Fort William and Ben Nevis

We failed again to consume everything supplied for breakfast, so we took the rest with us for lunch: fruit and a big raisin bun. It was time to say farewell to Susan, Kiva and the lighthouse. This would have been the ideal place to end our little break but we had a couple more nights to spend, at Fort William, before the long trudge home.

We awoke to the dawn chorus of sheep shouting at each other. By the rock over there, they were queueing up to scratch their butts. You could see the smiles of relief spread across their cute little faces.

We stopped one more time in Gairloch, briefly, noting that the beach car park was now fairly empty. We could have stopped there of course, but for the fact that we had booked a ferry so, unusually, we had a deadline to meet.

The mountains, lochs, scenery all continued to impress as we headed south.

Not the Olgas

The first proper stop on the way was by Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. This would be a fanstastic hike: and yes, it’s on the list for next time. This is the only waymarked mountain trail in Britain, so we probably wouldn’t get lost.

Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail
Tent for people who don’t like lying down

Not sure you’re allowed to camp in this car park, but Liesel suggested this might be a shower. We didn’t knock on the door to find out.

Tunnels

Well this was a surprise, tunnels on the A890, wide enough for one vehicle. What happens if you meet someone halfway through coming towards you? Well, it’s a very short tunnel, so one party or the other should have enough time to move into the passing place. I’m sure we’ve seen tunnels like this in the Alps during the Tour de France.

As we reached Kyle of Lochalsh, we caught sight of the bridge over to the Isle of Skye. An online friend of mine lives on Skye, but way over at the western side, too far to go today, and be back in time to catch our ferry. Next time, Sheila, OK?

Bridge to Skye

Yes of course we didn’t spend anywhere near long enough on Skye. Add it to the list for next time. But what we saw was stunning. Very green, lots of trees, plus the hills, the Cuilins, in the distance. So much to explore.

Too narrow

After taking a detour off the main road, we encountered this very narrow track. We chickened out and returned the way we came. The map suggests this track would take us back to the main road, but, well, would you risk it?

Looking over towards the mainland
Selfie of the day

Here we are looking cool and relaxed on the ferry back to the mainland. The breeze on board was warm and refreshing, we didn’t need to cower inside, out of the elements. Guess how many dolphins we saw during this 25-minute passage?

Glenfinnan Viaduct is now most famous for its starring role in the Harry Potter films. It is a wonderful feat of engineeering, the first time concrete had been used for such a major project. We tried to book a ride on a train between Fort William and Mallaig, which would take us over the viaduct, but it was fully booked for months ahead. Now we know, we’ll catch it next time.

The Viaduct behind the trees

The car park was full, the busiest place we’ve seen for a long time. Many of the visitors were east Asian, and we can only assume they’re students here in the UK. I heard at least two languages being spoken: Japanese and Chinese, but whether Mandarin or Cantonese, well, my ears weren’t fully tuned in.

Expelliarmus

Who mentioned Harry Potter? And do the actors get compensation for this use of their images? We stayed away from the herds and hordes of people as much as we could while walking towards the viaduct on a lovely gravelly path.

You lucky people, another selfie

I walked up to the first Viaduct Viewpoint, where many people were sitting and standing around and I thought maybe they were waiting for a steam train to come a-puffing over the viaduct. But no, they were, as far as I could tell, talking about the engineering problems posed in constructing such a marvellous edifice, and counting the 21 arches. Certainly the view from above is very impressive.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Nearby, just over the road, is a monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie. The story is told in Latin, English and Gaelic. The Prince is on top of a column, so it’s quite hard to make out his features.

Glenfinnan Monument
Prince Charles Edward
The ’45 Jacobite Rebellion

We reached Fort William and I was a little disappointed that we weren’t greeted by a big welcome sign. I wanted a good photo for grandson William who is beginning to recognise his written and printed name.

On the way into town, the only radio station we could tune into was Nevis FM, playing songs from the 50s, 60s and 70s. There was almost too much choice of places to eat. Deep Fried Pizza sounded good. On closer inspection and reading the sign properly, it was in fact Wood Fired Pizza. Unfortunately, they were fully booked for the night. Another place down the road also had a long queue outside. So we ended up right where we’d parked the car: Spice Tandoori and we had the best Indian meal we’ve had for a long time. And it was a strange feeling sitting inside a restaurant with other guests.

Our b&b was conveniently located but sadly what struck me as we went in was the stench of cigarette smoke. What struck Liesel at first was one of those gadgets that squirts a cloud of smelly chemicals into the room every few seconds, presumably to disguise the other smells. Oh well, a bit of an anticlimax after the lighthouse, but it’s only for a couple of days. How can we tell we’re in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain?

Everything Nevis

Neither of us had a particularly good night’s sleep. The view out of our window is OK but it was raining a bit as well. After a late breakfast of cereal and croissants, we went for a walk to the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. Or the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, depending on which street sign you believe, or whether you trust Google Maps. It was less than a couple of miles from our b&b but nice to be out in the fresh air.

West Highland Way

The idea of a certificate was quite appealing. So did we collect one? Well, the trouble is, if we’d gone in and lied about walking the length of the West Highland Way, they might have asked us for proof. They might even have asked us where the other end was. So we carried on along the road.

The entrance to Glen Nevis

For a while, we walked along a track that was more or less parallel to the road, to our right, with the River Nevis to our left.

Curling is a popular sport in Scotland, but we just usually see it at the Winter Olympics. We found an old rink with some old stones. I was going to have a go at curling but I couldn’t even lift the blinkin’ stone.

Curling Stone Henge
Mick of the stones

No, it wasn’t really too heavy, it was cemented to the ground. Honest.

Amongst the interesting artefacts at the Visitor Centre was this old machine, which brought back many happy memories.

Old postman’s bike

Actually the main memory it brought back was the day I was finally able to retire from the job. It was never as good once they got rid of the bikes.

The foothills of Ben Nevis

The climb to the summit of Ben Nevis is a long walk up a sometimes narrow path. The views are stunning of course, and near the top there’s a section which is fairly flat before the final steep incline to the top. It’s much colder at the the top, so I was glad I took up an extra layer of clothing. No, this wasn’t today’s climb. This was my memory from about 1997. Today, we walked up as far as the first stile, but I suspect we might be back one day to conquer the mountain.

After the brief hike up a slight incline, and not being able to see the actual summit from where we were, we began the walk back to town. We found an alternative path, on the other side of the road this time, and enjoyed the warmth, the scenery and the flowers.

Water lilies

These water lilies with pink flowers wouldn’t be out of place in a Fijian or Japanese pond. And, something else out of place was a small green van selling refreshments such as an egg bun and coffee. We sat on a rock and had a break. An egg bun is what we normally call a bread roll with a fried egg. Or, a fried egg barm, in Northenden.

As we reached the more built-up area of Fort William, if you’d asked what sort of bird we would see, I don’t think either of us would have guessed this one.

Oystercatcher

And just like the best avian subjects of my photos, it flew off before I could get too close, straight back to its home on Loch Linnhe, presumably.

Garden dedicated to NHS workers

Yes, it’s great having a garden dedicated to the hard-working men and women of the NHS. But just like clapping for them on a Thursday night, I’m sure they’re rightly thinking they’d rather have a payrise of rather more than a measly 1%.

A quick visit to the railway station wasn’t very interesting in the end. I was hoping to see one of the steam engines that take people across the viaduct to Mallaig, if they book online early enough, of course, but all I saw was the Caledonian Sleeper.

We wandered slowly through the town centre, only venturing into one shop, but noting how many shops were closed, and not just because it was Sunday.

The Piper

The Piper played his tunes, which, as we discovered a bit later, could be heard quite a long way away.

Bronze Model T Ford

In 1911, Henry Alexander of Edinburgh drove his Model T Ford to the top of Ben Nevis. Liesel and I looked at each other. What a terrific idea. (There is more about this story at this Ben Nevis website, which has a lot of other fascinating information too.) We didn’t walk up today, but maybe we could take the Mazda 2 up? We abandoned the idea because neither of us wanted to reverse all the way down again, plus, I couldn’t remember whether there was enough room at the top in which to turn the car around.

Flowers of Scotland (again)

We started walking back to our b&b, only 10 minutes away from the town centre, although it had seemed a bit further last night. We caught up on another couple of stages of the Tour de France and I think it’s fair to say, it’s been the most exciting first week we’ve seen for a few years.

This has been a terrific couple of weeks. Scotland’s beauty can only be described in words by the best of poets. But in the greater scheme of things, I think we’ve learned that we need to keep up a much more rigorous exercise regime. Despite our best intentions, during lockdown, we’ve become more comfortable, staying locked down, locked in at home. Also, we need to plan to do more things, not necessarily two weeks away, but some nights out, at music and comedy gigs. Having things to look forward to certainly is an aide to our mental well-being. Thank you Liesel and thank you Scotland.

Ullapool to Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Time to move on again. On from what I referred to as civilisation, Ullapool, to a more rustic, rugged location, literally miles off the beaten track Anyway, you don’t care about that. You’re just wondering about the baby seagulls. They’re on top of the world.

Gull-lets

We ate breakfast, packed, checked out and set off in a roughly southerly direction. It felt tropical outside: hot and humid. The first stop today was Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. This was after a period of ooh-ing and aah-ing at the views, of course. The gorge is deep, man, and it’s a long walk to reach it, along a well-made path.

Trees
Memorial bench

Yes, a well-made path but it was hilly and there were lots of steps. Thankfully there are plenty of memorial benches on which to rest a while. This unusual one is dedicated to the memory of Leslie B Butcher and the little plaque has a quote from John Yeats: A thing of beauty is a joy forever. And the first sign that proved we were really in an actual gorge proves the point.

Sheer wall

This gives an idea of what was to come after a few more bends. The suspension bridge is fairly solid, but it did sway from side to side a little on the return trip. A maximum of six people is allowed on the bridge at any time, and this is not just for Covid related reasons.

Suspension Bridge
The waterfall
Bridge and waterfall

I don’t know how else to try and give some idea of how deep the gorge is, but this is what you see from the viewing platform. It’s at the far point of the circular walk, but the return trip was shorter, if steeper in places. This path is described as ‘accessible’ but the lady in the motorised wheelchair just glared at me when I joked that she could be going faster.

Further along the road, we saw what we assume to be an RAF jet flying past these mountains.

Mountain mist

As we approached this mountain range with its fringe of cloud, we noticed just one patch of snow that has so far survived the heat of the Summer.

Summer Isles (we think)

As we proceed towards our final destination for the day, the main subject of conversation is regarding the beauty of the surroundings. Wow, look at that. Did you see that? Where are we? Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint our location on Google Maps, even when we have a good signal. Loch Ewe is gorgeous and we drove beside it for a while. In the middle of the loch is an island. Isle of Ewe. And I thought, ahh, that’s nice, Isle of Ewe too ❤. Soon afterwards, we found our next place of interest, Inverewe Garden

Butterfly

This guy welcomed us to the Garden and we returned the favour by encouraging him to fly away from the car park. We thought this was a good omen, we’d see many more butterflies but no, this was the only one, sadly.

Our second long walk of the day was around the well cared for gardens. The map supplied was great: you could find your way around with it, which isn’t always the case.

South Africa

There are plants here from all around the world that you wouldn’t expect to thrive in Scotland. But the gulf stream brings some heat and the gardeners here take full advantage, especially in the Walled Garden.

There are a couple of viewpoints overlooking Loch Ewe. Otters have been sighted here, but of course, not today. In fact, we didn’t spot any of the others collectively known as Scotland’s Big 5: red squirrels, red deer, golden eagles and harbour seals. We might have seen seals way off on a small island, but of course we’d left the binoculars in the car, so we can’t be sure.

Encroaching on the path
Walled Garden
Rhododendron barbatum

Rhododendron? No, I didn’t believe it either, at first. This plant is from the Himalayas and is obviously doing very well.

Pretty in pink

These little flowers drew Liesel’s attention: so much detail in the tiny petals. No idea what it is though. There were places where the only sound was from busy bees, dozens of them working together. We looked, but there were no frogs sitting on the lily pads in the pond.

After another very enjoyable walk, we went to the café. Of course we did. Coffee and we shared a millionaire’s shortbread.

Suitable for vegetarians

Did we? No, we didn’t try this unusual offering. But while slurping our delicious beverages, we were joined by a couple of birds, a chaffinch or a nuthatch and a thrush (we think).

Birdies

The final planned stop today was Gairloch Beach. We saw a sign towards Big Sand and I thought, that’s funny, I remember her, she used to be the barmaid at the pub in Hammersmith that me, Mike and Nick used to go to.

Gairloch Beach was big and wonderful, we shared it with about 30 other people. Again, the texture of the sand varied up and down and even along the beach. The few rock pools had nothing of particular interest. But people were swimming in the sea.

Gairloch beach
Crab

This wee beastie didn’t chase us along the beach, I’m not even sure he was awake. Probably somebody’s dinner the night.

Gairloch Beach

Not being allowed to check in to our new accommodation until 5 o’clock was great, it meant that we could take our time today. The final stretch entailed turning north again so the sea was on our left. We both exclaimed at the same time when presented with this vista that could be from the Mediterranean.

What a sight

On the other side of this body of water lie the islands of Lewis and Harris, named after a couple of Morse’s sidekicks, I think. The road is narrow, yes, with passing places, but it’s undulating and winding and challenging. Definitely a rollercoaster. Why anyone would want to drive faster than 20 mph is a mystery, but judging by the gouge marks, some folks have done just that.

Suddenly, there it is. The first glimpse of our final destination today: Rua Reidh Lighthouse. Our home for the next few days. What a stunning place to be, and what a glorious day on which to see it for the first time.

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

The road continues to meander after this point, and we had to open a couple of gates before we could finally park up. Some sheep looked at us but we were greeted properly by Susan and Kiva. I am so glad I didn’t vocalise my first thought: you must be the lighthouse Kiva, then.

He showed us up to our room. The wooden door creaked open and we entered the lighthouse. The light from his hurricane lamp illuminated our climb up the slightly damp spiral staircase. Up and up and round and round we went. Finally, we reached the door to our room. The locks were a bit rusty, but the room looks comfortable enough. There’s a big sign asking us not to turn the lights off at night. No, of course, that didn’t happen. Our room is in a separate building, which was used as a youth hostel as one point in its history.

The Lighthouse

From about 9pm onwards, I was keeping an eye on the Sun because of course I wanted to see it set over the sea.

An hour before sunset

I joined several of the other sunset-viewing guests at about 10.30, when, unfortunately, a bank of cloud obscured the Sun, but the sunset itself was still spectacular.

The clouds, the clouds

Dolphins, porpoises, minke whales and even orca have been seen in this stretch of water so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. I can’t believe I was out there chatting with Steve until very nearly midnight. He agrees that there aren’t words to adequately describe the beauty that is the Scottish Highlands. I’ve shared some photos here, but those pictures can’t convey the scale of the place . And when you’re aware of the local history, the clearances for example, you can almost feel the sadness emanating from the landscape.

The cue for me to turn in was the lighthouse lights coming on

The lights work

Oh, alright, I’ll admit it: I was beginning to feel a bit cold as well.

So, here we are at midnight, the last threads of red from the sunset still visible, the rest of the sky is too bright to see any stars, and the lighthouse lights are on. We have no connection to the outside world, no internet, no 4G, no phone signal, nothing. So there’ll be a delay of a couple of days until the next post. To be honest though, I am surprised and delighted that we’ve had good enough internet connection up until now for a daily post. Good night / morning / afternoon, gentle kittens: as I write, I have no idea when I’ll be able to send this. But you have it now, that’s the main thing.

Mollachin aboot

We’re staying in what can only be described as a quirky little hotel. Unusually, there is no TV set in our room. Not that we watch TV when away from home (except for the Tour de France), but how pleasant. Instead, there is a radio.

Our bathroom is not en suite. We have to leave the room, walk down the corridor to use the facility, which is ours alone, but we need a key to get in. Neither of the doors can be closed quietly however hard you try.

We can open the windows in our room but it was touch or go whether they would move. In fact, one of the latches was already broken: we weren’t the first guests to struggle. The curtains are nice and thick though, so the midnight light didn’t disturb us. No, I think what kept us up so late was the caffeine in the coffee, plus nearby doors being closed as quietly as possible. In other words, loud bangs.

But it is an old building, obviously. The lounge area looks out over the town and towards some mountains. We can look at paintings, some good, some just put up so as not to offend the artist, maybe. In the kitchen area, there are facilities to make tea and coffee (free) plus a variety of alcoholic beverages (paid for). And books. There are books everywhere: in the lounge, in every room. The book shop downstairs has a wide selection of books about Scotland, Scottish history, Scottish fiction and children’s books and, so far, as I write this, I’ve only visited twice.

Books

Breakfast was good. Instead of black pudding, we veggies are given fruit pudding. This reminded me of mince pies whereas Liesel thought it was more like thinly sliced malt loaf.

We watched the family of seagulls. The chicks were begging for food, but the parents didn’t feed them while we were watching.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull and babies

There’s a certificate on display in the lounge saying this place was voted by its employees as one of the top ten tourism employers in the Highlands and Islands. That’s great! In very small print, it’s dated 2008. I’m sure it’s still a wonderful place to work.

No venturing far afield today, we just spent time mollachin aboot this fine toon o’ Ullapool. It was a little cooler than yesterday, but still very pleasant. We passed by people, yes, people, in the streets, but we didn’t freak out. If we can’t handle this many people in a small town like this, how will we cope back in Manchester? Or London?

Ullapool Outdoors

Thankfully, we didn’t need to go into this particular shop. All the other shops seem to have their entrances more conveniently located at ground level.

Here’s a new pier and when it was constructed, they left rock pools at three different levels to encourage interest in the local sealife.

The new Wee Pier
Muted colours today
Passive aggressive messaging
We like a memorial bench

After our morning constitutional, we had coffee at the hotel, sitting outside, at table 48, since you ask.

After a rest (a rest!) in our room, we went out for the ice cream we’d promised ourselves. I went for the licorice flavour, Liesel the banoffee. Imagine the look on Liesel’s face when she realised, half way through the first lick, that she’d picked up the wrong cone.

Requirement’s

There was a time when I would have gone along in the dead of night with a bottle of Tippex and removed that superfluous apostrophe. Well, not really, I’m not a vandal. I would have sent my wife.

Garden in a boat

My task today was to do the laundry. But, because of Covid rules, we’re not allowed to operate the machines ourselves. Instead, we pay the lady in the shop to wash and dry for us. She provides a very good service and we should now have enough clean clothes for the rest of our trip. Unless, as I told Liesel, we have a number of messy accidents.

For the second night in a row, we dined out. Well, this time, we dined in, in our hotel. While eating, the England football team were beating Germany in the Euros. Or, if those fellow diners were Scots, maybe they were cheering for the Germans. We later found out that England had indeed won.

The sea starts here

Sadly, littering is a problem everywhere, but Ullapool is a really clean and tidy little town compared with some I could mention.

In the ice cream shop, I also bought a bottle, a glass bottle, of Irn Bru. Another disappointment. I knew about the sugar, but it also contains Aspartame and Acesulfame K, two artificial sweeteners. Bleurgh. It had approximately the flavour that I remember, but this is not the secret recipe they’ve been using since 1901, like it says on the label.

Irn Bru

No, I won’t be making that mistake again. So that;s Mars bars, Edinburgh Rock and Irn Brum childhood delicacies that I can no longer tolerate. What a shame. Maybe I’m getting old.

Thanks to all the correspondents who have been asking to see a pair of dancers made from chicken wire. Here they are, tripping the light fantastic in our hotel.

Tiny dancers

To round this relatively quiet day off, we’re watching today’s exciting stage of the Tour de France. And finally, a quick check on the seagull chicks: all present and correct.

Life’s a beach

You can’t have a proper holiday without spending a day on the beach. And despite being in the far north of Scotland, that’s exactly what we did today.

I knew the day would be a good’un when Liesel brought me a cup of tea in bed. Followed by toast. The view from our bed is pretty good, so we just sat there and admired it for a couple of hours.

When we finally got up and set off for a walk, of course we went the wrong way. Well, it’s a 50-50 chance. Daisy soon put us right. She looks a bit full, but Liesel declined the offer of a drink of fresh milk.

Udderly full of creamy goodness

We passed by a pretty loch: in fact, there are at least a couple nearby.

Loch Croispol

Past the craft village, past an old church and we found Balnakeil Beach. The wind had really calmed down since yesterday, and there were very few other people on the beach. Just the way we like it.

Balnakeil Beach

What a lovely expanse of sand to walk along. The sand dunes are a Sight of Special Scientific Interest so we’re asked not to walk on them. We thought this might be due to the presence of nesting birds, but other than a few ordinary gulls (no offence, ordinary gulls), we didn’t see anything of unusual ornithological interest today.

We had several attempts at taking a selfie with a decent background. This is the least worst.

Selfie of the day

Halfway along the beach, there’s a rocky outcrop. I investigated, with a view to maybe clambering over to the other half of the beach. This proved too difficult. I could have walked around it, but the tide was too high. So I walked back and around: the long, sensible route that Liesel had taken and I caught up with her having a sit down on a nice grass tussock.

There were lots of little beetles scurrying about on the sand. There are 400,000 species of beetle but I couldn’t quite put my finger on which one this is.

John, Paul, George or Ringo?
Another one

Actually, there was a flock of small birds out on the water, too far away to be able to identify, but some kind of marine duck. They were happy diving but then after a while, we realised they’d disappeared.

The texture of the sand varied. Soft and dry in some places, fairly solid sometimes, and occasionally soft and squidgy, we were leaving quite deep footprints. The sea was very calm today, and as it was unexpectedly warm, I wish I’d brought my swimwear. But until very recently, I never even thought about a sandy beach on the north coast of Scotland, never mind entering the cold Atlantic waters.

We sat down for a while and watched the people. by which I mean the two other people who arrived just as we sat down. They drew a picture in the sand so of course, when they’d wandered off to the other end of the beach, I had to enhance their artwork. After which, we beat a hasty retreat.

A beach with a view

It’s the first day of the Tour de France so while on the beach, we watched it on my phone for a few minutes. What amazing technology, and really unexpected to have such a good 4G signal on the beach a couple of miles from the small town of Durness. You’re using up your 4G data allowance on watching TV, Mick? Yes, I know, strange huh? It’s a long story but I had to guess how much data I’d need for a couple of weeks here, knowing we’d be on Google Maps quite a lot. My previous allowance ran out on our first day here, so I just bought a reasonably big package. 80 GB since you ask. For a month. A week later and I only have 77.97 GB left. So squandering it by watching TV is not likely to cause problems later on!

We walked back along the beach, which was now becoming more busy. Nothing like Formby on a hot day, of course. We had a quick look at the old Balnakeil Church and its graveyard.

Balnakeil Church

I am indebted to Captain Mackay John Scobie whose tomb I sat on while shaking the last of the sand from my shoes. He worked for the so-called Honourable East India Company and died nearby in Keoldale aged just 44 in 1818. Also here is the grave of Elizabeth Parkes, aunt of the famous Beatle John Lennon, according to the information panels.

And as if the day couldn’t get any better, our walk back home took us past the craft village and, oh dearie me, Cocoa Mountain. We enjoyed a coffee here plus some of their fine chocolate.

Neither of us wanted to spend a lot of time looking at all the arty crafty places in the village, but we did venture into Mudness, where Martina MacLeod has been producing ceramics since 1991. Liesel came away with a yarn bowl and a small puffin.

Back at our hut, we watched the rest of the day’s live coverage of the Tour de France on TV, not at all enjoying the two big crashes. Poor old Chris Froome always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it’s great to see Mark Cavendish back at the Tour.

I completed another really difficult Arrow Sudoku puzzle. This one took 75 minutes, a record that I’m not proud of, but I am proud that I solved it at all, in the end. We watched the bunnies, we listened to Classic FM, thanks Moira Stuart and Andrew Collins. Liesel’s crocheting project continues, but I do miss the clicketty-clack of knitting needles!

Strawberries oceans ships forest

On a scale of one to ten, the weather this week has been turned up to eleven. It’s been bright and sunny, with blue skies, a few fluffy clouds, it’s been warm, it’s been Spring-like. At last. Well worth waiting for. We love a bit of sunshine, it’s been a long time coming, after the long remix of Winter that didn’t want to leave us.

We watched the end of the bike race on TV. I know, I know, gorgeous weather outside and we’re still indoors watching TV. But it was the end of this year’s Giro d’Italia, won by Egan Bernal (from Colombia) riding for the British team Ineos Grenadiers, hooray, proud to be British. It was a fascinating race and we saw a lot of the Italian countryside. In the Sun.

Cold
Brr that looks chilly, picture from TV

Mostly. High in the mountains, in ski country, the snow was still literally feet deep.

Deep snow (picture from TV)

We kept looking out of the window, just to make sure our sunshine was still there. Sorry to go on about the weather but it was  welcomed by everyone. Yes of course, some folks are already saying that it’s ‘too hot’ and I’m sure I’ll be guilty of that too eventually, but for now, I’m going to lap up every British thermal unit of heat I can.

So where was our first excursion in the sunshine? Oh, just local. Two bags of litter picked and some happy memories rekindled. I haven’t seen one of these for years, decades probably.

Golden Wonder

Golden Wonder crisps. Nowadays for us it’s all about Tyrrells low- or no-salt. But I wonder how long that packet’s been lurking in the bushes? I did enjoy Golden Wonder sausage and tomato flavour crisps in the late ’70s, but I suspect I’d find them far too salty now.

Fallen branch

I hope this branch was blown off in the last of the strong winds and wasn’t pulled off by our local heavy monkeys swinging from it. But look how bright everything is, and how sharp the shadows. Sorry to keep going on about the sunshine, but it really has been magnificent this week.

Boxx 2 Boxx provided the musical entertainment on bank holiday Monday, thanks to Angie, playing saxophone along to a backing track.

Angie sax

The coffee shop was the most busy I’ve ever seen it, all us pasty white locals taking full advantage of the opportunity. I think we just don’t believe the warm weather is going to last.

The best day of the week was spent at the seaside. We left very early to go to Formby, where we spent the day with William and Martha and Jenny and Liam. The tide was at its lowest, and way over there, we could see the wrecks of some ships that had apparently been scuttled during the second world war.

Wind turbines and ships in the ocean

The beach is flat, so at low tide, the sea is a long way away. As you walk towards it, you have to wade through a couple of dips in the sand. Well, I say sand, but in places, it’s proper mud, as William discovered.

William’s new socks

The children had a ball, we all did, really. We did comment on how popular the place was today. I think Liesel and I are just so used to having the vast expanse pretty much to ourselves.

William and Martha
Four go mad in the sea

Somehow William had learnt that you can wee in the sea. So he decided to save it. But in the end, he had to go at home before they left. It’s good that he’s now aware of such things. But as a grandad stripped from childminding duties because of the pandemic, I feel a slight loss that I won’t need to change his nappies any more. That’s progress, I suppose. Anyway, to celebrate William’s restraint, June 8th has been decreed World Ocean Day.

Selfie of the day
Martha, super sand castle constructor

We ate our picnic lunch on the beach, and as I always say, you can never go hungry on the beach. Why’s that? Because of all the sand which is there. I think I read that joke in a comic about 100 years ago, and it still makes me chuckle, even when it leaves everyone else cold.

For the second week in a row, our grocery order came with the reddest, sweetest, juiciest strawberries you could wish for. They disappear too fast for a family photo, so here are the last two survivors this week.

Strawberries

And while we’re contemplating bright colours, here’s the blanket that Liesel completed this week, a labour of love, a million crochet stitches and if she were being paid even at minimum wage, Liesel would now be a millionaire.

Liesel’s lovely warm crochet blanket

What else have we been up to? Indoors, we’re watching the Danish TV series The Killing and we’re nearly at the end of the third and final series, so please don’t send any spoilers. We watched Jessica Lee Morgan not once, but twice: her own weekly show on Tuesday (subscribe here) and she also replicated her mother, Mary Hopkin’s, show from The Royal Festival Hall, 1972, a concert that of course I wish I’d been to.

And for the first time in ages, we got tickets from the BBC, to watch, online, a recording of an episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. Via the medium of some magic software, they recorded our reactions, clapping, laughter, whoops, wolf whistles for Samantha and it was a very funny show. They asked us not to take pictures or record the show.

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue

Oops.

I’d love to relate some of the gags but, no spoilers here. The new series begins on June 14th, Radio 4 at 6.30, and our episode will be broadcast on July 12th.

I think I spent more time than usual this week preparing my radio show, mainly editing my chat with Tom Hingley from last week and then finding the music, most of which of course was not in our collection. Anyway, it went OK (mostly) and you can hear the result here.

Alternatively, if you’re in or near Wythenshawe on Wednesday, tune into Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2 at 7pm for a (slightly edited) repeat. Or listen via TuneIn.

At the Speed of Sound

Our first day out this week was a return visit to Dunham Massey. It was cloudy but it wasn’t supposed to rain until well after the end of our nice long walk. We wandered around the garden, no longer having to follow a one-way system. Yes, another tangible sign that things are opening up. We still tried not to get too close to other people, but it was very pleasant. And it was interesting to see plants that we’ve not been able to view for a long time.

Purple fircones (not to be confused with the 1970s prog rock group)

I wish I knew what this thing is, with its purple fircones. One day I’ll go back through this blog and insert all the proper names of plants and birds but don’t hold your breath.

Silver birches

These birch trees make us both happy, they always remind me of those paintings by Teri Lindseth that we saw in Anchorage. That was a long two and a half years ago now: I had to check my sums there. But what was nice too was hearing the birds singing their little hearts out.

Where’s Liesel?

The rhododendrons are blooming brilliant, and this one has a strange rose in its midst.

We decided to have a coffee before setting off for another jaunt, this time through the deer park. I don’t know what possessed me but I picked up a Mars bar to have with my coffee. Definitely a spur-of-the-moment, impulse buy. Apart from the small bitesize ones you get in a box of Celebrations, I haven’t eaten a Mars bar for several years. Today, I was reminded exactly why this is the case. Far too sweet and sickly and gooey, I could feel the caramel and nougat dissolving the enamel from my teeth. It made my cheek muscles ache. Luckily, the coffee washed away most of the sugar and I came home with pretty much the full set of gnashers. But, lesson learnt, stay away from Mars bars. Such a shame, because I have happy memories of Dad bringing them home from work, for my sister and me, on a Thursday evening along with the latest edition of Radio Times. Those were the days.

We watched some deer in the deer park, but I missed a great photo opp of one on its back legs reaching up to a nice juicy leafy tree.

Deer, deer

In fact, there was quite a lot of wildlife: deer, squirrels, Canada geese, ducks, moorhens, humans and dogs. So a cacophony of quacks, honks, barks and complaints about the state of everything.

It slowly got darker and darker, then we felt the first few spots of rain. It won’t last, we told ourselves. But it did. And as we were at the furthest point along the path, the rain became torrential. It even hailed for a couple of minutes.

Rain on the water (fire in the sky?)

My waterproof anorak isn’t as waterproof as I thought, but this was its toughest test to date. Liesel’s umbrella did the job though. Two very wet people sat in the car for a few minutes before setting off home. It had been raining hard for maybe half an hour or so, but already, the roads were flooded. We drove through several puddles and would have drenched any passing pedestrians if we’d encountered any.

The splash of water

There’s a nice picture of a water splash, including the bonus reflection of one of my knobbly knees.

And then, just ten minutes down the road, nothing. It hadn’t been raining here at all, we realised. Definitely a case of unfortunately being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I usually have cereal for breakfast, sometimes toast and occasionally both. Many years ago, Liesel couldn’t stand the smell of fried eggs. Now, she is kind enough to fry me a couple of eggs every now and then. Anyway, on this fateful day, I began salivating as I poured out some muesli into the bowl, added a Weetabix and then topped it all off with a couple of handfuls of Shreddies. I poured on the milk, and sat down in my usual spot on the sofa to enjoy my breakfast while watching a recording of the previous day’s stage of the Giro d’Italia. The first spoonful had barely entered the orifice before it was violently expelled across the room. The milk was off. Sour. Putrid. Vile. What’s the ‘best before’ date? Well, today. How did it know that today was the day to turn rancid? And why didn’t the smell warn me? And why were there no giveaway globules of fat floating around? Disbloomingusting. To take the taste away required black tea and toothpaste and I was tempted to gnaw on a raw onion. Yuck, yuck and thrice yuck. In unrelated news, if you need someone to provide a pebbledashing service, I am waiting for your call. Small projects only.

A quick walk around the streets of Northenden and we saw our old friend lurking.

Where’s the heron?

It’s good to see the playground full of little children again, squealing, screaming and laughing, it’s been a while. One day, we’ll be in there having a good time with our William and Martha.

Our second proper day out this week, to a place beyond Northenden, was a return visit to Lyme Park. I may have been overdoing it by very nearly walking 10,000 steps most days, but my old body wasn’t having it on this occasion. From the car park, there’s a slope to walk up to reach the house and the gardens. At the top, I had to stop to catch my breath. My heart rate was 105 according to the app. I thought my breathlessness issue had pretty much gone away, but no, like a really bad, annoying penny, it came right back to remind me who’s boss. Sometimes I wish I smoked 50 fags a day just so that I’d have something to give up.

Anyway, I recovered, and we walked around the gardens, but not the long route around the park which I’d mentally set myself up for. Oh well. At least we didn’t get rained on today.

There’s a nice Italianate garden here and lots of rhododendron bushes in flower, but one thing that caught our attention was this holly bush growing out of a crack in a brick wall.

Holly

There are many more goslings here than during our previous visit, and most of them look pretty healthy, but there was one poor wee chap who toppled over after every few steps taken.

I stood still near the bird feeder in vain for far too long, waiting for the coal (or great?) tit to return. I even hid behind a tree watching through my phone. But Liesel thinks my bright blue t-shirt might have been a deterrent.

We’ve notice several piles of dead trees around Lyme Park, but we don’t know why. Has there been some fatal disease? Or is this part of the general management of the park? There were quite a few gardeners around today, but we didn’t want to approach any of them to ask. A sign I suppose that even though we’ve been inoculated, we’re not 100% comfortable with too much social non-distancing.

Our third day out this week (yes, third, how exciting!) was to Sale Water Park where we met Jenny and William. He scooted (scootered?) all the way around the lake, a distance of 2.1 miles according to my pedometer.

William the scooterer
Danger overhead fishing lines

There were quite a few people fishing here, away from the power cables. A few had big tents to hide in while their three rods did all the hard work for them. But the thought of eating fish from this particular body of water (if I ate fish at all) was not appealing.

Squirrel in a bin

We were all amused by seeing this squirrel in the bin, but we couldn’t understand why somebody would want to throw it away.

Jenny asked William what this structure was…

Pylon

Surely he doesn’t know the word ‘pylon’, does he? No. ‘It’s an Eiffel Tower’. His teachers are going to love him when he starts school!

He wore his helmet while scootering (scooting?) so when he took it off, his hair was a bit of a mess. Which he laughed at when he saw his reflection in the water.

William and Mummy

Today it was Jenny’s birthday, so we gave her something nice, which she unwrapped so that William could see, but he’s not interested in gin at the moment, maybe it was too early in the day. We gathered up everyone we could find in the park, and we gave Jenny a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

Martha was at school today but we hope to catch up with her at some point during the two-week long half-term holiday. Two weeks? It’s a northern thing, apparently.

In the evening we went out. Out out. To a proper place for a proper live music event. Our first gig since before the first lockdown. We were in a marquee at The Kings Lock in Middlewich to see Tom Hingley. While there, I interviewed him for my radio show. He was very generous with his time, and I hope I can use some of it on the show. We were seated right by the canal, with running water, and a busy road just the other side, so I hope the background noise wasn’t too bad: all I had to record on was my phone. Still, what a top bloke.

Tom Hingley

The marquee was as covid-safe as they could manage, fairly well ventilated, although the stench of cigarette smoke did waft in occasionally. Each party was seated at a table and a young lady came round every now and then to take our bar orders, which were then delivered.

The first song Tom performed was Saturn 5 which, by coincidence, was the final song that I’d played during my radio show today. Ooh my radio show. What was the theme this week? Well, I celebrated the return of Live Music, something we’ve missed quite a lot. I may have mentioned that before, actually. So this week, I played tracks from some of my favourite live albums, from concerts that I’d been to and from some that I wish I’d witnessed. You can listen back here. Just remember to pre-order your drinks, and don’t forget to chat to your friends all the way through (oops, sorry, I wasn’t going to whinge about anything this week).

Hurdling and Hokitika

This blog is now three years old. When it started, we were looking forward to moving house and to travelling for a year. We accomplished both of those, all well documented here, if you want to look back.

But right now it feels like we’re just waiting for the next Big Thing. Real life is on hold while we fight and fight off the pandemic. On one hand, nothing much is happening right now. On the other hand, every day is an adventure.

Many, many years ago, Liesel’s Granny made a huge donut for little Liesel to sit on or in. This week the donut has been refurbished, re-stuffed, and it has taken up residence in the spare room.

Liesel’s donut

The ‘sprinkles’ are all new, randomly spaced over the toroidal surface and the stuffing is brand new too: it had been emptied for easier transportation from AK to the UK.

As requested, I went downstairs one morning to pick up the package that had been left but, disappointingly (for me), it was for Liesel.

Pretty yarn

A box of brightly coloured yarn that will be brilliantly turned into a brace of beautiful blankets for our beautiful grandchildren.

Plus, as if that won’t keep her occupied full time for a few weeks, Liesel has started work on a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Can you tell what it is yet?

2000 pieces: count ’em

By contrast, while my activities and pastimes are interesting and enjoyable, I can’t really point at the end results and say ‘Look what I done’. You can listen to my latest radio show of course. I spent far too long whittling a long, long playlist of songs about birds down to a mere two hours. Please catch up here for lots of birdie noises.

The long-term, long-deferred and long-duration project known as ‘Sorting out the photographs’ continues apace. So many photos but so many missing as well. I can’t believe there’s another box lurking somewhere, but there are some notable omissions. This is, of course, why they needed sorting out in the first place.

Here’s an example of an old picture that I found.

Mick the Hurdler

Not many people know that I was once a champion hurdler. Well, I was good at hurdling for one season when 12 years old, but the following year at school, the height of the hurdles was raised a couple of inches, and I found it harder to get my leg over (oo-er missus) and keep a good stride and rhythm. So, I had another go a few decades later, just for fun. And yes, that is Jenny in the background.

And here in The 100 Club is Joe Strummer, somebody’s big head and Bez from the Happy Mondays dancing on the left. That was a good, hot, sweaty, exciting night, remind me to tell you about it one day.

Joe Strummer and Bez

I know, the irony of the ‘No Photography’ sign is not lost on me!

Yes, Liesel and I did go outside a few times this week. I won’t mention the weather. D’oh! Nothing much changes around here. A recently flooded path, one that we sometimes walk on, has been churned up nicely.

Someone’s been driving on the path

Hi-tech river-height measuring device

This is a funny place to put it, but if you can find a way to get under the bridge over the Mersey, you can stand by the tape measure to see how tall you are. The gate it still locked, so if people want to walk along what is still a dangerous path by the river, they have to climb over it.

One morning, I woke up to another pretty sunrise.

A Northenden sunrise through the window

I realise that some of my photos should be sorted out straight into the rubbish bin, but we’ll take any amount of sunshine and blue, or even pink, skies right now.

Meanwhile, it’s Waitangi Day in New Zealand. So here’s some driftwood art.

Kia Ora, Hokitika

Hokitika in on the west coast of South Island. It’s a lovely little place and I hope we’ll be able to visit again one day. My sister Pauline is visiting for the weekend with Andrew and they kindly sent me some photos, thank you. You don’t see many dragons in New Zealand. Happy Waitangi Day!

Remember the donut? Every time we walk past the spare room, it seems to be bigger. It’s alive!

Donut one day

Donut a few days later

 

A nightmare

Nothing ever changes, nothing changes at all. Those song lyrics popped into my head on one of our walks this week. But as I later realised, the actual lyrics in the Del Amitri song are: Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all. Both versions are correct at the moment, we’re living a very straightforward, unexciting lifestyle, thanks to the pandemic and the lockdowns and rules and regulations and guidelines and mainly, concern for our own safety.

But there are of course variations on a theme. Sometimes we walk that way instead of this way. We walked to Wythenshawe Park and home again, around a big loop.

Vandalised statue

It makes a change to walk on grass rather than footpaths and muddy tracks, but it was, let’s say, a bit damp in places. Our very own, local Grimpen Mire: plenty of well-hidden puddles to catch us out and some a bit easier to spot.

Puddle

We haven’t been to the zoo for a while, but I was delighted to see a Hippo in Northenden.

Hippo

Online, we watched a couple of events from Manchester Literature Festival. A tribute to Nina Simone, and an interview with Tori Amos, who is currently locked down in Cornwall.

Kate Feld interviews Tori Amos

Also online this week, some rascal started a rumour that Woolworths was coming back to our High Streets. This is the good news we Brits have been waiting for, so what a shame it turned out to be a hoax. I still have my faithful Woolies notebooks though, and if your offer is high enough, you could own it!

Very old notebook

Walking by the river is always a pleasure, though sometimes tempered by the concern that it might start raining before we get home. The Sun tried hard to make itself visible through the 99% cloud cover, and I did catch it in the river, briefly.

The Sun in splendour

Skulls of the day

I found these skulls in the window of the tattoo parlour next to Church Lane Chippy, not sure if they’re always there or just for Halloween. I don’t often look in windows of tattoo parlours, but I was waiting for my chips!

We trudged through the Autumn leaves in the woods, and again mourned the fact that William wasn’t with us, exploring the jungle.

Leaf of the day

Leaves of the day

The bed of wet leaves on the ground at this time of year always reminds me of cross-country running at school. It was only ever an Autumn and Winter activity, because in the Summer term, we did proper athletics instead. And yes, I have manipulated the colours in that picture.
‘Don’t take that picture, Mick, they’ll think you’re a burglar casing the joint,’ said Liesel. ‘Well, if they don’t want me to take a picture of their house, they shouldn’t put a pretty, red bush in front of it.’

Red bush of the day

In other news, one day, Liesel baked 48 cookies. What an achievement! We rose to the challenge and consumed them all within three days: well, no need to let them to go stale!
As I write, it’s Halloween and our much-loved and much-missed grandchildren are having a great time in their suitably, spookily decorated house.

Cookie monsters of the day

As a tangential nod to Halloween, in my radio show this week, I built a body from spare parts found in song titles and song lyrics. After last week’s ‘dreams’ theme, I had a bit of a nightmare this week, when the PC refused to accept that the microphone was connected. The only solution was to reboot. Which meant the show began uncomfortably late. Listen here and listen out for Martha!

Valletta and Sliema

Guess what? I rashly did something I hadn’t done for over forty years and the chances are I won’t repeat the experience for another forty years.

I went out for a walk around Paceville with a couple of chores in mind. Plus, of course, the desire to clock up at least 10,000 steps. I am in training for a major challenge in March, remember.

Anyway, I was admiring the local flora and fauna, some of which is very surprising.

The tactful cactus by the roadside

Yes, I wondered too, and I can confirm, this is a real cactus. It looks a bit out of place amongst the dandelions and other small weeds flowers. I was going to walk to the top of the hill, but once the pavement disappeared and the road became too narrow for safety, I gave up.

Eventually, I found my way to the barbershop and I was invited to return an hour later. I passed the time back in Valyou buying just four items and managing to get one of those wrong. What I thought was moisturiser turns out to be moisturising soap, although the word ‘soap’ appears nowhere on the bottle. So confusing. How I yearn for the ’80s when everything was a system. A bar of soap was known as a ‘hand-washing system’. You knew where you were, then.

Anyway, back in the barber’s, I declined the offer of an espresso and asked for a glass of water instead. I enjoyed some nice easy listening, such as Adele and this was followed by the whole unexpurgated version of Gangsta’s Paradise. Coolio! In fact, they played the whole album.

What did I want? A trim and a shave. A wet shave? Oh alright then, yes please. So began a whole hour of being ‘pampered’. So much goo and gloop on my face and hair. Some of the product stung a bit, the green paste smelt a bit like chocolate, the hot, wet towel over the face was nice, once I got over the feeling of being water-boarded. All conveniently located orifices were poked, prodded, probed and shorn and  eyebrows were trimmed. But my first wet shave in nearly half a century wasn’t at all refreshing nor relaxing.
What a haircut
When I returned home, the first thing Liesel noticed was my red face and red neck. Several hours later, she noticed red spots of blood and other marks on my chin and cheek. And even the lighest shower later in the day made my face sting. ‘Is your face hurting?’ Yes, a bit. ‘Because it’s killing me!’ Haha. Liesel did like my new smooth skin, something she has no previous experience of. But it’s interesting, and disappointing, to realise that the skin on my face and neck hasn’t toughened up one iota since I was a teenager.
All you need is love
The shadow is cast mid-afternoon. The sculpture well located. Its twin casts a shadow on the water of the bay, but it’s not easily readable except, presumably, on a really calm day.

Meanwhile, Liesel nodded off at home in the Sun, which is OK, but she also forgot to put the chocolate fingers back in the fridge, and that’s not OK!
Sunset over St Julian’s
We can see the sunset from our fifth floor apartment, but as it’s behind a very built-up area, on a hill, it’s not as spectacular as some others we’ve witnessed.

In the evening, we went for a short walk for some dinner. Italian rather than Maltese, so we’re getting closer to proper local food. It was a bit chilly walking back: yes, even I have to admit that!

The plan was to get up early and set off for Valletta. Well, the first time I looked at the clock, it was just before 10am. I slept well despite the ridiculous work-related dream in which the house numbers were in the wrong order and I had both a bike and a trolley to contend with. So glad I don’t have to do that sort of thing in real life any more!

We caught a bus to Valletta, retracing some of yesterday’s walk. We didn’t realise beforehand that this is Carnival weekend, and we were delighted to see a collection of brightly coloured floats.
One of the floats
The square was very busy and most of the children were dressed in very elaborate costumes. We saw princesses and unicorns, Disney and Harry Potter characters but also quite a few fire fighters, soldiers and other public servants.
Policemen get younger every year
Luckily, he didn’t arrest us. But what a shame that it’s no longer deemed acceptable to take pictures of strange children in strange places, even when they’ve gone to the great effort of drawing attention to themselves.
Independence Monument
Here in the Independence Ground, I indulged in a crêpe and, being British, I chose lemon and sugar. The person in front plumped for a pancake covered in Nutella to which the young lady added three Kinder bars. In unrelated news, Malta apparently has the highest rate of childhood obesity in Europe.
The cat sat on the train

Elvis lives
Some of the music was a bit loud, which safely drowned out me singing along to Abba.
A bee but not a Manchester bee
Once past the city gates, Valletta occupies a mere 1 km by 600 m peninsula, at the end of which we find St Elmo Bay and Fort St Elmo.

Liesel had a rest in the warmth of the Sun while I set off in search of a public toilet. It didn’t look too far to walk on Google Maps but in reality, I had to walk all round the houses, up and up a hill, into a nice little park. I know, TMI maybe, but, mid-stream, a foghorn went off and I jumped out of my skin!
Cargo ship with a very loud foghorn
It was only this huge cargo ship, almost too big for the harbour, but it got my heart rate up for a moment!

I feel sad and disappointed that we’d missed out on Expo 2015 in Milan, probably on account of not knowing about it at the time. I’m sure it would have been good fun. But, no matter. On the way back to Liesel today, I went into (the back door of) the Malta Experience museum, by St Elmo Bastions, to see if I could buy a couple of coffees to take away. Yes, of course. I don’t think many people ask for this service, but all the tables were occupied.
Expo 2015 cup
No, we didn’t keep the cup as a souvenir.

As well as seafood, the main meat on offer here in Malta seems to be rabbit.
Rabbit, tastes of chicken, apparently
We did try our first pastizzi today: one cheese and one pea. Lava-hot molten cheese on an unsuspecting tongue was made bearable by the overall experience of very flaky filo pastry. Liesel’s not usually a fan of mushy peas but this was more than OK!

We were persuaded by a very persuasive man to go for a ride on his karrozin, a horse-drawn carriage. He offered us mates’ rates, €35 instead of €40 plus, he’d drive us all round the city for 40 minutes instead of 35! Well, he chucked us off after a mere twenty minutes and of course, with a tip, we paid €40 anyway. I told his horse it might be boring dragging visitors around Valletta all day, but at least he didn’t have to run the Grand National.

One thing we noticed in Valletta, and even away from the city, is the large number of memorials dedicated to World War 2. In fact, the first stop on our karrozin mini-tour was the World War 2 Siege Memorial.
WW2 Siege Memorial
Mick and Liesel with our horse (centre)
We both commented on how slippery the pavements were. Very smooth, totally different to the ‘textured’ (lumpy, bumpy, unfinished) sidewalks in Paceville. It was funny to see that even the locals would occasionally slip and slide on the smooth marble-like paving stones. On the other hand, where the gradient was too steep even for Maltese feet, they put in some steps.
A pair of sidewalks
We watched people in and around Upper Barrakka for a while. I found a cup of coffee for 40 cents, which was nothing special, but it came in a polystyrene cup! I’d rather have a 5-year old Milan Expo cup, thanks very much!

In terms of wildlife, we didn’t see much. Just a shark, a cat and an octopus, really.
A sleepy cat, a tasty octopus and a scary shark
We caught a bus back to Sliema where we dined and imbibed before walking back home. As soon as the Sun dipped below the built-up western part of town, we noticed a dip in the temperature. We’d been told that the tap water here is safe to drink, just not very nice. But we didn’t expect to be buying water all the way from Wales, in a glass bottle! Mind you, they probably get enough rain there to top up the supply.
Water from Wales
I can’t get over the irony of this town being quite hilly and bumpy, and yet our walking has primarily been fairly flat, along the water front. After a good night’s sleep, we again walked to Sliema. The plan had been to catch a bus back to Valletta and visit the National Museum of Archeology. But the queue at the bus stop was huge and very disorganised, we thought we’d rather walk than stand up on a bus.

For the first time since the 2012 London Olympics, we saw some water polo being played. Only little people, but it was good to see. If only I’d brought my cossie.
Water polo
Again, we enjoyed seeing what other people were up to, whether locals or visitors. Imagine you’re standing underneath a rusty drainpipe during a rainstorm. Well, that’s the only possible way that lady acquired hair that colour. We passed a lady painting the view, and I felt inadequate for merely touching a white button on my phone to capture the same scene. I suspect her picture has more soul, though. The man standing over there waiting to be drenched by an incoming wave was very brave/daft* (*delete as applicable).
An artist at work
A wannabe Cnut
Some of the pedestrian crossings appear to be sponsored by a chain of coffee shops.
Crossing the line
Well, this subliminal advertising didn’t work on us: despite what I said earlier, we made a return visit to French Affaire for coffee and lunch. And I uttered not a single word of French, except when Liesel asked me what French for carrot cake was, and I replied ‘gâteau des carrotes’, which I think is pretty close.
Diana failing to attarct us too
Of all the images they could have used, the late Princess of Wales doesn’t make me want to visit this place.
A new build on top of a more attractive older one
By now, it was too late to visit the museum, so we went home, listened to the radio and read our books. I succeeded in completing a couple of sudokus, wrote for a while and we fought the ant invasion in our fifth-floor Airbnb apartment!

It’s peaceful here but we do hear quite a few sirens in the distance, not to mention probably just one or two boy racers riding their motor bikes at 100 mph while still in first gear. The building works have stopped for the weekend, but we haven’t heard as many church bells as we expected on a Sunday.

Burritos, Bowie, Bikes, Balls

A Mermaid greeted us when we went to look after William this week. Of course, it was Martha, not a real mermaid, and it was a shame she had to change into her uniform to go to nursery!

We endured a foggy drive to Chester Zoo this time, but unusually, on arrival, there wasn’t a cold wind in the car park. William set the pace as we walked around, often hanging around in the same area, especially when it entailed standing in the mud. He was as excited to watch a squirrel scurry by on the fence as he was to see the elephants.

Oma, William, elephant

The end of the line

The monorail is now being demolished, which is a shame: that was always a good way to pass some time, queueing up for a ride.

We did feel sorry for the penguins, though: someone’s taken the plug out of their pool and they were plodding around, looking a bit forlorn.

P-p-p-poor old p-p-p-penguins

William slept in the car in both directions and as soon as we dropped him off at home, Liesel and I went home. We had plans, things to do, places to be.

After waiting for a bus for too long and witnessing several going by in the wrong direction, we decided to drive into Manchester instead. We’d like to use public transport but it’s just not a good or reliable enough service in Manchester.

Listo Burrito

We enjoyed a burrito at Listo Burrito, infamous for its burritos, apparently.

A Bowie Celebration brings together several musicians who have worked with David Bowie at some point, whether playing live or on record. The Bowie Alumni Band was brought together by Mike Garson, who performed with Bowie over a thousand times. Tonight, the band played at Manchester’s O2 Ritz. Doors opened at 7pm. We arrived in very good time, to join a long line of even more eager people, all hoping to snare one of the few seats available. It’s an old dance hall, really, so it’s pretty much all standing around.

O2, the telcommunication company, obviously provide the wifi at this venue. But I got a better signal from Gorilla, a place over the road. We tried not to stare too much at the fellow audience members, some even older than me, many wearing Bowie t-shirts from his numerous incarnations. There were a few young people too but we saw nobody with the red Ziggy hairstyle or the Aladdin Sane lightning flash on their face.

Inside, we went upstairs and stood at the front of the balcony, overlooking the stage and the dancefloor below. We watched as the venue filled while listening to a Mike Garson record: Bowie Variations, which I can highly recommend.

A great view of the stage

Even though we were standing, we were able to lean on the barrier and we resisted being squeezed out by other people. Sadly, we’ll never see David Bowie live in concert again, but this would be a good second best. We’ll never see Beethoven in action either, but we still enjoy his music being played live, though not necessarily by people he actually performed with.

Tonight, the band played the whole of the Diamond Dogs album, sharing the vocals between three great but very different vocalists: Mr Hudson, Corey Glover and Sass Jordan.

It was loud, but very faithful to the original album. I sang along of course, and noticed a couple of faux pas on the part of the professionals. It should be ‘fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats’, even I know that!

I remember buying and playing Diamond Dogs for the very first time, in 1974, amazed that after Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie could still come up with some fantastic lyrics and wonderful tunes. Tonight we were both reminded just how much his music has a jazz influence, especially with Mike Garson in the mix.

What a shame George Orwell’s widow didn’t allow Bowie to turn 1984 into a musical, the original idea. Diamond Dogs is a mix between that and his own perception of some future dystopia: but not too far in the future.

We thought there’d be an interval after Diamond Dogs, but no, they kept going. Space Oddity next. By now, I had a slightly sore throat from singing along and my tinnitus had been turned up to 11, but it was worth it, such an emotional show for me, and for many others, no doubt.

Bowie Celebration: the Alumni Band

Suffragette City was very exciting, and if you’ve never heard 1500 people in unison shriek ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am’, well, it’s very therapeutic!

Rock’n’roll Suicide always brings a tear to the eye.

Everyone sang along to Heroes, another opportunity for the lacrimal glands to kick into gear.

Two hours and twenty minutes of wallowing in the past, fantastic. A good review and more photos can be seen here.

I never thought I’d need so many people

It was a most enjoyable show. But for the sake of us old codgers: a seated venue might be better. And please turn down the bass a tad because we’re already losing the higher frequencies, thanks!

I don’t know. We don’t go out in the evening for a while and then we go out twice within a few days! The 2020 HSBC UK National Track Cycling Championships finals took place at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester this weekend. We attended one session, on Saturday evening, and we undoubtedly witnessed some cycling stars of the future. My favourite cycling team is now Team Terminator: they’ll be back.

A great view of the track

The commentary was pretty good, if a little cheesey at times. But there was no ‘turning the screw’, nor ‘putting down the hammer’, nor ‘ lighting the afterburners’ but as Liesel pointed out, these clichés usually apply to road races. One of tonight’s races did ‘go down to the wire’, so anyone playing ‘cycling commentary bingo’ didn’t totally waste their time. Proud to have been part of an ‘awsome audience’, though.

Winner of the National Bobble Hat Wearing Championships

In years to come, we’ll be looking out for the new British Men’s Points Race Champion, ‘the Welshman from Wales’, Rhys Britton. I don’t know the name of the model sporting this rather delightful bobble hat, quite a distraction from the racing, to be honest.

Other names to look out for are Lauren Bell who won the Keirin, Hamish Turnbull, the new Sprint champ and Ella Barnwell, the new Scratch Race champion, taking over from Laura Kenny, who wasn’t here to defend her title on this occasion. I was watching the Derny bike rider leading the Keirin races and I thought, I could do that. If I were looking for a job.

It was an exciting night but next time, I think I’ll take my real camera, the medal ceremonies were just too far away  for good pics. The music and the roar of the crowd weren’t too loud today and the tinnitus was not affected, you’ll be pleased to know.

Not a bad action shot with a phone camera

In a change to normal programming, we looked after Martha and William on Sunday while their parents went on a secret mission.

The Ice Cream Farm was very busy today, the water was in full flow thanks to the numerous older children ready and eager to turn on the taps, use the Archimedes screw, open the sluices and generally send water to places it’s not supposed to be.

William v water

We played in the sand for a while too. Not ‘we’, I mean ‘they’, of course. Any sandcastle I might have built was soon demolished by William.

The children wore themselves out in the softplay area. Here is Martha carrying the balls to some small cannons, from which she was able to shoot across the play area, trying to hit the targets while missing the other children, mostly.

Martha v cannon balls

We drove home and despite the extreme state of exhaustion, sleep eluded us all. And indoors, Martha used Liesel’s crochet hook to demolish a skein of yarn.

Martha v yarn

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner on their return, and afterwards, Liesel and I spent over 12 hours untangling the yarn. Next time, we’ll make sure Martha untangles her own tangles.

Toad in the hole

Two bits of good news. My replacement bluetooth keyboard has arrived, and it works perfectly so, once again, I’ll be able to write blogs and other nonsense while away from home and not in a library or internet café! Plus, my first toad-in-the-hole in the new luxury apartment came out very well. Very nice, very tasty, as they say.

I see icy

But it didn’t prepare us for what occurred the following morning. There I was, still in bed, Liesel came in, threw back the curtains and said I had to see this.
‘What, rain?’ I asked.
‘No, snow,’ she replied. Lo and behold, it was snowing. I said I wasn’t going anywhere today, thank you very much. Well, the snow didn’t last long and didn’t settle, but when I did go out for a walk later on in the sunshine, I was surprised at how cold it still was outside. I didn’t walk very far today. Brrr.