Four Shops in One Day

The second most repeated comment (after “We have a lot of stuff”) in our luxury apartment is “Oh, what a surprise, it’s still raining”. There has indeed been a lot of rain recently. Many floods in Yorkshire and beyond, some places receiving a month’s rainfall in one day. This amount of rain cannot be good for anybody’s garden, which is how we used to justify the odd shower. But it’s hard to look positively on 6 days out of 7 of continuous rain. Neither of us want to go out when it’s raining that much, and this has a knock-on effect. Over the weeks, we’ve both felt a bit crook: headaches, lethargy and the desire to hibernate.

I had some errands to run so imagine my delight when I was able to walk to the GP practice in the sunshine. It was cold but the heat of the Sun and seeing blue skies really do lift the spirits.

So I continued walking and ended up in Heald Green, another little place we’ve ignored until now.

The pharmacist processed my prescription while I walked over the road to conduct some business at a rare branch of Lloyds Bank.

The pharmacist gave me my drugs and in the same tone of voice as if asking whether I’d like a cup of tea, he asked if I wanted a flu jab. Now? Here and now? Yes, it’s free, on the NHS. As a pharmacist, we won’t overcharge the NHS for providing this service. Actually, he didn’t say that last bit. OK then, I said. Last year, I had no reaction so I thought I’d be ok this time too.

I was going to walk all the way to Jenny’s house but me and a bus reached a bus stop at the same moment, so I cheated, and caught the bus. Please don’t tell anybody. But, not knowing the area all that well, I managed to overshoot my stop, so I probably walked the same distance in the end, just in a different direction.

Liam was out for the evening so he missed a wonderful Indian meal.

The fab four: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

I reached for a spoon and wham, suddenly my left arm, victim of the flu jab, experienced a bolt of electricity. Keep it moving, was the consensual advice. I did.

Next day, I felt cold and shivery. Not proper flu, but very unpleasant nonetheless. Helen came round briefly to say goodbye: our plans for meeting up with everyone for brunch were, sadly, cancelled. Too many of us not feeling too well.

My very welcome twelve hours sleep meant that I missed Helen’s early departure. And again, for reasons of less than optimal health, we didn’t go and watch Martha swimming. Poor old William and his ailment stopped him from going at all.

But the children and their parents are currently enjoying a break at Center Parcs., leaving us, Darby and Joan, at home to make our own entertainment.

We’ve been to our local Ikea a few times, but it still surprises me as we approach, how garish the big blue and yellow sign outside is. “There it is!” I exclaim, as excited as when we first see the sea on the way to the beach. I know I’ll get a couple of miles walking in at Ikea, so it has its uses.

Help is available

It’s a nice, helpful place, but I don’t know why they have co-workers rather than plain ordinary workers.

We pounded the aisles, bought some stuff for ourselves and for Jenny, ignored all the shortcuts and had a coffee halfway round.

I do like the made-up Swedish names for everything. There is no way you can tell from the name itself what the item is.

S T U V

I found this item interesting because it contains four consecutive letters of the alphabet in the correct order, and that’s quite unusual. But most disappointing was finding out that the toilet brush named Farage does not really exist. This well-named item turns out to be an internet joke. Oh well.

Yes, I’m at Ikea, of course I’d rather be at home

I do like a rhetorical question, don’t you? Even if they did leave out the question mark.

This sign has been reported to the Society for the Preservation of the Correctly Placed Apostrophe

Not too far from this branch of Ikea is a branch of Costco. This once was Liesel’s favourite shopping experience after she moved here to the UK from sunny Anchorage, Alaska. A little bit of America in England. I didn’t walk quite as far here as I had in Ikea, but every little helps, as one supermarket claims.

Costco sells everything form ink cartridges to car tyres, from gateaux to gates. Today, we were on the lookout for a sewing machine. Liesel’s wanted one for a while and during her recent trip home, she used her Mom’s machine and now she has the bug for sewage. Sewing, I mean, damn you, autocorrect.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have any on display, but we did find everything else we needed, including more Kleenex, a vital resource given the nature of our current ailments. It amazes me how much stuff some people buy, two or three trolleys full, in some cases.

After pounding these aisles and paying for the purchases, it was time to eat. The slowest moving queue in the world merely enhanced ones appetite. My slice of five-cheese pizza was ok, but I think I exceeded my recommended daily allowance of grease. I needed more than one hot coffee to displace the fatberg from my mouth.

Sew, next stop, John Lewis. Here, we found the ideal sewing machine and I forced myself to drink another hot coffee, purely for oral-cavity-cleansing purposes.

By far the majority of today’s nominal 10,000 steps took place indoors. It was not a good day to go for a walk outside. The rain continues, and for such a rain-soaked part of the country, it still amazes me how bad the drainage is. If the representative from Guinness World Records were here today, not only would the slowest moving queue have been recorded, but also the largest, deepest puddles, spead over the most lanes on a main road. Not to mention the most people in a queue at a bus stop being splashed by someone driving at speed through such a lake.

The final destination was The Futon Shop in Manchester. We recently ordered a new cover for our futon and came to collect it. Oops, too early. Read the email properly, doofus, they said, and come back in three days time. We will, of course, but to hide our embarrassment, I took some pictures of an attractive rocking chair that would match our futon, if it fits in the living room.

Rocking chair

Four shops in one day: not unusual in itself but this is as exciting as the week was to get.

I decided to make a sandwich for myself, with the jam we’d bought from Ikea. Imagine my disappointment on opening the jar to find a few strawberries, a packet of sugar and a sachet of pectin, complete with really good, explicit instructions. Ikea. Maybe I should have asked for help.

Nomovember

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a secret but I can now reveal that my beautiful daughter Helen is here in England all the way from sunny Manly. Manchester rain greeted her when she was reunited with her sister Jenny and niblings Martha and William at the airport. Helen brought some Tim Tams for us but no actual sunshine, blue skies or warmth. No, I’m not sure ‘nibling’ is a real word but it’s less clunky than saying ‘niece and nephew’ and has a parallel in ‘sibling’.

Liesel and I went to Jenny’s in the afternoon where we apologised to Helen for the atrocious weather and played with bubbles indoors, to Martha and William’s delight.

Auntie Helen and Martha

We stayed for supper and we even drunk some wine. That Helen is a bad influence. But she knows a thing or two about playing with Instagram, a skill we should all develop.

William and Auntie Helen

We missed the Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and New Zealand which possibly explains England’s wonderful victory: we didn’t jinx the team by our presence.

Martha and William had a larger than usual audience for their swimming lessons this week: Helen came too. Later in the afternoon, after I’d walked to Jenny’s house, we enjoyed looking at their artistic endeavours too.

A collage, a montage by Martha

Martha’s collage, made from 5p and 1p coins, morphed from a snowman into a polar bear.

Halloween is approaching and the Blood Donor Centre in Manchester was unusually spooky on this occasion.

Enter if you dare

The care staff were talking about the fancy dress party they’d be going to later and my attendant nurse was extolling the virtues of pumpkin pie. My blood flowed like a well-earned cup of tea, which is exactly what I had afterwards, along with too many biscuits.

Giving blood isn’t scary – and you never know when you might need it back

I said I’d meet Liesel at the Craft and Design Museum when I’d finished, a mere 23 minutes away from the Donor Centre by foot, according to Google Maps. I was therefore stunned and taken aback, not to say, immensely disgruntled when, well over halfway to my destination, and not wanting to overshoot, I checked Google Maps again and it told me I still had 20 minutes to go. So, not that I was feeling weak and feeble or anything, I called Liesel to apologise and we agreed to meet at home instead. In other bad news, my Fitbit battery had died. So all those thousands of steps today weren’t counted. In a coffee shop, I fought the blister pack and installed the new battery.

Break the ruling class

We (I mean Liesel) tidied up our flat so that we could accommodate our guests for a practice Thanksgiving meal. Nut roast, Yorkshire puddings, red cabbage, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce that William said was like jelly. Thanks for a fantastic meal, Liesel!

Martha used my PC to type her name. She also pressed other keys that turned the image on the screen upside down, a feature that I’d forgotten even existed!

Helen is here in the UK to surprise her friend Tracey who celebrates a major birthday this week. Helen drove to Somerset, Tracey was stunned into silence and they spent a day at the spa.

A man came by to take away some more of our packing boxes, thanks to Freegle, hooray! The flat is slowly, slowly becoming less clutterered. Still lots of boxes to process, though.

We took William to Chester Zoo again, and on the way, dropped some more stuff off at charity shops, hooray, hooray! We saw all the usual suspects at the zoo, and again, we commented on William’s world basically being an adventure playground.

A man high up in a tree

William weighed it up, but decided not to climb a tree, not even one with low branches that he found ‘in the forest’. Yes, of course he deviated from the carefully constructed path.

A very inviting arbour
William and a tree
Giraffes necking

William slept in the car on the way home again and I collected Martha from Nursery. While she removed the pulp and seeds from her Halloween pumpkin, William was happy to paint a picture of a pumpkin.

Proud Martha (right) with her pumpkin

Alan and Una came round as well and we dined together before Martha and William dressed up to go out Trick or Treating.

Speaking of ‘Treating’, I was hoping to treat the great British public to the wonderful sight of a brand new moustache. I started growing one early for Movember, the leading global organisation committed to changing the face of men’s health.

Well, Liesel didn’t like it so I thought I’d go for the best of three, and seek support from Jenny and Helen. They sided with Liesel. So I decided to go for the best of seven. Huh. I couldn’t even get Martha to lie that she liked the ‘tache. So, off it came, to Liesel’s delight. Given more time, it might have resembled that of a Sikh gentleman’s, or with some tweaking, a Hercule Poirot. No moustachioed Mick for Movember in this manor. Maybe next year.

Cat and Catwalk

I’ll try not to mention it again, but it has rained all week. There are flood warnings in many local areas. One of our gutters leaks and I had to spend several minutes out in the rain showing a man which one was channeling Niagara Falls.

There aren’t enough pictures of cats in this blog, said absolutely nobody, so here is one.

Petra

This is Liesels’ parents’ cat, Petra, the tip of whose tail I’ve briefly glimpsed as she darts under the bed. She seldom ventures into the public arena so this is a very rare shot.

I looked after William again this week, but we didn’t go out at all, mainly due to that which I said I wouldn’t mention again. But we had fun. Well, I did, until he told me to stop singing, that is. OK with The Grand Old Duke of York and Baa Baa Black Sheep, but Jack and Jill was a no-no. Delilah was acceptable, he wasn’t keen on clapping to Is this the way to Amarillo?

After his afternoon nap, I went to pick him up from the cot and he said, “No, Grandad, I’m asleep!” So I had a lie down on the floor next to him and ten minutes later, he was properly awake.

You can guess why Martha was collected from nursery by Jenny in the car rather than as originally planned, by me, with William in the buggy and with Martha’s scooter.

During dinner, I had cause to go into the kitchen. Cheeky Martha decided to occupy my seat.

Who’s been sitting in my chair?

One of my favourite things is going to a seated event and finding myself perched behind someone with a big head or a big hat.

Nice big bun

But I think this is the biggest hair I’ve ever sat behind. The free event was at Manchester Art Gallery, a fascinating history of public transport provision in Manchester, especially buses. The story was told by Dame Barbara Castle, the Minister of Transport during late 1960s. She was instrumental in rationalising the bus networks in and around Manchester. Then in the 1980s, guess who messed up the whole thing again?

Bus Regulation: The Musical is only half an hour long, but that was probably plenty for the roller skaters going round and round, wearing various bus companies’ and transport authorities’ logos from over the years. I never saw Starlight Express in a theatre but I understand that musical also featured roller-skaters.

The wheels on the skates go round and round

My planned longer walk around the streets of the city was of course abandoned. Instead, I wandered around the Gallery admiring some old works by LS Lowry and some new, anonymous works.

Artwork, or, the roof leaks
Catwalk Outfit (evening dress and coat), 1994, Pierre Cardin

This is as close as I got to a selfie, today, with lace, sequins, crinoline and everything.

Liesel’s working hard in Anchorage for one more week and keeping an eye on the mountains as the snow level gets lower, day by day.

We had some sad news this week. Our friend, Nigel, with whom we stayed in July, passed away in the care home after being well looked after for several weeks. He was always kind and generous to us and we’ll miss him. Sending lots of love to Helen and her family at this very sad time.

The rain (d’oh!) didn’t enhance the Road Cycling World Championships that took place in Yorkshire this week. The men’s road race was re-routed because the bottom of the descent known as Buttertubs had turned into a lake.

The wheels on the bikes go round and round

Unfortunately, there was plenty more water to ride through. I watched on TV: hundreds of thousands of braver souls went and stood by the side of the roads in Harrogate and beyond, to show their support.

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!

Stop the Coup

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside. So we took Martha and William to Formby. We were hoping for a nice day, but not so nice that everyone else would be there. The beach was fairly deserted and we had a fantastic but short time there.

William playing on the beach

There was a strong, cold wind: several layers of clothing required. William had a go at building a sandcastle. Martha wanted to walk to the sea but the tide was out. Miles out. Halfway there, fighting the gale and the sand-blasting, she said she wanted to go back to the car.

William sat down in a puddle. To pass the rest of the day, we took them back to our place for a bath, which they both enjoy, despite there being no proper toys nor bubbles.

This would be the final Grandchildren’s Day for Liesel for a while. She jetted off to the Sun. Well, to Anchorage, to see her family and friends, to start work for Amrit and to decide which of the items we sorted out last year she really wants to bring back to the UK.

Don’t worry, I can look after myself. I’ll keep the piles of laundry and dishes separate so it’s easier for her to catch up on the domestic chores when she returns.

Her trip didn’t get off to a good start though. Manchester Airport was an awful experience. But things improved later. She met up with Holly briefly in Seattle then, on the final flight into Anchorage, she had a row of three seats to herself.

A welcome whole row for one person

Meanwhile, I went to Specsavers for another hearing test. It was much more thorough than the one at Boots, and the audiologist and I agreed that I don’t need hearing aids right now.

A wild bear in Wythenshawe

Martha’s in a new swimming group now, and again, I was amazed at what she can do. Swimming under her Mum’s legs? I couldn’t do that at 3 and I can’t do that at 93 either.

La Vuelta a España has started, the Spanish Grand Tour bike race. The first crash was when one of the team cars went around a corner too fast. I’ll watch the highlights programme each day and relay highlights of the highlights to Liesel.

Liesel spent time with Jyoti who, a couple of days later, left to spend some time with her parents before flying back to Australia.

Our lovely friend Trudi is visiting Alaska from Hawaii and I am disappointed to not be seeing her myself.

Liesel watched our nephews Asa and Gideon playing football, just as we did last year. So she’s been quite busy and with a bit of jet-lag to start with, she’s a little tired.

Monica, Jyoti, Una, Trudi, Liesel, together again, at last

I got my exercise one day by taking the rest of the bikes, the tandem and the rest of the cycling paraphernalia to the storage unit.

Bikes, bits and bobs

Up and down the stairs several times, carrying awkward items out to the car, which had to be locked every trip, I was perspiring very heavily.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stuff in our second bedroom, grrr. But we’re getting there. Someone might be able to sleep in there soon.

My first solo Grandchildren’s Day was great. I survived, both children survived and I think we had a good time.

Apologies if this video of Martha attempting to lick her own elbow appears sideways on your screen too. Just turn your device 90°!

Martha showed me the bruises and cuts and grazes on her arms and legs, none of which were too bad, just signs of being slightly too active maybe.

In the afternoon, we went for a short walk: I had some shopping to buy. As soon as Martha saw Costa, she said she wanted a babyccino. So both she and William had a small cup of frothy milk, with chocolate sprinkles and marshmallows.

Angels with dirty faces

When she saw this picture, Jenny suggested I’d taken them to an unskilled facepaint artist! And yes, of course I had a coffee too, it would be rude not to.

It’s time to get political again. I attended not only my first but my second protest in Manchester, both on the same day.

Another first: I rode a tram into the city centre. When I alighted at Deansgate, I couldn’t help but notice this outsize bike, which would get you nowhere fast.

What a big bike

It was a bright day, perfect for protesting. Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a worldwide organisation campaigning to save the planet from the climate emergency. So far, the protests have been peaceful disruption in city centres. They have set up camp in Deansgate, Manchester, for the weekend. This is the busiest, most highly polluted road in the city and now it’s blocked.

A boat on Deansgate
Camping on Deansgate

I didn’t spend too much time here because as I walked along Deansgate, the clouds darkened, the first few spots of rain fell, the first couple of umbrellas were deployed and I walked into Veggie Pret as if that had been the plan all along. A vegetarian Pret a Manger, the perfect place to hide from the rain for a while. And yes, I had a coffee, it would be rude not to!

Manchester and its rain as seen from Veggie Pret

Who says there are no good right-wing comedians? One comment I read about the XR rebels was that this is what the UK will look like after brexit, when there’s a soap shortage!

The rain began to ease off so I donned a hat and jacket and continued my walk towards Cathedral Gardens. This was the focal point of todays protest against Boris Johnson’s unprecedented long prorogation of parliament. There were all sorts of people here, labour supporters and tories, leavers and remainers, all incensed at the erosion of democracy in our country.

Manchester’s umbrella protest

The crowd bearing brollies was reminiscent of the crowds protesting in Hong Kong for similar reasons.

Some of the captions on the banners were, as usual, very funny.

Just some of the placards
Smokin’

EU blue and gold smoke bombs were let off. Speeches were given which I couldn’t hear being right at the back. The chants were mainly “Stop the Coup” and “Boris, Boris, Boris, out, out, out”!

As I wandered round I saw a few police officers, some on horses. I came across a larger concentration of hi-vis policemen and women. They were ‘protecting’ the pro-brexit, free-Tommy protesters. About 20 of them, so more than one PC each. Their one line was “We won the vote in 2016”. No interest in the illegal actions of the Leave campaign, the lies told, the promises made about sunlit uplands, easy deals and so on. A couple of them were agitating for a fight so this was my cue to head back to XR.

Because I dawdled, the “Stop the Coup” march to Albert Square caught me up so I joined in with a vocal contribution. This was just one of over sixty such protests all around the country. And beyond: some British Consulates in Europe also witnessed protests.

Thousands gather on Albert Square
The will of the people

Back at XR, I thought about having a coffee but decided to head home instead. It’s the end of the month so bills to pay, admin to deal with. I checked on eBay and it’s taken a few weeks but it looks like everything we put up for sale will be gone soon.

August fades to grey and September comes along to replace it, dragging leaves from trees, dropping the temperature slightly so children don’t feel so bad about going back to school.

I watched Martha and William swimming again, both doing their own stunts. I thought the dress Martha was wearing was very pretty. Turns out, it was made by Sarah, Martha’s granny, thirty-plus years ago. Wow.

Martha in a dress lovingly made by her Mum’s Mum

Edinburgh

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

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

High pressure rain cleaning the windscreen

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

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

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

Old energy vs new energy

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

Welcome to Scotland

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

Ecclefechan

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

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

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

Bathgate Station: trains are under starter’s orders

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

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

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

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

The poster (photos of the performance not allowed)

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

The Humans thanking the audience

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

Greyfriars Bobby (statue)

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

We’ll bin our jokes if you bin your litter

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

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

Photography Exhibition attendee having a rest (still life)

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

Railway lines – London to Plymouth by John Widdows

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

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

The Edinburgh Wheel

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

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

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

Master Bones

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

The Reverend Richard Coles, Communard, vicar, broadcaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh Castle

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

Part of Cataract 3 by Bridget Riley

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

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

Rajasthan by Bridget Riley

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

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

Surgeon’s Halls

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

Blue sky and cranes seen from the bottom of the climb

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

View obscured by rain
Ominous clouds

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

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

Elephants and Bagels

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

Phoebe Katis

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

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

Library stairs

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

Top buskers

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

Scott Monument

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

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

What Are You Talking About? poster

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

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

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

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

Manchester Museum

I rode my bike for the first time in over a year and I didn’t fall off. Total distance covered: less than one mile, but it’s a start. Later in the week, longer rides were precluded by the monsoon season. A month’s worth of rain in less than a day. Thank goodness we’re on the top floor in our luxury block.

Martha and William are the highlights of the week of course. We might have a small moan when we drag ourselves out of bed early on a Sunday morning, but watching them both in the swimming pool, enjoying it and learning, is very gratifying.

Liam and William in the pool

We all, six of us, had brunch at The Laundrette in Chorlton. That’s a restaurant, not the place where you wash clothes, that wouldn’t be very nice, dropping crumbs on other people’s washing. Liesel and I again realised, we’d never drive as far just to eat out when we lived in Chessington.

Liam’s Dad, Alan, very kindly planed the bottom of the door leading from the hall into our living room. Just one of the unintended side-effects of having a new, thicker carpet installed last week. As part of the decluttering project in Chessington, I’d passed on my plane knowing that I wouldn’t be doing any more serious woodwork. But if I still had it, I’d be planing the door, several days later, very tentatively shaving a half a millimetre off at a time. Thank goodness for experts.

One sunny day, I took advantage and went for a long walk.

River Mersey

I saw and followed the sign towards St Hilda’s church. Somehow I missed it from which I can only deduce that Hilda is the patron saint of invisible churches. Or maybe I just wasn’t concentrating.

My route followed the river for a long way and I was beginning to think how relaxing it might be, out in a boat. Until, that is, I came across some very half-hearted rapids.

Rapids

I kept a list of all the wildlife I encountered, ducks, rats, otters, beavers, deer, moorhens, coots, foxes, bears… and the grand total was a big fat zero. A few insectsbuzzed about, busy doing what they do and that’s it: slightly disappointing.

Fallen tree

After so much rain recently, it looks as though this tree could no longer hang on by its root tips. It slid down the slope to a sad end in the river.

People who know me probably also know that the twelve-year old hiding within this old body often writes a certain three-letter word in the sand on beaches. Well, I am not alone, as this tag on a pillar supporting the M60, Manchester Outer Ring Road shows.

Bumbag

Grandchildren Day saw Oma playing with Playdough, Play-d’oh!, however it’s spelt, but she did let Martha join in a bit too.

Martha and Liesel and Play-Doh

After a nap (William and me), we took a bus into Manchester where we met Jenny for lunch. This was a bit of an experiment, really, to see how the children would cope with seeing their Mum halfway through a working day. Martha wanted to go back to work with Jenny, but other than that, we had a good time. Well, nobody was too traiumatised.

Liesel and I took the children to Manchester Museum, just down the road. Martha wanted to see the dinosaurs while William was more interested in the froggies. Taking pictures through glass in a darkened vivarium trying to avoid reflections of the few spotlights was a challenge. And we weren’t allowed to remove the frogs for photographic purposes either.

Green frogs
Cephalopod

It’s fascinating to see what interests them both and I’m not sure Martha believed me when I told her she had bones inside her just like those on display, just much, much smaller.

Both grandchildren fell asleep on the way back to Jenny’s and after watching the first half of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, we went to play in the garden.

Martha is flying

It was her Dad who threw Martha into the sky, not me, I’m not sure I could do that with someone else’s child.

And now, after a long, long break in the proceedings, it was time to finish off the VHS video digitisation project. I’d copied most of the videos onto the PC some years ago but had to make use of a professional service to copy some of the more fragile ones.

Windows XP

Booting up in Windows XP was a delight. Bish, bash, bosh, here’s the screen, you can do something straightaway. Not like Windows 7 or 10 where the disk thrashes about doing who knows what for a long, long time. Ooh, a bit of a rant crept in, there.

The quality of the footage is still very disappointing of course: I was reminded why I’d shelved the project for so long. Playing a newly created DVD on a proper DVD player revealed even more defects. But if I can get some stills from the videos, that will still be of value.

Another morning in Didsbury culminated in a very late breakfast at Greens. We took on enough energy to be able to install more shelves in the flat. We unpacked several boxes of CDs. A ridiculous number of CDs. I reckon if you have CDs that you can’t remember playing at all, or even buying, you’ve almost certainly got too many!

After a month’s rainfall yesterday, we had a gorgeous sunny day today. If it turns out to have been a month’s worth of sunshine as well, well, I think we’ll all be extremely miffed and very disappointed.