Cookie monsters

We ventured as far as Dunham Massey for a lovely walk in the sunshine. So did a lot of other people. The queue of cars waiting at the entrance split into two, National Trust members keeping to the right. And yes, we VIPs felt very special as we overtook several ordinary people waiting to buy their tickets.

Autumn colours

Some of the stags were bellowing, it must be that time of year again. Bellowing? To be honest, some of them sounded more like pigs squealing in pain. But maybe that’s an attractive noise to some of the less discerning females.

Jackdaw
Straw flower

Liesel knows this as a straw flower, and it does indeed feel like it’s made from paper. We know it as salmon rose or Helichrysum brachteatum of course.

Selfie of the day

We had a few goes at this picture, trying to get the gorgeous burgundy red foliage in the background, but it still looks like my head is twice as big as Liesel’s.

In the evening we went out to a live concert. We hadn’t planned to, it was a spontaneous decision, something we should do more often maybe. Part of Manchester Folk Festival, we enjoyed the music of O’Hooley and Tidow supported by John Kelly and Lunatraktors. (*) We were back at Home, a venue which we quite like. O’Hooley and Tidow sing wonderful songs but the banter in between is just as much fun.

O’Hooley and Tidow, Lunatraktors, John Kelly

Still being cautious, we kept our masks on during the show and I think we will be doing so for a long time to come.

Our default walk along the river was exciting. We saw not one, but two herons, in different places. Well, it might have been the same one playing tricks on us, I suppose, but it’s nice to see they’ve (or it’s) come back.

We’ve been inundated with ladybirds during the last couple of weeks. They try to come into our living room and, sometimes, they succeed.

Ladybird

This little chap enjoyed walking around the snow-capped mountainscape that is my sock before being released and allowed to fly away home.

It was half-term this week and we were pleased to be able to look after Martha and William for a few hours. They helped decorate the halloween cookies carefully baked by Oma and they did quite a good job, despite ODing on the decorating icing and food colouring. Some of the results might not be biologically accurate.

Martha, William, Halloween cookies

Six-eyed bat, anyone?

I took William to the playground where we played and waited for Oma to bring Martha. They’re taking a long time, I thought, maybe they’ve got lost. I even wondered whether they’d gone to a different playground. But when they arrived, it turns out they’d been picking litter, as suggested by Martha. And luckily, we have the equipment.

William climbing
Sliding together
Swinging together

William had problems with the litter-picker-uppers, the grips was a little too hard to squeeze. So he handed the stick back and and lifted his hands to his face, in the manner of binoculars. “What are you doing, William?” “I’m litter-spotting.” Well, it’s a very important job.

We picked litter as we walked home and two strangers expressed their gratitude to Martha and William for doing a good job. Strangers? Well, one was our local councillor, Mary, and she was with the manager of the local retirement housing facility, Boat Lane Court.

It won’t become a habit, but for lunch, we got chips from the local chippy. Jenny came to take the children to another play venue, and I was sure the amount of sugar consumed earlier in the day would keep their energy levels up.

Northenden Arts Festival  is here. On the first afternoon, we saw Ali Davenport (*) read some of her own poems, mostly written during the lockdown. Members of the audience were invited to read their own poems and short stories too, and it was a very entertaining hour.

The second event we went to later in the evening was Plane Comedy. MC Colin Manford did a good job and he introduced two other comedians for our enjoyment, Dan Tiernan (*) and Mick Ferry. The show was sold out and the theatre felt crammed, but we kept our masks on and ourselves to ourselves. But we had a jolly good laugh at the comedy.

Dan Tiernan, Mick Ferry, Colin Manford

Yes, I managed half decent pictures of the men in the evening, but nobody needs to see my photo of the back of Ali’s head, no matter how artistic it is.

The Festival carries on all weekend and we have tickets for three more shows. So, five shows over four days.

Because we were looking after the children, we missed the weekly walk in Northenden on Wednesday. Sadly, Liesel missed the one in Wythenshawe, also led by Chantel (*),  on Friday because she was at home, working. I joined it after taking the bus most of the way. I’d like to walk there and back, of course, but that means dragging myself out of bed a bit earlier.

The weather was ideal for observing rainbows, and here’s one as seen from our luxury apartment

Rainbow

What’s at the end of this rainbow? A stunning block of flats.

The radio show this week was all about Insults and Name-Calling. You can catch up here, maybe have it on in the background to ignore while you’re doing something useful.

(*) What’s that parenthesised asterisk malarkey all about then? This week, I introduced an occasional new feature into the show: Who did we see in concert this week? I play a track by each artist. Also, on previous shows, I have spoken to Ali, Dan and Chantel, so it’s good to see them in the flesh. I spoke with Ali briefly, but we were herded out of the theatre before I had a chance to speak to Dan, a former fellow Radio Northenden presenter.

I try to keep up to date with this blog but sometimes I forget to mention odd things. This is as good an opportunity as any to bring some very late news.

For a few weeks now, we’ve been using a new gadget in the kitchen. It’s an Instant Pot, an electric pressure cooker that has taken the USA by storm, according to the blurb. We use the inefficient electric oven far less often, and the meals are, so far, always delicious. It can perform several functions when in the more-than-capable hands of a fantastic cook such as Liesel.

When we were in Borough Market a few weeks ago, I think I forgot to mention that Liesel bought some Bienstich, one of her favourite German delicacies. Custard cake. She approached the stall with a plastic tub in hand, and the guy knew straightaway what she wanted. If you’re ever looking for gift ideas for Liesel, don’t forget Bienstich.

We had tortillas for dinner a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the first batch were over-heated and discarded. When I picked up this lump of tortillas later, it felt really solid, like a paperback dropped in the bath. If you ever need a paperweight, let me know, and I’ll send the recipe.

Another Radio Northenden presenter, Hayley, and I met up for a coffee a couple of weeks ago. That’s the first time we’d met in person. Wasn’t this exciting enough to blog about at the time? Well yes, of course it was. I made notes and everything. But what’s the point of making notes if you don’t read them again afterwards?! Anyway, Hayley is lovely and we had a good chat and we know exactly how to fix all the world’s problems.

And finally, last week, our proud granddaughter was Gymnast of the Week.

Gymnast of the Week

She’s supposed to hand the trophy back after two weeks for the next recipient. I don’t know if she gets to keep it if she wins three times.

Forever Autumn

Autumn is making its presence felt more and more. The colours brighten the place up, almost compensating for the lack of sunshine.

Red on green

When my Dad passed away in 2007, one of the things he left behind was a partially consumed bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky. This week, after a mere 14 years, I finished it off.

Johnnie Walker

Before inheriting this item, it had been in his possession for at least 16 years: we’re pretty sure it was in the drinks cabinet before Mum died in 1991. So, a truly vintage drink. Cheers, Mum and Dad.

Another major achivement this week was completing a very difficult, 9-star killer sudoku puzzle. Over several days, it took me 2 hours to complete. 20 minutes is a more typical amount of time.

Killer Sudoku

I was so delighted that I think I skipped around the room a bit. What’s that? I spelt ‘achivement’ wrong? I don’t think so…

Together Everyone

See?

Something was messing with the structure of the universe one day as we walked by the river. There’s a glitch in the spacetime continuum.

Liesel on the bentch

It’s probably a publicity stunt for the new series of Doctor Who which we’re* looking forward to seeing when it returns to our screens at the end of the month. (*We? Well, I am, not sure about Liesel.)

Red on black

Most of the fallen leaves are yellow or brown, so a bright red one really shows up on the pavement.

Some of them haven’t fallen yet, of course, making for a nice cheerful wall.

Traffic lights

We enjoyed a walk through the woods in the drizzle and our reward was the sight of a rainbow beyond the baker’s van. Not the brightest rainbow we’ve ever seen, but much easier on the eye than the garish van.

Loaf’s good but rainbow’s better

On the other hand, this was a disappointing thing to see.

Pizza of the weel

You don’t order a pizza online and expect it to be delivered in a heap like this, do you?  It looks like someone’s taken a big bite out of it. But no: I carefully put it back together to make sure nothing was missing from this unsightly but ultimately delicious mess.

Red on blue

From our place, sunsets look OK but because of the buildings, they’ll never match a tropical sunset. The red sky this night was short-lived but very welcome at the end of the day, just the same.

We picked William and Martha up from school, both of us amazed at how much energy William has at the end of the day. While waiting for Martha to come out, he just can’t stop running around and playing tag with his friend and hiding in the bushes.

Where’s William?

The children kept us entertained for a couple of hours, crafting with Oma, doing a jigsaw puzzle, helping the dinosaurs fight each other, singing, rolling a ball to each other along our long hallway which we should turn into a more formal bowling alley. Martha told us about Rosa Parks, which is astonishing. She’s 5 years old and has already learned more Black History at school than I ever did.

Again, Liesel and joined a very gentle, well-being walk through Painswick Park and as well as the usual suspects in the lake, we saw a heron.

Heron

Well that’s strange, because we haven’t seen the heron on our stretch of river for a couple of weeks now. I would love to know where they go for a few weeks each year. If that’s our heron that’s migrated just as far as a park in Wythenshawe, I will be more than disappointed.

It’s halloween soon and this house is ahead of the game. Spooky.

Spooky

The radio show this week featured songs about Telephones. I spent way too much time editing together all the David Bowie references to phones that I could think of, in an exclusive megamix. You can hear it and the rest of the show here.

Or, if you prefer, catch the repeat on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2 on Wednesday at 7pm. On 97.2 FM if you’re in or near Wythenshawe.

Or, if you prefer, catch the repeat of the repeat on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2 on the following Friday at 2pm. On 97.2 FM if you’re in or near Wythenshawe.

Yes, the mad fools are repeating my show on a Friday afternoon, just before the new one goes out on Radio Northenden. And as we walked through The Forum Centre, where Wythenshawe FM has its studio, I thought I’d check out the listings for Friday 2pm.

WFM Schedule

As my sister Pauline pointed out: they’ve spelt my name wrong.

Three nights out

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

Wheelchair fishing

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

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

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

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

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

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

The Blow Monkeys

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

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

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

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

Salford Quays
Salford Geese

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

Bee in the City: Blue Bee-ter

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

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

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

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

Danny Baker and Bob Harris

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

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

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

Saltire: The sky showing its support for Scottish independence

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

Bernardine Evaristo OBE FRSL FRSA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pipecleaner spider

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

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

Colourful tree

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

Walking in sunshine
Matching tree and building
Gnarly old silver birch

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

Manchester by bus

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

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

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

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

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

Gandhi

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

Nuclear free Manchester

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

Where the books were found by the golden ones

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

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

The Bee Network bus

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

Don’t burn the pigs

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

A rare Manc unicorn

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

Buskers

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

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

William earning his snack
Martha fighting a biscuit packet

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

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

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

Red and blue

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

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

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

Morecambe and whys

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

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

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

More Music Gigs

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

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

Eric Morecambe and Jessica Lee Morgan
Liesel, Eric and Mick

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

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

Flood defence

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

Nice view
Cormorant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maze on the pier

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

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

Stainless steel trumpets

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

Rock seat

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

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

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

A bay of big skies and shifting tides

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

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

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

Christian, Robyn, Jessica

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

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

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

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

All the colours of the rainbow

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

An actual rainbow

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

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

What a tasty treat

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

Oof…

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

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

Painswick Park

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

Zipwire

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

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

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

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

Knitting

After a storm, look out for a rainbow. Or, in our case, after a busy week away, let’s have a quiet week at home.

We welcomed Martha and William and their minders, not for Liesel’s birthday cake, but for home-made cream puffs. William was eaten by a donut while Martha was learning the fine art of French knitting.

William v Donut

This donut was originally made by Liesel’s Grandma, re-stuffed and refurbished by Liesel, so it’s now being enjoyed by the fifth generation.

Martha v knitting

It was lovely to witness the moment when it clicked, when Martha could see what she had to do.

Meanwhile, Liesel has very nearly finished her latest crochet project, another blanket.

A blanket

It won’t be long now until it’s sent off to its new forever home.

We were asked to look after William for a few hours while Liam was working and Jenny was entertaining a friend. I suspect there was a lot of girly talk and girly midday boozing going on. But we got William, so that’s a bonus!

He brought his scooter and scooted around Wythenshawe Park, remembering the way to the playground, even though he’s only been once before.

William v slide

Despite this photographic evidence, he did enjoy going down the slide, several times! He’s a very keen climber too and Liesel and I certainly got our exercise as we chased him around, from one piece of equipment to another.

There’s a small herd of farm animals, so we went over to smell them, I mean to look at them. Another family had a good chuckle as William gave a fairly good impression of the chickens clucking.

Back at home indoors, he wanted a bath, with a small selection of the dinosaurs. A few days ago, Sandra had given me one of her delicious fridge cakes. So chocolatey and tasty and more-ish. Yes, of course I shared it with Liesel and today, we let William try it. Well, it got the thumbs up, so thanks again, Sandra!

But probably his favourite treat was the carrot that he helped scrub clean.

William v carrot

There are some amazing things to see as you wander around Northenden. For example, I was surprised to see these dumped supermarket trolleys. Yes, surprised, because by rights, they should have been thrown into the river by now.

Trolleys

One day, I snapped a rose that was growing well beyond the bounds of its garden. I thought it was quite beautiful, and thought that someone was bound to snip it off for a loved one.

Rose

But then the following day, as we were walking by, Liesel also pointed it out and said this was a beautiful flower. So, as they say, great minds spot the same pretty flowers, sometimes.

Sunflowers

Yes, in Northenden, the sunflowers grow so tall and powerfully, they need scaffolding to hold them up.

To mark the occasion of the Autumnal equinox, nature bestowed upon us the sight of a lovely sunset, the first one for quite a while. (Yes, I know we have a sunset every day, but this is the first colourful one we’ve witnessed for quite a while.)

Sunset over Northenden

We wandered over to Didsbury early one morning. La Chouquette provided the coffees, a pastry and the best loaf of bread that we’ve had for a long time. In fact, we started nibbling it on the way home.

Light of Didsbury

And here’s the world-famous yarn-bombed pillar box.

Pillar box v knitting

No idea who the lady over the road is, holding the coffees. And I hope I’m not betraying any state secrets when I reveal the location of Batman’s residence.

Batman’s mansion

I joined Chantel again for a couple of well-being walks, one in Northenden and one in Wythenshawe, the latter being a new venue. This walk took us into and around Painswick Park but unusually, I took no pictures. You’ll just have to imagine the pond, the geese, the ducks and what looks like another fabulous playground.

As promised, the radio show this week featured London, following our exciting trip there last week. You can listen back here.

In the last couple of weeks, we found out that three of our friends have passed on to the other side. I feel sad that we didn’t find out sooner, but I feel privileged to have had them all in our lives over the years. Farewell Mark, Peter and Gill. And lots of love to your families and friends.

That’s all folks! We’re off out soon so I suppose I’d better get ready…

Ode to London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More comfortable than it looks

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

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

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

Sir Laurence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bankside Gallery

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

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

What a happy bin

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

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

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

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

HMS Belfast

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

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

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

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

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

May all your troubles be little ones

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

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

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

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

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

Despite much provocation and teasing, he kept perfectly still

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

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

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

Dear America, we have guns on the streets too

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

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

Polar sundial

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

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

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

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

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

Here be dragons

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

Spherical sundial

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

Cleopatra’s Needle

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

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

The End and Horatio Nelson

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

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

Designed by John Cleese and his wife, Fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming down to Tatts for a quick one?
Harrods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathless

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

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

Selfie of the day

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

A man in a zorb

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

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

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

We walked back to Waterloo Station and returned to Surbiton.

Massive teapot samovar

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

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

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

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

Urban artwork at its best

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

Not strictly speaking a selfie

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

Borough Market and its bell
Borough market

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

Another selfie of the day

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

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

Untitled by Tatiana Wolska

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

Orphans by Bram Ellens

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

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

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

Liulian Knowles House
Donovan Bros

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

St Botolph Building

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

Mwashoti

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

A load of old hats

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

Why not stand out in a crowd?
Birthday girl

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

Old Spitalfields Market

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

Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee by Gillia and Marc

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

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

Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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

Quebec House for students, in Kingston

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

Battersea Power Station way over at the back

Let me paraphrase Lord Kitchener:

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

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

Travels down south

We went a long way south this week, for the first time since before the first lockdown. What an adventure. But first, here’s Northenden in all its glory.

Yellow flowers

Some flowers manage to escape the confines of their own garden, which brightens up the local roads.

Liesel had some work to do so, sadly, it was down to me to look after Martha and William for a few hours while Liam and Jenny went off somewhere for some peace and quiet. I enjoyed the walk to their house, and back, in ideal weather conditions. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, just right, just like Baby Bear’s porridge.

By way of a mental exercise, I decided to count the numbers of cyclists, runners and walkers that I saw on the way over to Cheadle Hulme. In the end, there were 13 cyclists, 17 runners or joggers, some looking happier than others, and 35 people walking. But, there were also two people pushing their bikes. Do I add them to the cyclists’ or to the walkers’ tally? This is the sort of nightmare conundrum that statisticians have to contend with all the time. Oh well. Also, one dog, one cat, one buggy and of course, innumerable cars. More exciting stats later.

Martha and William both had so much to show me, toys, books, puzzles. Martha’s written the first story in her school book. Getting them to pose for selfies was fun: William got into the spirit, training for the new coal mine about to open in Cumbria.

Selfies

There was a visitor in the garden. They weren’t bothered. True, it was only a squirrel, but even so, I thought they’d be more excited than their aged grandfather was! Jenny had prepared lunch for us all, thank you, and they ate very nicely. When it came time for dessert, it was Freddo chocolate bars or animal biscuits.

Later, both were still hungry. What do you want? Freddo? How about some fruit instead? I peeled Martha’s orange for her, while William peeled his own banana and very nearly put the whole thing in, in one go. Try harder, young man!

This dialogue didn’t really happen. I could have asked either, “What would you like to play with right now?” And the answer would be, “Whatever my sibling has, of course!” I’m sure most parents and grandparents have had this experience.

It’s a funny old universe, everything balances out in the end. Mummy and Daddy returned and I walked home. Martha and William were quite tired, but I was buoyed up and happy: what a remarkable demonstration of the law of conservation of energy.

Gnarly old tree

I walked home a different way, a more pleasant route, away from the main road as much as possible. So we’ll remember that for the next time. It was nice to see some young people playing football on the school playing field, it reminded me of watching Asa and Gideon playing three years ago, at the start of our travels.

And so, Monday morning arrived full of expectation, the cue for us to pack for our trip down south. We still weren’t 100% sure it was the right thing to do, given the Covid situation, but it’s been so long, and there has to be a first time some time. It’s a thin line between being cautious and living in fear, after all.

The M6 is a marvellous feat of engineering and construction and I know there’ll be a big, big party on the day it is finished, when there are no roadworks, no improvements, just an unencumbered drive from A to B.

And it’s always good to see this.

The Pies

It reminded me, I must try and find the album released by The Pies many years after the graffiti first appeared.

Rather than going straight to our accommodation in Tolworth, or Surbiton as our hostess would have it, we drove to Richmond Park, probably my favourite of all the London parks. We were mainly going for a walk, but we definitely cheered when we first saw the London skyline in the distance

London from Richmond Park

A couple of sections of road in the park have been closed to motorised vehicles, in order to restrict the amount of rat-running. That was good to see, even if, on this occasion, it meant we had to drive much further to our chosen car park.

We walked through Isabella Plantation, a nice, peaceful haven. I’m sure it’s been affected by the pandemic, much of it is very overgrown. In places, you can’t even see the stream because the vegetation is so lush. Gardeners and volunteers have probably been unable to devote so much time to the usually well-groomed area.

Here be a hidden stream

We wandered over to and around Pen Ponds. We didn’t have the place to ourselves, we shared with a few other people and their dogs, as well as plenty of birds.

Cormorant

We probably have seen cormorants here before, but mainly it’s geese, ducks, coots and even when you can’t see them, you can certainly hear the ring-necked parrakeets.

Walk like an Egyptian

I’d forgotten how much bracken there is in Richmond Park, and recalled how several years ago, there was a big scare about how carcinogenic the spores are.

At this point, we didn’t know why the roads were closed. So I walked down the steep Broomfield Hill and thought about stopping a struggling cyclist halfway up to ask if they knew why the roads were closed. But that would have been cruel. It’s always an achievement to ride up that hill without stopping and who knows, maybe one day I’ll do it again too. It was good to see so many cyclists in Richmond Park, but these weren’t the only ones we saw.

We found our way to our Airbnb in Tolworth Surbiton via Kingston. What’s this? County Hall has been sold? Surrey County Council’s HQ is now in Reigate, not Woking or Guildford as I would have expected. So who bought County Hall? I know when I worked at Kingston University, the then Chancellor wanted to buy it to expand his empire across the road. And the University’s Town House is a brand new building, not the pile of portakabins that it used to be. So many changes in such a short time.

After checking into our place, we set off for Byfleet to meet up with an old friend. Even though it’s been a long time since we’ve been here, it was all familiar. No real danger of getting lost, here.

Rosie took us to a nearby Indian restaurant for a delicious but very spicy meal which left me no room for dessert. It was while walking through the tunnel under the railway station that we saw more cyclists.

West Byfleet Station underpass

How wonderful to witness the reunion between Liesel and Rosie, after all this time!

I think it was Benjamin Frankin who said: “… but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and roadworks on Leatherhead Road.” And so it proved to be on this occasion as we drove the next day, yes, even further south, to Polesden Lacey. Is Leatherhead Road the most dug up highway ever?

It was raining and, in fact, this turned out to be the only rainy day of the whole week. Here we met up with Helen and Steve for lunch and a quick walk around the grounds. The House itself was closed, so we still haven’t been inside, despite so many visits to Polesden Lacey over the years.

Looking south

In the rain, I started to sing Oh What A Beautiful Morning, but it wasn’t fully appreciated by my other half.

Atmospheric is possibly the word I’m looking for. Even when the rain stopped, you could feel it, on the borderline between drizzle and tropical-style humidity.

Raindrops on leaveses…
Selfie of the day
Beech nut sculpture

This sculpture was created by Iain Crafer, inspired by the local beech trees.

We bade farewell to Helen and Steve and before our evening assignation, we made a detour to Bushy Park, one of our favourite London parks. Here too, the main road through the park, Chestnut Avenue, has been closed to through traffic. How jolly civilised.

We had a very pleasant walk around, finding paths that neither of us remember trampling nor cycling on before.

Stag

If you look closely, you can see stags having a lie down in the long grass.

Another gnarly old tree
Heron

Here’s a heron in Leg of Mutton Pond, so I passed on greetings from his cousin in Northenden. And we probably would have made friends with this moorhen too, if only we’d had some food for him.

Moorhen

We spent two days in London. At the end of our second day, we caught a train to Kingston where we loitered for a while before setting off on another walk.

Party Animal

This sculpture is one of a set, constructed by Alex R T Davies, on display in Kingston. This goat really does have a traffic cone on his back, and we are invited to touch and even sit on him.

The Thames was very busy, with rowing boats with crews of 8 and of 2, paddle-boarders and swans.

Messing about on the river

Walking along the Thames to Surbiton in the early evening is a very pleasant experience, even if looking across the river means glimpsing the bright, setting Sun so, yes, there were moments when I couldn’t see much other than green blobs floating in front of me. Nevertheless, we found our way to one of our old haunts from a few years ago.

It was reassuring to pass another establishment to see that they’re still having trouble keeping the L stuck on. Every generation of vandals probably thinks they’re the first, the original!

Clocktower Café

In Allegro, the proprietor, whose name we ought to know by now, recognised us even though it’s been at least two years since our last visit. During the pandemic, he closed up shop and took advantage of the opportunity to refurbish the place. He only reopened a few weeks ago and very nearly had to close again. Someone driving away from Surbiton Station hit the accelerator instead of the brake, driving into the tree in front of the restaurant. 

We enjoyed a nice meal with Helen and Steve and went back for our final night in Tolworth Surbiton, at least for the time being.

Early Friday, we got up, packed, and departed, stopping in Surbiton, yes, proper Surbiton, at The Press Room for some coffee to take with us. Even the Big Issue lady recognised me from two years ago, so I must have left an impression there.

We were meeting up with another friend on the way back, over in Gloucestershire. Sandra worked with Liesel many years ago, and we’d arranged to meet up for a walk around Sherborne Park Estate, which belongs to the National Trust. And what a pleasant walk it was too, just the sound of insects and birds and two women catching up on several years of gossip. We’d seen deer in Richmond and Bushy Parks of course, but none as spectacular as the one we saw here.

Sherborne deer

Down the road, we had a break outside Sherborne Village Shop and Tea Room. This was the most restrictive venue we’d been to all week. Only two customers at a time, wearing masks, which is fair enough, but you don’t know there’s someone else inside until you’ve crossed the threshold, then you get a good telling off.

There is a fabulous library cum defibrillator storage facility just down the road.

Nice use of an old phone box

Regular visitors will know that I am not very lucky in my attempts to take pictures of dragonflies. But I got one today.

Dragonfly

Oh, alright, I know it’s only a wooden model, but it kept still long enough for me to get my phone out and press the button. Something else I’ve always admired is the skill of the dry stone wall builders, here in the Cotswolds and elsewhere.

Dry stone wall

On the way home, we passed by Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold, both places we’d love to revisit properly, as well as Stratford upon Avon, and eventually we were back on the motorway system. We were soon reminded why we should never drive anywhere on a Friday evening. Google Maps was helpful though, telling us where the least worst hold-ups were. In the end, we drove along a section of the M5. I don’t think I’ve been on that motorway since the time Sarah and I were driving to Bristol to meet Ruth, when a thick pea-souper made us slow to a crawl, and we had to give up on that trip.

We successfully arrived at home, got the mail, had a quick gin and tonic, and welcomed the sensation of sleeping in our own bed.

Katie was kind enough to broadcast my pre-recorded radio show this week, thank you, two hours of Earworms, but hopefully not the annoying kind. You can catch up here.

What’s that? What about London? Watch this space…

I promised some more stats. So turn away now if you’re likely to be unimpressed.

The Earth’s circumference is just under 25,000 miles and at some point in the last couple of months, I passed the milestone of walking half that distance since I first using a Fitbit in April 2015. So, 5½ years to walk 12,500 miles, halfway round the world, that’s not bad, is it! That’s at an average of about 12,586 steps per day or an average of 11,413 steps per day since I stopped working as a postie in January 2016, so that just goes to show how far postal workers have to walk each day.

Dinosaurs and bicycles

On our walk to Didsbury, we encountered more fly-tipped rubbish. We didn’t investigate but there may well have been evidence identifying the perpetrator of the crime. I always take a picture of this sort of rubbish with the intention of reporting it to the council. But I invariably forget to do so and then I find the picture a few days later, groan inwardly and tell myself that surely by now, somebody else has reported it.

Unusually for us, we had breakfast in out, by which I mean, we were inside a café, but out, not indoors at home. If you see what I mean. We live in a freedom-loving country of course (I know, I know) but who knew that nearly fifty years ago, it would no longer be legal to do much at all in some locations.

Whatever you do, don’t

We walked back home a slightly longer way because we had errands to run. In Marie Louise Gardens, we collected a bag of sticks and fir cones. This is for a future project in which Liesel will construct some bug hotels with the ladies of the WI. We had some items to buy at the Co-op, and I let Liesel have the pleasure of going inside, masked of course. But most importantly, we collected a parcel from the Post Office, 3 kg of plastic dinosaurs, newly arrived from Liesel’s Mom in Alaska. And as someone suggested on Twitter, plastic dinosaurs are the most realistic replicas possible. Plastic comes from oil. Oil comes from dead, squished dinosaurs. So a plastic dino might easily contain some genuine dino DNA. We could in theory create our own Jurassic Park. We didn’t do that though, oh no. Instead, the following morning we left a trail of dinosaurs up the stairs and leading to our luxury apartment. From above, I watched William as he spotted one. Then another… Then another…

Lille boy climbs to the top of the stairs

William brought his family over for brunch, but don’t worry, they had been invited and were all very welcome, and Liesel cooked up a magnificent banquet which we all throughly enjoyed, thank you.

A heap of dinosaurs

“Do you like dinosaurs, William?”
“Yes, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.”

It was such a nice day, we all went outside and sat in the shade of our old oak tree. The one we usually play hide’n’seek around. Or ‘tag’, even, but without actually touching because of Covid!

Under the oak

And we painted rocks. Well, I say rocks, but they were just small stones that we could find in the the confines of the communal car park. I remember burying some painted pet rocks before we moved away from Chessington. You can read about it here if you like.

Now we have a few more stones for someone to bury in future years.

Painted rocks

We all did very well, didn’t we? And then indoors again, the contents of the toy box were investigated and distributed. Every now and then, William would remember there’s a baby in the flat below ours and try to keep quiet for a while. It’s becoming a habit, but he ate a raw carrot, straight from the fridge and scrubbed under the tap. This, despite the fact that the last time he consumed a whole carrot, it resulted in the production of large orange poo the following day! To protect her identity, I won’t name which one of us two produced purple poo the morning after consuming beetroot salad. Oh and speaking of poo, this is the class of advert we’re seeing at local bus stops:

How do you poo?

OK, I’ll try not to mention poo again. Except to say that I will soon be receiving my bowel cancer testing kit, a biennial event that I always look forward to. Sadly, for me, Liesel provided an old tub to use, so I had no reason to buy a new one, one containing ice cream, for example.

Sometimes on a local walk, we retrace our steps, and that can be rewarding. We did so this week to stay in the shade of the local woods just a little longer on what was a surprisingly hot Summer day. And there’s nothing wrong with this little piece of uplifting philosophy, which I think we’ve probably walked by several times, and missed, as it’s on the other side of the gate post.

#StayStrong

Some medical news, hooray. I went into Manchester to give blood and again, this was no problem, except I had to have a cold drink afterwards, not tea, but I did enjoy my Club biscuit and ginger nuts.

We both received text messages from our GP inviting us in for our flu jabs. Liesel called to make appointments for us, and after being on hold for 45 minutes, was told that there were no more appointments available. And there probably wouldn’t be until November. Hmm. Meanwhile, Liesel had also received an email from a pharmacy also inviting her in for a flu jab. We called their local branch and were able to go along later that same day to be jabbed. A couple of days afterwards, I received an email inviting me to come along for a Covid jab, which was very tempting. Yes, I am fully vaccinated already, but a trip to Manly, New South Wales, even if to visit this particular pharmacy, is very appealing right now!

Well, I don’t know if it was the flu shot or the reduced volume of blood in my system, or a combination of the two, but the following day, I just felt really tired, and breathless. This didn’t prevent us setting off to watch the nearest stage of the Tour of Britain bike race. We drove to Quarry Bank National Trust and then walked for about half an hour to our chosen viewing location on Mobberley Road.

It was another warm day, and I was conscious of walking much more slowly than my usual pace. Along the path, we found some nourishment in the shape of blackberries and damsons.

Damsons

We set up camp by a bus stop and after consulting various sources, realised we had about an hour to wait. Why so early? Well, on one occasion, we just missed a race by a few minutes because roads were closed and we had to park further away than planned. The road closures seem to be better managed these days. We thought we’d have a good view of the cyclists coming towards us, and I took many, many test photos of the many, many police motor bikes as they preceded the race, checking the route and telling car drivers to get out of the way when necessary.

Police bikes

A local man came along and he wondered why the race was on a weekday, not at the weekend. Maybe he didn’t realise it was a stage race, a different route for eight consecutive days. He went home when he realised there was still quite a long wait. But didn’t make it back to join us, probably because one of the police officers was keeping traffic off the road. He also told us that as this very spot a few months ago, two buses had crashed into each other, head on, in the middle of the road. He pointed out the exact spot. He thinks nobody was seriously injured.

And then, suddenly, at 50kph or more, the leading group of five riders appeared, surrounded by cars and more motor bikes.

Breakaway group

This leading, breakaway group, consists of Jacob Scott, in green, current leader in the King of the Mountains and Sprint competitions; Nickolas Zukowsky; Christopher Blevins; Leon Mazzone; and Robin Carpenter, who won the stage in Exeter, three days earlier.

If you think racing on a bike, 152.2 km, from Alderley Park to Warrington is hard, you should try watching the incredibly fast cyclists, taking some photos and applauding and cheering them on, all at the same time. No, actually, just cycling 152.2 km on a day out would be hard enough. That’s about 94 miles, a distance I’ve cycled maybe a dozen times or so, ever, and these guys do it every day as fast as their little legs will carry them. Châpeau, as they say!

Peloton

Just a couple of minutes later came the peloton. 90+ cyclists at full pelt, and I’d forgotten how noisy a large group of cyclists can be. In a flash, they were gone. More motor bikes and cars and a long, long way behind, one lone rider who stopped and asked when the next bus was due. No, he didn’t, but I wonder if it crossed his mind.

A long time away from home for a mere two minutes of entertainment, then! Yes, of course, we watched the whole race on TV when we got home, but we didn’t make it on screen, which may be a blessing.

Global6 support vehicle

The Global6 support team parked up near us, for a natural break. Their bike wheels have green rims, and after the Tour is over, those wheels will be auctioned off to raise funds for Refugee Action.

As we walked back to the car at Quarry Bank, we ate some more damsons. I warned Liesel to watch out for the nettles, just as my shin found a particularly potent nettle bush. Thank goodness for Germolene.

We didn’t wander round the venue, but we did find our way to the restaurant and had a nice cup of National Trust decaff coffee plus a slice of raspberry Bakewell slice. It felt good to be building up my strength again after that relatively short but ridiculously knackering walk.

We were very lucky with the weather, we just felt a few spots of rain. But the cyclists had to contend with much worse on their way to Warrington.

Menacing

This is the view from the comfort of our living room, gorgeous landscape and menacing dark clouds.

Another wander around Northenden was quite good for us wildlife fans.

Northenden menagerie

The Jolly Roger is still flying at The Crown for the boat race a couple of weeks ago. I hope the pink bunny is soon reunited with her child. The squirrel posed beautifully. The heron was in its usual spot and he seemed to be finding things to eat in the very low river.

The shortest duration job I ever had was working on a building site in Notting Hill. I lasted one day and one hour. On the first day, I had to shift a load of toilets from there to over there. The next morning, I was told to move them all back again. Well, what a waste of time that was, I thought. But what drove me away was that is was raining hard all the time, plus the steel toe cap shoes I’d borrowed off my Dad, two sizes too small, had given me so many blisters, I just couldn’t get comfortable. But I did come away from the job with the ambition of being a hod-carrier. Yes, I wanted to be the bloke that carried dozens of house bricks or roof tiles on my shoulder while climbing a high, ricketty old ladder. Sadly, it seems that ambition will never be fulfilled. Local builders have installed a sort of conveyor belt to carry the tiles up to the guy on the roof. So that’s another ancient skill that will be forgotten in time, along with mining and sweeping chimneys.

Builder’s roof tile conveyor

The good news of course is that my real-life ambition of being a radio presenter is being realised, to a certain extent. This week’s show on Radio Northenden was presented from a desert island beach, with very few other people around, the waves crashing and I played lots of sunshiny, laid-back, chilled music, mostly evoking nice, peaceful places we’d all like to be sometimes, away from the hurly-burly and the hustle-bustle of every day life in the city. You can listen here.

And yes, of course we watched the next stage of the Tour of Britain on TV, the one from Carlisle to Gateshead.

Drum and Gratitude

We’ve been engrossed not only by all the sport on TV this week, the Paralympics and La Vuelta a España, but also the world-famous Northenden Boat Race. We witnessed this fund-raising event for the first time since moving to Northenden all those years ago. We thought about entering the race, but you have to bring your own inflatable dinghy or canoe, and we don’t have one. But next year, who knows?

We followed the sound of bagpipes, played by the Northenden Pipe and Drum Band. I think one of the drummers had had enough, look where he left his instrument.

Drum

The car park at Didsbury Golf Club was full of inflatable boats and pumps. But I was more interested in using their facilities and the coffee bar.

Didsbury Golf Course Club Room

The boat race started at Simon’s Bridge, and we watched as innumerable dinghies set off at the same time. It wasn’t long before some of them turned sideways or even started going backwards.

On your marks… get set…
Go!

Out of the blue, I heard a voice. “Are you Mick?” Well, yes, but who are you, I wondered. “I’m Colin.” Colin who? Not Colin Cook who put earthworms down my wellington boots when I was about 6 years old, surely? Ah, Colin. From Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 “I recognised your voice” he said. He’s the guy that takes my (slightly edited) Radio Northenden show and cues it up for broadcast on a Wednesday evening. What are the chances that we would end up standing so close to each other by the river?

As the boats drifted downstream – it would be an exaggeration to say they were being propelled by any serious, competent paddling – we started walking towards the Tatton Arms Bridge, where the race ended.

One vessel started sinking so the bloke got out to push. Fortunately, the river was quite low so he could walk along the river bed.

Get out and push

There were lots of people around, but it didn’t feel as crowded as the zoo did a few days earlier. Well, until we reached the other bridge, which everyone was trying to walk across. Glad it didn’t collapse under the weight of probably more people than it’s known since before the first lockdown.

Backwards

Even those competitors who found themselves facing the wrong way finally made it to the end.

Pipe Band

The pipers played a few tunes for the long queue waiting to cross the bridge. I briefly thought about joining this band. Then I remembered, I can’t actually play any of the instruments.

Drum and Drummer reunited

On the other hand, I haven’t tried this one, the big bass drum, yet. I’m sure our neighbours wouldn’t mind me practicing.

Liesel went straght home but I didn’t want to miss the subsequent action on the Village Green a little later.

Boat on the weir

This is one of the last boats to descend the weir. As far as we know, nobody actually fell into the water.

When the dust settled, the heron returned, scratching its head, wondering what the heck just happened?

Heron on the weir

While waiting for the last of the crowds to disperse, I sat on a bench near the playground. A lady sat at the other end and asked what was going on. She’d missed the boat race, so I showed her my photos. Such a strange situation: trying to maintain a safe distance from a stranger while, at the same time, holding my phone close enough for her to be able to see the images.

On the Village Green, the Lord Mayor of Manchester presented the prizes to all the winners and gave a little speech.

The winners and the Lord Mayor

Lilly decorated the pavement for us. I don’t want to get her into trouble, but she did sign her own work.

Lilly’s lilies

This was outside Samosa Box. Guess what we had for dinner?

Some of the roads around here still have cobble stones along the edges. Unusually, this road had them on display. No cars parked on them, or half on the verge. I very quickly took a photo.

Cobbles

In other news Martha and William returned to school this week, looking very smart and very happy.

Martha and William

Liesel had a day out with her WI ladies, a visit to Manchester Jewish Museum. I dragged myself out of bed and we drove into Manchester together. Parking was no problem, just along the road a bit in a shopping centre. While Liesel was in the Museum, I went for walk into the city centre.

Museum, formerly a Synagogue
Dr Chaim Weizman, first President of the State of Israel
Inside the Museum

As you can probably tell, I take more photos that Liesel does. This is a rare one, taken inside the museum.

I took about half an hour to walk to St Peter’s Square in Manchester, outside the Central Library. It’s my first visit to the city centre for a long time, other than quick trips to donate blood.

I said hello to Robert Owen but he just looked at me stoney faced.

Robert Owen

He is known as ‘the father of Co-operation’ and he stands outside the Co-op Bank’s headquarters.

What was so attractive about St Peter’s Square? The Gratitude exhibition. This is a collection of 51 statues, each decorated by a different artist, and the display is to show gratitude for the wonderful performance by all the NHS and other key workers during the pandemic.

Lots of Gratitude
The Isolation Chronicles

Scattered pages from a square journal, each one a picture of our life in lockdown. The Isolation Chronicles contains snapshots of the pandemic – supermarket checkouts, nurses, vaccinations, deliveries, farming, 3D printers making visors. Designed by Sue Prince from the Peak District.

Good Timber

Inspiration for the design comes from the metaphorical poem ‘Good Timber’ by Douglas Malloch, which suggests that only by struggle can we overcome adversity and reach the other side. The trees in the design have fought and grown together so their uppermost branches can ‘hold counsel with the stars’. The woodland floor is laced with bluebells which are thought to symbolise gratitude. Designed by Gail Stirling Robertson from Scotland.

Faces of Lockdown

Faces of Lockdown depicts a collection of personalities from the last year, featuring politicians, scientists, TV characters and a Welsh goat! Designed by Hammo (Nick Hamilton), an illustrator and mural painter from Manchester.

Stardust; We can be Heroes; Our Teacher Our Hero

You can see all the statues by downloading the Gratitude app for a mere £1.99, this display is here in Manchester until 12 September then it’s off to Edinburgh and London.

I couldn’t resist a visit to the library of course. Hip-hop is an art form that has largely passed me by, but I thought a visit to the Manchester Hip Hop Archive Exhibition might be educational. And it was. Lots of photos and posters and artefacts from the 1980s onwards. I even recognised some of the names, but I wouldn’t have known the context.

Rokin the Stoneage

A lot of the culture revolves around urban art: graffiti and tagging of course, and some of that is very decorative. And the poems are as good as some of the really old ones we had to read at school.

Breakdancing

I was going to try this but the librarian wouldn’t let me.

In the library, I met Erinma Bell MBE DL, Peace activist.

Erinma Bell

This sculpture is made from recycled hand guns, by Karen Lyons in 2016.

Andrew went to prison for 6 years during which time he lost his camera. The big loss though was his collection of 1000 photos of graffiti taken all around Manchester. After release, he sorted himself out, stayed away from drugs and alcohol and has embarked on the graffiti photo project again. There’s a display of hundreds of his pictures in the library in an exhibition called ‘Reds and K1000’.

Reds and K 1000

After a coffee break in the library, I walked back to the Jewish Museum. On the way, I found another wee poem.

Manc made

Liesel and I caught up with each other and I waited outside while she visiting her old friend Dunkin’.

Geometric

One day, we’ll find out what this building is, with its amazing geometric pattern on the outside.

It was a good idea to move my show to 4pm, because today, I would have panicking about not getting back in time. It was Crime and Punishment this week, all harmless murder, shop-lifting and mugging. Listen back here if you have a spare couple of hours.

But mainly this week, it was Paralympic sport and a bike race in Spain. Both finish this weekend, so let’s hope we do a bit more during next week’s hinted-at heat wave.

My regular Tuesday night date with Jessica Lee Morgan reached episode 94 this week, and this will be the last one for a while. She’s out on tour, doing real live shows in front of real live people, and we’re all happy about that.

No. Thank you! Great shows, Jessica and Chris