Winter Weather

Youngest Son (YS) has just returned from Brisbane, Australia with his girlfriend for three weeks visiting their respective families. It’s lovely to see them again and to have YS stay with us, off and on, for a couple of weeks in between his trips to London, Bristol and Belfast.

The weather has been a bit of a shock for them both though. They swapped temperatures of over 30° in Brisbane for what was, on Tuesday night, -13° and instead of Australian sunshine they got snow, ice then steady rain.

We don’t seem to have had proper snow for a few years and, initially, it is always welcome. It quietens everything and makes even messy areas – like the current building and landscaping works in our garden – look pretty.

YS managed to get his drone up (an essential part of his equipment for his business at Cactus Juice Cinematography) and took some video and pictures. Our hamlet was a picturesque winter scene with a steady fall of snow, whitened trees and happy tobogganers in the field opposite our house.

Drone View of Downend

Drone View of Our Hamlet in Winter

But then, after the initial impact, snow becomes a bit annoying. In part this was because YS had to drive his girlfriend to Bristol so that she could catch an onward flight to Northern Ireland. That was a challenge given the steep roads around us but the village ‘Snow Warden’ had been out gritting and she made it. Others haven’t been so lucky and there have been a few accidents in the area.

Lorry Crash

A Victim of Black Ice

Back at home, the snow, and its subsequent freezing then melting, highlighted a couple of issues with unplanned permeability of our house. The weight of the snow has also played havoc with the guttering on the shed so the raised vegetable beds are now raised above a big puddle.

Nonetheless, on balance, I think snow is a good thing. It feels like an essential characteristic of winter and a small rebellion against the inevitability of climate change and global warming. Some more snow around Christmas with cold clear days would be ideal (provided it doesn’t mess with the football fixtures!)

Winter From Our House

Winter View From Our House

Drone View of Sunrise Near Our House

Drone View of Sunrise Near Our House

One other impact of the snow, ice and then rain is that it has given me no excuse not to progress painting of our recently upgraded TV room. I can’t remember the last time I did any decorating but it was decades ago. I’m re-learning – the hard way – the need to sequence the process correctly. For example, having carefully put down protective masking tape on the edges to be painted, scraping it off accidentally while sanding down created irritating re-work. But progress is being made and I like the deep blue colour LSW has chosen – a significant departure from her white and grey norm.

Me Decorating

A Very Rare Sight of Me Decorating (Applying Undercoat Slowly)

6 Months On (Part II)

The last post listed the first five lessons learnt since my retirement six months ago. They were:

  • Work didn’t and doesn’t define me and I don’t miss it,
  • There is plenty to do in retirement,
  • There is still need for structure,
  • Holidays (trips away from home) are more relaxing now,
  • I miss London, but not as much as I expected.

A few others that come to mind are:

Summer Is A Good Time To Retire. The sun tends to shine, it’s relatively warm and there are few weather related impediments to doing whatever one wants. Given I wasn’t sure how would fill my time as I moved into retirement, that was important for me.

Derry Watkins's Garden

Summer in Derry Watkins’s Special Plants Nursery Garden, Near Bath

Remember That Retirement Affects One’s Partner Too. Many cautioned me about how Long Suffering Wife (LSW) might react to having me ‘under her feet’ for so much more time relative to when I was living through the week in London. In fact, LSW’s work takes her out of the house two days a week and she continues her normal round of visits to friends and relatives so we still spend a lot of the day apart. That’s good since I am conscious of the need to maintain independence and separation as well as togetherness.

Also, I am still only gradually accommodating the little compromises to living together full time. For example, cutting up the salad much more finely than I prefer, compromising on the music we listen to when we are both around, drying up with a tea towel after washing up (what is the point of not just letting things dry naturally!) and using LSW’s brand of yogurt. We are getting by pretty well I think – but maybe I should ask again…..

Spend Time Getting to Know One’s (New) Neighbourhood. I have enjoyed the daily walks into town and the variations in route I have been able to build in to widen and deepen familiarity with the local views, footpaths and houses. LSW and I have also gone further afield (for example, Bristol, Cheltenham and Tetbury) and gradually my knowledge of South Gloucestershire is becoming more commensurate with having had a family home in here for 20 years. I’m also getting better at remembering local peoples’ names now I meet them more routinely – much to LSW’s relief.

Summer View in Cheltenham

Summer View in Cheltenham

Don’t Rush Into Any New Big Time Commitments. Maybe I’ll get around to it but I just haven’t felt any great compulsion to take on any worthy (or unworthy for that matter) commitments since retiring. I suppose reigniting my participation in the Forest Green Rovers Football Supporters Club or volunteering in the village shop are the obvious possibilities; but not yet.

Health, As Always, Is Critical. One of the factors in retiring when I did was a concern for my health. Old age is, of course, creeping on, but health hasn’t stopped me doing anything yet. I’m going to press on while I can and do things such as eating sensibly, walking and gardening that, hopefully, keep me healthy.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Home Grown Jerusalem Artichokes Made Into Jerusalem Artichoke and Pea Soup – Very Healthy!

I Really Don’t Like Snakes. I recall seeing a grass snake that had got caught in some netting in the garden of our previous house 15 years ago. That frightened me near to death when it moved. But that was nothing compared to the mean look of the snake I near stepped on in Australia. That look it gave me as it slid off with me reeling back and falling on my bum will stay with me forever.

I’m sure that there will be many more lessons to be learned in the next six months of retirement.

6 Months On (Part I)

I retired from work six months ago. In some ways time has gone quickly but in other ways, not. Sometimes I wonder how I have frittered the time since I retired away on so little. In other ways, and on other days (like today), walking through those revolving doors on Canary Wharf for the last time feels like ages away and that life since has been very rich.

View From My Work Desk Earlier This Year

View From My Work Desk Earlier This Year

So what have I learned? Here are the first five things that come to mind.

Work Didn’t and Doesn’t Define Me. I didn’t expect to miss work – its pressures, the meetings, the schedules/routines, the achievements/failures and the PowerPoint – and I don’t. I might do something resembling work in the future but its currently way down the agenda to even think about that.

Leaving the Building

Still From A Video I Took As I Went Through The Office Revolving Doors For The Final Time

There Is Plenty To Do In Retirement. I used to work 50-55 hours a week plus there was the 12 hours a week travelling to and from work. Retirement has freed up a lot of time. Filling the released time hasn’t been difficult. A lot more walking, more reading the newspaper to catch up with world events, more TV box sets, much more reading, more gardening and a bit more cooking has expanded into the space. And that is before the holidays, the time spent on this blog, and my scrappy attempts at learning Italian (not unfortunately something I can include on this things learnt list!).

There Is Still Need For Structure. A few months into retirement, I realised I needed to drive myself a bit more to get things done. I needed to supplement the bucket list of broad things to do with retirement with a list of almost daily items ‘to do’. I like routines and my new one, dotted with one off tasks, works for me.

Holidays Are More Relaxing Now. Long Suffering Wife (LSW) continues to work part time so holidays still need to be scheduled around that. However, holidays can be longer now I have retired. That, in itself, increases the relaxation of going away. On our almost four-week Australia trip, there was no tension of clearing the desk in the build-up and no concern about returning to a backlog of work email and issues. Also, I’m happier about having trips away from our home in Gloucestershire rather than holidaying there now that I‘m no longer spending the majority of my time in London. LSW and I only did the Australia trip aboard in the last six months but we are planning more for 2018.

I Miss London, But Not As Much As I Expected. The loss of immediate access to London night life – music, restaurants and cinema especially – was a worry to me as I retired. This concern has proved to be largely unfounded in practice. LSW has been especially supportive in trying out local music venues with me and the new Marshall Rooms in Stroud is promising. The quality (the ambience especially) of local medium-priced restaurants is poor relative to the best of the constant and hectic turnover of new strivers in London. However, we are learning to love the local pub(s) and saving our food money for our occasional trips to London – like the one earlier this week which was excellent. While there are independent cinemas locally, rural film watching was always going to struggle to compete with living over Barbican Cinemas 2 and 3! I’m filling the gap satisfactorily with European box sets. It’s not so bad…

I realised as I was writing this that the lessons learned above are just a few of them. They may not even be the main ones. So I’ll think again and augment this list shortly….

Tetbury: On The Way To London

Last week, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I attended a social and shopping event at her place of work near Tetbury. It was nice to be invited (albeit, last minute), fun, and good to meet some of her work colleagues so as to put faces to names.

This week, LSW has shuffled her work hours to the start of the week so we can slip up to London for a couple of days. We’ll be staying in my previous Barbican flat while Eldest Son (ES) is away on a work trip to Helsinki.

I’m looking forward to that. I’m also looking forward to going to one of our favourite restaurants tonight (Campania), seeing old friends tomorrow, and then breakfasting at The Ned on Friday. Saving up our eating-out entertainments for these short bursts in London sounds good to me!

Meanwhile I have been dropped off in Tetbury while I wait for LSW to complete her final shift at work (and write this post) before we can leave for London.

View Of Tetbury From the South

Tetbury is a old wool market town. Today, it buzzes with antiques shops and (mainly) attractive, independent outlets. The main streets around the market house are lined with lovely aggregations of old houses and the town centre exudes a feeling of wealth.

Tetbury Church and Market House

The town is surrounded by pretty, rolling and well maintained countryside. However, there are some new and large housing developments on the edge of the town. They look well built and neat but are all faux Cotswold stone, small windows and packed in. Fortunately I found other vistas to enjoy with frosty ground below and clear blue sky above.

Walks Near Tetbury

Passing a few rather aimless hours in and around Tetbury has been very relaxing. Now on to London…

Getting Moving Again

The anti-climax since the trip to Australia via stops in Singapore and Hong Kong remains palpable. I miss the almost daily imperative of having to get from one location to another and to ‘tick off’ the sights. I just haven’t got fully back up to speed in getting to grips with the more mundane things in my retirement routine yet.

I am starting to get the to-do lists moving again but what has struck me in the last two weeks has been how fortunate I was to be able to retire in summer when the weather was much less of a constraint (and excuse) than it is becoming now. Also, a brief spell of illness last week reminded me of how lucky I have been to have been fit and well through the last 5-6 months.

In reality, I have no excuse not to get on with as much of my plans and to-dos as possible. I must, for example, restart my Italian for Absolute Beginners. I’m hoping I haven’t forgotten all I learnt in the first three units of the course!

I have been keeping up attendance at local music events. In the last week or so LSW and I have paid a couple more Sunday afternoon visits to a local bar (The Vault) which hosts a series of singers and small bands each week. We also made it to a venue we hadn’t tried before, the nearby Ruskin Mill College, and saw The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc. These are a triumvirate of fiddlers from The Shetlands, Sweden and Norway. They sustained a full evening of quality fiddling with a remarkable variety of styles and considerable talent. It was intimate, foot tapping and fun and I’ve signed up for more events of this type.

Ruskin Mill College - Nordic Fiddlers

Nordic Fiddlers Bloc Explaining Fiddles At Ruskin Mill College

Next week, LSW and I are in London for a couple of days. That should help shake me out of my relative torpor.

Managing the 1%

When Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were preparing for our recent holiday, and while we were on it, we relied hugely on the internet. We used it to guide us on which motel, apartment or AirBnB to rent, which restaurant to try, what sights to see and how to get to all these places. We were even able to continue our routine of doing the daily Guardian Quick Crossword together albeit this was on an iPhone in rooftop bars, coastal cafes or craft beer emporiums rather than with a pen and paper over a cuppa in our kitchen as per our previous norm. Like so many other parts of life, the internet has transformed holiday making.

View From the Great Ocean Road

Gratuitous Picture from the Great Ocean Road (Just Because the Trip was so Marvellous)

Google Maps made it so easy to plot our drive around Northern New South Wales and along the Great Coast Road but it was especially useful in getting us to places we were interested in in the cities we visited. Youngest Son (YS) showed us around most of Brisbane so Google Maps came into its own for us most in Melbourne.

It wasn’t all plain sailing however. For the first day or so there I found myself constantly questioning what Google Maps was telling LSW about which way to go. LSW was getting the direction consistently right using the internet and my Geography Degree sense of direction was getting increasingly frustrated. Finally, on the second day in Melbourne, I worked out that I was always wrong because I had forgotten that the sun was in the north not the south. Doh!

The other main challenge was managing the level of battery in our phones that we used to access the internet for all sorts of purposes during the day. My challenge was particularly acute – though self-inflicted – as I used my phone to keep my position in a couple of computer games up to date and tried to capture Asian-only Pokemon. LSW did allow me to use her remote charger but you can imagine that I got little sympathy. Either way, we both spent much of most days checking battery levels and wondering how long the last 1% would hold out.

I think we will transfer our holiday mode of operation to our next trip to London. Rather than rely on increasingly out of date memory, we will use the internet more to guide us to the best places for breakfast or the top 5 things to see now and so on. That may uncover some surprises even after 40 years of living there.

And I’m putting a remote phone charger on my Christmas present list!

Post-Holiday Lull

It’s been about ten days since LSW and I returned from our trip to Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong. The logistics of our holiday were such that we changed location 17 times in 27 days. There was almost always something significant planned for the next day – either a move to the next place or a bit of interesting tourism or both. The holiday flights and accommodation were pre-booked and so there was no option but to get on with it. Fortunately the plans all worked out perfectly (until the train returning us home from London was delayed – typical!) and the holiday turned out to be tremendously exciting and enjoyable.

Since our return, it has taken a while for me to get used to the lack of imperative to do anything. It has almost felt like retiring for a second time.

It was such a joy not to have had a mountain of work email and meetings to attend following the holiday. But the absence of any tasks, meetings or instructions set out for me on my return felt almost as strange as it had done when I first retired from work in July.

That is not to say that I haven’t done quite a lot since returning. I got back just in time to see Forest Green Rovers win and have seen them play twice more since. LSW and I have increased our understanding of our community by attending meetings on the local town’s climate change action plan and the local council’s housing strategic review. We have sampled the local pub’s Curry Night (very yummy) and I attended the village Men’s Night (and acquired my first hangover in months).

LSW and I also went to the newly opened The Marshall Rooms and saw an interesting and impressive band called Syd Arthur. The venue has a long history – apparently the Beatles played there in the 60s – but has required a complete refurbishment. It is part owned by Keith Allen who lives locally and is famous for his roles as Sheriff of Nottingham in the film of Robin Hood and in Game of Thrones. It’s great that he is investing his success back into the local community.

Syd Arthur at The Marshall rooms

Syd Arthur at The Marshall Rooms

Slowly, my routines are falling back into place as they were before our holiday. The daily walks into Nailsworth are autumnal now of course, but still very pleasant. The availability and digestion of the Guardian in hard copy and completion of the Quick Crossword with LSW has resumed its place in my day.

Above Nailsworth

Layer of Wood Smoke Over Nailsworth

Also, Christmas is coming. That will bring a new diversion and dimension as our sons return to us. I’m looking forward to that but also think that LSW and I will have to start planning another trip soon!

And Finally…..Hong Kong

The last part of our holiday, and what, in many ways, turned out to be its climax, was a stop-over in Hong Kong. The geography of Hong Kong with its bay and surrounding islands is breath-taking. The variety of environment in such a small area was surprising. The markets and the neon streets were every bit as exotic as I expected. The weather was hazy but very comfortably warm. We simply had a great time.

Hong Kong From The Peak

Hong Kong From The Peak

Our first day was dominated by a visit to the botanical gardens and then a trip on the funicular to The Peak. From there we could grasp the overall layout of the city. We had our first trip on the Star Ferry across the bay (costing all of 50p for a return crossing) and visited the markets of Kowloon.

Hong Kong Bay

View From The Star Ferry – Day

Hong Kong Bay

View From The Star Ferry – Night

Our sense of smell was assaulted by the food markets. Our Western sensibilities were challenged by the goldfish market where thousands of gorgeous tropical fish hung in little plastic bags and the aquariums were full with more fish than water. The piles of sometimes inexplicable stuff for sale in the acres of the ‘Ladies Market’ and ‘Night Market’ were incredible. Neon was everywhere; it screened the scruffy buildings above the street level activity and added to the feeling of frenzy. The markets stoked up our every sense.

The second day was calmer as we travelled out to one of the islands and a 6 kilometre cable car ride over forest covered mountains to The Big Budda. The views were again wonderful and the Budda was certainly big.

We travelled back by ferry via a small fishing village and again experienced amazing food shops and their pungent smells (especially the drying fish swim bladders).

Tai O

Tai O – A Fishing Village

Our final morning was spent on the top of trams criss-crossing Hong Kong Island. A brave lunch in a cavernous restaurant filled with a couple of hundred Chinese diners followed. The Chinese are a much more reserved – almost stern – people relative to Australians (who were incredibly friendly). However, we were so thankful that our struggles with the multiple choice tick-box ordering system were resolved by the proactivity of a very helpful fellow customer. Lunch was not only tasty but a great experience of humanity in a foreign country.

We left Hong Kong after a final Star Ferry return trip in very good spirits. For the first time in my memory I had no feeling of dread of work email hell as a holiday drew to a close. Nothing bad had happened in over three weeks of holiday (therefore meeting my base level of contentment). Indeed, every day had held lovely surprises and the promise of something great next.

Home being next also felt fine.

Melbourne’s 3 Bs: Breakfast, Beer and Botanics

At time of writing this, LSW and I are enjoying our last day of our holiday in Hong Kong. It feels remarkable that just three days ago, we were in the midst of a very different culture in Melbourne. We had two periods there either side of our Great Ocean Road trip and (although Hong Kong tops it – more about which another time) we loved Melbourne.

There were a number of highlights including the surprise pleasure of the faded holiday resort area of St Kilda on the bay to the south of the city. It was a little like how I remember Clacton-on-Sea but with an uncluttered pier and penguins (well, we saw one anyway).

Views of St Kilda (Bay, Fun Park and Quirky Shops)

 

The relatively residential areas of Collingwood and Fitzroy where we stayed during our second visit were also charming. Their Victorian terraces with their wrought iron trellises and balconies were particularly alluring, especially when modern, designer extensions to their rears were visible.

Views of Collingwood and Fitzroy

 

But my prime memories of Melbourne are of the outstanding Botanical Gardens, the unexpectedly good craft beers (and numerous rooftop bars to drink them in) and, most of all, the wonderful breakfasts. Cafe Rustica produced my favourites in both the ‘best hot’ and ‘prettiest’ breakfast categories.

The ‘Prettiest Breakfast’ of the Holiday

 

We spent much of each day planning breakfast and drinking holes and talking in glowing terms about the resulting pleasures in execution. Some of this will be reproducible, at least in part, when we get home, but these three Bs – botanics, beer and breakfasts – will live long in my memories of Melbourne.

Melbourne Botanical Gardens and City From Shrine of Remembrance

Rooftop View From Naked For Satan Bar

The Snake

We made a couple of trips inland from The Great Ocean Road to the west of Melbourne.

From the end of The Great Ocean Road at the attractive and attractively named town of Port Fairy, we travelled back to Melbourne inland via Ballarat, Daylesford and Trentham.

Ballarat is an example of a gold rush town that has seen better days but is now fighting back. Daylesford was a disappointment and with hindsight we spent too long there – probably our first tactical error. Trentham was lovely with great shops, restaurants and walks. One of these provided my first sighting of kangaroos.

Typical Buildings in Ballerat, Daylesford and Trentham

 

Trentham Falls and Kangaroos Near Trentham

There is interesting plant and wildlife, especially unfamiliar and often noisy birds, almost everywhere we have been in Australia. Our trips inland to a couple of waterfalls were particularly remarkable in this respect.

One was located along a long single lane track cut through old eucalyptus forest. The trunks soared on either side like an incredble cathedral nave with tree ferns carpeting the forest floor. In a clearing we had our first wallaby sighting.

Hopetoun Falls and My First Wallaby

 

The other waterfall visit required a steep walk. During this, a brown, lengthy and impressively mean-looking snake crossed the steps a couple of feet away from me. Fortunately, my reflexive step back sent me tumbling into the bank and not down the precipice on the other side of the path!  The snake stayed firmly in my mind for a few days afterwards – especially after I was told it’s the brown ones that are dangerous.

Melbourne is safer!