Giving it 300 percent

We enjoyed a mini-heatwave, a few days when the temperature approached 30°C. So we went for a walk one evening when it was just a little cooler. We kept to shade as much as possible, avoiding the worst of the ultraviolet (there’s one) rays.

Selfie of the day

We found some blackberries in full bloom so I’m sure we’ll be back later in the year to enjoy the fruits. And, just a little further along the road (please don’t tell anybody where), we found some wild raspberries too, just a bit too far back through the thistles and brambles to approach in our besandalled feet.

Wild raspberries, for future enjoyment
Fireweed

Liesel pointed out the fireweed and explained that when this flower blooms, it will snow six weeks later. Quite an education (there’s one)! I suspect this is just Alaskan folklore, but, as a precaution (another one), I’m keeping my snow shoes handy.

The small tortoiseshell would look better against a natural background
Kindle error

The evening presented us with the first of the week’s technical faults that could have developed into an immensely vexacious (boom) affair. My Kindle displayed an error message that I’ve never seen before. Fortunately a hard reboot fixed it, which meant that I could continue my struggle with ‘Middlemarch’. After trudging through 11% of the text though, I’m sorry to say, I was so discouraged (aha), I gave up. I very rarely give up on a book once I’ve started. On the other hand, How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford is very readable.

Standing outside our luxury block of luxury apartments, looking up at the blue sky through the oak tree’s foliage, in a slight breeze on a hot day, is delightful. One branch is dead and bits of it fall down now and then. Maybe it was malnourished (oof) when it was younger.

Oak tree, blue sky, dead branch

Now that things are slowly opening up again, we enjoyed a couple of days out at National Trust properties. For the first time since the lockdown was implemented, we went to Dunham Massey. This is usually a very busy, popular place, but on this occasion, we had little problem keeping a safe distance away from people. We try to keep our levels of anxiousness (da-dah) down, but when you’re breathing the same air, the risk is always at the back of your mind.

This duck would look better against a natural background

I always investigate the sundial near the main entrance but it has never occurred to me before that the statue supporting it might be offensive: a ‘Blackamoor’ with white bulging eyes. There’s white privilege for you.

Blackamoor statue removed
A field with a few shrink-wrapped cows, I think

The deer were very prominent today: I suspect they’ve become used to people not being around, recently. Other visitors were indulging in the questionable (badoom) activity of approaching the deer and stroking them.

We paid a quick visit to Jenny to drop off some food items. It was an ideal day to deliver butter: 30° or so! We had a quick chat with Martha and William through the window, and I managed to get a good photo this time!

Martha and William through the window
Installing update
Unwanted software

Technical issue number 2. My PC still runs Windows 7, which has not been supported by Microsoft since January. So I was surprised one night when turning it off, it said it was installing an update. My heart sank. This was not authorised (ooh) by me. Next time I booted up, it gleefully told me that Microsoft Edge had been installed. Ever since, it’s been nagging me to accept its terms and conditions. Why? I didn’t want it in the first place! I’ve been uninstalling a lot of unused software recently, and this is another candidate for the chop. But why am I worried? Because once when I uninstalled iTunes from a PC, it also took away that machine’s ability to play CDs. Technology’s great, when it works.

I can’t remember the last time I had a twelve hour sleep with only one interruption. But this happened at the weekend and I can only say I felt fantastic afterwards. Even the smell of freshly baked scones didn’t disturb my slumbers. Thanks, Liesel! We drove to Quarry Bank Mill, the second of the week’s National Trust venues, under changeable skies. Sunny and blue for a while, then cloudy and grey. We mostly avoided the rain and enjoyed a fabulous walk around the gardens. The mill itself is still closed, but we were able to buy a coffee, so that’s encouraging (bazinga).

A gorgeous display of colour
Mick in the thick of it

At one point, we could look down and see the rain in the valley. We felt just a few spots but took shelter under one of the rocks, which strangely, was reminiscent of the painted rocks in the Kakadu, albeit much cooler. Growing out of the cliff-like rock, was this tree, just clinging on by its finger-nails.

Hanging on
This dragonfly would look better against a natural background

As well as all the pretty flowers, they grow a lot of food here, but I was dissuaded from scrumping an apple.

Apple tree, artichoke, kohl rabi and coffee, cheers
Old, gnarly tree
More colour
Something went wrong

The third of our technical issues was on TV. BBC iPlayer usually just plods along and does its thing, once you’ve navigated to the programme you want to watch. But again, our hearts sank when we saw this. Could our Freeview box be on its last legs? Was a transmitter struck by lightning in one of the ongoing storms? Anyway, it was soon rectified and hasn’t recurred. It briefly interrupted our enjoyment of the Glastonbury Festival. This year’s 50th anniversary festival has been cancelled due to Covid, but the BBC are showing several performances from previous years.

Dolly Parton and her saxophone
Barry Gibb with Coldplay

So far this year, we’ve watched or re-watched quite a few of our favourites, most of whom we’ve never actually seen in real life. So, thanks to David Bowie, REM, Florence and the Machine, Christine and the Queens, Adele and her potty mouth. Coldplay persuaded the Glasonbury King, Michael Eavis, to sing My Way and sang a couple of Bee Gees songs with Barry Gibb. Dolly Parton is always good value too. As well as many of her greatest songs, she performed Yakety Sax on her saxophone. Elbow’s songs are often pretty straightforward, but Guy Garvey’s voice and his magnificent instrumentation (ooh, another one) always make the performance something special. Even from the comfort of our own living room.

What? You’re wondering how I can just briefly mention David Bowie at Glastonbury and not dwell a little longer on the subject? At the time of writing, I have watched this programme twice. It’s the first time the full performance has been broadcast on normal TV. He enjoyed it, we fell in love with his bass player, Gail Ann Dorsey all over again, the band was all together.

David Bowie at Glastonbury in 2000. He’d first performed there in 1971 at 5.30 in the morning, there was no curfew in those days.

The set list:

Wild is the Wind
Little China Girl
Changes
Stay
Life on Mars
Absolute Beginners
Ashes to Ashes
Rebel Rebel
Little Wonder
Golden Years
Fame
All the Young Dudes
The Man Who Sold the World
Station to Station
Starman
Hallo Spaceboy
Under Pressure
Ziggy Stardust
Heroes
Let’s Dance
I’m Afraid of Americans

We still miss Mr Bowie, and many of us think that the equilibrium of the world was upset by his early death in 2016. So happy we still have his music.

The heatwave came to an end and the rain returned.

I can’t stand the rain against my windows bringing back sweet memories

It was a quiet Sunday, but I was definitely wabbit by the end of the day: wish I could justify my state of exhaustion (yes).

Liesel’s been busy knitting a beautiful hat.

A bobble hat before the application of the pompom
Sanny Rudravajhala

Radio Northenden broadcast its 50th show today, Monday, and I, Mick the Knife, was invited to take part, have a chat and pick three songs on lock, three tracks that I like to listen to while on lockdown. Thanks for the opportunity, Sanny, and I hope I’m not too embarrassed when I listen back later!

If you want to hear me and my little show, visit the Radio Northenden showreel and listen to Monday 29th June 2020.

So there’s a 50th, and here’s a 300th. Yup, you are reading the 300th post on this blog so as a bonus, to celebrate, here is a list of 300 words, each of which contains all 5 vowels. I’ve been collecting these for several years. In fact, the first one I was aware of was while still in education (ding). A teacher at school accused me of being facetious (dong). I very nearly said, “Did you realise that ‘facetious’ contains all five vowels?” But luckily I realised just in time that that would just be confirming her ridiculous opinion.

I’ve been adding to the list pretty much ever since then, moreso recently, as I know how fascinated Liesel is(n’t) when I announce a new discovery. Most of them are from books, some from subtitles or dialogue (ooh) from TV shows and, this week, in the space of ten minutes, I spotted a few on my Twitter feed.


In (more or less) the order I noted them down, here are 300 words all containing at least one incidence each of A, E, I, O and U:

        1. Precaution
        2. Precarious
        3. Exhaustion
        4. Nonsequential
        5. Equiproportional
        6. Persuasion
        7. Insouciance
        8. Remuneration
        9. Augmentation
        10. Autoinjector
        11. Overpopulation
        12. Delusional
        13. Ecuadorian
        14. Dishonourable
        15. Rheumatologist
        16. Unsociable
        17. Expostulating
        18. Coeducational
        19. Neuroradiology
        20. Recapitulation
        21. Pseudobirthday
        22. Neuroplasticity
        23. Favourite
        24. Gregarious
        25. Intermolecular
        26. Consequential
        27. Equinoctial
        28. Manoeuvrability
        29. Autopsies
        30. Equatorial
        31. Malnourished
        32. Institutionalised
        33. Exsanguination
        34. Encouraging
        35. Repudiation
        36. Proceduralism
        37. Deucalion
        38. Autoimmune
        39. Anxiousness
        40. Hermaphroditus
        41. Refutation
        42. Unequivocal
        43. Authoritative
        44. Communicative
        45. Dehumanisation
        46. Misdemeanor
        47. Deputation
        48. Reputation
        49. Unifoliate
        50. Eunomia
        51. Unconscionable
        52. Housewarming
        53. Pterosauria
        54. Overqualified
        55. Uncontaminated
        56. Discombobulated
        57. Housemaid
        58. Unnegotiable
        59. Reconfiguration
        60. Moustachioed
        61. Denticulation
        62. Neurological
        63. Insurmountable
        64. Intercommunication
        65. Pelargonium
        66. Unprofessional
        67. Sequoia
        68. Authorised
        69. Authorities
        70. Endocarpium
        71. Autoerotic
        72. Mountaineer
        73. Education
        74. Abstemious
        75. Unmethodical
        76. Facetious
        77. Harbourside
        78. Carnoustie
        79. Cointreau
        80. Immunotherapy
        81. Evacuation
        82. Bivouacked
        83. Businesswoman
        84. Regulation
        85. Recuperation
        86. Euphoria
        87. Euphorbia
        88. Nonequivalence
        89. Unfashionable
        90. Revolutionary
        91. Cauliflower
        92. Behaviour
        93. Chivalrousness
        94. Pneumonia
        95. Boundaries
        96. Authentication
        97. Gelatinousness
        98. Absolutist
        99. Evolutionary
        100. Exclusionary
        101. Unaffectionate
        102. Encrustation
        103. Equation
        104. Prosecutorial
        105. Tambourine
        106. Unprofitable
        107. Auctioneer
        108. Trepidacious
        109. Tenacious
        110. Emulation
        111. Evaluation
        112. Undiscoverable
        113. Seismosaurus
        114. Ostentatious
        115. Crematorium
        116. Quaternion
        117. Discourage
        118. Mountainside
        119. Exhumation
        120. Functionalities
        121. Unemotional
        122. Preoccupation
        123. Semiautomatic
        124. Byelorussia
        125. Mendacious
        126. Excruciation
        127. Beautification
        128. Ejaculation
        129. Reunification
        130. Undomesticated
        131. Warehousing
        132. Documentaries
        133. Atrioventricular
        134. Fontainebleau
        135. Questionable
        136. Autofellatio
        137. Overcultivate
        138. Simultaneous
        139. Documentation
        140. Perambulation
        141. Auditioned
        142. Discontinuance
        143. Exculpation
        144. Exultation
        145. Sanctimoniousness
        146. Instrumentation
        147. Andouillettes
        148. Microcephalus
        149. Pandemonium
        150. Endeavouring
        151. Spermatogonium
        152. Nefarious
        153. Vexatious
        154. Manoeuvring
        155. Mozambique
        156. Ratatouille
        157. Bougainvillea
        158. Renunciation
        159. Biconjugate
        160. Savouries
        161. Endocranium
        162. Houseplant
        163. Intellectualisation
        164. Unequivocally
        165. Heliopause
        166. Duodecimal
        167. Boatbuilder
        168. Sacrilegious
        169. Sequestration
        170. Reuploading
        171. Filamentous
        172. Unapologetic
        173. Ketonuria
        174. Overfatigued
        175. Resuscitation
        176. Coequality
        177. Gubernatorial
        178. Labourite
        179. Simultaneously
        180. Flirtatiousness
        181. Dunbartonshire
        182. Boardinghouse
        183. Numerlogical
        184. Quadrisection
        185. Outdistance
        186. Jalousie
        187. Ultraviolet
        188. Aeronautical
        189. Unintentionally
        190. Unostentatious
        191. Authorise
        192. Glamourise
        193. Radioluminescent
        194. Communicated
        195. Contextualisation
        196. Conceptualisation
        197. Gigantopithecus
        198. Authenticator
        199. Perturbation
        200. Austronesian
        201. Fluoridate
        202. Uneconomical
        203. Unexceptional
        204. Grandiloquence
        205. Misbehaviour
        206. Muscoidea
        207. Beaujolais
        208. Boulangerie
        209. Praetorium
        210. Dauphinoise
        211. Jailhouse
        212. Questionableness
        213. Preoccupational
        214. Gauloise
        215. Consubstantiate
        216. Quatrefoil
        217. Plesiosaur
        218. Misfortunate
        219. Undemocratically
        220. Secularisation
        221. Dialogue
        222. Antineutrino
        223. Obituaries
        224. Heterosexuality
        225. Efficacious
        226. Uncomplimentary
        227. Unconstipated
        228. Gelatinous
        229. Repopulation
        230. Dehumanisation
        231. Neurobiochemical \
        232. Speculation / these two in a row in this book
        233. Portraiture
        234. Sulfonamide
        235. Tenaciously
        236. Langoustine
        237. Excommunication
        238. Carboniferous
        239. Eunoia
        240. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
        241. Crenulation
        242. Gourmandise
        243. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
        244. Enumeration
        245. Menstruation
        246. Overhauling
        247. Pasteurisation
        248. Reevaluation
        249. Neurofibromatosis
        250. Boulevardier
        251. Conceptualise
        252. Physiotherapeutic
        253. Automobile
        254. Autoshield
        255. Pseudohermaphrodite
        256. Larcenious
        257. Outpatient
        258. Unmotivated
        259. Uncontaminated
        260. Contextualise
        261. Autosuggestion
        262. Magnanimousness
        263. Overenthusiastically
        264. Equivocal
        265. Consanguineous
        266. Permutation
        267. Unexceptionable
        268. Armouries
        269. Humectation
        270. Underestimation
        271. Australopithecus
        272. Hallucinogen
        273. Europeanise
        274. Tragedious
        275. Putrefaction
        276. Fountainbridge
        277. Expurgation
        278. Groundbreaking
        279. Thermocoagulation
        280. Revolutionary
        281. Abstentious
        282. Miscellaneous
        283. Multimillionaire
        284. Audiophile
        285. Elocutionary
        286. Praseodymium
        287. Unsensational
        288. Housecleaning
        289. Eukaryotic
        290. Genitourinary
        291. Mykobacterium
        292. Abdoulie Sallah
        293. Prepublication
        294. Unsportsmanlike
        295. Anticoagulative
        296. Countersurveillance
        297. Decoagulation
        298. Gratuitousness
        299. Salaciousness
        300. Misevaluation
        301. Recurvation
        302. Ambiguousness
        303. Inoculated
        304. Tautologies
        305. Outlandishness
        306. Overenthusiastic
        307. Regularisation
      1. Oh, extra, extra, here are a few that don’t really count!
        1. (Tamsin) Outhwaite
        2. Jo Caulfield
        3. (Simone de) Beauvoir
        4. Serge Gainsbourg
        5. Liquorice Allsorts
        6. Au revoir!

See you soon for the 301st!

Bird watching

We’ve been to the Green Note, London’s favourite music venue (Time Out, 2015) a few times. My last visit was with Esther a few years ago and we enjoyed watching and listening to Erin McKeown perform live. Well, the venue’s not open right now so they too are putting out shows online. We watched Erin McKeown, Dar Williams and Cara Luft at virtually at Green Note and it was really enjoyable. We sat on our own sofa rather then the beer kegs that you get in real life, if you’re a bit late to the party. Of course, at the end of a virtual gig, there’s no point hanging around for a selfie or an autograph.

Erin McKeown

We’d recommend watching and buying Erin’s latest single, The Escape, which reflects what many of us are thinking about right now. And there can’t be too many songs that namecheck ‘Hydrochloroquine’!

For some reason, the video won’t load or play here, but here’s William at home, laughing  at a cartoon called Bing about feeding ducks that he finds hilarious. We miss his laugh in real life.

William

We took a couple of nice walks by the river this week too, still avoiding people even if they don’t always try to avoid us. Joggers are the worst culprits in this respect.

Heron
Ducks
Magpie
Heron on the weir

Hmm, I don’t know whether we have more than one heron in Northenden, or whether this is the same one having taken a short flight.

Girls, girls, girls

Three girls daring each other to get into the water which was absolutely freezing apparently. It looks deeper here than I’d realised, making me reconsider my plan one day to wade over to the gravel island.

Geese on the island in the stream
Keep Northenden Tidy

Thanks, bin, we did enjoy our walk and he had no rubbish to take home. One day, we’ll go out with litter pickers and pick up the litter that litter bugs have littered all over our little village.

Some other highlights this week. Bin day: it was the turn of all the landfill bins, the food waste bin and the paper and cardboard recycling bins. I disposed of more of the oak tree. there’s one or two dead branches and every few days, another big, dead lump falls down.

As I was putting out the bins, overhead honking alerted me to a skein of geese flying south. They weren’t in a V-formation, though. Something went wrong with the organisation, there was just one leg of the V: a /-formation, so to speak.

Ocado came and delivered again, as they do about every three weeks now. The driver said if we keep ordering that much, he’s gonna need a bigger lorry. Liesel wonders whether we have more food her now than we ever had in Chessington. I don’t think so because we have so much less storage space.

Car insurance. Every year, we have to buy car insurance but it seems to some round much faster. After a bit of searching, I found a policy that was less than half the price quoted by our broker of several years. They couldn’t match the new quote, so we jumped ship. Oh yuss.

These things really shouldn’t be the highlight of the week, should they! It’s funny how every day, trivial matters have acquired greater significance and importance and even entertainment value.

We’ve just started watching the whole of Doctor Who, starting with series 1 from 2005. It’s amazing how much of it I remember when I see it again, but if, out of the blue, you asked me to jot down the story lines, I don’t think I’d be able to write much. Funny how memory works. I would love to watch the classic series from the ’60s and ’70s, of course, but I’m happy to save those for the next pandemic lockdown.

We’ve both read last year’s Booker prize winning novel, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’, by Bernardine Evaristo. We both gave it five stars out of five, making ten altogether.

Next on the list is a virtual visit to Manchester Museum to see Egyptology in Lockdown, at 3pm BST, every Thursday.

Apropos of absolutely nothing, here is a short list of notable people who have all five vowels in their name.

      • (Tamsin) Outhwaite
      • Abdoulie (Sallah)
      • Jo Caulfield
      • (Simone de) Beauvoir
      • Serge Gainsbourg

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.

Walking All Over Cancer

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 1. Sunday 1st March was the first day of my attempt to walk 10,000 steps daily, for a month, for Cancer Research. And what a good start to the campaign on this, our hottest Malta day so far.

I took 22,608 steps altogether and they were all most enjoyable. Well, all except one, at about 17,000 steps. We were ambling along on the flat rocky beach, soaking up some rays, when my left foot decided to go the wrong way. It twisted, I did a little dance, and sat down for a moment to recuperate. Three people up on the promenade help up a big red which I think means they were impressed by my spontaneous display of choreography.

I walked, limped and hobbled home. In Malta, you can only buy drugs from pharmacists and they’re mostly closed on Sundays. So, indoors, I rested, anticipating walking a shorter distance the following day, mostly in airports, as, sadly it’s time to leave this gorgeous little island.

I am sailing, I am sailing

Don’t worry: I won’t bang on about this Walk All Over Cancer malarkey every day, but I thought I might as well try and get some sympathy (and more sponsors, wink, wink) for my injury!

So how come I walked so far today? Mainly because I went out on my own for an hour, before Liesel joined me.

A cat named Scar

I was hoping to see some Malta Marathon runners in action, but I think the course was too far away. I did see a few folks running for fun, and I was surprised at how little road traffic there was.

There were more people down on the beach today, and even a few swimming in the sea.

People on the beach

The water was beautifully clear, and, with the bright sunshine, you’d think you’d see little fishes in the water, but no. Not even any crabs on the rocks. But there must be something there worth fishing for.

Cool, clear water

Later, Liesel and I did pass by some proud owners of medals and space blankets, a nice mix of old and young people, some struggling to walk home and some looking fresh, like they could do it all over again!

We paid one final visit to French Affaire for pastizzi (both of us), a crêpe (Liesel), coffee (both) and not carrot cake (should have been for me, but it didn’t show up).

We walked into and straight out of the nearby Point Shopping Mall and there was only one thing we needed here.

All you need is love

At this point, I still had two fully functioning feet, so walking back towards our Airbnb was a potentially easy, slow amble, watching people and trying to ignore the honking people in the traffic jams.

Twelve days in Malta was never going to be long enough, we knew that, but we have had a brilliant time.

Because it feels like Summer to me, I’m dressed for warm weather, so I stand out and it must be pretty obvious I’m a visitor. When I’ve mentioned Manchester to interested locals, there’s no need to mention its rain, they already know. And I can’t describe how happy I am that nobody has mentioned the UK leaving the EU, not even to have a good laugh at our expense.

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 2. This was one of those days not meant to be much fun, purely functional. Bus, walk, plane, walk, bus, home. I managed 11,481 steps with one slightly sore foot, just from walking to the bus stop, around the airports and around the flat back in England.

I was escorted by a security official at the airport in Malta. Having passed through Security, we found that the only pharmacy was back in the outside world. I had to be escorted back out so that I could purchase some painkillers. I got some funny looks: they probably thought I was being arrested, a trouble-maker.

And so we looked down upon the sunny uplands of England before landing at Manchester Airport. Sunny uplands? Well, yeah, but also: snow.

Snow on them hills

We caught the bus back home from the airport, and the driver was very relaxed, probably enjoying his book as much as driving the new, quiet, green, electric bus.

How to Drive Buses by Victoria BusStation

We try and convince ourselves it’s nice to be home, but when the rain comes down that much, it’s hard to get motivated to go out for a walk on our first full day back. But I did, notwithstanding the sore foot, and I completed the required number of steps.

In the evening, Liesel went to to a WI meeting, leaving me to watch the latest two episodes of Doctor Who. Wow, possibly the best two episodes for many a series, bringing together the current Doctor, the classic series, the novels and fan-fiction, as far as I could tell!

After a reasonable night’s sleep, Liesel ‘encouraged’ me to get up and go for a walk: she was motivated, plus, it was sunny. I was halfway through a podcast at the time, but the feeling of being miffed didn’t last long.

In the shower, I noticed the bruising to my foot had spread to heel and toes as well as the side. Very impressive. Yes, of course I asked Liesel to take pictures, but they’re far too graphic for this forum.

We walked to Chorlton, partly along the river, a much more interesting jaunt than my solo circuit in Northenden yesterday.

We admired the colourful graffitti under the motorway. Admired? Bemoaned. The geese by the Mersey didn’t bother us so we didn’t bother them either.

Geeses on the Mersey

We enjoyed the feeling of apricity on our faces, and the sight of many early Spring flowers. The only place we know in Chorlton is The Laundrette, a restaurant. Imagine my dismay when I looked it up on Google Maps to see that it was Permanently Closed. How disappointing. And only a 17-hour walk away too. Huh? Yes, I’d found a place in Wales, with the same name and same logo on the shop front fascia sign. Our Laundrette is still going strong, we broke our fast there before returning home. Because the Sun had been so bright, my glasses were ridiculously dark, I had to use an app on my phone to read the menu. We were happy that it stayed dry despite the 85% chance of rain.

Sorry to share some sad news. Last year, I acquired a pen at Ayers Rock Resort in Australia. It became my favourite biro, providing a very satisfying, smooth writing experience. A few nights ago, mid Killer Sudoku, it died. It ran out of ink. Its natural bodily juices are no more.

RIP Ayers Rock Resort pen

I gave it a decent Christian burial in the bin in our Malta b&b.

But the good news is, 4 days in, I have managed the planned 10,000+ steps every day!

Chocolatté

Our weekly walk to Didsbury was wiped out due to the strong, cold wind, apparently from Siberia but actually from the Atlantic. So we donned our wimp outfits and drove instead, did what we needed to do and then returned home for a late breakfast. And then, of course, we stayed indoors for the rest of the day.

Despite the wind, though, I did go for a few little jaunts in and around Northenden this week. Some signs are designed to be ignored, of course, such as this:

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Keep Wythenshawe Tidy

Again, the thought crossed my mind: I could have taken out the litter picker upper and performed a public service.

I followed a previously avoided footpath, expecting it to emerge at a particular place, on a particulr road, but no, it deviated, turned left and then left again, took me much further then anticipated.

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The path to nowhere

But what an adventure. I emerged in the middle of the industrial estate, deserted on a Sunday, and found my way home after a couple more detours. So where are the photos? Sadly, not much photogenic here. A railway line just visible through the bare naked bushes? The same path but a bit further along? The copious amounts of litter that I could have picked up with the right hardware? The even more copious, yet unreachable, litter way behind the fences?

Meanwhile at home, Liesel took down our Christmas decorations, slightly later than most people had. My contribution was to put the three boxes of ornaments and lights into our very small attic space. It’s beginning to look a lot like normal.

Some folks are still having a good time, and they enjoy telling us mere mortals all about it. Just what exactly are we missing out on here?

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We’re closed

I’ll tell you what we missed out on: this local tattoo parlour potentially lost a customer or two! Maybe next month.

I’ve been walking around the neighbourhood for a while and I couldn’t work out why the old sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles, starring Richard Briers and Pauline Wilton, kept popping into my head. It was on TV over thirty years ago and as far as I know, hasn’t been shown since. At last, I have solved the mystery. I’ve walked by or across this crossroads many times.

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Howard Road and St Hilda’s Road

Howard Road and St Hilda’s Road, named after two minor characters in an old TV show: Howard and Hilda, a married couple, best remembered because they usually wore jumpers with the same design.

While I have St Hilda’s in mind, here is the actual church which probably didn’t win many prizes for its architectural brilliance but I’m sure it’s very welcoming.

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Catholic church of St Hilda and St Aidan

In this bleak and slightly gloomy midwinter, the spirits are always lifted by a splash of colour. As mentioned many times in this place, my horticultural knowledge is minimal, so I’ll leave identification of this bush to the experts.

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A pretty but possibly deadly plant

Kenworthy Lane Woods is managed by the Mersey Valley Countryside Warden Service for people and wildlife. The Mersey Valley Joint Committee includes Manchester City Council and Trafford Metropolitan Borough. The Countryside Agency also have their logo on the very informative sign as does Red Rose Forest of which The Mersey Valley is a part. Well, it’s a nice walk through the woods, and there is plenty of evidence indicating the presence of people. But I’ve never seen any wildlife here bigger than a sparrow, which is a little disappointing.

We’ve walked by the cemetery several times now, on our way to the river or to Didsbury, but this week for the first time, I spent some time looking at the outside of our local parish church.

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St Wilfrid’s parish church of Northenden

As can be seen from the photo, the sky today was glorious, bright, uplifting, proper sky blue. The Sun was bright and made for some good photo opportunties, such as this familiar bird from the local playground.

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I see a little silhouetto of a bird

Today’s farewell message is to Microsoft Windows 7. As from this week, my PC’s operating system will no longer be supported. No security updates. No software updates. No tech support. So imagine my delight a couple of days later when my PC was taking a long time to turn itself off because… it was processing three updates to the operating system!

It seems mean to enjoy myself at a playground without a child. We returned later in the week, with William in tow. He had a great time climbing up the steps and the rocks, sliding down the slides and we all cheered up at the sight of the year’s first crocus. Spring is on its way!

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The year’s first crocus
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I’m the king of the castle
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Oma and William

William himself decided when he’d had enough fun outside, so we walked to the local coffee bar. Latté for me, Americano for Liesel and a babyccino for William. He asked for  a chocolate bar to go with it, a Flake, so I went back to the counter to ask for one. I was expecting to pay extra, but no, it was given to me on a plate. In fact, the lovely girl gave me two Flakes. I presented them to William who immediately put one into his drink, which was cool enough to drink. Without any prompting or asking, he immediately gave the other one to me. I held out the plate to receive it, but that wasn’t what he wanted. Instead, William dropped the Flake into my still hot latté, where it dissolved very quickly, of course. So I had a slightly chocolatey latté. But really, I was just taken by William’s generosity and kindness, he could have kept both Flakes for himself and that would have been OK (just don’t tell his parents). We praised him for sharing, but it was a bit disappointing that I couldn’t show him my chocolate bar when he asked.

I collected Martha from Nursery and we had a nice chat on the walk home about all sorts of things. Not politics or religion though: I know my limits.

It has been an educational week. As I walked by a coffee bar, a couple of guys were outside, having a deep and meaningful discussion about the menu items. The one gem I took away from what I overheard was this: carrot cake is the same as carrot corn flakes. On the other hand, I did confirm that K athmandu is pretty close to the Himalayas.

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Palatine Road, Northenden

What I failed to discern though was why there’s a big gap in K athmandu. Just one of Northenden’s many mysteries.

2019 into 2020

Another year over and a new one just begun. I’ve lost count of the number of jokes about 2020 Vision and this being the only year named after a popular cricket format. MMXX. As a residential speed limit sign might say, 2020 is plenty plenty. I resisted the temptation to show π to 2020 decimal places, sorry, Liesel. Before the new year started we were in a period apparently known as Twixmas, a term I’ve never heard before, and I hope never to hear again. Oh well, this is why we love the English language, I suppose: anything goes.

If I were commuting, I would welcome this safe cycle parking facility that I came across by a Metro station. The Bike Locker Users’ Club is the sort of club I’d like to join, if I were a bike locker user.

Bike locker

While I was out on a long stroll, via the GP (don’t worry, it was just to take in a prescription request) and the bank, Liesel was at home completing the jigsaw puzzle she received for Christmas, just five days earlier. What a star!

Liesel’s completed Wasgij jigsaw puzle, wow!

There is still a lot to learn about our neighbourhood. Wythenshawe is, according to the sign, one of the greenest places in Manchester. What the sign doesn’t say is that it is also one of the most littered places in Manchester. Probably. You’re never more than three feet away from a discarded can or coffee cup or lolly wrapper. We must make more use of our litter picker-uppers. If David Sedaris and Ian McMillan can do it, then so can we!

Wythenshawe, the home of Wythenshawe Market
Farewell, old friends in the European Community

Presumably, this sort of support from the European Community will stop when the UK leaves the EU at the end of January. But still: blue passports, hooray!

I was listening to Serenade Radio in bed late on New Year’s Eve, some nice, relaxing, easy listening. The feed online was a bit delayed so I leapt a mile when all the local fireworks went off at what I thought was well before midnight! Liesel got out of bed to look at them, I couldn’t be bothered. Hello 2020, and Happy New Year.

Fireworks from Queenstown, NZ, not Northenden, UK, thanks, Helen

Meanwhile, in NZ, Helen and Adam enjoyed these fireworks in Queenstown, but despite the temptation, neither of them did a bungy jump. They’ve been in 2020 slightly longer than the rest of us and other than the smoke from the Aussie bush fires drifting across the Tasman Sea, there is nothing bad to report.

Liesel and I joined the wider family for a New Year’s meal at Alan and Una’s house. There were fourteen of us on this occasion: the same bunch of ne’er-do-wells from last week plus John and Geri, Paul’s parents. Geri, aka Nana Strawberry as far as William’s concerned!

Jenny and Martha

For the first time in ages, I think I may have eaten too much. Usually I stop as soon as I’ve had enough, but there was so much lovely food, thanks, Una!

Several mega-calories to burn off then, which I did the following day, walking to the GP (it’s alright, I was just collecting the prescription that I’d requested a few days ago), then to a pharmacy. Boy, was I glad I wasn’t on my bike when I saw this sign.

1 in 29, how does anyone manage that?

The gradient is greater than 1:29, it was hard enough walking up it, never mind cycling. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t even notice the very slight incline and wouldn’t have given it a first, never mind a second, thought, if I hadn’t seen the warning sign.

I was taken back to my childhood for a moment as I stood on a bridge and watched a very long train pass by underneath, on its way to Gatley.

Commuters in the area would love seeing a Northern Rail train this long, rather than the 3-carriage options that are over-crowded every morning

This time, though, it wasn’t a steam train and my Mum and I didn’t have a coughing fit as we were enveloped in clouds of smoke, and we weren’t picking off smuts for the rest of the day.

Liesel and I accepted the invitation to look after the children for a day while Jenny ‘filled in her tax form’. At first, I thought this was a euphemism for ‘have a nice relaxing massage without those pesky kids ruining the peaceful atmosphere’, but I think she really was filling in forms, judging by the ink blots on her fingers.

So we took William and Martha to the zoo where, as usual, we emerged from the car to a much colder wind than we had at home. Should have worn a thicker coat, said Liesel. As she always does. Only to forget on our next visit.

Puddles, elephants, bats, and the Treetop Challenge were today’s big hits. We saw just one lion in the new enclosure.

Lion planning her escape
Too high to climb it so I’ll just roll under it, if that’s alright
Treetop Challenge, safety harness, down a couple of short zip lines
Giant Owl butterfly: none of them wanted to settle on Martha’s sleeve this time

Unusually, we timed it right, and saw the penguins at feeding time. But the most entertaining aspect was watching one of the zookeepers waving his fish net around, trying to keep the seagulls away.

Penguins fighting off the seagulls with a little help from the keeper of the net

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, they are delightful children to spend time with, great fun, and very interested in the world. Their only fault is not appreciating good music when it’s on offer. “What song do you want me to sing?” I ask from the front of the car. “No song”, comes the chorus from the back. Oh well, their loss.

A bit of jiggery-pokery with the photo editor on my phone and I produced this masterpiece

The first Saturday of the year found us walking to Didsbury, along the river, past the golf course.

Just one of a few strange characters we met on our walk

As Liesel noted, all the runners and joggers seemed to be scowling today. Maybe they were carrying a bit too much extra flab after the Christmas feasting. Or maybe they were regretting their New Year’s Resolutions!

“Edgar?” I commented, “That’s a funny name for a dog.”
“No”, said Liesel, “He said ‘good girl’.”
Nothing wrong with my hearing.

Here are a few more of our new acquaintances.

Poor chap thinks it’s still nighttime
A family of Owls in Didsbury Park – there are some talented wood-carvers around
Outside the fish shop, believe it or not

Liesel couldn’t watch it all but I enjoyed the first episode (of 3) of the new TV drama based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Did someone say it was a bit scary? They did indeed. It is. Fantastic. And the only nightmare I had was another work-based dream, in which I was ‘invited’ to work for a few hours on a Sunday so I’d be ahead of the game on Monday. Trouble is, this is just the sort of nonsense Royal Mail might come up with in real life. It’s four years almost to the day since I last had to go to work, so why I still dream about it is a total mystery.

Christmas Presence

And that was it. All that anticipation and suddenly, Christmas is over. Just a few days of sitting around, eating, drinking, visiting, socialising, perambulating, being entertained and generally over-indulging. We’re now feeling bloated, we need some exercise, we’re making resolutions for the new year most of which will be forgotten or broken fairly quickly. I try not to make resolutions at this time of year for that very reason. I resolve to do better at any time of the year, even if it’s only for a brief period. Such as the time I chose to give up chocolate for the whole of February. Next time I give up my favourite confection for a while, it won’t be during the month that includes Valentine’s day and a wedding anniversary or two. Which, in a way, is itself a resolution.

Christmas Day, we visited the grandchildren of course, bearing gifts and food. Liesel was very busy in the kitchen, baking cinnamon rolls and scones, building a Christmas tree from fruit, making American-style fudge.

Fruit tree

And of course, Jenny made us ‘eggs’, a frittata-like dish from a recipe(*) passed down from Liesel’s grandmother.

The other grandparents, Nana and Papa, Una and Alan, were here too.

Elsa from Frozen

Elsa might look a bit uncomfortable here in her new bed. But don’t worry. Liesel had made her a nice soft mattress, a duvet and a pillow which Elsa and Martha were both very pleased with.

William with his new Chef’s hat, made with love by Oma

It’s fun watching the children ripping the wrapping and then ignoring the contents in favour of something older and more familiar. Martha was very keen to help William open his parcels, but he was happy to ignore her pleas and proceed at his own pace. Martha pulled most of the crackers, with different people at the other end, and was suitably excited about winning the toys and she laughed at all of the jokes!

Meanwhile, Helen and Adam spent Christmas with Pauline and Andrew in Christchurch, prior to their adventure touring the beautiful South Island of New Zealand.

We gathered again at Jenny’s on Boxing Day’s Boxing Day. Again, we were joined by Nana and Papa and this time, Liam’s sister Andrea, her husband Paul and their daughters Annabel and Emily joined us too. Certainly a full, and at times noisy, house! Great fun, though.

Welcome to the house
Playmobil flowers

Playmobil is much more detailed than I remember it being when Jenny and Helen were little. It’s a good way to keep parents occupied for several hours, putting the hundreds, if not thousands, of components together to make a zoo or a farmyard, or both.

I know it breaks all laws of nature, but this Christmas cake was very nice.

Igloo with penguins

This cake was the prize in a competition to guess how many used 4-pint plastic milk cartons were used to build an igloo. I saw the picture, guessed 212, but the real answer was 490, I think. Jenny’s guess was the closest at 485.

Speaking of igloos, the best programme I saw on TV over the Christmas period was The Last Igloo, slow TV at its best, good music and a fascinating insight into the life of one man in east Greenland. Catch it while you can!

Where’s William? Hide and seek

After a few days of slouching, not moving much, it was time to engage in some gentle exercise, walking around the streets of Northenden, spying on the natives. One man’s ringtone was the theme from the old TV series, The Prisoner. I watched the joggers not really enjoying their run along the river. There was a business conference taking place in Costa, apparently: a queue out of the door, and all the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen wearing illegible name badges. It’s nice of people to give their old stuff to charity shops, but such a shame to see so much dumped outside, in the elements, when the shop’s not going to be open for a few more days. Ooh, I think I’ll go fly-tipping but it’s OK, look, I’m giving it to chariddy.

Quite possibly the most ornate gate in the village
Animal, vegetable or mineral? Grass, bamboo, stalks, very pretty colour whatever this lifeform is
National Cycle Ntework route 62 looks challenging
Another Northenden sunset
And a few minutes later, it’s goodnight from the Moon and Venus

My soundtrack while writing today has been Johnnie Walker’s Sounds of the ’70s, on BBC Radio 2. If you fancy a music quiz courtesy of his guest, David Hepworth, follow this link.

One of my favourite Christmas songs is Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. I’m not usually a fan of her singing style: why sing one note when 120 will do, all hovering around the target note? Warbling, I call it. And so does a character in the book I’m reading right now, Thirst, by Kerry Hudson.

(*) Liesel’s grandmother’s eggs recipe:

Serves 10-12

10 eggs
½ cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 pint cottage cheese
1 lb jack cheese
½ cube butter, melted
2 cans ortega chilies, 4 oz each

Beat the eggs, stir in the rest of the ingredients.
Pour into well-buttered 9/12 inch glass dish.
Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes or until brown.

The following paragraphs are not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition.

I’m not one to complain as you know (!) but lately, everything’s been giving up in despair. It’s a conspiracy. Everything went wrong when we put our last house up for sale. The inanimate sitting tenants revolted. I have no idea what we’ve done to upset our present cohabitants.

We bought a new set-top Freeview box because the old one was no good at connecting to the internet and it was always displaying subtitles before the characters spoke their words, more than a little disconcerting, a perpetual spoiler alert.

The dishwasher was repaired after the door-lowering mechanism snapped allowing the door to crash to the ground. These things happen in threes, right? No. More than three.

The keyboard with which I travelled and blogged for 10 months forgot how to transmit a bluetooth signal. It no longer connects to my phone, so I’m temporarily writing this stuff on the old PC. Logitech offered to send a replacement, but only to my US address, since that’s where I bought the keyboard in the first place.

Now, a few days later, my Fitbit Zip appears to have caught the same malady. It no longer syncs on my PC. Nor with Liesel’s phone, which I used for a while when the Fitbit lost contact with the app on my own phone. Nightmare. All those thousands of steps being walked and no way to prove it afterwards.

The latest appliance to cause major disgruntlement in Mick and Liesel’s luxury apartment is the kettle. Press a button and the lid opens so you can fill from the tap. Nope, not any more. You need three hands: one to hold the kettle, one to manually lift the lid and another to turn the tap on.

Good night, everyone, sleep well, don’t have nightmares.

Buxton

Two more days this week looking after little William. It’s challenging at times, yes, but he’s a lovely little chap and a delight to spend time with. Martha’s at nursery now three full days a week which is great, but she comes home very tired.

William loves the zoo and this time, I let him off the leash, let him go wherever he wanted and I just tried to keep up with the buggy. Not a real leash, that wouldn’t be very nice, he’s not a dog. But it’s so liberating not having to say “no, this way” over and over again. The monorail is now out of operation, but William was more disappointed that the dinosaurs are no longer on show. So, overall, a little less scary for this Grandad.

William with a duck

The exotic animals are all out of reach of course, but William enjoyed making friends with the ducks. By ‘making friends’, I mean, chasing round a bit and then expressing surprise when they took flight.

He briefly got his leg stuck in a fence so I’m now looking forward to the day he gets his head stuck in some railings.

William on an elephant

His language acquisition is coming on leaps and bounds. He was slightly confused by the fact that both elephants and trees have trunks, though. I didn’t dare tell him that I too have trunks, for swimming in. And other people keep their luggage in trunks.

Then, at the end of the day, after dinner, unprompted, as we were saying goodbye, he said to me “Thank you for coming over” and I think we all went a little bit.

Our second day out was to Brookside Garden Centre but this has nothing to do with the only soap that I’ve watched and enjoyed on TV.

William on a train

We had a ride on the miniature railway but he was really taken by the shop, full of Thomas the Tank Engine models and books. I say taken, because he literally took one book outside, “to read on the train” so of course I had to pay for it before he was arrested for shoplifting.

There were only little fishes in the aquarium, but the coins in the wishing well caught his attention too. We played hide and seek in and around the willow tree.

And again, at the end of the day, I was thanked for my services.

Liesel has missed out on all this fun but, on the other hand, she has been celebrating a significant birthday in Alaska with family and friends.

Last time I went to Buxton, I cycled from Reddish and took the train back. This time, I drove, mainly because I would be coming back home very late at night. The Peak District is very pretty but I found nowhere to stop on the way to have a good look.

Pavilion Gardens with some Peaks in the background

I went into the tropical pavilion and when my glasses demisted, I could admire the tropical plants, ferns and a spider plant nearly as big as the one we had growing on our landing and down the stairs in Chessington.

I like Buxton but it’s a hilly place: I’d forgotten just how hilly. The Slopes is a green space, with slopes, yes, but with stairs too and very wlcome park benches spread liberally around.

The ceiling in Cavendish Arcade

I did find a fantastic place to eat, vegetarian and vegan food at The Herb Garden, just off the main road. Highly recommended!

The Herb Garden in Hardwick Street

Many years ago, Liesel and I were on a cycling holiday in the Peaks: we stayed at a b&b in Buxton. One day, we cycled, via Eyam, to Bakewell. We had been misinformed at the Tourist Information place: our plan was to catch a bus back to Buxton, with the bikes on a rack on the front. Only no such buses exist. So, late in the afternoon, we realised we’d have to ride back to Buxton, in a hurry, as we had a show to see at the Opera House. Riding along the A6 as it gets dark with fast moving traffic is not fun. Liesel threw her bike into the bushes at one point, saying “never again”.

Back in Buxton, we dropped the bikes off at the b&b, walked and ran to the Opera House and I think we had a bag of crisps for supper.

The concert was a Pink Floyd tribute band and while I enjoyed the music, I would prefer to have arrived in a better state, physically and mentally. Happy days, as they say!

Well, two things happened today and I’m not entirely sure they’re unrelated. First, Liesel has opted to stay a little longer in Alaska while the opportunity for work presents itself. Second, I found this poster in Buxton.

The Floyd Effect: Wall Around the Moon

I have a theory that Liesel just doesn’t want a repeat of the Pink Floyd Tribute act at Buxton Opera House incident: it would just bring back too many bad memories!

On the other hand, I now have an extra few days in which to tidy up our luxury apartment before she comes home.

I spent an interesting couple of hours at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. Many of the exhibits celebrate the wider Peak District, the geology, the history. At one point, Derbyshire was hundreds of metres below sea level, south of the equator. Plenty of fossilised sea creatures to be found in the Peaks, if you know where to look.

Selfie of the day with the popular Buxton Bear behind
Reflections by Steve Gresty

The photos by Steve Gresty of a limestone quarry are very unusual and, for me, another prompt that I really should use my real camera more often. “Limescape – The Shrouded Aersthetic” is the name of the exhibition, and visitors to Buxton are hereby encouraged to visit.

97 days until Christmas so let’s get the cards out

Spring Gardens is pedestrianised, very quiet and pleasant and full of charity shops. I recognised the figure walking towards me. “Steve?” I tentatively suggested. He stopped and confirmed it was he. Steve Delaney, the alter ego of Count Arthur Strong. I said I was seeing his show this evening at the Opera House and he said he hoped I’d enjoy it. I didn’t ask for his autograph nor a photo. But then, he didn’t ask for mine either, so we’re quits.

A new building but they’ve forgotten windows
The Sun setting behind Buxton Opera House
Why did the goose cross the miniature railway track?
Get your bike serviced here especially if you don’t need the rear wheel back

All this wandering around aimlessly and I suddenly realised that my bag had spontaneously become disorganised. All I needed was a nice space to spread out and rearrange the contents. Huh.

No sitting and rearranging your bags

The Crescent is a beautiful area, currently being refurbished and we might just go and buy one of the 80 apartments up for sale, even if they have put too many zeroes on the price tag by mistake.

The Crescent
Fill your bottles with pristine Buxton’s natural mineral water here, St Ann’s Well

And so it came to pass, I found my way back to Buxton Opera House for this evening’s performance of Count Arthur Strong‘s one-man show “Is there anybody out there?” By coincidence, this is also the title of a Pink Floyd song. It’s almost as if there is somebody out there putting this all together in some weird and wonderful way.

Buxton Opera House’s very ornate ceiling

No spoilers here, but the Count is a genius, an absolute star, very funny and the show includes, at no extra cost, a couple of wonderful tributes to those we have loved and lost. Science and music, a wonderful combination.

I met Steve again after the show for a quick chat and, of course, a photo opp.

Mick and Steve Delaney

The drive home was ok, I was surprised at how little traffic there was.

While Liesel’s been away working hard and having fun in Anchorage, I’ve been catching up on a couple of TV series that we missed because we were travelling. I saw the Tweets at the time about Line of Duty, mainly saying ‘wow’ so I’m glad to finally be catching up on that. And yes, with one episode to go, absolutely, wow.

But the one I’ve been looking forward to most is Doctor Who, the first series with Jodie Whittaker. Last year in Alaska, I got up early on a Sunday morning to watch the first episode which was, I believe, broadcast at exactly the same time across the universe. I’m limiting myself to one episode a day otherwise, as my Mum would say, I’ll get square eyes.

Appropriately, twice this week, I’ve encountered Whovian artefacts in real life, which is terrific.

Tardis in the aquarium at Brookside Garden Centre
Washing basket Dalek scarecrow: the theme for 2019’s dressed wells was ‘Space, Science and Sci-fi’

It’s the weekend of the Autumnal Equinox. Here in Manchester, we have some typical Mancunian rain although it’s still pleasantly warm. Meanwhile, over there in Alaska, the snow level is slowly moving down the mountains. “Termination dust”, it’s called, a sign that Summer is over. It looks as though Liesel might experience snow in the city before she comes home.

Termination Dust on Chugach Mountains

Martha and William excelled at swimming again this morning: it’s quite nice hearing William yell “Grandad” from the pool in such an echo-y space!