Autumnal Equinox

After the medics, a couple of days of pure fun. No more dentists, no more doctors, at least for the time being. Then the following dialogue:

Liesel: My tooth just fell out.
Mick: Oh no, not again.
Liesel: Out of my purse.

Yes, Liesel was hoping the tooth fairy would visit her purse and leave a bright shiny sixpence for the piece of tooth that fell out of her actual mouth a week ago.

Liesel got up first, as usual, and I stayed in bed with Cerys. Her music show on BBC 6 Music is probably my favourite and I’ve been missing it for a few months.

Later, Liesel and I were meeting up with Amrit for lunch. We arranged to meet at Pad Thai, which was closed last time due to refurbishment. And, guess what? It was temporarily closed today as well, due to a gas leak. We’ll have one more attempt before accepting that the cosmic forces just don’t want the three of us to eat at Pad Thai.

Instead, we went for an Indian buffet and that was very enjoyable.

We walked to the Performing Arts Center to buy tickets for an Anchorage Symphony concert in a couple of weeks time.

When we were in Italy two years with Jyoti, Suvan and Gita, we visited a lot of museums and galleries, the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Uffizi, all the usual visitor attractions. We greatly admired the artwork of course but at the risk of being struck by a thunderbolt, we did get a bit fed up with all the Madonna and Child paintings. The Pokémon GO of the time.

So imagine our surprise when we visited Kaladi Brothers Coffee Downtown branch

to be greeted by a Madonna and Child. A Leonardo original. Well, maybe not.

Madonna and child and a decaff latte

Liesel: We’re going to join Monica for a stake-out.
Mick: Oh, whereabouts?
Liesel: Sullivan’s.

So, yes, Sullivan’s Steakhouse was where we met Monica for a lovely glass of Glenlivet, so smooth on the tongue. And another reminder that we need our hearing tested!

We’d offered to take Asa out for a meal, but it was quite hard tracking him down.

By mistake, we went into an ice hockey venue, which was pretty cold, surprisingly. But even more surprising was the size of the pucks they were playing with: almost as big as car tyres.

Ice hockey practice

And as a mathematician, I was intrigued by the local addresses being shown in binary notation:

We couldn’t find 11001

Eventually, we found Asa in a different sports centre.

La Cabana was where we ended up after two first choice restaurants had long waits, over half an hour. We had a good time and lots of good food. Too much food, really, for this English person with an English-sized stomach.

car alarm (noun) (1) Device installed in a vehicle designed to wake up everyone in the neighbourhood, in the middle of the night, apart from the owner of the vehicle. (2) Arguably the worst invention ever.

This is how the day began for us. The sound even drowned out the torrential rain that had tried to keep us awake all night.

We walked around to Jyoti’s house for breakfast where I again managed to eat too much.

We both remarked on how lovely the Autumn season is on this equinoctial weekend. It was a little bit cooler today and the headwind was a bit annoying. But the trees are very pretty.

Autumn colours

But Winter draws on too. The first snow has fallen on top of the mountains way over there in the distance. As time goes on, the snow will appear lower and lower down the mountains until it threatens to leave Anchorage knee-deep in snow and ice. One weather app briefly forecast snow for Monday but thankfully, that’s changed, and the person responsible has been severely punished.

There’s snow on them thar mountains

We walked home again and a couple of cars pulled up beside us. We were warned that there was a bull moose close to the path, just round the corner. Well, again, I was torn between wanting to see the moose and wanting to stay safe. We crossed the road, but we never did see the bull: it had probably just crossed the road and gone straight into the woods.

We drove to see Amy and her family for a chat and to taste test Kathy’s peach cobbler. I had to have two slices just to make sure it was OK. It was delicious! I’d met Kathy and Wayne, Amy’s parents, just once, probably over ten years ago. Amy’s sister Kara came by too.

Wayne and Kathy gave us lots of useful tips for our trip to Japan, and we talked about our overall travel plans.

Alaska State Fair

“Well, that’s embarrassing.”

Thus spake Leslie when she arrived home from work that night to see the sign and the balloon at the bottom of the drive. But the happy couple were delighted to pose for a photo. Happy Golden Wedding Anniversary, Leslie and Klaus!

Leslie and Klaus, 50 golden years

On the day itself, we were all busy getting stuff ready for the Garage Sale. Liesel took me on an adventure into the crawlspace under the house. She’d left a lot of old things there when she moved to England, 13 years ago, and it’s now time to decide: keep or discard?

Busy, yes, but not too busy to decline the offer of a quick walk in Kincaid Park. One path was blocked by a female moose, but we just turned and went a different way. And, maybe I’m becoming Alaskan, but I didn’t even bother to take a picture of her.

Then, a few minutes later, we found a few people taking pictures of a big bull moose. They were standing a lot closer than I would have found comfortable.

People and a moose

And, no, I’m not too much of an Alaskan to take this picture. He wasn’t bothered by the people, his ears were twitching away flies and he was eating: he was a happy bunny!

What a guy!

We found an old, thankfully unoccupied, wasp nest too. Fascinating.

Wasps’ nest

In the middle of the night, I was woken by Liesel. Preparation for the first day of the Garage Sale and Liesel needed help. 6am. I’d forgotten that such a time even existed.

It was a slow morning’s business. And cold. The coldest I’ve been since we came. I think advertising on Craigslist and one other listings site with just two days notice wasn’t good enough. Plus, it’s Labor Day weekend and many people may have gone camping.

I went with Klaus to buy and set up a couple more signs pointing people in the direction of the sale.

It was good to see some friends drop by, and we made plans to visit the Alaska State Fair. I wanted to go because it’s such a big event. Disappointingly, though, the monkeys dressed as cowboys riding dogs and herding sheep weren’t here this year.

Six of us went in Jyoti’s car with Monica driving. The setting is below Pioneer Peak in the Chugach mountains on a huge site which really becomes a small town for the duration of the Fair.

Floral display
Yesss! This is our philosophy!!

We walked miles and ate loads. It became cooler as the Sun set, but still not as cold as it had been sitting in the garage, first thing in the morning.

We saw some funny sights too:

Mick’s next haircut
Giant pumpkin

I thought, if I can’t get a nice, close-up photo of a dragonfly, I’d borrow somebody else’s! This was one of the prize-winning photographs at the Fair. Thanks to Jonathan Snead.

Dragonfly close-up

Before you ask, it was not me who tampered with this rabbit’s reason for winning…

Prize-winning rabbit
Five lovely ladies in front of the lovely Pioneer Peak

There were fireworks at about 10pm, just as we were leaving. Fireworks, even though it was still fairly light. The girls commented on the fact that they just don’t see fireworks in Anchorage in Summer, it’s just too light.

But the days are getting shorter. When we first arrived at the beginning of August, we had 17 hours of daylight. Now, it’s a mere 14 hours. And we’ll lose another 5 hours or more by the time we leave.

Fireworks

After dropping everyone off, Liesel and I picked up our car from Jyoti’s. By now, it was proper nighttime. I walked to the bluff, away from the city lights and, for the first time since we’ve been here, I saw stars in the sky. Nighttime and no clouds. A dark sky. I would love to have stayed stargazing for longer, but it had been a long, exciting and exhausting day so we went home.

Sunday was day two of the Garage Sale. We decided to put some items up for sale on eBay, so I prepared the descriptions and we’ll do that in a couple of weeks.

Old, old, old National Geographic magazines

Again, very few people showed up. We packed up and when Monica arrived, she, Liesel and I walked up the road to collect our Garage Sale signs. We walked to Kaladi Bros where we met up with Jyoti and Una. They’d been on a long hike while the rest of us were slaving over a not-so-hot Garage Sale.

At Jyoti’s, we sat outside, drank tea or coffee, ate cookies and scones and I nodded off while the ladies talked several hind legs off a donkey.

We walked up to the bluff, looked out over the water, looked for sand cranes and just absorbed as much heat from the Sun as we could.

Another beautiful view
A noisy raven

Postmen in the UK and mailmen in the USA deliver all kinds of crap. And the mooses know where to deliver their crap too:

Moose poop

La Vuelta continues and a Brit, Simon Yates is now in the lead, rule Brittania! He’s leading by one second.

Shoe shopping and Sunday Soccer

One of my favourite things is shoe shopping. No, hang on, I mean: one of my least favourite things is shoe shopping. But today, Liesel took me to REI and we bought me a new pair of hiking shoes. I tried on two pairs, both fitted ok and were comfortable, so I chose the ones that were 0.5 grammes lighter. And $30 more expensive, of course.

I’ll never forget the day, nearly 44 years ago, when I went out with Sarah, one of our first dates. We were with Sandra and Nick, on one of their early dates. The thing is: we walked the length of London’s Oxford Street, along one side, back along the other, visiting every one of the 19 shoe shops and shoe departments in department stores, Sarah and Sandra trying on shoes in most of them. And we returned to shop number 1, where a purchase was made. Despite this, Sarah and I married a few years later. By comparison, today’s shoe shopping expedition was a breeze.

No. I was tempted to show you a picture of my new shoes, but unless there’s a real clamour, that’s not going to happen!

Instead, here is a shop that we didn’t go into, even though I thought a hash brownie would go very well with a cup of coffee.

Catalyst

In the afternoon, we went to watch Asa play soccer, at the arena in Kincaid Park. It was raining, so we dressed appropriately and took umbrellas with us. Unfortunately, it was very windy too, so the umbrellas spent most of their time being inside out.

The pitch was astroturf and surrounded on three sides by bushes and who knows what beasts were taking shelter there. The game was football, but it mostly seemed to be the blue team kicking the ball into those bushes and the white team going on safari to find and retrieve it.

Soccer
Soccer

I went for a wander, with a view to taking some spectacular photos, get some steps in and oh, alright, I’ll admit it, to try and find somewhere more sheltered from the wind.

There really is a ski trail called Toilet Bowl
Thank you to our sponsors
What a great idea: a bike repair kit

The really tragic news is that my Fitbit battery died and I lost three hours of data, which is probably about 50,000 steps, or 25 miles. I might be exaggerating.

How to open a bear-proof litter bin

In the evening, we went to Jyoti’s for dinner. It was a houseful. I’d met Suvan and Kayla before, of course, and Una. But this was the first time I’d seen Pam on this trip, and the first time I’d ever met Melanie, although I’ve heard a lot about her.

Sorry, there are no photos of the food which was all delicious, Pam’s cauliflower, Jytoi’s chole, Melanie’s kale, Liesel’s cucumber, Jyoti’s rice and koftes.

We watched la Vuelta on TV, despite the uninspiring commentary, before bed.

Hikes and bikes

I hope I never get bored with walking, hiking and generally welcoming the opportunity to be outside rather than indoors.

While Liesel stayed in with her Mom to start the process of ‘sorting stuff out (*)’, I accepted invitations from Liesel’s friends to join them.

Jyoti, Suvan and I had a nice walk in Kincaid Park, on yet another trail. Each one seems to be hillier than the previous one! We saw a moose and her baby but, other than a couple of birds, no more wildlife.

Moose and mooselet

Jyoti was kind enough to offer me fried eggs and toast for lunch and I’m too much of a gentleman to decline, so…

After a chat, we walked again, this time along the road where the roadsweeper swept by in a flurry of water and gravel from what may be a quarry over the road, or. more likely, a building site.

I turned left for home, Jyoti turned right to meet up with another friend. The rest of my day involved puzzles and looking at Liesel’s ‘stuff’.

(*) When I say ‘sorting stuff out’, I mean Liesel is going through her possessions deciding what to keep and what can go. At the same time, she is hoping to encourage her folks to get rid of some of their clutter too, 50 years of it.

This whole project will be a labour of love and hard decisions. Liesel and I spent two years selling things on eBay, giving away via Freegle (formerly Freecycle) and taking to charity shops. Sadly, some items ended up in a landfill site. Liesel’s parents’ house is even more chockerblocker fuller of stuff than ours ever was.

For my next hike without Liesel, Una and Jyoti took me to another skiing venue, Hillside. The only reason I didn’t have a go at the ski jump was, there was no snow. Also, the idea of climbing up that ricketty-looking structure is even more scary than actually skiing, never mind jumping. Plus, I’m not Eddie the Eagle.

Ski jump

It was great to see so many other people out today, too, mountain bikers, hikers, runners and I know that most of them are probably skiers in the Wintertime.

Back at home, the pile of stuff on the landing had grown. There is talk of a garage sale at some point.

Liesel and I went out to do some errands and we later watched Gideon playing soccer. His team won by a mile – but compared with the team he played with in Fairbanks a few weeks ago, they all looked so titchy!

Arsenal

The football pitch must be close to the airport, judging by the number of planes that flew over. We also saw a skein of geese. Flying south for the Winter? Not yet: they landed in the pond just behind the fence.

Gooses and gooselets

But most excitingly, my quest to take a good photo of a dragonfly continues. It they won’t land and sit still for me, I’ll just have to capture them in flight. So here are a couple of the best pictures so far:

Dragonfly

Liesel and I went to the gym where I spent some time on the treadmill, including a 12m37s mile. Liesel spent longer exercising here, but by the time we left, we’d both built up a good appetite.

It’s week two of the quest to acclimatise me to Japanese food. Tonight, we went to Sushi Garden. I thought I’d have a beer and asked for an IPA. I didn’t expect a bottle that big, a pint and a quarter of ice cold beer. No wonder I couldn’t finish my meal of two different vegetarian rolls. There was a lot of food there, to be honest. The first plate was enough for me but when the second plate turned up some time later, I knew then I wouldn’t complete the mission.

Then a lot of TV, more than we’d usually watch. Two early episodes of Father Brown but more interestingly, the first stage of this year’s Vuelta a España, the Spanish cycling grand tour. The commentary was cringeworthy but at least we found a way to fast forward through the adverts. And we turned off the annoying loud beeps that accompany every button press on the remote control.

Fair enough

Liesel and I along with Klaus, Leslie and Asa had a fun afternoon at the fair. The Tanana Valley State Fair is half funfair and half agricultural show.

The highlight of the day was the Giant Cabbage competition. The heaviest one we saw was 61lb and the leaves were old, gnarly, green leather.

Where’s Asa?

Actually, another highlight was the one ride I went on with Asa. The Zipper. Two people sit in a cage which swings around an axis, ten cages go up and down like a zipper and around another axis of movement, very fast and at times, you are upside down. It was today’s scary thing. Liesel joined him on a different ride, Startrooper, which was less violent but Liesel still came off with sweaty palms.

Asa and Liesel
Zipper

Actually, another highlight was bumping into Chad Carpenter doing a book signing. He’s Alaska’s top cartoonist, famous for the Tundra cartoons for well over twenty years. He even remembered meeting Klaus and Asa before!

Chad Carpenter

There were plenty of animals on show, sheep, goats, pigs, llams, alpacas, rabbits, guinea pigs, cattle, nothing uniquely Alaskan on this occasion.

A big black cloud slowly approached and we feared the worst but in the end, I think we only felt half a dozen drops of rain.

We enjoyed fried zucchini (Scottish style), coffee and big, big bags of popcorn that was both salted and sugared.

In the evening, my itchy legs took me for a walk. I heard music close to the river and on investigation, I tracked down a Beer Festival at the Boatel, just along the road from the campsite. Did I have any cash on me? No, of course not, that would have required forethought and planning and I’d gone out on a whim, spontaneously! So no beer for me, nor I could I legitimately get closer to the live country music being played.

Later in the evening, Liesel suggested that we go over to visit Morey, Shylah and Addy. Morey is Aaron’s best friend from many years ago, Shylah is his wife and Addy is their teenage daughter who was also here to play football. I cannot vouch for the spelling of any of their names, I’m guessing, but someone will correct me, I’m sure!

We were offered wine or beer, I chose wine, Liesel declined, and we sat around the campfire batting away the odd insect and passing the time.

Sunday began with a drum solo on the roof of the motorhome. The long promised rain had arrived along with a much darker 8 o’clock in the morning than we’ve seen all week.

There were lots of us in the van for most of the morning and we saw the unusual sight of the windows steaming up. Lots of people plus a cooked breakfast.

The rain slowly eased off though: nobody wants to play soccer outside in that. And we weren’t all that keen on watching in weather like that, either, to be honest.

We stayed in the motorhome until we had to leave for the game: Asa’s last one. Unfortunately, they lost to the team that they beat yesterday, so the chances of playing in a tournament next year in Boise, Idaho, are vastly diminished.

We watched in dry conditions but the wind was quite strong. Fifty shades of grey were the clouds: much more texture than we usually have at home where cloud cover is often just one big sheet of metal grey.

After the match, Aaron, Jodi and their boys left for home: unfortunately, real life intervened and they have to go back to work tomorrow.

Liesel and I had a productive session in a local laundromat. What a big place, with over 60 machines in use. Back at home, we had pizza for dinner, our first takeaway this week. And it’s an American size pizza, wider, thicker, cheesier and way too much for this English person to eat in one go!

We heard some birds singing in the trees, but they must have been the native Alaskan bird of invisibility. Not like the ravens that flew around the football pitches, big and bible black against the clouds.

Sunday ended with another drum solo on the roof of the motorhome. Leslie is flying back to Anchorage.

And then there were three: me, Liesel and Klaus.

Some of my Relatives are Aliens

Liesel drove Asa and me up to her old University to have a look around. There’s a spectacular view from the campus that Liesel enjoyed for three years as a student here.

What a view

The Museum of the North includes a history of Alaska from before even the Russians became interested in the land.

The art exhibition was interesting too, lots of items made by native artists, some of it very moving but all fascinating, being different from the western art that we’re so used it. Our friend Monica had recommended seeing the Decolonization exhibit that’s only here until September, so we were very lucky with the timing of our visit.

Decolonizing Alaska is a multimedia visual art exhibit featuring contemporary artists exploring and responding to Alaska’s history of colonization. A collaboration of more than 30 diverse Alaska artists, both Native and non-Native, the exhibit introduces new ideas around Alaska culture.

And it was very moving. Why westerners think it’s ok to go around the world trying to change other cultures is beyond me.

After a coffee and a cookie in the café, we set off for the excitement of shopping in Safeway. They’re very helpful, here, the checkout assistant scanned all the items while someone else packed them for us into brand new plastic bags. Lots and lots of plastic bags. We’re so used to not seeing this any more, we reuse our own ‘bags for life ‘ (aka ‘shopping bags’) but here in Safeway, USA, you can use as many plastic bags as you like. Who cares if they end up in the oceans killing the fishes and the whales?

We walked over the road to Fred Meyer, another supermarket. Yes, let me repeat that. We walked over the road. Walked. You just don’t do that in America.

We tried to get a local SIM card for Liesel’s phone but it’s an old one, only on 3G, but all the Alaskan providers are gearing up to be 4G-only. Using our phones here other than on Wifi will be very expensive, but we’re only out in the sticks, away from home for a couple of weeks.

Asa and I walked back to the campsite, not a long walk, but another welcome walk, and Liesel drove back later.

It’s been a bit of a disastrous trip so far, and I hope we can start it properly soon. I left my reading glasses on the plane into Seattle but didn’t realise until we were in Anchorage. Then we had the problem with Liesel’s 3G phone. Now, the Logitech keyboard has decided to play up. Some of the keys no longer work. We thought it might be a problem with the batteries, but sadly, not.

I felt eerily cut off, being in a campsite, in a strange town, with strange people (folks I haven’t seen for years, I mean, but come to think of it…), without free access to the internet, with a duff keyboard so I can’t easily blog. And without reading glasses so I can’t relax and read. Oh, woe, woe and thrice woe.

Showering in the motorhome is a different experience. There’s a limited amount of water, so you get wet, turn the shower off, have a scrub, then rinse off. And the control is very sensitive, just a half a degree turn between freezing cold water and scalding hot.

Aaron, Jodi and Gideon arrived in the afternoon having made really good time. They lit a camp fire in the evening, where we all gathered along with some of the other soccer players’ parents and grandparents. A sudden inability to keep the old peepers open drove us to bed again while it was still light.

Woke up and it was already light: still not convinced it really got dark in between.

I went for another wander around the campsite and saw the first real native wildlife. Only a grey squirrel, but it still counts. Not as exotic as a moose or a bear and not quite as big and scary, either.

Fireweed

Merry Christmas, everybody!
Silver birches

We watched the first football game of the tournament, The Alaska State Cup, today. Gideon plays in goal and sometimes midfield.

Later on as Liesel drove back into the campsite, we saw a pair of red-tailed squirrels. Still small but slightly more interesting.

Friday woke me up with my first mosquito bite. I’ve felt the odd tickle and brushed a few away, but this one snuck in under cover of darkness. If, indeed, there was any darkness.

We had another soccer game today, this time Asa was playing for Arsenal ’05. It was a much more interesting game, and I was pleased to get some good pictures. Klaus shouting out “Push it up, Arsenal” made me smile.

I think it’ll be a while before these English ears of mine, even though not belonging to a football fan, get used to hearing the score recorded as “four to zero” rather than “four, nil”. And when enquiring as to the name of an opposition team, “Who are we versing?”

Only recently have the local teams been using the term “soccer pitch” rather than “field”, even though that’s the usual terminology at home. I believe “nice hustle” means “that was a jolly good tackle, old chap”.

Asa taking a free kick
Gid taking a corner kick

Between Asa’s game in the morning and Gideon’s in the afternoon, Liesel and I visited the Rasmuson Library at the University so that we could borrow their wifi and catch up with things on the internet. Using 3G or 4G all the time is expensive: compared with the overall cost of this trip, it’s a minor expense but we do object to large telecoms companies ripping us off like that.

Aaron brought his boat with him and in the evening, he took Liesel, Asa and me for a quick trip up and down the Chena River. The water jet pushed us up to 40+ mph and we travelled quite a distance. Everyone else on, or by, the river waved, it’s a very friendly community.

I wondered why so many of the bankside trees were falling into the water. Then I realised: there were beaver dams and houses here and there, and it was quite a moment when we saw two or three beavers on a beach, looking quite toothy and pleased with themselves.

The wake from our boat caused a kayaker to capsize which wasn’t very nice, but then Liesel pointed out, he’d done it on purpose, just practicing his technique. When we passed him again on the way back, sure enough, he headed straight for our wake.

We went downstream as far as the Tenana river, quite wide in places and according to Aaron’s clever device, there were plenty of fish there.

We passed a ‘Fire Helicopter’: presumably it’s one that picks up buckets of water to dump on bush fires, something you wouldn’t expect to associate with Alaska, but it does happen. We saw the aftermath of a large fire on the drive up to Fairbanks.

Someone else had a water plane parked(?), docked(?), landed on his back garden next to the river.

A paddle steamer passed by us moving in the opposite direction and it left behind a long, long stretch of very bumpy water which would have woken us up if we’d been asleep.

There was a fish wheel, based on a native device to catch fish. Basically, they just swim into the bucket and the bucket is retreived. Easy!

There are lots of houses on the river front, some look in better condition than others, but some are just plain ugly. (I wouldn’t say that to an owner’s face, obviously, this is Alaska and everyone has really big guns.)

On the way back to the campsite, Asa drove for a while, not as fast as his Dad, but very competently, neither of us were at all worried.

Saturday morning was an even earlier start than the previous day. Both boys were playing a game at 8am. Asa’s team won but sadly, Gid’s lost quite badly. Very disappointing for him of course but he is learning that he has 8 other teammates on the field that the ball has to get by before it reaches him, the goalie, and if they are not working as a team the loss is everyone’s, not just on his little 9 year old shoulders. Nevertheless, he had some great saves today and stayed after his game for a friendly scrimmage. (We snuck off to a local bakery to eat lovely pastry. A reward for watching 8 am games!)

So it’s Saturday lunchtime in the University Library again, nice and quiet, I think there are only two other people here in this room and one of them is Liesel! It’s a cloudy day, much cooler than when we arrived in Fairbanks but it’s very pleasant.

Wonder

Living in a new place or maybe the air quality or the different impurities in the tap water has affected my dreams. I wake up with a feeling of, that was fun, that was strange or that was exhilarating or whatever but with no recollection of what it actually was.

Saturday morning though, I remembered enough for it to make some sort of sense. Hah: a dream that makes sense? That’ll be a first.

A boy was seeking attention by repeatedly knocking on our door. He was about 13 or 14 years of age. He claimed to be a cycling champion in his age group. But he wouldn’t give us his name. We met his Dad at the gym. He’s been discharged from the Army, he said. While chatting, he was plucking the odd hair from his chest, the waxing wasn’t 100% effective. He didn’t seem to be all that proud of or supportive of his son, which we thought was a bit of a shame.

At home, we looked up ‘cycling champions’ and we found a photo of the boy straightaway. He went by the professional name Mex Tex and that made sense, his shirt had had the word Mex embroidered on the chest.

The next time we met his Dad in the gym, we said we’d found his son on the internet but weren’t sure of his real name. He blanched. He said that he was trying to keep a low profile and that was why he’d changed his haircut and was attempting to alter his whole appearance.

He said that he’d tried to impress on his son the necessity to change his appearance too. But so far, all he’d done was to change his name to Mex Tex, a ridiculous name.

We asked why it was so importent to look different and he blanched again. He told us that he wasn’t discharged from the Army, he’d deserted, and if he was caught, he would be shot.

That’s when I woke up. I would love to see the movie.

The weather had changed. It was raining when we woke up and it was still raining after breakfast. Even after a nice, long chat with Roseanna, we didn’t really want to go out.

I’m not generally one to knock religion, but as I walked up the stairs, I very nearly knocked a picture of Jesus off the wall. Oops!

We stayed in our b&b until noon and set off for Covent Garden for a coffee at the London Transport Museum. The plan was to meet Helen and Steve and watch the end of the Prudential 100-mile bike ride and the professional race afterwards. But the weather was unreliable. Instead, we walked along the Strand and over the Millennium Bridge again (no Bob Marley today), to the Southbank Centre. It’s Chorus Weekend, and we enjoyed listening to some choirs in the Riverside Terrace Café.

In fact, I joined one. Yesterday, I’d turned down the opportunity to learn some Spanish dance steps outside the National Theatre. My two left feet would have stomped too many other people. Today, though, we members of the public were invited to form a choir, learn and perform a song. I can’t sing for toffee, but I reckoned I wouldn’t cause anyone any actual physical damage. And someone said, once, a long time ago, that we should all do something scary every day. Well, this was my scary thing today.

First we had to do some strange choreography, though. Moving feet, stamping, kicking out, waving arms in the air, not my thing at all. Fortunately, this did not form part of the eventual performance.

The lesson was led by a guy from The Choir With No Name. Another member, Brian, sang bits of old songs while we volunteers joined in. Lazy Sunday Afternoon was fun. ‘’ello, Mrs Jones, ‘ow’s your Bert’s lumbago?’ he sang. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ three of us responded in an old lady’s voice!

We learned the Emeli Sandé song ‘Wonderful’. It contains a variety of whoas, woahs, oohs and other woah-oohs. Three part harmony, and I was with the lowest of the three, bass baritones, tenors and me. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we ain’t falling under. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we are full of wonder.
The final performance was helped out by a professional singer doing the solo parts, thank goodness. The thought occurred though that I’m glad to be leaving the country tomorrow, before I’m arrested for offences against the musical arts. If you ever come across a bootleg tape of The Riverside Terrace Café Choir, you can choose to leave it where it is or acquire it and I’ll sign it for you!

The Riverside Terrace Café Choir

We were joined by Helen and Steve for another farewell. We watched and sang along to the West End Musical Choir, still in the Riverside Terrace Café.

Afterwards, we went to Giraffe for our last supper in England for a while. The rain was still on and off and the farewells were again a bit emotional adding to the precipitation.
Monday morning arrived after a very fitful sleep, I got up 99 times to visit the loo, I think. Liesel, once she drifted off, slept quite solidly until it was time to get up. I set my own alarm this time, thanks, Martha, but in the end, I was up

well before it went off.
No time for breakfast at the b&b, we packed, repacked and left for a packed tube train to Heathrow. Butterflies were kicking in so thoughts of a really big, substantial breakfast dissipated and I just had a vegetarian sausage sandwich.

Red sauce, brown sause or no sauce at all? No, no and no: I had Tabasco. Liesel had eggs.

We have bulkhead seats on the plane, so we have plenty of legroom, but unfortunately for us, on this Boeing 787-9, the toilets are in the middle, not at the back. Right near us. As I type, we’ve just entered Canadian airspace. It’s dark on our righthand side but still bright out of the other side.

Going back to cycling again. Geraint Thomas did win the Tour de France, the first Welshman to do so, and a very popular winner too.