Freiburg im Breisgau

I fell asleep to the internal echoes of Eddi Reader only to be woken up three short hours later.

Skip this paragraph if you like because here I will list all the things that went wrong. A proper whingefest if you like. I’d booked a taxi for 3am. The service had been totally reliable on previous occasions, but today, there was no sign of a cab. The three of us (me, Liesel and Leslie) were standing outside like an ugly flytipped sofa, waiting, waiting. No message, no email. After ten minutes, I went online and booked an Uber. He was five minutes away, so that’s not too bad. I went online again to cancel the original cab. Just as he turned up. I told him he was too late, and he replied by saying ah yes, the cancellation had just arrived. Now if they’d sent a message at 3am saying he was going to be 15 minutes late, that would have been ok. But again, a lack of communication caused a problem. A minor problem, yes, but an unnecessary one. On the way to the airport, I looked at my email to check my electronic boarding pass was still there. It wasn’t. Yesterday, I clicked the option to add it to my Google Wallet. Ok, it said. Well, I don’t know whose Google Wallet it was sent to, but it wasn’t mine. And it seems that in the process, it deleted the email because, well, obviously, I shouldn’t need it any more. I restored the email to my inbox, and took a screenshot of the QR code. Just in case. Not my problem I know, but I did feel sorry for the lady in the next queue to ours who wanted to go to Nigeria but she didn’t have the relevant travel documents with her so she wasn’t able to check in to her flight. So of course, I started to worry that I too might need extra documentation to travel to Germany. Security is always a lottery. This time, the Fast Track Security queue, for which you can pay an extra £5 to join, was upstairs, while Normal Security was downstairs. Today, we had to remove all electronics, and, for the first time ever, this included toothbrushes and shavers, anything with a battery inside. But we didn’t have to take our shoes off. Although I found out later that Leslie had had a pretty good pat-down and had had to remove her footwear. I groaned when I realised that again my bag had been pulled aside. Inside, in the depths of my toiletry bag, the officer found a tiny tube of toothpaste. So small that I hadn’t seen it when I recently repacked the bag. So small that it had somehow got through security when I flew back from Anchorage last time. ‘Let’s fill our water bottles’ suggested Liesel. But could I find a water fountain at Manchester Airport Terminal 1? Nope. I’ll just fill the water bottles from the water jugs at one of the coffee shops then. Nope. If you want tap water at one of these places, you have to line up and ask for it. What else? Oh yes. I don’t like escalators when the handrail moves at a different speed to the stairs. You either fall over forwards or keel over backwards. You don’t? Oh, it’s just me then. Actually, I felt nowhere near as panicky as I had on my last flight. The queue for Leslie to check in was long, yes, but we could see it was making progress. And, we had plenty of time.

Liesel and I took it in turns to visit a couple of the coffee outlets for a sort of breakfast. Yes, we had lots of time to pass before our flight. Too much time maybe, but I wasn’t going to worry about that.

Goodbye misty Manchester

The flight from Manchester to Frankfurt was uneventful and I kept my beady eye on the steward as he handed out the chocolates. The plan was for Liesel and me to escort Leslie to Frankfurt and make sure she caught the right plane back home to Anchorage. This we did and, bonus, she didn’t have to go through security a second time at Frankfurt. It was a quick farewell in the end and I think Liesel and I will both miss having her Mom around.

We now had a couple of hours to kill at Frankfurt Airport before catching our train. I thought I’d seen enough of the place after several bus tours around the ginormous airport over the last few months, but no, there is plenty more to see. The border official let us through without any awkward questions: nothing about Covid nor stuff we were bringing into the country and, I’m glad to say, no awkward questions about paperwork that we didn’t know we needed.

Oompah band

This band of merry musicians put a smile on everyone’s faces as they oompahed through the airport.

The railway station was a reasonably long walk away but we were glad to get the steps in. At least it was all under cover, we didn’t have to go to the outside world at all.

Pringles tree

There are designated smoking areas which of course we’re no longer used to, so every now and then, we’d walk through a cloud of carcinogens. The worst place was on the platform for our train, so we didn’t hang around there longer than necessary.

It’s just over two hours on the train from Frankfurt to Freiburg and the time flew by. I read a good chunk of my book and glanced out of the window now and then, but the landscape didn’t really engage as it passed by at 160 kph.

Big chocolates, so many flavours, at Freiburg station

Our hotel was not even a ten minute walk from Freiburg station. Yes, we’re in a hotel, a Best Western, also known as Hotel Victoria. We settled into our very comfortable room in what is one of the most eco-friendly hotels in one of the greenest cities in Germany. Allegedly. All the power in the hotel is generated from solar panels on the roof, wind and, er, the burning of woodchips.

Solar panels and smoke

We dined at a Morrocan restaurant just round the corner and we were surprised that they only took payment in cash. So, while they kept Liesel hostage, I went for a walk to get some money out of a machine. The machine conveniently located next door didn’t recognise my card. The machine all the way back at the station did so I took out as many euros as I was allowed. On my return, I was pleased to see that they hadn’t got Liesel to do the washing up for them.

Rain had been forecast for most of our time here, so the sunshine on Sunday morning was a bonus. We walked into town, the old town, where we admired the architecture, commented on and tried not to trip on the cobbles, noticed and tried not to impede the progress of the many cyclists in town.

The Visitor Information office is in the old town hall, next door to the new town hall. I downloaded an app that guided us around the town: at least the commentary was in English. There’s a lot of history here, including an old Roman wall, very similar to the one in Chester, what’s left of it.

I mentioned the cobbles. Most streets are cobbled, and there are smaller stones at the sides, for pedestrians. In places, there are mosaics. This is one of the first to catch my eye, outside the town hall, der Rathaus:

Guildford

Guildford is just one of Freiburg’s several twin towns and sister cities in and beyond Europe, each of which is marked by one of these mosaics, contructed using pebbles from the nearby Rhine. Guildford has been home to such luminaries as Nobel-prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, code-breaker Alan Turing and is the birth place of musician Mike Rutherford, DJ Tony Blackburn, and, er, me.

While sitting in the square waiting for the 12 o’clock chimes, we were mobbed by a swarm of sparrows. They detected my phone and were about to depart but they were just a second too late… The main danger though was bonkers. They’re like conkers, only they fall out of trees and bonk you on the head. There are chestnut and horse chestnut trees all over town, you can’t walk anywhere without encountering chestnuts or their spiky cases.

A flock of sparrows

Oh look. In my bag I have some salt-peter, some sulphur and some charcoal. I know, I think I’ll go out and leave these random chemicals unattended on the stove. Boom. I’ve invented gunpowder. Actually, this story is attributed to a monk, Bertold the Black, who supposedly lived in Freiburg in the 14th century. There is a statue here honouring the monk for his invention, even though the Chinese beat him to it by several centuries.

Berthold Schwarz

Other features that you can’t avoid in Freiburg are the tram lines and the little canals alongside most of the roads. These drainage ditches are dry most of the time, and if you’re unlucky enough to fall into one, you’re destined to marry a Freiburger. Children play with little wooden boats when there is flowing water in these Bächle.

A typical Freiburg street

We never made use of the service but we saw quite a few of the bendy trams in Freiburg. The Cathedral tower is an impressive 116 metres tall, and the building is, by coincidence, 116 metres in length. Just as you’re marvelling at the architecture and the stone masonry, you turn round and encounter some absolute kitsch, totally out of place.

Freiburg Münster
Cute, not cute

Before you ask, no we did not buy a souvenir cuckoo clock.

No new buildings in Freiburg can be higher than the top of the Cathedral tower. There are over 100 gargoyles protecting the fabric of the building from the worst of the rain. Most are monsters or people, but this one is the funniest.

Freiburg gargoyle

We admired many of the mosaics that remain outside shops even though the shop itself may have changed usage over the years. I don’t mind posing for a photo so I was delighted to sit next to this knife.

Mick the Knife
Pillar of the community

This chap is just one of many who we saw embedded in the walls around town. The steps here lead up a hill which we decided to pursue on another occasion. And sadly, even the most aesthetically pleasing of towns and cities have their unfair share of graffiti artists. Arstist? Vandals.

Black cat

Here is another mosaic that we liked, and then we found out its significance. You wouldn’t want to be taken to The House of the Black Cat, because that’s where the local executioner, the hangman, lives.

Record shop

Of course I checked the window display of this record shop, and was surprised but mostly disappointed to find absolutely no reference to David Bowie. So my theory needs a slight adjustment: Every record shop still existing in the UK has, in its window display, either a David Bowie record or some other David Bowie merchandise.

By contrast, the destroyed synagogue’s memorial fountain is quite moving. Its shape reflects the ground plan of the old synagogue and the mirror-smooth surface is the perfect place for reflection. Literally.

We dined at a Thai restaurant just round the corner from our hotel. It was Sunday and we hadn’t anticipated that most places would be closed. There was nothing wrong with Thai Chi, for that is what it was called. The experience led me to suggest that more restaurants should have model villages inside their dining tables.

Model village

Monday started with another big breakfast in the hotel before we set off through the town and back to the stairs that we’d abandoned yesterday.

The Monday market was set up in the Cathedral square, with lots of well presented, fresh produce, 27 types of ham, 49 species of sausage, 56 varieties of cheese and best of all, 19 types of locally baked bread.

Market wares

We didn’t buy anything now, but later on, on the way back, we did buy a punnet of raspberries.

I would like to tell you how many steps there were, but I soon lost count. Eventually they gave way to a path which was quite a steep slope. We were determined to reach a certain point though, however long it took, however many times we had to pause to catch our breath or just to admire the view over the town. And the views were spectacular. We kept a close eye on the Cathedral tower, waiting for the moment when we would be looking down on it. We were gaining altitude pretty fast, or so our bodies thought, but that tower was keeping its place.

Selfie of the day from halfway up Schlossberg

On passing a small group of students, we realised that we too could have taken the funicular railway but we’re glad we didn’t! Nor did we ride it back down later on.

Funicular railway

There’s a playground on the hill too, in which the equipment resembles weapons of war. Bizarre, I know. The cannon could be used as a slide or a tunnel. The poles are lances and spears.

This is not a cannon

I was surprised to see vineyards here too. Surprised because, at the bottom of the hill, by the stairs, there was a sign saying the the path would be closed whenever it’s too icy or covered in snow. We’re at the edge of the Black Forest here and obviously it must get really cold in Winter. So, not an ideal environment I would have thought for growing grapes. I suppose they know what they’re doing!

Vineyard above the town

On and on and up and up. The well-laid path gave way to a dirt track. Proper signage was replaced by spray-painted red arrows on trees and rocks, directing us to our goal for the day, the viewing platform that we’d seen from way down below in the city centre.

Public lavatree

I’m always on the lookout for comfort stops, although I felt this one was just a bit too exposed. But it was just a few hairpin bends away from Schlossbergturm or Aussichtsturm Schlossberg or Castle Hill Tower.

Schlossbergturm or Castle Hill Tower

We sat down for a few moments admiring this very basic structure, before setting off to climb the 153 steps. Do something scary every day. I climbed steadily to the top, and I mean the very top, as high as I could go. It is very hard holding on that tightly to the handrail while trying to take photos without dropping the phone while the whole edifice is swaying in the wind which is now so much colder than it was at ground level, some 35 metres below. Although it seemed much further away, from my scared vertiginous viewpoint. Another surprise was being joined by Liesel whom I’d left sitting on a bench way down below, ready to catch me or anything I dropped.

Some of the first few steps up the tower

Each of the steps has a message from someone who’d sponsored the construction of this viewing tower. I like Klaus’s: This tower has always been a dream of mine.

The view from the top

This picture was taken from the top and it doesn’t reveal at all just how much I was shaking at this point.

Near the base of the tower is a display which incorporates a pair of binoculars. And if you look through these, you see an image of what the site looked like hundreds of years ago, when there was a castle or a fort here.

What it used to look like

Walking back down the hill was a bit easier, but you couldn’t totally relax with those gradients. At the first sign of a coffee shop, we stopped, me probably more eagerly than Liesel.

Liesel got stoned and had to have a lie down

We dined in an Italian restaurant that evening. Yes, of course I had a pizza. Then back at the hotel it was time for some pampering.

Mechanical foot brush

This device doesn’t offer a full-on pedicure, but I was able to give my feet a really good scrub.

Tuesday started with a big hotel breakfast and then a long, long pause in the proceedings, in our room, reading, doing puzzles, neither of us wanting to move. Or something. Liesel gave in first and she went out for a walk. Then after a few minutes, I decided to move too. I was still listening to something fascinating, so I thought I’d visit the hotel gym and have a quick walk on the treadmill while still connected to my podcast. I managed 25 minutes but I hope I can get over the tedium of this form of exercise when we get home and make full use of the gym in Wythenshawe, the one we so rashly joined last week.

I met Liesel outside later despite the rain, but usefully, the hotel had plenty of umbrellas to choose from.

Selfie of the day if it were 1940

It didn’t take long for us to pack and move out the next morning. We left our bags at the railway station while we looked around the Cathedral. Even though there are big signs asking visitors to stay silent, I was surprised that it was so quiet inside, given how many people were walking around.

Inside the Cathedral

We paid a return visit to one of the cafés we’d visited a few days earler, only this time we sat inside for our coffee and tasty treats.

We walked back to the station and spent time exploring while waiting for our train. One retail space was full of vending machines, selling everything from snacks and drinks to items of clothing and toothbrushes. It was a bit like Japan in that respect. There was even a popcorn machine, but Liesel wasn’t tempted to use it.

Something happened at the railway station but we never did find out what. An alarm went off, and everyone was evacuated from the station concourse. Those of us already on the platform waiting for a train were allowed to stay. The train ride back to Frankfurt was uneventful. This was followed by a ten-minute walk to our hotel for just one night. And not even a whole night, as we had another early morning flight. As luck would have it, the railway station, our hotel and the airport were all within walking distance of each other: or maybe Liesel planned it that way?

Our alarms were set for 5am. Walk to the airport, through security, to our departure gate, coffee and quick breakfast, flew to Manchester, taxied home, collected the mail and that’s it. We’re back. Did it really happen? Yes. The rest of the day was a blur. I was occupied but I can’t tell you what I did. A quick walk in the drizzle but I timed it badly, no massage for me today.

On Friday, I met up with some people to talk about Thrive Manchester, what can they do to support people and how can whatever that is be better publicised. Boxx 2 Boxx is a great venue for such meetings.

At home, I made progress on a couple of my ‘to-do’ items. The lists still grow faster than items are crossed off, of course.

The radio show this week, recorded before we left for Germany, was Hundreds and Thousands. It was approximately the hundredth show I’ve put together. You can hear it here:

To Castleton

Following the absolutely fabulous Wedding Weekend, after all the fun and farewells, we drove to Bakewell. Six of us altogether: Liesel, Leslie and myself in one vehicle, Pauline, Andrew and Rob in their rented car.

The last time Liesel and I visited Bakewell, we were on our bikes. We’d had a good day cycling around, visiting Eyam and a couple of other places. The lady in Buxton Visitor Information told us that the bus back to Buxton had bike racks on the front. She lied. The bus came, with nowhere to hang our bikes. Plan B: ride back to Buxton as quickly as possible along the A6, in the rain, as it got darker and darker. It was not fun. Too much traffic, too many close passes. We left the bikes at our b&b and legged it towards the Opera House. After a bag of crisps for supper, we settled in for a groovy concert. I can’t remember the name of the Pink Floyd tribute act now, but they were good. We would have enjoyed the show more if we’d arrived at a more leisurely pace and having eaten properly. Still, an event not to be forgotten. Nor repeated, if I understand Liesel correctly.

Today though, we had a nice break in Bakewell, including of course one of their famous tarts. Bakewell is bigger than I remembered. I had to ask in the Information Centre where the nearest public convenience was located. She told me. I trusted her. I found it.

Record shop

There aren’t many record shops left around the country, but I have a theory that every remaining one now has at least one David Bowie album in the window. Bakewell didn’t disappoint.

The bridge over the river Wye is in danger of collapse, being weighed down by a million padlocks. I hope they’re not, but I suspect many of the keys have been thrown into the river below.

What a lot of padlocks

We backtracked a bit to spend some time at Haddon Hall. What a fascinating house, even if the presence of bats and/or their produce induced a coughing fit in me. There is a lot of original building work here. GM knew how to keep the roof up.

A nearly 400-year old roof

This place has been used extensively for filming and the guide told us that after a recent episode of a TV series was filmed here, the crew left behind the protective pedestal at the base of this very old supporting pillar.

21st century protection for the 500-year old supporting pillar

The windows look warped, but they were constructed this way.

Wonky windows

I looked for but could see no obvious mathematical pattern, so maybe it was just random on the part of the window-maker. Or maybe he just couldn’t cut the lead beading to the right length.

The gardens were delightful too, so here’s the obligatory photo of a flower with a bee, a very distinctive bee, as it happens.

Yellow flower with exotic bee

We followed some very narrow roads on the way to Castleton, which was to be our home for a couple of days.

I’m not going to list all the toilets I visited but one invited me to leave the door open when I’d finished, due to nesting swallows. I saw the nest, but the occupants were probably out shopping or something.

Monsal Head provided a good viewpoint, just one of very many gorgeous sights we’d see over the next couple of weeks.

Castleton is a small town, with narrow roads, several pubs and lots of shops selling ‘stuff’. The GPS told us we’d arrived at our destination, but I couldn’t find it. Neither could Andrew who I bumped into, also wandering around aimlessly looking for it.

It took the man in the pub to show us where we were supposed to be. Up a steep hill, behind the road we’d been searching on. Now, if they’d told us our cottage was above the fish and chip shop, we’d have found it much sooner! I suspect the b&b has a deal with the pub. Their guests will get lost, go to the pub for directions and then feel obliged to take a drink there.

We looked up at Peveril Castle and decided to visit it the following day. Instead, now, we went for a walk towards Blue John Cavern, which we would also visit the next day. This Cavern was the main reason for being here: Pauline’s wanted to visit for many, many years.

So, yes, of course we had a drink at the pub. A nice refreshing pint of shandy in my case.

Devil’s Arse!

Liesel and I have tickets for a concert here in September, so it was quite funny to see we’ve ended up so close by today. Will we stay in Castleton overnight again, then? To be decided!

I took pictures of the hills surrounding us, but they’re never as good as the real thing. Nor, as Liesel and I have discussed several times, as good as water colour or even oil paintings, which seem to capture the essence of a place much better than a photograph. But I can’t paint, so I’ll continue to take pictures.

While the others returned to our digs, Pauline and I roamed a bit further afield, around the town. We can buy lots of Blue John based jewellery, as well as other stones and, yes, ‘stuff’, ‘clutter’, items to sit on a shelf and gather dust.

A cacophony from the sky drew our attention. It wasn’t quite a murmuration, but certainly a large flock of birds was flying around as a group. What were they? We didn’t recognise the call and couldn’t identify them. They settled on top of a tree. I used an app called Chirp-o-matic which identified them as jackdaws.

In our cottage, we only found one toilet roll. Two of the lamps weren’t working and the replacement bulbs were the wrong sort. I suspect the b&b has a deal with the local supermarket. Their guests will visit the shop desperate for toilet paper and then buy lots of other items as well.

Hundreds of jacksaws sitting in a tree

It was a muggy evening and the following day, we awoke to slight drizzle. Despite this, we aimed to be at Blue John Cavern by 9.30.

Pauline contemplating life the universe and everything

Behind us as we looked down towards the cavern stood Mam Tor. This used to be a much bigger hill, covering the whole area. Yes, we thought about walking up the hill. And it’s the thought that counts.

Liesel and Leslie weren’t interested in the cavern, so it was just me, Pauline and Rob who descended the 245 steps. It was wet inside, dark, damp, and a bit slippery in places. Blue John stone gets its name from French, bleu et jaune, and it is a coloured variety of fluorspar. This is the only place known to have Blue John.

Meanwhile, Liesel nipped home to work  and to get some more clothes, as well as take back all our wedding gear.

Blue John stone in situ

The guide illuminated some of the more remarkable rocks. The place started off as a lead mine but people still like to mine for Blue John, but on a much smaller scale of course.

Another seam

Climbing back up the steps wasn’t too bad. We stopped a few times to look at other features. I must say, though, it was nice to get out in the fresh air again. I didn’t even see the large rock spiders that scurry from between the rocks when they hear a loud noise, such as a clap.

The three of us with Andrew visited Peveril Castle in the afternoon, just up the hill from our b&b. It was a well-made path but, whinge incoming: I don’t like it when there are steps, each one of which is on a slope. Steps are ok, slopes are ok, but I find the combination very uncomfortable, especially going down. We stopped a few times on the way up, to admire the views, but mainly for the brief rests.

Peveril Castle on a steep slope

The views from the top of the hill were fantastic of course, but photos will never do them justice. Nevertheless, here’s one.

The view from Peveril Castle

The spiral staircase in the castle was a bit intimidating. If I were to be tried here for some minor felony, in the days when the castle was used as a court of law, I think I might plead guilty just to avoid it having to climb it.

In the evening, we enjoyed a meal at The George, table 52 at the end of the garden, if you’re interested.

In an unusual turn of events, we watched TV in the evening: the first couple of episodes of Ghosts. And I think this was the only TV we watched for over two weeks. Most of us, anyway.

This was followed by a good night’s sleep, in preparation for the following day’s adventures. The smell of fish from the chippy below was not at all a problem.

Wedding Weekend

Sometimes you go to bed at the end of the day and you have no recollection of anything that happened. One day this week passed in such a manner. It was a Thursday. We did some more tidying up, we started packing for the weekend ahead, and that’s about it. I took zero photographs, which is very unusual. A busy, productive day but totally unmemorable. I don’t know why I mentioned it really. I’m sorry I wasted your time on this paragraph.

Jump to Friday. Pauline and Andrew drove to the airport to pick up Robert, who’d flown in from Vancouver. Yes, Liesel and I only saw him fairly recently, but this was the first reunion with his mother, my sister Pauline, since he moved to Canada all those years ago.

Now we are six. For the first time, there are six people staying in our flat overnight, which seems to have shrunk in size. Rob drew the short straw (we drew it for him) and he slept on an inflatable bed in the office/studio, curled around the legs of the desk.

Before settling down for the night though, we had fish and chips from the local chippy. We bought far too many chips. Which is why, for breakfast the following day, we had egg and chips.

And so, after years of anticipation and planning, the Wedding Weekend began. I am pleased to announce that my daughter Jenny was marrying Liam at an event postponed for a couple of years because of the pandemic.

We woke up to a beautiful Saturday morning. After our stodgy breakfast, Pauline, Andrew, Rob and I drove to the venue, Knockerdown Cottages, near Ashbourne, on the cusp of the Peak District National Park in the Derbyshire Dales. Yes, what a beautiful part of the country. Just look at the view!

The view from Knockerdown

After a lovely drive, despite a couple of diversions, we arrived and parked at the venue at about 11.45. I saw Liam and walked over to say hello. I was immediately told to go to the back of the line over there, to join Jenny, as they were timing the walk up the aisle. Well, a trail of hessian mats on the grass, that led to a gazebo in front of which the ceremony would be conducted. I felt bad that the others were unloading the car without my help. (Afterwards, not at the time, I was in a whirlwind out of my control.) We had a lot of stuff. For the weekend and for a couple of weeks afterwards too. We spent much of the weekend meeting old friends. Danielle, Louise, Katie and Sarah, Jenny’s friends from school, along with the leader of the gang, Helen, were all there leading the procession, followed by Martha and William, with Jenny and myself walking slowly behind. This wasn’t really a full-blown rehearsal. Another long-time friend, Ross, took us through the ceremony, advising us who stands and sits where and when and of course all I can think of is how I can possibly will probably mess the whole thing up.

Meanwhile, back at home, Liesel and Leslie drove to the airport to pick up Michael (Sarah’s brother) and Astrid, visiting from Norway. After a quick trip to Quarry Bank Mill, they joined us at Knockerdown later in the afternoon.

I was glad our car was amongst the first to arrive in the morning, we could be useful for a bit. We moved bottles of wine and fizz from one cottage to another, we moved some furniture. As a former postie, I was given the task of delivering the Welcome letters to each of the cottages.

Most of the guests arrived soon after 3pm, as did the groceries we’d ordered. Ours came from Ocado as usual, but during the course of the afternoon, Tesco and Sainsbury were represented.

The venue includes a games room and a swimming pool. I confirmed at various times over the weekend that I am still no good at pool (it was a manky table, but I don’t think it made much difference), table tennis (the table seemed much smaller than I remember from my youth) and table football (despite spending too much time on the game while at university).

With about 75 guests in one place for the weekend, there had to be a disaster. And the first one sadly fell to Martha.

Rescuing a mermaid from the tree

For some reason, she threw her mermaid into a tree. It took several people, several sticks, a ball, a pool cue and a broom to finally dislodge the doll from the arboreal resting place.

Pizza Pi turned up and set up his wood stove in the courtyard, right outside our cottage. Nice and convenient and we wondered, unnecessarily, would our cottage be filled with smoke? The pizzas were very tasty, and were accompanied by a variety of leaves and salad.

It was good to see Michael and Astrid again after all these years. Also here were several members from Liam’s wider family including Una’s sisters and Alan’s brother Lawrence.

In the evening, everyone sat down and ate more pizza and snacks and drank copious amounts of alcohol and non-alcohol. Matt, a very entertaining friend of Jenny and Liam, took us through a number of fun party games.

People playing silly games

Modesty prevents me from saying that our team, number 10, won. After each task, someone had to run up to Matt and declare their team number. Our table was the closest. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t the best! Obviously.

After a busy, exciting and fun day, of course it was quite hard to get to sleep that night. Finally, after all this time, I was within hours of delivering the Father of the Bride speech. Those who know me know I am not a natural extrovert, I don’t enjoy being the centre of attention and I certainly don’t perform in front of more than four people at a time. So the butterflies were slowly gathering together in my stomach.

When I emerged from my pit on Sunday morning, the kitchen was a hive of industry. Liesel and Pauline were making sandwiches for the children’s lunchboxes, and Leslie was making use of her origami skills, folding and sealing the lunch boxes with all the other lovely components.

I ate a hearty breakfast, spent some time alone going through the speech for the hundredth time. I’d been working on it for nearly three years, on and off, so of course, by now, it made no sense, it was absolute rubbish. Fortunately my secret proofreader/editor has helped out recently, thank you, Helen!

Another disaster. Someone gave me some cash with which to pay the bar staff when they arrived. Liesel saw me put it in my pocket. Later on, I couldn’t find it. I asked around, I retraced all my steps, but no. People agreed with me that this new-fangled plastic money is so easy to lose, when you pull something out of your pocket, for instance. The bar staff were paid, so don’t worry about that.

Three days later, in a place a long way, away, I bent down to put my trainers on. There was some sort of obstruction in my left shoe. Yes, you’re ahead of me. It was the cash I now remember putting there for safe keeping. I think it’s fair to say, pre-speech nerves adversely affect the memory.

Back to Sunday. The children had a Hearts Trail to follow, a series of 18 heart-shaped wooden plaques carefully hidden by adults.

Wooden heart (not the Elvis song)

William started well but later, I witnessed one of Liam’s aunts completing his sheet on his behalf. Shh, don’t tell anyone.

Another disaster, oh no. William was stung by a wasp. He soon got over the shock but that was something else we could do without.

While chatting with Uncle Lawrence by the pool, I saw Pauline walk by with a couple of the lunch boxes. I was going to help deliver them, but alas, I’d missed my opportunity.

The weather couldn’t have been better for an outdoor event. A bit cloudy but sunny and with bright blue skies.

I wandered around the site for a while, and even though I knew Jenny and Liam wouldn’t be going anywhere soon, I wondered whether I should attach a ‘Just Married’ sign to the back of this old vehicle, for their post-ceremony departure.

Mouldy old plough

My moment arrived. Time to have a shower and put my wedding attire on. I’d picked up my suit from Best Man in Stockport on Thursday: one of the tasks that I seem to have performed on autopilot.

I was pleased that my clothes all fitted well, even though they felt unusually tight.

Guests made their way to the gazebo where seats had been placed. I was pacing up and down in my cottage, waiting to be summoned.

Someone gave me a pretty little boutonniere to wear. Another potential calamity. In my nervous state, I was bound to prick my finger on the pin and get blood all over my pristine, new, white shirt. But no: this particular disaster was averted and I continued to wait.

Gazing longingly towards Jenny’s cottage, waiting, waiting

Forlornly, I looked through the window towards the bride’s cottage while waiting for the call. Many other people were coming and going but all I could do was walk around the living room again. And again.

I obtained some new spectacles recently. Same prescription as my everyday ones, but these don’t turn dark in sunlight. I remembered to wear them. I would not be ruining photographs today by having shades in front of my eyes.

I paced up and down a bit more. This was like waiting for a baby to be born or something. Exciting, but nerve-wracking.

The bridesmaids all looked gorgeous, the guests all looked splendid, my family all looked very smart and well-turned out. I probably looked OK but as I wore out the carpet in our cottage, of course I had my doubts.

At last, I was called to meet the bride. She looked stunning. I knew she would, but even so, I had to swallow something hard and jagged.

Father seeing the bride in all her bridal gorgeousness for the first time

Thanks to Ross, the celebrant, for taking this picture. I’d left my phone behind in the cottage. Mainly because I wouldn’t be able to take pictures for the next hour or two, but also because the pockets in my hired jacket had been sewn shut.

I accompanied Jenny from her cottage all the way to the gazebo without once tripping over my own feet, despite wearing brogues, which I’m not used to and which are longer than my trainers. In addition, I didn’t stand on Jenny’s dress while various girls tried to keep the train under control. Jenny and I followed William at a distance. He was behind Martha who was keeping a good distance behind the bridesmaids.

Other potential faux pas were avoided. My trousers didn’t fall down. I did not have a coughing nor a sneezing fit. And I think I was in the right place at all times.

After turning past a certain tree, Jenny and I heard the processional music, an instrumental version of Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight, from The Lion King.

After delivering Jenny safely to Liam, and shaking his hand, I went to stand next to Liesel in the front row. Ross soon told us all to sit down, and I breathed a sigh of relief: so far, I had not messed up.

The Humanist ceremony was really nice, and I look forward to reading Ross’s words at leisure later on. They were delivered beautifully at the time, but half my mind was elsewhere. Martha performed her reading really well, and so did Liam’s Mum, Una.

During the slow walk back, we each picked up a small bag of (biodegradable) confetti with which to shower the newly married couple and their children, mainly for the benefit of the photographer, Marc.

(I’ll post one or two of Marc’s photos at a later date, but as mentioned above, my phone wasn’t with me during these events.)

Between the wedding ceremony and the Breakfast, we enjoyed drinks and snacks in the courtyard again, conveniently close to our cottage. I collected my speech, printed out in a large font and glued to a set of seven cards. I checked I had this set of cards in my pocket a dozen times. I checked they were in the right order another dozen times.

Guests gathered for the Wedding Breakfast in, what felt to me at the time, the hottest room in all of England. The Sun was pouring in, I was still wearing my suit and I was trying to suppress my state of nervousness.

I looked around and reminded myself, as Chris had said, that these hundreds of people are on my side, that they’ll listen politely while looking forward to the other speeches. Writing this now, a few days later, I realise that my lack of confidence is really showing through. Hundreds of people? Well, seventy-five including about twenty-five children.

Chris’s entrance into the room was quite flamboyant. Jenny and Liam followed with a little more dignity.

I was introduced by Matt, I stood up and read from my crib cards for four of the longest and quickest minutes of my life. It went very well. I’m glad I raised a toast to Jenny’s Mum, Sarah. I was delighted when people laughed at the right time, at the jokes. Again, I’m pleased to say my worst fears were not fulfilled: I didn’t drop the cards, I didn’t read them in the wrong order, I didn’t move away from the microphone and my trousers didn’t fall down.

Modesty forbids me from mentioning how many people came up to me afterwards and the following day to say how much they’d enjoyed my speech, that I’d hit the right tone, the right mix of seriousness and humour, that my nerves hadn’t shown at all.

Helen gave a speech too, with a little help from Martha. She was followed by Liam and by Chris himself.

We guests had selected our meals some months ago, and like most other people, I’d forgotten what I’d opted for, so thank goodness for the personalised menu on the table in front of us. The food was very good, prepared and served by some friendly, helpful caterers. I enjoyed my spinach and artichoke pie and mash with a parmesan crisp served with various beans and peas. This was followed by Bakewell tart with ginger cream which I ate before I had a chance to take its picture.

An ex-Bakewell tart with ginger cream

Yes, I had retrieved my phone by this point. So of course, I shot Jenny and Liam too.

Jenny and Liam

Between the end of the Breakfast and the evening activities, I think I just socialised, and enjoyed having successfully delivered a Father of the Bride’s speech.

Jenny threw the bouquet over her shoulder towards all the single ladies.

Martha with her bouquet

Martha was delighted to pick (some of) it up but I’m not sure whether she knows the significance.

The Sun was beginning to set and this was a great photo opportunity for Marc and for the rest of us.

Sunset, Jenny and her supporters

I’d forgotten there were so many formalities at a wedding. I was quite happy to grab a slice of cake and tuck in. But there was the matter of the official Cutting of the Cake.

Cutting the cake

Martha was on the scene and very quickly announced ‘I want that bit’.

A little later, Jenny and Liam took to the floor for the first dance. The first song I remember the band, Funtime Frankies, playing was Summer of ’69. The dancefloor soon filled but my feet kept themselves to themselves, at least until a pint of beer later. The band were really good, performing old songs with great skill, and I know it’s an old-farty thing to say, but they were really quite loud.

Jenny and Liam dancing

During the evening, we made several visits to the bar for a wide range of beverages. And water.

As darkness settled on Knockerdown, I think we were all still a bit high from the emotion if not from the alcohol. More food was available and I feel sorry for those folks who mistook the jalapeños for mushrooms. Hello Andrew!

Michael and I had a nice chat about Sarah and the wider family. He and Astrid went to bed and I moseyed on over to the After Party, much to Helen’s surprise, I think. I had a bottte of beer, very rare for me at around midnight, before hitting the sack myself. I said good night to the new Mr and Mrs W.

Breakfast for me on the day after consisted of veggie sausage roll, although bacon butties were available for the carnivores. This plus a few cups of tea were very welcome. But I think one of the most memorable sights this day was seeing that Martha didn’t change out of her pyjamas all day. She and all the bridesmaids and Jenny and Helen were wearing personalised robes and I think Martha just didn’t want to take hers off.

We had fun and games in the field including a 9-hole Crazy Golf course that materialised early in the morning. I played two rounds. Once against Pauline and Andrew and once with Martha, Emily and Papa. On both occasions, I got the highest score so I think that makes me the winner.

Crazy Jenny and Liam playing Golf (*words to be rearranged)
William captured by rogue space hoppers

William played tag with me and Emily for a while. There was a short race course for space hopppering around. The track itself was William’s safe ‘base’ while the island in the middle was ‘super-base’. William’s other job, which he took upon himself, was to carry a crate of bubble mix around. Bubbles were blown.

William bearing bubbles

There wasn’t enough food here this weekend, thought absolutely nobody at all. So it was lovely to welcome the barbecue in the afternoon. At this point, the wind got up and blew one of the gazebos across the patio. I ran over to unload the children from the bouncy castle, just in case, and the rain followed soon after. I’m glad I had my ice cream before the rain set in, since the freezers were outside, exposed to the weather: and wet weather and electricity are not a good pairing.

Weddings are of course mainly about the people, so there will follow a few mug shots, just some of the guests. I hope they don’t put you off your next meal.

Rob, Pauline and Andrew
Martha
Michael and Astrid

Shortly after this picture was taken, so were the subjects. Liesel and Leslie drove them back to Manchester Airport for their return flight to Bergen.

Liam and Matt

They missed some of the early evening entertainment which included children’s Pass the Parcel and a Pub Quiz. Liesel returned just as the last question was being posed, which is the only reason our team didn’t win. In fact, the winners were the team led by Liam and Jenny which seems only fair. The prize consisted of a few items of old tut previously donated by Liam and Jenny.

Annabel, Martha, Emily and William

The end of the day meant lots of goodbyes of course and I for one was glad of a slightly earlier night in bed.

In the morning, we had to vacate the cottages by 10am. We then hung around a bit to help Jenny and Liam load up their van and Helen and a couple of others to take their stuff out. I think we finally hit the road at about 11 o’clock, having agreed to meet up with Pauline, Andrew and Robert in Bakewell. But that story’s for another day.

Several days later, I can still feel the positive vibes from this wedding weekend, and I mean no disrespect to those who organised and attended my own weddings when I say that I think this was the best, most enjoyable wedding I’ve ever been to. So well planned by Jenny and Liam. Thanks a million to them and thanks to everyone else for making it all so much fun. I can’t wait to see Marc’s professional photos and share one or two here, such as:

Beautiful

Party, plants and Petra

It was good fun going through photos for a couple of days, on Klaus’s computer, on Facebook and some really old, physical photos. They made for a fascinating slideshow at the party to celebrate Klaus’s life.

Klaus

Here is former marathon runner Klaus, with baby Liesel and her grandmother, with a freshly caught fish and barbecuing. Here’s Klaus’s obituary.

There was far too much food for the hundred or so people who turned up, so it’s been leftovers all week. Huli-huli chicken and kalua pig are two Hawaiian dishes that Klaus was especially fond of. The family have been enjoying the leftovers for a few days now.

Klaus was famous for his sense of humour. He was always telling jokes, so with that in mind, we set up a Joke Board, inviting contributions from the guests. Well, needless to say, some of the jokes are too rude for this family-friendly blog, but here goes anyway:

Joke board

Fifteen years ago, Liesel and I visited Bremen with Klaus and Leslie, a family reunion with some long-lost German relations. One of the side-trips was a tour of Beck’s brewery. Afterwards, we were given some samples to try: six, I think, small glasses of various beers and lagers. Which one did you like best, Klaus? To everyone’s surprise, he picked the non-alcoholic beverage. I imbibed some Beck’s today, it seemed the right thing to do. Prost!

Amongst the guests was Holly, our friend who flew up from Washington. Liesel and I were happy to give up our bed and sleep on the blow-up bed for a couple of nights, even if it did make farty noises every time one of us moved.

On one of our walks to Kincaid Park, Liesel picked both of the raspberries. Yes, there were only two ripe ones on the bush, but there’ll be plenty more soon. Maybe all that rain helped speed up the ripening process.

Yellow toadflax

It’s nice to be out in the Sun again, of course. And we do like seeing the odd splash of colour.

Red elderberry

At least, I think this is elderberry. But I wasn’t confident enough to pick the berries with a view to making elderberry wine. Well, I can’t help thinking about the times you were a wife of mine. You aimed to please me, cooked black-eyed peas-me, made elderberry wine. That Elton John song came to mind and was my earworm for the rest of the day.

Fireweed

Well, I think this is fireweed, it’s quite prolific in some places.

Selfie of the day: Holly, Jyoti, Liesel, Mick

I have to confess: Holly took this picture: if I’d tried to take a selfie, there would have been at least half of someone’s face missing.

There is a cat who lives in the house with Leslie. Her name is Petra and she is very shy, timid, secretive. I have often seen the tip of her tail disappear around the corner as she heads towards her favourite hiding place, the back of the closet. But one day, I was at home on my own, glanced down from the den, the upper landing. I saw the cat. The cat saw me. The cat crouched, ready to move off. I slowly extracted my phone. Turned the flash on. And I now have photographic evidence that the beast exists.

Petra

As you can see, her headlights are on full-beam. And this is the face that greets Leslie when she wakes up each morning. Luminous green, scary, starey eyes and everything.

Liesel, Holly and I walked on the boardwalk at Potter Marsh. One of those borderline days when even I was taking off and putting on my coat as the wind cooled and warmed up again.

The water in one of the streams was a bit murky, but it was good to see the salmon swimming upstream

Salmon

No birds to speak of, but I had some success with the dragonflies. One was on a lady’s shoe, so we helped it escape, and out of the way, we didn’t want anyone to stomp on it.

Dragonfly on a stranger’s shoe

And then there was this chap.

Dragonfly on the fence

He was very cooperative, he stayed very still, but at least he was alive. Or she, I don’t know how you can tell. I was able to get a nice close-up without him flying off.

Face to face with a dragonfly

We drove up to see Catherine and Hans. Their rhubard crumble was delicious. Holly knew Catherine from a long, long time ago. Holly and Liesel were travelling in Europe and spent some time with Catherine and Hans in the Netherlands. We had a good chat, enjoyed the view and the sunshine. George the Bernese mountain dog lives with Catherine and Hans. He wears children’s grippy socks indoors so that he can walk on the wooden floors without slipping.

George

When he’s out for a walk, he’ll let you know he’s had enough by lying down on his back, in the middle of the road.

Later that afternoon, Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon came round with friends visiting from Germany: Fee, Jorn and Philip. It was a raucous evening, and again, there were stories about Klaus.

Jyoti, Liesel and I had a quick walk around Little Campbell Lake, also known as Beercan Lake. The ladies had a longer walk than I did, but it was nice sitting on the bench, watching the young people in their kayaks. This lake is where Liesel and I were married all those years ago. It was frozen at the time, so a very different vista today.

Beercan Lake

In Kincaid Park, near the chalet, we admired the multi-coloured bench.

Bench

It was windy here today, and a few people were flying kites. The clouds were fascinating to watch, swirling and whirling around. Someone suggested it was like a scene from Harry Potter.

Kites and clouds in Kincaid Park

Indoors, I was quite busy doing some DIY. The key lock box combination is … haha, I nearly revealed it. I tightened up the screws holding up the hanging basket bracket. I changed a lightbulb outside the garage, quite possibly the most awkward lightbulb in the world, in a brass and glass case, with a hole not quite big enough to fit a bulb and fingers at the same time. Duct tape, as is often the case in Alaska, was my saviour.

Last week’s radio show was themed around Religion, but as someone commented, it’s not at all dry and preachy. Please give it a listen here.

If you would like to see a list of all the shows that I’ve uploaded from Wythenshawe Radio and beyond, then please follow me, mick_the_knife, on Mixcloud, you’ll be notified every time a new show appears.

An unexpected job was to clear out some cr I mean rubbish, old stuff, from the garage. Some was thrown away but a lot was taken to the charity shop. This provided the day’s scary moment. Do something scary every day, someone once said. Well, I don’t manage to every single day, but I made up for quite a few days on this occasion. I had to climb up the ladder several times, to take things down from high shelves and to put other items up there. My palms were sweaty, but I didn’t show my fear to Liesel and her Mom. I am very proud of my stoicism. Ladders and me have never really got along. This was after Liesel had taken me to the local supermarket, Carrs, for my second Covid booster jab. I have a slightly sore arm, but otherwise, no problem. The bonus was, the pharmacist gave me a voucher, so we got 10% off the groceries we bought. $12 saved. That’s almost as good as the chocolate I was given with my very first Covid jab, last year. Almost! 

My time in Anchorage is nearly over. Before I arrived, Liesel and I had the following telephone conversation. (Remember, on my last trip, I ((very) briefly) swam in the lake at Nana’s Cabin in Talkeetna):

Liesel: When you come over, will you bring my swimsuit?
Mick: Yes, of course, where is it?
Liesel: Under the bed, I think.
Mick: OK. Why?
Liesel: We’re going to Talkeetna and I thought I might go for a swim in the lake.
Mick: Oh great, I’ll bring my budgie smugglers too.
Liesel: You’re not going.
Mick: Uh?
Liesel: I’m going with Mom and Jyoti after you’ve gone back home. (There was an evil cackle at this point, or maybe I imagined it.)

Huh.

Parties in Portland

After breakfast on another spontaneous workday for Liesel, we picked Suvan up and drove to Amrit’s office. I don’t really know what it’s like to work in there, but the view from the window is magnificent. A park outside and, of course, mountains in the background. I was tempted to fiddle with the office equipment, but I didn’t touch anything. Instead, leaving Suvan and Liesel to work, I went for a walk on yet another sunny day. I don’t know why sunny days in Anchorage still surprise me, but the word ‘Anchorage’ itself, I think, has a sort of synaesthetic link with cold and snow and discomfort.

The Cuddy Family Midtown Park has a playground and a pond and was very pleasant to walk through. Canada geese expect to be fed.

Be kind to geese

Not on my watch, baby! I didn’t have any food on me at all.

Anchorage Municipal Library aka Z J Loussac Public Library

Which is why almost as soon as I found the café in the library, I bought myself a muffin to go with the coffee. I made myself comfortable and spent the next few hours writing.

A few other people were there too, mostly studying or reading the newspaper. The homeless man used the facilities and made aggressive noises as if looking for a fight, but nobody paid him any attention and he soon wandered off.

I went for a longer walk, visiting New Sagaya for a coffee, that was good, but they had no WiFi, outrageous!

Telecoms

I passed by this telecommunications centre and checked, but no, my 4G signal was still not working properly. It comes and goes. Maybe I should have forked out for a local SIM card for these few weeks.

The signs of homeless people on streets or even in amongst the trees near the park is always  distressing. But the family flying the kite in the park cheered me up. Just as I arrived back at the office, I received a message from Liesel asking me to bring back an iced coffee. Well, if I’d had a decent signal, I might have received the message in time. Sorry, Liesel!

It was nice to see Amrit in the office now too, keeping an eye on Suvan and Liesel.

Back at home, after everyone else had gone to bed, I watched Spelling Bee on TV. This is a national contest for children aged 15 or under, and they do indeed have to spell some very unusual words. Just my thing, you’d think. And so it should be, but the TV presentation was awful. You see two contestants, then some waffle then a load of adverts. And I mean a lot of adverts. The interesting part of the show accounted for less than ten percent of actual broadcast time. What a shame for those children whose moment of glory was squeezed out by an advert for prescription only laxatives or something.

There are several channels playing music, called Music Choice. I found one playing Tiny Dancer, probably my favourite Elton John song, which I enjoyed before going to bed myself.

Woke up and got up early and had a jolly good stretch. Other than that, and a spot of packing, what a lazy day.

Mom drove us to the airport for the start of our next adventure. We flew to Seattle. But, before boarding the plane, what a palaver.

Going through Security, my Passport and boarding pass were deemed acceptable.  Then the queue split into two: Liesel went to the left, I to the right. Ok. Liesel was processed, scanned, bag X-rayed, no problem. Me? I’m just a trouble-maker.

I started to remove the electronics from my bag, as usual. Officer #1 aggressively: ‘Leave everything in your bag. If you want to take your things out, go to the back of the other line’. So I put my stuff back: Kindle, keyboard, and the pedometer which has caused so much concern on other occasions.

Do I take my shoes and belt off? ‘Yes, of course’. Was I beginning to get flustered? A bit. By mistake, I left the phone in my pocket, so that raised alarm when I went through the body scanner. (Meanwhile, nobody seemed at all bothered by the two trays with bags that nobody claimed ownership of.)

Officer #2 frisked me, and found the phone, which then had to go back and through the Xray machine in the other line. But wait, there’s more! The metal poppers on my pockets always set off a klaxon. Maybe your machine is a bit too sensitive?

So now I’m waiting for things from both sides: my bag, shoes and belt from this side and my phone from the other side, from where Liesel had emerged unscathed about three decades earlier.

I notice that the tray containing my bag has been pulled to the side. Officer #3 is going through another, female, passenger’s bag. Her problem? The ice pack keeping her insulin cool had thawed during the day. So it’s now full of liquid water. I expected Officer #3 to go through my bag, for whatever reason, in the fullness of time. I saw Liesel waiting patiently and tried very hard not to make any signs that might cause suspicion here in Paranoia Central. Officer #3  told me and the others waiting here to go behind the screen over there, which we did, about 5 or 6 of us. She looked through someone else’s bag first, but this was a quick process.

She then began to chat with a colleague.

Officer #4 (at last!) held up my my tray. ‘Is this anybody’s? No?’ Not giving me a chance, he started to take it away again. I had to shout that it was mine. I don’t like shouting at the best of times. But here? In a high sceurity zone? Where I really don’t want to attract any attention? If #3 hadn’t sent me so far away, I would have been on the spot when #4 picked up my bag.

He looked inside, and picked out my water bottle. Oh no. I think even he was surprised at how few drops of water there were inside. I wonder if he too thinks that this new machine is a bit too sensitive? Maybe we should leave our electronics in the bag and take out the water bottles? He was very polite as he gave me my tray but I was still stunned by the whole ridiculous process, I almost forgot to take it with me.

Still a bit war-weary I started to unhitch my hat from the bag, something I really didn’t need to do. I only tied it up there because it was a big deal last time, when it was perched on my head. What I should have been doing is putting on my shoes and belt. And breathe.

I know the rules change from trip to trip, from country to country, from airport to airport, but I think the rules should be consistent in the same place at the same time. And, if the new equipment being  tested (in place of the well-known Xray machine) can’t ignore a few drops of water in a bottle, then it would be no hardship for us to remove bottles from our bags, honest.

Liesel tweeted a complaint to TSA but has had no response. And having written it all down, I now feel purged of the whole sorry incident. Grrr. Whinge of the day.

What a relief to finally be able to sit down on the plane, a small QX E175, built by Brazilian company Embraer, although they’re now pretty much owned by Boeing.

There are no middle seats, everyone is by the window or by the aisle. And, according to the Alaska Air site: the E175 maximum takeoff weight is equivalent to approximately 10,000 Copper River salmon.

I read my book and did some puzzles but the main entertainment was provided by the gentleman sitting behind me. He had trouble stowing his bag under the seat in front. The steward was very patient as he spent several minutes trying to explain the concept of turning the bag sideways!

The flight was pleasant and what a surprise to see it turn dark outside after the Sun set.

Seattle

I suspect this is not the best photo ever taken from an aeroplane, of Seattle at night.

From the airport, a short bus ride took us to the car rental facility. The car was waiting for us and after a long, long day, Liesel drove us to our beds.

Red Roof was alright, and our room had been cleaned by Eulogia, which I thought was a beautiful name, specially since it contains all five vowels!

And you’ll never guess where we had breakfast the next morning? IHOP was a better bet than Denny’s, we felt. Neither of us could finish our omelettes. American portions win again.

We drove south through the state capital, Olympia, but I blinked and missed it. Apart from a couple of showers, it was a nice sunny drive to Portland, Oregon. We commented on how much longer the trucks and tankers are here compared with what we’re used to at home.

Funny old number plate

So: what did you think when you first saw this number plate? Liesel thought ‘squirt one’ but even though this isn’t an imaginary car, I read it as ‘square root of minus one’.

Our rental car on this occasion is a Toyota Prius and whenever we turn the engine off at the end of a trip, a message flashes up on the screen: ‘Check rear seats’. And every time I turn round to look, I see that they are in fact still there.

Also, it gives you a mark at the end of each journey telling you how good or bad a driver you are. Liesel was typically getting 70+ out of 100. (Once, later on, I sat in the driver’s seat trying to change the speed display from mph to kph. I was unsuccessful, drove absolutely nowhere, but was given  95 / 100!)

The plan was to meet people at The Rose Garden but we arrived a bit too late. Nevertheless, we had  a good workout here, walking up and down some of the steeper inclines.

Just a few of the gorgeous roses currently in bloom

The Oregon Holocaust Memorial was incredibly moving. As it should be.

Bronze representation of a child’s doll

The children’s toys are especially poignant. Such a contrast with the colourful roses just a short walk away.

We found our Airbnb in Portland, and it was no coincidence that we were greeted by Jyoti, Suvan, Gita and Troy as well as some of Jyoti’s relations who we’d not met before: sister Preeti, cousin Guddu, nieces Simran and Suchi.

We were gathered here for a few days to help Gita celebrate her graduation from Lewis and Clark College. She is training as Family Therapist and we’re all very proud of her.

Guddu put together a wonderful charcuterie but the main debate was on how to pronounce it. I think we spent most of the rest of the day chatting and eating and eating and mixing and chatting and eating. And dancing, although I still have this phobia of stomping on other people’s feet.

It’s the first time we’ve shared a b&b with lots of people we know, and there was a bit of a party atmosphere.

It was a bit overcast and even drizzly as we drove over to Gita’s house the following morning.

Pavement art

I think this literal splash of colour is celebrating June being LGBT Pride Month.

We walked to a nearby street food market on the site of Hawthorne Asylum. There was almost too much to choose from: food from Guyana, Korea, Japan, South Africa.

Rubbish!

The canopy over the table kept us dry: yes, it was still raining a bit. Despite this, we walked the long way back. Jyoti wanted to introduce us to Urbanite, a shop that sells everything, lots of old stuff, vintage items, treasures, works of art, things you don’t even know you don’t need.

Bluetooth speaker

This bluetooth speaker is bigger than usual, being based on the design of a drum. Try me! I did. I treated the shop to David Bowie singing Everyone Says Hi! What I really wanted to play was a recording of Martha and William laughing, but such an MP3 doesn’t exist on my phone. Yet.

After the fun and games in the shop, it’s despressing to see sights like this.

Tent in the street

Homeless people are living in tents all over the city. You might wake up one day and find someone camping on the pavement outside your luxury apartment. There are even ‘tent cities’ in some locations.

Back at Gita’s house, it was party time, party number 2! We met Gita’s housemates Jessica, Mark and Jackie. Many, many other people turned up, fellow students and tutors and family and friends. Music was provided by Abba, until the record stopped.

What a noisy, busy, happy hubbub. But so many people. Do something scary every day. OK. My opening line was something like ‘You’re not a big fan of big crowds. either, then?’ After which, Jan (I think that was her name, hard to be sure with all that background noise) and I had a really nice chat. I don’t why I find it so hard to talk to new people. Probably being told ‘you should be seen and not heard’ too often doesn’t help.

Pizza

A large truck pulled up outside and delivered a mountain of pizza, from CostCo, one of Liesel’s favourite places.

I spoke to Gita’s mentor about Prince and music and not at all about Gita, although I think I may have accidentally told Gita otherwise later on!

In the evening, there was the option of going to a parade, or going dancing, or going to bed. You have one guess…

In the morning, Liesel drove Guddu to the airport while I slept on obliviously. Liesel came back to bed but when we rose at about 9, there was nobody else around to say goodbye to. Today was the day of Gita’s Graduation ceremony, which looks like a marvellous affair.

Suvan, Gita and Jyoti

A rightly, very proud family, Gita’s worked really hard and I’m sure will continue to do so. Congratulations to you all.

Meanwhile, Liesel and I were driving north on Interstate-5. And that’s another story…

Durness to Ullapool

All good things come to an end and that includes our first ever experience of glamping, here at Durness. Glamping? Yes, even though we were staying inside a modern day shepherd’s hut, it qualifies as glamping. No yurts here, or big tents with all mod cons.

Glamping at Aiden House

Part funded by the European Union. I wonder what you’d have to do to join such an organisation. We couldn’t bid farewell to our host Sandra because, overnight, she had to take her husband to hospital. In Inverness. Let’s hope he recovers soon, that’s a long way from home. Many of the photos today will be of the spectacular highlands scenery. There are not enough superlatives to describe the place. It’s big, it’s stunning, it’s almost overwhelming.

Final view from Aiden House

We thought we’d fill our flasks with hot chocolate. But, the first disappointment of the day was finding that Cocoa Mountain is closed on Mondays. And so to Ullapool, about 90 miles south. We didn’t stop at Smoo Cave in the end, we just pointed the car in the right direction and followed the one-lane road with passing places.

Sea loch

It was bright and sunny but quite windy. The further south we drove, the warmer it became and the wind died down a bit too. But looking at the scenery genuinely does put real life into perspective. These mountains will still be here long after our current inept government has been forgotten.

During the day, I was reminded of a few works of art that have entertained us over the decades. Here at Keoldale for instance is the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Standing stone

There were very few trees and bushes, which I think makes the landscape appear more rugged. Plenty of sheep and lambs around but we realised that other than on warning signs, we haven’t seen any deer yet. Then we saw on Twitter that that bloke from Location, Location, Location has been shooting them all.

Middle Earth

This could easily be somewhere dark and menacing from Lord of the Rings.

We stopped briefly near Scourie. From about this point, the road had two lanes including white lines down the middle. It’s funny how you get used to using passing places, you miss them when there aren’t any more.

Scourie Harbour
Selfie of the day

This selfie was taken from Kylestrome, looking over, we think, Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin. Sometimes, we just don’t know exactly where we are, which is a shame.

You’re driving along, gasping at every new vista, and suddenly, even something manmade can jump out, someting with a ‘wow’ factor.

Kylesku Bridge

This bridge should look out of place, but it really fits in, as minimalist as a bridge can be, not attempting to draw attention from what nature has to offer.

The view from Unapool
Beautiful blue loch

Everywhere you look, there is something stunning, almost out of this world. The next scene took us back to New Zealand.

Why did the sheep cross the road?

Nothing to do here except wait for the slow one at the back to catch up.

We pulled into laybys a couple of times, just to look around. Sometimes there’s a map. Here’s a tip to whoever produces these maps: please don’t put South at the top. We’re all used to North at the top. There’s no good reason for it, other than to wreak havoc and cause confusion amongst visitors and tourists.

Lunch was taken by the cool, clear waters of Loch Assynt.

Loch Assynt

Another couple stopped at about the same time as us, and, being British, we each complimented the weather and engaged no further in conversation.

From our picnic position, we could look over at Ardvreck Castle. Why didn’t we stop and have a closer look at the castle? Mainly because everybody else had.

Ardvreck Castle

Closer to our picnic site though was what’s left of Calda House, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Calda House

It doesn’t look like there’s enough rubble there to rebuild the other two walls, so I suspect a lot of the stone has been recycled into other buildings.

Did I mention Lord of the Rings? Well, we found a place called Elphin. In fact, we stopped at Elphin Tearooms for coffee and cake, and sure enough, all the locals have pointy, elfin ears.

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve is just a short distance along the road and by the time we arrived, we were well fortified, full of beans and ready to go. Why? Because the elfin barista made non-decaffeinated coffee for us by mistake, and it would have been churlish for us to reject it. We just tweaked her ears instead.

If you’re interested in geology, this is the place to come. So many different kinds of rock to study but first, we looked at the deer much higher up the hill, behind a fence unfortunately, but it was exciting to finally see some in the wild.

Spot the stag

No, I don’t know if Spot is really his name.

The rocks here have been accumulating for over a billion years.

A geologist’s dream

There is a beautiful hike here up to the top of the crag. There are slopes and steps made from the local rocks, and the whole track is reassuringly solid. Hard to believe that the views can become even more spectacular as you climb, but they really do take your breath away.

The geological history of Scotland over 600 million years is fascinating. It’s certainly moved about over the millennia.

Around the world in 600 million years
Scotland is near the equator

Inevitably some people will look at 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled Scotland, and they’ll think, huh, nothing’s changed then. Not us, of course.

Up and up we go, stopping to look around every so often.

Stairway to heaven

It was hard work climbing some of these steps, plus it was a lovely warm day. We certainly felt like we were getting to know the crag. It’s high and mighty and again, makes you realise that something like not having a wifi signal is not really a big problem in the great scheme of things. Not having a 4G signal here though, what a disaster. Here’s a tip: if you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no realistic chance of acquiring a 4G signal, put your phone into aeroplane mode, otherwise it’ll drain the battery as it keeps searching for non-existent radio signals.

Liesel having a well-deserved breather
Look at it. Just look at it

There came a time when we had to turn back. A number of factors combined to help us make the decision. I felt bad about not going any further with Liesel, but she said she was beginning to feel uncomfortable too:

  • I’ve never been too keen on heights, and I suddenly realised I was too high, well outside my comfort zone;
  • It was surprisingly hot, even at this altitude, and we’d brought no water with us;
  • After some short flights of steps, my legs were shaking, and taking a couple of minutes to recover;
  • Similarly, I was getting a bit out of breath;
  • Even though we wanted to climb to the top, we just couldn’t see how much further there was to go.

Do something scary every day, they say, and this was quite scary for a while. Really glad we got as far as we did, though, it was a physical challenge and the view from such a great height was definitely rewarding. Photos just can’t give a realistic idea of the scale of it all. But they’re a great reminder of a fabulous adventure.

Another surprise was seeing this homage to the Alaska pipeline.

Strathkinaird pipeline

And here we are, back in ‘civilisation’. Ullapool always reminds me of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, because the Martians’ death cry is ‘Ulla’. (Sorry, spoilers.) We’ve been in the footsteps of Susan Calman to a certain extent, as featured in the TV series Secret Scotland. She tells the story of when she went on holiday as a child, with her parents, in a campervan. The only cassette they had to play in the van was War of the Worlds. Where was I? Oh yes, back in civilisation. How do we know? There are way too many people in the streets of Ullapool. Plus, there are double yellow lines on the roads.

Yellow yellow
I wonder what time we arrived here

This clock is the lovechild of Cogsworth and Lumiere from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

We wandered down to the harbour to watch people. So many to choose from. One family group were putting on their waterproofs, about to embark on a hair-raising, fast, boat ride. This guy from the Orkney Islands was very busy mending ropes.

George Roper

Well, I hope his name is George, but I didn’t ask. (I did ask if I could take his picture.) He loves it here in Ullapool, but he’d rather be reading a book and looking at the view.

We found our accommodation, Ceilidh Place, hotel, bar and restaurant, bookshop. After settling in, we went for a walk and joined the queue (yes, a queue) outside the chip shop. We took away our supper and ate al fresco, on the grass opposite our place. Very nice, very tasty.

Now, back in our room, I’m writing, Liesel’s crocheting, I’m listening and Liesel’s (occasionally) watching the Tour de France. There is a family of seagulls outside, three cute, fluffy chicks, and we’re glad their parents haven’t yet told them how to steal chips from tourists.

Yellow daisies

What a beautiful day.

Floods and food

This was another wet week, extremely so later on. Another week of not doing much, really. But another week closer to the end of lockdown and returning to some sort of normality. We’re still pounding the local beat, and I think the furthest away from home I’ve been is to the medical centre in Benchill for my annual MOT.

Flooded field

Often, we have a chat with the horses in this field, but I think they must have migrated to the nearby shelter.

The heron is becoming braver. I was fully prepared for him to take flight, he doesn’t usually let humans approach this closely, never mind dogs.

A very brave heron

But it did remind me that in order to get decent, sharp, photos of the heron on the other side of the river, I really do need to take my proper camera.

We had an unexpected visitor one day this week, in the pouring rain. Yes, the window cleaner turned up. He was using a long pole to reach the higher windows, squirting water from a reservoir in the back of his van. Or maybe he was just making use of the free rainwater. A box ticked, no doubt, but what a wasted effort.

Liesel and I managed one nice long walk by the river this week, but maintaining a safe distance from everybody can be difficult.

Seems like a coach party walking towards us

I know there’s a foreshortening effect, but by any standards at the present time, that is a lot of people walking towards us. We decided on this occasion to take the low road, closer to the river, even though it does tend to be more muddy there.

It’s the middle of January and yet there are already signs of Spring.

Over-exposed bulbs

We couldn’t work out whether somebody had planted these bulbs and forgot to fill in the hole afterwards, or whether someone or some animal had tried to dig them up. I assume they didn’t survive events later in the week.

Selfie of the day

Some exciting local news. The Northern Den has had a makeover. The windows have been redecorated. We treated ourselves to something sweet this week to go with the coffee.

The Northern Den

As I came to life one morning, I noticed a pink glow in the sky. Straightaway, I took a couple of pictures before crawling back into my nest. The pictures were nothing special, the sky appeared washed out, so I made some adjustments.

A Northenden sunrise

And the sky came out more orange than pink.

Some exciting local news. Salutem has had a makeover. The windows have been redecorated. We treated ourselves to some bagels this week to go with the coffee.

Salutem

UFO

I have no idea what this object is but it’s very well protected. I suspect the rest of the rocket or nuclear power plant or whatever will be delivered soon.

But never mind local news. This week, Northenden made the national news. And not for a good reason. We’d noticed the Mersey rising and falling but this week, it threatened to overflow and flood the area. Several people were evacuated as a precaution. The sluice gates were opened, and the flood basins filled to capacity. In the end, Northenden and Didsbury were OK, but people in other place such as Lymm and Northwich weren’t so fortunate.

As if the threat of floods wasn’t bad enough, the prime minister decided to come and pester the Environment Agency workers in Didsbury.

The new wellington boots are great, very comfortable: the rim at the top doesn’t dig into my shin bones, sheer luxury. Let me know if you want my old boots, size 10, probably best worn with wicket keepers’ pads.

These boots are made for wading

Bridge over troubled water

Sometime, we walk along this path under the main road, going towards Chorlton. Well, not today. Not even with the new wellies. The following day, this whole stretch of path had been fenced off.

Even away from the river, the ground is very saturated. Any dip or indentation is filled with water. Storm Christoph came with a lot of rain, a months’ worth in a couple of days.

Sign o’ the times

That big puddle is in Kenworthy Lane Woods. The gate is telling the truth.

Here is Ford Lane, probably our most-often visited walking route, as seen on BBC News at Six.

Six O’Clock News

Yes, we obviously couldn’t walk along here this week. But there is one benefit of this road being flooded: there won’t have been so much fly-tipping!

Floods? In the middle of the night, we had a blizzard too, wind and snow, just what the police officers needed while knocking on people’s doors, advising them to evacuate.

Receding river

Later in the day, the river had subsided significantly. This fence had been totally submerged the previous day.

Liesel has been learning a new skill this week: quilling: curling or rolling up thin strips of paper to make very pretty designs.

Quilling

I wish I could say I was being creative in some way, but my pastimes all involve using the PC, in the studio. When I’m not preparing a radio show, or throwing together a blog post, I’m still processing the thousands of photos from our travels. There are a couple of other projects on the go as well, and these too require acces to the PC.

I woke up this morning and was shocked, shocked I tell ya, to see it was snowing. Heavy, massive snowflakes, but the storm didn’t last long, and it soon started to melt. Then we had a second snowstorm, and so far, at the time of writing, it seems to have settled more permanently.

Let it snow

Yes, the snow’s quite pretty when it falls, but the background in my picture isn’t so attractive. Maybe I’ll photoshop in a mountain scene or something.

We’ve been watching more of the Celtic Connections shows online this week, and this gave me the idea for my radio show: lots of songs by Scottish singers. You can catch up here if you want to enjoy some old and some modern Scottish songs.

What a strange week. Another one bites the dust.

October and March in London

Two nights in a b&b not a stone’s throw away from the A3 was no problem. We’re still not sure whether we’re in New Malden or Tolworth or some no-man’s land in between. A perfect night’s sleep was only disturbed by encroachments onto the wrong side of the bed and the occasional walk to the facilities.

Liesel spent the day in Chessington and Surbiton with Dawn, then Helen, then Rosie. Beauty treatments (not that she needs any), coffee (always welcome), shopping (not sure that was necessary) And I wasn’t there to observe, participate nor spoil her enjoyment. Liesel got rid of me at Surbiton Station from where I took the train and spent the day in London, doing my own thing.

I walked from Vauxhall Station to Tate Britain to view the Mark Leckey exhibit. On the way, I resisted the urge to go and help the mudlark on on the beach by Vauxhall Bridge.

Mudlark

I think he had a metal detector and he was closely examining something of interest.

Elephants in Pimlico

At Tate Britain, I was delighted to spend time looking at the works of William Blake. His art and poetry have influenced generations, and whenever I’ve come across it, I’ve enjoyed his etchings, paintings and poetry.

There were far too many items on show here to take in, in one visit. But all his most famous works are here, and the captions explaining his work were just the right length. I was surprised and pleased that so many other people were here too, even if they did sometimes block the view: he’s a popular chap.

Blake’s 7 (and the rest)

Unusually for an artist of his time, at least he made a good living. And I think overall, he was a good, well-intentioned man.

While at the Royal Society last night, I looked out for a portrait or a statue of Sir Isaac Newton, but if there is one, it’s probably behind the scenes, away from the public gaze. However, here at the Tate, I did find William Blake’s painting of Newton doing trigonometry, as we all do, in the nude.

Newton, by William Blake

His book, Jerusalem, was on display, a long sequence of finely detailed pictures with very small, very hard-to-read, text.

I then found my way to Mark Leckey: O’ Magic Power of Bleakness. There were fewer people here, in a dark room, which was a lifesize replica of one section of a bridge under the M53, where he played as a child. I stood and sat in various places, near the wall, in the middle, on a seat. But the fast moving, old video footage, cut together in, to me, a random manner, just didn’t tell a story. I threw away all my old VHS tapes when they became unplayable. Maybe I should have spent time turning them into some incomprehensible form of art, too.

People watching old videos

I walked along Millbank towards Parliament Square, and as I got nearer to the Houses of Parliament, I noticed the increasing number of police officers. Some in pairs, some in larger groups, some standing outside buildings of interest, some looking like they’d rather be anywhere other than standing around in their hi-vis glory.

As usual, there are building works and there’s a long section where the now covered walkway has hemispherical mirrors installed on the ceiling. A perfect photo opp, I reckon.

Selfie of the day

College Green was full of tents and radio stations and TV cameras, plus a few police officers. Parliament Square was roped off, ‘to avoid damage’ to the grass. A very large police presence, but the only trouble-maker I saw was standing all alone, opposite the Houses of Parliament. He gave me a thumbs-up for taking his picture but I’ll save him from embarrassment here.

Everyone is corrupt

Whitehall itself is closed to traffic, probably because the XR crowd is occupying the road by Downing Street. There was some chanting, maybe only half-hearted because, as I wandered by, they were having their lunches.

Overhead, a helicopter provided the throbbing, monontonous soundtrack to my walk. I wonder how much CO₂ has been generated by police cars and vans and helicopters because of the perceived threat from Extinction Rebellion rebels?

There were more police in Trafalgar Square again but I didn’t see any in Leicester Square. So I started a riot in Leicester Square. No I didn’t.

I spent some time in the National Portrait Gallery, but again, I was unable to find the national portrait of myself. That would have been a much better selfie of the day. The blue cheese and salad ciabatta was nice but blimey O’Reilly, the onions were strong.

Over the road, I crept into the crypt of St Martin’s for a coffee. I was going to write there (I brought the keyboard) but in the end, I decided I would prefer to be out in the sunshine.

The crypt of St Martin’s

Liesel had sent a message that it was raining in Surbiton. My gloating was shortlived, though. By the time I emerged from the so-called ‘dead centre of London’, carefully avoiding the Christmas Shop, it was raining here, too. I walked through the subway to Charing Cross Station and, as I’d hoped, by the time I reached the Golden Jubilee Bridge, the rain had stopped and the Sun was out.

I did do some writing in the Royal Festival Hall while waiting for my evening entertainment. A few other gorgeous young people were here: typing, reading, working, making their coffees last as long as possible. I glared at the so-called assistant who tried to remove my cup while it was still half-full. Writing and watching people in London is a great way to pass the time.

Lemn Sissay is a wonderful poet and he was at Queen Elizabeth Hall to talk about his new autobiographical book, My Name is Why. It’s the story of his being brought up by foster parents. How does a government steal a child and then imprison him? How does it keep it a secret? He spoke about his experiences and was interviewed by Samira Ahmed. A fascinating story, a scary one.

Lemn Sissay and Samira Ahmed

As Chancellor of the University of Manchester, he is, in a way, my daughter Jenny’s boss. So I was very polite when I met him and bought his book afterwards.

Mick and Lemn

So, in the space of a week, I’ve shared space with a Poet Laureate, a Nobel Prize winner and a University Chancellor. I have undoubtedly inhaled some of their exhalations, so I hope I’ve absorbed some of their talent. So far, all I have is a bit of a sore throat.

You can never have enough of London, so the next day, I joined 999,999 other people in one of the largest marches ever, demanding a People’s Vote on whether we should leave the EU with the latest deal or to remain in the EU, after all. It was a good-natured protest and, in contrast with the last couple of days, I saw very few police officers on the route. As usual on these occasions, there were some very funny and some very clever placards and banners.

It’s called a march, but mostly is was a slow, slow dawdle, an amble, a shuffle, and every so often, I stopped or put on a faster-paced spurt. My lower back was very grateful. I wondered what would happen in Whitehall when we People’s Vote shufflers encountered the Extinction Rebellion protestors, but they must have been scared away.

The grass on Parliament Square will need some TLC now: the Keep Off signs were ignored today. On the screens, I watched Patrick Stewart and Sadiq Kahn give their speeches.

Sir Patrick Stewart OBE

I missed all the other politicians’ speeches as I tried to get away. Westminster Bridge was inaccessible, so I had to fight against the tide all the way back along Whitehall. I took advantage of those people with battering rams: buggies, wheelchairs and bicycles. That was the most uncomfortably claustrophobic I’ve ever felt for such a long period.

We will, we will Block you

Even the Golden Jubilee Bridge was packed today. I was glad to get back to Waterloo Station where, in the comfort of Carluccio’s, I met a most wonderful woman. Liesel had been along the South Bank to Tate Modern: she doesn’t like the slow pace of a protest march either, really.

But what a fabulous couple of days in London: it’s great being able to be this spontaneous.

The only disappointment is that, on the march, I didn’t meet the lady who’d accosted us in Didsbury last week. I did meet someone I haven’t spoken to for 20 years, though, almost to the day. Mark Ellen, writer, broadcaster, magazine editor and I last met at a meeting to discuss Saving GLR, the then threatened BBC radio station for London, and still, probably my favourite radio station of all time. He remembered the occasion, probably not me, and I was so taken aback so see and speak with him, I didn’t take a picture until he had walked away. And that photo is never going to see the light of day because it is so bad. You’ll just have to imagine Mick and Mark, bffs.

Kerry, Naomi, Guy and Simon

This week’s good news is that Liesel has come home, hooray! The bad news is that I had to get up early in order to collect her from the airport. It was no hardship, really, and what a relief to fit the three large cases, weighing 150 pounds, into the car.

And what a wonderful, wet Manchester welcome for the traveller. It rained.

We went over to see Jenny, Martha and William in the afternoon. Martha is now spelling her name, phonetically, and Liesel was impressed at how William’s vocabulary has expanded during the six weeks she’s been away.

Jenny and Liam, with Martha’s and William’s help, will be making chocolate chip cookies for a long time: Liesel brought them back a lot of chocolate chips! Not 150 lbs, but the kitchen cupboard is groaning under the weight.

Pile of choc chips (with Martha for scale)

Walking around the dirty streets of Northenden is usually uneventful but one day this week, I should have been wearing a helmet cam. A sparrow hawk flew by me, throwing a pigeon into the window of Costa. The hawk performed an Immelmann manoeuvre, flew by my head again with its surprised yellow eyes lighting the way. Meanwhile, a bloke sitting outside the café, bent down, retrieved what I now saw was a half-a-pigeon and deposited the half-a-corpse into the bin. Very nonchalant, as if this were an everyday occurrence.

Later on, a helicopter flew overhead, and two fire engines blues-and-twos-ed by. A bit OTT, I thought, just for a dead pigeon.

Despite many requests, I haven’t persuaded Liesel to come for a walk with me, yet: I think the jetlag and general tiredness hasn’t quite worn off. Plus, she’s happier doing some yoga indoors, in the dry.

Liesel’s laptop goes to sleep very quickly, after just a couple of minutes of idleness. We thought maybe it’s overheating, so, wearing my electronics hat, I dismantled the computer in order to clean the fan. In the end, the fan wasn’t as mucky as we’d expected, no reason for it to stick.

Laptop innards, freshly cleaned

Only later, after going through all possibilities, did I find a second place where there’s an option to go to sleep after 5 minutes. After changing that, it now keeps going until you choose to turn it off. This is Windows 10 and we think this setting must have been introduced or changed during a recent upgrade: neither of us would have picked such a short idle period. But, the best news of all is that after putting the laptop back together, there were no bits left over.

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma is the somewhat lengthy title of Kerry Hudson’s first book which I can throughly recommend. As Naomi Frisby says, it has the best first line of a novel, ever, notwithstanding Charles Dickens’s “It was the best of times…”

And this evening, we enjoyed watching Naomi interviewing and chatting with Kerry, about the latter’s latest book, Lowborn. This Manchester Literature Festival event was, again, at the Central Library, so we took a bus into town.

Kerry Hudson and Naomi Frisby

It was a fascinating discussion, and quite moving.

Grandchildren Day arrived and for the first time in a while, we both looked after William all day. The conversation can be quite intellectual at times.

L: Is there a monkey in the bed?

M: There’s a fox and a penguin.

We are referring to William’s sleeping companions, in case you didn’t realise.

Later on, I heard myself say ‘Oh no, Rapunzel fell on the floor.’ The doll rolled off the sofa when I was making myself comfortable.

We took William for a walk to Waitrose. It wasn’t cold out but the best of Summer really has deserted us, now. He was happy with his babyccino but the barista was very generous with the chocolate sprinkles. The green frog biscuit looked attractive but the main ingredient seemed to be granite, his little teeth barely managed to nibble off some small chunks. He much preferred Grandad’s and Oma’s biscuits, shortbread.

William with a very hard biscuit

Later, in the park, he watched in awe as the squirrels ran up the trees, but he didn’t attempt to follow on this occasion.

After waking from his nap, he helped Oma make a cake. And after collecting Martha from nursery, she helped decorate the cake.

Liam, Martha and the cake

Oma enjoyed blowing out the three candles, very far short of her actual age, and the cake was delicious.

William, Mummy and Daddy

We’re getting back into our old routine, and this usually means a jaunt into Didsbury on a Saturday morning. So that’s what we did. And who knew people in Didsbury were so political?

Homes for people, not for profit

Not only is there a banner outside potential residential accommodation, but we were accosted by a lady inviting us to join the anti-brexit march in London next weekend. We were pleased to tell her that we’d already planned to be there.

Following my success earlier in the week with Liesel’s laptop, I donned the techy hat again and dismantled my Kindle. It used to keep charge for at least a couple of weeks, but this period has slowly been getting shorter. This week, I was charging it every day. I installed a new battery and I’m delighted to say, so far, touch wood, it’s still working ok. Never have I seen so many small screws in one device: 14 of them, each no more than a millimetre in length. Again, no bits left over afterwards!

The River Mersey was flowing fast again and one of the local golf courses was slightly waterlogged.

The world’s first Water Golf course

There were a couple of signs warning of floods, and sure enough, part of the road was wet and muddy, but not flooded enough, today, to justify turning back.

Mud on the road

Liesel and I went to see both children swimming. The highlight was, near the end of her lesson, when Liam threw Martha at Kirsty, the teacher, and she threw her back.

The part of the sparrow hawk is played by Liam, the part of the half-a-pigeon is played by Martha, the part of Costa’s window is played by the surface of the water

I walked part of the way home and despite my expectations, it stayed dry!

The afternoon was spent at home, listening to the radio: something old and something new. Amy Lamé played the whole of The Clash’s London Calling album, warts, naughty words and all.

In the evening, our next Manchester Literature Festival event was Guy Garvey with poet laureate Simon Armitage in conversation with Katie Popperwell. Delighted to say that Jenny came with us.

Katie, Guy, Guy and Simon

The lead singer from Elbow and the Poet Laureate are friends in real life, and the evening’s discussion was full of laughter, wisdom, modesty, camaraderie, warmth, truth, generosity and so much love, as someone tweeted.

Simon Armitage and Mick

Yes, I bought the new book.

Edinburgh

We enjoyed watching William and Martha swimming again for what would be the last time at such an early hour. From next week, their classes begin at 11.00am. We’re grandparently proud of their promotions!

The long drive north to Edinburgh was uneventful. Apart from a couple of bad accidents and the occasional downpour, that is.

High pressure rain cleaning the windscreen

Yes, off to the gorgeous capital city of Scotland for a couple of days to take in a very small percentage of the Festival and Fringe events.

Tebay is probably our favourite service station thanks to its Farm Shop. It’s not an online buying and selling site based in Yorkshire, whatever it says in the Uxbridge English Dictionary. The vegetarian sausage rolls and vegetarian Scotch eggs are highly recommended!

We hadn’t realised how many wind farms there are now: good to see that the gales and hurricanes that blow our way aren’t totally wasted.

Old energy vs new energy

Neither of us brought our passports but who knows? This might be the last time we visit Scotland while it’s still part of the United Kingdom.

Welcome to Scotland

Liesel commented that some of the landscape reminds her of her home state, Alaska.

Ecclefechan

Sarah, Jenny, Helen and I stayed in a b&b in Ecclefechan on what would be our final visit to Scotland all together. It remains Helen’s favourite placename to this day.

This time, Liesel and I are staying in Bathgate. That is the correct name of the place. In the past, I have also stayed at places called Lochhead and Pathhead. Over these few days, I think I referred to our present location using every possible combination of the words loch, head, gate, bath and path.

In the early evening, we caught a train into Edinburgh for our first event.

Bathgate Station: trains are under starter’s orders

We thought we had a nice, easy walk to the venue. But it’s been a while, we’d forgotten how hilly Edinburgh is. Not only that, we had to scale The News Steps. 124 steps, I think. We arrived at the summit breathless and not just because of the beautiful view of the city below.

Circa: Humans took place in a Big Top. A troupe of ten performers, very nimble and very strong, doing the sort of callisthenics that we do each morning, only slightly more skilfully, and with a musical accompaniment.

The music was at different times insistent, percussive, rhythmic and funny. One routine to the song The Impossible Dream proved conclusively that it is impossible to lick ones own elbows.

Stunts included human pyramids. Only, not always pyramids: in some cases, one guy bore the weight of two others.

The poster (photos of the performance not allowed)

Like most shows at The Fringe, this one lasted an hour. They had some fantastic ideas, very imaginative choreography and it was all executed flawlessly. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Humans thanking the audience

Twice in a row now, I’ve inserted a USB cable correctly on the first attempt. I think my luck might be changing. Or, maybe not. Although we’d planned to go into Edinburgh from Bathgate by train every day, our second attempt failed. It was a working day, and the station car park was full. In fact, over full: some cars were dumped in the most ridiculous places. So, reluctantly, we drove into the auld city. Both days, we managed to park close to the final venue of the day, making for a quick getaway.

Greyfriars Bobby (statue)

We admired Greyfriars Bobby’s well polished nose. He’s the dog that sat beside his master’s grave waiting for the opportunity to dig up some bones, I think.

We’ll bin our jokes if you bin your litter

The city was really tidy, on the whole, but the bin jokes should have been binned. What’s Beethoven’s favourite fruit? Ba-na-na-naaa.

The International Photography Exhibition at the Photographic Exhibition Centre exhibited about 230 photographs from over 2000 submitted from all around the world.

Photography Exhibition attendee having a rest (still life)

There were some imaginative pictures here though some had obviously received a certain amount of post-production doctoring, or editting. I was hoping to get some ideas for my own future pictures.

Railway lines – London to Plymouth by John Widdows

The damselfly photo was magnificent and as I said to Liesel, I wish they’d sit that still for me! And my photo of that photo was of course out of focus. Curses! But for the exhibition as a whole: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A few years ago, Jenny and I visited Edinburgh together. We enjoyed the veggie food at Henderson’s and I was glad to see it’s still going strong. Liesel and I had lunch of (veggie) haggis and mashed root veg, a mid-Winter meal, really, but outside, it was particularly dreich for that half an hour. The toilets here are interesting. They’re labelled ‘H’ for Hers and ‘H’ for His. The toilet paper is dispensed one single-ply square at a time from what can only be described as a very tight cat’s bum. You have to iron each sheet before applying it to your own. Actually, I think the ‘H’ stands for Henderson’s but the stylised gentleman and lady on the doors aren’t that different from each other, so I’m sure mistakes must be made.

The Edinburgh Wheel

We went for a sightseeing ride on the ferris wheel known as The Edinbugh Wheel, Festival Wheel or Big Wheel depending on who you talk to. It’s erected by Princes Street Gardens and I think I enjoyed the ride more than Liesel did.

View from the top, you can just see the Forth bridges in the distance

Along the road, we witnessed Master Bones dancing along to Ghostbusters. The puppetmaster was very skilful, even encouraging Master Bones to surpise an inattentive visitor sitting on a nearby bench.

Master Bones

While waiting to see his show, we witnessed The Reverend Richard Coles queueing at a van to buy a coffee or a g&t or something, yes, queueing with normal people. If we hadn’t been at the front of the queue into the venue, we might have walked over for a selfie opportunity.

The Reverend Richard Coles, Communard, vicar, broadcaster

He entertained for an hour, telling us his life story, A Simple Country Parson or, as he described it, Edinburgh’s only One Parson Show. It certainly deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Usher Hall is probably one of Edinburgh’s finest venues. The audience for the performance given by the 140-year old Shanghai Symphony Orchestra was much better dressed than for our other shows (present company excepted, sorry). It was part of the official Edinburgh International Festival. The first piece sounded a bit Chinese, some of the instruments were very reminiscent of the music played from stretched tapes in Chinese restaurants a few decades ago. But Qigang Chen’s The Five Elements was an unexpected delight.

Dvořák’s Cello Concerto was eye-closingly romantic and moving, but I’m not convinced that the soloist was Chinese, with the name Alisa Weilerstein!

Alisa Weilerstein with her cello

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s view of the Usher Hall audience

I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, so I borrowed these from The Herald Scotland website. The highlight of the performance was Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, which I remember borrowing from Hammersmith Library over 40 years ago, so definitely time to listen to it again! There was a short encore and the conductor joked that he was now off to enjoy some Scotch whisky. A ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ performance.

Oor Wullie is possibly the most famous Scottish cartoon character, featuring in The Sunday Post newspaper since 1937.

Natural Healing, Oor Rail Bridge, Flowers of Scotland and Wullie’s Seat

Oor Crossing, Oor Coal Miner, illegible plaque and Oor Skeleton

There are over two hundred of these sculptures not just in Edinburgh but all over Scotland, each designed by a different artist. The Oor Wullie Big Bucket Trail is a fundraiser for children’s hospitals in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Edinburgh Castle

One of my favourite modern artists is Bridget Riley. Obviously, the doodles I come up with while speaking on the phone aren’t in the same league as her abstract, geometric paintings, but I find them fascinating. Yes, if you look at some of them for too long, you might begin to feel a bit nauseous, but we spent a long time wandering around this exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy.

Part of Cataract 3 by Bridget Riley

I walked by Cataract 3 while videoing the picture. The end result is much better than I anticipated. I showed some other attendees and they proceeded to copy my idea.

One work of art, Rajasthan, is painted directly onto the plaster wall. When it’s time for this exhibit to move on, it will be painted over and Bridget Riley with assistants will paint it again onto a wall in the new venue.

Rajasthan by Bridget Riley

Continuum is a reconstruction of an old structure that you can walk through. It’s a short spiral with black lines like a lunatic barcode on the walls which can make you forget where you are momentarily. Overall, this exhibit deserves ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

We had a coffee in the café at the neighbouring National Gallery of Scotland. The two ladies on the next table were having an in-depth psychoanalytical session but we couldn’t work out which was the doctor and which the patient.

Surgeon’s Halls

After a lot of walking about the city, Liesel chose to visit the Surgeon’s Hall Museum while I went for a walk further afield.

Blue sky and cranes seen from the bottom of the climb

I’m glad I collected my jacket from the car because halfway up the stone steps to Arthur’s Seat, the heavens opened and the rain came down. No, not down: sideways. It was fairly incredibly windy, my back was drenched while my front stayed dry. At least until I turned round to walk back down.

View obscured by rain

Ominous clouds

The view of the city was diminished, you couldn’t even see the cranes decorating the city.

Liesel said to me, as we were walking along, “What I really miss is seeing elephants, maybe we should go to the zoo.” I replied, “Well, I’m hungry and I quite fancy a bagel, right now.” What are the chances of finding this shop round the corner?

Elephants and Bagels

The Voices of Bond was a nice relaxed show in a small venue, The Space @ Symposium Hall. The singer, Phoebe Katis, performed songs from the James Bond films and provided a narrative history of the Bond film franchise. Yes, she even used that particular F word. She and her band were very good, though I was disappointed that more audience members didn’t sing along, to drown my voice out, if nothing else.

Phoebe Katis

No, I don’t think that’s the real MI6 insignia, but even so, a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ show.

We went into the library to escape one short downpour and came across probably the most philosophical stairs in the world.

Library stairs

The Royal Mile was always very busy, probably a 50-50 split between entertainers and entertained. I watched this couple for the full six minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Top buskers

I think these were the best of the buskers, although the ones we saw and heard were all good, possibly helped by not being allowed to use any amplification.

Scott Monument

Sticking to our Scottish diet, we had The Best Pizza in the UK at a place just along the road from our final event.

Jeremy Nicholas is a public speaker and broadcaster. He was the MC at West Ham FC’s home games for many years which was lucky as he is also a staunch West Ham supporter. What Are You Talking About? is the name of his Fringe show this year.

What Are You Talking About? poster

The talk was very funny, lots of true stories though not all with humorous endings. We received some tips on public speaking and if I ever feel compelled to partake in such activity, I know where to go for some advice and training. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Over these few days, we’d confirmed that we can’t really do more than one late night in a row any more. Straight to bed and straight to sleep, the night. (Yes, a little Scottish thrown in there.)

The long drive back home was uneventful: we stopped at Tebay Services again.

So next time: we’ll go for a longer period, we’ll go to fewer shows each day, we’ll try and avoid too many late shows in succession. Plus, of course, Edinburgh is a lovely city to visit even without a Festival or Fringe. Yes, we gave all the shows five stars because they all really entertained us, doing things that we could never do ourselves. I’m sure they’d all give us five stars too for being such good audience members!