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.

Obscured by Clouds

That light at the end of that Covid tunnel? It’s a bit brighter now, we are getting there. I decided to walk to the venue, it was a nice day after all, plus I would see parts of Wythenshawe I’d not seen close-up before. Woodhouse Park Lifestyle Centre was the destination. Yes, I was excited to be receiving the second of my two Pfizer vaccinations. I was also looking forward to accepting another chocolate biscuit, of course.

Front end of a tram

As the tram passed by, I mentally celebrated impending increased freedom. My Senior Bus Pass has arrived too, and in three weeks time, when my immunity is at its best, I’ll at least be thinking about taking a bus somewhere. Plus, trams and trains are a possibility. Our world is growing wider.

Street Market

The street market is obviously not as extensive as it used to be (yet), and again, the possibility of visiting markets outside, followed by shops indoors, is quite attractive. And I am by no means a big shopping fan, as any female in my life will confirm.

Bee in the city: Wythenshawe

I haven’t mentioned coffee for a while, but a cappuccino is a very nice cup of coffee. And for children, you can buy a babyccino, which is just warm, frothy milk. Our new coffee shop Boxx2Boxx offers beverages for dogs, a puppyccino. And you’d think that would be it. Oh no. I saw this advert and did a double take.

Carpuccino’s

Carpuccino’s? I like a good pun, but this is off the scale, the wrong end of the scale. It’s not even a drink, just a daft name for a car-washing service. I know our vehicle deperately needs a clean, especially since people began asking us whether they could borrow it to grow potatoes on, but washing a car in old coffee dregs doesn’t seem right.

I arrived at the Lifestyle Centre fifteen minutes early: yes, I still walk faster than Google Maps gives me credit for. The volunteer outside said to go straight in. I was processed very quickly, being passed from volunteer to direction-giving volunteer like an extremely valuable pass-the-parcel, only instead of removing a layer of clothing each time, all I did in the end was roll up a sleeve to receive the jab. The small scratch was more noticeable this time. I’m not complaining, but I did have this image of the needle being screwed into the muscle rather than being pushed in, this time. No chocolate biscuit, but that’s alright. I now feel even more invincible than I was before.

While sitting for the required fifteen minutes in case of sudden, unexpected problems, I spoke to both Jenny and Liesel. My initial plan to walk home again was changed. Instead, Liesel collected me and we drove straight over to Jenny’s with the millionaire’s shortbread that Liesel had baked. Well, most of it.

As soon as I got out of the car, I was attacked by William and Martha. In a well-planned ambush, they both got me with their water pistols. Pistols? Water blasters, each of which semingly holds several gallons of ammunition, most of which got me with pinpoint accuracy.

William the water blaster

Yes, of course I ran away down the road like the cowardly wimp I am,  but that didn’t stop them. No, I didn’t mind getting soaked, it was a warm day, and I was feeling quite buoyant from the jab.

Martha, another water blaster

We spent some time in the garden with the children, which is always a delight. Liam was working in the shop, serving his customers, answering the helpline, taking orders and everything.

Two coffees and six doughnuts, please, Daddy

It was ridiculously nice being in a garden, lying on the grass, chewing the fat, not quite nodding off in the Sun, listening to the children playing and laughing and chatting. Still no physical contact, of course, but there is a bit more flexibility in our social distancing and interactions.

Unexpectedly, I had some annoying side-effects following the second jab. I couldn’t sleep that night, but certainly made up for it the following night. And in between, I was lethargic, achy and stiff and I had to force myself to eat. 24-hour flu? Something like that, and yes, just for one day, thank goodness. The site of the jab was sore for a few days too, compared with exactly 4 hours for the first one. 

Back in Northenden, there is colour in unexpected places. The planters on Palatine Road are a blaze of colour.

Tulips in Northenden

And the aforementioned Boxx2Boxx seems to be doing well, attracting visitors from far and wide, including one day, most of the Manchester City women’s football team. Whom I instantly recognised, of course. No. not really.

I drank water…

We had a so-called Pink Moon this week, when the Moon is closer to Earth while full. Well, as usual, we didn’t see it, too much cloud cover for a few nights.

We drove to Dunham Massey on what turned out to be a cooler day than anticipated. The wind was chilly but that didn’t put us off walking nearly 5 miles. It threatened to rain, too, but we kept going. Another visitor was feeding a deer, no idea what the food item was, but it reminded us of Nara in Japan, where the deer bow to people in expectation of being fed.

My new app, the one that tells me what birdsong I can hear, is remarkable. It listens to the sound, then tells me all the possible birds it might be, mostly ones I’ve already thought of. It’s certainly not as slick nor as accurate as Shazam is for music.

On our long walk around this National Trust venue, we witnessed young children playing football and one little girl jumping in a ‘puddle’, only there was no water in it. So not really a puddle at all, I suppose, but what do you call the muddy indentation where a puddle might form when it rains? Another one for the philosophers of the world. We saw a couple of white deer in the distance, which just goes to show how well camouflaged conventionally coloured deer are. Even those whose bottoms look like badgers’ faces.

Flower bed

In domestic news, our shower blocks up fairly often, especially with our copious, long, lockdown hair falling out. So I recently acquired a gadget which I can put down the drainage hole to grab the offending blockage and pull it out. There’s a gripper that opens when you press the button at the other end. Does it work? Not with our shower drain, no. Because of some clever design, two inches down, there’s a flat surface which covers most of the width of the pipe, so water has to drain around this disc’s edge. My new gadget isn’t flexible enough to go down and round this tight corner. So, back to chemicals it is.

Have we tried a plunger? A plunger would possibly work if we could get a good enough seal, which we can’t because of the carefully installed nobbles that hold the drainage cover in place! Stupid design details that just aren’t practical. Put the nobbles on the underside of the cover and recesses in the shower floor, then we could at least try to use a plunger.

Also, we now need a new DVD player. The old one has been reluctant to open its drawer for some time. So after threatening it yet again with replacement if it didn’t cooperate, we had to resort to violence. I inserted a plastic tool to force the drawer open. That worked, but in the process some ratchetty noise told us, or at least strongly implied, that the drawer would never again close properly. RIP, not so faithful DVD player.

Other than that, we need a new dishwasher because the old one has a door whose springs have snapped so it no longer glides gently open. When we forget, it drops to the floor and one day, the hinges are gonna snap, the door will crash on the floor, possibly with such force that it will fall off and crash through into the luxury apartment below. We’re hoping to hold out until we can afford to get the whole kitchen done, but we’ve already had to replace the washing machine.

So much for not being a fan of shopping: there are several expeditions in the pipeline by the looks of it.

I was pleased to have a guest on my Radio Northenden show this week: Rizwana from Bluebird Care here in South Manchester told us about what they do from day to day. Other than that, I played some fabulous charity records. Catch up here, or listen here on Wythenshawe Radio Wednesday at 7pm.

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.

Vaccine and Maxine

I can announce that in a very real way, there is light at the end of this very long, dark, isolated tunnel. The end is indeed nigher. I received my first Covid vaccination this week and it was quite an emotional experience. I floated out of the centre singing about my invincibility! Well, not really, but I am a very happy and grateful bunny.

This event took place on the 42nd anniversary of the day Sarah and I married in Headcorn. And, as if to remind me just how cold it was on that February day, I had to scrape ice and snow off the car before driving to the vaccination centre. I can’t remember the last time I did that. Not because the weather’s been really warm of course, but because we just haven’t been  anywhere.

My appointment was at exactly the right time too. As I sat down, one of the volunteers brought in hot chocolate and biscuits for the staff. ‘Perfect timing’, I uttered. She gave me a biscuit and then said ‘You might as well have one of these as well’.

Vaccination and bonus biscuits

‘Don’t flash them about, otherwise they’ll all want one!’ So please don’t tell anybody.

Liesel and I went out for our first litter picking walk this week, too. We didn’t go too far from home, but did we collect much? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.

Absolute rubbish

It was chilly but thankfully the cold east wind wasn’t too strong today.

We watched some more online entertainment this week, of a political nature, unusual for us, but fascinating just the same.

Christopher Eccleston

Christopher Eccleston read a story about the 1984 miners’ strike which was very moving, about how one family had fallen apart. There followed a discussion which reminded me of a lot of the goings-on at the time.

Karen, the host from Hosmans; Maggie Gee; Maxine Peake

The following evening, we watched the always delightful Maxine Peake read a story about the night cleaners’ strike of 1972. The ensuing discussion included Maggie Gee, an author whom I met several years ago at Kingston Readers’ Festival.

These two events were hosted by Housmans bookshop in London. Won’t it be lovely when we can visit in real life? Any bookshop. Anywhere, really.

Despite the baltic conditions, Liesel and I did venture out for a wander by the river, which has receded to its previous, low, safe levels. And here’s an early sign of Spring.

Little biddy crocus

On the other hand, here’s a sign that really, we’re still in the depths of Winter.

I see icy fields

This is the field where we sometimes have a chat with the horses, but they were out of sight today, hopefully indoors, sitting round a nice warm fire, watching daytime TV.

Liesel spotted a block of ice on top of a fence post.

Block of ice

Well, not really on top. It looks like the pole filled with water which then froze, and as it expanded the ice escaped through the top. I haven’t seen anything like this since the really olden days when we had milk delivered in bottles. The milk and cream would freeze, expand, push the top off the bottle, and reach for the sky.

We didn’t see our heron today, but we did see this happy couple gliding by.

Mergansers – or are they?

You can win a bonus point by telling us what these birds really are.

There was a slight smell of smoke in the air and we finally tracked down the culprits. They were burning some wood on the golf course which, a couple of weeks ago, had been the flood relief plain.

Fire on the golf course (not to be confused with the latest single by Sophie Ellis-Bextor)

When you see that much wood deposited, you realise just how powerful the river must have been during those few days.

One of the funniest things we saw was this dog.

Offenbach? No, it’s Haydn

It was down by the river, hiding form its owners who were delighted to be playing the game.

The island has been revealed for the first time in a while. And, with the grim inevitablity of Paul McCartney performing Hey Jude with far too much audience participation at one of his concerts, there is already a car tyre lying there.

Tyre Island

Northenden is proud to announce that it has become the new headquarters for NATO.

NATO HQ – or is it?

I don’t want to breach their security or anything, but this compass is on the pavement outside Boho Tanning and Beauty and Himalayas Tea in Palatine Road. And yet I don’t think I’ve noticed it before.

Something else new to Northenden (well, new to me in Northenden):

Our very own busker

He didn’t mind me taking his picture, even though I had no cash on me to put in the hat that he didn’t take off. I offered him a coffee instead but he declined, saying it was too cold for this game and that he was going home. I next saw him at the bus stop.

On a palindromic date, 12/2/21 or 12022021, I presented a show on Radio Northenden posing the question, What is Love? Two hours of silly love songs. This is in honour of my 42nd anniversary with Sarah, mentioned above, my 15th with Liesel next Tuesday and it being Valentine’s Day on Sunday. Love is in the air, everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, every sight and every sound. Oh, I just realised, I didn’t actually play that particular song. But please listen if you want some of that love thang.

Slightly further afield, there was excitement on Mars too. The first ever spacecraft from a middle eastern country, the United Arab Emirates, has gone into orbit around the red planet. And this is quite a coincidence because also this week, I started reading my first ever book of Palestinian science fiction! Who knew there was such a thing? It’s a collection of short stories, looking forward to 2048, a hundred years after the Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestians fled or were expelled from their homes. Thought-provoking to say the least.

Palestine+100 published by CommaPress.

The most recent book I finished was Salena Godden’s Mrs Death Misses Death. I wrote a review, not as eloquent as all the others I’ve seen, but it’s from the heart:

This book turned up on my Kindle on the day of publication, and I started reading it straightaway. I’ve been a fan of Salena and her poetry for a long time so I knew this would be good. And it really was. It’s happy and sad and funny and thought-provoking all the way through, not at all maudlin as you might expect from a book about Death. I was torn between reading it quickly to see how it ends and reading it slowly to soak up and appreciate the whole story. I know film and TV rights have been acquired and I am intrigued to see how that develops. But I also know I’ll be re-reading this book very soon, and I very rarely do that. I can’t get over how clever some of the sections (chapters?) are, with their use of language.

Highly recommended! Mrs Death Misses Death published by Canongate.

Here’s a blast from the past, probably about eleven years ago. And another coincidence: remember the UAE spacecraft is named ‘Hope’.

We were in a small town in Alaska called Hope, with some friends. The plan was to go for a walk, or hike, through the woods.

The trail was very pleasant, it meandered and undulated a bit and after a while, I was offered a pair of walking poles, to ‘help’. Why would I need them, I can trip over my own feet quite well, thank you.

‘Try just one then’, someone suggested. Oh all right.

So now I had three things to guide safely to ground level: two feet and a stick. And, inevitably, I put the pole down just off the edge of the path, expecting it to meet a solid surface, but it didn’t: it was like finding an extra step when you think you’ve reached the bottom of the stairs. Yes, of course I tripped and fell over. I was aware of being close to the edge of a bluff, a drop of several dozen feet.

Well, I wasn’t worried for myself. I was more concerned about 3-year old Neha to whom I was giving a piggy-back at the time. I successfully rolled over to protect her, blamed the stupid stick that I didn’t want in the first place and couldn’t apologise enough to Neha’s Mom*.

Walking poles? Portable trip hazards if you ask me.

*We are still friends.

 

Ice rink and Inspiral Carpet

Well, the good news this week is that Liesel wasn’t arrested after all. I would have visited her in jail of course, if the Covid restrictions allowed me to. The unsolicited phone call from ‘HMRC’ was a computer-generated voice, threatening arrest if she didn’t press button 1 straightaway to resolve some fictitious tax issue.

Is that the most exciting event of the week? Not quite. We went for a drive in the car for the first time since before Christmas. We still remember how to drive, always a bonus, but one of the tyres was flat. We got that fixed before setting off. Where did we go? We visited the Dark Lands beyond our own postcode.

After a snowy start last Saturday, it was my turn to cook our evening meal. I love a good non sequitur, don’t you? I have two selections in my repertoire and this time it was toad-in-the-hole. The rest of the week we enjoyed Liesel’s culinary delights, thank you, Liesel, much more skilful and with a much more varied menu!

We went for a walk and came across a fire engine near Northenden’s Riverside Park.

Fire appliance

The river was flowing fast but it was much lower than at the height of the floods last week. Lots of detritus had flowed downstream of course, plenty of trees and branches and so on deposited by the high water. But the ugliest sight probably is all the plastic caught in the trees on the island and tangled in the vegetation on the river banks.

Real plastic in trees

There is a large group of litter pickers in the area, Wythenshawe Waste Warriors, and one day, when we’re no longer shielding, we’ll join them. So far this year, they have collected nearly 900 bags of litter in Wythenshawe, Northenden and the general area. One day, someone will wade over to the island and collect all the rubbish from the trees there.

It was a good decision to wear my new wellington boots when I walked through Wythenshawe Park. The path was still flooded: in fact, half of its puddle was frozen too. The grass either side of the path was waterlogged to the point that one side resembled an ice rink. I was joined on this particular walk by Tina in Coventry. From a very safe distance, I hasten to add. Whatsapp was the means of communication.

Mick: I’m out for a walk! Just tried to break the ice in a puddle. Useless!
Tina: OMG 😮 Glad I went food shopping so I don’t need to go out!!
Mick: Yes I’m sure!

Mick: I found the ice rink! A big frozen puddle on the grass
Tina: Oh wow 🤩
Tina: Poor birds
Mick: It’s very quiet. Spooky- apart from the rumble of the motorway over there…
Tina: Looks dangerous
Mick: It is. Very thin
Tina: Well, stay on the paths

Mick: This is the path!!
Tina: Oh you can’t pass
Mick: Yes 👍
Tina: Oh you’ll have to find another route, don’t get lost!!!
Mick: I’m back on the path… I can see how deep it is here!

Tina: Gosh be careful
Mick: Made it 🙌 to the other side. Dry!
Tina: Well done but be cautious
Mick: My mate Oliver

Tina: He’s not covered in snow!
Mick: No and he’s not covered in graffiti any more, either!
Tina: That’s good.. graffiti would def ruin the monument
Mick: And the good news is, I can get a coffee!

Tina: Oh really that’s great 😀 will warm you up? Is Liesel with you on your walk? Which coffee shop is that? Bit of a queue
Mick: Liesel came out with me but I wanted to go further.
Tina: Oh trust you
Mick: Not sure what it’s called. It’s in the park!
Tina: That’s great it’s open during these times
Mick: The dog bowls are frozen!

Tina: Awwww
Tina: Oh dear there doesn’t seem to be much snow there anymore
Mick: It’s The Courtyard
Tina: Oh you got your coffee?
Mick: Patchy, still on the roof

Mick: In the queue still…
Tina: Oh yeah
Tina: Ha lol 😂
Mick: Decisions, decisions

Tina: Hot Vimto lol yes lots to choose from! They do food as well or just drinks? It’s not bad prices. What’s a barm? A batch or bread roll?
Mick: I have my coffee and chocolate orange brownie! Yes a barm is a plain bap, burger bun type thing. Usually. I have been given a sandwich before made with sliced white bread!
Tina: Ooh the brownie sounds lovely 😊 it’ll give you an energy boost 😂 Oh I see… I’ve never heard it being called a barm before
Mick: Yes, I’m still learning the language. I’m walking the long way home, trying to avoid all the people
Tina: That’s understandable, you’re having a good walk Mick, lots to see
Mick: Lots of snow on the grass. And more ice

Tina: Your coffee got me making a coffee too. It’s freezing can’t believe it’s snowed but it’s going to rain next week so hopefully it’ll clear up. Hope it doesn’t get icy and slippery though!
Mick: So far, I haven’t slipped, but it will happen sometime
Tina: That’s good hopefully not!
Mick: Once when I was a postman, all the snow and ice had gone, or so I thought, but I found the last square inch of ice and went arse over tit. Bashed my elbow. Kept hold of the bloody mail though!
Tina: Oh no that’s sounds hilarious 😂 but I bet it hurt! Typical
Mick: Look what I just did

Tina: Looks good but graffiti is a shame, ruins the buildings. Oh my you’re having some walk
Mick: It is an eyesore yes
Tina: How was your brownie? Coffee any good?
Mick: Very nice it had a segment of Terry’s Chocolate Orange on top! Coffee ok but not the best, but at least the place was open
Tina: Oh that would be really nice. True and it kept you going
Mick: Look what I just made!

Mick: Should be home by 2.30 then it’ll be time for a coffee 😉
Tina: Ha lol 😂 looks like you’re back to where houses are!
Tina: Good timing
Mick: Yes far fewer people this way
Tina: Oh that’s good
Mick: Nearly home
Tina: Oh good I’ve just made a sandwich 🥪
Tina: You home ? 🏡
Tina: With your coffee ☕️
Mick: Yes I am, now with a coffee, thanks for joining me on my 5 mile walk!!
Tina: It’s quite alright was fun! There is nothing on tv so I’ll listen to the radio for a bit!
Mick: Me too in a minute, probably Radio 2 Sounds of the 70s
Tina: Well enjoy. I’m listening to Capital fm
Mick: Ah, Capital Radio in the 70s was terrific, it’s not really my taste in music now, enjoy, sing along, dance!!

Another day, another walk, another stop for coffee. You can pick up the feel-good vibes in Salutem.

Be stronger than the storm

I invited Rachel from Salutem to join me on my Radio Northenden show this week. And she very generously agreed. You can hear our chat plus two hours of music loosely themed around Shopping right here.

Martha telling a story

Martha told a wonderful story about a Witch and Gnome and a dragon that morphed into a dinosaur! We watched online of course.

Heron of the week – on the opposite bank, of course

Men at work

Some highly visible men working by the sluice gates, after the deluge last week.

And so we come to the real highlight of the week. Salutem and snowman and spammy phone calls are all well and good, but nothing beats spending time with our grandchildren, William and Martha. Yes, SK8 was the destination for our first road trip for a long time.  We still have to maintain a safe distance of course, hugs are out of the question, we saw them from the end of the drive.

Martha

Martha knows that she only needs to dress the top half for her online schoolwork. Truly, a member of the Zoom generation.

 

 

 

William

And William insisted on wearing his backpack while scootering outside the house: maybe he thought he’d be going further away from home. He was doing sums. Just turned three years of age and he can do simple arithmetic. And he loves saying two and two equals four rather than just plain old ‘is‘.

We’ve been entertained this week by more online content, which is a horrible term, but covers everything from Netflix to gigs to Twitter and Instagram as well as videos of Martha and William. In fact, if you want to hear Martha’s sensational new hit single, please listen to this week’s Radio Northenden show.

We watched all 8 episodes of Bridgerton, and not just because it was described as Regency porn. I think we both enjoyed it on the whole, but I found the use of some Americanisms in the very English setting a bit grating. Liesel wondered about my sudden gasps of exasperation when a character said, ‘I’ll be with you momentarily’, or something was done ‘differently than’ something else.

We watched more of the Celtic Connections festival. I loved the Kinnaris Quintet especially, and enjoyed the very different Indian group, Jodhpur RIFF. Jessica Lee Morgan is still doing a weekly show on YouTube and from this Sunday, once a month also on Mary Hopkin’s YouTube channel.

Tom Hingley, lead singer of Inspiral Carpets and the Kar-pets

Someone I haven’t seen live in concert for far too long is Tom Hingley, so it was good to catch him online performing in aid of the John Peel Centre in Suffolk, a small venue that we’re unlikely to attend in real life, but it was good to hear some of the old songs performed live from his home. His camera was cunningly placed to reveal a nice warm fire plus the gold disc on his wall. Well done, Tom!

And finally, some more good news: Liesel received her first Covid vaccination this week. I’m not expecting mine until March but the roll-out of the vaccine seems to be going well, so far. A second day out for the car this week. Maybe we’ll start venturing out a bit more often, if anything, just to keep the poor old thing ticking over and to stop the mould from growing on the outside!

Liesel also completed another blanket, her crochet skills are improving by the minute.

Crochetted blanket
This really is a labour of love, I don’t know how many times Liesel counted the stitches in each row, just to make sure… and how pretty is it?

Bulldog clips and fences

You just can’t find a bulldog clip when you need one.

We enjoyed a few local walks this week, by the river, and beyond. It’s colder, especially when wind fresh from the Arctic comes along.

Crocodile in the Mersey

Of course, it’s not really a croc. We’re not in the Northern Territory any more, sadly, but we’re still on the look-out for dangerous animals. I wonder how far this log travelled? Is it now lodged on the part-time island in Northenden? Or is it a potential threat to shipping in the Irish Sea?

Even more mushrooms

It wouldn’t be a proper walk without encountering mushrooms. Are these liberty caps? Magic mushrooms? We now need a mycologist on our panel of experts, along with the botanist, arborist, architect and historian who can help out with my embarrassing lack of knowledge in those fields.

Erin McKeown

Liesel went to bed, but as the loyal fan I am, I stayed up until midnight to watch Erin McKeown online. She was performing outside her home in New England, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of her first album, Distillation. It was a fun show, and I slept well when I eventually turned in.

Northenden sunset

Sometimes, we glimpse a half-decent sunset from our living room, it’s just a shame about the intervening buildings.

We wandered over to Fletcher Moss Park and enjoyed a coffee under The Joshua Tree. ‘Not the Joshua Tree’, said Liesel, but I disagreed, pointing out the commemorative sign attached. I never knew Josh of course, but I was moved by seeing the lyrics from an Oasis song.

 
The Joshua Tree
That was a nice tree, that was

Elsewhere in the park, tree surgeons were at work. I say ‘surgeons’, but another word came to mind. This was a very nice tree, it didn’t harm anybody.

Selfie of the day

If it’s Tuesday, it must be time to watch Jessica Lee Morgan online again. So I did.

More pretty flowers
The heron

We don’t see our herons every time we go out, but it’s always a delight to be the first to spot him. Or her. This one was sitting there, surveilling his territory. Sometimes, we see one rooting about in the grass, maybe tracking something, but definitely treading quietly and carefully.

 

 

Needle-felt gnome

 

Indoors, Liesel is busy with her crochet and now, some more needle-felting with the WI. This chap with a big hat is very cute on our bookshelves. While Liesel was busy with this, I continued my search for a bulldog clip.

 

 


For the first time in a very long time, we walked over to Cheadle Hulme and back. Just because we can’t see William and Martha in the flesh doesn’t mean we can’t give them books from time to time.

Autumn colurs in Cheadle Hulme

This was by far the longest walk of the week, and we both felt much better for it. As we walked over a stream, I looked it up. It’s called Micker Brook, and, look, according to Google Maps, just over there a bit, there’s a bagpiper for hire.

Crash barrier in a residential area

What a shame that so much of our road system is geared up to cater for the worst of the bad drivers. This barrier makes it ridiculously difficult for pedestrians to cross the side road at this point. I wouldn’t want somebody driving into my house either, but that’s what speed limits are meant to be for.

The world-famous Gatley fence

This is the ever evolving ricketty fence in Gatley. The elderly gentleman can often be seen repairing it, introducing new branches, planks and, as you can see here, a couple of wooden pallets on this occasion. Apparently he’s always refused any help in repairing the fence properly, once and for all.

Bulldog clips

As we wandered through Gatley, I spotted this shop. Hooray! I went inside and asked for a bulldog clip. ‘Sorry,’ was the reply, ‘we don’t sell bulldog clips.’ But you have loads in your window, I pointed out. I was glared at, so I still don’t have a bulldog clip. Oh well.

Pretty fence

Ah, this fence looks much better, especially now with its new Autumn colours.

And, sorry, but here’s the oblogatory weekly photo of fly-tipping here in Northenden. This time, a carpet and lots of garden waste.

Fly-tipped carpet etc

Anyway, never mind that, here is some much more uplifting (I hope) family news.

Helen and Adam have been together now for fifteen years, and it don’t seem a day too long. To celebrate, they went for a balloon trip over the vineyards and the curious kangaroos of New South Wales. What an adventure!

Ballooning over NSW

Nearer home, Martha is doing very well at school. The first parents’ evening revealed nothing embarrassing, and the teacher is very happy to have Martha in her class, very interested, very observant, even to the point of noticing something that’s lined up for a surprise later on.

William told his Mummy one morning ‘I can’t get the puff out of my nose.’ A wheat puff, a vital component of his breakfast. Mummy and Daddy looked up the orifice but couldn’t see anything. Was he joshing? Hovering between laughing and sheer panic, a solution was found. I’d never heard of a ‘mother’s kiss’ or ‘parent’s kiss’ before but it’s very effective. So here’s a tip for parents of little ones with foreign objects rammed up the hooter:

  • Tell the child they will be given a ‘big kiss’
  • Place your mouth over the child’s open mouth, forming a firm seal as if performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
  • Close the unaffected nostril with a finger
  • Blow until you feel resistance caused by the closure of the child’s glottis
  • Give a sharp exhalation to deliver a short puff of air into the child’s mouth, which passes through the nasopharynx and out through the unoccluded nostril
  • Repeat if necessary

In William’s case, the wheat puff shot out and ricocheted around the room. But if not, you might shift the object enough for it to become visible.

The following morning, at breakfast: ‘Mummy, I can’t get the Rice Krispie out of my nose.’

And finally, if you’d like to hear two hours of fabulous music about my desires to be a spaceman, listen to the show here on Radio Northenden.

Don’t make me laugh

As the old folk song goes, Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street. Some of our neighbours are not at all inhibited, and on a couple of late, warm evenings recently, while Darby and Joan here were throwing the duvet off, we were entertained by the merriment outside. It’s been a bit of a heatwave, not as hot as London and the south-east, but still, phew, truly swullocking and no mistake.

We’re still trying to get out every day but there are times when staying indoors in the (relative) cool is quite attractive. And there’s always plenty to do, even if we’re not getting fresh air.

But it was perfect weather for gongoozling and we did some of that on the Mersey. One day, we think for the first time with near certainty, we saw two different herons.

Heron no 1

Heron no 2

This one, by the weir, was teaching some ducks how to fly.

I did talk to a binoculars-bearing bird-watching lady about the herons, at a reasonable distance of course. She said there are two pairs of herons along this stretch of the river. Old old male has dark chest markings that look like a long beard from a distance. There is a fluffy youngster that likes to spend time in the bushes on the island, so we’ve almost certainly seen him too, on occasion. The lady agreed that one thing we don’t like seeing is a heron bend over and pluck a ducklet from the water. One day, maybe we’ll see two or more herons in the same spot at the same time.

There are plenty of geese and ducks of course, they like spending time together in herds, flocks, gaggles or skeins.

The latest local attraction is a beer keg, held in place by an enormous tree branch that has been caught by the weir for a few days now.

Beer keg in the Mersey

It’s been a while, but we’re catching up on medical matters. I visited the dentist for the first time since March, the longest gap I can remember. That’s the gap between visits, not the gaps between some teeth although they were a topic of conversation.

I walked home from the hospital after the test I’d been waiting for was deemed to be the wrong one. Oh well, I took advantage of the steamy sunshine.

Mick on TV

These things come in threes of course, and my third medical mission this time round was an unexciting visit to the pharmacist where I saw me on the CCTV. There was a queue inside but worse were the people squeezing by as they left, not following the one-way system.

Liesel and I have been wary of booking tickets for anything, indoors or outside, any entertainment, anything. But we did go to a local comedy event that was outdoors, socially distanced, and would involve as little interaction with people as possible. It was a bit of an experiment really: we knew that if either of us felt un-Covid-safe for any reason, we could just go home.

But there were just 100 people in the audience. The venue was The Albert Bowling and Tennis Club in Didsbury. We were sitting on the bowling green, in a marked out grid. We plonked ourselves down right at the back. A photographer took our picture. He said it was because the background was so nice, but I think it was because we were so attractive. We took our own picture too, so you decide:

Selfie of the day

I am very proud of my luxuriant lockdown locks but I think it will still be a while before I visit a hairdresser: that seems an unnecessary risk at the moment. Plus, the mask I wear is held on around the back of my head rather than around my ears, and I can just visualise it flying out the door as the barber cuts through the elastic.

The Albert Club

This foreshortened picture of the stage is misleading, the people were spread out far more than it looks, in accordance with the latest guidelines.

Kev Rook organised this Comedy Outsiders event, and he introduced the MC, Russell Kane. He was brilliant, talked for over half an hour, mainly about some people’s reactions to having to follow simple guidelines in the face of a lethal contagion.

A Welsh comedian, Anna Thomas came on next, and she was funny too, and I’m sure one day, she’ll be allowed on for longer.

Top of the bill was Boothby Graffoe. As he told us, one of his reviews claims that he is under-rehearsed, but (I’m pretty sure) that is all part of the act.

Kev Rook, Russell Kane, Anna Thomas, Boothby Graffoe

It was the right thing to do, from a healthy point of view, to sit at the back, but as for taking photos, from that distance, as it became darker, meh.

We ordered drinks on an app, and they were delivered in due course by one of a small team of masked servers.

For the second half of the show, we sat at a table, on chairs to be clear: we’d assumed initially that they were reserved for club members or something, but Kev assured us that this was not the case. It was nice to meet him at last, after having bothered him on his Radio Northenden show so often.

There are two more comedy nights here, so if you’re local to Northenden, Didsbury, south Manchester, please think about coming along for a great night’s entertainment. Buy tickets here: Nodding Dog Comedy is Kev Rook’s other name.

Northenden as I’ve mentioned before is a place of contrasts. On the same walk, almost on the same street, you can see something really pretty and something really nasty.

Sunflower brick

I’m sure there’s a correct term for this kind of decoration: it’s outside a fairly modern building. I look forward to receiving information from my architectural, construction and botanical correspondents!

And then, just along the road, someone had a nasty accident.

Loose chips

Where’s that flock of seagulls when you need them? Not the 1980s group, obviously, they can buy their own refreshments.

Grounded and Ghost Towns

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

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

Neeed a rest?

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

The oldest oak at Dunham Massey

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

Deer

Albino deer

Easy to miss this birdbox

Coot

Deer and non-socially distancing humans

Lion

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

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

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

The population of Rawtenstall ahead of us in the queue

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

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

Sunset over Northenden

Cherry blossom

Please let me know what this is

Two Suns in our window

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

Didsbury is coming like a ghost town

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

Cidsin, Didsbury

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

Rays of sunshine

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

I got a message from Martha

Happy birthday

Selfie of the day

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

More blossom

Cheadle is coming like a ghost town

Even more blossom

Yellow tulips

Red tulips

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

Birthday cake: we’ll keep a slice for you

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

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