loading up the trolley, queueing at the checkout and being invited to pay, Liesel realised that her debit card was out of date. It’s so long since we’ve been to proper shops and she’d forgotten to put the new card, received a few weeks ago, into her wallet. Fortunately, CostCo now accepts credit cards, so they didn’t force her to replace everything on the shelves.

Here’s a tip: when you go shopping for the first time after a long lockdown, make sure your payment cards have not expired.

I was feeling quite relieved about having dodged a trip to that place. But Liesel realised she’d forgotten one important item, something we can’t find anywhere else. So, as we were driving away from Quarry Bank, she asked, would I mind if we went back to CostCo to pick up the missing item? I was so shocked by this unexpected invitation, I couldn’t immediately think of a good enough reason to say ‘no way, José’. And off we went. Things are getting back to normal. I know this because we both whinged about the amount of traffic near the Trafford Centre and also the quality of some of the driving.

I thought I might as well have a quick look at the DVD players while I was there in a big warehouse, but we couldn’t find any. Neither could we find what Liesel had forgotten earlier in the week. There was none on the shelf. Yes, we were looking in the right place, there was plenty of similar stuff, but not specifically what we needed. Instead, we just bought baked potatoes for lunch, which we ate in the car, since the restaurant seating has all been removed, presumably because of Covid restrictions.

We have made a guest appearance on someone else’s blog this week. Thank you Jacob for inviting us. So here is another small contribution to our Warholian fifteen minutes of fame.

This week’s Radio Northenden show was all about The Letter Z. Jazz, pizza, ZZ Top and Iz. Catch up here if you mizzed it!

So, here it is. Did you manage to guess what I did today for the first time in nearly 25 years? Well, here’s a clue:

Long-haired yeti

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. Then I spotted some new hair ties that Liesel had bought the other day. I couldn’t resist the temptation to tie my long lockdown locks into a pony tail. It won’t last long, though. The pony tail is, as I’m sure you’ll agree, a total delight, but the large ill-defined bald patch on top is just embarrassing. Sometime during the next couple of weeks, I should visit a barbershop and have a slight trim.