Into 2023 and Clevedon

So, we are into 2023 and armed with our New Year resolutions, good intentions and hope that we can look forward to a good year for experiences and memories. 

Memories Of A Cold Mid-December 2022

So far, the remnants of a chesty cough picked up in mid-December and then a back problem triggered by coughing while in an awkward position have dampened my spirits a little.  But all ailments are easing and, anyway, I have positivity in reserve following a momentous 2022 during which all our sons bought flats or houses, and then a great Christmas period with all of those sons, their partners and, of course, First Grandchild.  We had a great time.

Going into 2023, I have renewed my vows meet my monthly and annual targets for my weight, my alcohol intake and continuing exercise through walking.  Last year was a big ‘tick’ on those and I hope I can sustain that discipline in 2023.

An additional resolution is that my wife* and I intend to be more spontaneous about travel around the United Kingdom.  This is a resolution that we made together a few years ago but failed to follow through for long, mainly due to the COVID lockdowns.  Now, we plan to use our bigger car battery and judicious use of weather forecasts to slip off to places for day trips or overnight stays in sunny places we know and don’t know.

Already, we have visited Clevedon.  This is a seaside town in North Somerset – no more than 40 miles from where we live but never visited by us before.  It was an eye-opening day.

The first thing that struck me was the number and large size of so many of the Victorian houses.  The town had clearly prospered during Victorian times as a seaside resort and presumably had benefited from money flowing from Bristol in the aftermath of the slavery trade.  Clevedon is now a dormitory town for Bristol and most of the huge houses are converted into flats.  However, the sheer number of well proportioned, well built and well maintained Victorian residences was a surprise.

Clevedon Beach And Pier
Pretty Much As Close As We Could Get To The Pier – Too Windy!

We walked down to the sea front where the wind was blasting spray up over the sea wall.  We moved quickly past the pier – one of the earliest surviving Victorian piers in the country – up onto the adjoining cliff path and its views of the town and its rocky and pebbly beach.  We walked along the coastal path – slightly gingerly in my case due to the unsteadiness of my back – and loved the unexpectedly clear views up and down the coast and across to Wales. 

Looking South West Along Clevedon Beach

Below us on the way was a brown churning sea; the drama and noise of the waves crashing onto Clevedon’s low cliffs was reminiscent of coastal walks in Devon or Cornwall and got us thinking that trips out in the future might see us venturing a little further west along the coast to even more dramatic coastlines. 

Coastal Walk North East Of Clevedon

We turned inland across fields and through the nicely named, and occasionally pretty, village of Walton in Gordano and then back to Clevedon’s Victorian streets.  There we tucked into a pleasant pizza lunch at Scoozi Ristorante and then headed back home while it was still light, having had a very worthwhile day out.  More to come!

St Paul’s Church, Walton in Gordano

Three Property Purchases and a Funeral

Last month we went to a funeral for a very popular, lovely, family man almost 10 years younger than me.  He had died suddenly leaving his family and friends shocked and bereft.  It was an absolutely packed and emotional church service – he was a terrific guy who was enormously popular – followed by an equally packed reception.  The whole occasion was very moving and I have thought about it a lot since. 

Avening, Church Of The Holy Cross

Of course, the overriding feeling during the service and afterwards was sadness that it represented a life cut short, especially as he was so full of life, he had looked so well and was so obviously a vital part of his family, the organisation he worked for and his local community.   However, the speeches and readings at the funeral were largely an uplifting celebration of his life.  There were many amusing anecdotes and also a lovely poem by David Harkins that provided a positive slant on death that gave a little boost even in such a sad situation.

You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Into this mix of shock, sadness and a celebration of a life well lived, was a feeling of being the recipient of good fortune in that I am still here and reasonably healthy.  I have seen three sons settle with three delightful partners and seen Eldest Son produce a wonderful child with his wife.  And, this year, I’ve seen all three sons purchase homes with their partners that are each very different but which seem very well suited to each pair; a flat in Edinburgh, a terrace house in Bristol and a semi-detached house in Belfast.

Old age may bring aches, pains and worse but it is a privilege to have had longevity to be able to see our sons grow and establish themselves in the world, to be happy and to establish a platform into which they could introduce new life.  As I stood in the crowded church at the funeral, I thought: lucky me.

Late Afternoon Walk With Middle Son And His Partner Near Their New Home In Bristol

Even as Christmas approaches and we look forward to hosting our sons and their partners at various times over the Christmas period, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are starting to think about making the most of our time with a few trips next year.  First, we want to get to Belfast to see Youngest Son’s new house but we will be trying to visit Edinburgh too and, I hope, spending smaller but more numerous fragments of time in nearby Bristol.  Plus, after a few years of abstinence, we want to travel abroad again.

Meanwhile, I continue to potter through my local routine of walking, shopping, cooking, and working a bit for the local Climate Action Network and Food Bank.  In recent cold, clear weather, the local walks have been a real treat.

Plus, of course, I have been watching a lot of football at the World Cup.  Qatar may have been a crazy choice for a number of reasons but the overall quality of the football has been great.  For all the concern about the Qatari views on LGBTQ rights and workers rights, it has been a pleasant change to see the joyous, ebullient crowds in the stadia in contrast to the thuggery and tears at Wembley at the Euros a couple of years ago.

My normal routine was also interrupted but enhanced by a trip to Lewes in Sussex.  I tagged along with LSW who wanted to visit a specific shop called Freight there.  It was a long way to travel for a shop but it was very much LSWs thing and Lewes is a very attractive town. 

Harvey’s brewery is based in the town and the smell of hops was delightful as we walked down the high street.  It is a smell that reminds me of my home town of Reading which was the home of Courage breweries in my youth.  I love it. 

After a very good value and pleasant lunch at Bill’s, LSW and I split up for a bit.  While LSW surveyed the shops, I wandered around the town’s castle and gardens.  The gardens are a bit bleak at this time of year but the weather was fine and the views from the visitor-friendly castle were pretty impressive in all directions. 

Views Of And Views From Lewes Castle

Since getting back home, the weather has been very cold and then surprisingly snowy.  We had about seven inches of snow and it stuck around for almost a week.  My Yaktrax Ice Grips allowed me to continue my normal round of walks to and from the local towns and the frost and snow made the local countryside en route even prettier than usual.  A week of such weather is, though, enough in my book; I am looking forward to temperatures rising a little bit before Christmas.

And so on to Christmas!  Hopefully our sons and their partners will be able to avoid the issues caused by strikes and weather to make it down to us from their various new abodes.  Then we can feel so lucky all over again…..

A Cold And Not-So-Lucky Grey Heron In Ruskin Mill Valley

Onwards to Dundee and Edinburgh

Having stayed a couple of nights at the small, tasteful and quirky Taybank hotel, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I moved on and stayed for further couple of nights in Dundee at a large, modern Premier Inn.  This was right on the Tay estuary, over which we had a great but very windswept view. 

The Tay Bridge At Dundee

It was also conveniently close to the new V&A Design Museum outpost in Dundee.  This is a wonderful building, designed by Kengo Kuma.  The museum provides a video explanation by Kuma of why the museum looks like it does and that made it even more interesting for me.

Dundee’s V&A

The weather was intermittently very wet (dreich is the appropriate Scottish word I believe), so we went to the dry comfort of the V&A twice.  We took in not only the standing exhibitions, but also the temporary ones including a very comprehensive and wide ranging one about Plastic: ‘The Remaking of Our World’.  Fortunately that was every bit as interesting as the big exhibitions I have seen in recent years in the V&A London.  It’s great that Dundee has such an impressive centrepiece.

The V&A And RRS Discovery And Some Sun!
V&A Dundee: Part Of The Plastics Exhibition

While in Dundee, LSW did start to eat again following the illness she had picked up from First Grandchild (FG) the previous weekend.  However, she quickly regretted it and, with the rain still persistent, our movements were limited.  Then, for a while, the weather relented and we did make it to the McManus Art Gallery and Museum.  This is a lovely looking building exhibiting proudly the seafaring and industrial history of Dundee, its art and its most famous people.  Then,, as the weather closed in again, we visited the Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) centre. 

The McManus Galleries, Dundee (And More Sun!)

At the DCA we saw an exhibition by Manuel Solano.  He became blind after contracting AIDS and, incredibly, the exhibition contained just work that he had produced since losing his sight.  Another interesting hour was passed out of the showers. 

Manuel Solano In The Big Spaces Of The Dundee Contemporary Art Gallery

While at the DCA we also saw Living, a new and very moving film starring Bill Nighy.  He is perfect for the lead role and is supported by excellent acting all-round in a really lovely film.  We both enjoyed it hugely. 

It was great to have visited Dundee and to see a different Scottish city.  The weather changed our plans of what to do there and the rain reinforced our impression that the car was king along the city’s coastline since we seemed to spend a lot of time getting wet waiting for the little green man lights and for the traffic to allow us to cross.  But, given the tricky weather blowing in from the East, and given that LSW wasn’t fully operational, we did a lot of good things in Dundee. 

View From Our Dundee Premier Inn Room (When It Wasn’t Sunny!)

On our way back to Edinburgh via the coastal road around East Fife we had to take a couple of diversions to avoid flooding.  We spotted the huge waves off the coast as we passed the famous golf course and lovely buildings of St Andrews and decided to stop at the fishing village of Crail on the easternmost coast of Fife to take a closer look.  We parked and walked down pretty, narrow lanes to the harbour.  As I rounded a corner to get a closer look at the breakers and take a souvenir picture, I was astounded to be instantaneously splattered by sea spray even though the sea was 40-50 yards away.  It really was startling weather.

Crail Harbour

We drove on along the coast and stopped at a recommended coffee house in St Monans (The Giddy Gannet) where LSW managed half a scone.  Then we pressed on and had lunch at The Ship Inn right on the coast in Elie where LSW watched me eat a tasty plate of fish and chips with all the trimmings.   Then, with one of us rather more stuffed than the other, we set off for a final 36 hours or so in Edinburgh.

Back In Edinburgh: The Royal Mile

Remarkably given the pressures and events of the last few days, Eldest Son (ES) and his wife were entertaining again (with help from her Mum), this time to celebrate her Dad’s birthday.  It was a lovely evening with, as usual, lovely food and a chance to meet one of ES’s new uncles-in-law and his wife.  Gradually LSW and I are getting to know our newly extended family.

To round off a momentous and lovely week in Scotland, (lovely despite what viruses and the weather occasionally threw at us), we had a few hours with FG including a visit to the National Museum of Scotland.  We had taken him there earlier in the year and he loved it again even though he was still recovering from his illness.  I previously vowed to take him to this wonderful museum whenever possible when in Edinburgh and that vow stands; it is so exciting for him and, as he grows up, I think it will retain his interest (no pressure FG!)

Dunkeld: Dreich But Alluring

After celebrating First Grandchild’s (FG’s) first birthday in Edinburgh, we headed north to Dunkeld, ‘The Gateway to the Highlands’, on the southern edge of the Scottish Highlands and on the River Tay.  

The Tay at Dunkeld (From The Bridge)

We arrived in time to take stock of the village and to stroll past the partly ruined Dunkeld Cathedral (now serving as a Parish Church) to a riverside walk along the Tay. 

Dunkeld Cathedral

We learnt a little of the history of the village – it was almost completely destroyed in 1689 during and after the battle of Dunkeld between the forces of William of Orange and the Jacobites supporting James VII of Scotland (who lost this one) – and started to plan the following full day in it.

Old Entrance To Dunkeld House (Which Was Where The Grass Behind Now Is)

As twilight drew in, we retreated to the bar of The Taybank hotel where we were staying.  Our room was tasteful and very comfortable but notably low-tech (no TV).  The bar wasn’t as cosy as it looked but dinner in the restaurant was outstanding.  We retired to bed very satisfied with the previous few days of wedding and birthday celebrations and the comfort of our new surroundings.

Tastefulness At The Taybank Hotel

All that rather fell apart next morning.  LSW was ill having clearly picked up whatever bug had been bothering FG the previous weekend.  With the rain tipping down outside I stayed in the room offering a few words of sympathy – probably not enough – and devouring both of our breakfasts that had been delivered to our door.  Those breakfasts were, like the dinner the previous evening, excellent.

With no sign of LSW’s recovery, I set about finding a local electric car charging point and getting us up to full battery capacity again.  The only charger in the village was in use with no sign of the driver.  While waiting, I sloshed through the rain down to the Tay.  I must have looked a sad sight with my umbrella substituting for a lack of properly waterproof clothing and I’m sure the few locals I met giggled under their breath about daft English tourists.  However, I was strangely content in what felt like a truly Scottish landscape in dripping, autumnal Scottish weather.  I then read my newspaper in its entirety in our drenched and steamed up car for a while before, and then after, finally getting use of the charge point.  Job done (eventually)!

Moodiness Along The River Tay

LSWs lunch was Paracetamol and by the evening I was thinking that I might need some too for an increasingly persistent headache and back pain.  It turned out later that many attendees at the previous weekend’s wedding had fallen down with a variety of illness symptoms. Stomach upset, sickness, headaches and back pain in a variety of combinations were tell-tale signs that we had got too close to FG.  As my symptoms passed I felt even sorrier for FG who had probably had all the symptoms but had not understood why and had been unable to do much about it.

I managed another wet stroll through the gloaming both around the village and a little further along the Tay.  I was astonished by the speed of the river and impressed by the moodiness of the light and the woodland alongside the river.  The area is famous for the age and size of a number of its trees including larch, pines and beech and the history of many is set out informatively and proudly.  I am looking forward to visiting again in better weather (when we are both in good health) so we can sample more of the numerous local walks and take in more of the alluring but vaguely melancholy atmosphere.

Dunkeld Bridge Over The River Tay

On our last morning in Dunkeld I again hoovered up both breakfasts.  LSW couldn’t eat a thing but, by now, was well enough to venture out to sample several of the local, independent shops.  Lon Store was particularly good.  Then we then set off in the almost relentless rain for Dundee to see another part of a very wet Scotland.

The River Tay In The Gloaming

A Wedding and a Birthday

Amid much happiness, our Eldest Son (ES) and his partner were married a couple of weekends ago.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I had a lovely time in Edinburgh celebrating this huge event with them.  What made it extra special for us was that ES and his (now) wife pared down the events of the weekend to a very intimate affair.  Everyone who took part was someone very close to the marrying couple.  That meant that every conversation with everyone in attendance felt meaningful.

The Happy Threesome!

The Registry Office was a grand building with pleasantly decorated rooms and an overseer of the process who achieved the right balance of formality and relaxed bonhomie.  First Grandchild (FG), was rather unwell but nonetheless, was well behaved, wasn’t sick on anyone’s dress and loved playing with the room’s long curtains.  ES looked smart and the bride looked stunning.  As they shared their home-made vows, my tears welled up; their personalisation of the exchange was really moving.

A Touch Of Unseasonable Hayfever?

Later in the afternoon and well into the evening, a wedding reception was held at the married couple’s new flat.  The flat looked great and was just the right size for a party of about 30 enthusiastic relatives and friends.  A few of the latter were fellow new parents who brought contemporaries of FG which added to the lovely, informal conviviality.  Everyone was very happy.

Lovely Wedding Reception Table Layout In The Married Couple’s Flat

The mantelpieces and tables had been beautifully decorated and set out by ES’s new parents in law.   The caterers knew what they were doing (they had been under close instruction from ES’s wife), the food was excellent, and the drinks and conversation flowed.  FG was excited by the hubbub and rallied at the important moments to be giggling sweetness itself, despite his illness.  The speeches were short and heartfelt and the intimacy of the event shone throughout.  We loved it – not only the fact that ES was now married, but that he and his new wife (especially!) had organised what seemed to be an ideal way of doing it.

First Grandchild (FG) Checking The Wedding Presents

On the following day, we refreshed with a sunny morning walk around the Royal Botanic Garden and then met up with a very small number of close relatives for a wonderful lunch at Timberyard.  LSW and I had been there once before and had been very impressed by the food, decor and ambience.  We were very impressed again.  It was the centrepiece to another lovely day.

Walking In Sunny Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh With Youngest And Middle Sons And Their Partners

My Dad and sister went back to rest at their hotel.  It had been marvellous that they had been able to come and they had made the most of their visit to Edinburgh by taking in a couple of art exhibitions as well as the wedding events.  Meanwhile, LSW and I retreated to the Air BnB that we had rented for ourselves, our Middle and Youngest Son and their partners.  There, we allowed our emotions to settle quietly in front of a second rate romantic comedy and assorted crisps.  What a couple of days!

And then the fun went on!  The Monday following the wedding was FG’s first birthday.  Unfortunately FG was still unwell and relatively subdued but he enjoyed early use of some of the presents and a trip to one of the local playgrounds.  Unlike him, we will remember his first birthday for ever.

Wedding Cake Cleverly Converting To Birthday Cake (FG Loves Penguins!)

We left Edinburgh late that afternoon leaving ES and wife to ponder how to manage FG’s illness while both are holding down a job working from home on the back of little sleep.  At that point we assumed that the conundrum they faced would be only for a day or two – it turned out to be another week.  Oh, the joys of parenthood!

Meanwhile, LSW and I set off for Dunkeld on the River Tay, on the southern edge of the Highlands for rather more rest and relaxation than the newly married couple were going to get.

Sun Setting On Edinburgh

Task Oriented Autumn

A few posts ago I mentioned that I had started going to a Mental Fitness For Men group under the auspices of Talk Club.  Our local pub landlord has arranged weekly Talk Club sessions and I have made it to most of them since they started a few months ago.  The sessions are of fixed format but the people who turn up each week vary so there is always something new to listen to as well as, usually, something new to say. 

I’ve found the meetings useful in that they help me frame what I am grateful for and what I’m going to do in the next week to make things feel better for myself.  However, I do often feel daunted by the lucidity with which most others in the weekly groups talk about the way they feel.  In comparison I tend to fall back into talking about things I have done and things I’m going to do.  I have explained to the group (and myself) that I tend to feel happiest when I am ticking off tasks on my to-do list but I suspect that I need to get deeper into how I feel about life rather than describing tasks.

Having said that, I have felt a certain contentment that, by and large, I have done what I said I would do over the last few weeks.  The tasks have varied from raking up the scythed and strimmed grass in the meadow (into piles I don’t quite know what to do with), to harvesting the last summer crops and gathering seed for next year, to production of a string of documents I promised for the local Climate Action Network group that I belong to. 

Not Quite A Crown Prince Squash. Grown From Gathered 2021 Seed And Reverted From F1 Hybrid – Tasty Though!

Today, post-Foodbank duties, I am even finally managing to get around to making crab apple jelly which is a task that has been on my to-do list for a few weeks.  Overall, October and early November has been a good month for tiny achievements amongst my retirement routine!

Making Crab Apple Jelly – Tree -> Apples -> Straining -> Jelly! (First Of Two Batches)

There have been a few other high points recently.  Middle Son (MS) and his partner have moved from London to Bristol – just 45 minutes away.  That means that we will see them more often.  For example, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were delighted when they popped over for an impromptu dinner a couple of Fridays ago.  It was lovely to have a normalised drop-in-type arrangement with one of our sons rather than have to think about days packing, travelling and staying away from home. 

Not that those sorts of visits are not welcome.  We are off to Edinburgh again later this week and can’t wait to see First Grandchild (FG) again (and his parents!) for the first time in over two months.  It’s going to be a special visit this time to celebrate not only FG’s first birthday, but also Eldest Son (ES) and his partner’s marriage.  I’m so glad they have chosen a relatively low key way of getting married and celebrating that with a few close relatives.  However, the event is momentous nonetheless and it will be lovely to have all our boys, their partners, my Dad and my sister all together with FG in one place at the same time. 

We have also had some old friends come to visit us for a weekend.  We have been rather poor at inviting people over for almost anything since the Covid pandemic; we seem to have just got out of that pattern of being.  But it was great to see these long standing and close friends again.  We had an active but relaxed time with them that culminated in a delightful walk in the Slad Valley and then an excellent lunch at The Woolpack (of Laurie Lee fame).

The Slad Valley Near Stroud Between Autumn Showers

Much of the rest of the time in the last few weeks has been more routine.  However, I helped to advertise a talk that our village Climate Action Network group arranged with the Parish Council on rewilding and the impact of climate change on our local trees.  The theme of this talk, and a continuing series we have planned for next year, is ‘hope’.  This is to counteract the inevitable descent into gloom if we consider and talk too much about the climate and biodiversity emergencies alongside other current preoccupations such as the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

The first talk in the ‘Hope Talks’ series was almost wildly successful.  We have a hard act to follow as we go into next year.  The talks themselves bring the village together and just the fact they happen adds to the resilience of the community and its cohesiveness.  I edit a quarterly newsletter (another task done this week!) and submit articles to the monthly village magazine but these ‘Hope Talks’ hold out greater promise for conveying useful information while being a great relationship building mechanism.

Our Learned ‘Hope Talk’ Speaker – Local Resident, Dr David Bullock (With Props)

Of course, other continuing elements of my recent retirement routine have been steadfast support of local football teams (Forest Green Rovers but also Shortwood United and Horsley United) and more of the Autumnal walks I talked about in my last post. 

Local Team Shortwood United In The Process Of Winning 5-0

The Autumn weather has been so mild and, until recently, so dry that the walks have been particularly pleasant.  The colours in the trees have been changing quite variably from species to species.  That has meant that while the reds and yellows have perhaps not been as spectacular as in some past years, the blending of different colours across the valley slopes has been very attractive.

Local Walk Lined With Lime And Hazel Trees

I plan to keep up the local walks even as the winter weather closes in.  However, I do also plan to reduce the number of discretionary, extraneous things I commit to in the next few months.  At least that way I may be able to think more about abstract feelings rather than worrying about the state of my to-do list and the rate of knocking items off it.  I may even resort to that old trick of adding things to the to-do list that I have already done…..

Lovely Valley, Lovely Weather, Long Shadows

Active Autumn

As I walked through woodland this morning amid a cascade of falling leaves, it was clear that Autumn is very much here again.  September has been a time for harvest but also the last throes of summer-style travel and partying.  I now see October as a time for buckling down for some rather delayed home-based administration and task tidy up before our next trip to Edinburgh in November and then the excitement of Christmas.

Autumn Colour (In This Case, The Incongrouously Named Black Bryony)

September was certainly busy and was capped last weekend by a long-delayed visit to us by my Dad and my sister.  That was quietly relaxing and allowed my Dad to catch up with developments in our house since his last, pre-Covid visit, and meet up with a few other local relatives.  It also allowed us to jointly celebrate Middle Son (MS) and his partner moving into their newly-purchased, pretty, terraced house in Bristol.  A few days ago, that hard-won purchase suddenly seemed in jeopardy as the Government made a big misstep that caused interest rates to surge and mortgage deals to be pulled from the market.  Our very happy afternoon with MS and his partner was blessed by Virgin Money’s forbearance and lovely sunshine.

Earlier in the month, not only did I manage to visit London and Edinburgh, but I also attended Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) college reunion with a bunch of her fellow physiotherapy students 40 years on from their graduation in Leeds.

The reunion was held in Buxton which I had not visited for decades.  We stayed in a very comfortable and central hotel (The Buxton Crescent Hotel) which produced substantial breakfasts and very good evening meals for the group.  The whole event over a long weekend was an enjoyable mix of free time, a long walk across the local Peak District, and organised eating, drinking and socialising both in the hotel and in nearby bars and restaurants.  There were a few other (non-physio) partners of LSW’s fellow graduates in attendance so I didn’t feel too out of place.  There was a wide variety of personalities, and everyone was interesting in some way.  It was a nice thing to do and LSW really enjoyed the mass catch-up.

On The Three Shires Walk Near Buxton (Starting In Mist At The Cat And Fiddle Pub, Finishing In A Bit Of Sun)

Buxton itself is a lovely spa town with many impressive Georgian and Victorian limestone buildings – like a smaller version of Bath, which we know well, and similar to Harrogate which we visited on the way to Edinburgh last year.  The evening/night life was surprisingly lively and well catered for by a large number of busy and interesting craft beer bars.  We sampled a couple of those with and without the reunion entourage.

A Variety Of Attractive Buildings In Buxton

On our ‘free day’, LSW and I went off for a fairly long but pleasant drive to Hardwick Hall.  It’s an impressive late-Tudor building surrounded by attractive gardens that I recall – as I do Buxton – from holidays with my parents very many years ago.  The weather was kind, the afternoon was lovely and it was great to get value from the life National Trust Membership that my parents bought us so generously when, I think, we got married.

Inside Hardwick Hall

Back in our home village, my schedule has been peppered by the normal smattering of walks, gardening, short shifts at the local Food Bank, my team’s football matches and Men’s Mental Fitness nights (which have helped salve the depression cause by the poor football results!). 

A Local Walk Under A Luminous Autumn Sky

LSW and I also went to a film showing – ‘Drawn to War’, a film about the life and work of the painter and Second World War artist Eric Ravilious.  It was our first cinema outing together of the year and was very enjoyable due both to the content of the film and the novelty of the evening outing.

However, the recent Autumn highlight in the village was a substantial, superbly organised and hugely entertaining 50th birthday party of a friend of ours.  The invitees were a mix of her relatives, long standing friends and more recently acquired friends from the village like ourselves.  The entertainment was a combination of a bar, a wonderful buffet, an open sided marquee with a dance floor, a DJ, a couple of fire eaters (believe it or not – see below!) and varied, if increasingly inebriated, conversation.  I’ve not danced so much for a decade and LSW and I both had great fun.

Local Fire Eating!

September has also been a time when I have reaped a harvest of onions and potatoes.  Both have been surprisingly productive given the lack of rain during much of the summer.  That shortage of rain hampered bean germination but judicious watering has saved some of the squash and chard. 

A Fraction Of This Year’s Garden Produce

Also, the dry, hot summer enabled me to grow a lot of tomatoes in an open vegetable plot for the first time since I left my allotment in London 25 years ago.  Inevitably perhaps, most of the tomatoes are very green but, with our climate inexorably warming, I will try tomato growing again next year.

Finally, as I have in previous years, I find I have to comment on the late summer/early autumn flowering of our remaining two dahlia plants.  I have simply never enjoyed cutting flowers and then displaying them in our kitchen/diner so much as I have these Café Au Lait dahlias.  Their blooms are large, subtly coloured and, once they start, simply go on and on until the first frost.  Now we are in October, those frosts will come soon enough but, for now, these dahlias continue to be a splendid echo of summer and a thoroughly rewarding aspect of Autumn.

Cornelia Parker At Tate Britain

I had only vaguely heard of Cornelia Parker before my brief trip to London last week (primarily to see my dentist and my football team).  Long-Suffering Wife informed me that this artist had done a work involving an exploding shed and I did vaguely recall that.  It was enough to encourage me to book a visit to her current exhibition at Tate Britain and, yes, the exploding shed (called ‘Cold Dark Matter: A Exploded View’) is indeed on show as part of a career-to-date retrospective.

Cornelia Parker’s ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’

My visit didn’t start particularly well.  After a now familiar, but nonetheless lovely, breakfast of kedgeree at Ozone, I strolled to Tate Modern.  Once inside, I floundered around like an idiot for a few minutes before realising that the Cornelia Parker exhibition was at Tate Britain not Tate Modern.  The upside of this rookie error was that, to even get close to my ticket booking time, I had to travel by Uber-boat down the Thames to get to the right side of town.  It was a very pleasant ride on an almost deserted ferry.

Views Of Tate Modern And The Houses Of Parliament From The Thames Uber Boat

The Cornelia Parker was at the back of the Tate Britain building and the route to it took me past an enormous display by Hew Locke called The Procession.  I was late and in a hurry but as I walked past I could see that the installation was full of a sense of carnival but also images of slavery, colonialism and imperialism.  It was certainly an impressive and very colourful use of the main, central space in the gallery and I spent a little more time viewing it on my way back from the Parker exhibition.

Views of Hew Locke’s ‘The Procession’ At Tate Britain

The Cornelia Parker retrospective was a bit of a surprise even though I only had hazy ideas of what to expect.  It was posed those perennial questions about ‘what is art?’ through display of part-manufactured goods, used products and repurposed objects.  It was an exhibition revealing process as well as end result.

For example, she worked with a police force to obtain a shot gun that they had destroyed by cutting it up.  The several parts had been placed alongside a strip of rust grains from another rusted and destroyed gun in a way that implied blood caused by firearms.  Violence was implied by a number of other objects such as the steel template of a gun from the earliest stage of gun manufacture.

Other works included piles of black lacquer cut from discs to produce vinyl records (‘Negatives of Sound’) and piles of silver left over from engravings (‘Negative of Words’).  Another weirdly attractive set of works were cloths stained from rubbing silver spoons belonging to famous/infamous persons such as Davy Crockett and Guy Fawkes (see below).

In one room there were a series of suspended pools of crushed silver objects apparently collected from flea markets and then collectively flattened by a steamroller (‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’).  Another similar exhibit was of flattened brass instruments hung in a circle like a huge silver mobile (‘Perpetual Canon’). 

‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’ By Cornelia Parker At Tate Britain
‘Perpetual Canon’ By Cornelia Parker At Tate Britain

‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ was the centrepiece of the exhibition and was an arresting sight.  As the accompanying blurb pointed out, it both looked like a moment of explosion but also, as one stood back, felt like an implosion; like a moment in one of those films of something exploding put into reverse. 

Close Ups ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploding View’

It was great that the exhibition wasn’t crowded and I spent quite a while peering into the exploded shed at the diverse and disintegrated contents.  The explosion, when organised by Parker with the Army School of Ammunition and a chunk of Semtex, had clearly followed some degree of cramming of the shed with strange objects from toys to clothing and from tools to cable.  As with some other works on show, the shadows were as impactful as the substance.  Nicely done!

On my way home I stopped in opportunistically at the White Cube Gallery in Masons Yard which I had not visited before.  This gallery is smaller in scale than its bigger brother White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey but follows a similar pattern with very large, starkly pure white rooms. 

Leon Wuidar at The White Cube, Mason’s Yard, London

On the walls were numerous works by a Belgian artist called Léon Wuidar.  The works had a pleasant simplicity and some had very warm, comforting colours.  It was a more straightforward art experience than that Cornelia Parker and the Tate had provided earlier in the day but I’m glad I popped in to see it.

Graffiti Mural (By Morganico, Apparently) Near Mason’s Yard. I Love How This Stuff Pops Up In London

Seeing Football, Missing Football

To Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) occasional frustration, I have been careful up to now to ensure that our trips to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild and his parents haven’t clashed with home fixtures for my football club, Forest Green Rovers (FGR).  I have a season ticket and, quite apart from my desire (obsession?) to see my team play whenever I reasonably can, I’m the sort of person that wants to get full value from my season ticket investment. 

However, I am not going to be able to keep this up since First Grandchild (FG) has a birthday around a weekend when FGR are playing at home.  Even football doesn’t take precedence over celebrating the end of his first year with us. 

My Grey Hair And FG’s Ginger Hair

That birthday is in November but I am already going to miss another home game later this week when I am accompanying LSW to her long-weekend college reunion in Buxton, Derbyshire.  I regret missing the game but, in truth, it is going to be nice to get away for a change of scene again given that we haven’t had a proper holiday this year.

In any case, I have just been able to engineer seeing an away game at Charlton in London during a trip ostensibly to attend my annual dental check-up and to fix a recently broken tooth.  So, I have managed to keep up my support in person at a good number of FGR’s games so far this season. 

Unfortunately, following promotion as Champions from English Football League 2 last May, this season in a higher league is a struggle.  The scale of the clubs we are playing, the impressiveness of their stadiums and the quality of the football is all much greater than in the past.  As a result, positive results have, so far, been hard to come by.

A Minutes Silence For The Queen at Charlton Athletic

So, it was great that I was able to see us wobble through to secure a draw and a well-earned point at Charlton Athletic – one of the ‘big’ teams who were once in the English Premier League but who now have to cope with us in English Football League 1 (EFL1).  Even better, I was able to meet up with a great Australian friend of Youngest Son (and devoted supporter of FGR) at the game and catch up, and sing along, with him.  Based on the performance in our last two games, I remain hopeful that we can consolidate our position in EFL1.

Edinburgh’s Inverleith Park: Picnic Panorama

More on my brief London trip another time…..  Earlier, our August trip to Edinburgh was, as usual, lovely. It was, of course, great to see how much First Grandchild had developed since the last time we have seen him some 6 weeks or so previously.  It was nice too to see how Eldest Son (ES) and his partner have settled into their new flat (including a newly decorated kitchen) and have got FGs sleeping at night more under control.

A major change since visits earlier in the year was that, whereas we used to take FG out in his buggy when it was time for him to sleep, now we take him out between naps to keep him awake.  That makes the walks around Edinburgh more interesting for him and us.  I can envisage that by the time of our next visit, FG won’t be so content to be in his buggy and will want to try out his embryonic walking skills.

Aerial View Of Part Of The Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

We did our usual trip to, and around, the Royal Botanic Gardens.  The gardens are interesting all year around and FG particularly likes the running water and waterfalls in the Rockery.  For me, the highlight was the Kitchen Garden in front of the Botanic Cottage which was planted with wild flowers.  The mix was varied cleverly throughout the planted space so that, when standing in the middle, the colour palette shifted as one turned around.

FG was much more impressed by our visit to the National Museum of Scotland.  I’m going to love taking him here every time I get up to Edinburgh.  For a small child, there is so much going on, so many buttons to push and so much movement.  At this stage, FG seems more interested in the other children than the exhibits but I can see hours of fun ahead.

National Museum Of Scotland, Edinburgh

We also had a lengthy walk to The Meadows to the south of Edinburgh centre.  Because the timing of our trip coincided with the Edinburgh Fringe – a gathering over a few weeks of a staggering multitude of performance artists from all over the UK and, indeed, the World – the central streets and cafes were crowded. 

The streets were also dominated by piles of rubbish because our visit also coincided with a strike by rubbish clearance workers in Edinburgh that had been going on for over a week.  The huge piles of trash everywhere underlined how much rubbish we generate in a typical big city and how dependent we are on public services to hide the issue of rubbish disposal from our day to day lives.

Edinburgh Rubbish!

Although the overflowing rubbish bins were not a great advertisement for Edinburgh (the workers dispute is now resolved), the city remains a great attraction for LSW and I.  The architecture in the centre is stunning, the galleries and museums are befitting of a capital city, the area ES and his partner live in is close to interesting shops, and even the playgrounds we took FG to seemed better appointed but more accessible than average. 

We are both looking forward to our November birthday party visit hugely – even though I will miss the delights of watching Forest Green Rovers play live!

In Praise Of A Clear Head

I have been monitoring the number of my alcohol-free days since 2005.  Over a decade ago I was drinking alcohol almost every day, and often drinking a beer alone in my flat after work in London.  Now I have a target of 50% drink-free days each month and I have achieved that for the last three years.

When I retired 5 years ago, I realised that although I was starting to achieve the target number of drink-free days, I was way off the target for units of alcohol recommended by doctors.  To galvanise myself for change, I set a monthly target for alcohol units consumed too.  That target is 100 units of alcohol per month.  That is still almost twice the recommended level but 50% less than where I was in my first two years of retirement. 

I have achieved this personal target for the last two years but it’s been a struggle, especially this year (for reasons I’m yet to quite fathom).  On days when I drink, I find that I average 6-7 units; that’s two thirds of a bottle of wine or three pints of beer (not, I think, an unreasonable amount of pleasure to have on a sunny evening in the garden, at a celebration, or in the pub garden on a lazy Sunday).  But multiply that by 14-15 days and I’m closer to the 100 unit target than I would like. 

Alcohol Units/Month Consumption Since 2019 (I’m More Consistent Now But Consistently Only Just Below Target (100 Units)!

I have been helped in recent years by the advent of decent no, or low, alcohol beer; I like those from BrewDog especially.  But now I have a new helper: ‘Clear Head’, a low alcohol beer served on tap at our village pub.   It’s quite a refreshing, hoppy and nice tasting pint.  Its recent availability on draft means that I can visit the pub more often and feel as though I’m having a proper pub drink (not the soft sugary stuff that I generally avoid, or mineral water that I can get out of the tap at home), while keeping my alcohol unit consumption down. 

One of the Best Low-Alcohol Beers I’ve Had

The net effect has been that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have visited the local pub more often during this summer, especially during the recent heat waves, but I have still stayed within my alcohol unit target.  That’s good because the pub is so central to the community and our visits create opportunities for us to have impromptu meetings with other villagers and we just enjoy hanging out in the relaxed atmosphere there.  The only downside is that LSW is probably drinking a bit more alcohol because she usually goes for a can of the relatively strong craft beer rather than the low alcohol variety, but then she drinks slowly and so is well below the recommended unit levels.

Another bonus is that 5% of Bristol Beer Factory’s revenue on sales of Clear Head go to Talk Club which is the valuable charity organisation that helps establish and organise Men’s Mental Fitness chat groups such as that I have been attending in recent weeks in our village.  The sessions that I mentioned in my last post have continued to be fulfilling and have had the side effect of making me feel even more a part of the community.  The pub landlord, who helps run the sessions, even gives participants a pint of ‘Clear Head’ to accompany us through the meetings; really nice!

On Draft At Our Local Pub But It Comes In Cans Too

So, the heat waves are over for another year it seems.  The cost of living crisis seems to be drowning out concerns about the climate and related biodiversity crises.  However, the recent weeks of intense heat have underlined the need for us all to think about reducing our carbon footprint and adapting to the new climate that is inevitably going to envelop us. 

Local Lake Dried Up In The Recent Heat And The Same Lake Two Years Ago (With Cow)

LSW has planted most of our flower beds and terraces with relatively drought resistant plants so the garden has looked great throughout the summer with just minimal watering.  However, during the greatest heat, we had to have the blinds down all day in our kitchen/diner extension with all its glass.  Rather than be able to look out over the garden from the extension, we spent much of the heat wave sheltered in the cool of the old part of the house. 

Dry Garden And Sun Through Meadow Grass

We are thinking about ways to further adapt to persistent high temperatures in the future at the same time as trying to work out how we can isolate rooms we want to heat in winter so that we reduce overall energy demand and so save money in the face of escalating electricity and gas bills.  We won’t be alone in that.

Later this week we are off north to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild and his parents again.  The relative cool of Edinburgh may look an increasingly attractive medium/long term location as the south of the UK feels the impact of our changing summers.  Short term, though, I’m sticking to home in our village and an occasional pint or two of ‘Clear Head’ on draft.