Mental Fitness

As I move into my fifth year of retirement I’m maintaining a pretty stable routine but also trying a couple of new things. 

One new thing is signing up to an informal Mens’ Mental Fitness ‘Club’.  This is under the umbrella of a charity called Talk Club.  The roughly weekly sessions are arranged by the local pub landlord and a couple of his fellow facilitators.  They are held in his pub on a day when it is closed and no alcohol is available.  I’ve attended three sessions so far and it’s been an interesting, new experience.

Our Lovely, Innovative Village Pub

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) would say I’m a pessimist and she is often frustrated by my negativity.  But fundamentally, I’m happy and recognise my luck in life.  I wouldn’t consider that I have many mental issues yet (I just have political and environmental worries).  However, the sessions force each participant to consider their feelings in ways that many men, and certainly me, rarely do. 

How do I feel out of 10?  Why is that?  What am I thankful for?  What am I going to do this week to improve the way I feel?  Just about the only time I have historically thought about these things is when I am writing posts for this blog.  Now I have another reason and outlet.

The mental fitness sessions require answering all these questions and listening to other participants as they relate their feelings about them.  It’s such a simple, but different process from anything else I have done that it is surprising and freeing.  It certainly feels invigorating – both the relating of one’s own thoughts and the feeling that you are helping others by listening as they relay theirs. 

I’m going to keep up my participation whenever I can and am grateful that I live in a village with so cool a pub that it is trying the Talk Club sessions out.  I may be more listening than talking at the moment but who knows when challenging issues might arise and that might change.

Horsley Village Church (With Flag). I Love This Village

The other main innovation in the last few weeks has been that I have investigated helping out in the local District’s Foodbank (Stroud District Foodbank).  I went along to an open event at the local warehouse to see the operation and meet the organisers.  It is impressive, expanding and much (and increasingly) needed. 

The whole tour of the facility was very interesting.  Clients are starting to avoid deliveries of vegetables like potatoes because they can’t afford to cook them so the Foodbank are providing slo-cookers (remember those from the 80s!) because they are energy efficient.  The paper bags the food deliveries arrive in are reusable but have detachable name tags so that clients that do reuse them don’t suffer any stigma from using the Foodbank.  The Foodbank management have experience and know what they are doing.

Stroud Foodbank: Main Warehouse

My introduction to the Stroud Foodbank satellite ‘drop off centre’ is next week.  I don’t know how much I can help but I will try to and then see how things go.

Involvement at the Foodbank may mean dialling back a bit on my local Climate Change Network efforts; I hope not since this week’s record temperatures underline the need to keep awareness of the Climate and Biodiversity Emergencies at centre stage.  However, as I described in my last, Retirement: Five Years On post, my days seem strangely full already.  Also, the football season is about to start and there are visits to our sons in Belfast, Edinburgh and (hopefully, soon) Bristol to fit in.  Not to mention the squeezing in of Mens’ Mental Fitness evenings!

Meanwhile, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I made another trip to Edinburgh last weekend to see First Grandchild (FG) and his tired but loving parents.  We had a lovely time as usual.  Eldest Son’s (ES’s) fiancée is a great cook, we always feel very welcome, and we had another chance to meet ES’s future parents-in-law which is always fun.  Plus, of course, we saw FG again and were able to assess and enjoy his excitingly rapid development.

It is, of course, a slog to drive to and from Edinburgh – about 9 hours including the charge-up of our electric car.  But what a treat the weekend was!  We visited North Berwick to the east of Edinburgh where we tried out the well-tested seaside entertainments of fish and chips on the quayside and a walk along the beach.  FG had his first fish and chip lunch – the first of many I’m sure – and the fish I had from the Lobster Shack was exceptionally good.

Views Of North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland

I revisited the excellent Barbara Hepworth exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, this time with LSW.  I again found it was an impressive chronological account of some of her best work.  I’m not yet sure what exhibition will replace this or the Joan Eardley exhibition in the sister Modern Art Gallery over the road, but I’m expecting great things for our next or next but one Edinburgh visit.

The Hands, Barbara Hepworth, 1948 (Painted As Part Of A Series Following The Illness Of One OF Her Children)

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was when LSW and I were entrusted to take FG out for a trip to the Botanical Gardens.  We have done this before but, in the past, FG has napped throughout.  This time he was wide awake and expecting some entertainment and there was some concern that he would miss his Mum (something called ‘separation anxiety’ apparently).  We delivered FG’s entertainment by showing him waterfalls and rapids in the Rockery Garden and then by sitting near a crowd of Japanese children who were playing around a large picnic.  FG evidently loves the idea of running water and the proximity of noisy kids; he was a delight.

Views Of Edinburgh

We are already planning our next trip to Edinburgh and will also try to squeeze in a summer trip to Belfast.  We also have another short trip to London in a couple of weeks, reprising an even shorter one a couple of weeks ago to attend a highly convivial family birthday party.  It is those trips that help to sustain my mental fitness.  I look forward to being able to weave that into my reasoning for my ‘feelings score’ at my next Talk Club Mens’ Mental Fitness group session.

Impressive Antlers On Deer Finding Shade In Bushey Park Which I Was Able To Visit Prior To One Of LSW’s Niece’s Birthday Party

Retirement: Five Years On

Five years ago today, I experienced my first day of retirement after almost 40 years of corporate working.  I haven’t done a stroke of paid work since retiring and I haven’t regretted that for one minute.  I have been lucky that my health has been good (I know a few new retirees who have not been so fortunate) and that earning and saving during my working life has meant that I could retire in my early 60s and still live comfortably (again, not something that is possible for all). 

Taking The Retirement Step Five Years Ago: Mr Archer Has Left The Building!

I have also been lucky in that retirement moved me more permanently to our family home in a lovely part of Gloucestershire but that I could also keep a degree of access to my London flat for a few years.  That meant that I could wean myself off London cultural life gradually.  That London facility has just been sold and now I am tied much more to Gloucestershire day to day (something that probably means Long-Suffering Wife is a little more long-suffering these days).  However, while cultural exploits are now less frequent, the countryside here is highly alluring, the rural walks are delightful and the pandemic lockdown had already trained me to make the most of the local.

Long, Local, Countryside Walks – A Great Retirement Treat

Five years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect from retirement (that was one of the reasons why I started this blog when I retired) and there certainly have been some surprises along the way.   The Covid pandemic has been a big one and that has curtailed a lot of the travel that I anticipated doing.  Middle Son’s accident a few years ago was also completely impossible to anticipate and has taken a while to recover from.  Now a needless world war is causing more widespread disruption in which to plan.

Pre-Covid Travel We Did Manage: South Africa 2018

Our sons’ locations have also been unpredictable and yet this has determined a lot of our travel.  When Youngest Son was in Australia we went there (twice); currently he is in Belfast and we have visited there twice too.  Middle Son remains in London so we have seen him there but we wait on tenterhooks as to where he will move to next and more permanently. 

Sydney 2019
Northern Ireland Summer 2021; (Typically Very) Early Morning Trip With Youngest Son

Meanwhile, Eldest Son is settled in Edinburgh with his partner and they have produced the loveliest retirement surprise – our First Grandchild – and so Edinburgh has become another regular destination.

Back Streets Of Edinburgh 2022

As I did a year after leaving employment, I have gone back to the initial impressions I had of retirement which I set out after the first six months (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.

Once again, I don’t see much to change or add to that.  I have certainly found plenty to do in retirement and have enjoyed getting involved more in the local community, but a key attraction is that little has to be done in a hurry.  Even though I have taken on a few commitments around the village, particularly regarding local climate action, and even though some of these have become quite substantial, the pace is much more relaxed.   As in work, there seems to be much to do but, in retirement, most can wait until tomorrow.

Our Meadow And Vegetable Patches: Varying Levels Of Untidiness

I have been able to create new routines and structures for my day primarily around walking, shopping and cooking.  They help provide some balance between doing and doing very little that create a feeling of busyness but with a flexibility on timescales that is just challenging enough for me.

That flexibility is perhaps the most attractive thing.  We can travel or not.  I can offer to help with something or not (I remain careful not to promise things I can’t deliver).  I can go out gardening today or leave it till later because Wimbledon tennis is on or it looks like rain.  I can take a long walk because the weather is nice or I can sit and play a computer game for an hour or two.  I can cook simply or take the time to explore into new cooking territory.  I can go to a Forest Green Rovers away game halfway across the country or sit nervously alongside the radio commentary. 

Who Wouldn’t Want To Travel Halfway Across The Country To See The New Forest Green Rovers Away Kit?

The choices are more attractive than when I was working, the execution of those choices is more relaxed, and it’s been a very good five years!

My Current Retirement Home

Laughing In Lyme

We had a great long weekend in Lyme Regis.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I started our weekend by meeting up with Youngest Son (YS) and his partner in Bristol on Friday morning.  They had stayed overnight in Bristol to check out the Bristol vibe and had found a café/bar adjoining a boutique hotel called Artist Residence Bristol.  It was perfect; great breakfast, service and start to the day.

Artist Residence Cafe/Bar In Bristol

We drove together down to Lyme Regis to stay in a flat overlooking the Harbour and the famous Cobb breakwater that protects it.  The stay was the result of a successful charity auction bid a few months ago when our village raised almost £14,000 for the victims of the war on Ukraine.  We had little idea of what the flat would be like but trusted that, given the owners had been so generous in offering the flat as an auction lot, it would be well appointed and comfortable.

That is exactly how it turned out and more.  The flat was indeed well presented, well provisioned, homely and just right for the six of us.  What was unexpected was the spectacular view from its windows facing Lyme Bay.  We were in the tallest building around the Harbour and overlooked it all.

View Of The Cobb From Our Flat For The Weekend

We spent the late afternoon over a late lunch (for me, an unnecessarily huge bowl of cheesy nachos at Swim) on the sea front and then walking around the town and along the seafront in gorgeous weather. 

Busy Lyme Regis Sea Front And A Big Arrow To Indicate Where We Stayed
Lyme Regis Beach

YS picked up Middle Son (MS) and his partner from nearby Axminster station.   While they freshened up in the flat, LSW and I set about pre-dinner drinks and a walk through the gardens overlooking the bay.  We then met up together for dinner at Mark Hix’s The Oyster & Fish House.  Again we had spectacular views across the bay and the food was very good (I just wish I had gone for the three types of fish for two people which MS and his partner shared, and which looked exceptional).

Next day, another substantial breakfast at Town Mill Bakery and Cafe was followed by a bit of crabbing by the youngsters.  I thought the chance of catching a crab off The Cobb was small but it was amusing to watch the enthusiastic early efforts.  I left for a walk along the coast to the west of the town and so missed the triumph that met capture of two crabs by both MS’s and YS’s partners.  There were a lot of photos of smiles (I won’t share here to protect the innocent!) and talk of doing more crabbing with the remains of the mackerel bait on the following day.

Superior Housing To The West Of Lyme Regis – Old, New and Strange

We joined up again for a walk along the east coast of the Bay.  Landslips had destroyed some of the paths but we were able to go far enough to get proper exercise in before retreating to the Town Mill Micro Brewery (again!) for some well-deserved and lovely craft beers.

The Jurassic Coast East Of Lyme Regis
Land-slipped Coast And New Sea Protection Walls Just East Of Lyme Regis

The only downside during our time in the micro-brewery was being told that, in preparation for the following day’s crabbing the youngsters had left the remains of the mackerel bait with the crabbing equipment in our block of flats just outside the ground floor apartment.  I felt a strong responsibility for making sure the neighbours of those lending their flat to us weren’t inconvenienced by rotting mackerel outside their front door.  So I strode quickly back to the flat to move the crabbing stuff up to outside our flat door so at least we would be the only people who would have to put up with the smell. 

I also picked up Heckmeck – a crazy dice game and one of our favourites and, as the weather drew in and it got appreciably colder, we moved to a tiny space indoors at the brewery for a rather noisy game. 

Heckmeck And Craft Beer

Back at the flat we restocked the beer supply, opened a few and played a new game called Twin It!  This team game is simple in concept but very fast moving and so stressful that we could only cope with one round.  I can’t wait for an occasion to play again though.  Fortunately LSW and I had time to calm down as the youngsters went off to pick up fish and chips from the renowned and family run Lyme’s Fish Bar and then we tucked in.  One more round of Heckmeck rounded off a full and excellent day.

Our final day started with the niffyness of mackerel as we left the flat and then, once again, a large breakfast, this time at the splendidly located The Lyme Bay

At some point during breakfast I learnt that, on the way to the cafe, the rotting mackerel had been discarded and crabbing was no longer on the agenda.   Why the crabbing equipment hadn’t been discarded the previous day was unclear to me but what a lot of ‘wasted stress’ I had expended the evening before!   Everyone seemed very amused at my discombobulation. 

Striding Out On The Coastal Path West Of Lyme Regis

Still, the lack of crabbing enabled time for one more walk along the coast before we headed off from Lyme Regis with some great memories and laughs in the bank.  It was great to have spent a full weekend with YS, MS and their partners.  Loved it!

Overlooking Lyme Regis From The East

Friends, Family and Parochial Busyness

Since retiring almost five years ago, I have frequently been surprised by how busy I have felt.  Late May and Early June have certainly felt that way although, when I look back, I’m not sure why. 

Certainly, I have done a one or two weeks of work on follow up activities relating to a Village Meeting that the local Climate Action Network group I belong to arranged with the Parish Council.  And, ok, we have had visitors other than family coming to stay for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

We also had the festivities around the Queens Jubilee (though in our village, these only really stretched to installation of a new commemorative bench and, more engagingly, a four day beer festival in the village pub).  We even hosted a long-promised but long awaited drinks event for a few locals in our garden.  Plus we had a really lovely visit from our First Grandchild (FG), his parents and his other Grandparents. Oh, and the London Barbican flat that I used before retirement was sold!

Village Pub (The Hog) Ju-Beer-Lee Beer Festival

Does that sound like a busy month?

In any case, almost all of it has been a lot of fun and, in the case of the work on the presentations of the summary of feedback from the Village Meeting, I feel like I have achieved something worthwhile for the greater good.  I get to present most of it to the Parish Council next week so I hope they will feel the same way.

Lacing all these little events together has been the routine of shopping, cooking, gardening and walking. 

Shopping and cooking has been marked by an uptick (in my perception, at least) in the frequency and innovation of my evening meal preparation.  I am enjoying cooking more and more as I gain confidence in swapping out recipe ingredients for others to add variety and to use up vegetables otherwise likely to be wasted.  ‘Important’ meals for most visitors usually remain the in the ambit of Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) but no longer is this a golden rule and my (in)famous Coronation Chicken (courtesy of Thomasina Miers) got an outing when my Best Man came to visit during the village pub beer festival a couple of weeks ago.

This Coronation Chicken Recipe From Thomasina Miers Is Easy But Creates A Delicious, Colourful, Warm Salad

Gardening has been more fraught with the need to focus on the Village Meeting, days of relatively inclement weather, and early afternoon indolence combining to delay planting out of straggly, pot bound vegetable seedlings.  Now almost everything is in the ground the slugs are having a better time of it, but at least my seedlings have a chance of producing something.

Our Terrace Garden In Bloom

The local walks have been increasingly pleasant as the weather has improved on our way to the longest day and summer.  Plus I have got real enjoyment from using a mobile phone app that identifies birds from their birdsong.  The app is called Merlin Bird ID (although I understand from others I have spoken to that there are several alternatives).  When I first tried it a few months ago, I wasn’t sure it was accurate.  Now I believe it is and using it has begun to help me learn to identify birds before I even open the app and turn the recording/identification function on.  It’s adding another pleasurable dimension to my walks in much the same way the app Candide did for me from sometime last year as I tried to identify plants as I went.

Much Loved Sycamore At The Top Of Our Lane

LSW and I are off to Lyme Regis this coming weekend where, Covid permitting, we will meet up with Middle Son, Youngest Son and their partners.  I’m looking forward to that – and the break in my (busy) routine – immensely.

Last View Of The Barbican Flat – Empty And Sold!

A Pensionable Age

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

The Family Mahjong Set

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.

Three-Player Mahjong; My Winning Hand (Hehe!)

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!

Champions!

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).

Big Beach And Big Sky: Portobello, Edinburgh

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.

Royal Botanical Gardens: Tulips In The Demonstration Garden

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. 

Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens: Fresh Leafed Trees And Flowering Rhododendrons

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.

Barbara Hepworth At The Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art

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. 

Barbara Hepworth Bronzes And More
More Hepworth At The Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art

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 Great Hall At The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

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. 

The Library At The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

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.

‘Gingers’ By Kieron Dodds

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……

Big Month and Bacon

April 2022 was a truly memorable month.  Eldest Son (ES) and his partner (plus First Grandchild) bought a flat – the first of our sons to become a home owner.  Also (and I’m afraid ES, at least as significantly) Forest Green Rovers were promoted to English Football League Division 1 (EFL1)! 

Joy Unconfined

I have supported Forest Green Rovers Football Club since the family moved to Gloucestershire almost 25 years ago.  I was finding it increasingly fraught and onerous to take our boys the 70 miles there and back to my boyhood club of Reading.  I wanted them to like football and have the opportunity to watch it live and so I turned to the ‘biggest’ local Club: Forest Green Rovers.

When my support started, the Club had just been promoted to the National Conference League (the fifth tier in England) and offered a poorly attended, but viscerally intimate, version of semi-professional and then fully professional football.  I watched the football while the boys messed about one the terraces with each other and with Lego.  

The Club were perennial underdogs at that time.  However, the Club was transformed progressively following investment from green energy industrialist Dale Vince in 2010.  Dale uses the Club to promote his green and vegan values – we are reportedly the ‘greenest’ football club in the world – but has also applied finance, ambition and vision to the Club.  Promotion to EFL2 followed via the playoffs and a truly remarkable day at Wembley.  Now, just 5 years later, we are promoted again to EFL1.  Next year will be very difficult but it has been a wonderful journey for me and all the other fans of the Club. 

After A Win Versus Oldham Athletic Which Virtually Guaranteed Promotion

Unfortunately we are likely to just miss out on finishing top of EFL2 following a relatively poor run of recent results.  But one chance remains if we can win our last game at Mansfield next weekend.   In a slightly crazy itinerary, I am going to that game via my Dad in Nottingham and then onwards to Edinburgh to see ES’s new flat.  The start of another memorable month perhaps…..

April was not solely dominated by football.  I also attended an alumni event in London with people who were exact or approximate contemporaries during my first 2-3 years of work way back in the 1970s.  It was a great to catch up and also an opportunity to tidy our Barbican flat ready for sale and to see a London exhibition.

I chose to visit the Francis Bacon, Man and Beast Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.  It’s hard to say I ‘like’ Bacon’s art since it is so menacing and challenging but I do enjoy seeing it and admire it hugely.  I had last seen an exhibition of his work almost three years ago at the Gagosian Gallery in London.  That had highlighted Bacon’s interest in animals and the new exhibition at The Royal Academy followed that wildlife and animal theme.

In practice, some of the work on show was only loosely linked to his fascination with wildlife and the parallels between wild animals and humans (much of which seems to have stemmed from his early life as a horse-breeders son).  There were a number of works that one almost expects to see at a Bacon exhibition and the links between these to apes, bulls, birds (but never horses) sometimes seemed tenuous.

Royal Academy Exhibition: Typical Images By Francis Bacon (Head VI, Figure Study II) And, More Unusual ‘Landscape Near Malabata’ (Bottom Right)

Nonetheless, it was an excellent exhibition that told a fascinating life story and that was well worth seeing.  I found the triptych’s at the end of the exhibition particularly daunting but impressive. 

Royal Academy Exhibition of Francis Bacon Triptychs

I was lucky too that I was able to attend as the exhibition opened when it wasn’t too crowded.  That enabled time and space to take in all the skewed wildness and menace in some of Bacon’s best work.

‘Two Studies From The Human Body’ By Francis Bacon – Probably My Favourite Painting In This Royal Academy Exhibition

Back home, we had a very family oriented Easter with Youngest Son, his partner and pretty much all of Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) close relatives.  The weather was kind enough to enable us to spill outside for a lot of welcome catch-ups with LSW’s nieces and nephews.  We hadn’t seen YS since Christmas so it was just great to see him and his partner over the long weekend too.  We must plan another trip to Belfast……

One Of The Signs That Spring Is Here: The Annual ‘Amberley Cow Hunt’ – ‘Mootallica’ and ‘Calf Awake’. Two Of Over 30 Displays

Spring hasn’t fully warmed up yet but gardening has started in earnest – I can tell from the muscle aches and the good nights’ sleep.  Preparing the ground for vegetables at this time of year by digging it over and clearing weeds is one of my favourite tasks; there is no pressure yet to protect stuff from deer, voles, mice and badgers or to actually produce any vegetables yet.  It’s just good old physical work and I don’t have so many vegetable beds that I need to overdo any exertions.

‘Everest’ Crab Apple and Camassia In Our Garden
Local Bluebell Woods

It’s is lovely and lucky to be doing that gardening in such a pretty and relatively untroubled part of the World.

The Cotswold Countryside Appears To Be Supporting Ukraine

Spring Visits

Ok, so yesterday afternoon we had a brief blizzard of snowflakes, but Spring is well and truly here!  Trees are starting to reveal their leaves and the blackthorn has been in flower for weeks.  Cherries and magnolias are in full bloom.  Lambs have arrived in the fields adjacent to and opposite our house.  Their carefree gambolling about on wobbly legs is always a huge pleasure to watch at this time of year.

Worryingly, but not unexpectedly given the fact of global warming, Spring seems earlier every year.  Even by mid-March I was starting to see a range of butterflies (including Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Small Tortoiseshell, Orange Tip and Red Admiral).  But, whenever Spring feels like it has arrived, it is always a joy.

Once again, during a trip to Edinburgh, the weather was very kind.  One time in the future when we visit Edinburgh, all our sunny days there so far are going to be repaid by relentless rain and grey but…  not yet!

On Carlton Hill, Edinburgh With FG (Asleep And Out Of Shot)

On this trip there was the novelty and pleasure of picking up my Dad on the way and taking him up to Edinburgh with us.  That enabled him to see Edinburgh again for the first time in a decade or so but also, critically, to meet his great grandchild (our First Grandchild (FG)).  It was actually too, the first time he had me FG’s mother since previous attempts to meet up had been thwarted by train cancellations or pandemic restrictions.  The building of new relationships even extended to my Dad meeting FG’s other grandparents over a lovely lunch at their flat.

Of course, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I did our pram-pushing duties to send FG off to sleep while taking in the sights and smells of Edinburgh.  (There is a brewery in the city and the smell of hops reminded me of the breweries in my home town of Reading when I was a kid.)  Once again we visited the excellent Royal Botanic Garden which was perfect in the sun. 

Inside The Alpine Houses At The Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
The Obligatory (But Lovely) Slew Of Daffodils In The Royal Botanical Gardens

In the Botanic Garden entrance hall was a colourful and interesting exhibition (called ‘Forth Lines’) of local artists’ embroidery with each of 96 panels depicting a point along the Firth of Forth coastline.  FG stayed asleep long enough for me to enjoy it and to encourage my thinking about future walks along that coastline.

Sample Rows Of Embroidery Pieces By Local Artists And Residents Along The Firth Of Forth (The ‘Forth Lines’ Exhibition)
One Of The Individual Panels From The ‘Forth Lines’ Exhibition (By Kathleen Wilson)

Another exhibition I visited while in Edinburgh was a major exhibition of John James Audubon’s pictures of birds at the National Museum of Scotland.  My Dad has long been interested in Audubon and I tagged along since I love exhibitions of this sort and it was great to share the experience with my Dad.  It is an excellent exhibition. Our only wish was that there would be more on the process of actually executing the drawings, engravings and colouration – it was clearly a substantial team effort. Regardless of this, the resultant prints on show are stunning and the explanations of them and of Audubon’s life were fascinating.

Audubon was certainly a rather strange character.  He was born in 1785 in Haiti to French parents – a plantation owner and his maid – and became a self-trained naturalist, artist and hunter. 

Audubon had many contradictions.  He owned slaves and dabbled in ideas related to eugenics but took funding from slavery abolitionists. He shot thousands of birds in his life but was also one of the first to document how industrialisation and agriculture were destroying bird habitats.  His lack of an academic background meant many in the scientific community in America denigrated him but he was – with his drawing talent, determination to succeed and his wild looks (complete with bear oil slicked hair) – a big hit in the academic and artistic circles of Edinburgh.

Detail From Plate 26 Of ‘Birds Of America’ – ‘Carolina Parrot’ by Audubon

It was here and then London that he gained sponsorship for (apparently £2m in today’s money) and published his most famous and hugely popular work, ‘The Birds of America’.  The huge volumes consist of 435 hand-coloured, life-size prints of 497 bird species, made from engraved copper plates of various sizes depending on the size of the image.  One of the volumes was on show at the exhibition alongside numerous individual prints.  The book was extravagantly large because, remarkably, each bird picture it contained was drawn at life size.

One Of The Volumes Of Audubon’s ‘Birds Of America’

The prints on show were vibrant and wonderful and the lack of crowds at the exhibition meant that the stunning detail could be seen up close and at leisure.  That many of Audubon’s prints boasted incorrectly of newly discovered species or were anatomically incorrect didn’t matter given the high quality of the overall impact. 

Detail From Plate 72 Of ‘Birds Of America’ – ‘Swallow Tailed Hawk’ by Audubon

The exhibition was also good because it told Audubon’s story about his talent (and the way the world responded to it) interestingly, and it was honest about his flaws.  Most of all, it was great to have the afternoon with my Dad sharing something so memorable.

Although We Didn’t Explore It Beyond the Audubon Exhibition This Time, The National Museum of Scotland Is In a Lovely Building

To round off March, LSW and I visited The Newt Garden in Somerset for the second time this year.  Spring has definitely come to this 350 acre garden and woodland.  Already, the myriad varieties of cordon and espaliered apple plants are starting to come into flower. 

The Newt Gardens – The Parabola Garden

As reported in this blog several times before, it is a wonderful garden which continues to evolve and grow.  This time we were able to visit with two friends from our village which added a lovely extra dimension which was topped off by a delicious lunch in the Garden restaurant.  I’m looking forward already to visiting again later in the year.

The Gardeners Cottage And Magnolia From The Victorian Garden At The Newt

Before that, we have April to look forward to: a re-warming of the weather, the Football League run-in of the final games of the season (I go in hope for Forest Green Rovers), more blossoming of plants and shrubs, thriving seedlings (again, I hope), and Easter with Youngest Son and his partner.  Not a bad prospect but what a shame it is the global context of Russia’s dire attack on Ukraine.  Spring is sprung but not everyone can appreciate it right now.

Bonus Photos of Sunny Edinburgh

Three London Exhibitions

A couple of weeks ago, during visits to London to meet up with friends I hadn’t seen for the couple of years of the pandemic, I slotted three art exhibitions into my schedule.  Exhibitions in the great cultural centres of London are almost invariably well thought-out, well presented and well worth seeing.  These three were no exception even though I didn’t enjoy them quite as much as some of the truly outstanding exhibitions I have seen in London over the last few years.

For the first exhibition, I followed in Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) footsteps by attending an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’ recent work at the Hayward Gallery; LSW recommended it having visited with an old friend a couple of weeks earlier. 

Variety of Typical Work By Louise Bourgeois (Note The Cow Bone Coathangers!) At Tate Modern

The exhibition, called Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child focuses on her use of textiles.  She often sewed fabric to create sculptures set in mobiles or in large vitrines or cages.  I found those on the first floor of the exhibition rather oppressive but, upstairs, the colours were brighter and I warmed to the themes of her work. 

Various Works By Louise Bourgeois
Various Works By Louise Bourgeois

I particularly liked the sets of print and fabric compositions based around spiders’ webs and the concept of spiders as a weaver and repairer of its woven lairs that dominated the second half of the exhibition. The large sculpture of a mother spider, surrounded by a cage and a host of artefacts hinting at threat, protective motherhood and Louise’s own childhood memories, seemed to reflect and oversee a number of other nearby works.  I ended up really enjoying the exhibition and the way it was laid out.

Spider by Louise Bourgeois (1997) At Tate Modern

I then went to the latest exhibition at The Barbican: Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965.  Again, it took me a while to ‘get into’ the content of the exhibition.  As usual, it was very well curated and presented with, I found, just the right amount of information in a great space for art.  Many different themes were portrayed with each allocated a room or distinct area of the exhibition. 

Bronze Figures By Eduardo Paolozzi (1957/8)

Perhaps I didn’t quite get the overall point about a ‘rough poetry’ that underpinned and, apparently, linked the work on display.  But I certainly could see some overarching points about dislocation, rebuilding and hope for the future.   The location, in the heart of the Barbican, which is itself a remarkable monument to post war brutalist rebuilding, created a perfect context for the Postwar Modern scope.

The Barbican – Such A Wonderful Space For An Art Exhibition

There were several artists represented that I am familiar with but there were several others that were entirely new to me.  Inevitably I enjoyed some rooms/areas – each given poignant names like ‘Horizon’, ‘Concrete’, ‘Scars’ and ‘Strange Universe’ – much more than others but, overall, it was absorbing and impressive.  Given that I saw it on its second day and it is on until late June, I may visit again.

I loved This – A Bowl By Lucy Rie and Hans Coper (1955)

Finally, LSW and I visited the ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’ exhibition at the Tate Modern.  I went in not knowing much about the exhibition and perhaps it was a mistake not to have read more about it beforehand and not to give it more time than we had. 

No Surrealist Art Exhibition Complete Without A Lobster Phone By Salvador Dali!

It is a very broad exhibition (hence the ‘Beyond Borders’ title).  Although the rooms tried to compartmentalise this breadth around geographies (Cairo, Mexico, The Caribbean for example) or themes (portrayals of dreams, desire and the ‘uncanny’ for example), I struggled to build in my head either a time line or logic to the exhibition as a whole.

‘Deification Of A Soldier’ By Yamashita Kikuji (1967) – Seemed Apt For Our Current Times

In addition, and unlike the Louise Bourgeois and Postwar Modern exhibitions, there just weren’t many works that I really liked.  Too many were unsettling (as I’m sure they are meant to be) to the point of ugliness; I just don’t think I appreciate surrealist art as much as other styles.  However, it’s always good to have the opportunity to visit such exhibitions even if it merely confirms ones predilections.

The Painting I Enjoyed Most In The Surrealism Exhibition, By Alice Rahon (1955)

I shall miss the relatively high frequency of my tours of London art and museum exhibitions once we lose our base there (the flat I used on weekdays before I retired), but I’m sure I will find new excuses to get up to London in the future and will squeeze a few more exhibition visits in.

Old Mates, New Gig

In the last two weeks I have revived two lines of enjoyment that have been very constrained since the start of the pandemic two years ago: going to a gig and meeting up with groups of old friends on London. 

London – Always A Treat To Visit This Great City

It was on the 13 March 2020 that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to Bath to see a concert by Faeland.  It was a similar length of time ago when I last met up with a bunch of old, London-based friends as part of an ongoing set of get-togethers to visit restaurants representing each, in turn, a letter of the alphabet.  We had been stuck on ‘S’ (for Spain as it turned out) for around two years.

It’s always good to visit London and always great to catch up with old friends there.  Not only did I get to meet with my alphabetically-sequenced restaurant group of mates (at Donostia) but I also separately caught up with a few other long-standing ex-workmates and friends over lunch at Ombra.  Both restaurants were small-dish-based (Basque and Italian respectively).  Neither was inexpensive but the food was tasty, the wine flowed and the company was very welcome after such a long break from group conviviality.

Views From Our Barbican Flat – Now For Sale (Sadly)

LSW and I also caught up with some old friends before going on to a concert by Hope Tala at Village Underground.  This is a great, medium-sized venue that I have been to many times before, but not since retirement getting on for 5 years ago.  We met up beforehand at the bar at Tavla with a couple of female friends from our time living in Kew.   At this moment in the Covid pandemic recovery, it’s a very relaxed and convenient bar for these purposes – buzzy but not too crowded with good value drinks and friendly service – and it has become our go-to bar in East London.

Getting Busier Again – Whitecross Street Lunch Market Next To Our Flat

Hope Tala is a good friend of the daughter of one of these Kew friends – hence the choice of concert.  The daughter is now doing many of Hope’s music videos.  This is a line of work that has become more interesting to me since Youngest Son (YS) dabbled in music video as part his mainstream video business (at Wilson Archer Films).  Hope played an energetic and vibrant gig that was full of poppy riffs with a Latin tinge.  I’ve surprised myself with the extent the songs have stayed in my head for the days since.  Based on what I heard, Hope Tala will go far and I hope that creates a platform for more video creation for our friend’s daughter.

Hope Tala And Band At Village Underground

While in London, I fitted in a three exhibitions but I’ll take a breath and post separately on those.  Following the recent meetings of groups of London-based friends, a gig (at last!), and a few exhibition visits, life seems to be returning to normal.  Next week we are off to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild (FG) again.  This time we are planning to take my Dad up in our new electric car so he can meet his great grandchild for the first time.  We saw FG just a couple of weeks ago when he and his parents flew down to see us for FG’s first trip out of Edinburgh.  Now I can’t wait to see his further development since (which seems to include the discovery of his ability to squeal loudly!)

In the midst of the dreadfulness of what is going on in Ukraine it seems incongruous to be having a good time and moving back fully to what I would probably call normality.  All we can do is hope that some semblance of normality returns quickly in Eastern Europe too.  It seems that maybe only one man can make that happen!

Late Winter Skies On A Local Walk Home

London 2 Edinburgh 1; But Edinburgh Wins

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have travelled twice to London and once to Edinburgh in the last couple of weeks.  Our trips to London related to our preparations to sell our flat in the Barbican.  It is no longer required now that I have retired and our sons no longer have any great need for it.  I shall be sad to see it go – it was my base 5 days a week for pretty much 20 years of London working – but go it must.

We got those preparations for sale done very satisfactorily and the flat is on the market.  However, we also found time to visit a few exhibitions and bar and restaurant venues; London is always a great place to visit and the flat was, as ever, a very comfortable place to stay. 

Our Barbican Flat, Ready For Sale

Our trip to Edinburgh was sandwiched between those London trips.  Edinburgh is, of course, a much smaller city than London but it is a national capital and has many of the same sorts of sights and attractions.  Above all, it now is home to our First Grandchild (FG) and we currently need no greater attraction.  As any parent or grandparent will know, it is amazing how fast babies develop and start to take on a character of their own.  We are lucky to be able to see this with FG and it was such an enjoyable trip!

Once again we stayed in the Premier Inn Hub in Rose Street.  It is inexpensive, very comfortable, small but perfectly formed.  It is close to where Eldest Son (ES) and his partner live.  It is central and close to all the main city sights.  The Premier Inn Hub chain has become our go-to hotel and, once the London flat is sold, I can envisage us using it in London too.

Once again too, we visited the Joan Eardley exhibition (now finished) at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.  I enjoyed it hugely during our first visit.  This time we had FG duties (very willingly undertaken) so the visit was briefer but, not having heard of Eardley before last Autumn, she now has a firm place in my compendium of favourite artists.  FG wasn’t fussed by the art but seemed to like the ceiling lights.

‘Boats On The Shore’ By Joan Eardley (1963)

We also visited an exhibition (also now finished) in the Scottish National Gallery of JMW Turner watercolours.  These had been collected by Henry Vaughan , a great admirer of Turner, and then bequeathed by him to the Gallery in 1900.  As he did so, he specified that, to preserve their colour, they only be shown in the typically dull days of January.  This exhibition was a rare occasion when all 38 had been brought together in a single show. 

Turner is definitely one of my long standing artists and the exhibition demonstrated many of his best traits – the atmospheric glows of storms and skies, the complex colouring and the huge vistas.  There were also some more delicate portrayals such as an empty chair indicating the recent death of a friend.  No one painting felt great but the ‘whole’ created by the 38 pictures was interesting.

JMW Turner Watercolours From The Henry Vaughan Bequest At The Scottish National Gallery

Another highlight from this Edinburgh trip was our first walk all the way to Leith. 

Andrew Gormley Sculpture On The Walk To Leith

Leith has a rather different feel from the other parts of Edinburgh we have come to know.  Whereas large parts of the New Town area where ES lives are unchanged in a hundred years, Leith is developing quickly and has a slightly different, almost East London, buzz about it. 

Leith (Old Customs House To The Left)

In New Town, LSW and I spent an afternoon perusing the high quality art galleries in ES’s street (Dundas Street) and then had a relaxed drink or two in a relatively new bar called Spry.  Incredibly, despite it only apparently having about a dozen seats, we got a table by the window and liked the ambience very much.

Exotic And Rather Lovely Baskets By Gudrun Pagter and Baba Tea Company (Ghana) At The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh

As on previous trips, we ate well.  ES’s partner produced another lovely meal, we had a surprisingly relaxed evening at Pizza Express with a sleepy FG, and a substantial Indian takeaway.  It was great to meet up with ES’s partner’s parents again (especially as the football team I support happen to have beaten one of the teams her Dad supports in the afternoon 🙂 ).  And it was especially great to see FG smiling, growing and, between rather sleep-deprived nights, giving his new Mum and Dad some real joy.

Back in London, I visited the National Maritime Museum to see the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition.  I’ve seen this exhibition in previous years and, while I don’t understand the techniques used in taking the photographs, I love seeing the results.  It’s a little-known pleasure.

Astronomy Photographers Of The Year At The National Maritime Museum

LSW and I also had another pleasant (and, incredibly, free) dose of Isamu Noguchi; this time an exhibition of his relatively recent work in the large spaces of the White Cube Gallery.  It was, of course, a much smaller exhibition than that we had seen last month at the Barbican, but it reflected many of the same themes which I found reinforcing and strangely comforting. 

Works By Isamu Noguchi At The White Cube Gallery

On the way, we discovered a good new breakfast venue: Watch House at Tower Bridge.  Ozone, which is our normal breakfast haunt is also very good and both are open early.  Edinburgh has some excellent breakfast places but few open early enough for us.  It’s a small area for potential improvement in the comparison between London and Edinburgh.  However, First Grandchild puts a gloss on Edinburgh that makes it the go to city for me at the moment!

LSW and FGs’ Hands