We had a slow start to the day despite Liesel’s best efforts. She had the washing in the machine soon after 7.30 and one very long cycle later, we hung it up. Indoors. Because it was raining. I think they call it mizzle around here, a great word, somewhere between mist and drizzle.
The short drive to John O’Groats was spectacular. The views towards and over the sea are a continual reminder of what a big country this is. And of course photos, especially those taken with a phone, can never do justice to the vista.
No, this isn’t a realistic animal at all, is it, but it greeted us on arrival at John O’Groats. In the background, you can see the Orkney Islands. We’re missing them out this time, but they’re on the (growing) list of places to go back to one day.
Of course, we had to take a photo with The Sign. Just as I did 30 years ago at the end of a three-week bike ride from Lands End. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that? Yes, over 100 of us were in that group, and Liesel was delighted to see the field that we all camped in that night. The books that ‘end-to-enders’ sign are all in storage right now, but it is hoped they’ll be put on display soon, and maybe even digitised. It’ll be fun to see my 30-year old signature.
There’s a lot more here than I remembered, much more than just a hotel and a gift shop which is what I think I was expecting.
Dunnet Head is the most northerly point on the mainland of Great Britain. It’s a fabulous place for bird watching. Wild rock doves, they claim, are the wild ancestors of domestic pigeons. Well, I think the place has just been invaded by plain ordinary pigeons, they look the same to me!
There are plenty of other seabirds to choose from though, fulmars, gulls, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes but of course what everyone wants to see are the puffins. And we did! First puffins we’ve seen in the wild. We don’t know why they should be thought of as more cute than the other species, but they really are. Today for once, I did experience lens envy. The bloke with the three-foot long zoom lens undoubtedly achieved better photos than I did with my phone.
Dunnet Head lighthouse is off limits to the public, but I’m sure the view from the top would be stunning. There is a path leading to a 360° viewpoint, and you can see for miles out to sea and around the coastline.
Passing through John O’Groats for a coffee was a sad occasion. There will now be a two-paragraph silence in memory of the hat I lost in John O’Groats today.
Why do I keep losing apparel in this tiny place? The last time I was here, I managed to lose one of my cycle mitts. Anyway, we drove to Duncansby Head for another walk and a chance to see more seabirds.
It’s a very sandy place, and there are sheep living here. Just like Dunnet Head, there’s a lighthouse that we’re not allowed to visit. There’s also a trig point at both locations, without which our OS maps would be much less accurate.
The beach here looks very inviting, but nobody was taking advantage of it. Hang on, you’re thinking, I thought you lost your hat? I did. This is my number 2 hat, the waterproof one.
The path took us much closer to the nesting birds here. So close, we could smell them. A bit fishy, a bit ammoniacal, probably because of all the guano. There were a few puffins here as well, but mostly I think they’re fulmars. And pigeons. Oops, I mean wild rock doves.
We had a fun long walk here, it was nice and hilly, and you get used to the stench of wildlife after a while. We could see The Old Man of Hoy way over in the distance, another seastack. I said to Liesel, ‘Well, I can’t climb it again today, but maybe I can take its picture’. ‘You’ve climbed it?’ No, of course not. Turns out, I couldn’t take its picture today either, it was just too far away and too hazy.
Back at our place, we listened to James Taylor and Mary Hopkin while reading and writing and eating. A very nice way to end the day, thank you Liesel xx
I woke up at ten past four which was perfect. This was the time for sunrise and I was hoping to see the Sun emerge from the icy depths of the North Sea. But it rose more to the north-east, from behind a hill rather then the sea. It was still a pretty sight to see, but I think we’ll have to come back to Helmsdale in about September for optimum sunrise over the ocean opportunities.
I went back to bed of course: what a ridiculous time of day! We said goodbye to Ruth and before we left, I took down details of the place next door, which is ripe for development.
The asking price is a mere £95,000 but I suspect you’d need that much again to make it habitable.
Helmsdale harbour was all about fishing, which is why the place exists in the first, really.
We spent some time in the museum here, known as Timespan. Some folks had a hard time. Especially the women whose job it was to cut the heads off and remove guts from herrings. They could process up to 60 a minute. Yet in the census, they were just referred to as a fish-wife, the wife of a fisherman.
Also here, we saw a small, insignificant stone that was taken into space in 2019 by Scotland’s first astronaut, David MacKay.
We are now well on our way on the NC 500 tour, the 500 miles that takes visitors around the north of Scotland. The main road, the A9 goes up and down, more or less following the coast. It’s quite steep in a few places, so much so that there are emergency escape lanes. I can’t believe that 30 years ago, I was fit enough to cycle along this road, from Helmsdale to Wick. The views were stunning, on both sides: the sea and the mountains.
Dunbeath is a cute little place. We parked up by an old mill and went for a long walk by the side of a burn.
We walked across a pedestrian suspension bridge, designed by Thomas Telford. It was a bit wobbly, and it has been tethered to the banks presumably to remedy this.
The path alternated between grass and stones, some shingle, a few steep parts too, which were mostly OK, but next time, I’ll put trainers on rather than retain my sandals. Well, I didn’t think we were going to walk as far as we did! There was evidence of sheep but no rabbits, strangely. We investigated the remains of a broch, an old structure that was originally nine metres tall, with really thick walls and an entryway that you have to stoop to walk through.
We passed the remains of an old monastery too, saw a few standing stones and a now overgrown cairn. Best of all, we found a bench to sit on for a while.
It looks as though it would be too lumpy to sit on. But no. I think the time we spent here was the best half hour of the day. What could be more pleasant than spending time with the one you love, outside, on a beautiful day, in the middle of nowhere. The only sounds were small birds singing, some bees buzzing around, the leaves rustling in the trees and the water burbling and gurgling over the stones in the burn. This is what peace and serenity feels like, totally at ease with the world, away from people and everyday problems.
The walk back to the car was somehow easier and quicker Our picnic lunch today was enjoyed outside by the mill, not in the car! I was walking behind Liesel most of the time, and I stopped to make a new friend, so I was delayed.
She was very chatty and I think was protecting a chick in the bushes.
Before continuing our journey north, we stopped off at Dunbeath Harbour. The breakwater is comprised of hundreds of concrete cuboids, laid out as though it were a work of art. Another striking image was this sculpture.
Next stop: Whaligoe Steps. We didn’t know whether we’d follow in the footsteps of those hardy women who carried empty barrels down the 330+ steps, gutted herrings all day, then carried the barrels back up, now full of fish. Weights of up to 100 lb have been suggested. Well, the best laid plans of Mick and Liesel gang aft a-gley, as they say in these parts (I don’t think they do, really). The steps and the café were closed, disappointing us and several other visitors, one of whom may have jumped over the barrier when he thought nobody was watching.
We saw seabirds, gulls and possibly oystercatchers, making their homes in the cliff face. But no, we didn’t bother walking about thirty feet back to fetch the binoculars!
And so, we reached Wick, where we will stay near the airport industrial estate for a few nights. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound very inviting at first, but it’s a nice house, and the fact that the industrial estate and the council dump are close by, well that’s the yang to yesterday’s yin, the lovely view over the sea.
The place is called Wick, the coffee shop is called Wicker’s World, a play on the name of an old TV series in which Alan Whicker reported from all around the world. In Twickenham, there used to be a travel agent called Twicker’s World, so it’s a well-used pun.
Tonight, we listened to the soundtrack from the film Brave, Wynton Marsalis’s album Joe Cool’s Blues and some Scottish music from Eddi Reader, live in concert in Japan a few years ago.
Before we left home, we had a discussion about how to play the music from my phone. If we go alphabetically by artist, then we get all the Beatles songs together, for instance, and each day will be different but not very varied. We tried playing tracks in alphabetical order on a previous trip, and that ensures you hear everything, but you’ll hear, for example, four versions of Life on Mars? in a row. So, random shuffle is the best bet, you’d think. Except that it’s not totally random. Some tracks are repeated as if on heavy rotation, while others are totally ignored. The compromise so far has been to choose specific albums or artists each night. What a conundrum. As I think I said, if this is the worst problem we have to deal with, then we are very lucky people indeed.
In a moment of cynicism as I walked up the road, I mourned the end of Summer when I saw these leaves.
Autumnal colours, I thought, how pretty, but so early in the year.
But no, we’re still good, it’s warm and pleasant outside albeit a bit cloudy which, as you’ll see later, was quite useful one day.
The good news is, our car was washed and it passed its MOT. Liesel completed another blanket and you’re thinking, whoa, that was quick, but actually, she was crocheting this one and the previous one more or less in parallel.
We’ve both been making plans for the next few weeks so we haven’t been venturing very far from home. My phone has run out of storage, so I spent (far too many) hours moving stuff to its SD card. Let’s hope that stops it nagging. There’s a lot going on in Northenden though, especially on the river.
You have to wade through the water to get there, but it’s less than knee-deep, and unless the water’s flowing really fast, quite safe, I think.
It takes some effort to place a tyre on this spot. Any normal, decent fly-tipper would just throw it in the river.
I’m sure they were having a good time, but they weren’t paddling in sync, and I waited in vain for at least one of them to fall in. Or fall out, depending on your point of view.
Nearby, the golfers were out in force, some more skilled than others, judging by some of the choice language reverberating among the trees.
But none of these players experienced the fate that befell Adam in Australia. He went to retrieve a loose ball from the bushes and was bitten by a snake. Pretty scary, and painful, but it was non-venomous. The photos are too graphic for this site.
On being told that Uncle Adam had been bitten by a snake on a golf course in Australia, Martha announced that she was never going to go to… a golf course.
I never thought I’d encounter a real life Gollum. Most of the fishermen on the Mersey have a rod. Not this chap.
He was trying to catch the fish with his bare teeth.
Meanwhile, the horses were having a good time on Northenden Village Green.
We wondered whether these were the horses that pull the hearses for the local funeral director. Horses, hearses, that’s poetry right there.
Of course, I don’t visit Northern Den or Boxx 2 Boxx every time I go out, but on one hot day, I opted for the chocolate milkshake.
The ice in it kept me going all the way to Simon’s Bridge and back which was handy, because I’d forgotten to take a bottle of water. Yep, still not fully adapted to life in hot weather.
Google was kind enough to send me its usual email at the turn of the month, showing me all the exciting places I’ve visited. I thought I’d share it.
Well, I don’t like knocking Google unnecessarily, but, yes, while that was my first visit to Middlewich, I have been to Sale before. Also, Sale and Wythenshawe have very similar looking places of interest.
Another day, another walk, another local eccentric.
I think this bloke’s panning for gold, but I don’t think he’ll have much luck, this region doesn’t have the correct geological history, as far as I can tell. Now, if he were panning for car tyres, I could have pointed him in the right direction.
The highlight of the week was the opportunity to observe a partial eclipse of the Sun. Naturally, that day, we had 100% cloud cover, but after maximum obscuration, the clouds did thin out a bit.
Then when the clouds totally cleared (briefly) I projected the image in the old-fashioned way.
Yes, I know none of those pictures, taken with my phone, would ever win an astrophotography competition, but I felt quite happy that, despite the clouds, I was able to witness this, albeit unimportant, event.
On a scale of one to ten, the weather this week has been turned up to eleven. It’s been bright and sunny, with blue skies, a few fluffy clouds, it’s been warm, it’s been Spring-like. At last. Well worth waiting for. We love a bit of sunshine, it’s been a long time coming, after the long remix of Winter that didn’t want to leave us.
We watched the end of the bike race on TV. I know, I know, gorgeous weather outside and we’re still indoors watching TV. But it was the end of this year’s Giro d’Italia, won by Egan Bernal (from Colombia) riding for the British team Ineos Grenadiers, hooray, proud to be British. It was a fascinating race and we saw a lot of the Italian countryside. In the Sun.
Mostly. High in the mountains, in ski country, the snow was still literally feet deep.
We kept looking out of the window, just to make sure our sunshine was still there. Sorry to go on about the weather but it was welcomed by everyone. Yes of course, some folks are already saying that it’s ‘too hot’ and I’m sure I’ll be guilty of that too eventually, but for now, I’m going to lap up every British thermal unit of heat I can.
So where was our first excursion in the sunshine? Oh, just local. Two bags of litter picked and some happy memories rekindled. I haven’t seen one of these for years, decades probably.
Golden Wonder crisps. Nowadays for us it’s all about Tyrrells low- or no-salt. But I wonder how long that packet’s been lurking in the bushes? I did enjoy Golden Wonder sausage and tomato flavour crisps in the late ’70s, but I suspect I’d find them far too salty now.
I hope this branch was blown off in the last of the strong winds and wasn’t pulled off by our local heavy monkeys swinging from it. But look how bright everything is, and how sharp the shadows. Sorry to keep going on about the sunshine, but it really has been magnificent this week.
Boxx 2 Boxx provided the musical entertainment on bank holiday Monday, thanks to Angie, playing saxophone along to a backing track.
The coffee shop was the most busy I’ve ever seen it, all us pasty white locals taking full advantage of the opportunity. I think we just don’t believe the warm weather is going to last.
The best day of the week was spent at the seaside. We left very early to go to Formby, where we spent the day with William and Martha and Jenny and Liam. The tide was at its lowest, and way over there, we could see the wrecks of some ships that had apparently been scuttled during the second world war.
The beach is flat, so at low tide, the sea is a long way away. As you walk towards it, you have to wade through a couple of dips in the sand. Well, I say sand, but in places, it’s proper mud, as William discovered.
The children had a ball, we all did, really. We did comment on how popular the place was today. I think Liesel and I are just so used to having the vast expanse pretty much to ourselves.
Somehow William had learnt that you can wee in the sea. So he decided to save it. But in the end, he had to go at home before they left. It’s good that he’s now aware of such things. But as a grandad stripped from childminding duties because of the pandemic, I feel a slight loss that I won’t need to change his nappies any more. That’s progress, I suppose. Anyway, to celebrate William’s restraint, June 8th has been decreed World Ocean Day.
We ate our picnic lunch on the beach, and as I always say, you can never go hungry on the beach. Why’s that? Because of all the sand which is there. I think I read that joke in a comic about 100 years ago, and it still makes me chuckle, even when it leaves everyone else cold.
For the second week in a row, our grocery order came with the reddest, sweetest, juiciest strawberries you could wish for. They disappear too fast for a family photo, so here are the last two survivors this week.
And while we’re contemplating bright colours, here’s the blanket that Liesel completed this week, a labour of love, a million crochet stitches and if she were being paid even at minimum wage, Liesel would now be a millionaire.
What else have we been up to? Indoors, we’re watching the Danish TV series The Killing and we’re nearly at the end of the third and final series, so please don’t send any spoilers. We watched Jessica Lee Morgan not once, but twice: her own weekly show on Tuesday (subscribe here) and she also replicated her mother, Mary Hopkin’s, show from The Royal Festival Hall, 1972, a concert that of course I wish I’d been to.
And for the first time in ages, we got tickets from the BBC, to watch, online, a recording of an episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. Via the medium of some magic software, they recorded our reactions, clapping, laughter, whoops, wolf whistles for Samantha and it was a very funny show. They asked us not to take pictures or record the show.
I’d love to relate some of the gags but, no spoilers here. The new series begins on June 14th, Radio 4 at 6.30, and our episode will be broadcast on July 12th.
I think I spent more time than usual this week preparing my radio show, mainly editing my chat with Tom Hingley from last week and then finding the music, most of which of course was not in our collection. Anyway, it went OK (mostly) and you can hear the result here.
We went for a quick drive, all the way over to Cheadle Hulme. And we realised our car is filthy, it really does need a clean. If only we weren’t living on the second floor, we could wash it ourselves, but neither of us wants to be lugging buckets of water up and downstairs. I think in a parallel universe, life probably oozed from and evolved on a car very much like ours.
We enjoyed spending time in the garden with Martha and William and Jenny and Liam. It was a nice sunny day, too.
We were still being careful not to get too close to each other. William and Martha opened a shop and took it in turns to serve the grown-ups. Interestingly, everything I wanted to buy was in stock.
In fact, you could say, William’s sales are through the roof. As is he. It was Easter weekend and straightaway, they bit the ears off the chocolate bunnies. But they did save the bodies for later on and for the next day.
I think it’s fair to say this was the highlight of the week, for us. A couple of days later, the temperature was right down, and snow was forecast. Yes, it is April. We had the warmest March day for decades recently, and now we’re experiencing unseasonally cold weather. This doesn’t enhance our overall sense of well-being, to be honest. Oh how we yearn for good, old-fashioned April showers.
So, let’s go back to the garden. There is now a goal net and both Martha and William have been taking and attempting to save penalties. William likes playing in goal. Literally.
Northenden is a good place to live, but it does need some TLC. This map-of-the-UK-shaped defect has been marked up for as long as I can remember:
Just think, there are at least 202,568 such holes that might be repaired one day. But, what’s the point? Most of this damage is caused by cars being parked on the pavements, and there doesn’t seem to be any real effort to prevent this anti-social behaviour. There’s nothing as entertaining as watching people in wheelchairs rolling up the middle of the road* because they can’t squeeze by the numerous, inappropriately parked vehicles. There you go, that’s my whinge of the week. (*Actually there is: Mums pushing buggies and their young children up the middle of the road.)
Online, I watched Wall to Wall Bowie again, ‘a celebration of one of our greatest pop icons’! Janette Mason chatted with Sam Obernik as they celebrate the release of their new single, Wild is the Wind.
But, while the show itself was fabulous, I was knocked for six by ‘meeting’ not one, but two of my old buddies from many, many years ago. Out of an audience of about 40, that’s not bad. Patrick was a guy I met on a writing retreat I joined in 2002, and haven’t met in real life since a few years afterwards. And I don’t think I’ve met Miles since 2008. What are the chances? It’s been a while, but whenever Liesel and I go to a show, I always look around to see if there’s someone I know. It rarely happens, though.
So, did it snow? Yes, 2 days later, as predicted. Was it cold? Yes. It was a big week for birthdays. Radio Northenden turned 1 but more excitingly, Martha turned 5. (Plus, it should have been my Mum’s birthday: 89.) We had a family Zoom chat for Martha’s birthday. I think we all hope that next year, we’ll be there in person. This is Martha’s second birthday in lockdown, that’s 40% of all the birthdays she’s ever had.
Martha loves her new, purple bike, and already she’s in the maillot jaune. Allez, Martha!
In lieu of a proper party with proper children in the same room, Martha and her friends and family were joined by magician Olly G online. I think she was thoroughly well entertained!
One motto that I try to live up to is ‘do something scary every day’. Well, obviously I don’t every single day, but an opportunity presented itself this week. Claire was unable to do her weekly show on Radio Northenden, so I thought I’d step in at the last minute, to see if I could do something more spontaneous, without the hours of preparation that I usually put in. Just a couple of outbreaks of cold sweat when I did something wrong, but other that that, it was OK. You can of course catch up with this and my regular show on the Mixlr Showreel. This week’s theme was Smith and Jones. Of course, I played a record for Martha, David Bowie’s When I’m Five, some lyrics from which I borrowed for this week’s title. I don’t think Martha will do that though, she doesn’t have a grandfather Jones. Maybe her teacher, Mrs Jones, chews and spits tobacco?
I thought it was raining hard against the windows this morning, But no, it was hailstones. It turned to snow after a while, and so again the thought crossed my mind: hibernation would be a wonderful thing.
If only the view from our luxury apartment were a bit more interesting. The little patch of grass over the road? Now covered in snow? Last week, the girl who lives in one of those flats was sunbathing on that very spot. Yes, it really was that warm that day.
Well, the world really is a carousel of colour. Especially our little corner of Northenden. Just look at this. A splash of green, a dash of white, a hint of blue (a waste paper collection bag, unused) and one solitary red berry.
The trees around our block are slowly turning green, or white if the blossom is taking over. More cherry blossom had appeared overnight in one front garden, totally at odds with all the rubbish and detritus dumped there.
I don’t know where the nearest McDonalds is, so I think some people must travel a long way to Northenden especially to dump their burger packaging and coffee cups. We ‘enjoy’ picking it all up for you, along with all the drugs paraphernalia. And I have a suggestion for Viz Magazine too.
Dear Dog Owners: Use green dog-poo bags, so they blend in better when, after use, you toss them into the bushes or hang them in a tree: obviously check nobody’s watching, first.
Looking up, not down, though, Liesel is still bringing colour into our lives, making good progress with her crochet blankets. One ball of yarn caught our attention in the sunshine this week.
What do these blankets look like, I hear you ask? Well, here’s a quick look at one of them. Not a bobble out of place.
OK, let’s go back outside now. We’re very proud of our potholes in Northenden. In fact, some of them are so deep, we have to put sandbags in them, we don’t want animals or small children falling in.
And if you think that’s bonkers, do you want to know what’s Proper Nutty? Our latest peanut butter is presented in a tin.
Someone in Yorkshire thought it would be a good idea to use an old paint pot for peanut butter. We even had to lever the lid off with an old screwdriver. And, as with paint, the layer of oil on top had to be stirred in. But, actually, this Yorkshire peanut butter is delicious spread on Yorkshire pudding and dunked in a mug of Yorkshire tea.
Back in the outside world, magnolia trees are beginning to blossom. So many colours to spot here, I wonder which one most closely matches the paint colour known as ‘magnolia’?
Sometimes when we’re out walking around the local neighbourhood, we find oursleves talking to the wall. Well, it would be rude not to.
Liesel and I had a long discussion about how long it would take the chalk to disappear, given the amount of rain we get in this part of the world, bearing in mind this is a vertical wall and the force of the falling raindrops might not be enough to dislodge the chalk particles. Equally, now that someone’s set the precedent, it might encourage even more grafitti. If it’s a decent mural, that would cheer the place up, but it’ll probably be a tag of no significance to anyone other than the perpetrator. In which case, I think we’d probably just have to demolish the wall as it’s become an eyesore, and then we’d be able to see just what a mess the garden behind is. All that, and we only said a quick hello to the wall.
Some good news this week: he’s back! Yes, we haven’t seen him for a while, but here’s the heron, by the weir.
He then flew downstream to spend some time on the island. Other people have been on the island too, they even left a chair behind, which is very thoughtful, because we all need somewhere to sit when we’ve waded over.
It’s a long time ago, but I can remember when we used to say that today, we saw 12 peacocks, 20 cabbage whites, several red admirals, and too many commas to count. Now, we’re excited when we see a single butterfly on a walk. Two in one day is very rare. But it was nice to see this chap sunning himself this week. What a shame about the piece of plain wood he was sitting on, not a very good background for the photo. Plus, there was a fence in the way so I couldn’t get any closer.
In local news, farewell Salutem and hello Boxx 2 Boxx.
The new coffee shop will open in a couple of weeks and the new people are working very hard in there by the looks of it.
On a sunny but cold day, we visited The Northern Den and treated ourselves to a coffee and an Easter-themed mini egg blondie each. A blondie is like a brownie, only made with white chocolate. Earlier in the week, we’d experienced the hottest March day for 30, or 50, or 100 years, depending on which news source you believe. But the nasty old Arctic Maritime Air Mass moved in, it’s definitely colder, and unbelievably, snow has been forecast for next week. We certainly have interesting weather here in the UK!
Back indoors for more online entertainment. I watched Jessica Lee Morgan not once but twice. She performed Mary Hopkin’s album Recollections, to perfection, some great songs including some by Jim Croce. Then a couple of days later, I watched her again, this time singing some of her own delightful songs while poor old Liesel attended a WI committee meeting online: I know who got the better deal!
We first saw The Horne Section during the recording of a radio show many years ago. This week, we watched them online: they’re all very talented musicians but they are also very funny and entertaining.
There was a guest appearance by Robbie Williams, performing a much more upbeat version of Angels than the one we’re usually subjected to, which was refreshing.
Radio Northenden was set up one year ago, so my show this week celebrated the anniversary and, in passing, mentioned a few other favourite radio stations. You can listen back here or on Wythenshawe Radio WFM97.2 and online on Wednesday at 7pm. Some great music (I may be biased) and some wonderful old radio jingles.
I was delighted to see William and Martha when they visited, along with Jenny and Liam, of course, since neither of the children can drive yet, on account of their legs being too short, they can’t reach the pedals. They brought me a big gift box for my birthday, which was a few days later.
We all stayed outside, Covid restrictions still apply of course. Liesel and I played hide and seek with the children, which was fun, even if the only real hiding place was behind the oak tree growing outside our block of flats.
We also played tag, or ‘it’ as I used to call it, but that’s a strange game to play too when you can’t actually get close enough to tag someone. Good to see both William and Martha are learning new skills.
It won’t be long before Martha is skipping as adeptly as her Grandad (used to). And William’s counting skills are phenomenal. He knows his sums very well, and at one point, he was counting in 10s. He’s only 3 years old. Yes, we are very proud and boastful of our grandchildren. We can’t wait until we can sit down together and read a book or even watch something on TV. How we long to be able to pick them up spontaneously for a hug.
The oak tree is still quite bare, but that’s OK, it gave us an opportunity to watch the little birds for a while. We’re not sure whether they were great tits or blue tits, they just wouldn’t sit still long enough.
And of course, my attempt to capture them on film was a complete and utter failure.
As I mentioned, it was my special day this week. Helen sent me this photo of my birthday present all the way from New South Wales.
Well, it’s a terrific number plate, but as it turns out, the vehicle isn’t mine at all, just the picture. Still, thanks Helen, it’s the thought that counts.
Actually, my big box of goodies was epic. Oh look, I’ve used a word that young people use, even though I am suddenly a year older. Beer, chocolates, Smarties, TimTams, a huge coffee mug from Sydney, a Nespresso Aeroccino 3, a fab gadget for heating and frothing milk. I can make my own cappuccinos and lattés at home. No need to visit coffee shops ever again. Thank you very much for everything, Helen and Adam and Jenny and Liam and Martha and William. And thank you Pauline for my Double Choc Brownie making kit!
Speaking of coffee shops, it was a very sad day in Northenden today. Everyone was wearing black in honour of it being Salutem’s final day of business. Black arm bands, black face masks and in my case, black trousers, black t-shirt and an all black (apart from the silver fern) windcheater from New Zealand. Just one final visit to this delightful little coffee shop on Palatine Road. So, farewell then, Rachel, Ceilidh and Andie.
In other local news, Northenden’s Post Office has been closed all week. An in-depth and thorough investigation has failed to ascertain exactly what is going on here. Actually, I had a quick look on Twitter to see if there was an explanation, but no, there wasn’t.
Liesel and I picked another couple of bags of litter one day this week, and we moved some fly-tipped items to the pick-up point by the litter bin. It’s a thankless task to a certain extent, but the odd passer-by who expresses gratitude makes the exercise less disheartening, and in any case, it’s all worthwhile.
William paid a surprise return visit, bearing gifts: cakes that he’d baked, with Jenny’s help.
I’m sorry we tucked in before I was able to take a picture: the tray was full to start with!
It was lovely to have an online chat with Jenny and Helen and Liam and Adam on my birthday. Adam’s still in quarantine having returned to Sydney from the UK.
Jenny, Liam, Mick, Adam, Helen
And then later on, I saw William and Martha online too. Thay sang Happy Birthday to me, blew candles out and I’m sure, enjoyed their cakes too.
William and Martha
I watched Jessica Lee Morgan’s 66th online show on my birthday, and she was kind enough to send me birthday greetings and perform some of my requested songs, with her partner, Chris.
Any more online entertainment this week? Well, yes, actually. We watched a comedy show that featured my Radio Northenden friend and co-presenter Dan Tiernan, live from the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club in Manchester.
Dan said it was strange performing only to a virtual audience, but I think he was glad to be performing at all. I just checked and the show is still up here.
On my big day, I walked all the way into Didsbury for the first time since, ooh, I don’t know when. Nothing much has changed there, apart from many of the flowers in the planters are blooming.
The golf courses are still being well maintained, even if we’re not allowed to play right now. And even if we were allowed, I probably wouldn’t, following my GP’s advice from about 10 years ago when I was having really bad back issues.
Well-groomed golf course
Marie Louise Gardens was nice and quiet. A good place to sit down and watch the world and the squirrels go by.
Sometimes, it does feel that time is flying by, but equally, sometimes it passes really slowly. I think Liesel and I are both happy with our current workloads: projects and hobbies that keep us occupied each day. But, we can’t wait to be able to go out and do something different, somewhere different. Like everyone else, I imagine.
When I was young, the only Cherry Blossom I was aware of was the shoe polish that bears that name. I can’t help but remember this fact every year when I see actual, proper, real-life cherry blossom making the place look more colourful.
Senior moment of the week. I got up as usual, had a shower and got dressed, which included of course, putting on a clean pair of underdaks. I went for a walk (as described above, to Salutem) and on returning home, I visited the lavatory, as I usually have to do. It was a ridiculously difficult task to perform on this occasion, so eventually, I had to look down to see what was occurring. Well, it turns out, that instead of adding yesterday’s dirty underwear to the laundry basket, I’d put them back on, on top of today’s clean pair. I was so embarrassed, I didn’t even tell Liesel about my faux pas. And I would appreciate it if you kept schtum too, thank you very much.
We’re all looking forward to the end of Covid-related restrictions. We’re trying not to look back to 2020 too much. And this graffiti artist agrees.
The tag is very well done, but I can’t read it. Maybe it’s a secret message for young people, maybe it’s not meant for us oldies.
On the other hand, we enjoyed three online concerts within 17 hours over the weekend.
Seth Lakeman celebrated the 15th anniversary of the release of his album, Freedom Fields.
Bic Runga was, I think it’s fair to say, the main attraction at the Ōtautahi Together concert in Christchurch’s Botanic Gardens, to mark the tenth anniversary of the earthquake. There was meant to be a real audience in the gardens, but due to last minute Covid restrictions, it was streamed online. Ideal for me as I fought insomnia at 4 o’clock in the morning!
Every Tuesday evening, Jessica Lee Morgan performs online, singing her own songs as well as covers of other peoples’. She also now performs online on the last Sunday of each month, singing the songs of her Ma, Mary Hopkin. This time, Jessica performed the whole of Mary’s album Valentine.
Well, I enjoyed watching and listening to all the music, but if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice before, we can’t wait to see live music, performed live, in real life, in a theatre, concert venue or even in a park.
We don’t quite manage to get out for a walk every day. I’m sure we would if we were allowed to venture further afield, to National Trust properties for example, but we are limited right now. Litter picking isn’t the best way to keep the step count up. If we’re walking at a reasonable pace, we can achieve 10,000 steps in one and a half hours. But after two hours of litter picking at a slow, dawdling pace, stopping and starting, the pedometer said we’d only walked 5,900 steps. We certainly used as much, if not more, energy, but we don’t have a gadget to confirm this. Four bags collected this week, for those of you keeping a record.
As we passed by some houses, we were on the other side of the fence at the bottom of their gardens, we heard of chorus of people saying to each other, ‘You alright?’ ‘You alright?’ ‘You alright?’ ‘You alright?’ Honestly, it was like a live performance of The Royle Family.
Who remembers the old Pink Floyd song, Two Suns in the Sunset? Well, that’s what happens in Northenden when you take a late afternoon picture through the window.
We spotted the lesser-spotted cup-and-saucer plant growing in somebody’s garden.
Again, we saw no herons this week, but it was good to make my acquaintance with this raven.
He was wandering around the beach by the Mersey. There’s always been a stretch of sand there, but the strand is much longer now, since the floods a few weeks ago.
I wandered by Old Bedians Sports Ground where the rugby pitches are used by dog-walkers, as recommended by the nearby sign.
The pitches are used to store flood water when necessary and I think this must be the sluice-gates control room, well-decorated on all four sides.
Fletcher Moss Gardens was also flooded a few weeks ago, and is now recovering well. There’s a warning though because it seems not everyone stood well back.
Still, I had a nice cup of coffee and a nice slice of carrot cake at the café here, thanks for asking.
They’ve taken away many of the benches in order to stop people congregating. So, instead, they were standing around in groups not really socially distanced. I sat in the rockery, watching the robin, and thinking about how one day, it would be nice to visit Whitby. No idea what planted that seed in my mind.
Last week our road was resurfaced and this week, the painting crew came to re-paint the white lines.
Yes, we spend a lot of time watching people through our windows. But I did like the fact that in order to mark a straight line, they used a length of string covered in chalk dust, held tight between two points and pinged against the road. Old technology is sometimes the best.
I drove over to see the children and we tried to rescue a bumble bee with sugar water but I think we were too late. William liked standing close to it as it lay dormant on the drive, and jumping over it. Both he and Martha rode their pedal-less bikes and scootered and laughed. But all at a safe distance.
Martha’s still being schooled at home, and she dressed up for International Book Day, along with her classmates. That must have ben a fun Zoom call.
She’s going back to school on Monday, and William will return to Nursery on Wednesday. He’s only been for one day so far, before the government rules changed. He still enjoys a good ice cream though.
Otherwise, nothing much going on here: jigsaw puzzles, crochet, radio show, photos, writing, reading, podcasts, radio, turning on the TV and groaning because inevitably it’s a food programme, watching the white cat watching the squirrel but not chasing it until the squirrel’s right next to the tree.
Weatherwise it’s been a bit colder this week. This always happens when I blow the dust off my shorts for the first time as Spring begins.
For the sake of completeness, here is this week’s Radio Northenden show, the theme is Opposites. Why is there a Highway to Hell but only a Stairway to Heaven? Once again, Martha is the star of the show, thank you!
We’ve had lots of weather this week. A temperature range of about fifteen degrees. It’s warmer now and there are more signs of Spring. Even the village green is showing some more colour.
One day, when the pandemic’s all over, and things are getting back to normal, there will be a Festival of Northenden on this village green. It’s only a small space, so we’ll have to attend in shifts. I’m sure that can be arranged, and it’s always good to have something to look forward to.
We found a princess in the woods. Very familiar but in the heat of the moment, we couldn’t identify her.
Thanks to Helen, we now know this is Princess Aurora. It’s always good to encounter real stars in our neighbourhood. Readers of a nervous disposition might want to look away now. We are sorry to report that just a couple of days later, Aurora had been decapitated.
And if we ever need a plumber, we now know where Luigi lives.
Liesel and I celebrated our Crystal Wedding Anniversary this week. But a day late. This was so that we could have a meal from Greens in Didsbury and dessert from The Northern Den, both of which were closed on the actual day. Beautiful meal though, accompanied by the last of the wine from our visit to Heiffer Station two years ago.
It was a nice of drop of wine, too, thanks for asking: we’re going to have to go back and get some more one day.
Another highlight of the week was visiting the children (and their parents). We still find it very sad that we have to maintain a safe distance, and we can’t really interact.
It was half-term so the home-schooling was taking a break.
Martha’s been helping decorate her own room. First, draw on the walls, then rip the wallpaper off. Then leave the hard bit to Mum and Dad, removing several layers of paint hiding all sorts of defects and flaws in the plasterwork. And then, evenually, the exciting, interesting part of the job: the actual painting and decorating.
Liesel finished the 2,000-piece jigsaw in double-quick time. I think I contributed about 5 pieces, but they made all the difference. It’s a collage of family photos from the last few years. Lots of sky and lots of grass all adding to the complexity.
After concentrating on the puzzle for a while, Liesel has returned to her crochet project, a blanket each for William and Martha, but please don’t tell them and spoil the surprise.
Martha and William made gingerbread men but sadly, none for Grandad nor Oma. One day…
William loves supervising the decorating project, it’s a bit of a mess in there at the moment, but he’s following all the health and safety guidelines.
Somebody worked really hard to dump this wooden pallet in the bushes in a park a long way from any residential or industrial property.
That was just one of the strange items Liesel and I came across during our litter-picking walk this week. We couldn’t fit it into our green bag of course, but we did take away the semi-deflated football and a trainer amongst all the usual litter discarded by rude and lazy people.
Wythenshawe Waste Warriors was the inspiration behind my radio show this week, which was Rubbish. All things rubbish, garbage, waste and litter, not to mention some Dirty characters. Martha’s contributions were absolutely fabulous, thank you. Listen back here.
We’re still consuming lots of TV and radio and podcasts of course, but we had some unusual online viewing this week too.
We attended the online funeral of Myra Jean Waring, Sarah’s mother, who died last month. Like everything during the pandemic, it was very different. The people attending in person wore masks and weren’t allowed to sing the hymns. The vicar Fiona conducted a good service and I think we all appreciated (Sarah’s brother) Michael’s eulogy. Afterwards, we family members had a chat online, just as we’d met up on Myra’s 90th birthday only a couple of months ago. But there was no post-funeral standing around eating sandwiches. These are strange times.
The following day, online, I watched NASA Live as Perseverance landed safely on the surface of Mars. You could feel the excitement from JPL and from all the contributors to the broadcast.
This is my picture of the first picture taken by the rover on Mars. Someone commented that Mars looks like their cheesecake. Well, they might have a point.
There is now a helicopter on Mars too, Ingenuity, and it will be interesting to see how that flies in the very thin Martian atmosphere.
At the risk of being overtly political, our government has spent ten times the cost of the Perseverance mission on a Covid Track and Trace system that has never worked properly.
On Valentine’s Day, we watched was six hours of folk music. The Folk on Foot LOVEFest was a pretty good substitute for a live music performance.
Also on Valentine’s Day, we welcomed the launch of a brand new radio station, Boom Radio, aimed at us baby boomers who feel driven away from Radio 2 other stations who no longer play our sort of music.
We can’t visit Chester Zoo in person right now, but sometimes we enjoy watching their YouTube live broadcasts and videos.
We probably watched the giraffes chomping for a bit too long, but it was interesting to see the sun bears and the tigers a bit more closely than if we were there in person, with too many other visitors. How will we cope with the crowds when that time comes back?
For example, in the woods, we feel violated and grossly inconvenienced when we see one or two other people. It’s wrong to feel that the place belongs to us, and us alone, but that’s what happens after being isolated for so long.
We have no idea what this green twiggy knitting is, but it’s a very pretty colour. Just a shame about all the cans and bottles nestling within, but we’ll get in there one day.
At the risk of confirming my role as Grumpy Old Mick, can I just say that sometimes the internet is infuriating? I went to sign into a site that, admittedly, I’ve not used for a very long time. Over a decade, in fact. It says ‘There’s no such username, email address or password.’ Oh well, quite right, they probably deleted my details after a period of inactivity. So I clicked on ‘Sign Up’, as if for the first time. Why not use the same details as before? Because it then says ‘An account already exists for this username / email address’. I detect a slight discrepancy here. I do have another email address that I can use, and I can easily concoct a new username. But why should I have to? I tried to sign in again and this time, I clicked on the ‘Forgotten Password’ option. They sent me a link to ‘change my password’. So I did. I came up with a lovely new password. And, unbelievably, I was able to sign in, no problem, this time. And, as a bonus, I was able to access my activity from all those years ago. The trouble is, after all this faffing about, I’d forgotten what I wanted to do in the first place.
Well, the good news this week is that Liesel wasn’t arrested after all. I would have visited her in jail of course, if the Covid restrictions allowed me to. The unsolicited phone call from ‘HMRC’ was a computer-generated voice, threatening arrest if she didn’t press button 1 straightaway to resolve some fictitious tax issue.
Is that the most exciting event of the week? Not quite. We went for a drive in the car for the first time since before Christmas. We still remember how to drive, always a bonus, but one of the tyres was flat. We got that fixed before setting off. Where did we go? We visited the Dark Lands beyond our own postcode.
After a snowy start last Saturday, it was my turn to cook our evening meal. I love a good non sequitur, don’t you? I have two selections in my repertoire and this time it was toad-in-the-hole. The rest of the week we enjoyed Liesel’s culinary delights, thank you, Liesel, much more skilful and with a much more varied menu!
We went for a walk and came across a fire engine near Northenden’s Riverside Park.
The river was flowing fast but it was much lower than at the height of the floods last week. Lots of detritus had flowed downstream of course, plenty of trees and branches and so on deposited by the high water. But the ugliest sight probably is all the plastic caught in the trees on the island and tangled in the vegetation on the river banks.
There is a large group of litter pickers in the area, Wythenshawe Waste Warriors, and one day, when we’re no longer shielding, we’ll join them. So far this year, they have collected nearly 900 bags of litter in Wythenshawe, Northenden and the general area. One day, someone will wade over to the island and collect all the rubbish from the trees there.
It was a good decision to wear my new wellington boots when I walked through Wythenshawe Park. The path was still flooded: in fact, half of its puddle was frozen too. The grass either side of the path was waterlogged to the point that one side resembled an ice rink. I was joined on this particular walk by Tina in Coventry. From a very safe distance, I hasten to add. Whatsapp was the means of communication.
Mick: I’m out for a walk! Just tried to break the ice in a puddle. Useless!
Tina: OMG 😮 Glad I went food shopping so I don’t need to go out!!
Mick: Yes I’m sure!
Mick: I found the ice rink! A big frozen puddle on the grass
Tina: Oh wow 🤩
Tina: Poor birds
Mick: It’s very quiet. Spooky- apart from the rumble of the motorway over there…
Tina: Looks dangerous
Mick: It is. Very thin
Tina: Well, stay on the paths
Mick: This is the path!!
Tina: Oh you can’t pass
Mick: Yes 👍
Tina: Oh you’ll have to find another route, don’t get lost!!!
Mick: I’m back on the path… I can see how deep it is here!
Tina: Gosh be careful
Mick: Made it 🙌 to the other side. Dry!
Tina: Well done but be cautious
Mick: My mate Oliver
Tina: He’s not covered in snow!
Mick: No and he’s not covered in graffiti any more, either!
Tina: That’s good.. graffiti would def ruin the monument
Mick: And the good news is, I can get a coffee!
Tina: Oh really that’s great 😀 will warm you up? Is Liesel with you on your walk? Which coffee shop is that? Bit of a queue
Mick: Liesel came out with me but I wanted to go further.
Tina: Oh trust you
Mick: Not sure what it’s called. It’s in the park!
Tina: That’s great it’s open during these times
Mick: The dog bowls are frozen!
Tina: Oh dear there doesn’t seem to be much snow there anymore
Mick: It’s The Courtyard
Tina: Oh you got your coffee?
Mick: Patchy, still on the roof
Mick: In the queue still…
Tina: Oh yeah
Tina: Ha lol 😂
Mick: Decisions, decisions
Tina: Hot Vimto lol yes lots to choose from! They do food as well or just drinks? It’s not bad prices. What’s a barm? A batch or bread roll?
Mick: I have my coffee and chocolate orange brownie! Yes a barm is a plain bap, burger bun type thing. Usually. I have been given a sandwich before made with sliced white bread!
Tina: Ooh the brownie sounds lovely 😊 it’ll give you an energy boost 😂 Oh I see… I’ve never heard it being called a barm before
Mick: Yes, I’m still learning the language. I’m walking the long way home, trying to avoid all the people
Tina: That’s understandable, you’re having a good walk Mick, lots to see
Mick: Lots of snow on the grass. And more ice
Tina: Your coffee got me making a coffee too. It’s freezing can’t believe it’s snowed but it’s going to rain next week so hopefully it’ll clear up. Hope it doesn’t get icy and slippery though!
Mick: So far, I haven’t slipped, but it will happen sometime
Tina: That’s good hopefully not!
Mick: Once when I was a postman, all the snow and ice had gone, or so I thought, but I found the last square inch of ice and went arse over tit. Bashed my elbow. Kept hold of the bloody mail though!
Tina: Oh no that’s sounds hilarious 😂 but I bet it hurt! Typical
Mick: Look what I just did
Tina: Looks good but graffiti is a shame, ruins the buildings. Oh my you’re having some walk
Mick: It is an eyesore yes
Tina: How was your brownie? Coffee any good?
Mick: Very nice it had a segment of Terry’s Chocolate Orange on top! Coffee ok but not the best, but at least the place was open
Tina: Oh that would be really nice. True and it kept you going
Mick: Look what I just made!
Mick: Should be home by 2.30 then it’ll be time for a coffee 😉
Tina: Ha lol 😂 looks like you’re back to where houses are!
Tina: Good timing
Mick: Yes far fewer people this way
Tina: Oh that’s good
Mick: Nearly home
Tina: Oh good I’ve just made a sandwich 🥪
Tina: You home ? 🏡
Tina: With your coffee ☕️
Mick: Yes I am, now with a coffee, thanks for joining me on my 5 mile walk!!
Tina: It’s quite alright was fun! There is nothing on tv so I’ll listen to the radio for a bit!
Mick: Me too in a minute, probably Radio 2 Sounds of the 70s
Tina: Well enjoy. I’m listening to Capital fm
Mick: Ah, Capital Radio in the 70s was terrific, it’s not really my taste in music now, enjoy, sing along, dance!!
Another day, another walk, another stop for coffee. You can pick up the feel-good vibes in Salutem.
I invited Rachel from Salutem to join me on my Radio Northenden show this week. And she very generously agreed. You can hear our chat plus two hours of music loosely themed around Shopping right here.
Martha told a wonderful story about a Witch and Gnome and a dragon that morphed into a dinosaur! We watched online of course.
Some highly visible men working by the sluice gates, after the deluge last week.
And so we come to the real highlight of the week. Salutem and snowman and spammy phone calls are all well and good, but nothing beats spending time with our grandchildren, William and Martha. Yes, SK8 was the destination for our first road trip for a long time. We still have to maintain a safe distance of course, hugs are out of the question, we saw them from the end of the drive.
Martha knows that she only needs to dress the top half for her online schoolwork. Truly, a member of the Zoom generation.
And William insisted on wearing his backpack while scootering outside the house: maybe he thought he’d be going further away from home. He was doing sums. Just turned three years of age and he can do simple arithmetic. And he loves saying two and two equals four rather than just plain old ‘is‘.
We’ve been entertained this week by more online content, which is a horrible term, but covers everything from Netflix to gigs to Twitter and Instagram as well as videos of Martha and William. In fact, if you want to hear Martha’s sensational new hit single, please listen to this week’s Radio Northenden show.
We watched all 8 episodes of Bridgerton, and not just because it was described as Regency porn. I think we both enjoyed it on the whole, but I found the use of some Americanisms in the very English setting a bit grating. Liesel wondered about my sudden gasps of exasperation when a character said, ‘I’ll be with you momentarily’, or something was done ‘differently than’ something else.
Someone I haven’t seen live in concert for far too long is Tom Hingley, so it was good to catch him online performing in aid of the John Peel Centre in Suffolk, a small venue that we’re unlikely to attend in real life, but it was good to hear some of the old songs performed live from his home. His camera was cunningly placed to reveal a nice warm fire plus the gold disc on his wall. Well done, Tom!
And finally, some more good news: Liesel received her first Covid vaccination this week. I’m not expecting mine until March but the roll-out of the vaccine seems to be going well, so far. A second day out for the car this week. Maybe we’ll start venturing out a bit more often, if anything, just to keep the poor old thing ticking over and to stop the mould from growing on the outside!
Liesel also completed another blanket, her crochet skills are improving by the minute.
This really is a labour of love, I don’t know how many times Liesel counted the stitches in each row, just to make sure… and how pretty is it?