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

Pleasantly Full Days

Life seems to have been particularly busy in the last ten days or so since my last trip to London.  There I got a dental check-up (my teeth are fine), visited the Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece Exhibition (fascinating and beautifully laid out) and took Middle and Eldest Son to dinner and The Lantern Society, my favourite Folk Club (what a treat to catch up with them both!)

At The Lantern Society

At The Lantern Society

Rodin's The Thinker And The Kiss

Rodin’s The Thinker And The Kiss – Two Items In An Intriguing British Museum Exhibition

The weather has been highly conducive to gardening.  We have had long periods of sun, but reasonable temperatures, and just enough rain.  As a result, many days have been dominated by clearing weeds, planting out seedlings, localised manual watering and working out how to keep the destructive birds, mammals, molluscs and insects at bay.  Almost everything that needs protection now has some form fencing, netting or other damage prevention measure in place.  I will now sit back, wait and watch the ways the animals will thwart me anyway.

In my last post, I compared the post-modernist house of Erno Goldfinger to a previous house of ours.  My last visit to London and overnight stay in the Barbican reminded me, too, that the post-modernist gardens there are now being echoed by Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) planting of our new walled garden.  Our final load of gravel and the water feature have now arrived and so our new garden just lacks maturity, but there are already some similarities with the Barbican gardens (although the scale there is massive compared to that of our ex-car parking area).  It has certainly been pleasant sitting in the new garden in the sun with a glass of wine after sweating over weeds, seedlings, bean poles and netting.

Our New Garden and The Barbican Gardens

Our New Garden And The Barbican Gardens; Ours Has Some Maturing To Do!

LSW and I have also been enjoying the annual Nailsworth Festival and, especially, two walks arranged under the auspices of the festival.  The first was a history walk in the vicinity of our house.  It added to our knowledge of the footpaths, industry and religious history of the area – particularly the historic presence of the Quakers and Baptists in what was once one of the largest non-conformist settlements in the country.

History Walk

An Attentive Audience On The Nailsworth History Walk

The second was a 12 mile walk billed as being a walk from Nailsworth to ‘the sea’. In fact, ‘the sea’ was the tidal estuary of the River Severn at a point where a number of sea going ships were beached to bolster the coastline alongside the canal along which we had walked. The so-called Purton Hulks, were an interesting climax to a full day of walking up and down the Cotswold escarpment and across the Severn valley in perfect walking weather. LSW and I certainly pushed up our daily step count averages that day!

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Purton Hulks

Purton Hulks

We also had a good day out walking in New Quay and Aberaeron in West Wales. We were staying with friends who have a second home there in what seems to be a lively and familiar community of second-homers based in London, Birmingham and South Wales. The health benefits of all the recent walking were offset by rather too much tasty food and drink in New Quay. On the route back from Wales, these indulgences continued as we stopped off at a family party celebrating a brief visit of one of LSW’s first cousins (once removed) from Singapore; lovely!

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

The food, drink and merriment isn’t going to stop this week with more of the World Cup to watch and celebrate (I hope), and the marking of LSW’s birthday with dinner in London on the way to a weekend in Paris.

So: busy and full days, full weeks and, as I near 12 months of retirement, I will shortly look back on a full year.

Picasso And Goldfinger

As I write this, I am travelling up to London for the second time in a week; I still look forward to my regular ‘fix’ of London life.  Today, I’m using the excuse of the need to visit my long-term dentist for a check-up.  The previous visit was primarily to enable Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I to meet with Eldest Son’s (ES’s) new girlfriend for the first time.  She was lovely and we all had a splendid evening at one of our favourite restaurants: Morito in Hackney Road.

I also managed to squeeze in a rather drunken lunch and impromptu darts match with an old mate of mine from my Accenture days – getting on for a decade ago now.  Meanwhile, LSW saw an art exhibition and we followed up next day with a bit more culture.  First LSW and I saw the Picasso exhibition at Tate Modern and then we went to Hampstead to visit 2 Willow Road, a modernist house designed and previously owned by architect, Erno Goldfinger.

The Picasso exhibition was unusual in that it focused on just one year of his life.  That was 1932 during which he conducted a secret affair with a young woman who he painted almost daily.  It was interesting to hear how the affair came to light – including to his wife – only at a retrospective exhibition of his work which included several paintings of his mistress.  For someone so apparently confident in his ability, it was also fascinating to hear how he curated the 1932 retrospective in a way to try to reassert his continuing relevance following the success of his earlier work.

Picasso

One Of The Many Paintings Picasso Created in 1932 Showing His Secret Mistress

The visit to 2 Willow Road was also eye opening.  It’s an early reinforced concrete building built in 1939 by and for the architect who later became (in)famous for some of the tallest reinforced concrete residential tower blocks in London.  It was given to the National Trust after his death and has been largely untouched since then.  The art he collected – including pieces by Henry Moore, Bridget Riley, Max Ernst and Delaunay – is still on show and we got a real feeling for the way he lived and entertained.

Most interesting were the similarities between the features (such as the en suite sinks), inter-room connectivity (facilitated by removable and sliding doors) and huge windows in 2 Willow Road, and the nature of our previous family home built in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire almost 20 years later.  Clearly, unbeknownst to us, the architect who designed our house and the one we used to develop it were familiar with Erno Goldfinger.  Like 2 Willow Road, I suspect, our previous house was rather ugly to look at, but lovely to live in.

2 Willow Road

2 Willow Road, Hampstead

Now we have moved on to an old farm house with a Georgian façade.  However, the extension LSW helped to design a few years ago offers plenty of space and light so we have retained some of the best aspects of our house in Minchinhampton.  The combination of old house and modern extension feels right and our garden – recently walled and extended to take over half of the previous car parking space – is more manageable than that we had before.  With the additional time I now have, and LSW’s increased interest in gardening (plus 4 hours of paid help most weeks), we are gradually getting control of the garden.  Once I finish the endless painting of the TV room I will have even more time to relax in it!

Part of the New Garden Area At Our House

Part of the New Garden Area At Our House

Trips, Royals and Trophies

Recently, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have tried to arrange at least one mid-week trip out from home each week.  This is, as LSW puts it, to mark that I am now retired and so have the flexibility to visit places during the week rather than during the more crowded weekends.  These have to fit around her continuing part time work commitments and, to a lesser extent, my trips to London but we have managed them with reasonable regularity.

Last week, we capitalised on the excellent weather and visited two gardens in the North Cotswolds.  Bourton House Gardens is relatively new having been laid out and planted around a beautiful 18th century manor house just 30 years ago.  The colourful flower beds, potted tulips, box bush topiary and knot garden were inspiring.  Best of all, for me, was a walk around an arboretum, with a simple pamphlet guide, that helped us decide which sorts of trees to plant in our own field alongside the few fruit trees we have already established.  Current favourites are Whitebeam and Poplar.

Bourton Hill Gardens

Bourton House Gardens

We then went to Snowshill Manor.  This turned out to be an interesting, coincidental adjunct to my pondering a couple of weeks ago about the accumulation of material goods and de-cluttering.  Prior to being given to the National Trust, the house and garden was owned by Charles Wade, a compulsive collector of items recording craft and workmanship.  He lived in a small cottage adjacent to the medieval manor house which he bought specifically to accommodate his large and varied collection of cabinets, artwork, costumes, musical instruments, tools and other artefacts.  The dusting challenge for his housekeeper and, now, the National Trust, must be huge!

Part Of Charles Wade’s Collection (Masks And Musical Instruments) at Snowshill Manor

Part of Charles Wade’s Collection (Masks And Musical Instruments Are Shown Here) At Snowshill Manor

The collection, and his compact personal accommodation, were interesting but even better were the gardens and the views from them.  In weather such as that we have enjoyed through much of May, England can look marvellous and it certainly was in the Cotswolds that day.

Snowshill Manor Gardens

Snowshill Manor Gardens

We rounded off the trip with a visit to Daylesford luxury farm shop which LSW loves.  The shops – even the grocery shelves and the food counters – look rather like art shows.  The prices are almost prohibitively geared to out-of-London trippers but the quality is high and several pieces inspired ideas for things that we might try to replicate in some way at home.  We stuck with those ideas rather than buy anything more than lunch in the sun.

LSW really enjoyed the Royal wedding last week.  Whilst not being particularly interested in the Royal Family myself, I can understand her positive sentiments about the wedding.  The bride and groom looked adoring and very happy.  Meghan’s mixed race heritage is a welcome extension to the Royal’s outlook, diversity and modernism.

LSW watched the wedding proceedings for hours and then watched the replays.  At one point she was watching a replay while I was watching a replay of Forest Green Rovers’ promotion playoff-winning performance at Wembley exactly a year ago.  We both had tears of joy in our eyes!

This season, Forest Green Rovers (FGR) barely avoided relegation from their newly elevated status in League 2 of the English Football League.  That was good enough for me.  The performance was burnished for me by my pride in winning the FGR Prediction League competition (for the second time in 10 years).  The competition trophy will have to be found a small space somewhere as other stuff is bundled off to car-boot sales, charity shops or the dump – but only for a year since I doubt I will be so lucky to win next season.

The Forest Green Rovers Prediction League Trophy

The Forest Green Rovers Football Club Prediction League Trophy (The Colin Gardner Shield)

Spring and Stuff

Spring has arrived late but with waves of sun and warmth that suggest it is trying to catch up on lost time.  Leaves and blossom have burst into life and colour and the landscape suddenly has that fresh feel of Spring.  The carpets of bluebells in the nearby woods are already usurped by the wild garlic and the paths and verges are lined with cow parsley 4 foot high.  Already, we seem to be marching into summer.

Wild Flowers OnThe Way to Town

Cow Parsley, Wild Garlic, Bluebells And Cowslips On The Walk Into Town

The recent improvement in the weather has encouraged me to resume vegetable gardening in between trips to London (a cheeky, impromptu visit primarily to see a favourite band, Kefaya) and Nottingham (to see my parents).  I have been planting seeds, digging the vegetable patch and putting up a bit of new fencing.  For the first time, I am retired from work during a Spring.  When I was working, I used to perform what I called ‘speed gardening’ at weekends.  This year I can devote time throughout the week to a more relaxed style of gardening.

From bitter experience I know that not all this reinvigorated effort will bear fruit in terms of usable crops.  Not everything germinates or thrives and squirrels, deer and badgers have taken more than their fair share in recent years.  However, now Spring is here, frustrations with the local wildlife, and memories of needless gluts of vegetables that the animals don’t like, are set aside and the vegetable patch is cultivated once more.  Once again, in a few months’ time, we will probably be scouring recipe books and the internet for meals requiring lots of beetroot or courgettes and having beans with every meal.

About three weeks ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) had one of her periodic purges of our possessions to populate a table at a village table-top sale.  I had my usual power of veto to prevent the discarding of things that might conceivably be useful to me, our sons or any of their as yet entirely unplanned children at some point in the future.  However, I kept my veto in my pocket and a car-load of stuff was priced up and went for sale.

Unfortunately, our village evidently has a lot of people who want to offload things but few who wanted to accumulate them.  By the end of the sale, due to LSW buying yet another designer tap, she came back out of pocket and only one item lighter.  Given the investment of time in pricing all this stuff up, LSW had another go at a local car-boot sale.  She had about £60 more success but it’s clear that much of what we are trying to sell is going to take the normal trip to the local charity shops.

We gather so many material goods over a lifetime.  Some have a now outdated function and some are purely decorative but are no longer in vogue or have a place.  A classic example was an Apilco tea set which we once used and loved but which has been in a cupboard untouched for years.  We tested whether any of the sons wanted it and got negative responses (‘its horrific’ said one).  They already have what crockery they need and, if they need more, will go online at Amazon, John Lewis or Ikea.  Handing stuff down over the generations doesn’t seem to work any longer.

Apilco Tea Set

Apilco Tea Set Awaiting A New Home

At our age, we simply don’t need many additional material goods.  Indeed, LSW is strong – and persuasive in the face of my greater, but softening, reticence – on reducing our footprint by clearing our old stuff out.  Thank goodness for the recycling work of charity shops but the dump is also a regular destination.

These thoughts were going through my mind as LSW and I visited the annual neighbourhood open studios events of the last couple of weeks.  Lots of creative and talented people were displaying their art and craft work in their homes and in local galleries; some was impressive.  In past years we have bought some of the items but, more recently, we have walked around the open studios rather aimlessly.  We just don’t need any more things to sit on shelves or to go on walls.

LSW has recently started a ceramics course.  My fear is that her work – worthy and perhaps even lovely as it may turn out to be – will be another avenue of stuff entering our home.  If so, then at least I will have a bargaining chip in negotiations around hanging onto some of my long-standing possessions for another year.  But my realisation that I have to declutter that stuff is growing – maybe I’ll go to the next car boot sale or even learn to try eBay…..

Kefaya At Archspace, Haggerston, London

Kefaya At Archspace, Haggerston, London; One Of My Favourite Bands