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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everywhere you look, there is something stunning, almost out of this world. The next scene took us back to New Zealand.
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.
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.
Closer to our picnic site though was what’s left of Calda House, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
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.
No, I don’t know if Spot is really his name.
The rocks here have been accumulating for over a billion years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think he had a metal detector and he was closely examining something of interest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oma enjoyed blowing out the three candles, very far short of her actual age, and the cake was delicious.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Liesel commented that some of the landscape reminds her of her home state, Alaska.
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.
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.
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. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
It’s only a few weeks since my last check-up at the optician’s, but maybe it’s time for a revisit. I saw the sign ‘Wythenshawe Park and Ride’. Is Wythenshawe really that popular? Is it a major retail centre? No, of course not. On closer inspection, the sign said ‘Wythenshawe Park and Hall’. That was handy because my destination on this afternoon’s walk was indeed Wythenshawe Park.
It’s a very popular park, lots of young families, people with dogs, folk sitting on most of the benches and the odd, very odd, individual such as moi wandering through.
Wythenshaw Hall was damaged in an arson attack in 2016 so it’s out of bounds while being restored.
This 16th-century manor house will be an interesting place to visit when we’re allowed back in: a nice, easy walk from home. And if there’s a decent café there, even better!
It is worth reporting hateful, horrible, racist people on Twitter because once in a blue moon, they do something about it.
I felt quite smug about this success, ridiculously so. For a minute or two, anyway.
Grandchildren Day saw us returning to Chester Zoo. We call it it Grandchildren Day. They call it Grandad and Oma day. That’s what they call us, Grandad and Oma. I’m sure they’ll come up with worse names for us as they get older.
It was a beautiful day so, even though we arrived just after opening time, the car park was full. Despite noting that we were in the Crocodile Zone and taking a picture of the nearby tree as a landmark, I spent far too long later on trying to find the car.
Poor Martha needed to be carried the last few metres, aeroplane style, arms flapping (hers, not mine). Needless to say, Liesel and William had found the car straightaway after leaving the zoo, while Martha and I fought our way through the shop.
Martha and William are always happy to see the elephants, rhinos and lions, but this time, there was equal delight watching the native squirrel leaping from tree to tree.
Later on, at home, under the climbing frame, Martha collected nut shells that must have been dropped by a local squirrel. Probably not the same one.
We spent some time in the adventure playground with lots of other small humans.
If you’re wondering: yes, Martha is now wearing spectacles and she loves carrying the case around.
Meanwhile, William watched a slightly older boy rolling down a slope. He tried to copy but didn’t quite get the idea that you can’t roll sideways when gravity is trying to pull you downwards.
On the other hand, he had to swing on every reachable horizontal bar he could find. This is why he has very long arms.
As if the day with William and Martha wasn’t exciting and exhausting enough: back home in the evening, we had to move as much furniture out of our living/dining room as possible.
Our first new northern carpet arrived and was installed early the following morning. It’s much deeper and softer than the old, probably original one, and the best thing is, we no longer have to look at the previous occupants’ furniture’s indentations. We’ll make our own marks!
I bit the bullet, overrode my reluctance, dismissed my innate sense of incompetence, concealed my fear of the whole scary enterprise and began to install the new furniture. The so-called String System attaches to the wall. Yes, I had to drill holes in the wall and all I could think of is that the whole edifice would come tumbling down, one day. There are shelves, cupboards and a drawer unit, consisting of two drawers: yes, a pair of drawers. A phrase that always makes me snigger.
At last, 13½ months after moving in, we can unpack the last few dozen boxes of books, CDs, DVDs and all sorts of stuff. Stuff that we’ve lived without for a year but which suddenly, we can’t bear to be parted from! Too much stuff. Liesel was the chief (only) shelf filler, and I think she’s done a very good job. But yes, after a couple of years of decluttering in Chessington, we still have far too much stuff, so it’s not as minimalist as we’d hoped.
I enjoyed putting together the two cupboard units and the pair of drawers, chortle, despite the fact that one of the supplied screws could not be screwed in due to a defective head (the screw’s, not mine).
With the new storage in place, we are able to dispose of some older items. eBay is the obvious place although it’s just not as successful as it used to be. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. No, not Christmas, home. Not like, feel! It’s beginning to feel a bit like home!
We returned to Quarry Bank Mill for a walk around the gardens on a gorgeous, proper Summer’s day.
There are more potatoes growing there then you could reasonably expect to fry on a Friday night in a Manchester chippy. But there are plenty of other vegetables too, all being tended by apprentice gardeners.
And, totally unexpectedly, here’s a comma after the word ‘and’ just to annoy the newly installed Secretary of State for the 18th Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg. As I was saying, we unexpectedly found some fab sculpture from Africa. We would love to acquire more artwork for our luxury apartment and support the African artists, but not today.
Not that I was ever any good, but today’s selfie was one of the worst.
My excuse is, it was so bright, I couldn’t see the screen properly. The flowers are pretty, though.
Some of the flowers were so happy, they almost glowed in the sunshine, reflecting the sky.
The gardens are well maintained, and the stroll was very enjoyable. From some vantage points, you could almost imagine these being Japanese gardens. But not quite: there were a few weeds and not everything was regimented to the nth degree.
One place I never expected to visit was the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Manchester. But life is full of surprises. Wearing my guinea pig hat, I helped with some research into Parkinson’s which, sadly, is close to our hearts after spending time with Nigel recently. The researchers were very professional and friendly, refunded my bus fare and didn’t even want the 20p change: riches beyond my wildest dreams!
Oxford Road, Manchester, with no traffic other than buses and taxis was at its best in the sunshine, proudly displaying its gothic beauty.
Whitworth Hall is where Jenny’s Graduation ceremonies took place all those years ago. Speaking of whom, I met Jenny for lunch after my morning in a windowless office.
She claims to have been at work but I’m convinced she was dressed for a party. On such a hot day, it was good to have Indian food for lunch just along the road from her office.
I walked most of the way home but when I caught a bus for a long, boring stretch of busy road, I regretted not joining it sooner. Entertainment was provided by a drunk or drugged-up man shouting at a woman who, according to him, had been nasty since she got on the bus, nobody likes her, and everyone else just wanted her to get off. I’ve no idea what her perceived crime was, but his was the only voice I heard. Eventually, the driver intervened and asked him to alight.
Thursday was a long, exhausting but fun day. It was our first time looking after Martha and William for the whole day while Mummy and Daddy are at work. This will be our regular day with the children for a while.
And they were really good. It was the hottest July day ever and the hottest day since August 2003, when Liesel and I first met. It really was a scorcher.
We thought about staying at home all day and playing in the garden, but in the end, cool, cool fountains beckoned and we decided to go to Stamford Park. The trouble is, so did everyone else. The park was so crowded, I was on the verge of a panic attack. William and Martha just stood and looked at the hundreds of children playing in the water and I think they were as inimidated as Liesel and I were. Quite scary.
We queued for and bought ice creams but both lost interest before finishing, not a common occurrence.
We’d brought a picnic, which we ate under the shade of a tree that dropped small chestnutty things onto my head. Maybe small chestnuts, come to think of it, but I’m no arborialist. Arborist? Martha was amused, which is the main thing.
Back at home, we did play in the paddling pool in the garden.
Yes, the poor old palm trees need some inflation. In fact, the whole thing has a slow puncture and by the end of the afternoon, the paddling pool looked very sad and deflated. Martha and William weren’t, though, they were both a bit tired but it was, we felt, too late for them to have a nap.
Yes, I could have Photoshopped myself tidier hair, but I think the natural look is important.
A quick snack and a rest in front of Peppa Pig and Thomas the Tank Engine was enough for them to recover.
We ate dinner with Jenny and Liam before going home, where we collollapsed, as a friend of ours used to say.
We went to bed and I think both fell asleep very quickly. In the middle of the night, I heard a bee-bee-bee-beep, very loud, over and over, and I was just wishing that annoying vehicle would stop reversing.
Then: “Mick!” exclaimed Liesel. “What?” I grunted as I left my dream and sat upright in bed.
Liesel told me about the fire alarm going off. In our block. As if I could miss it. I could smell no smoke and just wanted to lie down and go back to sleep. But we did get up, we got dressed and left the building. The occupants of the other four flats never appeared. There was no sign of fire nor smoke, so I deduced that the heat of the day had somehow affected one of the smoke detectors. Of course, we had no idea how to turn the alarm off.
And it could be heard from quite a long way away, as a quick walk ascertained. Liesel called 101 then 999. We saw a woman over the road leaning out of her window. She came over to talk to us and we said the fire brigade were on the way. We just wanted somone to turn the alarm off. We didn’t need a fire appliance with blues and twos but Liesel was delighted to see the eight young, fit firefighters in uniform.
They knocked on the doors of the other four flats, which we thought was a bit sad for the occupants (not really), but still, nobody else emerged.
Eventually, one guy turned the alarm off. The alarms are all connected, within the building, but not to the fire station. His theory is that with the windows on the landings being left open because of the heat, insects had been attracted to the bright lights in the communal areas and stairwells, and that one must have infiltrated a smoke alarm and set it off.
We’d only told the management company a few days ago about the lights being on for 24 hours a day, so we called again the next day to tell them what had happened. The lights are supposed to be on a timer and connected to the motion sensor.
After our day with the children, we didn’t need any more excitement, but it found us. And, after such a hot day, how ironic that when we were standing outside at about two o’clock in the morning, it began to rain. It only lasted five minutes, but, although initially annoying, the shower proved to be quite refreshing!
After the interrupted night’s sleep, I couldn’t get any peace the next day. The door bell was working overtime. First, some furniture was delivered. Then a man came, three days early, to fix the dishwasher. Then the postman wanted me to sign for something. Then Liesel phoned to ask me to help her carry up the shopping she’d just been out for. It’s all go, chez nous.
Well, it really was, and while the rest of Charles Dickens’s introduction to A Tale of Two Cities is without doubt, beautifully written, it doesn’t apply to our gap year experiences. Long may this feeling of travelling, exploring and enjoying life, continue. Even though we are back home, back to normal and back to a certain amount of responsibility, we are looking at everyday things with a refreshed set of expectations. Great Expectations, you might say, if you wanted to acknowledge to enjoyment and entertainment provided not only by Charles Dickens, but by Tasmin Archer, many years later.
Living in Northenden is indeed slowly becoming the norm. The holiday feeling still persists, even if we do miss the temples, castles, crocodiles, wombats, kiwis, lizards, bullet trains, mangoes and sumo wrestlers.
Helen arrived from Australia, failing in her duty to bring some decent weather. It was quite cold and damp when we returned, and sadly for Helen, the weather hadn’t improved much since then.
Helen and Jenny needed some peace and quiet so they could enjoy their massages. We looked after Martha and William, always a joy but always exhausting. The advantage of being grandparents is, we can hand the children back later in the day, apologise for feeding them too much sugar, and leave the parents to fix the damage caused.
We visited the Northern Den café where Martha asked for “A babyccino with marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and a Flake bar on the side”. Well, no chocolate sprinkles here, nor a Flake: this child is more familiar with Costa’s offerings. And then, while looking for Flakes in the nearby Tesco, Martha spotted the Kinder eggs so that’s what we bought instead. Martha walked home with hers in her right hand and William’s in her left. She enjoyed her molten chocolate, William slept through the whole episode.
Later on, we all had pies at Jenny’s, yep, more pies. Who ate all the pies? Well, I’m trying!
We’re still moving in and before we unpack the last few dozen boxes, we need storage space. That means shelving. A sales rep came round from one of the big bespoke furniture manufacturers, measured up roughly and gave a rough estimate of more than twice our anticipated budget. Instantly, we translated the amount into so many flights to exotic, interesting places. We’ll get shelving installed, but from somewhere more reasonably priced.
Another visitor was the lady who will make Roman blinds for both our living room windows. She was very pleasant and friendly and made us realise how brusque the shelf person had been.
Helen and Jenny took William and Martha out. Both children are very curious about the world. Martha demonstrates this level of interest by asking questions. William’s method is to take things apart. Sometimes, those thngs can be put back together again, but not always. RIP one of our Red Nose Day Comic Relief Red Noses, rent asunder.
Liesel and I went into Manchester to collect our valuables from the Safe Deposit box. This included some cutlery which we needed, as we didn’t otherwise have enough for everyone to eat with, at the same time. Yes, we were invaded by the children, their parents and their Aunt Helen from down under.
Hooray, I did some DIY. As ever, all jobs took three times longer than they needed to, but I got there in the end. We can now hang mugs up in the kitchen. We have a much better storage unit in the bathroom. And the light fitting in the bathroom looks much better. Such a shame, then, that the light bulb we had won’t physically fit inside the globe. Add ‘slightly smaller bulb’ to the shopping list.
The weather was slowly improving and it was a pleasant walk back home from Didsbury one morning, along the Mersey.
There were spots and even larger patches of blue sky by now. I donned my hat at times to protect the top of my head from actual beams of sunshine.
I walked past some bindweed happy that my 30+ year war against the stuff in my Chessington garden was now over. And yes, I lost.
I’m very happy for other people to continue the bindweed wars if they wish, but I’m more convinced than ever that it will one day take over the whole planet.
Myra came up for the weekend, that’s Sarah’s mother, Martha and William’s Great-Granny. We planned to collect her from Stockport station but due to ‘an incident’, trains weren’t stopping there. So we went to pick her up from Manchester Piccadilly. This was no problem but Myra’s ticket was for Stockport so the electronic barriers at Piccadilly wouldn’t let her through. Nor anyone else with the same ticket. Why they didn’t just open the barriers and let everyone through, I don’t know, they just carefully opened the barrier for each passenger, one at a time, very slowly.
Back at Jenny’s, the shouts of ‘Great-Granny’ echoed around the house: we think they both just like saying the words!
In the garden, Martha did several roly-polies, insisting ‘They’re not head-over-heels, Grandad’. I had a go myself, just the once, but, er, I didn’t want to belittle Martha’s achievement: no problem with the disorientation I felt at all, oh no.
In the evening, we went to the Istanbul restaurant for dinner. The food was great, the service was good, the waiters seem to like young children, and we confirmed that William is a fast learner.
William drank the last of his ice cream from the bowl, following the example just set by his Grandad (me), to all the other grown-ups’ consternation and dismay. I’m just glad I didn’t lick the bowl, which was my first inclination.
We took Myra to her hotel for the night and collected her in the morning. But she was locked in her room. Once released, it transpired that she had just not pulled the heavy door quite hard enough. Hanging out of the window to get someone’s attention was the best she could do, as there was no phone with which to call Reception.
We watched Martha and William swim really well, before driving over to Dunham Massey, a National Trust property not too far away.
It was good to see that Myra and I weren’t the oldest objects here: the oak tree is over 500 years old.
It was a gorgeous day for a walk around the gardens. Martha and William sniffed the flowers, admired the bees, ran around, and scootered around while the rest of walked at our various, individual speeds.
We found a nice little bridge over a stream, ideal for playing Pooh Sticks, so Martha gathered up a few sticks and twigs. Fortunately, the disappointment wasn’t too bad as all the sticks just got stuck in the sludge where the stream used to be. William had no idea what was going on, he just wanted to jump in, I think.
The flowers were very pretty and as usual, I took too many photos of the bright colours. Despite the labels, I can’t remember the proper scientific, or even the common English, names for these yellow and purple blooms.
Some flowers have so many different names. though, in various parts of the country, so I could probably make something up and nobody would know.
When we dropped Myra off at Stockport station the following day, we were surprised and delighted to encounter some frogs.
This is all to celebrate Stockport’s Giant Leap into the future. Maybe we’ll find more frogs in the city centre on another occasion.
Meanwhile Helen flew off to Edinburgh on a purple aeroplane. Her flight back was on a disappointingly plain white plane. She is the last to have been nearly blown over by the strong wind up on Arthur’s Seat: Sarah and I in the early 1980s, Jenny while she was pregnant. Liesel is looking forward to the experience.
Liesel and I had a very pleasant trip to Ikea. She pointed out that the first route she learned to drive when she moved to the UK was to a branch of Ikea. History repeats itself. The first route she knows here in the north is the way to Ikea.
Helen was kind enough to cut our hair, as well as Jenny’s, Martha’s and William’s. Liesel and I stayed for lunch before going into Manchester. The International Festival began with a Yoko Ono installation.
In Cathedral Gardens, thousands of people rang Bells for Peace, as requested by Yoko via video. Some of the ceramic bells had been hand-made at workshops during the last few months. Yoko asked us to talk to each other, to talk to the trees and to name the clouds. Well, we were underneath one great big, grey cloud, 100%, so that raised a small laugh.
From Manchester to London, then. This has been the longest period I can remember without visiting our wonderful capital city, since I first moved there as a student nearly half a century ago.
The drive was much more pleasant than anticipated. The roadworks on the M6 have finished. Oh, hang on, no. They’ve just moved further along. We did miss the long purple sausage that used to live on the central reservation during the construction of the so-called ‘smart motorway’.
The first port of call was to visit my periodontist Emily in West Byfleet. Teeth cleaned and polished, I joined Liesel with Helen and Steve in the garden of the nearby Plough pub. (This is our friend Helen of course, not daughter Helen, she’s still up north with Jenny.) I couldn’t eat or drink with a numb and tender mouth but that didn’t prevent me from salivating.
We went to Claremont Gardens, probably the closest National Trust property. It was a good place to let my mouth thaw out and to walk around dodging the goose guano. I told one of the geese that I hoped I would be able to eat soon. He said he’d keep his feet crossed for me.
A black swan swam over and said “G’day, mate” and for a moment, I was back in Australia.
Steve and I walked around the lake while the ladies, well, Liesel and Helen, sat on a bench for a chinwag, a natter. A great opportunity to take pictures as if I were visiting a strange place for the first time.
I think we were both waiting for someone to fall out of a boat, especially one of the more obviously unbalanced ones, but we were disappointed.
The lake is home to mallards and coots as well as the swans and geese. But even where the water was clear, we didn’t spot any fish. Helen’s Dad, Nigel, who lives in Ewell, had very kindly offered to accommodate me and Liesel for a week so we rubbed our hands while planning how best to pester him.
A long anticipated visit to an exhibition in London dragged us out of bed quite early. Something we really didn’t need to see as soon as we left Waterloo Station was a seagull tucking into a struggling pigeon. We had been in London with Helen and Steve the day we witnessed a heron swallow a baby duck too. Coincidence?
The British Museum was hosting the Edvard Munch exhibition, Love and Angst. As an artist, obviously he was a tortured soul, that’s a given, but he produced much more than The Scream. I for one was hoping for more examples of that work, but there were just two versions here, buried in the middle of the display, potentially easy to miss.
He liked red skies, but ladies’ long, red hair, he found threatening. Probably the saddest painting was The Sick Child.
His 15-year old sister, Sophie, died from TB, and his Aunt Karen is mourning. Karen had looked after Edvard and his family following the earlier passing of his mother.
We caught a bus to the British Library to see some imaginary maps, based on real maps of old London, old New York and other old maps of old cities. I also found a new book to add to my Kindle list.
Every time I see what he achieved, studied, deduced, created, invented, I become more convinced that he must be a time-traveller from the future. He wrote backwards, from right to left, an unintended side-effect of his journey back through several centuries, I suspect. His scientific mind was way ahead of its time.
His study of water flow and rivers, on its own, is a solid body of work, even now. Not that water is solid, but you know what I mean.
For the first time, I wore some VR, Virtual Reality, goggles. I didn’t think this technology and my eyesight would be compatible, but this gentle introduction worked well. I was ‘walking’ through an imaginary city with hundreds of skyscrapers, blue sky and the Moon. I held on to the cable so I was tethered to real life, just in case I walked too far and collided with a real wall.
Surbiton beckoned. I had an appointment with my optician. While there, of course I had to visit my favourite coffee shop, The Press Room.
Well that wasn’t planned very well. It’s being refurbished and I had to postpone my coffee until later in the day. I met up with another old friend, Marie, in Orpington, for lunch. Oh, and for a coffee. I hope she visits us up in Manchester soon.
On the way back through London, I bit the bullet and did one of my least favourite things. I went shoe shopping. For sandals, to replace the old ones which have apparently acquired a slightly cheesey tang after walking around the tropics for several months.
From Wikipedia: [On the fourth plinth, there is a] recreation of a sculpture of a lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 by Isis, along with other artefacts in the Mosul Museum. [Michael] Rakowitz’s recreation is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representing the destruction of the country’s date industry.
Yes, of course, I had to walk through Trafalgar Square. It, together with Waterloo Station, was London, to me, when I was very young. But I am so pleased I found the rest of the wonderful city later on in life.
And so to Chessington, our own ‘hood, the place I lived for 33 years. It hasn’t changed much, but, ooh, there is a KFC where my old favourite caff, Unique, used to be.
The massage from Dawn was very welcome and well-timed as I had cricked my back somehow a couple of days ago. Afterwards, it felt much better, thanks, Dawn!
Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced more medical consultations than I’ve had hot dinners. Two hearing tests, bowel cancer test, blood pressure check, ECG, optician, periodontist, prescription renewals and a quick examination of ‘the warty thing’ growing on my leg. (Plus a haircut of course, thanks very much, Helen!) The main lesson that I learned from all this (apart from ‘don’t get old’) was: modern day scientific nomenclature isn’t as rigid, precise nor robust as it once was.
After Liesel and I had been respectively beautified and fixed by Dawn, the plan was to visit a showroomy place in Crystal Place to look at shelving suggestion. Liesel likes it, but I wasn’t so keen, just looking at pictures online. Unfortunately, the showroom was closed today. Instead we visited John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street. We found the same kind, String Shelving, spoke to a really helpful assistant, and yes, I am now a convert. It looks better in the flesh, with real things on the shelves, not so stark and industrial.
We also had a quick look at all the loudspeakers and other hi-fi components to replace the 30-year old system that we discarded when we moved house, since most bits didn’t work anyway. It’s quite exciting, buying new stuff for a new home! Who knew!
We had a Chinese takeaway at Helen’s house, while watching sport from Wimbledon and from the Tour de France. We drove past our old house and it seems to be occupied by a family of Japanese warriors. There are Samurai swordy things in the window.
With grim inevitability, we noticed that our erstwhile neighbours are still parking their cars in the shared drive. Not our problem any more.
We were pleased to catch up with Stella and Ian for coffee and cakey things, in their garden, in the sunshine, in Chessington. Their bathroom is being refitted and that’s a noisy process, but it will be great when it’s finished.
On the way home, I got out at Hook Parade shops to buy something. I visited Hook Café in the library. The owner’s doing very well. He recognised me, thought I’d won the lottery and emigrated!
We dragged Helen out of her house and took her to Hampton Court, where we admired the Rose Garden, the kitchen garden and had a late lunch. It’s an obvious thought, but I think for the first time since we returned, a month ago, I consciously registered just what a brilliant, beautiful, interesting, fascinating and historical place England is. I think living here, we just take it for granted much of the time.
By mistake I tried to enter the children’s playground without a ticket: it must be a new attraction. I did like the nearby guard dog though.
While Liesel and Helen went off to Tesco, I walked to Kingston along the Thames tow path.
It was a pleasant walk in the Sun, not many other people about, but as we’d seen at Hampton Court, there were plenty of bees and butterlies.
I saw an animal run across the path, too big to be a mouse, but I don’t think it was a rat, there was no tail to speak of. I communed with the blackbirds and robins too, but tried not to disturb the bicycle having a rest.
We’d all planned to meet up later on for an evening meal. Queen Anne watched as I sat in Kingston’s Market Place and wrote some words, enjoying the sunshine, watching people, not seeing anyone I knew from the olden days.
She doesn’t really look like Olivia Coleman who portrays her in The Favourite but here was another tenuous link back to New Zealand, where we saw the film with Pauline and Andrew.
At Riverside Vergetaria, there were six in our party, Helen, Steve and Nigel, Liesel, me and our Helen. Ritchie, the owner, seemed pleased to see us again after all this time.
I walked to Epsom while Liesel drove Nigel to hospital. The old market here is currently a building site and judging by the angle of the Sun, I was here at about a quarter to midday.
After a brief writing session in the library, I decided to visit the South Bank for a wander. Congratulations to the graduates from the London Business School who were gathered in and around the South Bank Centre, taking photos and looking gorgeous and justifiably proud.
It was great being back here, walking by the river, looking down on the beach, trying not to make eye contact with the street entertainers who were later, sadly, moved on by the police. I found an unoccupied bench, sat and wrote for a while. I think I’ve sold the idea of using a stand-alone keyboard connected to a phone by Bluetooth to a very nice young lady who asked.
The Turbine Room at Tate Modern has been home to many interesting installations over the years. It was empty today, though, unless the two small children running around were both, appropriately, named Art. Sixteen years ago, we lay down here and basked in fake sunshine and fog, an installation called The Weather Project, by Olafur Eliasson. There’s currently a retrospective show of his work here at Tate Modern. His latest idea is to bring in a million white Lego bricks with which we are invited to build future cities.
The seagull that ate the pigeon a few days ago was back. This time, he caught a pink fish from the Thames and proceeded to chow down here, on the beach.
This is why we love nature so much.
It’s good to see they’re still selling second-hand books underneath Waterloo Bridge by the BFI. The skateboarders and cyclists are still having fun in the Undercroft, below the Royal Festival Hall, a facility that was under threat a few years ago. The Spread Riverside is a Street Food Market, open five days a week, with every kind of street food you can imagine. I’ll definitely be back. I had a small pie today, natch.
We drove to Salisbury to meet up with Sarah, a friend who used to live close by but moved to Exeter some years ago. Salisbury is a good midway point to catch up.
We sat in the Cathedral refectory for over three hours, eating, drinking but mainly talking about our travels.
Salisbury is a busy little town, despite its recent reputation for attempted political assassinations.
In the grounds of the Cathedral, people were resting, playing, sunbathing and picnicking but there were also some works of art. They’re all interesting to look at but it was difficult to view them without something in the background to spoil the view. An old gothic building is OK, but boring old semi-detached houses not so much.
Maybe ‘art critic’ is not the career for me: that last sentence was written with far too much snobbishness!
We spent the night at The Talbot Inn Hotel in Ripley. A hotel named after Mick from The Style Council in a village named after the heroine from the Alien films: how cool is that?
We stayed on the top floor of this old coaching house, in a room complete with sloping floors, very low ceiling and beams. This is where Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton became ‘good friends’. In fact, our room was named Horatio.
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Yes, we were being watched and the Martians did soon invade the Earth. We humans won The War of the Worlds, of course, and one of the Martians has been displayed in Woking as a warning to others.
There’s also a statue of HG Wells, the author of the book as well as a pub named in his honour. Why Woking? We were here to have breakfast with Rosie but the short drive from Ripley was greatly extended by the difficulty in finding a parking place.
We broke our fast, I felt rotten eavesdropping on Rosie and Liesel talking shop, but so pleased to be well away from office politics.
The drive to Polesden Lacey was quiet, and followed some roads where I have often cycled in the past. We met up with our friends Sandra and Fred, their dog Clyde, Sandra’s Mum Carol who celebrated her birthday yesterday as well as Liesel and Sandra’s former colleagues Vicky and Diane.
One day, Liesel and I will go inside the house at Polesden Lacey, but again, we just went for a walk around the grounds. Last time I was here with Sandra, ten years ago, I did my back in and was off work for three weeks, a personal best for me. I also missed a Mott the Hoople reunion concert at Hammersmith Odeon where I’d seen them in 1973, supported by Queen.
The rose garden and the lavendar were very aromatic and my sneeze organs began working overtime. The gardeners here though do a really good job.
And so, after an ice cream with Helen and Steve back at Nigel’s house, Liesel and I set off for home, hoping to arrive before the Sun set.
Success! What a great drive: we didn’t stop at all, there were no traffic jams, no hold-ups, straight up the motorways, then straight up the stairs and then straight to bed.
Since we’ve been back in England after our adventures overseas, many, many people have told us how well we’re looking and how happy we seem. That is all undoubtedly true, though I for one find it hard to take compliments. I don’t know how to respond when someone says they’ve enjoyed following the blog: all I can manage is a weak, embrarrassed ‘thank you’.
But this morning as we watched Martha and William swimming, I was again reminded of my own inadequacies. Three-year old Martha has, voluntarily, swum further under water than I have in all of my 29 long years on the good Earth. Driving home from swimming, we were overtaken by this gorgeous pair. I think William was, by then, fast asleep in the back!
The rest of the day consisted of writing, washing, watching cricket and cycling on TV, and relaxing after a fun-packed week down south.
Cricket? Yes, we’re proud to say we witnessed the England Team win the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time in a nail-biting finish against New Zealand, in a game during which a couple of very obscure rules were revealed. Marvellous! One of England’s top players is Joe Root. His One Day International number is 66. So the back of the pyjama top he plays in says ‘Root 66’. Wonderful!
Cycling? Yes, one week into the Tour de France and we’ve caught up. No Mark Cavendish nor Chris Froome this year, so I guess we’re rooting for Geraint Thomas again.
Walking by the Mersey, I came across this stairway to nowhere. There’s a shorter one in Chessington, just a few steps leading to the back of someone’s garden fence.
But this one looks far more interesting. I didn’t climb up, but I think if I did, and went through the little door at the top, I would find myself on the hard shoulder of the M60, Manchester’s Outer Ring Road. How scary/exciting is that!
There are lots of beauty parlours, nail salons, hairdressers, tattooists, body piercers and other related establishments close to where we live here in Northenden. One place I won’t be visiting for my next spray tan is only a five minute walk away.
Actually, maybe I would go, if I wanted to look like Shrek or The Hulk or something.
Our first gig was at Stoller Hall in Manchester. We saw Eddi Reader for the 4th or 5th time in real life, although she did entertain us in our rental cars while we were away. We sang along to all the songs we knew, not so much to the new ones.
Once again, Boo Hewerdine accompanied Eddi, and it was his turn to sing Patience of Angels tonight: fair enough, he did write it.
The support act was Siobhan Miller who we both took to straightaway. And yes, I did buy a CD. Or two.
Our first non-familial visitor arrived: Rosie came up from Surrey for the weekend, and was delighted to be able to sleep on our sofa-bed. Not so delighted with her sleeping partner, a harmless little spider. Rosie and Liesel went out for the day, visiting Lyme Park (sorry I missed it) and Ikea (not sorry I missed it).
We all went to the seaside for a picnic. Formby is our nearest beach: in fact, it seems to be everybody’s nearest beach. We thought everyone went to the Trafford Centre on a Saturday, but no, they all came to Formby today.
Above the beach, I was reminded of a book we had to read at school, Lawn ‘n’ Dune. I should read it again, I can’t remember whether it was any good or not.
From the car park, you walk over the dunes onto the beach. Most people then turn right for some reason, or just plonk themselves down at the earliest opportunity. We turned left and found plenty of space. Yes, we could see and hear other people, but we found a good spot to sit down for our picnic.
I’m not one to complain, haha, but the ridges of rippled of sand on the beach were quite hard to walk on today. I think we all tried to find smoother, harder, easier patches to walk on.
The police officer took her horse for a walk on the beach and, judging by the hoofprints, this wasn’t the first visit of the day.
What a lovely day on the beach, blue skies and warm sunshine with a very subtle breeze.
A pair of noisy, midnight black crows watched while we were eating. When I finished my apple, I was going throw one of them the core, but Liesel wouldn’t let me, even though that’s what it had been asking for.
We re-visited the air raid shelters in Stockport, reliving the blitz. It was colder in the tunnels than outside, so what a surprise when we emerged.
In Manchester, we enjoyed a walk and then a couple of hours in the Art Gallery, until we were chucked out at closing time. Yes, we’ll have to go back and explore some other galleries.
We’ve seen Grayson Perry on TV and heard him on the radio, but I don’t think we’ve seen any of his artwork before. This vase is fascinating and very colourful: I could have looked at it for ages.
Some of the captions have been given a ‘feminist revision’ that make you realise just how engrained is the notion that ‘male’ has always been and still is the default gender.
We found Emmeline Pankhurst as we continued our wander around the city centre.
Today was Manchester Day, an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy everything that Manchester has to offer. Somehow, we contrived to miss everything, the parade, the bike ride, the music, the street food, everything. We’ll make more of an effort next year.
I don’t know how many times we’ve driven up to visit Jenny, observed and ignored the signs to Quarry Bank Mill. Well, today we drove there, a mere 15 minutes from home. This isn’t just some small mill by a stream. It’s a big place, with large grounds, and very good demonstrations of turning cotton into clothing.
Samuel Greg started the business having moved to the area from Belfast. He didn’t want to be in Manchester itself, close to all the other mills, but found this ideal location in Styal.
Yes, his slaves were mentioned as part of the display.
As Boris Johnson is set to be ordained, crowned, annointed Prime Minister, we found an extract from his manifesto regarding the employment practices to which he wishes to return.
After lunch at the mill, which we shall certainly re-visit, Liesel and I dropped Rosie off at the station for her long trek back home.
Meanwhile, Liesel and I rested our eyes for a while, glad to be inside just in time before the rain returned!
We had another chat with Judy before leaving for breakfast at Joey’s in Mission Beach. We enjoyed a walk on the beach hoping to see one or two sky-divers coming in to land, but there weren’t any about while we were there. Inevitably there’s a warning sign. If the plants and animals aren’t out to get you, falling humans will have a go.
Yes, I was tempted, a little, to do another parachute jump myself, it would be a great experience over the Great Barrier Reef, but time wasn’t really on our side. Next time, maybe.
There was some interesting wildlife on the beach. Nothing big, so I drew a crocodile in the sand. Millions of small crabs each with their own little hole surrounded by lots of balls of sand from below. Plus one single caterpillar.
On the way back to the car, we found what may have been the caterpillar’s mother, who knows?
On the way out of town, we passed by more of those banana trees with the fruit now ensconced in plastic bags. We wondered whether they were to deter cassowaries rather than insects?
Judy had said not to bother stopping at Cardwell because there are crocodiles on the beach. So we had to stop at Cardwell to see for ourselves. Not one croc. Not even the slightest indentation in the sand that might have been a croc’s footprint.
We passed under several of these ‘fauna rope bridges’ which I’m sure are a great idea, but we’re not sure how the animals know where the crossings are, nor how to use them. From our sedentary position in a fast-moving vehicle, it was very hard to work it out.
Near Rungoo, we stopped at a lookout to look at the rather large Hinchinbrook Island, almost a holiday destination in its own right. In fact, we met a couple who had been there and we directed them to a better viewpoint, the lower one being ruined by intervening power lines.
I heard Liesel say “I have forgotten my teeth” so I queried that statement. She claims she actually said “I have food caught in my teeth”.
Hmm, I thought, that looks good, pies with my name on.
Four kilometres later, we turned right at the traffic lights to find that the place was closed. C’est la vie.
Onwards to Ingham where we took some time out to do some laundry. Luckily, the laundrette was open, very few other shops were. I went for a walk, and I found one coffee shop open.
There’s a pub here that doesn’t sell beer, but that doesn’t matter because we didn’t go. It was probably closed anyway.
By contrast, there were some unexpectedly good photo opps here. Unexpected in the sense that we weren’t really looking out for interesting flora and fauna, it was purely about clothes: wash Ingham and dry Ingham.
If the plants don’t get you and the animals don’t get you and the humans don’t fall out of the sky on top of you, then the buildings will definitely have a go.
Having had coffees and drink Ingham, we didn’t need a Driver Reviver, but what a great idea: free coffee.
We passed an RAAF base where one of their latest fighter planes had come to stop just in time before hitting the highway.
As I told Liesel, the last time I was in Townsville, a third of a century ago, we were driven in, sharing the front seat of a tow truck with the driver. Our campervan had broken down. We didn’t see much of the town on that occasion. But we arrived here today in the sunshine, and headed straight for the Strand.
We saw a dolphin!
Not a real one: it would be cruel, sticking a real dolphin to your garden wall.
It’s election time so be sure to place your cross between two trees.
We thought we’d walk to the end of the pier, which we did, only to find it occupied by people fishing and, at the far end, filletting fish. Not the typical seaside pier, really.
It was good to see so many cyclists, roller skaters, roller bladers and runners using the path above the beach. But we’ve never seen so many dog walkers. All the dogs were on leads, we saw no dog mess, we heard no signs of aggression from any of those dogs.
The Sun was incredibly bright but with a bit of jiggery-pokery, I captured this image. It looks like a nice beach too, although we didn’t walk along it this time. There’s a small swimming area, with a jellyfish net around, but very few people in the sea.
We dined at a Laos/Thai restaurant and again, I couldn’t finish my meal. I think my stomach must have shrunk or something. We found our Airbnb: we’re sharing with a lovely couple, two dogs and a cat. The neighbours have about 43 dogs between them by the sounds of it! They’re taking it in turns to start a Mexican wave of barking.