It’s a start

While Helen’s here, obviously we want to see her as much as possible. On the other hand, we don’t want her to catch some nasty contagious disease and take it back home. So we’re all doing Covid Lateral Flow Tests much more often now. And my daily sneezing fit is now more often caused by sticking a pipe cleaner swab up my hooter. But the negative tests give us enough confidence to be able to spend time together. It was a full house at Jenny’s and it was lovely to witness the antics of two very excited grandchildren on Christmas Day. The other grandparents, Alan and Una were there too. So with Helen, that was nine in the house. I think we’ll get away with it if we call it a business meeting. Yes, one of the talking points was the government’s flagrant breaking of rules that they themselves had put in place. Oh well. It’s Christmas, we were there to have fun and plenty of food.

It’s Christmas!

So many parcels, so many presents, books, and toys, so much food. And lots of photos.

Excitement

Thoughts of a late afternoon walk were soon discarded, but at least Liesel and I had made the effort earlier in the day. And we did burn off a few Christmas calories at Daddy’s disco later in the day. Lots of dancing and playing musical bumps and musical statues.

Daddy’s disco lights

Thanks Jenny for putting up with us all! And thanks for inviting us back a couple of days later, I guess we didn’t embarrass ourselves, or you, too much. We played a game of Junior Cluedo with Martha and William, and it was interesting watching them play well, concentrate and interact.

Princess of Wales and Colonel Mustard
Another photo

More food of course: Christmas cake, cheesecake, peanut butter and chocolate fudge, chocolates, oh and lots of real, proper food too.

And yes, we pulled Christmas crackers. The jokes don’t improve over the years, do they?

Guess who?

Spending time with the family was of course the highlight of the week, we didn’t go far from home, otherwise. A surprise bonus of some mild weather finished off 2021 nicely and the sunsets were a little unusual too.

Sunset over Northenden

One thing I’ve always wanted to see is a two-headed skeletal dog, and my wish came true this week.

Woof woof

I came across this monstrosity in Quirky Misfits where I bumped into a friend so we had a coffee. Yes, there’s a sign on the door saying dogs are welcome, but there are limits: skeletal bicephalids?

The river is rising again after a lot of rain. So much so, that the Mersey is bringing trees down from its upper reaches, in Stockport.

Trees and logs

The roiling river didn’t look very inviting, to be honest. But why the short post last week? Because we were invited over to spend some time in a hot tub. Helen rented it for a few days, a most unusual Christmas gift, but I hadn’t been in a hot bath like this since we were in Japan. Time for a wash.

In the hot tub: William, Helen, Martha, Jenny

A good way to start the new year, I think you’ll agree. But that feeling of well-being can so easily be squished by industrial levels of incompetence.

When I need my prescription renewed, I send a message to my GP, they send it to the pharmacy, the pharmacy sends me a message when the meds are ready for collection. Not this time. In other news, both Liesel and I have received the Collection Codes that we now need to pick up Lateral Flow Tests from the pharmacy. So, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and pay a visit, even though I hadn’t received the expected message after several days. I queued for over half an hour.

On CCTV waiting to get over the threshold

They’re short-staffed due to Covid. They’d run of of Lateral Flow Tests, which many other people in the queue were also waiting for. But had they put a notice up in the window to save people time? Nope. Never mind, I can still get my prescription. Oh no I couldn’t. Despite there being a pharmacist behind the scenes, they weren’t fulfilling prescriptions either. Was there a sign in the window to this effect? Nope. Instead, the assistant gave me a printed copy of my prescription to take somewhere else. I asked why they hadn’t sent a message telling me that they were unable to help on this occasion? I got a funny look and directions to the nearest other pharmacy. Where, after a short walk along the road, I was given my drugs within ten minutes of arrival. Fantastic service. Unfortunately, they too had no LFTs in stock. Luckily, Liesel and I have also been ordering them online. Most often the site says none are available, but we have hit the jackpot a few times. We’re now testing after we’ve been in crowded places, which hasn’t happened recently, and each time before we see the family. We don’t want to give anyone Covid, especially Helen. But, in another quirk of misfortune, Helen has succumbed to a nasty bug leaving her hoarse and coughing and just not feeling very well. What she needs is some of that New South Wales sunshine. I think we all do.

Actually, waiting in that queue for half an hour wasn’t really a big deal. Liesel brought us coffees from a nearby emporium. And we would have been loitering for at least half an hour anyway, because we were waiting for Liesel’s iPhone battery to be replaced in the local electronics shop.

My insomnia isn’t helped by the fact that I’m not going out as much as I should. The weather’s just horrible. So much rain, sleet, snow, thundersnow, cold wind. Oh stop moaning about the weather, Mick. Unlikely.

One night, instead of podcasts, I started listening to CBeebies Radio. Between 9pm and 6am, they play Calming Sounds. I thought this might help the old brain to switch off. One night it was birdsong, and it was lovely, very relaxing. Another night, it was the sound of ocean waves. A lovely background noise, it relaxed my brain beautifully, but my bladder reacted in a totally different, and unhelpful, manner.

We had a couple of nice, local walks recently. One day was quite windy and there were crocodiles floating by on the river.

Not really a crocodile

And I did walk over to Jenny’s one day, too, making a detour by Micker Brook.

Micker Brook

The original plan was to meet Jenny and Helen and all by the Brook, but in the end, we all went for a walk in their neighbourhood, Martha on her bike and William on his scooter.

Back home, Martha continued with her project of mixing a potion.. What’s it for? Well, it’s poisonous but it also makes you invisible.

Martha and her potion

Liesel drove over and we later collected a takeaway from Bhaji Pala in Gatley. Why did we go all the way over there for our meal? Because it was Monday, Bank Holiday, so all the fish and chip shops were closed. The food was delicious. And a little bit late, maybe, but we had Christmas pudding too.

Flaming pudding

Liam drowned the pud in brandy and set it alight, much to the bemusement of the children. When I was a child, there would have been a thrupenny bit or even a sixpence inside, but we don’t do that sort of thing any more, apparently.

A couple of days later, I went over to babysit while Jenny and Helen went to the shops.

Green Goblin

William is now The Green Goblin thanks to some temporary hair colour that Helen applied. Martha’s hair was more variegated. I allowed my hair to be coloured a striped orange and yellow, but all this did was to highlight my bald patch. The photos have now been locked away in a vault somewhere.

I am working on what will be the first radio show to be broadcast solely on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2. But one afternoon I was distracted by the urge to tidy up the Studio, the Office, the so-called third bedroom. I say I got the urge, but in reality, the urge was imposed upon me by Liesel. Who shouldn’t even be here*! Yes, everything’s been put in its new location, plenty of stuff has been disposed of, and over the next weeks and months, it will undoubtedly once again revert to its status of ‘tip’. Sorry, there are no before and after photos. But we did come across tonnes more paperwork that we’re not sure we need to keep. So, add this to the list, Mick: go through each of those boxes again, again, again.

*Yeah, what do I mean, Liesel shouldn’t even be here? Well, she’d planned to fly off to Anchorage to see her family on January 6th. Iceland Air would take her via Reykjavik and Seattle. Unfortunately, the flight was cancelled due to expected bad weather in Iceland and by the time Liesel spoke to someone, the next flight was a week away. So that’s all rebooked now. But If you want to reminisce about bad quality 1970s style phone lines, feel free to call Iceland Air in London. Even the hold music sounds like the old Björk tape has been stretched a bit too much.

And again today, I awoke to the sound of rain being hurled at the windows. I don’t know if the glass in our windows is just intrinsically louder than what we had in Chessington, or if it really does rain harder sideways here in Manchester, but, man it’s loud!  

Snow, man

We joined Jenny and Liam and the children for breakfast at their place, which was very nice. There I was reading a book to William, quite enjoying the story, when he suddenly remembered he had a chocolate croissant coming. So that was the end of that. I wonder how the story finished?

Liesel drove me home and then took Martha shopping. They were looking for fabrics with which to make some items for Christmas.

Fabrics chosen by Martha

Later on, Liesel and I went for a walk along the river. We don’t usually go out that late in the day. The Sun was low but we knew we’d be home before it was too dark. Or did we? I was conscious of walking just a little bit faster than usual.

Mersey and puddles

The river was high and flowing fast, leading to eddies and whirlpools. The ducks seemed to be having a hard time swimming upstream: well, we were entertained anyway.

And lo, as threatened, the snow arrived. Tentatively at first, but it soon settled. Did we go out and build a snowman? No, of course not. My instinct was to crawl under the duvet and hibernate until about May.

Snow on the ground, look: be quick, it doesn’t last long, and I apologise for the unappealing setting, but such is the view from our luxury apartment

Some small people did venture outside to enjoy the elements.

William (l), Snowman (centre), Martha (r)

Jenny and William paid us a quick visit during which William practiced his new skill: winking.

Masks are now mandatory again on public transport, so I was delighted to see about 50% of passengers on my bus suitably dressed. Yes, as many as 50%. I can’t believe it’s three months since the last time, but I ventured into Manchester to donate another armful of blood. Afterwards, I wandered into the city centre and confirmed that yes, it is very nearly Christmas.

Father Christmas outside the Central Library

I found a coffee shop in which to catch my breath and rehydrate and yes, I had a brownie too, as if I hadn’t consumed enough biscuits and crisps at the donation centre. It was nice to see Lesley the barista, formerly of Boxx 2 Boxx, working there.

I took the bus home and was glad to disembark. It’s hard trying not to take a breath for 30 minutes on a bus but I think I managed. If only all those other people had been wearing masks as well.

We have a new shop in Northenden: Quirky Misfits. Quirky by name, quirky by nature. I had a quick chat with Lydia (for the radio show) plus a lovely cup of coffee in the Beetlejuice themed coffee bar.

A skull for every occasion
Quirky Misfits

Walking home, I noticed that my barbershop is being refurbished. At least, I hope it’s being refurbished and not being replaced by something else. I don’t need a haircut yet but I will one day and where else do I go?

Massimo? Messymo

We picked some litter and found plenty of dumped, fly-tipped items as well. This activity was partly to pass time before we went over to pick William and Martha up from school. We had considered going for a walk somewhere else but really, there wouldn’t have been enough time. I know, I know, if I dragged myself out of bed before midday, it would help.

It’s the week of Hannukah, something the children have been learning about at school. We played the dreidel game and both of them picked up the rules very quickly. I think playing with chocolate coins made the game more interesting, at least to start with.

William and Jenny playing the Dreidel game

It was fascinating watching William learn how to spin the dreidel. As the picture shows, his Mum was doing rather well. At the end of the game, William and Martha took most of the chocolate home, but Grandad made sure to keep some for himself.

So the sequence of events is: we bring the children back to our place for a couple of hours. Then their parents arrive and we have a meal together. Then they all go home. Then we find what they’ve left behind by mistake. On this occasion, two pieces of paper from school, two hoodies and a coat.

After our regular Wythenshawe Walk, Oma and I met up with Jenny and William at Quarry Bank Mill, to hand over the previous evening’s forgotten items. We had a nice walk, admiring the yarn-bombed and decorated trees and bushes.

Christmassy tree

William threw sticks and stones off the bridges into the fast-flowing water.

In search of another stick

As we walked back up the slope, away from the river, he still wanted to throw stones in. So even though we’d climbed too many steps to count, he ran all the way down again to the waterside. I think William should be wired up to the national grid, he’s so full of energy. But perhaps one of the most surprising things about today was that after drinking his hot chocolate, he didn’t have a moustache.

The radio show this week, as mentioned earlier, features Quirky Misfits, the shop, but also two hours of quirky songs. Catch up here.

As I write, the idea of hibernation becomes ever more attractive. The rain is being hurled at the windows in a menacing manner. Liesel’s been out to meet some of the WI buddies over there in Didsbury, but I don’t think I’ll be going far today. I’ve looked out of several windows, but the vista’s the same everywhere. Rain. Bleeurgh.

Goosebumps and chicken skin

Salford Lads’ Club is a place that has escaped our attention until recently. I joined Liesel, some other WI members and a large group of others on a tour of the place. We met the guide outside the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester and we walked briskly to our destination.

Salford Lads’ Club

Its story is over 100 years old and many local lads have made themselves at home here. In particular, they are very proud of Allan Clarke and Graham Nash from the Hollies and Morrissey from The Smiths. Boxing and gymnastics have been popular over the years too.

Boxing ring

Liesel declined my invitation to go for three rounds in the ring, even though this was the first time either of us had been in the presence of such an opportunity.

Moz Mosaic by Mark Kennedy

This world-famous mosaic is arguably the highlight of The Smiths Room: it was previously located at Affleck’s Palace in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, another venue that has escaped my attention until now. But this is what’s exciting about getting to know a new city and a new neighbourhood.

Mick in a hat

Here’s a picture of Mick following Conservative government policy: rules are for other people.

We walked back into Manchester and then on the way home, we stopped off at Sainsbury’s. I had a quick look at the laptops in John Lewis but again couldn’t see what I was looking for, whatever that is. None of them come with CD players any more. Maybe I’m clinging to the past. But I’m not asking for a floppy disk drive or a punch card reader, just a CD or DVD reader.

The highlight of the week was William’s birthday party. This was the first time we’d met up with the wider family in nearly two years. We had a good time and more importantly, so did the birthday boy.

Alright William?
Bike, balloon and Batman birthday boy

It was good to see the other grandparents but I probably didn’t need to see the scars on Uncle Paul’s recently broken but now healing arm. Nothing personal, but that sort of thing is the reason I am not a doctor.

Superwings cake

We sang Happy Birthday and cheered as William blew the candles out in one go. Then we sat waiting expectantly for a slice of the cake. Martha came over giggling and presented me with the smallest sliver you can imagine. The other grandfather, Papa didn’t fare any better. What a swizz! We did receive a proper, decent slice in the end, but you can go off people, you know.

Another highlight of the week was meeting up with Jenny for a coffee one day. It’s been so long since we’ve spent time together, on our own, without children around. Let’s not wait another two years, Jenny!

Knowing the weather was about to get much colder, Liesel and I went out for a long walk along the river, towards Chorlton on a bright and sunny but noticeably cooler day.

Trees by the river

We saw a robin then we saw a man with a big zoom lens taking pictures of a different robin. He told us there were goosanders around the bend, and indeed we did see a couple of what I thought were mergansers.

Goosander or merganser?

Well it’s confusing because the Latin name for Goosander is Mergus merganser and my ornithological knowledge is as rubbish as my botanical expertise. Last week for example, I referred to our flowering plant as a Christmas cactus. Thanks to Ann, we now know it’s actually a Michaelmas or Thanksgiving cactus. In which case, its timing is spot on. How is it doing now, you ask?

Blooming marvellous

It’s very pretty, but while it looks sunny here, the temperature outside is hovering around 0° and it feels much colder thanks to Storm Arwen. Speaking of which, we must have had a mini whirlwind in the communal car park overnight, because the fallen leaves had all been blown into a nice tidy heap behind a neighbour’s car.

Arwen tidies up the leaves

So much for leave blowers. In fact, I’ve just decided my new years’ resolution. Next time I hear a leaf blower, I’m going to go out and reverse its polarity so it sucks instead. Much more useful.

Anyway, it’s Thanksgiving and once again, Liesel pulled out all the stops and gave us all a pretty substantial and very tasty Thanksgiving meal. This was after we’d picked Martha and William up from school and, as a treat, let them pick litter on the walk home.

Little pickles / Litter pickers

Yes, it’s a City of Manchester binbag and we’re picking litter in Cheadle Hulme, which is in Stockport, but I don’t think the authorities will mind too much.

Martha was very impressed with Oma’s peppermint pie, possibly because of its Peppa Pig pink colour. But it was very nice, and minty, and very different to the pumpkin pie that we’re still enjoying a couple of days later.

Sunset collection

We’ve had some pretty sunsets and we even spotted Jupiter one night. Saturn would have been visible if it wasn’t for the trees in between. Spot the odd pic out. Three are here in Northenden and the other is from Australia’s Blue Mountains: thanks, Helen, wish we were there with you!

Another highlight of the week was enjoying my first massage in nearly two years. The bones creaked, the muscles popped, the ligaments groaned, the second toe complained, but even my goosebumps had goosebumps at times. I’d forgotten just good it feels to be well and truly straightened out and stretched and poked and pummelled.

On a philosophical note: if there are numerous highlights in a short period of time, are any of them, in fact, highlights? Or do I just accept that I’ve had a very good week, thanks, even if the cold weather is now giving me chicken skin. And why is ‘goosebumps’ one word while ‘chicken skin’ is two words?

Let’s Dance! This was the title of my Radio Northenden show this week. Catch up here. It’s extra long this week because there were just too many good tunes to leave any out. A bargain for so-called Black Friday. Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 will get the usual two hours. Proof that Radio Northenden is much better value.

The Last of the Summer?

For the second year in a row, our Christmas cactus has leapt into bloom a few weeks early, brightening the kitchen with a wonderful display of almost fluorescent pink flowers.

The pinkest pink

Sadly we had to leave it behind when we went away for a few days. Yes, way down south to  Exeter to see our friend Sarah. It’s a long way but bizarrely, it’s a much easier drive to Exeter from Northenden than it is from Chessington. Motorways most of the way, M6 and M5 take us to within a stone’s throw of Sarah’s place.

Wellington

Naturally, on passing this sign, for a brief moment, I wished we were driving towards Wellington, New Zealand, especially now they’re heading into Summer. But we’ll be back one day, and meanwhile, we can enjoy everything that Exeter has to offer.

On arrival, we threw a stone at Sarah’s place and she showed us to the car park where we parked up and didn’t even think about the car until it was time to depart.

Sarah hasn’t changed a bit since we last saw her nearly two years ago and I think she was very happy to accept the blanket hand-crafted by Liesel.

Sarah and Liesel, blanket buddies

We went for a nice walk through the town, down to the river and the canal, and it was very pleasant even if the Sun had long since disappeared below the horizon.

St Leonard’s

This church spire is prominent, you can see it from most of the town so it acts as a good landmark.

While Sarah visited someone the following day, Liesel and I joined a guided tour of Exeter and we retraced some of our steps from the night before. The guide, Mike, was interesting and gave us a quick history of the town: Romans, wool, textiles, imports, exports plus some stuff he made up, probably. There are lots of old warehouses, all now being used for other purposes, most notably, coffee shops.

Abseiling tower

The abseiling tower is under-utilised, which is a shame. But no, we didn’t volunteer to have a go, either.

Exe and weir

The river Exe is no longer tidal in Exeter but the old chain ferry is still in operation across the river, just not this time of year. So that’s 50p each we’ve saved.

Liverpool

No, not really,  but this part of town stood in for Liverpool in the old TV series The Onedin Line. Filming was done carefully. Ships had the sails fully hoisted in some shots purely to conceal the gasometers over the river. These have now been dismantled.

And what a gorgeous day. The weather app said it was 13° today, but it felt much warmer than that to me. Even so, people were walking around wearing three or four layers of clothing. Me? Just a shirt and shorts. I got some admiring glances from the locals*. I got some funny looks from the locals*. *Delete as you see fit. All I can say is, I have a great metabolism which doesn’t complain about the temperature unless it is extreme. 

We walked around the town for a while and met up with Sarah later. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the museum was most enjoyable, with some terrific pictures and a few that were a bit distressing.

Keep Looking

I think if I had to pick a favourite, it would be this one of a lion through the grass. It was taken by Greg du Toit, from South Africa, in a reserve in Botswana. He wished to convey the feeling of standing on the edge of a wilderness, looking in through a dividing curtain. One day, Liesel and I hope to visit Botswana and see this for ourselves.

In the evening, we walked down into town again because we had tickets for a very special show. Count Arthur Strong and the team recorded not one but two Christmas Specials, which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 sometime. Probably around Christmas, come to think of it. One show this year and one next year.

Count Arthur String In the hat) and cast

On our final day down south (for now), Liesel and Sarah enjoyed a shopping expedition while I wandered aimlessly around town. I did look at the laptops on offer at John Lewis, but there wasn’t much choice here. I know there’s a worldwide shortage of microchips, but even so, what a disappointment. I walked around the town, back to the river, and beyond.

None Here

Steve McCraken has decorated the town liberally with these attractive birds. No idea why he uses the name ‘None Here’. And what a shame someone feels the need to spoil it with their own tag.

Grim Reaper?

An unusual feature to have on a shop front, and it’s not even an undertakers’ premises.

1988/89 was designated The Year of the Pedestrian. To mark the occasion, Devon County Council commissioned this statue.

Family of pedestrians by Carole Vincent

It’s good to see that local folks are still able to enhance this work of art. I think we all need googly eyes and coconut shell hats, that would cheer us all up. I think this ‘vandalism’ is more acceptable than boring old tagging because at least it’s creative and quite funny.

The drive home was long and uneventful. Lots of cones on the motorways, but I suppose they have to be stored somewhere.

And at home, we had a medical week. I went to the dentist, as did Liesel, but she also visited the physiotherapist and the beautician.

The Wednesday Walk in Northenden was good, we went along the river to Simon’s Bridge and back. Just a couple of muddy patches on the path.

In the evening, we attended a concert. This time, we saw Seth Lakeman at Stoller Hall in Manchester. He’s celebrating the 15th anniversary of the release of his album Freedom Fields. He and the band performed the whole album in the second half of the show, but before that, they also sang some songs from his new album. No, I didn’t buy the new CD. I would have, but when I went on my interval wander, I left my coat behind on the seat and my phone was in the pocket. And I rarely carry cash these days, of course, pretty much everything is contactless payment.

Seth Lakeman and band

Thursday is our childminding day. William came out of school as usual full of energy: he probably ran a mile by the time Martha came out and another by the time we got home.  This week, Martha told us about Grace Darling, a hero that Mr Price told me about at primary school a few years decades ago.

After some craftwork and playing, we ate dinner with Jenny and Liam. We asked William a question, and he didn’t answer immediately. Instead he started tapping his head with his forefinger declaring, “I’m thinking”. He carried on thinking until he reached that ‘aha’ moment at which point he did the head exploding sign.

A phantasm approached me, shimmering in the moonlight, almost glowing, in an unknown colour somewhere between white and gold. She spoke to me in hushed tones and I wondered where she came from.
“Are you a tooth fairy?” I wondered.
“Oh no, I’ve been promoted” said the ethereal being. “I have come before you on this momentous day, dear Mick, marvellous Mick, to grant you three wishes.”
“Three wishes?” I repeated. “And presumably I can’t use one of those wishes to ask for three more?”
“That is correct. Now think carefully.” So I gave it a great deal of thought. This might be my only opportunity to end world hunger. To stop all the wars. To finally end the climate crisis. But no: surely these things have been wished for a million times efore?
“Please, oh wonderful and exalted being,” I effused, “please arrange for the foliage fallen from our favourite oak tree, just outside, to be picked up and taken away before it blows around and blocks up our the drains.” A million leaves were in our communal car park, and it would be good to see them put to good use in someone’s garden.

And lo, in the morning, I beheld a wondrous sight. A flatbed truck in our car park and two men picking up the leaves. One was raking them into piles and the other was picking them up with the aid of a pair of outsize plastic grabbing gloves. They had several large bags of leaves and I thought they were doing a brilliant job. I silently thanked my nebulous visitor and again wondered why I’d been chosen to have these wishes granted.

Picking up leaves

I sat there enjoying a brew, listening to the radio and congratulating myself on a brilliant choice of first wish. I should have known better. The universe shattered like an old plate and I heard the dreaded noise that should not be named. The ubiquitous sound of a leaf blower. There, I said it. Yes, one of my heroes was down there blowing the last few thousand leaves off the hard surface and into the bushes. So disappointing. That tip I gave them? I felt like going down and asking for it back. If I’d given them one.

Leaf blower

And yes, of course, by the following morning, the leaves had found their way back onto the wider parking area. I realised that this wish-granting business is a bit of a con. I probably won’t bother with the other two.

Liesel went to CostCo and while I appreciate the invitation to join her, I decided instead to join the usual Friday Wythenshawe Walk. I just missed a bus, so rather than get off halfway and walk the rest of the way like I usually do, I thought I’d stay on the bus all the way. Big mistake. It goes all round the houses and waits in the bus station for several minutes. It really would have been quicker to get off and walk.

On arrival at the Lifestyle Centre, the start of the walk, I was surprised to see nobody else waiting, even though I was, in the end, only a couple of minutes late. I remember Chantel saying that the Wythenshawe Walk was cancelled next week, but I got to thinking, maybe I’d misremembered, and it was this week’s walk that was not taking place. It was such a nice day, I decided to walk around the circuit anyway and then have a cup of coffee. So off  I set for Painswick Park, around the lake, chatting with the geese and the moorhens.

Moorhen

Then I saw some familiar faces ahead. Yes, it was the gang of Wythenshawe walkers. I caught up and walked the rest of the way with them. Being British, of course I commented on how lovely the weather was, and how I wouldn’t complain if our whole Winter was like this. Then I received the devastating news that snow is forecast for next week. I now wish I hadn’t given away my last two wishes. It’s funny old waether: Autumnal, yet we’d be happy to have days this warm in the middle of Summer. Maybe colder days are a-coming.

I walked home, taking advantage of the nice weather and couldn’t help but notice this poster:

Turn and face the change

It’s very nearly a David Bowie lyric, after all.

The radio show this week is based on the theme of Dinosaurs, in honour of William’s upcoming birthday. No, he’s not a dinosaur, but he is a big fan of the old beasties. Listen back here or listen to the repeats on Wythenshaw FM 97.2 at 7pm Wednesday and again 2pm next Friday.

All day yesterday, every time I stood up from the sofa, Liesel’s started laughing. I could have taken it personally, but it wasn’t my fault. Apart from all the usual CostCo purchases, Liesel had bought me a new pair of shoes. I was trying them on for comfort, walking round the house. Comfortable, yes, but they squeak. The left one is especially loud, but the right one didn’t like being left out and soon joined in the chorus. So I squeak my way to the kitchen and to the radio studio. Squeak squeak squeak squeak. It reminds of of dear old Mrs Winters, the cleaner in our hall of residence, all those years decades ago. Her squeaky shoes were a good early warning to make ourselves decent before she came into the room. By my reckoning, she is now about 140 years old.

Muddy boots

Quarry Bank Mill beckoned and we had a good walk, enjoying the sunshine and the Autumnal colours. It wasn’t too crowded, but one of the paths was just a bit too muddy, so we had to do a U-turn. We made a mental note to take our wellies out of storage ready for the next time. I take a quick photo now and then, but it was good to see a small group of people taking the time to paint a picture.

Artists

Liesel is a big fan of these red shoots. I think I remember it being known as dogwood from when I tried to solve the riddles presented in the book Masquerade, all those years ago, clues to the location of a golden hare buried somewhere in the UK. Needless to say, I didn’t find the valued item.

Dogwood

There were a few clusters of mushrooms, which looked jolly tasty. Uh? But we left them for other folks to enjoy. Just in case.

Mushrooms
Selfie of the day

We stopped off at the Leisure Centre in Wythenshawe where I had my Covid booster jab. No issues this time, except a slightly tender arm. Oh, and I felt unusually cold for a couple of days, but that may have been because it had become significantly colder and it rained a lot during the course of 48 hours.

In the evening, we walked all the way up the road again to the Northenden Players’ theatre to watch some jazz. Alec Wares played tenor sax, accompanied by a keyboard player whose name I missed, despite it being announced twice. This was our third show from Northenden Arts Festival.

Alec Wares Jazz Duo

On the walk home, we saw this bloke looking a lot worse for wear, he needs to eat something fast, put some meat on those bones.

One of the neighbours

He’d disappeared the following day, I just hope he was taken indoors and wasn’t kidnapped by some local Nothendenizen ne’er-do-wells.

It is of course the season of Hallowe’en and Bonfire night, and I think the two have become conflated in the minds of some locals. I know I’m in danger of becoming a grumpy old Mick but I’m sure fireworks are getting louder every year.

Liesel says: Whaddya mean, ‘in danger of’?

The final Sunday of each month sees the arrival of Didsbury Craft Market. We risked walking there along the river despite the overnight downpours.

Muddy path

We did see our heron though, on our side of the river. He didn’t fly off when I got my phone out. He was stock still. I suggested it was just a cardboard cutout but no, he did move a couple of times.

Heron

That picture was taken looking towards the Sun but I knew that trying to get  a different angle would be futile.

Jenny and Liam came over to the market too, with Martha and William. We just hoped the rain would stay away, come again another day.

Martha the witch

Martha attracted some favourable comments from strangers, coming as she did dressed as a witch, complete with broomstick, wand and wellies. William was dressed as a skeleton but he’d just woken up, felt cold and had to put his coat on, hiding his very bones.

William the skeleton

We bought brownies to complement the other snacks that would last me and Liesel most of the week. The first few spots of rain were the cue for us to set off home.

In the evening, we walked all the way up the road again, this time in really heavy rain, to the Northenden Players’ theatre to watch a play and a Rat Pack Revival.

The play was Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills in which all 7 characters are children, but played by adults. It was performed very well and there was a very unexpected dark ending.

Northenden Players

We could have walked home and back again for the second show, but neither of us fancied it doing that in that rain. So we stayed glued to our seats, watching Bring on the Swing set up. They’re a large band, twelve members, and it’s quite a small stage. But what a show. Plenty of the old classics associated with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. By coincidence, they sang Have You Met Miss Jones? which Alec Wares had played the previous night.

Bring on the Swing

At least after walking home in the rain, we could climb straight into bed. But what a great weekend, five shows over four days. Let’s hope the Northenden Arts Festival becomes a regular attraction.

We haven’t been to Lyme Park for a while, so we returned for a long walk. And yes, we wore our wellington boots. It was very muddy in places, but not as bad as expected after over 24 hours continuous rain. (So much rain, that the river Mersey in Northenden rose by over 1.3 metres, covering the island and flooding part of the road that leads to Didsbury Golf Club.)

Selfie of the day

We usually stop to watch the lack of birds at the feeders but today we were quite lucky.

Coal tits

We walked up towards the folly, The Cage, and this tree caught my eye.

Lone Tree Hill

All that rain earlier in the week had thoroughly washed the air and we had a really clear view of Manchester in the distance. And it must be that time of year when fungi feel emboldened. While we saw mushrooms the other day, it was definitely toadstools we were looking at today. I don’t really know what the difference is except maybe mushrooms look edible while toadstools look poisonous. I might be doing both a disservice.

Toadstools

We might not have spotted these fungi if we hadn’t been walking on the grass. Yes, we walked on the grass rather than the stoney path at this point because the soles of our boots are very thin, compared with our trainers, and we could feel every little stone and pebble and grain of sand. On the other foot, when we come across a stream that’s taking a shortcut across our path rather than following its proper channel, we can just plod on through.

Stream on the path

It was really cold when we collected William and Martha from school. But that didn’t stop William from taking off his coat. We walked back a different way today to avoid the debris left behind following a very recent car crash. So recent, the car was still steaming and there was glass everywhere. The children brought some of their Hallowe’en treats with them and I guess we should be happy that William wasn’t keen on most of the sweets he’d received.

We played with dinosaurs and with the pin-art device that is so much fun, much moreso than you’d expect.

We looked after William for a couple of hours the next day too. The rain made us change our plans. Instead of taking him to the playground just round the corner from his house, we took him home where we played with dinosaurs and the pin-art device that is so attractive. We ate lunch while watching Moana, and he sat still for 90% of the film, which I’d forgotten was quite scary in parts.

It’s my sister Pauline’s birthday this weekend so that gave me the idea of a radio show based on the theme of Growing Old. You can listen back here. Happy birthday, dear sister.

Forever Autumn

Autumn is making its presence felt more and more. The colours brighten the place up, almost compensating for the lack of sunshine.

Red on green

When my Dad passed away in 2007, one of the things he left behind was a partially consumed bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky. This week, after a mere 14 years, I finished it off.

Johnnie Walker

Before inheriting this item, it had been in his possession for at least 16 years: we’re pretty sure it was in the drinks cabinet before Mum died in 1991. So, a truly vintage drink. Cheers, Mum and Dad.

Another major achivement this week was completing a very difficult, 9-star killer sudoku puzzle. Over several days, it took me 2 hours to complete. 20 minutes is a more typical amount of time.

Killer Sudoku

I was so delighted that I think I skipped around the room a bit. What’s that? I spelt ‘achivement’ wrong? I don’t think so…

Together Everyone

See?

Something was messing with the structure of the universe one day as we walked by the river. There’s a glitch in the spacetime continuum.

Liesel on the bentch

It’s probably a publicity stunt for the new series of Doctor Who which we’re* looking forward to seeing when it returns to our screens at the end of the month. (*We? Well, I am, not sure about Liesel.)

Red on black

Most of the fallen leaves are yellow or brown, so a bright red one really shows up on the pavement.

Some of them haven’t fallen yet, of course, making for a nice cheerful wall.

Traffic lights

We enjoyed a walk through the woods in the drizzle and our reward was the sight of a rainbow beyond the baker’s van. Not the brightest rainbow we’ve ever seen, but much easier on the eye than the garish van.

Loaf’s good but rainbow’s better

On the other hand, this was a disappointing thing to see.

Pizza of the weel

You don’t order a pizza online and expect it to be delivered in a heap like this, do you?  It looks like someone’s taken a big bite out of it. But no: I carefully put it back together to make sure nothing was missing from this unsightly but ultimately delicious mess.

Red on blue

From our place, sunsets look OK but because of the buildings, they’ll never match a tropical sunset. The red sky this night was short-lived but very welcome at the end of the day, just the same.

We picked William and Martha up from school, both of us amazed at how much energy William has at the end of the day. While waiting for Martha to come out, he just can’t stop running around and playing tag with his friend and hiding in the bushes.

Where’s William?

The children kept us entertained for a couple of hours, crafting with Oma, doing a jigsaw puzzle, helping the dinosaurs fight each other, singing, rolling a ball to each other along our long hallway which we should turn into a more formal bowling alley. Martha told us about Rosa Parks, which is astonishing. She’s 5 years old and has already learned more Black History at school than I ever did.

Again, Liesel and joined a very gentle, well-being walk through Painswick Park and as well as the usual suspects in the lake, we saw a heron.

Heron

Well that’s strange, because we haven’t seen the heron on our stretch of river for a couple of weeks now. I would love to know where they go for a few weeks each year. If that’s our heron that’s migrated just as far as a park in Wythenshawe, I will be more than disappointed.

It’s halloween soon and this house is ahead of the game. Spooky.

Spooky

The radio show this week featured songs about Telephones. I spent way too much time editing together all the David Bowie references to phones that I could think of, in an exclusive megamix. You can hear it and the rest of the show here.

Or, if you prefer, catch the repeat on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2 on Wednesday at 7pm. On 97.2 FM if you’re in or near Wythenshawe.

Or, if you prefer, catch the repeat of the repeat on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2 on the following Friday at 2pm. On 97.2 FM if you’re in or near Wythenshawe.

Yes, the mad fools are repeating my show on a Friday afternoon, just before the new one goes out on Radio Northenden. And as we walked through The Forum Centre, where Wythenshawe FM has its studio, I thought I’d check out the listings for Friday 2pm.

WFM Schedule

As my sister Pauline pointed out: they’ve spelt my name wrong.

Three nights out

If you’d said to me that I would see somebody fishing in the river, from a wheelchair, I would have said, good for them. I never expected to see such a spectacle, especially at this particular location.

Wheelchair fishing

If he rolls forward just a couple of inches, he will be on a steep slope heading for the Mersey. Who knew that angling could be such a dangerous occupation?

It’s funny the way things work out. We don’t go out much but here we are, going out three nights in a row, to vastly different shows.

First, to see The Blow Monkeys in Manchester, supported by Jessica Lee Morgan, who, yes, we only saw a couple of weeks ago.

The venue was called ‘Club Academy’. It’s very hard to find. There is ‘Manchester Academy’, which was deserted. There is ‘The Academy’, ‘Academy 1’, ‘Academy 2’ and ‘Academy 3’. As we were looking for our venue, we were approached by a couple of other equally confused concert-goers. But we got there in the end and enjoyed a great night’s music. We wore masks but most people didn’t. We’re not too enamoured of standing gigs any more, but we found a counter to lean on. Then, later on, when most people huddled in front of the stage, we went to the back of the auditorium and sat down, trying not to slide off a sofa that was built for people with much longer legs than ours. We felt positively Lilliputian.

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

From our original vantage point, Chris was mostly behind a pillar, but we knew he was there, top bass playing.

The Blow Monkeys

We’re not as familiar with The Blow Monkeys and their music, but we recognised some of their songs. I only wish the saxophone had been a bit louder in the mix.

Before leaving, we had a quick chat with Jess and Chris and, unless something changes, we’ll next see them in March, in York, playing with Holy Holy.

The second show we saw was at The Lowry in Salford. Danny Baker and Bob Harris Backstage Pass: a couple of old rock’n’rollers swapping rock’n’roll stories. This show was postponed from last year, and was a birthday present from a year before that, I think. Well worth waiting for, and as it turns out, this was the first night of their rescheduled tour.

We went into Salford a bit early, not having been there for a long time. It was good to walk around a different city. It’s very modern looking, with its Media City, new blocks of (no doubt luxury) apartments, nothing at all like it’s portrayed in the Ewan MacColl song Dirty Old Town.

Salford Quays
Salford Geese

Lots of people were proudly wearing their medals, having completed the Manchester Marathon. Some looked like they could do it all over again. Others really needed a lie-down, and fast.

Bee in the City: Blue Bee-ter

This blue bee was designed and decorated by Jodie Silverman and the sponsors are BBC Radio Manchester, Blue Peter and Peel Media Ltd. Blue Peter, Blue Bee-ter, what are the chances! The new Blue Peter garden is nearby, but we didn’t pay a visit.

As recommended by Jenny, we dined at Prezzo, although Wagamama was spotted nearby and we were very nearly tempted away.

The show was ‘sold out’ but there were plenty of empty seats. Whether this was because the audience was thinned out due to Covid, or because many people just forgot to turn up, we don’t know.

But it was a fabulous couple of hours of entertainment. Lots of stories from Bob and Dan, some of which we’d heard before, but that’s alright.

Danny Baker and Bob Harris

During the interval, we, the audience members, were invited to write a question down for them to answer in the second half. Bob Harris sings in the chorus of David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival, so I asked whether Danny Baker had appeared on any records. Well, at the start of the second half, Danny announced that his solo gig in Blackheath in January was sold out. He said that tickets sold quickly after he’d announced that every guest would be given one of his old 7-inch singles. Danny said that of course, these records might not be any good, he wouldn’t be giving away Memory of a Free Festival, would he? To which Bob replied, I’m on that record. ‘Are you?’ exclaimed Danny. So Bob told the story of how he and his then wife Sue, and some others, happened to be in the studio when David was recording the song. Producer Tony Visconti invited them up to sing along with the chorus. Bob asked if Dan had been on a record, and the only one he named was by Sham 69, and he told us some things about Jimmy Pursey, their lead singer. So, even though my question wasn’t picked out and read, it was answered.

I was hoping there’d be a meet & greet afterwards, but no. I have a photo of me with Danny Baker from a previous occasion but I do need to add Whispering Bob to my rogues gallery.

Hand-brake turn here. Key change. Nature really shouldn’t get involved in politics.

Saltire: The sky showing its support for Scottish independence

The third in our trilogy of nights out was an event in the Manchester Literature Festival. We saw Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo in conversation with with old chum Jackie Kay. Liesel and I both loved Bernardine’s book Girl, Woman, Other and, having heard her talking about her new book, we’re now looking forward to reading it, Manifesto.

Bernardine Evaristo OBE FRSL FRSA

And as she Tweeted:
MANIFESTO is the @BBC’s ‘Book of the Week’ starting this Monday 18th Oct at 09.45, as narrated by the authoress herself. Listen here.

I joined the queue afterwards to have our copy of the book signed, but I felt bad for Liesel standing all alone outside in the rain, so I gave up waiting and joined her to go home. In fact, she’d been sitting down inside, in comfort and warmth. Ms Evaristo will have to wait until next time to meet me.

She is a very special lady, sharing her birthday with daughter Jenny and with Kylie Minogue.

So, a very entertaining, educational and informative few days overall. Three nights in a row: it was a daunting prospect but we don’t need to make a habit of it. Having been in the presence of so many strangers in such a short period, we both tested ourselves for the plague covid, and we both came up negative.

Which meant that we felt comfortable picking up William and Martha from school on Thursday. The other grandparents provide childminding on a Tuesday. Liesel and I had filled in for them the previous Tuesday. William was aware of this iniquity. ‘Oma and Grandad have picked us up twice and Nana and Papa only once. After today, it will be 3-1’.

At home, this basic unfairness in how the universe operates was forgotten as snacks, fruit and vegetables were on offer. Martha and Oma made spiders from pipecleaners while William completed a new jigsaw puzzle with my assistance.

Martha told us about her meeting today, the School Parliament. But having (I assume) signed the Official Secrets Act, she didn’t divulge any of the details.

And, sorry, William, I don’t mind watching CoComelon on TV with you, with their nursery rhymes, both ancient and modern, but all I can think of is that an anagram of CoComelon is ComeColon.

Jenny and Liam joined us for dinner before taking their babies home.

Pipecleaner spider

This is one of the very colourful but otherwise very scary spiders.

Autumn colours are slowly enveloping the trees as the temperature drops. Fallen leaves make the path a bit slippery too, especially when it’s been raining or there’s been a heavy dew. So to make things even more challenging, the grass verges are being cut and the trimmings liberally distributed over the pavements. But the colours are glorious.

Colourful tree

Yes, the sky is blue, the Sun feels nice on our backs as we wander around Northenden and Wythenshawe. Both well-being walks were well-attended this week, Liesel joined us in Wythenshawe, around Painswick Park and beyond.

Walking in sunshine
Matching tree and building
Gnarly old silver birch

Earlier in the week, I spoke to Andrew Foulkes from Northenden Players Theatre Club and to Dan Tiernan, comedian, about the upcoming Northenden Arts Festival. These chats formed the backbone of this week’s Radio Northenden Show. Hear all about it here. I know you’re wondering and yes, I did play David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival to illustrate Northenden Arts Festival. Find out more about the Festival and about Northenden Players here.

Manchester by bus

The weather is very changeable here in Manchester, I may have mentioned this before. This week, we’ve experienced at least two seasons. A couple of days of Summery heat, a nice dose of apricity (a nice word, that) and very welcome. On the other hand, one day, the cold, strong wind, seemingly fresh from Siberia, made for an unexpectedly unpleasant walk. Yes, I could have put on more and warmer clothes, but as I said, the ferocity of the gale was a big surprise. Never mind the weather: as a Brit, I could whinge about it for several hours.

It’s been a while, but after acquiring some new bags, we collected some litter from our local streets. There should be a law against driving over discarded drinks cans because the flattened items are so much harder to pick up with the bespoke litter-picker-upper. But then, I could whinge about the amount of littering for several hours too. Well, it makes a change from moaning about the weather.

We had a coffee break at Boxx2Boxx and that was nice, sitting outside in the Sun. Now if only they’d ban traffic from Palatine Road, it would be even more quiet and pleasant, but that will never happen. Yes, I could whinge about the amount of traffic until the cows come home. In fact, there are so many cars around here, they don’t all fit on the roads, they have to park on the pavements.

We paid a visit to Manchester and we chose to go in by bus. The first bus we’ve been on here, I think, since before the first lockdown. Most of the windows were open, but somebody had managed to close one of the windows that was fitted with a device to prevent it from being closed. It was a long ride into Manchester, over half an hour to travel just six miles or so. We agreed that there should be a fast, non-stopping bus service from outside our front door to the big city. But then, I guess that’s what Uber is for. Could I whinge more about the local bus services? Yep, I sure could.

Unfortunately, we chose a day right in the middle of the Conservative Party Conference, so we witnessed hundreds of police officers from several police forces keeping us all safe from the politicians in the city centre. St Peter’s Square was the venue for several protest groups, but we fought our way through into the Central Library.

Gandhi

Liesel was looking at some specific books, so I wandered around and amongst other things, came across this bust of Mahatma Gandhi. There are hidden, secret passageways in this library: it seems I find something new every time I visit. In 1980, Manchester became Britain’s first nuclear free zone.

Nuclear free Manchester

In the music department, I resisted the temptation to play the piano and to play on the drumkit. One thing that did surprise me was the number of books about David Bowie.

Where the books were found by the golden ones

My plan now is to write a book about David Bowie, and for a title, I can just pick one of his song titles. There can’t be much left to say about him, surely? It’s bad enough that some people play one of his records on each and every single radio show they cobble together. Ahem.

I mentioned the less than ideal bus service before, but very soon, Manchester’s public transport system will be improved. We look forward to the full implementation of The Bee Network, fully integrated mass transportation, and this includes facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Bee Network bus

There is a shortage of lorry drivers and of slaughterhouse workers in the UK right now, so farmers are having to cull 150,000 pigs. What a waste. There was a protest outside the library against this, of course.

Don’t burn the pigs

We walked to a place called The Green Lab for lunch, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t a big green dog sitting outside. It’s a popular place, we were lucky to get seats, really. Another group of people were observed walking towards the library, carrying the Roma flag I think, blue and green with a red wheel. Amongst the delegation was a unicorn with his own security detail.

A rare Manc unicorn

Our first day out in Manchester concluded nicely when we passed these buskers, singing the songs of Bob Marley and doing a very good job.

Buskers

The exciting news this week is that we are resuming our childminding duties. We picked Martha and William up from school one day, so that Jenny could show us where to go. And on Thursday, we collected them both and brought them home to ours for a few hours.

It’ll take a while to get back into the swing of things of course, as they are both very tired at the end of an arduous schoolday.

William earning his snack
Martha fighting a biscuit packet

We’ll get the balance right between satisfying their desire for post-school snacks and not filling them up before dinnertime. We shovelled the coal out of the tub again so that they could have a soak and a play in the bath together and afterwards, we watched something on TV. William knew what he wanted, and our TV setup is different to theirs at home, but he still took charge of the remote control.

Jenny and Liam arrived and we all ate together. Liesel went out to her WI Knitting Group meeting and missed Martha and William getting ready for bed. What an absolute pleasure to spend time with these delightful little people.

Again, my plan was to walk to the well-being walk in Wythenshawe, but once again, I left home too late. Having taken the plunge a few days earlier, I cheated and caught the bus to about the halfway point.

Red and blue

This was a nice, bright day, and I did like the look of the red and the blue here.

We walked through Painswick Park again and back to the main offices of Thrive Manchester. After which I walked all the way home. I’m not one to whinge, as you know, but the weather forecast is not looking good for the next week

The theme for the Radio Northenden show this week was Days. Listen here. And yes, it includes a David Bowie track, something from my Mum and Dad’s record collection as well as Sounds of the ’20s: that is, a song from the 1920s and a brand new release by a (fairly) local artist. Listen back here (in case you missed the link the first time)!

Morecambe and whys

It’s been a long time coming, nearly two years, but we’ve been to our first gig indoors, in an actual indoor venue. And it was fab.

The original plan was to spend the day in Morecambe and then attend the concert in the evening. At one point, we even thought about spending the night, but in the end, we chose not to. To even be having discussions like this is a great step forward as we slowly get back to normal. Why? Because the pandemic and restrictions imposed have drastically affected our way of life.

The weather on Saturday morning was miserable, making a day at the seaside much less attractive. The drive was uneventful, and we parked close to the venue, More Music. Why? So that we could make a quick getaway after the show, without having to wander around a strange town in the dark. It looked a bit run down to be honest, but we knew we were at the right place when we saw this poster.

More Music Gigs

And by now, you might have worked out who we were going to see this evening.

We enjoyed a walk along the sea front, but I was surprised that there wasn’t much of the expected sandy beach. We walked along as far as the Eric Morecambe memorial statue and guess who we bumped in to? Jessica and Christian had also made the pilgrimage, and of course, we all had to pose with Eric. Why? Because he and his partner were the best of Saturday night TV entertainment in the ’70s and, as Jessica said, he’d brought us sunshine today.

Eric Morecambe and Jessica Lee Morgan
Liesel, Eric and Mick

While Jess and Chris wandered off for an ice cream, we continued our exploration of this strange little seaside town. Some of the sights weren’t very nice: the bloke sitting immobile on the pavement for instance. We later learned that he was probably under the influence of ‘spice’, a new (to us) recreational drug. Some of the shops could do with a lick of paint too. Comparing this town with the relatively well-kept splendour of London is obviously unfair, a tangible sign of the north-south divide.

We were impressed by the flood defences all along the front, though, with a nice wide promenade for pedestrians and cyclists and scooterists and skateboarders. Why? Flood defences were beached here in 1977 causing extensive damage to property. The West End Pier was lost, the remains being removed the following year.

Flood defence

There were a few people on the beach, soaking up the Sun. Yes, by now it had warmed up nicely, and the rain had moved away. The mudflats extend for miles, not somewhere we felt like exploring today.

Nice view
Cormorant

They do like their bird sculptures here, fulmars, cormorants, maybe even pelicans. But other than common or garden gulls, I don’t think we saw any living seabirds. Those sitting on the water just floating by gave an indication of how strong the current was.

We walked along the pier, where someone was flying his drone. I gurned at it, just in case it was filming us. Why? Well, why not? Another bloke at end of pier was loudly regaling us with his drone stories. He’d gone out for a bike ride with some friends in order to fly his drone over the farms. The day started off badly when he didn’t open the garage door far enough and it came down with some force on his head. While flying his drone, a farmer came running out after him, shouting and hollering. He was complaining because some people use drones to photograph what farm equipment is left out and can therefore be stolen easily. Our friend here was totally innocent of course: my drone doesn’t even have a camera. The farmer promised he’d shoot it down if he ever saw that drone again. If he had a shotgun.

Our story-teller here had a bad experience with a glider once too. On its maiden flight, it nose-dived somewhere, never to be seen again.

Well, that was plenty of entertainment for the day, you’d think. But no. A woman was on the phone:
Were you bulk buying?
Did you get rid of that toilet paper you got last time?

That was probably referring to the current petrol shortage here, and the queues of cars at the forecourts. We filled up successfully, but that was because we needed fuel if we were to be able drive all the way home from Morecambe at the end of the day. Why? Because, as I said, we thought about staying the night and decided not to, weren’t you paying attention?

The pier itself can keep you entertained. There’s a maze and a hopscotch pitch as well as some jokes.

Maze on the pier

On what side does a lapwing have most feathers?
On the outside.

We dined at Morecambe Tandoori, which seems very popular with the locals. Why? Our first choice of pizzas didn’t work out, but really, we weren’t that fussy. With some time to kill before the show, I went for another quick walk, really just an excuse to eat my daily apple. West End Gardens is a nice place to explore. Some sculptures depicting the ancient four elements certainly draw the eye.

Stainless steel trumpets

“It was decided … to connect Wind with Sound and to make a sculpture inspired by the ancient aeolian instruments, where wind creates random changing sounds. As we began to explore ways of making this happen, the design developed into the form of seven stainless steel trumpets of varying heights, shapes and angles standing like sea horns proudly calling out in all directions. The 4m high, stainless steel sculpture has wires set in the trumpet spun cavity allowing them to resonates when the wind passes over them.”

Rock seat

“It was decided that the Element Earth should take the form of Rock and relate directly to the geology of Morecambe. This evolved into a ‘rock’ seat, a unique sculptural bench using found glacial stones. Six different shaped stones were split in half and and their top face polished. These were set into a curved section of Corten steel. The effect was a very unique looking seat 3m in length with six obvious seating points.”

And to think, when I first saw this, I just thought what a clever, different, park bench.

If you think I’ve undersold Morecambe, well, this mural should convince you to go for a week or two of its bracing sea air.

A bay of big skies and shifting tides

We joined the queue at the venue, and when we took our seats, by a table, in front of the stage we noticed that I was not the oldest person there, and Liesel was not the youngest. Each table had two or three chairs, and were quite apart from each other. It was organised to be as Covid safe as possible. I made my bottle of ginger beer last all night: no need to be walking about more than necessary.

Jessica and Christian came on first for a wonderful set, all their own songs, including a couple in which we, the audience, were invited to sing along. I caught myself singing along to most songs, but not too loudly, I hope.

Robyn Hitchcock was as entertaining as always: The Cheese Alarm again reminding me that there aren’t enough pop songs about cheese. Sadly, he didn’t perform No, I Don’t Remember Guildford, but maybe he remembers the time he sang that song in a radio studio with me sitting behind, breathing down his neck.

Christian, Robyn, Jessica

Because we were so close to the stage, it was difficult to get a good photo, so this will have to do. All three performed Robyn’s Brenda’s Iron Sledge together, a song I would like to join in with but not knowing the lyrics is a bit of a handicap. Don’t call him Reg. Why? It’s not his name.

What a great experience. Covid’s always at the back of our minds of course, but we felt safe tonight and enjoyed a terrific few hours of live music.

Late to bed, late to rise, of course. West Didsbury Makers’ Market takes place once a month on a Sunday, so we walked over to see what was going on. It was a pleasant walk along the river and to the market, which was very popular, much busier than I’d expected. Lots of craft stalls, but plenty of food too. The scones were huge and very tasty.

Liesel picked something up from Lakeland, the shop that is, not the gorgeous geographical region, after which we went to Quarry Bank Mill for a quick walk. Autumn is here so we expect to see some colour, but it was fascinating to see so many different colours here today.

All the colours of the rainbow

We enjoyed more wandering around our local streets, despite the weather. After the storm, I looked for and found a rainbow, hiding between the houses.

An actual rainbow

It wasn’t really a storm on this occasion, just a bit of rain.

I haven’t been to a proper Macmillan Coffee Morning for a while, but I made up for it this year. The venue was Boxx2 Boxx and they were very busy on this occasion, good to see. Why? Well, I’ll always support Macmillan Care since they looked after my Mum all those years ago.

What a tasty treat

Liesel and I joined the well-being walk at Wythenshawe this week too. I thought about walking all the way there and back, as well as doing the walk itself. Driving all the way again to do a walk, like I did last week, felt wrong. So we compromised, drove halfway and then walked the rest.

Oof…

I have no idea how somebody can build up enough speed in the short distance from the car park to cause this much damage.

We walked to the Lifestyle Centre, joined Chantel and a few others for a walk around Painswick Park and beyond.

Painswick Park

Yes, of course I was tempted to have a go on this zipwire, but it’s probably for children, and I didn’t want to lag too far behind the group. Why? I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t want to get left behind or maybe I didn’t want to risk breaking the equipment or more likely, I was pretending to be grown up.

Zipwire

I had a couple of nasty technical issues this week that caused a few moments of panic. Acast, the app through which I listen to many podcasts, forgot all my subscriptions. It acted like I’d only just signed up. And the one podcast it claimed to know about wouldn’t play anyway. It looked like I’d have to re-subscribe to everything. And how can I possibly remember them all? In the end, I thought I had nothing to lose, maybe it’s just a stack overflow or something stupid, so I did a Force Stop on the app, and that fixed it. In other words: turn it off and turn it on again. There’s a tip for you.

The other one was when my PC forgot how to use its ethernet connection. It’s happened before, and it’s been resolved, but I’ve never found out why it’s gone wrong and why, seemingly, just as spontaneously, it’s started working again. So this week, I had to do the radio show via wifi, having turned off all the other wifi-connected devices. It seems to have worked.

The show itself was about Manchester. Why? Well, it only seems fair after the London-themed show last week. You can catch up here, if you missed it.

This is the first post in a somewhat cooler, damper, Autumnal October. When it was dreich and drizzly the other day, I wanted to go to bed and set the alarm for May. Why all the stupid questions? Purely so that the pun that comprises the title makes sense. As much as anything does in this neck of the woods. 

Ode to London

As hinted at in the previous post: we did London.

The Sun was out and after breakfast, I set off for Surbiton station. I’d checked, and all three local stations, Surbiton, Tolworth and Chessington North were a 25-minute walk from our Airbnb. I thought I’d go to Chessington, for old times’ sake. But as I walked through the door, a moment of panic set in. Suppose I missed the train? I’d have to wait half an hour. There’s a much more frequent service from Surbiton. So I turned round and walked there instead. Yes, I could have caught a bus, but neither Liesel nor I were yet convinced that travelling on buses was a good idea. Hang on, what happened to Liesel? Well, she was going to Woodmansterne to visit an old friend, Claire, whom we hadn’t seen for ages. The plan was that Liesel would meet me later on in London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We debated whether or not to get Oyster Cards, as our old first generation ones might no longer work, but in the end, I just used my phone. It seems TfL work it all out nicely, so the daily fare is capped. All I had to do was remember to scan in and out. Quite a challenge for someone who hasn’t used public transport for well over 18 months. But quite exciting at the same time.

It was pleasing to see that most people on the train were wearing masks. And also nice to see that the train wasn’t packed. No standing, and nobody had to sit right next to a stranger.

Travelling into London felt so normal, despite the masks. More graffiti than I remember on the walls just before Wimbledon. Battersea Power Station is looking good, nice and clean, although harder to see now thanks to the many blocks of undoubtedly luxury apartments built at Nine Elms, close to the newly relocated US Embassy.

Waterloo Station was London to me, when I was small. A small part of me still thinks that the trains now operated by South Western Railways aren’t the genuine article. No, a real, proper train has the green livery of British Rail’s Southern Region, with slamming rather than sliding doors.

And so my long-anticipated walk in London began. Through the unusually thin crowds at Waterloo Station, past a lot of newly installed seating, very welcome I’m sure. I recalled the time most of the seating was removed to make space for ‘retail opportunities’ according to ‘public demand’, they fibbed. Down the stairs by the War Memorial and towards the South Bank. Beggars, Big Issue sellers, discarded Metro newspapers, some things never change.

‘We’re so glad to see you’. ‘We’ve missed you’. ‘Welcome back to our home’. These were the messages that greeted me as I climbed the stairs towards the Royal Festival Hall. I don’t usually speak to concrete infrastructure, but I did say it was nice to be back, thank you.

I also nodded at the bust of Nelson Mandela as I passed by and smiled at the sight of the Modified Social Benches. This is the sort of thing we love about London. Nothing wrong with being quirky.

More comfortable than it looks

Usually at the point, I would nip into the RFH to use their facilities, but there’s no need to go into more buildings than necessary. But we do look forward to seeing live performances here, and elsewhere, as soon as we can.

The second-hand book stalls under Waterloo Bridge were not open today. I’ve squandered many an hour here, looking at books and maps and other things that I’ve no real intention of buying.

Outside the National Theatre, I acknowledged Sir Laurence Olivier and tried to recall all the plays we’ve seen here. One day, I hope to return to see a young actor perform here: hello Lesley!

Sir Laurence

Lesley was a barista at Boxx2Boxx in Northenden, look out for her on a stage near you! Many actors while between rôles have to take temporary jobs, and another one was operating the coffee stall right outside the theatre. He was due to go to rehearsals later in the day, but meanwhile, he made me a fine cup of coffee!

Thank goodness Boris Johnson’s vanity project, the Garden Bridge, was never built, it would have ruined this stretch of the South Bank. I wonder if he’ll ever repay the millions of pounds he squandered on it?

The Post Office Tower stood proudly way over there on the other side of the river. I’ve only been inside a couple of times: once soon after I’d passed my 11+ exam. And once just a few years ago when, for charity, I climbed the stairs inside. They said it was 1,000 steps, but in the end, there were only 870, more or less. I’d trained by climbing the long staircase at Guy’s Hospital, near London Bridge, towards which I was now walking, sometimes at my own default, fast pace and sometimes slowly, to take in all the sights.

The promenade along the South Bank is known as The Queen’s Walk. Well, I’ve never seen the queen there, but I have seen David Bowie. Not the real David Bowie of course, but a sand sculpture of his image, created soon after his death in 2016. In fact, the stretch of the beach revealed when the tide is out has been used for sand sculptures for quite a while, some of them ridiculously extravagant, considering their transient nature. Today, however, there was no sculpture. In fact, the normally pristine sand has been covered with darker coloured gravel. Which is a shame.

It had rained quite hard the previous day (when we were at Polesden Lacey) and some of the Queen’s Walk was still flooded. The Great Flood of London? No, just a big puddle.

Every time I walk by the Bankside Gallery, I think I should spend some time there. But I never do. The piece of art outside lifts the spirits though. It’s a nice bit of competition for Tate Modern, a bit further along.

Bankside Gallery

The buskers were out in force today, at least four along this stretch. One played an accordion, one a guitar, one a mandolin and under one of the road bridges, we were treated to a tenor performing On The Street Where You Live.

Liesel and I had thought about seeing a play at The Globe: we would be outside, after all. But in the end, we missed out on Twelfth Night and Metamorphoses. But still, what a cool building to find by the Thames. My daughter Helen and I saw Macbeth here twenty years ago and I still regret not going the following week too, when we could have seen Macbeth performed in Zulu: uMabatha.

What a happy bin

I still wonder if The Golden Hinde is in the best location. There’s just too much going on all around it, you can’t view it well from the side. It still reminds me of the model I had when I was younger. I wonder what happened to it?

Southwark Cathedral is a good sign that we’re approaching London Bridge. I first visited this cathedral in about 2000 when the author Michael Arditti was promoting his then new book, Easter. I bought a signed copy for Sarah and when I read it, well, it was a bit more racy than anticipated. Liesel and I visited the cathedral, as tourists, more recently.

‘There are two things scarce matched in the universe: the Sun in Heaven and the Thames on Earth’. Such is the quote by Sir Walter Raleigh inscribed on the wall just round the corner from London Bridge. And looking out on the Thames at that very moment, I witnessed the passage of an Uber Boat. This service is run in partnership with Thames Clippers, and is not to be confused with a U-Boat, something far more sinister. Another item to add to the long list of ‘Things to do the next time we come to London’.

HMS Belfast is famous for, amongst other things, its forward guns aimed at Scratchwood Services on the M1. There was no sign of them being fired today, but there were a lot of people on board a very interesting ship.

HMS Belfast

Liesel and I did the tour of Tower Bridge a few years ago, including avoiding walking on the glass panels in the floor of the high level walkway. Obviously, you always hope the bridge will open while you’re watching, but you have to time it just right. No sign of it opening today. And I wish I could stop thinking of the Spice Girls’ bus jumping over the opened bascules in the fabulous film Spiceworld. All expense was spared on the special effects.

London City Hall is I’m sure a hive of industry, especially as the Greater London Authority will be moving to new premises by the end of the year. We’ve only been inside once, and enjoyed walking up the spiral slope.

Over the river is the Tower of London. Again, a place I first visited as a child (I still have the little booklet, priced 1/6d) and again since then a few times with various family members visiting from afar.

I was taken aback by the number of people walking across Tower Bridge. As a pedestrian, you’re meant to keep left, according to signage on the ground, presumably to assist in Covid-inspired social distancing. I think more than 50% of people were complying, but I didn’t want to hang around longer than necessary and count!

One happy couple were being photographed, and it was fun to watch a professional photographer at work. The bride and groom spent a long time arranging the veil to blow in the wind, which to be honest, was not being very cooperative. Of course, I’m making an assumption: maybe they were models, not a newly-wed couple. In any case, I think they wanted City Hall and The Shard in the background of their pictures. Ah yes, The Shard, another place we should visit one day but £25 just to ride up in a lift seems a bit excesive.

May all your troubles be little ones

I strained my neck looking up at the glass floor in the overhead walkway and felt a little queasy. The thought of someone falling through and landing on my head… Or me falling over backwards into the water below…

A quick check on my phone confirmed that I still had time to walk to the V&A, but I could always catch a bus if necessary. From now on, I would remain north of the river.

There’s a small section of an old Roman wall near the Tower, a reminder that in the past, Liesel and I have joined several organised walks around London. Nearby, there are paintings decorating the walls of an underpass. One of the portraits, by Stephen B Whatley, depicts Anne Boleyn, someone to whom I am distantly related by marriage, I recently discovered.

Anne Boleyn, g-g-g-… -g-great-grandmother n times removed, or something

Tower Hill was my station of choice when I worked in the City, in Crutched Friars, to be precise. Lunchtime entertainment was sometimes provided by the Metropolitan Police Band. Today, it was mostly visitors milling about. I remembered where the public toilet was but I’d forgotten it cost 50p. Thoughtfully, they’ve installed a change machine so I changed a nice crisp £10 note for a pile of £1 and 50p coins. 50p for a pee though, that really is taking the p. On the other hand, I now had some loose change to throw into a busker’s hat, should I encounter another one.

Despite much provocation and teasing, he kept perfectly still

This part of London is a fabulous mix of old and new architecture. Old stone churches and glass and steel office blocks. Through a small gap, along a narrow road, I spotted the Monument, the one that commemorates the Great Fire of London. We’ve climbed this edifice a few times, I have certificates to prove it.

Something old, something new (don’t click on the triangle, it’s a roof, not a ‘play’ button)

It would have been nice to stick to the Thames Path, right next to the river, but there are several places where you have to deviate, thanks to building work. The smell of chlorine probably came from the swimming pool inside Nuffield Health Fitness and Well-being Club. If not, then maybe I should have reported a dangerous chemical leak.

Dear America, we have guns on the streets too

The Queenhithe Mosaic tells the story of London right from its early days. This is a terrific work of art, 30 metres in length, and what a shame it’s so far off the beaten track. This is one of those things you can look at for ages. Yes, it too is on the list for a return visit.

My collection of photos of sundials continues to grow. Polar sundials aren’t very common, so I was pleased to find one. The lady sitting next to it offered to move, but I told her to stay put and add some scale to my picture.

Polar sundial

Over the river, beyond the Millennium Bridge, sits Tate Modern. I wanted to go in today, but you have to book online. In this I failed abysmally. The booking site must work, there were plenty of people in there, but I struggled. It kept telling me about the need to book in advance, but I just couldn’t find the actual place where I could actually book an actual timeslot. Sometimes, I despair at my own incompetence. Although, bad web design is a factor here, I’m sure.

Neither did I go into the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral for a coffee, although I was tempted. I’d only had one so far today despite passing 101 coffee bars and vendors.

Looking south over the river, I caught my first glimpse of the London Eye. I didn’t feel the need to go on that again, but who knows, maybe we will if any future visitors are interested. I did have a dream once that it very slowly fell over and into the river but fortunately, each of the 32 capsules automatically converted to lifeboats.

And then over the river, I spotted the Oxo Tower. I’ve never ventured beyond the craft shops on the lower floors but I do recall one story related by a former postman colleague. Skip this paragraph if you’re under 18. Andy was very gleeful one day and if he told us once, he told us a dozen times that
the previous evening, he’d taken his wife up the Oxo Tower. I know, I know. Then he asked us all whether we’d ever taken our wives or girlfriends up the Oxo Tower. Sorry if you’re having your tea.

I passed by one of the dragons that guards the City of London and entered the City of Westminster, walking along Victoria Embankment.

Here be dragons

Near Temple Station, I found another sundial. It’s not much use though. Not because it wasn’t sunny enough, but flowers have grown over the useful parts.

Spherical sundial

Earlier, I said that Waterloo Station was London for me, when I was small. Everything else was a bonus, including Victoria Embankment, and it was occasionally my job to lookout for Cleopatra’s Needle, the obelisk guarded by two sphinxes facing the wrong direction. The obelisk was completed in 1450 BC and presented to the UK in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan, one Muhammad Ali.

Cleopatra’s Needle

As usual, when I pass by or walk over Waterloo Bridge, one old earworm rears its head, Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. I was still humming the tune to myself as I approached St Martin’s and Trafalgar Square. Ah, Trafalgar Square, that would be a good place to stop for a coffee, I thought. Not today. The whole square was cordoned off, probably being prepared for a future event. I was delighted to see the new work of art on the fourth plinth though. I couldn’t get close enough to read the plaque, so this is from The Greater London Authority website:

Heather Phillipson’s vast physical and digital sculpture tops the Fourth Plinth with a giant swirl of whipped cream, a cherry, a fly and a drone that transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square. Entitled THE END it suggests both exuberance and unease, responding to Trafalgar Square as a site of celebration and protest, that is shared with other forms of life. The live feed of Trafalgar Square picked up by the drone’s camera is visible on a dedicated website www.theend.today giving a sculpture’s eye perspective. (Good luck with that, I couldn’t get it to work.)

The End and Horatio Nelson

As I couldn’t walk across Trafalgar Square today, I walked around. This was when I acknowledged that I was on a giant Monopoly board. I’d just passed The Strand, here’s Trafalgar Square, I’d narrowly avoided Whitehall and was about to walk along Pall Mall.

There’s a new lion here too, between the Square and the National Gallery. It’s the only member of the Tusk Lion Trail that I saw on this occasion, a nice colourful beast. Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to hunt down some more lions on this trail one day.

Designed by John Cleese and his wife, Fish

Nelson watched over me as I crossed the roads and I was pleased to see the so-called diversity street crossing signs are still being used. They were installed for Pride 2016 and haven’t been replaced. Instead of a green man, when it’s finally time for you, a mere pedestrian, to cross the road, you see a couple holding hands, or maybe two male or two female symbols ♂️♂️  ♀️♀️ but green of course!

The Athenaeum is a lovely building to see, the home of a private members’ club that I haven’t been invited to join yet. I also passed by the back door of St James’s Palace only identifiable by the presence of two bored-looking but armed police officers. I found my way through to Green Park which was all but deserted. Even the squirrels sauntered across the paths rather than scurrying as they usually do. In the distance to my right, The Hard Rock Café on Piccadilly, but no, I wasn’t tempted to deviate for a coffee there either. In fact, I might still have a grudge against them. We tried to book a table once and they told us we couldn’t. Then, when we turned up, we couldn’t get in because it was fully booked. You should have booked, they said.

Hyde Park Corner is a nightmare whether on foot, or in a car or bus. It had to be negotiated though. I smiled when I saw Wellington Arch: I’m proud to say I cycled under it in 2005, naked. Here’s a link so some photos… oh no, sorry, I just remembered, I’ve closed that particular account. One day, I might repeat that most enjoyable bike ride around London. Not today though, I didn’t bring my bike.

Today’s long walk was taking place on Liesel’s birthday so as I walked by The Lanesborough, I wondered whether I should book afternoon tea. But then I remembered we probably wouldn’t have time. Plus, of course I wasn’t dressed properly for such a venue. We have had tea here before, though: I remember being slapped on the wrist when I tried to pour my own tea.

Knightsbridge was busy, but there was no avoiding it. I was surprised that the big street sign called the area Scotch Corner, especially since the shop after which it’s named, The Scotch House, hasn’t been there for years. I worked in the area for six years, and I was disappointed to see that the sandwich shop where I bought my breakfast after a long nightshift, Crumbs, has gone and been replaced by something far inferior.

But this pub, Tattersall’s Tavern is the first and only venue where I have consumed eight pints of beer in one sitting. That was after a very long shift at work, and in the end, just me and Bob, the manager, were leaning against the bar.

Coming down to Tatts for a quick one?
Harrods

Harrods doesn’t change. Once, I went in to buy a pair of shoelaces, without success. Today, the window announced a coffee bar on the ground floor. That’ll be different, thought I. So I walked through. Do you think I could locate this coffee bar? No. Instead, I carried on and found a coffee at Steps Coffee Haus, across the road. Well, I just felt sorry for them, that their pop career hadn’t worked out. Tragedy.

Also at Harrods, many years ago, I met Ffyona Campbell. I often think of her when I’m on a ramble. She walked around the world in the ’90s and signed a book for me. The following week, Naomi Campbell was going to be signing the book that she ‘wrote’, even though, as it later emerged, she hadn’t even read it! On the other hand, it turned out Ffyona had had to ‘cheat’ in USA to keep up with planned media appearances, which is a shame. It must be painful to be extracted from The Guinness Book of Records like an unwanted, rotten, decayed tooth.

This is busy London, lots of pedestrians and lots of traffic, and I was torn between feeling imposed upon and just enjoying being in this vibrant city. I recognised some shops, but many were new to me, and the architecture is wonderful of course. Don’t ask me to describe the various styles, but when I see a new build that doesn’t fit in, I do wonder which developer bribed which councillor. Cynical? Me?

I reached the V&A just a few minutes before the agreed meeting time. This was when I received the dreadful news from Liesel that she’d only just left and would be quite late. I had both our tickets on my phone so I forwarded them to Liesel, telling her to use the second ticket, I’d use the top one. Yes, I could have waited a while before going in, but my bladder couldn’t.

In the end, although our electronic, timed tickets were checked by a person, neither was scanned electronically, so we weren’t in any real danger of being refused admission.

When Liesel arrived, I was sitting in the quadrangle with a nice cup of coffee and a large baguette, soaking up the Sun. Before I’d left this morning, Liesel had predicted that I’d walk over 20,000 steps. No way, José, I said. But she was right. At this point, the pedometer displayed over 23,000 steps. Liesel bought some (late) lunch too after which we went inside to look at some exhibits.

I quite liked the French Globe Clock, I think it would look very nice in our living room. But mostly, we looked at and admired the wrought and cast iron items. Why? I think we found ourselves going to galleries with the fewest people. In one room, a couple were dancing to the music in their heads.

Breathless is a collection of silver-plated brass instruments squashed by one of Tower Bridge’s 22-tonne lifting mechanisms. Who comes up with these weird ideas? In this case, one Cornelia Parker from Cheshire.

Breathless

As it was Liesel’s birthday, it was her choice of places to eat out. She remembered a Japanese restaurant somewhere near the Southbank Centre, so we set off back along Cromwell Road, Brompton Road and Knightsbridge. Yes, I was retracing my steps, but it was a first time for Liesel to be walking along the A4. The A4! And yes, we could have caught a bus, but apart from the traffic, it really was a pleasant day for walking in the city. After crossing the glorified roundabout that is Hyde Park Corner again, we veered off to walk by Green Park, along Constitution Hill.

Of course, as tourists, we were perfectly entitled to take a selfie with Buckingham Palace in the background.

Selfie of the day

The Victoria Memorial was shining brightly in the early evening sunshine, and, what’s this? A new innovation in London transportation? A man was walking along the road, in a giant metal wireball, a steel zorb. We don’t know why, but he did say he was doing this for ninety days.

A man in a zorb

The Mall was much more busy than we’d anticipated, disappointingly so, really. I have fond memories of riding onto The Mall after my 100-mile Prudential Bike Ride back in 2014, in the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha. I dream of being fit enough to do so again.

I’ve been to the ICA, the Institute for Contemporary Arts, for a few events over the years but so far, Liesel’s missed out. Yes, it’s also on the list of places to visit one day.

Eventually we crossed  the Golden Jubilee Bridge, again admiring the London Skyline to the east, beyond Waterloo Bridge. I resisted the urge to take a picture, since I already have several hundred. Unfortunately, the Japanese place has been replaced by a very stinky burger joint. So we went down to Wagamama for a very civilised meal. Plastic shields separate you from other diners, and I wonder whether they’ll keep these once the pandemic’s over? Or will we once again be forced to sit next to strangers on the bench? And you now pay by scanning a QR code on the menu, going to a website, typing in your table number and payment details. I’m not (usually) criminally minded, but I did think about entering somebody else’s table number, someone who perhaps has only ordered a couple of cheap drinks so far.

We walked back to Waterloo Station and returned to Surbiton.

Massive teapot samovar

I’d walked over 17 miles by this point, and while I didn’t say so at the time, I was quite relieved that Liesel had parked the car at Surbiton Station! The thought of walking back to our Airbnb after sitting down for half an hour on a train somehow didn’t appeal.

After a fairly good night’s sleep, we returned to the city. And we should have known it wouldn’t be straightforward. There’d been an ‘incident’ and all the trains were delayed. Sitting on a stationary train was the perfect opportunity to finish the book I was reading: Bitterhall by Helen McClory, so good, I gave it a 5-star review.

Later than planned then, we walked from Waterloo, along the river to Borough Market. We passed a couple of the same buskers as yesterday, and I was able to hurl some coins at them.

We were pleased to see that the Southbank Centre’s undercroft is still being enjoyed by skateboarders and graffiti artists: in fact, we caught one in the act. Also, being a bit later in the day, the book stalls were all out under the bridge, but we wasted no time browsing, we had a market with food to get to.

Urban artwork at its best

We acquired a picture of ourselves with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background thanks to a helpful pair of ladies who noticed that I was pretending to struggle taking the obligatory selfie.

Not strictly speaking a selfie

We ate our way around Borough Market: the best chips we’ve ever had, a very cheesey cheese straw, a tasty spinach muffin. The market was nowhere near as busy as we’ve seen before, but someone talking on the phone said it was absolutely rammed.

Borough Market and its bell
Borough market

One market’s not enough, so Liesel suggested visiting Spitalfields Market. It was a good excuse to walk along some long-neglected city streets. The Monument was gleaming in the sunshine, another selfie opp, of course.

Another selfie of the day

On the way, we walked through Leadenhall Market, one of our favourites, which in contrast, was much, much busier than we’ve ever seen it. Possibly because in the past, we’ve only been here on a Sunday. The bars were all open and full of city workers probably talking shop, definitely speaking loudly, a sign of normality if ever there was one, although of course, the spectre of Covid was never far away.

Who would think that a big lump of red, molten, plastic bottles could result in such a fabulous work of art? Tatiana Wolska, that’s who. What looks like a big red balloon, in the shape of a small human, floats above us in the market, competing with the very decorative star-studded ceiling.

Untitled by Tatiana Wolska

We found more Sculpture in the City in the form of Orphans, geometric solids made from orphaned paintings, those left behind by deceased people and unwanted by their heirs. Bram Ellens is responsible for this one, which is outside, exposed to the elements, so I hope it’s OK. I’m sure the artist knows what he’s doing.

Orphans by Bram Ellens

We sat down for a break in the courtyard in front of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping in Fenchurch Street. This is just round the corner from where I once worked, in Crutched Friars, a strangely named street that we didn’t quite get around to re-visiting on this occasion.

In this courtyard is a lovely sculpture, a mirror-polished stainless steel ship, with water running down and over it, very refreshing. The office workers returning from their lunch breaks paid it no attention as they made their way upstairs, some in more haste than others.

Our wander continued, passing the site of Petticoat Lane Market, which is only open on Sundays. Lilian Knowles House was new to us, as was Donovan Bros Paper Bag shop on Crispin Street, what a quaint area. The shop was closed, but I wanted to buy some paper bags just to see if Donovan or his brother would put them in a big paper bag. And a good reminder that despite living in or near London for forty years or more, there is still plenty to explore.

Liulian Knowles House
Donovan Bros

We like these strange, old places, but some new ones are quite pleasing to the eye too. Of course, it was a nice sunny day today, I wonder if looks as good on a gloomy wet day?

St Botolph Building

The first thing that drew my attention in Spitalfields Market was a bronze representation of Mwashoti, an orphaned male elephant rescued a few years ago. He is just one of the Herd of Hope roaming the market, drawing attention to the plight of orphaned elephants.

Mwashoti

The second thing I noticed was the second-hand hat stall. One day, I might decided to go for a 1950s titfer, but not today. We just walked around the market, a vibrant, colourful emporium. Yes, there was some tat, but a great place for people who collect, inter alia, old vinyl records. I had a quick browse, finding some David Bowie bootlegs that I’d not seen before. Tempted? Of course I was.

A load of old hats

It was someone’s birthday and as she posed for photos with a cake, she was surrounded by some of the most colourful, costumed friends you could imagine. They were more than happy to have their photo taken by us more sedately dressed weirdoes.

Why not stand out in a crowd?
Birthday girl

Liesel was delighted to find Humble Crumble, a stall that she’d read about, selling pies. I think this is just one factor that later led Liesel to suggest that Spitalfields is her new favourite market in London, knocking Borough Market off the top spot.

Old Spitalfields Market

Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee is another delightful sculpture that we admired just outside, before setting off to bus stop J.

Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee by Gillia and Marc

Yes, after discussion, we decided to, gulp, mask up and take a bus back to Waterloo, our first bus ride since, as far as I can remember, before the first lockdown. I didn’t even use my Old Fart’s Bus Pass (or whatever it’s called) because, well, I just forgot I could.

Fleet Street, Hoare’s Bank, The Royal Courts of Justice, Waterloo Bridge: what a fascinating, very nice, evocative bus ride.

Demon Barber of Fleet Street

From Waterloo, we took a train to Kingston, and this concludes two days in our glorious capital city. It was an itch that I feel has been well and truly scratched, but there are plenty more things to do and see, including theatre visits and other live performances – in London and Manchester.

Quebec House for students, in Kingston

We look forward to travelling on the underground again. Liesel had taken the tube from Wimbledon to South Kensington yesterday, but I totally avoided it on this occasion. Before moving away from Chessington, I had planned to visit every one of the stations on the London Underground system. It might happen one day. We were a week too early to visit the 21st century’s first new ones though: Nine Elms Station and Battersea Power Station Station, both, bizarrely in Zone 1.

Battersea Power Station way over at the back

Let me paraphrase Lord Kitchener:

          London is the place for me
          London this lovely city
          You can go to Didsbury or Manchester,
          Wythenshawe or Northenden
          But you must come back to London city
          Well believe me I am speaking broadmindedly
          I am glad to know my Mother Country
          I have been travelling to countries years ago
          But this is the place I wanted to know
          London that is the place for me.

My show on Radio Northenden this week might well be an homage to London. London is our capital city. Maybe I’ll call the show Capital Radio. That’ll confuse some people! Please join me at 4 o’clock, Friday afternoon right here, and say hello in the Chat box!