Burritos, Bowie, Bikes, Balls

A Mermaid greeted us when we went to look after William this week. Of course, it was Martha, not a real mermaid, and it was a shame she had to change into her uniform to go to nursery!

We endured a foggy drive to Chester Zoo this time, but unusually, on arrival, there wasn’t a cold wind in the car park. William set the pace as we walked around, often hanging around in the same area, especially when it entailed standing in the mud. He was as excited to watch a squirrel scurry by on the fence as he was to see the elephants.

Oma, William, elephant
The end of the line

The monorail is now being demolished, which is a shame: that was always a good way to pass some time, queueing up for a ride.

We did feel sorry for the penguins, though: someone’s taken the plug out of their pool and they were plodding around, looking a bit forlorn.

P-p-p-poor old p-p-p-penguins

William slept in the car in both directions and as soon as we dropped him off at home, Liesel and I went home. We had plans, things to do, places to be.

After waiting for a bus for too long and witnessing several going by in the wrong direction, we decided to drive into Manchester instead. We’d like to use public transport but it’s just not a good or reliable enough service in Manchester.

Listo Burrito

We enjoyed a burrito at Listo Burrito, infamous for its burritos, apparently.

A Bowie Celebration brings together several musicians who have worked with David Bowie at some point, whether playing live or on record. The Bowie Alumni Band was brought together by Mike Garson, who performed with Bowie over a thousand times. Tonight, the band played at Manchester’s O2 Ritz. Doors opened at 7pm. We arrived in very good time, to join a long line of even more eager people, all hoping to snare one of the few seats available. It’s an old dance hall, really, so it’s pretty much all standing around.

O2, the telcommunication company, obviously provide the wifi at this venue. But I got a better signal from Gorilla, a place over the road. We tried not to stare too much at the fellow audience members, some even older than me, many wearing Bowie t-shirts from his numerous incarnations. There were a few young people too but we saw nobody with the red Ziggy hairstyle or the Aladdin Sane lightning flash on their face.

Inside, we went upstairs and stood at the front of the balcony, overlooking the stage and the dancefloor below. We watched as the venue filled while listening to a Mike Garson record: Bowie Variations, which I can highly recommend.

A great view of the stage

Even though we were standing, we were able to lean on the barrier and we resisted being squeezed out by other people. Sadly, we’ll never see David Bowie live in concert again, but this would be a good second best. We’ll never see Beethoven in action either, but we still enjoy his music being played live, though not necessarily by people he actually performed with.

Tonight, the band played the whole of the Diamond Dogs album, sharing the vocals between three great but very different vocalists: Mr Hudson, Corey Glover and Sass Jordan.

It was loud, but very faithful to the original album. I sang along of course, and noticed a couple of faux pas on the part of the professionals. It should be ‘fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats’, even I know that!

I remember buying and playing Diamond Dogs for the very first time, in 1974, amazed that after Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie could still come up with some fantastic lyrics and wonderful tunes. Tonight we were both reminded just how much his music has a jazz influence, especially with Mike Garson in the mix.

What a shame George Orwell’s widow didn’t allow Bowie to turn 1984 into a musical, the original idea. Diamond Dogs is a mix between that and his own perception of some future dystopia: but not too far in the future.

We thought there’d be an interval after Diamond Dogs, but no, they kept going. Space Oddity next. By now, I had a slightly sore throat from singing along and my tinnitus had been turned up to 11, but it was worth it, such an emotional show for me, and for many others, no doubt.

Bowie Celebration: the Alumni Band

Suffragette City was very exciting, and if you’ve never heard 1500 people in unison shriek ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am’, well, it’s very therapeutic!

Rock’n’roll Suicide always brings a tear to the eye.

Everyone sang along to Heroes, another opportunity for the lacrimal glands to kick into gear.

Two hours and twenty minutes of wallowing in the past, fantastic. A good review and more photos can be seen here.

I never thought I’d need so many people

It was a most enjoyable show. But for the sake of us old codgers: a seated venue might be better. And please turn down the bass a tad because we’re already losing the higher frequencies, thanks!

I don’t know. We don’t go out in the evening for a while and then we go out twice within a few days! The 2020 HSBC UK National Track Cycling Championships finals took place at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester this weekend. We attended one session, on Saturday evening, and we undoubtedly witnessed some cycling stars of the future. My favourite cycling team is now Team Terminator: they’ll be back.

A great view of the track

The commentary was pretty good, if a little cheesey at times. But there was no ‘turning the screw’, nor ‘putting down the hammer’, nor ‘ lighting the afterburners’ but as Liesel pointed out, these clichés usually apply to road races. One of tonight’s races did ‘go down to the wire’, so anyone playing ‘cycling commentary bingo’ didn’t totally waste their time. Proud to have been part of an ‘awsome audience’, though.

Winner of the National Bobble Hat Wearing Championships

In years to come, we’ll be looking out for the new British Men’s Points Race Champion, ‘the Welshman from Wales’, Rhys Britton. I don’t know the name of the model sporting this rather delightful bobble hat, quite a distraction from the racing, to be honest.

Other names to look out for are Lauren Bell who won the Keirin, Hamish Turnbull, the new Sprint champ and Ella Barnwell, the new Scratch Race champion, taking over from Laura Kenny, who wasn’t here to defend her title on this occasion. I was watching the Derny bike rider leading the Keirin races and I thought, I could do that. If I were looking for a job.

It was an exciting night but next time, I think I’ll take my real camera, the medal ceremonies were just too far away  for good pics. The music and the roar of the crowd weren’t too loud today and the tinnitus was not affected, you’ll be pleased to know.

Not a bad action shot with a phone camera

In a change to normal programming, we looked after Martha and William on Sunday while their parents went on a secret mission.

The Ice Cream Farm was very busy today, the water was in full flow thanks to the numerous older children ready and eager to turn on the taps, use the Archimedes screw, open the sluices and generally send water to places it’s not supposed to be.

William v water

We played in the sand for a while too. Not ‘we’, I mean ‘they’, of course. Any sandcastle I might have built was soon demolished by William.

The children wore themselves out in the softplay area. Here is Martha carrying the balls to some small cannons, from which she was able to shoot across the play area, trying to hit the targets while missing the other children, mostly.

Martha v cannon balls

We drove home and despite the extreme state of exhaustion, sleep eluded us all. And indoors, Martha used Liesel’s crochet hook to demolish a skein of yarn.

Martha v yarn

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner on their return, and afterwards, Liesel and I spent over 12 hours untangling the yarn. Next time, we’ll make sure Martha untangles her own tangles.

Toad in the hole

Two bits of good news. My replacement bluetooth keyboard has arrived, and it works perfectly so, once again, I’ll be able to write blogs and other nonsense while away from home and not in a library or internet café! Plus, my first toad-in-the-hole in the new luxury apartment came out very well. Very nice, very tasty, as they say.

I see icy

But it didn’t prepare us for what occurred the following morning. There I was, still in bed, Liesel came in, threw back the curtains and said I had to see this.
‘What, rain?’ I asked.
‘No, snow,’ she replied. Lo and behold, it was snowing. I said I wasn’t going anywhere today, thank you very much. Well, the snow didn’t last long and didn’t settle, but when I did go out for a walk later on in the sunshine, I was surprised at how cold it still was outside. I didn’t walk very far today. Brrr.

2019 into 2020

Another year over and a new one just begun. I’ve lost count of the number of jokes about 2020 Vision and this being the only year named after a popular cricket format. MMXX. As a residential speed limit sign might say, 2020 is plenty plenty. I resisted the temptation to show π to 2020 decimal places, sorry, Liesel. Before the new year started we were in a period apparently known as Twixmas, a term I’ve never heard before, and I hope never to hear again. Oh well, this is why we love the English language, I suppose: anything goes.

If I were commuting, I would welcome this safe cycle parking facility that I came across by a Metro station. The Bike Locker Users’ Club is the sort of club I’d like to join, if I were a bike locker user.

Bike locker

While I was out on a long stroll, via the GP (don’t worry, it was just to take in a prescription request) and the bank, Liesel was at home completing the jigsaw puzzle she received for Christmas, just five days earlier. What a star!

Liesel’s completed Wasgij jigsaw puzle, wow!

There is still a lot to learn about our neighbourhood. Wythenshawe is, according to the sign, one of the greenest places in Manchester. What the sign doesn’t say is that it is also one of the most littered places in Manchester. Probably. You’re never more than three feet away from a discarded can or coffee cup or lolly wrapper. We must make more use of our litter picker-uppers. If David Sedaris and Ian McMillan can do it, then so can we!

Wythenshawe, the home of Wythenshawe Market
Farewell, old friends in the European Community

Presumably, this sort of support from the European Community will stop when the UK leaves the EU at the end of January. But still: blue passports, hooray!

I was listening to Serenade Radio in bed late on New Year’s Eve, some nice, relaxing, easy listening. The feed online was a bit delayed so I leapt a mile when all the local fireworks went off at what I thought was well before midnight! Liesel got out of bed to look at them, I couldn’t be bothered. Hello 2020, and Happy New Year.

Fireworks from Queenstown, NZ, not Northenden, UK, thanks, Helen

Meanwhile, in NZ, Helen and Adam enjoyed these fireworks in Queenstown, but despite the temptation, neither of them did a bungy jump. They’ve been in 2020 slightly longer than the rest of us and other than the smoke from the Aussie bush fires drifting across the Tasman Sea, there is nothing bad to report.

Liesel and I joined the wider family for a New Year’s meal at Alan and Una’s house. There were fourteen of us on this occasion: the same bunch of ne’er-do-wells from last week plus John and Geri, Paul’s parents. Geri, aka Nana Strawberry as far as William’s concerned!

Jenny and Martha

For the first time in ages, I think I may have eaten too much. Usually I stop as soon as I’ve had enough, but there was so much lovely food, thanks, Una!

Several mega-calories to burn off then, which I did the following day, walking to the GP (it’s alright, I was just collecting the prescription that I’d requested a few days ago), then to a pharmacy. Boy, was I glad I wasn’t on my bike when I saw this sign.

1 in 29, how does anyone manage that?

The gradient is greater than 1:29, it was hard enough walking up it, never mind cycling. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t even notice the very slight incline and wouldn’t have given it a first, never mind a second, thought, if I hadn’t seen the warning sign.

I was taken back to my childhood for a moment as I stood on a bridge and watched a very long train pass by underneath, on its way to Gatley.

Commuters in the area would love seeing a Northern Rail train this long, rather than the 3-carriage options that are over-crowded every morning

This time, though, it wasn’t a steam train and my Mum and I didn’t have a coughing fit as we were enveloped in clouds of smoke, and we weren’t picking off smuts for the rest of the day.

Liesel and I accepted the invitation to look after the children for a day while Jenny ‘filled in her tax form’. At first, I thought this was a euphemism for ‘have a nice relaxing massage without those pesky kids ruining the peaceful atmosphere’, but I think she really was filling in forms, judging by the ink blots on her fingers.

So we took William and Martha to the zoo where, as usual, we emerged from the car to a much colder wind than we had at home. Should have worn a thicker coat, said Liesel. As she always does. Only to forget on our next visit.

Puddles, elephants, bats, and the Treetop Challenge were today’s big hits. We saw just one lion in the new enclosure.

Lion planning her escape
Too high to climb it so I’ll just roll under it, if that’s alright
Treetop Challenge, safety harness, down a couple of short zip lines
Giant Owl butterfly: none of them wanted to settle on Martha’s sleeve this time

Unusually, we timed it right, and saw the penguins at feeding time. But the most entertaining aspect was watching one of the zookeepers waving his fish net around, trying to keep the seagulls away.

Penguins fighting off the seagulls with a little help from the keeper of the net

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, they are delightful children to spend time with, great fun, and very interested in the world. Their only fault is not appreciating good music when it’s on offer. “What song do you want me to sing?” I ask from the front of the car. “No song”, comes the chorus from the back. Oh well, their loss.

A bit of jiggery-pokery with the photo editor on my phone and I produced this masterpiece

The first Saturday of the year found us walking to Didsbury, along the river, past the golf course.

Just one of a few strange characters we met on our walk

As Liesel noted, all the runners and joggers seemed to be scowling today. Maybe they were carrying a bit too much extra flab after the Christmas feasting. Or maybe they were regretting their New Year’s Resolutions!

“Edgar?” I commented, “That’s a funny name for a dog.”
“No”, said Liesel, “He said ‘good girl’.”
Nothing wrong with my hearing.

Here are a few more of our new acquaintances.

Poor chap thinks it’s still nighttime
A family of Owls in Didsbury Park – there are some talented wood-carvers around
Outside the fish shop, believe it or not

Liesel couldn’t watch it all but I enjoyed the first episode (of 3) of the new TV drama based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Did someone say it was a bit scary? They did indeed. It is. Fantastic. And the only nightmare I had was another work-based dream, in which I was ‘invited’ to work for a few hours on a Sunday so I’d be ahead of the game on Monday. Trouble is, this is just the sort of nonsense Royal Mail might come up with in real life. It’s four years almost to the day since I last had to go to work, so why I still dream about it is a total mystery.

Christmas Presence

And that was it. All that anticipation and suddenly, Christmas is over. Just a few days of sitting around, eating, drinking, visiting, socialising, perambulating, being entertained and generally over-indulging. We’re now feeling bloated, we need some exercise, we’re making resolutions for the new year most of which will be forgotten or broken fairly quickly. I try not to make resolutions at this time of year for that very reason. I resolve to do better at any time of the year, even if it’s only for a brief period. Such as the time I chose to give up chocolate for the whole of February. Next time I give up my favourite confection for a while, it won’t be during the month that includes Valentine’s day and a wedding anniversary or two. Which, in a way, is itself a resolution.

Christmas Day, we visited the grandchildren of course, bearing gifts and food. Liesel was very busy in the kitchen, baking cinnamon rolls and scones, building a Christmas tree from fruit, making American-style fudge.

Fruit tree

And of course, Jenny made us ‘eggs’, a frittata-like dish from a recipe(*) passed down from Liesel’s grandmother.

The other grandparents, Nana and Papa, Una and Alan, were here too.

Elsa from Frozen

Elsa might look a bit uncomfortable here in her new bed. But don’t worry. Liesel had made her a nice soft mattress, a duvet and a pillow which Elsa and Martha were both very pleased with.

William with his new Chef’s hat, made with love by Oma

It’s fun watching the children ripping the wrapping and then ignoring the contents in favour of something older and more familiar. Martha was very keen to help William open his parcels, but he was happy to ignore her pleas and proceed at his own pace. Martha pulled most of the crackers, with different people at the other end, and was suitably excited about winning the toys and she laughed at all of the jokes!

Meanwhile, Helen and Adam spent Christmas with Pauline and Andrew in Christchurch, prior to their adventure touring the beautiful South Island of New Zealand.

We gathered again at Jenny’s on Boxing Day’s Boxing Day. Again, we were joined by Nana and Papa and this time, Liam’s sister Andrea, her husband Paul and their daughters Annabel and Emily joined us too. Certainly a full, and at times noisy, house! Great fun, though.

Welcome to the house
Playmobil flowers

Playmobil is much more detailed than I remember it being when Jenny and Helen were little. It’s a good way to keep parents occupied for several hours, putting the hundreds, if not thousands, of components together to make a zoo or a farmyard, or both.

I know it breaks all laws of nature, but this Christmas cake was very nice.

Igloo with penguins

This cake was the prize in a competition to guess how many used 4-pint plastic milk cartons were used to build an igloo. I saw the picture, guessed 212, but the real answer was 490, I think. Jenny’s guess was the closest at 485.

Speaking of igloos, the best programme I saw on TV over the Christmas period was The Last Igloo, slow TV at its best, good music and a fascinating insight into the life of one man in east Greenland. Catch it while you can!

Where’s William? Hide and seek

After a few days of slouching, not moving much, it was time to engage in some gentle exercise, walking around the streets of Northenden, spying on the natives. One man’s ringtone was the theme from the old TV series, The Prisoner. I watched the joggers not really enjoying their run along the river. There was a business conference taking place in Costa, apparently: a queue out of the door, and all the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen wearing illegible name badges. It’s nice of people to give their old stuff to charity shops, but such a shame to see so much dumped outside, in the elements, when the shop’s not going to be open for a few more days. Ooh, I think I’ll go fly-tipping but it’s OK, look, I’m giving it to chariddy.

Quite possibly the most ornate gate in the village
Animal, vegetable or mineral? Grass, bamboo, stalks, very pretty colour whatever this lifeform is
National Cycle Ntework route 62 looks challenging
Another Northenden sunset
And a few minutes later, it’s goodnight from the Moon and Venus

My soundtrack while writing today has been Johnnie Walker’s Sounds of the ’70s, on BBC Radio 2. If you fancy a music quiz courtesy of his guest, David Hepworth, follow this link.

One of my favourite Christmas songs is Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. I’m not usually a fan of her singing style: why sing one note when 120 will do, all hovering around the target note? Warbling, I call it. And so does a character in the book I’m reading right now, Thirst, by Kerry Hudson.

(*) Liesel’s grandmother’s eggs recipe:

Serves 10-12

10 eggs
½ cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 pint cottage cheese
1 lb jack cheese
½ cube butter, melted
2 cans ortega chilies, 4 oz each

Beat the eggs, stir in the rest of the ingredients.
Pour into well-buttered 9/12 inch glass dish.
Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes or until brown.

The following paragraphs are not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition.

I’m not one to complain as you know (!) but lately, everything’s been giving up in despair. It’s a conspiracy. Everything went wrong when we put our last house up for sale. The inanimate sitting tenants revolted. I have no idea what we’ve done to upset our present cohabitants.

We bought a new set-top Freeview box because the old one was no good at connecting to the internet and it was always displaying subtitles before the characters spoke their words, more than a little disconcerting, a perpetual spoiler alert.

The dishwasher was repaired after the door-lowering mechanism snapped allowing the door to crash to the ground. These things happen in threes, right? No. More than three.

The keyboard with which I travelled and blogged for 10 months forgot how to transmit a bluetooth signal. It no longer connects to my phone, so I’m temporarily writing this stuff on the old PC. Logitech offered to send a replacement, but only to my US address, since that’s where I bought the keyboard in the first place.

Now, a few days later, my Fitbit Zip appears to have caught the same malady. It no longer syncs on my PC. Nor with Liesel’s phone, which I used for a while when the Fitbit lost contact with the app on my own phone. Nightmare. All those thousands of steps being walked and no way to prove it afterwards.

The latest appliance to cause major disgruntlement in Mick and Liesel’s luxury apartment is the kettle. Press a button and the lid opens so you can fill from the tap. Nope, not any more. You need three hands: one to hold the kettle, one to manually lift the lid and another to turn the tap on.

Good night, everyone, sleep well, don’t have nightmares.

Solstice

We were waiting in for the dishwasher repairman and for a phone call, so inevitably, both occurred within a few minutes of each other. A few days ago, Liesel asked what was that big crash? I’d heard no crash. We later discovered it was the dishwasher door opening violently, rather than gently as it’s meant to. After making and receiving nine phone calls, speaking to at least five different operatives at three separate but related companies, I made an appointment. A text message confirmed the appointment for one day. Later, an email confirmed an appointment for a different day. British customer service at its best.

Anyway, the bloke turned up, we think his nickname was Grumpy, but he fixed the door and disappeared.

Meanwhile, I received my phone call about which, more later. In between times, it was an administrative, busy kind of day: bins (taking out), blog (writing), bread (baking and eating), bills (paying), books (reading) and breastplate (polishing).

dan and lou treehouse
The Treehouse with Dan and Peps

Before I got out of bed the following morning, I listened to the latest Treehouse Podcast, presented by Danny Baker and Lou Pepper. The story I’d related on the phone yesterday didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, after all, but I still don’t really enjoy hearing my own voice on this sort of thing. It’s a very entertaining podcast, and we would recommend subscribing!

It’s a busy time of year, of course, the lead-up to Christmas, but that didn’t prevent Jenny and Liam from going out to a wedding party. Liesel and I looked after William and Martha, watching some TV, reading some stories and finally, taking them to bed. We kept the volume low while watching Casino Royale and listening out for noise from upstairs. But they were good as gold and, next morning, Martha asked for Oma rather than Mummy, which is nice, but of course, we wern’t there!

Liesel’s so clever. She has been putting the new sewing machine to good use, making bags for Christmas presents, so we don’t need single-use wrapping paper, and she’s made some fun items for William and Martha for Christmas. Shh, don’t tell them.

In the afternoon, we walked to the West Didsbury Makers Market, and what a pleasant walk it was, too. We stayed away from busy roads as much as possible, and walked by the river instead. It was the day of the Winter Solstice, so the Sun was low and weak but it didn’t feel cold outside.

Short day, long shadows

It was a bit disconcerting when, for a moment, we thought we’d teleported to Kent. Is the M20 a Kentish motorway or a motorway of Kent?

M20 West

But no, not really, we found the market easily. This is the market where Liesel bought an armchair last time. On this occasion, we confined our purchases to cheese, a Christmas cactus, coffee and samosas.

We saw more people by the river on the way back, some with dogs, some with out-of-control dogs that jumped in the water. I muttered at the mutts, don’t you dare shake over me! But here’s a nice picture of us by the Mersey.

Selfie of the day

We passed by the old Tatton Arms pub, in Northenden, which is still boarded up closing down in 2008. It’s a great location, right by the river, and probably was a nice looking building, but what a shame it’s not open for business.

The tatty Tatton Arms pub sign
It just needs a bit of TLC

We thought be might see a pretty sunset over the river, but that was not to be. Instead, the last glimpse of the Sun was behind some not very photogenic houses. But, after the Solstice, we can look forward to the days now getting longer again.

The biggest splashes of colour were to be found, of course, in John Lewis. We only went for some ribbon, for one of Liesel’s projects, but somehow we had breakfast there too.

Lots of colour in this corner of John Lewis

Jenny had taken the children out for some last-minute shopping too and we offered to look after them for a couple of hours if she needed some time to hereself. She did. While waiting for them to return, I went for a quick walk around Jenny’s neighbourhood and was delighted to see how seasonal the place was. Holly and ivy both trying to hide, but I found them.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We took Martha and William home where they played well, ate well and even bathed well. Most water stayed in the bath, always a bonus.

Martha watering William to help him grow

While they were here, our doorbell rang. We weren’t expecting anyone, but guess what? A second engineer had come to fix our dishwasher. We had to let him in to take a picture of the offending item, to prove that he’d been, but what a waste of his time. It was only three days since the other bloke fixed it and, so far, the repair’s still holding up. I wonder if I’ll be invited to take part in a customer satisfaction survey on this occasion?

Before taking them home, we showed the children the marquee over the road, with its snowmen and railway and snowglobes and reindeer. They both quickly fell asleep in the car on the way back home!

And here we are on Christmas Eve. Liesel’s been in the kitchen, baking, while I’ve been staying out of her way. I went to the shop to buy some last-minute ingredients, and unexpectedly, there were more staff members than shoppers. I opened the microphone on my device here, so, as you read this, you should be able to detect the gorgeous aroma of cinnamon.

Cinnamon rolls (pre-icing)

My soundtrack has been some delightful choral Christmas music which is on BBC Sounds for another 6 days only, but it’s very relaxing and Christmassy.
Liesel and I wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas, lots of love and best wishes. And a million thanks for coming by and sharing our antics!

Looking for people we know

We met our friend Helen in Surbiton for breakfast. I thought the lights were faulty in the restaurant but it was pointed out that buses stopping outside were blocking the sunlight. Obvious, really, no need to go on womansplaining, you two.

They took the bus into Kingston and I went for a walk to and beside the Thames. It was a good few degrees cooler by the river, I had to put my jacket on. Many people were messing about on the river, skiffs, yachts, dinghies, sailboards and I was surprised there were no collisions nor people overboard.

Sailing on the Thames

The sky and water and everything looked a bit grey and drab. The award for the most colourful restaurant today goes to the Thai Busaba near Kingston Bridge.

Busaba by the river

I walked as far as the bandstand in Canbury Gardens, before turning back to meet Liesel and Helen in the town centre. I think I’d given them enough time to do whatever shopping needed doing.

Bandstand in the Gardens

There was no music on this late October afternoon, but that is a main attraction during the warmer Summer months.

I watched a couple of guys playing tennis but they weren’t taking it too seriously. The man packing up his angling gear didn’t seem to have caught anything for his tea, but maybe sitting on a cold, lonely riverbank for a few hours was an end in itself.

There are some boats moored on the river in the town centre and as I returned, I passed by one that was belching smoke and stench direct from Hades.

Smoke on the water

I really wanted to put an upturned bucket over the chimney to force the culprits out. One of the first things Helen commented on when I met them, fortuitously outside T K Maxx, was the smell (from the boat) that had by now permeated the town. I took refuge in the Bentall Centre for a while where by comparison, even the smell from Yo! Sushi was acceptable. We all met up again in a café for coffee and cake: well, I’d had a reasonable walk from Surbiton.

We took Helen home to Chessington. And yes, of course we drove by our old house. The neighbours are building a loft extension and we are so glad we won’t have to put up with that!

Back at the b&b, we were relaxing, reading, listening to the radio, when my phone rang. That is very unusual. But it was the Rose Theatre. The other day, we’d tried to buy tickets for the show tonight, a jazz concert celebrating 60 years of Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. It was sold out so we put our names down for any returned tickets. And how lucky were we?

Back to Kingston then and to the Rose Theatre. I always look around to see if there’s anyone I know, and tonight I was delighted to find Stella and Ian. We agreed to meet after the show for a drink.

Before the performance though, I looked at the exhibited photos from the Canbury Camera Club and some of them were fantastic.

African paper wasp in Bontebok National Park

The music was fantastic, some well-known and some new (to me) tunes from 60 years at Ronnie’s. They also told the story of the club which I’ve only been to 2 or 3 times. The thought of it now still evokes thick smoke and cool dudes saying ‘nice’ a lot. Tonight at the Rose, though, we just enjoyed the music and the stories. The band was led by James Pearson, the club’s Artistic Director and Natalie Williams was the vocalist, even emulating Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing very faithfully.

Ronnie Scott’s All Stars in the Rose Theatre

Stella, Ian, Liesel and I walked along to The Druid’s Head, a pub that has certainly been cleaned up a lot since the last time I was there. We had a good chat and in my case, a welcome pint of Old Peculier.

The next couple of days include the long and uneventful drive back home, a walk to the Post Office and beyond, lots of tidying in the spare room, some writing and the usual end of month admin tasks (paying bills).

I did go for a longer walk one day, to Wythenshawe, to the Park and around in a big circle. It’s a pity we live so far from the nearest tram stop, it would be nice not to have to rely on buses all the time.

Bicycle storage at Benchill Tram Station
Hula-hoop up a tree

I do like a splash of colour and while the Autumn leaves are gorgeous, a blast of red from rosehips cheers up the place (and me).

Rosehips on a bush

Our car might have a couple of slow punctures, an issue that should be addressed imminently you’d think. But other than a couple of times having to add some air, they’ve been holding up. But when the time comes to get some new tyres for the car, I know exactly where we’ll be going. They sure know how to attract customers in this part of the world.

Free Jaffa Cake in your dreams

Oh, hang on, we don’t have a 4×4 or a prestige model so I guess we won’t be enjoying a free Jaffa Cake after all.

Grandchildren’s Day during the half-term break means we get both Martha and William to look after, hooray! We took them to The Hideaway in Partington, a nice softplay area and indoor playground.

William the Barista in the caff
Martha in the Happy Land

Yes, of course this reminded me of the old David Bowie song, There is a Happy Land and when I sent the lyrics to Janny and Henny, I was accused of being delirious. What a strange family.

There’s a ‘planetarium’ here too. Inside, Martha and I lay down on the floor to watch a series of films projected onto the hemispherical ceiling. Aimed at young children, I think some of the concepts were quite complicated: a space shuttle launch, all the planets, what causes the tides. Martha’s favourite planet is the one with the rings, Saturn, although she sometimes forgets its name.

William spent a lot of time climbing, and he’s not afraid of asking for help when he can’t quite manage!

We had a lovely dinner, again prepared by Liesel, including stuffed tomatoes.

Jenny told me that her boss also attended the Graphene lecture last week at the Royal Society. Not Lemn, but Dame Nancy Rothwell DBE DL FRS FMedSci FRSB FBPhS MAE, the President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester. I didn’t look that hard at the time, it was so unlikely I’d know anyone. But I would have said hello if I’d seen her there that evening: we go back a long way. She’s done very well since the days we were contemporaries at Queen Elizabeth College in London. Without consulting my old journals, I don’t know how often I would have stomped on her feet at the Sunday night discos in the student bar. Good old Nancy! Good times!

Edinburgh

We enjoyed watching William and Martha swimming again for what would be the last time at such an early hour. From next week, their classes begin at 11.00am. We’re grandparently proud of their promotions!

The long drive north to Edinburgh was uneventful. Apart from a couple of bad accidents and the occasional downpour, that is.

High pressure rain cleaning the windscreen

Yes, off to the gorgeous capital city of Scotland for a couple of days to take in a very small percentage of the Festival and Fringe events.

Tebay is probably our favourite service station thanks to its Farm Shop. It’s not an online buying and selling site based in Yorkshire, whatever it says in the Uxbridge English Dictionary. The vegetarian sausage rolls and vegetarian Scotch eggs are highly recommended!

We hadn’t realised how many wind farms there are now: good to see that the gales and hurricanes that blow our way aren’t totally wasted.

Old energy vs new energy

Neither of us brought our passports but who knows? This might be the last time we visit Scotland while it’s still part of the United Kingdom.

Welcome to Scotland

Liesel commented that some of the landscape reminds her of her home state, Alaska.

Ecclefechan

Sarah, Jenny, Helen and I stayed in a b&b in Ecclefechan on what would be our final visit to Scotland all together. It remains Helen’s favourite placename to this day.

This time, Liesel and I are staying in Bathgate. That is the correct name of the place. In the past, I have also stayed at places called Lochhead and Pathhead. Over these few days, I think I referred to our present location using every possible combination of the words loch, head, gate, bath and path.

In the early evening, we caught a train into Edinburgh for our first event.

Bathgate Station: trains are under starter’s orders

We thought we had a nice, easy walk to the venue. But it’s been a while, we’d forgotten how hilly Edinburgh is. Not only that, we had to scale The News Steps. 124 steps, I think. We arrived at the summit breathless and not just because of the beautiful view of the city below.

Circa: Humans took place in a Big Top. A troupe of ten performers, very nimble and very strong, doing the sort of callisthenics that we do each morning, only slightly more skilfully, and with a musical accompaniment.

The music was at different times insistent, percussive, rhythmic and funny. One routine to the song The Impossible Dream proved conclusively that it is impossible to lick ones own elbows.

Stunts included human pyramids. Only, not always pyramids: in some cases, one guy bore the weight of two others.

The poster (photos of the performance not allowed)

Like most shows at The Fringe, this one lasted an hour. They had some fantastic ideas, very imaginative choreography and it was all executed flawlessly. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Humans thanking the audience

Twice in a row now, I’ve inserted a USB cable correctly on the first attempt. I think my luck might be changing. Or, maybe not. Although we’d planned to go into Edinburgh from Bathgate by train every day, our second attempt failed. It was a working day, and the station car park was full. In fact, over full: some cars were dumped in the most ridiculous places. So, reluctantly, we drove into the auld city. Both days, we managed to park close to the final venue of the day, making for a quick getaway.

Greyfriars Bobby (statue)

We admired Greyfriars Bobby’s well polished nose. He’s the dog that sat beside his master’s grave waiting for the opportunity to dig up some bones, I think.

We’ll bin our jokes if you bin your litter

The city was really tidy, on the whole, but the bin jokes should have been binned. What’s Beethoven’s favourite fruit? Ba-na-na-naaa.

The International Photography Exhibition at the Photographic Exhibition Centre exhibited about 230 photographs from over 2000 submitted from all around the world.

Photography Exhibition attendee having a rest (still life)

There were some imaginative pictures here though some had obviously received a certain amount of post-production doctoring, or editting. I was hoping to get some ideas for my own future pictures.

Railway lines – London to Plymouth by John Widdows

The damselfly photo was magnificent and as I said to Liesel, I wish they’d sit that still for me! And my photo of that photo was of course out of focus. Curses! But for the exhibition as a whole: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A few years ago, Jenny and I visited Edinburgh together. We enjoyed the veggie food at Henderson’s and I was glad to see it’s still going strong. Liesel and I had lunch of (veggie) haggis and mashed root veg, a mid-Winter meal, really, but outside, it was particularly dreich for that half an hour. The toilets here are interesting. They’re labelled ‘H’ for Hers and ‘H’ for His. The toilet paper is dispensed one single-ply square at a time from what can only be described as a very tight cat’s bum. You have to iron each sheet before applying it to your own. Actually, I think the ‘H’ stands for Henderson’s but the stylised gentleman and lady on the doors aren’t that different from each other, so I’m sure mistakes must be made.

The Edinburgh Wheel

We went for a sightseeing ride on the ferris wheel known as The Edinbugh Wheel, Festival Wheel or Big Wheel depending on who you talk to. It’s erected by Princes Street Gardens and I think I enjoyed the ride more than Liesel did.

View from the top, you can just see the Forth bridges in the distance

Along the road, we witnessed Master Bones dancing along to Ghostbusters. The puppetmaster was very skilful, even encouraging Master Bones to surpise an inattentive visitor sitting on a nearby bench.

Master Bones

While waiting to see his show, we witnessed The Reverend Richard Coles queueing at a van to buy a coffee or a g&t or something, yes, queueing with normal people. If we hadn’t been at the front of the queue into the venue, we might have walked over for a selfie opportunity.

The Reverend Richard Coles, Communard, vicar, broadcaster

He entertained for an hour, telling us his life story, A Simple Country Parson or, as he described it, Edinburgh’s only One Parson Show. It certainly deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Usher Hall is probably one of Edinburgh’s finest venues. The audience for the performance given by the 140-year old Shanghai Symphony Orchestra was much better dressed than for our other shows (present company excepted, sorry). It was part of the official Edinburgh International Festival. The first piece sounded a bit Chinese, some of the instruments were very reminiscent of the music played from stretched tapes in Chinese restaurants a few decades ago. But Qigang Chen’s The Five Elements was an unexpected delight.

Dvořák’s Cello Concerto was eye-closingly romantic and moving, but I’m not convinced that the soloist was Chinese, with the name Alisa Weilerstein!

Alisa Weilerstein with her cello
Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s view of the Usher Hall audience

I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, so I borrowed these from The Herald Scotland website. The highlight of the performance was Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, which I remember borrowing from Hammersmith Library over 40 years ago, so definitely time to listen to it again! There was a short encore and the conductor joked that he was now off to enjoy some Scotch whisky. A ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ performance.

Oor Wullie is possibly the most famous Scottish cartoon character, featuring in The Sunday Post newspaper since 1937.

Natural Healing, Oor Rail Bridge, Flowers of Scotland and Wullie’s Seat
Oor Crossing, Oor Coal Miner, illegible plaque and Oor Skeleton

There are over two hundred of these sculptures not just in Edinburgh but all over Scotland, each designed by a different artist. The Oor Wullie Big Bucket Trail is a fundraiser for children’s hospitals in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Edinburgh Castle

One of my favourite modern artists is Bridget Riley. Obviously, the doodles I come up with while speaking on the phone aren’t in the same league as her abstract, geometric paintings, but I find them fascinating. Yes, if you look at some of them for too long, you might begin to feel a bit nauseous, but we spent a long time wandering around this exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy.

Part of Cataract 3 by Bridget Riley

I walked by Cataract 3 while videoing the picture. The end result is much better than I anticipated. I showed some other attendees and they proceeded to copy my idea.

One work of art, Rajasthan, is painted directly onto the plaster wall. When it’s time for this exhibit to move on, it will be painted over and Bridget Riley with assistants will paint it again onto a wall in the new venue.

Rajasthan by Bridget Riley

Continuum is a reconstruction of an old structure that you can walk through. It’s a short spiral with black lines like a lunatic barcode on the walls which can make you forget where you are momentarily. Overall, this exhibit deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

We had a coffee in the café at the neighbouring National Gallery of Scotland. The two ladies on the next table were having an in-depth psychoanalytical session but we couldn’t work out which was the doctor and which the patient.

Surgeon’s Halls

After a lot of walking about the city, Liesel chose to visit the Surgeon’s Hall Museum while I went for a walk further afield.

Blue sky and cranes seen from the bottom of the climb

I’m glad I collected my jacket from the car because halfway up the stone steps to Arthur’s Seat, the heavens opened and the rain came down. No, not down: sideways. It was fairly incredibly windy, my back was drenched while my front stayed dry. At least until I turned round to walk back down.

View obscured by rain
Ominous clouds

The view of the city was diminished, you couldn’t even see the cranes decorating the city.

Liesel said to me, as we were walking along, “What I really miss is seeing elephants, maybe we should go to the zoo.” I replied, “Well, I’m hungry and I quite fancy a bagel, right now.” What are the chances of finding this shop round the corner?

Elephants and Bagels

The Voices of Bond was a nice relaxed show in a small venue, The Space @ Symposium Hall. The singer, Phoebe Katis, performed songs from the James Bond films and provided a narrative history of the Bond film franchise. Yes, she even used that particular F word. She and her band were very good, though I was disappointed that more audience members didn’t sing along, to drown my voice out, if nothing else.

Phoebe Katis

No, I don’t think that’s the real MI6 insignia, but even so, a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ show.

We went into the library to escape one short downpour and came across probably the most philosophical stairs in the world.

Library stairs

The Royal Mile was always very busy, probably a 50-50 split between entertainers and entertained. I watched this couple for the full six minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Top buskers

I think these were the best of the buskers, although the ones we saw and heard were all good, possibly helped by not being allowed to use any amplification.

Scott Monument

Sticking to our Scottish diet, we had The Best Pizza in the UK at a place just along the road from our final event.

Jeremy Nicholas is a public speaker and broadcaster. He was the MC at West Ham FC’s home games for many years which was lucky as he is also a staunch West Ham supporter. What Are You Talking About? is the name of his Fringe show this year.

What Are You Talking About? poster

The talk was very funny, lots of true stories though not all with humorous endings. We received some tips on public speaking and if I ever feel compelled to partake in such activity, I know where to go for some advice and training. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Over these few days, we’d confirmed that we can’t really do more than one late night in a row any more. Straight to bed and straight to sleep, the night. (Yes, a little Scottish thrown in there.)

The long drive back home was uneventful: we stopped at Tebay Services again.

So next time: we’ll go for a longer period, we’ll go to fewer shows each day, we’ll try and avoid too many late shows in succession. Plus, of course, Edinburgh is a lovely city to visit even without a Festival or Fringe. Yes, we gave all the shows five stars because they all really entertained us, doing things that we could never do ourselves. I’m sure they’d all give us five stars too for being such good audience members!

Tranquility

Chester Zoo is featured in a TV series and it’s also the closest to where we live. We had a good day there with Jenny plus Martha and William and Auntie Helen. I told myself there was no need to take any pictures, we’ve seen all these animals before and they won’t have changed much.

The latest news is that just a few days ago, a chimpanzee gave birth and yes, the baby’s very cute, though we didn’t need to see the mum dragging her innards behind her like a really old, tatty, plastic bag. Sorry if you’re having your tea, but don’t worry, I didn’t waste any film on that.

We enjoyed being buzzed by the fruit bats in a dim, dark and very ammoniacal habitat. I’m not convinced their sonar had been correctly calibrated.

Fruit bats

William described one of the large, newly installed, predators as ‘scary’ which is quite perspicacious: I thought it was scary too, and I know it wasn’t real. But all the dinosaurs and predators are big, they all move and most are quite vocal. Rroarr!

Dire wolf
Martha being held by Helen with a Giant Bear behind (Winner, Obvious Caption Awards, 2019)
Quetzalcoatlus

The playground was great fun, with, amongst other equipment, a long, high slide. Martha found herself hanging around for a while.

Martha dangling

And as usual, children just can’t help copying each other.

Monkey see, monkey do

We were able to get remarkably close to an orang utan, just separated by the thickness of the glass. I don’t know if he/she was happy or not, but we humans were all being observed closely.

Looking into the eyes of an orang utan

The main objective of visits to zoos, of course, is to wear the the children out, and today, William was the first to succumb.

William having a nap

On this day, fifty years ago, I was enjoying a Geography lesson. The teacher wore a bright, primrose yellow dress and I’m embarrassed to say, I can’t recall her name. But I remember the lesson because she let us watch the launch of Apollo 11 on TV, slightly more interesting than the market towns of East Anglia. Saturn 5, you really were the greatest sight.

To celebrate this 50th anniversary, tonight was a full Moon and a partial eclipse. I went out for a walk late at night, but the light pollution near where we live is terrible. Not only that, I hadn’t realised just how many tall buildings there are all around. I did see the eclipse but I don’t think we’ll see a good sunrise or sunset from where we now live.

Partially eclipsed Moon

Another day out with the grandchildren found us at Stamford Park, Stalybridge. It still feels strange seeing these northern placenames on roadsigns.

It was a lovely, peaceful day, perfect for a gentle walk or, if you’re Martha, running around and climbing on all the playground equipment, or, if you’re William, running around and faceplanting in the sand.

Playing in the fountain

Later in the week, we had a couple of meals with the family, once at our place, once at Solita and then, all of a sudden, it was goodbye to Helen. She flies back home to spend some time with Adam before he jets off somewhere for work. I’m still no good at selfies so I’m glad Helen always manages to press the right button. Or, aims in the right direction and presses the button at the right time.

Helen, Liesel, Martha, Mick, William, Jenny, Liam

Didsbury in Bloom has won many awards for its floral displays over the years. And it is indeed a pretty nice little village to wander round.

A big bee (not scary)
One of many beautiful planters in the back streets

Liesel and I walked home, even though it threatened to rain. We had a stroll around Marie Louise Gardens, just off the main road. I like reading the plaques on park benches, there’s always a story, but I’m amazed at how many have a word spelt wrong. ‘A beautiful child and beautiful women’. It detracts from the sincerity of the message, somehow.

One advantage of letting the buddleia grow wild over the pavements is that it deters people from parking their cars there, which is a fairly ubiquitous phenomenon in Manchester.

Buddleia

There’s not much wildlife around here, so imagine our delight when we encountered some horses in a field.

Wild, wild horses

In the evening, we travelled by bus into Manchester, and walked to the Cathedral. It’s a busy old city, even early on a Saturday evening. We can never get away from cigarette smoke completely, but tonight was the first time we’ve had to hold our noses as we battled our way through clouds of the stuff.

The Cathedral has been a place of welcome and hospitality for over 1300 years. But for reasons well within our control, we arrived a little late, couldn’t find adjacent seats and the view of the performers was less than optimal.

Obstructed view

Yes, we should have left home just a couple of minutes earlier, then we would have caught the bus that we saw departing and avoided a 13 minute wait for the next one. Lesson learned. The restricted view didn’t spoil my enjoyment though. These old ears were very happy with the acoustics, and I couldn’t even hear the sound of traffic or people from outside during the quiet passages. This was a classical concert, with music by Mozart, Bach, Albinoni and a surprise tango, Oblivion, by Piazzolla. Nobody else got up to dance around the aisles, so I sat back down.

Stained glass window

The main piece at ‘Vivaldi – The Four Seasons by candlelight’ was The Four Seasons by Vivaldi. The conductor of the London Concertante chamber orchestra also read the sonnets that Vivaldi wrote to accompany the music. It was all very enjoyable. There was applause between the movements of every piece, almost the musical equivalent of grocers’ apostrophes, but there was no chatting amongst the audience members, something that’s de rigueur at modern music gigs.

It was still quite light at the end of the performance so the candles weren’t as delightful and homely as they might be in the depths of Winter.

Music by candlelight
The angelic keyboard player

In domestic news: number 1 on my ‘to do’ list is to bring together all the other ‘to do’ lists. There’s a lot to do. Good job I like lists. And doing things.

I stayed up to watch the Eagle land at Tranquility Base but I wasn’t allowed to stay up to watch the first Small Step taken by Neil Armstrong. Outside, looking up, I remember not being able to see the two men on the Moon but not wanting to disappoint my parents, I said I could. Fifty years ago, wow.