Settling in

The ‘holiday mood’ persists and that’s not a bad thing. We’re back in our own place, yes, but because it’s still new to us, it feels like we’re still Airbnb-ing. We’re exploring the local area as if merely visiting. It makes me realise that once you’re settled, you tend to take your local neighbourhood for granted.

The Trafford Centre is as big as a small country. Most of the shops have no interest for us, but the mall itself is fascinating.

Trafford Centre welcoming committee

We were looking at armchairs, we know how to have a good time. Not to mention curtains, blinds, other window accoutrements, lamp shades and light fittings.

Not sure this one will match our curtains

There were some great photos to be taken, so I’m afraid I was looking elsewhere while Liesel was focussed on the main job of the day.

Little Greene Paint and Paper

Yes, we’re in the north now, so it’s only to be expected that on a relatively cold, wet day, the young ladies out shopping will be woefully underdressed.

Marble statue

We thought we were going into an old Egyptian tomb or something but it was only a lift taking us to a whole new level.

Going up
Nooses for curtains

Barton Square is partly a building site, but I’m sure it will be lovely when it’s finished. The glass dome promises to let in the light but not the rain.

Barton Square dome, under construction

Again, we ventured into ancient Egypt, a fantastic theme around the centre. It’s just a bit worrying when a young child screams for ‘Mummy’, you half expect a sarcophagus to creak open.

Spirits of Ancient Egypt

We later met Jenny at Costco where I made sure to get my steps in. Not as fascinating nor as glamorous as the Trafford Centre, of course.

Vegetarian magazine plus unsuitable free gift
They’re making peanut butter out of kangaroos, now

Other than settling in and finding our way around the local area , our main project is getting to know and looking after our two delightful grandchildren.

Martha and William came round while their parents, Jenny and Liam goofed off, I mean, while they enjoyed some quality time together.

Martha channelling Salvador Dalí
William channelling Sherlock Holmes

Both are very curious about the world. Martha barely stops talking and asking questions. William just tries to take everything apart. But they are both great fun, we are very lucky grandparents!

Liesel and I took advantage of a small hiatus in the late April showers and walked to Didsbury. We stayed away from the main roads as much as possible, venturing along narrow, overgrown, nettle-infested, sometimes muddy paths. We knew we were back in Manchester when we found a shopping trolley nowhere near its supermarket.

Modern art? Or rubbish?

Part of me must still be in Australia because when I saw a ripple on the surface of the river Mersey, in the distance, my first thought was ‘crocodile’. No, of course not, it was just a family of ducks.

Ducks cross the Mersey

In Didsbury, I could not resist the temptation to have coffee and cake at a place called FFS. I think it’s a front for something.

The first coffee I ever tasted, mid 1960s, was Camp Coffee: sweet, with chicory. It came as a dark brown liquid in a bottle and was alright, I suppose. At this point in history, we Brits drank tea and Americans drank coffee: that was the law. It was much later that I acquired a fondness for proper coffee, even though, in the UK, it was often over-roasted, burnt, too strong or just tasteless. But during all those decades, I was desperate to be able to send a message by telephone, ordering my coffee, so that it’s ready when I roll up at the café. Well, hallelujah, my dream has come true!

The wait is over

Our sleep patterns are settling down, we’re getting used to the rain but we really want a proper, warm, sunny Summer. One place in Lincolnshire is suffering badly after having received two months of rain in one day. Rivers bursting their banks, sandbags not doing their job. It’s not that bad here in Northenden, but even when it’s not actually raining, it looks and feels like it’s going to start again any minute.

Raindrops and full Moon

Not only was Sunday Fathers’ Day, it was also the day of the Tour of Tameside 7-mile run. I watched the participants with just a hint of envy but with plenty of admiration.

Lucky devils running seven miles

We watched Martha and William swimming too, always a joy, they are both very competent and enjoy their time in the water.

Three of us fathers gathered together at Jenny’s for the big celebration. Liam, his Dad Alan and I all received chocolatey gifts from our respective offspring. Chocolate. Oh well: the diet starts next month!

I’m forever blowing bubbles

We enjoyed playing with Martha, William and bubbles in the garden. Wimbledon tennis championships begin any day now, and we were in training for that too.

Smashed it

Jenny came up trumps again with pies and roast potatoes and vegetables! It was good to catch up with Alan and Una too after so many months away.

Another day, another opportunity to look after M&W so we took them by bus into Manchester. We visited the Museum of Science and Industry where their natural curiosity caused them to press all the buttons, turn all the wheels, move anything that wasn’t tied down. Martha was genuinely surprised and pleased that by turning a handle, she could lift a car into the air. Too difficult to explain gearing systems, but one day…

Red Arrows simulator

When we first entered the Museum, Martha pointed out the train. It wasn’t any old train either. Only the original Stephenson’s Rocket, back in Manchester for the first time in 180 years.

Stephenson’s Rocket

Both children fell asleep on the bus home. Liesel and I managed to stay awake but as soon as Jenny took them home again, we slumped.

We’re looking forward to our first musical performance since coming home. Hard to believe that during the ten months away, we only saw a couple of concerts and one theatre show. Next time, we’ll go out more often. Next time!

Back in Northenden

It’s going to take a while to acclimatise to Manchester. We expected some rain, eventually, not this much in just a few days. Luckily, we’re on the second floor, so we don’t need a boat, yet.

Learning the local language might take some time too. I visited Northern Den, the local coffee shop, and asked for a fried egg sandwich. Oops. I was given an egg barm. A barm cake is like a hamburger bun, a big, soft bread roll. Luckily, the word for ‘latté’ is ‘latté’.

We’ve had a chance now to process our ten months away from home.

We left home at the end of July, Day 1 and we left Melbourne for home on Day 316.

During that time, I walked 3,603,072 steps, a distance of 1665 miles. Liesel walked most of that distance with me. The hardest part was counting paces for that length of time, so it’s a good job I had a Fitbit to confirm my enumeration.

We enjoyed 27 separate flights, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word, with a wide spectrum of comfort. Often, you just have to write off the whole day if you’re flying somewhere, with all the queueing and waiting at airports.

We slept in 78 different beds during our travels, and again, with every possible level of comfort from hard on the floor, to mattresses made of marshmallow, with nylon sheets. But how lucky are we: our own bed at home is the best!

Yes, next time we may do some things differently. We’ll make more of an effort to learn some of the local language. We’ll do more research into the local food: finding vegetarian meals in Japan was a nightmare.

We managed well carrying just one small bag each, with one week’s worth of clothing. Liesel is delighted to be wearing something different here at home.

On just a few occasions did we wish we had a pair of binoculars. A proper camera with a decent zoom lens would have given better quality photos of small, faraway objects, but the phone camera was brilliant 99% of the time. I even managed a few shots of the stars at night.

While driving and even sometimes when hiking, there were a few times I wished I had my bike. But that would be a different kind of trip.

Overall, we had a marvellous time, it was a wonderful experience, and we would recommend a gap year adventure to anybody of slightly advanced years, who missed out in their youth.

There are quite a few places that we’d like to revisit and spend more time in. There are very few places that we have no desire to return to, but I think we’ll try to avoid extremely hot places where your energy is sapped, and you can’t fully appreciate the place.

As I think I said early on, I’m no good at remembering names of things, notably flowers and birds and trees. So I apologise for any mis-captioned photos: this blog was never meant to be a guide to the natural world, there are plenty of those already!

Some converstaions are universal. I think I’ve used every possible pronunciation of ‘latté’ over the ten months, and I’m sure some baristas just pretend not to understand this strange Englishman’s accent.

So many people commented on the colour of my Monzo card: hot coral. “You’ll never lose that”, they’d say.

When asked, I’d sometimes say I was from the UK. “Brexit? Hahaha! Theresa May? Hahahahaha!” So embarrassing.

When asked whereabouts in the UK do we live: “Manchester”. “Oh, Manchester United!!” or “Red or blue?”

We saw Fuji, Fiji and Coogee but bypassed Mudgee and Nadgee, ate a dodgy bhaji, listened to the Bee Gees, fed a budgie but not a geegee, used a squeegee in a shower.

We incurred no major injuries, although Liesel is still occasionally in pain if she walks too far, or sometimes even if she walks at all. Insect bites, splinters, sunburn once, minor cuts and a few broken nails are as bad as it got.

We’ve had a couple of days of medical appointments, walking around the local area and trying to find our way around the luxury apartment that we’ve hardly lived in!

Please drive carefully but feel free to park on and block the pavements
Ducks on the Mersey

Christchurch

A rainy day in Christchurch, it seems like it’s rainin’ all over the world. We’ve been so lucky with the weather during the last few months, so we shouldn’t really complain but this rain in Christchurch is just so ///wet/// and penetrative and persistent. We could have stayed in all day and looked miserably through the windows but we had to go out for reasons of health and beauty. I was forced to wear my actual waterproof coat, the weather was that bad! So, if you’re not interested in bodily or medical issues, just scroll down to the first picture.

It’s three months since my last visit to the dental hygienist so it was time to have another session of oral torture. She was very good, realy, a couple of sensitive spots, but mostly OK. She didn’t know my kiwi periodontist back at home.

I also visited the local GP to obtain a prescription for my next three months of medication. The limit of three months at a time seems to be universal.

Liesel was attended to from top to bottom. Eyebrowsn and eye lashes all polished up and then a pedicure which was different to the ones enjoyed in Alaska.

Liesel also wants a massage and/or some physiotherapy. Her ‘slipped disc’ / piriformis muscle issue is still not resolved. We didn’t walk nearly as far in Fiji as we did in Japan so that helped a bit, but those two days in Auckland reminded us of the level of discomfort that can be felt.

On the other hand, I feel pretty good. I’d like a massage but don’t feel I ///need/// one right now, but they usually find something that needs loosening up, in the shoulders or thereabouts.

Occasionally, one of my feet complains. It’s like there’s a length of string between the second toe and the heel that just doesn’t want to stretch for a while, so I have to walk funny, almost limping. Pauline said I always walk funny anyway!

That is the end of the medical news! Spoiler alert: there’s a haircut coming up soon.

Rain on the decking, in case you don’t know what rain on decking looks like

We bought some groceries and then hung around waiting for the rain to stop. And waited. And waited. We had coffee and tea and muffins. And waited.

In the end, we started walking home but just as we left the shopping centre in Barrington, a taxi pulled up in front of us. The driver dragged us in, kicking and screaming, and reluctantly, we took a ride home to Pauline’s house.

When my sister asked me a while ago what food I wanted in New Zealand, I suggested PIES! I have missed pies, with proper pastry, and I’ve missed proper, tasty, crusty bread.

Tonight for supper, we had a pie. It was fabulous. So pastry-y and tasty. There was a filling too, apparently, but the pastry… mmm.

While walking to The Tannery the following day, we were in danger of an attack of homesickness. (No, not really.)

Palatine Tce

Palatine Road is the main shopping street near where we now live in Northenden. And this poor old postman still has use of a bicycle. I think if he tried harder, he could really load it up.

Kiwi postie’s bike

It was a pleasant walk, not sunny, but at least it was dry. There are many areas around here that share their names with parts of London: Sydenham, Beckenham, Waltham, Edgeware, even a St Martins.

We always go for the low-hanging fruit. Well, Liesel does as she’s so short. But I think this is the first time we’ve been scrumping, for plums, in New Zealand. Small but sweet, and if any officers of the law are reading this, it was Liesel’s idea.

Small plum tree. The plums are small, the tree was quite big
Small plum or big fingers

One local sport seems to be fly-tipping. These guys parked across the pavement, forcing us to walk in the road, while they threw hundreds of plastic bottles over the fence. It might have been a legitimate place to dispose of the waste items, but what a bizarre way to go about it. They could have driven into the yard, just along the road a bit.

Let’s park on the pavement while we’re fly-tipping
The owner needs a p

The Tannery is a cute, little Boutique Shopping Centre in Woolston. There are bars and restaurants too. When we arrived, there were two girls performing but they soon disappeared, unfortunately: they were making quite a nice noise.

While we ate lunch, we enjoyed some classical music but as there was so much background noise, Shazam was unable to confirm it was by Mozart.

While Liesel went window shopping, I found a barbershop and had a haircut and a shave. The girl was from Greenwich, has been in NZ for twelve years and hasn’t lost her accent. Yet.

Pauline joined us after work and we had drinks at the chocolate shop.

The Tannery
Trompe l’oeil great tiles

In the evening, while Pauline was doing stuff in the kitchen, Liesel, Andrew and I played a game of Scrabble. Then, Andrew taught us a new card game: 500s. I don’t think I’d heard of it before but it was fun learning a new game. Especially one in which, under certain circumstances, the jack of clubs pretends to be a spade.

Friday was Pauline’s last half-day at work this year and to avoid meeting her just after lunchtime, Andrew drove us into town. He joined us for a short while in the Botanic Gardens and we continued after he left for home.

Very colourful Botanic Gardens
Southern hemisphere Sun dial
Invisible reindeer
Chaffinch
Diminish and Ascend by David McCracken, 2014
Waxeye

We continued our slow walk into the city centre.

Rubbish selfie of the day, in front of big bubbles

It’s all new to us of course, and I don’t suppose the earthquakes were at the front of other people’s minds. There is a lot of building work going on, but apart from that, Christchurch is a lively, bright, functioning city. It’s not as busy as usual because at this time of the year, many people go away, especially to Nelson at the north of the island. There are plenty of visitors such as ourselves, of course.

This building needs a lot of support and love
Cathedral and cairn

There is a great window display in the big department shop, Ballantyne’s, and plenty of other Christmas decorations, but it doesn’t ///feel/// like Christmas to me. I know it’s the middle of December, but this whole adventure of ours sometimes feels so unreal, it’s hard to add more excitement to it.

Christchurch Christmas tree and bauble
The Merry Mice of Dunstable House, window display

We took the bus home and arrived an hour before the rain. Pauline was in the garden pulling up some big weeds. I was not at all gallant, I didn’t offer to help. I would only pull up the wrong things.

Adventure before Dementia

It’s sad, so sad, it’s a sad, sad situation. It makes me feel a little bit guilty, asking to be removed from the Rose Theatre mailing list after all this time. We’ll miss Kingston’s own little theatre. I was a Founding Friend too: there’s even a seat with a memorial plaque for Sarah, so have a look the next time you go. But we have to move on, change is difficult sometimes but it’s worthwhile in the end.

The Government website is a vortex of looping, self-linking pages telling you that you should do something but not how to do it. That’s another two hours I’ll never get back. But the good news is, when the time comes, I will receive the maximum possible state pension in the UK, just over £9000 pa. In Sweden, I’d get nearly three times as much. Here’s an old but interesting article. Yes, I wasted more time reading up on this and trying not to feel cheated.

But in eight days, we’ll be leaving this little nest of ours for a while. As we have to fly out of London Heathrow, we throught we’d spend a couple of days in the capital before we jet off. Sunday is the day of the Prudential 100-mile bike ride around London and Surrey. We’ll probably watch them roll in on The Mall, just as I did myself four years ago. And hope to do again one year.

Then early on the Monday, we’ll fly to Anchorage for Part One of our Gap Year Travels. This is why we’re trying to tie up all the loose administrative ends this week. We don’t want any important mail to end up in Chessington, after all. And we want the flat to be secure. Plus, the car will have a nice little holiday of its own somewhere. For a while, we thought about selling it but having lived here for a whole two and a bit weeks now, we accept that we really do need our own set of wheels. Public transport is OK, but we’re quite a way from the nearest train stations and tram stops.

The other day when we were driving somewhere, we passed a campervan with a brilliant sticker on the back. “Adventure before Dementia”, it said. And we thought, that’s great, that’s our philosophy right now!

This morning, I needed to go out to get some milk. I asked Liesel if she fancied going for a walk, and she said “Yes”. So we walked to Palatine Road, the main street, bought some milk and enjoyed our first coffee in the coffee bar, The Northern Den, recommended by our old Airbnb host, Iris, a few weeks ago. Liesel bumped into our old Airbnb host, Iris, just along the road. She’d left the café just before we arrived. What are the chances?

Instead of walking home, we walked further along the main road and after the bridge under the motorway, we started to walk along the path by the Mersey, towards West Didsbury. Liesel thought it would be great to have lunch at Greens, a fab vegetarian restaurant that we’ve been to several times with Jenny and Liam. It was a nice walk, yes, but poor old Liesel’s piriformis was playing up again.

We had a lovely lunch, the food’s always good. But it was so much quieter at lunchtime than it’s ever been in the evening. And as there aren’t enough pictures of food on this blog (said absolutely nobody, never ever), here’s one of what was left of my double chocolate sponge cake with chocolate sauce:

20180720_2100299153499316099614140.jpg

On this day last year, I was in an MRI scanner watching a silent Buster Keaton film while strange beeps, whoops and other sounds were being played. I was worried I might fall asleep, but I manged not to. This was some research being conducted on perception of sound by people and how it changes with age. I hope the right bits of my brain lit up while I was processing the information.

One thing we won’t miss from Chessington is our old neighbours’ frequent habit of cooking up fish curry outside. A big cauldron of pink goo that can be sniffed from hundreds of yards away. Such was the case on this day 9 years ago. It must have been especially strong that day because I mentioned it on Facebook. Pee-ook. I hope they enjoyed it, we didn’t!

Water Sports

Early Thursday morning, I drove Liesel to the railway station. Gatley is the closest, but Stockport made more sense. From Gatley, to go to London Euston, you’d have to change at Manchester Piccadilly or Crewe. It’s a 2-hour trip from Stockport. The train was packed, and Liesel had the pleasure of standing up in the train manager’s special little compartment. She was standing and chatting with a barrister, both really needed a seat for medical reasons. The train manager gave them permission to go and sit in First Class. Which was great, but the air conditioning was on full blast. But it would have been churlish to complain about that, so they did the British thing, whinged to each other, assumed stiff upper lips and enjoyed siting down, at least!

Meanwhile, I was having more fun, taking the first car-load of rubbish to the local tip. Lots of our packaging material that can’t really be reused, although the hundreds of emptied cardboard boxes are up for grabs.

The long process of informing businesses of our new address continues. Thames Water have sent their final bill from our old house. Great. But somehow, we have acquired two different account numbers with United Utilities, our new water supplier. This is the company that didn’t even know it had installed a new water meter here, so that I wondered whether I’d just read the wrong one! Fun and games with water companies!

Our solicitor sent another form for me to sign. He sent it by email, a PDF attachment. I was to print it out, sign it and post it back. So I had to set up my computer and the printer. But before that, I had to build the desk for the PC, the shelf unit for the printer and find all the other bits and pieces and cables. Here’s a tip: make sure all the tools and the nuts and bolts and screws for furniture are easy to find!

And we have no internet yet either, so it was with a great sense of relief that I was able to copy the PDF file to the computer via a USB cable. Not sure I could have done that with the old iPhone: top marks, nice, new Samsung Galaxy!

Form printed and signed. Now, where are the envelopes and the stamps?

In the local newsagent and the local Post Office of course. This was my cue (and excuse) to go for a walk in the local neighbourhood. Errands complete, I continued along Palantine Road to the bridge over the river Mersey. Yes, that river Mersey, the famous one. I followed it for a while and took the first interesting photo in this neck of the woods.

Mersey at Northenden

I suspect, in the fullness of time, when we’re more settled, we’ll be walking and cycling along the towpath a lot.

On Friday, I waited in for the Futon to be delivered. I was told it weighed 250kg and my first thought was, I hope it doesn’t fall through the floor.

I knew I’d never carry it upstairs on my own, and I suspect Liesel and I would have struggled together. So I went onto Grindr and looked for two, strong, strapping young men to come round and (help me!) carry the Futon up two flights of stairs. No, not Grindr. Google. I Googled a local removal company in the hope that they would help out at short notice. And I found one.

The delivery guy left our furniture on a pallet outside at the back of the flats. He wasn’t allowed to enter the premises for cock and bull ‘not insured’ reasons. So thanks to Dave and his mate who came by and did the heavy lifting for me.

And just in time too. I had to collect Liesel from the station after her very short return visit to Chessington.

She’d met up with our friend Sarah, up from Exeter, at Waterloo Station. Then in the evening, she went to the WI Book Group meeting, and they were kind enough to give her a £45 book token for Waterstones. This, plus the M&S vouchers she was given by the WI group as a whole is a sign of real affection and gratitude. Much more generous than Liesel’s former employers: she’s well out of that company.

It took Liesel and me about an hour to construct the Futon and it is really comfortable. Much nicer than the sofa we’d left behind 😉

We went round to Jenny’s for fish and chips (cheese and onion pie for me). Poor Martha was heart-broken when Mummy and Daddy ‘went out to the shops’. I remember when Jenny was inconsolable whenever her Mum went out too. I know it’s just a phase, but it’s horrible to watch, because there’s nothing really you can do. Except, on this occasion, they took Martha with them and she fell asleep in the car.

Today, Saturday, though, we went round to look after the children again. And again, Mummy and Daddy went out but this time, they couldn’t take Martha. It was lunchtime, and all we could do was try and distract her with Peppa Pig and encourage her to eat her lunch.

Which she did. Hollow legs has Martha: two Babybels, yellow pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, bread, crisps, cake, water melon, ice cream with a Flake. She was, by now a really happy bunny!

Martha

William’s a wonderfully laid-back little guy. He’s really happy playing by himself but he likes company too. Liesel had her first really dirty nappy changing experience with him! He is so close to crawling, but he just can’t quite get pushing his little legs. He can push himself backwards, rotate on his belly, roll over onto his back and onto his front. But not move forwards, yet!

And fidget. Boy, does he fidget. Always moving, arms twitching, legs kicking. I can hear my old teachers saying to him in the future, “Sit still, William”, “Stop fidgeting, William”, “Have you got ants in your pants, William?”

William

It’s been a joy to spend time with both of them after being so caught up in our own little house-move for so long. In the garden Martha had a great time in her paddling pool. Even William had a bit of a paddle. Fun and games with water!

In the pool

After a while, I realised he was in need of a kip, so I carried him back inside and he very quickly fell asleep.

But all good things come to an end. And when Jenny and Liam came home this afternoon, Liesel and I went to a little bit of Sweden while their football team played England in the World Cup quarter finals. Yes, we bought some more furniture and other bits and pieces from Ikea. More heavy stuff to lug upstairs, but we manged this time. Here’s a tip: it’s OK to unpack Ikea furniture at the bottom of the stairs and carry it up piece by piece!

Never mind the World Cup, though, the Tour de France started today. Unusually, today’s first stage was a proper road race in which most of the main contenders fell off, broke wheeels or got held up by other crashes.