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.

Walking and Shopping

International Book Day coincided with our Grandchildren Day this week. Martha looked bewitching as the main character from Room on the Broom.

Martha the Witch

In fact, all her Nursery chums looked pretty cute too: The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Buzz Lightyear, Batman, Pirate Peter and Max the Brave. Elsa from Frozen sang Let it Go which you will now have going round and round your head too, for the rest of the day. One of the teachers was Little Miss Sunshine. We collected Martha at the end of the day, and while sitting on the stairs at home, taking off her shoes, she said “I had a wonderful day!”

We had a pretty good day with William too, though we didn’t get as far as leaving the house. Entertainment was provided by us, by the TV and by a fox with a big healthy bushy tail in the garden. The whole fox was in the garden, not just his tail.

I’m walking every day despite the crook foot, probably against sound medical advice, but I can’t let all my supporters down! As I hirple around the streets of Northenden, I take the odd photo, say hello to the odd passer-by, and some of them are very odd indeed, but they think very highly of me, I’m sure.

I took my phone in here and asked to swap it for a new one but they said No

There’s not a lot of wildlife around here, but there are plenty of feral apostrophes if you know where to look.

Alway’s

The TV behind the reception desk was showing the latest news headlines: “Should all sports events be cancelled?” This is in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“If they cancel sporting events, they should close down all the pubs and clubs,” said receptionist number 1.
Number 2: “And public transport!”
Number 1: “But then we wouldn’t be able to get to work.”
Number 2, grinning: “I Know!”

Last week, a band from the 1970s and 1980s announced a reunion tour for later in the year. Not everyone is so keen on the idea, by the looks of this sign at the hospital.

Genesis are back on tour in November

And as I said to Liesel, I’m glad I didn’t have my heart set on seeing them, even though I was quite fond of their early work, with Peter Gabriel. I made the mistake of looking to see how much the tickets were going for.

That’s the price of a trip to London

To visit John Lewis is a great experience. To visit Costco is a marvellous experience. To visit both shops on the same day is almost too much fun for one person to handle.

We met Jenny, Martha and a sleeping William at Costco. Whereas John Lewis was so empty, we had four different assistants approach us at one point, in Costco we were in the company of hundreds of other customers, quite a few of whom were bulk-buying toilet paper.

Selfie of the day

I was playing around with my phone camera. I did have a quick look at the real cameras in John Lewis: the technology has certainly moved on in the decades since my last new one! Meanwhile…

Our luxury apartment block
Our sad-looking oak tree
Spring is on its way
Parking space

Walking All Over Cancer

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 1. Sunday 1st March was the first day of my attempt to walk 10,000 steps daily, for a month, for Cancer Research. And what a good start to the campaign on this, our hottest Malta day so far.

I took 22,608 steps altogether and they were all most enjoyable. Well, all except one, at about 17,000 steps. We were ambling along on the flat rocky beach, soaking up some rays, when my left foot decided to go the wrong way. It twisted, I did a little dance, and sat down for a moment to recuperate. Three people up on the promenade help up a big red which I think means they were impressed by my spontaneous display of choreography.

I walked, limped and hobbled home. In Malta, you can only buy drugs from pharmacists and they’re mostly closed on Sundays. So, indoors, I rested, anticipating walking a shorter distance the following day, mostly in airports, as, sadly it’s time to leave this gorgeous little island.

I am sailing, I am sailing

Don’t worry: I won’t bang on about this Walk All Over Cancer malarkey every day, but I thought I might as well try and get some sympathy (and more sponsors, wink, wink) for my injury!

So how come I walked so far today? Mainly because I went out on my own for an hour, before Liesel joined me.

A cat named Scar

I was hoping to see some Malta Marathon runners in action, but I think the course was too far away. I did see a few folks running for fun, and I was surprised at how little road traffic there was.

There were more people down on the beach today, and even a few swimming in the sea.

People on the beach

The water was beautifully clear, and, with the bright sunshine, you’d think you’d see little fishes in the water, but no. Not even any crabs on the rocks. But there must be something there worth fishing for.

Cool, clear water

Later, Liesel and I did pass by some proud owners of medals and space blankets, a nice mix of old and young people, some struggling to walk home and some looking fresh, like they could do it all over again!

We paid one final visit to French Affaire for pastizzi (both of us), a crêpe (Liesel), coffee (both) and not carrot cake (should have been for me, but it didn’t show up).

We walked into and straight out of the nearby Point Shopping Mall and there was only one thing we needed here.

All you need is love

At this point, I still had two fully functioning feet, so walking back towards our Airbnb was a potentially easy, slow amble, watching people and trying to ignore the honking people in the traffic jams.

Twelve days in Malta was never going to be long enough, we knew that, but we have had a brilliant time.

Because it feels like Summer to me, I’m dressed for warm weather, so I stand out and it must be pretty obvious I’m a visitor. When I’ve mentioned Manchester to interested locals, there’s no need to mention its rain, they already know. And I can’t describe how happy I am that nobody has mentioned the UK leaving the EU, not even to have a good laugh at our expense.

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 2. This was one of those days not meant to be much fun, purely functional. Bus, walk, plane, walk, bus, home. I managed 11,481 steps with one slightly sore foot, just from walking to the bus stop, around the airports and around the flat back in England.

I was escorted by a security official at the airport in Malta. Having passed through Security, we found that the only pharmacy was back in the outside world. I had to be escorted back out so that I could purchase some painkillers. I got some funny looks: they probably thought I was being arrested, a trouble-maker.

And so we looked down upon the sunny uplands of England before landing at Manchester Airport. Sunny uplands? Well, yeah, but also: snow.

Snow on them hills

We caught the bus back home from the airport, and the driver was very relaxed, probably enjoying his book as much as driving the new, quiet, green, electric bus.

How to Drive Buses by Victoria BusStation

We try and convince ourselves it’s nice to be home, but when the rain comes down that much, it’s hard to get motivated to go out for a walk on our first full day back. But I did, notwithstanding the sore foot, and I completed the required number of steps.

In the evening, Liesel went to to a WI meeting, leaving me to watch the latest two episodes of Doctor Who. Wow, possibly the best two episodes for many a series, bringing together the current Doctor, the classic series, the novels and fan-fiction, as far as I could tell!

After a reasonable night’s sleep, Liesel ‘encouraged’ me to get up and go for a walk: she was motivated, plus, it was sunny. I was halfway through a podcast at the time, but the feeling of being miffed didn’t last long.

In the shower, I noticed the bruising to my foot had spread to heel and toes as well as the side. Very impressive. Yes, of course I asked Liesel to take pictures, but they’re far too graphic for this forum.

We walked to Chorlton, partly along the river, a much more interesting jaunt than my solo circuit in Northenden yesterday.

We admired the colourful graffitti under the motorway. Admired? Bemoaned. The geese by the Mersey didn’t bother us so we didn’t bother them either.

Geeses on the Mersey

We enjoyed the feeling of apricity on our faces, and the sight of many early Spring flowers. The only place we know in Chorlton is The Laundrette, a restaurant. Imagine my dismay when I looked it up on Google Maps to see that it was Permanently Closed. How disappointing. And only a 17-hour walk away too. Huh? Yes, I’d found a place in Wales, with the same name and same logo on the shop front fascia sign. Our Laundrette is still going strong, we broke our fast there before returning home. Because the Sun had been so bright, my glasses were ridiculously dark, I had to use an app on my phone to read the menu. We were happy that it stayed dry despite the 85% chance of rain.

Sorry to share some sad news. Last year, I acquired a pen at Ayers Rock Resort in Australia. It became my favourite biro, providing a very satisfying, smooth writing experience. A few nights ago, mid Killer Sudoku, it died. It ran out of ink. Its natural bodily juices are no more.

RIP Ayers Rock Resort pen

I gave it a decent Christian burial in the bin in our Malta b&b.

But the good news is, 4 days in, I have managed the planned 10,000+ steps every day!

Barkis is Missing

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

Things are looking up

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

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

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

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

Springing up

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

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

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

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

Mind your Rs

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

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

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

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

That’s that, then

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

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

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

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

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

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

William at the wheel

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

Log Pile

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

Sadly, someone has left their friends behind.

Dunham Massey wildlife

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

Snowdrops
It’s beginning to look a lot like Springtime

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

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

William’s Big Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Britain Tidy

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

Well, that’s that!

Walking not Walking

It wouldn’t be a trip back to our old neck of the woods unless there was a medical appointment involved. On this occasion, I spent an uncomfortable half hour in the company of my periodontist, Emily, mouth open and full of instruments of torture. Not much fun, but the alternative, no teeth stuck in my cake-hole would be far, far worse.

We visited Garson’s Farm in Esher, and I think we were both impressed by how much the shop and restaurant have expanded since the last time we visited. Oh, it’s now known as Garson’s Garden Centre and Farm Shop, sorry. Maybe it always has been!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

There was a lot of Christmas tat on sale, I think that’s the technical term, but we resisted the not very strong temptation to buy any of it. We stuck to our guns and just bought the few items of food on our notional list.

Back in Chessington, we visited Peter and Janet and their son Jonathan. For the second time in 5 days, we ate out at the North Star pub. My mouth regained consciousness, slowly, and I managed to eat, slowly.

The other day, I was disappointed that the Christmas tree had not yet been erected at Trafalgar Square. Today, we found it, maybe, at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.

Norwegian wood

Sadly, there was no performance at the Rose today, so what else could we do for the rest of the day? Walk around Kingston, of course, and maybe go to the cinema. So that’s what we did. We saw Knives Out which, after a bit of a slow start (I thought) turned out to be most enjoyable, with a good plot and some good actors.

Our entertainment started well before the main feature, though.  We were presented with a trail for the new Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker. “Oh no, not another one,” commented an audience member just a few seats away, “they must be in double figures by now!” Our main complaint was that the adverts and trails were too loud. Luckily the film was presented at a more reasonable volume. On the other hand, the people behind played Pass the Parcel with their snacks, rustle, rustle, just to remind us why we don’t visit cinemas very often!

Kingston’s Christmas stars

Two meals out on the same day? Why not! Liesel fancied going to Stein’s, Kingston’s top Bavarian beer and food emporium. The bowl of lentil soup I had will keep me going for days. Likewise, Liesel’s goulash was remarkably filling.

Liesel had planned to meet up with another old friend, Chris, in Dorking, and I was expelled from the car at the Mickleham turning off the A24. It was a bit cold and frosty and misty today, ideal for a spot of mountaineering. For the first time ever, I was going to scale Box Hill on foot.

Box Hill School is still being developed: I don’t think I’ve ever seen it without some sort of building work taking place. It was useful one day though, some years ago, when I had to change a tyre on my bike: I made use of a very conveniently located bench on the grounds.

St Michael and All the Angels’ Church stood out in the misty sunshine with a soldier from The Great War silhouetted perfectly and movingly.

Lest we forget

I’d never walked this way before, I anticipated having to walk along the road. So it was a relief find a path behind the hedge, running parallel to the road. But there wasn’t much traffic anyway, just a few cars and a couple of buses.

Onwards and upwards

I had a beany hat on to protect the lugs but despite the mist and the frost, the exercise was keeping me warm. The dripping water was not rain but melting ice, also looking glorious.

One drip photographed by another

After a while, I looked back and realised I’d climbed above the cloud level. I swapped hats: now, I needed a wide brim for protection from from the glare of the Sun. Solitude can be a wonderful thing, but I was really surprised not to see anyone else on the path, walking up or down.

Above the cloud

A small group of cyclists set off up the Zig Zag Road as I began my climb. I was soon puffing and panting a bit. Northenden and Manchester are great for walking but they’re both flat, so today’s incline was a bit of a challenge. Oh to have my legs back from 2014 when, on one famous day, I cycled up Box Hill three times as part of a long training ride.

The bridleway was a bit muddy in places, but the leaf cover provided protection. The plan was to meet Liesel at the National Trust Café at midday. The path I was following crossed the road and I had to choose between the Happy Valley Walk, Box Hill Hike and the Natural Play Trail. I knew the Café was roughly over there but when I found the road again, I realised I’d overshot by quite a distance. That was OK, I was able to backtrack, avoiding the loggers, and I found Salomons’ Memorial.

Salomons’ memorial, the Viewpoint

Leopold Salomons is memorialised for donating 230 acres of land to the National Trust in 1914.

Loggers, tree surgeons, whatever: the sound of power saws was totally at odds with the peace and quiet. And a reminder that real life continues.

Logs – future coffee tables, maybe

Usually you can look out over the valley below, admire the fields, compare the people with ants and literally look down on Dorking. Not today. Pearlescent cloud filled the valley. In the distance, Leith Hill peeked out.

Looking over the clouds towards Leith Hill

A white, empty universe in one direction, but turn around 180° to be rewarded with a magnificent, proper, sky blue sky.

And turning around…

Outside the National Trust Café, patches of frost survived but the Sun erased those as it moved alowly round the heavens. Plans to do some typing on a table outside were thwarted because they and the benches were still wet from the dew. Inside, I shared a table with a couple of strangers and a cup of coffee. My typing drove them away after a very patient half hour.

It was great: I’d enjoyed the exercise and the fresh air, and the sight of so many happy people hanging around at the top of the hill. Even the soft Christmas music added to the atmosphere. I eavesdropped on a conversation between a couple of cyclists. One had just cycled up and the other was about to ride down. He was warned to be careful as there was still ice on the road, and three cyclists had come off. My earlier cycle envy somehow evaporated at this news.

I mooched about while waiting for Liesel, watching the last of the frost melt. She collected me and we set off for home. We survived the M25 again, stopping at Cobham Services for a natural break. I bought my first ever Gregg’s vegan sausage roll which was enjoyable but I also take great pleasure from knowing that if Piers Morgan found out, he’d go apoplectic!

Sunset as seen from the M6

We went straight to Jenny and Liam’s house, where as well as the usual suspects, we were greeted by Uncle Adam, all the way from Manly. It was good to see him, even his bad influence on his young nephew.

William drinking Daddy’s beer

Grandchildren’s day delightfully rolls around once a week. It was time for a return visit to Chester Zoo. William had a lot of fun, and, to be fair, so did we. There were many school parties here today, so it was an educational visit. We learned, for example, that donkeys are baby giraffes. We managed not to get stomped by the herds of school children but some puddles did get stomped by William.

William found a puddle

Even the Zoo is gearing up for Christmas. There are lanterns and balloons everywhere, and a snow-covered paddock where all the animals get on very well.

Giraffes (pretend) in the snow (pretend)
One of The Lanterns

And on the next day, the heavens opened, it rained all day, we did very little: we didn’t leave the flat and I’m not even sure either of us went downstairs to collect the mail. A lazy, lazy day. We looked out of the window, we looked at weather apps that confirmed, yes, it was raining and would never, ever stop. I might go out for a quick walk, I lied. I didn’t even bother to get a picture of some tumbleweed tumbling by. We just sat there, looking at each other, and out of the windows, and at the TV, and at books. Lazy. I suppose it has to be done sometimes.

Four Shops in One Day

The second most repeated comment (after “We have a lot of stuff”) in our luxury apartment is “Oh, what a surprise, it’s still raining”. There has indeed been a lot of rain recently. Many floods in Yorkshire and beyond, some places receiving a month’s rainfall in one day. This amount of rain cannot be good for anybody’s garden, which is how we used to justify the odd shower. But it’s hard to look positively on 6 days out of 7 of continuous rain. Neither of us want to go out when it’s raining that much, and this has a knock-on effect. Over the weeks, we’ve both felt a bit crook: headaches, lethargy and the desire to hibernate.

I had some errands to run so imagine my delight when I was able to walk to the GP practice in the sunshine. It was cold but the heat of the Sun and seeing blue skies really do lift the spirits.

So I continued walking and ended up in Heald Green, another little place we’ve ignored until now.

The pharmacist processed my prescription while I walked over the road to conduct some business at a rare branch of Lloyds Bank.

The pharmacist gave me my drugs and in the same tone of voice as if asking whether I’d like a cup of tea, he asked if I wanted a flu jab. Now? Here and now? Yes, it’s free, on the NHS. As a pharmacist, we won’t overcharge the NHS for providing this service. Actually, he didn’t say that last bit. OK then, I said. Last year, I had no reaction so I thought I’d be ok this time too.

I was going to walk all the way to Jenny’s house but me and a bus reached a bus stop at the same moment, so I cheated, and caught the bus. Please don’t tell anybody. But, not knowing the area all that well, I managed to overshoot my stop, so I probably walked the same distance in the end, just in a different direction.

Liam was out for the evening so he missed a wonderful Indian meal.

The fab four: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

I reached for a spoon and wham, suddenly my left arm, victim of the flu jab, experienced a bolt of electricity. Keep it moving, was the consensual advice. I did.

Next day, I felt cold and shivery. Not proper flu, but very unpleasant nonetheless. Helen came round briefly to say goodbye: our plans for meeting up with everyone for brunch were, sadly, cancelled. Too many of us not feeling too well.

My very welcome twelve hours sleep meant that I missed Helen’s early departure. And again, for reasons of less than optimal health, we didn’t go and watch Martha swimming. Poor old William and his ailment stopped him from going at all.

But the children and their parents are currently enjoying a break at Center Parcs., leaving us, Darby and Joan, at home to make our own entertainment.

We’ve been to our local Ikea a few times, but it still surprises me as we approach, how garish the big blue and yellow sign outside is. “There it is!” I exclaim, as excited as when we first see the sea on the way to the beach. I know I’ll get a couple of miles walking in at Ikea, so it has its uses.

Help is available

It’s a nice, helpful place, but I don’t know why they have co-workers rather than plain ordinary workers.

We pounded the aisles, bought some stuff for ourselves and for Jenny, ignored all the shortcuts and had a coffee halfway round.

I do like the made-up Swedish names for everything. There is no way you can tell from the name itself what the item is.

S T U V

I found this item interesting because it contains four consecutive letters of the alphabet in the correct order, and that’s quite unusual. But most disappointing was finding out that the toilet brush named Farage does not really exist. This well-named item turns out to be an internet joke. Oh well.

Yes, I’m at Ikea, of course I’d rather be at home

I do like a rhetorical question, don’t you? Even if they did leave out the question mark.

This sign has been reported to the Society for the Preservation of the Correctly Placed Apostrophe

Not too far from this branch of Ikea is a branch of Costco. This once was Liesel’s favourite shopping experience after she moved here to the UK from sunny Anchorage, Alaska. A little bit of America in England. I didn’t walk quite as far here as I had in Ikea, but every little helps, as one supermarket claims.

Costco sells everything form ink cartridges to car tyres, from gateaux to gates. Today, we were on the lookout for a sewing machine. Liesel’s wanted one for a while and during her recent trip home, she used her Mom’s machine and now she has the bug for sewage. Sewing, I mean, damn you, autocorrect.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have any on display, but we did find everything else we needed, including more Kleenex, a vital resource given the nature of our current ailments. It amazes me how much stuff some people buy, two or three trolleys full, in some cases.

After pounding these aisles and paying for the purchases, it was time to eat. The slowest moving queue in the world merely enhanced ones appetite. My slice of five-cheese pizza was ok, but I think I exceeded my recommended daily allowance of grease. I needed more than one hot coffee to displace the fatberg from my mouth.

Sew, next stop, John Lewis. Here, we found the ideal sewing machine and I forced myself to drink another hot coffee, purely for oral-cavity-cleansing purposes.

By far the majority of today’s nominal 10,000 steps took place indoors. It was not a good day to go for a walk outside. The rain continues, and for such a rain-soaked part of the country, it still amazes me how bad the drainage is. If the representative from Guinness World Records were here today, not only would the slowest moving queue have been recorded, but also the largest, deepest puddles, spead over the most lanes on a main road. Not to mention the most people in a queue at a bus stop being splashed by someone driving at speed through such a lake.

The final destination was The Futon Shop in Manchester. We recently ordered a new cover for our futon and came to collect it. Oops, too early. Read the email properly, doofus, they said, and come back in three days time. We will, of course, but to hide our embarrassment, I took some pictures of an attractive rocking chair that would match our futon, if it fits in the living room.

Rocking chair

Four shops in one day: not unusual in itself but this is as exciting as the week was to get.

I decided to make a sandwich for myself, with the jam we’d bought from Ikea. Imagine my disappointment on opening the jar to find a few strawberries, a packet of sugar and a sachet of pectin, complete with really good, explicit instructions. Ikea. Maybe I should have asked for help.

Nomovember

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a secret but I can now reveal that my beautiful daughter Helen is here in England all the way from sunny Manly. Manchester rain greeted her when she was reunited with her sister Jenny and niblings Martha and William at the airport. Helen brought some Tim Tams for us but no actual sunshine, blue skies or warmth. No, I’m not sure ‘nibling’ is a real word but it’s less clunky than saying ‘niece and nephew’ and has a parallel in ‘sibling’.

Liesel and I went to Jenny’s in the afternoon where we apologised to Helen for the atrocious weather and played with bubbles indoors, to Martha and William’s delight.

Auntie Helen and Martha

We stayed for supper and we even drunk some wine. That Helen is a bad influence. But she knows a thing or two about playing with Instagram, a skill we should all develop.

William and Auntie Helen

We missed the Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and New Zealand which possibly explains England’s wonderful victory: we didn’t jinx the team by our presence.

Martha and William had a larger than usual audience for their swimming lessons this week: Helen came too. Later in the afternoon, after I’d walked to Jenny’s house, we enjoyed looking at their artistic endeavours too.

A collage, a montage by Martha

Martha’s collage, made from 5p and 1p coins, morphed from a snowman into a polar bear.

Halloween is approaching and the Blood Donor Centre in Manchester was unusually spooky on this occasion.

Enter if you dare

The care staff were talking about the fancy dress party they’d be going to later and my attendant nurse was extolling the virtues of pumpkin pie. My blood flowed like a well-earned cup of tea, which is exactly what I had afterwards, along with too many biscuits.

Giving blood isn’t scary – and you never know when you might need it back

I said I’d meet Liesel at the Craft and Design Museum when I’d finished, a mere 23 minutes away from the Donor Centre by foot, according to Google Maps. I was therefore stunned and taken aback, not to say, immensely disgruntled when, well over halfway to my destination, and not wanting to overshoot, I checked Google Maps again and it told me I still had 20 minutes to go. So, not that I was feeling weak and feeble or anything, I called Liesel to apologise and we agreed to meet at home instead. In other bad news, my Fitbit battery had died. So all those thousands of steps today weren’t counted. In a coffee shop, I fought the blister pack and installed the new battery.

Break the ruling class

We (I mean Liesel) tidied up our flat so that we could accommodate our guests for a practice Thanksgiving meal. Nut roast, Yorkshire puddings, red cabbage, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce that William said was like jelly. Thanks for a fantastic meal, Liesel!

Martha used my PC to type her name. She also pressed other keys that turned the image on the screen upside down, a feature that I’d forgotten even existed!

Helen is here in the UK to surprise her friend Tracey who celebrates a major birthday this week. Helen drove to Somerset, Tracey was stunned into silence and they spent a day at the spa.

A man came by to take away some more of our packing boxes, thanks to Freegle, hooray! The flat is slowly, slowly becoming less clutterered. Still lots of boxes to process, though.

We took William to Chester Zoo again, and on the way, dropped some more stuff off at charity shops, hooray, hooray! We saw all the usual suspects at the zoo, and again, we commented on William’s world basically being an adventure playground.

A man high up in a tree

William weighed it up, but decided not to climb a tree, not even one with low branches that he found ‘in the forest’. Yes, of course he deviated from the carefully constructed path.

A very inviting arbour
William and a tree
Giraffes necking

William slept in the car on the way home again and I collected Martha from Nursery. While she removed the pulp and seeds from her Halloween pumpkin, William was happy to paint a picture of a pumpkin.

Proud Martha (right) with her pumpkin

Alan and Una came round as well and we dined together before Martha and William dressed up to go out Trick or Treating.

Speaking of ‘Treating’, I was hoping to treat the great British public to the wonderful sight of a brand new moustache. I started growing one early for Movember, the leading global organisation committed to changing the face of men’s health.

Well, Liesel didn’t like it so I thought I’d go for the best of three, and seek support from Jenny and Helen. They sided with Liesel. So I decided to go for the best of seven. Huh. I couldn’t even get Martha to lie that she liked the ‘tache. So, off it came, to Liesel’s delight. Given more time, it might have resembled that of a Sikh gentleman’s, or with some tweaking, a Hercule Poirot. No moustachioed Mick for Movember in this manor. Maybe next year.

A Tale of Two Cities, and Beyond

It was the best of times.

Well, it really was, and while the rest of Charles Dickens’s introduction to A Tale of Two Cities is without doubt, beautifully written, it doesn’t apply to our gap year experiences. Long may this feeling of travelling, exploring and enjoying life, continue. Even though we are back home, back to normal and back to a certain amount of responsibility, we are looking at everyday things with a refreshed set of expectations. Great Expectations, you might say, if you wanted to acknowledge to enjoyment and entertainment provided not only by Charles Dickens, but by Tasmin Archer, many years later.

Living in Northenden is indeed slowly becoming the norm. The holiday feeling still persists, even if we do miss the temples, castles, crocodiles, wombats, kiwis, lizards, bullet trains, mangoes and sumo wrestlers.

Helen arrived from Australia, failing in her duty to bring some decent weather. It was quite cold and damp when we returned, and sadly for Helen, the weather hadn’t improved much since then.

Helen and Jenny needed some peace and quiet so they could enjoy their massages. We looked after Martha and William, always a joy but always exhausting. The advantage of being grandparents is, we can hand the children back later in the day, apologise for feeding them too much sugar, and leave the parents to fix the damage caused.

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Martha’s hand

We visited the Northern Den café where Martha asked for “A babyccino with marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and a Flake bar on the side”. Well, no chocolate sprinkles here, nor a Flake: this child is more familiar with Costa’s offerings. And then, while looking for Flakes in the nearby Tesco, Martha spotted the Kinder eggs so that’s what we bought instead. Martha walked home with hers in her right hand and William’s in her left. She enjoyed her molten chocolate, William slept through the whole episode.

Later on, we all had pies at Jenny’s, yep, more pies. Who ate all the pies? Well, I’m trying!

We’re still moving in and before we unpack the last few dozen boxes, we need storage space. That means shelving. A sales rep came round from one of the big bespoke furniture manufacturers, measured up roughly and gave a rough estimate of more than twice our anticipated budget. Instantly, we translated the amount into so many flights to exotic, interesting places. We’ll get shelving installed, but from somewhere more reasonably priced.

Another visitor was the lady who will make Roman blinds for both our living room windows. She was very pleasant and friendly and made us realise how brusque the shelf person had been.

Helen and Jenny took William and Martha out. Both children are very curious about the world. Martha demonstrates this level of interest by asking questions. William’s method is to take things apart. Sometimes, those thngs can be put back together again, but not always. RIP one of our Red Nose Day Comic Relief Red Noses, rent asunder.

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William demolishing an ice cream

Liesel and I went into Manchester to collect our valuables from the Safe Deposit box. This included some cutlery which we needed, as we didn’t otherwise have enough for everyone to eat with, at the same time. Yes, we were invaded by the children, their parents and their Aunt Helen from down under.

Hooray, I did some DIY. As ever, all jobs took three times longer than they needed to, but I got there in the end. We can now hang mugs up in the kitchen. We have a much better storage unit in the bathroom. And the light fitting in the bathroom looks much better. Such a shame, then, that the light bulb we had won’t physically fit inside the globe. Add ‘slightly smaller bulb’ to the shopping list.

The weather was slowly improving and it was a pleasant walk back home from Didsbury one morning, along the Mersey.

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Tree reflected in the Mersey

There were spots and even larger patches of blue sky by now. I donned my hat at times to protect the top of my head from actual beams of sunshine.

I walked past some bindweed happy that my 30+ year war against the stuff in my Chessington garden was now over. And yes, I lost.

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Bindweed

I’m very happy for other people to continue the bindweed wars if they wish, but I’m more convinced than ever that it will one day take over the whole planet.

Myra came up for the weekend, that’s Sarah’s mother, Martha and William’s Great-Granny. We planned to collect her from Stockport station but due to ‘an incident’, trains weren’t stopping there. So we went to pick her up from Manchester Piccadilly. This was no problem but Myra’s ticket was for Stockport so the electronic barriers at Piccadilly wouldn’t let her through. Nor anyone else with the same ticket. Why they didn’t just open the barriers and let everyone through, I don’t know, they just carefully opened the barrier for each passenger, one at a time, very slowly.

Back at Jenny’s, the shouts of ‘Great-Granny’ echoed around the house: we think they both just like saying the words!

In the garden, Martha did several roly-polies, insisting ‘They’re not head-over-heels, Grandad’. I had a go myself, just the once, but, er, I didn’t want to belittle Martha’s achievement: no problem with the disorientation I felt at all, oh no.

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Martha’s roly-poly

In the evening, we went to the Istanbul restaurant for dinner. The food was great, the service was good, the waiters seem to like young children, and we confirmed that William is a fast learner.

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William finishes his ice cream

William drank the last of his ice cream from the bowl, following the example just set by his Grandad (me), to all the other grown-ups’ consternation and dismay. I’m just glad I didn’t lick the bowl, which was my first inclination.

We took Myra to her hotel for the night and collected her in the morning. But she was locked in her room. Once released, it transpired that she had just not pulled the heavy door quite hard enough. Hanging out of the window to get someone’s attention was the best she could do, as there was no phone with which to call Reception.

We watched Martha and William swim really well, before driving over to Dunham Massey, a National Trust property not too far away.

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Old oak tree

It was good to see that Myra and I weren’t the oldest objects here: the oak tree is over 500 years old.

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Foxgloves

It was a gorgeous day for a walk around the gardens. Martha and William sniffed the flowers, admired the bees, ran around, and scootered around while the rest of walked at our various, individual speeds.

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Busy bee
Hosta Fire and Ice

We found a nice little bridge over a stream, ideal for playing Pooh Sticks, so Martha gathered up a few sticks and twigs. Fortunately, the disappointment wasn’t too bad as all the sticks just got stuck in the sludge where the stream used to be. William had no idea what was going on, he just wanted to jump in, I think.

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William looking at a disappointing Pooh Sticks stream

The flowers were very pretty and as usual, I took too many photos of the bright colours. Despite the labels, I can’t remember the proper scientific, or even the common English, names for these yellow and purple blooms.

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Yellow and purple blooms

Some flowers have so many different names. though, in various parts of the country, so I could probably make something up and nobody would know.

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Busy bee on a rare example of Auntie’s Knickers
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Martha being attacked by an Alien Facehugger

When we dropped Myra off at Stockport station the following day, we were surprised and delighted to encounter some frogs.

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Frogs at Stockport Station

This is all to celebrate Stockport’s Giant Leap into the future. Maybe we’ll find more frogs in the city centre on another occasion.

Meanwhile Helen flew off to Edinburgh on a purple aeroplane. Her flight back was on a disappointingly plain white plane. She is the last to have been nearly blown over by the strong wind up on Arthur’s Seat: Sarah and I in the early 1980s, Jenny while she was pregnant. Liesel is looking forward to the experience.

Liesel and I had a very pleasant trip to Ikea. She pointed out that the first route she learned to drive when she moved to the UK was to a branch of Ikea. History repeats itself. The first route she knows here in the north is the way to Ikea.

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The view from Ikea, Ashton under Lyne

Helen was kind enough to cut our hair, as well as Jenny’s, Martha’s and William’s. Liesel and I stayed for lunch before going into Manchester. The International Festival began with a Yoko Ono installation.

In Cathedral Gardens, thousands of people rang Bells for Peace, as requested by Yoko via video. Some of the ceramic bells had been hand-made at workshops during the last few months. Yoko asked us to talk to each other, to talk to the trees and to name the clouds. Well, we were underneath one great big, grey cloud, 100%, so that raised a small laugh.

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Bells for Peace

From Manchester to London, then. This has been the longest period I can remember without visiting our wonderful capital city, since I first moved there as a student nearly half a century ago.

The drive was much more pleasant than anticipated. The roadworks on the M6 have finished. Oh, hang on, no. They’ve just moved further along. We did miss the long purple sausage that used to live on the central reservation during the construction of the so-called ‘smart motorway’.

The first port of call was to visit my periodontist Emily in West Byfleet. Teeth cleaned and polished, I joined Liesel with Helen and Steve in the garden of the nearby Plough pub. (This is our friend Helen of course, not daughter Helen, she’s still up north with Jenny.) I couldn’t eat or drink with a numb and tender mouth but that didn’t prevent me from salivating.

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A tegestologist’s dream wall

We went to Claremont Gardens, probably the closest National Trust property. It was a good place to let my mouth thaw out and to walk around dodging the goose guano. I told one of the geese that I hoped I would be able to eat soon. He said he’d keep his feet crossed for me.

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Feet crossed, Mick

A black swan swam over and said “G’day, mate” and for a moment, I was back in Australia.

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G’day, Black Swan

Steve and I walked around the lake while the ladies, well, Liesel and Helen, sat on a bench for a chinwag, a natter. A great opportunity to take pictures as if I were visiting a strange place for the first time.

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A tree reflected in Claremont Lake

I think we were both waiting for someone to fall out of a boat, especially one of the more obviously unbalanced ones, but we were disappointed.

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Unbalanced boat

The lake is home to mallards and coots as well as the swans and geese. But even where the water was clear, we didn’t spot any fish. Helen’s Dad, Nigel, who lives in Ewell, had very kindly offered to accommodate me and Liesel for a week so we rubbed our hands while planning how best to pester him.

A long anticipated visit to an exhibition in London dragged us out of bed quite early. Something we really didn’t need to see as soon as we left Waterloo Station was a seagull tucking into a struggling pigeon. We had been in London with Helen and Steve the day we witnessed a heron swallow a baby duck too. Coincidence?

The British Museum was hosting the Edvard Munch exhibition, Love and Angst. As an artist, obviously he was a tortured soul, that’s a given, but he produced much more than The Scream. I for one was hoping for more examples of that work, but there were just two versions here, buried in the middle of the display, potentially easy to miss.

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The Scream, woodprint, Edvard Munch

He liked red skies, but ladies’ long, red hair, he found threatening. Probably the saddest painting was The Sick Child.

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The Sick Child, Edvard Munch

His 15-year old sister, Sophie, died from TB, and his Aunt Karen is mourning. Karen had looked after Edvard and his family following the earlier passing of his mother.

We caught a bus to the British Library to see some imaginary maps, based on real maps of old London, old New York and other old maps of old cities. I also found a new book to add to my Kindle list.

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One day, I might be a Manchester Man

I was on my tod walking round and enjoying the Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion exhibition.

Every time I see what he achieved, studied, deduced, created, invented, I become more convinced that he must be a time-traveller from the future. He wrote backwards, from right to left, an unintended side-effect of his journey back through several centuries, I suspect. His scientific mind was way ahead of its time.

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Why seashells on a mountain?

His study of water flow and rivers, on its own, is a solid body of work, even now. Not that water is solid, but you know what I mean.

For the first time, I wore some VR, Virtual Reality, goggles. I didn’t think this technology and my eyesight would be compatible, but this gentle introduction worked well. I was ‘walking’ through an imaginary city with hundreds of skyscrapers, blue sky and the Moon. I held on to the cable so I was tethered to real life, just in case I walked too far and collided with a real wall.

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The VR view is better IRL with VR goggles, the photo doesn’t do the image justice

Surbiton beckoned. I had an appointment with my optician. While there, of course I had to visit my favourite coffee shop, The Press Room.

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The Press Room under construction

Well that wasn’t planned very well. It’s being refurbished and I had to postpone my coffee until later in the day. I met up with another old friend, Marie, in Orpington, for lunch. Oh, and for a coffee. I hope she visits us up in Manchester soon.

On the way back through London, I bit the bullet and did one of my least favourite things. I went shoe shopping. For sandals, to replace the old ones which have apparently acquired a slightly cheesey tang after walking around the tropics for several months.

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Pretty alleyway near Covent Garden
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My dancing shoes don’t need replacement yet, even at this fab shop
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The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist

From Wikipedia: [On the fourth plinth, there is a] recreation of a sculpture of a lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 by Isis, along with other artefacts in the Mosul Museum. [Michael] Rakowitz’s recreation is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representing the destruction of the country’s date industry.

Yes, of course, I had to walk through Trafalgar Square. It, together with Waterloo Station, was London, to me, when I was very young. But I am so pleased I found the rest of the wonderful city later on in life.

And so to Chessington, our own ‘hood, the place I lived for 33 years. It hasn’t changed much, but, ooh, there is a KFC where my old favourite caff, Unique, used to be.

The massage from Dawn was very welcome and well-timed as I had cricked my back somehow a couple of days ago. Afterwards, it felt much better, thanks, Dawn!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced more medical consultations than I’ve had hot dinners. Two hearing tests, bowel cancer test, blood pressure check, ECG, optician, periodontist, prescription renewals and a quick examination of ‘the warty thing’ growing on my leg. (Plus a haircut of course, thanks very much, Helen!) The main lesson that I learned from all this (apart from ‘don’t get old’) was: modern day scientific nomenclature isn’t as rigid, precise nor robust as it once was.

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Bindweedy thing growing through a fence

After Liesel and I had been respectively beautified and fixed by Dawn, the plan was to visit a showroomy place in Crystal Place to look at shelving suggestion. Liesel likes it, but I wasn’t so keen, just looking at pictures online. Unfortunately, the showroom was closed today. Instead we visited John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street. We found the same kind, String Shelving, spoke to a really helpful assistant, and yes, I am now a convert. It looks better in the flesh, with real things on the shelves, not so stark and industrial.

We also had a quick look at all the loudspeakers and other hi-fi components to replace the 30-year old system that we discarded when we moved house, since most bits didn’t work anyway. It’s quite exciting, buying new stuff for a new home! Who knew!

We had a Chinese takeaway at Helen’s house, while watching sport from Wimbledon and from the Tour de France. We drove past our old house and it seems to be occupied by a family of Japanese warriors. There are Samurai swordy things in the window.

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Swords in the window

With grim inevitability, we noticed that our erstwhile neighbours are still parking their cars in the shared drive. Not our problem any more.

We were pleased to catch up with Stella and Ian for coffee and cakey things, in their garden, in the sunshine, in Chessington. Their bathroom is being refitted and that’s a noisy process, but it will be great when it’s finished.

On the way home, I got out at Hook Parade shops to buy something. I visited Hook Café in the library. The owner’s doing very well. He recognised me, thought I’d won the lottery and emigrated!

We dragged Helen out of her house and took her to Hampton Court, where we admired the Rose Garden, the kitchen garden and had a late lunch. It’s an obvious thought, but I think for the first time since we returned, a month ago, I consciously registered just what a brilliant, beautiful, interesting, fascinating and historical place England is. I think living here, we just take it for granted much of the time.

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Some flowery things
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Here’s Abundance, feeding a child from her breasty thing

By mistake I tried to enter the children’s playground without a ticket: it must be a new attraction. I did like the nearby guard dog though.

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Hampton Court’s Guard Griffin
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A leafy thing
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A bee with, literally, a legful

While Liesel and Helen went off to Tesco, I walked to Kingston along the Thames tow path.

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One of Hampton Court’s back gates

It was a pleasant walk in the Sun, not many other people about, but as we’d seen at Hampton Court, there were plenty of bees and butterlies.

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A butterflyy thing

I saw an animal run across the path, too big to be a mouse, but I don’t think it was a rat, there was no tail to speak of. I communed with the blackbirds and robins too, but tried not to disturb the bicycle having a rest.

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Lost or discarded bike

We’d all planned to meet up later on for an evening meal. Queen Anne watched as I sat in Kingston’s Market Place and wrote some words, enjoying the sunshine, watching people, not seeing anyone I knew from the olden days.

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Queen Anne

She doesn’t really look like Olivia Coleman who portrays her in The Favourite but here was another tenuous link back to New Zealand, where we saw the film with Pauline and Andrew.

At Riverside Vergetaria, there were six in our party, Helen, Steve and Nigel, Liesel, me and our Helen. Ritchie, the owner, seemed pleased to see us again after all this time.

I walked to Epsom while Liesel drove Nigel to hospital. The old market here is currently a building site and judging by the angle of the Sun, I was here at about a quarter to midday.

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Epsom market and clock tower
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A celebration of Epsom horse racing

After a brief writing session in the library, I decided to visit the South Bank for a wander. Congratulations to the graduates from the London Business School who were gathered in and around the South Bank Centre, taking photos and looking gorgeous and justifiably proud.

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Selfie of the day

It was great being back here, walking by the river, looking down on the beach, trying not to make eye contact with the street entertainers who were later, sadly, moved on by the police. I found an unoccupied bench, sat and wrote for a while. I think I’ve sold the idea of using a stand-alone keyboard connected to a phone by Bluetooth to a very nice young lady who asked.

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The London skyline

The Turbine Room at Tate Modern has been home to many interesting installations over the years. It was empty today, though, unless the two small children running around were both, appropriately, named Art. Sixteen years ago, we lay down here and basked in fake sunshine and fog, an installation called The Weather Project, by Olafur Eliasson. There’s currently a retrospective show of his work here at Tate Modern. His latest idea is to bring in a million white Lego bricks with which we are invited to build future cities.

The seagull that ate the pigeon a few days ago was back. This time, he caught a pink fish from the Thames and proceeded to chow down here, on the beach.

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Seagull v fish

This is why we love nature so much.

It’s good to see they’re still selling second-hand books underneath Waterloo Bridge by the BFI. The skateboarders and cyclists are still having fun in the Undercroft, below the Royal Festival Hall, a facility that was under threat a few years ago. The Spread Riverside is a Street Food Market, open five days a week, with every kind of street food you can imagine. I’ll definitely be back. I had a small pie today, natch.

We drove to Salisbury to meet up with Sarah, a friend who used to live close by but moved to Exeter some years ago. Salisbury is a good midway point to catch up.

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Salisbury Cathedral

We sat in the Cathedral refectory for over three hours, eating, drinking but mainly talking about our travels.

Salisbury is a busy little town, despite its recent reputation for attempted political assassinations.

In the grounds of the Cathedral, people were resting, playing, sunbathing and picnicking but there were also some works of art. They’re all interesting to look at but it was difficult to view them without something in the background to spoil the view. An old gothic building is OK, but boring old semi-detached houses not so much.

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Sky Circles by Diane Maclean

Maybe ‘art critic’ is not the career for me: that last sentence was written with far too much snobbishness!

We spent the night at The Talbot Inn Hotel in Ripley. A hotel named after Mick from The Style Council in a village named after the heroine from the Alien films: how cool is that?

We stayed on the top floor of this old coaching house, in a room complete with sloping floors, very low ceiling and beams. This is where Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton became ‘good friends’. In fact, our room was named Horatio.

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Lord Nelson, potential room-mate

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Yes, we were being watched and the Martians did soon invade the Earth. We humans won The War of the Worlds, of course, and one of the Martians has been displayed in Woking as a warning to others.

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Martian

There’s also a statue of HG Wells, the author of the book as well as a pub named in his honour. Why Woking? We were here to have breakfast with Rosie but the short drive from Ripley was greatly extended by the difficulty in finding a parking place.

We broke our fast, I felt rotten eavesdropping on Rosie and Liesel talking shop, but so pleased to be well away from office politics.

The drive to Polesden Lacey was quiet, and followed some roads where I have often cycled in the past. We met up with our friends Sandra and Fred, their dog Clyde, Sandra’s Mum Carol who celebrated her birthday yesterday as well as Liesel and Sandra’s former colleagues Vicky and Diane.

One day, Liesel and I will go inside the house at Polesden Lacey, but again, we just went for a walk around the grounds. Last time I was here with Sandra, ten years ago, I did my back in and was off work for three weeks, a personal best for me. I also missed a Mott the Hoople reunion concert at Hammersmith Odeon where I’d seen them in 1973, supported by Queen.

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The view from Polesden Lacey
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An orchid at Polesden Lacey

The rose garden and the lavendar were very aromatic and my sneeze organs began working overtime. The gardeners here though do a really good job.

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Lavendar

And so, after an ice cream with Helen and Steve back at Nigel’s house, Liesel and I set off for home, hoping to arrive before the Sun set.

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The setting Sun as seen from the glamorous M6

Success! What a great drive: we didn’t stop at all, there were no traffic jams, no hold-ups, straight up the motorways, then straight up the stairs and then straight to bed.

Since we’ve been back in England after our adventures overseas, many, many people have told us how well we’re looking and how happy we seem. That is all undoubtedly true, though I for one find it hard to take compliments. I don’t know how to respond when someone says they’ve enjoyed following the blog: all I can manage is a weak, embrarrassed ‘thank you’.

But this morning as we watched Martha and William swimming, I was again reminded of my own inadequacies. Three-year old Martha has, voluntarily, swum further under water than I have in all of my 29 long years on the good Earth. Driving home from swimming, we were overtaken by this gorgeous pair. I think William was, by then, fast asleep in the back!

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Jenny and Martha

The rest of the day consisted of writing, washing, watching cricket and cycling on TV, and relaxing after a fun-packed week down south.

Cricket? Yes, we’re proud to say we witnessed the England Team win the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time in a nail-biting finish against New Zealand, in a game during which a couple of very obscure rules were revealed. Marvellous! One of England’s top players is Joe Root. His One Day International number is 66. So the back of the pyjama top he plays in says ‘Root 66’. Wonderful!

Cycling? Yes, one week into the Tour de France and we’ve caught up. No Mark Cavendish nor Chris Froome this year, so I guess we’re rooting for Geraint Thomas again.