Split Panoramas

Flying Into Split, Croatia

Flying Into Split, Croatia

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to Split in Croatia last week in what proved to be a successful attempt to extend the summer vibe.  The weather was great – consistently up to 30 degrees, sunny, clear and with just light winds.  There was enough to in the vicinity of Split to occupy us for four days without exertion and with plenty of time in between sight-seeing for lolling rather sleepily in cafes and bars.  The only low point was when LSW went up to order drinks and a barman asked her if she was with the ‘old man’!

The self-contained apartment we stayed in, which ultimately I had chosen, was, to my relief, satisfactory.  LSW’s verdict was the four C’s: comfortable, clean, central but claustrophobic.  I understood the complaint about constrained space as I bashed my head of the sloping ceiling for the fourth time in as many days.

When I booked the accommodation, I liked the idea of being able to cook basic meals in the apartment but misjudged that in a number of ways.  The lack of a balcony overlooking anything of interest, the lack of basic ingredients (salt, pepper, oil etc.) in the apartment kitchen and, frankly, a lack of local markets with fresh vegetables and fruit, all meant that cooking for ourselves was more unattractive than it had been on some previous holidays.  Also, the late summer timing of our visit meant that the multitude of restaurants catering for the peak of the tourist season had plenty of space for us.  So, we ate out and we did so increasingly well as the holiday progressed.

Split itself is notable for the remains of a huge Roman palace around and among which the town has developed its core with various layers of history and architectural styles.  The palace walls, the busy, substantial harbour and the palm-lined esplanade looked particularly attractive at dusk as the sunset blossomed gently behind the headland, the city lights came on and the tourist shop gore became less distinct.

Split At Night: Houses and Palace Walls Draped With Washing

Split At Night: Houses And Palace Walls Draped With Washing

Split has a couple of recently renovated, spacious – and almost deserted – art galleries.  The artists were unfamiliar to me but the Gallery of Fine Arts provided an interesting hour while LSW went shopping.  The permanent exhibition of Croatian art was in strict chronological order from medieval gold leaf triptychs up to the modern day.  What became apparent was that for about a century until about 1930, the majority of top artists represented used very dark palettes, followed gloomy themes and produced rather unforgiving portraits.  There were several brighter, later pieces but I have never seen a collection of such melancholic work.

On the streets, tourists like us were still out in force despite the end of the school holidays.  The narrow streets of Split and Trogir were packed from mid-morning especially with what I called ‘arranged walking group clog’.  However, it was always easy to avoid the crowds by making an early start to our wanderings and by straying off the main drags.  In any case, as LSW said at the time, the advantage of being in such a tourist area is that the logistics are geared up for numbers and all our plans and logistics worked out comfortably with few queues.

We extended our exploits by bus and ferry to nearby towns and islands of Trogir, Supetar and Hvar.

Supetar was little more than a transit point for people travelling to other parts of the island of Brac, but all three had an attractive medieval core.  These were filled with limestone churches and houses glowing in the sun.  In each town, there was both detail (like iron work) to admire and wonderfully wide sea views.  Hvar, in particular, was very picturesque (and most clearly wealthy with its big, shiny yachts).  Its splendid castle looked imposing high above the town, the walk up to it was a lovely diversion through cicada-laden pine trees, and it provided great views from its walls.

Hvar

Hvar Main Square And Cathedral

At each new location, LSW became increasingly proficient with the panorama function on her phone – often from the tops of cathedral bell towers that were open in a way that Health and Safety would have rendered impossible in the UK.  As I sat in bars sipping the dark beer and sinking into the sofas, I tried to cull the myriad of photos I taken and replaced several of mine with better efforts from LSW.  A few examples are below.

Panoramic View of Supetar

Panoramic View of Supetar

Panoramic View of Hvar

Panoramic View of Hvar From The Castle

Panoramic View of Split

Panoramic View of Split From The Roman, Diocletian Palace Walls

Now we are back (so nice not to be coming back to work!), and we are starting to plan our next trip – probably a visit to a north European Christmas Market.  There are a lot of options….. any advice is welcome.

Neighbourhood Activity

For over three years, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been helping development of the village Neighbourhood Plan.  This aims to set out for the District Council how the people of Horsley wish to see the land in the village used and developed over the next 25-30 years.  The Plan has required much consultation, drafting of fine words and picture taking, and very many meetings for LSW.  I also got involved earlier this year in drafting and formatting a particular section on preferred green spaces in the village.

Horsley

Picture of Our Village Taken From The Draft Neighbourhood Plan Consultation Leaflet

The group co-ordinating the Plan development, including LSW, are now on the final push to get the plan to a state ready for review by the Council and a further round of local consultation.  Last week they asked for help to structure the Plan appendices and to achieve greater consistency of look and feel across the whole document, mainly by reducing the range of formatting quirks employed by each contributor.

Following prompting from LSW, I volunteered. LSW has long wanted me to get more involved in village affairs and this was my chance.  Little did I think that it would end up echoing the intensity and effort of my pre-retirement days but, after 25 hours of sitting at my PC editing the document over four days, I’m done!

There may be further rounds of such intense effort required following review and consultation.  However, I’m a Windows user and the bulk of the others who have technical and design input are Mac users.  The two are not compatible and so I’m ready to bow out.  Even if I am not required going forward I have earned some ‘brownie points’ with LSW.

That is just as well since I have proactively planned to be away during the village fete where LSW has a key role organising the Village Hall catering.  Some time ago (admittedly when I knew the date of the fete), I arranged to meet up with my Best Man (BM) in Cambridgeshire and to fit in Forest Green Rovers’ (FGR) away game at Milton Keynes Dons.  My absence this coming weekend, which will include a trip to London too, is being frowned upon by LSW.  But at least I moved the Neighbourhood Plan forward beforehand so, on balance, I’ve got away with it.

I have been away from home quite a lot recently.  In late August I was in London to catch up with a couple of past work colleagues and to see a band that I have been tracking for about 5 years.  They are The Correspondents and, although the music is not all to my taste, the live act is as full of energy as anything I have seen.  I even played a part in the lead singer’s crowd surfing exploits and got my hands on a (minor) celebrity for the first time.  I recommend checking out video of their gigs – the lead singer’s moves are amazing.

The Correspondents

The Correspondents At The Old Queens Head, London

Following that, I went to Nottingham to visit my parents and see FGR win at Notts County.  It was great to be able to show my Dad how far FGR have come since I first started supporting my local team 20 years ago.

Despite being away so much, there has been time to participate in a couple of regular village events which I used to miss when working in London: the monthly Village Quiz Night (we came second again) and the monthly Men’s Night.  Both are good ways to keep up with village gossip.

The quiz is particularly well constructed and run and is a very enjoyable challenge. Our team, usually of six but occasionally augmented by visiting offspring (Middle Son (MS) joined us a month ago and someone else’s daughter joined us this week), is varied.  That means our knowledge doesn’t overlap too much and we are contenders.  I usually can contribute on sport and geography but I’m too slow or too dense to add much elsewhere.  These events are nice slices of rural life I didn’t have prior to retirement and both events help to keep our pub in business.

One less alluring aspect of rural life this week was an invasion into our garden of 70 sheep through some broken fencing in the adjacent field.  Our grass got a welcome trim and some unexpected fertiliser but a few of the fruit trees and my leeks took a bit of a battering.  Fortunately the farmer was nearby and available.  He shooed them back within 30 minutes or so and damage to garden and sheep was insignificant (indeed, the sheep probably enjoyed the change of routine).  Oh, the joys of country living!

Wedding and Rye

Before this last week, I hadn’t been to a wedding for years.  LSW and I are just not in the right age group to be invited, although I suppose our sons may deliver on that score at some point and Middle Son (MS) seems to go to a wedding every other weekend.  Anyway, this week I got to go to one!

It was the wedding of the daughter of one of Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) friends.  I didn’t know anyone there apart from the mother of the bride but it was as lovely as weddings are supposed to be and we met some interesting new acquaintances.  As very peripheral members of the wedding party it was good fun working out who knew and was related to whom, especially as it wasn’t straightforward.

Pictures From A Wedding

Pictures From A Cotswold Wedding (At The Matara Centre)

The weather and the wedding location, just a few miles from us, were excellent.  The itinerary started with the ceremony and, after the inevitable photo shoot during which LSW and I had a walk around the grounds (with LSW contending with high heels on the grass), there was a well lubricated lunch.  There was then an interlude during which several attendees hoovered up the remaining lunchtime wine and LSW and I were able to slip back home for tea and a snooze.  We then returned for the evening event amongst the now swaying throng for a buffet dinner of tasty, slow roasted goat.

The day was relaxed and it looked like everyone enjoyed themselves – some more noisily that others – and certainly LSW and I did.  The event also gave me a reason to resurrect my suit, tie and cuff links which I hadn’t worn since I retired well over a year ago.  It’s a good job I did keep one suit following retirement and, after a bit of dusting down, was pleased to find that it still fits.

One couple we met at the evening wedding event were able to give us some advice on holiday locations in the Balkans.  We have settled on Split in Croatia for our next, short trip – squeezed in between vital football fixtures, LSW’s book group commitments and the village fete.  If we like that, then we may try a longer break in the Balkans next summer or in 2020 (LSW’s big birthday year) in a villa to which we might be able to attract our sons for a family holiday.

It’s fun to be doing all this holiday planning.  However, there is some nervousness for me associated with our Split trip in that we have left it late to book and so had to stray from the normal ‘boutique hotel’ type.  The small apartment we have taken was effectively my choice. LSW normally gets her way on hotels so I’m going to be in trouble (“dead” was her word) if this one isn’t smart, comfortable and clean enough.

There was another interesting event this week…..  We went to dinner with two friends in the village.  They are innovative and creative and it is always inspiring to meet up with them and, especially, to visit their house, goats, chickens and garden.  They run a small business called Hortus Heart and we always find what they have to say about nature and biodynamic farming fascinating even though it is outside our normal way of thinking.    They announced shortly after arrival that there would be ‘an activity’ and my heart momentarily s tripped since I was dreading having to create something.  It turned out to be an enjoyably therapeutic job of cutting the heads off a couple of sheafs of rye together.  How I love tasks like that!

Cutting Rye

Cutting Rye Together

While on the subject of tasks, having finished the painting of the TV room woodwork as reported last week, I am now onto other long-standing items on my to do list.  I finally did my tax return, applied a rather ‘Heath Robinson’ solution to fix some overflowing guttering and created a pile of chopped wood!  These achievements represent a small dent in a long task list.

Chopping Wood: Before and After (Remarkably, Without Being Stiff Next Day)

Finished At Last!

Those of you following this blog for a while will know that I have been painting the woodwork in our ‘TV Room’ – new shutters, skirting and panelling and the old doors – for the last 8 months.  This week, I finally finished!

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) remains astonished at how long I have taken over this but at least she hasn’t changed her mind about the dark blue colour during the protracted execution and she likes the result.  The parts I did towards the end of the exercise are better than the early efforts but it looks alright if you don’t look too closely.  We now have to paint the walls.  LSW is planning to impress me up by doing those in a matter of a few days.  Maybe hiring a professional is a better idea; we’ll see.

Of course, the primary reason why it took so long to complete this apparently simple painting task, apart from my inexperience, was my reluctance to devote more than 1-2 hours a day to the (admittedly intermittent) work.  Although I’m still a bit frustrated by the patchiness of the end product, I did enjoy the work overall.  I especially liked that I could paint to the rhythm of some of my CDs.  I’ve always wanted a job where I could listen to my favourite music at the same time as working, and retirement has enabled that!

Now I have finished, I have to find a productive way of utilising the hours per week that are freed up.  No problem; there are plenty of competing options and in any case there are lots of events already in the diary over the next couple months.

For example, the football season has re-started.  I plan to attend several Forest Green Rovers (FGR) games, both home and away, in the next few months.  While I attended the Cambridge Folk Festival, which I talked about in my last blog post, FGR enhanced my enjoyment by winning their first game.  Somehow, the music seemed to sound a lot better once I knew FGR had secured three points!

Since then I have seen three games and we remain unbeaten; a very promising start.  I especially enjoyed our win at Swindon who have become local rivals as we have risen and they have fallen (they were in the Premier League just 25 years ago).  I enjoyed joining in on the mischievous chants: ‘Premier League to village team/Forest Green’ and ‘Your ground’s too big for you’; it is, as the picture below shows.

Swindon Football Club

Swindon’s Empty Don Rogers Stand During Warm Up Versus FGR – How The Mighty Have Fallen

Between the football commitments, LSWs work and the rush to complete the TV Room paintwork (so I could show it off to weekend visitors from London and then my parents when they visited us), LSW and I have resumed our ‘days out’.

We really enjoyed a trip to East Somerset.  We went primarily to see the Alexander Calder exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in Somerset.  This was notable for containing a large number of personal, functional items designed and made by Calder alongside a splendid sample of his sculpture and mobiles.  It was an excellent exhibition and a visit to Hauser & Wirth, including the adjoining garden, is always a treat.

Piet Oudolf Gardens At Hauser & Wirth

Piet Oudolf Gardens At Hauser & Wirth

Following a very good lunch at the light and airy Chapel in Bruton, the sun came out and we paid an impromptu visit to Iford Manor Garden.  This was a rather unexpected joy. It was an intimate, Italianate garden full of 100 year old mock-Italian buildings adorned with original, imported Italian sculpture and friezes.  It adjoined an archetypally English river scene and old, golden manor buildings, and looked wonderful in the sun.

Iford Manor And Gardens

Iford Manor And Gardens

More day trips like this – as well as longer excursions once LSW’s work is on pause – are being planned to fill my retirement itinerary.

 

Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It

Will Smith’s ‘Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It’ was hardly the sort of music that was available at the Cambridge Folk Festival and so is a slightly misleading title for this.  But, during my visit to part of the festival last weekend, there were a lot of jigs and I did do a lot of foot-tapping and unobtrusive swaying to the sounds on offer.  They were primarily various forms of folk music but also blues, soul and Americana.  The sun shone, the atmosphere was relaxed, the festival facilities were first rate, and the music – while not entirely my favourite genre – was very easy on the ear and some was excellent.

Cambridge Festival, Stage 1 With Kate Rusby

Cambridge Festival, Stage 1 With Kate Rusby, A Laid Back Audience (So Many Folding Chairs!) And A Big Sky

I went with an old friend of mine – my Best Man (BM) at my wedding just over 33 years ago.  I was able to stay with at his house, a 30 minute taxi ride away from the festival, for the weekend.  We chatted, caught up on our respective lives and plans, ate and drank well, and enjoyed both the folk festival and the surrounding countryside (which, in a refreshing contrast to the deeply incised valleys around our Gloucestershire home, is open and undulating).  It was, as hoped for, a wonderful change from my routine.

Once again, my retirement meant that, for me at least, the weekend was more relaxed than would have been the case a few years, or even a few months, ago.  I was able to drive to and from Cambridgeshire in a measured way outside of peak traffic hours, there was no rush to do anything and we got the gentle pace of our activities about right.

On the Saturday of the folk festival we arrived when it opened but realised that an 11 hour stint of listening to the array of bands across several stages would exhaust us physically and mentally, especially given the hot and sunny weather.  We saw about 15 bands/performers over about 8 hours that day.  The best of these, for me, were The East Pointers (Americana) and Eric Bibb (blues) but the majority were traditional and rather basic folk bands.  We left early for a curry dinner, thereby missing a couple of headline acts, but, frankly, we were sated.

Cambridge Festival: The Shee, Eric Bibb And Alison Russell From The Birds Of Chicago

Cambridge Festival: The Shee, Eric Bibb And Alison Russell From The Birds Of Chicago

On the Sunday we decided to only attend the festival towards the end of the day. That enabled us to fit in a visit to Ely.  The town was gorgeous in the sunlight and history oozed from every turn.  Ely’s cathedral is terrific; it dominates the town and also the flat, fenland countryside for many miles around it.  It lost much of its ornamentation during the 16th century Reformation and then during Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan reign (he lived in Ely after all!).  But the grandeur and sheer engineering feat of its towers, nave and Lady Chapel remain.

Ely Cathedral, The Ouse And Oliver Cromwell's House

Ely Cathedral, The Ouse And Oliver Cromwell’s House

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

After tucking into a craft beer and lunch we walked around the town and down the Ouse River before popping into Anglesea Abbey on the way to Cambridge; another weather-enhanced treat.

Anglesea Abbey

Anglesea Abbey

We then returned to the folk festival and timed our arrival to see Kate Rusby (lovely voice) and, my BMs favourite, Birds of Chicago (excellent, radiant harmonies with a vibrant and emotional – almost tearful – female lead).  We also saw a clearly famous and popular John Prine but we looked at each other during his set and it was clear we had both had enough folk music for one weekend.

We left the music, sandals, tattoos and occasional whiffs of pot at the festival for a snack and a final bottle of wine back at my BM’s comfortable house and listened to some of his vast collection of CDs.  We congratulated ourselves on getting the pace of the weekend right.  As we looked back on a very good time, my BM prepared for a new working week and I considered the prospect of the leisure of another episode of relaxed retirement.

And so it is…..

Getting Hot In London

The highlight last week, in most ways, was a trip to London. However, the timing turned out to be awkward given the extreme temperatures.  It was baking on the London streets, even warmer on the tube and there were fewer places to hide from the heat than I can find at home in the country.

It was great to see and catch up with Eldest and Middle Son over dinner.  We drank and ate well at Bar Duoro in Southwark in a reprise of the feel of my time in Porto the previous week.

The other main reason for my trip was to visit, for my first time, the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

This year the Exhibition has been curated primarily by Grayson Perry. I was keen to see his stamp on the event having read a book by him – The Descent of Man – last year.  It was an unusual book about masculinity, its origins, its role in society and its possible future.  It provided some insights into his own childhood and emotional development and so I was keen to see how this was manifest in the Summer Exhibition.

Extravagance And Colour At The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Even the rooms not curated by Grayson had his imprint and he co-ordinated the Exhibition into a rather crazy and exuberant whole.  As usual (as I understand it), the Exhibition comprised a huge number of works (about 1,350 this time, varying in price from £100 to more than £100,000 and 95% sold already) which, in many of the rooms, were crammed into the space available so that it was almost impossible to focus on any one work.  The overall impression was one of irreverence, humour, colour and fun.

Works By Phylida Barlow (lost In Thought) And Debbie Lawson (Red Bear) In The Summer Exhibition

There were undercurrents of left wing politics, social justice and anti-establishmentarianism that occasionally burst out in individual pieces.  But most of any seriousness was seemingly wilfully undermined by the overwhelming scale, the hints at subversion and the sheer ‘bonkersness’ of several of the selections and their layout.  It was fun but a bit overwhelming.

Some Of The More Overtly Political Pieces At The Summer Exhibition

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A Work By El Anatusi At The Summer Exhibition That Reminded Me Of Similar Items By Him I Had Seen In Cape Town Earlier In The Year – It Was Nice To Make The Connection!

The BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery was much smaller scale and more accessible.  The little stories accompanying the pictures were helpful in providing a ‘way into’ the art that contrasted with the feeling of being hit by a colourful sledgehammer at the Summer Exhibition a couple of hours before.  The National Portrait Gallery was busy but I enjoyed the feeling of intimacy with the art there.img_0513.jpg

Winner of The BP Portrait Award 2018 – The Angel At My Table By Miriam Escofet

At least it was cool in the galleries.  On my second evening in London I ventured to a gig at Rough Trade to see three ‘up and coming’ bands (Echo Ladies, Linda Guilana and Grimm Grimm).  They were all interesting in their way but the heat near the stage was excessive and it was too hot to get excited.  I was glad of the chance to browse the listening posts at Rough Trade but appreciated getting back out in the gentle dusk breeze on the walk back to the flat.

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Hot In Rough Trade Records With Echo Ladies

I had planned to visit the Asterix Exhibition at the Jewish Museum on my last day in London, but the prospect of even higher London temperatures prompted me to cut my visit short and I returned to Gloucestershire early that morning.  My retirement means that I have the flexibility of rescheduling and planning another London trip soon and that is already in train.

Back in Gloucestershire, I am licking my wounds from the barbs of Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) remembering our (33rd) wedding anniversary while I completely failed to do so.  Usually we both forget the anniversary but LSW has upped her game and I will need to respond in kind.

Also back here in Gloucestershire, the extended hot spell has finally broken and we have some rain at last.  Already, the pasture opposite our house has shifted almost imperceptibly from brown towards green.  The rain feels like a relief but I’m looking forward to resumption of normal sunny service next week before I go to the Cambridge Folk Festival with an old friend.  I’m looking forward to the next break in routine that will bring.

Fun in Porto

Last weekend, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I had a short break in Porto, Portugal’s second city. We went with an old friend of ours.  We have a lot of shared history including our revelry at the Horsley Village Disco I wrote about last December.  Almost 40 years ago, I introduced her to her (now) husband and, a few years later, she introduced me to my (now) wife.  We had a lot of fun in those days of our relative youth and we had a great time again last weekend.

Porto From Torre Dos Clerigos

Porto From Torre Dos Clerigos

About 18 months ago LSW and I visited Lisbon, Portugal’s capital. Lisbon is a wonderful historical city with lovely walks and views, we were lucky with the weather, we found the people very friendly and we enjoyed ourselves very much.  We therefore were keen to try Portugal again.

We were not disappointed; indeed in many ways Porto was even more enjoyable.  Again, the weather was sunny and the people we met were relaxed and friendly.  The historic streets with their tiled and balconied buildings were attractive and interesting.  The views across the hills of the city and the river were sunlit and dramatic.  Porto is a little slower, more laid back and perhaps even more at ease with itself than Lisbon.  It has an atmosphere that was perfect for our little group.

Porto And The Duoro River

Views of Porto And The Duoro River

Porto's Graffiti, Trams And Tiled Buildings

Porto’s Graffiti (including The 3-D Rabbit!), Trams And Tiled Buildings

Our sketchy plans for what we wanted to see and do seemed to keep falling into place.  Even fully booked restaurants found space for us.  We managed to get prime tables in roof-top bars overlooking the stunning Douro River that splits the city in two.  We stumbled upon free port tasting and barely advertised museums that pleasantly filled the gaps between excellent meals and chats over bottles of local wine.  The relaxed approach culminated in a takeaway of chicken, chips and salad (accompanied by copious amounts of local wine and port, of course) eaten heartily in our very good AirBnB on the last night of our stay.

Porto Churches And Cathedrals

Porto Churches And Cathedrals

Upon our return we found that the weather had been even hotter in our garden than in Porto and that there had only been one short rain shower to sustain the garden.  It is looking increasingly parched and manual watering is no longer enough to sustain everything.  However, my focus on keeping the beans and blackcurrant plants going is paying off.  We are able to have a variety of types of bean at every meal now and I have made a year’ supply of blackcurrant jam with loads more still to pick.

Another Year's Supply Of Blackcurrant Jam

Another Year’s Supply Of Blackcurrant Jam

My allotment is faring less well – it’s a long story as to why I have it since it is a few miles from where we now live and so I can’t keep it watered sufficiently.  The good thing is that the weeds are not thriving there either due to the lack of rain – although the leeks I failed to harvest last year are looking impressive.  More on the allotment another time…..

Dry Allotment

My Dry Allotment With Last Year’s Unpicked Leeks

Meanwhile, I’m planning to visit London again next week and, beyond that, now Paris and Porto have been visited in the last month, LSW and I need to get another holiday into the diary.

It Nearly Came Home

So, the England football team are out of the World Cup and football is not ‘coming home’ after all.  The team exceeded my expectations but failed to beat Croatia in the semi-final and the sense of anti-climax is huge.  England supporters have to console themselves with the knowledge that their youthful and promising team played in a positive way.  I also console myself with the knowledge that the English football season starts soon and the passion can be let loose there all over again.

The progression towards the climax of the World Cup, Wimbledon tennis and, in the last few days, the Tour de France, has meant I have spent increasing amounts of time watching the TV.  Afternoon sport is a real retirement luxury.

On a couple of afternoons I was able to combine following the television coverage of the tennis with painting of the TV room.  However, I was painting the front door of the cupboard hosting the TV itself and it felt a bit weird having the picture on the other side of a closed cupboard.  Now that cupboard is done, marrying following the sport with finishing the painting should be more effective!

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been rather more long-suffering than usual given that the football has disrupted a few evenings.  She has little general interest in football and often gets too nervous during the England games to watch them.  Like many, though, she has been rather taken by the down to earth nature of the England heroes and the manager, Gareth Southgate.  He certainly did a decent job with limited resources (albeit with a lucky set of fixtures), and there is the promise of improvement.

In spite of the compulsion to fit in around the sport, LSW and I have managed to get out for a couple of ‘outings’.  The best was to Asthall Manor Gardens which was hosting a biennial exhibition of sculpture – the On Form Exhibition.  There were almost 400 sculptures from 40 artists laid out in the manor and across the beautiful gardens and meadows surrounding it.  Of course, this was all enhanced by the perfect warm and sunny weather that we have come to expect this summer.  We retreated afterwards to an excellent, good-value lunch at Upton Firehouse at the Upton Smokery; we will try that again.

St Nicholas Church, Asthall And Asthall Manor Gardens

St Nicholas Church, Asthall And Asthall Manor Gardens

On Form Sculpture Exhibition, Asthall Manor Gardens

On Form Sculpture Exhibition, Asthall Manor Gardens

Our own garden and meadow looks good at the moment despite the lack of rain.  The new walled garden has been planted with things that are reasonably drought-resistant and we have succumbed to a routine of selective manual watering to keep the rest going.  In the evenings, once the temperatures have cooled a bit, it has been lovely sitting out in the garden looking out across the flowers and long meadow grass with a glass of wine.  (Numbers of non-alcohol days remain depressed by the incidence of sunny evenings and the obligatory beers during England games.)

Sunset On Long Grass In Our Meadow

Sunset On Long Grass In Our Meadow Beyond The New Walled Garden

A flock of sheep that have made a recent, welcome return to the field opposite our house; they make our location look extra rural.  Like the sheep, I seek out the cool of shade through most of the day.  Even so, I have managed to keep up my walks and step-count by venturing into the local town before breakfast and before the temperatures become uncomfortable.

However, a number of recent information sources (a doctor I met during our June trip to Newquay, a chat with a local resident who uses a personal trainer, and an article in the Guardian newspaper) have indicated that even brisk walking in our hilly landscape is insufficient for the health of aging people.

What we oldsters also need to do is build up core strength, balance and muscle volume to counteract the natural degradation of muscle after our forties.  I’ve started to incorporate some minimal and brief resistance-based training into my (almost) daily back exercise routines but I know I need to make these more comprehensive and regular.  Lack of will-power and a reluctance to bother to change into clothing more appropriate for serious exercise are real obstacles I need to overcome.

The good news on the health front is that an eye test this week showed my eyesight has improved significantly in the last year.  Surely that can only be because I have retired and no longer spend 8-10 hours a day squinting at a computer screen.

So, not only has retirement allowed me the flexibility to watch the best of summer sport live, I can now see it with better eyes!  Long may that last…..

A Year On….

This day a year ago was the day I went over my personal ‘cliff edge’ by leaving London and starting my retirement in the country.

There were no half-measures as far as work was concerned. Indeed I have hardly thought about work since I left; I simply stopped.  Leaving London was less precipitate since the family home has been in Gloucestershire for about 20 years and I spent most weekends there over that time.  Critically too, I have retained a foothold in London in that I can stay with Eldest Son in the Barbican flat while he lives there.

It’s been a great year – maybe the best, despite my deep concerns for what is going on in the World beyond my daily sphere of influence.  I don’t regret the retirement decision, or the way I did it, a bit.

Six months into retirement, last December, I set out the lessons I thought I had learnt about my retirement up to that point (here and here).  To recap, the main personal lessons, in summary, were:

  • Work didn’t and doesn’t define me and I don’t miss it
  • There is plenty to do in retirement
  • There is still need for structure
  • Holidays (trips away from home) are more relaxing now
  • I miss London, but not as much as I expected
  • Summer Is A Good Time To Retire
  • Remember That Retirement Affects One’s Partner Too
  • Spend Time Getting To Know One’s (New) Neighbourhood
  • Don’t Rush Into Any New Big Time Commitments
  • Health, As Always, Is Critical.

I don’t think I would change those much a further six months into retirement.

I worry a bit that I’m still not feeling ready to commit time to some project, voluntary exercise or local organisation.  Most of my reticence in getting involved in something like that stems from the difficulties we already have in getting away for holidays without disrupting Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSWs) work and course commitments.  We have enjoyed our holidays in Australia, South Africa and, most recently, in Paris so much.  I don’t want to put further obstacles in the way of scheduling more.

In any case, the point that there is plenty to do in retirement and that I feel busy already remains true.  The last few weeks have felt particularly full. In addition to our trip to Paris, there have been outings to gardens, pubs and friends.  Also, the football World Cup has been an increasingly enjoyable time-suck as we have moved into the knockout stages and given that the England team still have a chance to impress.  Most enjoyably, we had a lovely visit from Youngest Son (YS) on his way from Australia to a video shoot he has been selected for in Croatia during their Yacht Week.

Face Time and Whatsapp communication from Australia, plus pictures on Instagram, provide an inadequate substitute for seeing YS in the flesh so it was tremendous to have him staying with us for a few days.  Unlike his last visit at Christmas, we had time to chat with him at some length.  It was great to hear how he is doing what he wants – travelling and filming – and he is in his element in Australia where so much of life is spent outdoors, energetically, in wonderful weather.

Of course, the weather here, too, has been magnificent.  We were encouraged by it to make an early morning trip with YS to see dawn at Cheddar Gorge.

Cheddar Gorge Just After Dawn

The sunlight on the gorge sides was gorgeous and the early start meant we could squeeze in a recuperative snooze and a canal-side walk all before a pub lunch.

LSW and YS

LSW and YS Walking Near Frampton Mansell, Gloucestershire

Of course there are downsides with the dry, sunny weather – the inevitable water shortages, the moor fires in the north of the country and the drying out of the garden – and the languorous periods lounging in the garden have had the unfortunate side effect of depressing my non-alcohol day count in June (I only managed four).  However, I say, bring on some more sun and warmth now I’m retired and can enjoy it fully.  Summer is a great time to be retired!

Oh Paris!

What a wonderful city Paris is!  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have just returned from a weekend break there to celebrate LSW’s birthday.  I love cities but Paris is particularly special, especially when the sun is shining as it did for us.  The streets bustle around the spill-overs from the brasseries, bistros and cafes, the historic architecture is casually lovely and the newer buildings are often intriguing.  The shiny thread of the Seine is more heavily used than the Thames in London and its banks and bridges provide tremendous views.

View Of The Cathedral Notre-Dame De Paris

View Of The Cathedral Notre-Dame De Paris

LSW and I have been to Paris a few times during the decades of our relationship.  We steered away from the crowds this time and saw some of the lesser known areas of Paris.  We spent some time walking around graffiti strewn Butte De Calles – just south from our compact, clean, friendly hotel – and then a few hours strolling up the Canal St Martin/Bassin De Villette/Canal De L’Ourcq in the north east.  We also walked the Viaduct Des Artes out from the Bastille to the Peripherique to the east.  All these walks gave us an unusual and fascinating perspective of the underside of Paris that we hadn’t seen before.

Graffiti in Butte De Calles

Graffiti in Butte De Calles

I also visited one of the big cemeteries (Pére Lachaise) which was a wonderfully shady break from the sun and heat.  Cemeteries are another thing the countries on the continent do well.

Cemetiere Du Pere Lachaise

Cemetiere Du Pere Lachaise (Including The Tomb Of Oscar Wilde Second of Right)

Both LSW and I (together and separately) saw wonderfully cluttered bookshops, browsed unreformed hardware stores and visited stylish clothes shops.

Whisks Inside An Old Fashioned Parisian Hardware Store

Whisks Inside An Old Fashioned Parisian Hardware Store (The Price Of Which Had To be Looked Up In A Catalog)

We also visited the Sunday street markets.  We have been trying to sell our stuff in car boot and table top sales recently.  Having seen the scale and popularity of the Sunday flea markets in the Parisian squares and along several main streets, we joked that we should have taken a car load of stuff over to Paris to sell it there.  We generally avoided the crowds but short spells in the flea and food markets were invigorating.

Street Market Near Place De La Republique

Street Market Near Place De La Republique

Of course, we felt obliged to see some of the iconic sights of Paris including the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Jardin Du Luxembourg, Basilica du Sacre Coeur, and the Jardin Des Plantes; all looking splendid in the weather we were blessed with.

The Eiffel Tower From Champs De Mars

The Eiffel Tower From Champs De Mars

We also squeezed in some arty culture by visiting the Palais de Tokyo and the Atelier Brancusi.  The former had two wonderful rooms filled mainly with Delaunay and Dufy paintings.  The latter was a reconstruction of Brancusi’s studios and was brilliantly done.  Both were free, neither were crowded and neither took long to absorb; perfect!

Dufy, Dufy, Delaunay And Bonnard At Palais De Tokyo

Dufy, Dufy, Delaunay And Bonnard At Palais De Tokyo

Views In Atelier Brancusi; His Reconstructed Studio

Views In Atelier Brancusi; His Reconstructed Studio

In between these 25,000 step days, the art and the taking in of the views, we spent a lot of time chilling in bars and cafes – well not chilling because it was too warm for that, but relaxing thoroughly.  We ate simply.  My favourite meal – which I had often enough to become a temporary expert in the subtle variations on offer – was Croque Madame (Croque Monsuieur with an egg on top).  We did eat in a proper restaurant once but most of our expenditure was on wine drunk slowly but steadily while watching the world go past our favourite bars.  Paris does the street bars and café scene so well at every turn.

Retirement seems to have calmed my concern that if I’m not on my way to something I’m not doing enough with my holiday; I can just sit and chat now.  Our trip was very relaxing but we also ‘did’ a lot.  My only worry is that excellent weather we have had on recent holidays is due to balance out on our next one in Porto in July (I have to worry about something).

First, this coming week will be dominated by a visit to England by our Youngest Son (YS).  He is over from Australia for a few days on his way to an exciting-sounding video job at Croatia Yacht Week.  I might investigate whether I can be his bag-carrier.  I suspect he will be looking for someone stronger and more good looking and so will just make do with the treat of seeing him for the first time since New Year.

Pompidou Centre, Sacre Couer, Bibliotheque De L'Arsenal

Varied Paris Architecture: Pompidou Centre, Sacre Du Couer, Bibliotheque De L’Arsenal

Palais De Tokyo

Palais De Tokyo