Another year bites the dust

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.

‘Carefully preserved ruins…’
Selfie of the day

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.

Fountains Abbey
Sandstone

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.

Liesel
Mick

It was quiet and peaceful, just the sounds of the birds. And quite atmospheric too with the  medieval mist rising from the grass.

Moody, misty

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.

Studley Royal Banqueting Hall

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.

Octagon Tower
Looking back towards the Abbey

Back at Fountains Hall, there’s a very moving war memorial

‘…for your tomorrow…’

It’s probably the wrong time of year to see bees, but we found a home for them.

Skeps

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.

Strider, by Joe Cornish

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.

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 tree

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.

Mick, Ian, Yvonne, Liesel

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.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

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.

Complicated

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.

The skirt’s coming along

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.

Fallen leaves

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.

Partial solar eclipse

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.

Spider’s web outside our luxury apartment

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.

Orange flowers

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.

Quirky Misfits

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.

Corn snake

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.

Goodbye Google

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

Autumn draws on in Altrincham too

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?

Rodents

‘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.

Autumn colours

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.

Northenden bus stop

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.

William the performer

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.

Mickey Mouse

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.

Forum clock

While I was in the Forum, Liesel was walking around Wythenshawe Park with her WI buddies. I’m so glad she shot some wildlife.

Squirrel
Autumn colours

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!

Freiburg im Breisgau

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.

Goodbye misty Manchester

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.

Oompah band

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.

Pringles tree

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.

Big chocolates, so many flavours, at Freiburg station

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.

Solar panels and smoke

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

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.

A flock of sparrows

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.

Berthold Schwarz

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.

A typical Freiburg street

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.

Freiburg Münster
Cute, not cute

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.

Freiburg gargoyle

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.

Mick the Knife
Pillar of the community

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.

Black cat

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.

Record shop

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.

Model village

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.

Market wares

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.

Selfie of the day from halfway up Schlossberg

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.

Funicular railway

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.

This is not a cannon

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!

Vineyard above the town

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.

Public lavatree

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.

Schlossbergturm 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.

Some of the first few steps up the tower

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.

The view from the top

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.

What it used to look like

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.

Liesel got stoned and had to have a lie down

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.

Mechanical foot brush

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.

Selfie of the day if it were 1940

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.

Inside the Cathedral

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:

To Castleton

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.

Record shop

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.

What a lot of padlocks

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.

A nearly 400-year old roof

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.

21st century protection for the 500-year old supporting pillar

The windows look warped, but they were constructed this way.

Wonky windows

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.

Yellow flower with exotic bee

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.

Devil’s Arse!

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.

Hundreds of jacksaws sitting in a tree

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.

Pauline contemplating life the universe and everything

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.

Blue John stone in situ

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.

Another seam

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.

Peveril Castle on a steep slope

The views from the top of the hill were fantastic of course, but photos will never do them justice. Nevertheless, here’s one.

The view from Peveril Castle

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.

Birds, flowers and bees

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.

Farewell, faithful old futon

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.

Man in the Mersey

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

Cardoon or artichoke thistle

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!

Vervena
Liesel and Leslie
Green wall

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.

Sunflower with bees

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.

Andrew spotted something, with Pauline

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?

Pick and Mick

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.

Starling

I had to stand on tiptoes and hold the phone up high, but I captured these giant otters having a nap in the sunshine.

Giant otters
Ibis

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.

Bali myna

I don’t know if they expected to be fed, but if so, they were disappointed by us three.

Java sparrow

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.

Lazy River boat

From the boat, we caught sight of the orang utans but we saw them more clearly afterwards.

Orang utans

But what a lovely family day that was, if a little tiring.

Helen, Mick, Andrew, Liesel, Leslie, Pauline,Martha, William

And what a treat supper was: bangers and mash.

I hope you get a chance to listen to Mick’s Matrimonial Music Mix, two hours of songs about Love and Marriage. Visit Mixcloud and the new shows will appear here. It’s on Wythenshawe Radio WFM at 2pm Friday.

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!

And back home again

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.

Destination Frankfurt

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.

Lots of space, man

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.

Gathering in Gatley

As regular readers will be aware, I didn’t quite make it to Glastonbury Festival this year. But I did venture out to Gatley Festival. This has the advantage of being within walking distance. And a lot smaller. Just one performance area, rather than 96 stages. Lots of food stalls and some fairground attractions too. Perfect! Extra points if you noticed the musical allusion.

Eclipse Parade Band

The parade through Gatley consisted of a few bands, some school parties and other local groups. Those of us watching from the pavement (just outside a coffee shop, in my case, unbelievably) then followed the parade to the Festival ground itself, Gatley Hill.

Colin and Hayley from Wythenshawe FM were compèring, although the event wasn’t being broadcast live on the radio. I made up for it: see below.

Just one of many gymnasts plus Hayley talking to the tutor

We were able to enjoy some music and a gymnastics display, we could play rugby and lacrosse, we could have our faces painted and hair coiffed, we could splat the rat and ride a donkey. We could even drink and drive.

Gatley Driving School

There was a very long queue at the beer tent but it was good to see the vegan Indian stall, Bhaji Pala, being well attended too.  We’ve had meals from the restaurant a few times and can highly recommend it.

I met Neil, who will be rowing across the Atlantic later in the year for Alzheimer’s.

Neil’s boat

This isn’t the actual boat they’ll use but very similar. Follow his progress here and if you can, show your support!

Gatley Hill House

This is a new building to me, normally rooms are available for hire, but given the fencing all around it right now, I think it’ll be a while before we’re allowed back in.

The omelette I made for myself was very nice, but I’m no good at cooking, and rather than being one solid piece of food, it came out of the pan in several lumps. I’ll try again in another five years or so.

It’s been a while since we’ve been able to watch either of the children swimming, but I did take Martha for her lesson this week. She’s so confident in the water, swimming below the surface and later, treading water for a whole minute. As she explained, this is because if she falls out of a boat she might have to tread water for a minute, or ten minutes, an hour or ten hours or even longer.

Similarly, it’s been a while since I picked the children up from school.

Wild flowers

But I did this week and at home, we watched a YouTube video in which a couple of men dug a big hole in the ground to make a swimming pool, with a couple of slides and an underground house. Impressive work, as Martha said. We wondered where in the world this was taking place. When they began to chop down bamboo for making a fence and other decoration, Martha suggested it was China. Why? Because that’s bamboo, pandas eat bamboo and pandas live in China. Can’t fault the logic, there!

Meanwhile, in Anchorage, Liesel is enjoying a heatwave. There she was, relaxing in the Sun at Carrie’s house, when a visitor appeared.

Water moose

I think Liesel’s been walking a lot, probably more than I have here in Northenden, but she has also been in to work a couple of times.

On another occasion, she saw a baby moose with his big momma. And in an unexpected turn of events, Liesel has been bitten by a mosquito. Usually they go for me, but I’m several thousand miles away, out of sniffing range, so I guess even in the mosquito world, beggars can’t be choosers.

Didsbury in bloom

A nice explosion of colour here with the flowers and the bins. This is in Didsbury where I went for my annual visit to the opticians and while I was in the village, I went for a very welcome massage too. After which I wanted to sleep for the rest of the day.

But I didn’t.

This week’s radio show theme is Festivals. Glastonbury and Gatley, to be precise. Listen here on on WFM 97.2 next Wednesday at 10pm. A wonderful way to nod off at the end of the day.

Now it’s time for a whinge. The email says:

We look forward to welcoming you on board soon.

To start your journey well-prepared, we have compiled the most important information relating to travel during the pandemic

But they haven’t compiled the most important information at all. They just told me to check this and check that and in the process, introduced an unnecessary level of anxiety. Grrr. Yes, you read my palms correctly: I am going on a journey.

Here, there and everywhere

Never say never of course, but it’s very unlikely we’ll ever visit the Glastonbury Festival. The biggest and best festival in the world returned for the first time since the pandemic. And the thought of sharing a space with nearly a quarter of a million strangers is just too daunting. On the other hand, the site, Worthy Farm, is vast. See just how big compared with your neighbourhood here: just enter your postcode. (Thanks for this link, Jenny.)

I watched on TV from the comfort of my own sofa, enjoying beer from my birthday and from Fathers Day. The highlight for me was of course was Sir Paul McCartney. Seeing him live at the O2 a few years ago was the best Beatles concert I’ll ever experience.

Sir Paul McCartney

I was on my own at home so I sang along to all the songs: I had a wonderful little party, by myself! It’s mostly a young audience at Glastonbury and it was fantastic to see they knew the words to all the old Beatles’ songs, and to Diana Ross’s old hits, the next day.

Last time, I left you with the image of a small car parked badly on the island in the river. Well, someone waded in, retrieved and relocated it.

Rubbish parking

I went over to visit the grandchildren (and their parents) and their new pet.

Incey Wincey

This brought back unhappy memories of my time as a postman, walking through cobwebs at face height.

It was a joy to see William and Martha again after such a long time away.

Meanwhile, over in Alaska, Liesel went away for a quick break, visiting the little town of Hope, with her Mom and brother.

Aaron, Liesel and Leslie

On another occasion, Liesel reported seeing a porcupine walking along the road. Well, that puts the Northenden heron into perspective.

I couldn’t refuse the offer to look after William for a couple of hours one day, while Jenny and long-time friend Danielle had their hair done.

William and Grandad

I think this picture shows how absorbed William was and how bemused I was after watching several episodes and a full-length movie of Pokémon on TV. After a while though, William did get up and have a walk/slide around in his new footwear.

William’s new slippers

Slippers have never been more slippery.

In Anchorage, Liesel enjoyed a nice long hike up in the hills with Jyoti and Una.

Jyoti, Una and Liesel

If pushed, I’d probably have to admit that the scenery here is slightly more spectacular than anything Northenden has to offer.

This week I had reason to access Facebook, for a very specific purpose. And it annoyed me within two minutes. So no, I won’t be creating a new account for myself.

A much more uplifting experience was to be had on the two well-being walks I joined this week, one in Northenden and one in Wythenshawe.

Just a random garden in Northenden

This week’s photographic assignment was to capture a heavily laden bumble bee on this gorgeous hydrangea.

Hydrangea

But it would not keep still, flitting from flower to flower, and especially when I lifted up my phone to take the picture. Some beasties are intrinsically more cooperative, and stationary,  I’m pleased to report.

Snail

In sports news, local barista Jill Scott scored the fourth goal for England’s victorious football team, against Switzerland, in their final warm-up game before the Women’s Euro 2022 competition. A great advertising opportunity, of course!

Jill Scott
Boxx 2 Boxx

As I was walking through Wythenshawe, I noticed a plain concrete pillar in the middle of a fairly large area of lawn. I wondered if it might be an old milestone, it had that sort of shape to it. I couldn’t see any legible engraving, so I walked round to see what was on the other side.

No ball games

Well, we won’t be seeing any future Jill Scotts around here, I guess.

In Anchorage, Liesel and her Mom sat outside Carrie’s house, by the lake, enjoying the view and sitting in the Sun a little too long. This set them up nicely for a weekend camping trip to Willow, with Aaron and a group of friends. The last I heard, they were still partying well after midnight.

This week, I dedicated my radio show to the memory of Liesel’s Dad, Klaus, playing some of his favourite songs as well as some others in German.

Vampires in Vancouver

BC-99 took us to Vancouver and we admired the Canadian countryside. But as a highway, it was really just an extension of the I-5, south of the border.

We were very conscious of having missed celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee at home, so to make up for this, we decided to stay in Elizabeth Street, close to Queen Elizabeth Park. And after taking a few minutes to acclimatise to this new country, we walked up the road to the park, soaking up the rays.

View from the park

For lunch, we found our way to the restaurant at the top of the park, Seasons in the Park. It’s a very popular place. We could wait for a table on the patio, or we could sit at the bar. We chose the latter because we were hungry, because it provided a better view than from the patio and also because we were next to an open window letting in a nice breeze.

They are very proud of the fact that President Bill Clinton dined here once, a long time ago.

Seasons in the Park plaque

Not only does this plaque take pride of place outside the main entrance, there is a large wall display inside, including the menu.

And I have to admit, the food was very good, what a nice place.

Mount Seymour

We walked around, looking at the mountains and the clouds. It’s a hilly park though, so we sat down for a while, and we had to admire the lady in blue with her photographer.

Model

We confirmed that a sculpture was indeed a Henry Moore.

After a quick Whatsapp exchange with my nephew Rob, Liesel and I set off in roughly the direction of Main Street, commenting on the anemones and the snowball flowers.

Snowballs

At the café known as Breka, I knew Rob would turn up as soon as I went inside to use the toilet. It was good to see him after all this time, quite a few years. He moved to Vancouver from Christchurch 3½ years ago. His plan then of course was to visit NZ or be visited by his Mum, but then we all got loked in and locked down during the pandemic. He has Permanent Residence status, so he won’t be moving for a while.

Rob with Uncle Mick

We agreed to meet up the next day and after a much longer walk back to our b&b than we’d expected, and being ridiculously tired, we went straight to the land of nod.

We took a subway train to Olympic Village, where The Birds in The Square are enormous.

The Birds

In fact, the sculptures were made by Myfanfy Macleod in 2010 as part of the City of Vancouver Public Art Program. This was the year Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics and they hope to do so again in 2030.

We had a very nice day with Rob who showed us around his newly adopted city. The weather was perfect: sunny and warm.

Science World
Aquabus

The ferry, or Aquabus, that took us to Glanville Island was very small. And apparently, it’s not really an island any more.

Hawk

The local hawk’s job is to deter the seagulls from settling. They can be a menace, stealing our chips and ice cream. But what a cute little market. They’re certainly creative when it comes to recycling old books.

Bookpile

False Creek is the name of this inlet and it seems to be well used, we saw paddle-boarders, canoeists, as well as many other small boats, from the ferry ride to Kitsilano Beach.

Beach with driftwood

At Kitsilano, we found a Local Public Eatery. No, that’s not the generic term, it’s the name of the place where we had lunch. A very large lunch. The sort of lunch that makes it hard to get and walk afterwards. But somehow, we forced ourselves to move, albeit a bit more slowly and sedately.

Friends or foes?

We couldn’t decide whether this was a big fight or foreplay. We left them to it. The clashing beaks sounded like a keen knitter at her most enthusiastic.

Beached barge

I’m glad I wasn’t piloting this barge on the night of the storm that beached it. What an eyesore on English Bay Beach. Maybe it will be truned into a restaurant or something eventually. Attempts to shift it, even at very high tide, have failed.

Rob’s friend Priscilla was a very welcoming host at Vancouver Lookout. We rode up in a glass-sided lift and yes, I was very conscious of standing as far back as I could manage. There’s a 360° view of the city, and beyond. A cruise ship, The Grand Princess, was in town, and it felt good to literally look down on the cruisers below.

Vancouver Lookout was opened in 1977 by Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon. As he gazed out from the  viewing platform, he was probably singing his dad’s song, ‘what a wonderful world’.

Roof gardens

Many of the buildings, especially new ones, have grass growing on the roof. 

It’s good that the First Nation peoples are being acknowledged. But I was totally bemused by the orthography devised for the native languages.

Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh

Time for another break and this time, we ordered a jug of sangria to share. It was still nice enough to sit outside, albeit under cover, and my left arm was cooking quite nicely before they turned off the powerful outdoor heating.

Rob and Liesel and I bade farewell and went our separate ways, knowing that we would meet again very soon under totally different circumstances. Thank you very much for a most enjoyable day out in Vancouver, BC, Rob!

I was going to write in the evening but my plans were thwarted by the grim reality that is dead batteries in the keyboard. So, in protest, I read my book instead.

It rained overnight and it hadn’t stopped by the time we left the b&b. What I forgot to say before though was that we were in fact staying in an old Roman villa. At least, you might think so when you walk over the mosaic in the hallway.

Mosaic

Our first destination today was Tsawwassen, the ferry port. We’d booked a ferry to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, intending to visit some gardens and see Victoria. But it rained. And rained. I won’t mention the rain again, but remember, it rained and rained all day today.

From the ferry, we looked out for whales and dolphins, but really it  was just too murky to see anything. Except grey sky and grey sky reflected in the water. We didn’t even see seals on any of the other small islands that we sailed by. On board The Spirit of British Columbia though: nice shops and eating opportunities.

Instead of visiting Butchart Gardens, which everyone has recommended, we went to the nearby Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Well, at least in was indoors. But there was much more to see than butterflies, oh yes.

Leaf-cutter ants
Stick insect
Scarlet mormon

Much of the entertainment here was provided, not by the wildlife, but by the school party that took great delight in pointing out butterflies that settled on their teachers’ shoulders for a second or two. Squeals of delight, yes, but some were a little bit wary.

Liesel made friends with a parrot, and I’m sure she taught it some bad words. I merely tried to get it to imitate the kookaburra’s call from my phone.

In Victoria itself, I found some batteries for the keyboard and we found a nice coffee bar.

The next ferry took us over the border to Port Angeles. Yes, back in the USA, as Chuck Berry used to sing.

The fog descended as we sailed, and yes, of course Liesel rolled her eyes when I recorded this ferry’s fog horn.

Fog descends on a cruise liner

Several other ferry passengers rushed out on deck at one point, but I didn’t know what the attraction was. A double rainbow, apparently. I’m sure it was very pretty.

We stayed at an old motel tonight. Nothing special, it had a roof and running water, but just what we wanted. We didn’t really need 12 towels, but 12 were supplied. We took a pizza back for supper. But this is America. The pizza was too big to finish in one sitting, so Liesel finished it for breakfast.

Port Angeles is a cute little town. I love the artwork and sculptures that adorn it. This piece I wasn’t sure about at first:

Mother and Child

But when I saw its title, Mother and Child, I realised how clever it is. Minimalism at its best, made by Bob Stokes.

Port Townshend is supposed to be even more interesting and lovelier, but we didn’t have enough time to visit on this occasion. Add it to the list.

The long drive along Route 101 took us through forests, including the Olympic National Forest, and small communities.

We stopped in Quilcene for lunch. Liesel pointed out the Sheriff’s car parked nearby. Well, I was on my best behaviour. We tried to take menus from the front desk but the woman told us to sit down and she’d bring menus over. OK. So we sat down and waited. And waited. People came and went. I used the toilet. We waited. We gave it five more minutes. We left. What a strange place.

We stopped at The Tides in Hoodsport for lunch. We were even more hungry by now of course. This was a nice little place, good food, bottomless coffee and I think you know a place is good if the locals use it.

We bypassed Olympia before turning north for Seattle and it was only now, back on the I-5, that it began to rain. Southcenter shopping mall was our immediate destination and somehow we ended up in The Chessecake Factory. For cheesecake, yes, and so much more. We ate too much again. There, I said it.

Cheesecake Factory

Cheesecake Factory don’t stint on their interior décor, I think it’s fair to say.

The car groaned under our increased weight, but don’t worry, we soon returned it to the rental facility. The shuttle delivered us safely back to Seattle-Tacoma airport.

And here we go again. Airport security. The sign said ‘Put everything in your bag to speed up the process’. Walk round the corner. Loud officer gives us a list of items to remove; iPad, e-reader, take off shoes and belt, empty your pockets. Go through this scanner. No, go to the end of that queue. Go through that scanner. It’s a mystery, oh it’s a mystery, sang Toyah in my head. We got through security, we got dressed, I think we collected all our belongings. We tried not to laugh at the man who’d paid to be fast-tracked through security when he was pulled to the side. There was some nice art at the airport, but I felt too intimidated to take any pictures.

Our flight was delayed, but the Texan lady kept us amused. Her chicken had laid a very small egg and her son was intrigued. When they cracked it open, there was no yolk!

This plane was bigger than the one that had taken us to Seattle all those weeks ago, and it was fully booked. But on arrival at Anchorage airport, for the first time ever, our one checked bag was the first to appear on the carousel. A perfect end to a long day. The taxi took us home and we made it to bed by about 2am.

And no, we didn’t really encounter any vampires in Vancouver. Not knowingly, anyway.