Sunshine in Suffolk

Framlingham College From Below The Castle

Framlingham College From Below The Castle

The highlight of the last couple of weeks has been a trip to some old friends in Suffolk.  We last visited them shortly after I retired in mid-2017 and then attempted to make a further visit in Autumn last year.  Readers of this blog might recall that became what I called at the time: my first wasted day of my retirement.  That was because we had to abort the visit half way to Suffolk because Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) previously trusty car stopped working in the outside lane of a dual carriageway just outside Bedford.  We spent the rest of a very frustrating day standing in a layby and then a tiny roadside shop and, finally, in the recovery truck on the way back home.

The garage has, since then, replaced the car engine (gratifyingly, at their expense since the cause of the problem was some work that they had done on the car).  This time the car was faultless on our way across country to Eye in Suffolk and our time with our friends was, perhaps, all the better for the delayed gratification.

Our friends have been upgrading their house, which was once a rectory, for several years.  The delay to our visit meant that there was even more work on their house to admire.  A key feature is the garden and, especially, the adjoining allotments.  Their scale, the fact they are well tended and the presence of some lovely surrounding walls reminds me of the allotments in the village near to our house where I intermittently tend a small patch of ground.  Beyond this, though, the comparison falters.  The allotments adjacent to our friends are private, not public, and are more like a small holding with just a few plot holders, old workshops and animals.

Our friends are in the process of acquiring the allotments.  In her retirement, the wife in the couple is taking on the management of the tenants and is already a tour de force in ensuring the allotments are well organised, productive and look splendid.  She loves the process and the results of her efforts and it was inspiring to see her cultivation, her happy, inquisitive chickens, and the area reserved for a new pig sty.

The Eye Allotments

The Eye Allotments; Chickens, Scarecrow and Calm Space

The weather was kind to us during our visit.  We had sunshine most of the time and the English countryside always looks good in sun.  Our hosts were generous with their time and thinking.  They planned some great walks and were prepared to drive us through bright, undulating landscapes to interesting villages, coastline and pubs.  Aldeburgh and the walk along the beach both north and south of the town as the sun set, was a particular highpoint.

Views of Aldeburgh

Views of Aldeburgh Including The Moot Hall And The Scallop By Maggi Hambling

More Views of Aldeburgh

More Views of Aldeburgh Including The Scallop and the Martello Tower

Another treat was Framlingham.  I had not heard of this town before (despite it apparently being Ed Sheeran’s home town and the setting for The Detectorists) but it is wonderfully set on relatively high ground near an open valley.  It’s full of historical buildings both in the centre and, most notably, on each side of The Framlingham Mere where the old and impressive castle looks across to the rather grand Framlingham College.

Framlingham, like the other villages and towns we visited, all seemed to have pretty hearts and striking, flint faced churches.  These were invariably oversized for the scale of the current local population but not, presumably, for the wealth of the communities when they were built centuries ago.  Having lived in the Cotswolds for many years, LSW and I would find it hard not to live among hills and sharply incised valleys but Suffolk has other charms and attractions.

Suffolk Flint-Faced Churches

Suffolk Flint-Faced Churches

LSW and I and our Suffolk friends have each known each other for between 35 and 40 years and so there was a lot of shared history to chew over as we journeyed around the countryside, drank the local beer and ate the excellent food they prepared for us.  We had a great time.

Pub in Fressingham

Fox And Goose Pub In Fressingham

In the week since our Suffolk trip we have returned to some reworking of the local neighbourhood plan and I have spent time helping to re-draft one of its sections.  That now will have to go on hold because, this coming week, I have two brief trips to London and a Forest Green Rovers game to see in Mansfield near where my parents live.

Upon my return from them I will draw breath before LSW and my set out on our next trip away together.  This time the trip is a little further afield than Suffolk as we revisit Australia before Youngest Son returns to the UK later this year.  All good….

Winter Catching Up

At last, a proper winter seems to have arrived.  We don’t have the extreme of the polar vortex that Canada and the northern states of the USA are currently experiencing, but we have had some frosty starts and, now, a heavy layer of snow.  School seems to be cancelled and kids are in the field opposite the house, sledging to their heart’s content.  The silent garden looks magical now it is cloaked in snow.  I know it is the increasing climate extremes that are the worry but it is comforting that we can still have real winter weather amid the trend towards global warming.

Snow And Sledging Outside Our Front Door

Snow And Sledging Outside Our Front Door

Middle Son texted to tell us London just has rain and in any case, the warmth of London’s buildings normally means that snow we see in rural areas becomes grey slush in the city centre.  However, London has other attractions and I was able to pay another visit last week.

The main reason for the visit was to meet up with some old work colleagues, as we do once or twice a year.  We worked together in 1977/8 and those times that were so formative to our early careers remain pretty vivid in our collective and shared memory.  We recalled some of those memories again.  We also caught up with more recent life developments and steered away from divisive Brexit debate sufficiently to make the get together over beers and curry very pleasant.

When I travel up to London for an event like this I have the flexibility of no time or work commitments plus the availability of a sofa bed in the flat we rent out to Eldest Son.  That enables planning of extra-curricular activity to maximise the diversity of fun during my stay.

Almost always, I include a trip to Rough Trade Records so I can work my way around the listening posts there and catch up with latest music they are promoting.  This time I also attended one of their free gigs.  The band, Toy, is one I have followed since I enjoyed them at the same venue in September 2012.  I’ve seen them a couple of times since including, believe it or not, at a remarkable gig primarily for the deaf/hard of hearing in 2015.  They were worth seeing for a fourth time and I’m sure they now have even more hair.

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Toy At Rough Trade

I also went to the Good Grief, Charlie Brown exhibition at Somerset House.  It was interesting to read about, and see through examples, how Charles M. Schultz developed his cartoon technique and characters.  The exhibition was also instructive on how Schultz managed, even as a white, middle class and relatively conventional American, to dabble in modern day issues such as gender identity, race, abortion, feminism and psychiatry/mental illness while growing his audience for his modest and understated Peanuts cartoon strips.  However, one would need to be a very dedicated follower to review all of the material on show and I think I grasped the main themes without concentrating on it all.

Charles M. Schultz's Characters From Peanuts And A Sample Early Cartoon

Charles M. Schultz’s Characters From Peanuts And A Sample Early Cartoon

Following a rather overly meaty breakfast (of three separate dishes of merguez sausage, black pudding and chorizo), I headed north to Stevenage for a Forest Green Rovers Football Club away game.  I watched us notch up another excellent win with my Best Man (BM) who lives nearby.  I then stayed a couple of nights with him and we spent the weekend watching more football, walking around the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) site where he used to work (as we had last September), and visiting St Albans.

Views At The RSPB Reserve, Sandy, Bedfordshire

St Albans Cathedral

St Albans Cathedral: Naves, St Albans Shrine, Mosaic Floor And 17th Century Graffiti

I hadn’t been to St Albans for years.  It still hold happy, though blurred, memories of my first excursion out of London to St Albans with my now Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) in her unassuming, idiosyncratic but effective Citroen Diane.  This time, BM and I visited the Roman ruins, the very old and lovely Cathedral and a very nice pub.  But we also saw the lake LSW and I held hands by over 35 years ago.

St Albans: Roman Theatre, Roman Mosaic And The Romantic Lake

St Albans: Roman Theatre, Roman Mosaic And The ‘Romantic’ Lake

I had a very relaxed and amusing time with BM. He continues to do big corporate work and travels a lot.  It was good to catch up on events in his complex and busy life but also to mentally compare his world with mine.  I’m very happy with my simpler, leisure-oriented lot.

Snowy Garden

Snowy Garden

Retirement Time

Now I am retired, and no longer have to spend 50-60 hours a week working or travelling to and from work, I can extend what used to be rushed tasks at home over longer periods.  I can also take a few more risks with events that I invest time in.  There have been some good examples of both in the last week or so.

I have spoken before in this blog about what I called ‘speed gardening’.  This was the result of the pressure I felt to get substantial tasks in the garden done in the slivers of time available at the weekends before my Sunday commute back to work in London.  I rushed around trying to get things done and, while it kept me fitter than I am now, it wasn’t altogether satisfactory enjoyment.  Now, if a job doesn’t get done as planned on one day, well, there is always tomorrow!

This week’s example was ‘doing the bonfire’.  The pile of garden detritus requiring disposal – and burning it is the most convenient if not the most environmentally friendly way – had become huge following some recent tree maintenance.  I had the time to salvage logs and ‘loglets’ pretty thoroughly but there was a large amount of brash together with a solid mass of other woody matter.  I moved the base of the bonfire pile (so any small creatures could escape) and organised the brash so Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I could load it easily onto the flames in batches.

We managed to clear half the waste in a couple of hours before darkness descended.  The process was very satisfying in some base animalistic way.  In my more relaxed and retired mode, I wasn’t concerned that we didn’t finish.  There is always another day.

The example of having more time to take risks with events was that, when I went up to London for a couple of days this week, primarily to see the Jusepe de Ribera exhibition before it closes at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, I also booked a couple of other events about which I knew very little.  One was successful the other rather less so but, either way, I have so much more leisure time now that success or otherwise seems less crucial.

Of course, a successful event is still to be aimed at (time and energy is not infinite, after all). Certainly the Ribera exhibition, entitled ‘Art of Violence’, was riveting and impactful.  There weren’t many large paintings but those that were on show really conveyed the pain of martyrs on the way to their martyrdom.  As impressive were the numerous, much smaller sketches and wash and ink drawings of torture and martyrdom.  These were so intricate and compelling that they drew you into close inspection despite the horror they depicted.  My visit was complemented by the chance to catch up briefly with Eldest Son’s (ES’s) previous girlfriend who works at the gallery; we remain friends.

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The Martyrdom Of St Bartolomew By Jusepe de Ribera (sorry the picture fails to capture the piercing look of the Saint)

Examples Of Ink And Wash Drawings By Ribera

Another, more unexpected success, was that ES and I went to a lecture on, and demonstration of, how Russians in the Cold War created illicit copies of western music during Stalin’s regime (and often went to jail when caught).  The fascinating twist was that, because materials were scarce, the early copies were made by creating grooves on discarded x-rays with home-made lathes.  The resulting ‘records’ therefore had x-ray pictures on them.  Although the sound quality wasn’t great, the recordings were much sought-after snatches of the forbidden jazz and rock and roll of the west and each was unique.

Stephen Coates Explaining The X-Ray Audio Project

Stephen Coates (Ex-The Real Tuesday Weld) Explaining The X-Ray Audio Project And The History Of Illicit Music Recording In Cold War Russia

Pictures and video footage of interviews with some of the protagonists in the schemes to create the lathes, to procure the x-rays (being discarded by hospitals because they were inflammable and presented a fire risk) and to cut the recordings added extra life to some well told stories about the copying process.  These stories recalled, and tied in neatly with, aspects of the film Cold War by Pawel Pawlikowski that I saw with ES recently, books I read years ago by Josef Skvorecky about underground music in Czechoslovakia, and also an excellent book I read recently called A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

The evening culminated in Thurston Moore – a guitarist previously with Sonic Youth – recording a couple of things onto x-ray disks so they could be played back to us.  It was pretty visceral stuff – in a very different way to the Ribera exhibition – and ES and I will remember it for a long time.

The X-Ray Audio Project With A Thurston Moore Demonstration

Less successful, but entertaining nonetheless, was a gig I went to in one of my old stomping grounds in Homerton, Hackney.  Chats Palace was the venue and it seemed much the same as I could remember from when I was last there in the early 1980’s.  I saw William Doyle who I liked in his incarnation as East India Youth a few years back and who has produced some interesting ambient music recently.  He now has a new band who are preparing to release their first album together.  They were good in parts but, I felt, still finding their feet.

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

I may have much more leisure time now but, when I’m in London, I have to squeeze in plenty of activity.  Fortunately ES and Middle Son both had time for breakfast with me.  I also walked around Dulwich Park, visited Rough Trade Records (as usual), went to Southwark Cathedral for the first time, snacked in Borough Market and, in lovely weather, took in the scale of London from London Bridge.  I still love London and have the time to enjoy it.

Views From London Bridge

Views From London Bridge

Steady As We Go Into 2019

The first snowdrops have arrived.  I sensed a little more light in the kitchen when I came downstairs this morning.  Moles are extending their network of tunnels and earth mounds across the vegetable patch.  These are some of the diverse, recent signs that we are moving inexorably towards Spring.  Now Christmas and New Year celebrations have passed, I’m looking forward to that.

The First Snowdrops

The First Snowdrops I Have Seen This Year

The relatively quiet period following New Year is a good one for taking stock and making New Year resolutions.

This time last year, I was settling into retirement and thinking about how my first full year of retirement might go.  It felt important then to think about my New Year resolutions as markers for desired progress in a couple of directions.  Overall, 2018 was very enjoyable for me and retirement has lived up to expectations even though, as I pointed out in my last blog post, I didn’t achieve all my specific objectives.  Going into 2019, I don’t feel I need to change very much.

So, many of my resolutions for 2019 are to continue where I left off in 2018.  For example, the objectives I had around health – losing weight, drinking less, walking more – can be simply perpetuated with the targets I largely achieved last year, namely:

  • Get Below 11 Stone (and stay there this time)
  • Average 15,000 Steps/Day (a joy since the surrounding countryside is so lovely)
  • Have 140 No-Alcohol Days (increasing progress from last year plus starting to track alcohol units consumed too).

Also, I will carry forward the objective to implement better composting arrangements in the garden.  This sounds trivial but it requires me to get my achy back returned to something like full strength.  It also requires confirmation of new compost bin location. In turn, that depends on planning with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) the future for the old and gradually collapsing stables in our field.  This is because installing the new bins will involve significant earth and rock moving and don’t want to have to relocate them nor restrict the options for the stables’ demise or transformation.  This resolution is therefore a proxy for taking a few significant interim steps as well as one aimed at improving my compost.

I only have three new resolutions.

The first is less news and more music.  This recognises that, in recent months, I have been listening to a lot of news (especially related to Brexit and President Trump).  On average, I estimate I have been listening to 4 hours of radio news each day in addition to reading the Guardian newspaper reasonably thoroughly and watching the late evening news on TV.  I want to stay current and have an informed view but this is probably excessive (especially as I get so frustrated with what I hear).  On the other hand, I have multiple lists of new music I want to listen to and I want to re-appraise some of the best of what I already know.  Simple: dial down BBC Radio 4 news, dial up Spotify, and keep going to gigs/concerts.

The second is to step up the number of trips of 1-2 days that I make with LSW to other parts of the United Kingdom.  I have started the way I mean to carry on we made a short-notice trip to The Gower Peninsula in Wales when we saw the weather was going to be nice earlier this week.  We re-visited a bed-and-breakfast, a restaurant and some coastline we had good memories of from almost three years ago.  The two days away were a good template for further excursions we will make on top of the frequent trips to London I plan to continue well into 2019.

Worms Head: The Gower Peninsula, Wales

Worms Head: The Gower Peninsula, Wales

Coastline Near Worms Head

Oxwich, The Gower, Wales

Finally, although I’m still not ready to add a commitment to voluntary work to my 2019 objectives, I do think I should try to develop a plan for a plan for volunteering in the next year.  I know that I should find time for ploughing something back and finding a new sense of purpose and so will look at some options.  Frankly and selfishly though, and with the brief but quite intense experience of helping with the local village’s Neighbourhood Plan last year behind me, I don’t want hard new commitments to get in the way of everything else I am enjoying so much.  I won’t be rushing into anything.

Happy ‘Holidays’!

Of course, having retired, the period arounds Christmas and New Year’s Day are no longer really holidays for me.  But still, they are time for families to get together and to eat, drink and be at least a bit merrier than usual (at least, for the fortunate families).  We have managed that and I hope readers of this did too.

LSW's Minimalist Wreath

LSW’s Minimalist Wreath

Eldest and Middle Sons came back to visit us for a few days around Christmas and it was great to spend time with them and to see them go off to catch up with their old school mates.  It’s important that they maintain those ties and I regret not doing so when I was their age.  We spoke to and saw Youngest Son (YS) on WhatsApp but he was enjoying prawns and beer on a Queensland beach.  He tells us that it may be his last beach Christmas in Australia and that he will return to England next year.  Before that, LSW and I are travelling to Australia and meeting YS in Tasmania in March to make the most of him being on the other side of the world.

Christmas Day here was just about as full-on as usual.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) allocated tasks to the boys and I, and she provided all but the turkey for a dozen excited extended family members.  As part of a well tried split of responsibilities, the family of LSW’s younger brother brought a sumptuous roasted bird for us to tuck into.  The food was terrific.

The post-lunch quiz that I compiled (to fulfil what has become a bit of a family tradition) was as hotly contested as usual, but it rounded off the afternoon nicely prior to flaking out in front of a Netflix film and a few lunch left-overs.

I side-stepped some of the festivities and food on Boxing Day by going off to Newport to watch Forest Green Rovers.  I enjoyed finding the old part of the city and a Cathedral I didn’t know Newport had.  But I loved, even more, that we achieved one of our best wins of the season.  I came back hoarse but happy.

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport, Wales

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport, Wales: Very Old, Dramatically Sited And Very Pretty Inside

Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green Rovers Supporters Watch A Mighty Win At Newport County

This ‘holiday’ period is traditionally a time when I consider New Year resolutions.  But first I need to check how I did against those I set last year and the answer is: only moderately.  I’ve succeeded with those that are essentially enjoyable but not so well on those that were more challenging.

So, for example, I did grow a beard and I’m happy with it.  I did buy LSW more flowers too and need to reinvigorate that resolution when Spring comes around again.  Also, I exceeded my target of averaging 15,000 walking steps a day (I averaged 15,880) but that’s because I love walking and now have loads of time to do it in the beautiful surrounding valleys.  That much walking did help me to (just) achieve my target of lowering my weight to 11 stone in the summer and then again just before Christmas.  However, I need to renew that weight objective since Christmas eating and drinking has tripped me back over target.

On A Frosty Walk Just Before Christmas

On A Frosty Walk Just Before Christmas – Probably The 300th Time Past This Spot In 2018 But, Every Time, Slightly Different

I also have to renew my objective of achieving 140 no-alcohol days in the year.  I only managed 120 – more than the previous year but not enough.  I underestimated the impact of the wonderful sunny and hot summer on my evening drinking habits; it was just so nice sitting in the newly built garden in the evening warmth with a cold glass of wine day after day.  I hope summer next year is as good but I will be stronger willed, I promise.

On the technology front, I did, as resolved, change almost all my passwords and did it in a way that hasn’t made remembering them too hard.  However, I haven’t done much about my resolution to get a better Internet service so as to reduce frustrated evenings in front of the rotating wait signal on the telly when trying to watch catch-up TV.  However, I have instigated, and eavesdropped on, conversations at the regular village pub Men’s Nights with those who know more than I about the local broadband implementation.  Fibre broadband is coming next year apparently.

I’m disappointed with myself that I’m carrying forward the resolution to implement better compost heaps in the garden.  I have made progress with the existing heaps and compost bins.  However, while I’m blaming the side strain I suffered a couple of months ago, I know I should have done more.  The components for the super-duper compost bins LSW gave me a few years ago remain untouched in the shed.  Fixing this is another resolution to carry forward.

I’ll augment the carry forward resolutions with a couple of new ones but I’m off to enjoy New Year’s Eve first.  Have fun!

Christmassy Cologne

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have just returned from a few days in Cologne primarily to see the Christmas markets there.  There is a wide choice of excellent north European Christmas markets.  We chose Cologne due to the convenience of flights Bristol, our closest international airport, advice from the Internet, and glowing reports in Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles (which LSW loves).  Also, I haven’t been to Germany since I worked there briefly in the 70’s and 80’s and it was LSW’s first-ever trip to Germany.

View Of Cologne From The Kohl Triangle

View Of Cologne From The Kohl Triangle Skyscraper

Cologne is far from being the most beautiful city we have visited – second-world war flattening of the city put paid to that.  However, Christmas markets were lovely, the food was very satisfying, the art galleries were excellent and the cathedral is one of the biggest and most imposing I have visited.  The hotel we stayed in was located perfectly just 15 minutes-walk from the touristy bustle but near the interesting Belgian Quarter.  We had a very good break from routine.

There were a number of highlights.  Coming into the city on the airport train, one can’t help but be impressed by the river, rail station and first views of the impressively huge and dark cathedral looming over the city centre.  It was interesting looking back at archive photos of the ruins after the second-world war and the comparison to the buildings today.  The recovery has been remarkable but architectural beauty has largely been sacrificed for speed of redevelopment and functionality.

Apart from the sheer scale of the cathedral, the highlight architecturally was the Kolumba Museum.  This was an unexpected treat.  Not only was the building airy, innovative, minimalistic and inspiring, but the art displayed in this gallery – built on an old, ruined church partly preserved on part of the ground floor – was beautiful and beautifully displayed.  There was actually relatively little on show but the simple juxtaposition of very old (1st to 3rd century) artefacts alongside more modern pieces was thought provoking and some of the older items were just exquisite.  Kolumba alone made our Cologne trip worthwhile.

Kolumba Museum

Kolumba Museum; Intriguing Mix Of Old And New

But there was much more.  The Museum Ludwig was well stocked with art by Picasso, Leger, Braque, Calder, Bacon, Warhol, Lichtenstein and a number of others I recognised plus a number of German artists I didn’t know including Gabriele Munter and Bernard Schultze.  Some of the space was lovely with muted colours and reconstituted, broad parquet floors.

Museum Ludwig

While LSW shopped, I went to Cologne’s main cemetery at Melaten-Friedhof.  I get a strangely relaxed enjoyment from wandering through continental cemeteries.  This one was rather different from those typically found in Mediterranean countries.  Among the mature trees and semi-managed undergrowth, there were rectangular family plots of various sizes and populated with evergreen planting rather than bulky tombs.  On many, rather than pictures of the deceased, there were odd little statues (and labels indicating the maintenance company for the plot; very efficient!)  It was a very peaceful hour despite a short, sharp shower.  I even had the bonus of seeing my first wild red squirrel.

Melaten-Friedhof Cemetery

Melaten-Friedhof Cemetery

Then it was back to the Christmas markets.  We visited five or six markets over the three days. Each had a slightly different feel or scale.  They were most atmospheric at night when they were simultaneously both garishly and beautifully lit and were busiest, but gluhwein seemed to be offered all day.  We drank the warming, gently alcoholic liquid out of traditional boot-shaped mugs while taking in its smells and that of aniseed, pine and cooked meat from the surrounding wooden hut stalls.

We Ate And Drank Well: Craft Beer, Schweinhaxen, Gluhwein

We Ate And Drank Well: Craft Beer, Schweinhaxen, Gluhwein

I failed in my lengthy quest to buy a red, spotted toadstool Christmas tree decoration which had become my heart’s desire having spotted one in a closed shop on our first evening in Cologne.  But we did come away with tinsel, a new Christmas tree decoration and a surprisingly large number of lovely, hand-made brushes.  The markets, the food and the drink all lived up to Nigel Slater’s promise.

Back home now, LSW has used the Christmas momentum our trip generated to get our Christmas tree up and decorated.  Twelve more sleeps to Christmas….

Christmas Is Coming!

Christmas Is Coming!

Two Exhibitions And More

For those who followed my last post, no, I didn’t write this on the train home from London.  No, I didn’t stay awake either but I didn’t snore (surely not!).

I was tired after my trip to London.  I didn’t get back until late on Monday from seeing Malcolm Middleton (an indie-rock Scottish depressive who somehow always manages to cheer me up with what he calls his ‘downbeat shite’) in a converted old men’s club in Hackney.  Then, on Tuesday, I went to see the Japanese film and Palme D’Or winner called Shoplifters with Eldest and Middle Sons and that didn’t finish until quite late.  Those relatively late nights were each followed by a couple of nights on a sofa bed which is never as restful as my own bed, a lot of walking through Christmassy streets and a nice lunch with an old ex-work colleague.

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

Quite a lot of the walking was around a couple of exhibitions.

The first was Fashioned From Nature at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) which is on for another month or so and which I would recommend.  The V&A has an amazing permanent collection of fashion but this exhibition was more interesting for me (I am hardly a fashionista!) because it dealt more with the social and environmental impact of fashion than the development of fashion through the ages.

There were certainly some remarkable individual pieces of clothing but the focus was on how humans initially used nature to cloth ourselves – using flax for linen, fur, cotton, silk, bone, feathers and even beetle shells – and then how fashion and clothing manufacture has damaged nature through mass production/consumption.

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

That environmental damage began even before the industrial revolution.  I learnt, for example, that the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’ came from the mercury poisoning common among those who made felt hats.  They breathed in the mercury nitrate they used and that disoriented them before they flushed it into the water supply.  As synthetic materials were developed and mass produced, so the risk of chemical damage increased, the demand for agricultural monocultures grew, slavery became rife, and the problems of pollution and waste (such as management of micro-plastics resulting from clothing) became more complex.

There were a wide range of interesting exhibits showing sustainable fashion.  Others illustrated how fashion has been used to highlight the importance of clothing reuse and repair, and the impact of fashion on nature.  Overall it was an impressive, relevant exhibition and an absorbing hour or two.

I also visited the Modern Couples exhibition at the Barbican which was subtitled Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde.  This exhibition pulls together work of 40 couples active in art in the last century.  It attempts to show how these couples, through their passion, ideas, contacts and often experimental and strange relationships, influenced the work they produced.

As with the Fashioned from Nature exhibition, there were some very strong individual pieces on show.  Many of the relationships that were described were very interesting with several of the featured artists (Max Ernst and Man Ray, for example) cropping up two or three times in apparently intense but short-lived liaisons.  Some of couples’ relationships ended in suicide or murders of passion.  As I navigated the exhibition, I became increasingly thankful for my rather more straightforward and stable married relationship.

I Am Beautiful by Rodin

I Am Beautiful by Rodin (An Amalgam Of Two Previously Separate Works In Celebration Of His Love)

Over 40 interwoven themes were explored across the 40 couples presented – including how the men in the relationship tended to become the more famous even where the participants were libertarian and feminist.  These themes and the sheer number of couples covered made the exhibition large and rather complex.  It was impressive but I confess that I had to absorb it over two sessions; fortunately I now have the time to do that sort of pacing.

In other news: the Volkswagen is back.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been grudgingly reliant on my ailing and rust-ridden Saab to get to work.  But now the local garage has replaced the Volkswagen’s engine (and more) following the cam-belt assembly failure a couple of weekends ago.  They did this all at their cost since it was the cam-belt replacement they had done that prompted the problem.  The garage even gave us a bottle of wine for our trouble so we will continue to use them and recommend them – provided the car gets us to the airport tomorrow on our way to the Christmas markets of Cologne.  We’re looking forward to them.

London's Regent Street Christmas Lights

London’s Regent Street Christmas Lights

Excuses To Visit London

Before retirement, I sometimes planned to work when travelling by train.  Now, I often get on the train with great resolve to read my current book or the newspaper.  Almost invariably, though, then and now, reading sends me falling into that unsatisfactory doze state never refreshes.  Indeed, such dozing is not really relaxing since I worry subconsciously during, and then afterwards, that I have been snoring loudly and irritating (or, worse, amusing) fellow passengers.  The one thing that always keeps me awake on the train is using my computer keyboard.  So, there is something energising about writing these blog posts on the train.

This is my second trip to London in a few days – I need very little excuse to fulfil my London fix and escape from the country (lovely as The Cotswolds are).

The first was in my ailing, misfiring and rusting Saab which was brought into action while Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) Volkswagen is read what may be the Last Rites in the garage.  LSW and I came up London to attend a 60th birthday dinner party of a long standing friend in Kew – a very amusing reconstruction of a party we had attended 20 years before.

Impressive Birthday Cake!

Impressive Birthday Cake!

We took the opportunity to visit the Annie Albers exhibition at Tate Modern and to see the new, up-market shopping centre just north of Kings Cross (Coal Drops Yard).

The Annie Albers exhibition was diverse.  Alongside the expected textiles were paintings, drawings and ingenious necklaces (my favourite exhibits since they were so simple and inspiringly made from everyday objects).  It was an interesting history of a very impressive artist and some of the items were lovely, but, perhaps because of the diversity, the exhibition never really took off for me.

Selection of Annie Albers’ Work

Our visit to Coal Drops Yard was, in some ways, just a normal window-shopping trip.  But it’s clearly a cut above most shopping centres with some of the shops like art galleries with beautiful artefacts and prices I hardly dare look at.  Also, the architecture, mostly by Thomas Heatherwick, is remarkable – especially the gasometers converted into luxury flats overlooking the new coal yard restoration and transformation.  The best aspect of the visit was trying to recall what this area looked like when it used to be one of our youthful haunts in the late 70s and 80s; the canal isn’t much changed but, truly, Kings Cross has been transformed almost entirely since then.

Coal Drops Yard

Unfortunately, after the birthday party and a very late night, we had to leave London relatively early on Sunday – albeit after a wonderfully various and hearty breakfast provided by the family of our birthday-girl.  This was to enable a return in my rust bucket car in time for a memorial service for an artist friend of ours who died a couple of months ago.  LSW and many others spoke very movingly and humorously about their memories of an artist whose work is well represented in our house.

Now, rested and ready to go again, I’m on my way back to London for a gig and a dental appointment (which is my excuse for this trip).

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I didn’t have time to finish the blog on the train (but I didn’t fall asleep, I promise).

I have since had another eventful day in London – visiting the Fashioned From Nature exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and then seeing Malcolm Middleton for the sixth time in a club in Hackney.  Both were very worthwhile.

Today I’m going to try the Barbican exhibition on Modern Couples and then meet Eldest and Middle Sons for a drink, some food and a film – oh, and I’ll fit the dentist in.  Such freedom and fun in this retired life!  I’ll say more in my next post – maybe to be authored on my return train trip…..

My First Wasted Day?

There were times when I was at work when I felt I had wasted my time.  Sometimes a day seemed to go by without anything productive coming out of endless meetings or numbing strings of emails.  Sometimes whole months were dedicated to initiatives, projects or sales drives that either petered out or were delivered but then were reversed by the next top management team’s new ideas.  But, when I look back, every day I usually learned something about myself, colleagues, my role or how to do it better.

Since retiring, I don’t think that I have wasted any day.  Yes, some have been less productive than other s and less productive than they should have been.  The to-do lists I maintain have sometimes remained a bit static.  Some afternoons have been more somnolent than planned.  But every day has added something.  Until yesterday!

I had expected this blog post to include details about a wonderful weekend away in north Suffolk and Norfolk where we were planning to meet up with two couples who Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have known for ages.  The couple we were planning to stay with are particularly good friends who we mutually introduced to each other almost 40 years ago and with whom we have contemporaneous offspring and many shared experiences.

Unfortunately, about 100 miles out from home and two thirds of the way there, LSW’s car gave out.  The bulk of the day was spent on the side of the road waiting for the mechanic, then waiting in a tiny Marks and Spencer (sub-)service station for the recovery vehicle, and then in the back of the recovery lorry as it took us home.

LSW's Stricken Car Being Loaded Up For Maybe Its Last But One Trip

LSW’s Stricken Car Being Loaded Up For Maybe Its Last But One Trip

There were some upsides.  When the engine cut out at 70mph in the outside lane of the dual carriageway A421, we were parallel with, and not just in front of, a big lorry so could fall back and get into the inside lane without forcing the lorry to slow abruptly.  We then coasted to the edge of a layby so we were just about off the road; an engine failure a few yards earlier and I would have had to have pushed the car in the nearside lane of the carriage way.  It could have been a lot worse and the only physical risk was that my bladder would burst before the mechanic arrived.

When he did, he quickly confirmed that the car was dead – frustratingly due to some apparently poorly done preventative work we had done to replace the cam belt in our local and previously unimpeachable garage last week.  Pound notes floated in front of my eyes…..

He took us to a local petrol station cum café.  The upside here (apart from the presence of a toilet) were the staff; they were so understanding and nice to us.  Three hours staring at shelves of ready-made meals wasn’t fun but it was a first world problem made easier by their hospitality.

Elstow Interchange M&S - Our View For Three Hours on Saturday

Elstow Interchange M&S Services – Our View For Three Hours on Saturday (At Least It Was Relatively Warm)

Then the trip back with the recovery lorry with the car on the back was long.  But again here was the upside of the chirpy driver who described some of his life candidly, imparted some useful (but rather depressing) knowledge about the impact of a loose cam belt on the rest of the engine, and went out his way to drive us home after dropping the car off at the garage.  The journey was something of a reaffirmation of the goodness of human nature on near the minimum wage.

The final upside has been that we have a small mountain of rather nice cheese that we had planned to offer to our Suffolk hosts but had to bring back home.  That has been partly dispatched already and all meals this week will have a delightful accompaniment.  Also, because we had no proper provisions in for the weekend, we have been ‘forced’ out to the local pub for Sunday lunch (which was very good).

So, yes, the forking out for a new car and the anticipated rumpus with the delinquent garage will hurt and the weekend was disappointing given the expectations.  But it could have been worse.  There were some positives.  And maybe having ‘wasted’ days like yesterday help me to recalibrate so I appreciate the good days more.

Remember, Remember

The week has been busy and I have had a number of interactions with the United Kingdom’s national commemoration of the armistice at the end of the First World War on 11 November 1918.

Commemorative Poppies In Our Local Town, Nailsworth

Illuminated Commemorative Poppies In Our Local Town, Nailsworth

When I was in Lincoln last weekend I saw rehearsals for a memorial ceremony while I visited the cathedral.

Remembrance Service Choir Practice At Lincoln Cathedral

Remembrance Service Choir Practice At Lincoln Cathedral

Then, at the football match I went to see in Lincoln, there was a pre-match rendition of The Last Post, a minute’s silence and a collection by, amongst others, a man dressed as a huge poppy.  There was a similar pre-match marking of the armistice when I went to Oxford United’s stadium for another football game there.  On both occasions, the bugle playing was eerie and moving as the notes swirled around the windy stadia.

Remembrance Ceremonies At Oxford (Top) And Lincoln Football Grounds Prior to Matches With Forest Green Rovers

Remembrance Ceremonies At Oxford (Top) And Lincoln Football Grounds Prior to Matches With Forest Green Rovers

During my visit to London last week to see a band with Middle Son (MS), I also fitted in a visit to the ‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’ installation at the Tower of London.  This consists of 10,000 hand-lit memorial flames and it was as impressive as the installation of bright red poppies spewing out of the Tower of London a few years ago.  The flames are a remarkable and imaginative way of marking the end of the First World War and the sacrifice of so many soldiers during its execution.

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The scale of that sacrifice became even starker to me as I visited another exhibition – ‘Shrouds of the Somme’ – at the Olympic Park to the east of London.  In contrast with the Tower of London exhibition where the crowds were enormous and the queues were hours long, the Olympic Park exhibition was very accessible and there was more time to think about what I was seeing.

1st World War Commemoration At The Olympic Park, London

1st World War Commemoration At The Olympic Park, London.

The main display here consisted of 72,396 shrouded figures – one for each of the British Commonwealth servicemen killed at the Somme whose bodies were not found – laid out in rows across a field.  There was then a separate set of the same shrouded figures – one for each day of the First World War – labelled with the number of servicemen killed on each day.  It was a very impactful exhibition.

The numbers of dead in the First World War are quite well known but still incomprehensible.  The 72,396 are just the dead whose bodies were not recovered mainly because they were simply fragmented and lost in the mud.  The 953,104 total dead represented at the Olympic Park are just those from the UK and the Commonwealth.  The 9 million soldiers from all nations who died were far outnumbered by the more than 20 million wounded and beyond that there was mental scarring beyond understanding.  It was a crazy, horrific war.

The nationwide commemoration and remembrance of the First World War – the centrepiece exhibitions I saw in London, the faces of soldiers etched on beaches around the country I saw on the TV news, the processions and the local displays and events, including a poignant and unexpectedly long roll call of the war-dead in our own little village – has all been very impressive and moving.  At the Olympic Park especially, I had time to reflect on the importance of remembering the disaster of past wars and avoiding a repeat.  The current rise of nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic makes the lessons of the past especially timely.  Unfortunately, it is one thing to remember the lessons and another to act on them.

On a jollier note, MS and I had a really good time watching Roosevelt, a German electro-pop artist.  I can’t recall smiling so much during a musical performance.  The music is straightforward and the next note always seems exactly as anticipated – does that make it predictable or just perfect?  Either way, we both had great fun seeing Roosevelt again.

Roosevelt At Oval Space, London

Roosevelt At Oval Space, London

Co-incidentally, he is from Cologne where we are having a Christmassy city-break next month.  However, we went to dinner last night with a couple who are fascinated by bio-dynamic agriculture, the annual equinox cycle and creativity tied into the seasons.  As usual, the discussions were fascinating but they didn’t want to talk about Christmas or our Christmas market visit until next month.  Instead they wanted to continue focus on the joys of autumn. They are right; the autumnal weather is still good and the colour on the trees and bushes remains marvellous.  Autumn is still out there waiting to be enjoyed.

I make no excuse for including yet another set of pictures from my walk into town this morning.  I am privileged to have the opportunity to enjoy these walks every day.

Autumn Views And Colour On My Walk Into Town

Autumn Views And Colour On My Walk Into Town