Giving it 300 percent

We enjoyed a mini-heatwave, a few days when the temperature approached 30°C. So we went for a walk one evening when it was just a little cooler. We kept to shade as much as possible, avoiding the worst of the ultraviolet (there’s one) rays.

Selfie of the day

We found some blackberries in full bloom so I’m sure we’ll be back later in the year to enjoy the fruits. And, just a little further along the road (please don’t tell anybody where), we found some wild raspberries too, just a bit too far back through the thistles and brambles to approach in our besandalled feet.

Wild raspberries, for future enjoyment
Fireweed

Liesel pointed out the fireweed and explained that when this flower blooms, it will snow six weeks later. Quite an education (there’s one)! I suspect this is just Alaskan folklore, but, as a precaution (another one), I’m keeping my snow shoes handy.

The small tortoiseshell would look better against a natural background
Kindle error

The evening presented us with the first of the week’s technical faults that could have developed into an immensely vexacious (boom) affair. My Kindle displayed an error message that I’ve never seen before. Fortunately a hard reboot fixed it, which meant that I could continue my struggle with ‘Middlemarch’. After trudging through 11% of the text though, I’m sorry to say, I was so discouraged (aha), I gave up. I very rarely give up on a book once I’ve started. On the other hand, How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford is very readable.

Standing outside our luxury block of luxury apartments, looking up at the blue sky through the oak tree’s foliage, in a slight breeze on a hot day, is delightful. One branch is dead and bits of it fall down now and then. Maybe it was malnourished (oof) when it was younger.

Oak tree, blue sky, dead branch

Now that things are slowly opening up again, we enjoyed a couple of days out at National Trust properties. For the first time since the lockdown was implemented, we went to Dunham Massey. This is usually a very busy, popular place, but on this occasion, we had little problem keeping a safe distance away from people. We try to keep our levels of anxiousness (da-dah) down, but when you’re breathing the same air, the risk is always at the back of your mind.

This duck would look better against a natural background

I always investigate the sundial near the main entrance but it has never occurred to me before that the statue supporting it might be offensive: a ‘Blackamoor’ with white bulging eyes. There’s white privilege for you.

Blackamoor statue removed
A field with a few shrink-wrapped cows, I think

The deer were very prominent today: I suspect they’ve become used to people not being around, recently. Other visitors were indulging in the questionable (badoom) activity of approaching the deer and stroking them.

We paid a quick visit to Jenny to drop off some food items. It was an ideal day to deliver butter: 30° or so! We had a quick chat with Martha and William through the window, and I managed to get a good photo this time!

Martha and William through the window
Installing update
Unwanted software

Technical issue number 2. My PC still runs Windows 7, which has not been supported by Microsoft since January. So I was surprised one night when turning it off, it said it was installing an update. My heart sank. This was not authorised (ooh) by me. Next time I booted up, it gleefully told me that Microsoft Edge had been installed. Ever since, it’s been nagging me to accept its terms and conditions. Why? I didn’t want it in the first place! I’ve been uninstalling a lot of unused software recently, and this is another candidate for the chop. But why am I worried? Because once when I uninstalled iTunes from a PC, it also took away that machine’s ability to play CDs. Technology’s great, when it works.

I can’t remember the last time I had a twelve hour sleep with only one interruption. But this happened at the weekend and I can only say I felt fantastic afterwards. Even the smell of freshly baked scones didn’t disturb my slumbers. Thanks, Liesel! We drove to Quarry Bank Mill, the second of the week’s National Trust venues, under changeable skies. Sunny and blue for a while, then cloudy and grey. We mostly avoided the rain and enjoyed a fabulous walk around the gardens. The mill itself is still closed, but we were able to buy a coffee, so that’s encouraging (bazinga).

A gorgeous display of colour
Mick in the thick of it

At one point, we could look down and see the rain in the valley. We felt just a few spots but took shelter under one of the rocks, which strangely, was reminiscent of the painted rocks in the Kakadu, albeit much cooler. Growing out of the cliff-like rock, was this tree, just clinging on by its finger-nails.

Hanging on
This dragonfly would look better against a natural background

As well as all the pretty flowers, they grow a lot of food here, but I was dissuaded from scrumping an apple.

Apple tree, artichoke, kohl rabi and coffee, cheers
Old, gnarly tree
More colour
Something went wrong

The third of our technical issues was on TV. BBC iPlayer usually just plods along and does its thing, once you’ve navigated to the programme you want to watch. But again, our hearts sank when we saw this. Could our Freeview box be on its last legs? Was a transmitter struck by lightning in one of the ongoing storms? Anyway, it was soon rectified and hasn’t recurred. It briefly interrupted our enjoyment of the Glastonbury Festival. This year’s 50th anniversary festival has been cancelled due to Covid, but the BBC are showing several performances from previous years.

Dolly Parton and her saxophone
Barry Gibb with Coldplay

So far this year, we’ve watched or re-watched quite a few of our favourites, most of whom we’ve never actually seen in real life. So, thanks to David Bowie, REM, Florence and the Machine, Christine and the Queens, Adele and her potty mouth. Coldplay persuaded the Glasonbury King, Michael Eavis, to sing My Way and sang a couple of Bee Gees songs with Barry Gibb. Dolly Parton is always good value too. As well as many of her greatest songs, she performed Yakety Sax on her saxophone. Elbow’s songs are often pretty straightforward, but Guy Garvey’s voice and his magnificent instrumentation (ooh, another one) always make the performance something special. Even from the comfort of our own living room.

What? You’re wondering how I can just briefly mention David Bowie at Glastonbury and not dwell a little longer on the subject? At the time of writing, I have watched this programme twice. It’s the first time the full performance has been broadcast on normal TV. He enjoyed it, we fell in love with his bass player, Gail Ann Dorsey all over again, the band was all together.

David Bowie at Glastonbury in 2000. He’d first performed there in 1971 at 5.30 in the morning, there was no curfew in those days.

The set list:

Wild is the Wind
Little China Girl
Changes
Stay
Life on Mars
Absolute Beginners
Ashes to Ashes
Rebel Rebel
Little Wonder
Golden Years
Fame
All the Young Dudes
The Man Who Sold the World
Station to Station
Starman
Hallo Spaceboy
Under Pressure
Ziggy Stardust
Heroes
Let’s Dance
I’m Afraid of Americans

We still miss Mr Bowie, and many of us think that the equilibrium of the world was upset by his early death in 2016. So happy we still have his music.

The heatwave came to an end and the rain returned.

I can’t stand the rain against my windows bringing back sweet memories

It was a quiet Sunday, but I was definitely wabbit by the end of the day: wish I could justify my state of exhaustion (yes).

Liesel’s been busy knitting a beautiful hat.

A bobble hat before the application of the pompom
Sanny Rudravajhala

Radio Northenden broadcast its 50th show today, Monday, and I, Mick the Knife, was invited to take part, have a chat and pick three songs on lock, three tracks that I like to listen to while on lockdown. Thanks for the opportunity, Sanny, and I hope I’m not too embarrassed when I listen back later!

If you want to hear me and my little show, visit the Radio Northenden showreel and listen to Monday 29th June 2020.

So there’s a 50th, and here’s a 300th. Yup, you are reading the 300th post on this blog so as a bonus, to celebrate, here is a list of 300 words, each of which contains all 5 vowels. I’ve been collecting these for several years. In fact, the first one I was aware of was while still in education (ding). A teacher at school accused me of being facetious (dong). I very nearly said, “Did you realise that ‘facetious’ contains all five vowels?” But luckily I realised just in time that that would just be confirming her ridiculous opinion.

I’ve been adding to the list pretty much ever since then, moreso recently, as I know how fascinated Liesel is(n’t) when I announce a new discovery. Most of them are from books, some from subtitles or dialogue (ooh) from TV shows and, this week, in the space of ten minutes, I spotted a few on my Twitter feed.


In (more or less) the order I noted them down, here are 300 words all containing at least one incidence each of A, E, I, O and U:

        1. Precaution
        2. Precarious
        3. Exhaustion
        4. Nonsequential
        5. Equiproportional
        6. Persuasion
        7. Insouciance
        8. Remuneration
        9. Augmentation
        10. Autoinjector
        11. Overpopulation
        12. Delusional
        13. Ecuadorian
        14. Dishonourable
        15. Rheumatologist
        16. Unsociable
        17. Expostulating
        18. Coeducational
        19. Neuroradiology
        20. Recapitulation
        21. Pseudobirthday
        22. Neuroplasticity
        23. Favourite
        24. Gregarious
        25. Intermolecular
        26. Consequential
        27. Equinoctial
        28. Manoeuvrability
        29. Autopsies
        30. Equatorial
        31. Malnourished
        32. Institutionalised
        33. Exsanguination
        34. Encouraging
        35. Repudiation
        36. Proceduralism
        37. Deucalion
        38. Autoimmune
        39. Anxiousness
        40. Hermaphroditus
        41. Refutation
        42. Unequivocal
        43. Authoritative
        44. Communicative
        45. Dehumanisation
        46. Misdemeanor
        47. Deputation
        48. Reputation
        49. Unifoliate
        50. Eunomia
        51. Unconscionable
        52. Housewarming
        53. Pterosauria
        54. Overqualified
        55. Uncontaminated
        56. Discombobulated
        57. Housemaid
        58. Unnegotiable
        59. Reconfiguration
        60. Moustachioed
        61. Denticulation
        62. Neurological
        63. Insurmountable
        64. Intercommunication
        65. Pelargonium
        66. Unprofessional
        67. Sequoia
        68. Authorised
        69. Authorities
        70. Endocarpium
        71. Autoerotic
        72. Mountaineer
        73. Education
        74. Abstemious
        75. Unmethodical
        76. Facetious
        77. Harbourside
        78. Carnoustie
        79. Cointreau
        80. Immunotherapy
        81. Evacuation
        82. Bivouacked
        83. Businesswoman
        84. Regulation
        85. Recuperation
        86. Euphoria
        87. Euphorbia
        88. Nonequivalence
        89. Unfashionable
        90. Revolutionary
        91. Cauliflower
        92. Behaviour
        93. Chivalrousness
        94. Pneumonia
        95. Boundaries
        96. Authentication
        97. Gelatinousness
        98. Absolutist
        99. Evolutionary
        100. Exclusionary
        101. Unaffectionate
        102. Encrustation
        103. Equation
        104. Prosecutorial
        105. Tambourine
        106. Unprofitable
        107. Auctioneer
        108. Trepidacious
        109. Tenacious
        110. Emulation
        111. Evaluation
        112. Undiscoverable
        113. Seismosaurus
        114. Ostentatious
        115. Crematorium
        116. Quaternion
        117. Discourage
        118. Mountainside
        119. Exhumation
        120. Functionalities
        121. Unemotional
        122. Preoccupation
        123. Semiautomatic
        124. Byelorussia
        125. Mendacious
        126. Excruciation
        127. Beautification
        128. Ejaculation
        129. Reunification
        130. Undomesticated
        131. Warehousing
        132. Documentaries
        133. Atrioventricular
        134. Fontainebleau
        135. Questionable
        136. Autofellatio
        137. Overcultivate
        138. Simultaneous
        139. Documentation
        140. Perambulation
        141. Auditioned
        142. Discontinuance
        143. Exculpation
        144. Exultation
        145. Sanctimoniousness
        146. Instrumentation
        147. Andouillettes
        148. Microcephalus
        149. Pandemonium
        150. Endeavouring
        151. Spermatogonium
        152. Nefarious
        153. Vexatious
        154. Manoeuvring
        155. Mozambique
        156. Ratatouille
        157. Bougainvillea
        158. Renunciation
        159. Biconjugate
        160. Savouries
        161. Endocranium
        162. Houseplant
        163. Intellectualisation
        164. Unequivocally
        165. Heliopause
        166. Duodecimal
        167. Boatbuilder
        168. Sacrilegious
        169. Sequestration
        170. Reuploading
        171. Filamentous
        172. Unapologetic
        173. Ketonuria
        174. Overfatigued
        175. Resuscitation
        176. Coequality
        177. Gubernatorial
        178. Labourite
        179. Simultaneously
        180. Flirtatiousness
        181. Dunbartonshire
        182. Boardinghouse
        183. Numerlogical
        184. Quadrisection
        185. Outdistance
        186. Jalousie
        187. Ultraviolet
        188. Aeronautical
        189. Unintentionally
        190. Unostentatious
        191. Authorise
        192. Glamourise
        193. Radioluminescent
        194. Communicated
        195. Contextualisation
        196. Conceptualisation
        197. Gigantopithecus
        198. Authenticator
        199. Perturbation
        200. Austronesian
        201. Fluoridate
        202. Uneconomical
        203. Unexceptional
        204. Grandiloquence
        205. Misbehaviour
        206. Muscoidea
        207. Beaujolais
        208. Boulangerie
        209. Praetorium
        210. Dauphinoise
        211. Jailhouse
        212. Questionableness
        213. Preoccupational
        214. Gauloise
        215. Consubstantiate
        216. Quatrefoil
        217. Plesiosaur
        218. Misfortunate
        219. Undemocratically
        220. Secularisation
        221. Dialogue
        222. Antineutrino
        223. Obituaries
        224. Heterosexuality
        225. Efficacious
        226. Uncomplimentary
        227. Unconstipated
        228. Gelatinous
        229. Repopulation
        230. Dehumanisation
        231. Neurobiochemical \
        232. Speculation / these two in a row in this book
        233. Portraiture
        234. Sulfonamide
        235. Tenaciously
        236. Langoustine
        237. Excommunication
        238. Carboniferous
        239. Eunoia
        240. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
        241. Crenulation
        242. Gourmandise
        243. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
        244. Enumeration
        245. Menstruation
        246. Overhauling
        247. Pasteurisation
        248. Reevaluation
        249. Neurofibromatosis
        250. Boulevardier
        251. Conceptualise
        252. Physiotherapeutic
        253. Automobile
        254. Autoshield
        255. Pseudohermaphrodite
        256. Larcenious
        257. Outpatient
        258. Unmotivated
        259. Uncontaminated
        260. Contextualise
        261. Autosuggestion
        262. Magnanimousness
        263. Overenthusiastically
        264. Equivocal
        265. Consanguineous
        266. Permutation
        267. Unexceptionable
        268. Armouries
        269. Humectation
        270. Underestimation
        271. Australopithecus
        272. Hallucinogen
        273. Europeanise
        274. Tragedious
        275. Putrefaction
        276. Fountainbridge
        277. Expurgation
        278. Groundbreaking
        279. Thermocoagulation
        280. Revolutionary
        281. Abstentious
        282. Miscellaneous
        283. Multimillionaire
        284. Audiophile
        285. Elocutionary
        286. Praseodymium
        287. Unsensational
        288. Housecleaning
        289. Eukaryotic
        290. Genitourinary
        291. Mykobacterium
        292. Abdoulie Sallah
        293. Prepublication
        294. Unsportsmanlike
        295. Anticoagulative
        296. Countersurveillance
        297. Decoagulation
        298. Gratuitousness
        299. Salaciousness
        300. Misevaluation
        301. Recurvation
        302. Ambiguousness
        303. Inoculated
        304. Tautologies
        305. Outlandishness
        306. Overenthusiastic
        307. Regularisation
      1. Oh, extra, extra, here are a few that don’t really count!
        1. (Tamsin) Outhwaite
        2. Jo Caulfield
        3. (Simone de) Beauvoir
        4. Serge Gainsbourg
        5. Liquorice Allsorts
        6. Au revoir!

See you soon for the 301st!

Parks and Recreation

The weather here has been as strange as it can be. Hot and muggy, torrential rain and thunderstorms, but we have been out and about, a little further afield, so things are looking up. This week saw the release of a couple of new records. I joined Anna Neale and a few other fans as she launched her new single Anarchy. I surrepticiously tried to take  a picture of the Zoom screen but it didn’t really work. It was good to see the world premiere(!) of the accompanying video, even if Zoom couldn’t quite keep up. You should view the video here, not just for the song itself, but for my first ever (minor) contribution to a ‘pop video’. See if you can spot it. Answers at the bottom.

Anna Neale and Mick

The song itself talks about the decline in societal standards including littering and graffiti. But sometimes, we see something daubed on a wall and it’s a positive message. So much better than the boring tags, however convoluted and multi-coloured they are.

Some positive graffiti

It’s a bit more risky these days to walk on a golf course, but you never know what you’ll come across. I found a lawn mower behind a bank of trees. I assume the green-keeper left it there on purpose. There were no golfers around on this occasion, so I didn’t need my tin hat after all.

The business end of a lawn mower

I walked along the river, a little beyond Simon’s Bridge and rather than retrace our stroll from a couple of weeks ago, I carried on as far as the beach. I was surprised that it was free of litter, very unusual around here, sadly. In Millgate Fields, there are ground-nesting birds apparently, but I didn’t see nor disturb any.

Costa del Mersey

A few other people were out and about too, but I was surprised to see a couple with walking poles. The terrain around here isn’t that bad, really. I tried using walking poles once. Never again. Mobile trip hazards. I’m still not sure if this is the one and only local heron or if there are a few living at different places on the river. It would be nice to see more than one at a time, though!

Friend or stranger?
Another family of ducks

And so we come to the most exciting day since March. We gathered up our passports and ventured outside and away from the local neighbourhood. Away from Northenden, further even than Didsbury. Our wonderful car started at the first attempt and we drove to Lyme Park for a walk. This, like all other National Trust properties has re-opened, but you have to book a time slot in advance.

BDM

The cafés are still closed and only one toilet is open, but that’s OK, we had a lovely walk, on hilly grass and, best of all, there weren’t many people, so it was easy to maintain social distancing.

Lyme Park mansion house itself is still closed too, so we had no excuse to not carry on walking.

Lyme House and Liesel
The Cage (a folly) and to the left, Manchester in the distance

The views from the top of the hill near The Cage were pretty good. We couldn’t work out whether the haze was mist or just air quality returning to pre-lockdown levels already.

Little white flowers
Foxgloves

The only wildlife we encountered were some cattle. We did see plenty of evidence of deer, sheep and rabbits, but they were all hiding in the trees and bushes because they’re not used to seeing people any more.

Cattle

We had a good reason to venture into Cheadle too, one day, saving ourselves 40p as car parking fees have been suspended. While Liesel conducted her business, I walked around. I think the S4G guys were a bit concerned, but I wasn’t deliberately loitering near their van while they took millions of pounds in used fivers into the bank. The housewares shop should be cautioned for their misleading descriptions.

This tub is quite clearly yellow, not red

But the floral display in the High street is magnificent.

Cheadle High Street is blooming marvellous

As I was walking home later on, I bumped into an old friend, well, old enemy. I think I’ve mentioned before that I lost my Thirty Year War with bindweed in our garden in Chessington. Well, it’s thriving well in some gardens near where we live, but I am so glad I don’t have to fight that battle any longer.

Bindweed

In local news, we learned that the Nat West bank, which has been closed for as long as we can remember, has been used as a cannabis farm. It’s in the middle of our main street.

And, just along the road from us, we think there was one of two drugs raids taking place in Northenden. And we found out why the local authorities aren’t bothered about all the vehicles that are parked on pavements.

Police but no traffic warden

The second exciting record release this week is Jessica Lee Morgan’s ‘Forthright’ album. It’s her fourth and, I think, her best so far. I can’t wait to see her live in concert again. Meanwhile, she’s been performing on YouTube, in a virtual world tour.

Jessica Lee Morgan – Forthright

And in case you’re wondering, my bit of Anna’s video is at 22 seconds. It’s graffiti local to where we live in Northenden. ‘Live work consume die?’ Which nicely summarises just about everything!

PS a couple of people in real life have asked what podcasts we’re listening to. Well, I’ve started compiling a list right here, so please take a look. Over and out.

My Eggs

Even the wind hasn’t been enough to deter us from a lot of walking. Sometimes it’s a bus ride followed by a walk. I think it’s fair to say we’re not looking forward to going home to be greeted by Storm Jorge and its cold, wet and windy so-called weather. T-shirt, shorts and sandals are my dress code de jour here in Malta, and I can put up with the funny looks from the strange locals, no worries.

The walk to St George’s beach was interesting, through a largely residential area of St Julian’s. One of the main hobbies here seems to be standing around on street corners chatting and laughing or, at a pinch, sitting in a stationary car, maybe lurking, maybe waiting for someone.

By the sea, I watched a couple of men fishing. I guess they caught something because the cat was having a party all by himself.

Angling

I didn’t walk to the casino, visible in the distance, but I found the sea again round the corner. St George’s Bay is, I’m sure, a very popular beach in Summer, but today, the only men sunbathing were wearing their business suits.

St George’s Bay

Sunbathers (not topless, that would be illegal)

Up the road and round the corner is a relatively new shopping centre and residential complex. This is the real centre of Paceville, but we don’t feel we’ve been missing out at all. There’s a Planet Hollywood and a Hard Rock Café not forgetting the obligatory Costa Coffee. Plus clubs, pubs and gambling dens.

Glass floor in Bay Street Shopping Complex

There’s a Women’secret rather than a Victoria’s Secret, but, as far as I could tell from a cursory 20-minute long glance, they’re selling the same kind of wares. Underwares.

Some of the architecture is fun, and it’s a shame so many of the buildings look a bit tatty, either faded in the Sun, or covered in a thin layer of dust from all the building work taking place.

Coloured balconies

I beg you pardon, I never promised you a roof garden

I was surprised the first time I saw cactuses growing here, just a week ago. But they’re all over the place. They’re prickly pears, imported from America, planted typically around fields to help reduce the force of the wind.

Prickly pear

The local cinema has 17 screens, but none of them were showing a film that particularly appealed this week.

It was a pleasant jaunt and the walk back was much faster, unexpectedly. I followed the bus route and I’m glad I didn’t catch a bus for what would have been for just one or two stops.

After a good night’s sleep and a slow start, the next bus took us in a south-easterly direction, to a place called Xgħajra. It is purely residential, of no interest whatsoever, which is probably why it’s not mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. So why did we go, then? Because once we got seats on the bus, we weren’t giving them up for anybody! Actually, the sea looked gorgeous here, not nice enough to want to swim in, but beautiful azure, lapis lazuli, a proper Mediterranean shade of blue.

The sea at Xgħajra

Back in Valletta, we walked around attempting to keep the warmth of the Sun on our backs, it was heaven. Liesel asked how long it would take to walk back home from here? If we took the ferry, about 55 minutes, was the answer. If we don’t take the ferry, nearly an hour and a half.

So, we went for the ferry. Thanks, Google Maps, we missed a vital turning at first. It wasn’t obvious that we had to cross the road, walk round in a loop and then walk under the road we’d just been on. It’s so easy to forget that the world is actually 3D.

A steep street in Valletta

Valletta-Sliema ferry

The single fare on the ferry was a mere €1.50. I suggested going back and forth several times as it’s so cheap, but the idea was vetoed.

The Dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta

The ferry ride was short and sweet and we took our time walking back home from Sliema, a route that is very familar to us now. But, of course, we still see things that we’ve not noticed before. Have you seen those fish, Mick? What fish? Those fish. Oh, those fish!

Fish

I thought for a minute we were in danger of seeing actual, real fish, in the sea!

By the diving school, I was impressed by the mural.

Pirate mural

If only all ‘graffitti artists’ were this talented, then there wouldn’t be so many accusations of vandalism. Less than 100 metres along the shoreline, though, we came across this.

My eggs

Well, maybe it’s funny in its own way, but we’re not in on this joke. It reminds me of the long-standing message daubed at Surbiton Station: ‘Foxes know’. Maybe both are secret messages between secret agents working secretly for secret organisations and we’re not supposed to know.

Gozo is a no-go. Yes, reluctantly, we decided not to visit Gozo on this occasion. We’re attempting to see as much of the main island as possible, but without feeling rushed or over-stretched. Anything we don’t see this time will still be here next time.

Unless of course, Malta does roll over into the Med. We found out today that due to local tectonics, Malta is rising in the west and sinking in the east. That’s why the cliffs at Dingli are so high and so interesting. It was a long bus ride there, but worth it. The views were lovely, and we even ate a decent lunch at a restauarnt called, by coincidence, The Cliffs, just near Dingli Cliffs.

Now we’ve found Maltese bread, we can’t get enough of it. And our lunch came with some today. My salad included quail’s eggs, something I’ve not eaten before. What are they like? Well, they taste like chicken’s eggs to me. The implication is, there are quails hereabouts. But we’ve not seen any birds other than pigeons and sparrows. Nice to see sparrows, yes, but it would be good to see something more exotic too. The sound of budgies came out of someone’s window, but it might as well have been a tape recorder.

Stick man on a stick tricycle, in Dingli

It was good to be out in the country, too. We saw more vegetation today than we have the whole time we’ve been in Malta.

Just a small bunch of local flowers

I don’t think I’m breaching any state secrets by posting this photo.

A big golf ball listening station (top secret)

It’s probably a secret listening station, but whether owned by Malta, Italy, UK, USA or someone else, we don’t know. But combined with ‘My eggs’ from yesterday, I’m beginning to think Malta is Spy Central.

Imagine my disappointment when I found a sign claiming that this is a ‘Navigation Transmitting Site’. A likely story.

A view from the top

We approached the edge of the cliff, but not as close as Jyoti would have ventured!

Another view from the top

Selfie of the day

Teetering right on the edge of Dingli Cliffs is this cute little chapel, the Church of St Mary Magdalen.

Marija Maddalena

Nearby was a stall selling Maltese coffee. Yes, of course I was tempted, but I’d had two coffees already by this point. Plus, if it’s anything like Turkish coffee that you can stand a spoon up in, I don’t think we’d get along very well. Thanks for the offer, though.

Yes, until today, we were beginning to feel that the whole of Malta is just one big city, one huge building site, so it was nice to see some greenery. In fact, as well as the pretty flowers, we saw not only our first butterflies in Malta, but also our first wasps. We saw a beetle. We saw a really big butterfly that was in fact a kite being flown by someone who we couldn’t see. And we saw a herd of goats and sheep just wandering along the road, with no concern for the honking drivers.

A sheep or a goat or maybe a shoat or a geep

I knew it was the day but I missed it by less than a minute! Yes, today, I took my 500,000th step since I started using a Pedometer rather than the Fitbit Zip that was eating batteries like Smarties.

Half a million plod plod plod

Training for my walking challenge next month is going very well, thanks for asking.

I’m aiming to walk at least 10,000 steps every day in March, come hell or high water or Storm Jorge. Please, if you can, help me raise some money for Cancer Research, just follow this link, please, thank you, thank you, thank you!

The bus ride home was long and relaxing and allowed plenty of time for the mind to wander. All the buses here display their route number at the front, along with the name of the next bus stop. I asked Liesel if there was a bus route 66 at all. Why? Because I want to get my kicks there.

Most of the drivers have been friendly, although many of them seem to be in a great hurry all the time. But if they see someone running for the bus, they will wait and open the door for them: something Manchester bus drivers could learn to do.

We’ve experienced a few clouds of cigarette smoke here, but it’s not been as offensive as in Paris a couple of years ago. There, it was almost compulsory to walk through a smoke-filled tent before you could get into a restaurant. Here in Malta, you’re just unlucky if the wind gusts the wrong way.

It is a remarkably multicultural, multi-ethnic place. We’ve heard 101 different languages spoken, some recognisable, some not, we’ve seen people from all around the world, visitors like us of course, students as well as locals and workers from all around Europe. We’ve never felt threatened nor in danger here. We’ve heard police sirens just a few times in the time we’ve been here whereas we’re used to hearing several each day at home in Northenden.

We arrived at our ‘hood, alighted the bus for the walk to Wok to Walk where we ate, and on the way we home, we bought another loaf of Maltese bread which, alas, we’ll have to consume all in one day!

That’s that, then

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

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

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

A bagel without coffee is like a life without love

The year of the rat

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

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

William at the wheel

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

Log Pile

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

Sadly, someone has left their friends behind.

Dunham Massey wildlife

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

Snowdrops

It’s beginning to look a lot like Springtime

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

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

William’s Big Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Britain Tidy

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

Well, that’s that!

2 is a Magic Number

At the risk of this becoming yet another unnecessarily foodie blog, let me just say how much we all enjoyed the waffles for breakfast: thanks, Liesel!

We went into Manchester where Helen picked up a scooter from Shopmobility, located in and funded by the Harry Potter shop in the Arndale Centre. This is apparently the only non-profit HP shop anywhere: thanks, JK!

Who’s this scary Harry Potter charcter? No prizes, just for fun!

We wandered around the city, admiring the mix of old and new architecture not to mention the humour.

Giving beer a bad name

Helen, Liesel and I managed to lose Steve for a while, but we knew he’d probably catch up with us at Albert Square, the location of the Christmas Market. Lots of food here as well as arts and crafts, and not all Christmas flavoured, which I think is more interesting. We didn’t sample any of the beer though, nor the Christmas punch, even though the stall is very ornate.

Christmas punch

Neither did we go skating on the pop-up ice rink. But I did enjoy watching some very tentative skating for a short while: good to see I’m not the only one who can only go forwards and can only stop by grabbing hold of the rail at the side!

Skating on thin ice

There are a lot of people in Manchester sleeping rough, so how fantastic to find a bench suitable for homeless person to have a nap on.

Petrified rough sleeper

It’s a well-made sculpture, no doubt, but I sense a mixed message here: let’s think about these poor people; and let’s restrict their options.

Helen spotted Steve and called his name across the road. You probably heard her. I do know she’s responsible for causing some avalanches in Switzerland.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We do like a good busker, worth a couple of quid if they’re not ruining one of my favourite songs.

Bob Marley singing Redemption Song

Next day, Helen and Steve, our two guests, went off on their own adventure after Liesel and I dropped them off at the railway station in Didsbury. We broke our fast at Scholars and Saints where I took some photos of their photos and artefacts.

The car from The Prisoner

Later on, I went on a solo walk down to the river and beyond. It was a bit of a wild goose chase, really. Not literally a wild goose, it was more a very timid black heron, I think, that flew further along the river every time I approached shooting distance.

This is as close as I could get to the elusive heron

I’m British so I have a genetic predisposition to whingeing about the weather. But today, it was perfect, lots of blue sky and then, of course, the odd splash of colour was lovely to see.

Flowers, leaves and a bit of microphotography

Our long-term project to get to know the area continues. We finally visited John Rylands Library in Manchester. What a fascinating place, full of old books that you’re not allowed to take out. They restore old books here too. The gothic style of the building gives the impression of a church, hence…

Liesel and fellow traveller at prayer before the guided tour began

Fabulous vaulted ceiling

Light switches

These light switches look like gas taps because that’s exactly what they are. In the early days of electricity, the supply was fitted by gas workers and while they knew about gas taps, proper light switches were still to be invented.

People can’t see in from the street but these large windows, apparently made from the bottoms of bottles, let plenty of natural light in.

Big bright windows

Christmas tree waiting by our bus stop

This week, Grandchild day fell on his special day: Happy 2nd birthday, William!

William with his two favourite balloons, the orange ones

We took him to the Ice Cream Farm near Chester because it was such a lovely, warm, sunny day. I lie. It was freezing, with a bitterly cold, biting wind, straight from Siberia. He enjoys the sand and water play, and for much of the time, we were alone. This is ok, but it was up to us to keep the water flowing and that’s quite hard work: pumps, Archimedes screws, buckets.

He wasn’t entirely comfortable in his new all-in-one waterproof outfit, maybe we tightened it up too much, but we knew that if he were to fall over in the water, he wouldn’t get all his clothes wet!

William in his birthday suit, sort of

Inspecting the Strawberry Falls

Outside, we let him walk and run around a bit, but I think we were both pleased (and relieved) when he agreed it would be nice to go indoors and eat something. And yes, later, of course we had ice cream, despite the sub-arctic conditions outside.

The Flake didn’t last long

The poor, exhausted little chap fell asleep on the way home, of course, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t. Good job Liesel was driving, just the same.

While Helen and Steve were visiting other people further afield, I went for a quick walk to the supermarket and beyond. It’s good to see that some folks in Northenden know how to have a good time, but what a mess they left behind

Nitrous oxide capsules: no laughing matter

While Liesel was working for her Alaskan-based friend, I enjoyed another solitary walk, some puzzles, some writing, some radio and some podcasts.

Helen and Steve left for home, so we visited Didsbury for our usual Saturday morning activities. Mine involved lying down and being massaged, muscles stretched, popped, put back into place.

Today, two days after William’s second birthday, we went to his house for a family get-together. We were joined by Auntie Andrea (Liam’s sister) and Uncle Paul with their daughters Annabel and Emily. Papa was here too but poor old Nana, Una, stayed away with her flu-like contagion. Still, three grandparents out of four isn’t bad.

What a beautiful family: thy should be proud to have my genes, apart from the whingeing-about-the-weather ones

What a good blow, William!

His cake depicted characters from the hit children’s TV show Hey Duggee!, which we always enjoy watching on our babysitting days.

It was a great party, with hide and seek, dancing, jelly, balloons and presents; and of course, we all took many photos!

In this week’s edition of University Challenge, our two teams are: Annabel, William, Martha and Emily on the top, while Paul, Andrea, Liam and Jenny are on the bottom row

Four Shops in One Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fab four: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

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

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

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

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

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

Help is available

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

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

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

S T U V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocking chair

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

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

Manchester Museum

I rode my bike for the first time in over a year and I didn’t fall off. Total distance covered: less than one mile, but it’s a start. Later in the week, longer rides were precluded by the monsoon season. A month’s worth of rain in less than a day. Thank goodness we’re on the top floor in our luxury block.

Martha and William are the highlights of the week of course. We might have a small moan when we drag ourselves out of bed early on a Sunday morning, but watching them both in the swimming pool, enjoying it and learning, is very gratifying.

Liam and William in the pool

We all, six of us, had brunch at The Laundrette in Chorlton. That’s a restaurant, not the place where you wash clothes, that wouldn’t be very nice, dropping crumbs on other people’s washing. Liesel and I again realised, we’d never drive as far just to eat out when we lived in Chessington.

Liam’s Dad, Alan, very kindly planed the bottom of the door leading from the hall into our living room. Just one of the unintended side-effects of having a new, thicker carpet installed last week. As part of the decluttering project in Chessington, I’d passed on my plane knowing that I wouldn’t be doing any more serious woodwork. But if I still had it, I’d be planing the door, several days later, very tentatively shaving a half a millimetre off at a time. Thank goodness for experts.

One sunny day, I took advantage and went for a long walk.

River Mersey

I saw and followed the sign towards St Hilda’s church. Somehow I missed it from which I can only deduce that Hilda is the patron saint of invisible churches. Or maybe I just wasn’t concentrating.

My route followed the river for a long way and I was beginning to think how relaxing it might be, out in a boat. Until, that is, I came across some very half-hearted rapids.

Rapids

I kept a list of all the wildlife I encountered, ducks, rats, otters, beavers, deer, moorhens, coots, foxes, bears… and the grand total was a big fat zero. A few insectsbuzzed about, busy doing what they do and that’s it: slightly disappointing.

Fallen tree

After so much rain recently, it looks as though this tree could no longer hang on by its root tips. It slid down the slope to a sad end in the river.

People who know me probably also know that the twelve-year old hiding within this old body often writes a certain three-letter word in the sand on beaches. Well, I am not alone, as this tag on a pillar supporting the M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road shows.

Bumbag

Grandchildren Day saw Oma playing with Playdough, Play-d’oh!, however it’s spelt, but she did let Martha join in a bit too.

Martha and Liesel and Play-Doh

After a nap (William and me), we took a bus into Manchester where we met Jenny for lunch. This was a bit of an experiment, really, to see how the children would cope with seeing their Mum halfway through a working day. Martha wanted to go back to work with Jenny, but other than that, we had a good time. Well, nobody was too traiumatised.

Liesel and I took the children to Manchester Museum, just down the road. Martha wanted to see the dinosaurs while William was more interested in the froggies. Taking pictures through glass in a darkened vivarium trying to avoid reflections of the few spotlights was a challenge. And we weren’t allowed to remove the frogs for photographic purposes either.

Green frogs

Cephalopod

It’s fascinating to see what interests them both and I’m not sure Martha believed me when I told her she had bones inside her just like those on display, just much, much smaller.

Both grandchildren fell asleep on the way back to Jenny’s and after watching the first half of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, we went to play in the garden.

Martha is flying

It was her Dad who threw Martha into the sky, not me, I’m not sure I could do that with someone else’s child.

And now, after a long, long break in the proceedings, it was time to finish off the VHS video digitisation project. I’d copied most of the videos onto the PC some years ago but had to make use of a professional service to copy some of the more fragile ones.

Windows XP

Booting up in Windows XP was a delight. Bish, bash, bosh, here’s the screen, you can do something straightaway. Not like Windows 7 or 10 where the disk thrashes about doing who knows what for a long, long time. Ooh, a bit of a rant crept in, there.

The quality of the footage is still very disappointing of course: I was reminded why I’d shelved the project for so long. Playing a newly created DVD on a proper DVD player revealed even more defects. But if I can get some stills from the videos, that will still be of value.

Another morning in Didsbury culminated in a very late breakfast at Greens. We took on enough energy to be able to install more shelves in the flat. We unpacked several boxes of CDs. A ridiculous number of CDs. I reckon if you have CDs that you can’t remember playing at all, or even buying, you’ve almost certainly got too many!

After a month’s rainfall yesterday, we had a gorgeous sunny day today. If it turns out to have been a month’s worth of sunshine as well, well, I think we’ll all be extremely miffed and very disappointed.

To Orange

We woke up in Manly, several degrees further south and several degrees cooler than Queensland. In the morning, after work, Helen and Liesel went to the shopping mall. My invitation is still in the post, so I went for a massage and a walk instead.

A fire engine and several police cars in close proximity plus a few people looking at something: the something was a damaged car. It’s hard to see how a vehicle can be driven fast enough to cause that much damage in the narrow roads of Manly, but Helen assures me it happens all the time.

Grey, cloudy Manly Beach

Manly Beach provided two contrasting views. In one direction, a bit grey and gloomy. In the other, bright blue skies, an image worthy of a picture postcard.

Picture postcard Manly Beach

My second perambulation of the day was arranged to coincide with the ridiculously early sunset time of 5pm.

Early sunset

I was surprised to see so many people still out and about and playing in the sea.

A little bit later

For supper, Helen had baked pies for me. As requested. Pies with Quorn chunks and leeks. I do like pies and it’s been disappointing a couple of times to come across a pie shop only to find it’s not open. Or in some cases, to find that the only pies totally sold out are the vegetarian pies. I like pies and I miss pies probably more than any other single food item. Really looking forward to a pie fest when we get home. Lovely pies, thanks, Helen!

I’ve not watched any proper TV for ages but tonight, we watched the first episode of “Gentleman Jack”, several hours before it was shown back in the UK! Well, we watched half of it. Martha and William called Helen after their swimming lessons and we watched them on a laptop screen rather than a phone screen, both talking, both delightful to watch. William is quite happy to pilfer tomatoes from Martha. He’s quite happy to climb out of his chair and onto the table. He’s 18 months old, in case you’d forgotten.

Liesel and I have suffered a few early mornings but today’s early rise in Manly was really hard.

Adam’s away for work, so Helen’s offered to take Liesel and me away for a couple of days. Our third Aussie road trip on this visit. We left the apartment at 7am, drove through the busy streets of Sydney but, as a multiple-occupied car, we were allowed in the special inside lane for special people.

The city views were enhanced by the odd patch of mist.

Early mist in Richmond

Sydney’s a big city, it takes hours to drive through all the suburbs. And people commute these great distances too, which we all would find so depressing.

We stopped briefly at the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens and what a beautiful view over the Blue Mountains. The Sun was out, it was a bit misty in the valleys, there were some Autumnal colours.

Misty Blue

A Japanese artist would produce a much better image than my camera ever could, but it was a sunning view.

We had a quick look at some of the botanicals too, and as usual, a longer visit here is recommended.

Wollemi, a prehistoric pine

This display of colour is in direct competition with anything at the Chelsea Flower Show, which is on right now.

Forever Autumn

The sundial was fantastic: if we had a garden, this would fit right in.

Botanic Gardens Sundial

We stopped for lunch in Bathurst, and this is another cute little place that we need to explore more. The architecture is very attractive, once you look up from the modern-day shop façades.

Bathurst

Helen coped with it very well, but I wondered whether this ‘squareabout’, a square roundabout at a crossroads, which you drive around the wrong way, was designed purely to confuse the slightly less astute visitor.

Squareabout in Bathurst

The landscapes and skyscapes were great to look at: sometimes, we could have been looking at an English pastoral scene, but then you’d see something quintessentially Australian, and come back to reality.

We arrived at Heifer Station Cellar Door where we went on a tour of the vineyard, on a golf buggy. We sampled wines as we progressed, stopping every few minutes while our guide told us about the different grapes they grow here and the different wines produced.

The vines

We tried sparkling, white, rosé and red. They were all good, I recognised some of the flavours but my suggestion that one had a hint of licorice was slightly poopooed! One of the sampled wines was only bottled five days ago.

There are some animals here too, including a petting zoo with a Shetland pony, some goats and a pig. Best of all was the hieland coo.

Hieland coo

We all bought several bottles and if we don’t drink it all, Liesel and I will have to lug some bottles all the way home.

Car on a tree stump

Mount Canobolas is the highest peak in this section of the range. It is claimed that, looking west, there is nothing higher until you reach Madagascar. We drove to the summit in order to watch the sunset. We didn’t see Madagascar.

It was a little bit colder up on top, but the views were good, in all directions.

Setting Sun behind the Central Mapping Authority Geodetic Station

Selfie of the day (thanks, Helen)

Orange sunset near Orange

It became dark very quickly once the Sun set. Helen drove us to our b&b in Orange, stopping in town so we could buy some groceries.

It was a cold house. There, I said it. The floor is made of ice, or so my feet told me. We turned on the heater. A few days ago, we were still using air conditioning. No more. Heat is required. Helen and Liesel both feel the cold more than I do, but it was a bit of a shock coming into this cold storage unit pretending to be holiday accommodation. Brrr.

To Mission Beach

Mossman Gorge is just north of Port Douglas and was the venue for our first hike of the day. There’s an Aboriginal Village between the visitor’s centre and the gorge itself, and we were requested not to walk through. So, along with just about everyone else, we took the shuttle bus service, and enjoyed a much shorter walk.

Small stream

In the rainforest, you’re always on the lookout for something different: unusual trees and other plants, maybe even animals. Sometimes it just looks and feels prehistoric, but it’s always gorgeous. We’re grateful for the boardwalks they’ve installed, it’s easier for us townies, but it means that you are still in touch with modern life, with civilisation and to a certain extent, that’s what we’re trying to get away from.

Mossman rapids

Just one bloke ignored all the warnings and jumped in the water to ruin everyone else’s photos.

Liesel was delighted to walk across the relatively new Rex Creek Bridge. It was a bit wobbly but we all survived.

The challenging Rex Creek Bridge

Normally, there’s nothing special about moss, but this large patch was almost glowing.

Moss, man

Back at Port Douglas, we walked up to the Lookout and along some of Four Mile Beach.

Four Mile Beach from the Lookout

We both commented on how pleasant the temperature was, after being in the heat for so long. One day, we’ll be complaining it’s too cold, I know, but right now, it’s just right.

It’s a nice beach, flat, with perfect sand, but there are three main hazards to look out for. Box jellyfish might come along and sting you. Crocodiles might come along and eat you. Humans might slip off the rocks and fall onto you.

Another warning sign

A small section of the sea was safe to swim in as there was a net keeping the box jellyfish out. Both Liesel and I fought the temptation to leap in.

The safe swimming area

We brushed the sand off our feet and set off for Cairns. The winding road by the coast was great but it was nice when it straightened out for a while.

Liesel pointed and said that that was one job she wouldn’t want to do, and I can see that it might become a wee bit exhausting and even boring and repetitive. Putting plastic bags over the new bunches of bananas before they grow too big, presumably as a pest deterrent. I assume they’re not conventional plastic bags, but allow air and moisture to flow through. Hundreds, if not thousands of trees in fields, different coloured bags making it all look quite artistic. I wonder if we’ll see more sometime, and get a picture?

In Cairns, we looked at the menu outside Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar and there were plenty of nice-looking vegetarian dishes to choose from. We went in and the sign at the door said “Please wait to be seated. Grazie.” Hang on, I thought, that’s Italian, not Greek. Greek would be Ευχαριστώ. As we realised we’d entered the wrong place, we were being shown to a table. We had Italian food instead, the waitress was very friendly but we didn’t ask whether her accent was American, Irish or something else: it was certainly flexible.

While eating, we heard one solitary rumble of thunder, and as it was cloudy, we thought a storm was on its way. We had felt a few spots of rain at Mossman Gorge. But no. We later wondered whether it was thunder after all, maybe it was a jet.

After lunch, we walked along the Esplanade and enjoyed watching birds out on the mudflats. The pelicans were a lovely surprise.

Australian Pelicans

They’re so elegant when they glide just a few inches above the water with barely a twitch of the wings.

Curlew rooting away

Curlew with food plus photobomb

We passed by the war memorial, always sad to see, but the big gun has been out of commission since the 1960s, so the birds are safe.

25 Pounder artillery gun/Howitzer

This chap was standing still for ages, to the point where I wondered if it was real.

Very stationary egret

He had his eyes on something, I was poised with the camera, he didn’t move, I didn’t dare blink, I stretched to relieve a crick in my back and boom, he moved, I missed the moment, but he walked away with a juicy morsel and I’m sure he winked at me as if to say “gotcha”.

Caught something tasty

Yellow-fronted beachcomber

A couple of exercise areas caught our attention, briefly, but we decided to leave the equipment for other people to enjoy. Not that there was a long queue or anything.

Promenade gym

The children’s play area by contrast was fully occupied and we thought these serving suggestions were pretty good.

Playground

Back in the car, as we progressed in a southerly direction, we were treated to two signs indicating “The highest mountain in Queensland”. Well, we thought, they can’t both be right. The two contenders are neighbours. Mt Bartle Frere is 1611 or 1622 m depending on which source you believe while Mt Bellenden Ker is a mere 1593 m above sea level. In any case, these mountains had their heads in the clouds as we drove by.

One of the highest mountains in Queensland

It’s election time in Australia and the radio adverts are the same old same old, but this large mural is hard-hitting in a fun way.

Vote for … somebody

We made a quick detour to Etty Bay, E Bay for short, because it’s famous for the local family, group, herd, whatever, of cassowaries.

Etty Bay

The beach was packed: just one young lady reading or meditating or something. I walked to the far end to use the facilities and when I told Liesel there actually was a toilet and I didn’t need to use the bush, she decided to go too. I said I’d walk back up the hill looking out for cassowaries, and she could pick me up when I thumbed a lift. Hah. The only cassowaries I saw were on road signs. I did find some very tasty-looking red berries though.

Juicy red berries

No, I didn’t eat any, no idea what they are.

Liesel drove up the hill, big grin arriving well before she did. Did you see a cassowary, she asked? No, I replied. I did, she boasted, by the campsite.

Liesel’s cassowary

I was tempted to say, oh please, please, please, take me back, but it was getting dark. The Sun sets behind the mountains and, being still in the tropics, there’s no real twilight period.

Sunset over the mountains

In Mission Beach, we have a room in the house shared with the host, Judy. She is a very friendly, chatty kiwi. She told us there would be no naked people in the pool, so that put the kibosh on my plans. She didn’t need to see one of her guests bending over outside without any clothes on, again. The pool was lovely, though, I just floated around for about 15 minutes, looking up at the lack of stars. It had been overcast for most of the day.

Mick in the pool

You can do a sky dive here at Mission Beach, landing on the actual beach. I wonder? I will if Liesel does…

Return to Darwin

Our second visit to Florence Falls was much more worthwhile. Everyone else is back at work and we took advantage. We even found a parking spot under the shade of a tree and that’s very unusual.

We had a bit of a moan about the lack of wildlife spotted recently, so it was delightful to see some on the early morning drive. Two wallabies crossed the road in front of us but even better, we passed a kite flying at a very low level next to the road, with his breakfast in his claws. Very exciting!

Florence Falls

We walked to the viewing platform and then down the 135 steps to the plunge pool. 135? I made it 168 and even then, I think I missed some when we greeted passers-by.

Where’s Liesel?

Where’s the golden orb spider?

The pool itself was inviting but I was keeping my powder, and my body, dry for later on.

The plunge pool

Before we’d left, a group of young people came down, started swimming, a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’, enjoying the echoes.

One of many early morning lizards

Similarly, Buley Rockhole was relatively deserted. We were surprised but very pleased that there was so little litter in either place. There are no bins, you’re supposed to take all your rubbish away, and it seems that the vast majority did so. Either that, or the rangers had done a good job very early.

Buley Rockhole without the crowds

We considered holding a spontaneous jumble sale when we came across several items of forgotten clothing.

Any offers considered

One Dad was having fun with his little girl, encouraging her to jump in from the rock. But, at the last moment, he couldn’t bear to look.

Go on, jump, you know you want to…

Yes, I was tempted to join in here but we had other plans.

Along the road we stopped by Tolmer Falls Lookout. This was a half-hour walk, along a boardwalk well above the trees. Another spectacular view reminding us again just how immense and impressive this country is.

It’s a big, big country alright

The waterfall itself looked relatively small and insignificant in the distance: I felt sorry for it.

Tolmer Falls

Tolmer Falls

As we walked back along the walkway, we saw a couple of ladies looking at photos on their phones. So we just ploughed on right up to them. Thereby scaring away the goanna they’d actually been photographing. We apologised of course before taking our own pictures.

Goanna

What a great day for animals, in the end.

I still needed to pay a couple of bills, so we returned to Wangi Falls to use their wifi. All that and one of the credit card bills was for just 79p.

We had coffee and a sandwich and then, at last, I ripped my clothes off and jumped into the water, shouting and yee-haaing. Well, I went in quietly, one slow step at a time. It was cool and refreshing. Liesel walked to the lookout deck and saw this.

Where’s Mick?

I swam over to her and I couldn’t believe the size of the golden orb spider underneath where she was standing. For the first time ever, I realised how useful a selfie stick might be: you could safely take the spider’s picture from up above.

We encountered one other unexpected sight today. We’ve seen smoke from the road a few times, but today we saw big plumes of smoke and big flames. Yes, a couple of big fires. We wondered where the supervisors were, being sure it was a controlled blaze.

Other than that, the drive back to Batchelor and then along the highway back to Darwin was uneventful.

We’re in a motel for the night. We chose the slighty more expensive cabin at the back, away from the noise of the traffic on the main road. What they didn’t tell us was that we’re under the training flight path of the local RAAF base. We can hear them, oh yes, those jets are loud, but we can also feel them through the floor.

RAAF planes in close formation

Sadly, this is our final night in the Northern Territory and I’m already feeling a bit homesick for the place. I really hope we come back sometime.