Wedding Weekend

Sometimes you go to bed at the end of the day and you have no recollection of anything that happened. One day this week passed in such a manner. It was a Thursday. We did some more tidying up, we started packing for the weekend ahead, and that’s about it. I took zero photographs, which is very unusual. A busy, productive day but totally unmemorable. I don’t know why I mentioned it really. I’m sorry I wasted your time on this paragraph.

Jump to Friday. Pauline and Andrew drove to the airport to pick up Robert, who’d flown in from Vancouver. Yes, Liesel and I only saw him fairly recently, but this was the first reunion with his mother, my sister Pauline, since he moved to Canada all those years ago.

Now we are six. For the first time, there are six people staying in our flat overnight, which seems to have shrunk in size. Rob drew the short straw (we drew it for him) and he slept on an inflatable bed in the office/studio, curled around the legs of the desk.

Before settling down for the night though, we had fish and chips from the local chippy. We bought far too many chips. Which is why, for breakfast the following day, we had egg and chips.

And so, after years of anticipation and planning, the Wedding Weekend began. I am pleased to announce that my daughter Jenny was marrying Liam at an event postponed for a couple of years because of the pandemic.

We woke up to a beautiful Saturday morning. After our stodgy breakfast, Pauline, Andrew, Rob and I drove to the venue, Knockerdown Cottages, near Ashbourne, on the cusp of the Peak District National Park in the Derbyshire Dales. Yes, what a beautiful part of the country. Just look at the view!

The view from Knockerdown

After a lovely drive, despite a couple of diversions, we arrived and parked at the venue at about 11.45. I saw Liam and walked over to say hello. I was immediately told to go to the back of the line over there, to join Jenny, as they were timing the walk up the aisle. Well, a trail of hessian mats on the grass, that led to a gazebo in front of which the ceremony would be conducted. I felt bad that the others were unloading the car without my help. (Afterwards, not at the time, I was in a whirlwind out of my control.) We had a lot of stuff. For the weekend and for a couple of weeks afterwards too. We spent much of the weekend meeting old friends. Danielle, Louise, Katie and Sarah, Jenny’s friends from school, along with the leader of the gang, Helen, were all there leading the procession, followed by Martha and William, with Jenny and myself walking slowly behind. This wasn’t really a full-blown rehearsal. Another long-time friend, Ross, took us through the ceremony, advising us who stands and sits where and when and of course all I can think of is how I can possibly will probably mess the whole thing up.

Meanwhile, back at home, Liesel and Leslie drove to the airport to pick up Michael (Sarah’s brother) and Astrid, visiting from Norway. After a quick trip to Quarry Bank Mill, they joined us at Knockerdown later in the afternoon.

I was glad our car was amongst the first to arrive in the morning, we could be useful for a bit. We moved bottles of wine and fizz from one cottage to another, we moved some furniture. As a former postie, I was given the task of delivering the Welcome letters to each of the cottages.

Most of the guests arrived soon after 3pm, as did the groceries we’d ordered. Ours came from Ocado as usual, but during the course of the afternoon, Tesco and Sainsbury were represented.

The venue includes a games room and a swimming pool. I confirmed at various times over the weekend that I am still no good at pool (it was a manky table, but I don’t think it made much difference), table tennis (the table seemed much smaller than I remember from my youth) and table football (despite spending too much time on the game while at university).

With about 75 guests in one place for the weekend, there had to be a disaster. And the first one sadly fell to Martha.

Rescuing a mermaid from the tree

For some reason, she threw her mermaid into a tree. It took several people, several sticks, a ball, a pool cue and a broom to finally dislodge the doll from the arboreal resting place.

Pizza Pi turned up and set up his wood stove in the courtyard, right outside our cottage. Nice and convenient and we wondered, unnecessarily, would our cottage be filled with smoke? The pizzas were very tasty, and were accompanied by a variety of leaves and salad.

It was good to see Michael and Astrid again after all these years. Also here were several members from Liam’s wider family including Una’s sisters and Alan’s brother Lawrence.

In the evening, everyone sat down and ate more pizza and snacks and drank copious amounts of alcohol and non-alcohol. Matt, a very entertaining friend of Jenny and Liam, took us through a number of fun party games.

People playing silly games

Modesty prevents me from saying that our team, number 10, won. After each task, someone had to run up to Matt and declare their team number. Our table was the closest. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t the best! Obviously.

After a busy, exciting and fun day, of course it was quite hard to get to sleep that night. Finally, after all this time, I was within hours of delivering the Father of the Bride speech. Those who know me know I am not a natural extrovert, I don’t enjoy being the centre of attention and I certainly don’t perform in front of more than four people at a time. So the butterflies were slowly gathering together in my stomach.

When I emerged from my pit on Sunday morning, the kitchen was a hive of industry. Liesel and Pauline were making sandwiches for the children’s lunchboxes, and Leslie was making use of her origami skills, folding and sealing the lunch boxes with all the other lovely components.

I ate a hearty breakfast, spent some time alone going through the speech for the hundredth time. I’d been working on it for nearly three years, on and off, so of course, by now, it made no sense, it was absolute rubbish. Fortunately my secret proofreader/editor has helped out recently, thank you, Helen!

Another disaster. Someone gave me some cash with which to pay the bar staff when they arrived. Liesel saw me put it in my pocket. Later on, I couldn’t find it. I asked around, I retraced all my steps, but no. People agreed with me that this new-fangled plastic money is so easy to lose, when you pull something out of your pocket, for instance. The bar staff were paid, so don’t worry about that.

Three days later, in a place a long way, away, I bent down to put my trainers on. There was some sort of obstruction in my left shoe. Yes, you’re ahead of me. It was the cash I now remember putting there for safe keeping. I think it’s fair to say, pre-speech nerves adversely affect the memory.

Back to Sunday. The children had a Hearts Trail to follow, a series of 18 heart-shaped wooden plaques carefully hidden by adults.

Wooden heart (not the Elvis song)

William started well but later, I witnessed one of Liam’s aunts completing his sheet on his behalf. Shh, don’t tell anyone.

Another disaster, oh no. William was stung by a wasp. He soon got over the shock but that was something else we could do without.

While chatting with Uncle Lawrence by the pool, I saw Pauline walk by with a couple of the lunch boxes. I was going to help deliver them, but alas, I’d missed my opportunity.

The weather couldn’t have been better for an outdoor event. A bit cloudy but sunny and with bright blue skies.

I wandered around the site for a while, and even though I knew Jenny and Liam wouldn’t be going anywhere soon, I wondered whether I should attach a ‘Just Married’ sign to the back of this old vehicle, for their post-ceremony departure.

Mouldy old plough

My moment arrived. Time to have a shower and put my wedding attire on. I’d picked up my suit from Best Man in Stockport on Thursday: one of the tasks that I seem to have performed on autopilot.

I was pleased that my clothes all fitted well, even though they felt unusually tight.

Guests made their way to the gazebo where seats had been placed. I was pacing up and down in my cottage, waiting to be summoned.

Someone gave me a pretty little boutonniere to wear. Another potential calamity. In my nervous state, I was bound to prick my finger on the pin and get blood all over my pristine, new, white shirt. But no: this particular disaster was averted and I continued to wait.

Gazing longingly towards Jenny’s cottage, waiting, waiting

Forlornly, I looked through the window towards the bride’s cottage while waiting for the call. Many other people were coming and going but all I could do was walk around the living room again. And again.

I obtained some new spectacles recently. Same prescription as my everyday ones, but these don’t turn dark in sunlight. I remembered to wear them. I would not be ruining photographs today by having shades in front of my eyes.

I paced up and down a bit more. This was like waiting for a baby to be born or something. Exciting, but nerve-wracking.

The bridesmaids all looked gorgeous, the guests all looked splendid, my family all looked very smart and well-turned out. I probably looked OK but as I wore out the carpet in our cottage, of course I had my doubts.

At last, I was called to meet the bride. She looked stunning. I knew she would, but even so, I had to swallow something hard and jagged.

Father seeing the bride in all her bridal gorgeousness for the first time

Thanks to Ross, the celebrant, for taking this picture. I’d left my phone behind in the cottage. Mainly because I wouldn’t be able to take pictures for the next hour or two, but also because the pockets in my hired jacket had been sewn shut.

I accompanied Jenny from her cottage all the way to the gazebo without once tripping over my own feet, despite wearing brogues, which I’m not used to and which are longer than my trainers. In addition, I didn’t stand on Jenny’s dress while various girls tried to keep the train under control. Jenny and I followed William at a distance. He was behind Martha who was keeping a good distance behind the bridesmaids.

Other potential faux pas were avoided. My trousers didn’t fall down. I did not have a coughing nor a sneezing fit. And I think I was in the right place at all times.

After turning past a certain tree, Jenny and I heard the processional music, an instrumental version of Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight, from The Lion King.

After delivering Jenny safely to Liam, and shaking his hand, I went to stand next to Liesel in the front row. Ross soon told us all to sit down, and I breathed a sigh of relief: so far, I had not messed up.

The Humanist ceremony was really nice, and I look forward to reading Ross’s words at leisure later on. They were delivered beautifully at the time, but half my mind was elsewhere. Martha performed her reading really well, and so did Liam’s Mum, Una.

During the slow walk back, we each picked up a small bag of (biodegradable) confetti with which to shower the newly married couple and their children, mainly for the benefit of the photographer, Marc.

(I’ll post one or two of Marc’s photos at a later date, but as mentioned above, my phone wasn’t with me during these events.)

Between the wedding ceremony and the Breakfast, we enjoyed drinks and snacks in the courtyard again, conveniently close to our cottage. I collected my speech, printed out in a large font and glued to a set of seven cards. I checked I had this set of cards in my pocket a dozen times. I checked they were in the right order another dozen times.

Guests gathered for the Wedding Breakfast in, what felt to me at the time, the hottest room in all of England. The Sun was pouring in, I was still wearing my suit and I was trying to suppress my state of nervousness.

I looked around and reminded myself, as Chris had said, that these hundreds of people are on my side, that they’ll listen politely while looking forward to the other speeches. Writing this now, a few days later, I realise that my lack of confidence is really showing through. Hundreds of people? Well, seventy-five including about twenty-five children.

Chris’s entrance into the room was quite flamboyant. Jenny and Liam followed with a little more dignity.

I was introduced by Matt, I stood up and read from my crib cards for four of the longest and quickest minutes of my life. It went very well. I’m glad I raised a toast to Jenny’s Mum, Sarah. I was delighted when people laughed at the right time, at the jokes. Again, I’m pleased to say my worst fears were not fulfilled: I didn’t drop the cards, I didn’t read them in the wrong order, I didn’t move away from the microphone and my trousers didn’t fall down.

Modesty forbids me from mentioning how many people came up to me afterwards and the following day to say how much they’d enjoyed my speech, that I’d hit the right tone, the right mix of seriousness and humour, that my nerves hadn’t shown at all.

Helen gave a speech too, with a little help from Martha. She was followed by Liam and by Chris himself.

We guests had selected our meals some months ago, and like most other people, I’d forgotten what I’d opted for, so thank goodness for the personalised menu on the table in front of us. The food was very good, prepared and served by some friendly, helpful caterers. I enjoyed my spinach and artichoke pie and mash with a parmesan crisp served with various beans and peas. This was followed by Bakewell tart with ginger cream which I ate before I had a chance to take its picture.

An ex-Bakewell tart with ginger cream

Yes, I had retrieved my phone by this point. So of course, I shot Jenny and Liam too.

Jenny and Liam

Between the end of the Breakfast and the evening activities, I think I just socialised, and enjoyed having successfully delivered a Father of the Bride’s speech.

Jenny threw the bouquet over her shoulder towards all the single ladies.

Martha with her bouquet

Martha was delighted to pick (some of) it up but I’m not sure whether she knows the significance.

The Sun was beginning to set and this was a great photo opportunity for Marc and for the rest of us.

Sunset, Jenny and her supporters

I’d forgotten there were so many formalities at a wedding. I was quite happy to grab a slice of cake and tuck in. But there was the matter of the official Cutting of the Cake.

Cutting the cake

Martha was on the scene and very quickly announced ‘I want that bit’.

A little later, Jenny and Liam took to the floor for the first dance. The first song I remember the band, Funtime Frankies, playing was Summer of ’69. The dancefloor soon filled but my feet kept themselves to themselves, at least until a pint of beer later. The band were really good, performing old songs with great skill, and I know it’s an old-farty thing to say, but they were really quite loud.

Jenny and Liam dancing

During the evening, we made several visits to the bar for a wide range of beverages. And water.

As darkness settled on Knockerdown, I think we were all still a bit high from the emotion if not from the alcohol. More food was available and I feel sorry for those folks who mistook the jalapeños for mushrooms. Hello Andrew!

Michael and I had a nice chat about Sarah and the wider family. He and Astrid went to bed and I moseyed on over to the After Party, much to Helen’s surprise, I think. I had a bottte of beer, very rare for me at around midnight, before hitting the sack myself. I said good night to the new Mr and Mrs W.

Breakfast for me on the day after consisted of veggie sausage roll, although bacon butties were available for the carnivores. This plus a few cups of tea were very welcome. But I think one of the most memorable sights this day was seeing that Martha didn’t change out of her pyjamas all day. She and all the bridesmaids and Jenny and Helen were wearing personalised robes and I think Martha just didn’t want to take hers off.

We had fun and games in the field including a 9-hole Crazy Golf course that materialised early in the morning. I played two rounds. Once against Pauline and Andrew and once with Martha, Emily and Papa. On both occasions, I got the highest score so I think that makes me the winner.

Crazy Jenny and Liam playing Golf (*words to be rearranged)
William captured by rogue space hoppers

William played tag with me and Emily for a while. There was a short race course for space hopppering around. The track itself was William’s safe ‘base’ while the island in the middle was ‘super-base’. William’s other job, which he took upon himself, was to carry a crate of bubble mix around. Bubbles were blown.

William bearing bubbles

There wasn’t enough food here this weekend, thought absolutely nobody at all. So it was lovely to welcome the barbecue in the afternoon. At this point, the wind got up and blew one of the gazebos across the patio. I ran over to unload the children from the bouncy castle, just in case, and the rain followed soon after. I’m glad I had my ice cream before the rain set in, since the freezers were outside, exposed to the weather: and wet weather and electricity are not a good pairing.

Weddings are of course mainly about the people, so there will follow a few mug shots, just some of the guests. I hope they don’t put you off your next meal.

Rob, Pauline and Andrew
Martha
Michael and Astrid

Shortly after this picture was taken, so were the subjects. Liesel and Leslie drove them back to Manchester Airport for their return flight to Bergen.

Liam and Matt

They missed some of the early evening entertainment which included children’s Pass the Parcel and a Pub Quiz. Liesel returned just as the last question was being posed, which is the only reason our team didn’t win. In fact, the winners were the team led by Liam and Jenny which seems only fair. The prize consisted of a few items of old tut previously donated by Liam and Jenny.

Annabel, Martha, Emily and William

The end of the day meant lots of goodbyes of course and I for one was glad of a slightly earlier night in bed.

In the morning, we had to vacate the cottages by 10am. We then hung around a bit to help Jenny and Liam load up their van and Helen and a couple of others to take their stuff out. I think we finally hit the road at about 11 o’clock, having agreed to meet up with Pauline, Andrew and Robert in Bakewell. But that story’s for another day.

Several days later, I can still feel the positive vibes from this wedding weekend, and I mean no disrespect to those who organised and attended my own weddings when I say that I think this was the best, most enjoyable wedding I’ve ever been to. So well planned by Jenny and Liam. Thanks a million to them and thanks to everyone else for making it all so much fun. I can’t wait to see Marc’s professional photos and share one or two here, such as:

Beautiful

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.

Packing and stacking

Well that was a strange week that was a strange week for the 1st time in many years we watched the Eurovision song contest well I didn’t watch it but it was on a didn’t watch it but it was on in the background I was doing something else had my nose in a puzzle I’ve had my nose in a puzzle roller book or something and looked up at the TV screen and I saw a Spanish singer’s bottom and I thought she’s getting my vote but I didn’t vote for anyone I didn’t vote for anyone in the end Ukraine one and the uk came 2nd for the 1st time in a 143 years.

That’s how good the dictation option is on my phone. It doesn’t seem too concerned with punctuation. And I’m sure I didn’t recite all those things twice all those things twice. But it is interesting to see how the screen changes as the phone tries to work out what I actually said. I’ll mostly edit the rest of this post, so it more closely resembles what I meant in the first place, in better English.

Liesel and I went for walk around around Northern Ireland (no, it was Northenden). We couldn’t believe the number of ladybirds we saw on the bushes, literally hundreds: it must be the ladybird mating season by the looks of it.

Ladybird giving another ladybird a piggy-back

The heron was on the island, cowering: I think he was hiding from the swarms of ladybirds, maybe he felt under threat.

Spot the heron

We also caught sight of that other occasional visitor to the river Mersey in Northenden: an old car tyre. Lovely to see him sitting near the island.

Tyres

And what’s this lurking in the bushes near Riverside Park? Somebody’s parked their scooter in a good place. I hope they can remember where they left it.

Where’s my scooter?
Artistic shot of the week

The day after I took this picture of the daisies on the lawn by our communal car park, the mowing crew came along and cut the grass, moss, dandelion stems and, sadly, the daisies.

My regular brain exercise each morning is to play Worldle, Wordle and Nerdle. This week I managed to achieve a winning streak of a hundred games. Except on the actual day, I forgot to grab a screenshot, so here it is from the following day! I was so proud, I even tweeted this image!

Liesel and I had a nice walk with the Northenden group, along the river to Simon’s Bridge and back. We sat outside for coffee at Box 2 Boxx, Shelly took a picture and it looks like I’ll appear in another advert soon, hooray!

And so it came to pass that we collected the children from school. Instead of taking them home, we took them to Bruntwood Park, through the woods behind their school. En route, William looked at a puddle, then looked at me, I slowly shook my head, he walked on by. We spent a lot of time in the fabulous playground, which was quite busy. Children were there from three or four different schools, going by their uniforms. William is definitely a climber.

William the mountaineer

We had a picnic on the glassy nose Yeah sausage rolls cumbers tomatoes and Victoria sponge cakes from a shop. In English: We had a picnic on the grassy knoll (just a raised mound of grass, really). We had pizza, sausage rolls, cucumbers, tomatoes and Victoria sponge cakes from a shop (ie, not home-made).

Martha the runner

There’s a great game there where the children have to run around and tap each post as the lights come on. It’s all electronic and they both found it great fun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Martha run so far, so fast and for so long. Thank goodness this was before we sat down for our picnic!

The different arrangements today for looking after the children were for a very special reason. We took them home at about 5.30 and then after going home to our place to get raedy, we drove into Manchester for a concert that we’d first booked in September 2019. It had been postponed twice because of the pandemic and Covid restrictions, but at last, tonight was the night.

We’d never been to the Band on the Wall venue before but it’s a good little place. Mostly it’s standing only, but I asked for a couple of seats for us old farts and they were very obliging. We were here to see Tom Robinson. The show was meant to celebrate his 70th birthday but that was two ago now. Before the support act, Lee Forsyth-Griffiths, appeared, Tom himself came out on stage and sang a couple of songs for us early birds, those of us who had bothered to turn up in time to see the support act. He performed a revised version of his old hit What if we live to be 50? This remixed, remastered, updated version What if we live to be 80? was quite funny, especially since it still referred to carrying a packet of three.

Lee sang a few songs and the presence of his Mam and his sister in the audience didn’t affect his potty mouth at all!

It was a pretty good atmosphere all night although there was one scuffle right in front of us because of one man who was very drunk, so he was escorted off the premises.

Oops, Tom, electric guitar, Tom as PM

The Hong-Kong… hahaha… The encore was Power in the Darkness during which Tom always does a skit on some contemporary issue. This time of course of course, he channeled Boris Johnson and as he said afterwards, it’s all beyond parody now.

As we left the venue, we walked through the bar, and at the back was another performer whose name I missed, a lovely soul singer. So we stood around and listened while she sang Dancing in the Street. Twice! This was a nice surprise and a good way to to end the evening

Not Martha Reeves

The rest of this sort of in-between a week was in between a week was taken up with packing and checking all the paperwork and checking all the paperwork and everything that we need to do for we need to do for our trip to Alaska next week next week yes we are going away for 4 weeks and all these last minute and all these last minute jobs it all take 5 all these last minute jobs that should just take 5 minutes take a long time and then you find something’s gone wrong now when anyone finds something’s gone wrong or what a nightmare but we’re getting there we’re getting there. I hope you get the gist. Basically, we prepared for a few weeks away in Alaska.

We visited Windermere last week, so this week’s radio show was about lakes and other bodies of water, lots of songs about rivers, oceans and a couple of lakes. Enjoy it, it’s the last one for a few weeks…

What’s that, the last one for a while? Yes, while we’re in sunny Anchorage to visit Liesel’s family and friends, I won’t be making more shows. I would have to take so much extra stuff with me and even then, I might not find the time. But if you really want to listen to some earlier radio (and non-radio) shows, this link gives you the full list available so far.

I also uploaded a special one this week, and that was the tribute to Sarah first put together last year. Unbelievably, it’s now 21 years since we lost Sarah and she is still much missed and loved.

One egg is un oeuf

Something guaranteed to lift the spirits at any time is seeing a display of colour in everyday objects. Liesel uses these stitch markers with her crochet projects. Seeing them bathing in sunshine, on the otherwise fairly bland sofa, well, I couldn’t not take a picture really.

Stitch markers

The rain was torrential as we drove along the motorway. A fire engine overtook us on the inside, on the hard shoulder. A couple of minutes later, we saw thick black smoke ahead. We soon saw the source: it was a refuse truck, and the fire crew on our side of the road was attempting to extinguish the flames from the wrong side of the central reservation and its barrier. As we drove on, we noticed another fire engine stuck in traffic, on that side of the road. The children found it interesting, and we just hope nobody was injured. As Martha said, the rain would help put the fire out.

It was still raining lightly when we arrived at Chester Zoo, but it didn’t last long. Martha and William didn’t seem to even notice, while Liesel and I were wearing the brand new fully waterproof coats that she’d bought for us in Alaska.

We did see some animals at the zoo, but the main attraction were the playgrounds! The slides were still wet of course. As was everything else. Even climbing up the tree stumps with notches for footholds was risky, it was all too slippery.

I was expecting William to be Spiderman but no, Martha reached the top of the web first.

Martha’s web of intrigue

And of course, we had to capture the moment William spread his wings.

William the flamingo
Mick and friend

I’ve never been photobombed by a penguin before, but here is a poicture of me and my new coat!

For the first time in several visits, we actually saw an actual cheetah. Not running at 70mph, or hiding, but sitting on a mound way over there, through the haze.

Cheetah

It wasn’t too wet to sit on the elephant though. I assume other guests’ clothing had dried the poor old beast.

Liesel, Martha, William, elephant (bottom)

We enjoyed some good, local walks this week: Northenden, Wythenshawe and beyond.

In Wythenshawe, I was surprised to find some standing stones, signs of a really old civilisation here. Not as commercial an enterprise as Stonehenge, obviously, but quite interesting just the same.

Standing stones

This walk took us close to the motorway: a mere fence separated the traffic from our very loud chatting. Not the most pleasant of walking routes, to be honest, but it’s always good to see new things and new places.

Some of the insects in Benchill are huge, especially at the school.

School bug

Liesel did some laundry this week, including my jeans, for which I am very grateful. I checked they were dry before putting them on. Liesel had turned them inside out before washing them, which I probably would have forgotten to do. When I turned them outside out though, they seemed darker than I remembered. They really had needed a wash! I tried pulling them on, but they didn’t get far. Oh no, I thought, they’ve shrunk. I also wondered how come I’ve been wearing them for years without noticing some slight elasticity. Then I realised. I took them off, folded them up nicely and returned to the bathroom to look for my own legwear. Liesel is very welcome to her own, darker blue, elasticated Levis, thank you very much.

Liesel and I walked to Fletcher Moss park together for the first time in ages. We saw the heron too, always a bonus, he hasn’t been around for a while.

What a popular little park, so many groups of people must have decided to meet up for a Good Friday coffee and chat. We secluded ourselves in the rockery for a rest. And Liesel provided a running commentary on the mouse lurking in the bushes, that I totally failed to observe. Mouse, or baby rat? When Liesel told another couple about the rodent behind them, the lady shrieked and jumped up onto the bench. Well, she would have in a sitcom.

Acer or Japanese maple

Another day, another acer. How do you dig them up, I wondered? Acer spades, suggested Liesel.

Selfie of the day

Yes, I know it’s a rubbish photo. But the height difference between Liesel and me makes it hard to get a good picture, especially when you’re trying to get some blossom in the background as well. My head isn’t really eight times the volume of Liesel’s.

Easter Saturday was very exciting, we spent most of the time with Martha and William. The idea was for them to dye hard-boiled white eggs. Imagine the disappointment when the rarely seen (in the UK) white eggs turned up with a lion mark and other stamps! Fortunately, boiling them removed all this ink, leaving pristine shells for the childern to decorate. Oh, except William wasn’t interested, in the end! He played with the dinosaurs. I don’t think his lack of interest was due to the excitement of the Easter egg hunt around the salubrious setting of our small apartment. They both had a good time, and both were willing to share when one found more eggs than the other. Of course, probably too many were consumed, but, well, that’s Easter!

In fact, at one point, William decided he’d had enough, so he took himself off to bed for a quick nap.

William the kipper

When I say quick, I mean very short, less than a minute, a proper power nap if ever there was one!

The eggs turned out very well, though.

Martha the egg dyer

So that’s Mummy’s and Daddy’s breakfast sorted for tomorrow!

It was such a lovely day, we thought we’d also take them to the playground. And on the way there and back, we picked litter. There’s just so much to choose from around here.

William and Martha the litter-pickers

We saw the heron again, in exactly the same place as yesterday.

Heron on the weir

Why bother moving if you can catch all the fish you need in that one spot?

Martha and William had fun together on the swing and on the slide.

Martha and William the sliders

And before you ask, yes, this is a very short slide, they haven’t had a sudden growth spurt.

After returning the children to their parents (only leaving one small toy at ours by mistake) we came home to relax… What a gorgeous day.

The theme for my Wythenshawe Radio show this week was Death, pushing up the daisies, shuffling off this mortal coil. It wasn’t at all morbid or mournful or maudlin, but I was surprised at how many songs they are about the subject.

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As well as the regular show, I’ve put together a show that won’t be broadcast on any radio station. It’s a bit rude, there are explicit lyrics, lots of swearing, and other songs that you don’t usually hear on the radio. Plus a couple of poems. It’s all done in the best possible taste. But please don’t listen if you don’t approve of a bit of bad language. The idea came a while ago, but I gave it a lot of serious thought and consideration when I was laid low by the Covids.

York

The excitement mounted as I prepared for an adventure. Two years ago, we bought tickets for a gig in York for April 2021. Due to Covid restrictions, along with many other shows, it was postponed. But its time has come. Liesel and I planned to make a weekend of it in York, a city that we’ve only visited once in the past.

Well, Liesel is still in Anchorage of course, and I didn’t want to miss the show. I also decided to go by train rather than by car. I haven’t been on a train for well over two years and I thought I’d see what it’s like these days: how many other passengers would be wearing masks? How crowded would it be?

Blue skies over Northenden

The blue sky was a welcome sight as I waited for the bus to take me into Manchester. The bus wasn’t too busy, and about a third of passengers were masked up. One hundred percent of the driver was not, which I found surprising.

In another first, I caught the train at Oxford Road Station. Despite the cold wind blowing through the station, I did not wait in this rather cute little waiting room.

Waiting room

It reminds me of Thomas Newton’s home planet inThe Man Who fell to Earth, which is strange. That’s today’s first reference to David Bowie.

I read a book during the 90-minute journey to York. Again, about a 33% success rate with face coverings, which is disappointingly low, I feel. Already, I felt I was mentally ticking the box that says ‘don’t travel by train again any time soon’. Which is a shame.

So I’m by myself, but of course I still had Liesel’s ticket. One of my online mates, George, agreed to use the ticket. And George met me in the forecourt of York Station, from where we walked all the way to the concert venue, The Barbican. This was handy because the hotel I’d booked for myself was right next door. Very convenient: almost as if I’d planned it that way. But that was only because all the Airbnb places that I found in York city centre turned out to be actually located in a suburb much further out of town!

George and I ‘met’ online while watching the one time regular Tuesday evening YouTube performances by Jessica Lee Morgan. And, by coincidence, it was Jess that we were here to see tonight, supporting and performing with Tony Visconti’s Best of Bowie. Yes, David Bowie. Sadly, Woody Woodmansey’s not with the band on this occasion, but I knew we’d have a good time anyway.

I checked into my hotel, and we had a coffee before walking back into York Centre. George had pre-booked a ‘meal deal’ at his accommodation, so I wandered around for a while, looking for somewhere nice to dine myself.

I’d forgotten what a pretty little city York is.

Micklegate

The wall surrounds much of the city, and you do feel like you’re entering another realm when you walk through one of these gates. And you sense you might just be under surveillance.

The Eye of Sauron

The Sun was still out and it was quite warm, the cold wind had dwindled, but even so, I was surprised to come across some ice sculptures.

Find Dick at the York Dungeon

Later on, I read up about it here. It says there were 40 exhibits, but over two days, I didn’t find nearly that many. Someone more organised would have looked at a map.

I just happened to glance into this shop window.

Metrobolist

The album that we all know as The Man Who Sold the World being sold at last under the name it was meant to have. No, I didn’t seriously consider starting a new vinyl collection. This might be a new remix by Tony Visconti, but I’m not sure my ears could tell the difference! Still, nice to see David Bowie referenced again.

As I walked over the fast-flowing and high River Ouse, I found this old place on the east bank.

Lendal Tower

Dating from about 1300, Lendal Tower was originally part of the City’s defences, with a defensive chains stretching from here to the Tower on the opposite bank. In 1677 it was leased to the predecessors of The York Waterworks Plc for five hundred years, at an annual rent of one peppercorn for use as a water tower. During the 18th century it housed a steam pumping engine modified to the design of John Smeaton FRS, then a proprietor of the Waterworks. It ceased to be used for those purposes in 1850. In 1932 it was refurbished and now houses the Company’s Board Rooms. So says a plaque on the side of the building.

I dined at The Orchid, a vegan restaurant. Of course, I hadn’t booked, so when I turned up at one minute past opening time, I was told I could eat there as long as I vacated my table by 7.30. I thought, well, if I can’t finish my meal in an hour and a half, then there’s something wrong. Plus, I didn’t want to miss any of the show of course.

And the food was lovely, very well presented and with very friendly service.

Very nice, very tasty

Unusually, I took photos before the dishes were empty.

I enjoyed a leisurely walk back to The Barbican where the scanner successfully scanned my ticket barcode on the first attempt. Things are looking up: maybe I should buy a lottery ticket. As I said, it is a very cute little place.

Scenes from York

Inside, there were hundreds of people, some wearing t-shirts depicting David Bowie from various eras. And, speaking of David Bowie, one thing I never expected to see was a portrait of him in monochrome Lego.

Lego Bowie

Jessica’s partner Chris was working behind the merch stall. I met up with George again as well as Sue, another regular at JLM’s Tuesday night online shows. Nice to see people in real life, isn’t it?

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

Jessica and Chris performed some new songs for about half hour including one which involved audience participation. I don’t think the quality of my singing was improved by the presence of a face covering.

After a break, Tony Visconti’s Best of Bowie took to the stage for two hours of Bowie hits and some surprises. The whole band was spot on, although on a couple of occasions, either the singer, Glenn Gregory, or I, misremembered the lyrics. Jessica played guitar and alto sax, though not at the same time, even she’s not that talented. I am very conscious of not taking too many photos during a show: I used to be quite obsessed with capturing every possible lighting arrangement and every available location of all the musicians. From where I was sitting, and from where George was sitting in Liesel’s seat we couldn’t really see Janette Mason on keyboards, but she did a great job.

The band

Actually, I think most of the audience was singing along to most of the songs. I wasn’t the oldest person there, and there were some teenagers too. So do I have a set list? It’s in my head and I should try and write it down before I forget but then it might already be too late.

Tony Visconti told the story of when they were playing, as Holy Holy, in New York on David Bowie’s birthday. He phoned David up and the whole audience then sang ‘Happy birthday’ to him. Just a couple of days later, they were in Toronto when they heard the news of his passing. They carried on the tour, but I’m sure the atmosphere was very different.

Thank you and good night

I hung around for a while and had a chat with Jessica and Smiley the drummer before setting off for the comfort of my suite, a whole five minute walk away.

Looks familiar

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who did a double-take on seeing this thin blue-suited duke hanging around like the rest of us.

What a great night, and I’m pretty sure Liesel would have enjoyed it too. Next time. Anyway, it took a while to wind down and get to sleep.

After breakfast, I set off for my day as a tourist in York. Of course, I had to walk along the wall for a while. Last time Liesel and I did this, it was drizzling lightly, but today, the Sun was out, the sky was blue and the spirits were well and truly lifted.

York City wall

I admit that sometimes I mess about with my photos for comedic effect. But this photo of Sir Thomas Herbert’s House has not been tampered with.

Sir Thomas Herbert’s House

This old, old, old building really does look that happy.

And, yes, of course I kept a lookout for more ice sculptures.

More ice sulptures

Sadly, a few had melted by the time I found them, as they’d been placed on the sunnier side of the street .

I quite enjoyed wandering around, but not surprisingly I suppose, the most uncomfortable I felt was at the market near The Shambles, which was really crowded. Other prople were having a good time out on the river.

Messing about on the river

The only place I visited properly was the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. In fact, I had lunch here before walking around looking a lots of old stuff. Funny how old buildings like this have the same sort of old smell, despite presumably being cleaned with modern chemicals with modern scents.

Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

The place has been flooded a few times over the centuries, and the high levels have all (I assume all) have been marked.

High Water Lines

I can’t imagine how much water is needed to reach that high from the river that far away. But I must say, I was pleased to have this place almost to myself on this occasion. I suspect that the art galleries and museums would have been far busier. Liesel and I will return sometime, I’m sure.

Something else that is guaranteed to make me feel good is the sight of a perfect reflection in the water. 

Reflections of my life

In Northenden, we have planters in the main street with flowers and they look delightful. In York, they’ve gone one step further and are growing food for the community.

Edible York 2013

Sadly, there wasn’t much to pick today apart from a couple of weeds, but it’s the thought that counts.

There is one landmark in York that I’ve nor mentioned yet. Well, here it is: Cliffords Tower.

Clifford’s Tower

I was going to bound up the slope like a gazelle but, er, I had my luggage, that’s it. Oh, and there was a fence that I couldn’t climb over.

The train back to Manchester was a bit more crowded as was the bus back to Northenden. Oh well.

Meanwhile, our Alaska correspondent has reported more snowfall in Anchorage. Liesel sent this picture which, it has to be said, made me shiver a bit.

Snow

I’ve mentioned my issue with intermittent unjustified shortness of breath before. This week, I visited the GP again and attended hospital for a chest X-ray. I really want to get to the bottom of this now.

Later that day, I started feeling a bit manky. Tickly throat. Cough. Headache. Rough sleep. I didn’t feel up to going out for any of the organised walks and sadly, neither did I feel up to looking after the children this week. Fortunately, I had recorded most of the radio show before I came down with this lurgy. It’s about Communication and an extended mix is available here:

Just when I thought I was getting over whatever the ailment is, the duvet decided to pick a fight with me. I realised I was lying under nothing but empty duvet cover. The duvet itself had somehow migrated to Liesel’s side of the bed leaving the empty husk behind. I tried shaking the duvet back into place but I think I’m going to have to start from scratch. Did I say ‘scratch’? Well, yes. There are in fact two thin duvets at work here, held together with a safety pin in each corner. Except it seems the one in my corner has undone itself and it poked through, threatening to stab me. A small scratch on the arm is bad enough but I don’t need this sort of adventure in the middle of the night, thank you very much. When it comes to battles with inanimate objects, there is no guarantee of victory.

Muddy boots

Quarry Bank Mill beckoned and we had a good walk, enjoying the sunshine and the Autumnal colours. It wasn’t too crowded, but one of the paths was just a bit too muddy, so we had to do a U-turn. We made a mental note to take our wellies out of storage ready for the next time. I take a quick photo now and then, but it was good to see a small group of people taking the time to paint a picture.

Artists

Liesel is a big fan of these red shoots. I think I remember it being known as dogwood from when I tried to solve the riddles presented in the book Masquerade, all those years ago, clues to the location of a golden hare buried somewhere in the UK. Needless to say, I didn’t find the valued item.

Dogwood

There were a few clusters of mushrooms, which looked jolly tasty. Uh? But we left them for other folks to enjoy. Just in case.

Mushrooms
Selfie of the day

We stopped off at the Leisure Centre in Wythenshawe where I had my Covid booster jab. No issues this time, except a slightly tender arm. Oh, and I felt unusually cold for a couple of days, but that may have been because it had become significantly colder and it rained a lot during the course of 48 hours.

In the evening, we walked all the way up the road again to the Northenden Players’ theatre to watch some jazz. Alec Wares played tenor sax, accompanied by a keyboard player whose name I missed, despite it being announced twice. This was our third show from Northenden Arts Festival.

Alec Wares Jazz Duo

On the walk home, we saw this bloke looking a lot worse for wear, he needs to eat something fast, put some meat on those bones.

One of the neighbours

He’d disappeared the following day, I just hope he was taken indoors and wasn’t kidnapped by some local Nothendenizen ne’er-do-wells.

It is of course the season of Hallowe’en and Bonfire night, and I think the two have become conflated in the minds of some locals. I know I’m in danger of becoming a grumpy old Mick but I’m sure fireworks are getting louder every year.

Liesel says: Whaddya mean, ‘in danger of’?

The final Sunday of each month sees the arrival of Didsbury Craft Market. We risked walking there along the river despite the overnight downpours.

Muddy path

We did see our heron though, on our side of the river. He didn’t fly off when I got my phone out. He was stock still. I suggested it was just a cardboard cutout but no, he did move a couple of times.

Heron

That picture was taken looking towards the Sun but I knew that trying to get  a different angle would be futile.

Jenny and Liam came over to the market too, with Martha and William. We just hoped the rain would stay away, come again another day.

Martha the witch

Martha attracted some favourable comments from strangers, coming as she did dressed as a witch, complete with broomstick, wand and wellies. William was dressed as a skeleton but he’d just woken up, felt cold and had to put his coat on, hiding his very bones.

William the skeleton

We bought brownies to complement the other snacks that would last me and Liesel most of the week. The first few spots of rain were the cue for us to set off home.

In the evening, we walked all the way up the road again, this time in really heavy rain, to the Northenden Players’ theatre to watch a play and a Rat Pack Revival.

The play was Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills in which all 7 characters are children, but played by adults. It was performed very well and there was a very unexpected dark ending.

Northenden Players

We could have walked home and back again for the second show, but neither of us fancied it doing that in that rain. So we stayed glued to our seats, watching Bring on the Swing set up. They’re a large band, twelve members, and it’s quite a small stage. But what a show. Plenty of the old classics associated with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. By coincidence, they sang Have You Met Miss Jones? which Alec Wares had played the previous night.

Bring on the Swing

At least after walking home in the rain, we could climb straight into bed. But what a great weekend, five shows over four days. Let’s hope the Northenden Arts Festival becomes a regular attraction.

We haven’t been to Lyme Park for a while, so we returned for a long walk. And yes, we wore our wellington boots. It was very muddy in places, but not as bad as expected after over 24 hours continuous rain. (So much rain, that the river Mersey in Northenden rose by over 1.3 metres, covering the island and flooding part of the road that leads to Didsbury Golf Club.)

Selfie of the day

We usually stop to watch the lack of birds at the feeders but today we were quite lucky.

Coal tits

We walked up towards the folly, The Cage, and this tree caught my eye.

Lone Tree Hill

All that rain earlier in the week had thoroughly washed the air and we had a really clear view of Manchester in the distance. And it must be that time of year when fungi feel emboldened. While we saw mushrooms the other day, it was definitely toadstools we were looking at today. I don’t really know what the difference is except maybe mushrooms look edible while toadstools look poisonous. I might be doing both a disservice.

Toadstools

We might not have spotted these fungi if we hadn’t been walking on the grass. Yes, we walked on the grass rather than the stoney path at this point because the soles of our boots are very thin, compared with our trainers, and we could feel every little stone and pebble and grain of sand. On the other foot, when we come across a stream that’s taking a shortcut across our path rather than following its proper channel, we can just plod on through.

Stream on the path

It was really cold when we collected William and Martha from school. But that didn’t stop William from taking off his coat. We walked back a different way today to avoid the debris left behind following a very recent car crash. So recent, the car was still steaming and there was glass everywhere. The children brought some of their Hallowe’en treats with them and I guess we should be happy that William wasn’t keen on most of the sweets he’d received.

We played with dinosaurs and with the pin-art device that is so much fun, much moreso than you’d expect.

We looked after William for a couple of hours the next day too. The rain made us change our plans. Instead of taking him to the playground just round the corner from his house, we took him home where we played with dinosaurs and the pin-art device that is so attractive. We ate lunch while watching Moana, and he sat still for 90% of the film, which I’d forgotten was quite scary in parts.

It’s my sister Pauline’s birthday this weekend so that gave me the idea of a radio show based on the theme of Growing Old. You can listen back here. Happy birthday, dear sister.

Three nights out

If you’d said to me that I would see somebody fishing in the river, from a wheelchair, I would have said, good for them. I never expected to see such a spectacle, especially at this particular location.

Wheelchair fishing

If he rolls forward just a couple of inches, he will be on a steep slope heading for the Mersey. Who knew that angling could be such a dangerous occupation?

It’s funny the way things work out. We don’t go out much but here we are, going out three nights in a row, to vastly different shows.

First, to see The Blow Monkeys in Manchester, supported by Jessica Lee Morgan, who, yes, we only saw a couple of weeks ago.

The venue was called ‘Club Academy’. It’s very hard to find. There is ‘Manchester Academy’, which was deserted. There is ‘The Academy’, ‘Academy 1’, ‘Academy 2’ and ‘Academy 3’. As we were looking for our venue, we were approached by a couple of other equally confused concert-goers. But we got there in the end and enjoyed a great night’s music. We wore masks but most people didn’t. We’re not too enamoured of standing gigs any more, but we found a counter to lean on. Then, later on, when most people huddled in front of the stage, we went to the back of the auditorium and sat down, trying not to slide off a sofa that was built for people with much longer legs than ours. We felt positively Lilliputian.

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

From our original vantage point, Chris was mostly behind a pillar, but we knew he was there, top bass playing.

The Blow Monkeys

We’re not as familiar with The Blow Monkeys and their music, but we recognised some of their songs. I only wish the saxophone had been a bit louder in the mix.

Before leaving, we had a quick chat with Jess and Chris and, unless something changes, we’ll next see them in March, in York, playing with Holy Holy.

The second show we saw was at The Lowry in Salford. Danny Baker and Bob Harris Backstage Pass: a couple of old rock’n’rollers swapping rock’n’roll stories. This show was postponed from last year, and was a birthday present from a year before that, I think. Well worth waiting for, and as it turns out, this was the first night of their rescheduled tour.

We went into Salford a bit early, not having been there for a long time. It was good to walk around a different city. It’s very modern looking, with its Media City, new blocks of (no doubt luxury) apartments, nothing at all like it’s portrayed in the Ewan MacColl song Dirty Old Town.

Salford Quays
Salford Geese

Lots of people were proudly wearing their medals, having completed the Manchester Marathon. Some looked like they could do it all over again. Others really needed a lie-down, and fast.

Bee in the City: Blue Bee-ter

This blue bee was designed and decorated by Jodie Silverman and the sponsors are BBC Radio Manchester, Blue Peter and Peel Media Ltd. Blue Peter, Blue Bee-ter, what are the chances! The new Blue Peter garden is nearby, but we didn’t pay a visit.

As recommended by Jenny, we dined at Prezzo, although Wagamama was spotted nearby and we were very nearly tempted away.

The show was ‘sold out’ but there were plenty of empty seats. Whether this was because the audience was thinned out due to Covid, or because many people just forgot to turn up, we don’t know.

But it was a fabulous couple of hours of entertainment. Lots of stories from Bob and Dan, some of which we’d heard before, but that’s alright.

Danny Baker and Bob Harris

During the interval, we, the audience members, were invited to write a question down for them to answer in the second half. Bob Harris sings in the chorus of David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival, so I asked whether Danny Baker had appeared on any records. Well, at the start of the second half, Danny announced that his solo gig in Blackheath in January was sold out. He said that tickets sold quickly after he’d announced that every guest would be given one of his old 7-inch singles. Danny said that of course, these records might not be any good, he wouldn’t be giving away Memory of a Free Festival, would he? To which Bob replied, I’m on that record. ‘Are you?’ exclaimed Danny. So Bob told the story of how he and his then wife Sue, and some others, happened to be in the studio when David was recording the song. Producer Tony Visconti invited them up to sing along with the chorus. Bob asked if Dan had been on a record, and the only one he named was by Sham 69, and he told us some things about Jimmy Pursey, their lead singer. So, even though my question wasn’t picked out and read, it was answered.

I was hoping there’d be a meet & greet afterwards, but no. I have a photo of me with Danny Baker from a previous occasion but I do need to add Whispering Bob to my rogues gallery.

Hand-brake turn here. Key change. Nature really shouldn’t get involved in politics.

Saltire: The sky showing its support for Scottish independence

The third in our trilogy of nights out was an event in the Manchester Literature Festival. We saw Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo in conversation with with old chum Jackie Kay. Liesel and I both loved Bernardine’s book Girl, Woman, Other and, having heard her talking about her new book, we’re now looking forward to reading it, Manifesto.

Bernardine Evaristo OBE FRSL FRSA

And as she Tweeted:
MANIFESTO is the @BBC’s ‘Book of the Week’ starting this Monday 18th Oct at 09.45, as narrated by the authoress herself. Listen here.

I joined the queue afterwards to have our copy of the book signed, but I felt bad for Liesel standing all alone outside in the rain, so I gave up waiting and joined her to go home. In fact, she’d been sitting down inside, in comfort and warmth. Ms Evaristo will have to wait until next time to meet me.

She is a very special lady, sharing her birthday with daughter Jenny and with Kylie Minogue.

So, a very entertaining, educational and informative few days overall. Three nights in a row: it was a daunting prospect but we don’t need to make a habit of it. Having been in the presence of so many strangers in such a short period, we both tested ourselves for the plague covid, and we both came up negative.

Which meant that we felt comfortable picking up William and Martha from school on Thursday. The other grandparents provide childminding on a Tuesday. Liesel and I had filled in for them the previous Tuesday. William was aware of this iniquity. ‘Oma and Grandad have picked us up twice and Nana and Papa only once. After today, it will be 3-1’.

At home, this basic unfairness in how the universe operates was forgotten as snacks, fruit and vegetables were on offer. Martha and Oma made spiders from pipecleaners while William completed a new jigsaw puzzle with my assistance.

Martha told us about her meeting today, the School Parliament. But having (I assume) signed the Official Secrets Act, she didn’t divulge any of the details.

And, sorry, William, I don’t mind watching CoComelon on TV with you, with their nursery rhymes, both ancient and modern, but all I can think of is that an anagram of CoComelon is ComeColon.

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner before taking their babies home.

Pipecleaner spider

This is one of the very colourful but otherwise very scary spiders.

Autumn colours are slowly enveloping the trees as the temperature drops. Fallen leaves make the path a bit slippery too, especially when it’s been raining or there’s been a heavy dew. So to make things even more challenging, the grass verges are being cut and the trimmings liberally distributed over the pavements. But the colours are glorious.

Colourful tree

Yes, the sky is blue, the Sun feels nice on our backs as we wander around Northenden and Wythenshawe. Both well-being walks were well-attended this week, Liesel joined us in Wythenshawe, around Painswick Park and beyond.

Walking in sunshine
Matching tree and building
Gnarly old silver birch

Earlier in the week, I spoke to Andrew Foulkes from Northenden Players Theatre Club and to Dan Tiernan, comedian, about the upcoming Northenden Arts Festival. These chats formed the backbone of this week’s Radio Northenden Show. Hear all about it here. I know you’re wondering and yes, I did play David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival to illustrate Northenden Arts Festival. Find out more about the Festival and about Northenden Players here.

Morecambe and whys

It’s been a long time coming, nearly two years, but we’ve been to our first gig indoors, in an actual indoor venue. And it was fab.

The original plan was to spend the day in Morecambe and then attend the concert in the evening. At one point, we even thought about spending the night, but in the end, we chose not to. To even be having discussions like this is a great step forward as we slowly get back to normal. Why? Because the pandemic and restrictions imposed have drastically affected our way of life.

The weather on Saturday morning was miserable, making a day at the seaside much less attractive. The drive was uneventful, and we parked close to the venue, More Music. Why? So that we could make a quick getaway after the show, without having to wander around a strange town in the dark. It looked a bit run down to be honest, but we knew we were at the right place when we saw this poster.

More Music Gigs

And by now, you might have worked out who we were going to see this evening.

We enjoyed a walk along the sea front, but I was surprised that there wasn’t much of the expected sandy beach. We walked along as far as the Eric Morecambe memorial statue and guess who we bumped in to? Jessica and Christian had also made the pilgrimage, and of course, we all had to pose with Eric. Why? Because he and his partner were the best of Saturday night TV entertainment in the ’70s and, as Jessica said, he’d brought us sunshine today.

Eric Morecambe and Jessica Lee Morgan
Liesel, Eric and Mick

While Jess and Chris wandered off for an ice cream, we continued our exploration of this strange little seaside town. Some of the sights weren’t very nice: the bloke sitting immobile on the pavement for instance. We later learned that he was probably under the influence of ‘spice’, a new (to us) recreational drug. Some of the shops could do with a lick of paint too. Comparing this town with the relatively well-kept splendour of London is obviously unfair, a tangible sign of the north-south divide.

We were impressed by the flood defences all along the front, though, with a nice wide promenade for pedestrians and cyclists and scooterists and skateboarders. Why? Flood defences were beached here in 1977 causing extensive damage to property. The West End Pier was lost, the remains being removed the following year.

Flood defence

There were a few people on the beach, soaking up the Sun. Yes, by now it had warmed up nicely, and the rain had moved away. The mudflats extend for miles, not somewhere we felt like exploring today.

Nice view
Cormorant

They do like their bird sculptures here, fulmars, cormorants, maybe even pelicans. But other than common or garden gulls, I don’t think we saw any living seabirds. Those sitting on the water just floating by gave an indication of how strong the current was.

We walked along the pier, where someone was flying his drone. I gurned at it, just in case it was filming us. Why? Well, why not? Another bloke at end of pier was loudly regaling us with his drone stories. He’d gone out for a bike ride with some friends in order to fly his drone over the farms. The day started off badly when he didn’t open the garage door far enough and it came down with some force on his head. While flying his drone, a farmer came running out after him, shouting and hollering. He was complaining because some people use drones to photograph what farm equipment is left out and can therefore be stolen easily. Our friend here was totally innocent of course: my drone doesn’t even have a camera. The farmer promised he’d shoot it down if he ever saw that drone again. If he had a shotgun.

Our story-teller here had a bad experience with a glider once too. On its maiden flight, it nose-dived somewhere, never to be seen again.

Well, that was plenty of entertainment for the day, you’d think. But no. A woman was on the phone:
Were you bulk buying?
Did you get rid of that toilet paper you got last time?

That was probably referring to the current petrol shortage here, and the queues of cars at the forecourts. We filled up successfully, but that was because we needed fuel if we were to be able drive all the way home from Morecambe at the end of the day. Why? Because, as I said, we thought about staying the night and decided not to, weren’t you paying attention?

The pier itself can keep you entertained. There’s a maze and a hopscotch pitch as well as some jokes.

Maze on the pier

On what side does a lapwing have most feathers?
On the outside.

We dined at Morecambe Tandoori, which seems very popular with the locals. Why? Our first choice of pizzas didn’t work out, but really, we weren’t that fussy. With some time to kill before the show, I went for another quick walk, really just an excuse to eat my daily apple. West End Gardens is a nice place to explore. Some sculptures depicting the ancient four elements certainly draw the eye.

Stainless steel trumpets

“It was decided … to connect Wind with Sound and to make a sculpture inspired by the ancient aeolian instruments, where wind creates random changing sounds. As we began to explore ways of making this happen, the design developed into the form of seven stainless steel trumpets of varying heights, shapes and angles standing like sea horns proudly calling out in all directions. The 4m high, stainless steel sculpture has wires set in the trumpet spun cavity allowing them to resonates when the wind passes over them.”

Rock seat

“It was decided that the Element Earth should take the form of Rock and relate directly to the geology of Morecambe. This evolved into a ‘rock’ seat, a unique sculptural bench using found glacial stones. Six different shaped stones were split in half and and their top face polished. These were set into a curved section of Corten steel. The effect was a very unique looking seat 3m in length with six obvious seating points.”

And to think, when I first saw this, I just thought what a clever, different, park bench.

If you think I’ve undersold Morecambe, well, this mural should convince you to go for a week or two of its bracing sea air.

A bay of big skies and shifting tides

We joined the queue at the venue, and when we took our seats, by a table, in front of the stage we noticed that I was not the oldest person there, and Liesel was not the youngest. Each table had two or three chairs, and were quite apart from each other. It was organised to be as Covid safe as possible. I made my bottle of ginger beer last all night: no need to be walking about more than necessary.

Jessica and Christian came on first for a wonderful set, all their own songs, including a couple in which we, the audience, were invited to sing along. I caught myself singing along to most songs, but not too loudly, I hope.

Robyn Hitchcock was as entertaining as always: The Cheese Alarm again reminding me that there aren’t enough pop songs about cheese. Sadly, he didn’t perform No, I Don’t Remember Guildford, but maybe he remembers the time he sang that song in a radio studio with me sitting behind, breathing down his neck.

Christian, Robyn, Jessica

Because we were so close to the stage, it was difficult to get a good photo, so this will have to do. All three performed Robyn’s Brenda’s Iron Sledge together, a song I would like to join in with but not knowing the lyrics is a bit of a handicap. Don’t call him Reg. Why? It’s not his name.

What a great experience. Covid’s always at the back of our minds of course, but we felt safe tonight and enjoyed a terrific few hours of live music.

Late to bed, late to rise, of course. West Didsbury Makers’ Market takes place once a month on a Sunday, so we walked over to see what was going on. It was a pleasant walk along the river and to the market, which was very popular, much busier than I’d expected. Lots of craft stalls, but plenty of food too. The scones were huge and very tasty.

Liesel picked something up from Lakeland, the shop that is, not the gorgeous geographical region, after which we went to Quarry Bank Mill for a quick walk. Autumn is here so we expect to see some colour, but it was fascinating to see so many different colours here today.

All the colours of the rainbow

We enjoyed more wandering around our local streets, despite the weather. After the storm, I looked for and found a rainbow, hiding between the houses.

An actual rainbow

It wasn’t really a storm on this occasion, just a bit of rain.

I haven’t been to a proper Macmillan Coffee Morning for a while, but I made up for it this year. The venue was Boxx2 Boxx and they were very busy on this occasion, good to see. Why? Well, I’ll always support Macmillan Care since they looked after my Mum all those years ago.

What a tasty treat

Liesel and I joined the well-being walk at Wythenshawe this week too. I thought about walking all the way there and back, as well as doing the walk itself. Driving all the way again to do a walk, like I did last week, felt wrong. So we compromised, drove halfway and then walked the rest.

Oof…

I have no idea how somebody can build up enough speed in the short distance from the car park to cause this much damage.

We walked to the Lifestyle Centre, joined Chantel and a few others for a walk around Painswick Park and beyond.

Painswick Park

Yes, of course I was tempted to have a go on this zipwire, but it’s probably for children, and I didn’t want to lag too far behind the group. Why? I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t want to get left behind or maybe I didn’t want to risk breaking the equipment or more likely, I was pretending to be grown up.

Zipwire

I had a couple of nasty technical issues this week that caused a few moments of panic. Acast, the app through which I listen to many podcasts, forgot all my subscriptions. It acted like I’d only just signed up. And the one podcast it claimed to know about wouldn’t play anyway. It looked like I’d have to re-subscribe to everything. And how can I possibly remember them all? In the end, I thought I had nothing to lose, maybe it’s just a stack overflow or something stupid, so I did a Force Stop on the app, and that fixed it. In other words: turn it off and turn it on again. There’s a tip for you.

The other one was when my PC forgot how to use its ethernet connection. It’s happened before, and it’s been resolved, but I’ve never found out why it’s gone wrong and why, seemingly, just as spontaneously, it’s started working again. So this week, I had to do the radio show via wifi, having turned off all the other wifi-connected devices. It seems to have worked.

The show itself was about Manchester. Why? Well, it only seems fair after the London-themed show last week. You can catch up here, if you missed it.

This is the first post in a somewhat cooler, damper, Autumnal October. When it was dreich and drizzly the other day, I wanted to go to bed and set the alarm for May. Why all the stupid questions? Purely so that the pun that comprises the title makes sense. As much as anything does in this neck of the woods. 

Ode to London

As hinted at in the previous post: we did London.

The Sun was out and after breakfast, I set off for Surbiton station. I’d checked, and all three local stations, Surbiton, Tolworth and Chessington North were a 25-minute walk from our Airbnb. I thought I’d go to Chessington, for old times’ sake. But as I walked through the door, a moment of panic set in. Suppose I missed the train? I’d have to wait half an hour. There’s a much more frequent service from Surbiton. So I turned round and walked there instead. Yes, I could have caught a bus, but neither Liesel nor I were yet convinced that travelling on buses was a good idea. Hang on, what happened to Liesel? Well, she was going to Woodmansterne to visit an old friend, Claire, whom we hadn’t seen for ages. The plan was that Liesel would meet me later on in London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We debated whether or not to get Oyster Cards, as our old first generation ones might no longer work, but in the end, I just used my phone. It seems TfL work it all out nicely, so the daily fare is capped. All I had to do was remember to scan in and out. Quite a challenge for someone who hasn’t used public transport for well over 18 months. But quite exciting at the same time.

It was pleasing to see that most people on the train were wearing masks. And also nice to see that the train wasn’t packed. No standing, and nobody had to sit right next to a stranger.

Travelling into London felt so normal, despite the masks. More graffiti than I remember on the walls just before Wimbledon. Battersea Power Station is looking good, nice and clean, although harder to see now thanks to the many blocks of undoubtedly luxury apartments built at Nine Elms, close to the newly relocated US Embassy.

Waterloo Station was London to me, when I was small. A small part of me still thinks that the trains now operated by South Western Railways aren’t the genuine article. No, a real, proper train has the green livery of British Rail’s Southern Region, with slamming rather than sliding doors.

And so my long-anticipated walk in London began. Through the unusually thin crowds at Waterloo Station, past a lot of newly installed seating, very welcome I’m sure. I recalled the time most of the seating was removed to make space for ‘retail opportunities’ according to ‘public demand’, they fibbed. Down the stairs by the War Memorial and towards the South Bank. Beggars, Big Issue sellers, discarded Metro newspapers, some things never change.

‘We’re so glad to see you’. ‘We’ve missed you’. ‘Welcome back to our home’. These were the messages that greeted me as I climbed the stairs towards the Royal Festival Hall. I don’t usually speak to concrete infrastructure, but I did say it was nice to be back, thank you.

I also nodded at the bust of Nelson Mandela as I passed by and smiled at the sight of the Modified Social Benches. This is the sort of thing we love about London. Nothing wrong with being quirky.

More comfortable than it looks

Usually at the point, I would nip into the RFH to use their facilities, but there’s no need to go into more buildings than necessary. But we do look forward to seeing live performances here, and elsewhere, as soon as we can.

The second-hand book stalls under Waterloo Bridge were not open today. I’ve squandered many an hour here, looking at books and maps and other things that I’ve no real intention of buying.

Outside the National Theatre, I acknowledged Sir Laurence Olivier and tried to recall all the plays we’ve seen here. One day, I hope to return to see a young actor perform here: hello Lesley!

Sir Laurence

Lesley was a barista at Boxx2Boxx in Northenden, look out for her on a stage near you! Many actors while between rôles have to take temporary jobs, and another one was operating the coffee stall right outside the theatre. He was due to go to rehearsals later in the day, but meanwhile, he made me a fine cup of coffee!

Thank goodness Boris Johnson’s vanity project, the Garden Bridge, was never built, it would have ruined this stretch of the South Bank. I wonder if he’ll ever repay the millions of pounds he squandered on it?

The Post Office Tower stood proudly way over there on the other side of the river. I’ve only been inside a couple of times: once soon after I’d passed my 11+ exam. And once just a few years ago when, for charity, I climbed the stairs inside. They said it was 1,000 steps, but in the end, there were only 870, more or less. I’d trained by climbing the long staircase at Guy’s Hospital, near London Bridge, towards which I was now walking, sometimes at my own default, fast pace and sometimes slowly, to take in all the sights.

The promenade along the South Bank is known as The Queen’s Walk. Well, I’ve never seen the queen there, but I have seen David Bowie. Not the real David Bowie of course, but a sand sculpture of his image, created soon after his death in 2016. In fact, the stretch of the beach revealed when the tide is out has been used for sand sculptures for quite a while, some of them ridiculously extravagant, considering their transient nature. Today, however, there was no sculpture. In fact, the normally pristine sand has been covered with darker coloured gravel. Which is a shame.

It had rained quite hard the previous day (when we were at Polesden Lacey) and some of the Queen’s Walk was still flooded. The Great Flood of London? No, just a big puddle.

Every time I walk by the Bankside Gallery, I think I should spend some time there. But I never do. The piece of art outside lifts the spirits though. It’s a nice bit of competition for Tate Modern, a bit further along.

Bankside Gallery

The buskers were out in force today, at least four along this stretch. One played an accordion, one a guitar, one a mandolin and under one of the road bridges, we were treated to a tenor performing On The Street Where You Live.

Liesel and I had thought about seeing a play at The Globe: we would be outside, after all. But in the end, we missed out on Twelfth Night and Metamorphoses. But still, what a cool building to find by the Thames. My daughter Helen and I saw Macbeth here twenty years ago and I still regret not going the following week too, when we could have seen Macbeth performed in Zulu: uMabatha.

What a happy bin

I still wonder if The Golden Hinde is in the best location. There’s just too much going on all around it, you can’t view it well from the side. It still reminds me of the model I had when I was younger. I wonder what happened to it?

Southwark Cathedral is a good sign that we’re approaching London Bridge. I first visited this cathedral in about 2000 when the author Michael Arditti was promoting his then new book, Easter. I bought a signed copy for Sarah and when I read it, well, it was a bit more racy than anticipated. Liesel and I visited the cathedral, as tourists, more recently.

‘There are two things scarce matched in the universe: the Sun in Heaven and the Thames on Earth’. Such is the quote by Sir Walter Raleigh inscribed on the wall just round the corner from London Bridge. And looking out on the Thames at that very moment, I witnessed the passage of an Uber Boat. This service is run in partnership with Thames Clippers, and is not to be confused with a U-Boat, something far more sinister. Another item to add to the long list of ‘Things to do the next time we come to London’.

HMS Belfast is famous for, amongst other things, its forward guns aimed at Scratchwood Services on the M1. There was no sign of them being fired today, but there were a lot of people on board a very interesting ship.

HMS Belfast

Liesel and I did the tour of Tower Bridge a few years ago, including avoiding walking on the glass panels in the floor of the high level walkway. Obviously, you always hope the bridge will open while you’re watching, but you have to time it just right. No sign of it opening today. And I wish I could stop thinking of the Spice Girls’ bus jumping over the opened bascules in the fabulous film Spiceworld. All expense was spared on the special effects.

London City Hall is I’m sure a hive of industry, especially as the Greater London Authority will be moving to new premises by the end of the year. We’ve only been inside once, and enjoyed walking up the spiral slope.

Over the river is the Tower of London. Again, a place I first visited as a child (I still have the little booklet, priced 1/6d) and again since then a few times with various family members visiting from afar.

I was taken aback by the number of people walking across Tower Bridge. As a pedestrian, you’re meant to keep left, according to signage on the ground, presumably to assist in Covid-inspired social distancing. I think more than 50% of people were complying, but I didn’t want to hang around longer than necessary and count!

One happy couple were being photographed, and it was fun to watch a professional photographer at work. The bride and groom spent a long time arranging the veil to blow in the wind, which to be honest, was not being very cooperative. Of course, I’m making an assumption: maybe they were models, not a newly-wed couple. In any case, I think they wanted City Hall and The Shard in the background of their pictures. Ah yes, The Shard, another place we should visit one day but £25 just to ride up in a lift seems a bit excesive.

May all your troubles be little ones

I strained my neck looking up at the glass floor in the overhead walkway and felt a little queasy. The thought of someone falling through and landing on my head… Or me falling over backwards into the water below…

A quick check on my phone confirmed that I still had time to walk to the V&A, but I could always catch a bus if necessary. From now on, I would remain north of the river.

There’s a small section of an old Roman wall near the Tower, a reminder that in the past, Liesel and I have joined several organised walks around London. Nearby, there are paintings decorating the walls of an underpass. One of the portraits, by Stephen B Whatley, depicts Anne Boleyn, someone to whom I am distantly related by marriage, I recently discovered.

Anne Boleyn, g-g-g-… -g-great-grandmother n times removed, or something

Tower Hill was my station of choice when I worked in the City, in Crutched Friars, to be precise. Lunchtime entertainment was sometimes provided by the Metropolitan Police Band. Today, it was mostly visitors milling about. I remembered where the public toilet was but I’d forgotten it cost 50p. Thoughtfully, they’ve installed a change machine so I changed a nice crisp £10 note for a pile of £1 and 50p coins. 50p for a pee though, that really is taking the p. On the other hand, I now had some loose change to throw into a busker’s hat, should I encounter another one.

Despite much provocation and teasing, he kept perfectly still

This part of London is a fabulous mix of old and new architecture. Old stone churches and glass and steel office blocks. Through a small gap, along a narrow road, I spotted the Monument, the one that commemorates the Great Fire of London. We’ve climbed this edifice a few times, I have certificates to prove it.

Something old, something new (don’t click on the triangle, it’s a roof, not a ‘play’ button)

It would have been nice to stick to the Thames Path, right next to the river, but there are several places where you have to deviate, thanks to building work. The smell of chlorine probably came from the swimming pool inside Nuffield Health Fitness and Well-being Club. If not, then maybe I should have reported a dangerous chemical leak.

Dear America, we have guns on the streets too

The Queenhithe Mosaic tells the story of London right from its early days. This is a terrific work of art, 30 metres in length, and what a shame it’s so far off the beaten track. This is one of those things you can look at for ages. Yes, it too is on the list for a return visit.

My collection of photos of sundials continues to grow. Polar sundials aren’t very common, so I was pleased to find one. The lady sitting next to it offered to move, but I told her to stay put and add some scale to my picture.

Polar sundial

Over the river, beyond the Millennium Bridge, sits Tate Modern. I wanted to go in today, but you have to book online. In this I failed abysmally. The booking site must work, there were plenty of people in there, but I struggled. It kept telling me about the need to book in advance, but I just couldn’t find the actual place where I could actually book an actual timeslot. Sometimes, I despair at my own incompetence. Although, bad web design is a factor here, I’m sure.

Neither did I go into the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral for a coffee, although I was tempted. I’d only had one so far today despite passing 101 coffee bars and vendors.

Looking south over the river, I caught my first glimpse of the London Eye. I didn’t feel the need to go on that again, but who knows, maybe we will if any future visitors are interested. I did have a dream once that it very slowly fell over and into the river but fortunately, each of the 32 capsules automatically converted to lifeboats.

And then over the river, I spotted the Oxo Tower. I’ve never ventured beyond the craft shops on the lower floors but I do recall one story related by a former postman colleague. Skip this paragraph if you’re under 18. Andy was very gleeful one day and if he told us once, he told us a dozen times that
the previous evening, he’d taken his wife up the Oxo Tower. I know, I know. Then he asked us all whether we’d ever taken our wives or girlfriends up the Oxo Tower. Sorry if you’re having your tea.

I passed by one of the dragons that guards the City of London and entered the City of Westminster, walking along Victoria Embankment.

Here be dragons

Near Temple Station, I found another sundial. It’s not much use though. Not because it wasn’t sunny enough, but flowers have grown over the useful parts.

Spherical sundial

Earlier, I said that Waterloo Station was London for me, when I was small. Everything else was a bonus, including Victoria Embankment, and it was occasionally my job to lookout for Cleopatra’s Needle, the obelisk guarded by two sphinxes facing the wrong direction. The obelisk was completed in 1450 BC and presented to the UK in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan, one Muhammad Ali.

Cleopatra’s Needle

As usual, when I pass by or walk over Waterloo Bridge, one old earworm rears its head, Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. I was still humming the tune to myself as I approached St Martin’s and Trafalgar Square. Ah, Trafalgar Square, that would be a good place to stop for a coffee, I thought. Not today. The whole square was cordoned off, probably being prepared for a future event. I was delighted to see the new work of art on the fourth plinth though. I couldn’t get close enough to read the plaque, so this is from The Greater London Authority website:

Heather Phillipson’s vast physical and digital sculpture tops the Fourth Plinth with a giant swirl of whipped cream, a cherry, a fly and a drone that transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square. Entitled THE END it suggests both exuberance and unease, responding to Trafalgar Square as a site of celebration and protest, that is shared with other forms of life. The live feed of Trafalgar Square picked up by the drone’s camera is visible on a dedicated website www.theend.today giving a sculpture’s eye perspective. (Good luck with that, I couldn’t get it to work.)

The End and Horatio Nelson

As I couldn’t walk across Trafalgar Square today, I walked around. This was when I acknowledged that I was on a giant Monopoly board. I’d just passed The Strand, here’s Trafalgar Square, I’d narrowly avoided Whitehall and was about to walk along Pall Mall.

There’s a new lion here too, between the Square and the National Gallery. It’s the only member of the Tusk Lion Trail that I saw on this occasion, a nice colourful beast. Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to hunt down some more lions on this trail one day.

Designed by John Cleese and his wife, Fish

Nelson watched over me as I crossed the roads and I was pleased to see the so-called diversity street crossing signs are still being used. They were installed for Pride 2016 and haven’t been replaced. Instead of a green man, when it’s finally time for you, a mere pedestrian, to cross the road, you see a couple holding hands, or maybe two male or two female symbols ♂️♂️  ♀️♀️ but green of course!

The Athenaeum is a lovely building to see, the home of a private members’ club that I haven’t been invited to join yet. I also passed by the back door of St James’s Palace only identifiable by the presence of two bored-looking but armed police officers. I found my way through to Green Park which was all but deserted. Even the squirrels sauntered across the paths rather than scurrying as they usually do. In the distance to my right, The Hard Rock Café on Piccadilly, but no, I wasn’t tempted to deviate for a coffee there either. In fact, I might still have a grudge against them. We tried to book a table once and they told us we couldn’t. Then, when we turned up, we couldn’t get in because it was fully booked. You should have booked, they said.

Hyde Park Corner is a nightmare whether on foot, or in a car or bus. It had to be negotiated though. I smiled when I saw Wellington Arch: I’m proud to say I cycled under it in 2005, naked. Here’s a link so some photos… oh no, sorry, I just remembered, I’ve closed that particular account. One day, I might repeat that most enjoyable bike ride around London. Not today though, I didn’t bring my bike.

Today’s long walk was taking place on Liesel’s birthday so as I walked by The Lanesborough, I wondered whether I should book afternoon tea. But then I remembered we probably wouldn’t have time. Plus, of course I wasn’t dressed properly for such a venue. We have had tea here before, though: I remember being slapped on the wrist when I tried to pour my own tea.

Knightsbridge was busy, but there was no avoiding it. I was surprised that the big street sign called the area Scotch Corner, especially since the shop after which it’s named, The Scotch House, hasn’t been there for years. I worked in the area for six years, and I was disappointed to see that the sandwich shop where I bought my breakfast after a long nightshift, Crumbs, has gone and been replaced by something far inferior.

But this pub, Tattersall’s Tavern is the first and only venue where I have consumed eight pints of beer in one sitting. That was after a very long shift at work, and in the end, just me and Bob, the manager, were leaning against the bar.

Coming down to Tatts for a quick one?
Harrods

Harrods doesn’t change. Once, I went in to buy a pair of shoelaces, without success. Today, the window announced a coffee bar on the ground floor. That’ll be different, thought I. So I walked through. Do you think I could locate this coffee bar? No. Instead, I carried on and found a coffee at Steps Coffee Haus, across the road. Well, I just felt sorry for them, that their pop career hadn’t worked out. Tragedy.

Also at Harrods, many years ago, I met Ffyona Campbell. I often think of her when I’m on a ramble. She walked around the world in the ’90s and signed a book for me. The following week, Naomi Campbell was going to be signing the book that she ‘wrote’, even though, as it later emerged, she hadn’t even read it! On the other hand, it turned out Ffyona had had to ‘cheat’ in USA to keep up with planned media appearances, which is a shame. It must be painful to be extracted from The Guinness Book of Records like an unwanted, rotten, decayed tooth.

This is busy London, lots of pedestrians and lots of traffic, and I was torn between feeling imposed upon and just enjoying being in this vibrant city. I recognised some shops, but many were new to me, and the architecture is wonderful of course. Don’t ask me to describe the various styles, but when I see a new build that doesn’t fit in, I do wonder which developer bribed which councillor. Cynical? Me?

I reached the V&A just a few minutes before the agreed meeting time. This was when I received the dreadful news from Liesel that she’d only just left and would be quite late. I had both our tickets on my phone so I forwarded them to Liesel, telling her to use the second ticket, I’d use the top one. Yes, I could have waited a while before going in, but my bladder couldn’t.

In the end, although our electronic, timed tickets were checked by a person, neither was scanned electronically, so we weren’t in any real danger of being refused admission.

When Liesel arrived, I was sitting in the quadrangle with a nice cup of coffee and a large baguette, soaking up the Sun. Before I’d left this morning, Liesel had predicted that I’d walk over 20,000 steps. No way, José, I said. But she was right. At this point, the pedometer displayed over 23,000 steps. Liesel bought some (late) lunch too after which we went inside to look at some exhibits.

I quite liked the French Globe Clock, I think it would look very nice in our living room. But mostly, we looked at and admired the wrought and cast iron items. Why? I think we found ourselves going to galleries with the fewest people. In one room, a couple were dancing to the music in their heads.

Breathless is a collection of silver-plated brass instruments squashed by one of Tower Bridge’s 22-tonne lifting mechanisms. Who comes up with these weird ideas? In this case, one Cornelia Parker from Cheshire.

Breathless

As it was Liesel’s birthday, it was her choice of places to eat out. She remembered a Japanese restaurant somewhere near the Southbank Centre, so we set off back along Cromwell Road, Brompton Road and Knightsbridge. Yes, I was retracing my steps, but it was a first time for Liesel to be walking along the A4. The A4! And yes, we could have caught a bus, but apart from the traffic, it really was a pleasant day for walking in the city. After crossing the glorified roundabout that is Hyde Park Corner again, we veered off to walk by Green Park, along Constitution Hill.

Of course, as tourists, we were perfectly entitled to take a selfie with Buckingham Palace in the background.

Selfie of the day

The Victoria Memorial was shining brightly in the early evening sunshine, and, what’s this? A new innovation in London transportation? A man was walking along the road, in a giant metal wireball, a steel zorb. We don’t know why, but he did say he was doing this for ninety days.

A man in a zorb

The Mall was much more busy than we’d anticipated, disappointingly so, really. I have fond memories of riding onto The Mall after my 100-mile Prudential Bike Ride back in 2014, in the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha. I dream of being fit enough to do so again.

I’ve been to the ICA, the Institute for Contemporary Arts, for a few events over the years but so far, Liesel’s missed out. Yes, it’s also on the list of places to visit one day.

Eventually we crossed  the Golden Jubilee Bridge, again admiring the London Skyline to the east, beyond Waterloo Bridge. I resisted the urge to take a picture, since I already have several hundred. Unfortunately, the Japanese place has been replaced by a very stinky burger joint. So we went down to Wagamama for a very civilised meal. Plastic shields separate you from other diners, and I wonder whether they’ll keep these once the pandemic’s over? Or will we once again be forced to sit next to strangers on the bench? And you now pay by scanning a QR code on the menu, going to a website, typing in your table number and payment details. I’m not (usually) criminally minded, but I did think about entering somebody else’s table number, someone who perhaps has only ordered a couple of cheap drinks so far.

We walked back to Waterloo Station and returned to Surbiton.

Massive teapot samovar

I’d walked over 17 miles by this point, and while I didn’t say so at the time, I was quite relieved that Liesel had parked the car at Surbiton Station! The thought of walking back to our Airbnb after sitting down for half an hour on a train somehow didn’t appeal.

After a fairly good night’s sleep, we returned to the city. And we should have known it wouldn’t be straightforward. There’d been an ‘incident’ and all the trains were delayed. Sitting on a stationary train was the perfect opportunity to finish the book I was reading: Bitterhall by Helen McClory, so good, I gave it a 5-star review.

Later than planned then, we walked from Waterloo, along the river to Borough Market. We passed a couple of the same buskers as yesterday, and I was able to hurl some coins at them.

We were pleased to see that the Southbank Centre’s undercroft is still being enjoyed by skateboarders and graffiti artists: in fact, we caught one in the act. Also, being a bit later in the day, the book stalls were all out under the bridge, but we wasted no time browsing, we had a market with food to get to.

Urban artwork at its best

We acquired a picture of ourselves with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background thanks to a helpful pair of ladies who noticed that I was pretending to struggle taking the obligatory selfie.

Not strictly speaking a selfie

We ate our way around Borough Market: the best chips we’ve ever had, a very cheesey cheese straw, a tasty spinach muffin. The market was nowhere near as busy as we’ve seen before, but someone talking on the phone said it was absolutely rammed.

Borough Market and its bell
Borough market

One market’s not enough, so Liesel suggested visiting Spitalfields Market. It was a good excuse to walk along some long-neglected city streets. The Monument was gleaming in the sunshine, another selfie opp, of course.

Another selfie of the day

On the way, we walked through Leadenhall Market, one of our favourites, which in contrast, was much, much busier than we’ve ever seen it. Possibly because in the past, we’ve only been here on a Sunday. The bars were all open and full of city workers probably talking shop, definitely speaking loudly, a sign of normality if ever there was one, although of course, the spectre of Covid was never far away.

Who would think that a big lump of red, molten, plastic bottles could result in such a fabulous work of art? Tatiana Wolska, that’s who. What looks like a big red balloon, in the shape of a small human, floats above us in the market, competing with the very decorative star-studded ceiling.

Untitled by Tatiana Wolska

We found more Sculpture in the City in the form of Orphans, geometric solids made from orphaned paintings, those left behind by deceased people and unwanted by their heirs. Bram Ellens is responsible for this one, which is outside, exposed to the elements, so I hope it’s OK. I’m sure the artist knows what he’s doing.

Orphans by Bram Ellens

We sat down for a break in the courtyard in front of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping in Fenchurch Street. This is just round the corner from where I once worked, in Crutched Friars, a strangely named street that we didn’t quite get around to re-visiting on this occasion.

In this courtyard is a lovely sculpture, a mirror-polished stainless steel ship, with water running down and over it, very refreshing. The office workers returning from their lunch breaks paid it no attention as they made their way upstairs, some in more haste than others.

Our wander continued, passing the site of Petticoat Lane Market, which is only open on Sundays. Lilian Knowles House was new to us, as was Donovan Bros Paper Bag shop on Crispin Street, what a quaint area. The shop was closed, but I wanted to buy some paper bags just to see if Donovan or his brother would put them in a big paper bag. And a good reminder that despite living in or near London for forty years or more, there is still plenty to explore.

Liulian Knowles House
Donovan Bros

We like these strange, old places, but some new ones are quite pleasing to the eye too. Of course, it was a nice sunny day today, I wonder if looks as good on a gloomy wet day?

St Botolph Building

The first thing that drew my attention in Spitalfields Market was a bronze representation of Mwashoti, an orphaned male elephant rescued a few years ago. He is just one of the Herd of Hope roaming the market, drawing attention to the plight of orphaned elephants.

Mwashoti

The second thing I noticed was the second-hand hat stall. One day, I might decided to go for a 1950s titfer, but not today. We just walked around the market, a vibrant, colourful emporium. Yes, there was some tat, but a great place for people who collect, inter alia, old vinyl records. I had a quick browse, finding some David Bowie bootlegs that I’d not seen before. Tempted? Of course I was.

A load of old hats

It was someone’s birthday and as she posed for photos with a cake, she was surrounded by some of the most colourful, costumed friends you could imagine. They were more than happy to have their photo taken by us more sedately dressed weirdoes.

Why not stand out in a crowd?
Birthday girl

Liesel was delighted to find Humble Crumble, a stall that she’d read about, selling pies. I think this is just one factor that later led Liesel to suggest that Spitalfields is her new favourite market in London, knocking Borough Market off the top spot.

Old Spitalfields Market

Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee is another delightful sculpture that we admired just outside, before setting off to bus stop J.

Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee by Gillia and Marc

Yes, after discussion, we decided to, gulp, mask up and take a bus back to Waterloo, our first bus ride since, as far as I can remember, before the first lockdown. I didn’t even use my Old Fart’s Bus Pass (or whatever it’s called) because, well, I just forgot I could.

Fleet Street, Hoare’s Bank, The Royal Courts of Justice, Waterloo Bridge: what a fascinating, very nice, evocative bus ride.

Demon Barber of Fleet Street

From Waterloo, we took a train to Kingston, and this concludes two days in our glorious capital city. It was an itch that I feel has been well and truly scratched, but there are plenty more things to do and see, including theatre visits and other live performances – in London and Manchester.

Quebec House for students, in Kingston

We look forward to travelling on the underground again. Liesel had taken the tube from Wimbledon to South Kensington yesterday, but I totally avoided it on this occasion. Before moving away from Chessington, I had planned to visit every one of the stations on the London Underground system. It might happen one day. We were a week too early to visit the 21st century’s first new ones though: Nine Elms Station and Battersea Power Station Station, both, bizarrely in Zone 1.

Battersea Power Station way over at the back

Let me paraphrase Lord Kitchener:

          London is the place for me
          London this lovely city
          You can go to Didsbury or Manchester,
          Wythenshawe or Northenden
          But you must come back to London city
          Well believe me I am speaking broadmindedly
          I am glad to know my Mother Country
          I have been travelling to countries years ago
          But this is the place I wanted to know
          London that is the place for me.

My show on Radio Northenden this week might well be an homage to London. London is our capital city. Maybe I’ll call the show Capital Radio. That’ll confuse some people! Please join me at 4 o’clock, Friday afternoon right here, and say hello in the Chat box!

A Sandwich

This week was a sandwich. An unusual sandwich in that the bread is absolutely delicious, full of nutrition and fun while the filling was a bit more mundane, mouldy cheese, rotten tomatoes and limp lettuce. Nothing wrong with some mundanity of course, but it’s funny the way things work out.

Saturday, we joined in with Tim’s Listening party online, a good reason to listen to Bic Runga’s Beautiful Collision album in its entirety. After which, while writing, I just let Bic Runga sing away for the next hour or so, until Jenny, Liam, Martha and William arrived.

We all went for a walk along the river, our usual route, to Simon’s Bridge and back, a total of over four miles, which I think both impressed and surprised Liam.

Paddleboarders

We were all impressed by the paddleboarders, and I’m sure we all thought we’d like to try that one day. They were spooked by the weir though. They had to remove the fins from the boards if they wanted to skate (is that the word?) down the slope of the weir, but one of the board’s fins was screwed in, and I think the whole of Northenden heard the call for the yellow bag with the screwdrivers.

Liam and Martha
Jenny and William

Martha and William had a good time, finding two golf balls in the process. The second one was dropped into the river by mistake, I think William was surprised at re-discovering gravity, but no amount of peering into the Mersey was going to bring that ball back. Still, we’re one golf ball up on the deal. 

I called Liesel ‘Liesel’ and William asked why. Liesel explained about our real, given names, and what other people call us. Then Martha joined in too, telling William that when he’s a Daddy, she’ll still call him William but his children will call him Daddy. He’ll still call her Martha but his children will call her Auntie. As Liesel said later on, we should have recorded that dialogue, because our grandchildren are the best.

When we got home, Martha again had to investigate Oma’s jewellery and try some of it on.

Precious things

So that’s one slice of bread, a lovely day with our grandchildren. I’m sure you’re ahead of me. Here comes the filling, not as bad as I suggested, but comparatively plain and ordinary.

We walked into Didsbury. Liesel joined the ladies of the WI in Fletcher Moss Gardens for a chinwag while I wandered around almost aimlessly. I did sit in the rockery for a while, reading one of the seven books I’m in the middle of right now. My mid-August resolution is to finish (most of) those books before I allow myself to start a new one.

World famous Didsbury cobbles

My wander wasn’t totally aimless, the final destination being the optician who adjusted my new spectacles very slightly. I’ll now give it another couple of weeks to get used to them again.

Didsbury mural

The walk to Didsbury includes Ford Lane. This is the only route to the golf course. Ford Lane is being resurfaced. How we laughed at the golfers driving to the golf course as we walked towards Didsbury. And how we laughed on the walk back home when we passed by the empty car park. Someone must have told them that they were about to be boxed in.

Ford Lane roadworks

Most of the construction workers were, correctly, wearing hi-visibility clothing, but one of them must have been too warm.

Hi-vis cardigan

Wednesday is Well-being Walk day in Northenden, organised by Thrive Manchester, and led by Chantel, who was on my radio show a couple of weeks ago. This week, there were about eight of us, walking slowly through the woods, glad that the drizzle remained slight. A cup of coffee at the Northern Den rounded off a pleasant morning.

Walk in the woods

I then walked home the long way, at a faster, for me more comfortable pace, and as I passed the barber, I noticed there was only one customer inside. Why not? So I did. I have never had such a short haircut, an all-over number five. I have never had such a cold head for so long. I sought professional help from Helen, what can I use to speed up the regrowth? Still, on the plus side, I don’t need to use as much shampoo, I don’t need to spend time combing what’s left of my crowning glory, and my hair won’t block up the shower any time soon. Liesel looks over from time to time and very kindly tries not to laugh too much.

Walking in the opposite direction, I really didn’t expect to see a mouse in Wythenshawe Park.

Mickey Mouse

But worse than the rodent infestation was seeing the mess that the dinosaurs left behind. Dino Kingdom has packed up and is now presumably setting up elsewhere. But the churned up grass and the mud-covered paths are very sad to see. I hope the relevant authorities are being suitably remunerated for tidying up Wythenshawe Park.

Wythenshawe wastelands

So there’s your limp lettuce. And here comes the other slice of delicious bread in this ridiculous sandwich metaphor.

Chester Zoo was as busy as we’ve ever seen it. I think if Liesel and I had been on our own, we might have just turned around and gone straight back home. But with Martha and William, that would be a horrible thing to do. Thankfully, they weren’t perturbed by the hordes of visitors to the zoo. And maybe Liesel and I are just more sensitive because it’s been so long since we’ve been so close to so many strangers. With children, we’re walking along quite slowly, and I found it so intimidating when somebody was walking so close behind me. Tailgating.

Whinges apart, we had a great time, although animals were definitely not a priority for the children on this occasion. Top of the wish-list was the Treetop Challenge which I kept referring to as Treetop Adventure, much to Martha’s amusement. They were strapped in, walked around, enjoyed the rides down, and then, just as suddenly, William had had enough and Martha followed him off.

Treetop Challenge accepted

Next up: ice cream. Thankfully the queue wasn’t too long. Q: ‘Which animals would you like to see?’ A: ‘Is it lunchtime yet?’ And so, at 11.30, we sat down to eat lunch.

Baby giraffe

The baby giraffe was deserving of the oohs and aahs from so many families, while we sat there and consumed our lunch. Next on our agenda though was the playground, a water feature with rocks and a nightmare for people in charge of other people’s children. William and Martha enjoyed opening sluices and operating the Archimedes screw and lifting the ‘anchor’ which was in fact the plug that allowed all the water to drain away.

Martha and William back, back, back

William fell asleep in the back of the car pretty much before we’d left the car park. Martha stayed awake the whole way home and, big surprise, so did I.

I turned on the PC as soon as I got in because I had a radio show to do. The theme this week was Chemical Elements, if you would like to listen back.

Jenny took William and Martha home but by the time I finished at 6.06, they were back, with Liam this time. Pizza was delivered, Jenny brought cake and we dined together. The toys were liberally distributed all over the floor, and I don’t think we’d have it any other way!