Benches, boats, birds and bottoms

We’re about to be locked down again, so our world isn’t going to broaden any time soon. But we still enjoy our almost daily walks in and around Northenden. And we did have a proper day out, just once, this week.

We walked over to Fletcher Moss Park where Liesel again met up with her WI ladies.

Men in three boats

The river was flowing slowly on this occasion, so the kayakers couldn’t just drift along. They probably needed the exercise.

Two swans

We haven’t seen swans on the Mersey for a long time, so this was a rare treat.

In the park, one of the memorial benches received some love, presumably from the family.

Love

While Liesel chatted with her friends, I took my coffee to the rockery, found a bench in the Sun and read my book. What I didn’t anticipate was having company of my own.

My mate, the robin

The robin and I had a good chat. I couldn’t apologise enough for not having any food, certainly no mealworm, about my person.

Crocus

I have a few books on the go at the moment: poems, short stories, non-fiction but no novel, and that is very unusual. So I was pleased when Jyoti recommended a science fiction book that I might enjoy. Thank you!

Walking back home through the park,  we passed a crocus, which is unusual this time of year. It’s jolly lucky we didn’t stomp on it by mistake.

We’re told this is a wild Autumn crocus, new to both of us.

Something else I didn’t expect to see in the park was a bat. Neither a cricket bat nor a vampire bat.

Bat behind the bench

Later on, we saw the herons, two of them, flying up and down the river. Maybe they hadn’t migrated after all. Or maybe they had but didn’t like it there and came home. Anyway, one stopped, waited, watched and finally grabbed for a juicy titbit in the water. He shook his head, but who knows whether he was swallowing a small fish, or just stunned from bashing his beak on the river bed.

Heron going for it

We had a good day at Chester Zoo, which I don’t think was as busy as last time. The temperature was perfect. But the animals were not at all cooperative, turning away as soon as they knew I was about to take their picture.

Beaucoups de derrières
Fascinating menu

Here are just a few of the animals that we saw, some more easily than others.

Selfie of the day
More Autumnal colours
Penguins
Himalayan monal

The beautifully iridescent Himalayan monal is the national bird of Nepal, and one of the few inmates to turn round and pose for a photo.

Liesel finished her second crochet blanket this week, and it’s a wonderful work of art. It has been exported to Chessington where I hope it lives happily ever after.

Liesel’s blanket

While Liesel’s busy crocheting, I can usually be found pursuing one of my interests on the computer. For instance, this week, I completed the ‘How to Read Poetry’ course. It was interesting but very intense and I learned a lot of new words and concepts.

Here’s a pretty leaf
It fell out of a tree
If I’d been there at the wrong time
It might have fell on me.

A pretty Autumnal leaf

Yes, I should probably do a ‘How to Write Poetry’ course too.

We wandered over to Gatley under a blue sky. Mostly. Big grey clouds appeared ominously, the temperature dropped a few degrees and we were convinced we’d be rained on before we returned home. But no, our luck held.

Blue sky over Gatley

We went for another walk, this time through Kenworthy Woods. The apples that we’d planned on sampling have long gone, and the few that remain are a bit moth-eaten, or squirrel-eaten. I left Liesel at the hairdresser where she kept her mask on, and enjoyed her fisrt haircut in over six months.

I’ll never be a big fan of snails, but now that I am not growing plants that they find very nice and very tasty, I can almost admire their beauty.

Snail

This week on Radio Northenden, we went to the zoo: a couple of hours of music about zoos, zoo animals or some songs with a very tenuous link to the above. Listen here. Thanks again to Martha and William for helping out. Nobody could ask for better broadcast assistants.

Martha was VIP in her class one day at school, this week. This was because she turned up at school bearing a huge smile. Mummy said she was very proud of Martha. Martha said, ‘I’m proud of me, too. I’m proud of my mouth.’  

Mandelbrot Extinction

A big week in mickandlieselsanticsland – it was a big birthday for Liesel. We celebrated by going to the seaside, not once, but twice.

Formby – at its busiest

The car park was full, but the beach is huge, so although there were pockets of people, it was easy enough to find our own space. Luckily, we’d arrived early, because by the time we left, there was a very long queue of cars waiting to get into the car park. The final Sunday before the ‘Rule of 6’ restrictions kick in, maybe. Or just a Sunday.

Not really a hidden message

These shapes are a result of small stones and fragments of shell on the beach, combined with the angle of the Sun and the wind direction. At first glance, it reminded me of some old Babylonian cuneiform writing, all those little triangles.

Selfie of the day

We had a nice long walk along the beach. The wind was borderline acceptable, quite strong but not cold. Nonetheless, for protection, I was walking along the beach with a finger in my ear like a really intense folk singer.

On Monday, lots of flowers arrived, so I was up and down stairs like an old, wheezing yoyo [edited]. The bell rang, I ran downstairs, thought it was weird because I’d ordered flowers from Interflora, not M&S, then I thought maybe Interflora uses M&S round these strange northern parts. Plus when Liesel opened the box, I thought, those don’t look like the flowers I’d ordered! The attached card revealed that this bouquet was actually from Helen and Steve. My flowers arrived a couple of hours later, I’m glad to say. And a third one from Pauline, Andrew and Rob in New Zealand arrived a little later. So far, my birthday card hasn’t arrived, which is embarrassing and very disappointing: I should have just handed an old one over in the first place. but I didn’t want to go into a shop and buy one, so I ordered it online. Oh well, there’ll be another birthday next year.

Early on birthday morning, we had a Zoom call with Jenny, Liam, Martha and William here in UK, and Helen and Adam in Australia. Martha and William sang Happy Birthday, blew out candles and ate cake. (Later in the day, William wanted to sing Happy Birthday again, but I think the main attraction was more cake.) Liesel opened her presents and it looks as though she’ll be busy for the next several weeks doing a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle (a collage of photos of our grandchildren and our adventures, put together by Helen), and making cheese (a great idea, Jenny)!

Later on, it was good to have an online chat with Sarah in Exeter too.

Empty beach

We returned to Formby, and even though it was much later in the day this time, it was far less busy. Everyone’s back at work and at school now, hastening the second wave of Covid infection, presumably

A monkey with a very long tail

Hoof prints in the sand

We had a fantastic picnic lunch of samosas and veggie sausage rolls. The wind was less strong today, too, so overall, we had a very pleasant time. The tide was a long way out, so if there were any jellyfish around, we didn’t see them.

Where’s Liesel?

It was a hot day, and possibly the last really hot day of the year, if the forecast is anything to go by.

Horses and a wind farm

I could have made a cake, I could have gone out and bought a cake, but Liesel made her own cake, a small but perfectly formed chocolate cake. Somehow, we made it last three days. Very nice, very tasty.

We walked around the local area again a few times, visiting the river, and Fletcher Moss Park. We don’t know if our herons have migrated at all, but we haven’t seen them all week.

Fletcher Moss

The Autumn colours are really coming out now.

We talked about these tall trees. Are they conifer? Or are they dancer? Answers on a postcard please!

Very tall trees

One morning, we went out really early, the ground was covered in dew, our feet got wet, but we saw some beautiful sights.

Bedewed web

No results!

So, the title, Mandelbrot Extinction. Any ideas? No, nor me. I woke up one day with the phrase buzzing around my head like a fly trying to get out of a room with no windows. I assume it’s the only remnant from what must have been a very interesting dream. I googled the phrase, of course I did, and there is nothing. My strange nocturnal mind has invented something brand new. At least I have a name the next time I form a rock band.There used to be a game to play on the internet: enter two random words into Google and try to get exactly one result. Googlewhacking! Well, once this blog has been published and the web crawlers have done their job, maybe Mandelbrot Extinction will be a successful Googlewhack, bringing you right back here!

Friday in Northenden was big. Up Your Street was an opportunity for local businesses to highlight their wares. Thankfully, the weather was kind, and Palatine Road and the surrounding area was very busy. Dan McDwyer and a couple of singers from his Youth Choir, part of The Choir Project, provided the entertainment outside Salutem.

Dan’s choir

As well as playing keyboards, singing and conducting his singers, he was broadcasting on Radio Northenden. And yes, it was good to see Radio Northenden in the list of participants.

Up Your Street

Liesel and I had a fantastic breaded halloumi burger in The Northern Den, highly recommended! We met Sanny and Katie from Radio Northenden there, with (baby) Byron: he sometimes gatecrashes his Mum and Dad’s shows. It felt strange talking to people, in a restaurant, outside, because after six months of lockdown, of course, it is strange.

Before walking up the road to Up Your Street, I presented my own regular show on Radio Northenden. Because it was her birthday this week, Liesel picked all the music and there were some lovely messages from family and friends too. Due to bad planning on my part, I had to leave out a couple of the songs, and many of the stories I’d planned ended up on the cutting room floor. And now, they’ve ended up here, in this very blog. Here comes a tarted up version of the ‘script’ for Liesel’s Birthday show. Tarted up? I’ve fixed the many typographical, grammatical and punctuational errors and I’ve left out all the adverts for, and references to, Up Your Street – if you missed it, you missed it! Listen here for two hours of fab and groovy music.

Mort Stevens and his Orchestra – Theme from Hawaii Five-O
Dave Matthews – American Baby

We’ve seen Dave Matthews Band in concert a few times, with Liesel’s cousin Andrea, and Steve. And just like Whispering Bob Harris, we can’t understand why they’re not bigger here in the UK. At one show, Liesel was approached by a stranger. Liesel thought he was a ne’er-do-well, a random stranger. But no. He was only Dave Matthews’ guitar player, and he was here, at Andrea’s behest, to give Liesel a guitar pick.

Queen – Radio Gaga

I saw Queen support Mott the Hoople at Hammersmith Odeon. Liesel didn’t, on account of being a mere toddler at the time. Embarrassing. Mott the Hoople played a long set, they wouldn’t leave the stage, and the curtain came down in front of them.

U2 – Bullet the Blue Sky
Dolly Parton – Coat of Many Colours

Nope, neither of us have seen U2 nor Dolly, live.

Delighted that Liesel chose a David Bowie song, almost without prompting. You may remember the video for China Girl ends with a passionate embrace on a beach. Well, Liesel and I spent part of her birthday at Formby [see above], walking and picnicking, rather than rolling around in the surf: the tide was too far out.

David Bowie – China Girl

Liesel’s celebratory birthday meal this year, after our day at the seaside, was fish and chips from the Church Road Chippy. Sadly, they had no cheese and onion pies for me this time, so a bit of a let-down.

Unthanks – Magpie

We’ve seen them just once in concert, at the newly renovated Roundhouse in London.

Martha Tilston – Survival Guide

We’ve seen Martha probably more often than any other single artist, at various venues around the country. [Most recently]

Billy Joel – Piano Man

We’ve seen him in concert once, great show, Piano Man, Uptown Girl, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. He invited his guitar player Mike del Guidice to sing a song. He performed Nessun Dorma and of course we sang along. Well, until security intervened.

Neil Diamond – I am I said

We wanted to see him in concert a few years ago, but the tickets were far too expensive.

Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto – Desafinado

That’s another song that I murdered while learning to play the saxophone.

Shanukh Khan and Sapna Awasthi – Chaiyya Chaiyya

I was doing all the Bollywood moves there, screwing in light bulbs, picking cherries from trees. I can’t do the pigeon head movement though. From the 1998 film Dil Se.

Adele – Skyfall

One of those songs that took a while to grow on me after being played on autorepeat on a radio station that I couldn’t switch off, when I was at work. [Chessington Delivery Office]

Gordon Lightfoot – Rainy Day People

We saw him on his first visit to the UK after a 30-year absence. He still has a great voice and some timeless songs

Bill Withers – Ain’t no Sunshine

One of Liesel’s favourite songs. Bill Withers’ first job was making toilet seats for Boeing airlines. He wrote this song during that time.

Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the wall

We haven’t seen Pink Floyd but we’ve been close. We once cycled from Bakewell to Buxton, along the A6, in the rain, as it was getting dark, an experience that Liesel doesn’t need to repeat. The reward was seeing a Pink Floyd tribute band at the Opera House. We only had time for a bag of crisps for dinner that evening. [We’d been told that buses between Bakewell and Buxton have bike racks on the front. They don’t.]

A better experience was watching Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, in Hyde Park in London. He performed Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. I found it it incredibly moving. I don’t think Liesel quite understood why me and other fans of a certain age were in tears. That’s how powerful music can be.

Sister Sledge – We are Family
Simon and Garfunkel – 59th Bridge Street Song

We saw them at a reunion gig in Hyde Park, our first outdoor show together. Liesel was slightly intimidated by the size of the crowd, so much so, that she wouldn’t even let me go to the toilet by myself. The show was good but I don’t think Paul and Art made eye contact once, which is quite sad. The support act was The Everly Brothers.

Nina Simone – Missisippi Goddamn
Wynton Marsalis Septet – Linus and Lucy

We saw Wynton Marsalis at a late night concert many years ago, maybe it was one of the Proms that year. And we can hear a version of that song on Amy Lamé’s 6 Music show each week as she tells us what delights we can look forward to. Amy is also big fan of Christine and the Queens. During a recent interview, I wondered whether they shouldn’t just get a room.

Christine and the Queens – Christine
[Baz Luhrmann (Quinson Tarver speaking)- Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen – not played because I was running out of time]
Duran Duran – Ordinary World

We nearly saw Duran Duran in concert several years ago, we had tickets, but sadly illness overtook us.

Rick Braun – Nightwalk

We saw him in concert at Pizza Express in London. We had a table right at the front. Rick left his trumpet on the stage, easily within reach. Tempted to have a go? Of course I was, but Liesel said No.

Bic Runga – When I see you Smile

We were lucky enough to see her in concert a couple of years ago, in a vineyard on an island off Auckland, New Zealand, what a beautiful day, she really made us smile.

James Taylor – Steam roller [Swear word beautifully edited out, if I do say so myself]

Of course we’ve seen James Taylor on stage! Just the once.

We’ve also seen REM: at Twickenham Stadium. They played their music, not rugby, of course.

REM – Man on the Moon
Frank Sinatra – Young at Heart

Have we seen Frank in concert? Yes, if a holographic projection counts. ‘He’ was accompanied by a live orchestra.

[Dave Matthews – What would you say? – not played, no time]
Elbow – Grounds for Divorce
PS Yes, I was surprised at how many of these artists we’ve seen perform in concert over the last 16 years or so together. What an adventure! We can’t wait for live shows to start up again.

Walks on the wild side

Liesel and I are both happy about going out for a walk most days. There’s usually something interesting or funny to see in our local neighbourhood. But, equally, we can’t wait to go further afield. New York. London. Paris. Munich. Everybody talk about pop music. Our one trip out of the area this week was to Dunham Massey, the National Trust venue. Last time we went, it was far too crowded, so we were quite prepared to take a look at the car park and leave straightaway if necessary. But no: our luck was in.

Pretty little white flowers but not snowdrops, we think

 As usual, we await corrections from our botanical correspondents.

Thanks go to Sally who identified these beauties as cyclamen. Of course, deep down, I knew that all along. I remember being told off as a youngster for trampling on my parents’ cyclamen in the garden, whilst retrieving an errant ball.

It really was a much more pleasant walk today than last time, we never felt there were too many people, too close to us. Schools are back and many people are now back at work, so that probably helped.

Tortoiseshell butterfly

It was nice to see so many butterflies, especially in the garden. But I am old enough to remember when, on a nature walk, we asked each other how many species of butterfly we’d seen, not just how many individual specimens.

This fox has lost its nose. How does it smell? Terrible

Proper social distancing

This is a good view, other people, far, far away in the distance. Yes, of course we came across groups of five, walking slowly, side by side, occupying the full width of the path, but really, we were very relaxed about the situation today.

Dragonfly

Regular viewers may recall my several failed attempts to take a decent photograph of a dragonfly, when we were in Alaska a couple of years ago. And other places, subsequently. Well, I think this is my most successful shot so far. Yes, I would prefer a more natural background, not the fence post, but that’s where he decided to settle.

Sparring buddies

We were able to walk around the deer park on this visit, an area that was restricted last time. And we saw quite a few deer. These two young males were having a pretend fight. The clatter of the clashing antlers resonated around the park. They scared a little fawn, who ran back to its mother, but there was no real malice in their sparring. Liesel was (rightly) concerned that I wouldn’t get too close, but none of the deer even twitched an ear in my direction.

We chose to walk to Fletcher Moss Park on what must have been National Dog-Walking Day. We saw at least three people, each with four or five dogs, of various shapes and sizes, the larger ones bounding about like jacks in boxes, the little ones with their little legs whizzing round and round like cartoon characters.

In the park, we admired the way the grass cutting operative had, literally, cut the corner.

The lawn mower was here

We walked through the rockery and rewarded ourselves with a coffee at the Alpine Tea Rooms.

Pretty red, Autumnal leaves

Our early-morning weekly walk to Didsbury was very pleasant.

Silverback wasp

This thing looks like a wasp rather than a bee, but it has a silver back, like an elderly male gorilla. But I didn’t think wasps were bothered about pollinating. We await further information from our entomological correspondents.

The Moon but not really the Milky Way

The sky was blue and the contrails were out in force this morning.

Feed the birds, tuppence a bag

This young lady was enjoying herself, bonding with the ducks.

We’ve seen a lot of heron activity during the week: one seems to hang about by a particular spot on the riverbank, maybe there’s a colony of tasty frogs there, or something.

We’ve seen far fewer geese this week: I wonder if they’ve started to fly south for the Winter? Another missed photo opp was a pair of squirrels, both standing upright on their hind legs, each holding an acorn in their front paws. A very cute pair of bookends.

We saw a very long worm on the path. I don’t know if we saved it from being consumed, but the robin wouldn’t return after we’d inadvertently scared it away. I’d like to say we saw a couple of chickens this week too, but no, just empty boxes from the local fried chicken emporia. A couple of horses thought about coming over the see us for a chat, but in the end, they changed their minds.

Apart from our perambulations, what have we been up to? Three weeks ago, we started studying poetry online. It’s a Future Learn course, of which I’ve completed quite a few now. How to read a Poem is very interesting, very detailed, very technical and very time-consuming. The funniest comment I’ve seen so far on the poetry course: “I do struggle with the idea that anything can be poetry but then I’m not a big fan of Tracy Eminem’s work either so I’m possibly just too old school.”

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

Online, I always try to catch Jessica Lee Morgan’s shows. If you want to hear her music, visit her YouTube channel, she’s performing live every Tuesday evening, 8pm, during September.

Or, listen to my latest Radio Northenden Show. I’ve played one of her songs every week so far, and I’m not apologising for that. This week’s theme was ‘Time Travel’, an excuse to play songs that I wouldn’t otherwise choose. Please bookmark this link and join me next Friday at 2pm to help celebrate Liesel’s birthday!

In other news: following my haircut last week, I am pleased to report a fantastic return on my investment. Yep: my shampoo bill has been more than halved.

Precipitations and celebrations

Martha under water

We couldn’t join them, sadly, but Martha and William went swimming in a pool for the first time since the lockdown started in March. We did enjoy watching the videos of them playing in the water, swimming, jumping in and even diving to the bottom to pick up objects, something I’ve never been able to do.

Wet wet wet

Martha and William weren’t the only ones to get wet this week. We all did. It rained. And it rained. A lot. Storm Francis got the blame, it brought strong winds and a lot of rain. So we didn’t go out every single day this week. Which was OK, we had plenty to do indoors, but it’s just so disheartening when every time you look out of the window, it’s grey and rainy: early onset November. Liesel finished her first crochet blanket and it looks really good.

Finished blanket

I was especially impressed with the fringe around the edges, a very professional finish. Liesel has now started on a second one, with a different combination of yarn colours.

We visited Lyme Park despite the threat of rain. It held off mostly on this occasion, and we had a very pleasant walk, if a little shorter than usual.

Fire escape

No doubt, if William had been with us, he would have been up this ladder like a shot.

Selfie of the day

Very pretty, delicate, little flowers

We have no idea what these flowers are, but when our botanical expert lets us know, I’ll amend this caption.

Helen has been in touch, thanks. She says: I think the plant might be a viburnum. The RHS website describes 439!

Fountain boy

This fella’s fish was spouting a very weak column of water. We have no idea who he is or what he represents, but as soon as our ornamental fountain expert lets us know, I’ll amend this caption.

Mr Blue Sky

Unexpectedly, as we bought our coffees just before leaving, a lovely patch of blue sky appeared. It didn’t last long, but it cheered us up.

Our next trip was to Biddulph Grange Gardens, a National Trust property that we’d not visited previously. By coincidence, Jenny and Liam had been a few days earlier, with Martha and William. Today, it rained on us pretty much all the time.

There’s a one-way system in place around the grounds, but one couple were backtracking in a hurry, presumably some sort of biological emergency.

Baby monkey puzzle tree

Obviously, even monkey puzzle trees have to start life as a seed, but I’d never seen one this small before. Very cute and I’m sure we’ll be back in 70 years time to see it fully grown.

Tiles

These tiles probably look very attractive on a dry, sunny day, but thery’re not as pretty covered in wet, muddy footprints.

Bridge

This bridge reminded us of those we’d seen in Japan, but in fact, it’s part of the Chinese area here. I think the one-way system meant that we couldn’t see all the various gardens at their best. But we had a very pleasant walk, and it’s easy to see why Martha and William thought it was a big adventure playground, with lots of steps and other obstacles to climb.

Dahlias

See-saw

Wet selfie of the day

The funny (?) thing is that by following the correct route, and choosing not to go into and through the house, we found ourselves at the exit with no way to go back and invest in a nice warming beverage.

Well, rain, mostly, since you ask

Back in Northenden this very morning, we did go for a walk locally. It was unexpectedly cold and we could tell from the puddles and the very high, fast-flowing river, it must have been raining a lot lately. You don’t say! The canoeists weren’t deterred though, but they had combined two vessels together for stability, as they drifted downstream: not a lot of paddling going on today, it really wasn’t necessary.

Canoes on the Mersey

Fast walking Indian lady

As we walked along the river on the high bank, an Indian lady was walking fast on the lower bank. I tried to capture her speed in a photo but it didn’t really work out, did it?

Bottles

Presumably this gathering by the riverside was illegal, but even so, that’s no excuse for not taking your empties home.

Show 100

Fifty years and nine days after Whispering Bob Harris first took to the airwaves on BBC Radio 1, Mick here took to the airwaves of our local, community, isolation station, Radio Northenden. It was also, by chance, the 100th show broadcast on this wonderful little station, and you can listen to them all here. Specifically, if you would like to hear my first show, listen here.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been busy learning new software, talking to myself, choosing music, practicing, rehearsing, reading books, talking to professionals, compiling pre-flight check-lists, trying to soak it all up. So here I am, broadcasting to a small but perfectly formed audience. During the first show, of course there were a couple of mistakes, but nothing too embarrassing, and, at the time of writing, no complaints have been made to Ofcom.

I look forward to next week’s difficult second show, and if you’d like to join me on Friday between 2 and 4pm, please do, from here, or download the Mixlr app on your phone or other device, and search for Radio Northenden. If you register, I’ll see your name on the list of visitors and I might even say hello.

It was good fun, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: I did write to a Hospital Radio station 25 years ago, but they never got back to me.

Mick the Knife aka Mick the DJ.

Northenden: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As mentioned previously, we’re re-watching old series of Doctor Who, one or two, sometimes three episodes a day. I know how he/she feels when she/he encounters the Daleks yet again. I have the same feeling whenever I some across bindweed out in the wild. At least I no longer have to fight this particular alien invasion in my own backyard.

Bindweed

Many, many years ago, when walking through the woods in Guildford, we would pop the little white flowers off, like miniature shuttlecocks. Granny-pops-out-of-bed, we called them. Who knew that such an innocent, childhood pastime would result in total world domination by this weed?

Much as we love Northenden and the surrounding areas, the local authorities are never going to win an Oscar for best supporting infrastructure.

Pothole

Potholes on roads are just annoying, a result of too much traffic and not enough investment, maybe. On the other hand, dumping your rubbish in the woods is not acceptable.

Rubbish

Looking on the bright side: at least this rubbish wasn’t ‘donated’ to the local Barnardo’s charity shop, as is often the case.

I wonder if the perpetrator of the fly-tipping was also responsible for this. Someone was desperate to get onto the golf course, by the looks of it.

Gate pretending to be a cattle grid

And here they are: golfers having a good time

As an antidote to the black bin bags blighting the landscape, I was desperate to see some colourful flowers but in the end, I just thought, thistle do.

Thistle

The river Mersey was flowing quite fast in the aftermath of a lot of rain. I’m not sure whether this bloke was fishing was food or trying to pull up an old tyre for his car.

Angler

After the rain, you can see the water’s just a little higher than usual, due to its incursion onto the island.

Geese on the island

My phone installed a new update this week and I didn’t realise at the time, but some of its operations have changed. That is the reason I have no footage of the geese having a good time. One was walking up the weir then sliding down on his belly. I filmed him a couple of times. Except I didn’t. But I do have some mad footage of me moving about in between those attempts, featuring some nice shots of my shoes and the grass and the sky.

Geese climbing up the weir

I’ve mentioned the rain a couple of times. But you ain’t seen nothing yet! It rained all night again, and when we retraced our steps next time, this is what we encountered. Remember that baby pothole? Well, see what it’s grown into.

The Mersey’s newest tributary

Remember the island? After a whole night’s torrential rain, the river was flowing as fast as we’ve ever seen it, and it had risen significantly.

The island under water

Plans for scrumping in Kenworthy Woods have been made: we’ll just give these little beauties a chance to fully ripen.

Apple tree

Lily – or is it?

Bin day is always exciting. Are we going to be woken up really early or not?

Refuse collectors

Despite walking around Northenden for several hours this week, we didn’t see a single person doing the hokey-cokey with their rubbish. I wonder if the fly-tipper was dancing under cover of darkness?

It didn’t take more than 24 hours before the river began retreating, revealing the island once again from its watery depths.

The island emerging from the deluge

In fact, it was a Spring-like day, the Sun was out, you could feel its heat on your back, but it was ridiculously cold in the shadows. The insects seem to like it though, having been hiding and cowering away from all that precipitation. Flies, bees, butterflies, ladybirds, midges, you name it. No, not locusts.

Ladybirds and bumble bees

Liesel joined in a Zoom call with her old WI chums from Chessington. I wasn’t eavesdropping, honest, I was just finishing my breakfast. But my ears pricked up when I heard Liesel ask if they were all doing penance? I was hoping to hear salacious details of the ladies’ sinful, sordid activities. But no. To mark and commemorate the current pandemic, they’re all making pennants.

In other, local news, Radio Northenden has received funding from Manchester City Council’s Neighbourhood Investment Fund! So it looks like our local, parochial, isolation station will continue broadcasting beyond the lockdown.

Thanks to and RIP Ennio Morricone who wrote the music for the film that inspired this post’s title. He composed over 400 scores for cinema and television, as well as over 100 classical works. This makes my 300 blog posts seem incredibly insignificant.

Parks and Recreation

The weather here has been as strange as it can be. Hot and muggy, torrential rain and thunderstorms, but we have been out and about, a little further afield, so things are looking up. This week saw the release of a couple of new records. I joined Anna Neale and a few other fans as she launched her new single Anarchy. I surrepticiously tried to take  a picture of the Zoom screen but it didn’t really work. It was good to see the world premiere(!) of the accompanying video, even if Zoom couldn’t quite keep up. You should view the video here, not just for the song itself, but for my first ever (minor) contribution to a ‘pop video’. See if you can spot it. Answers at the bottom.

Anna Neale and Mick

The song itself talks about the decline in societal standards including littering and graffiti. But sometimes, we see something daubed on a wall and it’s a positive message. So much better than the boring tags, however convoluted and multi-coloured they are.

Some positive graffiti

It’s a bit more risky these days to walk on a golf course, but you never know what you’ll come across. I found a lawn mower behind a bank of trees. I assume the green-keeper left it there on purpose. There were no golfers around on this occasion, so I didn’t need my tin hat after all.

The business end of a lawn mower

I walked along the river, a little beyond Simon’s Bridge and rather than retrace our stroll from a couple of weeks ago, I carried on as far as the beach. I was surprised that it was free of litter, very unusual around here, sadly. In Millgate Fields, there are ground-nesting birds apparently, but I didn’t see nor disturb any.

Costa del Mersey

A few other people were out and about too, but I was surprised to see a couple with walking poles. The terrain around here isn’t that bad, really. I tried using walking poles once. Never again. Mobile trip hazards. I’m still not sure if this is the one and only local heron or if there are a few living at different places on the river. It would be nice to see more than one at a time, though!

Friend or stranger?
Another family of ducks

And so we come to the most exciting day since March. We gathered up our passports and ventured outside and away from the local neighbourhood. Away from Northenden, further even than Didsbury. Our wonderful car started at the first attempt and we drove to Lyme Park for a walk. This, like all other National Trust properties has re-opened, but you have to book a time slot in advance.

BDM

The cafés are still closed and only one toilet is open, but that’s OK, we had a lovely walk, on hilly grass and, best of all, there weren’t many people, so it was easy to maintain social distancing.

Lyme Park mansion house itself is still closed too, so we had no excuse to not carry on walking.

Lyme House and Liesel
The Cage (a folly) and to the left, Manchester in the distance

The views from the top of the hill near The Cage were pretty good. We couldn’t work out whether the haze was mist or just air quality returning to pre-lockdown levels already.

Little white flowers
Foxgloves

The only wildlife we encountered were some cattle. We did see plenty of evidence of deer, sheep and rabbits, but they were all hiding in the trees and bushes because they’re not used to seeing people any more.

Cattle

We had a good reason to venture into Cheadle too, one day, saving ourselves 40p as car parking fees have been suspended. While Liesel conducted her business, I walked around. I think the S4G guys were a bit concerned, but I wasn’t deliberately loitering near their van while they took millions of pounds in used fivers into the bank. The housewares shop should be cautioned for their misleading descriptions.

This tub is quite clearly yellow, not red

But the floral display in the High street is magnificent.

Cheadle High Street is blooming marvellous

As I was walking home later on, I bumped into an old friend, well, old enemy. I think I’ve mentioned before that I lost my Thirty Year War with bindweed in our garden in Chessington. Well, it’s thriving well in some gardens near where we live, but I am so glad I don’t have to fight that battle any longer.

Bindweed

In local news, we learned that the Nat West bank, which has been closed for as long as we can remember, has been used as a cannabis farm. It’s in the middle of our main street.

And, just along the road from us, we think there was one of two drugs raids taking place in Northenden. And we found out why the local authorities aren’t bothered about all the vehicles that are parked on pavements.

Police but no traffic warden

The second exciting record release this week is Jessica Lee Morgan’s ‘Forthright’ album. It’s her fourth and, I think, her best so far. I can’t wait to see her live in concert again. Meanwhile, she’s been performing on YouTube, in a virtual world tour.

Jessica Lee Morgan – Forthright

And in case you’re wondering, my bit of Anna’s video is at 22 seconds. It’s graffiti local to where we live in Northenden. ‘Live work consume die?’ Which nicely summarises just about everything!

PS a couple of people in real life have asked what podcasts we’re listening to. Well, I’ve started compiling a list right here, so please take a look. Over and out.

Lockdown week 10

Welcome to Week 10 of the official Lockdown. Liesel and I had been isolating for a while beforehand but that seems a long time ago, now. And now, despite the UK still experiencing hundreds of Covid-related deaths every day, HM Goverment want to relax the restrictions next week. Yes, even though many scientists are saying it’s still too early. Then there’s the whole Dominic Cummings (government advisor) thing last weekend: he broke the rules that he helped implement, because he feels very special and entitled. He managed to unite the country, ironically against himself. Then there was the murder of George Floyd in America, another black man killed by a police officer pretty much because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of these news stories, whether they affect us directly or not, slowly, slowly erode any sense of well-being. This isn’t the place for a commentary into current affairs, but if you, dear reader, detect a slight undercurrent of dismay in this post, that’s why, and I apologise. But I’ll try to keep looking up, not down.

We miss going to all the music festivals this year, like everyone else. Well, we sometimes go to one in Hyde Park. Instead, we watched the Folk on Foot Front Room Festival from the comfort of our homes. It was a wonderful, uplifting day of music. I produced a list of performers who we would like to see live in concert at some point and whose music we need to buy more of:

O’Hooley and Tidow

      • Chris Wood (he was sitting in a wheelbarrow while performing)
      • O’Hooley and Tidow (with baby Flynn) (we’ve seen them once live)
      • Gwilym Bowen Rhys (lovely Welsh songs)
      • Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes)
      • Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman (we’ve seen these two too)
      • Duncan Chisholm (fiddle)
      • Kitty Macfarlane (guitar)
      • Rioghnach Connolly and Ellis Davies (Antrim girl now lives in Manchester)
      • John Smith (guitars)
      • The Unthanks (presented their film “As We Go”) (we’ve seen them!)
      • Frank Turner and Jess Guise (The time of my life)
      • Kate Rusby and Damien O’Kane (the voice of England)
      • Johnny Flynn (guitars)
      • Eliza Carthy (you know Eliza)
      • Richard Thompson and Zara Phillips (you know Richard)

All of the performers

I would recommend any of these and if you wish to enjoy the festival too, it’s still up here on YouTube.

The Sun set as the show ended and I realised that we haven’t seen nearly as many vapour trails in the sky as we usually do.

Pink con trail

We did go out a couple of times to walk around the area, for some fresh air, for some exercise and to enjoy a hot, hot late May. It should be peaceful, but there was a lot of noise. Just up the road from us, someone was trimming a hedge and their friend was blowing the trimmings off the road and back into the hedge. Round the corner, someone was washing a car with a powerful powered hose. Up the road, there were men at work. Except they weren’t, they had downed tools for a welcome break.

A man with a leaf-blower

A robin

The robin often appears when we walk along this path. A bit later, we were walking by the river and we heard the sound of a creaky gate approaching. It was our old friend, the heron flying by and, if the passer-by (socially distanced of course) is to be believed, it nearly gave her a heart attack.

Yes, it’s much hotter now, and there are many more insects about. Of course, I always feel obliged to count the spirals on a daisy, just to confirm they are Fibonacci numbers!

Fly on a daisy

On different days, one or both of walked on and around the golf course, just for a different point of view, really. One day, a player asked if I’d seen where his ball went. I hadn’t, and I didn’t feel comfortable lying that it had ended up in the river, either.

A path through the golf course

I walked on this side of the river, adjacent to the golf course, because there was nobody else here. There were many groups of people on the other side, some of whom were having a picnic on a small ‘beach’ that I’d previously been unaware of.

To the left, the golf course; to the right, the Mersey

There’s more to golf than walking around and bashing a ball until it falls into a rabbit hole, it seems. Staircases and bells are involved too.

Stairway to Heaven

You can ring my bell

The duck family were nowhere to be seen, the geese have moved in instead.

Goose family

Hot, hot, hot, and a good enough excuse for some folks to go out sunbathing.We just go out for a walk, keep going, however far, avoiding everyone, go home and check for mail.

Soaking up the rays

We walked along the river, to Stenner Woods, then Fletcher Moss Park, on to Didsbury.

View from the Rockery

One thing you don’t expect to see in Didsbury is a squat: I apologise if this isn’t a squat, but that’s what we both thought.

Homes for people, not for profit

We wandered through Marie Louise Gardens then back home. One thing you don’t expect to see in the Mersey is people sunbathing.

Soaking up the rays

We visited The Northern Den for more coffee and Viennese whirls. The local council seem to be deterring people from sitting outside on park benches, sadly. They’d squirted tomato ketchup over them, and nobody wants to sit on that, thank you very much.

A moment of excitement soon evaporated when I realised this wasn’t a real Tardis.

Not the Tardis

In between our trips outside, what have we been doing?

I watched ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ from the National Theatre. Gillian Anderson was in it, and the play itself was good and well performed, if a little long. But that might be because I was fully aware of and distracted by the camera work. Yes, the play was performed ‘in the round’, but that doesn’t mean I want to watch while walking round and round the stage.

We’ve been listening to lots of radio, BBC Radio 2, 6 Music, Classic FM and even local Radio Northenden is back this week!

We’ve watched a lot of TV, a lot of lot of TV. Current favourites include Killing Eve, series 3 and we’ve  watched 8½ series of Spooks so far, but we have avoided news most of the time.

I’ve been watching YouTube a lot, not just folk festivals. On the Cracking the Cryptic channel, you can watch Simon solving sudoku puzzles, some of which are ridiculously complicated, but his enthusiasm and enjoyment are infectious.

We’re listening to ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone’ being read by a series of actors and others who have links with the Harry Potter world. Harry Potter at Home.

Simon Callow reading chapter 5

If that’s not enough good stuff from JK Rowling, I can recommend her latest, being published as a serial online for now, 2 or 3 chapters a day. The Ickabog shouldn’t give you nightmares, but, so far, it’s a good old fashioned fairy tale!

Many museums and galleries have put their exhibitions up online too. As ever, we can’t wait until we can visit these places in real life.

This morning, I played the album Young Americans from my phone. It was on shuffle mode, which I had a little whinge about. ‘Why does it matter?’ asked Liesel. Because it messes with my expectations, I said. And then, of course, it repeats one track and another while some tracks remain unplayed at all. To make it funnier, Liesel misheard the lyrics to Fascination as vaccination!

(Fascination) Your soul is calling
Like when I’m walking
Seems that everywhere I turn
I hope you’re waiting for me
I know that people think
That I’m a little crazy

Well, we’re trying not to go crazy in these crazy times, there’s certainly plenty of good stuff out there, but it doesn’t take much bad news to rock the boat. Stay safe, stay alert, stay at home!

Keep on the Sunny Side

This year’s Easter Sunday featured no eggses for Liesel and me, but we did enjoy watching William and Martha playing with bubbles! Yes, of course, we would love to have been with them in their garden, but we’re all still in lockdown thanks to Covid-19. And it looks like we’ll be here for several more weeks, too.

Martha floating after a bubble

William chasing a bubble

We’re not getting out very often, in fact. I go out every two or three days for a walk and Liesel comes out less often. It’s nice to see so much support for the NHS. We clap for the nurses and doctors and porters and cleaners and all NHS workers every Thursday night, some people bang pots and pans, some let fireworks off, some blow vuvuzelas, but Liesel and I are just happy to lean out of a window and politely applaud. There is more support and gratitude expressed out on the pavements of Northenden too.

Awesome NHS

Stay at home, says the wall, but if I had followed the instruction, I wouldn’t have been able to read the instruction and it’s this sort of paradox that leads to rifts in the spacetime continuum.

Colourful leaves

As Spring progresses, we’re seeing more and more colour, hooray! Even the oak tree outside our flat is now showing some foliage: I was beginning to think it was a deceased deciduous but no, it’s doing alright! I wonder how the baby oak tree is doing in our old garden in Chessington?

Wall flower

Sit down with a cup of tea, because here comes a story about a potentially risky and ultimately pointless adventure. Regular visitors will know that I go to donate blood every twelve weeks or so. My appointment loomed and they kept sending me reminders, telling me it was still safe, that they were taking extra precautions to protect the staff and us donors from coronavirus, and it all looked ok for me to go along as normal. However, travelling by bus into Manchester didn’t seem to be such a good idea given the current isolation regime. So Liesel kindly offered to drive me in, despite the fact that she, as a more vulnerable person, is definitely meant to stay indoors. Well, I suggested, if you’re driving into Manchester anyway, why don’t you offer to give blood as well? That’s a good idea, said Liesel, and she proceeded to register online.

Everyone she told said it probably wasn’t such a good idea, really, but the messages we were now both receiving from blood.co.uk gave us confidence that this would be one of the safest, cleanest places we could possibly visit, outside our own home. Dear reader, if you can, please consider giving blood, you never know, you might need it back one day!

Blood day arrived, and we drove along almost empty roads to the Blood Donor Centre in Manchester. The man in the booth raised the barrier and we parked in a surprisingly crowded car park. Liesel went first, answered a few questions, and when she went in, I was requested to go and wait in the car: they didn’t want too many people inside at the same time. Well, of course, Liesel had the car key, so I couldn’t sit in the car. Instead, I took some exercise, walking round and round the car park, taking photos, enjoying the sunshine and changing direction whenever I saw another person within about 50 feet.

Scenes from a Blood Donor Centre car park

The time of my appointment arrived and I went in, answering a few basic questions. I didn’t see Liesel, so I assumed she was either still being processed or was in a back room somewhere. The nurse did the usual finger prick test and asked a few more questions. Since my last session, I’ve seen the GP about my shortness of breath issue, which has resulted in a number of medical tests. My next appointment has been postponed, because of The ‘Rona. Because it’s my heart that’s being investigated, they said they wouldn’t take my blood today. Well, that was very disappointing, but understandable: they don’t want me keeling over and having to visit the hospital over the road. They’ll be in touch in six months. I left with my tail between my legs. The receptionist nurse said that Liesel had donated, so that was good. It was also wrong. They’d tried, but they couldn’t find a vein, told Liesel she was too dehydrated and sent her away.

What a palaver! All that time and effort: giving blood, we thought, is one of the few things we can do at the moment for the benefit of other people. Oh well, it was a day out.

The empty field near Northenden’s Rosehill Community Farm and Garden

Bug box

Yes, I was daft enough to watch this Bug Box for a few minutes but saw nothing more interesting than a couple of flies.

Dead hedge? Or not dead?

The hedge around our apartment block is still covered in brown leaves that we feel should have fallen off last Autumn. But, for the first time, this week, there are signs of life. The new leaves are red rather than green, but a few days sunshine should sort that out. Looking forward to a lush, green barrier very soon.

Queen Anna from Frozen 2

Again, we have to enjoy the children’s activities from afar. Here is Queen Anna and apart from reluctantly taking off this costume at bedtime, Martha has been living in it for days!

On Liam’s birthday, we had another Zoom session, I won’t say how old he is but it’s the same age as Martha, just with a zero afterwards.

Daisies and dandelions

People have asked and yes, we do sometimes miss our garden in Chessington. I don’t miss my 30-year war with bindweed and dandelions, they were always going to win. But I would like to apologise to all the bees and butterflies that could have enjoyed the dandelions in my garden, if only my preference wasn’t always for other flowers (or weeds).

There’s not enough Martha in our lives at the moment, so we watched a different one perform from home on t’internet. Martha Tilston has been one of our favourite singer/songwriters since the early 2000s: I think I first saw her at Kingston’s Rose Theatre before it even acquired that name! Liesel and I have seen her live several times and we look forward to doing so again. But this online show was fantastic, we really enjoyed it, she sang many of our favourite songs.

Martha Tilston at home in Cornwall online on Facebook on Liesel’s phone

We even had a glass of whisky to accompany the show. It was only fitting then that we have a music session the following day. Liesel and I took it in turns to play some long neglected CDs:

      • Wynton Marsalis
      • Brave, the Disney film soundtrack
      • Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
      • Martha Tilston, Bimbling
      • (some of) D#rty F#n M#l# (which, correctly, Liesel described as gross)
      • Beatles, Let it Be Naked
      • Nilsson, Harry
      • O Brother, Where Art Thou? film soundtrack
From the last of these, one song in particular struck a chord:
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.
PS As I write Sanny has just played this very song on Radio Northenden, at my request, so I shall add that mention to my 15 minutes of fame as predicted by Andy Warhol. And by coincidence, Andy Warhol by David Bowie was the first song played on today’s show, the penultimate one. You can listen to all 14 shows here.

Here we are, now entertain us

We’re still in lockdown, self-isolating, embedded in the frontline at home, finding new and interesting ways to keep ourselves occupied and entertained. The weather certainly lifts the mood, now it’s warmer and sunnier, but we’re not allowed out more than once a day for a quick spot of exercise. It’s disconcerting when you see so many shops closed for business, with the shutters down. Some have displayed notices, but not all. Any plans we had to acquire tattoos for instance have been put on hold for the time being. Oh well.

Closed for the next few weeks

There is a lot of community spirit, but what a pity we can’t socialise more: it just feels wrong to ‘chat’ with a neighbour by shouting across the road, just to preserve social distancing. There’s plenty of colour to enjoy. When you’re restricted to a short perambulation around the local area, you do appreciate any splashes of colour.

More rainbows

Daffodils

Forget-me-nots and tulips

There are many fewer people walking and cycling and running, so it’s quite easy to maintain social distancing. But it is weird to see one of the busiest local roads all but deserted. One beneficial side effect of there being less traffic is that we can more easily hear the birds singing their songs of joy.

An unusually empty Princess Parkway, looking towards Manchester city centre

Wythenshawe Park was pleasant too. Not too many people, and all keeping away from each other. It hasn’t rained for a while, so I was surprised to see the last puddle in the north-west of England catching the Sun.

Sun puddle-jumping

Wythenshawe Park

This week, Martha celebrated her 4th birthday with her immediate family at home where, sadly, there was no party. We couldn’t join her in person, but we did join other family members online using Zoom, video-conferencing software that is usually used for long, boring and probably unnecessary business meetings!

Zoom with: part of William, Martha and Liam; Liesel and Mick; Andrea, Emily and Paul; Adam and Helen in Australia; Alan and Una

Jenny and Birthday Girl balancing on Daddy’s head

The big 4

But if we couldn’t celebrate Martha’s big day properly, the wider universe did. It chose tonight to reveal the year’s biggest full Moon, a Supermoon, a Pink Moon: the Moon very nearly at its closest to the Earth, appearing 14% larger than usual. It would have been a terrific sight if it wasn’t for the clouds that appeared during the course of the evening. Other people managed to get some decent photos though so I captured this one from TV the next day.

Local News programme showed viewers’ photos of the Moon

Nearly a whole one

The following night, I did see the 99%-full Moon and took this picture, with my phone camera, through the bathroom window. This reminds me how much I am looking forward to using my real camera again at some point, when things get back to normal. In fact, I was going to investigate the latest technology and look into maybe buying a new camera this year.

Indoors, we’re still doing lots of stuff. We miss going to the theatre so it was nice to see the National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors streaming on YouTube. We saw the show in real life a few years ago and we enjoyed it just as much the second time around. On TV, we’ve started watching Star Trek: Discovery and after the first of two series, I think we can safely say it’s engaging, moral and much more intense than the original series half a century ago!

We have a new radio station for a couple of weeks: Radio Northenden. It’s our local, parochial, isolation station! Sanny Rudravajhala is broadcasting from the spare room in his house round the corner from where we live. Listen here, every day until Sunday 19th, 4pm.

Radio Northenden

Just a couple of hours a day, but he and his wife Katie are playing some good music, there’s plenty of chat, guests and nonsense. Best of all, of course, he played my choice of music: Ain’t Bin to no Music School by Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds. This band hails from nearby Wythenshawe, and when I bought the 7″ single in 1976 or ’77, it never occurred to me that I’d be moving to the area a mere 42 years later!

Another day, another walk.

Thank you, keyworkers

Blossoming tree

We’ve passed these pollarded trees many times, but at last, they’re blossoming, showing signs of life, which is lovely.

Spam, spam, spam, spam

This spammer couldn’t decide whether to increase my level of concern over CoViD-19 or to make me panic about potentially losing my Netflix account. In the end, he just put both messages in the one email. I don’t like to generalise but spammers can be a bit thick sometimes.

Like many other folks, I’ve noticed my dreams have been much more vivid during this period of isolation. I haven’t worked for over four years now, yet work is still the subject of many dreams. For instance, I turned up early one morning but couldn’t get into the delivery office because there was too much mail inside. It had all been sorted into bags (nice blue bags, not the red ones they use in real life) but they were all over the tables and all over the floor, stacked high. Then there’s the road where the house numbers aren’t at all in the right order. Dreams are also taking me back to school and college and shopping centres where I leave and can’t find my way back in so I wind up getting further and further away, on the North Downs walking towards Guildford, until I wake up with a great sense of relief.

Christmas Presence

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

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

Fruit tree

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

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

Elsa from Frozen

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the house

Playmobil flowers

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

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

Igloo with penguins

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

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

Where’s William? Hide and seek

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

Quite possibly the most ornate gate in the village

Animal, vegetable or mineral? Grass, bamboo, stalks, very pretty colour whatever this lifeform is

National Cycle Ntework route 62 looks challenging

Another Northenden sunset

And a few minutes later, it’s goodnight from the Moon and Venus

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

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

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

Serves 10-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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