A Wedding and a Birthday

Amid much happiness, our Eldest Son (ES) and his partner were married a couple of weekends ago.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I had a lovely time in Edinburgh celebrating this huge event with them.  What made it extra special for us was that ES and his (now) wife pared down the events of the weekend to a very intimate affair.  Everyone who took part was someone very close to the marrying couple.  That meant that every conversation with everyone in attendance felt meaningful.

The Happy Threesome!

The Registry Office was a grand building with pleasantly decorated rooms and an overseer of the process who achieved the right balance of formality and relaxed bonhomie.  First Grandchild (FG), was rather unwell but nonetheless, was well behaved, wasn’t sick on anyone’s dress and loved playing with the room’s long curtains.  ES looked smart and the bride looked stunning.  As they shared their home-made vows, my tears welled up; their personalisation of the exchange was really moving.

A Touch Of Unseasonable Hayfever?

Later in the afternoon and well into the evening, a wedding reception was held at the married couple’s new flat.  The flat looked great and was just the right size for a party of about 30 enthusiastic relatives and friends.  A few of the latter were fellow new parents who brought contemporaries of FG which added to the lovely, informal conviviality.  Everyone was very happy.

Lovely Wedding Reception Table Layout In The Married Couple’s Flat

The mantelpieces and tables had been beautifully decorated and set out by ES’s new parents in law.   The caterers knew what they were doing (they had been under close instruction from ES’s wife), the food was excellent, and the drinks and conversation flowed.  FG was excited by the hubbub and rallied at the important moments to be giggling sweetness itself, despite his illness.  The speeches were short and heartfelt and the intimacy of the event shone throughout.  We loved it – not only the fact that ES was now married, but that he and his new wife (especially!) had organised what seemed to be an ideal way of doing it.

First Grandchild (FG) Checking The Wedding Presents

On the following day, we refreshed with a sunny morning walk around the Royal Botanic Garden and then met up with a very small number of close relatives for a wonderful lunch at Timberyard.  LSW and I had been there once before and had been very impressed by the food, decor and ambience.  We were very impressed again.  It was the centrepiece to another lovely day.

Walking In Sunny Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh With Youngest And Middle Sons And Their Partners

My Dad and sister went back to rest at their hotel.  It had been marvellous that they had been able to come and they had made the most of their visit to Edinburgh by taking in a couple of art exhibitions as well as the wedding events.  Meanwhile, LSW and I retreated to the Air BnB that we had rented for ourselves, our Middle and Youngest Son and their partners.  There, we allowed our emotions to settle quietly in front of a second rate romantic comedy and assorted crisps.  What a couple of days!

And then the fun went on!  The Monday following the wedding was FG’s first birthday.  Unfortunately FG was still unwell and relatively subdued but he enjoyed early use of some of the presents and a trip to one of the local playgrounds.  Unlike him, we will remember his first birthday for ever.

Wedding Cake Cleverly Converting To Birthday Cake (FG Loves Penguins!)

We left Edinburgh late that afternoon leaving ES and wife to ponder how to manage FG’s illness while both are holding down a job working from home on the back of little sleep.  At that point we assumed that the conundrum they faced would be only for a day or two – it turned out to be another week.  Oh, the joys of parenthood!

Meanwhile, LSW and I set off for Dunkeld on the River Tay, on the southern edge of the Highlands for rather more rest and relaxation than the newly married couple were going to get.

Sun Setting On Edinburgh

Task Oriented Autumn

A few posts ago I mentioned that I had started going to a Mental Fitness For Men group under the auspices of Talk Club.  Our local pub landlord has arranged weekly Talk Club sessions and I have made it to most of them since they started a few months ago.  The sessions are of fixed format but the people who turn up each week vary so there is always something new to listen to as well as, usually, something new to say. 

I’ve found the meetings useful in that they help me frame what I am grateful for and what I’m going to do in the next week to make things feel better for myself.  However, I do often feel daunted by the lucidity with which most others in the weekly groups talk about the way they feel.  In comparison I tend to fall back into talking about things I have done and things I’m going to do.  I have explained to the group (and myself) that I tend to feel happiest when I am ticking off tasks on my to-do list but I suspect that I need to get deeper into how I feel about life rather than describing tasks.

Having said that, I have felt a certain contentment that, by and large, I have done what I said I would do over the last few weeks.  The tasks have varied from raking up the scythed and strimmed grass in the meadow (into piles I don’t quite know what to do with), to harvesting the last summer crops and gathering seed for next year, to production of a string of documents I promised for the local Climate Action Network group that I belong to. 

Not Quite A Crown Prince Squash. Grown From Gathered 2021 Seed And Reverted From F1 Hybrid – Tasty Though!

Today, post-Foodbank duties, I am even finally managing to get around to making crab apple jelly which is a task that has been on my to-do list for a few weeks.  Overall, October and early November has been a good month for tiny achievements amongst my retirement routine!

Making Crab Apple Jelly – Tree -> Apples -> Straining -> Jelly! (First Of Two Batches)

There have been a few other high points recently.  Middle Son (MS) and his partner have moved from London to Bristol – just 45 minutes away.  That means that we will see them more often.  For example, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were delighted when they popped over for an impromptu dinner a couple of Fridays ago.  It was lovely to have a normalised drop-in-type arrangement with one of our sons rather than have to think about days packing, travelling and staying away from home. 

Not that those sorts of visits are not welcome.  We are off to Edinburgh again later this week and can’t wait to see First Grandchild (FG) again (and his parents!) for the first time in over two months.  It’s going to be a special visit this time to celebrate not only FG’s first birthday, but also Eldest Son (ES) and his partner’s marriage.  I’m so glad they have chosen a relatively low key way of getting married and celebrating that with a few close relatives.  However, the event is momentous nonetheless and it will be lovely to have all our boys, their partners, my Dad and my sister all together with FG in one place at the same time. 

We have also had some old friends come to visit us for a weekend.  We have been rather poor at inviting people over for almost anything since the Covid pandemic; we seem to have just got out of that pattern of being.  But it was great to see these long standing and close friends again.  We had an active but relaxed time with them that culminated in a delightful walk in the Slad Valley and then an excellent lunch at The Woolpack (of Laurie Lee fame).

The Slad Valley Near Stroud Between Autumn Showers

Much of the rest of the time in the last few weeks has been more routine.  However, I helped to advertise a talk that our village Climate Action Network group arranged with the Parish Council on rewilding and the impact of climate change on our local trees.  The theme of this talk, and a continuing series we have planned for next year, is ‘hope’.  This is to counteract the inevitable descent into gloom if we consider and talk too much about the climate and biodiversity emergencies alongside other current preoccupations such as the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

The first talk in the ‘Hope Talks’ series was almost wildly successful.  We have a hard act to follow as we go into next year.  The talks themselves bring the village together and just the fact they happen adds to the resilience of the community and its cohesiveness.  I edit a quarterly newsletter (another task done this week!) and submit articles to the monthly village magazine but these ‘Hope Talks’ hold out greater promise for conveying useful information while being a great relationship building mechanism.

Our Learned ‘Hope Talk’ Speaker – Local Resident, Dr David Bullock (With Props)

Of course, other continuing elements of my recent retirement routine have been steadfast support of local football teams (Forest Green Rovers but also Shortwood United and Horsley United) and more of the Autumnal walks I talked about in my last post. 

Local Team Shortwood United In The Process Of Winning 5-0

The Autumn weather has been so mild and, until recently, so dry that the walks have been particularly pleasant.  The colours in the trees have been changing quite variably from species to species.  That has meant that while the reds and yellows have perhaps not been as spectacular as in some past years, the blending of different colours across the valley slopes has been very attractive.

Local Walk Lined With Lime And Hazel Trees

I plan to keep up the local walks even as the winter weather closes in.  However, I do also plan to reduce the number of discretionary, extraneous things I commit to in the next few months.  At least that way I may be able to think more about abstract feelings rather than worrying about the state of my to-do list and the rate of knocking items off it.  I may even resort to that old trick of adding things to the to-do list that I have already done…..

Lovely Valley, Lovely Weather, Long Shadows

Active Autumn

As I walked through woodland this morning amid a cascade of falling leaves, it was clear that Autumn is very much here again.  September has been a time for harvest but also the last throes of summer-style travel and partying.  I now see October as a time for buckling down for some rather delayed home-based administration and task tidy up before our next trip to Edinburgh in November and then the excitement of Christmas.

Autumn Colour (In This Case, The Incongrouously Named Black Bryony)

September was certainly busy and was capped last weekend by a long-delayed visit to us by my Dad and my sister.  That was quietly relaxing and allowed my Dad to catch up with developments in our house since his last, pre-Covid visit, and meet up with a few other local relatives.  It also allowed us to jointly celebrate Middle Son (MS) and his partner moving into their newly-purchased, pretty, terraced house in Bristol.  A few days ago, that hard-won purchase suddenly seemed in jeopardy as the Government made a big misstep that caused interest rates to surge and mortgage deals to be pulled from the market.  Our very happy afternoon with MS and his partner was blessed by Virgin Money’s forbearance and lovely sunshine.

Earlier in the month, not only did I manage to visit London and Edinburgh, but I also attended Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) college reunion with a bunch of her fellow physiotherapy students 40 years on from their graduation in Leeds.

The reunion was held in Buxton which I had not visited for decades.  We stayed in a very comfortable and central hotel (The Buxton Crescent Hotel) which produced substantial breakfasts and very good evening meals for the group.  The whole event over a long weekend was an enjoyable mix of free time, a long walk across the local Peak District, and organised eating, drinking and socialising both in the hotel and in nearby bars and restaurants.  There were a few other (non-physio) partners of LSW’s fellow graduates in attendance so I didn’t feel too out of place.  There was a wide variety of personalities, and everyone was interesting in some way.  It was a nice thing to do and LSW really enjoyed the mass catch-up.

On The Three Shires Walk Near Buxton (Starting In Mist At The Cat And Fiddle Pub, Finishing In A Bit Of Sun)

Buxton itself is a lovely spa town with many impressive Georgian and Victorian limestone buildings – like a smaller version of Bath, which we know well, and similar to Harrogate which we visited on the way to Edinburgh last year.  The evening/night life was surprisingly lively and well catered for by a large number of busy and interesting craft beer bars.  We sampled a couple of those with and without the reunion entourage.

A Variety Of Attractive Buildings In Buxton

On our ‘free day’, LSW and I went off for a fairly long but pleasant drive to Hardwick Hall.  It’s an impressive late-Tudor building surrounded by attractive gardens that I recall – as I do Buxton – from holidays with my parents very many years ago.  The weather was kind, the afternoon was lovely and it was great to get value from the life National Trust Membership that my parents bought us so generously when, I think, we got married.

Inside Hardwick Hall

Back in our home village, my schedule has been peppered by the normal smattering of walks, gardening, short shifts at the local Food Bank, my team’s football matches and Men’s Mental Fitness nights (which have helped salve the depression cause by the poor football results!). 

A Local Walk Under A Luminous Autumn Sky

LSW and I also went to a film showing – ‘Drawn to War’, a film about the life and work of the painter and Second World War artist Eric Ravilious.  It was our first cinema outing together of the year and was very enjoyable due both to the content of the film and the novelty of the evening outing.

However, the recent Autumn highlight in the village was a substantial, superbly organised and hugely entertaining 50th birthday party of a friend of ours.  The invitees were a mix of her relatives, long standing friends and more recently acquired friends from the village like ourselves.  The entertainment was a combination of a bar, a wonderful buffet, an open sided marquee with a dance floor, a DJ, a couple of fire eaters (believe it or not – see below!) and varied, if increasingly inebriated, conversation.  I’ve not danced so much for a decade and LSW and I both had great fun.

Local Fire Eating!

September has also been a time when I have reaped a harvest of onions and potatoes.  Both have been surprisingly productive given the lack of rain during much of the summer.  That shortage of rain hampered bean germination but judicious watering has saved some of the squash and chard. 

A Fraction Of This Year’s Garden Produce

Also, the dry, hot summer enabled me to grow a lot of tomatoes in an open vegetable plot for the first time since I left my allotment in London 25 years ago.  Inevitably perhaps, most of the tomatoes are very green but, with our climate inexorably warming, I will try tomato growing again next year.

Finally, as I have in previous years, I find I have to comment on the late summer/early autumn flowering of our remaining two dahlia plants.  I have simply never enjoyed cutting flowers and then displaying them in our kitchen/diner so much as I have these Café Au Lait dahlias.  Their blooms are large, subtly coloured and, once they start, simply go on and on until the first frost.  Now we are in October, those frosts will come soon enough but, for now, these dahlias continue to be a splendid echo of summer and a thoroughly rewarding aspect of Autumn.

Cornelia Parker At Tate Britain

I had only vaguely heard of Cornelia Parker before my brief trip to London last week (primarily to see my dentist and my football team).  Long-Suffering Wife informed me that this artist had done a work involving an exploding shed and I did vaguely recall that.  It was enough to encourage me to book a visit to her current exhibition at Tate Britain and, yes, the exploding shed (called ‘Cold Dark Matter: A Exploded View’) is indeed on show as part of a career-to-date retrospective.

Cornelia Parker’s ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’

My visit didn’t start particularly well.  After a now familiar, but nonetheless lovely, breakfast of kedgeree at Ozone, I strolled to Tate Modern.  Once inside, I floundered around like an idiot for a few minutes before realising that the Cornelia Parker exhibition was at Tate Britain not Tate Modern.  The upside of this rookie error was that, to even get close to my ticket booking time, I had to travel by Uber-boat down the Thames to get to the right side of town.  It was a very pleasant ride on an almost deserted ferry.

Views Of Tate Modern And The Houses Of Parliament From The Thames Uber Boat

The Cornelia Parker was at the back of the Tate Britain building and the route to it took me past an enormous display by Hew Locke called The Procession.  I was late and in a hurry but as I walked past I could see that the installation was full of a sense of carnival but also images of slavery, colonialism and imperialism.  It was certainly an impressive and very colourful use of the main, central space in the gallery and I spent a little more time viewing it on my way back from the Parker exhibition.

Views of Hew Locke’s ‘The Procession’ At Tate Britain

The Cornelia Parker retrospective was a bit of a surprise even though I only had hazy ideas of what to expect.  It was posed those perennial questions about ‘what is art?’ through display of part-manufactured goods, used products and repurposed objects.  It was an exhibition revealing process as well as end result.

For example, she worked with a police force to obtain a shot gun that they had destroyed by cutting it up.  The several parts had been placed alongside a strip of rust grains from another rusted and destroyed gun in a way that implied blood caused by firearms.  Violence was implied by a number of other objects such as the steel template of a gun from the earliest stage of gun manufacture.

Other works included piles of black lacquer cut from discs to produce vinyl records (‘Negatives of Sound’) and piles of silver left over from engravings (‘Negative of Words’).  Another weirdly attractive set of works were cloths stained from rubbing silver spoons belonging to famous/infamous persons such as Davy Crockett and Guy Fawkes (see below).

In one room there were a series of suspended pools of crushed silver objects apparently collected from flea markets and then collectively flattened by a steamroller (‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’).  Another similar exhibit was of flattened brass instruments hung in a circle like a huge silver mobile (‘Perpetual Canon’). 

‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’ By Cornelia Parker At Tate Britain
‘Perpetual Canon’ By Cornelia Parker At Tate Britain

‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ was the centrepiece of the exhibition and was an arresting sight.  As the accompanying blurb pointed out, it both looked like a moment of explosion but also, as one stood back, felt like an implosion; like a moment in one of those films of something exploding put into reverse. 

Close Ups ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploding View’

It was great that the exhibition wasn’t crowded and I spent quite a while peering into the exploded shed at the diverse and disintegrated contents.  The explosion, when organised by Parker with the Army School of Ammunition and a chunk of Semtex, had clearly followed some degree of cramming of the shed with strange objects from toys to clothing and from tools to cable.  As with some other works on show, the shadows were as impactful as the substance.  Nicely done!

On my way home I stopped in opportunistically at the White Cube Gallery in Masons Yard which I had not visited before.  This gallery is smaller in scale than its bigger brother White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey but follows a similar pattern with very large, starkly pure white rooms. 

Leon Wuidar at The White Cube, Mason’s Yard, London

On the walls were numerous works by a Belgian artist called Léon Wuidar.  The works had a pleasant simplicity and some had very warm, comforting colours.  It was a more straightforward art experience than that Cornelia Parker and the Tate had provided earlier in the day but I’m glad I popped in to see it.

Graffiti Mural (By Morganico, Apparently) Near Mason’s Yard. I Love How This Stuff Pops Up In London

Seeing Football, Missing Football

To Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) occasional frustration, I have been careful up to now to ensure that our trips to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild and his parents haven’t clashed with home fixtures for my football club, Forest Green Rovers (FGR).  I have a season ticket and, quite apart from my desire (obsession?) to see my team play whenever I reasonably can, I’m the sort of person that wants to get full value from my season ticket investment. 

However, I am not going to be able to keep this up since First Grandchild (FG) has a birthday around a weekend when FGR are playing at home.  Even football doesn’t take precedence over celebrating the end of his first year with us. 

My Grey Hair And FG’s Ginger Hair

That birthday is in November but I am already going to miss another home game later this week when I am accompanying LSW to her long-weekend college reunion in Buxton, Derbyshire.  I regret missing the game but, in truth, it is going to be nice to get away for a change of scene again given that we haven’t had a proper holiday this year.

In any case, I have just been able to engineer seeing an away game at Charlton in London during a trip ostensibly to attend my annual dental check-up and to fix a recently broken tooth.  So, I have managed to keep up my support in person at a good number of FGR’s games so far this season. 

Unfortunately, following promotion as Champions from English Football League 2 last May, this season in a higher league is a struggle.  The scale of the clubs we are playing, the impressiveness of their stadiums and the quality of the football is all much greater than in the past.  As a result, positive results have, so far, been hard to come by.

A Minutes Silence For The Queen at Charlton Athletic

So, it was great that I was able to see us wobble through to secure a draw and a well-earned point at Charlton Athletic – one of the ‘big’ teams who were once in the English Premier League but who now have to cope with us in English Football League 1 (EFL1).  Even better, I was able to meet up with a great Australian friend of Youngest Son (and devoted supporter of FGR) at the game and catch up, and sing along, with him.  Based on the performance in our last two games, I remain hopeful that we can consolidate our position in EFL1.

Edinburgh’s Inverleith Park: Picnic Panorama

More on my brief London trip another time…..  Earlier, our August trip to Edinburgh was, as usual, lovely. It was, of course, great to see how much First Grandchild had developed since the last time we have seen him some 6 weeks or so previously.  It was nice too to see how Eldest Son (ES) and his partner have settled into their new flat (including a newly decorated kitchen) and have got FGs sleeping at night more under control.

A major change since visits earlier in the year was that, whereas we used to take FG out in his buggy when it was time for him to sleep, now we take him out between naps to keep him awake.  That makes the walks around Edinburgh more interesting for him and us.  I can envisage that by the time of our next visit, FG won’t be so content to be in his buggy and will want to try out his embryonic walking skills.

Aerial View Of Part Of The Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

We did our usual trip to, and around, the Royal Botanic Gardens.  The gardens are interesting all year around and FG particularly likes the running water and waterfalls in the Rockery.  For me, the highlight was the Kitchen Garden in front of the Botanic Cottage which was planted with wild flowers.  The mix was varied cleverly throughout the planted space so that, when standing in the middle, the colour palette shifted as one turned around.

FG was much more impressed by our visit to the National Museum of Scotland.  I’m going to love taking him here every time I get up to Edinburgh.  For a small child, there is so much going on, so many buttons to push and so much movement.  At this stage, FG seems more interested in the other children than the exhibits but I can see hours of fun ahead.

National Museum Of Scotland, Edinburgh

We also had a lengthy walk to The Meadows to the south of Edinburgh centre.  Because the timing of our trip coincided with the Edinburgh Fringe – a gathering over a few weeks of a staggering multitude of performance artists from all over the UK and, indeed, the World – the central streets and cafes were crowded. 

The streets were also dominated by piles of rubbish because our visit also coincided with a strike by rubbish clearance workers in Edinburgh that had been going on for over a week.  The huge piles of trash everywhere underlined how much rubbish we generate in a typical big city and how dependent we are on public services to hide the issue of rubbish disposal from our day to day lives.

Edinburgh Rubbish!

Although the overflowing rubbish bins were not a great advertisement for Edinburgh (the workers dispute is now resolved), the city remains a great attraction for LSW and I.  The architecture in the centre is stunning, the galleries and museums are befitting of a capital city, the area ES and his partner live in is close to interesting shops, and even the playgrounds we took FG to seemed better appointed but more accessible than average. 

We are both looking forward to our November birthday party visit hugely – even though I will miss the delights of watching Forest Green Rovers play live!

In Praise Of A Clear Head

I have been monitoring the number of my alcohol-free days since 2005.  Over a decade ago I was drinking alcohol almost every day, and often drinking a beer alone in my flat after work in London.  Now I have a target of 50% drink-free days each month and I have achieved that for the last three years.

When I retired 5 years ago, I realised that although I was starting to achieve the target number of drink-free days, I was way off the target for units of alcohol recommended by doctors.  To galvanise myself for change, I set a monthly target for alcohol units consumed too.  That target is 100 units of alcohol per month.  That is still almost twice the recommended level but 50% less than where I was in my first two years of retirement. 

I have achieved this personal target for the last two years but it’s been a struggle, especially this year (for reasons I’m yet to quite fathom).  On days when I drink, I find that I average 6-7 units; that’s two thirds of a bottle of wine or three pints of beer (not, I think, an unreasonable amount of pleasure to have on a sunny evening in the garden, at a celebration, or in the pub garden on a lazy Sunday).  But multiply that by 14-15 days and I’m closer to the 100 unit target than I would like. 

Alcohol Units/Month Consumption Since 2019 (I’m More Consistent Now But Consistently Only Just Below Target (100 Units)!

I have been helped in recent years by the advent of decent no, or low, alcohol beer; I like those from BrewDog especially.  But now I have a new helper: ‘Clear Head’, a low alcohol beer served on tap at our village pub.   It’s quite a refreshing, hoppy and nice tasting pint.  Its recent availability on draft means that I can visit the pub more often and feel as though I’m having a proper pub drink (not the soft sugary stuff that I generally avoid, or mineral water that I can get out of the tap at home), while keeping my alcohol unit consumption down. 

One of the Best Low-Alcohol Beers I’ve Had

The net effect has been that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have visited the local pub more often during this summer, especially during the recent heat waves, but I have still stayed within my alcohol unit target.  That’s good because the pub is so central to the community and our visits create opportunities for us to have impromptu meetings with other villagers and we just enjoy hanging out in the relaxed atmosphere there.  The only downside is that LSW is probably drinking a bit more alcohol because she usually goes for a can of the relatively strong craft beer rather than the low alcohol variety, but then she drinks slowly and so is well below the recommended unit levels.

Another bonus is that 5% of Bristol Beer Factory’s revenue on sales of Clear Head go to Talk Club which is the valuable charity organisation that helps establish and organise Men’s Mental Fitness chat groups such as that I have been attending in recent weeks in our village.  The sessions that I mentioned in my last post have continued to be fulfilling and have had the side effect of making me feel even more a part of the community.  The pub landlord, who helps run the sessions, even gives participants a pint of ‘Clear Head’ to accompany us through the meetings; really nice!

On Draft At Our Local Pub But It Comes In Cans Too

So, the heat waves are over for another year it seems.  The cost of living crisis seems to be drowning out concerns about the climate and related biodiversity crises.  However, the recent weeks of intense heat have underlined the need for us all to think about reducing our carbon footprint and adapting to the new climate that is inevitably going to envelop us. 

Local Lake Dried Up In The Recent Heat And The Same Lake Two Years Ago (With Cow)

LSW has planted most of our flower beds and terraces with relatively drought resistant plants so the garden has looked great throughout the summer with just minimal watering.  However, during the greatest heat, we had to have the blinds down all day in our kitchen/diner extension with all its glass.  Rather than be able to look out over the garden from the extension, we spent much of the heat wave sheltered in the cool of the old part of the house. 

Dry Garden And Sun Through Meadow Grass

We are thinking about ways to further adapt to persistent high temperatures in the future at the same time as trying to work out how we can isolate rooms we want to heat in winter so that we reduce overall energy demand and so save money in the face of escalating electricity and gas bills.  We won’t be alone in that.

Later this week we are off north to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild and his parents again.  The relative cool of Edinburgh may look an increasingly attractive medium/long term location as the south of the UK feels the impact of our changing summers.  Short term, though, I’m sticking to home in our village and an occasional pint or two of ‘Clear Head’ on draft.

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!