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.

Climate Change in January

It seems incongruous thinking about climate change and the Climate Emergency on a day like today when there are clear skies and degrees of frost outside and I’ve just returned from a lengthy walk down icy lanes.  However, the recent fires in Australia – many close to areas that we visited during our two relatively recent trips there – and the floods that followed Storm Brendan here in the UK, have underlined that all is not well with the climate.  It is increasingly imperative that we act to, hopefully, avert permanent and very significant upheaval to global life as we know it.

Frosty Garden

Frosty Garden

As readers of this blog will know, for several months, I have been a member of a local group agitating for our Parish to declare a Climate Emergency, to set a target of carbon neutrality by 2030 and to help the establishment of plans to achieve that target.  The Parish Council have agreed to take climate change seriously and have committed to a number of measures including mass tree planting.  However, beyond this, in practice, we are making only slow progress; we are simply a too small and a too intermittently dedicated group.

Frosty View On The Way To Nailsworth

Frosty View On The Way To Nailsworth

I am now planning to align myself more with a much larger group of climate change responders in our nearby town, Nailsworth.  This group (Nailsworth Climate Action Network) seems to have more momentum as well as size.  I’m excited by some of their plans.

One of these plans is to hold an ‘envisioning session’ along the lines advocated by Rob Hopkins at which we will think about what we want Nailsworth to be like in a couple of decade’s time.  Rob Hopkins established the Transition Network movement many years ago.  Since then, he has developed his thinking to promote the harnessing of our imagination to envision a near future that has responded to the pressure of the Climate Emergency and to measures of well-being and societal health rather than Gross National Product.

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I saw Rob speak in Nailsworth in October last year and he was very inspiring.  LSW has read his latest book – ‘From What Is To What If’ – which encourages the reader to use hope and imagination to break out of the current systems and structures we find ourselves in to envision a different way of living.  He also provides examples of how others have done this in various parts of the world, and how these can inspire similar action in our own lives and towns.  I too must read this fully before our town ‘envisioning event’ planned for June.

Walking Near Our House Between Showers

Of course, all climate change activists encourage us to reduce our reliance on planes for travel.  Air travel is apparently the most carbon emitting of transport methods.  I have calculated my personal carbon footprint using a calculator provided by the World Wildlife Fund and, while I am just below the average for a UK citizen without flights, with the two flights I took last year, I am almost 50% higher.  As I reported in this blog a few posts ago, I did carbon offset one of these flights and plan repeat that process in future.  But the impact of flying on the climate is disproportionately high and LSW and I plan to cut down our few flights even more.

That means ‘staycations’ in the UK and train based holidays.  We plan to walk some of the north Somerset/Devon/Cornwall coast in June and try a train trip somewhere in Europe later in the year.  Holidays in India and Thailand, which we have also talked about, may be now on hold.

Perhaps we will adjust to one long haul flight a year and offset it through Solar Aid again.  Certainly we have a strong desire to revisit India and try South East Asia for the first time.  And not only do I want to visit these places; I also miss the opportunity to see the world from the window of a plane flying thousands of feet above the ground.  What better, often stunning way is there of appreciating both the planet as it is and that we have to act to prevent a climate disaster ruining it?

One Of Those Dreamy Views Out Of An Aeroplane Window - In This Case Over The Alps

One Of Those Dreamy Views Out Of An Aeroplane Window – In This Case Over The Alps.  I’d Miss These If I Wasn’t Able To Fly

Back on earth, the first signs of weather change and the onset of Spring are emerging amid the sodden ground and current frost.  I’ve seen my first lambs, bees, snowdrops and primroses of the year.  The dippers and kingfishers are active near the streams again.   Excitingly, a kestrel has been hovering over our garden and field looking for strays from a colony of voles or mice that have taken up residence there.

Early Snowdrops and Bee Activity

There is another uplifting development in the valley I walk through to Nailsworth every day.  A swan arrived on the lake there over three years ago.  She has occasionally disappeared for weeks but always returned alone and apparently lonely.  Last year she produced some eggs and they now lie abandoned on her nest.  This week, suddenly, a partner has arrived and so the chances are that they will mate and that new eggs will be fertilised this year.  I am so hoping for a clutch of cygnets; fingers crossed!

Early Lambs And Swans In Love?

Early Lambs And Swans In Love?

New Year Resolutions: Making Them And Breaking Them

Happy New Year!

It’s that time for reviewing last year’s resolutions, checking progress and renewing the challenges for the coming year.  Looking forward with vigour to the next year offsets the feeling of anti-climax now our sons have returned to their homes, the holiday season parties are over, and the leftovers from big festive, family meals are almost gone.  So how did I do in my third retirement year and what should I be setting as targets for next year?

Christmas Lunch Set For 19!

Christmas Lunch Set For 19 At Ours!

Well, the past year – the last six months, anyway – have been coloured by Middle Son’s accident and my Mum’s increasing debilitation that has led to her taking up residence in a home.  It’s not been a great year and the time focused on these events has deflected me from some of the more challenging of my new year resolutions set this time last year.  Excuses, excuses!

On the positive side, I have again exceeded my target of average number of steps per day (15,000).  I have managed an average of 16,054 per day and exceeded a daily average of 15,000 steps almost every week during the year.

Views From Our New Year’s Day Walk

Unfortunately, this has become almost my only exercise as gardening has taken a back seat this year.  My overall fitness has probably declined and my weight target of getting down to 11 stone (70kg) has again just been missed.  I was on target to meet that weight target in November but Christmas excess put paid to achieving the objective.  That’s annoying since disappointment here was avoidable and I will retain the weight target for 2020 while trying to step up other core-strength exercises.

Ruskin Mill Lake On The Way To The Local Town - One Of My Favourite Local Places

Ruskin Mill Lake, On The Way To The Local Town – One Of My Favourite Local Places

My best achievement of the year was that I did exceed my target of no alcohol days.  I beat the target of 140 by 4 and that made it my best year since measurement began (and, frankly, since I was a teenager).  Also frankly, and a little embarrassingly, it felt like hard work achieving this.

14 Years Of Tracking No-Alcohol Days Per Year

14 Years Of Tracking No-Alcohol Days Per Year (With A Generous Trend Line in Red)

This year I have also been tracking the number of alcohol units I have each day using the Drinkaware app.  I now have a baseline against I can record what I hope will be future reduction but it has been a scary exercise.  I consume an average of 35 alcohol units per week.  That is more than double the recommended weekly average.  I must therefore look for a significant improvement next year – I’ll try an initial 10% – but know that also will be tough given habits that have built up over decades.

Tracking Of Alcoholic Units By Month In 2019

Tracking Of Alcoholic Units By Month In 2019

I did plan to create a plan for volunteering during this year.  I haven’t really done that but I have stepped up involvement in the construction of the local Neighbourhood Plan and that did consume a lot of time at various times of the year.  I am also a core member of the local Carbon Neutral Horsley group that is encouraging moves towards carbon neutrality by 2030 in the Parish.  Both these local initiatives are going to be a continuing focus in 2020.

I failed on all my other 2019 resolutions despite the freedom and flexibility retirement offers.  The compost bins near the vegetable patch are in reasonable shape but have not been redeveloped as planned.  I’m dropping that resolution since it is replaced by a wider plan to decide on what to do with our nearby and gradually crumbling stables.

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also failed, after a bright start, to engineer significantly more trips out to see parts of the UK this year.  We’ll carry that resolution forward though because we have enjoyed the trips we did make, such trips will be more climate-friendly than air trips abroad now we have our electric car, and I still feel that my knowledge of the UK countryside needs renewal.

Christmas Morning From Our House

Christmas Morning From Our House

I will also carry forward the resolution I had to listen to less news and more music.  LSW and I both palpably failed on this.  We listened to the BBC on the radio morning, noon and night as the Brexit and other debates unfolded.  LSW and I both spent hours ranting at what we heard and my only comfort is that when I have stayed with my parents this year, I heard my Dad doing exactly the same; ranting at the radio must be a genetic trait!

One resolution I will add this year is to read more books.  In 2018, I read a number of what I thought were excellent books: The Milkman by Anna Burns, Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves, Before The Fall by Noah Hawley, The Dry by Jane Harper (very relevant with Australia on fire at the moment) and, most of all, A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles.

During 2019, I didn’t read anything I considered as good as these.  Nonetheless I loved the reading process, the thinking involved and the relaxation (sometimes too much, as I often slipped into ‘siesta’).  Given my enjoyment of reading I really should find time for more.  I plan to read at least 20 books this year thereby beating my record of 17 in 2018 and 16 in 2019.  I hope to find some more great books among these.

So, onwards to 2020!  I am rather despondent about several aspects of the world and the current political situation in the UK.  However, I think that 2020 is going to be a far better year than 2019 and I’m going to aim to meet my resolutions for the new year with a spring in my step – all 192,648 of them!

Me Setting Off Into 2020!

Me Setting Off Into 2020!

Life on Mars

As forecast in my last blog post, Eldest Son (ES) arranged for me to pop up to London one last time before Christmas to see an exhibition at the Design Museum called Moving to Mars.  ES has always been interested in Space and films about alien life and we both enjoyed the film The Martian a few years ago which addressed many of the challenges of living on Mars.  We were both keen to go to the exhibition and it felt nice being organised to do so.

The Design Museum, Kensington, London

The Design Museum, Kensington, London

The exhibition was full of video and interactive exhibits.  It was just as well that we went at a quiet time; otherwise, the waiting to get access to each one would have been onerous.  As it was, we were able to sample everything without queues and at our own pace.

Mars

Mars

The exhibition started with a history of the astronomy relating to Mars.  Most interesting here was the build-up of the legends concerning the canals of Mars.  These were thought to be long interconnected channels on Mars’s surface that proved the past flow of water.  Some, including US astronomer Percival Lowell, thought the canals indicated that intelligent alien life had directed ice cap melt to other parts of the planet.  The presence of the canals prompted many stories, comics and films relating to this idea of alien life on Mars and there was a section in the exhibition making this connection.

It now seems however, that, although there was once water on Mars, the canals are not in fact real.  Rather, the images of a canal network were an optical illusion created by the early high-magnification telescopes reflecting the blood vessels in the retinas of the 19th and early 20th century astronomers.

The following sections of the exhibition included scaled and life size models of recent vehicles sent to Mars to explore the planet.  The science involved in getting these satellites and rovers through our atmosphere and gravitational pull and then so far away to Mars is incredible.

Scale Model Of The ExoMars Rover (Due For Launch 2020) And, Above, A Mars Satellite

Scale Model Of The ExoMars Rover (Due For Launch 2020) And, Above, A Mars Satellite

Some of these roving vehicles have been sending back photos and other information for years and the pictures of the Martian landscape on show were incredibly detailed and vivid.  However, one of the videos was of a scientist who claimed that a human operating on Mars would be able to gain more information in an hour than these robot vehicles can in years.  That is what is driving new multi-national efforts to put astronauts onto Mars.

Those efforts were showcased as an introduction to sections of the exhibition devoted to how astronauts would survive such a long journey (7-9 months) physically and mentally and then survive in Mars’s hostile environment which is very cold, radio-active and toxic.  There were interesting videos of how the astronauts on the current space station (there are six on board today) manage their daily routines of experimentation, fitness maintenance and personal hygiene.

Soviet Pressurised Spacesuits

Soviet Pressurised Spacesuits On Show At The Move To Mars Exhibition

There was portrayal of how robots might build insulated buildings in advance of human arrival on Mars and how algae and fungi might provide food and clothing materials (thereby avoiding the need to transport food and clothing to the planet).

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Boots Made From Woven From Fungal Mycelium That Could Be Grown On Mars (So Saving Transported Weight On The Spaceflight)

Algae Production Unit

Algae Production Unit For Food Production On Mars

Finally, there was a section showing an alternative to the approach to building habitats for humans that would insulate against the Martian environment.  This alternative postulated the idea that plant and animal life tolerant to the environment could be introduced onto Mars and that this could change the environment progressively to something more acceptable to humans.  This would be a very, very long process and seemed far-fetched to me.

Models Of Habitats Designed For Robot Builds and Human Habitation On Mars

Models Of Habitats Designed For Robot Builds and Human Habitation On Mars

More interesting were the relationships between innovations and ideas for living on Mars that could be used to survive the potential catastrophes that might befall Earth (fire, flood, pestilence, war etc.) or, even better, might help us prevent some of those catastrophes.

ES and I both enjoyed the exhibition.  To cap the day in London, we went off to a family drink and meal with Long-Suffering Wife, all three sons and two sons’ partners. It was a great way to kick off the festive season.

To all readers of this, have a great festive and holiday season yourselves.  Have fun!

Back In The Shire

Those who follow this blog, or otherwise know me, will know that I am an urban man at heart.  For most of my adult life, the city – specifically London – has been the place to live and the country has been something to visit.  Now I’m retired to the country and visit the city.  I had a good dose of London life earlier this month but, for the last week or so, I’ve thrown myself into rural living back in Gloucestershire; it has been relatively various, worthy and entertaining.

The rainy weather hasn’t prevented me getting out for daily, lengthy walks.  LSW and some of her local friends have taken me on some routes I have not ventured on before and that has been enlightening.  I continue to get to know the area and to enjoy walking in it.  I’m comfortable that my steps target for the year is going to be met easily – one of the few 2019 resolutions that will be, I fear.

Local Beech Woods

A New Walk Through Beech Woods

Of course, Christmas is coming (putting my 2019 resolution target for alcohol free days in jeopardy).  I attended my first party of the season last week courtesy of the management of the Horsley Village Community Shop.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) works there very part time and so was invited gratis.  I paid an entrance fee to attend alongside her.  It was a very lively and pleasant celebration and a chance for me to get to know a few more local people.  The event packed out the village pub for the second time in a few days following the monthly village quiz a few days before.

The village shop, like the village pub, survives on the margins of commercial viability.  The shop is reliant on hardworking management and a squad of very part time volunteers like LSW.  I have been tempted to join this assorted band but have focused instead on helping with the Neighbourhood Plan and a small volunteer group looking to promote carbon neutrality in the village.

Delivery of Fresh Duchy Farm Vegetables To The Horsley Community Village Shop

Already, the Parish Council has supervised the planting of over 100 small trees this Autumn as part of a drive to increase carbon sequestration across the Parish.  More planting is planned and there are even grander plans in our nearby town of Nailsworth.  There, a symbolic start was made with the planting of a single holm oak and the distribution of around 100 smaller trees to those, including LSW and I, who turned up to watch.  We picked up a guilder rose tree and now need to complete the bargain by planting it.

Tree Planting In Nailsworth

Ceremonial Tree Planting In Nailsworth – The First Of Many!

One further bit of worthiness was a bit of renovation of the Horsley churchyard paths that I arrived just in time to make a minimal contribution to.  Village activities like these all help to make me feel part of the rural life here after decades of city living.

Gravel Laying In Horsley Churchyard

Gravel Laying In Horsley Churchyard (That’s My Spade Resting Lower Left)

The Neighbourhood Plan is now drafted and under review by Stroud District Council.  The hardcopy available in the village shop looks great and the pictures, especially, bring it to life.  It will be interesting to see what critique the Council provide – especially of the proposed ‘local green spaces’, one of which is adjacent to our land.

Comments and subsequent reworking of the Plan are not likely until next year and current attention is on consultation around the wider Gloucestershire County Local Plan.  I have some work to do in the New Year to help provide the village council with comments on this Plan from a carbon neutral and sustainability point of view.  I also need to analyse and present some recent village survey data on thermal efficiency.  Until all that is done, I don’t feel like tying myself down to a shift in the village shop.

Christmas preparations are underway in our house. Some of the Christmas lights are already up.  The Christmas tree is bought and will be erected and decorated next week.  That is all LSW’s province.

Christmas Lights In Our Kitchen/Diner Reception And Down The Stairs

My main Christmas task is to develop the annual family Christmas quiz.  This will follow Christmas dinner (with the 19 members of LSW’s family including me and our sons who will all be with us this year) and has become a bit of a tradition over the last decade or so.  I have also taken on making Christmas party hats from old newspapers and packaging these up with jokes from the Internet and a chocolate.  The first batch of ten hats is nearing completion – this is a small stab at recycling rather than buying lots of throwaway crackers.

First Batch Of Christmas Paper Hats

First Batch Of Christmas Paper Hats (Tasteful Financial Times Pink)

I’m back up to London next week to see the Moving to Mars exhibition at the Design Museum that Eldest Son is keen to see and for which he has bought tickets.  The visit gives LSW and I a chance to wish Eldest and Youngest Sons’ girlfriends happy Christmas personally.  From London I will then travel north to Nottingham to do the same with my Mum and Dad.  Then, it will be back to the shire once again for the Christmas Pub Quiz and the rest of the festive period.  All good!