Goodbyes

Going to bed late after a delayed flight, you think you’d go to sleep fairly quickly. Oh no, not me, not with my brain. I spent far too long counting, not just sheep, but the number of animals we’d seen in various airports: bears (polar and brown), moose and horses. Well, one horse.

Horse

This is Blackleaf, by Deborah Butterfield, 2017, taking pride of place at Seattle Airport.

Dall sheep

The glass cage at Anchorage Airport is not the Dall sheep’s natural habitat, they’re more commonly found in the mountains of Alaska.

So if I were counting sheep as an aid to sleep, I would have reached a grand total of one. But I got there in the end.

A bit of a lie-in was followed by a reasonably lazy day. The three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. And it was a delight to go back to bed at a more reasonable hour.

Sadly, in an almost repeat performance from a few weeks ago, in the middle of the night, Klaus fell out of bed on his way to the toilet. Three of us couldn’t help him climb back in so again, we called the paramedics. I think this one incident really confirmed to us just how ill he is now. No strength at all.

After breakfast, I wrote some more before Liesel took us over to Pam and Owen’s place for a barbecue. Well, we went to see Una and she drove us over to Pams’, with Monica. On this occasion, on meeting her, I did not give Monica a bear hug exacerbating her shoulder injury.

My eyes were watering and I put this down to hay fever. But no, it’s more likely to be smoke from bush fires quite a long way off, Una was suffering as well. And, sure enough, the mountains were all but invisible through the haze.

Mountains through the haze

From AP News: High winds have pushed a wildfire to within miles of an Alaska Native village in western Alaska, officials said Thursday.

No evacuation orders were issued for St. Mary’s though the East Fork Fire was within 8 miles (12.9 kilometers), the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service said in a statement. No structures have been burned.

The 78-square-mile (202-square-kilometer) fire was started May 31 by lightning…

Meanwhile, back at the barbecue, burgers were the order of the day. Liesel enjoyed her first burger for six years or something. And I enjoyed the salads on offer plus possibly my favourite comfort food: cheese and tomato sandwiches, albeit in burger buns.

Thanks Pam and Owen for a nice afternoon: I think it’s fair to say the ladies managed to solve the problems of the world while Owen and I sat quietly in the background!

While we were driving home, Monica received a call from her husband Gregg saying that a tree behind their house had been set on fire. That’s pretty scary, especially when you have lithium batteries in the garage that don’t mix with heat nor with water that might used to put the fire out.

On Monday morning, Klaus visited his family doctor. Straightaway, because he looked so jaundiced, she sent him to hospital, where he spent the next few days. While he was there, we tried to make the house more accommodating for him on his return. With this in mind, Liesel, Jodi and I went to Bailey’s Furniture shop to buy a new chair for Klaus, a powered one that would help him to stand up, that massages and reclines to nearly horizontal.

But what a fascinating shop. Never mind the wonderful range of furniture, the place is decorated in style.

A plane in Bailey’s

And I’m sure a little girl I know would love this chair.

Not Klaus’s chair

Liesel uses some software to be able to work from home accessing Amrit’s computer. She got a bill claiming she hadn’t paid. Which she had. Prove it. So I looked at the relevant account on my phone and tried to screenshot the payment. Oh no. For security reasons, I can’t screenshot from a banking app. If Liesel had been around at the time, I would have used her phone take a picture of my phone’s screen. But she wasn’t. Instead, I had to use an elaborate system of mirrors, a split screen with the required data in one half and the camera in the other half and take a picture using the timer, then reversing the image. I say ‘elaborate’ and it would have worked if only I could have held the phone perfectly still for a split second. Technology, eh?

Liesel and her Mom spent most of the next day in hospital with Klaus. My task at home, on Klaus’s computer, was to make sure we knew his passwords: bills need paying and he’s usually responsible. Klaus uses an Apple Mac, so that was an interesting learning curve having been using Windows for decades! Fortunately, my daughter Helen was able to provide some technical support. Thanks Helen!

Jodi brought her friend, realtor Andrea, around to look at Leslie and Klaus’s house, with a view to selling it after thirty years. It needs some work but it’s not in too bad a condition.

After they left, I started walking towards Jyoti’s house intending to go for a longer walk with her.

Mountains again

It was reassuring to see the mountains more clearly today. And I had the pleasure of gently pursuing a dragonfly for a minute. Last time I was here in Anchorage, I was notoriously unlucky in trying to photograph these flighty beasts. But today, I took a series of pictures, each one a little closer.

Dragonfly

I am very pleased with this picture, although I would have preferred the background to be a leaf rather then the pavement!

I thought I was on a roll. But no, that was the extent of my success. Attempts to capture a beetle in all its glory failed abysmally.

Did we have a nice long walk? Not today. Instead, we got coffee at Kaladi and took it to Sand Lake, traipsing through the grounds of the Elementary School. Sitting in the shade by the water was so peaceful. Thanks for the time-out, Jyoti.

Sand Lake

We collected Liesel from the hospital and went home for a short while. We spent the evening back at Catherine and Hans’ again, enjoying good food, outside, watching the Sun go down. We talked about Klaus of course and music and radio.

Sunset over Turnagain Arm

Jyoti and I did go for a nice long hike the next day. She took me to Kincaid Park and we followed one of the trails. Well, maybe: we might have missed a turn somewhere, but it was still a very pleasant walk.

Basil

The only wildlife we saw was Jyoti’s dog Basil who probably walked and ran twice as far as we did and on little legs too. And how green is that vegetation? So lush. It’s hard to believe that it hasn’t rained here since the snow melted a couple of months ago, but further out of the city, as we’ve seen, there is a real risk of fire.

I’m sure Margaux was a wonderful person

On the way out, we saw this little chap just mooching along the pavement, minding his own bees wax.

Moose

At Fire Island, we bought some high-calorie content cupcakes for ourselves and for Liesel and Leslie who again had stayed with Klaus in hospital. And coffee again from Kaladi Brothers for us. Again, we collected Liesel and took her home.

Leslie returned a little later, after which we all went out to view an apartment that would suit Klaus and Leslie, should they decide to move.

We met Andrea and Jodi there and had a good look round. It seemed ideal, to me. If we’d seen such an apartment when we were looking four years ago, I think we would have seriously considered it. My job was to walk around with the walker to make sure it fits through all the doorways. In my head was Bill Withers: Lean on me. One selling point is that it’s quite close to Aaron and Jod’s house, as well as just over the road from New Sagaya, a supermarket and coffee shop.

We were told that Klaus was to be discharged. The house isn’t ready. So, in a rush, with the help of Asa, Gideon and their friends Addie and Alec, we moved the dresser out of the bedroom, lowered the bed and rotated it 90° to make it easier for Klaus to get up in the night.

Later, it emerged, he wasn’t coming home today, after all. Communication failure.

Still with a view to maybe selling this house, the next morning, Liesel, Jyoti and I threw away loads of food. Now, none of us like throwing away food, but this was all out of date. I don’t mean just a couple of weeks old.

Old, old, old food

Oh no. Some of it was years old. Even decades. The oldest items had no best before date, they were that old. But the record goes to Liesel who threw away something from 1992.

The plan is, eventually, to empty the pantry and move the washing machine and dryer to that space, up from the garage. This should be more attractive for any potential buyer.

Sorting through old food and disposing of it is ridiculously hard work. Luckily it was bin day, so much of it was taken away, leaving a nice empty bear-proof wheelie bin for the next few bags of old food.

I had a bit of a break by continuing with the passwords project on the Mac.

Liesel and I went to Walmart to collect some prescription drugs for Klaus, because he really was being discharged today. Good to see the pandemic’s over in the city. Very few other people were wearing masks.

Klaus came home, and sat in his new chair for a short while before going upstairs to bed.

And so, my time in Anchorage comes to an end. After saying goodbye to Klaus and Leslie, Liesel dropped me off at the airport. She was originally going to fly back with me but is staying on for a couple more weeks to help and support her Mom.

I went through security. That’s it. No trauma today. I had a middle seat so I looked around trying to predict which two fatties I’d be wedged between. But no. Both my seat-mates were skinnies. And,the young lady to my left moved to a different seat, leaving me her aisle seat.

Transit at Frankfurt was a doddle. A ten-minute walk from one gate to the next. It makes you wonder why USA has to make such a big deal out of these things. It certainly doesn’t make  us feel any more secure.

Clouds over Germany

As we flew past Cheadle, I took some pictures, hoping to be able to pinpoint Jenny’s house from the sky. This is still a work in progress.

I kept mine on, but just about everyone else removed their masks on disembarkation. Even when entering the overheated, windowless depths of Manchester Airport to go through security, which was a slow process.

I took a taxi home, and immediately felt very welcome. Jenny and Helen had left Fathers Day cards for me as well as a box of Maltesers and some beer. Cheers! I slumped for most of the day and went to bed really early. I never seem to get a proper sleep on an aeroplane.

And of course, I woke early, listened to a couple of podcasts and did my usual three puzzles, Wordle, Worldle and Nerdle. Horror of horrors: I lost my winning streak on the first two. I’d forgotten to play in the short ‘day’ between leaving Anchorage and landing in Manchester.

On my first full day back at home, I waited in for a grocery delivery from Ocado, ate Maltesers, wiped out the now empty fridge, after its inadvertent defrosting while we were away, and wrote for a while while listening to old, recorded radio shows. And, in an effort to convince myself I was doing something useful, I gathered together all the to-do lists.

On my second full day back at home, I ticked a few items off the to-do list. Don’t worry, I did them first. And there is still plenty to keep me occupied. I’m lucky to have the freedom to nap whenever the urge takes me.

At 4.50 in the morning, I answered the phone. It was Liesel telling me that her Dad had died. Just three days after I’d left. I really had said goodbye to him. Very sad, but not totally unexpected. We didn’t like seeing him in such distress and discomfort, and we’ll certainly miss him and his humour.

The rest of the day was taken up with mundane chores, nothing that required too much thought. In a bit of a daze, to be honest. I started putting this week’s radio show together and finished it the following day. I think this one took longer to prepare than any, since the very early days when the whole process was new to me.

You can listen to my Postcard from Alaska here. Or catch the repeat on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 at 10pm on Wednesday.

Some exciting, good news to end on. After completing enough tasks (an arbitrary target, I admit), my reward was to visit the local coffee shop here in Northenden. The latté art made me smile.

Very arty, very tasty

It’s reassuring to see that some things never change. I don’t think our heron has moved from this spot for at least five weeks.

Heron on the weir

On the other hand, car parking skills in Northenden haven’t improved since I’ve been away.

How did they end up here?

Vampires in Vancouver

BC-99 took us to Vancouver and we admired the Canadian countryside. But as a highway, it was really just an extension of the I-5, south of the border.

We were very conscious of having missed celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee at home, so to make up for this, we decided to stay in Elizabeth Street, close to Queen Elizabeth Park. And after taking a few minutes to acclimatise to this new country, we walked up the road to the park, soaking up the rays.

View from the park

For lunch, we found our way to the restaurant at the top of the park, Seasons in the Park. It’s a very popular place. We could wait for a table on the patio, or we could sit at the bar. We chose the latter because we were hungry, because it provided a better view than from the patio and also because we were next to an open window letting in a nice breeze.

They are very proud of the fact that President Bill Clinton dined here once, a long time ago.

Seasons in the Park plaque

Not only does this plaque take pride of place outside the main entrance, there is a large wall display inside, including the menu.

And I have to admit, the food was very good, what a nice place.

Mount Seymour

We walked around, looking at the mountains and the clouds. It’s a hilly park though, so we sat down for a while, and we had to admire the lady in blue with her photographer.

Model

We confirmed that a sculpture was indeed a Henry Moore.

After a quick Whatsapp exchange with my nephew Rob, Liesel and I set off in roughly the direction of Main Street, commenting on the anemones and the snowball flowers.

Snowballs

At the café known as Breka, I knew Rob would turn up as soon as I went inside to use the toilet. It was good to see him after all this time, quite a few years. He moved to Vancouver from Christchurch 3½ years ago. His plan then of course was to visit NZ or be visited by his Mum, but then we all got loked in and locked down during the pandemic. He has Permanent Residence status, so he won’t be moving for a while.

Rob with Uncle Mick

We agreed to meet up the next day and after a much longer walk back to our b&b than we’d expected, and being ridiculously tired, we went straight to the land of nod.

We took a subway train to Olympic Village, where The Birds in The Square are enormous.

The Birds

In fact, the sculptures were made by Myfanfy Macleod in 2010 as part of the City of Vancouver Public Art Program. This was the year Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics and they hope to do so again in 2030.

We had a very nice day with Rob who showed us around his newly adopted city. The weather was perfect: sunny and warm.

Science World
Aquabus

The ferry, or Aquabus, that took us to Glanville Island was very small. And apparently, it’s not really an island any more.

Hawk

The local hawk’s job is to deter the seagulls from settling. They can be a menace, stealing our chips and ice cream. But what a cute little market. They’re certainly creative when it comes to recycling old books.

Bookpile

False Creek is the name of this inlet and it seems to be well used, we saw paddle-boarders, canoeists, as well as many other small boats, from the ferry ride to Kitsilano Beach.

Beach with driftwood

At Kitsilano, we found a Local Public Eatery. No, that’s not the generic term, it’s the name of the place where we had lunch. A very large lunch. The sort of lunch that makes it hard to get and walk afterwards. But somehow, we forced ourselves to move, albeit a bit more slowly and sedately.

Friends or foes?

We couldn’t decide whether this was a big fight or foreplay. We left them to it. The clashing beaks sounded like a keen knitter at her most enthusiastic.

Beached barge

I’m glad I wasn’t piloting this barge on the night of the storm that beached it. What an eyesore on English Bay Beach. Maybe it will be truned into a restaurant or something eventually. Attempts to shift it, even at very high tide, have failed.

Rob’s friend Priscilla was a very welcoming host at Vancouver Lookout. We rode up in a glass-sided lift and yes, I was very conscious of standing as far back as I could manage. There’s a 360° view of the city, and beyond. A cruise ship, The Grand Princess, was in town, and it felt good to literally look down on the cruisers below.

Vancouver Lookout was opened in 1977 by Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon. As he gazed out from the  viewing platform, he was probably singing his dad’s song, ‘what a wonderful world’.

Roof gardens

Many of the buildings, especially new ones, have grass growing on the roof. 

It’s good that the First Nation peoples are being acknowledged. But I was totally bemused by the orthography devised for the native languages.

Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh

Time for another break and this time, we ordered a jug of sangria to share. It was still nice enough to sit outside, albeit under cover, and my left arm was cooking quite nicely before they turned off the powerful outdoor heating.

Rob and Liesel and I bade farewell and went our separate ways, knowing that we would meet again very soon under totally different circumstances. Thank you very much for a most enjoyable day out in Vancouver, BC, Rob!

I was going to write in the evening but my plans were thwarted by the grim reality that is dead batteries in the keyboard. So, in protest, I read my book instead.

It rained overnight and it hadn’t stopped by the time we left the b&b. What I forgot to say before though was that we were in fact staying in an old Roman villa. At least, you might think so when you walk over the mosaic in the hallway.

Mosaic

Our first destination today was Tsawwassen, the ferry port. We’d booked a ferry to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, intending to visit some gardens and see Victoria. But it rained. And rained. I won’t mention the rain again, but remember, it rained and rained all day today.

From the ferry, we looked out for whales and dolphins, but really it  was just too murky to see anything. Except grey sky and grey sky reflected in the water. We didn’t even see seals on any of the other small islands that we sailed by. On board The Spirit of British Columbia though: nice shops and eating opportunities.

Instead of visiting Butchart Gardens, which everyone has recommended, we went to the nearby Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Well, at least in was indoors. But there was much more to see than butterflies, oh yes.

Leaf-cutter ants
Stick insect
Scarlet mormon

Much of the entertainment here was provided, not by the wildlife, but by the school party that took great delight in pointing out butterflies that settled on their teachers’ shoulders for a second or two. Squeals of delight, yes, but some were a little bit wary.

Liesel made friends with a parrot, and I’m sure she taught it some bad words. I merely tried to get it to imitate the kookaburra’s call from my phone.

In Victoria itself, I found some batteries for the keyboard and we found a nice coffee bar.

The next ferry took us over the border to Port Angeles. Yes, back in the USA, as Chuck Berry used to sing.

The fog descended as we sailed, and yes, of course Liesel rolled her eyes when I recorded this ferry’s fog horn.

Fog descends on a cruise liner

Several other ferry passengers rushed out on deck at one point, but I didn’t know what the attraction was. A double rainbow, apparently. I’m sure it was very pretty.

We stayed at an old motel tonight. Nothing special, it had a roof and running water, but just what we wanted. We didn’t really need 12 towels, but 12 were supplied. We took a pizza back for supper. But this is America. The pizza was too big to finish in one sitting, so Liesel finished it for breakfast.

Port Angeles is a cute little town. I love the artwork and sculptures that adorn it. This piece I wasn’t sure about at first:

Mother and Child

But when I saw its title, Mother and Child, I realised how clever it is. Minimalism at its best, made by Bob Stokes.

Port Townshend is supposed to be even more interesting and lovelier, but we didn’t have enough time to visit on this occasion. Add it to the list.

The long drive along Route 101 took us through forests, including the Olympic National Forest, and small communities.

We stopped in Quilcene for lunch. Liesel pointed out the Sheriff’s car parked nearby. Well, I was on my best behaviour. We tried to take menus from the front desk but the woman told us to sit down and she’d bring menus over. OK. So we sat down and waited. And waited. People came and went. I used the toilet. We waited. We gave it five more minutes. We left. What a strange place.

We stopped at The Tides in Hoodsport for lunch. We were even more hungry by now of course. This was a nice little place, good food, bottomless coffee and I think you know a place is good if the locals use it.

We bypassed Olympia before turning north for Seattle and it was only now, back on the I-5, that it began to rain. Southcenter shopping mall was our immediate destination and somehow we ended up in The Chessecake Factory. For cheesecake, yes, and so much more. We ate too much again. There, I said it.

Cheesecake Factory

Cheesecake Factory don’t stint on their interior décor, I think it’s fair to say.

The car groaned under our increased weight, but don’t worry, we soon returned it to the rental facility. The shuttle delivered us safely back to Seattle-Tacoma airport.

And here we go again. Airport security. The sign said ‘Put everything in your bag to speed up the process’. Walk round the corner. Loud officer gives us a list of items to remove; iPad, e-reader, take off shoes and belt, empty your pockets. Go through this scanner. No, go to the end of that queue. Go through that scanner. It’s a mystery, oh it’s a mystery, sang Toyah in my head. We got through security, we got dressed, I think we collected all our belongings. We tried not to laugh at the man who’d paid to be fast-tracked through security when he was pulled to the side. There was some nice art at the airport, but I felt too intimidated to take any pictures.

Our flight was delayed, but the Texan lady kept us amused. Her chicken had laid a very small egg and her son was intrigued. When they cracked it open, there was no yolk!

This plane was bigger than the one that had taken us to Seattle all those weeks ago, and it was fully booked. But on arrival at Anchorage airport, for the first time ever, our one checked bag was the first to appear on the carousel. A perfect end to a long day. The taxi took us home and we made it to bed by about 2am.

And no, we didn’t really encounter any vampires in Vancouver. Not knowingly, anyway.

We need to talk about Juneau

Jyoti picked us up, me and Liesel that is. Not physically, but in her car. We spent some time at her place and went for a short walk in the woods nearby, overlooking the bluff. We sat outside her condo for a while, admiring the tree that’s been chopped down (for some unknown reason) but is slowly trying to come back to life.

Jyoti’s regenerating tree

It was entertaining to watch the relationship between the dog, Basil, and the cat. Don’t ask who’s in charge, because it’s very hard to tell.

Jyoti kindly drove us to the airport and then back home so that Liesel could pick up her passport. Then back again to the airport. Did you know, Ted Stevens Airport at Anchorage is the fourth largest cargo airport in the world? At least, according to the mural inside.

We were flying to Juneau, the isolated state capital, only accessible by air and by sea.

My pedometer caused grief as we went through security: just because you never walk anywhere, doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t keep records of our daily perambulations, Sir, I thought but didn’t say out loud.

The flight was delightfully short: everywhere should be this close. As the plane started its descent, we saw Southeast Alaskan mountains for the first time. You can never have too many pictures of mountains. (Oh yes you can.)

Mountains (southeast Alaska)

Michael drove the shuttle bus to our hotel. Entertainment here was provided by an Indian lady berating her husband. Sadly, not in English. The ingratitude of the wife rose an octave when she saw the fairly dilapidated state of the Driftwood Hotel. It really does need some TLC. It’s supposed to be a completely smoke-free environment, but our room had the faint tinge of cigarettes from years past, which almost but not quite concealed the aroma of cleaning chemicals.

Having said that, our room was clean and comfortable and secure enough. We were on the top floor. Our friend Monica was staying here too while working in Juneau for a week. The staircase closest to her room was taped off. I don’t think it was long for this world.

It was lovely to see Monica, and she really didn’t deserve the extreme pain and grief I caused while hugging her and squeezing the shoulder injured a few weeks ago when she slipped on ice. I was mortified. There was no way I could undo the damage. If you’re reading this, Monica: once again, I am truly, truly sorry.

We drove to Auke Bay where we ate at the Forbidden Peak Brewery. At these breweries, each person is only allowed to consume 32 oz per day of alcoholic beverages. None of us reached this target. I ate salad and chips, which is my default option at these meat-heavy places. Very nice, very tasty.

On the way back to Juneau, we stopped off at Mendenhall Glacier for a few minutes.

Mendenhall Glacier

It was too late to walk to and around the glacier on this occasion, but it’s been added to the ever-growing list of places to return to, one day.

A nearby hut displayed copious information about the glacier and the surrounding area. This hut had been invaded by a couple of families of swallows, we saw them nesting in the rafters.

Mountains (the view from our hotel window)

We slept well and as Monica was working, we rose quite early for breakfast. Needless to say, I was the slowest to get ready, but I soon caught up with Liesel and Monica at The Rookery. Even if Google Maps took me the really long way.

The barista drew a wonderful fern on my latté. I complimented him on his artwork, he said he’d give it a C. The second cup (yes, yes, I had a second cup, so what?) he thought he decorated better. C+.

Northern lights

The atmosphere is enhanced by photographs displayed on the walls. We won’t see the northern lights at this time of year in Alaska, so this is a good second best. Yes, I should have made a note of the photographer’s name, sorry.

Monica went to work, leaving Liesel and me to visit the museum. Which, strangely, is where Monica was working.

It covers the whole history of Alaska, from its first settlement from across the then Bering land bridge, the Russians, the Americans. Again, we were embarrassed by the white Europeans mission seemingly to disrupt and destroy any other culture that had survived for thousands of years.

Thunderbird screen

Xeitl X’een Thunderbird screen

In southeast Alaska, Tlingit clan history was preserved in precise detail between generations. Stories of their origins and early activities were passed orally over thousands of years. Elders coached young people to commit to memory these histories. Accuracy was very important. These histories are also represented in songs, personal and place names, and as symbolic crests on regalia, totemic carvings, and other decorated objects, To this day, clan history, tangible and intangible, is considered sacred property. This screen documents the history of the Thunderbird House of the Yakutat Tlingit. In the early 20th century, clan leader Frank Italio, Kuchein, commissioned the screen from artist Woochjix’oo Eesh (In Everybody’s Arms-Father), a L’uknax.ádi man. The Shangookeidi clan claims the thunderbird crest through their ancestors’ contact with the creature. At the center of the screen is the sculptural carving of the Thunderbird, and painted below this figure are two Shangookeidi ancestors. These figures may be young men, whose fatal encounter with a thunderbird’s feather is memorialized in a clan song. Four stylized raindrops fall down the sides of the screen, and two long black clouds float above the thunderbird’s wings. The faces all around represent hailstones, falling on the Thunderbird’s mountain home.

[Xeitl X’een Thunderbird Screen Thunderbird House (Xeiti Hit), Shangookeidi clan, Yakutat Tlingit, 11-3-845]

I’m glad I committed this story, from the museum, to memory: I just wish I knew what the Tlingit words all actually meant.

The focus was on south and southeastern Alaskan natives, which Liesel found particularly interesting since her previous knowlecge focused on the northern peoples.

Totem pole fragment of the first white man

This totem pole fragment marks the local people’s first encounter with a white man. You may think he looks familiar. The wood carver, over 100 years later, based his design on Abraham Lincoln, probably the most famous white person known at the time. The local Indians were considered a problem for the invaders. ‘The only solution of the problem of the Indian is found, it seems, in the simple theory that there are no good Indians except dead ones’. No, this isn’t from a current edition of The Daily Mail, it’s from Douglas Island News, December 1900.

Well, to cleanse our palates from the interesting, if sometimes disturbing, exhibits in the museum, we walked around Juneau, making our slow way towards the tram. There’s a map of the world marked out in studs on the boardwalk.

Map on the boardwalk (down by the sea…)

I wonder how many of the thousands of passengers from the cruise ships actually notice it?

Tram

This tram took us 1800 feet up Mount Roberts from where we enjoyed a terrific view of the town and the inlet. It’s a very popular destination for cruise ships, of which we saw four docked today, and a few different ones later on.

Cruise ships visiting Juneau

Disney Wonder: 2,400 passengers.
Viking Orion: 930 passengers.
Quantum of the Sea: 4,905 passengers.
Zuiderdam: 1,916 passengers.
That’s a substantial increase on the city’s resident population, about 32,000 people.

Up at 1800 feet, the last of the snow is melting. Liesel wasn’t interested in a snowball fight so, like a tourist, I just posed.

Mick v snow
So many restrictions!

Many towns have a surplus of pigeons. Not Juneau. No, here, ravens rule the roost, and I think their song (if it can be called a song) might well be my next ringtone.

Raven

Back down in town, our late lunch was a shared plate of nachos, nothing special, but with a nose-eye view of one of those ocean-going liners.

Take a bow

Our wandering continued, upwards. Inside the Russian Orthodox Church, we weren’t allowed to light candles in remembrance of our lost loved ones. It’s very dry here right now, and people are very conscious of the risk of fire.

Russian Orthodox Church

Cope Park marked the summit of our ascent on this occasion, nice and peaceful, with a river running through.

Did I mention how steep some of the roads are?
Cope Park

Given how much it snows here, I was surprised to see that most of the roofs aren’t as steep as this place.

Steep roofs (or is it rooves?)

There are stories of rooves (or is it roofs?) caving in under the weight of so much snow and ice. Yet we at home in England begin to worry when there’s more than half an inch of snow!

We found the Whale Fountain and sat there for a while. Monica set out to meet us but didn’t quite make it. Well, you wouldn’t, if you walk in exactly the wrong direction!

Takhu the whale
Takhu with bonus rainbow

I calculated the best place to stand in order to see rainbow colours in the water spray. Spherical geometry, trigonometry and knowledge of the refractive index of water all played a part. Really? No, I just stood with the Sun behind me, that worked.

We were delighted to see our hotel bedecked in bunting for Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Nope, it was for America’s Memorial Day this weekend. Monica was back from work now, and we walked over to a restaurant called Salt for dinner. Several of Monica’s colleagues joined us: Ellen, Sarah (from the UK), James and there I’m afraid my memory runs out. James’s partner is one of a set of identical triplets. By an amazing coincidence, Monica has met with another identical triplet, from a different family, all interested in the field of restoration and preservation

Thinking I might have dessert, I had a so-called starter as my main course, a salad in fact. But: American portions, no dessert for me.

It had been a busy old day, lovely to meet some new people of course, but I was glad to find myself horizontal in bed, with no desire to read nor listen to a podcast. Zzz.

Sandpiper ravens

Next door to our hotel is The Sandpiper, probably so-called because of the ravens that have taken up residence here. This is where we broke our fast before another day of sightseeing.

I think Liesel and I very quickly came to realise how much we liked Juneau. And how we would like to spend more time here. But the weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny on this occasion. It’s famous for its rain and occasional very strong winds, I wonder if we’d be so keen in such conditions? I commented on how nice it was not to see the the usual suspects, McDonalds and Starbucks, anywhere. Liesel said she had seen a McD, but it was much closer to the airport.

Impulse buying doesn’t only apply in supermarkets, when you grab a bar of chocolate at the check-out desk. Native gift shops are quite attractive too. There’s a lot here that we couldn’t buy, because we can’t take it out of Alaska, or into the UK, such as seal fur, walrus and mammoth ivory. But that didn’t stop Liesel buying a pair of earrings. Or me buying a tie. Yes. me, Mick, bought a new tie for the first time since I had long hair and a full beard. What on earth is going on?

Monica drove us to Jensen-Olsen Arboretum, where we enjoyed looking at and sniffing the flowers. Plus, a quick walk on the beach.

Jensen-Olsen Arboretum
Japanese wood poppy

A short drive away is the Shrine of St Thérèse. For someone who only lived to the age of 24, she seems like a good sort, and is very popular. The shrine did bring back a memory that I long ago buried though. When my Mum was dying, I wondered whether, as a lapsed Catholic, she might take some comfort from being visited by a priest. When I suggested this to Dad, the look of horror, fear, defiance, even hatred, on his face, told me that that was never going to happen. So sad.

National Shrine of St Thérèse
Merciful Love Labyrinth

No, we didn’t walk through the labyrinth: too risky, we might get lost. Or leapt upon by a hidden wild animal.

Driving back towards Juneau.
‘Why are those people letting their dog go to the other side of the road? And why are they taking pictures of it?’
‘That’s not a dog, it’s a bear.’

And it was, a black bear minding its own business noshing on something. Those people had stopped for the photo opp, but by the time we realised, we were too far away. Still, I can tick ‘black bear’ off the list, now!

There’s just one bridge between Juneau and neighbouring Douglas Island, and that’s where we spent the rest of the afternoon.

I’m so insecure in my cultural awareness, I had to make sure it’s still ok to call this thing a totem pole.

Totem pole

It is, and this bright colourful one is right by Savikko Park, which is partly a nice sandy beach. We watched some people having fun in the sea, which I assumed would be quite cold because over the other side, you can see freshly melted snow running down the mountains.

Mountain (from Savikko Park) > snow > ice > water

Further along, there’s a nice trail on and around the old Treadmill mine. If you want to set up a mine of your own, there is plenty of discarded old (and sometimes rusty) equipment just left lying around.

Flange (used for flangeing, I think)

Actually, just leave it all where it is. Some of the mines are nearly half a mile deep, and I am reminded how lucky I am to be around in a time and place where I didn’t have to work in such places.

Wharf

This is what’s left of the wharf where all the equipment and supplies were delivered.

For a late lunch, we had pizza at The Island Pub, as recommended by a couple of people.

Back in Juneau, we rested by the whale fountain for a while. I noticed how prickly the grass was, but maybe it’s for walking on, not lying on.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, people of Japanese ancestry living on America’s West Coast were forcibly removed and incarcerated in isolated government internment camps.

In May 1942, the seniors at Juneau High School left an empty chair during their graduation ceremony to underscore the absence of their Japanese-American valedictorian, John Tanaka. By extension, this empty chair honors all of the Japanese uprooted from their homes and communities.

The Empty Chair Memorial represents the void the people of Juneau felt for their missing friends and neighbors impacted by this injustice. The names of those interned are etched on the bronze floor.

A time may come when these names will be forgotten, but the symbol of the empty chair will remind future generations of the lessons learned from this compelling and poignant story.

Yes, we made the pilgrimage.

Empty Chair Memorial

Monica literally drove us to the end of the road. This was south, along Thane Road, through a place called Thane, to the signs saying ‘This is the end of the road, turn around, go back, here be dragons’, or something. A reminder that Juneau can only be reached by sea and air.

Speaking of which, we returned to the airport where Monica dropped off the rental car, and we went through security before our flight back to Anchorage. And, in another first-time-ever scenario, my hat was searched. I was too, but my hat looks big, so, do you mind if I have a look at it?

Note to self: when smuggling contraband, the hat is no longer a safe hiding place

Touchdown in Anchorage

What a strange couple of days. Helen arrived from Australia one day, then Liesel and I went to Alaska the next. Oops, sorry: spoiler alert. Yes, it’s strange the way things worked out, but we’ll definitely spend more time with Helen later in the year.

Let’s start again. Helen was met at the airport by Jenny and William. We’d arranged to meet them later on, and William wanted to surprise us. When we arrived at their house, William was stomping about in his new Spidey shoes. The lights in the heels were flashing and he really wanted us to admire them. He invited me up to his bedroom which was darker, so easier to see the flashing lights. Then he pulled the bed covers back to reveal…
“Oh, a new cuddly toy?”
“No, it’s Auntie Helen!”

Helen’s plans this visit include a trip down south to see some friends. Today, we drove over to Bramall Hall, where we had lunch and spent some time feeding ducks and in the playground.

Liesel and Helen
William the duck feeder
Rhododendron

Back at home, Liesel and I did some more packing and I spent a long, long on hold on the phone before adding Helen to our car insurance policy. It didn’t cost anything in the end, but something as simple as that should be possible via the website. That would take some pressure off the under-staffed call centre.

Back at Jenny’s we had an Indian takeaway for our last meal before heading for Anchorage. Both William and Martha were in top form, very funny and engaging. Very happy to see Auntie Helen, and not just because she always comes bearing gifts. I was pleased to receive gifts of chocolate and TimTams, thank you Helen!

Helen, Martha and William with Jenny and Liam way over there

Liam drove us home in his car. We left our old jalopy for Helen to use. We went via the pharmacy to pick up the last of Liesel’s prescription. From the pharmacy where, at 8 o’clock that morning, we’d gone for the Covid test required before entering the USA.

Back at home, we finished the packing, prepared the flat to be deserted for a while and went to bed for a short sleep. The taxi picked us up at 4 in the morning. We thought we’d catch up on sleep on the long flight later on. Hah!

Manchester Airport was ridiculously busy that early in the morning, mostly for Easy Jet flights as far as we could see. We were off to Frankfurt on Lufthansa in the first place. It was good to be in the air, in my case, for the first time in over two years.

The myth of German efficiency was blown at Frankfurt Airport. We needed proof that we’d been vaccinated against Covid and a negative Covid test from within 24 hours. Without these documents, one uploaded at home yesterday and one stored on our phones and printed out, we would have had to complete a 7-page form supplied by the US authorities.

But at the first desk, the clerk didn’t even have a computer. So he couldn’t see our vax documents, nor my ESTA. Go to a second desk. The clerk here was busy chatting. Go to a third desk. At last, someone fully equipped to see that we were allowed to travel.

In the end, our flight was nearly an hour late taking off. Only at landing in Anchorage did we find out that some of the passengers were refugees from Ukraine. This ‘special’ group of people were allowed to disembark first. We didn’t know why: a sports team? A secret military operation? Nope, refugees, greeted by at least a couple of TV crews. I suspect if you see this footage, you’ll see me and Liesel at the back, gurning behind our masks.

Thomas Cook cup

The flight itself was uneventful, but this water cup brought back many happy memories of when I worked at this wonderful travel agents’ HQ in Peterborough. I wonder whether that horrible Cobol program IPP06 ever worked properly? Good to see the old stock being used and not just thrown away.

There be mountains

On seeing the first snow-covered mountain from the aeroplane, we knew we were very nearly at our destination.

On the Customs form, Liesel declared the chutney that we’d bought for a friend. This triggered a full search of all of our bags. They found an apple in mine, one that I’d forgotten to eat on the flight. I try not to commit crimes in the USA, yet here I am.

Going through immigration, the official asked to take a photograph of Liesel, something not previously required of an American citizen. When he asked to take my picture, I stood where Liesel had been standing. “Oh no sir, please stand over there, in front of the camera.” We suspect he didn’t get a picture of Liesel, but just didn’t want to admit that he’d asked for one in error. Welcome to the USA say the signs, and I always say to myself, I’ve never been made to feel so unwelcome anywhere.

Liesel’s Mom drove us home from the airport, and I think I just slumped for the rest of the day. I dozed off a couple of times in flight, but I didn’t have a long, satisfying sleep.

It was good to see Mom and Dad, Leslie and Klaus again: Liesel has of course been here quite recently, helping them both through various medical interventions.

Our first night’s sleep here was interrupted when Klaus had a diabetic hypo, and required assistance from 6 absolutely gorgeous paramedics. Liesel’s words, not mine: they were all wearing masks so I couldn’t gauge how attractive they were. But they were all very supportive, attentive, informative and helpful. And they arrived within a few minutes of the 911 call.

Our first full day in sunny Anchorage was taken up by walking in the great outdoors. And it really was sunny, and very warm. Liesel and I walked along part of the coastal trail starting near Westchester Lagoon.

Kayaking in the lagoon

It’s very picturesque with the snow-covered mountains in the background, and thank goodness all the snow has thawed in the city itself.

Sandhill cranes

The sandhill cranes were on the mud flats, where we are advised not to walk. We followed a railway line for a while and I though I heard the hoot of a train approaching, but we never saw one.

The cargo ship being towed to the Port of Alaska was huge. Apparently 80% of everything that comes into the state is imported through this port.

We walked back to the car through a nice, quiet neighbourhood. The New Sagaya supplied our first coffee of this trip and my first bagel.

We drove to Una and Phil’s house, about half an hour away.

Old, old, old, old car

We followed this old banger for a while and I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether it’s a Ford, a Daimler, a Buick, a Plymouth, a Chrysler or something else. Oh and look, there are mountains in the background.

Una’s parents are visiting from Florida too. Liesel and I haven’t seen them since Una’s investiture as a Judge nearly four years ago. Mom Lalita has written another book, this one about her family in India over several generations, and she kindly gave us a copy which we’re looking forward to reading.

Una, Phil, Liesel and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood: I think it’s fair to say it was a bit more affluent than where we’d been earlier in the day.

Just a small plane

There’s an airstrip just down the road, and later on, I filmed a small plane landing here.

Helicopter

Liesel turned down my invitation to sit on the chopper so I could take her picture. But here it is parked, or docked by the strip.

Just a small boat

There’s a new estate, or subdivision, here built in what looks like a big hole, just below the airstrip. I think these house are quite close together, given the amount of space there is in the largest state in the union. But you’re never too far from the sight of mountains.

New houses

Well that was a great walk, slightly hilly, hot and sweaty, but did I feel short of breath? Not at all. Not until I carried a bag of shopping up the short, steep drive back at home.

In the evening, Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon came over for dinner. While everyone else tucked into their marinaded steaks, I enjoyed my Quorn nuggets.

I think we both slept much better this second night. This, despite the fact that it’s only properly dark overnight for a couple of hours at this time of year. 

One egg is un oeuf

Something guaranteed to lift the spirits at any time is seeing a display of colour in everyday objects. Liesel uses these stitch markers with her crochet projects. Seeing them bathing in sunshine, on the otherwise fairly bland sofa, well, I couldn’t not take a picture really.

Stitch markers

The rain was torrential as we drove along the motorway. A fire engine overtook us on the inside, on the hard shoulder. A couple of minutes later, we saw thick black smoke ahead. We soon saw the source: it was a refuse truck, and the fire crew on our side of the road was attempting to extinguish the flames from the wrong side of the central reservation and its barrier. As we drove on, we noticed another fire engine stuck in traffic, on that side of the road. The children found it interesting, and we just hope nobody was injured. As Martha said, the rain would help put the fire out.

It was still raining lightly when we arrived at Chester Zoo, but it didn’t last long. Martha and William didn’t seem to even notice, while Liesel and I were wearing the brand new fully waterproof coats that she’d bought for us in Alaska.

We did see some animals at the zoo, but the main attraction were the playgrounds! The slides were still wet of course. As was everything else. Even climbing up the tree stumps with notches for footholds was risky, it was all too slippery.

I was expecting William to be Spiderman but no, Martha reached the top of the web first.

Martha’s web of intrigue

And of course, we had to capture the moment William spread his wings.

William the flamingo
Mick and friend

I’ve never been photobombed by a penguin before, but here is a poicture of me and my new coat!

For the first time in several visits, we actually saw an actual cheetah. Not running at 70mph, or hiding, but sitting on a mound way over there, through the haze.

Cheetah

It wasn’t too wet to sit on the elephant though. I assume other guests’ clothing had dried the poor old beast.

Liesel, Martha, William, elephant (bottom)

We enjoyed some good, local walks this week: Northenden, Wythenshawe and beyond.

In Wythenshawe, I was surprised to find some standing stones, signs of a really old civilisation here. Not as commercial an enterprise as Stonehenge, obviously, but quite interesting just the same.

Standing stones

This walk took us close to the motorway: a mere fence separated the traffic from our very loud chatting. Not the most pleasant of walking routes, to be honest, but it’s always good to see new things and new places.

Some of the insects in Benchill are huge, especially at the school.

School bug

Liesel did some laundry this week, including my jeans, for which I am very grateful. I checked they were dry before putting them on. Liesel had turned them inside out before washing them, which I probably would have forgotten to do. When I turned them outside out though, they seemed darker than I remembered. They really had needed a wash! I tried pulling them on, but they didn’t get far. Oh no, I thought, they’ve shrunk. I also wondered how come I’ve been wearing them for years without noticing some slight elasticity. Then I realised. I took them off, folded them up nicely and returned to the bathroom to look for my own legwear. Liesel is very welcome to her own, darker blue, elasticated Levis, thank you very much.

Liesel and I walked to Fletcher Moss park together for the first time in ages. We saw the heron too, always a bonus, he hasn’t been around for a while.

What a popular little park, so many groups of people must have decided to meet up for a Good Friday coffee and chat. We secluded ourselves in the rockery for a rest. And Liesel provided a running commentary on the mouse lurking in the bushes, that I totally failed to observe. Mouse, or baby rat? When Liesel told another couple about the rodent behind them, the lady shrieked and jumped up onto the bench. Well, she would have in a sitcom.

Acer or Japanese maple

Another day, another acer. How do you dig them up, I wondered? Acer spades, suggested Liesel.

Selfie of the day

Yes, I know it’s a rubbish photo. But the height difference between Liesel and me makes it hard to get a good picture, especially when you’re trying to get some blossom in the background as well. My head isn’t really eight times the volume of Liesel’s.

Easter Saturday was very exciting, we spent most of the time with Martha and William. The idea was for them to dye hard-boiled white eggs. Imagine the disappointment when the rarely seen (in the UK) white eggs turned up with a lion mark and other stamps! Fortunately, boiling them removed all this ink, leaving pristine shells for the childern to decorate. Oh, except William wasn’t interested, in the end! He played with the dinosaurs. I don’t think his lack of interest was due to the excitement of the Easter egg hunt around the salubrious setting of our small apartment. They both had a good time, and both were willing to share when one found more eggs than the other. Of course, probably too many were consumed, but, well, that’s Easter!

In fact, at one point, William decided he’d had enough, so he took himself off to bed for a quick nap.

William the kipper

When I say quick, I mean very short, less than a minute, a proper power nap if ever there was one!

The eggs turned out very well, though.

Martha the egg dyer

So that’s Mummy’s and Daddy’s breakfast sorted for tomorrow!

It was such a lovely day, we thought we’d also take them to the playground. And on the way there and back, we picked litter. There’s just so much to choose from around here.

William and Martha the litter-pickers

We saw the heron again, in exactly the same place as yesterday.

Heron on the weir

Why bother moving if you can catch all the fish you need in that one spot?

Martha and William had fun together on the swing and on the slide.

Martha and William the sliders

And before you ask, yes, this is a very short slide, they haven’t had a sudden growth spurt.

After returning the children to their parents (only leaving one small toy at ours by mistake) we came home to relax… What a gorgeous day.

The theme for my Wythenshawe Radio show this week was Death, pushing up the daisies, shuffling off this mortal coil. It wasn’t at all morbid or mournful or maudlin, but I was surprised at how many songs they are about the subject.

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As well as the regular show, I’ve put together a show that won’t be broadcast on any radio station. It’s a bit rude, there are explicit lyrics, lots of swearing, and other songs that you don’t usually hear on the radio. Plus a couple of poems. It’s all done in the best possible taste. But please don’t listen if you don’t approve of a bit of bad language. The idea came a while ago, but I gave it a lot of serious thought and consideration when I was laid low by the Covids.

Joybringers

It was a beautiful day over at Quarry Bank Mill. We met up with the grandchildren and enjoyed a walk and a chase in the fresh air. William loves climbing and he feels it’s his duty when at the summit to refer to us all down below as ‘dirty rascals’. And, as the King of the castle, quite right too.

King William

Meanwhile, Martha was being pursued along a watercourse by a troll, or was it Oma?

Martha under the bridge

Despite the recent dip in temperature, which I’m sure is temporary, the flowers are still giving it their best shot, brightening the place up.

Primroses

As we’re walking along, Martha announces that she wants to be eaten by a tree stump. That’s a strange ambition, we all insist. But, would you Adam and Eve it?

Martha swallowed by a tree stump

Now for some news from abroad. While Liesel was in Alaska, she finished her latest creative crochet project: a blanket whose forever home is with our really old friend Holly in Washington state.

Another crochetted blanket

Liesel’s got back into the routine very quickly with the WI, walks and meetings for coffee, not to mention the knitting group. I continue to plod around Northenden gazing forlornly upon the litter but not quite feeling the urge to do anything about it.

Liesel and I went over to Dunham Massey for  nice long walk, and again here, the flowers are blooming marvellous. As you’ll know by now, my horticultural knowledge is limited, by which I mean, laughable. But I do recognise and can name the odd bloom.

Tulips
Leopard’s Bane

Yes, this one’s in a pot, but I must admit when I first saw it from a distance, I thought they were pulling a fast one, selling dandelions. But as least they give you some free peat with this item.

Daffodils and friends

As we walked through the garden, we watched a young lady approach a tree. We thought she was going to give it a hug, but in the end, she just poked it. Well, hippy that I am, I felt sorry for the tree, so I gave it a hug and apologised for the human race.

Another tree that drew our attention was this Tibetan cherry, whose bark seemed to be soaking up the Sun.

Tibetan cherry

One thing we hadn’t anticipated was seeing rabbits in the garden, eating the exhibits.

Where’s the bunny?

Apparently, there’s a small gap in the fence and the rabbits moved in. The volunteers agreed that while they’re quite cute, they’re definitely in the wrong place.

Of course, the highlight of the week was helping Martha celebrate her 6th birthday. There were twelve of us in the house altogether, and I think Martha had a ball. Well, not literally a ball, but she did seem to have a good time.

Martha concentrating

In years gone by, we’ve celebrated Martha’s birthday out in the garden. Not today though. Instead, we enjoyed watching the hailstorm outside.

Hail hail Martha

Not only hail, and big hailstones at that, but we had lightning and thunder. So, by common consent, we stayed indoors and played with balloons.

William still thinks he’s Spiderman and he performs all his own stunts, leaping from one sofa to the other.

William mid-flight

The children, that’s William and Martha and their cousins Annabel and Emily, had party food while us grown-ups enjoyed a very tasty and very spicy Chinese takeaway. The birthday cake was delicious, held together by a fence of both mint and orange flavoured Matchsticks.

Martha and the cake

This week’s radio show has the theme of Pronouns. As ever, it’s first broadcast on Wythenshawe Radio WFM97.2 on Friday at 2pm, online, TuneIn app, smart speaker and locally on 97.2 FM. It’s repeated the following Wednesday at 10pm. And I’ll upload each show to Mixcloud. So there’s no excuse for missing it!

Welcome Home

Well that was an exciting week. Liesel came home from Anchorage and what a celebration. I tied not one, not two, but a hundred yellow ribbons round the old oak tree. The brass band played welcoming tunes while the dancing girls’ performance was immaculate. Someone suggesting bringing on the dancing horses, but that seemed a bit over the top.

Sorry if you weren’t invited to the ‘Welcome Home’ party, but you should receive a slice of cake in the post any day now.  The flowers that bedeck our luxury apartment are beautiful and the aroma is almost overpowering. I didn’t know whether the smell of fresh coffee or toast would be best, but I think the natural scent of roses, jasmine and frangipani was spot on.

Mainly, though, I am very proud of the large banner I embroidered saying ‘Welcome home, my lovely wife, Liesel’. Sorry about the blood stains, but I kept stabbing my fingers with the needle.

Sadly, in all the excitement, I forgot to take any pictures of this remarkable reunion. Oh well. Sorry.

Earlier in the week, we celebrated Mothers’ Day.

Cheers, Mummy!

I find it hard to believe that it’s now 31 years since I last bought a Mothers’ Day card for my own Mum. I have to re-calculate every year and then sadly shake my head.

People’s gardens are brightening up now that Spring is here.

Primroses

Oh, did I say that Spring is here? Well, it was. But this week we were treated to Winter 2.0, a surprise few days withe a cold, northerly wind, timed perfectly to kill off all the newly blooming flowers. It even snowed in places: we had a few flakes. We shouldn’t really blame Liesel for bringing the snow back with her from Alaska, but who knows how the universe really works?

I made a mistake. I went to Wythenshawe by bus to attend a meeting about a potential opportunity to start cycling again. Yes, I went by bus. And arrived 15 minutes late. It was a good meeting and as I was wandering around aimlessly, I found this churc.

Saint Richard’s

Yes, I’m still taking photos of signs with missing letters.

And so the time came for Liesel to say goodbye to her family and friends.

Una, Liesel, Jyoti and Monica

After 10 (or is it 11?) weeks in Anchorage, I think the parting was made easier by the knowledge that Liesel and I would be going back in May.

I managed to tidy up most of the flat in time before collecting Liesel from the airport. There is no evidence of any of the debauched parties I enjoyed in her absence.

Jetlag and fear of Covid infection following the long flights meant that we didn’t have the children this week. Instead, they had a disco at school, and posed for some pictures beforehand, in the very light and barely visible snow.

William and Martha

William aspires to be Spiderman, as you can see. What’s that, Skippy? There aren’t enough photos of nature here today? Well, let’s rectify that. These are from a walk in and around Wythenshawe’s Painswick Park, with the regular Friday group.

Geese in the haze
Bare tree

This tree keeps an eye on the weather, it knows what’s happening. It knew we’d have another Winter so it hasn’t bothered to blossom yet. Look at the contrast between the blue sky and white clouds here and the battleship grey clouds over there…

Grey cloud

There are a few Christmas trees now incarcerated probably because of their anti-social behaviour.

The caged Christmas tree

Liesel’s been out with the WI a couple of times since her return, giving me the ideal opportunity to visit the coffee shop.

Selfie of the day
Слава Україні!

Last week I started preparing a radio show about Spring. Post-Covid, I couldn’t complete the project, so I repeated last year’s Spring show. But the exciting all-new Spring celebration was, finally, aired this week.

Again, welcome home, Liesel, it’s lovely to have you back!

Mindblowing

For some reason, I had to go to Brighton and deliver mail there. Or was it Portsmouth? Anyway, I don’t know my way around either place. And the addresses on the mail consisted solely of just one cryptic word. How am I supposed to deliver mail to places when I don’t know where they are? I just had to keep asking the locals. I must have managed ok in the end though, because when I got back to the office, someone pointed out that I’d forgotten to take all the packets and parcels out with me. The sense of relief that engulfed me when I woke up was almost overwhelming. Why am I still having anxiety dreams about the last job I had? Usually, at a certain point in the dream, I realise that I’m retired and actually, I don’t have to be here at all. Sometimes I’m aware that I haven’t been taking my days off for a few weeks, to the point that I’ve lost track of which day is my day off. I think I’d rather have a proper scary nightmare than these dreams about Royal Mail and the many, many ways in which they can make a straightforward job so stressful. In  my dreamworld, because of problems in the Chessington Delivery Office, I’ve been variously despatched to the basement, to New Malden and to Waterloo Station to prepare the mail for delivery. I’ve been unable to enter the Office because it’s so full of mail and parcels, that there’s no room for actual people to go in and do anything with it. I’ve never had anxiety dreams about exams or moving house or other stressful events, nor indeed about any other jobs. So I’m hoping that by telling you about this recent, horrible, nighttime experience, the scenario will be expunged from the repertoire in my dreamworld mechanism.

In the real world, things just plod on normally, uneventfully. Except that this week I succumbed to the games Wordle and Nerdle. I wasn’t convinced at first, not sure about what I was meant to be doing, but after a couple of days, I quite enjoy a few minutes of mental exercise each day. This is in addition to my daily allowance of an hour attempting a Slitherlink puzzle, which is ridiculously addictive. It’s always a disappointment when the app timer tells me ‘time’s up’ and it takes immense willpower not to extend the time for today, but sometimes I just have to eat etc.

Jenny invited me over to share some of the three tonnes of spaghetti bolognese she’d prepared in her cauldron. It was fun to spend time with the children, Martha fresh from her swimming lesson.

Martha and William enjoying a cold dessert

It was wet and windy and we were issued with flood warnings, but on this occasion, the level of the river went down quite quickly. Our local councillors were on the case, monitoring the situation, and there was no need to open the flood gates. One victim of the strong winds was our oak tree. It lost a few digits, bigger than the twigs that usually blow off.

Chips off the old block

We’ve been advised to wear hard hats when we leave the block of luxury apartments. By the river, the birds are clinging on tight so they don’t get blown into orbit.

Partridge in a pear tree

There are signs of Spring approaching though. Our local village green is gradually turning purple as the crocuses make an appearance.

Northenden Village Green

I haven’t been for a long time but I was amazed to see how much Kingston station has changed over the last couple of years.

Kingston Station

No, this is Kingston in the south of New Zealand’s South Island, which is a bit more remote than The Royal Borough of course. Thank you Pauline for sending the pictures, and glad you’re having a nice break.

Northenden welcomes careful drivers
Boxx 2 Boxx in a puddle

Walks around Northenden and the local area are always fun but the cold, biting wind really did get on my nerves this week. I told it to go back where it came from. To no avail. The contrast between that and the intermittent warmth of the Sun was striking.

Dayglo plants

There are splashes of colour, especially when the Sun’s at the right angle. And Fletcher Moss Park is also showing early signs of Spring.

Fletcher Moss
Tree-lined avenue

On the way to school to pick up William and Martha, the clouds put on a good show. I wasn’t the only (grand-) parent taking pictures.

Here comes the Sun

While waiting for Martha to come out of her class, William decided he was a caterpillar, crawling under the climbing apparatus.

William the caterpillar

We played at their house for a while before setting off for mine.The plan had been to bring them back here and have takeaway pizza for dinner. But Jenny had forgotten. The pizza was good, so good in fact, that I ate the leftovers the following day.

I battled the cold wind again as I walked around Wythenshawe with the group, once I dragged myself out of bed, that is.

This was the first week of the Winter Olympics and I’ve enjoyed some of the sports, especially the curling, which is very slow and methodical. The ice hockey is far too fast, I can’t see what’s going on. I suggest using a much bigger, heavier puck, to slow it down a bit. And as for the skiers and snowboarders doing multiple twists and turns in the big air, well, it probably isn’t as easy as they make it look.

Liesel continues to bounds out of bed very early every morning over there in Anchorage. She continues to work hard, doing legal work. (She’s probably having more fun doing illegal work, but she’s not telling me about that.) This week, her Dad, Klaus, had his heart surgery and is doing very well. Liesel’s been chauffeuring Klaus and her Mom Leslie to hospitals and shops. Good to see she’s staying out of trouble, so far, at least.

While Klaus had heart surgery, I visited the dental hygienist just to show solidarity.

This week’s radio show was about Art and Artists It’ll be repeated on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 next Wednesday at 7pm, but for your convenience, it is available here:

Dragon and umbrellas

Liesel’s still in Alaska, enjoying the extremely cold Winter there and spending time with her family and friends. It does look beautiful there, but I know I’d be fairly unhappy having to don seventeen layers of clothing to go outside. Only to return to a very well heated house. Plus, I can’t ski, no, not even on the flat. It’s a toss up whether I fall over to the left or right or forwards or backwards.

Monica, Neha, Liesel and Una
Narnia

Meanwhile, the excitement in Northenden builds. The pavements in Royle Green Road, just round the corner, are being resurfaced so that they’re more comfortable for the cars that park there. Plus, several months ago, I reported a hole in the pavement in Cinnamon Close. It was a small hole, but might have been indicative of something more menacing, such as a disused old mine underneath, about to subside. Well, the hole was filled in this week. It took four men in hi-visibility jackets to watch a fifth man doing all the work with a very loud lorry engine running in the background. If the council had asked, I could have plugged that hole myself with some old congealed porridge.

An ex-hole

The patch is much bigger than the hole was, so it should last a while.

The wind has brought down a few trees again. The path in Kenworthy Lane Woods was blocked, but not impassable. And as a guide, nowhere near as bad as the damage caused by that infamous storm in 1986.

Timber!

It was a pleasure to collect William and Martha from school this week. In an unprecedented move, William was second out of his class and Martha was first out of hers! They’re usually a bit later, so, bonus!

School field

Next to the football pitches, there’s a small area which looks disused, apart from collecting litter. I wonder if this is part of Forest School, that all the children visit at some point during the school year?

On this occasion, I took them back to their house where we played in the garden for a short while. Glad it was light enough, even if it was a bit cold still.

Martha and a swing

Inside, we played games, drew dinosaurs, and for dinner we had fish and chips. Well, I had a pie, thank you very much.

And when I returned home, I finished editing and uploading the radio show. It took longer than usual this week, because I had a nice chat on the phone with Jessica Lee Morgan. You can hear the show here, it’s called Bits and Pieces. Album of the Week is Pieces by Mary Hopkin which is gorgeous and you should buy it straightaway here or here.

I braved the bus and went into Manchester for a walk in a slightly different place. Chinese New Year is being celebrated his week and Manchester’s Chinatown was very festive. Because of Covid, there was no parade, but it was good to see a tiger (it’s the Year of the Tiger) and a dragon. Plus, I lost count of the Chinese lanterns all around Chinatown, zillions of them.

Year of the tiger
Dragon and lanterns

It was raining all day but maybe I shouldn’t complain too much, it hasn’t rained persistently all day for quite a while. Actually, I am going to whinge. It was raining all day. Not very nice at all. You can probably see the rain topping up Rochdale Canal.

Rochdale Canal in the rain

In the library, there is also a display of black and white photos from 1980s China.

Rainy Day in the Hutongs (alleys), Beijing, 1985

Actually, that picture could well have ben taken in Manchester today, the weather conditions were identical.

But what was I doing in Manchester Central Library in the first place? Other than sheltering from the rain? I was having a quick look at the newly released 1921 Census. It’s not a reliable source of information: many of the names I entered turned out not to exist. So even my limited knowledge of family history turns out to be wrong. For example, my cousin Susan, who is a few years older than me? Her parents, my aunt and uncle, emigrated to Australia in 1956. So it seems my memory of meeting my Aunt Pauline at that time is wrong. Susan? Turns out her name is Suzanne. Oh well. I was just playing around today, really, getting a feel for how the whole thing works. But with this and earlier censuses and all the other online records, I’m hoping to track down all my ancestors. One day, I’ll return with a proper plan of action.

Umbrella in the bin in the rain

When I left the library, of course it was still raining. Even the umbrella had had enough by this point.

Three walks and a ski

Yes, of course I miss Liesel, but I don’t miss the sub-zero temperatures she’s enduring over there in Anchorage. But all the fresh snow at least makes it more fun to go skiing. I don’t think Liesel’s been on skis for 16 years so she did well on the first day to fall over just a couple of times. This is cross-country, Nordic, skiing. I don’t know whether she’s planning to hurtle down a mountain any time soon.

Jyoti and Liesel

Yes, the facemask is a Covid defence measure but it keeps the cold wind off the face too. A bit. Liesel’s testing for the contagion every couple of days and, quite rightly, is being very cautious while visiting friends and family.

Meanwhile, what have I been up to at home? One of my main tasks is to watch and delete all the TV shows that Liesel has no interest in. Things such as nature shows where animals eat each other. I have many, many old music shows and some drama that Liesel finds too intense.

Northenden is a bit of a hole. No, that’s not right. But there is a big hole in Northenden, where some shops have been demolished to make way for, presumably, more luxury apartments.

A big hole

Jenny is performing her civic duty, having been called up for jury service, so my civic duty was to look after William for the day. I’d planned to take him to the zoo but as he wasn’t feeling 100%, we just spent the day in my own luxury apartment. We played and did puzzles and he beat me at snap by cheating. The day started well though when I had to scrape ice off the car.

Frost on the car windscreen

It did look pretty from inside the car, I have to admit. But I did realise that there’s a different pattern at work here too. If the car needs de-icing, it’s because we’ve planned to drive somewhere. If it’s a frost-free early morning, it’s probably because I have no plans to drive anywhere. And so it proved to be the case all week. The next time the car was frosted up was on Thursday, our usual child-minding day. Never mind, I thought, the ice will melt by the time I have to leave, at half past two. Oh no. I had to scrape the car that late in the afternoon too. I hope I’m not being unduly paranoid, but this is the very definition of sod’s law.

Anyway, I guess I did an OK job with William.

Selfie of the day

He awarded me an orange star and a number 1 sticker. But he certainly didn’t win any prizes for his skittles skills.

William and skittles

After taking him home, we all had some soup and Martha dressed very colourfully for Rainbows.

Martha the Rainbow

As I reminded Jenny, we’re still waiting to hear whether she has a place in Woodland Folk. We applied many decades ago, but I think the fact that we’ve moved house since then means we’ve missed the response.

Ice, ice, baby

I have to admit, this is Alaska, not Northenden. It’s been cold here too, but doesn’t this look pretty?

I completed a hat-trick of well-being walks this week: the usual Northenden and Wythenshawe ones but a group of five of us also embarked on the much longer trek to Chorlton Water Park. Liesel and I have walked there before but along the river. This time, our route took us through Kenworthy Woods. We heard more birds than we saw, but it’s always good to be out in nature.

Mersey, Mersey, me

It was a cold and frosty day. but a very pleasant walk. Some of the puddles were solid ice, and the lake itself had icy patches. What a shame I forgot to take my ice skates.

Chorlton Water Park

And then next day at Painswick Park, it was like being in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

A herd of geese

The geese were grazing as we walked by but something startled them and they all took to the air, flying over our heads and into the lake. This was the most scary moment of the day but we all came away with clean heads and shoulders.

WFM 97.2 at 2pm on a Friday is now the place to hear my show each week. It’ll be repeated on Wednesdays at 7pm but you can catch the latest show here. This week, the theme is ‘Beginnings’.