Life Drifting Along

Our Hamlet

The Westernmost Part Of Our Hamlet

This picture of our hamlet in Gloucestershire is a picture of sunny tranquillity.  That is, until you realise this is taken by a tree feller, who for two days, seared the air with the noise of his chainsaw!

Despite that aural intrusion, the last couple of weeks of lockdown has been peaceful and, frankly, have felt like a very pleasant, seamless drift from one day to the next.  The only things that keep me aware of what day it is are the maintenance of our routine of sourdough bread at the weekends and the date labels on my Guardian newspaper subscription vouchers.  I do wonder when and how the lockdown will end but, in the meantime, no complaints here yet.

Blue, Vapour Trail Free Skies Above Quintisential English Countryside

Blue, Vapour Trail Free Skies Above Quintessential English Countryside (And One Of The First Wind Turbines In The Country)

What might become boredom has been fended off by the recognition that there is always an endless number of jobs to do in the garden (and the good weather in which to do them) and some work to promote our village climate action group.  On the latter I have been interested in following up the themes that arose at out village meeting just before the lockdown that related to strengthening community cohesion, neighbourliness, sharing and mutual support.

Of course, a number of community based initiatives related to the virus outbreak are already underway in the village independent from our climate action group.  One group are making protective headgear for front line medical staff using 3-D printers.  Another, including Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), is sewing up gowns for nurses.  Our climate action group wants to build on that community spirit while focusing on things that reduce carbon emissions.

The WhatsApp Group that LSW set up in early April for sharing of services and things in our hamlet has been very successful.  Similar groups are already up and running in other hamlets around the parish.  Together with the village Facebook presence, they have served as useful support mechanisms during the lockdown.  A new group that our village climate action group established that is specifically focused on sharing seeds, seedlings, plants and surplus crops has also thrived.  Social media technology is really helping with social cohesion although we are also using old fashioned means of notice boards and local magazines to ‘spread the word’ to those who don’t use it.

Sourdogh Starter, Kombucha Scoby, Carpet Cleaner And Rhubarb - Just A Fraction Of The Things Swapped and Shared By LSW's WhatsApp Group

Sourdogh Starter, Kombucha Scoby, Carpet Cleaner And Rhubarb – Just A Fraction Of The Things Swapped And Shared By LSW’s WhatsApp Group

It is almost distasteful to imagine that there are positives arising from the coronavirus outbreak.  So many have died, so many are worried about their jobs and incomes, and so many are suffering from just being cooped up in their flats and houses.

However it is also possible to recognise that the lockdown introduced to dampen the Covid-19 infection rate has had some beneficial impact on community spirit, carbon emissions and air quality.  We are spending more time communicating with our neighbours (albeit while socially distancing) and we are working, entertaining ourselves and shopping more locally, and are therefore driving and flying less.

One Of The Innovations That Has Sprung Up In Our Hamlet - One Of Three A Joke-A-Day Boards

One Of The Innovations That Has Sprung Up In Our Hamlet – One Of Three ‘Joke-Of-The-Day’ Boards

Given that the ongoing climate emergency is going to eventually come back to be the headline risk to humanity, the question becomes: how do we sustain the effects of the lockdown that have had a positive impact on carbon emission levels and community resilience against the climate emergency, beyond the lockdown?

The area I am thinking about most at the moment is whether we can find ways of sustaining at least the majority of the extra revenue that has resulted from many more people in the using our Community Shop during the virus outbreak.  Revenues and footfall have more than doubled and so the shop is thriving relative to normal operation.  The shop has long been a great community asset but it is now even more of a hub around which neighbourliness, gossip and information can circulate.  It would be great to sustain some of those economics and the stronger social feel after the lockdown is eased, not least because local shopping will reduce carbon emissions in line with the objectives of our climate action group.

IMG_6020

Meanwhile, Zoom meetings are keeping LSW and I in touch with our sons in London and various friends – possibly more than usual in fact.  The ‘Clap for Carers’ session on Thursday evenings is becoming an ever more sophisticated event in our hamlet with a trumpet player now accompanying the saxophonist that started the musical dimension.  These events are ripples on a steady drift through a largely unchanging stream of locked down days.

Carpets Of Wild Garlic Amid Beech Trees

Carpets Of Wild Garlic Amid Beech Trees

How fortunate it is for me that the weather is so warm and sunny and I have the means to enjoy it.  The local woods have been full of bluebells and now are strewn with carpets of wild garlic.  The trees and hedgerows have that brilliant green foliage that Spring brings.  The skies are blue and populated with attractive clouds rather than the vapour trails of aeroplanes.  The birds seem louder and happier this year and the lambs more numerous.  My phone is full of pictures of sweet little lambs; how many does one need?

Stay safe!

So Much To Do, So Much Time?

CoroGorgeous Spring weather is here but the lockdown to prevent the rapid spread of Covid-19 continues.  So many in the UK and worldwide are horribly constrained by the lockdown and I am fortunate that I can continue to enjoy this wonderful Spring.

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

There are arguments raging as to whether the UK lockdown was aggressive or early enough, about how long it should last and how it should be relaxed over time.  Given the evident lack of testing and tracing capability, and the paucity of vital protective equipment available to health care workers, it seems to me that the lockdown should have been implemented much earlier.

I wonder why our Prime Minister was openly glad-handing others so long after the infectiousness of the virus was clear, and why did the Cheltenham race festival with its 100,000 racegoers take place in mid-March?  Given that a pandemic was an obvious risk, why did we not have more equipment in our stockpiles in anticipation?

Now we have ‘let the cat out of the bag’, as it were, it looks like getting it back under control is going to take an extended period of social and business restrictions.  That is already creating huge economic and social problems.  Loneliness, anxiety, depression are all bound to increase.  Worries about domestic violence, money, entertaining and educating kids, and many other unplanned problems are mounting for many.  It is hard to imagine what life in the UK might be like in a year or so if the lockdown cannot be relaxed significantly by then.

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

Meanwhile, I continue to be one of the lucky ones.  I haven’t contracted the virus and don’t know anyone personally who has suffered badly from it – yet.  I don’t have to work or travel any more.  I live in the country and so can still get out and about without needing to worry about social distancing while outdoors.  Indeed, the countryside is splendidly empty of people, vibrant with wildlife and looks lovely in the fullness of what has been terrifically consistent Spring sunshine.

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

I am maintaining my 15,000 steps a day average by finding ever more extravagant detours into the surrounding rural wilderness on my way to the newsagent in town.  This walking, in combination with a steady reduction in alcohol intake over the last three months (in line with my New Year resolutions) has got my weight down close to my target.  That, plus plenty of gardening, is improving my overall health and readiness to take on Covid-19 if and when it hits me.

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

My days are surprisingly full.  There is so much music to listen to and so many box-set series TV to watch (I’m loving Trigonometry and Devs on the BBC at the moment).  There are so many books on my ‘To Be Read’ shelf still (I’m half way through Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and enjoying that).  I play games on my mobile; I am keeping my empire in Forge of Empires going and gradually improving my battle technique in Clash of Clans.

Yet these are all just fill-in activities around the main, constant structure of almost every locked down day (Sunday is still a slight exception).  Tea in bed is followed by leisurely breakfast.  Then there is the round-about walk into town for the newspaper followed by digestion of its main stories.  Then I make a salad lunch which is followed by the first game of Monopoly Deal of the day with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and Youngest Son (YS).

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards. More Fun Than It Sounds!

Most afternoons I work in the garden – there are simply more jobs in the garden than I can fit into the time and my reserves of energy – or I spend an hour or two writing this or moving forward the village Neighbourhood Plan and Climate Action Network group.

I stop to follow the daily government briefing on Covid-19 at 5pm.  It’s repetitive but worth listening to, I think, for the subtle attempts to re-write history and the almost obsessional denial of any mistakes.  Those denials are even with hindsight and in the knowledge that no-one could get the response to the pandemic entirely right.  Indeed, there may be no ‘right answers’ and certainly none we can discern yet.  YS still can’t get over how much I chunter on to the radio with my moaning about politicians.

If it is my turn to cook then I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for that.  I’m finding that while recipes are invariably right about cooking times, they underestimate preparation time (by me, anyway) by 300%.

Finally we will eat and then play another game of Monopoly Deal before retiring to the TV room.  The day is crowned with another railing against politicians on the television evening news and then its reading in bed and sleep.

Special events rarely disturb this pattern.  LSW and YS have deemed Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as ‘drinking days’.  On these we often lap up the privilege we have of a garden to retreat to, by taking a bottle of wine up to the fading warmth of the setting sun at the top of our field.

Evening Wine In Our Field

Evening Wine In Our Field

The Thursday ‘Clap for Carers’ has become an increasingly important interlude and is now accompanied by a neighbour playing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ proficiently and commendably on saxophone.  Also a new virtual, monthly village quiz has kicked off; I’m scheduled to arrange the May occurrence so preparation for that will fill a rainy day or two.

There seems to be so much to do.  I do hope we find a way to end the lockdown soon but it has helped me fit all these local activities in.

Lockdown Life In The Country

The lockdown continues to affect me much less than most people and I count my blessings for that – and for avoiding infection so far.  I’m retired and live in the country with plenty of space, leisure time and a nice garden to sit or work in.  I know many are far less fortunate – and doubly so because the weather has been so lovely since the lockdown kicked off.

Nonetheless, the difference for me between this Easter and last year’s Easter is a stark indicator of how much the world has changed.  Last Easter, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I hosted a treasure hunt and lunch for 19 of our family.  Two of our sons brought their girlfriends to stay with us and, throughout Easter Sunday, the extended family intermingled in the garden over drinks and food.  There is none of that this year.  The only similarity is that the weather is hot and sunny, the new lambs are in the next door field again and all the other reliable signs of Spring are in evidence.

The First Ducklings I Have Seen This Year And Spring Lambs In The Neighbouring Field

Easter weekend is, this year, just like any other day in lockdown.  There is now so little difference between one day and another.  Planning and execution of holidays, trips to London and visits to my parents in Nottingham has stopped.  Now planning is merely about deciding which circuitous and deserted route to take into the local shops, who is going to cook the evening meal and with what, and what trivial task will be undertaken today.

A View On One Of My Favourite Circuitous Walks To The Shops

A View On One Of My Favourite Circuitous Walks To The Shops

Most of my usual routines have persisted; I’m a creature of habit after all!  For example, I still have fruit/yogurt/granola breakfast midweek but bread and jam at the weekends.  The consistency of our salad lunches (except Sundays when we have roast chicken) has remained unperturbed by the Coronavirus.  I still insist on listening to the radio news headlines twice a day (at 1pm and 5pm) despite their increasing repetition and depressing content.  I still walk into town every morning to collect my newspaper.  LSW and I still attempt the Guardian Quick Crossword together every late afternoon over tea.

But now, some new markers for the progression of the day and week have emerged.  For instance, primarily at Youngest Son’s (YS’s) prompting, we play a game of Monopoly Deal after every lunch and dinner.  Primarily at LSW’s prompting, we participate in the regular Thursday evening ‘Clap for Care Workers’ event in our lane alongside her ‘Hearts For Horsley’ banner – now, one of almost 100 in the vicinity.

Hearts Around Horsley Banners/Flags Including LSW’s And A Lego Version

Life has slowed down.  It is just less full without the trips away from our home and my attendance at football games.  Football ceasing at Forest Green Rovers during the lockdown has, I estimate, given me a day a week back now that there is no game to prepare for, travel to, watch, write up on the forums afterwards and generally worry about.

Now I spend more time sitting down to read my book or the newspaper in the afternoons which risks, and often leads to, snoozing.  Amid the tendency to inactivity, my to-do lists have become more important again as I try to ensure that at least one thing worthwhile is completed each day.  LSW, YS and I have collectively tried to structure our days and weeks to make sure we stay focused on achieving something even when there is so little pressing to do.

Wood Anemones Among First Bluebells And Massed Cherry Blossom

Another example of imposing a new structure to our time is that we have started to stick more rigidly to a schedule of drinking alcohol on just Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.  This new rhythm feels more feasible now we are not going to dinner parties, social events or holiday destinations any more.  It is certainly helping me achieve my New Year resolutions for alcohol-free days and reduced overall alcohol intake.  The loss of the pre-Coronavirus/pre-Pub closure routines of the monthly Pub Quiz and beer while the Sunday roast is cooking has, alone, reduced my alcohol intake by about 10%.

As with the other (few) positive impacts of the virus outbreak – on increased local shopping and home cooking, decreased carbon emissions and improved air quality for example – it will be interesting to see if I revert to bad habits and previous levels of alcohol once the lockdown has passed.  I’m confident I can avoid that.

Meanwhile, we all need to enjoy Spring as much as we can while, predominantly, staying at home and away from people outside our household (‘to protect the NHS and save lives’, including our own).  Easy for me to say while in my relatively comfortable position, but I hope everyone reading this adheres to the current health guidelines and avoids the virus too.

My Thank You To Our Bin Men In A Time Of Crisis

My Thank You To Our Bin Men In A Time Of Crisis

No April Fool, Lockdown Is Real

April is here!  The lambs are in the field running and jumping hither and thither.  Buds are bursting and flowers are proliferating.  We have had a spell of sunny and almost warm weather.  Normally, this would be a time for rejoicing at the season of renewal.

Lovely Signs Of Spring Alongside My Walks

Lovely Signs Of Spring Alongside My Walks

Who would have thought at New Year that, by April Fool’s day 2020, we would be well into an indefinite period of not being able to get closer than two metres to another person (outside of one’s household).  But it’s no April’s Fool joke; how things have changed in three months!  It is incredible that the misuse of a bat (or whatever) in Wuhan can have had such a damaging impact, so rapidly, on our globalised world.

I’ve recorded here before that I am much relieved that I am retired during this ‘lockdown’ period.  I know of several in our village who are struggling to work from home due to the poor local broadband service quality and I wouldn’t want to be reliant on the Internet.  In any case, the ultimate flexibility of my retirement schedule means that I can adapt easily to the new restrictive contact and movement regime.

In practice, my routines haven’t changed very much yet.  Because we live in a very rural area, I can still go on walks safe in the knowledge that I will meet, and have to skirt around, almost no-one.  I visit the ever reducing number of local shops rather less and my usual walk through the local college grounds has shut.  But that just means I am gardening a bit more and trying new, less popular walking routes.  Armed with my hand sanitiser, I feel fairly safe.

Deserted Local Valley

Deserted Local Valley

We are very fortunate that we live in a lively and neighbourly village.  Growing an already good community spirit was one of the key themes coming out of a village meeting on climate change that I helped to arrange in February.  (Goodness, was it really so recently?  Such a gathering would be unthinkable just six weeks on!)  One positive is that the virus crisis has engendered that increase in community sprit despite the need for ‘social distancing’.

More people than ever are willing to stop and have a more-than-arms- length chat from their gardens or as one passes in the lanes.  The hamlet WhatsApp group Long Suffering Wife (LSW) has established is operational and buzzing with information and produce swaps.  The village shop has so many volunteering to deliver essentials that my offer hasn’t yet been called upon.  The clap for care workers event last Thursday evening was vibrant and moving.  Villagers have shown solidarity in adversity by erecting flags and banners to celebrate the village.  All of that has been rather uplifting against the depressing backdrop of economic collapse and the suffering of so many less fortunate.

About 20% Of Homes In Our Village Have ‘Hearts Around Horsley’ Banners Or Flags Out As A Show Of Community Solidarity Against The Virus

A real downside of the lockdown is that I am not able to visit my Mum and Dad. Indeed, because she is in a care home, not even my Dad can visit my Mum now.  Dad and I, and some of my sons, are writing letters to her to give her a reminder that she is in our thoughts.  There’s no denying though that it is a tough time for everyone giving and receiving nursing and social care at the moment.  At least Mum and Dad, and the rest of us in the family, are all free of the virus so far.

It has dawned on Youngest Son (YS) that he is going to be staying with us, and apart from his girlfriend, for some time.  He has no work now so is glad of the food and roof over his head, and he is pleased he is out of London.  However, no matter how many times we play Monopoly Deal to keep him entertained, he can’t wait to get on with ‘real’ life again.  In contrast, Eldest Son (ES) and Middle Son (MS), who work in London in the games and advertising industry, are busier at work than ever.  They are responding to the demands of the increased number of couch potatoes playing videogames and watching TV.

Many of the impacts of the virus outbreak have been predictable – in type, if not degree.  Others have, for me at least, been more unpredictable.  It has been encouraging, for example, to see how quickly air pollution has reduced since the economic slowdown.  Humans, as well as nature, adapt quickly to change and it will be interesting to see whether some of the new habits – local shopping, greater reuse of materials, walking not driving, and so on – persist after the lockdown ends.

Levels of (Nasty) Nitrous Oxide (NO2) Measured By Satellite Over China And The UK 2019 Versus Last Week (Relative NO2 Levels Shown In Pink)

I wonder too, whether more people will drift to the countryside from the cities where the infection rates are more concentrated and lockdown leisure pursuits are more limited (we will get fast broadband out here eventually!)  Certainly, I feel very lucky that I live in a house large enough to enable its occupants to sit in their own room when they want, amid a garden that, once the weather warms a little more, will be lovely to sit in, and in a spirited village that has wonderful, accessible countryside around it.

Stay safe.

Spring Lambs.  Watching Them Gambol In The Field Opposite Our House Is A Rare Privilege

Spring Lambs. Watching Them Gambol In The Field Opposite Our House Is A Rare Privilege

A Fine Day In Bath And Social Distancing

Ten days ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to a concert in Bath.  We were aware of the emerging concerns about how Covid-19 spreads and the increasing need for social distancing.  Indeed, two locals who we planned to go with opted out because of their concerns.  However, we were confident we could go to the concert and still stay broadly within the then current rules and, with judicious use of soap and sanitiser, minimise risk to ourselves and others.

The Rather Wonderful Faeland At Chapel Arts

The Rather Wonderful Faeland At Chapel Arts

Co-incidentally, two very old friends who are visiting the UK from the USA were due to be picked up by us from Bath the following day.  This was a further health risk but one we calculated to take because it was a very rare chance for LSW to meet one of her goddaughters.  So we not only went to Bath but, co-joined the two events and stayed overnight at a fairly central, good value hotel before bringing goddaughter and her mother for a brief stay at our house.

Bath Abbey Outside At Night And Inside

All this seems relatively reckless ten days on.  However, Bath was radiant in the sunshine, we ate splendidly at Landrace Bakery and Beckford Bottle Shop, took in a couple of exhibitions and saw Faeland at Chapel Arts, all of which was rather wonderful. Then we had a lovely 24 hours with our friends before they returned to the US and self-isolation.  We all got away with it, remain uninfected (at time of writing) and finished normal life (for a while at least) on a high.

As it turned out the concert was sparsely attended so we could sit 3-4 metres away from anyone else.  It was uplifting to see Faeland again.  They were in good form and their song ‘All My Swim’ is an absolute favourite.  I was fortunate to meet the band at the interval to say so to directly to them.  What is great is that LSW and I love them equally and, Covid-19 permitting, we will plan to see them again in the autumn.

Wandering the streets of Bath was relatively minimal risk in terms of infection but we also ventured into the Francis Gallery (a lovely bright, airy space showing ceramics by Paul Philp) and then the Holbourne Museum.

Views Of Bath: Holbourne Museum (Top), Queen Square (Bottom Left) And Pulteney Bridge

Views Of Bath: Holbourne Museum (Top), Queen Square (Bottom Left) And Pulteney Bridge

The Francis Gallery

The Francis Gallery, Bath

The Holbourne Museum is currently showing an exhibition of Grayson Perry work from his ‘pre-therapy years’.  Having read his book ‘The Descent of Man’ a couple of years ago, I feel I understand a little about him and his outré leanings.  Even though I find his work interesting rather than attractive, I was glad of the opportunity to see this show and to learn some more.

Vases And Plates by Grayson Perry, Holbourne Museum Exhibition

Vases And Plates by Grayson Perry, Holbourne Museum Exhibition

The exhibition was very well laid out and the work was well documented and explained (often in Grayson’s own words).  Each item was complex and demanded study.  Even though the exhibition was small relative to some I have seen in London in recent years, it was dense with information and the reactions it inspired.  I enjoyed the weirdness Grayson invests in his work but also craftsmanship.  It was fun, too, to spot the recurrence of themes through the exhibition and to map them to those I recalled in other work of his that I have seen previously.

The rest of the museum was well worth spending time in (and the 2 metre social distancing was easy to maintain).  The museum has a good collection of 17th century paintings from the Low Countries.  What LSW and I liked best though, were the collections of highly crafted stump work tapestries cum embroideries, Japanese netsuke and other ornaments.  Some were directly on show in cabinets but once I discovered the drawers under these I, felt I was uncovering a wonderful treasure trove.

Amazing Set Of Netsuke, Holbourne Museum, Bath

Amazing Set Of Netsuke, Holbourne Museum, Bath

Late 18th Century Ivory Carving - Incredible Detail In A 6cm Diameter Minature

Holbourne Museum, Bath: Late 18th Century Ivory Carving – Incredible Detail In A 6cm Diameter Miniature

Ten days on and we are doing our social distancing more intensely.  Youngest Son has joined us from London where his business has ground to a halt.  We are ‘battening down the hatches’ and wondering how many new terms like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ are going to enter the Oxford English Dictionary during this viral outbreak.

Last week, I pitied the health and other key workers trying to find food in the shops while holding down their vital jobs.  Those made jobless recently and those, like me, who are retired, have time on their hands.  They are able to devote time to finding what they feel they need.  Indeed, some probably shop for entertainment and for something to do rather than in a panic.  Whatever, the nearby shops were almost bereft of fresh fruit and vegetables last week.

Local home store cupboards must now be full since the shops were less busy and fuller of goods this morning.  I just hope now that those who have purchased so much in recent days actually use the food they bought and don’t waste it.

Time Now For Local Walks In Countryside That Is Empty Except For Sheep And Birds

For a while at least, there won’t be any more trips out like that to Bath.  In fact, LSW and I are now considering cancelling what we can of our recently booked walking holiday down the first third of the South West Coastal Path and week in Padstow to celebrate LSW’s birthday in June.  Local walking and gardening are the main entertainments for me now.  Fortunately the weather has turned sunny and warmer just in time.  Stay safe…..

Increasingly Bold Pheasant In Our Garden

Increasingly Bold Pheasant In Our Garden; Lucky For Us That We can Self Isolate Here

Hunkering Down For Coronavirus? Not Quite Yet

The news is dominated by the progress of coronavirus and our response to it.  In line with one of my New Year resolutions, and to assuage Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) dislike of my chuntering on to myself in response to the radio news, I have reduced the amount of news I listen to, especially in the morning.  Nonetheless, the reports of infections, deaths, stock market collapses and empty toilet roll shelves, creates a compelling narrative and visceral sensation.

The prospects, not least for my pension, look gloomy but whether the current levels of fear of coronavirus are fully justified is not quite concrete.  As a result, and despite my natural pessimism on this sort of thing, my personal response, in terms of activities undertaken, has been uncertain and mixed.

For example, I did brave the snuffling crowds to travel up to London last week by train and tube to attend one of my regular evening sessions with old friends there.  We went to a busy pub and Russian restaurant in Soho (we are up to R in the alphabet of cuisines we are sampling).  The washing of my hands in the loo a little more self-consciously and for longer than usual, and the eschewing of handshakes, were the only concessions to the virus.  Unless, that is, we count the imbibing of a few flavoured vodkas and the antiseptic qualities of their alcohol content.

A Selection Of Vodkas, Part Finished. Best Was The Horseradish Flavoured One

A Selection Of Vodkas, Part Finished. The Horseradish Flavoured Vodka was The Best And Has Already Been Quaffed

On the other hand, I chose not to go to a Forest Green Rovers (FGR) football match in nearby Swindon which normally I would have attended.  I rejected sitting on a stuffy train or bus for an hour next to old people like me and then being packed into the ‘away’ end.  Instead, I favoured a breezy walk to an airy view of a much smaller game at Shortwood, the even more local football ground just over the hill.  I felt rotten about the decision afterwards because it felt like conceding ground to the virus while missing out on what has recently become a rare win for FGR.

Since then, I have continued retired life as I did before the advent of the coronavirus outbreak.  I continue to walk into town daily. I have been to a pub to meet a village mate.  I have attended two optional meetings on local climate change response activity and have been to a local dinner party.  LSW and I plan to go to Bath for a concert and (assuming it is on) I plan to see FGR’s game at the weekend from the (fairly) packed stand.

I keep veering along a continuum from avoiding unnecessary contact with others through thinking that what ‘will be will be’ and doing normal things but in a restrained way, to full out participation in events because it might be the last chance I get to do so for a while.

Hopefully, now spring and some warmer weather is coming, the trepidation about the virus and the more scary statistics associated with it will reduce.  However, the news readers, politicians and experts on the radio that I have listened to tell me that things will get much worse before they get better.  I suspect several limitations on normal living are imminent.  Should that be the case I will absorb myself in splendid isolation in the garden, clearing the winter weeds and clutter and digging over the vegetable patch.  In any case, that’s a task I have postponed for long enough already.

While in London last week, I did fit in an exhibition.  This was the Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography exhibition at the Barbican.  This inadvertently continued my recent run of visiting photographic exhibitions – the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, the Don McCullin exhibition at Hauser & Wirth last month, and now this.

Overall, I enjoyed it – these large exhibitions at such prestigious venues are so well thought out and always worth seeing – but my level of enjoyment fluctuated as I progressed through it and I ‘tired’ towards the end.

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

The exhibition starts with a series of photos focusing on men as soldiers, athletes and cowboys in traditionally male roles.  However, the chosen photographs deliberately undermine the typical view of the male; the soldiers are out of combat and apparently defenceless, the athletes are barely beyond pubescence, the cowboys are of ambiguous sexuality.

Studio Photos Found Abandoned by Thomas Dworzak In Afghanistan: A Strange Mix Of Guns, Flowers and Kohl

The theme of subverting the masculine ideal here was quite interesting and the video by Jeremy Deller of cross-dressing wrestler Adrian Street was compelling enough to watch all the way through.  (It brought back memories of the routine of watching all-in wrestling on the BBC before the reading of the Saturday football results back in the 1960s and 70s.)

'Rusty' By Catherine Opie

‘Rusty’ By Catherine Opie

There was some more unexpected material on masculine spaces – fraternities in the US and Mens’ Clubs in London – and some more playful stuff on men and fatherhood on the ground floor of the exhibition.

Hans Eijkelboom's 'My Family': A Playful Set Of Photo's With Him Posing As Husband to Housewives Asked At Random To Pose With Him In Their Homes

Hans Eijkelboom’s ‘My Family’: A Playful Set Of Photo’s With Him Posing As Husband To Housewives Asked At Random To Pose With Him In Their Homes (Real Husbands Absent!)

Upstairs, as the examination into the ‘plurality of subversive masculinities’ continued, the more predictable focus was more on ‘Queer’ culture (that appears to be an ok word to use again), homosexuality and race.  I found this less interesting although I again enjoyed some of the more light-hearted pieces and there were a few impressive photos by Deana Lawson and Rotimi Fani-Kayode who’s work I have seen somewhere before.

Piotr Uklanski's 'The Nazi's': Montage Of Famous Actors Playing Nazi Leaders

Piotr Uklanski’s ‘The Nazi’s’: Montage Of Famous Actors Playing Nazi Leaders

I’m wondering if my plans to visit London again over the next month or so will remain intact during the coronavirus crisis; fingers crossed on that.  One thing for sure – I’m glad I have retired and have a choice (provided I don’t catch it!)

Revisiting The Newt And Hauser & Wirth

Last autumn, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I visited the new garden in East Somerset adjoining a smart, refurbished hotel called The Newt.  This is a large and new garden that is the realised dream of a wealthy South African couple who had previously built the wonderful Babylonstoren complex near Cape Town which we visited a couple of years ago.

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

I described our first visit to The Newt gardens in this blog and won’t repeat my impressions here in any detail.  Suffice to say that the garden is of very high quality design and execution and it continues to develop.  It is therefore worth seeing, not only through the seasons, but also from year to year so that one can follow its evolution.  The cost of entry has gone up to £20 each but that includes unlimited visits for a year.  We will certainly try to go back this summer.

The Nest Gardens: The Cider Press, Bar And Cellar

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

We visited the gardens with two very old friends who had come to stay with us for a couple of days.  We were fortunate that the day we chose for the trip was one of only a handful of dry, sunny days we have had in February.  We maximised the value of the weather by lunching at the bright, airy and excellent At The Chapel in Bruton and then visiting the nearby Somerset branch of Hauser & Wirth galleries and its Piet Oudolf garden.

We have visited Hauser & Wirth a few times and always find it interesting.  On this occasion there were two exhibitions – both free.  The first was of some work by a Swiss guy (memorably) named Not Vital.  He is interested in architecture and the relationship between buildings and landscape and people.  The shiny metal building shapes gave off interesting reflections – and co-incidentally mimicked the shape of the nearby dovecote on a hillside overlooking the gallery – but I didn’t really ‘get’ the rest of the work.

'Cannot Enter Cannot Exit' By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth

‘Cannot Enter Cannot Exit’ By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth (With The Dovecote In The Distance)

Much more absorbing was a range of work on display by an apparently famous photographer called Don McCullin.  I wasn’t familiar with him but our friends – both of whom are keen photographers – were and so our visit had propitious timing for them.  Certainly the range of subject matter in the photographs, which were all black and white, was broad: from local countryside to industrial wastelands, from peaceful riverside views in India to war-torn Syria and the bleak stillness of the Arctic.  Many of the pictures really did draw the viewer in and even my untutored eye for photography could see they had gravitas.

'Batcombe Vale' By Don McCullin

‘Batcombe Vale’ By Don McCullin

As the sun started to set, we eventually found a path to the nearby ruined Bruton Dovecote that we had spotted from the restaurant earlier.  Our stay at this viewpoint was truncated slightly by the imminent arrival of some other tourists.  We had inadvertently misdirected them earlier as we struggled to find our way to the dovecote and we were too embarrassed to engage them again.  In any case, the view was a nice way to round off a sunny day in the country.

Bruton Dovecote

Bruton Dovecote, East Somerset

Certainly sunny and dry days have been rare recently.  Many in the UK far have been far less fortunate that us.  We have been able to just observe the flooding and full rivers rather than finding ourselves caught up in the misery of having a flooded home.  Indeed, the rain and resulting sodden ground has been a continuing, excellent excuse to postpone any attack on the overgrown and untended vegetable patch and allotment.

Rainwater Overwhelming Local Drains And Filling Streams

Instead of gardening, I have been hunkering down in my study writing up the results of the recent Village Meeting I helped to arrange to discuss how we make our village more resilient and responsive to the Climate Emergency.  There were expected threads of thought around reducing energy demand through insulation and generating local energy.  However, the main theme that arose was that we need to operate even more as a neighbourly community that shares (things, services and knowledge), especially where this leads to avoiding new purchases through borrowing, recycling/upcycling and reuse.

Unfortunately, two weeks after the meeting, we have suffered a blow to this community-strengthening aspiration in that the pub in the centre of the village has closed.  This was not unexpected and is hopefully temporary.

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

I recently organised a social evening in the pub to try to encourage more local use of its facilities.  I am getting increasingly involved in local activities of that sort.  Once the Neighbourhood Plan is complete – and good progress has been made on that recently – I will have more time to engage with groups that might energise the pub and other community buildings we have such as the church and shop.  LSW is pleased I am getting more involved in village life and I confess that I am enjoying it much more than I anticipated when I retired.

Climate Change, Wildlife and Cars

A lot of the last week or so has been taken up with preparation for, execution of and then follow up from a meeting held in our village hall to discuss, our village’s response to the climate emergency.  The Chair of the District Council’s Environment Committee presented to us the Council’s position on the climate emergency.  Then we held a workshop to share ideas on what we can do as individuals and collectively in our village to respond.  We finished up with a visioning and priority setting session.

The meeting was organised by the Carbon Neutral Horsley group, of which I am a part, with the Parish Council.  Coincidentally, but aptly, the meeting was scheduled as Storm Dennis was near its height.  The meeting exceeded our expectations both in terms of how many people turned up (despite the weather) and in terms of the quality of discussion and ideas that were put forward.

Our Village Vision For Resilience Against Climate Change In A Word Cloud

Our Village Vision For Resilience Against Climate Change Represented In A Word Cloud

It has now fallen to me to document and summarise these ideas.  Speed in doing so is important since we need sustain momentum and show that action is arising from the meeting.  This is quite interesting, worthwhile and almost exciting work.  Plus, it brings me closer to the heart of the village community.  That is something I am finding rewarding after so many years of working in London and being away from village activity except for weekends (when I just wanted to switch off from any demands and relax).

A wide range of topics cropped up at our village meeting on the response to the climate emergency.  Of course, cars (too many) and wildlife (not enough) were prominent themes.  These were also, again coincidentally, subject matter of two exhibitions I visited while I was in London in the days just prior to the meeting.

Views Of The Natural History Museum, Home of the Wildlife Photography Exhibition And Bringing Back Memories Of Taking The Kids Back In The 90s

Views Of The Natural History Museum, Home of the Wildlife Photography Exhibition And Bringing Back Memories Of Taking The Kids Back In The 90s

The first was the Natural History Museum exhibition showcasing the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.  I try to get to this every year and the quality of the competition this year was on a par with the best I have seen.  Once again, almost every photo is incredible either in terms of its composition, the amazing aspect of nature it captured, or the unimaginable patience that had been required to get just the right shot at just the right time – or all of these things.

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year: Winner Of The Birds Behaviour Section, Auden Rikardsen

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year: Winner Of The Birds Behaviour Section, Auden Rikardsen

The captions accompanying each photo contain some amazing wildlife facts too – weddell seals can stay underwater for 90 minutes, golden eagles reach a top speed of 320km/hour when hunting, and hummingbirds beat their wings 85 times a second.  It is mind-boggling stuff.

Overall Winner of Wildlife Photoprapher Of The Year 2019: The Moment By Yongqing Bao.  Incredible Photo!

Overall Winner of Wildlife Photographer Of The Year 2019: ‘The Moment’ By Yongqing Bao. Incredible Photo!

Also eyebrow-raising was that so few female photographers are represented (though almost half of the competition judges were female).  I can’t imagine why that is but I have become sensitised to this sort of thing having been to so many exhibitions in recent years that explicitly underline female contribution.

Black And White Photo Winner: 'Snow Exposure' By Max Waugh

Black And White Photo Winner: ‘Snow Exposure’ By Max Waugh

The second exhibition I went to see (with Youngest Son, which made this visit extra-special) was a major one at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  This shows the depth and range of impact of cars on almost every aspect of human life: social life, geopolitics, gender politics, city building, ecology, tourism, economics, landscape, industry, design and more.

The First Automobile (Benz Patent Motorwagen) And The Firebird Concept Car Capable Of Going 20 Times Faster in 1953

‘Cars: Accelerating The Modern World’ Exhibition At The V&A – The First Automobile in 1888 (Benz Patent Motorwagen) And The Firebird Concept Car Capable Of Going 20 Times Faster in 1953

This is another excellent show.  It covers both the positive and negative aspects of the car as an innovation and possession.  For example, on the down side it portrays the impact on Ford’s assembly line manufacture on workers, the incidence and then response to car accidents, and the increasing awareness of the role of the car in accelerating climate change.

1959 Messerschmitt 'Bubble Car' - One Of The First Efforts to Address Fuel Scarcity

1959 Messerschmitt ‘Bubble Car’ – One Of The First Efforts To Address Fuel Scarcity After the 1956 Suez Crisis

Relating to the latter, most ironic was an advertisement from Humble/Esso Oil Company showing an Antarctic glacier and emblazoned with the caption: ‘Each Day Humble Supplies Enough Energy to Melt 7 Million Tons of Glacier’.  It showed how we have moved on a bit in our awareness of a climate challenge.

1937's Symbol Of French Pride: A Delahaye Type 145 Grand Prix Winner

1937’s Symbol Of French Pride: A Delahaye Type 145 And Grand Prix Winner

However, this irony and concern is in the midst of more upbeat messages about how the car has delivered freedom, design energy and socio-economic transformation.  For example, the car enabled easier access to the countryside and so, a better understanding and appreciation of it.  There’s a fascinating section on how car manufacturers had to both create and respond to demand from women drivers and so encouraged gender equality.

Epitome Of Luxury: 1922 Hispano-Suiza 'Skiff Torpedo'

Epitome Of Car Luxury In1922; A Hispano-Suiza ‘Skiff Torpedo’

Above all, there are some marvellous and very shiny cars on show.  Some show off car design in response to the need for speed, some are the ultimate in luxury, others are tiny and economic vehicles built as the car industry responded to the threat of oil shortages.  Some exhibits show the demand for mass production, whilst others are pimped up one-offs to reflect the individualism, fashion preferences or status of their owners.

1962 Chevrolet Impala

1962 Chevrolet Impala Customised By Tomas Velaquez Of The ‘Imperial’ Lowrider Car Club

The exhibition, predictably, ends with an item on the future car and the imperative to respond to the climate emergency while delivering more flexible transport.  The future progression imagined here includes the further development of the electric car to reduce pollution, the increased safety of an effective driverless car, the shift from car ownership to transport by car as an on-demand service and, finally, flying, electric, driverless cars available on demand.  Cars have never been something I have enjoyed driving but I watch these evolutions with interest.

'Cars: Accelerating the Modern World' Exhibition At The V&A Starts And Finishes With This Shiny E-Type Jaguar

‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’ Exhibition At The V&A Starts With This Shiny E-Type Jaguar

‘Endlessly Walking Again?’

I continue to walk a lot.  I walk with friends, with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and alone.  I walk routinely every day to get groceries and a newspaper from the local town.  I walk to football matches, I walk more aimlessly through the local countryside to take in the glories of local nature, and I walk around towns and cities I visit to take in their vibe.  I walk fast, I walk slow.  I walk a lot.

Typical Cotswold View On One OF My Local Walks

Typical Cotswold View On One Of My Local Walks – Looking Across To Woodchester Park From Forest Green

All this walking has been noticed in the village.  I was on a lengthy walk the other day and ended up a couple of miles away from home near the offices of a neighbour who lives near to us.  As she came out of her office, she noticed me walking so far from home and remarked: ‘endlessly walking again?’  I smiled and confessed to not having a great purpose to my walk but explained that the sun was shining and I felt I was making good use of the day.

Graffiti Under The Old Railway Bridge On The Way To Woodchester

Certainly, some of the walking is for walking’s sake and has no other real objective other than the health benefit.  I was therefore pleased this week to see a couple of vindications of walking as a health booster.  The first was in a casual blog like mine and the second in the Guardian newspaper.  It’s possible to find validation for almost anything online these days but finding support for what one is already doing is always comforting.

Dipper Spotted In A Local Stream

Dipper Spotted In A Local Stream

The blog I saw summarised some of the benefits of walking.  In essence, walking can help mental and physical health and prolong life.  It helps us control weight, reduces stress and, because it’s an outdoor activity, helps us produce vital vitamin D.

The newspaper article summarised a book by Shane O’Mara, a neuroscientist, called In Praise of Walking and was a more intricate argument for walking as a health (especially brain) enhancer.  O’Mara calls walking a ‘superpower’ that ‘unlocks the cognitive powers of the brain like nothing else’.  In his book, he explains how and why from a neuroscience perspective, based on personal experience and scientific study.  I’ll leave you to read the article if you want to know more, but I’m not surprised by the conclusions he draws; walking does make me feel good!

On The Cotswolds Tops

On The Cotswolds Tops

Since Christmas, in addition to the normal return and circular walks to the town and around our village, I have been on a few notable walks in the local area.

Just after Christmas several from LSW’s family and I went on a walk together in the Slad Valley just north of Stroud.  This was on the path of the recently established Laurie Lee walk.  Lee was, and remains, a famous local poet and the walk was dotted with plinths with some of his poetry.  Someone in our group had that bright idea of having one of us read out each poem; I don’t really ‘get’ poetry and I felt a little self-conscious doing mine.

The Laurie Lee Poetry Walk

We planned to end the walk in time-honoured fashion in The Woolpack (Laurie Lee’s erstwhile local).  Unfortunately recent publicity for the walk and pub meant there wasn’t even standing room inside when we arrived.  It was an energetic and lovely walk though.

Panoramic View Of Slad Valley

Panoramic View Of Slad Valley – Laurie Lee Country

After New Year, my Best Man (BM) and his rather younger Chinese Girlfriend (CG) came to visit us.  BM loves walking and likes the contrast of our local, hill and valley landscape to that where he lives in Cambridgeshire.

We undertook a long local walk together (that LSW and I had recently discovered) despite CGs somewhat unsuitable footwear.  She endured the mud and blisters heroically but was put off a bit by the remains of a dead bird we passed on the way – it turned out that she doesn’t like to be close to birds and especially dead ones.

Imagine, then, LSW’s and my embarrassment when, on our way back on the walk, we unavoidably had to pass an ongoing pheasant shoot.  It was dramatic and noisy with 40 to 50 birds being shot out of the air in the space of 10 minutes as we passed.  It was an exciting sight I had not seen before but CG was understandably horrified.  It was unintended but not a good way to treat a guest!

Unfortunate Pheasants

Unfortunate Pheasants

Next week I’m off to Nottingham for my now roughly monthly visits to Mum and Dad there, and to London for a couple of days.  I’ll be swapping countryside walking for the urban stuff.

Home From Home

I retired about 30 months ago.  I moved back to the family home in Gloucestershire and gave up my London flat to Eldest Son (ES).  The flat is centrally and very conveniently located in the Barbican but it was, during my 18 years of mid-week living there, never more than a bolt-hole for temporary occupancy.  It rarely received any love and attention and, if I am honest, was only subjected to a proper cleanse when Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) occasionally came to visit.  (Then, I’d ‘tidy’ beforehand to create a tolerable impression, and LSW would tut at my inadequacy and grudgingly do a more thorough ‘clean’).

ES continues to live in the flat and now shares it with his girlfriend.  They were in Paris last week celebrating their birthdays.  That gave LSW and I the opportunity to pop up to London to see Middle Son, Youngest Son and some old friends, and to visit a few exhibitions.  We had a great time.

What made the trip especially nice was that our stay was anchored by a very comfortable stay in the Barbican flat.  We were able to see how it has been turned into a spotless, house-plant friendly, warm (in all senses of the word) home by ES and, especially, his girlfriend.  It’s great to see the flat still being put to such good use.

Our London trip was also helped by lovely clear blue skies.  All cities look better in sunny weather but the views of the Thames and its surrounds are especially enhanced by brilliant winter sun.

Bright London Day From Westminster Bridge

Bright London Day From Westminster Bridge

LSW and I visited the Garden Museum in Lambeth.  The tower was open and, having puffed up a long, steep, spiral, stone staircase, we came out onto a lovely view of Lambeth Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the City and, of course, the winding Thames.

View From The Tower Of The Garden Museum, Lambeth

Part of the Panoramic View From The Tower Of The Garden Museum, Lambeth

We also saw the latest exhibition in the museum.  This was a small but concisely curated history of London’s Royal Parks.  It covered their origins as royal hunting grounds in the 15th century and their gradual opening up to increasing proportions of the public during recent centuries.  It covered their use as recreation spaces (and how such recreation has changed over time), places of protest and places for celebration.  Perhaps most surprising was the section on how the parks have been used for military training including trench warfare during the First World War.

Feeding Pelicans In St James's Park

Feeding Pelicans In St James’s Park

We walked along the Embankment south of the Thames to Tate Modern; a really refreshing walk in the sun.  While LSW went off on a shopping assignment, I wandered through parts of Tate Modern and took in the Dora Maar exhibition there.  I only knew of Maar as one of Picasso’s many muses but the exhibition shows her to be a successful and diverse artist in her own right.

Kara Walker's Huge Fountain In The Turbine Room At The Tate Modern

Kara Walker’s Huge Fountain In The Turbine Room At The Tate Modern (Inspired By The History Of Slavery)

Maar’s early fashion photos are clearly impressive even to my untrained eye.  I was less satisfied with her surrealist photography, although it was interesting to see her attempts to meld the photographic capture of reality with the weirdness and spontaneity of the surrealist movement she became part of.  More interesting, were her later paintings.  One of these captured brilliantly, I thought, the inevitable tension of the period when she was living with Picasso under the same roof as his wife!

The Conversation By Dora Maar

The Conversation By Dora Maar (1937) – A Tense Moment Between Mistress and Wife?

For me, the best exhibition LSW and I visited during our stay was the Anselm Keifer exhibition at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey which had astonished me back in late November.  I loved the way the enormous art worked for me when standing right back from it and when right up close.  The exhibition was almost as impactful this time as last.  I will remember it for a long time.

Anselm Kiefer Painting at The White Cube Gallery - Standing Back And Up Close

Anselm Kiefer Work at The White Cube Gallery – Standing Back And Up Close

However, almost as good was the exhibition of colonial Indian master artists’ work at the Wallace Collection.  The art was commissioned by leaders of the East India Company at the height of colonial Britain to capture the fauna, flora and culture of paintings of India.

Indian Flora And Fauna By Shaikh Zain ud-Din (1780)

Indian Flora And Fauna By Shaikh Zain ud-Din (1780)

The exhibition showed how the Indian artists cleverly and subtly chafed against their subordinate position by portraying their masters in uncomfortable or unusual positions.  For example, a grimacing British officer was shown lying ill at ease in a coffin-like box being carried by beautifully painted natives.  Elsewhere, a daughter of an officer was portrayed on a wonderfully rendered horse surrounded by clearly proud, indigenous stable hands, but with her face hidden from view by her bonnet.

Best of all in this exhibition were the wonderfully detailed and beautifully painted pictures of the animals and plants of India.  The animals had every hair of fur meticulously drawn and the pictures of butterflies and birds in branches of trees were cleverly structured and strikingly laid out.  I love the Wallace Collection and this was another very good exhibition there.

I’m in London again next month and am looking forward to more cultural exploits then, although ES will be in town this time and so the flat’s sofa bed will have to suffice for me.