A Day of Two Halves

As predicted, a slight cloud cover this morning made us wonder whether that was Summer, then. But no, it’s still warm, and we took the day off to go to the seaside.

We’d been to Formby before, but today was much warmer. In places, the sand was too hot to walk on with bare feet. The last time I remember that happening in England was on the Isle of Wight, in 1978, pre children, pre marriage, a long, long time ago!

We had a lovely walk on the beach though: where the sand was still slightly damp, it was much more comfortable underfoot. And the offshore wind farm was doing a good job of blowing a cool, calm breeze our way. We watched a large ship navigate through the turbines, or so it seemed from our point of view. That would be a fascinating photo, I thought. But no. Due to bad planning, I’d left the camera at home. Instead, here’s a selfie that we took with Liesel’s phone:

The Irish Sea behind us

We sat and lay down for a short while and I very nearly nodded off. But Liesel’s declaration of hunger prompted us to move off to find some lunch. A local Co-op provided sandwiches and crisps and, for me, a one-litre carton of chocolate milk. This is the drink of choice after a long bike ride and it was the best offering in the shop today. I must have been thirsty: it was all gone by the time we stopped at Sainsbury’s for some shopping.

It was a bit scary though. I was wearing a white polo shirt. These seem to attract food and drink stains, so the idea of drinking chocolate milk, from a carton, in a moving car, had an element of risk. But no spillage occured, the shirt is still pristine!

I thought the chocolate and the sugar would perk me up a bit. But no, it had the exact opposite effect. I really did need a nap, now. A cup of coffee in the supermarket didn’t help in this respect, either.

So, when we got home, I had to lie down and rest my eyes for a while. Meanwhile, Liesel was on the phone to our travel agent.

We have, she has, now booked our first few flights. So, we have the beginnings of the skeleton of our gap year travels. Plans to spend some time in Vancouver and/or take a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska have been shelved, this time round. Because we’re leaving home so much later than originally anticipated, we just want to reach AK before the really bad Winter weather sets in.

So that’s terrific. We’re under starters orders and we’ll soon be off.

Liesel also made a nice dip to take round to Jenny’s this evening. We went to join Jenny and Helen to watch England’s semi-final game in the World Cup.

On this day 33 years ago, Sarah, Jenny and I moved from Peterborough to Chessington, into the house that Liesel and I moved from just last week.

Although we were gathered together to watch a football game with Liam and his parents too, it felt strangely ‘right’ to be spending time with Jenny and Helen, and with the two grandchildren that Sarah missed out on.

Martha was fully supporting ‘our team’

and she knows ‘Football’s coming home’. I explained this motto to Liesel but as it’s from a song from 1996 and it has changed its emphasis and meaning over the years, I’m not sure I was convinced myself that I was telling the truth.

I also had to explain that World Cup Willie was the England mascot from the 1966 World Cup, not a medical complaint experienced by men who watch too much football on TV.

Well, England lost to Croatia and then Liesel and I came home instead.

Water Sports

Early Thursday morning, I drove Liesel to the railway station. Gatley is the closest, but Stockport made more sense. From Gatley, to go to London Euston, you’d have to change at Manchester Piccadilly or Crewe. It’s a 2-hour trip from Stockport. The train was packed, and Liesel had the pleasure of standing up in the train manager’s special little compartment. She was standing and chatting with a barrister, both really needed a seat for medical reasons. The train manager gave them permission to go and sit in First Class. Which was great, but the air conditioning was on full blast. But it would have been churlish to complain about that, so they did the British thing, whinged to each other, assumed stiff upper lips and enjoyed siting down, at least!

Meanwhile, I was having more fun, taking the first car-load of rubbish to the local tip. Lots of our packaging material that can’t really be reused, although the hundreds of emptied cardboard boxes are up for grabs.

The long process of informing businesses of our new address continues. Thames Water have sent their final bill from our old house. Great. But somehow, we have acquired two different account numbers with United Utilities, our new water supplier. This is the company that didn’t even know it had installed a new water meter here, so that I wondered whether I’d just read the wrong one! Fun and games with water companies!

Our solicitor sent another form for me to sign. He sent it by email, a PDF attachment. I was to print it out, sign it and post it back. So I had to set up my computer and the printer. But before that, I had to build the desk for the PC, the shelf unit for the printer and find all the other bits and pieces and cables. Here’s a tip: make sure all the tools and the nuts and bolts and screws for furniture are easy to find!

And we have no internet yet either, so it was with a great sense of relief that I was able to copy the PDF file to the computer via a USB cable. Not sure I could have done that with the old iPhone: top marks, nice, new Samsung Galaxy!

Form printed and signed. Now, where are the envelopes and the stamps?

In the local newsagent and the local Post Office of course. This was my cue (and excuse) to go for a walk in the local neighbourhood. Errands complete, I continued along Palantine Road to the bridge over the river Mersey. Yes, that river Mersey, the famous one. I followed it for a while and took the first interesting photo in this neck of the woods.

Mersey at Northenden

I suspect, in the fullness of time, when we’re more settled, we’ll be walking and cycling along the towpath a lot.

On Friday, I waited in for the Futon to be delivered. I was told it weighed 250kg and my first thought was, I hope it doesn’t fall through the floor.

I knew I’d never carry it upstairs on my own, and I suspect Liesel and I would have struggled together. So I went onto Grindr and looked for two, strong, strapping young men to come round and (help me!) carry the Futon up two flights of stairs. No, not Grindr. Google. I Googled a local removal company in the hope that they would help out at short notice. And I found one.

The delivery guy left our furniture on a pallet outside at the back of the flats. He wasn’t allowed to enter the premises for cock and bull ‘not insured’ reasons. So thanks to Dave and his mate who came by and did the heavy lifting for me.

And just in time too. I had to collect Liesel from the station after her very short return visit to Chessington.

She’d met up with our friend Sarah, up from Exeter, at Waterloo Station. Then in the evening, she went to the WI Book Group meeting, and they were kind enough to give her a £45 book token for Waterstones. This, plus the M&S vouchers she was given by the WI group as a whole is a sign of real affection and gratitude. Much more generous than Liesel’s former employers: she’s well out of that company.

It took Liesel and me about an hour to construct the Futon and it is really comfortable. Much nicer than the sofa we’d left behind 😉

We went round to Jenny’s for fish and chips (cheese and onion pie for me). Poor Martha was heart-broken when Mummy and Daddy ‘went out to the shops’. I remember when Jenny was inconsolable whenever her Mum went out too. I know it’s just a phase, but it’s horrible to watch, because there’s nothing really you can do. Except, on this occasion, they took Martha with them and she fell asleep in the car.

Today, Saturday, though, we went round to look after the children again. And again, Mummy and Daddy went out but this time, they couldn’t take Martha. It was lunchtime, and all we could do was try and distract her with Peppa Pig and encourage her to eat her lunch.

Which she did. Hollow legs has Martha: two Babybels, yellow pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, bread, crisps, cake, water melon, ice cream with a Flake. She was, by now a really happy bunny!

Martha

William’s a wonderfully laid-back little guy. He’s really happy playing by himself but he likes company too. Liesel had her first really dirty nappy changing experience with him! He is so close to crawling, but he just can’t quite get pushing his little legs. He can push himself backwards, rotate on his belly, roll over onto his back and onto his front. But not move forwards, yet!

And fidget. Boy, does he fidget. Always moving, arms twitching, legs kicking. I can hear my old teachers saying to him in the future, “Sit still, William”, “Stop fidgeting, William”, “Have you got ants in your pants, William?”

William

It’s been a joy to spend time with both of them after being so caught up in our own little house-move for so long. In the garden Martha had a great time in her paddling pool. Even William had a bit of a paddle. Fun and games with water!

In the pool

After a while, I realised he was in need of a kip, so I carried him back inside and he very quickly fell asleep.

But all good things come to an end. And when Jenny and Liam came home this afternoon, Liesel and I went to a little bit of Sweden while their football team played England in the World Cup quarter finals. Yes, we bought some more furniture and other bits and pieces from Ikea. More heavy stuff to lug upstairs, but we manged this time. Here’s a tip: it’s OK to unpack Ikea furniture at the bottom of the stairs and carry it up piece by piece!

Never mind the World Cup, though, the Tour de France started today. Unusually, today’s first stage was a proper road race in which most of the main contenders fell off, broke wheeels or got held up by other crashes.

Hello to our Fans

After two nights staying at Jenny’s place, we are tonight sleeping on the blow-up bed in our own luxury apartment. I carried Liesel over the threshold. There are only 32 stairs, not the expected 40, I don’t know where we got that idea from but the 20% reduction in climbing is a bonus.

It’s still hot and sticky and even after the long, long, wet Winter, we are being threatened with a hosepipe ban. But that’s ok, we no longer have a garden and we have passed on the garden hose to a nearby daughter with a nice garden to water sometimes!

The removal men were fantastic. They lost several pounds in weight by lugging all our stuff up two flights of stairs. I was on the phone when they arrived at Jenny’s to drop off a few crates, all Jenny’s and Helen’s old, old, old schoolwork, toys, books and so on. So Liesel drove to our flat to let them in there. I followed a bit later, walking the three and a bit miles. It was a nice, quiet walk, mostly through residential neighbourhoods. But then, the last half mile or so was a bit smelly. The tip is quite close and it was ripe. This would be a good cycling route, in the future, so that’s good!

Sainsbury’s on a Wednesday morning here wasn’t too frenetic, compared with all the supermarkets local to Chessington which seemed to be incredibly busy all the time, which is why we’ve been using Ocado for the last few years. A nice group of robots do our shopping for us and then a nice (usually) man (usually) delivers it to our door. We are not being paid for this endorsement of Ocado.

We rearranged the boxes and crates, seemingly hundreds of them, so the flat is now much more ordered. I rebuilt some items of furniture and there were no bits left over. Bonus! Liesel is making the best of a much smaller kitchen than we had before, but like most things, we’ll get used to all the differences, in time.

It was a delight to find and unpack one of our fans. We really need the air to move around, especially late afternoon into early evening, when the Sun shines in through the living room windows and the two main bedroom windows. It was even better to locate the second fan, so tht’s now cooling down the bedroom where we’re sleeping tonight.

Last night, we watched most of the World Cup football game between Colombia and England. As a Kirsty McColl fan, I was really hoping the score would be England 2 Colombia 0, but sadly not. England won the penalty shoot-out (hooray!) and will play in the quarter finals on Saturday.

Wimbledon tennis championships started this week too. But the sporting event we’re both looking forward to is the Tour de France, which starts on Saturday. Chris Froome is trying to win for the fifth time. And the good news is, we’ll be able to watch it on TV because that was unpacked, connected up, plugged in and retuned late yesterday afternoon. Priorities: get the TV working! But, really, we just wanted to be able to listen to the radio, which we can do via Freeview. We do have some actual radio sets somewhere, but despite some fairly rigorous labelling, all the boxes look the same after a while.

So here we are. New digs. It feels a bit like being on holiday at the moment, living in a strange place.

Liesel’s had enough though. She’s going back to Chessington tomorrow: she set up the Hook and Chessington WI Evening Book Group a few years ago and tomorrow she will attend a meeting for the final time. Will she finish this month’s book? There’s a two-hour train journey, so there’s a good chance she will!

I’ll be continuing the administrative chores: informing organisations and businesses of our change of address. Some have been very helpful and it’s not been a problem. Some have proved more difficult though. Naming no names. I’ll set up my PC tomorrow too, in anticipation of being connected to the internet. Which might take another week. Why so long? I have no idea. It’s not like they have to send an engineer round any more.

One advantage of moving away from Chessington is that we no longer have to look at the eyesore that is Tolworth Tower from our back bedroom.

Instead, we have this… thing… to look at! Oh well…

I think the Peak District is roughly in that direction so I hope this… building isn’t blocking the view, that would be really unlucky!

A Castle and a Common

Liesel asked if I’d like to go to heave a castle. This was a euphemism that I was not familiar with so naturally, I agreed, out of curiosity.

On Saturday we met up with our friend Rosie and we visited Hever Castle in Kent. Aha!

It was a beautifully warm, sunny day and we had a good wander waround the well-kept gardens. The castle itself has a long and interesting history and there are plenty of artefacts to look at. But not many that you’re allowed to touch.

Then we went to the Anchor by Pyrford Lock for a late afternoon meal. I opted for a so-called falafel vegan burger and chips. It was very nice, with a pint of IPA!

Sunday was a day to catch up on some gardening and in the process, I was reminded that the back of the garage needs a good sort-out before we move. Lots of stuff to get rid of, we even thought about having a Freecycle or Freegle day, leave it on the back lawn and hope people help themselves. The fewer trips we make to the tip, the better!

Bank Holiday Monday, we visited family for breakfast. Helen’s other half, Adam, had flown over from Sydney to watch his team, Fulham FC play at Wembley on Saturday. They won this play-offs final and next season will play in the Premier League. Which is good news for a lifelong Fulham supporter even if, as Adam thinks, the quality of the football is not as good in the Premier League compared with the Championship.

He invited us over to his Mum’s for breakfast this morning and it was good to see some of his family again. He’s had 10 hours sleep in the last three days, really needs a nap but he is flying home later today so I’m sure he’ll sleep well on the plane.

After that, Liesel and I went for a walk in the woods in Epsom, around Stew Ponds and Ashtead Common. We walked to The Star pub, on Leatherhead Road, but no, on this occasion, I did not have burger and chips. Two days in a row is OK, but three times in four days would be a bit OTT! Also, as it was so warm, I had no beer, just lemonade and lime. Liesel had soda water and lime. just so you know what to ask for when you see us in a pub, on a hot day…

On this day in 1983, Jenny was born, the most exciting day of my (Mick’s) life at the time. After leaving Sarah and the baby in hospital, I went around all the local shops and told everyone. Hppy birthday, Jenny!

This was 15 years to the day after Kylie Minogue was born. For a short while when she was small, Jenny was quite pleased to share her special day. Happy 50th birthday, Kylie!

On this day in 1988, Sarah, Jenny, helen and I attended the wedding betwieen Sandra and Nick. They’d known each other as long as Sarah and I knew each other but waited 9 years longer before tying the knot. We stopped in a country lane on the ay so that Jenny and Helen could put on the lovely dresses that their Mum had made.

On this day in 2009, Liesel and Mick attended a recording of Have I Got News for You at the London Studios on the South Bank. David Mitchell on the host. It was a full house of course, and a very funny show.

Back Home

Returning home after a holiday is always an anticlimax. It’s nice to be home, but we’d still prefer to be doing something different, somewhere else. Best of all though, is not having to go back to work the next day! Neither of us! The journey home was uneventful, but bitty.

After breakfast and a chat with our host, Noreen, then

  • We walked to the tram stop and caught a tram into Dublin city centre, then
  • We walked around the corner and caught a bus to the airport, then
  • We walked to the gate, via the shops, then caught an airport bus, then
  • We walked to the aeroplane and up the stairs and flew to Gatwick, then
  • We walked off the plane and caught a bus to the terminal, then
  • We walked to the station and caught a train to Clapham Junction, then
  • We walked to a different platform and caught a train to Tolworth, then
  • We walked across the road and caught a bus to Gosbury Hill, then
  • We walked around the corner, home, sweet home.

Interestingly, we walked straight out of Gatwick airport, nobody and no machine checked our passports. It was a bit of a shock to be out on the concourse with hundreds of members of the actual public.

Liesel declined my invitation to come for a walk the following day, despite it being sunny rather than the predicted wet. And walking around the streets of Chessington, I was reminded why I usually take out my phone and play music or radio programmes. The sound of traffic is inescapable, even away from what might be described as main roads. The birds around here have to squawk really loudly to compete with the traffic. Walking in the forest last week was so peaceful, hearing the birds singing without having to shout. And the silence in between was only disturbed by the susurration of the wind in the leaves.

Today was the day we caught up on all of our admin, not very interesting really, having to pay bills and check bank accounts and process all the mail, throwing a good 75% of the paperwork straight into the recycling bin.

As far as the house-move is concerned, some progress has been made. We responded to our vendor’s enquiries and our seller’s solicitor has answered some of ours. One thing that is a little disconcerting, that we hadn’t previously even contemplated, is the question: Is our new flat likely to be affected by the impact of the High Speed Railway (HS2) from Birmingham to Manchester?

While away, we tried to follow the Giro d’Italia but now we’re home, we can watch it on TV, or at least, the highlights. Simon Yates has been leading for most of the race but today, he cracked on the final climb, so, excitingly, it’s all to play for! (As they say.)

Today is the final day of the service provided by Which.net, the site of my first websites and our first email addresses. Over the years, I’ve said farewell to a number of different email addresses but I still have a soft spot for some of them:

  • delphinus
  • more-chocolate
  • dark_horse
  • mickeydoodah
  • mick_the_wonder_horse
  • mickey_moose
  • mickeydoooodah
  • mickeydoodledoo
  • mick.freed (yes, one of those had to go because it clashed with an American who shares my name)
  • cc_s435 (my very first one, at Kingston University)

The Craic Was Good

BBC 6 Music is our Sunday soundtrack, usually. Not necessarily all day, but the presenters are all pretty good, the music is fab, and if we hear a song we’re not too keen on, we know something good will come along later.

Today though, there was some competition. The 2018 Winter Paralympics are taking place in PyeongChang. I have two whole legs and I can’t ski and steer where I want to nor stop when I need to. So to watch disabled skiers, some sitting down on monoskis, do their stuff is awe-inspiring.

But the most intriguing game is the Wheelchair Curling. And it made me think of Albert Einstein. Hold on, that’s quite a leap, isn’t it? Well, he is reported to have said, “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”.

Here is a game in which large stones are slid along an ice rink and points are scored in a similar way to bowls: it’s determined by how many stones are closer to the centre of the target than those of the opposing team.

Wheelchair players have to push the stones with a long broom handle. Or stick. There is no sweeping as there is in conventional curling.

So there you have it. Sticks and stones. Wheelchair Curling is really World War IV.

Oh well, back to the radio.

Amy Lamé presents a show every Sunday afternoon between 4 and 6pm. Everyone is welcome, boys, girls and everyone in between. There is a ‘French Fancy’ each week, which is great, we don’t hear much French music on the whole. But on Amy’s page of the official website, it’s billed as ‘a Gallic tunage feature’. Tunage? One of my all-time most disliked words! Ever.

Another feature was promoted on Facebook thus: “We’re celebrating music with a #NorthernIreland connection today on BBC Radio 6 Music 4-6pm GMT. What track helps you kick back, relax and get that ‘Lazy Sunday’ feeling?”

One song immediately sprang to mind, so I sent off an email very quickly.

Steve the producer wrote back and asked for my phone number so I sent it. Well, I haven’t been on air for a long, long time.

The phone rang, I spoke to Amy, talked about my Mum and about Jenny, William and Martha, and she played my suggested song. And after all that, the song still managed to bring a lump to my throat.

Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?

Palaces and Princesses

A bit of a lie-in today, Saturday, after two very long but very different days. It’s been said many times but we both feel as if we need a holiday after our week here in Paris.

We’re still coming across French or Parisian stereotypes and clichés. Watching the Olympics with a French commentary is very entertaining. I thought the ‘ooh lala’ was pretty good. But during the skiing down a halftime event, someone crashed out and we were treated to a ‘ooh lala lala lalalalala lala’.

Beware: in some restaurants, the vegetarian salad option boasts salmon as a main ingredient. Mostly though, while it’s been difficult sometimes, I’ve enjoyed the veggie food, even when it’s a bit, let’s say, unusual. White pizza is one that has no tomatoes.

We were entertained on a train by a man playing his piano accordion. A medley of French tunes which had a few of the passengers dancing in their seats.

The tickets to Versailles were valid on any reasonable route via Metro or RER. Which sounds typically French in a way. And the RER train itself was decorated to look like one of the great Halls at the palace, even the ceiling.

More people seem to smoke here than they do in London but we’ve seen very few electronic devices being enjoyed. You have to hold your breath while entering some eating places as the enclosed but ‘outside’ seating area is for smokers.

The train journey to the Palace of Versailles revealed that most graffiti in and around Paris is nothing more than tags, ugly and not very creative. Such a contrast with the artworks here and at the Louvre, for instance.

We left the station, Versailles Château Rive Gauche, to be greeted by a depressing sight of the unholy trinity: a KFC, a McDonalds and a Starbucks. Under slightly different circumstances, this would be cause for a revolution.

The Palace of Versailles is huge. Most of the halls are bigger than our house. The Hall of Mirrors is as big as Wales. The audio commentary was purely factual but in the end I think we both took a dislike to all the opulence. It could very well cause a revolution under slightly different circumstances.

One of the halls contained busts of notable men from mostly the arts. Men. Yes, apart from a queen and a mistress, I don’t think women were much good in those days. I was pleased to see a couple of astronomers and mathematicians represented, though, Cassini and des Cartes for instance.

We declined the offer of a 20-minute wait for lunch and instead walked back towards the railway station, and in particular, to a nice, small, independent coffee shop by the name of The Stray Bean. The carrot cake, pistachio cake and the coffee all scored maximum points.

We briefly met up with Monica and Neha on our return. But we went out and had dinner on our own: a surprisingly tasty rice-based veggie burger with chips.

Friday we all got together again for a day at Disneyland Paris. We were joined by a friend of Monica’s, Hannah, who’s from Ireland but studying in Lyon.

For Neha, I think the highlight of the day was the Princesses’ Lunch. While eating, we were addressed by Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel and Aurora. Sadly, no Belle. The waiter, Moez, insisted on referring to the ladies as princesses and called me Doctor. He asked a couple of times where he knew us from and given the present, young company, I’m glad I didn’t respond that I’d been in a couple of porn movies recently that he might have seen.

We walked and stood and waited in line and queued up for several rides. It was cold, though: the wind was biting, some puddles were still frozen and there were icicles in the waterfall. But Neha didn’t care, she was just excited to be there.

The Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ride was too much for my back which was beaten black and blue by the hard plastic. Don’t mind the 360° turns and being upside down but please stop bashing me on the same vertebra over and over and over again.

There were a couple of more peaceful rides , drifting along the water being serenaded by children from all around the world. The depiction of England was wonderful: a red bus jumping over the opening bascules of Tower Bridge.

Altogether, we walked over 10 miles on this day and I think we were all glad to get to bed.

During the day, three different estate agents called. One more, improved offer on our house, but we’ll hold out for a few more days. So now it’s a, it’s a, it’s a Drive-in Saturday. We’re on our way home.

I’m sure we’ll come back to Paris at some point, probably before the 2024 Summer Olympics. It’s a great place to just wander round, the signage, the architecture, the transport systems are all fascinating in their own way. It’s so easy to compare with London of course, but 40 years in London v one week in Paris is hardly a fair fight.

Not everything is real at Versailles as revealed when the green screen system breaks down.

Nôtre Dame

The first full day here started quite late. We watched some coverage of the Olympics from PyeongChang, with a French commentator. I was delighted to hear the phrase “ooh la-la” used when someone came a cropper on her snowboard.

After breakfast in the hotel, we travelled by Metro to our first destination. Not at all disappointed that there is not a free ‘newspaper’ named ‘Underground’.

We visited Nôtre Dame cathedral and climbed to the top of the towers to enjoy a somewhat murky view of Paris. The gargoyles are fab. One even looked a bit like someone we know.

The Pompidou Museum of Modern Art is interesting too, though there is far too much to see in one visit. Everything from Indian photographs to yarn-based sculptures. Even pictures which are the sort of thing I doodle when I’m on the phone.

The only Olympjcs coverage on TV in the evening was in German and Romanian. Pas de Française. But whatever the language, it’s nice to see how excited some of the competitors are when they Win.

Now, think of saffron.