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.

Parties in Portland

After breakfast on another spontaneous workday for Liesel, we picked Suvan up and drove to Amrit’s office. I don’t really know what it’s like to work in there, but the view from the window is magnificent. A park outside and, of course, mountains in the background. I was tempted to fiddle with the office equipment, but I didn’t touch anything. Instead, leaving Suvan and Liesel to work, I went for a walk on yet another sunny day. I don’t know why sunny days in Anchorage still surprise me, but the word ‘Anchorage’ itself, I think, has a sort of synaesthetic link with cold and snow and discomfort.

The Cuddy Family Midtown Park has a playground and a pond and was very pleasant to walk through. Canada geese expect to be fed.

Be kind to geese

Not on my watch, baby! I didn’t have any food on me at all.

Anchorage Municipal Library aka Z J Loussac Public Library

Which is why almost as soon as I found the café in the library, I bought myself a muffin to go with the coffee. I made myself comfortable and spent the next few hours writing.

A few other people were there too, mostly studying or reading the newspaper. The homeless man used the facilities and made aggressive noises as if looking for a fight, but nobody paid him any attention and he soon wandered off.

I went for a longer walk, visiting New Sagaya for a coffee, that was good, but they had no WiFi, outrageous!

Telecoms

I passed by this telecommunications centre and checked, but no, my 4G signal was still not working properly. It comes and goes. Maybe I should have forked out for a local SIM card for these few weeks.

The signs of homeless people on streets or even in amongst the trees near the park is always  distressing. But the family flying the kite in the park cheered me up. Just as I arrived back at the office, I received a message from Liesel asking me to bring back an iced coffee. Well, if I’d had a decent signal, I might have received the message in time. Sorry, Liesel!

It was nice to see Amrit in the office now too, keeping an eye on Suvan and Liesel.

Back at home, after everyone else had gone to bed, I watched Spelling Bee on TV. This is a national contest for children aged 15 or under, and they do indeed have to spell some very unusual words. Just my thing, you’d think. And so it should be, but the TV presentation was awful. You see two contestants, then some waffle then a load of adverts. And I mean a lot of adverts. The interesting part of the show accounted for less than ten percent of actual broadcast time. What a shame for those children whose moment of glory was squeezed out by an advert for prescription only laxatives or something.

There are several channels playing music, called Music Choice. I found one playing Tiny Dancer, probably my favourite Elton John song, which I enjoyed before going to bed myself.

Woke up and got up early and had a jolly good stretch. Other than that, and a spot of packing, what a lazy day.

Mom drove us to the airport for the start of our next adventure. We flew to Seattle. But, before boarding the plane, what a palaver.

Going through Security, my Passport and boarding pass were deemed acceptable.  Then the queue split into two: Liesel went to the left, I to the right. Ok. Liesel was processed, scanned, bag X-rayed, no problem. Me? I’m just a trouble-maker.

I started to remove the electronics from my bag, as usual. Officer #1 aggressively: ‘Leave everything in your bag. If you want to take your things out, go to the back of the other line’. So I put my stuff back: Kindle, keyboard, and the pedometer which has caused so much concern on other occasions.

Do I take my shoes and belt off? ‘Yes, of course’. Was I beginning to get flustered? A bit. By mistake, I left the phone in my pocket, so that raised alarm when I went through the body scanner. (Meanwhile, nobody seemed at all bothered by the two trays with bags that nobody claimed ownership of.)

Officer #2 frisked me, and found the phone, which then had to go back and through the Xray machine in the other line. But wait, there’s more! The metal poppers on my pockets always set off a klaxon. Maybe your machine is a bit too sensitive?

So now I’m waiting for things from both sides: my bag, shoes and belt from this side and my phone from the other side, from where Liesel had emerged unscathed about three decades earlier.

I notice that the tray containing my bag has been pulled to the side. Officer #3 is going through another, female, passenger’s bag. Her problem? The ice pack keeping her insulin cool had thawed during the day. So it’s now full of liquid water. I expected Officer #3 to go through my bag, for whatever reason, in the fullness of time. I saw Liesel waiting patiently and tried very hard not to make any signs that might cause suspicion here in Paranoia Central. Officer #3  told me and the others waiting here to go behind the screen over there, which we did, about 5 or 6 of us. She looked through someone else’s bag first, but this was a quick process.

She then began to chat with a colleague.

Officer #4 (at last!) held up my my tray. ‘Is this anybody’s? No?’ Not giving me a chance, he started to take it away again. I had to shout that it was mine. I don’t like shouting at the best of times. But here? In a high sceurity zone? Where I really don’t want to attract any attention? If #3 hadn’t sent me so far away, I would have been on the spot when #4 picked up my bag.

He looked inside, and picked out my water bottle. Oh no. I think even he was surprised at how few drops of water there were inside. I wonder if he too thinks that this new machine is a bit too sensitive? Maybe we should leave our electronics in the bag and take out the water bottles? He was very polite as he gave me my tray but I was still stunned by the whole ridiculous process, I almost forgot to take it with me.

Still a bit war-weary I started to unhitch my hat from the bag, something I really didn’t need to do. I only tied it up there because it was a big deal last time, when it was perched on my head. What I should have been doing is putting on my shoes and belt. And breathe.

I know the rules change from trip to trip, from country to country, from airport to airport, but I think the rules should be consistent in the same place at the same time. And, if the new equipment being  tested (in place of the well-known Xray machine) can’t ignore a few drops of water in a bottle, then it would be no hardship for us to remove bottles from our bags, honest.

Liesel tweeted a complaint to TSA but has had no response. And having written it all down, I now feel purged of the whole sorry incident. Grrr. Whinge of the day.

What a relief to finally be able to sit down on the plane, a small QX E175, built by Brazilian company Embraer, although they’re now pretty much owned by Boeing.

There are no middle seats, everyone is by the window or by the aisle. And, according to the Alaska Air site: the E175 maximum takeoff weight is equivalent to approximately 10,000 Copper River salmon.

I read my book and did some puzzles but the main entertainment was provided by the gentleman sitting behind me. He had trouble stowing his bag under the seat in front. The steward was very patient as he spent several minutes trying to explain the concept of turning the bag sideways!

The flight was pleasant and what a surprise to see it turn dark outside after the Sun set.

Seattle

I suspect this is not the best photo ever taken from an aeroplane, of Seattle at night.

From the airport, a short bus ride took us to the car rental facility. The car was waiting for us and after a long, long day, Liesel drove us to our beds.

Red Roof was alright, and our room had been cleaned by Eulogia, which I thought was a beautiful name, specially since it contains all five vowels!

And you’ll never guess where we had breakfast the next morning? IHOP was a better bet than Denny’s, we felt. Neither of us could finish our omelettes. American portions win again.

We drove south through the state capital, Olympia, but I blinked and missed it. Apart from a couple of showers, it was a nice sunny drive to Portland, Oregon. We commented on how much longer the trucks and tankers are here compared with what we’re used to at home.

Funny old number plate

So: what did you think when you first saw this number plate? Liesel thought ‘squirt one’ but even though this isn’t an imaginary car, I read it as ‘square root of minus one’.

Our rental car on this occasion is a Toyota Prius and whenever we turn the engine off at the end of a trip, a message flashes up on the screen: ‘Check rear seats’. And every time I turn round to look, I see that they are in fact still there.

Also, it gives you a mark at the end of each journey telling you how good or bad a driver you are. Liesel was typically getting 70+ out of 100. (Once, later on, I sat in the driver’s seat trying to change the speed display from mph to kph. I was unsuccessful, drove absolutely nowhere, but was given  95 / 100!)

The plan was to meet people at The Rose Garden but we arrived a bit too late. Nevertheless, we had  a good workout here, walking up and down some of the steeper inclines.

Just a few of the gorgeous roses currently in bloom

The Oregon Holocaust Memorial was incredibly moving. As it should be.

Bronze representation of a child’s doll

The children’s toys are especially poignant. Such a contrast with the colourful roses just a short walk away.

We found our Airbnb in Portland, and it was no coincidence that we were greeted by Jyoti, Suvan, Gita and Troy as well as some of Jyoti’s relations who we’d not met before: sister Preeti, cousin Guddu, nieces Simran and Suchi.

We were gathered here for a few days to help Gita celebrate her graduation from Lewis and Clark College. She is training as Family Therapist and we’re all very proud of her.

Guddu put together a wonderful charcuterie but the main debate was on how to pronounce it. I think we spent most of the rest of the day chatting and eating and eating and mixing and chatting and eating. And dancing, although I still have this phobia of stomping on other people’s feet.

It’s the first time we’ve shared a b&b with lots of people we know, and there was a bit of a party atmosphere.

It was a bit overcast and even drizzly as we drove over to Gita’s house the following morning.

Pavement art

I think this literal splash of colour is celebrating June being LGBT Pride Month.

We walked to a nearby street food market on the site of Hawthorne Asylum. There was almost too much to choose from: food from Guyana, Korea, Japan, South Africa.

Rubbish!

The canopy over the table kept us dry: yes, it was still raining a bit. Despite this, we walked the long way back. Jyoti wanted to introduce us to Urbanite, a shop that sells everything, lots of old stuff, vintage items, treasures, works of art, things you don’t even know you don’t need.

Bluetooth speaker

This bluetooth speaker is bigger than usual, being based on the design of a drum. Try me! I did. I treated the shop to David Bowie singing Everyone Says Hi! What I really wanted to play was a recording of Martha and William laughing, but such an MP3 doesn’t exist on my phone. Yet.

After the fun and games in the shop, it’s despressing to see sights like this.

Tent in the street

Homeless people are living in tents all over the city. You might wake up one day and find someone camping on the pavement outside your luxury apartment. There are even ‘tent cities’ in some locations.

Back at Gita’s house, it was party time, party number 2! We met Gita’s housemates Jessica, Mark and Jackie. Many, many other people turned up, fellow students and tutors and family and friends. Music was provided by Abba, until the record stopped.

What a noisy, busy, happy hubbub. But so many people. Do something scary every day. OK. My opening line was something like ‘You’re not a big fan of big crowds. either, then?’ After which, Jan (I think that was her name, hard to be sure with all that background noise) and I had a really nice chat. I don’t why I find it so hard to talk to new people. Probably being told ‘you should be seen and not heard’ too often doesn’t help.

Pizza

A large truck pulled up outside and delivered a mountain of pizza, from CostCo, one of Liesel’s favourite places.

I spoke to Gita’s mentor about Prince and music and not at all about Gita, although I think I may have accidentally told Gita otherwise later on!

In the evening, there was the option of going to a parade, or going dancing, or going to bed. You have one guess…

In the morning, Liesel drove Guddu to the airport while I slept on obliviously. Liesel came back to bed but when we rose at about 9, there was nobody else around to say goodbye to. Today was the day of Gita’s Graduation ceremony, which looks like a marvellous affair.

Suvan, Gita and Jyoti

A rightly, very proud family, Gita’s worked really hard and I’m sure will continue to do so. Congratulations to you all.

Meanwhile, Liesel and I were driving north on Interstate-5. And that’s another story…

Touchdown in Anchorage

What a strange couple of days. Helen arrived from Australia one day, then Liesel and I went to Alaska the next. Oops, sorry: spoiler alert. Yes, it’s strange the way things worked out, but we’ll definitely spend more time with Helen later in the year.

Let’s start again. Helen was met at the airport by Jenny and William. We’d arranged to meet them later on, and William wanted to surprise us. When we arrived at their house, William was stomping about in his new Spidey shoes. The lights in the heels were flashing and he really wanted us to admire them. He invited me up to his bedroom which was darker, so easier to see the flashing lights. Then he pulled the bed covers back to reveal…
“Oh, a new cuddly toy?”
“No, it’s Auntie Helen!”

Helen’s plans this visit include a trip down south to see some friends. Today, we drove over to Bramall Hall, where we had lunch and spent some time feeding ducks and in the playground.

Liesel and Helen
William the duck feeder
Rhododendron

Back at home, Liesel and I did some more packing and I spent a long, long on hold on the phone before adding Helen to our car insurance policy. It didn’t cost anything in the end, but something as simple as that should be possible via the website. That would take some pressure off the under-staffed call centre.

Back at Jenny’s we had an Indian takeaway for our last meal before heading for Anchorage. Both William and Martha were in top form, very funny and engaging. Very happy to see Auntie Helen, and not just because she always comes bearing gifts. I was pleased to receive gifts of chocolate and TimTams, thank you Helen!

Helen, Martha and William with Jenny and Liam way over there

Liam drove us home in his car. We left our old jalopy for Helen to use. We went via the pharmacy to pick up the last of Liesel’s prescription. From the pharmacy where, at 8 o’clock that morning, we’d gone for the Covid test required before entering the USA.

Back at home, we finished the packing, prepared the flat to be deserted for a while and went to bed for a short sleep. The taxi picked us up at 4 in the morning. We thought we’d catch up on sleep on the long flight later on. Hah!

Manchester Airport was ridiculously busy that early in the morning, mostly for Easy Jet flights as far as we could see. We were off to Frankfurt on Lufthansa in the first place. It was good to be in the air, in my case, for the first time in over two years.

The myth of German efficiency was blown at Frankfurt Airport. We needed proof that we’d been vaccinated against Covid and a negative Covid test from within 24 hours. Without these documents, one uploaded at home yesterday and one stored on our phones and printed out, we would have had to complete a 7-page form supplied by the US authorities.

But at the first desk, the clerk didn’t even have a computer. So he couldn’t see our vax documents, nor my ESTA. Go to a second desk. The clerk here was busy chatting. Go to a third desk. At last, someone fully equipped to see that we were allowed to travel.

In the end, our flight was nearly an hour late taking off. Only at landing in Anchorage did we find out that some of the passengers were refugees from Ukraine. This ‘special’ group of people were allowed to disembark first. We didn’t know why: a sports team? A secret military operation? Nope, refugees, greeted by at least a couple of TV crews. I suspect if you see this footage, you’ll see me and Liesel at the back, gurning behind our masks.

Thomas Cook cup

The flight itself was uneventful, but this water cup brought back many happy memories of when I worked at this wonderful travel agents’ HQ in Peterborough. I wonder whether that horrible Cobol program IPP06 ever worked properly? Good to see the old stock being used and not just thrown away.

There be mountains

On seeing the first snow-covered mountain from the aeroplane, we knew we were very nearly at our destination.

On the Customs form, Liesel declared the chutney that we’d bought for a friend. This triggered a full search of all of our bags. They found an apple in mine, one that I’d forgotten to eat on the flight. I try not to commit crimes in the USA, yet here I am.

Going through immigration, the official asked to take a photograph of Liesel, something not previously required of an American citizen. When he asked to take my picture, I stood where Liesel had been standing. “Oh no sir, please stand over there, in front of the camera.” We suspect he didn’t get a picture of Liesel, but just didn’t want to admit that he’d asked for one in error. Welcome to the USA say the signs, and I always say to myself, I’ve never been made to feel so unwelcome anywhere.

Liesel’s Mom drove us home from the airport, and I think I just slumped for the rest of the day. I dozed off a couple of times in flight, but I didn’t have a long, satisfying sleep.

It was good to see Mom and Dad, Leslie and Klaus again: Liesel has of course been here quite recently, helping them both through various medical interventions.

Our first night’s sleep here was interrupted when Klaus had a diabetic hypo, and required assistance from 6 absolutely gorgeous paramedics. Liesel’s words, not mine: they were all wearing masks so I couldn’t gauge how attractive they were. But they were all very supportive, attentive, informative and helpful. And they arrived within a few minutes of the 911 call.

Our first full day in sunny Anchorage was taken up by walking in the great outdoors. And it really was sunny, and very warm. Liesel and I walked along part of the coastal trail starting near Westchester Lagoon.

Kayaking in the lagoon

It’s very picturesque with the snow-covered mountains in the background, and thank goodness all the snow has thawed in the city itself.

Sandhill cranes

The sandhill cranes were on the mud flats, where we are advised not to walk. We followed a railway line for a while and I though I heard the hoot of a train approaching, but we never saw one.

The cargo ship being towed to the Port of Alaska was huge. Apparently 80% of everything that comes into the state is imported through this port.

We walked back to the car through a nice, quiet neighbourhood. The New Sagaya supplied our first coffee of this trip and my first bagel.

We drove to Una and Phil’s house, about half an hour away.

Old, old, old, old car

We followed this old banger for a while and I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether it’s a Ford, a Daimler, a Buick, a Plymouth, a Chrysler or something else. Oh and look, there are mountains in the background.

Una’s parents are visiting from Florida too. Liesel and I haven’t seen them since Una’s investiture as a Judge nearly four years ago. Mom Lalita has written another book, this one about her family in India over several generations, and she kindly gave us a copy which we’re looking forward to reading.

Una, Phil, Liesel and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood: I think it’s fair to say it was a bit more affluent than where we’d been earlier in the day.

Just a small plane

There’s an airstrip just down the road, and later on, I filmed a small plane landing here.

Helicopter

Liesel turned down my invitation to sit on the chopper so I could take her picture. But here it is parked, or docked by the strip.

Just a small boat

There’s a new estate, or subdivision, here built in what looks like a big hole, just below the airstrip. I think these house are quite close together, given the amount of space there is in the largest state in the union. But you’re never too far from the sight of mountains.

New houses

Well that was a great walk, slightly hilly, hot and sweaty, but did I feel short of breath? Not at all. Not until I carried a bag of shopping up the short, steep drive back at home.

In the evening, Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon came over for dinner. While everyone else tucked into their marinaded steaks, I enjoyed my Quorn nuggets.

I think we both slept much better this second night. This, despite the fact that it’s only properly dark overnight for a couple of hours at this time of year. 

Black tulips and babies

Sadly, no space is deemed too small for the application of graffiti. Even the fairy doors in the local woods aren’t safe from such desecration.

Fairy door needs attention

It is now No Mow May in which we are invited to leave the lawn alone for the benefit of the very few pollinating insects left alive in this country. A lot of people are indeed not mowing, but sadly, the local council’s grass-cutters are out in force, cutting the grass and shredding the litter embedded therein. Ooh, I do like a whinge, don’t I?

We took Martha and William to Lyme Park for a nice, long, brisk walk in the sunshine. Well, that was the plan. After confirming the adventure playground was indeed open, we decided to play there for a while, then walk up to the folly known as The Cage, at the top of the hill, then return to the playground.

William is very adventurous and despite many pleas from us, he decided to cross the small stream via stepping stones and a log. Not the most stable of logs.

William and the wobbly log

He jumped onto the opposite bank, and gave a victory salute at the top. But oops, on the return trip, he slightly overbalanced and had to step into the water. He wasn’t too keen on wet shoes, socks and feet. And he momentarily sat down on a wet stone.

A few minutes later, when Liesel was helping him change his shorts, he apologised for ignoring her when she’d told him not to cross the water, which was very sweet.

Martha and William on a table top

They enjoyed many adventures and we hadn’t even reached the playground yet. Yes, you’re right. Martha is indeed wearing odd socks and, at this point, William is wearing no socks at all.

It was fun watching Martha going round and round on this strange little thing, with her ponytail flying.

Martha spinning

As she was spinning, I asked her what happens when she pulls herself in? Oh, it goes faster, she observed. And in this way, Martha discovered the law of Conservation of Angular Momentum.

The playground was great fun, so in the end, we didn’t make it as far as The Cage. Later, when Liesel and I fancied a cup of coffee, we parked the children up on the branch of a tree.

Martha and William sitting in a tree

Yes, again, you are very observant. Martha is indeed crossing her eyes, a trick that she’d learned from her cousin Emily!

Liesel and I didn’t really go to the café by ourselves, that would be irresponsible and we’d probably lose our jobs. We had coffee and we treated the children to an ice cream. Of course we did!

Our challenge now was to keep them awake on the drive back home, which I did quite successfully, even if one of the games was to kick my arm as quickly and as often as possible. The bruises weren’t too bad.

William enjoys his weekly dance class, and although we didn’t see him at his terpsichorean activituies, we did pick him up from the venue to take him to the zoo. We’ll miss these odd days out with William when he starts going to school 5 days a week, with his sister.

Where’s William?

He’s wearing his hoodie in this manner to keep the cold draught out. He did eventually succumb to sleep on the long drive to Chester Zoo.

As is often the case, it was a bit cooler here than at home, but that didn’t stop us from having a really nice day. Treetop Challenge is always number one on his list and today was no exception. Apart from seeing the elephants first.

William on the zipline

He now needs no assistance in finding his way around this Challenge, and he really has conquered the ziplines.

William (l) and Boris the Gorilla (r)

The Bird Flu crisis is now over and the flamingoes’ aviary was open for business. By which I mean we humans are now allowed inside and we can see these gorgeous pink creatures other than through a close wire mesh.

Flamingoes
William with an otter

We were so pleased that William was interested in seeing so many animals on this visit. He did want to visit the shop so we made a deal: we’ll go to the shop at the end but only if you don’t mention it again. And that worked pretty much all day. But then “You know that place I’m not allowed to talk about? Are we still going there?”

We went. But we also passed by the elephants one more time.

Baby elephant

Our challenge now was to keep him awake on the drive back home, which I did quite successfully, even if one of the games was to kick my arm as quickly and as often as possible. The bruises weren’t too bad.

Liesel had an appointment near home with a pair of physiotherapists’ very strong hands, so William and I visited Riverside Park playground back in Northenden. On the way, we picked litter, a job he really seems to enjoy. But of course, the playground was more fun. He made friends with Misha, a 6-, nearly 7-year old from Ukraine.

William and Misha

I had a nice chat with Misha’s Mum while his younger sister played with a doll and followed the boys around. Her husband is still in Ukraine and of course we hope the war ends soon so he can come and join his family.

Soon, everyone else had left the playground: just me and William left, waiting for Liesel to collect us and take him home.

After two days with a varying number of grandchildren it was time to move on and see some grown-up people. Late in the day, after I’d attended my medical appointments, we drove north to Windermere. By coincidence, we were staying in the same place as Helen and Steve from Chessington. We’d not seen them on our recent trip down south for various reasons, so it was good to catch up now.

We dined in a greasy spoon just down the road from the hotel, you know, the sort of place that sells all kinds of food: chips, pizza, kebabs, burgers. It was alright though.

Helen pointed out this picture in a shop window.

David Bowie

Well, we haven’t seen a David Bowie in a shop window for a couple of weeks, but this is a good one. The artist is Don Pearce and the artwork is outside our price range.

Liesel and I shared a four-poster bed and at first, we thought the mattress was too hard. But actually, it was alright and we both had a reasonable night’s sleep.

Breakfast was served by a lovely Scottish lady whose name I never did catch, after which we set off for Beatrix Potter’s old home, Hill Top, on the other side of the lake itself. Last time Liesel and I visited, many years ago, we took the ferry across and walked up the hill.

Many of the roads are very narrow and in some places, I couldn’t see what to do if we encountered another vehicle coming towards us. But we were very lucky in that respect.

The scenery is of course gorgeous, but this is also a good time of year to enjoy the azaleas and the rhododendrons as well. And the garden behind Hill Top is a very peaceful and pretty place to pass some time. The gardener, Pete, is doing a very good job.

Baby azalea

How do we know the gardener’s name is Pete? Well:

Gardener Pete

The parts of the garden that he’s not responsible for are totally Pete-free.

Black Tulips

When I first read The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas, as a school-boy, I thought it was a made-up flower. But no, they really exist and there are some here at Hill Top. One day, I might read the book again because I can’t remember the story at all.

Even though our tickets were timed, the house was still quite busy, just on the borderline of what we find uncomfortably crowded vis-à-vis Covid. Beatrix Potter had some cool stuff, including a doll’s house with furniture and other items that really aren’t made to scale.

Beatrix’s doll’s house
Selfie of the day

Bizarrely, I think of all the photos I took today, this is my favourite.

Watering can

It is so reminiscent of the Peter Rabbit stories, and I can only surmise that this is the original watering can from Beatrix Potter’s time.

Did I mention Peter Rabbit?

Warning: Peter Rabbit

We drove Helen and Steve back to Ambleside. Funny place, Ambleside: all the shops are named after mild exclamations.

Shops in Ambleside

We took Helen back to the guest house for a nap leaving Steve to enjoy a bus ride in peace and quiet.

The drive home was uneventful. But you can never go on the M6 without there being a traffic jam somewhere!

And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one week, Liesel dragged me to asked me if I wanted to accompany her to Ikea. We haven’t been for a while and the thought of those juicy tender 50p veggieballs, well, how could I refuse?

In a strange case of pareidolia, here’s one of the machines in the café looking particularly grumpy with that thing in its eye.

Smiley tea machine

And back in Wythenshawe, there were more goslings near the path in Painswick Park.

Baby geese on land

And as if they’re not cute enough, there was again another family in the pond.

Baby geese on water

I just hope they stayed safe from the fishing lines on the opposite side.

There was a park bench on which I decided not to rest awhile, because of the nettles growing underneath and up through the gaps. I didn’t want to give my arsenic.

Uncomfortably numb, potentially

Here is evidence of Liesel’s latest craftwork.

This cross-stitch was a labour of love, and will be part of a collection being put together by the ladies of the WI to commemorate the 1948 London Olympics. No further details are available at this time. But jolly well done, Liesel!

Last week’s Wythenshawe Radio show was Girls, Girls, Girls, so this week it had to be Boys, Boys, Boys. Catch up here. Or don’t.

Trivial pursuits

Hot on the heels of Dudley and Eunice came Franklin. Three named storms in quick succession wreaking havoc. Howling wind and driving rain is not conducive to a good night’s sleep, in my recent experience. Then, to add insult to injury, while searching for a podcast to listen to on my phone, up popped a message telling me to go to bed, my bedtime was 5 hours ago.

My breakfast view was obscured:

Rain on window

The rain was relentless, I felt certain I wouldn’t leave the house all day. But just as I was finishing writing last week’s blog post, Jenny called and invited me to join them for a walk in Fletcher Moss Gardens. By then, the rain had stopped and I decided to risk a walk over to Didsbury. As a last resort, I could always catch a bus, I suppose.

Ford Lane

A stretch of Ford Lane was flooded, so I had to cling to the railings at this point. The river was noticeably high too. Fletcher Moss had quite a few puddles, which proved useful later on when it came to keeping children entertained.

Flooded path to the rockery

I met up with Jenny, Liam, Martha and William, and sensibly the children were wearing Wellington boots. I think William walked or ran or jumped in every puddle we encountered on our walk. But at leat, on this occasion, he didn’t go into puddles so deep that his boots filled with water, like he’d done a few days earlier!

For half term, there’s a Broad Oak Hearts Train in the park, a series of 20 hearts for children to find, each depicting a popular children’s book or character. It provided structure to the walk. William ticked the numbers off on his sheet, while Martha wrote down all the characters on her self-made crib sheet. Why did she make her own? Because outrageously, the coffee shop was closed and that’s where you get the sheets from.

Rainbow fish
Water babies

Did I mention it was a bit wet in places?

William nearly in the Mersey
Water babies

As you can see, the Sun came out and that certainly lifts the spirits, even when it’s not particularly warm. But this was the lull before the storm.

The following day, the river Mersey was so high, that the flood gates were opened. The flooded area included Fletcher Moss and the golf courses. I don’t think it stopped raining all day, I certainly didn’t leave the house on this occasion.

River Mersey

But if I had, this is what I would have witnessed. The river now at its highest ever level in Stockport, and very close to record highs in Northenden and Didsbury. As a precaution, a few hundred houses were evacuated, but in the end, the Environment Agency and local councils controlled the situation very well.

In Anchorage, they’re still enjoying the snow. This is a speed-skating circuit as seen from Amrit’s office where Liesel is working.

Speed-skating in Anchorage

With the mountains in the background, it does look much more interesting than what we were experiencing.

The Winter Olympics have come to a close and I’m glad I watched the women’s curling final, live, from the comfort of my bed, very early in the morning. The men’s team had won silver, and this was GB’s last opportunity to win a gold medal.

Eve Muirhead

It was a good game and in the end I felt that I’d contributed to GB’s gold medal win, merely by staying awake long enough to watch the whole thing!

That was the weekend. The rest of the week was spent in the pursuit of trivial matters. Lots of five- or ten-minute jobs that I’ve been putting off. Putting tea in the tea caddy. Checking the toilet roll situation. Watering the plants. Emptying the bins. A bit of tidying up here, a spot of sorting out there. Paying bills. And of course, a quick walk to check up on things.

Where’s the weir?

I ventured into Manchester by bus in order to visit the blood shop, as Jenny and Helen used to call it. I donated and in return, I enjoyed some biscuits.

A not very convincing Disney castle in Manchester

During the week, the wind kept up and it was as cold and unpleasant as ever, just not as strong. One of the casualties of the latest storm was the estate agents sign outside our premises.

Estate agent’s sign – missing

Oh well, never mind. Maybe they should just take them away when they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Northenden Players Theatre Club put on a performance of Educating Rita this week, at the little theatre just up the road. It was a two-hander, and very well done. Both characters, Frank and Rita, were very convincing, and I realise I’d forgotten just how grumpy Frank can be. It was good to see a full house.

Martin Hulme and Freya Fulton as Frank and Rita

As I was walking home afterwards, I just fancied a bag of chips, with plenty of salt and vinegar, I’ve not done that for years. Alas, the chip shop was shut.

Child-minding day. As I was driving over, I was engulfed in a hail storm. It only lasted a couple of minutes but it was a reminder of just how exciting / unpredictable our weather systems are.

While watching Encanto, again, I helped Martha decorate her hairbands with various adornments, ribbons, bows, ties. I also managed to keep William awake until dinner time: he’s always so tired at the end of his school week!

This week on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2, I played pop songs that are based on or inspired by classical music.

Two departures and a birthday

One day, I look forward to walking the length of the Transpennine Trail, but for now, I’ll just be happy to come across the short section that passes through Northenden. No doubt, a highlight for many a long distance walker from Southport to Hull.

Transpennine Trail sign

But that’s in the future. This week, as usual, we stayed pretty local. Out on a walk one day, Liesel sent a message asking me to pick up some painkillers from the pharmacy. Both the pharmacies in Northenden were closed, so I jumped on a bus that stopped at exactly the right time, thinking that wherever I ended up, I’d find one that was open for business. And yes, of course, I realised I should do more of these mystery tours, it’s a good way to get to know the wider area.

On this occasion, I was taken to Sale where indeed I was able to buy what I needed. I also saw a massive bee.

Bee Tree

Two of them lovingly carved from an old tree. And by coincidence, the same bus driver took me back to Northenden.

Liesel and I went over to see the family between gym and swimming. No, not us, it was Martha at the gym and William who went swimming later.

Yee-hah

Martha would make a good cowboy and I can’t help feeling most westerns would be improved if they rode unicorns rather than horses.

Jenny and Helen took me out for a couple of hours to go shopping. I haven’t worn a suit for many years, probably decades, but the time has come to find one that fits. We visited a place called Peter Posh where I expected to be served by someone like Mr Grainger from Are You Being Served? with a tape measure draped around his shoulders. But no, a very helpful, and patient, young lady helped out. I tried on two suits and a waistcoat. In my mind, I’d built suits up to being the uncomfortable uniform of office work, of business men making things worse for the rest of us. So I was surprised to find that these ones at least were actually quite comfortable, and nobody laughed as they said I didn’t look too shabby.

The lesser spotted Mick in a suit and proper shoes

So, good luck, Mick, at the next job interview.

Helen’s birthday rolled up as it always does just after Christmas, and how fabulous it was that she was here to celebrate with us this year. She and I went for a nice walk at Dunham Massey. We found some footwear here and there,  just part of an activity designed presumably for children.

Beautiful boot by a bench

The rose garden was spoiled by the stench of bonfire.

Bonfire grrr

How disappointing. I know the gardeners are all volunteers and we’re very grateful for all their hard work, but there better ways to dispose of stuff you don’t need, especially green waste. We said hello to the robins as we wandered round. Or was it the same robin following us? I keep forgetting to take a bag of mealworms with which to feed them.

On one path, we passed someone familiar to me. I didn’t pester him. But Count Arthur Strong later confirmed that he had indeed been at the same venue. As he said, he’s like the Scarlet Pimple, here, there and everywhere!

Liesel and I attended Helen’s party in the evening but I think, on the available evidence, Martha and William were more excited than she was. We all enjoyed the party food and I can now reveal Helen’s best present.

A few snacks

Let’s hope these snacks all make it through customs when she goes home. In other words, let’s hope the customs officials aren’t hungry.

Helen, William and Martha with the cake

Liesel and I drove to Heald Green where, for the second week in a row, she took a PCR test for Covid. A negative result means that she can fly to Alaska. While waiting, I found a couple of frogs. I didn’t realise these amphibians were still adorning the streets of Stockport.

The frogs in Heald Green

The weekly Wednesday well-being walk in Northenden has resumed, and nine of us had a very pleasant stroll through the woods and around the streets. We stood outside the café with our coffees: sitting inside in a large group didn’t seem a good idea.

In the evening: pizzas again. A second opportunity to wish bon voyage to Liesel. In the morning, I jumped on the boxes to squash them before putting them in the bin.

It was so cold on Thursday morning, we had to scrape ice off the car. I took Liesel to the airport. She’s off to Anchorage to see her parents and her friends and to enjoy all that a deep Alaskan Winter can throw at her. For the rest of the day, I donned my chauffeur’s cap as I was quite happy to help Helen with her various errands.

Helen and I drove to Heald Green where she took a PCR test for Covid. A negative result means that she can fly back to Australia. While waiting, I renewed my acquaintance with a couple of frogs.

Next stop was Lester and Brown jewellers in Poynton where the High Street looks very slippery. The jeweller had taken an old brooch that neither Jenny nor Helen will wear, and made a pair of earrings for each of them, and as far as I can tell, he’s done a very good job.

Slick High Street

Next: Next in Handforth Dean where Helen returned a dress and picked up a new one for Martha to try on.

Next: Create-It in Cheadle to pick up  some mugs designed by the the children.

Next: Greens in Didsbury for lunch. Just a couple of other parties here in the restaurant and the food was, as usual, delicious.

And finally: Card Factory back in Cheadle where a couple of balloons were inflated: a dinosaur for William and a Unicorn for Martha.

New pets

Even though we’ve been living here in Northenden for over three years, I still used Google Maps all day. I don’t yet have a comprehensive mental map of Greater Manchester in my head. I’m sure it will come.

If I’m saying goodbye to one of the ladies in my life, it’s only fitting that we have pizzas. And so it was that we all met up at Pizza Express for a farewell meal. I won’t be having the hot jalapeño dough balls again. Steam blasted from my ears, and my nose didn’t stop running for ages. Incredibly hot and spicy. Helen was due to fly out from Manchester early in the morning so we said our goodbyes here.

I still can’t get over the wonderful surprise of actually seeing her here for Christmas.

Sisters are doing it for themselves

To lose one woman in my life, Mr Worthing, maybe regarded as misfortune. To lose two in the space of two days looks like carelessness. I think that’s from The Important of Being Earnest.

Liesel arrived safely in Anchorage and is already taking advantage of the very slightly different weather. Flying with Covid regulations and face masks adds an extra layer of anxiety to the whole travelling thing, but that’s something we’ll have to live with for a while.

Welcome to Alaska, Liesel

Earlier in the week, I’d pre-recorded and sent off the first radio show for Wythenshawe Radio in its own right. Unfortunately, due to events outside my control, on Wednesday evening, the previous week’s show was broadcast instead. Which is a shame, because it was a special one for Helen’s birthday. The correct show was released into the world on Friday afternoon. And I’ve uploaded a copy here if you’d like to catch up. There’s a news bulletin at the halfway point, but I left that out: nobody needs to hear the news more than absolutely necessary.

It’s a start

While Helen’s here, obviously we want to see her as much as possible. On the other hand, we don’t want her to catch some nasty contagious disease and take it back home. So we’re all doing Covid Lateral Flow Tests much more often now. And my daily sneezing fit is now more often caused by sticking a pipe cleaner swab up my hooter. But the negative tests give us enough confidence to be able to spend time together. It was a full house at Jenny’s and it was lovely to witness the antics of two very excited grandchildren on Christmas Day. The other grandparents, Alan and Una were there too. So with Helen, that was nine in the house. I think we’ll get away with it if we call it a business meeting. Yes, one of the talking points was the government’s flagrant breaking of rules that they themselves had put in place. Oh well. It’s Christmas, we were there to have fun and plenty of food.

It’s Christmas!

So many parcels, so many presents, books, and toys, so much food. And lots of photos.

Excitement

Thoughts of a late afternoon walk were soon discarded, but at least Liesel and I had made the effort earlier in the day. And we did burn off a few Christmas calories at Daddy’s disco later in the day. Lots of dancing and playing musical bumps and musical statues.

Daddy’s disco lights

Thanks Jenny for putting up with us all! And thanks for inviting us back a couple of days later, I guess we didn’t embarrass ourselves, or you, too much. We played a game of Junior Cluedo with Martha and William, and it was interesting watching them play well, concentrate and interact.

Princess of Wales and Colonel Mustard
Another photo

More food of course: Christmas cake, cheesecake, peanut butter and chocolate fudge, chocolates, oh and lots of real, proper food too.

And yes, we pulled Christmas crackers. The jokes don’t improve over the years, do they?

Guess who?

Spending time with the family was of course the highlight of the week, we didn’t go far from home, otherwise. A surprise bonus of some mild weather finished off 2021 nicely and the sunsets were a little unusual too.

Sunset over Northenden

One thing I’ve always wanted to see is a two-headed skeletal dog, and my wish came true this week.

Woof woof

I came across this monstrosity in Quirky Misfits where I bumped into a friend so we had a coffee. Yes, there’s a sign on the door saying dogs are welcome, but there are limits: skeletal bicephalids?

The river is rising again after a lot of rain. So much so, that the Mersey is bringing trees down from its upper reaches, in Stockport.

Trees and logs

The roiling river didn’t look very inviting, to be honest. But why the short post last week? Because we were invited over to spend some time in a hot tub. Helen rented it for a few days, a most unusual Christmas gift, but I hadn’t been in a hot bath like this since we were in Japan. Time for a wash.

In the hot tub: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

A good way to start the new year, I think you’ll agree. But that feeling of well-being can so easily be squished by industrial levels of incompetence.

When I need my prescription renewed, I send a message to my GP, they send it to the pharmacy, the pharmacy sends me a message when the meds are ready for collection. Not this time. In other news, both Liesel and I have received the Collection Codes that we now need to pick up Lateral Flow Tests from the pharmacy. So, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and pay a visit, even though I hadn’t received the expected message after several days. I queued for over half an hour.

On CCTV waiting to get over the threshold

They’re short-staffed due to Covid. They’d run of of Lateral Flow Tests, which many other people in the queue were also waiting for. But had they put a notice up in the window to save people time? Nope. Never mind, I can still get my prescription. Oh no I couldn’t. Despite there being a pharmacist behind the scenes, they weren’t fulfilling prescriptions either. Was there a sign in the window to this effect? Nope. Instead, the assistant gave me a printed copy of my prescription to take somewhere else. I asked why they hadn’t sent a message telling me that they were unable to help on this occasion? I got a funny look and directions to the nearest other pharmacy. Where, after a short walk along the road, I was given my drugs within ten minutes of arrival. Fantastic service. Unfortunately, they too had no LFTs in stock. Luckily, Liesel and I have also been ordering them online. Most often the site says none are available, but we have hit the jackpot a few times. We’re now testing after we’ve been in crowded places, which hasn’t happened recently, and each time before we see the family. We don’t want to give anyone Covid, especially Helen. But, in another quirk of misfortune, Helen has succumbed to a nasty bug leaving her hoarse and coughing and just not feeling very well. What she needs is some of that New South Wales sunshine. I think we all do.

Actually, waiting in that queue for half an hour wasn’t really a big deal. Liesel brought us coffees from a nearby emporium. And we would have been loitering for at least half an hour anyway, because we were waiting for Liesel’s iPhone battery to be replaced in the local electronics shop.

My insomnia isn’t helped by the fact that I’m not going out as much as I should. The weather’s just horrible. So much rain, sleet, snow, thundersnow, cold wind. Oh stop moaning about the weather, Mick. Unlikely.

One night, instead of podcasts, I started listening to CBeebies Radio. Between 9pm and 6am, they play Calming Sounds. I thought this might help the old brain to switch off. One night it was birdsong, and it was lovely, very relaxing. Another night, it was the sound of ocean waves. A lovely background noise, it relaxed my brain beautifully, but my bladder reacted in a totally different, and unhelpful, manner.

We had a couple of nice, local walks recently. One day was quite windy and there were crocodiles floating by on the river.

Not really a crocodile

And I did walk over to Jenny’s one day, too, making a detour by Micker Brook.

Micker Brook

The original plan was to meet Jenny and Helen and all by the Brook, but in the end, we all went for a walk in their neighbourhood, Martha on her bike and William on his scooter.

Back home, Martha continued with her project of mixing a potion.. What’s it for? Well, it’s poisonous but it also makes you invisible.

Martha and her potion

Liesel drove over and we later collected a takeaway from Bhaji Pala in Gatley. Why did we go all the way over there for our meal? Because it was Monday, Bank Holiday, so all the fish and chip shops were closed. The food was delicious. And a little bit late, maybe, but we had Christmas pudding too.

Flaming pudding

Liam drowned the pud in brandy and set it alight, much to the bemusement of the children. When I was a child, there would have been a thrupenny bit or even a sixpence inside, but we don’t do that sort of thing any more, apparently.

A couple of days later, I went over to babysit while Jenny and Helen went to the shops.

Green Goblin

William is now The Green Goblin thanks to some temporary hair colour that Helen applied. Martha’s hair was more variegated. I allowed my hair to be coloured a striped orange and yellow, but all this did was to highlight my bald patch. The photos have now been locked away in a vault somewhere.

I am working on what will be the first radio show to be broadcast solely on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2. But one afternoon I was distracted by the urge to tidy up the Studio, the Office, the so-called third bedroom. I say I got the urge, but in reality, the urge was imposed upon me by Liesel. Who shouldn’t even be here*! Yes, everything’s been put in its new location, plenty of stuff has been disposed of, and over the next weeks and months, it will undoubtedly once again revert to its status of ‘tip’. Sorry, there are no before and after photos. But we did come across tonnes more paperwork that we’re not sure we need to keep. So, add this to the list, Mick: go through each of those boxes again, again, again.

*Yeah, what do I mean, Liesel shouldn’t even be here? Well, she’d planned to fly off to Anchorage to see her family on January 6th. Iceland Air would take her via Reykjavik and Seattle. Unfortunately, the flight was cancelled due to expected bad weather in Iceland and by the time Liesel spoke to someone, the next flight was a week away. So that’s all rebooked now. But If you want to reminisce about bad quality 1970s style phone lines, feel free to call Iceland Air in London. Even the hold music sounds like the old Björk tape has been stretched a bit too much.

And again today, I awoke to the sound of rain being hurled at the windows. I don’t know if the glass in our windows is just intrinsically louder than what we had in Chessington, or if it really does rain harder sideways here in Manchester, but, man it’s loud!  

Blood, Bond, Broadband

It rained so much, the river was in full flow, so the birds migrated to the newly flooded golf course.

Birdies on the golf course

This was witnessed by Liesel, on an early morning walk, while I remained warm and comfortable in my pit.

A million congratulations and thanks to Wythenshawe Waste Warriors: they (we) have collectively picked up over 10,000 bags of litter this year, so far. Liesel and I added another small contribution, just walking up and down Royle Green Road and some of the sideroads. Bottles and cans should have a 10p (or more) deposit on them, that would help. There was a lot of drugs paraphernalia too, including for the first time a hypodermic needle. Very close to a school. But as I’ve mentioned before, we could do a roaring trade in used, discarded face-masks. If there were a market for such a thing.

Oversize mushroom

It’s been ideal weather for supersized mushrooms too. I suppose they’ll deal with the leaf litter and eventually take over the whole world.

500 years from now, people will look back at our times and laugh at the range of jobs people had. In the same way we cringe at Henry VIII’s master of the stool: not a pleasant job at all. In our case, they’ll be looking down their noses at leaf-blower operators. What’s the point of blowing leaves around? But we witnessed a whole different level of ridiculosity.

Leaf washer downer

I’ve concealed his identity to save him embarrassment. He was hosing the leaves off the pavement and grass verge, onto the road, eventually to block the local drains.

On a brighter note, we did visit a cinema, for the first time since before the world turned upside down. No Time To Die is the latest, much delayed, James Bond film. And jolly good it is too. People said it was too long, but it certainly didn’t drag. My only criticism is that some of the dialogue was hard to hear because of the background music and sound effects, which were very bass heavy. The Savoy Cinema in Heaton Moor is a good place, we sat on a sofa, but we declined the offer of coffee and wine in the auditorium.

Liesel suggested going on the well-being walk at Newall Green. It was a nice day, so why not? We walked to the venue, the Firbank Pub and Kitchen, arriving just on 11am, but there was nobody else there. Oopsie. This is an afternoon walk: we were two hours too early. So we had a quick look at Rodger’s Park, just over the road, before walking home.

Trees in Rodgers Park

I was missed out the next day too: I missed the Northenden walk, because I was on the phone. Two different people called me within half an hour, which is most unusual, I very rarely receive phone calls. Well, it was lovely to speak to Helen of course, from the comfort of my own bed, where I was lying, while soaking up the Sun.

We upgraded our Broadband connection this week, and the process was unexpectedly straighforward. The downside is, we’re now paying a lot more for it each month. But comparing the price with other providers, I think we’ve been lucky to have it so cheap for so long.

We walked to our GP’s surgery where my blood was taken to be sampled. We both commented on the amount of litter in some places, especially in and around the industrial estate. One day, we might venture that way with our bags and pickers.

Thursday is our child-minding day, and usually we take Martha and William home to our place to play. This week, we went a bit further afield. We saw The Lanterns at Chester Zoo. These are animals, made from paper (or a waterproof, paper-like membrane), illuminated, with many being animated. It is, as they say, totally enchanting. Martha really wanted to hug the butterfly as she slowly wafted her wings. Father Christmas was there too, and William really wanted to speak to him.

Penguins in Technicolor®

I tried to tell her that they were just ordinary wolves, but Martha insisted on stroking the werewolves.

Martha and the Werewolf

We arrived just before 5pm and it was of course already dark. Which is good, it makes the illuminations all the more impressive. But it also makes it harder to track down your children when they run off. And William loves running. Even in the dark.

The artificial snowstorm
Awestruck in the presence of greatness

Father Christmas was a jolly old soul, he managed to get the crowd to join in with his ho, ho, hos and his Merrrrrry Christmases. 

Dancing in the lights

We did wonder whether the real animals were impressed by the light show. Or scared. Or sedated.

Both William and Martha fell asleep in the car on the way home but the big surprise is that I didn’t.

The final Wythenshawe walk of the year was very enjoyable, just the four of us on this occasion, plus a dog who thinks he’s a meerkat.

Sandy the wannabe meerkat
Painswick Park

Yes, the Sun was out, the pond was pretty, the geese were chatty and all’s right with the world. Meanwhile, Liesel was in the Lifestyle Centre, volunteering. She got up at stupid o’clock while I just rolled over. Between 8am and 1pm, she witnessed and helped out as 600 people received their Covid booster jabs. Yes, we are aware of the irony of being in a closed space with hundreds of strangers, while still debating whether or not to go into people’s houses.

Painswick Park

A quick glance at this picture reminds me of Japan: that fence could easily be one of those cute little bridges in a Japanese garden.

Breakfast for me is usually a combination of blueberries, muesli, Weetabix and Shreddies. It’s a carefully honed operation, combining the ingredients in exactly the right proportion, while waiting for the kettle to boil and the tea to brew. So imagine my dismay when I caught myself pouring the Shreddies into the Weetabix tin one day instead of into the cereal bowl. The virus that causes such senior moments is very contagious. Later in the week, twice, Liesel was unable to locate the notebook she uses for her legal work. Once, it had fallen behind the sub-futon drawer where it usually resides, but the second time, it was in a different room altogether. I suggested tying it to a piece of string so she could hang it around her neck, but that idea didn’t go down well.

This week’s Radio Northenden show, my antepenultimate one, was two hours of Christmas songs. You can listen here.

I have just two more shows on Radio Northenden, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Radio Northenden has different plans for 2022, all change here. My little show will continue on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2, initially pre-recorded at home, but I hope to broadcast live from the studio eventually. I hope to find a way to upload my shows for people in different timezones who like to listen later on. Or they could get up in the middle of the night and tune in of course.

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. As usual, Liesel has done a brilliant job decorating and lighting up our living room. We don’t have room for a tree, sadly, something we never considered when looking at the place all those years ago.

Manchester by bus

The weather is very changeable here in Manchester, I may have mentioned this before. This week, we’ve experienced at least two seasons. A couple of days of Summery heat, a nice dose of apricity (a nice word, that) and very welcome. On the other hand, one day, the cold, strong wind, seemingly fresh from Siberia, made for an unexpectedly unpleasant walk. Yes, I could have put on more and warmer clothes, but as I said, the ferocity of the gale was a big surprise. Never mind the weather: as a Brit, I could whinge about it for several hours.

It’s been a while, but after acquiring some new bags, we collected some litter from our local streets. There should be a law against driving over discarded drinks cans because the flattened items are so much harder to pick up with the bespoke litter-picker-upper. But then, I could whinge about the amount of littering for several hours too. Well, it makes a change from moaning about the weather.

We had a coffee break at Boxx2Boxx and that was nice, sitting outside in the Sun. Now if only they’d ban traffic from Palatine Road, it would be even more quiet and pleasant, but that will never happen. Yes, I could whinge about the amount of traffic until the cows come home. In fact, there are so many cars around here, they don’t all fit on the roads, they have to park on the pavements.

We paid a visit to Manchester and we chose to go in by bus. The first bus we’ve been on here, I think, since before the first lockdown. Most of the windows were open, but somebody had managed to close one of the windows that was fitted with a device to prevent it from being closed. It was a long ride into Manchester, over half an hour to travel just six miles or so. We agreed that there should be a fast, non-stopping bus service from outside our front door to the big city. But then, I guess that’s what Uber is for. Could I whinge more about the local bus services? Yep, I sure could.

Unfortunately, we chose a day right in the middle of the Conservative Party Conference, so we witnessed hundreds of police officers from several police forces keeping us all safe from the politicians in the city centre. St Peter’s Square was the venue for several protest groups, but we fought our way through into the Central Library.

Gandhi

Liesel was looking at some specific books, so I wandered around and amongst other things, came across this bust of Mahatma Gandhi. There are hidden, secret passageways in this library: it seems I find something new every time I visit. In 1980, Manchester became Britain’s first nuclear free zone.

Nuclear free Manchester

In the music department, I resisted the temptation to play the piano and to play on the drumkit. One thing that did surprise me was the number of books about David Bowie.

Where the books were found by the golden ones

My plan now is to write a book about David Bowie, and for a title, I can just pick one of his song titles. There can’t be much left to say about him, surely? It’s bad enough that some people play one of his records on each and every single radio show they cobble together. Ahem.

I mentioned the less than ideal bus service before, but very soon, Manchester’s public transport system will be improved. We look forward to the full implementation of The Bee Network, fully integrated mass transportation, and this includes facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Bee Network bus

There is a shortage of lorry drivers and of slaughterhouse workers in the UK right now, so farmers are having to cull 150,000 pigs. What a waste. There was a protest outside the library against this, of course.

Don’t burn the pigs

We walked to a place called The Green Lab for lunch, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t a big green dog sitting outside. It’s a popular place, we were lucky to get seats, really. Another group of people were observed walking towards the library, carrying the Roma flag I think, blue and green with a red wheel. Amongst the delegation was a unicorn with his own security detail.

A rare Manc unicorn

Our first day out in Manchester concluded nicely when we passed these buskers, singing the songs of Bob Marley and doing a very good job.

Buskers

The exciting news this week is that we are resuming our childminding duties. We picked Martha and William up from school one day, so that Jenny could show us where to go. And on Thursday, we collected them both and brought them home to ours for a few hours.

It’ll take a while to get back into the swing of things of course, as they are both very tired at the end of an arduous schoolday.

William earning his snack
Martha fighting a biscuit packet

We’ll get the balance right between satisfying their desire for post-school snacks and not filling them up before dinnertime. We shovelled the coal out of the tub again so that they could have a soak and a play in the bath together and afterwards, we watched something on TV. William knew what he wanted, and our TV setup is different to theirs at home, but he still took charge of the remote control.

Jenny and Liam arrived and we all ate together. Liesel went out to her WI Knitting Group meeting and missed Martha and William getting ready for bed. What an absolute pleasure to spend time with these delightful little people.

Again, my plan was to walk to the well-being walk in Wythenshawe, but once again, I left home too late. Having taken the plunge a few days earlier, I cheated and caught the bus to about the halfway point.

Red and blue

This was a nice, bright day, and I did like the look of the red and the blue here.

We walked through Painswick Park again and back to the main offices of Thrive Manchester. After which I walked all the way home. I’m not one to whinge, as you know, but the weather forecast is not looking good for the next week

The theme for the Radio Northenden show this week was Days. Listen here. And yes, it includes a David Bowie track, something from my Mum and Dad’s record collection as well as Sounds of the ’20s: that is, a song from the 1920s and a brand new release by a (fairly) local artist. Listen back here (in case you missed the link the first time)!