Stretching our wings

This week, we got out and about a bit further afield, despite the rain and drizzle in some cases. Wythenshawe Park is worth exploring, and in the current social distancing climate, where I go is often determined by where there are fewer other people.

Mushrooms in the park

As I passed by the mushrooms, I thought it would be nice to see an actual real-life Ickabog come along to pick and eat them.

Fireweed in the park
Fireweed known as Rosebay Willow Herb in the UK
California poppy

Yes, a California poppy, not a fancy buttock-up.

Crocosmia in the park

Many thanks to Helen, our horticultural correspondent, who identified these lovely flowers.

Someone sat on this tree too long and bent it
Beech tree

According to the annotated sign, this beech is the oldest tree in Wythenshawe.

The oldest tree

The notice board has been neglected lately, for obvious reasons, but when things get back to (more) normal, I’m sure we’ll be following up some of the activities on offer.

What to do in Wythenshawe

I suspect we’ll be cycling over to the park so we can play baseball in the glasshouses.

Back at home, Liesel continues with her latest project, crocheting a blanket, using many colours. I often hear her counting the number of stitches in a row, and I try not to interrupt too much.

A good start

For the first time since the lockdown, and for quite a while before, come to think of it, we walked to Jenny’s house. We walked the long way round in order to avoid the local, very smelly, recycling centre.

A gorgeous flower bed in front of someone’s house
Martha on the swing

We sat in the garden for a while, enjoying watching Martha play on the swing and count and do sums with the large plastic numbers from her floor mat. Sadly for us, William was taking his nap. The previous day, they’d all been to Reddish Vale for a walk.

William in the mud

William fell in the water but he was alright, so he fell in again later on.

Martha with the mud

It was a beautifully sunny day, we should have been drinking beer in the garden, really. Well, not Martha, I suppose.

Cirrus

The clouds were fascinating to watch, I guess it was more windy at the higher altitude.

Exciting news in Mick and Liesel’s household. We have a new washing machine and after installing it, one of the engineers thanked us for all the stairs. There’s only 32 of them, but I wouldn’t want to be lugging heavy white goods up and down those, either.

A new tray has arrived for the dishwasher, to replace the old one with its broken wheels. The new one is grey, not white, but I think we’ll get used it.

In the repair department, I successfully reinstated the knob on the waffle-maker. It now rotates between ‘off’ and ‘max’ without going round and round forever. Previously, we had to temporarily remove the knob and use pliers to turn the control inside.

I also reattached the lampshade to the ceiling in the living room, after it spontaneously succumbed to the gravitional pull of planet Earth.

We went to Dunham Massey again, and we noticed the car park was much busier than it had been last time. A lot of the grounds were roped off, to protect the deer and their fawns.

It was a while before we saw any deer at all, so I wonder if they’re retreating further away now that more people are turning up each day. I suggested to Liesel that she start a stampede and I’d film it,while yelling ‘Liesel, Liesel, LIESEL, LIESEL, Jesus Christ, LIESEL, LIESEL…’. She could be the new Fenton. But she said ‘No’.

Bracken, fern
Well-ordered trees
Baby fern

For a moment here, I was taken back to New Zealand where the ferns are numerous and very pretty, especially the new, undeveloped ones. At some point in today’s walk around Dunham Massey, I took my 23,000,000th step since I first acquired a Fitbit all those years ago. I now use a mechanical pedometer, and I’ve missed a few days due to dead batteries, and being locked down and locked in, but I feel that this week, at last, my daily walk is getting back to normal.

Deer in the park
Badgers

These are the only badgers we saw today, but sadly, neither of them is a real one.

Silver birch trees

I had to take this picture of the silver birches, Liesel’s favourite trees, and again, I wondered whether we should have bought one of Teri Landseth‘s stunning paintings while we were in Anchorage.

There is a one-way system in the garden, with some paths completely roped off, and it works quite well, until someone is walking really slowly and somehow occupying the whole width of the path!

Clock tower and weather vane

Another day out, this time, the default loop to the river Mersey, in the drizzle.

Rain on the Mersey

Some Dads are really good. This Daddy duck was showing his ducklings where to shelter from the rain: underneath the motorway, of course.

Sheltering ducks

This week, we continued with our re-watch of Doctor Who on TV. I watched another play from the National Theatre, The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan. And we watched more from Glastonbury.

Ah, this is the section you’ve all been waiting for: the exciting, local news from Northenden.

The Barnardo’s shop has had its shopfront hidden by the installation of black hoarding. This is to deter people from kindly leaving donations flytipping outside the shop.

The bus stop has been cleaned and at last, we now know for sure that we’re supposed to wear masks on public transport, and that we can pay with a contactless card or phone.

A clean bus stop

This is the season for insects, which is OK, but these clouds of midges are annoying, especially when they won’t keep still so I can get a decent photo.

Midges

The smell of newly cut grass is pleasant, but often leads to a sneezing fit. This happened by the river the day they cut the grass by the river.

One morning this week, I was woken by what I thought were hundreds of geese flying round and round our house. I’ve no idea how many there were, really, but a couple of days later, we saw quite a few had set up camp on the island in the stream.

Geese on the island

Lockdown week 11

Welcome to Week 11 of the official Lockdown. Liesel and I had been isolating for a while beforehand but that seems a long time ago, now. And now, despite the UK still experiencing hundreds of Covid-related deaths every day, HM Goverment want to relax the restrictions ooh hang on a minute, déjà vu or what?

To celebrate the arrival of a short hot Summer, Martha and her Daddy went camping, in their garden. Martha was so excited to sleep in a tent that first time and she slept through from 10pm to 7am.

Martha and Minnie

Despite the warmer weather, we’re still not going out as often as we’d like. More people are out and about now of course, so we’re aware that keeping our distance from strangers will be even more difficult now. What a shame. The lost Summer of 2020.

I’m still doing Sandwich Sudoku puzzles and I’m so pleased that my first reaction on seeing this message was to laugh! It took well over two hours to solve it, but I got there in the end. 12-year old me polished my nails on my lapel.

Liesel is doing Sudoku puzzles too, from a book that we’ve had for a few years now.

Another kind of puzzle that I tried to solve in Malaysian newspapers last year is Slitherlink. I’d never come across such a thing before, and I never got anywhere near completing one. You have to join the dots on a diagram, the numbers tell you how many sides of the square have a line segment. The line has to be one continuous loop.  I’ve found an app now for this kind of puzzle too. And I solved one. It took far too long and I’m sure I will get faster, but I’m very proud of my achievement. It was much, much smaller than those in Malaysian newspapers! 12-year old me punched the sky.

We’re not totally confined to the flat, we did still go out for our exercise a few times.

Aromatic

The highlight of the week was visiting Jenny and Martha, outdoors. We went for a walk around the block, Martha on her scooter.

Martha, the fastest scooterer

Mostly we kept a safe distance but I did step over the invisible boundary a couple of times by mistake, especially when Martha fell off the scooter. My instinct was to rush over to pick her up, but before I’d taken one step, she announced that she was alright.

Sadly, we didn’t see William, but through the magic of the internet, we do know that he helped with the baking one day, partly by licking the bowl.

William the most diligent of bowl lickers

In terms of entertainment, I watched a political comedy, ‘This House’ by James Graham. This was a National Theatre production, depicting the Labour government from 1974-1979. It ended with Margaret Thatcher reciting, and ruining for many people, the prayer of St Francis of Assisi outside 10 Downing Street. ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope’. Irony died that day.

Jessica Lee Morgan has embarked on a ‘Time Zone Tour’ of the world, performing at 7pm local time at many places around the world, from the comfort of her own home. So in the UK, each show is at a different time of day. She has ‘been to’ Anchorage and Adak, Alaska, two different time zones, Christchurch and Sydney. The tour continues and you can catch up here on YouTube.

Jessica Lee Morgan and ChristianThomas

We heard the thwack of metal on golf ball as we wanderd by the golf course. We did see a ball but Liesel wouldn’t let me kick it towards the hole.

Golfers and a pylon
Blig black clouds

It had rained earlier in the day but we stayed dry mostly and the Sun came out again. Until the big black cloud appeared and it started precipitating again just as we arrived home. Good weather for ducks, though.

The cleanest duck in the Mersey

The latest local news is that the sofa has now been removed from the river. I informed the local radio station, Radio Northenden and I think they’ll be putting out a special programme about it soon. More exciting news is that another local coffee shop has opened for takeaways. Salutem is also on Paltine Road and we (I) had our (my) first coffee there yesterday.  We’ll be supporting both them and The Northern Den, just over the road.

Lockdown week 10

Welcome to Week 10 of the official Lockdown. Liesel and I had been isolating for a while beforehand but that seems a long time ago, now. And now, despite the UK still experiencing hundreds of Covid-related deaths every day, HM Goverment want to relax the restrictions next week. Yes, even though many scientists are saying it’s still too early. Then there’s the whole Dominic Cummings (government advisor) thing last weekend: he broke the rules that he helped implement, because he feels very special and entitled. He managed to unite the country, ironically against himself. Then there was the murder of George Floyd in America, another black man killed by a police officer pretty much because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of these news stories, whether they affect us directly or not, slowly, slowly erode any sense of well-being. This isn’t the place for a commentary into current affairs, but if you, dear reader, detect a slight undercurrent of dismay in this post, that’s why, and I apologise. But I’ll try to keep looking up, not down.

We miss going to all the music festivals this year, like everyone else. Well, we sometimes go to one in Hyde Park. Instead, we watched the Folk on Foot Front Room Festival from the comfort of our homes. It was a wonderful, uplifting day of music. I produced a list of performers who we would like to see live in concert at some point and whose music we need to buy more of:

O’Hooley and Tidow
      • Chris Wood (he was sitting in a wheelbarrow while performing)
      • O’Hooley and Tidow (with baby Flynn) (we’ve seen them once live)
      • Gwilym Bowen Rhys (lovely Welsh songs)
      • Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes)
      • Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman (we’ve seen these two too)
      • Duncan Chisholm (fiddle)
      • Kitty Macfarlane (guitar)
      • Rioghnach Connolly and Ellis Davies (Antrim girl now lives in Manchester)
      • John Smith (guitars)
      • The Unthanks (presented their film “As We Go”) (we’ve seen them!)
      • Frank Turner and Jess Guise (The time of my life)
      • Kate Rusby and Damien O’Kane (the voice of England)
      • Johnny Flynn (guitars)
      • Eliza Carthy (you know Eliza)
      • Richard Thompson and Zara Phillips (you know Richard)
All of the performers

I would recommend any of these and if you wish to enjoy the festival too, it’s still up here on YouTube.

The Sun set as the show ended and I realised that we haven’t seen nearly as many vapour trails in the sky as we usually do.

Pink con trail

We did go out a couple of times to walk around the area, for some fresh air, for some exercise and to enjoy a hot, hot late May. It should be peaceful, but there was a lot of noise. Just up the road from us, someone was trimming a hedge and their friend was blowing the trimmings off the road and back into the hedge. Round the corner, someone was washing a car with a powerful powered hose. Up the road, there were men at work. Except they weren’t, they had downed tools for a welcome break.

A man with a leaf-blower
A robin

The robin often appears when we walk along this path. A bit later, we were walking by the river and we heard the sound of a creaky gate approaching. It was our old friend, the heron flying by and, if the passer-by (socially distanced of course) is to be believed, it nearly gave her a heart attack.

Yes, it’s much hotter now, and there are many more insects about. Of course, I always feel obliged to count the spirals on a daisy, just to confirm they are Fibonacci numbers!

Fly on a daisy

On different days, one or both of walked on and around the golf course, just for a different point of view, really. One day, a player asked if I’d seen where his ball went. I hadn’t, and I didn’t feel comfortable lying that it had ended up in the river, either.

A path through the golf course

I walked on this side of the river, adjacent to the golf course, because there was nobody else here. There were many groups of people on the other side, some of whom were having a picnic on a small ‘beach’ that I’d previously been unaware of.

To the left, the golf course; to the right, the Mersey

There’s more to golf than walking around and bashing a ball until it falls into a rabbit hole, it seems. Staircases and bells are involved too.

Stairway to Heaven
You can ring my bell

The duck family were nowhere to be seen, the geese have moved in instead.

Goose family

Hot, hot, hot, and a good enough excuse for some folks to go out sunbathing.We just go out for a walk, keep going, however far, avoiding everyone, go home and check for mail.

Soaking up the rays

We walked along the river, to Stenner Woods, then Fletcher Moss Park, on to Didsbury.

View from the Rockery

One thing you don’t expect to see in Didsbury is a squat: I apologise if this isn’t a squat, but that’s what we both thought.

Homes for people, not for profit

We wandered through Marie Louise Gardens then back home. One thing you don’t expect to see in the Mersey is people sunbathing.

Soaking up the rays

We visited The Northern Den for more coffee and Viennese whirls. The local council seem to be deterring people from sitting outside on park benches, sadly. They’d squirted tomato ketchup over them, and nobody wants to sit on that, thank you very much.

A moment of excitement soon evaporated when I realised this wasn’t a real Tardis.

Not the Tardis

In between our trips outside, what have we been doing?

I watched ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ from the National Theatre. Gillian Anderson was in it, and the play itself was good and well performed, if a little long. But that might be because I was fully aware of and distracted by the camera work. Yes, the play was performed ‘in the round’, but that doesn’t mean I want to watch while walking round and round the stage.

We’ve been listening to lots of radio, BBC Radio 2, 6 Music, Classic FM and even local Radio Northenden is back this week!

We’ve watched a lot of TV, a lot of lot of TV. Current favourites include Killing Eve, series 3 and we’ve  watched 8½ series of Spooks so far, but we have avoided news most of the time.

I’ve been watching YouTube a lot, not just folk festivals. On the Cracking the Cryptic channel, you can watch Simon solving sudoku puzzles, some of which are ridiculously complicated, but his enthusiasm and enjoyment are infectious.

We’re listening to ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone’ being read by a series of actors and others who have links with the Harry Potter world. Harry Potter at Home.

Simon Callow reading chapter 5

If that’s not enough good stuff from JK Rowling, I can recommend her latest, being published as a serial online for now, 2 or 3 chapters a day. The Ickabog shouldn’t give you nightmares, but, so far, it’s a good old fashioned fairy tale!

Many museums and galleries have put their exhibitions up online too. As ever, we can’t wait until we can visit these places in real life.

This morning, I played the album Young Americans from my phone. It was on shuffle mode, which I had a little whinge about. ‘Why does it matter?’ asked Liesel. Because it messes with my expectations, I said. And then, of course, it repeats one track and another while some tracks remain unplayed at all. To make it funnier, Liesel misheard the lyrics to Fascination as vaccination!

(Fascination) Your soul is calling
Like when I’m walking
Seems that everywhere I turn
I hope you’re waiting for me
I know that people think
That I’m a little crazy

Well, we’re trying not to go crazy in these crazy times, there’s certainly plenty of good stuff out there, but it doesn’t take much bad news to rock the boat. Stay safe, stay alert, stay at home!

Busy doin’ nothin’

We’re busy doin’ nothin’
Workin’ the whole day through
Tryin’ to find lots of things not to do
We’re busy goin’ nowhere…

Another few days locked down and locked in, and we’re still trying to develop some sort of routine, but really, we just busk each day as it comes. Last Friday night, I tried to observe the newly lauched Starlink group of satellites but missed them. I was probably looking in the wrong direction, but as a consolation prize, Venus was looking good in the late evening sky.

Liesel’s been quite busy, phoning some of her new WI friends for a chat, cooking, baking, housework, laundry and I thoroughly enjoyed watching and I appreciating the fruits of her labours. Thanks, Liesel 😉

This week’s news is that we have new neighbours in one of the flats below us. And that’s the end of the news. Good night.

Thank goodness for the Internet, it has been keeping us entertained in so many ways. I can’t wait to visit these places and enjoy these things in real life, but until then, here’s a quick look into our lives this week.

We’ll Meet Again

Dame Vera Lynn with West End Stars performed We’ll Meet Again 2020. We all sang along with Alfie Boe, Gyles Brandreth, Maria Friedman and lots of other folk, some of whom I’m sorry to say we hadn’t heard of before. This message of support for UK theatre can be seen here.

Christian O’Connell doing very well down under

Meanwhile at the other end of the world, ANZAC day was celebrated in New Zealand and Australia with a Concert from the Home Front for the fight against Covid-19. When I played the show back, I thought my phone was ringing. Yes, I still have the kookaburra as my ringtone from last year in Australia. The music was all home-performed: it was especially good to see Crowded House and Bic Runga performing at home. Here it is.

Rachel Unthank

This morning, we watched Rachel Unthank perform a couple of songs from home, via Facebook. We’ll get songs from a different Unthank every morning for a short while. Here they are. Liesel and I agreed that to support these artists, we need to buy more of their records. That’s the sort of online shopping I quite enjoy!

Thanks for coming to watch Twelfth Night

I watched a fantastic version of Twelfth Night from the National Theatre. It featured Tamsin Greig as Malvolia: I wonder what Miss ‘Ma’ Abbott, my old English teacher, would think of that? Sadly, we missed Treasure Island, a recent performance in the series, but we are looking forward to watching Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch this week. Highly recommended.

We have enjoyed our online visits to Chester Zoo and Taronga Zoo, with their talks and videos and if watching elephants wallowing in mud following a rainstorm doesn’t cheer you up, there’ll almost certainly be something else to make you laugh.

Dandelion clock in the sunshine

We haven’t seen much of the outside world of course, but it’s always nice to get out and see nice, pretty things, signs of Spring slowly turning to Summer. I had to get down low to take these pictures of dandelion seeds. I no longer consider them my enemy, but instead, a photo opportunity. Crouching down low is one thing, getting up again afterwards without going ‘Ooh, ahh’, like a really, really old person, is another. Thank goodness only one bloke walked by giving me a funny look, but at least he kept his distance.

 

 

 

The good …
… the bad …
… and the ugly

Yes, not everything is very nice to look at. But I did see some wildlife which is always exciting.

Concrete fox

Again, this fox took me by surprise as I walked by. We haven’t seen any actual, live, wild foxes since we moved here to Northenden, so all the discarded chicken bones and pizza boxes were probably dropped by humans. And of course, we do miss the eerie screech and howl that accompanies nocturnal vulpine coital activity, honest.

Wild horses

The horses are probably wondering why there are fewer people around at the moment. This one was watching, but didn’t come over for a neighbourly chat.

Meet the ducks

This family of ducks didn’t care about the rain, as they swam up and down and across the river. Four chicks stayed close to mama most of the time, but number 5 was always a bit behind, always playing catch-up. And it caught up really fast when a (presumably strange) mallard swam by.

And, because we can, here is this week’s obligatory photo of the family. Sadly, Helen won’t be joining us from Manly today, as originally planned, which is probably the most heart-breaking single effect of the virus so far, for us.

William, Jenny, Martha

Stay safe, stay in, #stayathome, stay connected, stay healthy, ♫ stay, that’s what I meant to say or do something, but what I never say is stay this time ♫ Yes, time for a David Bowie record, I think.

Here we are, now entertain us

We’re still in lockdown, self-isolating, embedded in the frontline at home, finding new and interesting ways to keep ourselves occupied and entertained. The weather certainly lifts the mood, now it’s warmer and sunnier, but we’re not allowed out more than once a day for a quick spot of exercise. It’s disconcerting when you see so many shops closed for business, with the shutters down. Some have displayed notices, but not all. Any plans we had to acquire tattoos for instance have been put on hold for the time being. Oh well.

Closed for the next few weeks

There is a lot of community spirit, but what a pity we can’t socialise more: it just feels wrong to ‘chat’ with a neighbour by shouting across the road, just to preserve social distancing. There’s plenty of colour to enjoy. When you’re restricted to a short perambulation around the local area, you do appreciate any splashes of colour.

More rainbows
Daffodils
Forget-me-nots and tulips

There are many fewer people walking and cycling and running, so it’s quite easy to maintain social distancing. But it is weird to see one of the busiest local roads all but deserted. One beneficial side effect of there being less traffic is that we can more easily hear the birds singing their songs of joy.

An unusually empty Princess Parkway, looking towards Manchester city centre

Wythenshawe Park was pleasant too. Not too many people, and all keeping away from each other. It hasn’t rained for a while, so I was surprised to see the last puddle in the north-west of England catching the Sun.

Sun puddle-jumping
Wythenshawe Park

This week, Martha celebrated her 4th birthday with her immediate family at home where, sadly, there was no party. We couldn’t join her in person, but we did join other family members online using Zoom, video-conferencing software that is usually used for long, boring and probably unnecessary business meetings!

Zoom with: part of William, Martha and Liam; Liesel and Mick; Andrea, Emily and Paul; Adam and Helen in Australia; Alan and Una
Jenny and Birthday Girl balancing on Daddy’s head
The big 4

But if we couldn’t celebrate Martha’s big day properly, the wider universe did. It chose tonight to reveal the year’s biggest full Moon, a Supermoon, a Pink Moon: the Moon very nearly at its closest to the Earth, appearing 14% larger than usual. It would have been a terrific sight if it wasn’t for the clouds that appeared during the course of the evening. Other people managed to get some decent photos though so I captured this one from TV the next day.

Local News programme showed viewers’ photos of the Moon
Nearly a whole one

The following night, I did see the 99%-full Moon and took this picture, with my phone camera, through the bathroom window. This reminds me how much I am looking forward to using my real camera again at some point, when things get back to normal. In fact, I was going to investigate the latest technology and look into maybe buying a new camera this year.

Indoors, we’re still doing lots of stuff. We miss going to the theatre so it was nice to see the National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors streaming on YouTube. We saw the show in real life a few years ago and we enjoyed it just as much the second time around. On TV, we’ve started watching Star Trek: Discovery and after the first of two series, I think we can safely say it’s engaging, moral and much more intense than the original series half a century ago!

We have a new radio station for a couple of weeks: Radio Northenden. It’s our local, parochial, isolation station! Sanny Rudravajhala is broadcasting from the spare room in his house round the corner from where we live. Listen here, every day until Sunday 19th, 4pm.

Radio Northenden

Just a couple of hours a day, but he and his wife Katie are playing some good music, there’s plenty of chat, guests and nonsense. Best of all, of course, he played my choice of music: Ain’t Bin to no Music School by Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds. This band hails from nearby Wythenshawe, and when I bought the 7″ single in 1976 or ’77, it never occurred to me that I’d be moving to the area a mere 42 years later!

Another day, another walk.

Thank you, keyworkers
Blossoming tree

We’ve passed these pollarded trees many times, but at last, they’re blossoming, showing signs of life, which is lovely.

Spam, spam, spam, spam

This spammer couldn’t decide whether to increase my level of concern over CoViD-19 or to make me panic about potentially losing my Netflix account. In the end, he just put both messages in the one email. I don’t like to generalise but spammers can be a bit thick sometimes.

Like many other folks, I’ve noticed my dreams have been much more vivid during this period of isolation. I haven’t worked for over four years now, yet work is still the subject of many dreams. For instance, I turned up early one morning but couldn’t get into the delivery office because there was too much mail inside. It had all been sorted into bags (nice blue bags, not the red ones they use in real life) but they were all over the tables and all over the floor, stacked high. Then there’s the road where the house numbers aren’t at all in the right order. Dreams are also taking me back to school and college and shopping centres where I leave and can’t find my way back in so I wind up getting further and further away, on the North Downs walking towards Guildford, until I wake up with a great sense of relief.

London and Salisbury

Editors’ note: In the previous blog I should have mentioned that we store non-frozen and non-food items in the freezer. This is due to the lack of storage space here in the luxury apartment compared with our previous mansion. Yes, the nuts survived the deep freeze and, who knows, maybe their temporary frozen status enhanced the nut roast that we subsequently enjoyed for Thanksgiving! Using pots and pans straight from the bottom drawer of the freezer works ok too, you just have to remember to triple the recommended cooking time.

We missed out on breakfast at our b&b in order to meet up with Rosie, our friend from Law School all those years ago: instead, we had breakfast in Kingston. I took my leave, leaving them for some girl on girl action, that is, a shopping spree in Kingston. I wandered through the Bentall Centre on my way to the station. It’s all very pretty in there and on this occasion, I didn’t even notice the stench of Yo! Sushi!

Bentall Centre, Kingston upon Thames

I wondered why so many people were standing around looking down onto the lower ground floor, aka the basement. The security personnel were having a hard time removing people from the stairs. As if this futile exercise wasn’t entertaining enough, we were soon treated to the sound of some music and a troupe of dancing girls.

A troupe of dancers

I still have no idea what they were promoting but I don’t think it was The Apostrophe Protection Society. In some very sad new’s, the campaigning group closed down this week, in the face of laziness and barbarity. There are many apostrophe’s in the world, but far too many are just in the wrong place. Read all about it.

Liesel enjoyed her time in Kingston today: not too busy, not too crowded, not too Christmassy, it was just right. She returned to the b&b before going out for dinner in Dorking. She met a group of friends for a Chinese meal, and they spent several hours slagging off talking about their common former employer.

If I ever go missing, one of the first places to look for me, if you can be bothered, is London’s South Bank. I am drawn there like an apostrophe to a grocers list of ware’s.

On this occasion, I walked as far as Tate Modern, halfway across the Millennium Bridge and back again to Waterloo. It’s very photogenic, the people are fascinating to watch, the weather was kind and, tempting though it was to over-indulge, I only stopped twice for coffee.

Sand sculpture on the beach

The man who makes these sand sculptures is obviously very talented. And every time I see him, he seems to have acquired more and more buckets. We take photos, throw our donations down from the embankment, and every so often, he goes round and collects the coins that have missed the buckets.

St Paul’s Cathedral outshining the cranes
Bubbles outside Tate Modern

Another chap with too much time on his hands (says the chap spending far too long writing this stuff) was outside Tate Modern blowing bubbles. Or waving a magic bubble wand with dozens of holes to produce bubbles on an industrial scale. Everyone loves bubbles. I didn’t throw coins into his bucket, I didn’t want to affect the solution’s surface tension and thereby, the integrity of the soap bubbles. Also, sand sculpture man had gathered up my last few pennies and buttons.

I spent a happy few hours in the gallery, looking at the exhibits and then writing in a nice, quiet corner with a power point that, unfortunately, proved not to be connected to the electric supply.

Fons Americanus by Kara Walker

The last time I saw Fons Americanus, it was still a work in progress and covered by a big, big dust cloth. Today, I walked around it a couple of times: it’s well worth paying a visit as there are so many small, sometimes funny, details. Here is the artist’s own description.

Witness! The Fons Americanus
A small fishing boat (?)
St Paul’s from the 4th floor of Tate Modern

I accepted the invitation to Explore Materials and Objects. The first item was a carpet mounted on the wall, on which people had drawn pictures and written text, some funny and some very informative, such as this dodgy-looking URL:

Orange Carpet Untitled 1993 (carpet) by Rudolf Stingel
Jauba by Mrinalini Mukherjee, 2000

And yes, when you first see Jauba out of the corner of your eye, you think it’s a person standing there. Then you realise it’s a collection of textiles carefully formed into a solid object.

I passed some time in the Drawing Bar where I did find working power points, so I was able to charge up my phone. There were some funny pictures but the strangest was probably this dodgy-looking URL:

All my own work

You can see this one in all its glory on Flickr: scroll backwards and forwards too so that you can see that a wide range of talent carefully avoided the place today.

While I was the gallery, darkness fell and this was the cue for William Blake, or at least, one of his final paintings, to be projected onto the dome of St Paul’s. This was best viewed from the Millennium Bridge and it was encouraging to see so many people standing around, admiring the image.

Ancient of Days by William Blake on the dome of St Paul’s

Walking back to Waterloo, I was reminded how lucky we are that the so-called Garden Bridge was never built. We would have lost all these beautiful trees.

Illuminated trees on the South Bank

I made my way to Dorking and walked along the High Street to the Chinese Restaurant where Liesel and friends were still fully engaged in conversation. So much hot air inside and condensation on the windows, but it was good to see Holly, Sandra, Imogen and Di, albeit briefly.

On our second morning, Liesel and I did have breakfast at the b&b in Ashtead before we returned to London for another day of capital fun and frolics.

Covent Garden is full of Christmas cheer but the Tiffany’s display was a bit OTT, we felt!

Tiffany’s tree
Tiffany’s love

We split up in order to cover more ground more quickly but I soon found myself escaping from the crowds in order to listen to a tenor singing Nessun Dorma followed by a wonderful group playing Pachelbel’s Canon.

Musicians preparing

It was cold and clear today, ideal for a lot of walking. Covent Garden to Seven Dials to Chinatown to Regent Street to Old Bond Street.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Colourful Chinatown
Regent Street Christmas lights (probably look better at night)
F D Roosevelt and W S Churchill by Lawrence Holofcener, in Old Bond Street
Just another gorgeous visitor to London, modelling outside Ralph Lauren

There were many people shopping in what might well be the shopping capital of the world. You get charged 20p for a plastic bag in supermarkets but it seems that if you can afford to shop in posh, expensive shops in the West End, you can collect as many plastic bags as you like, bigger, thicker and much more substantial that the 20p ones from Sainsbury’s. We looked in some windows at all the stuff we don’t need.

In Piccadilly, we caught a bus for a couple of stops. You can have too much of a good thing, looking but not buying! We easily found our venue, The Harold Pinter Theatre in Panton Street. Before we entered, though, we ate Thai food just over the road.

Sir Ian McKellen is celebrating his 80th birthday by performing his one-man show at 80 venues around the country and now, at this theatre 80 times. We were very lucky to get tickets, but even from the Royal Circle, we had a good view of the stage.

Sir Ian McKellen in his trunk

Gandalf, Widow Twankey, all his top roles were reprised, including several Shakespeare characters. In fact, all 37 plays were mentioned, some quoted extensively. The show runs until January 5th, 2020 and we would both highly recommend this nearly three hours of pure entertainment.

No tree yet at Trafalgar Square

We walked back through Trafalgar Square, very disappointed to see that the annual gift of a Christmas tree from Norway hasn’t yet arrived. But how exciting to see so many pop-up food stalls outside the National Gallery: I bet the pavement artists and the gravity-defying Yodas love that!

The third morning in Ashtead found me adding Maltesers to my bowl of cereal. Just another, healthy, one of my five-a-day.

Cereal with Maltesers, not to be repeated

Today, we headed in a south-westerly direction: to Salisbury. The trip included several miles of the worst road surface in the universe, the M25 between Leatherhead and the M3. Loud and bumpy and loud. If our car had square wheels, it wouldn’t have been any louder. Why everyone doesn’t stop to check that their car tyres haven’t been ripped to shreds is a mystery.

Approaching Salisbury, we nearly drove into a very low-flying Chinook helicopter. There are military bases nearby, but I didn’t realise they operated so close to the city.

Another mystery is how our friend Sarah approached us from behind at the railway station while we were still waiting for her train to arrive!

Sarah’s private train from Exeter?
Salisbury Cathedral, very attractive to Russian spies and assassins, apparently

Never smile at a crocodile, so they say, but we had to smile at this one in Salisbury. Young children walking along, two by two, holding hands, in their hi-visibility vests, escorted by teachers in plain clothes. We smiled because earlier, we’d seen another school party where it wasn’t the children but the teachers in hi-vis safety gear. We wandered around the city, had a coffee and lunch at Boston Tea Party, and caught up on all the goss.

It must be at least fifty years ago but at the Guildford or Surrey Agricultural Show in Stoke Park, when a certain politician stepped back and stomped on my foot. Yes, I was physically assaulted by a future Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. I was reminded of this incident today when, close to Salisbury Cathedral, we came across a blue plaque in his honour.

The Rt Hon Sir Edward Heath
Salisbury’s Avon
Salisbury Cathedral spire with the Moon

In this shot, I was trying to get the ‘red star’ and the crescent Moon closer together, but the city conspired against me: I couldn’t walk far enough back, there were too many buildings in the way. I can sense Liesel’s eyes roll as I write that: she crossed the road and waited for me not understanding that even a failed artist must do what he can.

The drive back to Ashtead was uneventful and we drifted off to sleep imagining what manner of breakfast would greet us in the morning!

Looking for people we know

We met our friend Helen in Surbiton for breakfast. I thought the lights were faulty in the restaurant but it was pointed out that buses stopping outside were blocking the sunlight. Obvious, really, no need to go on womansplaining, you two.

They took the bus into Kingston and I went for a walk to and beside the Thames. It was a good few degrees cooler by the river, I had to put my jacket on. Many people were messing about on the river, skiffs, yachts, dinghies, sailboards and I was surprised there were no collisions nor people overboard.

Sailing on the Thames

The sky and water and everything looked a bit grey and drab. The award for the most colourful restaurant today goes to the Thai Busaba near Kingston Bridge.

Busaba by the river

I walked as far as the bandstand in Canbury Gardens, before turning back to meet Liesel and Helen in the town centre. I think I’d given them enough time to do whatever shopping needed doing.

Bandstand in the Gardens

There was no music on this late October afternoon, but that is a main attraction during the warmer Summer months.

I watched a couple of guys playing tennis but they weren’t taking it too seriously. The man packing up his angling gear didn’t seem to have caught anything for his tea, but maybe sitting on a cold, lonely riverbank for a few hours was an end in itself.

There are some boats moored on the river in the town centre and as I returned, I passed by one that was belching smoke and stench direct from Hades.

Smoke on the water

I really wanted to put an upturned bucket over the chimney to force the culprits out. One of the first things Helen commented on when I met them, fortuitously outside T K Maxx, was the smell (from the boat) that had by now permeated the town. I took refuge in the Bentall Centre for a while where by comparison, even the smell from Yo! Sushi was acceptable. We all met up again in a café for coffee and cake: well, I’d had a reasonable walk from Surbiton.

We took Helen home to Chessington. And yes, of course we drove by our old house. The neighbours are building a loft extension and we are so glad we won’t have to put up with that!

Back at the b&b, we were relaxing, reading, listening to the radio, when my phone rang. That is very unusual. But it was the Rose Theatre. The other day, we’d tried to buy tickets for the show tonight, a jazz concert celebrating 60 years of Ronnie Scott’s Club in London. It was sold out so we put our names down for any returned tickets. And how lucky were we?

Back to Kingston then and to the Rose Theatre. I always look around to see if there’s anyone I know, and tonight I was delighted to find Stella and Ian. We agreed to meet after the show for a drink.

Before the performance though, I looked at the exhibited photos from the Canbury Camera Club and some of them were fantastic.

African paper wasp in Bontebok National Park

The music was fantastic, some well-known and some new (to me) tunes from 60 years at Ronnie’s. They also told the story of the club which I’ve only been to 2 or 3 times. The thought of it now still evokes thick smoke and cool dudes saying ‘nice’ a lot. Tonight at the Rose, though, we just enjoyed the music and the stories. The band was led by James Pearson, the club’s Artistic Director and Natalie Williams was the vocalist, even emulating Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing very faithfully.

Ronnie Scott’s All Stars in the Rose Theatre

Stella, Ian, Liesel and I walked along to The Druid’s Head, a pub that has certainly been cleaned up a lot since the last time I was there. We had a good chat and in my case, a welcome pint of Old Peculier.

The next couple of days include the long and uneventful drive back home, a walk to the Post Office and beyond, lots of tidying in the spare room, some writing and the usual end of month admin tasks (paying bills).

I did go for a longer walk one day, to Wythenshawe, to the Park and around in a big circle. It’s a pity we live so far from the nearest tram stop, it would be nice not to have to rely on buses all the time.

Bicycle storage at Benchill Tram Station
Hula-hoop up a tree

I do like a splash of colour and while the Autumn leaves are gorgeous, a blast of red from rosehips cheers up the place (and me).

Rosehips on a bush

Our car might have a couple of slow punctures, an issue that should be addressed imminently you’d think. But other than a couple of times having to add some air, they’ve been holding up. But when the time comes to get some new tyres for the car, I know exactly where we’ll be going. They sure know how to attract customers in this part of the world.

Free Jaffa Cake in your dreams

Oh, hang on, we don’t have a 4×4 or a prestige model so I guess we won’t be enjoying a free Jaffa Cake after all.

Grandchildren’s Day during the half-term break means we get both Martha and William to look after, hooray! We took them to The Hideaway in Partington, a nice softplay area and indoor playground.

William the Barista in the caff
Martha in the Happy Land

Yes, of course this reminded me of the old David Bowie song, There is a Happy Land and when I sent the lyrics to Janny and Henny, I was accused of being delirious. What a strange family.

There’s a ‘planetarium’ here too. Inside, Martha and I lay down on the floor to watch a series of films projected onto the hemispherical ceiling. Aimed at young children, I think some of the concepts were quite complicated: a space shuttle launch, all the planets, what causes the tides. Martha’s favourite planet is the one with the rings, Saturn, although she sometimes forgets its name.

William spent a lot of time climbing, and he’s not afraid of asking for help when he can’t quite manage!

We had a lovely dinner, again prepared by Liesel, including stuffed tomatoes.

Jenny told me that her boss also attended the Graphene lecture last week at the Royal Society. Not Lemn, but Dame Nancy Rothwell DBE DL FRS FMedSci FRSB FBPhS MAE, the President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester. I didn’t look that hard at the time, it was so unlikely I’d know anyone. But I would have said hello if I’d seen her there that evening: we go back a long way. She’s done very well since the days we were contemporaries at Queen Elizabeth College in London. Without consulting my old journals, I don’t know how often I would have stomped on her feet at the Sunday night discos in the student bar. Good old Nancy! Good times!

October and March in London

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

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

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

Mudlark

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

Elephants in Pimlico

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

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

Blake’s 7 (and the rest)

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

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

Newton, by William Blake

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

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

People watching old videos

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

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

Selfie of the day

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

Everyone is corrupt

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

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

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

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

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

The crypt of St Martin’s

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

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

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

Lemn Sissay and Samira Ahmed

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

Mick and Lemn

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

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

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

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

Sir Patrick Stewart OBE

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

We will, we will Block you

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

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

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

Edinburgh

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

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

High pressure rain cleaning the windscreen

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

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

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

Old energy vs new energy

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

Welcome to Scotland

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

Ecclefechan

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

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

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

Bathgate Station: trains are under starter’s orders

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

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

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

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

The poster (photos of the performance not allowed)

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

The Humans thanking the audience

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

Greyfriars Bobby (statue)

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

We’ll bin our jokes if you bin your litter

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

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

Photography Exhibition attendee having a rest (still life)

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

Railway lines – London to Plymouth by John Widdows

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

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

The Edinburgh Wheel

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

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

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

Master Bones

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

The Reverend Richard Coles, Communard, vicar, broadcaster

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

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

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

Alisa Weilerstein with her cello
Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s view of the Usher Hall audience

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

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

Natural Healing, Oor Rail Bridge, Flowers of Scotland and Wullie’s Seat
Oor Crossing, Oor Coal Miner, illegible plaque and Oor Skeleton

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

Edinburgh Castle

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

Part of Cataract 3 by Bridget Riley

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

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

Rajasthan by Bridget Riley

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

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

Surgeon’s Halls

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

Blue sky and cranes seen from the bottom of the climb

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

View obscured by rain
Ominous clouds

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

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

Elephants and Bagels

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

Phoebe Katis

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

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

Library stairs

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

Top buskers

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

Scott Monument

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

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

What Are You Talking About? poster

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

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

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

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

Adventure before Dementia

It’s sad, so sad, it’s a sad, sad situation. It makes me feel a little bit guilty, asking to be removed from the Rose Theatre mailing list after all this time. We’ll miss Kingston’s own little theatre. I was a Founding Friend too: there’s even a seat with a memorial plaque for Sarah, so have a look the next time you go. But we have to move on, change is difficult sometimes but it’s worthwhile in the end.

The Government website is a vortex of looping, self-linking pages telling you that you should do something but not how to do it. That’s another two hours I’ll never get back. But the good news is, when the time comes, I will receive the maximum possible state pension in the UK, just over £9000 pa. In Sweden, I’d get nearly three times as much. Here’s an old but interesting article. Yes, I wasted more time reading up on this and trying not to feel cheated.

But in eight days, we’ll be leaving this little nest of ours for a while. As we have to fly out of London Heathrow, we throught we’d spend a couple of days in the capital before we jet off. Sunday is the day of the Prudential 100-mile bike ride around London and Surrey. We’ll probably watch them roll in on The Mall, just as I did myself four years ago. And hope to do again one year.

Then early on the Monday, we’ll fly to Anchorage for Part One of our Gap Year Travels. This is why we’re trying to tie up all the loose administrative ends this week. We don’t want any important mail to end up in Chessington, after all. And we want the flat to be secure. Plus, the car will have a nice little holiday of its own somewhere. For a while, we thought about selling it but having lived here for a whole two and a bit weeks now, we accept that we really do need our own set of wheels. Public transport is OK, but we’re quite a way from the nearest train stations and tram stops.

The other day when we were driving somewhere, we passed a campervan with a brilliant sticker on the back. “Adventure before Dementia”, it said. And we thought, that’s great, that’s our philosophy right now!

This morning, I needed to go out to get some milk. I asked Liesel if she fancied going for a walk, and she said “Yes”. So we walked to Palatine Road, the main street, bought some milk and enjoyed our first coffee in the coffee bar, The Northern Den, recommended by our old Airbnb host, Iris, a few weeks ago. Liesel bumped into our old Airbnb host, Iris, just along the road. She’d left the café just before we arrived. What are the chances?

Instead of walking home, we walked further along the main road and after the bridge under the motorway, we started to walk along the path by the Mersey, towards West Didsbury. Liesel thought it would be great to have lunch at Greens, a fab vegetarian restaurant that we’ve been to several times with Jenny and Liam. It was a nice walk, yes, but poor old Liesel’s piriformis was playing up again.

We had a lovely lunch, the food’s always good. But it was so much quieter at lunchtime than it’s ever been in the evening. And as there aren’t enough pictures of food on this blog (said absolutely nobody, never ever), here’s one of what was left of my double chocolate sponge cake with chocolate sauce:

20180720_2100299153499316099614140.jpg

On this day last year, I was in an MRI scanner watching a silent Buster Keaton film while strange beeps, whoops and other sounds were being played. I was worried I might fall asleep, but I manged not to. This was some research being conducted on perception of sound by people and how it changes with age. I hope the right bits of my brain lit up while I was processing the information.

One thing we won’t miss from Chessington is our old neighbours’ frequent habit of cooking up fish curry outside. A big cauldron of pink goo that can be sniffed from hundreds of yards away. Such was the case on this day 9 years ago. It must have been especially strong that day because I mentioned it on Facebook. Pee-ook. I hope they enjoyed it, we didn’t!