The three of us drove over to Jenny’s on a beautiful Saturday morning. After William’s success last week, we thought it would be nice to watch William and Martha swimming again. We all walked down the road to the pool and were entertained by two young but very competent swimmers for half an hour. I feel good in a special way, I’m in love and it’s a sunny day. Walking back afterwards, we passed some really lovely gardens, well-tended and for a brief moment, I wished we still had a garden.
A lot of daffodils are now past their best-before date, but there are still a few bright patches here and there. Little darlin’, it’s been a long cold lonely Winter, little darlin’, it feels like years since it’s been here. It really is uplifting to be out and about in the sunshine, even if it’s not that warm. It is strange to be walking along, feeling the heat of the Sun on your back while feeling a cold wind on your face.
Later in the day, we met up with the family at Quarry Bank Mill for a quick walk. Martha and William followed the trail which entailed some fun activities such as doing star jumps and even a wheelbarrow race. Desmond has a barrow in the market place, as they say.
The really exciting part, though was at the end. On completion of the nine tasks, they received an Easter egg. I wish I’d picked up an instruction sheet, now. I am the egg-man, they are the egg-men, I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob.
At this point, Martha and William were miles ahead of us so-called grown-ups. They were heading for the playground. We’d had coffee and they’d had ice-cream so the energy levels were high. I get high with a little help from my friends.
In the evening, Liesel, Leslie and I visited our local theatre to watch Northenden Players Theatre Club’s production of Ladies Down Under. It was a full house, well, the capacity is 60 I think, and the play was very well performed. She’s got a ticket to ride. The action mainly takes place near Uluru, and mention was made of staying underground at Coober Pedy, bringing back memories of my trip there in 2002. The set was very clever too, very atmospheric.
Its been a long time, so I paid a visit to Rose Hill Woods, one of Northenden’s best kept secrets. There’s no getting away from the hum of the motorway, but it’s a very peaceful place. Especially when there are no other people about. And I did wonder whether the proximity of the M56 and its noise was responsible for the birds seemingly singing more loudly than usual. And your bird can sing. I’d forgotten how well made the path was too.
This is a memorial to Absalom Watkin who campaigned for electoral reform and for the repeal of the corn laws. It’s amazing to think that a UK government would bring in laws that result in food shortages, huge profits for wealthy landowners along with widespread poverty. It would never happen in the 21st century, of course. Baby you’re a rich man.
Liesel’s a fantastic cook and so it was, she prepared some Indian dishes which we took over to Jenny’s. Don’t worry, we had been invited, it wasn’t a case of just turning up and thrusting our food upon them. It was of course delicious. All together now, all together now. And we had a lot of fun with the children and their marble run. I suspect there are still some marbles under the sofa.
As we’re ‘in training’ for a long walk next month, Liesel and I wandered over to Wythenshawe Park, and walked the boundaries. This Park isn’t as hilly as the long trek we’re planning, but it’s better than nothing. The long and winding road, that leads to your door, will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before. It’s good the see the path being used by cyclists, not so good to see piles of evidence that horses also use it.
We stopped for coffee just before closing time and as we were leaving the park, we saw smoke over by the field with the horses. We think it was probably someone with a disposable barbecue and we suspect the evidence will still be there. Good job there are litter pickers in the park, eh? Help! You know I need someone! Help!
I joined the choir. Yes, I know I can’t sing for toffee but, ‘do something scary every day’. I met Dan last week, had a chat, he kept a straight face as he said I should come along, so I went along. There were far more people than expected, between 50 and 60, and about 10 of us tenors. I’m a tenor! Fortunately, Roger and Nick are very loud tenors and my warblings are nicely drowned out. There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done. Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Sadly, here is some sad news. I’m too emotional to write my own words, so here are details straight from the source.
Over 500 years old, this is the oldest oak in the Dunham Massey deer park: it even predates the historic buildings!
As you can see this special oak is starting to lean towards the moat, this is due to a variety of factors from root compaction to recent storms, as well as the sheer age of this veteran tree.
The Rangers started work in Autumn 2022, thinning some of the older, more ridged branches from the crown of the tree to reduce the sail area, working to prevent the wind from catching it as much as possible. Thinning the top branches has also helped to take some of the weight off, lessening pressure on the root system
Next, in February 2023, they installed a prop to help support the weight of the oak, as this section of the tree will get heavier as the top foliage starts to grow. Help! You know I need someone! Help!
It was another very pleasant walk, again with cold wind in one direction and warm Sun in the other. And I say it’s alright.
Leslie, Liesel and I joined the walks on Wednesday and Thursday, warm Sun, cold wind, not as cold maybe but noticeable. I can’t measure it scientifically, but it seems to me that ever since I had Covid last year, I have noticed the cold much sooner than I used to, even the slightest of cold draughts. Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind, possessing and caressing me.
Sale isn’t that far away, but we’ve seldom been there. We had a lunch date with some folks from the choir, and their spouses. Spouses? Spice? And all the people that come and go stop and say hello. Alanya in Sale was very nice and before we went in, we had a wander around the town. Lots of charity shops and betting shops, even a games arcade.
Liesel and I left Mom at home while we went for an early evening walk along the river. It was very pleasant, mainly because there were so few other people around! Not even on the golf course. In fact, more than pleasant. In fact, it was so warm, we took our coats off, and that’s a first for this year. I also should have worn shorts. Let’s hope for a nice, long, warm Summer. Here comes the sun king, everybody’s laughing, everybody’s happy, here comes the sun king.
One major disappontment this week. One day, I went out for a walk and left the pedometer at home so there is no step count available. Not once, but twice that day. This will severely affect any statistical analysis that may ensue.
It’s been on the to-do list for a long time, and with the luxury apartment to myself for a few weeks, this is the perfect opportunity to sort out the paperwork. I can leave piles of paper all over the floor. Organised chaos for a while! Literally thousands of sheets, mostly A4 size, have been sifted, sorted then retained, recycled or shredded. The shredding process is quite time-consuming, noisy, messy but ultimately satisfying. Maybe this could become my new money-making side-hustle. Anyone need something shredded? 10p a sheet?
There is a mountain of cardboard to be chucked out too. Sadly, some of what I thought were empty shoe boxes contain precious possessions of Liesel’s, so I’m not recovering as much space as anticipated.
Getting out for a walk has proved more challenging this week, as Winter is once again getting the last word in before going away completely. On Wednesday it started snowing, just a flurry, a smattering of snowflakes, but we still walked along the river as far as Simon’s Bridge and back. The new shops and flats in Palatine Road will, I’m sure, be nice when they’re finished, but right now, it just looks like someone is playing with oversize Meccano.
I thought I’d drift off to sleep listening to a radio drama. How long was it? According to BBC Sounds: 1339 mins! Well, it was really only 19 minutes. Three people find themselves trapped in a pitch black, flooding mine. Is this the end? ‘Danger’ or ‘The Mine Play’ is regarded as the BBC’s first ever radio drama. Originally broadcast live in February 1923, when the audience was invited to listen in the dark for maximum effect. This version was re-recorded to mark the play’s 50th anniverary. Written by Richard Hughes.
I did listen in the dark, and It was quite spooky, so it probably didn’t help me fall asleep.
In Anchorage, Liesel has been working in the office a couple of days. How she gets any work done with a view like this is beyond me.
Speed skaters encounter a moose while the mountains compete with blue skies for your attention.
I picked Martha and William up from school and both told me it had been snowing earlier in the day. We went to a different soft play place this time, Let Loose. Apart from the slides, the main attraction is the slushies. Both wanted one, a mix of Red and Blue. ‘Oh you mean slushies?’ queried the sales girl. ‘Yes, what did I say?’ ‘You asked for smoothies.’ I realised I’d probably never asked for slushies before, anywhere.
I know it’s there for safety reasons, but it’s really hard getting decent photos through the mesh. But this really is Martha and William up there.
Whingeing about the weather is what makes the world go round. While I don’t mind the cold, and I don’t mind wind, one thing that really makes me cross is cold wind blowing in one ear and out the other. But that’s what was on offer in Wythenshawe this week. Two days in a row. Cold wind blowing from left to right, regardless of whichever direction I was walking in.
The snow was never really heavy enough to show up in a photo, so here is a picture of flakes of paint thanks to some decorators in the shopping centre in Wythenshawe. On the second day, one guy was half-heartedly sweeping up their mess.
Mixed results in technical news. I couldn’t quite get the old disk drive to boot up into Windows 7 on the laptop. So close, but it gave up with scary-looking error messages that weren’t on-screen long enough to read. This was all way outside my comfort zone.
On the other hand, I was able to recover lost files from the recently zapped SD card. I guess I’ll never know whether I’ve got every single picture back, but I’m happy with the results. Message to self: backup the photos every time you take one.
This week on the old Wythenshawe Radio show, I marked International Women’s Day by playing mostly female singers. Catch up here.
Agatha Christie is a very popular writer, famous for stories featuring Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. In 1926, following the death of her mother and marital problems, her husband said he wanted a divorce, she disappeared for eleven days. Her car was found at Newlands Corner, near Guildford, and it looked for a while as though she might have drowned in the nearby Silent Pool. Both of these venues have been visited during my bike rides, all those years ago. And of course, I grew up in Guildford. But, while doing research for this paragraph, I discovered something really interesting. Agatha Christie shares her birthday with Liesel. That is arguably more exciting than the discovery that my daughter Jenny has the same birthday as Kylie Minogue.
Most Saturday mornings, Liesel goes out for a coffee with the ladies of the WI, at a nice place in Didsbury. This week, I didn’t walk with her. Instead, I took a bus into Manchester. What a busy, thriving city Manchester is on a Saturday morning. Lots of entertainment in the form of buskers.
This chap playing drums was quite loud, but the others seemed to have located themselves just the right distance apart, so that none interfered with the music of others. There was a pair of saxophone players, there was a tenor belting out an aria that I didn’t recognise and I briefly accompanied the group singing UB40 songs. No photos of these because I didn’t have any more coins to throw into their respective hats or guitar cases, but they were all good.
I’d come into Manchester specifically to see Tom Hingley and Gordon MacKay perform at HMV, to mark the release of their new album, Decades. Which, of course, I had to purchase. And of course, Tom signed it!
The songs are pretty good, especially the one celebrating a visit of Muhammad Ali to Abingdon, Tom and Gordon’s home town. The champion boxer visited several times, keeping in touch with a local man who’d campaigned to have his boxing titles reinstated after they’d been taken away for his refusal to fight in the Vietnam war.
While in HMV, of course I looked at the records. I have no intention of buying any vinyl again, but I was intrigued to see a double album of David Bowie’s concert at St Monica in 1972. £49.99. Blimey O’Crikey! Fifty quid? I bought that record as a bootleg from Kensington Market nearly half a century ago, for a lot less than half a ton!
My plan was to go home afterwards and knit some words together in the form of a blog post. But an invitation arrived to join the family for dinner, an offer that I couldn’t refuse.
I went home, and later, Liesel and I drove over the Cheadle Hulme where we met Jenny, Liam, Martha and William at Gusto for a very enjoyable meal. On this occasion, I made sure not to order too much food. In fact, I paced myself so well, I was able to indulge in a dessert.
You’re looking at that photo and thinking it’s not very good, right? Let me have a whinge. The camera app on my phone recently updated, and it works differently. I used to be able to adjust the brightness of a picture easily and quickly, now it’s almost impossibly difficult. Touching that part of the screen now does something totally different. So, by the time I press the shutter, the composition is totally different. When looking at a potential picture, I see a yellow square, a white circle as well as the two shutter buttons. In the great scheme of things, this is still as wonderful technology of course, but why do ‘they’ have to keep ‘improving’ things?
So last week’s post was a day late because when I arrived home that night, I didn’t feel like doing anything else! I was too full and, well, lazy.
I enjoyed another bus ride into Manchester just a couple of days later. It was time again to go and donate another armful of blood.
For some reason, the trek from the bus stop in Oxford Road to the donation centre took me through the grounds of Manchester Royal Infirmary on this occasion. Of course, as soon as I saw this sign, I looked up. No helicopter in sight, but I suspect I would have heard one before I saw it, if there had been one.
As I was a few minutes early, I wandered around aimlessly and came across this graffti. I’m not sure whether it’s promoting the popular sitcom from the 1970s, or the Tony Bennett song, or maybe the graffiti artist was just having an excellent day.
Giving blood was no problem, apart from I was only allowed one packet of biscuits afterwards. I am composing a letter of complaint to the authorities.
Liesel had some work to do, so she missed out on the regular midweek walk around Northenden. I enjoyed it though, along with my coffee afterwards, plus, it was warm enough to sit outside the café on this occasion.
Later in the day, we collected Martha and William from school and brought them home, where they both finished decorating their scallop shells.
These beautiful works of art are now enhancing the children’s rooms at home, to the detriment of our own shelves… There was plenty of cutting paper and gluing and pipe-cleaner wrangling as well.
We had tacos for dinner plus pear crumble which the children didn’t even try. Uh? Oh well: more for me!
To celebrate our wedding anniversary, we drove over to Harrogate for afternoon tea and to spend the night. It took over two and a half hours to drive there, much longer than anticipated. I’m blaming technology. Why? Let me have a whinge. The Google Maps app on my phone recently updated, and it seems to have reset some settings without my intervention. Liesel asked why we were following country roads all the way. When I checked, I discovered that ‘Avoid Freeways’ was ticked. Well, first, we call them ‘Motorways’ in this country. And while I have used the option to avoid motorways in the past, the last time we went anywhere, we were definitely using motorways. In the great scheme of things, this is still wonderful technology of course, but why do ‘they’ have to keep ‘improving’ things?
Even though it was a long drive, we did admire the countryside, especially when it stopped raining and we weren’t being sprayed by passing big lorries. We parked up and checked in, then went downstairs for our delicious tea, thank you very much Pauline and Andrew for sending us the voucher for Christmas!
We filled up but agreed that we would have liked more sandwiches and fewer cakes, but the tea kept coming, and we were sitting close but not too close to the fire. It was a real fire too, to the point that coal or a log or something nearly fell out of the fireplace onto the rug, thereby potentially burning the whole place down.
We were at the Old Swan Hotel on Harrogate, and this is where Agatha Christie was staying when she went ‘missing’ that time. She had no memory of those eleven days afterwards, so it will probably always remain a mystery, how did she get from Surrey to Yorkshire?
After tea, we had no desire to eat anything else for the rest of the day, so we had a nice quiet evening in our room. The view wasn’t much, and my plans to do some writing while Liesel was working came to nought. Well, so did Liesel’s plans do do some work, if you must know. But I am enjoying my latest book, Wolf by Mo Hayder.
I’m not having much luck with technology lately, and there is more bad news to come. The battery in my Kindle needs replacing. I’ve done that before, it’s a slow, pernickety job, but I know I can do it. So, a new battery has been ordered.
In the morning, we enjoyed a big breakfast, a bit of continental and a small cooked breakfast each too. Plus coffee from a pot that loved dribbling all over the pristine table cloth. Just can’t get decent spouts these days.
The rest of the morning, we wandered around the town of Harrogate. It’s hilly. I would love to show you pictures of trees that had blown down in the strong winds overnight. And some of the local buildings. And Betty’s, the famous tea rooms. We didn’t go in because, as my photo would have shown, there was a very long queue, even at 11 in the morning. And the selfie of the day.
I’m not having much luck with technology lately, and there is more bad news to come. While writing this and uploading photos, my phone decided to turn itself off. Its battery had gone from 15% charge to zero in a very short space of time. Yes, the phone too probably needs a new battery. Yes, alright, I should have acted on the warning message it gave me a while ago.
But, in the process of powering down, the SD card got zapped(*) and I have lost all the photos stored on it. Most have been backed up of course, but not for a couple of weeks. So, there is no photographic evidence that we walked around Harrogate. Well, there might be on the local CCTV cameras and we might have inadvertently photobombed other people’s pictures, but all the wonderfully composed and exposed photos of mine are but bits of dust on the SD card. (*) I assume this is the reason I can no longer access those photos, I can’t think of any other reason, and all the music on that SD card is still accessible.
And while I am happy to change the battery in the Kindle, I’ll have to get a professional to replace the battery in the phone.
The drive back home was much faster. We used motorways. And we saw the long, long queue heading in the opposite direction towards Leeds. So glad we weren’t part of that!
We have a guest for the weekend. Liesel collected Rosie from Stockport station around 10pm, by which time, I was asleep in bed.
On this week’s radio show, I had a chat with Dave from Thrive Manchester, and the songs were mostly lists of things, people, dances, events, not forgetting the Compleat Works of Shakespeare. Catch up here.
We stayed at Fountains Abbey for a week altogether and for some of that time, we had the whole place, the whole estate, to ourselves. To the point that when, on Boxing Day, we encountered millions upon millions of other visitors, we felt our land was being invaded. Such an outrage.
Fountains Abbey is bigger than I’d anticipted. Other than the roof being missing, it’s been well looked after.
And here we are, equally well preserved, in front of the abbey. We spent a lot of time walking up and down its corridors and aisles. It was very special not seeing other people, just pigeons, crows and pheasants.
We have no idea where the building materials came from, but the different colour sandstones look much more vivid in real life than in this picture.
It was quiet and peaceful, just the sounds of the birds. And quite atmospheric too with the medieval mist rising from the grass.
We walked along the path by the River Skell enjoying the peace and tranquility. Pheasants were everywhere, many more males than females for some reason. We even saw bits of pheasant here and there, presumably the body parts that the sparrow hawks couldn’t digest. We saw a couple of red kites showing off their soaring and gliding skills in the sunshine.
Odd buildings attracted our attention as we walked to the gate leading to the main car park. We didn’t go through because it wasn’t obvious how to get back. Plus, there were ordinary people on the other side, and we didn’t need to mix with them.
The Serpentine Tunnel was dark and damp and, as the name suggests, sinuous, so you never knew how much further there was to walk. The view from higher up was well worth the effort of the climb. Even if I was a bit puffed out.
Back at Fountains Hall, there’s a very moving war memorial
It’s probably the wrong time of year to see bees, but we found a home for them.
Joe Cornish has been taking photographs of the Abbey and the grounds for a few years now, since before the pandemic, and there was a display of his work inside the Mill. Apart from anything else, this was a reminder that I really should break out my real camera again rather than relying on the faithful phone for all my photographic needs.
We never came across the tree with this gnarly old man striding in its roots. But I’m sure we’ll be back one day, there are several more acres in the grounds to explore.
The bad news is, Liesel wouldn’t let me scratch my name next to this 200-year old graffiti.
Oh no, more bad news. Inside the Hall, we found this Christmas tree with lots of presents underneath, but Liesel wouldn’t let me open any of them.
Christmas day was unusual. We spent the day snacking on crackers, cheese, chocolate, cheese and crackers, fruit, bread, crisps, snacks, so that when it was time for the more conventional, official Christmas meal, we both felt full and well, we couldn’t be bothered. So we had our nut loaf and all the trimmings the following day: maybe we’ve started a new tradition. But really, those snacks just shouldn’t be so tasty, filling and more-ish.
Having spent a week on our own, just the two of us, Darby and Joan, it was nice to venture out and meet people. Not just any old people, but an old school-friend. And not even a school-friend of mine. Yvonne was my sister, Pauline’s buddy from school, all those decades ago. Yvonne and Ian met us in Sawley, for a pub lunch. It was nice to catch up, even though we’d only met in August, with Pauline and Andrew.
Our week in Yorkshire came to an end and we had to check out really early. On the way home, we diverted to Mother Shipton’s Cave but as always, we’d planned well: it was closed. But we did catch a glimpse of Knaresborough Viaduct, even if we didn’t take time to explore. We’ll be back, I’m sure.
It’s always an anti-climax of course going home after a short break. Nothing much to report here. Oh, except my old PC has decided to no longer cooperate. It won’t turn on. Yes, it was plugged in. I even changed the fuse in the plug. I hoovered up 3 cwt of dust from inside the case, wondering if maybe the thing wouldn’t turn on because the fans were stuck. No. I suspect it needs a new power supply unit. Which is annoying, because there are only a few things I need to transfer to my (now not so) new laptop. But the main thing I use the old PC for is to print. We have a very old printer that is not compatible with Windows 11. I spent far too long trying to find a way to get my laptop to connect with the old printer. In the end, I ordered a new printer.
I enjoyed watching the New Year’s fireworks from Sydney, a display probably visible from space.
Of course, we weren’t there in person on this occasion and I couldn’t see Helen and Jenny in the crowd. Mind you, I only have a small TV screen, it was dark there and as it turns out, they were round at a friend’s place anyway.
The radio show this week was entitled Happy New Year! I prepared it before we went away, that was a hectic couple of days! You can catch the show here. If I were to say that my Christmas show was repeated on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 not once, not twice but four times in the end, is that a humble-brag? Should I take that as a vote of confidence?
I didn’t realise that the link to the radio show doesn’t always appear in the emails alerting you to another exciting episode of these Antics, so apologies for that. And a jolly Happy New Year to you.
I think Martha enjoyed using the sewing machine. Oma helped her make a skirt using fabric that she likes, featuring Mirabel from the film Encanto.
While Liesel was sewing the more technically difficult parts, Martha and I played a half-hearted game of skittles in our long hallway.
On taking Martha home, we were invited in for a minute. We left several hours later, having joined the family and the other grandparents for pizza. Both the children were in great form, a reminder that going to school really does sap their energy.
I do like seeing the multitude of colours of the fallen leaves: crimson, yellow, amber, gold, beige, chestnut, red, ochre and, when the Sun’s illuminating the ground, glowing and even flaming in hue. The thought of shuffling through the piles of leaves isn’t as attractive as it used to be, I am more aware of what might be lurking, hidden in the depths.
Autumn is coming into our block of flats. I think a couple of leaves blow in every time someone opens the door. Can I be bothered sweeping them out again? No, don’t be daft.
Watching the cyclists and pedestrians in Northenden, still wearing what might be thought of as light, Summer clothing, is very reassuring. Sometimes I feel odd being the only one still out and about in shorts and a t-shirt (not that I’m bovvered) but until it becomes really cold, I don’t really need to put on more layers.
And it’s so peaceful when a convoy of electric vehicles drives by, so much quieter than the infernal combustion engines that most cars, including ours, still possess.
It still surprises me that whatever time we go out for a walk, locally, we see as many buses that declare themselves ‘Out of Service’ as we see actually in service, taking passengers from place to place. I’d be interested to see the drivers’ shift patterns: do they really start and stop at any hour of the day?
Liesel and I haven’t been out litter-picking for a while, we really should get back to it. But recently, we saw a few young men on our patch, picking litter while wearing hi-visibility vests. Is that the new uniform for Wythenshawe Waste Warriors? Or were they on community service? Neither of us felt brave enough to ask, just in case they were indeed axe murderers.
Liesel wandered along the road for this year’s flu jab. I was scheduled to get one as well, but my appointment was cancelled. As an official old fart, the recipe for my flu jab is slightly different, and the pharmacy had run out.
A partial eclipse of the Sun was visible from the UK, but I assumed we wouldn’t see anything because of cloud cover. But no, it was clear enough. I took a couple of pictures with my phone. The Sun was far too bright really, but, somehow, by luck, the phone camera’s internal workings conspired to present a much fainter image of the eclipsed Sun.
It’s that time of year again. So glad I don’t have to walk into fresh spiders’ webs as I plod up people’s garden paths early in the morning. But the engineering involved is still pretty impressive.
I was quite happy to visit the local community library to pick up a book that Liesel had reserved. I took her library card. But of course, it was about to expire, so I had to have the ticket updated. While there, I asked about mine. It too had expired but the volunteer assistant renewed it for me. So, what book? It describes the Coast to Coast walk, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, a trek that we’re thinking of doing next year.
In the library, a young lady was setting up a story time for young children. She had animals. I was invited to stay. I didn’t want to take up space, but I did ask the librarian what sort of animals. ‘She has cockroaches’. ‘I’m outta here’, I replied, after a millisecond’s careful consideration. No need to see cockroaches that close up thanks, we’ve seen plenty in the wild, in the tropics.
These flowers outside the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Assembly Hall were glowing in the sunshine. It seemed possible to squeeze the orange juice out them.
My other errand was to drop off a bag of plastic at the Co-op, the plastic that our local authority can’t or won’t accept for recycling. I felt very welcome at Quirky Misfits when this chap greeted me at the door.
Inside, I was introduced to a corn snake. A 5-week old that was having a kip in the tank. More zzzz than ssss on this occasion.
The snake attracted the attention of all the children that came in, too. Much more interesting than the cockroaches would have been, I think, and I look forward to seeing it again when it’s fully grown, about five feet in length.
The Wednesday walk was disrupted for me, pleasant though it was. I went to the Post Office to post a letter for Liesel. I waved my phone at the machine to pay, and it was rejected. A second attempt failed too. Luckily, I had cash in my pocket, probably left over from a couple of weeks ago when I had to pay the barber with cash.
It’s along story, but the problem was nothing to do with my phone, or the card, or the bank. It’s because I had the temerity to delete my Google account last night. It gave me a warning, a long list of things that might be affected, but I wasn’t concerned about any of those things. I’m pretty sure Google Pay wasn’t on that list. What a shame though that the only way I could find to stop Google nagging me to pay for more cloud storage when I didn’t even want the free storage, was to delete the whole account.
And sever the links to who knows how many other features. Grrr.
My card now works. I tested it in in the coffee shop just along a bit from the dental practice where Liesel went for a scan. But then I tried to use Google Maps to find a route home. It couldn’t find one. Again, the problem was that this app was connected to my now deleted Google account. I’ll never understand why this should prevent it from finding a route home though. Yes, it won’t be recording where I’ve been, but that’s OK, I don’t care that they don’t know where I’ve been. Grrr
Oh and another thing. Yes, we went to Altricham. But at one point, we were in Timperley and/or Trafford and/or Sale. I think it’ll be a long time before I sort out my Manc geography, with all these places and place names that overlap. I thought Chessington and Hook were confusing enough: where is the boundary?
‘Two coffees please. I’m sitting over there and he’s sitting over there.’
It’s not that Liesel and I weren’t talking to each other, it’s just that Liesel was sitting over there with the ladies, and I’m not a member of the Women’s Institute. So after enjoying my coffee, I walked home from Didsbury, in the sunshine, a perfect, colourful Autumn wander.
At home, I am still in battle with Google. All I want to do is close or delete the account and sever all Google’s tentacles that inveigle their way into far too many aspects of my online life. But, according to one site:
“… That said, Google Photos app has its quirks. Apart from not providing a satisfactory user interface for device folders (other albums in the gallery), it’s difficult to delete photos. Sure, you can just press the delete button, but that removes the photo from everywhere, the phone as well as the cloud storage.”
Which is exactly what I’ve been worried about. So to avoid this, I have to move the photos on my phone to a secret new folder that Google doesn’t know about. And make an external backup. Plus, you can’t ‘just press the delete button’ because there isn’t one, not in an obvious place anyway.
It’s reminiscent of my 30-year battle with bindweed. You have to get rid of every molecule or it just comes back. Trying to delete a Google account is also like an annoying game of whack-a-mole. Just as you think you have a handle on the situation, up pops another message saying what else will be affected. Or, more prominently, if you want more storage, it will cost so much per month. I don’t. I don’t even want the 15 GB free storage I seem to have acquired. Please release me, let me go.
For some light relief, I dipped into the news. You’ll be the first to know when it’s my turn to be Prime Minister for fifteen minutes. Or I could take a leaf out of the government’s handbook and blame everything on Putin’s war in Ukraine.
In other news. Helen has been allowed to donate blood in Australia at last. They’ve not wanted English blood for decades because of mad cow disease. The reward was crisps and gluten-free crackers. I much prefer our custard creams and bourbons and shortbread biscuits. Her new pad is slowly taking shape, building furniture, shopping at Costco with a friend, what an adventure!
For October it’s been quite warm, which makes it easier to get up and go out for a walk around the neighbourhood. We joined two well-being walks this week.
This advert caught my eye and made me chuckle but I probably won’t be shopping there any time soon.
Liesel and I collected Martha and William from school later than usual this week. William had been at After School Club while Martha was studying Performing Arts. Ironic then that at home, it was William who took to the stage to perform a couple of songs using Makaton signs.
No, it’s not really a stage, it’s just the coffee table that he’s not meant to stand on.
Mummy and Daddy went out so we fed the children, and tried our best to make sure they were in bed and asleep at a reasonable time. It was a real pleasure reading to them, something we haven’t done for a long time. And really fun to watch William making up a story that involved the fate of his mouse. Poor old mouse. As he moved around William’s bedroom, the mouse had to fight off the fox that threatened to eat him for dinner. Then after climbing the door, the Gruffalo threatened to eat the mouse for dinner. Mouse escaped, thank goodness, only to be eaten by the snake who was carefully concealed under a blanket.
Not a good day for mouses really, as I found a lost Mickey in Wythenshawe.
Well, strictly speaking, it’s probably a young child who’s gone missing, we know exactly where Mickey ended up.
Here’s a tip. If you want to meet someone in Wythenshawe Forum, agree to meet under the clock. It’s just as iconic as the clock at Waterloo Station.
While I was in the Forum, Liesel was walking around Wythenshawe Park with her WI buddies. I’m so glad she shot some wildlife.
The radio show this week is about Honey and bees and for some reason, it took a lot longer than it should have to edit to the right length. Got there in the end though!
I fell asleep to the internal echoes of Eddi Reader only to be woken up three short hours later.
Skip this paragraph if you like because here I will list all the things that went wrong. A proper whingefest if you like. I’d booked a taxi for 3am. The service had been totally reliable on previous occasions, but today, there was no sign of a cab. The three of us (me, Liesel and Leslie) were standing outside like an ugly flytipped sofa, waiting, waiting. No message, no email. After ten minutes, I went online and booked an Uber. He was five minutes away, so that’s not too bad. I went online again to cancel the original cab. Just as he turned up. I told him he was too late, and he replied by saying ah yes, the cancellation had just arrived. Now if they’d sent a message at 3am saying he was going to be 15 minutes late, that would have been ok. But again, a lack of communication caused a problem. A minor problem, yes, but an unnecessary one. On the way to the airport, I looked at my email to check my electronic boarding pass was still there. It wasn’t. Yesterday, I clicked the option to add it to my Google Wallet. Ok, it said. Well, I don’t know whose Google Wallet it was sent to, but it wasn’t mine. And it seems that in the process, it deleted the email because, well, obviously, I shouldn’t need it any more. I restored the email to my inbox, and took a screenshot of the QR code. Just in case. Not my problem I know, but I did feel sorry for the lady in the next queue to ours who wanted to go to Nigeria but she didn’t have the relevant travel documents with her so she wasn’t able to check in to her flight. So of course, I started to worry that I too might need extra documentation to travel to Germany. Security is always a lottery. This time, the Fast Track Security queue, for which you can pay an extra £5 to join, was upstairs, while Normal Security was downstairs. Today, we had to remove all electronics, and, for the first time ever, this included toothbrushes and shavers, anything with a battery inside. But we didn’t have to take our shoes off. Although I found out later that Leslie had had a pretty good pat-down and had had to remove her footwear. I groaned when I realised that again my bag had been pulled aside. Inside, in the depths of my toiletry bag, the officer found a tiny tube of toothpaste. So small that I hadn’t seen it when I recently repacked the bag. So small that it had somehow got through security when I flew back from Anchorage last time. ‘Let’s fill our water bottles’ suggested Liesel. But could I find a water fountain at Manchester Airport Terminal 1? Nope. I’ll just fill the water bottles from the water jugs at one of the coffee shops then. Nope. If you want tap water at one of these places, you have to line up and ask for it. What else? Oh yes. I don’t like escalators when the handrail moves at a different speed to the stairs. You either fall over forwards or keel over backwards. You don’t? Oh, it’s just me then. Actually, I felt nowhere near as panicky as I had on my last flight. The queue for Leslie to check in was long, yes, but we could see it was making progress. And, we had plenty of time.
Liesel and I took it in turns to visit a couple of the coffee outlets for a sort of breakfast. Yes, we had lots of time to pass before our flight. Too much time maybe, but I wasn’t going to worry about that.
The flight from Manchester to Frankfurt was uneventful and I kept my beady eye on the steward as he handed out the chocolates. The plan was for Liesel and me to escort Leslie to Frankfurt and make sure she caught the right plane back home to Anchorage. This we did and, bonus, she didn’t have to go through security a second time at Frankfurt. It was a quick farewell in the end and I think Liesel and I will both miss having her Mom around.
We now had a couple of hours to kill at Frankfurt Airport before catching our train. I thought I’d seen enough of the place after several bus tours around the ginormous airport over the last few months, but no, there is plenty more to see. The border official let us through without any awkward questions: nothing about Covid nor stuff we were bringing into the country and, I’m glad to say, no awkward questions about paperwork that we didn’t know we needed.
This band of merry musicians put a smile on everyone’s faces as they oompahed through the airport.
The railway station was a reasonably long walk away but we were glad to get the steps in. At least it was all under cover, we didn’t have to go to the outside world at all.
There are designated smoking areas which of course we’re no longer used to, so every now and then, we’d walk through a cloud of carcinogens. The worst place was on the platform for our train, so we didn’t hang around there longer than necessary.
It’s just over two hours on the train from Frankfurt to Freiburg and the time flew by. I read a good chunk of my book and glanced out of the window now and then, but the landscape didn’t really engage as it passed by at 160 kph.
Our hotel was not even a ten minute walk from Freiburg station. Yes, we’re in a hotel, a Best Western, also known as Hotel Victoria. We settled into our very comfortable room in what is one of the most eco-friendly hotels in one of the greenest cities in Germany. Allegedly. All the power in the hotel is generated from solar panels on the roof, wind and, er, the burning of woodchips.
We dined at a Morrocan restaurant just round the corner and we were surprised that they only took payment in cash. So, while they kept Liesel hostage, I went for a walk to get some money out of a machine. The machine conveniently located next door didn’t recognise my card. The machine all the way back at the station did so I took out as many euros as I was allowed. On my return, I was pleased to see that they hadn’t got Liesel to do the washing up for them.
Rain had been forecast for most of our time here, so the sunshine on Sunday morning was a bonus. We walked into town, the old town, where we admired the architecture, commented on and tried not to trip on the cobbles, noticed and tried not to impede the progress of the many cyclists in town.
The Visitor Information office is in the old town hall, next door to the new town hall. I downloaded an app that guided us around the town: at least the commentary was in English. There’s a lot of history here, including an old Roman wall, very similar to the one in Chester, what’s left of it.
I mentioned the cobbles. Most streets are cobbled, and there are smaller stones at the sides, for pedestrians. In places, there are mosaics. This is one of the first to catch my eye, outside the town hall, der Rathaus:
Guildford is just one of Freiburg’s several twin towns and sister cities in and beyond Europe, each of which is marked by one of these mosaics, contructed using pebbles from the nearby Rhine. Guildford has been home to such luminaries as Nobel-prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, code-breaker Alan Turing and is the birth place of musician Mike Rutherford, DJ Tony Blackburn, and, er, me.
While sitting in the square waiting for the 12 o’clock chimes, we were mobbed by a swarm of sparrows. They detected my phone and were about to depart but they were just a second too late… The main danger though was bonkers. They’re like conkers, only they fall out of trees and bonk you on the head. There are chestnut and horse chestnut trees all over town, you can’t walk anywhere without encountering chestnuts or their spiky cases.
Oh look. In my bag I have some salt-peter, some sulphur and some charcoal. I know, I think I’ll go out and leave these random chemicals unattended on the stove. Boom. I’ve invented gunpowder. Actually, this story is attributed to a monk, Bertold the Black, who supposedly lived in Freiburg in the 14th century. There is a statue here honouring the monk for his invention, even though the Chinese beat him to it by several centuries.
Other features that you can’t avoid in Freiburg are the tram lines and the little canals alongside most of the roads. These drainage ditches are dry most of the time, and if you’re unlucky enough to fall into one, you’re destined to marry a Freiburger. Children play with little wooden boats when there is flowing water in these Bächle.
We never made use of the service but we saw quite a few of the bendy trams in Freiburg. The Cathedral tower is an impressive 116 metres tall, and the building is, by coincidence, 116 metres in length. Just as you’re marvelling at the architecture and the stone masonry, you turn round and encounter some absolute kitsch, totally out of place.
Before you ask, no we did not buy a souvenir cuckoo clock.
No new buildings in Freiburg can be higher than the top of the Cathedral tower. There are over 100 gargoyles protecting the fabric of the building from the worst of the rain. Most are monsters or people, but this one is the funniest.
We admired many of the mosaics that remain outside shops even though the shop itself may have changed usage over the years. I don’t mind posing for a photo so I was delighted to sit next to this knife.
This chap is just one of many who we saw embedded in the walls around town. The steps here lead up a hill which we decided to pursue on another occasion. And sadly, even the most aesthetically pleasing of towns and cities have their unfair share of graffiti artists. Arstist? Vandals.
Here is another mosaic that we liked, and then we found out its significance. You wouldn’t want to be taken to The House of the Black Cat, because that’s where the local executioner, the hangman, lives.
Of course I checked the window display of this record shop, and was surprised but mostly disappointed to find absolutely no reference to David Bowie. So my theory needs a slight adjustment: Every record shop still existing in the UK has, in its window display, either a David Bowie record or some other David Bowie merchandise.
By contrast, the destroyed synagogue’s memorial fountain is quite moving. Its shape reflects the ground plan of the old synagogue and the mirror-smooth surface is the perfect place for reflection. Literally.
We dined at a Thai restaurant just round the corner from our hotel. It was Sunday and we hadn’t anticipated that most places would be closed. There was nothing wrong with Thai Chi, for that is what it was called. The experience led me to suggest that more restaurants should have model villages inside their dining tables.
Monday started with another big breakfast in the hotel before we set off through the town and back to the stairs that we’d abandoned yesterday.
The Monday market was set up in the Cathedral square, with lots of well presented, fresh produce, 27 types of ham, 49 species of sausage, 56 varieties of cheese and best of all, 19 types of locally baked bread.
We didn’t buy anything now, but later on, on the way back, we did buy a punnet of raspberries.
I would like to tell you how many steps there were, but I soon lost count. Eventually they gave way to a path which was quite a steep slope. We were determined to reach a certain point though, however long it took, however many times we had to pause to catch our breath or just to admire the view over the town. And the views were spectacular. We kept a close eye on the Cathedral tower, waiting for the moment when we would be looking down on it. We were gaining altitude pretty fast, or so our bodies thought, but that tower was keeping its place.
On passing a small group of students, we realised that we too could have taken the funicular railway but we’re glad we didn’t! Nor did we ride it back down later on.
There’s a playground on the hill too, in which the equipment resembles weapons of war. Bizarre, I know. The cannon could be used as a slide or a tunnel. The poles are lances and spears.
I was surprised to see vineyards here too. Surprised because, at the bottom of the hill, by the stairs, there was a sign saying the the path would be closed whenever it’s too icy or covered in snow. We’re at the edge of the Black Forest here and obviously it must get really cold in Winter. So, not an ideal environment I would have thought for growing grapes. I suppose they know what they’re doing!
On and on and up and up. The well-laid path gave way to a dirt track. Proper signage was replaced by spray-painted red arrows on trees and rocks, directing us to our goal for the day, the viewing platform that we’d seen from way down below in the city centre.
I’m always on the lookout for comfort stops, although I felt this one was just a bit too exposed. But it was just a few hairpin bends away from Schlossbergturm or Aussichtsturm Schlossberg or Castle Hill Tower.
We sat down for a few moments admiring this very basic structure, before setting off to climb the 153 steps. Do something scary every day. I climbed steadily to the top, and I mean the very top, as high as I could go. It is very hard holding on that tightly to the handrail while trying to take photos without dropping the phone while the whole edifice is swaying in the wind which is now so much colder than it was at ground level, some 35 metres below. Although it seemed much further away, from my scared vertiginous viewpoint. Another surprise was being joined by Liesel whom I’d left sitting on a bench way down below, ready to catch me or anything I dropped.
Each of the steps has a message from someone who’d sponsored the construction of this viewing tower. I like Klaus’s: This tower has always been a dream of mine.
This picture was taken from the top and it doesn’t reveal at all just how much I was shaking at this point.
Near the base of the tower is a display which incorporates a pair of binoculars. And if you look through these, you see an image of what the site looked like hundreds of years ago, when there was a castle or a fort here.
Walking back down the hill was a bit easier, but you couldn’t totally relax with those gradients. At the first sign of a coffee shop, we stopped, me probably more eagerly than Liesel.
We dined in an Italian restaurant that evening. Yes, of course I had a pizza. Then back at the hotel it was time for some pampering.
This device doesn’t offer a full-on pedicure, but I was able to give my feet a really good scrub.
Tuesday started with a big hotel breakfast and then a long, long pause in the proceedings, in our room, reading, doing puzzles, neither of us wanting to move. Or something. Liesel gave in first and she went out for a walk. Then after a few minutes, I decided to move too. I was still listening to something fascinating, so I thought I’d visit the hotel gym and have a quick walk on the treadmill while still connected to my podcast. I managed 25 minutes but I hope I can get over the tedium of this form of exercise when we get home and make full use of the gym in Wythenshawe, the one we so rashly joined last week.
I met Liesel outside later despite the rain, but usefully, the hotel had plenty of umbrellas to choose from.
It didn’t take long for us to pack and move out the next morning. We left our bags at the railway station while we looked around the Cathedral. Even though there are big signs asking visitors to stay silent, I was surprised that it was so quiet inside, given how many people were walking around.
We paid a return visit to one of the cafés we’d visited a few days earler, only this time we sat inside for our coffee and tasty treats.
We walked back to the station and spent time exploring while waiting for our train. One retail space was full of vending machines, selling everything from snacks and drinks to items of clothing and toothbrushes. It was a bit like Japan in that respect. There was even a popcorn machine, but Liesel wasn’t tempted to use it.
Something happened at the railway station but we never did find out what. An alarm went off, and everyone was evacuated from the station concourse. Those of us already on the platform waiting for a train were allowed to stay. The train ride back to Frankfurt was uneventful. This was followed by a ten-minute walk to our hotel for just one night. And not even a whole night, as we had another early morning flight. As luck would have it, the railway station, our hotel and the airport were all within walking distance of each other: or maybe Liesel planned it that way?
Our alarms were set for 5am. Walk to the airport, through security, to our departure gate, coffee and quick breakfast, flew to Manchester, taxied home, collected the mail and that’s it. We’re back. Did it really happen? Yes. The rest of the day was a blur. I was occupied but I can’t tell you what I did. A quick walk in the drizzle but I timed it badly, no massage for me today.
On Friday, I met up with some people to talk about Thrive Manchester, what can they do to support people and how can whatever that is be better publicised. Boxx 2 Boxx is a great venue for such meetings.
At home, I made progress on a couple of my ‘to-do’ items. The lists still grow faster than items are crossed off, of course.
The radio show this week, recorded before we left for Germany, was Hundreds and Thousands. It was approximately the hundredth show I’ve put together. You can hear it here:
Following the absolutely fabulous Wedding Weekend, after all the fun and farewells, we drove to Bakewell. Six of us altogether: Liesel, Leslie and myself in one vehicle, Pauline, Andrew and Rob in their rented car.
The last time Liesel and I visited Bakewell, we were on our bikes. We’d had a good day cycling around, visiting Eyam and a couple of other places. The lady in Buxton Visitor Information told us that the bus back to Buxton had bike racks on the front. She lied. The bus came, with nowhere to hang our bikes. Plan B: ride back to Buxton as quickly as possible along the A6, in the rain, as it got darker and darker. It was not fun. Too much traffic, too many close passes. We left the bikes at our b&b and legged it towards the Opera House. After a bag of crisps for supper, we settled in for a groovy concert. I can’t remember the name of the Pink Floyd tribute act now, but they were good. We would have enjoyed the show more if we’d arrived at a more leisurely pace and having eaten properly. Still, an event not to be forgotten. Nor repeated, if I understand Liesel correctly.
Today though, we had a nice break in Bakewell, including of course one of their famous tarts. Bakewell is bigger than I remembered. I had to ask in the Information Centre where the nearest public convenience was located. She told me. I trusted her. I found it.
There aren’t many record shops left around the country, but I have a theory that every remaining one now has at least one David Bowie album in the window. Bakewell didn’t disappoint.
The bridge over the river Wye is in danger of collapse, being weighed down by a million padlocks. I hope they’re not, but I suspect many of the keys have been thrown into the river below.
We backtracked a bit to spend some time at Haddon Hall. What a fascinating house, even if the presence of bats and/or their produce induced a coughing fit in me. There is a lot of original building work here. GM knew how to keep the roof up.
This place has been used extensively for filming and the guide told us that after a recent episode of a TV series was filmed here, the crew left behind the protective pedestal at the base of this very old supporting pillar.
The windows look warped, but they were constructed this way.
I looked for but could see no obvious mathematical pattern, so maybe it was just random on the part of the window-maker. Or maybe he just couldn’t cut the lead beading to the right length.
The gardens were delightful too, so here’s the obligatory photo of a flower with a bee, a very distinctive bee, as it happens.
We followed some very narrow roads on the way to Castleton, which was to be our home for a couple of days.
I’m not going to list all the toilets I visited but one invited me to leave the door open when I’d finished, due to nesting swallows. I saw the nest, but the occupants were probably out shopping or something.
Monsal Head provided a good viewpoint, just one of very many gorgeous sights we’d see over the next couple of weeks.
Castleton is a small town, with narrow roads, several pubs and lots of shops selling ‘stuff’. The GPS told us we’d arrived at our destination, but I couldn’t find it. Neither could Andrew who I bumped into, also wandering around aimlessly looking for it.
It took the man in the pub to show us where we were supposed to be. Up a steep hill, behind the road we’d been searching on. Now, if they’d told us our cottage was above the fish and chip shop, we’d have found it much sooner! I suspect the b&b has a deal with the pub. Their guests will get lost, go to the pub for directions and then feel obliged to take a drink there.
We looked up at Peveril Castle and decided to visit it the following day. Instead, now, we went for a walk towards Blue John Cavern, which we would also visit the next day. This Cavern was the main reason for being here: Pauline’s wanted to visit for many, many years.
So, yes, of course we had a drink at the pub. A nice refreshing pint of shandy in my case.
Liesel and I have tickets for a concert here in September, so it was quite funny to see we’ve ended up so close by today. Will we stay in Castleton overnight again, then? To be decided!
I took pictures of the hills surrounding us, but they’re never as good as the real thing. Nor, as Liesel and I have discussed several times, as good as water colour or even oil paintings, which seem to capture the essence of a place much better than a photograph. But I can’t paint, so I’ll continue to take pictures.
While the others returned to our digs, Pauline and I roamed a bit further afield, around the town. We can buy lots of Blue John based jewellery, as well as other stones and, yes, ‘stuff’, ‘clutter’, items to sit on a shelf and gather dust.
A cacophony from the sky drew our attention. It wasn’t quite a murmuration, but certainly a large flock of birds was flying around as a group. What were they? We didn’t recognise the call and couldn’t identify them. They settled on top of a tree. I used an app called Chirp-o-matic which identified them as jackdaws.
In our cottage, we only found one toilet roll. Two of the lamps weren’t working and the replacement bulbs were the wrong sort. I suspect the b&b has a deal with the local supermarket. Their guests will visit the shop desperate for toilet paper and then buy lots of other items as well.
It was a muggy evening and the following day, we awoke to slight drizzle. Despite this, we aimed to be at Blue John Cavern by 9.30.
Behind us as we looked down towards the cavern stood Mam Tor. This used to be a much bigger hill, covering the whole area. Yes, we thought about walking up the hill. And it’s the thought that counts.
Liesel and Leslie weren’t interested in the cavern, so it was just me, Pauline and Rob who descended the 245 steps. It was wet inside, dark, damp, and a bit slippery in places. Blue John stone gets its name from French, bleu et jaune, and it is a coloured variety of fluorspar. This is the only place known to have Blue John.
Meanwhile, Liesel nipped home to work and to get some more clothes, as well as take back all our wedding gear.
The guide illuminated some of the more remarkable rocks. The place started off as a lead mine but people still like to mine for Blue John, but on a much smaller scale of course.
Climbing back up the steps wasn’t too bad. We stopped a few times to look at other features. I must say, though, it was nice to get out in the fresh air again. I didn’t even see the large rock spiders that scurry from between the rocks when they hear a loud noise, such as a clap.
The three of us with Andrew visited Peveril Castle in the afternoon, just up the hill from our b&b. It was a well-made path but, whinge incoming: I don’t like it when there are steps, each one of which is on a slope. Steps are ok, slopes are ok, but I find the combination very uncomfortable, especially going down. We stopped a few times on the way up, to admire the views, but mainly for the brief rests.
The views from the top of the hill were fantastic of course, but photos will never do them justice. Nevertheless, here’s one.
The spiral staircase in the castle was a bit intimidating. If I were to be tried here for some minor felony, in the days when the castle was used as a court of law, I think I might plead guilty just to avoid it having to climb it.
In the evening, we enjoyed a meal at The George, table 52 at the end of the garden, if you’re interested.
In an unusual turn of events, we watched TV in the evening: the first couple of episodes of Ghosts. And I think this was the only TV we watched for over two weeks. Most of us, anyway.
This was followed by a good night’s sleep, in preparation for the following day’s adventures. The smell of fish from the chippy below was not at all a problem.
A message appeared in my Gmail inbox telling me that I could receive no further emails because I’d used up my free allocation of 15GB cloud storage. I would have to clear out whatever’s there, or pay for more storage. I don’t use that account much, so it’s no big deal, but <<something>> now keeps nagging me to either delete those files or pay for more storage. To be honest, I wasn’t aware that I was using any cloud space belonging to Google. But it seems that, until April this year, <<something>> had been uploading my photos to Google’s cloud storage. I probably ticked the wrong box at some point. So, my task was to delete those photos so that I could continue to enjoy whatever else Gmail has to offer.
And yes, I am aware, nobody really likes Gmail, for a variety of different reasons.
My first concern was that, if I deleted photos from the cloud, would <<something>> also delete them from my phone? In the mistaken belief that I didn’t want them at all? (It’s not such a crazy idea. I remember when Apple told me that if I wanted to add some specific music to my iTunes library, it would have to delete everything that was already there. Because, obviously, when I buy a new book, I have to burn all my old ones.)
So, I decided to download whatever was in the cloud. And this is not straightforward. I was doing this at leisure. But if I were downloading everything, my backup, because I’d lost my phone, I would be really annoyed. There should be a big red button saying ‘Download everything’ and it would do the job, even if it were to take several hours. But no. I could download one item at a time. Or I could select up to 500 at a time and it would, eventually, download a .zip file. But there were tens of thousands of pictures. I want them all in one go.
After a lot of Googling (ironic, I know), I found a tool called Google Takeout. This allows you to download everything, but if there’s too much (there was) it will break it up into smaller chunks.
It would prepare these files for downloading and then send an email with the relevant link, which would actually download those files.
But, I refer you to the first line. I can’t receive any emails right now because I’ve used up all my storage.
So that’s my silly-old-fart technophobe Luddite whinge of the week.
Other whinges here over the years include rants against fly-tipping. So I felt bad dragging the old futon downstairs and leaving it out on the pavement. It had to be done, we need the space.
But have no fear. I had arranged for it to be taken away and sure enough, a couple of hours later, a brace of strong young men arrived with a van full of other people’s dead mattresses, and they took it away. They took photos of it and our front door, so someone, somewhere, has a very interesting photo album.
I drove to the airport and collected Liesel and her Mom after their mammoth flights from Anchorage via Frankfurt. It was good to see them again after all this time (2 weeks), so to celebrate, when we got home, we went straight to bed! Well, it was nearly midnight by this point.
Two days later, I returned to the airport to collected Pauline and Andrew after their mammoth flights from Christchurch via Singapore. It was good to see them again after all this time (4 years) and to celebrate, when we got home, we all went for a walk.
These few days were very hot, so it was no real surprise to see a couple of people messing about in the river. And I don’t mean in a boat.
The gate to the local allotments was open, unusually, so we wandered in for a quick look. We got caught though, as the Committee were having an Important Meeting and we Unauthorised People were not at all welcome. So glad we didn’t pick a couple of pears from the tree near the entrance.
Blackberries are out, some very nice and some quite bitter, but the only way to tell is to eat them. Andrew and I scrumped apples from the churchyard. Mine was delicious, Andrew’s was mouldy. Luck o’ the draw.
We walked around a bit, relaxed, and reorganised the flat to now accommodate 5 people, for a short while. Phew, it was hot!
Liesel drove her Mom to Fletcher Moss Gardens for coffee with the ladies of the WI while Pauline, Andrew and I walked over, along the river, to join them. The banks of the Mersey are being mown, because it’s that time of year, and I think it helps later on with any flooding issues, should there be any.
The best thing about Fletcher Moss? The public toilet is now open again after being closed due to Covid. Proof that the pandemic is, indeed, over. If only it were, if only it were.
The five of us drove over to Bridgewater Gardens, the RHS property, that Liesel’s seen, but only once. And what a delightful place to wander around. It’s only been there for a couple of years or so
There are some unusual plants, but all very well presented. We were hoping that the fresh air and especially the sunlight might help the travellers regain their natural circadian rhythm: there’s a lot of sleep going missing somewhere!
This Green Wall was interesting. I thought maybe we could do something like this at home, grow some plants up the walls of the block, since we don’t have a garden, but two things: I would probably lose interest soon after its implementation, leaving all the work to Liesel. And the Management Company would almost certainly object.
There were plenty of bees around, which is always good to see. Wasps, not so much of course. And despite the signs advertising butterflies, I didn’t see any on this occasion. I’m sure that when some of the old farm fields have recovered, and they’ve reverted to being wild meadows, it will be a great place for insect spotting.
The location of this RHS site is Worsley. We’d been here before, but I didn’t recognise the name. Other than it bringing to mind Lucy, of that ilk. On the way home, we took a small detour to show Pauline and Andrew Worsley Delph, a local monument. Near the water was a heron, which I videoed because it looked like it was about to take flight. So of course, it didn’t.
How many attempts do you think it takes before I manage to get a picture containing my own image plus a specific object? Far too many. All for the sake of a lame pun too. Remember the sweet counter at English Woolworths all those years ago?
No, you’re right, it really wasn’t worth all that effort. But a lot of the artefacts here remind us that it once was a very intensive, industrial area.
Another place we haven’t been for a while is Chester Zoo. Time to rectify that. And in the process, take advantage of the opportunity for all our overseas visitors to meet up with some young children, but not in an enclosed space, like someone’s house.
Helen (from Australia) took Martha and William to the zoo. Liesel (from Northenden) drove there with her Mom, Leslie (from Anchorage). And I accompanied Pauline and Andrew (visiting from New Zealand) after they’d picked up their rental vehicle. It’s up to one of them to document the actual shenanigans surrounding the collection of their vehicle, but in summary: what a palaver! We’d gone to the drop-off point rather then reception at first. I can blame the GPS, or the bus parked right in front of the Reception sign, which, to be honest, wasn’t all that prominent even without buses blocking the view. For more details, contact Pauline or Andrew. But we got there in the end.
Martha and William were in good form, meeting several people new to them in one go must be a bit daunting for a young child. Crumbs, I find it hard meeting lots of new people all in one go.
I didn’t know whether we’d see any animals or not, we often don’t with Martha and William, so I was pleased to snap this bird soon after we entered the zoo.
I had to stand on tiptoes and hold the phone up high, but I captured these giant otters having a nap in the sunshine.
How strange, to see a pair of bright red ibises hiding amongst the flamingoes, we thought.
In the end, we saw plenty of animals today, we stopped for a picnic lunch, we played in the playground and, best of all, we avoided the shop and the bat cave, being indoor venues. Martha and William now have new cuddlies from Alaska, a sea otter and a mammoth respectively. Sadly, the mammoth has a fractured incisor. That’s what happens when you swing a mammoth round by its tusk!
After Helen took the children home, Liesel and Mom left too, leaving me and my sister and brother-in-law to have some fun our own. We found the aviaries and managed to get quite close to some of the birds.
I don’t know if they expected to be fed, but if so, they were disappointed by us three.
While wandering around the Islands, a part of the zoo that we seldom reach, we noticed slow boats passing by underneath. Let’s go for a boat ride, we all said in unsion, with harmonies very similar to the Bee Gees. So we did. A nice 20-minute, slow journey, along the Lazy River.
From the boat, we caught sight of the orang utans but we saw them more clearly afterwards.
But what a lovely family day that was, if a little tiring.
So, why that particular theme? Because my baby girl, Jenny, is getting married at the weekend. So it’s a very exciting time, we’re all busy preparing for a long weekend of jollity and fun and a wedding ceremony. Aha, you’re thinking, this is why people are arriving from all around the planet. Stay tuned for wedding antics and everything!
I was fully prepared for a stressful journey back home. I told myself that whatever happened, it was out of my hands, I could do nothing about it. I could control my breathing. What’s the worst that could happen?
But then reality kicked in and as I write this at home several hours after the events, I am still breaking out in cold sweats. This post is quite negative, so feel free to skip it. I’m only writing it because in years to come, it will be hard to believe that any individual trip can be this stressful.
If I were an explorer, venturing into the unknown, I would expect to be scared and hesitant. But my plans entail using supposedly well ordered 21st century travel infrastructure. It should be comfortable, safe, predictable, civilised.
After two weeks with the family in Anchorage, it was time to go back home. Liesel and Leslie dropped me off at the airport in very good time, at 10.00am, for my 12.40pm flight. The queue for checking in was already quite long but, as I said, I was in very good time.
At 10.30, I was able to report that the queue was moving, albeit slowly. There was only one person behind the desk but I told myself I’m sure they know what they’re doing. After all, this flight is a weekly event, they know how to process all these hundreds of people in good time, right?
As well as all the potential passengers, we were surrounded by dozens of chill boxes containing newly caught Alaskan salmon, destined for domestic freezers back home in Germany. I was glad I wasn’t checking in any luggage, it might have been crushed by all the fish.
10.50 arrived and so did the other queue, the so-called Premium Economy passengers. At this point, the still solitary check-in person gave them preferential treatment. This was the point at which I first began to feel uncomfortable. The dad in the family behind me in the queue was becoming agitated too. He was edging their luggage forward a centimetre at a time, even though nobody else in our queue was moving.
At 11.11, I reported to Liesel via Whatsapp that our queue hadn’t moved for 20 minutes. There were about 20 people in front of me at this point and probably well over 100 behind. 70 minutes in a queue seems unreasonable to me. Still just one person working, processing people in the other line.
The bloke behind spoke to a passing uniformed woman, asking for reassurance that we would be checked in in good time? Uniformed woman: I don’t know, I don’t work for Condor. Agitated bloke: But you work for the airport, no? Uniformed woman: No, I work for a cruise liner. Agitated bloke now deflated. This brought a rare smile to my face, thankfully hidden by the mask.
11.25, she took a group from my queue for the first time in 45 minutes. Via Whatsapp, Liesel commented that at least I had snacks. Well, yes, but eating was the last thing I wanted to do. Not throwing up was a major achievement. I know it’s out of my control, but that’s the problem. I can see the problem is not enough check-in personnel, and the solution is obvious: get more people. But I can’t do anything about that.
11.28, ‘holy moly’ is the phrase I didn’t use, someone else turned up to work at the check-in counter.
11.30, oh, she’s gone away again, a man appeared from nowhere to tell her that she couldn’t use that terminal.
11.42, Liesel asked if I’d reached the counter yet: nope.
11.45, I’m at the counter and my two boarding passed were printed within 30 seconds. 105 minutes waiting and less than one minute at the counter. Paradoxically, I felt short-changed, it should have taken longer, there should have been more of a ceremony, fireworks, everything.
Deep breaths as I now walked round the corner dreading the length of the queue I’d have to contend with before going through Security. It was now within an hour of the scheduled departure time.
12.00, Security was a breeze. A short wait, my bags went through without being pulled aside. At this point, I was shaking but no longer felt like I was going to be sick. I knew it was only a 10-minute walk to the boarding gate, so I took time out to buy a coffee. If I’m gonna be shaking, I might as well take on board some caffeine, was my strange train of thought.
I arrived at the boarding gate. No staff here and nothing displayed on the screen, just a lot of people sitting or milling about, some of whom I recognised because I’d been watching them ahead of me in the queue. What’s going on? Nobody knew. So I backtracked to find a screen displaying all the departure details, just to make sure the gate hadn’t changed since my boarding pass was printed. It hadn’t, but the information gleaned was much worse.
As you can see, my 12.40 flight actually departed at 11.55. Cue another surge of adrenaline, panic and cold sweat. How can a flight depart so early, especially when so many people were still in the check-in queue at that point? I know, I’ll ask a member of staff what’s going on. Only there were none.
12.42, two minutes after the scheduled departure time, two members of staff turned up, the two who’d been checking people in, one of whom had turned up just as I was being processed. The screen here at the gate was still not showing anything, so people swarmed around them asking for information. It seems this flight was so over-subscribed, they’d squeezed in an extra flight. Well, that’s great, but why not tell us? Why not update the departure board to reflect this fact, rather than telling us our plane had taken off a long time earlier? The lack of communication probably caused more anxiety than anything else.
And now of course, I know this flight will be leaving very late, making it more difficult for me to make my connection at Frankfurt airport.
1.12, finally, I am sitting on the plane, trying to tell myself that I just don’t care any more, but even this little trick isn’t working today. The stewardess (do we still use that term?) welcomed me in German to which I replied ‘schanke dön’. Proof that my brain was well and truly addled.
The pilot made an announcement, welcoming us on board. He also apologised for the delay, which was because it took longer than usual to move the plane to the departure gate from the other terminal.
Some good news though: I had two seats to myself.
Oh, but the bad news: my vegetarian meal wasn’t. There was a huge lump of beige meat on a bed of vegetables. The crew-member took my ‘non-lacto’ meal away and replaced it with a proper veggie meal. This didn’t bother me at all. A mistake was made somewhere along the line, and the problem was resolved. This is on a different level to the general level of incompetence experienced at the airport.
At some point, over Canada or Greenland I guess, I asked a crew member what time we expected to land at Frankfurt. About 9am local time, she said. Which was good news. My onward flight to Manchester departed at 9.45. Last time I flew from Anchorage to Manchester, transiting at Frankfurt, I just walked from one gate to another, dead easy, took five minutes or so. I was happy that I would not, after all, miss my connecting flight.
I couldn’t sleep during the flight, but I did start to relax a bit.
It was an unusually bumpy landing in Frankfurt, and for a moment, I thought I had plenty of time. But no. Instead of disembarking into the terminal building (just a few gates away from where my next flight would be boarding, as I thought), we stopped in the middle of nowhere, and had to take a bus to to the building. A quick 5-minute ride, surely? Nope. 15 minutes, so of course, the panic is now beginning to build again. Still, once inside, it should be a quick walk. Breathe.
I followed the signs to my departure gate, checking the screen on the way, which was just as well, because we’d been promoted from B24 to B27. Follow the signs. Just round the corner, surely. Down the stairs. Round this corner, then. Nope. Down more stairs. To a shuttle bus that would take us to the gate. A quick 5-minute ride, surely? No, another tour, seemingly of the whole airport. I really had not considered the possibility that I’d have not one but two shuttle bus rides at Frankfurt.
At the gate, I joined the queue to go through, not really caring what ‘group’ of people they were letting through, I just wanted to get on board, now, with only 5 minutes to spare. The machine rejected my boarding pass, it flashed red, but at least klaxons and alarms didn’t go off. The flashing red light stirred an otherwise disinterested man into action. He told me to go to go to that desk over there.
In front of the desk was a woman asking the young assistant what had happened to her luggage, last seen in Bucharest. It was probably a short conversation but at the time, I thought she’d never stop talking and get out of my way. But she did, eventually, and I presented my errant boarding pass. Assistant: Have you just flown in from Anchorage? Me: Yes I have. Assistant: You’ve been cancelled, you flight was delayed, we didn’t think you’d get here in time. Me: Oh. (And much more in my head.) Assistant: How many checked items do you have? Me: I don’t have any checked items. (Thank goodness, good planning there.) Assistant: Would you like to be reinstated? Me: Yes, please. (People were still going through the gate, so I thought I was OK for time.) Assistant: (A million clicks on the keyboard. Then she gave me a brand new boarding pass.) Me: Thank you very much.
I walked straight back to the scanning machine, jumping the queue, I’d already queued once pointlessly, and I’ve never seen such a welcome sight as this green light.
Of course, my seat had been reallocated and I was now sitting much nearer the front, by an exit, with plenty of leg room but no little table in front of me.
This flight was uneventful. The worst part was me being in the toilet when they went round giving out the chocolates. Huh. So when a crew member was distracted by another passenger, I just grabbed a chocolate off his tray. He didn’t notice.
Going through passport control at Manchester airport was a breeze on this occasion. All the machines were working. I had to temporarily remove the protective ‘I am European’ cover from the passport before the machine could read it.
Nothing to declare of course, so straight through Customs, also straight through the unavoidable but I’m sure very lucrative duty free shop, and out into the real world. Of course, the taxi I took home only accepted cash, so we had to go via an ATM.
At home, I climbed the stairs, went inside, collapsed on the bed and had a quick and very welcome nap.
As I said to Liesel, if I were a spy and you wanted to extract my secrets, you couldn’t come up with a more severe form of torture than making me fly internationally through under-staffed airports.
Thanks, I feel better, now. Very cathartic. I feel purged and cleansed but I will be searching for ‘industrial strength anti-anxiety medication’ when I’ve had another nap.