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HOLIDAYS: Returning to places we have been before- it is becoming hard to find places we can get to with self catering accomodation with three bedrooms. So many offer a single room to sleep 15!!! This year back again to Llandudno and after a seven year absence, back to the lovely 7 bedroom house in Buxton. Although not far away, we did experience severe problems travelling to Buxton for the day in 2013 and one trip in 2014 had us having to walk in from Fairfield..

Buxton- our old "8 walks in Buxton" booklet, long out of print, seems to have reached the end of its usefulness due to the changing landscape. Our first walk up to Solomons Temple went well, fairly well marked - on the way up only. If you wanted to get down you were on your own. Our chosen route went across a field which had a running track marked and had a school throwing javelins across the path. We diverted somewhat. There remains an official path across the field- is throwing sharp sticks considered to be intimidating behaviour? Then our quick walk up to Corbar Cross. The top style was in very poor condition and I was unable to cross it- the path to the cross was more of a rock scramble requiring four foot steps. Finally an attempt to pass to the West of the Golf Course Club House, passing the intimidating sign saying to watch out for players on the 17th tee (where???) and the intimidating (and untruthful) sign about bulls in field- the path disappeared with no way marks. Clearly not walked for years.

We did better on our own, walking from Fernilee down to the River Goyt and through Shallcross Wood, then upwards towards Whaley Bridge, walking along Shallcross Road (the Western part of which was a thin rocky track) past the site of Shallcross Hall Farm and the site of Shallcross Hall, to look at the Shall Cross. Then along Shallcross Avenue (on Shallcross Estate) to descend the Shallcross Incline to Horwich End. The Shall Cross, which has a Roman Road passing it, is thought to be a stone replacement of 832 for an earlier wooden cross. Only the shaft remains- the top was damaged many hundreds of years ago (when the Normans invaded). It is a scheduled Ancient Monument, registered as an Anglo Scandinavian high cross. Although the Shallcross of Shallcross family died out in the early 1700's, it is thought that everyone called Shallcross (or Shawcross etc) is descended from a family from this locality. The earliest name form recorded is de Shacklecross eg "from Shallcross".

The weather forecast for that day was for heavy rain at 3pm and as we caught the 3pm bus, it arrived very wet - but we did not get rained on.

Our final walk was around Tideswell, a lovely town which is well worth a visit - we must go again and try to see the church. We walked to Millers Dale, where one property owner had made a good attempt to blockade a named trail (The Limestone Way) and seemed to have closed every other footpath on his land. He was VERY aggressive. Apart from that it was a good walk and the ample supply of footpaths in the area meant that losing a valuable connecting path did not interfere with our walk too much. The local museum was certainly novel, although even pre-booking would not allow large parties to visit. There is a limit to how many you can fit into a phone kiosk. Many footpaths in the Peak district have been closed or diverted and the very latest Ordnance Survey map is of quite limited usefulness. Any guide not published this year is also of limited value. With so few people now walking them I am afraid that many more footpaths will be utterly lost.

The weather forecast for the week was for rain on most days but we managed without once putting our raincoats on. For two days we were joined by a couple of friends and basically mooched about, enjoying the local park and the local brewery. Titanic Brewery had a tied pub, and Buxton Brewery had its tap house- where we really enjoyed a beer matured for ten months in a Chardonnay cask, tasty. Another brewery whose name began with a T had a place with their name on it but they did not sell any cask ale, only keg.

Food in Buxton was available in abundance, good tasty food, but not dieting food. We had food from somewhere different every day, but two worthy of note were the Columbine (you have to ask for the vegetarian menu but it is well worth it) [important update! We went back in 2016 and the SAME owners insisted that they had NEVER had a vegetarian menu. In 2016 they had just two vegetarian items available. Business did not seem brisk.], and the Buxton Tandoori (a vegetable chefs special, and a Bangalori curry). Two to be warned about, advertising special diets but having not even the most basic idea and therefore to be considered highly dangerous, were The Hydro, where the "vegetarian" tuna salad was openly wrong [important update- more accurate menu in 2016 but not sure about the vegan mayo], and Simply Thai, whose two "vegetarian salads" both contained undisclosed fish oil. I would be extremely nervous about eating at these last two if I had a serious food allergy such as nut or gluten.

Naturally we daily enjoyed the huge quantities of free Buxton water, just like that sold in the shops. We were there (as last time) for the well blessing - we saw five well dressings, not one of them had a religious theme as was traditional. Happy to donate to the "Mountain Rescue" well dressing. We walked with the brass band to the main well (they played the well known Whit march "Kenilworth"), but were then horrified by the opening of the "blessing" by an Anglican minister- "For the decision to enter World War 1 Oh Lord we praise thee". This was no commemoration of the dead and wounded but an open celebration of war and slaughter. We rapidly moved on and neither photographed the dressing nor made a donation. We later gently advised of our horror to the Well Dressing Committee. We checked the script and the minister was scripted to say "For the decision to intervene in World War 1" - I don't think that was an improvement.

We discovered a lovely "Arts and Craft" church, Grade 2 listed, Church of St Mary the Virgin, Dale Road, 1914-1915 by P Currey and C C Thompson - an unusual World War 1 building, to which funds were contributed (and the need for seen) by a member of the diesel engineering Mirrlees family. Normally the church is closed but we stumbled on it in a rare moment when it was open. Unusually two windows behind the communion table, showing a corridor passing behind which linked the two vestries (choir and minister). Original rush chairs now replaced by attractive pews. Stone roof tiles and unusual "eyebrow" dormer windows.

This was the opening week of the Festivals, and we were approached by Alastair Clark who invited us to buy tickets for his show. Unfortunately this was entirely based upon a "celebrity" person we all loathe and we could not possibly see anything comedic about him so gave it a miss.

And so back to Llandudno, again with dire weather forecast, and this time we did have some rain but managed three longish walks and a short one. The biggest impression was of local authority mismanagement- possibly corruption but equally easily simple ignorance. We did like the local authority waste collection of textiles and electrical waste - our local authority requires you to drive (no pedestrians allowed) some miles to discard a tiny mp3 player, which of course doesn't happen. As Llandudno is now a 10am to 5pm resort, there are no beach accessible toilets, and very few at all. Those requiring a 20p coin for entry did not seem always happy to accept coins.

Travelling down the Conway Valley has been made harder by further cuts to the bus service. Having once been stranded at Trefriw, now cutting the bus service by 50% did not impress. The train service has been unusable for some years. However the coastal buses have all been renewed and have visual and aural announcements of stops, wifi, and on the Eastward side, USB power sockets! But travel inland is now almost impossible without a car.

Our first full day was simply wet, although we did manage to get the minimum shopping done. For the first time in our visits to Llandudno the pier was closed- gated shut. No signs on the gates to explain the reason of course! And we saw an 86 metre ship anchored in the bay seeking shelter- a unique ship, the THV Patricia, operating briefly from Liverpool before moving up the coast to Oban. This was the Trinity House buoy laying vessel.

Our usual evening listening to the Town Band came to nought, as at 7.30pm there was no sign of them. The bandstand had a new sign to say they were sponsored by the Council, the old sign saying they would play at 7.30p and of course no signs to say they would not be playing or why not. This could very likely mark the end of the evening concerts, as Llandudno is now apparently closed after 5pm with just the daily evening "beach mission" on the promenade. We found that Llandudno has reacted to the Winter storms by reprofiling the beach with large stones, which meant that there was very little accessible beach for children. There was also in preparation a new concrete launching slip for the local yacht club. The second day we had a short walk along the invalids path to Haulfre Gardens. There was access to the pier in the evening but we were the only ones on it as the pier end bar, cafe, stalls (and toilets) etc all seemed to now close at 5pm and the pier end arcade around 6.30pm or so. So we were the only ones to see the dolphin(s) in the bay. Just the odd flipper appearing twice then a short break and another two short sightings.

We were dismayed at the state of the pier, vast amounts of rust, decayed woodwork (holes in the decking had traffic cones screwed over them) and only one third of the lamps along the pier lit at night. We heard that 300,000 pounds had been spent to allow a sea going vessel to dock at the end of the month (for two three hour cruises) - and we spotted new steps between the pier lower level and the top of the landing stage. We were unable to find any suggestion that after this expenditure firm plans had been made for more vessels to call- the vessel that was expected was a preserved ship based in Scotland. Towards the end of the week white paint was being splashed around (literally) but gloss over rust is short term window dressing.

In 2015 the pier - owned by the same company as two Blackpool piers- was put on the market for 4.5 million pounds. The two Blackpool piers were also offered for sale. I am uncertain where an investor is going to obtain income after paying for pier maintenance. Opening the pier attractions at night-time is one objective but depends upon the Council treating the town as anything other than a short day trip destination..

The same council plans to demolish the (listed) pier at nearby Colwyn Bay, but have spent millions of pounds on a carbuncle "water centre" which is losing money- so they are going to spend more on a "bistro" for it. (See local news report of August 2014- North Wales Pioneer report on Porth Eirias.

And so onto day three and our first longer walk and a visit to a new place. We went around the Little Orme to Penrhyn and on to Rhos (Llandrillo). The path was well waymarked, a good thing as collapses in the quarry meant that a diversion was required. At Angel Bay we saw some seals, and when we walked into Rhos there was another seal floating around and watching the beach. We at last visited the little chapel of St Drillo, built in the 6th C over a prior holy well, which remains in water and accessible. Although the outer walls have been recently rebuilt, the tiny chapel (it has six chairs, but remains in regular use) retains much quaintness. It is unusual to still be able to find an accessible holy well in water- and still apparently used not only for baptism but also locally for healing.

The next day was supposedly the best for weather and so off we went for our regular trip to Abergwyngregyn and the water falls. The fairly cool day meant we made good progress up the hill. In the woodland area two smaller paths had been obliterated by collapses but the main path was in good shape. Again by the waterfall Cathy received a welcome message on her mobile phone from the Isle of Man, some 70 miles away, although as she quickly "returned to Wales" the message was actually delivered by the Welsh based network. Quite a few people were there this time.

Next day was our walk along the West Shore into Conwy. I had seen pictures on the Internet of the damage to the promenade at Deganwy (January 2014) and wondered how things would be. Bad. As we entered Deganwy and where the promenade had been, we found- at the far end of the path we were walking!- closure notices and fencing, which we walked around to get FROM the damaged area. The notices seen on 14/8 indicated the path had been diverted (for some considerable distance) until 4/8 for work to be carried out. No work had been started - but it was fully accessible with care. It was a bicycle route (No 5) and bikers did experience problems. At Conwy we explored for the first time Bonlondeb Wood and then on to Anna's Tea Rooms, which now had their own entrance, no longer via a camping shop. It remains a very quiet and relaxing place, upstairs and apparently almost unknown. A final remnant of a civilised age.

And so to our final day and despite some good rain in the morning we managed a walk over the Great Orme, and a cup of tea at the Rest and be Thankful. The Marine Drive is a toll road and mostly one way. Not long after the Rest and Be Thankful, which is about half way round, we came across a car somewhat dangerously driving along the narrow one way road the wrong way, and were able to direct him back. As we got to the end we found the reason for his confusion- total insanity by the local council. The simple No Entry sign at the road far end was now replaced by a Cul de sac sign and a confusing addition to the No Entry sign- "Except for access to [welsh word]". Just asking for cars to go the wrong way. And apparently in place to service one landowner who had developed a highly situated new modern dwelling built on the Orme past the No Entry sign. This is one area we had to think of corruption rather than incompetence. Someone is going to be hurt. A quick check indicates that you can't just add an exemption plate to a No Entry sign- Manchester took 20 years to obtain legal consent to add an "Except Trams" plate to a No Entry sign (prior to which using the permissive blue "Trams only" sign). I suspect the highway authority have acted outside their powers and this road sign may be lacking statutory authority, which will be interesting when someone is killed.

As we left the Marine Drive we found a couple of holiday makers puzzling over a "Heritage Trail Point" notice on West Beach, and we had to explain to them that the house Alice Liddell visited had been destroyed to make way for a development that had not happened and was that hole in the ground (we saw the house in 2008, but by 2010 it was a hole and remains so), whilst the signposted White Rabbit statue opened by Lloyd George, had been removed some three years ago and was unlikely to be seen again. (see Article on destruction of Llandudno) Update: The White Rabbit, resculpted, reappeared in the old West Beach tram shelter in 2015, without a protective cage, and before too long a hand was broken off.

Visitors may be misled into thinking that Llandudno has an art gallery - the Mostyn Gallery. In fact it is mostly shop and extravagent cafe, and when we entered there was a small sign indicating suitable only for 18 pluses (as in "cert 18"), but no barriers or staff to prevent children wandering round. We did NOT go any further. One indicator is the descriptive word for the gallery: "contemporary" which seems to acquire a new meaning, translating as absolute rubbish when applied to any of the arts. In fact there are excellent contemporary artists, but they never get shown in "contemporary" galleries. There is NO art gallery in Llandudno. However just a bit of a walk away in Conwy is the Cambrian Art Exhibition. Some interesting works, and some we were tempted to buy, but eight hundred pounds is a lot to hang on the wall. If you like art, go to Conwy.

And that was our short break in North Wales this year, some terrible examples of local authority destruction, a few new things seen, and the weather not too terrible. Again we ate mostly at Barnacles fish and chip shop on Mostyn Street, with its huge vegetarian, vegan and gluten free menu and really tasty food. One evening we enjoyed good food at Bengal Dynasty but our attempt to eat at a Chinese restaurant was foiled as it was full! Our journey by train in both directions was eventful due to overcrowding (we had seats). At Prestatyn going out a wheel chair user was prevented from getting off the train by stacks of huge baggage. Coming back three wheel chairs blocked one carriage door and huge baggage in the aisles made it very difficult for people getting off with buggies. No train crew were seen of course, it was left to passengers to fight it out amongst themselves. Our return train had one engine shut off and was almost 20 minutes late getting in.

Main section

2014 sees continued stormy weather with significant flooding and storm damage in other parts of the country, but surrounded by distant hills we seem to do rather better. Just one small part of the house falls off- a fairly heavy bit of mortar which would have killed anyone below. It looks as though the timber it was balanced on has become loose, possibly some rotting to deal with. Need to take a closer look.

Plenty of concerts to cheer us up in the long dark wet days, with one weekend seeing a trio of concerts, heavy on the Bach.

First was Bach BWV1068 at Chethams School of Music - they were going to play it the next day at St Ann's Church and this was by way of a final rehearsal. Very nice. Then a quick hop over to Manchester Cathedral for a Bach concert by students from the RNCM and featuring two of the Brandenburg Concertos. Then the next day off to Rochdale Town Hall for a concert which included Bach BWV552 (played with the inevitable French accent which seems popular with younger organists) and a barnstormer of Durufle's Suite Opus 5.

Back to the Cathedral for some very different music- solo acoustic guitar, flamenco style, by Samuel Moore. No microphones were used for the solo guitar and none were needed, quite enough to fill the cathedral. Our usual weekly organ recitals at St Ann's Church and a chamber concert in Cheadle Hulme by the Amaretti Chamber Orchestra. One piece by Nicholas Simpson (who was present) had movements with such titles as "I regret that I am not a famous composer" and "It occurs to me that I am not dead yet". Also pieces by Boyce, Cimarosa, Handel- and the lovely Serenade for Strings by Dag Wirren, perhaps made more famous by Ron Goodwins recording some years ago.

Nigel Ogden returned for an hour on the Stockport Wurlitzer. Our local pub The Hope is proposed as Pub of the Year by Stockport CAMRA, very well deserved, a rowdy and unpleasant pub has been turned round almost immediately and in 12 months from opening has five of its own beers plus five guest beers, all cask, all in good condition, plus kegs and bottles. No televisions or karaoke. We pass into February with no really cold weather but the past few months have been extremely wet, especially in the South of the country. Our garden is extremely damp but we have no floods.

In addition to filling in my time adding notations to the images on Britain from Above, and adding some old radio articles (1925-1935) to the internet, adding the Stainless Software (1982-1985) software catalogue to the internet with screen grabs, reviews, and where possible disk images - I am now scanning some old TI material for posterity.

An interesting and unusual chamber concert at St Anns with Piano, clarinet and viola, not a normal trio, very pleasant. George tried to get to the concert, leaving work at 5.30pm, but following a fatal road accident on the main road between us, by 7.20 he gave up and headed home, finally arriving home at 8.30, three hours after leaving work.

A dear friend of ten years, married for less than four years, suddenly died, leaving a devastated husband. There is now a little hole in our lives where she had been, a good, gently kind person. Remembered with love and gratitude that we had met and known her.

And then our builder for the past seven or so years (and only age 40) had a stroke- fortunately not up a ladder- and a brain scan showed a bad brain tumour which has to come out. All being well, discharged from hospital after just three days, then signed off work for 8 weeks and forbidden to drive for 12 months.

We had a lovely concert on the Wurlitzer at Stockport Town Hall by Len Rawle, his version of "Music is my first love" is excellent. After that we did our civic duty coming to the aid of a man who had fallen very heavily trying to open his car door - with blood from a head wound and from his nose and mouth, plus a deep daze and laboured breathing, we called an ambulance which was there in a commendable six minutes. Cathy's coat received a fair amount of blood, but a good soak in a bucket of cold water did the trick.

George did make it with us to an evening concert at St Anns by Simon Passmore on piano- the piano is definitely his instrument. A lunchtime concert of Brahms Horn Trio on the recommended "natural horn" (no valves) was very good.

A note to be very wary of "All Seasons Garden Services" telephone numbers 0800 858 9815 and 07780 506406 (located in Didsbury?), clean white truck, men wearing green shirts with the name on, offering to cut down trees and do gardening work. They are not entirely honest, telling outright lies and charging more than agreed prices; receiving payment in cash only; and if paid in full before the work has been completed, disappearing without trace. Telephone numbers go to voicemail only. Cannot find them mentioned on Google so this will address that omission. Operate in North West of England, Cheshire/Lancashire/Derbyshire/Manchester.(The trade name is a common one alas and others using the name and giving an address or accepting cheques should not be confused with the rogues mentioned. Make sure you have a genuine address.)

Another fine chamber concert - the Skroup-Clarinet Trio in E Flat Major OP 27 played by a tutor and a couple of RNCM students on clarinet, double bass and piano. The music editor was in the church. A slightly different encore piece was based on Gershwin. Then a lovely (if loud) concert by Tintwistle Brass Band.

Our local pub The Hope has received the Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA Pub of the Year 2014 award and we were there for the award with a full pub. Next day back for a game of pinball, and George very nearly got into the top 4 scores- he managed 314 million and needed 334 million, so one more bonus would have done it. One pound for four games isn't too expensive, and George had three free games in addition to some extra balls. The absolute top score is over 560 million. So far.

By complete contrast we visited our fifth pub operated by the Wetherspoons chain and yet again had poor beer, this one was the very worst, very cloudy and a thick scum- obviously the end of the barrel- and the bar staff were fully aware of it. I think we shall have to avoid Wetherspoons beer in future. A strong lack of staff / management training and commitment, unlike some of the free houses where we so often enjoy jaw droppingly amazingly good beer.

More concerts included a rare recital on the organ at St Pauls Heaton Moor by Anthony Hunt; a violin and piano recital; and possibly our only CAMRA beer festival this year, at New Mills. Tasted six beers, all very drinkable but nothing too exciting.

After last years delight, a return to Ramsbottom for their Chocolate Festival to find the one thing lacking was chocolate. This year Bury Council withdrew their support and organisation fell to a local "chocolate" shop and the local traders. As remarked last year this shop does not sell anything that I would call chocolate. I like chocolate. I love chocolate. I usually eat chocolate with a minimum 85% or even 82% cacao. Sometimes I will slum it and eat chocolate with only 72% cacao. However at Ramsbottom this year I bought the one and only bar of chocolate in the town over 80% cacao (leaving nothing for anyone else, there really was only one bar) (Duffy's 83% from Cleethorpes, and using sunflower lecithin instead of soya lecithin). I did manage to find one seller selling one type of chocolate at 65% cacao (Choc Affair), but apart from that 60% was the maximum and that was uncommon. Again there was odd shaped chocolate, odd coloured chocolate, chocolate with things in it - but a whole chocolate festival of confectionary and no true chocolate is one to avoid next year. There was no evidence of the beer tent or any music.

We did purchase more Lancashire Sauce and Lancashire Sauce flavoured Lancashire Crisps. And bought some of the limited run Ginger and Chocolate cordial from Fitzpatricks. And discovered an interesting chocolate - milk chocolate (30% cacao) - whose flavour developed and touched all the taste buds- starting with the well known orange chocolate, then principly cardamom with coriander, paprika, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, clove, ginger, then the saltiness of garlic (weird, but in chocolate real salt isn't so much salty as sweet!), and finally just a slight kick of chili. Most carefully balanced and timed. From Choc Amor.

Despite many hours in Ramsbottom we did not hear one hoot or whistle of a train from the East Lancashire Railway, nor see any evidence of their existence. Their web site suggested the day was blue timetable, but then again it may have been an amended yellow timetable- eg no idea what is running when, possibly an 80 minute wait between trains, and instead of preserved steam you may be paying way over the odds for a Diesel Multiple Unit ride- the return bus Bury-Ramsbottom was three quid. The ELR for their secretive and far from frequent peculiar trains was asking eight quid. A great sadness, we used to go there frequently and ride their steam trains often. Just another overpriced tourist trap line, which it did not used to be.

We did however whilst in Ramsbottom renew our acquaintance with the Irwell Works Brewery and had six of their very quaffable beers. As we returned home via Bury, we stopped off to look for the well reported Bury Market. We found it and found the reports we had of it were rather understated. Stockport says there is a "market" in Stockport - more of a station kiosk really. Ashton has a good indoor and outdoor market. Then there is Bury, the Regent Street/Oxford Road of markets, absolutely enormous. We used our visit to have genuine, properly cooked Bury Black Peas (soak for ages, cook for ages, allow to cool and thicken, then reheat and serve with mint sauce). We also after a period without of some months, found the splendid V-Pud aka vegetarian black pudding.

When the Stockport Plaza opened with volunteers we went often weekly, sometimes two or three times a week. Then they went professional and commercial and we hardly ever go anymore. In 2014 there was one program that we wanted to see, a double feature, two films by Jack Hulbert. Despite the rain we turned up and found a notice on the door. We could pay 6.25 to see a single 70 minute film plus a repeat of a George Formby film we had seen before, or go home. We didn't see any potential audience go in, we did see projection staff standing outside. We went home. One reason we reduced our visits was the large number of cancelled shows (the other main reason was the new super loud painful and damaging sound system). Regardless of any other shows, for the shows we wanted to see in 2014, the record is now 100% cancellations! And when we got home and checked, not a mention on the Plaza's website or Ttr or Fbk pages. Farewell Plaza.

Last Sunday in April. Normally on the last Sunday of the month we would go to Ashton Market but this time we had advance notice that three stall holders we buy from weren't going, and in April there should be a Brass festival in Buxton. Cancelled in 2011 at short notice. Getting close to the date in 2014 and I have identified four bands going- and lots of the usuals not. A few days before we find that 22 bands entered (in 2013 it was 36 entered, 35 appeared). Sadly there is a ranking contest nearby on Saturday and most bands would prioritise that - plus many bands numbers are depleted as the bandsmen go off on their Easter family holidays (a late Easter this year). There is really very little brass band activity in the area now, and one main event chooses to amend its date to coincide with one regularly held at this time. Aaaagh.

On the day just two bands had withdrawn, leaving a total of 20 bands to play, allowing a later start and earlier finish - that is, we heard every band that played. No perfect playing this year, but good brass band music by 20 bands, playing 20 different tunes. And nothing too loud, and no extra loud snare drums. Lovely. All mobile phones off, BUT no-one told the venue security to turn off their loud communications radios, and no-one stopped the nearby loud venue telephone from ringing. The winning band of section one this year, last year won section two and the year before that won section three, a remarkable if not unique achievement. Well done Whitworth Vale and Healey. We took advantage of the free fresh wild Buxton spring water. And I bought a couple of CDs of brass bands from County Durham from a stall from that county.

Our visits to Ashton market have led to some very unusual and enjoyable vegetables - we have moved from the usual red cabbage and purple flowering broccoli to purple carrots, purple sprouts, purple kale, purple cauliflower, purple sweetcorn, purple tomatoes, and yet another one this year, purple potatoes - the normally whitish interior is instead a dark purple which stays purple after cooking. Lovely.

Going for a beer at The Hope can be quite relaxing, nice ambience, no music, pinball table, good beer including five varieties brewed on the premises. Across the road at the Midland are a couple more good reasons (it is hard NOT to pub crawl in Stockport!)- keeping an eye on the beer served, behind the bar is a lovely tabby cat, whilst customers are kept in their place (literally) by a smart and friendly black and white cat. A pub with relaxed cats is going to be a good place to be. The Midland also has well kept beer and can be as little as a pound for a half pint.

May is an excellent time for woodland bluebells (our garden bluebells are usually a few weeks earlier).Off we go for a quick tramp through Etherow Country Park - and this year is obviously a grand year for bluebells, we have never seen so many there, horizon to horizon in shimmering purple. It is something that no photograph or painting can possibly do justice to. We admired the work they have done and are doing to the park- rebuilding the banks of the lake; removing mature wood and scrub; taking action to ensure the marshland does not dry out (by introducing Aberdeen Angus cattle to eat the scrub).

Monday 5th May is a Bank Holiday, celebrated as "International Workers Day". Having now retired... last year we went to Bexley Square and took part in our first ever march. So this year we went back. Austerity and so many things impacting ordinary people doubled the number - the MEN, not usually given to overstatement for demonstrations, indicated some 400 people. We assembled in Bexley Square and this time marched to the Cathedral Gardens in Manchester - where the Cathedral bell ringers were having a go at a quarter peal. We were quite surprised to find ourselves walking down (and obstructing) three major roads - and not a single policeman to be seen anywhere. Manchester appeared to be police-less. Finding someone carrying a rolled up banner, we obviously volunteered our services, and marched carrying a carriageway-wide banner for Left Unity. We are not members but last year we did go to the Greater Manchester inaugural meeting of what became a political party in November 2013.

Lots of kudos to the Mayor of Salford who came along, and brought a "Labour Party" banner to join the march (conveniently the Communist Party were behind, leading to lovely photographs of a Labour party banner and an image of Stalin). With the Labour party so far to the right these days it was always going to be a challenge to someone to identify with the Labour party at such an event. The mayor has been quoted as saying some fairly objectionable things to those to the left, so it may have been a bit of defiance- but a workers march should have representation from the Labour Party even if they have gone so far adrift. He could have stayed at home. So big round of applause.

It is interesting to have so many people with strong views about so many things - not always identical views by any means- meeting together and uniting into a friendly community of sorts. This year a major cause is the anti-fracking protest, as our government seems to have licensed the whole country to businesses, allowed easy access to private land, and prevented objections to mining and pipelines - across the whole kingdom it would seem. There are so many other things people are unhappy with, and in the absence of any parliamentary opposition, marching is what is left. There is a strong indication that economic and political views at the centre are too narrow and restricted, politicians not merely unwilling, but unable to consider consequences or alternatives. By comparison, the left (NB- NOT the "Labour" Party), lacking an Eton/Oxford narrow education, has to use more imagination, perhaps coming across hair raising ideas- but more open to alternatives. Certainly much closer to the real lives lived by real people and the real problems caused by narrow theoretical political laws.

More sunshine and more news of increased melanomas. Time to buy sun cream. And shocked to find that the protection against the ageing/melanoma facilitating UVA rays has been reduced by 40 to 50% on the "name" products. The SPF number only refers to the tanning/burning UVB rays. A 50 spf lotion with only 40% UVA protection is a not a brilliant idea (but costs a lot less to make). Even worse, some products merely stated "UVA Protection" and left it at that- presumably the bog standard absolute minimum allowed under EU rules (equivalent to low 3 stars under the UVA star system). The new EU rules require the UVA protection consistently to be no less than one third the level of the UVB protection (Australia has followed suit). Many products now in spray containers with very many now stating in tiny tiny lettering Not to be used on the face.

We finally found what we needed- maximum UVA protection plus 30 or 50 SPF and suitable for the face- as a Superdrug own brand. Aldi have an equally good own-brand (Lacura) range. Note that EU rules no longer permit UVA protection at 1 or 2 stars. Most manufacturers are going for the least UVA protection allowed just as medical warnings become more persistent that we need more protection. The UVA star system indicates how much LESS UVA protection you have compared to the SPF, not an absolute measure - eg 5 stars means that you initially have 90 to 100% UVA protection compared to the UVB SPF factor.The American equivalent is to label as "broad spectrum".

Why have I reduced my giving to major charities and now only support smaller charities I really know? Chuggers. Charity Muggers. Obstructive rude and aggressive people who are paid by the large charities on a commission basis to extort money from people who can't afford it (making them sign monthly direct debits). Swamping the pavements and now aggressively coming to your door - no local authority licence, identification or authority required if they don't actually collect funds. Cancer charities employ these people. A close friend who recently lost a dear one to cancer declined to give and was told "How would you feel if someone you knew died of cancer". He did not kill the monster who was paid by a "cancer charity". Yes there are codes of conduct and like all codes of conduct they are ignored. Big charity? Like big business, immoral and unethical. They exist to raise funds for themselves- and pay their executive really silly amounts of money just like big business. Official regulator? Charity commission? Useless.

Back to better things, two splendid organ recitals in one day- first at the huge parish church of Bolton-le-Moors by the musical director of York Minster (Robert Sharpe), who had an interesting program, moving smoothly fromBach BWV552 ("St Anne") to Lemare's andantino Moonlight and Roses, and on to Jackson's Opus 16. Then on to the equally huge Albion United Reformed Church in Ashton under Lyne for an evening with Nigel Ogden, playing his usual mixture of melodies of all sorts of organ music on their 1895 Lewis organ.

Another loss at Ashton Market as two lovely ladies who baked slab cakes and other delicacies retire due to ill health - and went to the trouble to have someone put a notice up on "their" stall to tell their customers. We had a regular order with them for some time and they will be missed. So many of the people we have bought from have moved on - to different markets, different countries, or retired. New market traders are hard to get as the number of people visiting is declining. Our other principal cake seller told us they would not be attending the following month as they were "busy".

Elections- for the local council, which has no budget and is powerless, and for "Europe" which is entirely unrepresentative and undemocratic. Why bother? Still, we did all vote. I turned up about noon and had to show the staff at the polling station how to deploy the supplied wheelchair ramp. Not at all difficult. This year the polling station has moved from the school (an end to pupils having the day off) to the church, which had as a selling point, disabled access!

We missed out Stockport beer festival last year but went this year, and managed to buy a very nice 1/3 pint glass - not just a half pint tankard with a 1/3 pint line but a true 1/3 pint goblet. Over two days we tried some eleven beers and of the three most notable, two were VERY local, one coming from the very centre of Stockport, under the railway arches, the other from our "local" pub. The third came from farther away and was spiced berries. As we were struggling to find a beer worth tasting on Saturday afternoon, we took advantage of the launch of Stockport's newest brewery by paying them a visit, underneath the arches. For two days only the brewery was open. Their first brews are very promising and we shall be having more (from the Crown, just across the road).

We failed to find the fabled cask of Virgin Trains beer, apparently casked for the festival but not to be seen. The Fool Hardy beer with ginger, elderflower- and leaf tea- was our winner for the most interesting beer.

The first Sunday brass concert at the Ring of Bells in Marple and a lovely sunny day - that doesn't happen too often. And a first appearance there by a band -Roberts Bakery- we don't recall hearing before. Excellent musicians, now with a new MD who is taking them into "Entertainment" competitions and playing. This involves fairly comedic actions by band members, but to win prizes the quality of the music must not suffer. I stocked up on their CDs which were inexpensive. They played a very wide range of music including serious brass music, marches, swing, and some comedy numbers. To go with the "Trooper" beer on sale they played "Run for the hills".

Our first glasses of beer that day at the Ring (two types) were not enjoyable- this is the third year we have had beer at the Ring we have felt not worth drinking with an overwhelming "stale beer" aroma - but not flavour, the aroma however obliterated any flavour the beer did have. Amongst the worst we have been served. So after the interval we had a soda water (NOT served in Robinsons beer glasses) and will be sticking to that in future from this pub. A definite problem either with the beer keeping or the glass washing- something wrong. I suspect the beer glasses are being polished with a cloth that is rather smelly. They are a popular and busy pub. I'm not sure too many people both drink the cask ale, AND have my sensitive nose.

After the disappointment of the Ramsbottom "chocolate" festival, I have found a source of REAL chocolate, not far away, but very costly. Hotel Chocolate (they have a hotel on their cocoa estate you can stay at) do sell some silly novelties, but at the top of their range, wow, very satisfying chocolate. From Saint Lucia they have a "milk" chocolate with 70% cocoa, fermented on their Rabot estate (the one with the hotel) and flavours to die for. Not for guzzling.

Our next visit to the Ring was for a concert by the town band of Chapel en le Frith - one player was aged just 9. This time we stuck to the soda water, but our visit was soured by an elderly lady who insisted (after all the tables were taken!) that we had sat at "her" table. There were three empty seats for her at the table, but she seemed to want all six seats to herself. We didn't go the next week.

Recorded a choir concert at St Ann's church. Didn't come out too badly. Possibly the biggest work as Vierne's Messe Solennelle Op 16, quite loud.

After many years of slightly changing eye prescriptions and quite a motley collection of glasses, some dating back several years, we sent them all to a charity for re-use (keeping a couple of clearly identified spares of course) and collected a new lot. Spec-Savers is an odd business, every store is an independent, and therefore the quality of service varies enormously. We are lucky that Stockport has a good store with well trained staff. For the first time in my life I can (with difficulty admittedly) read with my (lazy) left eye. Cathy kept complaining when I took my glasses off whilst shopping to look at labels, so -for shopping- I have bought a pair of varifocals. I was duly warned of difficulties adjusting to them but didn't have any problems.

On to the annual Whit Friday brass event. Back to the Tame Valley at Dukinfield - and we were drinking soda water again. Aren't we healthy... This year 42 bands played at the venue, of which we missed two- by comparison, last year there were 40 bands of which we missed four. Again Dukinfield was not the busiest Tameside venue- across 11 venues the number of bands varied from 34 to 45. The total number of bands playing in Tameside was 74.

Tameside had far fewer bands than the extremely busy and crowded venues in Saddleworth,Oldham, where the number of bands per venue varied from 84 to 44. Total bands playing at Saddleworth area venues was 133 (126 last year). However one band was disqualified at 4 venues due to telling lies, one band was disqualified before playing due to ignoring police instructions, and busy Delph had the contest halted three times by the emergency services. Tameside is easier on the nerves. And although Tameside had smaller prizes, the top performing band at Tameside earned GBP 5,750 compared to a slightly smaller GBP 5,675 earned by the top performing band at Saddleworth area!

Tameside area is wide open for some championship bands to come in. In this its 18th year, in the past 14 years the top band has been Fodens for 13 years. One year Fairey came first, but now don't come to Tameside at all. Other places really are up for grabs as no one band really predominates. Dukinfield is best avoided from 7.45 to 8.45 (bands just don't get anywhere in that period) and after 10pm due to lack of adequate external lighting (bands could wear led headlamps of course). At Dukinfield bands need to aim their bells towards the adjudicator and not stand as far away as they can- and if they play really quietly the adjudicator may not hear them over the crowds.

Our National Health Service is quickly becoming somewhat Notional, starved of resources which are squandered on vastly overpaid management, and inappropriate treatments, with GPs doing their very best to have every person in the country on ten types of drugs every day for life (hmmm. Can't be receiving rewards from drug manufacturers. Can they?). However I am called in for a "screening". To a place which is unsignposted, unmarked, and looks like a 1960's junk yard with metal fencing, barbed wire... not pleasant. Apparently a local health centre. Seriously in need of signposting, marking, and perhaps more urgent, demolition. It turns out that my aorta has a diameter of 1.60cm throughout and thank you, we don't need to see you again. The only treatment for a risky aorta is itself extremely risky and only undertaken -sometimes- if your aorta reaches 5.50cm diameter. Now what was all that about?

Another pub not to enjoy a beer in any more- one sadly in decline for some time, with low custom, and elderly staff no longer able to manage the casks, resulting in rather old beer being served, or beer served with flakes (and I don't mean just hazy!). We used to go there twice a week and will now have to reconfigure our week. We will still pop in from time to time - for a cup of tea. Until the end of the year when the landlord changed and meals were ceased despite being advertised outside. Fortunately there are still - after all the closures - still enough good pubs around.

It looks as though the medium sized regional brewers have now lost the will to manage pubs, on the one hand charging their tenants excessive costs, and on the other hand, caring nothing for the quality of the beer served. They seem to feel that "gastro-pubs" - for meals rather than drinks- are much more profitable. And yet we still find it hard to find something to eat in Stockport at a reasonable price (gastro pubs are always highly priced). We found a nice little tapas bar with lots of other options right in the town centre, only twice the price we paid at our prior pub. They serve an interesting Persian tea (made with rose petals and Ceylon (red) tea) but just as we found them they reconfigured the menu and we were unable to locate anything we liked, although they insisted all the old dishes were still there, just very well hidden. So that possibility of meals out disappeared very quickly.

Thanks to a 25% price increase by BT we now enjoy telephone calls saving 30%- we changed suppliers, and now wonder why BT have any business. At a time of austerity and pay freezes I do wonder at some suppliers. Print shop Max Spielman has just increased its prices for what I do, by about 55%. These are life changing increases and you do wonder at the mentality behind it as generically company executives give themselves huge pay rises. Just as with BT, this massive price hike drove me to look for an alternative and I found one, a superior service in half the time at half the price. The Spielman manageress said their prices were competitive. Must be panto season - Oh No they're Not! When analog tv was turned off for no good reason, we stopped watching tv. We don't miss it- when people put price barriers up, it is remarkable what you don't miss, as you find you don't need their products at all.

I have noted the Labour party minister who feels that a significant section of the community are stupid, and should be legally forced to use the internet - ? I don't follow his lack of reasoning either. He is another reason to vote for the party he doesn't like. It is sad when mainline parties make the outlying extremist parties look civilised and polite. And not dreadfully good for anyone. In 2015 senior "Labour" politicians were using such emotive terms as "wealth creators", "workshy" and "aspirational"- and despite quite properly losing the 2015 General Election, continued their lurch to the extreme Right wing. There is no chance of any significant political choice in the UK due to the professional political class that has evolved, all with the same education and greed for wealth and power.

A reasonable Sunday for going to Buxton to hear a brass band in the band stand. Yep, the bus didn't make it - again. This bus service is so totally unreliable the timetable needs a fiction label. Yet again the authorities decide to close the main road into Buxton down to one lane, with huge tailbacks. There seem to be major roadworks on this route every time we travel. The bus took a wide detour down Waterswallows Lane to avoid most of the queue, but we then had to walk into Buxton from Fairfield (about 20 minutes for us). Not the bus operators fault but the good people of Buxton and its tourist industry are being very badly served by their council.

I have much enjoyed reading a book by Boris Hembry, published in Singapore so possibly not too well known - "Malayan Spymaster". It was published post-humously by his grand-children from a longer memoir written for them. Boris was at ground zero when the Malayan War (which was never called a war) started, and prior to that was behind the lines for the Japanese invasion of Malaya, Burma and Indonesia. He served with SOE and SIS and wrote his memoirs with the advantage of contemporary notes. He was not happy with Noel Barber's "War of the Running Dogs" about the conflict and asked Barber what his source was- an interview some years after the event with someone around 200 miles away. This encouraged Boris to write - but not to publish. Good reading covering mostly 1930 to 1955 when Boris returned to England.
Boris frequently holidayed up country both in his early and later years at Frasers Hill, staying at the Whittington - which I did in 1961. He spent some of the middle years at the other hill station at Cameron Highlands, or on leave in the UK.

We returned to Woodley for a further concert by the Kyiv Duo, two highly talented accordion players from the Ukraine, over for a month, and wishing their country had more peace. They play classical music transcriptions, and we added to our CD collection with their 2014 release.

The newspapers carry news of a 3% increase in rail fares next January and are indignant that it is larger than inflation. But in the North we are facing next month increases of from 50% to over 100% on journeys after 4pm and not a murmer anywhere. Any Stockport-Glossop return ticket with outward or return between 4pm and 9pm is increasing 100% as are many others. Publicity is in our local station but only in the booking office which is usually closed, and in and outside Cheadle Hulme station. No mention anywhere in Stockport station. There is one lovely anomaly. You have a choice when travelling from Stockport to Manchester. Travel in a modern clean express train or in a decades old dirty crumbling wreck of a Diesel Multiple Unit. One will cost you GBP 2.50 return, the other will be GBP 5.80 - more than double. You guessed right- it is the modern express which is the cheapest. You need to ask for a "Virgin trains only" ticket. A return by bus will take longer but only cost four pounds.

Transport across Manchester centre is a mess and will remain so for my lifetime, with continuing everlasting "improvements" never actually delivering a working service due to even more "improvements" (plus the constant closure of the city for "events"). Laying new tram track in the city has meant digging up (with statutory blessing) no less than three cemetaries. We are told the disturbed remains will be reburied but there is a lack of detail. Burial in England is a farce as graves are never respected even during prepaid "leases".

A brief excursion to the Musuem of Science and Industry in Manchester for a special exhibition on the discovery of the Higgs Boson. This was comprised of a couple of short wide screen audio-video presentations, one with people talking to camera and one was a CGI unexplained extravaganza. Not exactly instructive. The exhibition comprised highly detailed photographs of the CERN office walls, some odd exhibits and several much smaller (but more important) presentations. Missing in my view was a cloud chamber, which seemed to be the basic instruction required, not even a video of one. Not even a simulation of one! My son tells me he recalls a cloud chamber at the museum for a previous special exhibition, so they could do it!

Most of the content seemed aimed squarely at the cognoscenti - such as a young man seen serving coffee, someone called Brian (you were meant to know Brian Cox and who he was). Lots of very in-jokes. They had the genuine champagne bottle that celebrated the discovery...

Heritage Open Day celebrated its 20th anniversary, and around our area the "heritage" seemed to comprise mostly churches of one faith or another. Our choice beyond that was tiny, but we did find a new place to visit.

As George had not been to the police museum in Manchester that was our first port of call. Fairly interesting if only to see just how policing has been radically reduced over the years. There was a special WW1 exhibit which was informative, factual and respectful. There was a letter exchange between a recent war widow and the Chief Constable and the police who lost their lives were remembered. Initially police were deliberately clothed in none-military gear but they now have far better (eg more military) equipment than our armed forces. Very scary. Some fairly gruesome exhibits I recall in the crime room seem to have now been tidied away. The blue band on local PCSO hats reflects the blue band that was used on police cadets hat when they were introduced to policing.

After that we paid a visit to the Portico Library. I had worked opposite this for nearly two decades and never had a glance inside. It is a bit of an oddity, a private 19th Century subscription library of some 25,000 volumes. As a worker I would have had to pay an initial membership of GBP 210 but as a pensioner it falls to GBP 155, both reduced by GBP 30 in following years (at 2014 rates). There are weekly and monthly rates for researchers and none members can call in for a coffee and a look at what (if anything) is in the exhibition space at lunch times.

Inside The Portico is quite delightful, a bit of a civilised oasis in Manchester (especially now that Central Library has been modernised). An attractve glass dome provides lighting for the main area, and there are two small cosier areas to sit in comfort and read (magazines and newspapers are available as is tea coffee and light meals). The main book collection is the original 19th Century core, with the emphasis on Polite Literature. The original meaning. For people of good education who read for pleasure on a wide range of subjects. Books can be sponsored for rebinding from forty pounds (much needed) and a ten pound donation allows you to attend the AGM. The Dewey system is too new fangled to be seen.

Then onward to the Gaskill House. This has changed significantly compared to our last visit. The ground floor rooms are really looking as they might have when Mrs Gaskill lived there. The building is structurally stable, and the upstairs which had been used for student accomodation, is available for office rentals whilst the basement which was the student common room now has two rooms for hire, one of which is normally used for teas and snacks. At last it looks worthy of the Heritage funds spent on it! Official opening is October 5th 2014.

Next day and a return to the Manchester Transport Museum to look at the old buses - and this time spotted a couple of trolley buses as well as a horse drawn bus. We also saw the items hired out to Warner Bros for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban- a round badge, leather bag and of course a ticket machine. The museum earned a very small sum for loaning their items.

We then travelled by old bus to Manchester centre and the Peoples History Museum to look at their WW1 commemoration. Their display advised of the Labour party support for the war, but failed to mention the Labour senior members who were opposed to war, and were sidelined or resigned. The display was heavily on the side of the winners of the political debate and by omitting dissenters entirely, somewhat unbalanced, and not particularly respectful of anyone. It rather emphasised the Conservative leanings of the "Labour" party even at that early stage albeit without intending to.

Then a very brief visit to Albert Square for what was advertised as a BBC event, several large vehicles and tents under the banner "World War One At Home", it looked like a lot of licence payers money had been spent. On nothing. No content (as is common with BBC programs today) and nothing commemorative or respectful. Not many members of the public either! Several young actors really badly pretending to be soldiers, recruiting officers etc. The imperial war museum had a tent giving you ten minutes free access to their web site to look up your ancesters. They had nothing on ours but invited us when we got home to register on their web site and input what we knew about them. I was not impressed by their web site or their approach, and as they charged me a great deal of money for a post card print of my fathers ship a year or so back, I'm not inclined to assist them at all. Here in the North, they are located well away from public transport in a very modernistic (ugly! expensive!) building.

A delightful organ recital at Holy Name Church in Manchester by Margaret Phillips, with a wide ranging program lasting 100 minutes, free, in the heart of the University- and only a small handful of people to hear it. The church is magnificent and has a three manual organ to match, long reverbration, and good volume from the organ. Hollins Postludio was very nice. Both the classical church setting and its organ make the post modern Salford cathedral with its electronic organ look rather sad.

A party for Cathy's mother, to celebrate her 90th, brought most of the family together at her Derbyshire home.

And so life goes on gently, visiting the pub for a cup of tea or a glass of beer, a few concerts and some shopping. An evening at the Midland when it received its "Pub of the Month" award, with a lot of cuddles from Pepper the cat, who was not at all happy with the sudden applause. Concerts at St Anns Church Manchester, a pleasant 10th anniversary concert by the Amaretti Chamber Orchestra (named after the biscuit) at Cheadle Hulme, and the Manchester Organists Association get together at St Paul's Heaton Moor, with a splendid rendition of Rheinbergers Organ Sonata 5. Other remarkable pieces were an arrangement of the Carousel Waltz for Church organ, and a composer I have not met before, Andrew Carter's Aria.

I buy a mainstream CD- the 2013 Roots album of the year and the Songlines 2014 album of the year. I have been enjoying both harp music and kora music for some years, so I'm not just being fashionable!

Lots more concerts, at St Anns and Holy Name, and a new one on the calendar- after an absence of 14 years brass band contesting returns to Rochdale. Despite the TFGM brick wall across Manchester, we were able to get there for the first band travelling on the first train of the day, and stay until the last band. 28 bands in all each playing for around 20 minutes, and the total cost just five pounds each. You could spend 26 pounds or more to hear the Fairey Band play in Manchester for 90 minutes, we heard over 9 hours of champion brass (2 hours 40 minutes in the Championship or First section alone) for a fiver. A brass band acquaintance, Jim Hunter, who has been involved in many local bands, received an award for 60 years brass banding.

Rochdale Town Hall does not have ideal accoustics for brass band (no town hall does!) and some bands played too loud and some became a bit muddled with the long sustain, but lots of good music. As usual our favourite section was the third section. Unfortunately Cathy was coming down with a bad case of flu and didn't recall too much of the day.

This year we have started to go to the mid day concerts at the RNCM - starting with an unusual entertainment commencing with solo guitar, then a horn / piano with dramatic readings of the monologues by Juliet and Cleopatra. This was followed by a brass quartet concert.

Our problems with British Gas get too much- our meter is read every quarter and we have supplied correcting readings when they have ignored those, which they have also got wrong. We think the last correct reading was used 12 months ago. As our last statement was six months ago, we twice telephoned and asked for a statement but received nothing. By transferring to a competitor it looks as though we will be saving a total of 22% on our fuel usage - the transfer went through smoothly, it takes up to six weeks. The new supplier is VERY good with meter readings and statements- as well as being cheaper. Note- the price comparison websites do NOT offer you the best tariff. We got a special tariff by ringing direct.

Armistice day we celebrated with an organ recital based around works written around the time of WW1, by British, French and German composers, remembering the fallen from all countries- which is what the "celebrations" this year should have been instead of the circus put on by our government. Manchester sets off a maroon at 11am from Manchester Town Hall, and another at 11.02am, and we heard these from inside our house. For none British readers, this usage of the word maroon derives from the sound of a chestnut (maron) exploding in the fire and is a marine signal rocket.

Strong winds caused us to miss a looked forward to concert by Galina Vale, as we had to stay in for the builder to come and refix our soil stack to the wall - this time adding three extra clips for greater stability, as it looks like strong winds are to become more regular. This builders work lasted just five weeks and the stack was away from the wall again requiring more attention.

After a long period away from Salford we decided to pay a visit for a meal and a drink- and found that the link bus between Manchester Piccadilly and Salford Central had not crossed the Irwell into Salford for some months. No comment on web sites, no amendments or notices on any bus stops. Bus put back on route in November. There are so many road closures in town that the route of the free buses is quite random and not publicised anywhere.

Concerts continue with a very pleasant recital on the Indian Santur (mildly different to the Persion Santoor), a couple of Stockport Wurlitzer concerts by Simon Gledhill and then Ian Gough. Simon's concert was marred by a really loud 16kHz note from the audio system, only abated when the slider was turned all the way down- but as there were only about five people in the hall capable of hearing it it was hard going communicating the problem! Even for people who could not hear it as a sound, the sheer energy battering their ears was still having its effect.

A pleasant afternoon concert on violin and cello at St Anns.

News that our local post office is closing in three months, so much for Amazon setting in place the ability to collect parcels from your local Post Office! Or the closing bank branches setting in place arrangements to cash cheques at your post office! Our new Post Office will be about a mile away located in what is presently a fairly well barricaded "local" shop. It has the offputting look of a fortress and is quite a walk away. And as usual with the new style post offices, no post box outside.

Our road is resurfaced for the first time in many years- this time some of the stone curbs are being reset, perhaps for the first time since placed a century ago. A quick scrape and surface means the road is "closed" for three weeks. Time to buy some new shirts after many years- and I make my first acquaintance with the "gauntlet button" Now I have a shirt again which I can wear a tie with. And a collar with removable stiffeners. My neck has grown thicker, even if I have managed to lose a stone and an inch or so off my waist.

As the year draws to a close, yet more concerts- an unusual concert in St Ann's with the Manchester Medical Orchestra (eight Dr's, one Prof, and one Mr plus others) playing Mozart and Beethoven. The programme had the score for the first movement of the Eroica which George was able to identify by sight. Then a Christmas concert! On the Manchester Marcussen organ by Jonathan Scott playing his own Fantasy Toccata and his arrangements of the seasonal tunes Candide, Samson and Delila, and Swan Lake.

December is often a time with little music as everyone is busy with carol concerts, this year again just a handful of alternatives, with music on violin and trombone at the RNCM, and a Stockport Wurlitzer concert. The final organ recital at Holy Name was on the day of an accident on the Manchester Inner Circle route, causing several hours of gridlock in town. We took over two hours to get to the church just in time for the final piece! We could have walked in the time but it was persisting with rain throughout, and there were several more road accidents- including one just by the bus stop where we started our journey. The car was a mess but the crumple zones and seat belt meant the driver could just get out and walk away.

Early in December saw a rare evening outing to a pub, unfortunately something of a wake. The pub, which we have been going to longer than any other pub, was struggling in a fairly barren area with a large multi story carpark, mostly empty office blocks, and busy roads. The beer keeper had lost his health due to a stroke, and together with low sales that meant sometimes odd beer. Having reached the age of retirement the landlady handed in her notice - and lost her living accomodation. One member of the family had to move into a single room bed sit, and one member of staff was left with no home. All the staff lost their jobs. The pub was apparently to be under a caretaker landlord for a couple of months before another change.

Another rare evening outing to a pub- one we have been going to for nearly a couple of years (since the current licencee took over), for a somewhat unpublicised entertainment. Posibly the most enjoyable Christmas outing we have had! First came the Adlington Morris Men with a performance of the Alderley Mummers Play. Opportunities to experience this are very rare- they perform maybe four days a year, spread over much of the North West - and there is very little publicity, ever. This play dates back to before 1820, and like many other local Mummers plays would have been lost in WW1 or WW2 but for a happy chance. Before its final performance prior to WW2 the play was broadcast on the radio and the BBC needed a script, so one was prepared (and handed back to the performing family after the broadcast) and was ready for a 1970's revival.

The Alderley version was the Northern variant with Colonel Slasher and a late addition at the end, of the Horse. This being an English form, the hero was of course St George. The mark of the Christmas mummers play is the battle, death, quack doctor, and revival of the dead- appropriate for a performance for the period of the Winter Solstice. Related plays at differing times of the year and in different places are Pace Egging and Souling.

After this lively show we had 80 minutes of brass band seasonal music by players from our local Championship brass band, Fairey. Just a few days before we could have paid twenty five pounds to hear the whole band play seasonal music in Mancheser, but we heard broadly the same amount of music for nothing at our local pub.

Once more I recorded the Festival of 9 Lessons and Carols for the church organist, who was not well and unable to be present. I tried out a new recorder bought so that Cathy could listen to mp3 files with a battery that could last some days - my initial attempt at recording with it resulted in a very uneven recording, possibly due to the sensitivity being too high (I used the middle setting)- but I had my old trusty recorder as primary source so no harm.

On Christmas Day we enjoyed watching "Chrismas Night with the Stars" with Lulu, Cilla, The Liver Birds and Dads Army. (Time warp from 1972, it wasn't broadcast in 2014). There are some interesting old British films now making their way to DVD from 1932-1970, not broadcast on television and not seen since first first release. We have also been watching "Fairly Secret Army", never rebroadcast and not available on dvd.

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