The general tidy up continued but we were in the garage today. The one car that normally resides there has been relegated to the bottom of the drive leaving plenty of space on the floor for all the items that are being disposed of. For a number of reasons, the weekend coming up is the only one free for a Big Garage Sale, the local equivalent of a car boot sale. Only here, everyone comes to your garage. Which means of course it has to be publicised ahead of time. There’s a lot of stuff in the garage, but Liesel’s Dad seems to know what and where everything is. The ‘to go’ pile is satisfyingly big, especially now the items from the upstairs cupboards have been added.
So if, for instance, you want a really heavy chain once used by horses to drag logs, you know where to come…
With a view to fully preparing for the Garage Sale at the weekend, we paid a visit to The Home Depot. That place is huuuuge. This must be one of the biggest DIY shops anywhere: it’s like Homebase on steroids. Full of people buying stuff with which to do jobs themselves. It was a good 5-minute walk to the bathroom at the back. Inside which the soap comes out of the dispenser, water comes out of the tap and hand-drying paper is dispensed all with a quick wave. Because DIY folk don’t like working too hard to wash their hands.
On sale were sit-upon lawn mowers and traffic cones amongst other exotic items. We just splashed out and bought a sign to tell people where the garage sale is located.
In the evening I joined Jyoti for a hike down to the beach. Funnily enough, it started right by the football pitch where we’d been yesterday. It was much warmer and much less windy tonight though. It’s gone now but fairly recently a wahle carcass washed up on the beach to be thoroughly enjoyed by the bears.
Sunset is still after 9pm, so we reluctantly decided not to wait for it. The sea was lovely and calm so of course I skimmed a couple of stones.
The beach was sandy where I was expecting mud, so that made a more pleasant jaunt. We passed a few people jogging on the path and along the beach. Or, more precisely, they passed us.
Next day, we both went to the gym. I covered one mile in 11m58s. Then, after a bit more time on thr treadmill, it was over to the stationary bike where I cycled nowhere, or 1.5 miles, depending on how you look at it. Liesel did a yoga session. I don’t know which of us had more fun.
Liesel and I joined Jyoti for a walk on the (in)famous Flat Top Trail and Powerline Trail. The sky was blue, the Sun was out, it really was a beautiful day for a hike. A strenuous hike. I think the path started off at about a 40° slope and I thought, if this lasts much longer, I’m gonna have to crawl up on all fours.
But that was the worst part, and the ensuing four miles or so reavealed some spectacular views of the mountains, near and far, glacial valleys and of Anchorage itself. We were joined by a friend of Jyoti’s, Lisa: everyone knows everyone in this town.
In the evening, we went to the Bear Tooth where you can eat a meal while watching a movie: very civilised. We saw Three Identical Strangers, a documentary about a set of triplets separated soon after birth and each adopted by a different family. As a human interest story, it was indeed very interesting and moving. But there was an undercurrent of unethical psychological research practices.
Mick is hoping to purge this earworm by mentioning it here. Anchored Down in Anchorage by Michelle Shocked is a great song, but I wish my mind would concentrate on a different one about AK or preferably, about something entirely different.
Monday was a day of rest. Asa’s interested in cookery and he scrambled some eggs for our breakfast. And we went out for some shopping, stopping at a coffee bar, of course.
In the evening, we went to collect Gideon from his football practice. He enjoys playing in goal but for the time we were there, all the play was at the other end of the pitch. As I walked back to the car with him, he was dribbling his football and his control was very impressive!
The field has several colonies of mushrooms should they get hungry during a game.
The next morning, we went to the gym where our 12-year old Training Assistant, Hannah, got us to do some exercises. And tried to sell us more services, of course. We’d rather be outside walking or cycling but the weather recently has been a bit damp and the immediate forecast doesn’t look too good either. But we do need to build up strength and stamina before our long trek in Japan.
In the coffee shop afterwards (it had to be done!), we bumped into Suvan: we were planning to see him later in the day too at his Mom’s house.
In the afternoon, we took Asa and Gideon to the movies. Christopher Robin is very enjoyable, very gentle with some nice nods to the original Winnie the Pooh stories.
We went round to Jyoti’s in the evening for her gorgeous Indian food. Suvan was there too with his gorgeous new bride Kayla.
We took Asa to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage. Gideon didn’t want to come because the animals make his hands smell. Which may be a euphemism for he wanted to stay in to play computer games. The weather was dry but a couple more degrees of heat would have been welcome.
The Center does take in orphaned and injured animals and, for us, provided a good way of seeing some genuine Alaskan wildlife albeit in an artificial setting.
On the way to AWCC, we stopped at the Alaska Bakery. I have never been defeated by a cinnamon roll before but this one was enormous. Cinnamon roll?It was a brick! I ate it in three sessions during the day. Yes, I should have taken a picture of it.
When we got back home, Liesel and I went for a quick walk up the road with the dog who was limping a bit and she knew when she’d had enough. It was just great being outside for so long today.
It’s not every day you get woken by the phone ringing at 7.00am. It was the crew delivering the new dishwasher and the new oven telling us they were on their way. We both stayed in bed until they’d gone.
Jyoti called as well to say she was coming over at about 9am and as it was 8.45, I knew I had plenty of time: she is Indian after all 😉 but she showed up just a few minutes later, and the three of us went for a walk to Kincaid Park and around the trails.
Asa and Gideon went for a quick bike ride to Kincaid too, and on their way back home, they told us that there was a moose around the corner with her baby. We didn’t know how the dog would respond so we turned back, and found a different rute through the park.
We found Beercan Lake, aka Campbell Point Lake, the location of our marriage ceremony all those years ago.
In fact, we realised it was exactly our 12½th wedding anniversary, half a silver!
After the walk, we went to a great resaurant called South for a late but very welcome breakfast. I liked one of the paintings on the wall but Liesel thought we probably wouldn’t be able to afford it. So I snuck a photo instead.
In the afternoon, we took both boys to Color Me Mine, a paint your own ceramics shop. It was a lot of fun but it’s fair to say that other customers had more artistic talent than we do. The items will be fired in the oven and we’ll be able to collect them in 7-10 days.
I don’t think I’ve played Monopoly for a quarter of a century or more but the rules came right back to mind. We played the Alaska edition which was fun, but the funniest thing was, Gideon’s cheating was more blatant than Asa’s. Even so, I was declared the winner in the end because I had more properties. But, really, the game lasts far too long for young folks and I even thought that when I was myself a young folk.
The Alaska edition has groups of land mammals, sea mammals, cities, natural features and the Chance and Community Chest cards have been given an Alaskan flavour. No “You came second in a beauty contest” here, it’s “You have won second prize in the miners and trappers ball costume contest”. You can go to jail for “exceeding legal fishing limits”.
Wednesday was the thirteenth anniversary of Liesel moving to England. We didn’t mark the occasion, mainly because we didn’t remember until the following day. Oh well, maybe next year.
But we did have a fantastic and fascinating 9-hour long trip on board the good ship Lu-Lu Belle.
It was raining when we walked across the road to wait, under cover, for departure at 11 o’clock. It rained on and off all day, but that didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the cruise and everything we saw. Captain Fred Rodolf has been cruising Prince William Sound since 1979 so he’s had plenty of time to perfect his commentary which was both informative and very funny.
He was very proud of the oriental rugs on Lu-Lu Belle, so we passengers all had to wipe our feet before going on board.
Just one of the oriental rugs
A boat’s wake is so-called because it wakes up any sea otters that happen to be asleep as the boat passes by.
And we did indeed wake up a few otters, in cold water, yes, but snugly warm with their 100,000 hairs per square inch.
We saw Valdez Glacier as we left the harbour, just, through the mist and the haze. Fred told us that the Valdez we’re staying in is not the original town. That was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake. But why is there a place here at all? Because it’s the northern-most, totally ice-free harbour on the Pacific coast of America. It gets very cold but the sea doesn’t freeze here.
We passed by Glacier Island where we were met by the sight and the stench of sea-lions, great big lumbering slugs lolloping on the beaches.
Fred told us several times that sea-lions weren’t very popular because they eat the salmon. And the Alaskan salmon industry is second only in size to its oil industry. The salmon population is closely monitored and if one year, not enough salmon return to spawn, then the permitted catch is reduced accordingly.
Further around the island, the boat nosed into several caves, yes, actually into the caves, to try and find some puffins. It was delightful to see them high up, nesting in the caves but it was impossible to get a decent photo from a moving boat while looking up, trying not to fall over and desperate not to drop the phone.
It really is a puffin
Pictures of humpback whales turned out a bit better. There was more time, they were further away and I was more steady on my feet. One of the whales resurfaced pretty much every seven minutes, but where he would appear was anyone’s guess.
Thar she blows!
One of the other passengers was eating ‘gorp’. I don’t know if that’s a well-known term for it, but trail-mix really is a different animal in these parts. At home, trail-mix is just a mix of nuts and dried fruit. Here in AK, it has nuts and raisins, yes, but it also includes little chocolate chips as well as M&Ms.
As we approached Columbia Glacier, we saw ice-bergs. Mostly quite small but there were some large ones too. Their blue colour is lovely, brought about by refraction in ice when all of the air has been squeezed out.
Approaching the glacier was something I never thought I’d do. Columbia has retreated several miles over the last forty years, and the leading edge is a mile and a quarter wide. From a few miles away, we could see mountains behind but as we approached to within a quarter of a mile, its 200 feet height obscured those mountains from view. That alone gave us an idea of the immense size of the glacier.
We heard chunks of ice crashing into the sea before we saw any calving. As close as we were, sound still reached us too late to be able to turn and look at the right place. It was a bit of a guessing game, but I think everyone saw a few splashes. A couple were big enough to generate waves that reached our boat, but, thank goodness, not strong enough to threaten us in any way.
Captain Fred let us watch the glacier and the calving for a good hour and just as we left, a tall pinnacle detached and fell over, though not while I was filming.
Klaus will talk to anyone and everyone and somehow the crew discerned that it would soon be his and Leslie’s 50th wedding anniversary. They wanted to do something to mark the occasion, but as only one of the happy couple was present, Klaus received the gift of a free muffin!
Yin and yang, though. At some point when Klaus was on deck, the wind carried away his favourite cap, depicting Oregon Ducks, the football team of Leslie’s alma mater. American football, that is.
In the evening, for the first time in AK this trip, we dined out. Fu Kung Chinese but also Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai and presumably other oriental cuisine.
Fu Kung good food
The following day when I went for a quick walk before leaving Valdez, I bumped into Captain Fred again. I asked him to keep a lookout for Klaus’s cap. He said he would, it’s probably being worn by a sea-lion though!
We had to check out of the campground in Valdez by 11am, much earlier than the state-run places, but at least we had good weather for much of the journey today. We had planned to camp one more night, by Lake Louise, but in the end, it was decided to go all the way back home to Anchorage. Klaus thought nothing of the four-hour drive, but then there is a lot less traffic here on the highways than we have to contend with on motorways between London and Manchester.
Being able to see the sights today was wonderful too. The Horsetail Waterfall was very popular with visitors.
We saw lots of lakes and glaciers and mountains as we drove westwards along the Glenn Highway. In places, it looked like a sheer drop to the left, the other side of the road.
The trees were noticeably different from place to place. Tall, bushy white spruce and birches were dominant in places. But in between, where the ground was swampy and the roots less strong, the trees looked really weak and feeble. These are black spruce.
When I saw black spruce a couple of days ago, I thought they were just trees recovering from a bush fire: not much foliage yet and blackened, wizzened trunks. But no, this is what they really look like. If you imagine a nice, thick, leafy spruce as being a healthy, well-fed fox’s brush, then black spruce are the tails of mangy foxes.
We were delighted to see a few groups of cyclists on the Glenn Highway, including one group of about six German girls. They were all doing well even though the road was quite hilly in places. Helped of course by the decent weather we were all enjoying.
I learned something else in the last few days. Where the road is rollercoaster-like bumpy up and down due to melting frost below the road surface, the term used is ‘frost heaves’.
We arrived back home about 6.30pm, and after a chat and something to eat, Mom and Dad went to bed and for the first time in nearly two weeks, the TV was turned on. 666 channels of absolute tosh. Liesel settled for a Harry Potter film.
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:
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!
As predicted, a slight cloud cover this morning made us wonder whether that was Summer, then. But no, it’s still warm, and we took the day off to go to the seaside.
We’d been to Formby before, but today was much warmer. In places, the sand was too hot to walk on with bare feet. The last time I remember that happening in England was on the Isle of Wight, in 1978, pre children, pre marriage, a long, long time ago!
We had a lovely walk on the beach though: where the sand was still slightly damp, it was much more comfortable underfoot. And the offshore wind farm was doing a good job of blowing a cool, calm breeze our way. We watched a large ship navigate through the turbines, or so it seemed from our point of view. That would be a fascinating photo, I thought. But no. Due to bad planning, I’d left the camera at home. Instead, here’s a selfie that we took with Liesel’s phone:
We sat and lay down for a short while and I very nearly nodded off. But Liesel’s declaration of hunger prompted us to move off to find some lunch. A local Co-op provided sandwiches and crisps and, for me, a one-litre carton of chocolate milk. This is the drink of choice after a long bike ride and it was the best offering in the shop today. I must have been thirsty: it was all gone by the time we stopped at Sainsbury’s for some shopping.
It was a bit scary though. I was wearing a white polo shirt. These seem to attract food and drink stains, so the idea of drinking chocolate milk, from a carton, in a moving car, had an element of risk. But no spillage occured, the shirt is still pristine!
I thought the chocolate and the sugar would perk me up a bit. But no, it had the exact opposite effect. I really did need a nap, now. A cup of coffee in the supermarket didn’t help in this respect, either.
So, when we got home, I had to lie down and rest my eyes for a while. Meanwhile, Liesel was on the phone to our travel agent.
We have, she has, now booked our first few flights. So, we have the beginnings of the skeleton of our gap year travels. Plans to spend some time in Vancouver and/or take a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska have been shelved, this time round. Because we’re leaving home so much later than originally anticipated, we just want to reach AK before the really bad Winter weather sets in.
So that’s terrific. We’re under starters orders and we’ll soon be off.
Liesel also made a nice dip to take round to Jenny’s this evening. We went to join Jenny and Helen to watch England’s semi-final game in the World Cup.
On this day 33 years ago, Sarah, Jenny and I moved from Peterborough to Chessington, into the house that Liesel and I moved from just last week.
Although we were gathered together to watch a football game with Liam and his parents too, it felt strangely ‘right’ to be spending time with Jenny and Helen, and with the two grandchildren that Sarah missed out on.
Martha was fully supporting ‘our team’
and she knows ‘Football’s coming home’. I explained this motto to Liesel but as it’s from a song from 1996 and it has changed its emphasis and meaning over the years, I’m not sure I was convinced myself that I was telling the truth.
I also had to explain that World Cup Willie was the England mascot from the 1966 World Cup, not a medical complaint experienced by men who watch too much football on TV.
Well, England lost to Croatia and then Liesel and I came home instead.
It was a pleasure to meet up with my old friend Michael B today, in Paddington. Yes, after ten years, we managed to be in the same place at the same time once again! We caught up on our careers (well, his) and our travels. He’s still very interested in hospital radio, which is great, podcasting and writing.
A shout-out to Marie as well, another friend with whom I met up a couple of days ago, over in Orpington. We had a good chat and a coffee.
Both will be very welcome to visit us in our new, northern home, in the fullness of time. As will anyone else that we don’t meet up with one final time before we move on.
And last night Liesel and I went out to see Jeremy Nicholas again, this time at the Museum of Comedy. His show, ‘After Dinner Stories from my Disastrous Broadcasting Career’, was much more slick than last time. Some stories have gone, some new ones are in. And no drunken heckler. Go and see him in Edinburgh if you’re there in August.
And what a fascinating venue. Lots of artefacts from the world of comedy. I don’t know if this is the one from Steptoe and Son, but here is a picture of Liesel with a bear behind:
On this day in 1973, David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars?’ was released as a single. It’s still one of our favourite songs of his and it’s still fascinating to hear which radio presenters play it right to the end. When the phone rings, I emit a small cheer and Liesel rolls her eyes.
So here’s the news you’ve come along for… Our solicitor called early this morning to tell us that we’ve exchanged on both our sale and our purchase! Liesel and I had a bit of a hug and a cry and a bit of a dance, such a relief! We’re definitely moving out on July 2nd, the lorry will be loaed up with our stuff which will move into the flat on the 3rd: the poor removal guys will set off at 5 o’clock that morning. As described a few days ago, if the flat becomes unavailable for some reason, we have storage booked. So, yes, definitely moving out!
So now, the emotion will begin to set in fully. It has a bit already, as we’ve been packing up stuff from 33 years in this house.
We’ve packed up well over half the contents of the house and we’ve set ourselves the target of finishing off by Friday, disposing of the stuff we don’t want, such as the washing machine that should have been replaced a long time ago.
The bottom line is, we still don’t know if we’re moving into a flat or into storage.
We are proceeding at a pace with the packing. So much stuff. There are at least five boxes of photos. Actual printed photos. It’s been on the to-do list for years, and I think it’s on everyone’s list: sort out the old photos. We really feel that progress is being made, though. There is a nice pile of stuff to pass on to the children as soon as is convenient. (Don’t tell them.)
A removal man came along this afternoon to give us a quote.
It’s official: estate agents lie. This week, again, we tried to find out when our flat would be vacant. The agent said that because they’re moving into a newly built house that isn’t finished yet, they would never give a date.
But they gave us a date right at the start. They said May. Later revised to mid-June due to a spell of bad weather. But now they can’t give us a date because anything could go wrong. The agent couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see that they’d given us dates before so there can’t be hard and fast rules about getting dates from builders. Also, being told May, at the time, fitted in perfectly with our plans. If they’d said then that they had no idea when they’d be able to move out, I doubt that we would have put in an offer, regardless of how good the property is.
Our seller is under stress now, said the agent, as she tries to confirm with her solicitor that they can exchange this week and complete on 2nd July. I didn’t take the bait and tell that actually, we’re quite stressed out too. Yesterday, she regurgitated a conversation I’d had with her on 2nd March. I explained that the situation is totally different now.
Anyway, that’s where we are.
Freegle is a great resource: you can get total strangers to come to your house and take stuff away. I’ll miss the old 1990s stereo system that hasn’t worked properly for years. The record player was disposed of years ago. Buttons on the cassette player broke many moons ago. If you play a CD, it usually skips the first time, but is OK if you restart. Plus, one of the speakers only works intermittently. The FM aerial is meh. The AM aerial is meher. Other than that, it’s in perfect working order. I recorded may radio programmes on it in the olden days.
It’s a lovely sunny day, we should be outside enjoying the weather, not inside packing and emptying the loft. Maybe we’ll go for an early evening stroll, after the man’s picked up his stereo system!
On this day in 2014, we went to the British Museum to see The Vikings Exhibition. We went with Myra, Sarah’s Mum and found it a very interesting display. They certainly got around, those Vikings. We ate at a Turkish restaurant afterwards. I must have been suffering from my earlier fast though, as there are, unusually, no photos.
Yes, I fasted for 12 hours overnight prior to my free old farts’ health check with the GP. This is when the rot set in. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure but as I was training for a long bike ride, I chose not to start taking medication until after that event. So, in the following November, I started taking anti-hypertension medication. Wow: shortness of breath, no stamina, I felt horrible. Even after a change of drugs, I still felt ridiculously weak and feeble.
Once I stopped working for Royal Mail, the BP dropped to fairly normal and I stopped taking the medication. But here I am, two years on, still with nowhere near the stamina I once had. I don’t have dizzy spells as often as I did back then, but every now and then, if I stand up too quick, I feel all wobbly. I know there are risks with high blood pressure, but really, I was much better off before I knew I ever had high blood pressure!
But that’s all in the past. The really exciting news is that Liesel had been talking to a Travel agent about our travels. All very exciting but the bad news is, I forgot we had to pay for it. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but the schedule so far looks quite breathtaking, although subject to change: Vancouver, Anchorage, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Botswana. This will be much more fun to write about when the time comes than all this house-moving mallarkey.