Walk an empty mile

Amidst the fleeting moments of life, the extraction of a tooth, though quick, a mere twenty seconds, proved to be a task of greater import, as the wound persisted in bleeding for twenty minutes past. Anaesthesia had masked the pain, but its fleeting touch had only heightened the senses, leaving the tongue to wander and explore the new contours of the mouth.

And so it was, that in the quest for medical aid, I journeyed to the apothecary once more, to collect the remnants of my prescription. In the waiting, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of knowledge, a library in the heart of Wythenshawe Forum.

Bee in the City: Willow Garden

Surrounded by the buzz of activity, I encountered a mechanical marvel, a robot stationed within the halls. Though its movements were limited, I couldn’t resist greeting it with a warm hello.

Casey the Robot

The library held within its walls a wealth of history, chronicling the rise of Wythenshawe Hospital from humble beginnings, from a piggery next to tuberculosis wards, to one of the finest institutions in the northwest of England. I learned of the famous figures that had passed through Wythenshawe’s halls, from Yuri Gagarin and Gladys Knight, to the legendary Bruce Forsyth, and more. Liesel was especially delighted to hear about Brucie.

Wythenshawe Library Homework Centre

On a day filled with care, we had the pleasure of looking after young Martha, who was off from school due to a teachers’ strike. We embarked on a journey of art and indulgence, visiting a quaint café, the oft-visited Quirky Misfits, for a babyccino, where she savoured the sweetness of cream and marshmallows. Her curious spirit was enticed by a shop filled with rocks, stones, and crystals, leading her to add a new treasure to her collection.

Martha, rocks

With William in tow, we ventured to a playland, where they let loose, danced and played to their hearts’ content. But as can be seen, Cheadle Hulme appears to be in a different timezone to London.

Head Over Heels clock
Martha on the dancefloor
Ball pond

And as the day came to an end, we treated them to a fine dining experience, where they displayed impeccable manners, ordering their meals and making requests with ease.

Martha and William at Gusto

William was very nearly welcomed into the arms of Morpheus, but his revival was achieved by the strange medicaments, chocolate brownie and ice cream.

The week was filled with many adventures, from walks through Wythenshawe…

Creek
Stumped
Snowdrops

… to completing the viewing of a TV series, Dark, and hosting a radio show, centered around the theme of The Archers, archers and archery. I even had the privilege of speaking with the talented folk singer, Frankie Archer, and playing her records for the world to hear.

Though the path ahead may be uncertain, and my steps difficult to retrace, I carry with me the memories of these moments, forever etched in my mind, a reminder of the beauty of life’s journeys.

‘Twas an interesting experiment, making use of Artificial Intelligence to help produce this post. Did it save time? Not really, no. Am I happy with the results? Not entirely, no. It is considered unethical to pass off someone else’s work as your own. It’s important to give credit where credit is due and maintain integrity in all of your actions. So, thanks very much for your help, ChatGPT, and good luck with taking over the world.

He’s waiting in the wings

Where does the time go? That’s another week, whoosh, and as I discussed with someone recently, time does appear to go faster as you get older. So much so, that I find myself doing sums all the time: did that event really occur that many years ago? Every time I hear Sandy Denny’s song, Who Knows Where the Time Goes?, I get goosebumps because that is exactly how I feel. Such are the thoughts that intrude as I wander round, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes with purpose. Then I spot a pile of rubbish, a bag from McDonalds or a cup from Starbucks, discarded on the pavement not ten feet away from a litter bin, and my internal philosophical speculations come crashing down like that stack of plates dropped by the waitress in Pizza Express that time. Which is bright red, by the way, according to my synaesthesia.

Liesel and I walked by the river to Didsbury. The path has been improved in places, not with tarmac, but gravel. Despite the last remnants of snow, and a sprinkling of frost, neither of us went a over t and ended up in the fast flowing water.

River Mersey

Liesel joined the ladies of the WI for a coffee and a chat while I sat, all by myself, on my own, at another table, enjoying my lonesome coffee while doing puzzles on the phone. After which, I took a solitary stroll home, stopping off briefly at Marie Louise Gardens to watch the squirrels building snow squirrels.

Marie Louise Gardens

I didn’t actually see any, of course, that would be ridiculous.

Then at home, I had a fight with Microsoft. I haven’t had this kind of battle for a long time, so it brought back memories of other things we don’t see on computers any more. Stack overflows. Counters. Websites in progress.

Me: sign into Microsoft with username Mick  
Microsoft: there’s no such account, try a different one or create a new one
Me: create an account with username Mick
MS: there’s already an account called Mick: if it’s yours, sign in
DC al coda

Outside again, and we were delighted to see an early sign of Spring.

Baby crocuses

Just a few crocuses on Nothenden’s Village Green, but it’s a start.

Tequila sunset

And we were witness to some colourful evening skies again this week, from the comfort of our luxury apartment.

I’ve never wanted to be a TV critic, but here goes. I’m watching Dark, a complex story that involves time travel. The dialogue is in German so I really have to concentrate on the English subtitles. But there are two things I find myself saying out loud several times during each episode. ‘Turn the flipping lights on’: a lot of the show is filmed in almost complete darkness. And ‘Answer the flipping question’. One character asks a question, and another just looks blank, lost, confused, tearful and doesn’t respond. Or maybe the actor forgot their lines.

My tooth has been annoying since that time it was electrocuted in Malta. Very sensitive, and sometime very painful, with pain transferred to sinuses and upper reaches of the noggin. I visited the dentist and she said ‘your teeth are OK but your gum’s gotta go’. Well, no, not really, that’s a lyric from an Alice Cooper song. Sadly, we’ve decided the offending tooth has got to go, since it should have recovered from its trauma by now. The X-ray revealed a ligament writhing in agony. I knew I had other plans for the week, so I’ve now made an appointment for the surgery next week. It feels weird losing a part of my body that is older than me but I’m looking forward, once the wound’s healed, to an ache-free, pain-free upper right corner of the cakehole.

Because I was feeling a bit sore and sorry for myself, I missed out on the Wednesday walk, but I did go to the newly introduced Thursday one. Liesel joined us too, after the disappointment of having her yoga class cancelled. This route is longer than the others, and took us through parts of Wythenshawe where I’d never been before.

The Thursday walking group

I didn’t even know there was a prison in Wythenshawe, but it looks like there’s been a jailbreak, somewhere in this town.

No fence taken

Could I retrace the route on my own? Probably not, because I was chatting with someone, and kept forgetting to look at street signs and I don’t know which woods and parks we passed through.

Back at the shopping centre, I was surprised to come across this old Roman mosaic.

Garden City

I also missed the Friday walk because I had a meeting with David from Thrive Manchester at Boxx2Boxx.

This week’s radio show featured (mostly) songs of five minutes or so in duration. I also had a chat with Dan Tiernan earlier in the week: he’s British Comedian of the Year and a Northendenizen. You can hear this ragbag of delights right here, if you missed it on Wythenshawe Radio. I know I did, because I was chatting to an up and coming singer for next week’s show.

Snow and tell

It’s so easy to be critical of the weather here in Manchester. People say I should be more positive. But I am positive. Positive that the weather here can be a little disappointing at times. While we were having a blast in Malta, it was raining a lot here. So much rain that the river Mersey was flowing very high and in danger of flooding. The little island opposite the playground in Riverside Park was still completely submerged when we first walked by.

Submerged island, fast-flowing rivertill

Underneath the motorway, I came across someone sleeping rough. I wanted to report them to Streetlink so that they could be looked after, but this organisation is only interested if the rough sleeper is outdoors at night, not during daylight hours. Mixed feelings here. Sad to see anyone sleeping rough at all like this, but at least it wasn’t just a pile of flytipped rubbish, which is what I thought, from a distance.

Any regrets about going away to the Med for a short break? No, not really. I shouldn’t have taken my sandals though, that was a bit optimistic: I lugged all that extra weight around for nothing.

In other news, Martha and William returned to school a bit later than their peers, having just returned from their adventures with their Mummy and Daddy and Auntie Helen in Australia. What a great time they had.

Martha, Jenny, Helen, Liam and William
Emu and William
Jenny and Martha and broken wrist

A great time, apart from poor Martha fracturing a bone in her wrist, something I didn’t manage until I was 14 years old. She was very philosophical about it though: at least it wasn’t her writing hand.

Liam and Jenny on Hamilton Island

Liam and Jenny managed to get away by themselves on a ‘minimoon’, spending a few days on Hamilton Island while Auntie Helen looked after the children

Helen, Martha, William and King Nyani

King Nyani is the largest bronze gorilla statue in the world and he was very pleased to welcome Helen, Martha and William to Taronga Zoo.

William, Helen, Martha and a giraffe

And here they are, feeding carrots to that well-known native of Australia, a giraffe.

Previously, I may have mentioned the weather forecast that briefly led us to consider the possibility of extending our stay in Malta. The forecast proved correct. It snowed here. Not a lot, admittedly, but overnight for three nights in a row, down it came, leading to a strange reluctance on our part to venture outside.

One morning though, I did get up stupid early to go to the hospital for my long awaited echocardiogram. The gel was cold and my heart produced some weird sound effects, straight out of Doctor Who.

Of course, we did go out for a walk in the snow a couple of times, once with the regular walking group. Well, four of us walked that day, the rest stayed behind at the coffee shop. It wasn’t as slippery in the woods as some folks anticipated.

Snow at Riverside Park

In the afternoon, we collected Martha and William from school. It was lovely to see them again, for the first time since well before Christmas. The sunblock must have worked well, none of them had a particularly strong tan after a month in the sunshine down under.

At home, they both played with and made models from Wikki Stix. These are made of hand-knitting yarn enhanced with a microcrystalline, food-grade non-toxic wax, the kind used in bubble gum and lipstick. And that’s it. (It’s that touch of wax that allows them to stick). Martha declared them the best toy ever, but I’m not sure we agree.

Martha and William slip sliding away

To the delight of the neighbours, I’m sure, Martha and William were taken out for rides on their sledges very early next morning, well before sunrise, lots of screaming and whoops of delight ensued. Dad Liam provided the horsepower, in case you were wondering.

So there I was sitting on the sofa, when Liesel piped up, what a gorgeous sunset. I looked up, and it wasn’t too shabby.

Sunset over Northenden as seen through a mucky window

This week’s radio show is not to be missed. The theme is Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. If you missed its broadcast on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 on Friday afternoon, you can catch up here.

And we’re off…

Setting up the new printer was fairly straighforward. Apart from when the message appeared: We’re sorry, something went wrong. Nothing had gone wrong, the printer works perfectly. Liesel and I can now print directly from our laptops and phones. And that concludes this week’s tech news.

We didn’t stay up to watch the New Year’s fireworks from London, but we did enjoy some very loud bangs from the local displays in Northenden. Not so loud that they drowned out the noise of torrential rain battering the windows. Yes, we were quite glad we hadn’t made the effort to go out somewhere to watch a display.

Northenden fireworks

I think it rained continuously for over 48 hours in the end, during which time, sadly, we took very limited exercise. One day, I took some rubbish out and checked for mail. But not to worry, we were soon off to sunnier climes where we hoped to walk for miles and miles.

Getting up at 3.30am is a rare occurrence for us, but it happens sometimes. The taxi took us to the airport, we checked in, we breezed through security having bribed them a fiver to fast-track. It would have been faster if my trays hadn’t been pulled aside. Not because there was anything suspicious, but because their machines hadn’t scanned properly.

The flight was uneventful, apart from some minor turbulence as we flew over the Alps.

The Alps

I read my book, I did some puzzles and I even forked out for a cup of coffee. Liesel read for a while and also did some crocheting. When we landed, it was cloudy but warm. And as we descended the stairs from the Boeing 737-800, the Sun came out and said, welcome to Malta, Mick and Liesel.

We were in Malta three years ago, returning to the UK just in time for the first Covid lockdown. Masks seem to be optional now, although we kept ours on all the way from Manchester Airport to getting off the bus just round the corner from our b&b in Sliema.

Two doors

We knew the public transport system here was good, so we bought our bus tickets at the airport. The first bus took us into Floriana, the little independent town just outside Valletta. We ignored the Christmas market stalls as we walked towards the bus stop for a second bus. Except for the stall selling pastizzi. We yielded to temptation. Liesel chose the cheese filling while I opted for the peas. Delicious. But suddenly, 20,000 volts went through one of my teeth. I had tooth-ache for the rest of the day. I’m still not sure if the puff pastry was to blame, or I just bit down in an unorthodox manner, but boy was I miserable after this. I don’t want to have to see a dentist in a foreign country. I took painkillers and tried to play down the discomfort, but I’m sure Liesel will tell a different story. Ouch.

Our host met us at the b&b, showed us around and made us welcome. It’s a nice apartment, and we only have to climb 26 stairs to get there, not as many as in Yorkshire a couple of weeks ago.

In fact, the whole neighbourhood is picturesque, and so far at least, not a lot of noise. We made ourselves comfortable before embarking on the first of many long walks.

The streets are quite narrow so we were walking in the shade whichever side we chose to walk on. I told Liesel that as soon as we reached a sunny stretch, I would hold my arms out like a demented cormorant. It felt so good.

It’s only a 5 minute stroll to the sea and we walked along the promenade, breathing the sea air in deeply.

Daphne Caruana Galizia

I was quite moved to see this memorial plaque, particularly as I had recently listened to a podcast serial, Who Killed Daphne?  There’s some horrible corruption in Malta amongst the natural, and man-made, beauty.

On our first full day here, we walked to Valletta. It was warm and yet many people were still dressed in their thick Winter coats. As if they look at the calendar rather than the thermometer before deciding what to wear.

Phone box library

My God, it’s full of books. That’s what David Bowman would have said if he were looking into this old telephone box rather than a massive monolith orbiting Jupiter.

Laughing

Some of the graffiti is quite profound. This caught my eye because it might, in some way, be related to my radio show next week. You’ll just have to tune in and see.

Tall ship

Look how blue the sky, how calm the water, and what a beautiful ship. There were hundreds of boats, of all sizes in the harbour, and in all states of repair.

Valletta

We followed the path along the waterside, and eventually we saw Valletta way over there. That was our target for the day. And see that gap, I asked Liesel? Yes? That’s the Caribbean, I said. Don’t be so silly, she replied. And, as luck would have it, a hundred yards further on, we saw this vessel:

Black Pearl

The Black Pearl, straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. This might not be Captain Jack Sparrow’s actual ship, I wouldn’t want to mislead you.

Plank

Yes, it’s very sad to see that capital punishment still exists in Malta. If you’re convicted of a nautical crime, they still make you take a long walk off a short plank.

St Joseph’s Church, Msida

This Catholic church isn’t really leaning over, that’s just side effect of a panoramic picture taken in haste on a busy road. It was almost glowing in the sunshine. Various church bells were ringing as we made our way to the Maltese capital, and we realised they were probably to mark the funeral of Pope Benedict taking place over the water in The Vatican.

Dumpster

Liesel sprayed her initials on this rubbish bin and couldn’t walk away fast enough. On the other hand, a bit later on, as we were walking across an area of grassland, a man in front kept turning around and looking at us. So we slowed down. And we stopped to ‘admire the view’. I think he’s got the hots for you, Liesel, I suggested. Make sure your phone’s not on display, said Liesel. We managed to lose him, or maybe he lost interest in us, and we found ourselves back in the Floriana Christmas market. No pastizzi today, thank you very much, and, since you ask, my teeth felt much better today. No painkillers required.

We entered Valletta and found somewhere  decent, Kantina, to have a very welcome, late lunch. Welcome because we were hungry but also, it was nice to sit down for a while.

Road train

This train came along the road as we dined, but we were quite happy to stay put, with a coffee before continuing our perambulation.

Pope John Paul II

Liesel went into a shop and while I loiterd outside, I found this celebration of Pope John Paul II’s first visit to Malta in 1990. It seems he was especially fond of Maltese people, right up until his death.

I’d forgotten that Valletta is quite hilly. So as we walked up and down, eventually heading back to the bus station, you can imagine how seeing this took ones breath away:

Stairway

We didn’t walk up this street, but one parallel to it, closer to the sea. The Sun was low in the sky, and Fort Ricasoli was really looking for attention over there.

Grand Harbour entrance

In a couple of places, we could see where the Sun would set, so we tried to get to a good vantage point. So did very many other people and try as we might, it was very hard not to ruin other people’s photo opps. But our patience paid off, and I think this is a pretty cool picture.

The Sun sets on our first full day

We wandered down to the bus stop and of course we missed a bus by 10 seconds. Back at the b&b, we ate and turned on the TV, something we rarely do when away from home, and watched a jolly good escapist movie, Glass Onion.

Unfortunately, I think we consumed too much caffeine so sleep was quite elusive. So much so, I managed to finish my first book of the year, in the middle of the night.

Also, my dreams that night, when I did eventually fall asleep, were ridiculous. For instance, if in real life, I’d asked my Mum to check that I’d left my mobile phone at home, she wouldn’t have a clue. And if I’d said I needed it to book an Uber, well. It was a different world thirty years ago.

Before we left home, I pre-recorded two radio shows, the first of which is now available. It’s on the subject of Weights and Measures. First on Wythenshawe Radio and now, here on Mixcloud.

As hinted at earlier, next week’s show is in the can and might have something to do with Laughter Therapy. Wythenshawe Radio, Friday 2pm, 97.2 FM, online, TuneIn app, smart speaker.

Much more Malta coming soon, stayed tuned!

Another year bites the dust

We stayed at Fountains Abbey for a week altogether and for some of that time, we had the whole place, the whole estate, to ourselves. To the point that when, on Boxing Day, we encountered millions upon millions of other visitors, we felt our land was being invaded. Such an outrage.

Fountains Abbey is bigger than I’d anticipted. Other than the roof being missing, it’s been well looked after.

‘Carefully preserved ruins…’
Selfie of the day

And here we are, equally well preserved, in front of the abbey. We spent a lot of time walking up and down its corridors and aisles. It was very special not seeing other people, just pigeons, crows and pheasants.

Fountains Abbey
Sandstone

We have no idea where the building materials came from, but the different colour sandstones look much more vivid in real life than in this picture.

Liesel
Mick

It was quiet and peaceful, just the sounds of the birds. And quite atmospheric too with the  medieval mist rising from the grass.

Moody, misty

We walked along the path by the River Skell enjoying the peace and tranquility. Pheasants were everywhere, many more males than females for some reason. We even saw bits of pheasant here and there, presumably the body parts that the sparrow hawks couldn’t digest. We saw a couple of red kites showing off their soaring and gliding skills in the sunshine.

Odd buildings attracted our attention as we walked to the gate leading to the main car park. We didn’t go through because it wasn’t obvious how to get back. Plus, there were ordinary people on the other side, and we didn’t need to mix with them.

Studley Royal Banqueting Hall

The Serpentine Tunnel was dark and damp and, as the name suggests, sinuous, so you never knew how much further there was to walk. The view from higher up was well worth the effort of the climb. Even if I was a bit puffed out.

Octagon Tower
Looking back towards the Abbey

Back at Fountains Hall, there’s a very moving war memorial

‘…for your tomorrow…’

It’s probably the wrong time of year to see bees, but we found a home for them.

Skeps

Joe Cornish has been taking photographs of the Abbey and the grounds for a few years now, since before the pandemic, and there was a display of his work inside the Mill. Apart from anything else, this was a reminder that I really should break out my real camera again rather than relying on the faithful phone for all my photographic needs.

Strider, by Joe Cornish

We never came across the tree with this gnarly old man striding in its roots. But I’m sure we’ll be back one day, there are several more acres in the grounds to explore.

The bad news is, Liesel wouldn’t let me scratch my name next to this 200-year old graffiti.

Old graffiti

Oh no, more bad news. Inside the Hall, we found this Christmas tree with lots of presents underneath, but Liesel wouldn’t let me open any of them.

Christmas tree

Christmas day was unusual. We spent the day snacking on crackers, cheese, chocolate, cheese and crackers, fruit, bread, crisps, snacks, so that when it was time for the more conventional, official Christmas meal, we both felt full and well, we couldn’t be bothered. So we had our nut loaf and all the trimmings the following day: maybe we’ve started a new tradition. But really, those snacks just shouldn’t be so tasty, filling and more-ish.

Having spent a week on our own, just the two of us, Darby and Joan, it was nice to venture out and meet people. Not just any old people, but an old school-friend. And not even a school-friend of mine. Yvonne was my sister, Pauline’s buddy from school, all those decades ago. Yvonne and Ian met us in Sawley, for a pub lunch. It was nice to catch up, even though we’d only met in August, with Pauline and Andrew.

Mick, Ian, Yvonne, Liesel

Our week in Yorkshire came to an end and we had to check out really early. On the way home, we diverted to Mother Shipton’s Cave but as always, we’d planned well: it was closed. But we did catch a glimpse of Knaresborough Viaduct, even if we didn’t take time to explore. We’ll be back, I’m sure.

It’s always an anti-climax of course going home after a short break. Nothing much to report here. Oh, except my old PC has decided to no longer cooperate. It won’t turn on. Yes, it was plugged in. I even changed the fuse in the plug. I hoovered up 3 cwt of dust from inside the case, wondering if maybe the thing wouldn’t turn on because the fans were stuck. No. I suspect it needs a new power supply unit. Which is annoying, because there are only a few things I need to transfer to my (now not so) new laptop. But the main thing I use the old PC for is to print. We have a very old printer that is not compatible with Windows 11. I spent far too long trying to find a way to get my laptop to connect with the old printer. In the end, I ordered a new printer.

I enjoyed watching the New Year’s fireworks from Sydney, a display probably visible from space.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Of course, we weren’t there in person on this occasion and I couldn’t see Helen and Jenny in the crowd. Mind you, I only have a small TV screen, it was dark there and as it turns out, they were round at a friend’s place anyway.

The radio show this week was entitled Happy New Year! I prepared it before we went away, that was a hectic couple of days! You can catch the show here. If I were to say that my Christmas show was repeated on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 not once, not twice but four times in the end, is that a humble-brag? Should I take that as a vote of confidence?

I didn’t realise that the link to the radio show doesn’t always appear in the emails alerting you to another exciting episode of these Antics, so apologies for that. And a jolly Happy New Year to you.

Meri Kirihimete

Our walk to Didsbury was uneventful, Unless you count the ducks shouting at us from the river.

Christmas quackers

I don’t think they wanted us to walk over the bridge for some reason. Maybe they just wanted some privacy, thinking Spring was on its way. After all, it was 21 degrees warmer today than it was on the coldest day last week: 14° versus -7°.

After walking back to Northenden, Liesel went straight home while I continued along the river. I had two plans in mind. First, a hot chocolate at Quirky Misfits, which was very nice.

Quirky Christmas Hot Chocolate

And second, a visit to the barber. Yes, my barnet was bit untidy and needed sorting out. It does look better, I admit, but boy, does my neck feel cold now! Still, Liesel approved and that’s all that matters really: she has to look at it, I don’t.

Quirky Christmas lizard

Our regular Wednesday walk was uneventful unless you count having to sit outside Boxx2Boxx with our coffees afterwards. As always before going away for a few days, there were 101 things to do at home at the last minute.

But I didn’t start packing until a couple of hours before we left home. Liesel drove us to Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, where we’d rented a cottage for a week.

The drive was OK, it rained a bit and we didn’t need to worry about glare from the Sun. Our only stop was in Colne, for coffee, and to pass some time as we couldn’t check in until 4pm.

Christmas at Colne

It’s a hilly place, is Colne, we could have had a good workout here. We drove past a tree that was still laden with apples. Very bright apples, I thought they were Christmas baubles at first. In one field, a big sheep and a small pony seemed to be great buddies. And they were about the same size.

We saw many pheasants along the way. They’re not the brightest of birds are they? Standing in the middle of the road playing chicken. At least the crows noshing on a squished bunny have the sense to get out of the way when a car approaches.

We got the keys from the lockbox, parked up, and made several journeys between the car and our accommodation. Time for some stats. It’s supposed to be a holiday, but we’re on the second floor, which means climbing 40 stairs, 40!, compared with only 32 at home. Plus, we brought 16, yes, 16!, bags of stuff with us. No, we’re not staying for six months, just a week. Most of it’s food that we won’t be taking back. I brought my laptop too, and that’s a first. I can do all my usual laptoppy things. Liesel brought her laptop too, so she can do some work. I think my laptoppy things might be more fun.

It was nice to be settled and I made some coffee. Instant, of course. A few minutes later, I took a swig and it tasted… different. Have you adulterated my coffee, I asked Liesel? A grin spread across her face like milk expands when spilt on the kitchen floor. She confessed to adding Baileys to my coffee. No, I didn’t complain.

There seems to be an unwritten competition between us to finish reading The Ink Black Heart. The only reason for our haste is that the book will be deleted from our Kindles in less than two weeks time. Why an electronic copy of a book has to be removed at all is a mystery. Surely the library can ‘lend’ out a hundred copies if it wants?

Bread, cheese, crisps and chutney was our Christmas eve eve eve supper of choice. Highly recommended.

It’s a great cottage, nice and warm, but the trek from my side of the bed to the lavatory is quite long. I should take my pedometer with me, it too needs a good work-out. Needless to say, I had to pay many visits overnight. You’ll probably be blaming the Baileys.

Selfie of the day, by Fountains Hall

We’re actually staying in what you might call the North Wing of Fountains Hall. It’s creaky to say the least, but it’s very comfortable inside. Most of the electrics are modern, but there is at least one power point remaining from the 1920s, the plug has round pins.

Chicken just crossed the road

On Friday, much of the estate is closed to the public because that’s when the locals are allowed to go shooting, in an agreement between the former landowners and the National Trust. I was torn between watching the shooters and maybe having a go, and staying well away from them and not being shot. We played safe, and drove over to Brimham Rocks for a quick walk. Last time we were there was in Summer, with the children. Not so warm today, and it started to drizzle too. Or mizzle as I believe the locals call it, something between mist and drizzle.

Another selfie, at Brimham Rocks

We climbed to the top of the hill, where there’s a trig point. I was tempted to ask Liesel to sit on it for a photo, but I think I know how terse the response would have been.

As the guide said in the video we watched (really just an excuse to get inside, out of the wet for a few minutes), the folks who built the very first visitors’ centre knew exactly what visitors to the countryside want: a view, a loo and a brew.

Turtle through the mist

Back home, we read, drank coffee (plus Baileys), snacked, listened to the radio and relaxed. We have a nice view from our second floor pad, but a bit of sunshine would be nice. Like what they have down under. Yes, Jenny, Liam, Martha and William have arrived in Australia and will be spending Christmas with Helen. In Summer. No, not at all envious!

Martha and William released from the baggage at the airport
Santa, Martha, Helen, William, Jenny and Liam in the Sun

For the second of my two Christmas radio shows on Wythenshawe Radio this year, I ‘shuffled’ the Christmas tunes on my PC. I cheated a bit, of course, to avoid duplicates and there were a couple of songs I wanted to play, regardless. Plus, the usual, regular features: a David Bowie song and something from my Mum and Dad’s record collection.

Thank you for following our antics in 2022. Let us wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy holidays, Feliz Navidad, God Jul, Mele Kalikimaka, Joyeux Noël, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Meri Kirimihete and a Blithe Yule, whoever and wherever you are 🎄🎅🏽🎁

Nada lada

It’s always good to tick things off the to-do list, whether such a list exists on paper or solely in the mind. There wasn’t a lot of ticking off of anything this week, mainly thanks to feeling rough. I hope the cold/flu/covid/whatever-it-is/combo, and it’s the man- version, don’t forget, isn’t transmissible via the medium of blog posts, otherwise you’re in trouble.

I finished a book this week, Micah’s Ghost by Ann Thomas, certainly the strangest ghost story I’ve read for a long time. This has allowed me to start reading a book that Liesel has borrowed from the library. Even though it’s an electronic book, there’s been a waiting list for Robert Galbraith’s The Ink Black Heart for a few months, and finally she’s been able to download it onto her Kindle. And she has kindly shared it with my own Kindle. When I noticed that this novel is over 1400 pages long, I thought I’d never finish that in the three weeks we’re allowed to keep it. But, over the Christmas period, I’m sure we’ll find plenty of time.

By coincidence, we both had appointments with the dentist on the same afternoon this week. In a sit-com, we would have heard each others’ screams of anguish and pain from the room next door, and assumed the worst. But is wasn’t that bad. The receptionist dobbed me in by telling Liesel that I was going to the coffee shop.

What else did we get up to this week? Other than increasing the value of Kleenex shares? I really didn’t fancy going out for the regular walk, despite Liesel insisting that I would feel better if I left the house. My old carcass was having none of it, that day.

Sunset and Christmas lights

It was cold and clear outside, leading to a couple of pretty sunsets.

The highlight of the week though was our visit to the theatre. We saw Betty! A Sort of Musical  at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Written by Maxine Peake and Seiriol Davies, it tells the story of Betty Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the House of Commons. The songs were funny, the set was clever and the whole show was great fun. Sadly (?), I didn’t know the songs so I couldn’t croak along. We are honoured to have seen the World Premier performance of this show.

The cast of Betty!

In the interval, I met some new friends in the theatre too.

Boris the bear
Director of the Royal Exchange

Two days after not going out for the regular walk, I felt absolutely fantastic, other than the cough which has now morphed into a blogged-up doze. So we went into Didsbury where Liesel collected her new specs and we enjoyed breakfast at FFS. The Big Issue seller, Adriana’s little electronic payment gadget wasn’t working, probably too cold, and having no cash on us, we couldn’t pay for our mag this week. But she kindly let us keep it anyway, and we’ll make sure she doesn’t lose out.

In Didsbury, we also bumped into this little chap, I hope she finds her way home soon.

Lost kitty

Also, in Didsbury, right next to the opticians is this brand new mural.

Mural Life Mcr

Well, we think it’s new, neither of us have noticed it before. But then, this is maybe why we sometimes need opticians.

What is this week’s big disappointment? Victory Vs aren’t as tasty as they were during my brief addiction to them over 50 years ago. I’m not proud of the fact that for a few months, I ate them all day, stinking out school classrooms with the aroma of liquorice. I don’t think they contain as much chloroform and ether as they used to, either.

This week’s radio show was the first of two this year. I played Christmas songs from my Mum and Dad’s old record collection.

Proper Winter

Here is the latest news. The shower has been repaired and so far, it seems to be leak-proof. The trouble is, and this is entirely my own hang-up, I know, but I’ll never be 100% certain that something is, as Klaus would say, tight as a duck’s ass. By which we mean, it is totally watertight.

My cough continues but its nature has changed. I saw the GP, I’m on antibiotics and I had a chest X-ray. I’m not complaining, but the nurse’s hands were really cold. I think, on the whole, slowly, I’m recovering from whatever lurgy it was. Liesel appears to be a few days behind me on this unwelcome journey. But, talking to people, it seems everyone around here has had a cold, a cough, or flu, or covid, or some bug that’s going round.

I know nobody else on the planet will appreciate this historic landmark, but it needs to be documented.

Nerdle stats

I have a winning streak of 300 now, doing a daily Nerdle puzzle. What a shame I was unaware of it for 17 days after its inception. But I am very grateful to Helen for drawing my attention to it. Also, I have now needed just 3 guesses more often than 4 to reach the correct solution. I would therefore also like to thank all the teachers who encouraged me to develop pretty good mental arithmetic abilities.

It’s proper Winter weather now, with a couple of frosty mornings. Our car is parked in the communal car park, and this time of year, it never sees the Sun. So even if we don’t need to drive anywhere until 2.30pm, we still have to scrape ice off the car. Brrr.

There is no photographic evidence of the female pheasant that was wandering around the car park early one morning. Nope, no idea where it came from. But I did manage to capture the albatross, even if I don’t know why it was crossing the road.

Albatross

One morning, I drove over to Stretford to speak to someone for the radio show. What a pretty neighbourhood. Bridgewater Canal seems to get everywhere.

Bridgewater Canal
Stretford Marina

The Marina was very calm, not a ripple on the surface. Who knew such a place existed?

Afterwards, I visited Stretford Mall for the first time. And possibly for the last time. I parked the car but couldn’t immediately find the shops. Somehow, I left the car park via a fire escape door at the back. I made a mental note of the location. But, of course, being a fire escape door, I couldn’t get back in that way. After walking miles around the car park, I found the shops. And after I left, the only way I could find the car again was by walking up the ramp I’d originally driven up. Come on Stretford: nice canal, but your shopping centre needs some more signage for plonkers like me. But never mind, I told myself, at least I’d walked a long way. That’s true, but there’s no step count because my pedometer was still at home. Grrr.

Stretford Mall

Yes, it’s very nice to see Christmas decorations of course, but I think that Christmas tree is upside down.

Northenden sunset

We enjoyed a couple of pretty sunsets this week. Unfortunately I was unable to witness the Moon’s occultation of Mars so again, I relied on the good folks of Twitter to share photos and videos.

Holly: Christmas photo of the week

Despite the cold weather, the frost and the ice, we went for a couple of walks this week, in Northenden and in Wythenshawe. Once I get out there, I don’t mind the low temperature, but to actually get moving in the first place takes a Herculean effort. Oh, but if there’s a cold wind outside, I’m not so keen. Brrr.

We looked after the children after school one day, and brought them home. What’s nice is that they both enjoy doing some sort of craft, mostly with Oma, and now never ask to turn the TV on. Martha made some snowflakes with beads and wire while William made a card for one of his schoolfriends.

Martha’s snowflake

Hannukah begins soon, so we played the dreidel game again. Both Martha and William remember playing last year and still had a good concept of the rules of the game.

William’s horde

Chocolate coins are involved and they change hands many times before the end of the game. At which point, they are shared out evenly.

Usually on a Friday morning, there are a couple of blokes fishing in the pond in Painswick Park. They weren’t there this week though. I wonder if that was because the pond was completely frozen over? The geese and ducks were confused as they displayed their skating skills. Naturally I didn’t go out on the frozen surface, I’d left my skates at home.

Painswick Pond

The radio show this week featured songs about dogs, including some really sad tales. Grrr.

This morning, I woke up to the sight of snow outside. Naturally, straight back to bed where I enjoyed a couple of podcasts before venturing out. Danny Baker’s Treehouse and We Didn’t Start the Fire, since you ask.

And of course, I know it’s not really an albatross!

Disappointment haunted all my dreams

I know there are a hundred and one reasons we should be boycotting Nestlé, but I don’t think any will will match the major disappointment that I’ve suffered recently.

A few years ago, I started keeping the tin foil that wrapped 2-finger KitKats. Every week, I would wrap them together, and the still growing silver orb still takes pride of place on my desk. Martha was fascinated by it, but I had to stop her from unpeeling the dozens of layers.

Silver ball plus old pound coin for scale

Aluminium can be recycled, as can the paper sleeves these KitKats came in. No more. They are now wrapped in plastic foil. And they seem very proud.

Our local council doesn’t recycle this kind of plastic, but, fortunately, we’ve found somewhere else to take it. We just trust that it is being recycled properly, somehow, and isn’t just finding its way to the ocean via a more circuitous route.

In medical news, I’ve had cough which has gone on well past it’s best before date. Normally, I know such an annoying tickly cough will last about a week. This one just won’t let go, very disappointing. 

The baddest news of the week though is that our shower has leaked, so we have wet carpets, and any water-based emergency is my worst nightmare.

[lots of words omitted, p.o.a.]

As recommended, I ordered some drain unpluggers from Amazon. I used to use a bent wire coat hanger to remove hair from the shower drain. But the shower drain here is a strange design. I’m hoping the plastic unplugger is flexible enough to go around the corner.

But on delivery, I was disappointed to see just one, not three, of these devices. Yes, the Amazon description does say “one”, but there are three in the picture and I usually rely on the picture.

And we didn’t win the lottery this week, again, but as Liesel said, maybe we should buy a ticket ourselves rather than relying on the generosity of strangers.

But it hasn’t all been disappointments this week. Oh no. We had a great time at William’s birthday party last weekend, with forty children, at least one parent each, and some with a sibling. The entertainer Chris had the children in the palm of his hand for two hours.

William running around

Even before the party started, William was running round the hall at a hundred miles an hour, and Chris told him to calm down, he’d run out of energy. But he never did.

Bucket heads

What I hadn’t anticipated was that each of William’s forty guests would give him a present. I think he’s now planning to open his own toy shop.

William and Chris entertaining the troops

It was a good, fun afternoon, although I was disappointed not to receive a goody bag at the end of the afternoon. I don’t think any of the grown-ups did, which doesn’t seem right to me.

Liesel and I dined at Greens in Didsbury that night, it’s been a while since we were there last.

One evening, I used Liesel as a guinea pig, to test out my new toy, a pair of small lapel microphones that will allow me to record chats for the radio show. Well, it’s got to be better than holding the phone up to the microphone which doesn’t always give decent results! So I have a quarter of an hour recorded of me and Liesel talking nonsense, but the good news is, the sound quality is great, even if the subject matter isn’t.

Tuesday night on Boom Radio, Diana Luke played some songs for me and Liesel which was lovely, in the post 11pm slot called Luke of Love. Yes, of course I recorded it for posterity and for the grandchildren!

Our weekly Wednesday well-being walk was well attended this week, there were eleven of us traipsing through the woods, and even that big black dog coming the other way looked intimidated. It’s the end of November, but it’s been mild, and the plants are confused.

Raspberries

We left the raspberries for other people to enjoy.

The following day was the day of the great flood, which left me tharn for the day, I didn’t leave the flat, I hardly moved at all.  In the evening, Liesel went out to join her knitting friends while I stayed in to watch a fascinating chat between Jon Ronson and Miranda Sawyer, thanks to the British Library.

Jon Ronson and Miranda Sawyer

Jon spoke about the books he’s written, which I’ve enjoyed over the years, and his podcast series, which are always fascinating.

But I made up for my lazy Thursday by getting up at stupid o’clock the following day to take the car in to be fixed.

An hour later, I walked back to collect the car. I am embarrassed to say that the problem was easily fixed by the turn of a knob on the dashboard. Nothing wrong with the fuses or anything else.

Sunrise over Northenden

The plumber came to look at the shower on Friday and he’ll be back next week to give us a quote and get it fixed.

Liesel and I went for a walk in the afternoon and were surprised and delighted to see that the motorway works by Riverside Park seem to have finished. The fences have gone and, best of all, two picnic tables and benches have been erected when the old bench used to be, a long, long time ago.

New benches in Riverside Park

Late in the afternoon, we drove over to Martha and William’s school for a Christmas fair. We were mainly there to watch Martha and her friends perform. Firstly, in Spanish, there were two songs wishing us Feliz Navidad.

She then took a starring rôle in a short drama, playing the part of Elf number 1. Unfortunately, they were performing outside in a space that wasn’t very well illuminated.

Martha and friends

So the best photo of Martha is this one of she and her co-stars in the Green Room, I mean, in William’s classroom.

Liesel suggested a show of acoustic music so that’s what we have this week, on Mick’s Music Mix.

I’m off now for a jolly good cough, some cough sweets and a packet of 40 Woodbines. I banished myself to the spare bed last night and I’m going straight there tonight. Liesel doesn’t need me coughing up lungs right next to her.

Fruit and five

It wasn’t really much of a cliff-hanger, was it? I was in the middle of a visit to The Museum of Science and Industry last time. The main reason being to buy a birthday present for William. I had a quick look around the museum before walking back to HOME Manchester where I met Liesel. Liesel who had been having another crochet lesson. I think she’s hooked.

Hail hail?

For a moment I thought I’d missed a hailstorm, but this was the only evidence for such a phenomenon on this glorious day. Ice ice baby.

At HOME, I enjoyed the wildlife in the gallery, we’ve very rarely seen foxes since we moved to Manchester.

Fieldnotes by Brigitte Jurack

There are monkeys too, straw bales and all sorts of rustic items. We’re invited to decorate our own twigs too: no, I didn’t do anything rude. The Fieldnotes exhibition lasts until the end of January so if you’re visiting Manchester, go and have a look. The coffee here isn’t too bad either.

It was a good day for a wander around Manchester, so that’s exactly what we did. Next to the Central Library, the huge Santa seemed incongruous towering over the rightly vocal Iranian protestors.

Santa and Iranian protestors

The Christmas Markets are dotted all over the place in the city centre, and they certainly attract a lot of people. A couple of times, we felt so intimidated by the crowds, we took a detour.

A lot of people

After the pandemic (and yes, I’m aware, Covid is still a big deal), it is good to see so many people out and about, but maybe we’re just not used to being hemmed in any more.

Floral mural

Torrential rain greeted us the next day and I played the part of the cat in that Robert Heinlein story, the one that wandered round the house looking through all the windows, seeking out some decent weather. I was looking for a rainbow though. I knew there had to be one, with bright sunshine one way and dark clouds the other. In the end, I tracked it down. From our living room though, it was hidden by the oak tree.

Rainbow

We were a party of twelve in all, at the restaurant chosen by William to celebrate his fifth birthday. William joined Martha and cousins Annabel and Emily walking up and down the ‘cat walk’, the floor adjacent to our long table. Hands on hips, swaying and everything. A model 5-year old.

William v Spiderman

The only negative was when William was attacked by Spiderman, but he took it in his stride. And he was delighted with the cake, baked and decorated by Mummy and Daddy.

Yummy cake

And of course, Martha fully engaged with the cocktails.

Martha v cocktail

Back at home, we think we have sloes growing in the hedge. Maybe we should make sloe gin, but we’re not 100% sure that’s what they are. I should ask our horticultural correspondents.

Sloes

It was our turn again this week to collect the children from school. At home, their Oma helped them make their own pillows. They both operated the sewing machine very well, and the pillows now have pride of place.

Martha on her new pillow

It was the day before Thanksgiving and Liesel cooked up a real feast for us all, nut roast, sprouts, carrots, special mashed potatoes, gravy, apple pie and pecan pie with ice cream plus a bottle of wine. Sorry you weren’t invited as well. And I think we’re all pleased that the US President hasn’t thought to pardon a nut roast along with a turkey every Thanksgiving.

It was such a nice day on Friday that we just had to go for a pasty, I mean, go for a walk at Quarry Bank Mill. Yes, the pasty was very nice, very spicy. And wandering around as we approach the end of November, it was surprising to see the harvest of strawberry.

Strawberry

Some of the trees are beginning to feel the Winter chill though, so the volunteer knitters have dressed them appropriately.

Snug, warm tree

Who else can see ET in this tree?

Selfie of the day in front of the Mill

I’ve glad to say we didn’t get lost as we walked around the grounds. That would have been embarrassing this week especially, since Directions was the theme of the show for Wythenshawe Radio. Not on FM though, on this occasion.

The studio in Wythenshawe Forum is being refurbished and I’m hope to be able to go along and have a go with it sometime.