Autumn In My Little Town

View Of Nailsworth Looking South

View Of Nailsworth Looking South

I’ve been retired for well over two years now.  New daily routines have shifted as I have settled into retirement and as the seasons have cycled around.  However, when I am not away from home, one of the daily constants has been that I walk into the local town of Nailsworth to pick up the newspaper and buy the day’s groceries.  It’s been one of my great and most consistent retirement pleasures.

These walks have been particularly splendid recently as the Autumn colours have intensified across the hills and valleys through which I walk.  Also, in recent weeks the streams in the valleys have gushed with copious amounts of rainwater and have provided a noisier soundtrack to the burgeoning Autumn colour.

Sun Catching The Tops Of Trees In Ruskin Mill Valley

Late Sun Catching The Tops Of Trees In Ruskin Mill Valley

There are multiple routes and detours that I take to create daily variety.  However, the most rewarding walk is through the bottom of the valley between our home and Nailsworth centre.  I thought I would share a few pictures of this frequent and favourite walk.

Satellite Picture (Courtesy Google) OF My Walk Into Nailsworth

Satellite Picture (Courtesy Google) Of My Walk Into Nailsworth – From The Blue Dot (Upper Downend), East Then North-East Up The Valley To Nailsworth

The start point is, of course, my home in the hamlet of Downend near Horsley.  Our field has a small stream running through it.  This joins the Downend stream nearby and I head north-east down through its valley in which our hamlet nestles.  When this reaches another, larger valley I continue north to where it opens out to a confluence of rivers around which Nailsworth has thrived, first as a mill town and now as a small (monthly) market town.

Upper Downend

Upper Downend

As I leave Downend, I pass some old cottages and houses and cross the Old Horsley Road.  I then dip downwards into the larger, wider valley flanked by dense woods to the east.  Following the ever enlarging stream, I pass some small fields and a couple of pretty lakes.  The larger of these is often the haunt of a swan, herons, kingfishers and several varieties of duck.

Much of the land in the valley, and up the slopes to the east, is owned and managed by Ruskin Mill Trust.  The college here caters for challenged teenagers.  The grounds include two historic wool mills, several acres of woodland, a biodynamic livestock and fish farm, a shop where some of the produce is sold, a forge, a popular café, and an arts centre and music venue.  Locals like me are privileged to have access to these grounds which are always evolving in interesting ways under the management of the Trust and which often teem with fish and birds.

Craft Workshops And Running Water In Ruskin Mill College Grounds

Craft Workshops And Running Water In Ruskin Mill College Grounds

Views Near Ruskin Mill College

Views Near Ruskin Mill College

Beyond the college grounds I cross the road and the stream (now a small river) once more.  As I approach the outskirts of Nailsworth, I look out for dippers in the stream.  I had never heard of these birds before seeing them here and also in Downend itself.  They are shy but fascinating to watch as they live up to their name by dipping their heads up and down and dive into the water to catch their prey.

Dipper Habitat On The Outskirts Of Nailsworth

Dipper Habitat On The Outskirts Of Nailsworth

Nailsworth sits at the junction of two valleys and is overlooked by typical Cotswold woodland and hillsides (‘Cotswold Tops’).  The best time to visit is early morning when wood smoke and mist often sits above the town but below the hill tops.  The floral displays in the town this year have been award winning and many of the narrow streets and Cotswold stone buildings are always attractive.

Nailsworth Clock Tower

Nailsworth Clock Tower

Like many such towns in this age of the internet and same day delivery, it is a struggle to establish a thriving retail business in Nailsworth.  There is a persistent turnover of small independent shops and probably more shops selling small gifts and vaping equipment than is necessary.  However, some good clothes, homeware and hardware shops have prospered.  There are also a few decent pubs and café/restaurants, plus – critically for me – a newsagent, a small supermarket and health food store.

Roofs Of Nailsworth

Roofs Of Nailsworth

I’m an urban man at heart – the country was always a place to visit rather than live in through the first 60 years of my life.  I still hanker after London having left it upon retirement.  But this Cotswold landscape I now find myself living in is very attractive.  While I still can, my daily walks into the local town will continue to help me experience and appreciate it.

Postscript: I mentioned that Ruskin Mill College have a small music venue and Long-Suffering Wife and I thoroughly enjoyed a gig there last night.  The main act was Trio Dhoore who are three young, charming Flemish brothers who play diatronic accordion, guitar and, a first for me, the hurdy gurdy.  The music was wonderfully deep, rich and warm and the banter between tunes matched this warmth perfectly.  The trio of brothers seemed to enjoy the evening as much as we did; it was a lovely couple of hours.

Trio Dhoore At Ruskin Mill

The Rather Wonderful ‘Trio Dhoore’ At Ruskin Mill

 

Visiting The Nest And Going Abroad

Autumn is well and truly here.  The weather has been very variable.  Days of heavy rain sufficient to test guttering, fill the local streams to brimming, and force a frustrating postponement of a Forest Green Rovers Football Club fixture, have been followed by frosty nights and wonderfully cloudless, sunny days.  The trees are turning brown at different rates depending on their species and health.  The woodland views from my normal walk routes are glorious patchworks of subdued colour.

Autumn: Long Shadows, First Frost And Full Streams

Last week, Long-Suffering Wife LSW) and I used one of the days we had once reserved for a trip abroad, long since postponed, to do a more modest excursion into East Somerset.  Over the last five years or so, we have become quite familiar with the countryside there and some of the pubs, restaurant and galleries around Bruton.  It’s a lovely area and Time Out Magazine calls Bruton ‘a bit like an abridged Stoke Newington with better air quality’ with its interesting shops, eateries and architecture.

This time, we visited a new garden set in the grounds of a large mansion that has recently been developed as a hotel called The Newt.  The garden has only been open to visitors in recent months and is still under construction.  However, the main bones of the garden, services and on-site workshops (producing cider, bread and other delicacies), are in place.  It has great views over the local countryside and is already somewhere I would recommend highly.

£15 initially seemed a bit steep for a garden that is so young and new.  But whole enterprise exudes class, attention to detail and quality; the visit (including a lovely lunch) was very good value.  We arrived just in time for a very interesting garden tour by one of the 18-strong operational gardening and woodlands management team.  The guide was every bit as impressive as the things he pointed out and he was able to give a few insights into the history of the house and garden.

The Newt Reception: Apple Display And Roof Sculpture

The Newt Reception: Apple Display And Roof Sculpture

The estate, of which The Newt has become a core feature, was created in the 17th century.  From 1785 it was home to several generations of the Liberal Hobhouse family, including Arthur Hobhouse, a founder of the national parks system in England and Wales.

The Newt: Views Through The Woodland

The Newt: Views Through The Woodland

The South African pair of Karen Roos and Koos Bekker (a telecoms magnate) then bought the property in 2013.  They had previously developed Babylonstoren near Cape Town which is a marvellous garden and winery that LSW and I had loved during our visit to South Africa in 2017.  At The Newt, they have converted the Palladian fronted mansion into a luxury hotel and invested hugely in a transformation of the garden and outbuildings.  The have used the garden designer (a Frenchman called Patrice Taravella) they employed at Babylonstoren.  As a result, by design, The Newt has a similar feel to Babylonstoren but is a tribute to the apple and cider rather than the grape and wine.

Panoramic View Of The Parabola Garden

Panoramic View Of The Parabola Garden

The centre-piece is a walled, egg-shaped garden, called ‘The Parabola’ with multiple centres, terraces and running water.  It is filled with 250 varieties of apple tied to laths (thin strips of wood) pinned to the walls or being trained up metal arches.  All are under-planted simply with a relatively small variety of herbs.  The whole ‘Parabola’, is tilted south towards a huge view and is already spectacular.  It will be even more so when the apple trees are more mature.

The Newt: Water Runs In The Parabola Garden

The Newt: Water Runs In The Parabola Garden

This central show orchard is surrounded by a variety of differently cultivated areas.  These include cottage gardens, grass gardens, lawns populated by chickens, and three small walled ‘colour’ gardens filled with plants of white, then blue, then red.  Below the long lawn and bathing pond (now for newts!) in front of the hotel, the vegetable garden is particularly impressive (and clearly devoid of the badger and deer damage we are so familiar with at home!)  The woodland provides gentle walks away from the main buildings and we saw plans to open these up further.

The Newt: Old Hunting Dog Kennels, Now Chicken And Duck House

The Newt: Old Hunting Dog Kennels, Now Chicken And Duck House

The Newt: Vegetable Garden, Long Lawn and Hotel

The Newt: Vegetable Garden, Long Lawn and Hotel

The Newt: Quirky Fountains

The Newt: Quirky Fountains

We are planning to re-visit The Newt both in Spring and in about 4 years, by which time further developments will have taken place and the planting will have matured.

The Newt: Conservatory and Olives

The Newt: Conservatory and Olives

Now Autumn has arrived and LSW has finished work for the season, we plan to go on more trips like the one to The Newt.

Also, finally, we have scheduled a short trip abroad. With Brexit being postponed again we are slipping in a trip to Venice in November.  Given it is only for 3 nights, travelling by train is impractical so we are opting to offset our carbon expenditure in the air.  Ryan Air include this option in their booking process but it appears not to charge enough given that the ‘bad’ gases from flights go immediately into the upper atmosphere where they are not broken down.  I used Solar Aid to top up the offset contribution.

We have always recognised that we needed to visit Venice – so many have told us that it must not be missed and that it is unbelievably beautiful.  Hopefully the weather will be as kind as it was when we visited The Newt but I’m sure we will love it anyway, and won’t have damaged the planet too much.

Postscript: Goodbye October Celebrated Nicely In Our Local Pub's Octoberfest

Postscript: Goodbye October – Celebrated Nicely At Our Local Pub’s Octoberfest

Climate Emergency Action

Well, I did, as I anticipated in my last blog, manage to plant both trees this week and Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has planted about 150 bulbs; so mission accomplished on that.

Our Newly Planted Cherry Tree

Our Newly Planted Cherry Tree And Our Maturing Hornbeam Hedge

However, we have made no progress on booking a holiday.  A couple of new obstacles have emerged on that.  LSW wants sun and warmth but we both recognise that, as part of our new climate emergency consciousness, we should be reducing (if not eliminating) greenhouse gas-emitting flights to warm places from our life-style.

Also, we have now left it so late in the year that any city-break type holiday in Europe using the train rather than plane may fall foul of extra security checks if the UK leaves the European Union without a ‘deal’.  My idea of hell is spending a large percentage of the holiday waiting in a queue to have a visa check or whatnot.  So we are waiting and seeing what ‘deal’ emerges and may try Lyon by rail in November.

LSW and I have attended a few meetings regarding the climate emergency in the last week.  I have been regularly attending (and documenting) a meeting of people in our village interested in moving the local parish to carbon neutrality by 2030.  We both attended a larger meeting along similar lines in our nearby town, Nailsworth, which set up a climate action group about 4 years ago.  Then we both went to a local Extinction Rebellion introductory session to find out more about the approach of this organisation towards the climate emergency.

Recent Mural By Jane Mutiny In Shoreditch, London

Recent Mural By Jane Mutiny In Shoreditch, London

I mentioned, a couple of blog posts ago, that our local village Parish Council has just committed to planting a 1,000 trees to help offset carbon emissions across the Parish.  Nailsworth is already undertaking a similar exercise and have firm plans to landscape and plant 100 trees around a large playing field in the town.  LSW and I will plan to help directly with that and might also sign up to planting a few more trees in our field.

Our Newly Planted Whitebeam

Our Newly Planted Whitebeam

Of course, our reduction in flights, our migration to an increasingly vegetarian diet, our attempts to reduce waste, our upgrade of our sash windows to double glazing, and the recent acquisition of an e-car powered by sustainable electricity are all tiny steps in the face of a global calamity.  The scale of the climate emergency, and the challenge of reducing global warming given the number of tipping points that have probably already passed, were certainly brought home to us at the Extinction Rebellion meeting we attended.

Replacing Our Sash Windows With Double Glazed Versions - Not Insignificant Work!

Replacing Our Sash Windows With Double Glazed Versions – Not Insignificant Work!

 

However, we need to start somewhere.  Despite now being retired and so possessing a flexible schedule that would allow me to spend a little time at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’, I’m not yet sure I’m ready to be arrested for the cause (as many Extinction Rebellion participants evidently are).  While I’m thinking about that protest option, I will continue with some lower key changes.

Extinction Rebellion Protesters

Extinction Rebellion Protesters I Saw In London During My Last Visit

As I do so, I will keep in mind what George Monbiot (a columnist, political and environmental activist) wrote as he was arrested as part of a non-violent Extinction Rebellion protest:

“I know this action will expose me to criticism as well as prosecution. Like other prominent activists, I will be lambasted for hypocrisy: this is now the favoured means of trying to take down climate activists. Yes we are hypocrites. Because we are embedded in the systems we contest, and life is complicated, no-one has achieved moral purity. The choice we face is not between hypocrisy and purity, but between hypocrisy and cynicism. It is better to strive to do good, and often fail, than not to strive at all.”

So, I do worry that China and Russia and, now, the US Government are not at the table joining in to set global carbon emission reduction targets and that governments setting emission targets then take insufficient action to get close to them – a challenge that town and Parish Councils will also have to rise to!  I do worry that oil and gas companies are investing billions more in resource extraction than in renewable energy.  I do worry that our measures of well-being are overly oriented towards gross national product growth and consumption not health, relationships and happiness.  None of that is going to change any time soon despite Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion’s clarion calls.

IMG_4449

LSW and I live very comfortably; we are ‘embedded in the system’ and maybe we are the ‘hypocrites’ George Monbiot identifies.  We are hardly holiday paupers having been to Australia earlier this year.  I’m looking forward to roast chicken dinner on Sunday.  We still buy blueberries grown in Peru for goodness sake!  But we are starting to strive to do a little bit towards reducing our carbon footprint and that’s something.

Dipping Into Culture

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I still haven’t quite planned our trip away this summer/autumn but we have both made an effort to attend some local cultural events to keep our entertainment levels up.  Indeed, as I write this, LSW is attending a couple of talks at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and will no doubt return full of much new thinking.

We went to two contrasting concerts recently.  The first was a programme of what I suppose are modern classical music composers and performers.  The concert had been arranged by a local magazine and creative arts consortium called Good On Paper.  The five performers were a mix of local and internationally renowned musicians.  All were interesting – especially avant-garde cellist Sebastian Plano and Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit – and there were passages I really enjoyed.  The final act was the now famous Lubomyr Melnyk who demonstrated his ‘continuous music’ piano playing; it was technically impressive but, by the end, for me, overbearing.

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Later in the week LSW and I went to the Tetbury Music Festiival.  Despite the proximity to our home, this was, rather shamefully, our first visit to the festival.  We saw an excellent performance of three piano trios (by Haydn, Schumann and Schubert).  This was the first classical music concert I had been to for many years and I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it.  I also surprised myself in that I actually knew the last work by Schubert; it must have been one my Dad had taken me to see played when I was a teenager and he first introduced me to classical music.

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

It felt good to support these local cultural events and I hope their success breeds more in the future.  The atmosphere for both was reverential and enhanced by the beautiful surroundings of a church.  Whatever the concert – modern classical, classical classical or just modern, I do like to be able to listen to the music rather than the chatter of the crowd.  A third concert I saw this week at the wonderfully eclectic Rich Mix in London also provided these sorts of listening conditions as I saw one of my favourite bands: Kefaya.

This concert was totally different from the other two.  Kefaya is a cross-cultural collective who play jazz with Middle Eastern, south and south-east Asian and Caribbean influences.  I have seen Kefaya in various guises many times over the last few years.  Here, they mostly ran through their latest album of Afghan songs fronted by an Afghani singer.  There was a lot of energy in the largely Afghani audience but, again, there was respect for the music and full attention to the band.  I loved it – especially when they let loose with their trademark jazzy duelling between guitar and keyboards, all backed up by phenomenally pacey and intricate tabla playing.

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Apart from music LSW and I have also taken in some local art.  We have known local artist, Maggie Shaw, for many years and have bought many examples of her work; several remain our favourite pieces of art in our house.  Unfortunately she died last year.

We were honoured to be part of her memorial exhibitions at the beginning of this year and lent one of her largest pieces for this.  Last week there was a further exhibition of her more recent work alongside that of two of her companion artists.  As usual, Maggie’s work stood out for me as truly remarkable.  Had we not already been in possession of so much of her output (and not starting to think about further downsizing of our house and wall space) we might have bought another of her pictures.

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw's and Others' Work

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw’s And Others’ Work At Stratford Park, Stroud

The absence of demands on my time from any work, continue to make it easy to fit in trips to Nottingham to visit my parents, and to London to see sons, exhibitions and gigs there.  This week, on the back of a regular meeting in London with my financial advisor and the Kefaya gig, I was able to catch up with Eldest Son, his girlfriend and Youngest Son’s girlfriend; a real pleasure.  I also visited the new exhibition at The Barbican where I am still a member and so can feel I am attending for free.

The latest exhibition at the Barbican is called Into The Night: Cabarets and Clubs In Modern Art and, as the title suggests, it is about the relationship between art and nightlife.  It examines this relationship in the period from 1880 to the late-1960s through focus on a dozen nightclubs in a variety of cities including Tehran, Ibadan in Nigeria, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City and New York.

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City. It Seemed To Me To Sum Up The Atmosphere These Nightclubs Tried to Engender!

As usual, the exhibition was very well presented.  My favourite section was probably that on Vienna’s Cabaret Fledermaus (1907-13).  The posters, menus, programmes, ashtrays, flower pots, chairs and other accessories to an experience at this club were all exquisitely designed along consistent lines.  The set and costume designs for the performances were flamboyant and smacked of decadence.

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

For each of the clubs chosen for the exhibition, drawings, pictures and photos helped to bring it must have been like to actually be in the nightclubs.  Aiding this further, the exhibition included reconstructions of parts of four of the nightclubs.  Particularly striking were the zinc shadow theatre models for the Chat Noir club in Paris.  For each reconstruction, despite the recorded sound, the only thing lacking was the smoke, bustle, heat and pandemonium that must have driven the fun of the customers in between – and maybe during – the cabaret and other performances.  It was a well arranged exhibition and was very enjoyable.

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir's Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir’s Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Top tasks for this week: planting the whitebeam and cherry trees I mentioned we had bought in my last blog post, planting lots of bulbs and organising that long-considered trip away.

Summer’s Slow Demise

The weather during most of September has been excellent.  Now, though, summer has gradually drawn to a close.  There are still warm and sunny intervals but rain clouds are more prevalent, the tiring trees are dripping brown, and the streams are filling up.  Autumn is here.

The new walled garden still looks full of colour – Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has done a great job of maintaining its life throughout the summer and now on into Autumn.  The dahlias, which she has tried growing for the first time, largely succumbed to the slugs early on, but those that survived now look magnificent.  The scabious, salvia, cosmos (my small contribution), gaura and ever-resilient verbena bonariensis still look great and the last of the bee activity of the season continues to feed on these.

Last, Fading Colour In The Walled Garden

Last, Fading Colour In The Walled Garden

The badgers took all the sweetcorn – they didn’t leave one for us! But there are still vegetables to harvest – leeks, beetroot, potatoes and chard – plus one last elephantine courgette.  However, thoughts are now moving on to clearing away the vegetable beds, planting bulbs for next year and putting in a couple more trees.  We have ordered loads of alliums which I (and the bees) love and some more narcissuses for the field.  I have gathered some wildflower, hollyhock and foxglove seed and now need to do something with it!

We can see a lot of the ash trees in the vicinity are diseased.  We have a very impressive, large ash at the edge of our property.  It looks appears to be thriving but must surely be threatened by the surrounding ash die-back disease despite its current good health.  We need to get ahead of the damage and start planting to fill potential gaps.  We have just ordered a cherry and a whitebeam to offset the cutting back we did earlier in the year, and to augment the little orchard we have established over the last few years.  However, more tree-planting may be required.

I attended my Parish Council meeting for the village we now live in last week.  This was one of a series of meetings I attended related to carbon footprint reduction in the village, local sustainability initiatives and climate change.  At the Parish Council meeting I supported a move towards our village becoming carbon neutral and one of the first steps is to plant a 1,000 trees in the Parish.  It’s a start and we’ll offer to take three or four more in our field.  But I’m aware that other trees will die or need to come down because they obstruct power lines adjacent to our land, so all we are likely to manage is a rough equilibrium.  I hope others with space do better.

Local Tree Planting Scheme To Reduce Flooding

Local Tree Planting Scheme In Kingscote Woods To Reduce Flooding

As we have become increasingly aware of the climate change and sustainability issues, so LSW and I have suffered increasing angst about air travel which has such a big carbon emission impact.  Our trips to Canada, Australia (twice!), South Africa and cities in Europe in recent years have magnified our carbon footprint.  We haven’t looked to offset these trips up to now but are certainly planning to do so in the future.

Fortunately for the planet, our prevarication in the face of Middle Son’s accident, and then my mother’s recent falls, have given us excuses to shelve our summer and autumn holiday plans to burn up more exhaust in the upper atmosphere.  Maybe we will train-ride to Lyon for a few days in October…..

Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy the local walks.  The wildlife on the way to the local town each day is constantly shifting in character and behaviour.  Seeing it every day allows observation of the slightest changes – the loneliness of the swan, the arrival of little egrets, and the growing snuffling aloofness of the increasingly porky pigs.

Local Wildlife - New Chicks, Lonely Swan, Foraging Old Spot Pigs And, If You Look Carefully, Little Egrets

Local Wildlife – New Chicks, Lonely Swan, Foraging Old Spot Pigs And (If You Look Carefully) Little Egrets

This fascination has been augmented by the joy of being able to pick and eat the blackberries on the way.  Even better, there are enough – it has been a truly wonderful year for hedgerow blackberries – for cooking and for freezing for breakfasts and puddings during the forthcoming winter.

Masses Of Wild Blackberries Picked In Less Than 30 Minutes

Masses Of Wild Blackberries Picked In Less Than 30 Minutes

I shall miss the summer as it creeps away.  I shall miss the casualness of not having to worry too much about whether it is going to rain or the need for a coat.  I shall miss the sun and sitting and walking in it.  But Autumn will have its splendours too, and we are lucky enough to have a house that can withstand the winter cold.  In those circumstances, even winter can be attractive.  Goodbye summer.

Recoveries And Retirement

I once again have a rather bizarre (and misplaced) sense of intrepid traveller and blogger as I wrote the bulk of this post during a train journey to and from Nottingham.  I confess that the journey is more mundane than some I had imagined I would be taking prior to retirement.  There is always a little twist of excitement in a train journey and in watching the fields flash by and in seeing the towns, back gardens, and industrial developments and wastelands, all from unusual angles.  That is somehow enhanced by writing about it ‘real-time’ on my phone.

Near Oddingly, En-Route From Nottingham

Near Oddingly, En-Route From Nottingham

I have been to Nottingham to observe the welcome and speedy recovery of my Mum from a fall in which she broke her leg about three weeks ago.  Mercifully, she is out of hospital and back at home and my Dad is looking after her well and as independently as possible.  That is a relief all round (although a further minor fall while I was with them shows that the path to recovery is rarely straight)!

It’s been a good week for monitoring recoveries.  Middle Son (MS) visited us in Gloucestershire last weekend and we were able to see for ourselves how far he has come since his serious accident almost three months ago.  There is a long way to go to retrieve full function but he is mastering crutches, very independent and progressing every day.  That again is a relief all round (though, again, a further visit to hospital today for a residual ailment shows the skewed path to full recovery)!

As I ponder my train-side view, I am considering the past couple of weeks and the conversations I have had regarding my retirement and how I have found the experience.  I went to a retirement celebration for a past work colleague and friend that brought back many memories of work in the 1980’s.  I also participated in another occurrence of a regular restaurant event with a bunch of male friends of similar age to myself who I first met in London decades ago.  At both, I answered about my retirement life, confirmed that I continue to enjoy it a lot, and wondered why so many of my contemporaries continue to work.

Views From The Gherkin, London During A Retirement Party There

Some of the responses to my question about why my friends and ex-work colleagues (especially) still work were along the lines of how they need to so as to maintain their life style.  In some cases I think this may be cover for admitting that they actually enjoy work and would miss it too much.  That would be a more honest response and one I can understand.

Each to his or her own!  It so happened that I did not enjoy work as much, nor as consistently, as my friends apparently do.  Work has provided income to enable a very comfortable life and, now (so far, at least) a comfortable retirement.  But I was very happy to finish working and I continue to be very happy that I can devote the hours previously spent at work to things that I often felt I had to rush or failed to find time for.  I want to do that while I still have reasonable health.

The flexibility retirement affords has been liberating.  I no longer have to squeeze visits (to my parents for example) between work commitments.  I can visit London when I want, and now I have more opportunities to see friends elsewhere in the country and can combine that with watching my football team play away from home.

I did exactly that two weekends ago when I visited my Best Man (BM) and saw Forest Green Rovers (FGR) in Cambridge.  FGR won and that capped an excellent weekend of walking, wine, beer, food and chatting about our different lives.  BM is certainly someone who to loves his work and my hopes that he will retire, and so be able to spend more time enlivening my own retirement, are firmly in abeyance.

View Of The River Cam, Cambridge

Views Of Gamlingay In Cambridgeshire (top) and the Royal Society For Protection Of Birds (RSPB) Near Sandy (Bedfordshire)

Views Of Gamlingay In Cambridgeshire (top) and the Royal Society For Protection Of Birds (RSPB) Site Near Sandy (Bedfordshire)

Other highpoints of the last two weeks – and I am deliberately picking these to highlight the variety – have included harvesting my onions and a brief visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.  The onion (and my beetroot) harvest have been magnificent this year. If I manage to store them properly, we should have onions to last until Christmas.

Just prior to meeting up with my old friends for dinner, I saw an exhibition called Architecture of London at the Guildhall Art Gallery.  This was, as almost all these kinds of curated exhibitions are, interesting and contained some fine works and information.  I was almost a lone visitor and could take my time in taking in the show.

Works By Thomas, Bach, Egonu, Lowe And Beavon

Works By Thomas, Bach, Egonu, Lowe And Bach In The Architecture Of London Exhibition At The Guildhall Art Gallery

The exhibition covered the transformations following the Great Fire of London and the Second World War blitz particularly well.  I especially enjoyed the mix of vintages of the art on show and the inclusion of abstract art.  The scope of the exhibition was perhaps too large and the art on show to demonstrate the points being made felt, in places, a little random.  However, the Guildhall Art Gallery is a quiet and edifying place to spend an hour or two and I enjoyed it.

Paintings By Piper and Johnson at The Guildhall Art Gallery

London From Crowwell Tower, Barbican By Richard Ian Bentham Walker (1977)

London From Cromwell Tower, Barbican By Richard Ian Bentham Walker (1977) at The Guildhall Art Gallery. Always Nice To See Views Of The Barbican (But Unfortunately Not My Flat)

Returning to the here and now, the only problem with blogging on the train is that the tables are so small and the space is so cramped.  I’ll be glad to get off and stretch this stiffness out….  ‘Til next time.

London Variety Part III

The exploitation of London’s variety continued last week during our last couple of day’s stay with Middle Son (MS).  We saw some old friends, invited Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend over to MS’s flat for dinner, did some even finer dining at Flor in Borough Market, and saw some more of Walthamstow.

Flor, Borough Market

Flor, Borough Market – Small Plates Served With A Smile And At An Easy Pace

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also took up some advice from a friend in our home village to visit Thomas Carlyle’s House in Chelsea.  Carlyle was a Victorian historian and socialite. My interest in him was enhanced by the fact that I had been to the William Morris Gallery earlier in the week.  Consequently, I could connect some of the dots between Carlyle’s friend and relationships and those of William Morris who was well known to Carlyle.  In particular, there were lots of references to John Ruskin with whom I have become rather fascinated.

Thomas Carlyle's House

Thomas Carlyle’s House

Thomas Carlyle’s house has been preserved by the National Trust in a state close to that pertaining when Carlyle died.  Few of the artefacts are of great artistic merit but the overall feel of the place felt authentic, the garden was surprisingly peaceful and the information leaflets throughout the rooms were very informative.

Thomas Carlyle's House - The Drawing Room

Thomas Carlyle’s House – The Drawing Room

In fact, it seems that Thomas’s Scottish and forthright wife, Jane, was the more interesting of the pair.  She was a great letter writer – an author of thousands of letters it seems.  These describe everyday life in her household and relationships amongst her friends and acquaintances.  Many of the extracts on display have a straightforwardness and humour that is charming and they are insightful about the quirks of life in upper-middle class Victorian London.

MS’s flat in central Walthamstow is very comfortable.  His enforced move out of his previous, smaller and darker flat in Pimlico has been one of few upsides following his accident.  He loves the views, sunsets and feeling of proximity to the weather from his 7th floor flat. Increasingly, he will get to enjoy the bustle of Walthamstow.  I already am.

Walthamstow has a pleasant centre with a village feel, open space (Lloyd Park especially), many reasonably intact Victorian residential streets, street markets and, in the graffiti and it’s rather strange Hoe Street Community Bank, a healthy scepticism of establishment.

Views Of Walthamstow

Eldest Son’s girlfriend has lived in Walthamstow in the past and has given advice on where to go.  Also, the daughter of a best friend of ours has lived there for several years.   She visited us last week in MS’s flat with her very sweet new baby.  She was able to impart even more current local knowledge on places to see, and to eat and drink in (including in the numerous local, independent breweries).

A Small Fraction Of Walthamstow High Street Market

A Small Fraction Of Walthamstow High Street Market

Wandering around the almost mile long high street market, and then the backstreets of Walthamstow, I discovered some of these.  Gods Own Junkyard and the Wildcard Brewery look to be worth trips when they open at weekends.  Future visits shouldn’t be short of options for eating and drinking in modern, industrial style places with a good atmosphere.  Indeed, with all three sons currently in the north-east quadrant of London – Barbican, Hackney and Walthamstow – options for somewhere to stay, places to go, and fun to have, all seem to have multiplied.  The incentive to visit London is as great as ever.

Gods Own Junkyard, Walthamstow

Gods Own Junkyard, Walthamstow

First though, deploying the flexibility of retired life, I have had to do a couple of days work at home on the village Neighbourhood Plan and then have travelled north to Nottingham to visit my parents.  Unfortunately my Mum has had a fall at home.  She is now recovering in hospital.  It was good to see them both, even in the circumstances, and now MS is on the mend, I can visit them more often.

Walking Along The Nottingham And Beeston Canal, Nottingham

Walking Along The Nottingham And Beeston Canal, Nottingham On The Way To Queen’s Hospital

I can see that my Senior Railcard is going to come in for some heavy use in Autumn as I shuffle from home to London to Nottingham.  Also, having missed a couple of games during my visits to London and Nottingham, I am off to Cambridge to see my football team (Forest Green Rovers) with my Best Man (BM).  Recent months haven’t been quite as I had foreseen, but I have been, and remain, busy.

London Variety Part II

As planned, we are in London again.  We are treating the week as something of a holiday and the weather is so warm it certainly feels like could be in Madrid or Rome.  We are effectively being tourists in our capital city and are working our way through a plan of food, music and art.  We are also taking the opportunity to catch up with Middle Son (MS), stay in his new flat with its wonderous view of central, southern and northern London, and even to cook in his kitchen.

View Of The City And Canary Wharf From MS And His Girlfriends' Flat

View Of The City And Canary Wharf From MS And His Girlfriends’ Flat

I have been cooking increasingly often in retirement and, even more surprisingly, am cooking increasingly vegetarian meals.  Earlier this week, we further adopted MS’s flat as a sort of Air BnB by inviting over Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend.  I cooked a meal of bulgar wheat, tomatoes, aubergine and lemon and mint yogurt that I have been perfecting at home.  Admittedly, this time, I added a few slices of (probably farmed!) salmon. So, not vegetarian after all, but we are reducing meat intake slowly.  Anyway, it was a lovely evening watching the sun go down over Alexandra Palace.

Sunset Over Walthamstow

Sunset Over Walthamstow

During this London visit, we have also stayed with Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend in their new flat in Hackney.  We had planned to see an American guitarist called William Tyler with them at Cafe Oto which is one of my favourite music venues.  Unfortunately, YS’s wasn’t well and so only Long-Suffering Wife and I made it to the gig.

We got there early enough for front row seats and the performers and music were as intimate as they always seem to be at Café Oto.  William Tyler’s technique was awesome and, despite him not having a band or vocals (apart from some amusing inter-song banter), I loved the whole experience.

William Tyler At Cafe Oto

William Tyler At Cafe Oto

LSW and I have also visited (in my case, revisited) the Temple of Mithras in the new Bloomberg Building in Walbrook.  I first saw this in February last year and was impressed by the classy presentation of this ancient monument – discovered during demolition after the Second World War and relocated to its current underground site a few years ago.  The information about the cult that worshipped here in Roman times is scarce and the ruins themselves are sparse.  However, the free show (but you have to book) makes the most of a little.  The lighting is very clever and it engenders an atmosphere of mystery and eeriness.  I recommend the 30 minute investment of time.

The Temple Of Mithras

The Temple Of Mithras

We then went on to Tate Britain. Our intention was to see the Frank Bowling exhibition but, as we had with the Van Gogh exhibition at Tate Modern a couple of weeks before, we made the rookie error of turning up a day after the exhibition had closed!  Never mind; the Tate always has great art to feast on.

I was relatively controlled and focused on just 8-10 rooms including those housing the Turners.  I do love his portrayal of outdoor light, especially in his later, almost abstract work.  I particularly enjoy his seascapes which either capture the energy of windswept skies and seas, or the calm of his famous sunsets.

Turner's 'Fishing Boats Bringing A Disabled Ship Into Port Ruysdael' (1844)

Turner’s ‘Fishing Boats Bringing A Disabled Ship Into Port Ruysdael’ (1844)

On this visit I also enjoyed some of the British abstract art from the 1950s including Howard Hodgkin, the paintings of the St Ives crowd and the Bloomsbury Group, and the Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth sculptures.  There was also a rather odd but interesting new installation of old machines – posing as art – in the main hall.  This was called Asset Strippers and was created by Mike Nelson as an ode to the last days of the industrial revolution in Britain.  Given the UK economy focus on services, it did provide a whiff of nostalgia perhaps.

Howard Hodgkin's 'Dinner At West Hill' (1966)

Howard Hodgkin’s ‘Dinner At West Hill’ (1966)

Moore and Hepworth

Later the same day, I revisited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow that I went to earlier this month in the midst of MS’s early recovery from his accident.  Then, I couldn’t concentrate much on what I was seeing.  This time I spent longer in the temporary exhibition of Madge Gill’s work and the permanent history of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement he founded with a few of his early friends and business partners.

Embroidery By Madge Gill

Embroidery By Madge Gill (Victorian/Edwardian Artist From Walthamstow)

The portrayal of William Morris, his life, his work and his influences and influence is well structured and compelling.  He was an artist, designer, colourist (fascinated by natural dyes), writer, printer of books, retailer, environmentalist, and, from the age of 50 a raging socialist activist.  He fitted so much into his life and his concern for social issues and the environment, particularly after he visited Iceland, was remarkable.

Honeysuckle Print Wallpaper - Typical William Morris

Honeysuckle Print Wallpaper – Typical William Morris

I ended up liking him and want to find out more about him (and his close colleague John Ruskin).  He seems to have been a man ahead of his time on social and environmental issues and but also, in his hankering for past styles and craftsmanship, a man out of time in the century of industrial revolution.  It is great that the Gallery, like Tate Modern and the Temple of Mithras, is free to visitors – that is in line with Morris’s beliefs: “I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.

William Morris Gallery

William Morris Gallery

Following so much cultural input, LSW, MS and I headed off for a local pizza at Sodo Pizza which was sufficiently wheel chair friendly and excellent.  I’m enjoying my stay in Walthamstow!

London Variety Part I

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have made several trips to London recently.  We continue to provide some increasingly peripheral help to Middle Son’s (MS’s) recovery there but there are other excuses for visits to the capital too.

Last week Forest Green Rovers Football Club (FGR) were playing Charlton, a London team a couple of divisions higher than ‘my’ club.  I took advantage of my retirement flexibility to pop up to London to meet up with Youngest Son (YS) and a bunch of his friends from university and from Australia for a few drinks by the river, the cup game itself, and then rather more drinks than I needed afterwards.  FGR were surprisingly victorious in the game and the evening was a lot of fun.  The Australian contingent maintained their reputation for their loud love of sport.

View Of The Thames Barrier From The Anchor and Hope Pub Before The Big Game

View Of The Thames Barrier From The Anchor and Hope Pub Before The Big Game

Celebrating The Winning Goal At Charlton

Celebrating The Winning Goal At Charlton (Me At Top Of Picture Arms Aloft!)

Next day, LSW joined me in London to take advantage of Eldest Son (ES) being away at the Edinburgh Fringe festival with his Scottish girlfriend and therefore leaving the Barbican flat free for a few days.  The flat is always a comfortable and central base from which to explore cultural and culinary variety in London.  Despite not planning particularly well, we had a full and interesting time including a great ‘small plates’ dinner at one our favourite buzzy restaurants, Popolo.

We had breakfast and coffee in the excellent Today Bread in Walthamstow with MS.  Then LSW and I headed off to Tate Modern to see the Van Gogh exhibition.  We had attempted to visit this show a couple of weeks previously but had arrived to find it closing due to the dreadful incident of a teenager pushing a youngster over a balcony.  Now, on arrival, we discovered that the exhibition had finished earlier in the week; poor planning!

Not to worry though; we switched attention to the Olafur Elliason exhibition called ‘In Real Life’ and we were both impressed.  I recalled seeing his installation in the main Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery over 15 years ago.  That was a strange ethereal work called ‘The Weather Project’ that filled the hall with a sickly, pervasive yellow light.  I wondered if the exhibition would be more of the same, especially as we emerged from the lift to the entrance into an unforgiving light display.  In practice, the exhibition contained some of the themes of the previous work I had seen but it was much more than a few tricks of the light.

Model Room By Olafur Eliasson (2003)

Model Room By Olafur Eliasson (2003)

The exhibition opens with a large, varied array of models, ideas and experiments in a huge ‘Model Room’.  This whets the appetite for what is to come and indicates some of the themes of his work around nature, sustainability, geometry and technology that are to follow in what is a varied and child-friendly show.

Children Enjoying Eliasson's Evolution Project (2001)

Children Enjoying Eliasson’s Evolution Project (2001) At Tate Modern

The closest exhibit to The Weather Project is a 39 metre-long corridor filled with fog of several different colours and ending with an impenetrable white glare, in which you see fellow visitors looming up alongside and in front of you.  It was very unsettling.

Your Blind Passenger By Olafur Eliasson (2010)

Your Blind Passenger By Olafur Eliasson (2010)

What I liked about the exhibition was the variety, the invitation to delve as deeply or not into the material as one wanted, and the engagement with current issues such as the climate emergency.  The exhibit relating to the melting glaciers in Iceland was particularly moving and the exhibits on Greenland tied in with recent articles I have read about ‘ecological grief’ – in this case, the sadness and stress Greenlanders feel for the disappearing ice on their land.

I also really enjoyed the exhibits proposing solutions and not just setting out the environmental and social challenges we face.  An example was that showing Eliasson’s ‘Little Sun’ project on provision of pretty, portable, solar-powered lights.  This is related to, or at least similar to, the devices that the charity Solar Aid provide to third-world families currently reliant on dangerous and polluting kerosene for night light.  It was art with a grounded and practical purpose.

Little Sun Project by Olafur Eliasson (2012)

Little Sun Project by Olafur Eliasson (2012)

LSW and I also went to the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition on Food: ‘FOOD: Bigger Than The Plate’.  This was another exhibition that could be viewed at a variety of levels of detail.  It was rather sprawling across a huge topic spanning composting and waste (probably the most interesting section of the exhibition), farming, trading and food miles, packaging, and eating.

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Ideas For Growing Food (Lettuces) Vertically In Returning, Otherwise Empty Containers, In The Trading In The Eating Section Of The FOOD: Bigger Than The Plate Exhibition

Each section set out the current challenges the world faces given its growing population and our growing expectations for food quality and range.  It then highlighted some sample projects showing how some are trying to meet these challenges.

On the side of the challenges, for example, there was a video showing the transport of a banana from Ecuador across 14 days and 8,800km to an Icelandic supermarket where it is sold for 20 (Euro) cents.  Another video, similar to those I have seen before, showed the horror of factory animal farming.  LSW and I hesitated before choosing to eat roast chicken as usual this weekend just gone!

On the positive side, there were waterless toilets, tableware made from coffee grounds, projects in South America preserving heritage maize species, and ideas of bringing farms (e.g. vertical farms) into cities to reduce transport demand.  There were exhibits underlining the importance of cooking and eating as a social activity and of eating local food that is in season rather than expecting everything all the time.  It was an interesting exhibition but I’m not sure it accelerated my progress – already gradually being made I’m glad to say – towards buying and eating food more sustainably.

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Spoons Designed To Broaden And Enhance The Eating Experience In The Eating Section Of The FOOD: Bigger Than The Plate Exhibition

LSW and I are now planning a further few days in London before the end of the month.  Part II of our various activities there coming up!

Gentle Times

It has been a quiet, tender period since my last post some three weeks ago.  There have been the odd bursts of activity to get Middle Son (MS) up and down to London for his fracture clinic checks and, this last weekend, to help move him back to London into his new, wheel-chair friendly flat in Walthamstow.  However, most of the time in the last three weeks or so has been spent at home in Gloucestershire.  The focus has been on gentle activities supporting MS’s recovery, and to break up, as best we can, his boredom with his lack of mobility.

Looking for ways to break up MS’s day while he was at home with us led us to eat out at local pubs a little more than usual.  We have frequented our local village pub a few times, a local café called Jolly Nice, and also The Crown in Frampton Mansell which we hadn’t visited for ages.  These trips have all been very pleasant diversions for MS, Long-Suffering Wife and I, especially given the excellent summer weather.

Frampton Mansell And The Crown Inn

Frampton Mansell And The Crown Inn

I have also continued to get out for early morning walks on a fairly regular basis.  Both the garden and the local walks are lovely at this time of year when the sun is out.  The gentle meandering around the local lanes and footpaths has been very relaxing and calming.

Less calming has been the start of the English Football League (EFL) season.  My team, Forest Green Rovers (FGR), are in EFL2 and they won their first game of the season with a wonderful goal.  It was very exciting by the end of the game.  Future diary arrangements will be constrained by the FGR fixture list – I love it; LSW, not so much.

Kick Off At Forest Green Rovers' New Lawn

Kick Off At Forest Green Rovers’ New Lawn

Other sport has dominated recent weeks too.  In particular, MS and I have been watching and discussing the tennis at Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the cricket World Cup.  It’s been great to have someone around to bounce reactions to the action off of. I’ve loved it; LSW, not so much.

The time at home has offered the opportunity to invest more time than usual in a few local community projects.  One has been participation in a fans forum with the CEO of FGR.  More time consuming has been work done with members of a local group promoting energy sustainability and carbon neutrality in our village and work on the final drafts of the village Neighbourhood Plan.  I’ll cover some or all of these more in a subsequent post.

The only other events of note in this restrained and gentle period have been another visit to the Lee Krasner exhibition at the Barbican and a brief visit whilst in Walthamstow to the William Morris Museum.  LSW and I plan to visit the latter again in a couple of weeks since we didn’t have a huge amount of time, entry is free, and I, for one, found it quite hard to concentrate on what I was seeing.  The museum is housed in a lovely building and the exhibition looks informative and excellent so more on this soon.

The William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

The William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

I went to the Krasner exhibition just a few weeks ago while MS was in hospital but had the chance to pop in again while in London a couple of weeks ago.  It was every bit as impressive as the first time.  Again, I particularly enjoyed her relatively early work but also that passage of her work that was drenched in colour a few years following her mental recovery from the death of her partner (Jackson Pollock) and then her mother.  There was a refreshing irreverence too in the way she often cut up old works to make new ones; she is quoted as saying “I am not to be trusted around my old work for any length of time” and that amused me.  The exhibition was almost as uplifting as FGR’s win!

Burning Candles, Lee Krasner, 1955

Burning Candles, Lee Krasner, 1955. An Example Of A Collage Created From Ripped Up Previous Works.

The Eye Is The First Circle, Lee Krasner, 1960

The Eye Is The First Circle, Lee Krasner, 1960, In The Barbican Gallery

I’m looking forward to the rest of August during which LSW and I have a couple more visits to London planned.