Ullapool to Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Time to move on again. On from what I referred to as civilisation, Ullapool, to a more rustic, rugged location, literally miles off the beaten track Anyway, you don’t care about that. You’re just wondering about the baby seagulls. They’re on top of the world.

Gull-lets

We ate breakfast, packed, checked out and set off in a roughly southerly direction. It felt tropical outside: hot and humid. The first stop today was Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. This was after a period of ooh-ing and aah-ing at the views, of course. The gorge is deep, man, and it’s a long walk to reach it, along a well-made path.

Trees
Memorial bench

Yes, a well-made path but it was hilly and there were lots of steps. Thankfully there are plenty of memorial benches on which to rest a while. This unusual one is dedicated to the memory of Leslie B Butcher and the little plaque has a quote from John Yeats: A thing of beauty is a joy forever. And the first sign that proved we were really in an actual gorge proves the point.

Sheer wall

This gives an idea of what was to come after a few more bends. The suspension bridge is fairly solid, but it did sway from side to side a little on the return trip. A maximum of six people is allowed on the bridge at any time, and this is not just for Covid related reasons.

Suspension Bridge
The waterfall
Bridge and waterfall

I don’t know how else to try and give some idea of how deep the gorge is, but this is what you see from the viewing platform. It’s at the far point of the circular walk, but the return trip was shorter, if steeper in places. This path is described as ‘accessible’ but the lady in the motorised wheelchair just glared at me when I joked that she could be going faster.

Further along the road, we saw what we assume to be an RAF jet flying past these mountains.

Mountain mist

As we approached this mountain range with its fringe of cloud, we noticed just one patch of snow that has so far survived the heat of the Summer.

Summer Isles (we think)

As we proceed towards our final destination for the day, the main subject of conversation is regarding the beauty of the surroundings. Wow, look at that. Did you see that? Where are we? Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint our location on Google Maps, even when we have a good signal. Loch Ewe is gorgeous and we drove beside it for a while. In the middle of the loch is an island. Isle of Ewe. And I thought, ahh, that’s nice, Isle of Ewe too ❤. Soon afterwards, we found our next place of interest, Inverewe Garden

Butterfly

This guy welcomed us to the Garden and we returned the favour by encouraging him to fly away from the car park. We thought this was a good omen, we’d see many more butterflies but no, this was the only one, sadly.

Our second long walk of the day was around the well cared for gardens. The map supplied was great: you could find your way around with it, which isn’t always the case.

South Africa

There are plants here from all around the world that you wouldn’t expect to thrive in Scotland. But the gulf stream brings some heat and the gardeners here take full advantage, especially in the Walled Garden.

There are a couple of viewpoints overlooking Loch Ewe. Otters have been sighted here, but of course, not today. In fact, we didn’t spot any of the others collectively known as Scotland’s Big 5: red squirrels, red deer, golden eagles and harbour seals. We might have seen seals way off on a small island, but of course we’d left the binoculars in the car, so we can’t be sure.

Encroaching on the path
Walled Garden
Rhododendron barbatum

Rhododendron? No, I didn’t believe it either, at first. This plant is from the Himalayas and is obviously doing very well.

Pretty in pink

These little flowers drew Liesel’s attention: so much detail in the tiny petals. No idea what it is though. There were places where the only sound was from busy bees, dozens of them working together. We looked, but there were no frogs sitting on the lily pads in the pond.

After another very enjoyable walk, we went to the café. Of course we did. Coffee and we shared a millionaire’s shortbread.

Suitable for vegetarians

Did we? No, we didn’t try this unusual offering. But while slurping our delicious beverages, we were joined by a couple of birds, a chaffinch or a nuthatch and a thrush (we think).

Birdies

The final planned stop today was Gairloch Beach. We saw a sign towards Big Sand and I thought, that’s funny, I remember her, she used to be the barmaid at the pub in Hammersmith that me, Mike and Nick used to go to.

Gairloch Beach was big and wonderful, we shared it with about 30 other people. Again, the texture of the sand varied up and down and even along the beach. The few rock pools had nothing of particular interest. But people were swimming in the sea.

Gairloch beach
Crab

This wee beastie didn’t chase us along the beach, I’m not even sure he was awake. Probably somebody’s dinner the night.

Gairloch Beach

Not being allowed to check in to our new accommodation until 5 o’clock was great, it meant that we could take our time today. The final stretch entailed turning north again so the sea was on our left. We both exclaimed at the same time when presented with this vista that could be from the Mediterranean.

What a sight

On the other side of this body of water lie the islands of Lewis and Harris, named after a couple of Morse’s sidekicks, I think. The road is narrow, yes, with passing places, but it’s undulating and winding and challenging. Definitely a rollercoaster. Why anyone would want to drive faster than 20 mph is a mystery, but judging by the gouge marks, some folks have done just that.

Suddenly, there it is. The first glimpse of our final destination today: Rua Reidh Lighthouse. Our home for the next few days. What a stunning place to be, and what a glorious day on which to see it for the first time.

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

The road continues to meander after this point, and we had to open a couple of gates before we could finally park up. Some sheep looked at us but we were greeted properly by Susan and Kiva. I am so glad I didn’t vocalise my first thought: you must be the lighthouse Kiva, then.

He showed us up to our room. The wooden door creaked open and we entered the lighthouse. The light from his hurricane lamp illuminated our climb up the slightly damp spiral staircase. Up and up and round and round we went. Finally, we reached the door to our room. The locks were a bit rusty, but the room looks comfortable enough. There’s a big sign asking us not to turn the lights off at night. No, of course, that didn’t happen. Our room is in a separate building, which was used as a youth hostel as one point in its history.

The Lighthouse

From about 9pm onwards, I was keeping an eye on the Sun because of course I wanted to see it set over the sea.

An hour before sunset

I joined several of the other sunset-viewing guests at about 10.30, when, unfortunately, a bank of cloud obscured the Sun, but the sunset itself was still spectacular.

The clouds, the clouds

Dolphins, porpoises, minke whales and even orca have been seen in this stretch of water so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. I can’t believe I was out there chatting with Steve until very nearly midnight. He agrees that there aren’t words to adequately describe the beauty that is the Scottish Highlands. I’ve shared some photos here, but those pictures can’t convey the scale of the place . And when you’re aware of the local history, the clearances for example, you can almost feel the sadness emanating from the landscape.

The cue for me to turn in was the lighthouse lights coming on

The lights work

Oh, alright, I’ll admit it: I was beginning to feel a bit cold as well.

So, here we are at midnight, the last threads of red from the sunset still visible, the rest of the sky is too bright to see any stars, and the lighthouse lights are on. We have no connection to the outside world, no internet, no 4G, no phone signal, nothing. So there’ll be a delay of a couple of days until the next post. To be honest though, I am surprised and delighted that we’ve had good enough internet connection up until now for a daily post. Good night / morning / afternoon, gentle kittens: as I write, I have no idea when I’ll be able to send this. But you have it now, that’s the main thing.

Smoo Cave

After posting yesterday’s edition, we broke into the bottle of whisky bought a few days ago at Glenmorangie Distillery. Very smooth and a good way to end the day. Only it wasn’t really the end of the day at all, oh no. I wanted to see the Sun set over the ocean which was about 10.30.

Rabbits

We had a couple of visitors late at night. They weren’t at all disruptive or noisy. In fact I think they were more surprised to see me than I was to see them. They weren’t bothered about the sunset though. Which was, to be honest, not as spectacular as I’d hoped. But the clouds looked pretty.

Clouds at sunset

Waking up at 2.00 am, I was surprised at how light it still was. There’s a nearly full Moon but this light is from the Sun barely dipping below the horizon.

3½ hours after Sunset, 2 hours before Sunrise

Unfortunately my internal body clock failed to wake me up on this occasion, so I missed the Sunrise by at least half an hour. Oh well, there’ll be another one tomorrow.

Liesel crocheted and I gazed at a Sudoku while we listened to the radio: Broadcasting House on Radio 4, the only news show we deliberately choose to listen to, then Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music. At noon, we watched Jessica Lee Morgan on YouTube singing the songs from Mary Hopkin and Morgan Visconti’s 10-year old album You Look Familiar, and very enjoyable that was too. Here’s a gripe. On my PC, I can leave YouTube playing and do other things at the same time. If I dare try and look at something else while YouTube’s playing on my phone, it just stops. It demands 100% of my attention.

In today’s unbelievable news, we can confirm that yesterday, Liesel managed to get sunburnt. It was pleasant outside on the beach, not too hot. The UV levels were low, apparently. But Liesel’s shoulders are radiating their own heat. Take care out there, folks.

Puffin

This puffin is coming home with us.

I went for a bit of a walk this afternoon, just a solo jaunt on this occasion. In the craft village, there’s the Durness Deep Time exhibition explaining the local geology and displaying the various rocks found locally and the minerals they’re composed of. There’s way too much information to absorb in a quick visit, but the subject is always fascinating.

Deep Time rocks

In the opposite direction from our temporary home is the bustling metropolis known as Durness.

Durness Visitor Facilities

I was glad to be reminded about Smoo Cave: Liesel and I talked about it a few days ago. I sent a message but Liesel declined the invitation to join me. I passed another lovely beach, but resisted the temptation to go down and investigate. My mind was now focussed on finding a cave.

Sangomore Beach
The sheep that thinks it’s a cat
Durness Millennium Cairn

There’s a lovely garden next to Durness Village Hall. It was put together by 40 local volunteers. One of the highlights is the John Lennon Memorial.

John Lennon Memorial

John used to come to Durness on holiday between the ages of 9 and 16, staying with his aunt, whose grave we saw yesterday, and cousin Stan Parkes. The gorgeous song In My Life is partly inspired by John’s memories of this place, according to Stan.

Durness Village Green

The first sighting of Smoo Cave certainly surprises you, such a deep cleft in the rock. It’s easy to see that the cave may be inundated with sea water from time to time.

Entrance to Smoo Cave

I walked down the steep wooden staircase to sea level and then, looking back, away from the sea, there is the 50-foot high entrance to the cave.

Smoo Cave

We can go on a tour of more chambers in the cave, for a fee, but, because they’re in a cave, they can’t get a phone signal, so electronic payments are out of the question. And, of course, I had no cash on me. Whether Liesel and I come back tomorrow for the tour is to be determined.

One of the illuminated features

The cave has been inhabited in bygone millennia, but I’m sure any artefacts will have been taken away by now, to ensure their security.

I walked back up the 76 steps, which was harder that you’d imagine because the rise for each step is slightly higher than you’d normally expect. I pretended to study the back of thie sign while catching my breath.

Stickers

What’s sad about this is that the stickers we ordered hadn’t come back from the printers by the time we left home. ‘Mick and Liesel’s Antics: NC500 Tour June 2021’ could have been plastered all over Scotland by now. Oh well.

The walk back to our hut was of course much faster, despite the fact that I ended up walking through the caravan park. Here’s another house where the occupants have a strange set of priorities.

Airbnb at its best

I’ve come intae some money, hen, shall I get a new roof and some windaes?

Och, no, I’d rather have a satellite dish.

When I returned home, today’s stage of the Tour de France was about to finish. Somehow, I didn’t nod off until it had finished. No, I waited until Amy Lamé was playing some good tunes from past Glastonbury Festivals!

Here’s another moan from grumpy old Mick. I rarely imbibe soft, fizzy drinks: maybe once a year. Sometimes I’ll have lime and lemonade or maybe shandy in a pub, but that’s pretty rare too. Yet here I am in Scotland and I got the urge to sample the locally produced delicacy Irn Bru. So I put my mask on and entered the local Spar supermarket in Durness. I found bottles of Irn Bru rather than cans, but that’s ok. How much? £1.45 a bottle. How much? £1.45 a bottle. Or two bottles for £1.60. What a rip-off. Irn Bru might be made from girders but I’m not made of money, my internal, parental voice said. So I left the shop without a refreshing beverage and I didn’t buy anything else either. The tap water I drank back at the hut was perfect.

Much ado about nothing much

The last couple of days, I’ve come out of the shower feeling decidedly disoriented. What’s going on? Is there something in the water? Something in the air? It finally clicked.

World Map

This map of the world is totally misleading. It’s on the window blind and it’s a repeating pattern, so that’s bearable, even if we do see Australia north of Siberia. No, what really messes this thing up is… well, look where the equator passes through the Americas. Just wrong. And you can’t avoid looking at it while cleaning your teeth. According to this erroneous cartography, we here in Wick are further north than Anchorage, Alaska, and we know that’s not really true. Not in this universe, anyway. In fact, we later discovered we’re at the same latitude as Juneau.

Musical entertainment while waiting for the rain to ease off a bit before going out was provided by Wythenshawe FM 97.2 for a while, then Guy Garvey’s show from last Sunday on BBC 6 Music. There’s a coffee making machine here, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a go. The leaking water hasn’t affected the electric supply so far, and while Liesel’s Americano was bitter, my café au lait was alright. Any bitterness was disguised by the very sweet Edinburgh Rock that I bought yesterday. The sweetest substance in the known universe and my teeth have just gone on strike.

The rain is getting harder, not easing off at all. After consuming a 75g box of ‘A fruity assortment of chopped rock sweets’, I feel full of energy. They’re quite healthy really: 0% fat and 0% salt. But 0% protein and a mere 96.7% carbohydrate, ie sugar. I’ve been challenged to walk/run my 10,000 steps in the house today. Well, as I write, I’m up to 300, time for a sit down, I think. Liesel is crocheting and also looking forlornly out of the window every few minutes.

Our original plan when we knew it was likely to rain all day was to visit the Castle of Mey, mainly because it would be inside. Unfortunately for us, it’s fully booked. Oh well, more plans gang a-gley.

Guy Garvey just played four David Bowie tracks in a row, saying, quite rightly, that it has to be done from time to time. Hunky Dory is 50 years old this year. And it’s still as fresh as the day it was first released.

When it rains…

Well, this positive message on our bedroom wall caught my eye as I jogged around the house. Yes, it’s raining. Not mizzle, this is proper rain, and lots of it. I’ve looked for rainbows as suggested but you need the Sun for those and right now, we have 100% cloud cover, so that’s no good. Sometimes you look out of the window and marvel at the view. Sometimes you don’t.

Nice view

I’ve no idea what this place is, but I just want to go out and paint a mural on that blank canvas. Some mountains or a sea view would be nice. If only I had some artistic skill. Oh, and some paint. But I don’t think we’ll be going out to buy paint any time soon. Time for more steps…

Up to 3176 now. Apparently my perambulation is in the manner of a silly walk. It’s not silly, I’m just taking very small steps so I can fit more into each trek up and down the length of the house. What else did I find on the wall here?

A paddle

Yes, a paddle. Now that tells me we might need a paddle later, if this rain keeps up. In fact, it’s even harder now. I’ve been running around indoors like a BAF, like a numpty, but I haven’t found the boat yet. On the other hand, we can’t even find an oven glove, so they’re probably well hidden in the same place.

Guy Garvey is now playing four songs about rain. Just for us. Even though the show was broadcast four days ago, and recorded four days before that. Specifically for Liesel and Mick anchored down in Wick. And, speaking of anchors:

Anchor

Yes, more evidence that there is a nautical theme to this abode. And what could be more nautical than a boat? Or an ark? I did think about moseying on into John o’Groats to look for my hat, but, well, call me a wimp, I don’t mind a bit of rain, but this is a bit extreme.

In other news, Liesel has decided to walk around after she completes each row of her latest crochet project. I keep looking at the clock and it still says it’s twenty to twelve. Yes, I’m tempted to wind it up but it looks like one of those old-fashioned ones with a really loud tick. Other than the sound of the rain pounding on the roof, we’ve enjoyed the sound of birdsong here, quiet a few house sparrows, plus the odd helicopter flying over.

Liesel’s latest beautiful creation

Has today been a wasted opportunity? No, not really. It’s wonderfully therapeutic to be passing time in a strange house, with no commitments at all. Yes, we would love to have a better view out of at least one of the windows, but we’re warm and dry and content.

A couple of things I forgot to mention over the last few days though. Liesel and I were talking about the fact that we hadn’t seen any rabbits all the time we’ve been in Scotland, not even any droppings in the woods or fields or anywhere. Well, we finally saw a couple of bunnies in John o’Groats in a holiday camp that we drove through by mistake. And if they weren’t cool and cute enough, we also saw some chickens by the side of the road on the way to Duncansby Head. There were a couple of donkeys too, so they may all belong to a petting farm.

I’ve wasted passed a lot of time solving Arrow Sudoku puzzles on my phone. The latest one took me over 66 minutes. So far, I haven’t used the ‘Hints’ option because I want to solve the puzzle myself, but also, when I’ve looked at the Hints in other Sudoku apps, I haven’t really understood them. ‘Obviously this, therefore that…’ Well, it ain’t obvious to me, thank you very much!

Three hours passed in a haze of drugs, alcohol and debauchery. Oops, no, that’s our other blog. No, we read and crocheted and listened to Amy Lamé on 6 Music and it slowly dawned on us that it had, finally, stopped raining. We sent out a pigeon wild rock dove and it came back with an olive branch in its beak, so we knew it was safe to go out.

Castle Sinclair Glenigoe is a short drive from our palace along some dead straight but narrow roads, that could well have been built by the Romans, if they’d ever ventured this far north. Noss Head lighthouse is here too, and we notice that all the lighthouses around here are decorated in the same way: white, black and yellow.

Noss Head Lighthouse

Maybe there was a good deal on those particular paints in the local DIY shop.

The castles, for there are remnants of two different structures, are right on the edge of the precipitous drop into the sea.

Castle Sinclair Glenigoe

There are more sea stacks here too with seabirds who seem to prefer nesting on the far side, facing the sea rather than inland. Maybe they just don’t like people much, either. I imagine they were delicious eating when the castles were occupied.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity in structure between what’s left of the chimney stack and the sea stack.

A pair of stacks

Given the way the sea stack is being eroded, at the bottom, I don’t think it will be too long before before it crashes down into the sea.

One thing we didn’t expect to see on our walk around these ruins was the skull of a sheep. No idea where the rest of the beast is.

Shaun’s skull

I mentioned the fact that we don’t have a particularly inspiring or exciting view from any of the windows here in our Airbnb in Wick. Well, if you were using the latrines in the castle, this is the awful sight that would greet you.

Not too shabby
Northern marsh orchid

The other exciting place we visited was The Expensive Stinking Corporate Organisation, or Tesco for short. And I was amazed and delighted, not to say overawed to see this exciting new development ‘in-store’ as the marketing people but not real people like to say:

Amazing New Photo Booth

When will boffins stop inventing these amazing new things, eh? But what really irked me at this shoppers’ paradise was the fact that it has a better view than we do at our temporary residence.

The view from a supermarket

When the purchases were placed on the kitchen floor, the bags reminded us of other places that we dream of visiting again one day.

Bags for life aka shopping bags

In order to reach my target step count for the day, I went for a quick walk outside, in what was now quite a strong wind.

Wick John o’Groats Airport

Look at that poor old windsock straining against the wind, holding on for grim death. This airport is a mere 200 metres along the road from our current residence, but other than a couple of helicopters, we’ve not been disturbed by it at all.

I was delighted however to find a boat just round the corner.

Gem

I don’t think we’ll need it now it’s stopped raining, but good to know it’s so close. The bloke it belongs to is at home for a couple of weeks from the oil rigs and he’s looking forward to going fishing.

The ugly place next door whose identity I didn’t know earlier? Well, it’s Nucleus: The Nuclear and Caithness Archives. There are two very different archives here, one ancient and one modern. Because of Covid, it’s currently closed to the public, but I’m sure it’s a fascinating place to explore, especially on a wet day.

It is home to the archives of the UK civil nuclear industry which dates back over seventy years and include plans, drawings, photographs, film, microfiche and documents. Dounreay, the site of the UK’s first fast nuclear reactor, is not too far away, we’ll probably drive close by it.

Nucleus also houses the historical archives of the county of Caithness which date from 1469 to the present day and consist of documents in different formats including charters, minute books, correspondence, maps, photographs and plans. These historic collections are available to members of the public for family and local history research.

Nucleus

For those viewers who are keeping notes, or maybe even a spreadsheet, today’s musical entertainment has been provided by the rest of Amy’s show, which we interrupted when we ventured outside and Jo Whiley on Radio 2. We Got It On with Bryan Burnett on BBC Radio Scotland, he played songs that cheer us up. And finally, we tuned into Claire Benson as she presents her weekly Happy Thursday show on Radio Northenden!

In the end, then, against the odds, we enjoyed a very rewarding day and a total of over 11,000 steps were taken, the most enjoyable ones being out in the fresh air of course.

John O’Groats

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.

Looking north

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.

What?

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.

Selfie of the 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!

A cliff full of seabirds

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.

Puffin!

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.

Dunnet Head lighthouse
Looking towards Stroma
Looking back at Dunnet Head from near the Castle of Mey

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.

Shhh…

Shhh…

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.

Duncansby Head

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.

Half Shawn
Bonus selfie of the day

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.

More seabirds

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.

The Stacks of Duncansby

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

Helmsdale to Wick

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.

Sunrise over Helmsdale

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.

Derelict

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.

Fishing tackle

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.

Dunbeath Water

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.

Suspension bridge

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.

Inside the broch

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.

Log bench

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.

Pheasant

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.

Kenn and the Salmon from ‘Highland River’

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.

Should I or should I not walk down the steps?
Seabirds

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.

Wick Harbour

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.

Memory almost full

In a moment of cynicism as I walked up the road, I mourned the end of Summer when I saw these leaves.

Autumn Colours

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.

Another fabulous crocheted blanket

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.

The obligatory dumped car tyre

It takes some effort to place a tyre on this spot. Any normal, decent fly-tipper would just throw it in the river.

Geese and heron cooling off on the weir
Kayak

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.

Playing a round

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.

Smeagol, my precious

He was trying to catch the fish with his bare teeth.

Meanwhile, the horses were having a good time on Northenden Village Green.

Neighbourhood horses, geddit?

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.

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.

Google knows everything but Google knows nothing

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.

Panning for gold

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.

I thought this would be as good as I could manage…
…but just a few minutes later, the clouds thinned

Then when the clouds totally cleared (briefly) I projected the image in the old-fashioned way.

Projected images are the best

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.

My radio show this week consisted of a few requests, some songs left over from previous shows plus a few new or re- discoveries. Also, I chatted with Rachel Nicholas, whose new single Sloth was released today. She was also responsible for the Radio Northenden jingles last year, and is an all-round good egg. You can listen to the show here.

My ultimate criterion for whether Summer is truly here has not yet been satisfied. I’ll be more convinced when there are tan lines on my feet, now that I’m wearing sandals most of the time.

Strawberries oceans ships forest

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.

Cold
Brr that looks chilly, picture from TV

Mostly. High in the mountains, in ski country, the snow was still literally feet deep.

Deep snow (picture from TV)

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

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.

Fallen branch

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.

Angie sax

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.

Wind turbines and ships in the ocean

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.

William’s new socks

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.

William and Martha
Four go mad in the sea

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.

Selfie of the day
Martha, super sand castle constructor

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.

Strawberries

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.

Liesel’s lovely warm crochet blanket

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’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue

Oops.

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.

Alternatively, if you’re in or near Wythenshawe on Wednesday, tune into Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2 at 7pm for a (slightly edited) repeat. Or listen via TuneIn.

I will chew and spit tobacco like my grandfather Jones


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.

Martha’s thinking


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.

William’s escaping


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.

Easter bunnies


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.

William’s in goal


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:

202569 (scheduled to be repaired in the year 202569?)


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.

Meet the family
Martha’s going wheelie fast


Martha loves her new, purple bike, and already she’s in the maillot jaune. Allez, Martha!

Martha’s having a good time

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.

Precipitation in the form of small white ice crystals formed directly from the water vapour of the air at a temperature of less than 0°C


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.

Heron is an anagram of Horne

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.

Where’s the 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.

Orange yarn just waiting for a kitten or a Martha to unravel

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.

Sneak preview of one of the blankets

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.

Sandbag in a pothole

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.

Proper Nutty Smunchy Peanut Butter

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’?

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.

Hello, wall

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.

Heron on 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.

Chair on the island
Peacock butterfly

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.

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.

The Hornes Section plus Robbie

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.

Birds, birthday and blossom

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.

Mature oak tree, with a wide girth
The old oak tree

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.

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.

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.

Here’s a short excerpt, which I’d watch more often but I don’t want to wear it out.

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.

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.

On this week’s Radio Northenden show, I played some very long songs and some very short ones. This will be edited for Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2, when it will be broadcast on 97.2 FM on Wednesday at 7pm, so please tune in if you’re in the area. Or, you can listen online of course. Or play the unedited version from the Mixlr Showreel.

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.