Some elephants and a bench

There will be fewer photos than usual this time on account of, basically, the whole world is crashing down around me. A few days ago, my phone told me that it couldn’t write to the SD card but could read from it. Thankfully, I back up its contents on a regular basis, that is, most of the photos. Today, the phone won’t even read the SD card. It just doesn’t recognise it at all. As ever, the internet was very helpful. If your phone can’t recognise an SD card, you might have to reformat it. After spending an hour turning the phone off and on, removing and replacing the memory card, I still can’t see its contents. Imagine the delight then when, after turning the phone on one last time, I was greeted with this notification.

Bad news

As I write, I am waiting for the results of my latest lateral flow test. As I said to someone during the week, I’ll keep taking this test until I get the result I don’t really want. But, to be on the safe side, I’d recommend you don’t start reading this post until you’ve put your FFP3 N95 mask on.

So, where have I been? The only venue I can remember checking into this week was Chester Zoo. I took William there for the day while his Mum was continuing her civic duty in the criminal underworld and his Dad was working.

Adventure playground
Underwater penguin

William had his own ideas about what he wanted to see and I was happy to follow him round as he ran everywhere. I did a very silly walk to keep up. The zoo wasn’t as busy today, I’m glad to say, probably because it wasn’t that warm outside. The Treetop Adventure was closed (for staff training) so that was a little disappointing. One of the zoo keepers told William that this morning, there were 25 penguins in the pond, and could he check they were all still there. He gave up counting after about 30.

As I’d left my packed lunch at home, he sat quietly and ate his while I bought something unsatisfying.

In the shop, he wanted to buy a little gift for his Mum, Dad and sister. Despite my best efforts, he nodded off in the car on the way home. He was great fun, and the mental list of animals he wanted to see evolved during the day. ‘I changed my mind’ was his reason. Although, at home a few days earlier, he was reported as saying ‘I’ve swapped my mind’.

I joined Liam for an organised walk, a guided tour of Manchester’s Southern Cemetery. It was a very pleasant walk over to Didsbury, and I encountered a hero on the way.

Alan Turing mural

There are over 100,000 graves here in this cemetery, which was created because all the graveyards in Manchester were full. The knowledgeable guide told us about just a few of the more notable residents: Manchester Utd manager Sir Matt Busby, corrupt Conservative government minister Ernest Marples, artist LS Lowry and broadcaster and cultural catalyst Tony Wilson. But my sense of discomfort wasn’t helped by seeing this:

Oh no

It was like being in the most frightening episode of Doctor Who, ever. I tried not to blink, but you know how these things work.

Getting closer

I think these weeping angels are probably even more scary than Daleks and they’ve been haunting me since 1963.

Trying to send me back in time so it can make use of my temporal energy

I managed to escape and resume the tour. Phew. There are two chapels in the cemetery, one Anglican, one Catholic, both locked up. They’re listed, but not used. Which means of course that they’re st falling into disrepair.

Dilapidated chapel

We learned about Alcock and Brown at school, the first people to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. A few years later, Sir John Alcock crashed and died on a flight to Paris. That’s sad, but even sadder to me is the fact that this memorial was erected by his Mother.

Sir John Alcock

While I was walking around cemeteries and elsewhere, Liesel was skiing in Anchorage.

Liesel skiing

Or at least, she was, until a mini heatwave melted all the snow, overnight. Liesel’s also been very busy working and spending quality time with her family and friends.

But even though it’s (usually) unbearably cold, it can be extremely pretty too. Thanks for the photos, Jyoti!

Snowdrop

I’ve been watching the latest series of Ricky Gervais’s After Life. It stars Gervais as local journalist Tony. In the show, he deals with extreme grief following the death of his wife Lisa. I re-watched the first two series too: it’s very funny at times, moving and thought-provoking at others, a very well written and performed show. To mark the release of this third series of the hit dark comedy, Netflix has given 25 benches to councils across the UK. The benches were commissioned by the Suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) alongside Netflix in order to raise awareness surrounding mental health issues. CALM is an organisation we have supported in the past. One of the benches is in Wythenshawe Park, so after the regular Wythenshawe walk this week, I made my way over to the park to see if I could find the bench. I expected it to be in pride of place, on one of the main paths. Oh no. It’s well hidden, near the horticultural centre, behind the car park, a part of the Park that I’d never been to before. In fact, there’s a whole little village there, a few cottages, a post office, a phone box and a pillar box.

Hope Is Everything
CALM After Life – scan the QR code

In local news, the fence by the playground in Northenden’s Riverside Park has been repaired. No more sneaking in through the ‘back door’, you have to walk all the way round to the gate, literally dozens of yards away.

The fence without a gap

Just along the river, there’s a caravan park and I was surprised to see that one, possibly two, of the caravans have moved on.

No caravans

In Wythenshawe, I walked past this big colourful sign

Thank you

I’m not convinced I’d recognise Marcus from that image, but I’m sure he and his Mum are very proud to be adorning the shopping centre.

There’s a bathroom on the right. ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy. A Cilla Black fan on a bike. Yes, this week’s radio show was all about misheard song lyrics, mondegreens. Catch up here or listen to the repeat on Wythenshawe FM 97.2 on Wednesday at 7pm.

PS my Covid test was negative. I am probably not infected right now. That’s good news.

PPS My phone / SD card issue is much worse than I thought.

Very bad news indeed

Bad news because I’ve lost some recent photos: good job I WhatsApped a few from the zoo, they’ve all disappeared. And all the music is no longer available. Technology: stuff that doesn’t work properly yet.

Three walks and a ski

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

Jyoti and Liesel

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

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

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

A big hole

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

Frost on the car windscreen

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

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

Selfie of the day

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

William and skittles

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

Martha the Rainbow

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

Ice, ice, baby

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

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

Mersey, Mersey, me

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

Chorlton Water Park

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

A herd of geese

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

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

Two departures and a birthday

One day, I look forward to walking the length of the Transpennine Trail, but for now, I’ll just be happy to come across the short section that passes through Northenden. No doubt, a highlight for many a long distance walker from Southport to Hull.

Transpennine Trail sign

But that’s in the future. This week, as usual, we stayed pretty local. Out on a walk one day, Liesel sent a message asking me to pick up some painkillers from the pharmacy. Both the pharmacies in Northenden were closed, so I jumped on a bus that stopped at exactly the right time, thinking that wherever I ended up, I’d find one that was open for business. And yes, of course, I realised I should do more of these mystery tours, it’s a good way to get to know the wider area.

On this occasion, I was taken to Sale where indeed I was able to buy what I needed. I also saw a massive bee.

Bee Tree

Two of them lovingly carved from an old tree. And by coincidence, the same bus driver took me back to Northenden.

Liesel and I went over to see the family between gym and swimming. No, not us, it was Martha at the gym and William who went swimming later.

Yee-hah

Martha would make a good cowboy and I can’t help feeling most westerns would be improved if they rode unicorns rather than horses.

Jenny and Helen took me out for a couple of hours to go shopping. I haven’t worn a suit for many years, probably decades, but the time has come to find one that fits. We visited a place called Peter Posh where I expected to be served by someone like Mr Grainger from Are You Being Served? with a tape measure draped around his shoulders. But no, a very helpful, and patient, young lady helped out. I tried on two suits and a waistcoat. In my mind, I’d built suits up to being the uncomfortable uniform of office work, of business men making things worse for the rest of us. So I was surprised to find that these ones at least were actually quite comfortable, and nobody laughed as they said I didn’t look too shabby.

The lesser spotted Mick in a suit and proper shoes

So, good luck, Mick, at the next job interview.

Helen’s birthday rolled up as it always does just after Christmas, and how fabulous it was that she was here to celebrate with us this year. She and I went for a nice walk at Dunham Massey. We found some footwear here and there,  just part of an activity designed presumably for children.

Beautiful boot by a bench

The rose garden was spoiled by the stench of bonfire.

Bonfire grrr

How disappointing. I know the gardeners are all volunteers and we’re very grateful for all their hard work, but there better ways to dispose of stuff you don’t need, especially green waste. We said hello to the robins as we wandered round. Or was it the same robin following us? I keep forgetting to take a bag of mealworms with which to feed them.

On one path, we passed someone familiar to me. I didn’t pester him. But Count Arthur Strong later confirmed that he had indeed been at the same venue. As he said, he’s like the Scarlet Pimple, here, there and everywhere!

Liesel and I attended Helen’s party in the evening but I think, on the available evidence, Martha and William were more excited than she was. We all enjoyed the party food and I can now reveal Helen’s best present.

A few snacks

Let’s hope these snacks all make it through customs when she goes home. In other words, let’s hope the customs officials aren’t hungry.

Helen, William and Martha with the cake

Liesel and I drove to Heald Green where, for the second week in a row, she took a PCR test for Covid. A negative result means that she can fly to Alaska. While waiting, I found a couple of frogs. I didn’t realise these amphibians were still adorning the streets of Stockport.

The frogs in Heald Green

The weekly Wednesday well-being walk in Northenden has resumed, and nine of us had a very pleasant stroll through the woods and around the streets. We stood outside the café with our coffees: sitting inside in a large group didn’t seem a good idea.

In the evening: pizzas again. A second opportunity to wish bon voyage to Liesel. In the morning, I jumped on the boxes to squash them before putting them in the bin.

It was so cold on Thursday morning, we had to scrape ice off the car. I took Liesel to the airport. She’s off to Anchorage to see her parents and her friends and to enjoy all that a deep Alaskan Winter can throw at her. For the rest of the day, I donned my chauffeur’s cap as I was quite happy to help Helen with her various errands.

Helen and I drove to Heald Green where she took a PCR test for Covid. A negative result means that she can fly back to Australia. While waiting, I renewed my acquaintance with a couple of frogs.

Next stop was Lester and Brown jewellers in Poynton where the High Street looks very slippery. The jeweller had taken an old brooch that neither Jenny nor Helen will wear, and made a pair of earrings for each of them, and as far as I can tell, he’s done a very good job.

Slick High Street

Next: Next in Handforth Dean where Helen returned a dress and picked up a new one for Martha to try on.

Next: Create-It in Cheadle to pick up  some mugs designed by the the children.

Next: Greens in Didsbury for lunch. Just a couple of other parties here in the restaurant and the food was, as usual, delicious.

And finally: Card Factory back in Cheadle where a couple of balloons were inflated: a dinosaur for William and a Unicorn for Martha.

New pets

Even though we’ve been living here in Northenden for over three years, I still used Google Maps all day. I don’t yet have a comprehensive mental map of Greater Manchester in my head. I’m sure it will come.

If I’m saying goodbye to one of the ladies in my life, it’s only fitting that we have pizzas. And so it was that we all met up at Pizza Express for a farewell meal. I won’t be having the hot jalapeño dough balls again. Steam blasted from my ears, and my nose didn’t stop running for ages. Incredibly hot and spicy. Helen was due to fly out from Manchester early in the morning so we said our goodbyes here.

I still can’t get over the wonderful surprise of actually seeing her here for Christmas.

Sisters are doing it for themselves

To lose one woman in my life, Mr Worthing, maybe regarded as misfortune. To lose two in the space of two days looks like carelessness. I think that’s from The Important of Being Earnest.

Liesel arrived safely in Anchorage and is already taking advantage of the very slightly different weather. Flying with Covid regulations and face masks adds an extra layer of anxiety to the whole travelling thing, but that’s something we’ll have to live with for a while.

Welcome to Alaska, Liesel

Earlier in the week, I’d pre-recorded and sent off the first radio show for Wythenshawe Radio in its own right. Unfortunately, due to events outside my control, on Wednesday evening, the previous week’s show was broadcast instead. Which is a shame, because it was a special one for Helen’s birthday. The correct show was released into the world on Friday afternoon. And I’ve uploaded a copy here if you’d like to catch up. There’s a news bulletin at the halfway point, but I left that out: nobody needs to hear the news more than absolutely necessary.

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!  

Happy New Year

We wish you a happy and prosperous and a very healthy 2022.

This is the sort of thing Twitter was invented for. Thank you @fermatslibrary

Normal service will be resumed very soon. But I have probably spent too much time fighting this puzzle:

Slitherlink

Nearly ten hours including a few false starts.

My final Radio Northenden show is here. But be quick, the Mixlr account will be closing very soon. I’ll be back on Wythenshawe Radio from next week.

Surprise, Surprise

If all goes to plan, this post should be published on Christmas Day. So let me be the four hundred and ninety first person to wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases. You have many better things to do than read this, I know, but there are some surprises within, but probably nothing as exciting as your new socks.

I don’t think I’d heard of knafah cake before, but I was pleased to meet The Knafah Girl at Boxx 2 Boxx. I could have had a cake and a coffee and kept quiet about it, but instead, I bought a larger cake to take home. And it was delicious. Liesel and I agreed that we will repeat this experience. Pistachio and rose, since you ask. Did I take a picture of the very pretty middle eastern inspired dessert? No, sorry, but their website is very interesting.

Whenever I’m accused of playing a game on my phone, my response is that it’s not a game, it’s a puzzle. I’m still attempting slitherlinks and taking far too long to solve them. But I’m getting there. Just look at this one.

Finished at last

A supposedly easy puzzle that should take five minutes to solve. It took me well over two hours, on and off. But it passes the time, keeps the brain ticking over and makes a change from sudokus. And as for it being a puzzle rather than a game? Well, the app describes itself as a game, so I think I’ve lost that argument.

It looked like a nice day outside, so we thought we’d go and pick litter in the industrial estate, which we thought was particularly disgusting a few days earlier. Eight bags collected, a record for us in one day. There are no litter bins in one particular road, not that that would necessarily help with the problem, there are just too many lazy litterbugs.

What a mess

And then look at this. These bins haven’t been emptied for weeks, maybe months, and I’m sure this doesn’t help with the litter problem in the area. Just one windy day is all you need, and we’ve had a few of those lately. I hope that image hasn’t put you off your Christmas dinner.

But you’re not here for rubbish content. We enjoyed more pleasant walks along the river to Fletcher Moss Park and to Didsbury, under battleship grey skies.

Trees

Some people are leaving the purchase of their Christmas trees very late. Not sure about the one shrouded in spiders’ webs, but £20 is quite a bargain really.

Roses

The thought occurred: if someone offered me roses, would I expect a bunch of colourful flowers or a plastic tin of chocolates?

So, what’s this slitherlink thing, Mick? According to Wikipedia, “Slitherlink is played on a rectangular lattice of dots. Some of the squares formed by the dots have numbers inside them. The objective is to connect horizontally and vertically adjacent dots so that the lines form a simple loop with no loose ends. The number inside a square represents how many of its four sides are segments in the loop.” Other patterns are available too, and there is no limit to the size of the puzzle. Here’s one I completed later in the week to my delight and to Liesel’s shake of the head.

Hexagons

Only four times the expected solution time on this occasion, so yes, I think I’m getting there! The people over the road have been more gainfully, and seasonally, employed. Their front garden is beginning to look a bit like Christmas.

It’s Christmas!

Jenny sent a message inviting us over to try the cakes that Martha and William had made. Well, it would be rude not to. I was just putting the finishing touches to this week’s show and Liesel was playing with glue and cookie dough, although I am assured these were two separate projects.

We drove over to Jenny’s and rang the bell. I was all for singing carols on the doorstep but that idea was vetoed. William opened the door and close behind was a very excited Martha. Once inside, Jenny greeted us too, then a strange apparition appeared. Father Christmas, was here. Well, someone in an inflatable Santa outfit at least. I thought I recognised the face behind the beard. It took a minute for the cogs to engage but eventually, it clicked. This was Helen. My Helen. Here from Australia. What’s she doing here? How did she get here? I was stunned, almost speechless, my mind was blown and my gob was smacked. Really? Helen? Here? What a lovely surprise! But, really? I gave fat Santa a hug and expressed my surprise, a secret that she and Jenny had kept very well. I didn’t have a clue. A video was made of our arrival so my reaction is preserved for posterity. We also watched the video of Martha and William opening the door to Father Christmas earlier in the day, and within a second, Martha identified Auntie Helen!

I’d been led to believe that Helen was working right up until Christmas and then, Covid restrictions permitting, going off to Queensland, camping, or, I thought, more likely glamping. But no, here she was, in England, Plague Island. Yes, there wll be Covid tests and isolation but wow, what a lovely Christmas surprise for me. I couldn’t think of the words to express my delight. Still can’t, to be honest. We’ve seen Helen since that first meeting, so I know she really is here, and it wasn’t a dream, but still, at a deep level, it’s unbelievable.

William and Martha with Auntie Helen

What a strange feeling. Surprised that Helen’s here but, at the same time, it seemed perfectly normal to be in her company at Jenny’s place. As someone remarked, it’s a good job I hadn’t planned to go and surprise Helen down under!

As a bonus, the cakes baked and decorated by the children were very nice.

By comparison, the news that Greater Manchester is to get a Clean Air Zone seems pretty mundane.

Clean Air Zone

Liesel and I had a nice walk but we avoided the muddy woods. We kept to residential roads, even at the risk of being splashed as cars ploughed through the puddles.

Later on in the afternoon, we had visitors: Helen and her hosts Jenny, Liam, Martha and William. We gave the children an early present, because we thought they’d enjoy playing skittles in our long hallway.

Strike!

Liam was a good backstop, the balls were returned with remarkable efficiency.

Somehow the seven of us sat around our dining table without too much jostling of the elbows. Liesel’s home-made Indian food, since you ask, and very nice too. Followed by cookies which we all enjoyed decorating.

Cookie pride

There were some works of art here, such a shame that they’d all be consumed within a day or two. Some didn’t even survive a whole minute.

Jenny, William, Liesel, Martha, Liam, Mick, Helen

Thanks to Helen for taking this group picture, which is far, far better than my attempts.

And so the Big Day is looming over the horizon. But my penultimate show on radio Northenden went pretty well, I think. Listen to another two hours of Christmas music here. Or if you can bear to wait, it’ll be reapeated on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 next Wednesday at 7pm.

Merry Christmas, chaps and chappesses.

Blood, Bond, Broadband

It rained so much, the river was in full flow, so the birds migrated to the newly flooded golf course.

Birdies on the golf course

This was witnessed by Liesel, on an early morning walk, while I remained warm and comfortable in my pit.

A million congratulations and thanks to Wythenshawe Waste Warriors: they (we) have collectively picked up over 10,000 bags of litter this year, so far. Liesel and I added another small contribution, just walking up and down Royle Green Road and some of the sideroads. Bottles and cans should have a 10p (or more) deposit on them, that would help. There was a lot of drugs paraphernalia too, including for the first time a hypodermic needle. Very close to a school. But as I’ve mentioned before, we could do a roaring trade in used, discarded face-masks. If there were a market for such a thing.

Oversize mushroom

It’s been ideal weather for supersized mushrooms too. I suppose they’ll deal with the leaf litter and eventually take over the whole world.

500 years from now, people will look back at our times and laugh at the range of jobs people had. In the same way we cringe at Henry VIII’s master of the stool: not a pleasant job at all. In our case, they’ll be looking down their noses at leaf-blower operators. What’s the point of blowing leaves around? But we witnessed a whole different level of ridiculosity.

Leaf washer downer

I’ve concealed his identity to save him embarrassment. He was hosing the leaves off the pavement and grass verge, onto the road, eventually to block the local drains.

On a brighter note, we did visit a cinema, for the first time since before the world turned upside down. No Time To Die is the latest, much delayed, James Bond film. And jolly good it is too. People said it was too long, but it certainly didn’t drag. My only criticism is that some of the dialogue was hard to hear because of the background music and sound effects, which were very bass heavy. The Savoy Cinema in Heaton Moor is a good place, we sat on a sofa, but we declined the offer of coffee and wine in the auditorium.

Liesel suggested going on the well-being walk at Newall Green. It was a nice day, so why not? We walked to the venue, the Firbank Pub and Kitchen, arriving just on 11am, but there was nobody else there. Oopsie. This is an afternoon walk: we were two hours too early. So we had a quick look at Rodger’s Park, just over the road, before walking home.

Trees in Rodgers Park

I was missed out the next day too: I missed the Northenden walk, because I was on the phone. Two different people called me within half an hour, which is most unusual, I very rarely receive phone calls. Well, it was lovely to speak to Helen of course, from the comfort of my own bed, where I was lying, while soaking up the Sun.

We upgraded our Broadband connection this week, and the process was unexpectedly straighforward. The downside is, we’re now paying a lot more for it each month. But comparing the price with other providers, I think we’ve been lucky to have it so cheap for so long.

We walked to our GP’s surgery where my blood was taken to be sampled. We both commented on the amount of litter in some places, especially in and around the industrial estate. One day, we might venture that way with our bags and pickers.

Thursday is our child-minding day, and usually we take Martha and William home to our place to play. This week, we went a bit further afield. We saw The Lanterns at Chester Zoo. These are animals, made from paper (or a waterproof, paper-like membrane), illuminated, with many being animated. It is, as they say, totally enchanting. Martha really wanted to hug the butterfly as she slowly wafted her wings. Father Christmas was there too, and William really wanted to speak to him.

Penguins in Technicolor®

I tried to tell her that they were just ordinary wolves, but Martha insisted on stroking the werewolves.

Martha and the Werewolf

We arrived just before 5pm and it was of course already dark. Which is good, it makes the illuminations all the more impressive. But it also makes it harder to track down your children when they run off. And William loves running. Even in the dark.

The artificial snowstorm
Awestruck in the presence of greatness

Father Christmas was a jolly old soul, he managed to get the crowd to join in with his ho, ho, hos and his Merrrrrry Christmases. 

Dancing in the lights

We did wonder whether the real animals were impressed by the light show. Or scared. Or sedated.

Both William and Martha fell asleep in the car on the way home but the big surprise is that I didn’t.

The final Wythenshawe walk of the year was very enjoyable, just the four of us on this occasion, plus a dog who thinks he’s a meerkat.

Sandy the wannabe meerkat
Painswick Park

Yes, the Sun was out, the pond was pretty, the geese were chatty and all’s right with the world. Meanwhile, Liesel was in the Lifestyle Centre, volunteering. She got up at stupid o’clock while I just rolled over. Between 8am and 1pm, she witnessed and helped out as 600 people received their Covid booster jabs. Yes, we are aware of the irony of being in a closed space with hundreds of strangers, while still debating whether or not to go into people’s houses.

Painswick Park

A quick glance at this picture reminds me of Japan: that fence could easily be one of those cute little bridges in a Japanese garden.

Breakfast for me is usually a combination of blueberries, muesli, Weetabix and Shreddies. It’s a carefully honed operation, combining the ingredients in exactly the right proportion, while waiting for the kettle to boil and the tea to brew. So imagine my dismay when I caught myself pouring the Shreddies into the Weetabix tin one day instead of into the cereal bowl. The virus that causes such senior moments is very contagious. Later in the week, twice, Liesel was unable to locate the notebook she uses for her legal work. Once, it had fallen behind the sub-futon drawer where it usually resides, but the second time, it was in a different room altogether. I suggested tying it to a piece of string so she could hang it around her neck, but that idea didn’t go down well.

This week’s Radio Northenden show, my antepenultimate one, was two hours of Christmas songs. You can listen here.

I have just two more shows on Radio Northenden, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Radio Northenden has different plans for 2022, all change here. My little show will continue on Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2, initially pre-recorded at home, but I hope to broadcast live from the studio eventually. I hope to find a way to upload my shows for people in different timezones who like to listen later on. Or they could get up in the middle of the night and tune in of course.

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. As usual, Liesel has done a brilliant job decorating and lighting up our living room. We don’t have room for a tree, sadly, something we never considered when looking at the place all those years ago.