It was my birthday last week and I am now, officially, a pensioner. I can’t wait to get my bus pass and try it out!
I had an absolutely wonderful birthday week and, for the first time in what might be decades, I spent my actual birthday with both my Dad and my sister who has her birthday just the day before mine. She is staying with my Dad and so I popped up to Nottingham to see them both on the way to see Forest Green Rovers’ last, critical game of the season in Mansfield, and then on to Edinburgh.
The weather in Nottingham was kind enough to enable some pleasant local walks but the highlight of my stay – apart perhaps from our joint birthday meal out at a local restaurant – was an evening playing Mahjong.
My Dad (and now my sister) has inherited a fine and thankfully complete bone and hand painted Mahjong set which my Grandad brought from India when he returned to England. The game is a delicate balance of luck and skill but the pleasure really comes from the handling of the bone bricks and counters. Playing again as a family was such fun although we all missed the fourth hand in the game – Mum.
Of course the next highlight was Forest Green Rovers’ game at Mansfield. We needed to achieve a better result on the day than Exeter City (who were playing at home in Exeter) to win the English Football League Division 2 Championship. We came from behind twice against Mansfield with two fine goals right in front of us to gain a draw. Then, a minute after our result, we heard that Exeter had lost; we are Champions! Joy was unconfined on and off the pitch!
I had to leave those celebrations early and quickly to get my train north to Edinburgh. I arrived just before midnight in the midst of First Grandchild’s (FG’s) sleep training. I was quiet and careful not to disrupt the discipline of feeding him at fixed times and of forcing him to settle himself when waking during the night. FG’s progress during my few days in Edinburgh was transformational but not entirely linear – nor will it be continuous going forward. But the direction of travel is extremely positive and, for Eldest Son and, especially, his partner, the huge reduction in FG’s demands during evenings and the night is already life changing for them (and FG).
Seeing FG again was a real treat and I had such a great time in Edinburgh again. I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens once more (with a sleeping FG). I am now familiar with the gardens but, of course, it is now Spring so everything looks different – and even more interesting – than it did during my last visit. The last of the tulips are out and the rhododendrons are looking gorgeous. The trees are freshly in leaf and the birds are super-active. Fortunately, FG slumbered throughout.
It is at this time of the year that one can see that, indeed, the Botanical Garden in Edinburgh has the largest collection of rhododendrons in the world. There is such a variety on show and now is peak flowering time. A small but interesting exhibition in Inverleith House set out the characteristics of rhododendrons, their world distribution, their history in gardening, and the challenges to indigenous plant-life some varieties have caused as they have escaped into the wilds of the northern hemisphere, including Scotland.
I also went to a superb exhibition of Barbara Hepworth’s work at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. It was a straightforward retrospective but, I thought, the pieces on show were not only excellent illustrations of the progression her art took through her life but were, in several cases, just astonishingly good. I loved the exhibition.
In part, as I have noted during previous visits to Edinburgh galleries, my pleasure was heightened by the fact that there were no crowds vying for views of the work on show. Exhibitions in London may be more high profile but they can also attract crowds that can detract from the show. Being another capital and highly cultural city, Edinburgh can attract big names and marvellous works but without the huge audiences – at least, outside of Edinburgh Festival timings.
My final cultural exploit in Edinburgh was to see the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The big ‘wow!’ here is the Great Hall of the building itself. As one walks into the building for the first time, it is a jaw-droppingly beautiful space.
The art on show is, predictably, almost exclusively portraiture. I can only take so much of that and I may have overdone it as the chronologically organised galleries became a bit of a blur after a while.
There was however, a mixed but, overall, interesting exhibition on the Scottish census. This included a piece of a project by Kieron Dodds to photograph ginger-haired people. These tend to be in distinct geographic pockets around the world – apparently, for example, 13% of people in Scotland are have ginger coloured hair and there are distinct preponderances of ginger colouring in parts of the Caribbean and Russia. The project felt relevant given that FG’s current hair colour is also a little ginger.
Then it was back to London to carry out a chore or two in the Barbican flat prior to sale (we hope). I saw The Northman in a cinema – my first cinema visit for a long while. It was worth seeing on the big screen if only for the amazing Icelandic scenery but, apart from one twist exquisitely delivered by Nicole Kidman, it was, for me, no more than a bit of moderately entertaining, macho-violent, Nordic swashbuckling.
I capped off birthday week with breakfast with Middle Son – always a treat to get an update on his shifting plans. Then home to get my bus pass application in……