London Variety Part II

As planned, we are in London again.  We are treating the week as something of a holiday and the weather is so warm it certainly feels like could be in Madrid or Rome.  We are effectively being tourists in our capital city and are working our way through a plan of food, music and art.  We are also taking the opportunity to catch up with Middle Son (MS), stay in his new flat with its wonderous view of central, southern and northern London, and even to cook in his kitchen.

View Of The City And Canary Wharf From MS And His Girlfriends' Flat

View Of The City And Canary Wharf From MS And His Girlfriends’ Flat

I have been cooking increasingly often in retirement and, even more surprisingly, am cooking increasingly vegetarian meals.  Earlier this week, we further adopted MS’s flat as a sort of Air BnB by inviting over Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend.  I cooked a meal of bulgar wheat, tomatoes, aubergine and lemon and mint yogurt that I have been perfecting at home.  Admittedly, this time, I added a few slices of (probably farmed!) salmon. So, not vegetarian after all, but we are reducing meat intake slowly.  Anyway, it was a lovely evening watching the sun go down over Alexandra Palace.

Sunset Over Walthamstow

Sunset Over Walthamstow

During this London visit, we have also stayed with Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend in their new flat in Hackney.  We had planned to see an American guitarist called William Tyler with them at Cafe Oto which is one of my favourite music venues.  Unfortunately, YS’s wasn’t well and so only Long-Suffering Wife and I made it to the gig.

We got there early enough for front row seats and the performers and music were as intimate as they always seem to be at Café Oto.  William Tyler’s technique was awesome and, despite him not having a band or vocals (apart from some amusing inter-song banter), I loved the whole experience.

William Tyler At Cafe Oto

William Tyler At Cafe Oto

LSW and I have also visited (in my case, revisited) the Temple of Mithras in the new Bloomberg Building in Walbrook.  I first saw this in February last year and was impressed by the classy presentation of this ancient monument – discovered during demolition after the Second World War and relocated to its current underground site a few years ago.  The information about the cult that worshipped here in Roman times is scarce and the ruins themselves are sparse.  However, the free show (but you have to book) makes the most of a little.  The lighting is very clever and it engenders an atmosphere of mystery and eeriness.  I recommend the 30 minute investment of time.

The Temple Of Mithras

The Temple Of Mithras

We then went on to Tate Britain. Our intention was to see the Frank Bowling exhibition but, as we had with the Van Gogh exhibition at Tate Modern a couple of weeks before, we made the rookie error of turning up a day after the exhibition had closed!  Never mind; the Tate always has great art to feast on.

I was relatively controlled and focused on just 8-10 rooms including those housing the Turners.  I do love his portrayal of outdoor light, especially in his later, almost abstract work.  I particularly enjoy his seascapes which either capture the energy of windswept skies and seas, or the calm of his famous sunsets.

Turner's 'Fishing Boats Bringing A Disabled Ship Into Port Ruysdael' (1844)

Turner’s ‘Fishing Boats Bringing A Disabled Ship Into Port Ruysdael’ (1844)

On this visit I also enjoyed some of the British abstract art from the 1950s including Howard Hodgkin, the paintings of the St Ives crowd and the Bloomsbury Group, and the Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth sculptures.  There was also a rather odd but interesting new installation of old machines – posing as art – in the main hall.  This was called Asset Strippers and was created by Mike Nelson as an ode to the last days of the industrial revolution in Britain.  Given the UK economy focus on services, it did provide a whiff of nostalgia perhaps.

Howard Hodgkin's 'Dinner At West Hill' (1966)

Howard Hodgkin’s ‘Dinner At West Hill’ (1966)

Moore and Hepworth

Later the same day, I revisited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow that I went to earlier this month in the midst of MS’s early recovery from his accident.  Then, I couldn’t concentrate much on what I was seeing.  This time I spent longer in the temporary exhibition of Madge Gill’s work and the permanent history of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement he founded with a few of his early friends and business partners.

Embroidery By Madge Gill

Embroidery By Madge Gill (Victorian/Edwardian Artist From Walthamstow)

The portrayal of William Morris, his life, his work and his influences and influence is well structured and compelling.  He was an artist, designer, colourist (fascinated by natural dyes), writer, printer of books, retailer, environmentalist, and, from the age of 50 a raging socialist activist.  He fitted so much into his life and his concern for social issues and the environment, particularly after he visited Iceland, was remarkable.

Honeysuckle Print Wallpaper - Typical William Morris

Honeysuckle Print Wallpaper – Typical William Morris

I ended up liking him and want to find out more about him (and his close colleague John Ruskin).  He seems to have been a man ahead of his time on social and environmental issues and but also, in his hankering for past styles and craftsmanship, a man out of time in the century of industrial revolution.  It is great that the Gallery, like Tate Modern and the Temple of Mithras, is free to visitors – that is in line with Morris’s beliefs: “I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.

William Morris Gallery

William Morris Gallery

Following so much cultural input, LSW, MS and I headed off for a local pizza at Sodo Pizza which was sufficiently wheel chair friendly and excellent.  I’m enjoying my stay in Walthamstow!

London Variety Part I

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have made several trips to London recently.  We continue to provide some increasingly peripheral help to Middle Son’s (MS’s) recovery there but there are other excuses for visits to the capital too.

Last week Forest Green Rovers Football Club (FGR) were playing Charlton, a London team a couple of divisions higher than ‘my’ club.  I took advantage of my retirement flexibility to pop up to London to meet up with Youngest Son (YS) and a bunch of his friends from university and from Australia for a few drinks by the river, the cup game itself, and then rather more drinks than I needed afterwards.  FGR were surprisingly victorious in the game and the evening was a lot of fun.  The Australian contingent maintained their reputation for their loud love of sport.

View Of The Thames Barrier From The Anchor and Hope Pub Before The Big Game

View Of The Thames Barrier From The Anchor and Hope Pub Before The Big Game

Celebrating The Winning Goal At Charlton

Celebrating The Winning Goal At Charlton (Me At Top Of Picture Arms Aloft!)

Next day, LSW joined me in London to take advantage of Eldest Son (ES) being away at the Edinburgh Fringe festival with his Scottish girlfriend and therefore leaving the Barbican flat free for a few days.  The flat is always a comfortable and central base from which to explore cultural and culinary variety in London.  Despite not planning particularly well, we had a full and interesting time including a great ‘small plates’ dinner at one our favourite buzzy restaurants, Popolo.

We had breakfast and coffee in the excellent Today Bread in Walthamstow with MS.  Then LSW and I headed off to Tate Modern to see the Van Gogh exhibition.  We had attempted to visit this show a couple of weeks previously but had arrived to find it closing due to the dreadful incident of a teenager pushing a youngster over a balcony.  Now, on arrival, we discovered that the exhibition had finished earlier in the week; poor planning!

Not to worry though; we switched attention to the Olafur Elliason exhibition called ‘In Real Life’ and we were both impressed.  I recalled seeing his installation in the main Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery over 15 years ago.  That was a strange ethereal work called ‘The Weather Project’ that filled the hall with a sickly, pervasive yellow light.  I wondered if the exhibition would be more of the same, especially as we emerged from the lift to the entrance into an unforgiving light display.  In practice, the exhibition contained some of the themes of the previous work I had seen but it was much more than a few tricks of the light.

Model Room By Olafur Eliasson (2003)

Model Room By Olafur Eliasson (2003)

The exhibition opens with a large, varied array of models, ideas and experiments in a huge ‘Model Room’.  This whets the appetite for what is to come and indicates some of the themes of his work around nature, sustainability, geometry and technology that are to follow in what is a varied and child-friendly show.

Children Enjoying Eliasson's Evolution Project (2001)

Children Enjoying Eliasson’s Evolution Project (2001) At Tate Modern

The closest exhibit to The Weather Project is a 39 metre-long corridor filled with fog of several different colours and ending with an impenetrable white glare, in which you see fellow visitors looming up alongside and in front of you.  It was very unsettling.

Your Blind Passenger By Olafur Eliasson (2010)

Your Blind Passenger By Olafur Eliasson (2010)

What I liked about the exhibition was the variety, the invitation to delve as deeply or not into the material as one wanted, and the engagement with current issues such as the climate emergency.  The exhibit relating to the melting glaciers in Iceland was particularly moving and the exhibits on Greenland tied in with recent articles I have read about ‘ecological grief’ – in this case, the sadness and stress Greenlanders feel for the disappearing ice on their land.

I also really enjoyed the exhibits proposing solutions and not just setting out the environmental and social challenges we face.  An example was that showing Eliasson’s ‘Little Sun’ project on provision of pretty, portable, solar-powered lights.  This is related to, or at least similar to, the devices that the charity Solar Aid provide to third-world families currently reliant on dangerous and polluting kerosene for night light.  It was art with a grounded and practical purpose.

Little Sun Project by Olafur Eliasson (2012)

Little Sun Project by Olafur Eliasson (2012)

LSW and I also went to the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition on Food: ‘FOOD: Bigger Than The Plate’.  This was another exhibition that could be viewed at a variety of levels of detail.  It was rather sprawling across a huge topic spanning composting and waste (probably the most interesting section of the exhibition), farming, trading and food miles, packaging, and eating.

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Ideas For Growing Food (Lettuces) Vertically In Returning, Otherwise Empty Containers, In The Trading In The Eating Section Of The FOOD: Bigger Than The Plate Exhibition

Each section set out the current challenges the world faces given its growing population and our growing expectations for food quality and range.  It then highlighted some sample projects showing how some are trying to meet these challenges.

On the side of the challenges, for example, there was a video showing the transport of a banana from Ecuador across 14 days and 8,800km to an Icelandic supermarket where it is sold for 20 (Euro) cents.  Another video, similar to those I have seen before, showed the horror of factory animal farming.  LSW and I hesitated before choosing to eat roast chicken as usual this weekend just gone!

On the positive side, there were waterless toilets, tableware made from coffee grounds, projects in South America preserving heritage maize species, and ideas of bringing farms (e.g. vertical farms) into cities to reduce transport demand.  There were exhibits underlining the importance of cooking and eating as a social activity and of eating local food that is in season rather than expecting everything all the time.  It was an interesting exhibition but I’m not sure it accelerated my progress – already gradually being made I’m glad to say – towards buying and eating food more sustainably.

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Spoons Designed To Broaden And Enhance The Eating Experience In The Eating Section Of The FOOD: Bigger Than The Plate Exhibition

LSW and I are now planning a further few days in London before the end of the month.  Part II of our various activities there coming up!

Gentle Times

It has been a quiet, tender period since my last post some three weeks ago.  There have been the odd bursts of activity to get Middle Son (MS) up and down to London for his fracture clinic checks and, this last weekend, to help move him back to London into his new, wheel-chair friendly flat in Walthamstow.  However, most of the time in the last three weeks or so has been spent at home in Gloucestershire.  The focus has been on gentle activities supporting MS’s recovery, and to break up, as best we can, his boredom with his lack of mobility.

Looking for ways to break up MS’s day while he was at home with us led us to eat out at local pubs a little more than usual.  We have frequented our local village pub a few times, a local café called Jolly Nice, and also The Crown in Frampton Mansell which we hadn’t visited for ages.  These trips have all been very pleasant diversions for MS, Long-Suffering Wife and I, especially given the excellent summer weather.

Frampton Mansell And The Crown Inn

Frampton Mansell And The Crown Inn

I have also continued to get out for early morning walks on a fairly regular basis.  Both the garden and the local walks are lovely at this time of year when the sun is out.  The gentle meandering around the local lanes and footpaths has been very relaxing and calming.

Less calming has been the start of the English Football League (EFL) season.  My team, Forest Green Rovers (FGR), are in EFL2 and they won their first game of the season with a wonderful goal.  It was very exciting by the end of the game.  Future diary arrangements will be constrained by the FGR fixture list – I love it; LSW, not so much.

Kick Off At Forest Green Rovers' New Lawn

Kick Off At Forest Green Rovers’ New Lawn

Other sport has dominated recent weeks too.  In particular, MS and I have been watching and discussing the tennis at Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the cricket World Cup.  It’s been great to have someone around to bounce reactions to the action off of. I’ve loved it; LSW, not so much.

The time at home has offered the opportunity to invest more time than usual in a few local community projects.  One has been participation in a fans forum with the CEO of FGR.  More time consuming has been work done with members of a local group promoting energy sustainability and carbon neutrality in our village and work on the final drafts of the village Neighbourhood Plan.  I’ll cover some or all of these more in a subsequent post.

The only other events of note in this restrained and gentle period have been another visit to the Lee Krasner exhibition at the Barbican and a brief visit whilst in Walthamstow to the William Morris Museum.  LSW and I plan to visit the latter again in a couple of weeks since we didn’t have a huge amount of time, entry is free, and I, for one, found it quite hard to concentrate on what I was seeing.  The museum is housed in a lovely building and the exhibition looks informative and excellent so more on this soon.

The William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

The William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

I went to the Krasner exhibition just a few weeks ago while MS was in hospital but had the chance to pop in again while in London a couple of weeks ago.  It was every bit as impressive as the first time.  Again, I particularly enjoyed her relatively early work but also that passage of her work that was drenched in colour a few years following her mental recovery from the death of her partner (Jackson Pollock) and then her mother.  There was a refreshing irreverence too in the way she often cut up old works to make new ones; she is quoted as saying “I am not to be trusted around my old work for any length of time” and that amused me.  The exhibition was almost as uplifting as FGR’s win!

Burning Candles, Lee Krasner, 1955

Burning Candles, Lee Krasner, 1955. An Example Of A Collage Created From Ripped Up Previous Works.

The Eye Is The First Circle, Lee Krasner, 1960

The Eye Is The First Circle, Lee Krasner, 1960, In The Barbican Gallery

I’m looking forward to the rest of August during which LSW and I have a couple more visits to London planned.

Rakowitz and Bacon

While Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were in London awaiting Middle Son’s (MS’s) final operations and discharge from hospital, we did, as predicted, fit in a couple more exhibitions:

  • At the Whitechapel Gallery, an exhibition of work from the last twenty years by Michael Rakowitz, an Iraqi-American artist perhaps most famous for his work currently on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square
  • At the Gagosian Gallery, which neither of us had visited before, an exhibition of about a dozen paintings by Francis Bacon who is one of my favourite artists.

The visits took our minds off MS’s predicament, filled in the non-visiting hours at the hospital and were well worth seeing anyway.

Michael Rakowitz's The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist In Trafalgar Square

Michael Rakowitz’s The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist In Trafalgar Square

The Rakowitz exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery was an interesting mix of visual effects across eight ‘installations’.  All of them related to history and most, a little depressingly, draw inspiration from examples of thwarted hope.  For example, the first exhibit, called ‘Dull Roar’ is a very large inflatable building depicting a multi-racial social housing experiment in St Louis, Missouri.  Its cyclical inflation and deflation over a period of a few minutes is a metaphor for the initial hope when the building was opened and its failure as it fell into disrepair, became a focus for social unrest and was ultimately demolished.

'Dull Roar' And 'White Man Got No Dreaming' By Rakowitz

‘Dull Roar’ (Foreground) And ‘White Man Got No Dreaming’ By Rakowitz

Other rooms and exhibits highlight book destruction, the destruction and reconstruction of antiquities in the war-torn Middle-East and the rise and fall of The Beatles.  The latter includes off-cuts from a 1970 documentary film of the group and many artefacts relating to The Beatles.  These are annotated with postulations about how the break-up occurred and parallels with late 20th century North African history.  The film recounted the The Beatles’ last attempt to repair their relationship with a triumphant concert in North Africa.  The concert never happened.

Archaeological Reconstructions Made Of Middle Eastern Food Packaging (Like The 4th Plinth Monument)

Some Of Rakowitz’s Archaeological Reconstructions Made Of Middle Eastern Food Packaging

The exhibition had a lot of variety and depth and made good use of the Whitechapel Gallery space.

The Gagosian Gallery in Grosvenor Hill (I now find that there are three Gagosian Galleries in London alone and many more worldwide) is also a great art space with large, light rooms.  It’s an interesting rectangular and ultra-modern building tucked behind Berkeley Square.  Inside were a relatively small number of Francis Bacon’s double figure paintings.  All were instantly recognisable as Bacon’s work and about half of them were as dramatic and terrific as I had hoped.

One of the Gagosian Exhibition Paintings By Francis Bacon

One of the Gagosian Exhibition Paintings By Francis Bacon

Most of the works were, as expected, clearly inspired by his anxious, passionate and probably violent relationships.  What was more of a surprise was the interest he had in monkeys and baboons that had been engendered by his trips to Africa.  A couple of the paintings reflected this.

Unlike the Whitechapel Gallery which was a bit pricey to visit, the Gagosian is free.  What’s not to like!

The Gagosian Gallery, Grosvenor Hill

The Gagosian Gallery, Grosvenor Hill

Now we are back in Gloucestershire with MS.  Fortunately the weather has remained wonderful.  The garden is in peak colour – although it could do with a refreshing downpour – and the vegetables are growing faster than the deer can eat them.

The New Garden In Bloom

The New Garden In Bloom

I have reverted to my pattern of last summer of walking in to the local town’s shops before breakfast when it is cool.  That means that LSW can get to work without us leaving MS alone for long and gives me the chance to enjoy the local countryside in the lovely morning light.  We have much to be thankful for.

View Towards Nympsfield On The Walk To Nailsworth

View Towards Nympsfield On The Walk To Nailsworth

Jolly Newcomers - Just For A Week - In A Field On The Way To Nailsworth

Jolly Newcomers – Just For A Week – In A Field On The Way To Nailsworth

Distractions Amid The Wreckage

It’s been nearly two weeks since Middle Son’s (MS’s) accident on a pedestrian crossing.  LSW and I are popping up and down to London to see MS while he is in hospital waiting for, and then recovering from, the operations to repair him.  We have the flexibility to be able to supplement and fit in around visits from his others.  Outside of visiting hours we are able to visit London-based exhibitions and in between trips to London, we tend the everyday of house and garden.

Royal London Hospital

Royal London Hospital

The garden is certainly looking full and colourful.  After an unusually slow start, the vegetable patch is starting to come to life.  The slugs, deer and pigeons are enjoying a lot of the potential vegetable and fruit produce.  However, I hope to pick the blackcurrants that survived the pigeon onslaught next week and chard, spinach and beetroot are now ready for the first harvests.

Marbled White and Ringlet Butterflies and A Crab Spider

Marbled White and Ringlet Butterflies And A Crab Spider

The meadow is also looking healthy and, in this last week’s sunshine and warmth, it has been full of butterflies and other insects.  Youngest Son (YS) and his partner have been staying with us and have been able to enjoy the garden before swapping the rural peace for their new life in London.  It has been great to have had their cheery demeanour around the place.

The London exhibition LSW and I went to see in a few spare hours was the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  The ostentation on show was perhaps the least appropriate thing to appreciate while our minds were wrestling with the gritty practicalities of MS’s circumstances.  However, it is a very stylish and well-presented show covering Dior’s clothes, perfumes, partnerships with makers of accessories and seamstresses.

Ulysse Coat By Dior (1952)

Ulysse Coat By Dior (1952)

The outfits on show demonstrate Christian Dior’s career and then the contributions of the lead designers who followed him in driving forward the Dior brand.  The clothes are consistently beautiful or dramatic or both and the rooms showing his ball gown and garden-influenced designs were particularly impressive.

Dior Ball Gowns 1950 To Today

Dior Ball Gowns 1950 To Today

Dior Perfume Bottles And Travel Set From The 1950s

Dior Perfume Bottles And Travel Set From The 1950s

At the end of the exhibition was a wall with a quote from Christian Dior: “In the world today, haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvellous”.  The show managed to underline that.

Exotic Dior Dresses Influenced By His Travels in Japan and Egypt

I also managed to get to see a free gig by D’Voxx at Rough Trade East.  I knew nothing about this electronic duo before turning up but it was another temporary but welcome distraction from reality.  The music they played was interesting and got me nodding away to the beats, but what made the gig unusual was that both performers were using modular synthesisers that looked ancient and that seemed to require a lot of wire waving and plug swapping alongside the normal knob-twiddling.  It was quite a sight and a fun experience.

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LSW and I are heading back to London tomorrow.  Maybe we will find a couple more diverse distractions like Dior and D’Voxx to divert us before MS’s final operations and discharge.  Fingers crossed for him.

Nice And Nasty Birthday Surprises

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have made two trips to London in the last week. The first was to celebrate LSW’s birthday.  That was very enjoyable.  We stayed in the Barbican flat and the surrounding gardens and the window-boxes of many of the flats look lovely at this time of year.

View Of The Barbican Complex In The Sun

View Of The Barbican Complex In The Sun

The second was much more traumatic surprise.

This was a rapid and urgent scoot up to Royal London Hospital to be with Middle Son (MS).  He had been knocked down by a car in a hit-and-run accident during a police car chase.

MS is recovering but has some seriously broken bones and a lot of bruises, so he will probably spend his own upcoming birthday in hospital and has a few frustrating months of rehabilitation ahead of him.  At least now I am retired I can lend full physical as well as moral support.  MS also has great support from his partner, brothers and friends.  He’s a tough cookie too, he’s in a good hospital and he will bounce back.

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London has great museums, art galleries and restaurants.  We experienced while celebrating LSW’s birthday by visiting the Natalia Goncharova exhibition at Tate Modern, the Lee Krasner exhibition at the Barbican and eating out with Youngest Son (YS) at the buzzy and lovely Morito restaurant.

We also visited Walthamstow to get a feel for one of the areas MS and his partner have been looking to buy a house in – a project I suspect will be on hold for a bit now.  Plus I visited the Foundling Museum.

Sitting here in a hospital waiting room I can’t compose much about those visits; my head is too distracted with recent events.  However here is a quick view of the high points with some pictures added since I got back home.

The Foundling Museum was interesting but while there are some fascinating items and facts on show, the topic based layout didn’t work for me.  I struggled to build up the chronology of the way the Foundling Hospital developed from 1741 through to the modern day from the exhibits although, half way round, I did find a clear timeline in the free paper guide pamphlet so my issue was mostly my fault.

A Selection Of Tokens On Show At The Foundling Museum

A Selection Of 18th Century Tokens Used To Identify Orphaned Babies Left With The Foundling Museum

The museum’s temporary exhibit of Hogarth and his depiction of noise in his pictures and cartoons is set out more engagingly.  Different elements of a single painting by him are picked out to illustrate six different aspects of 18th century street life from street music to drinking, disease and prostitution.  There is also an exhibition of some of George Handel’s work (both Hogarth and Handel were early sponsors of the Foundling Hospital) which provided welcome comfortable chairs in which to listen to some snatches of his lovely music amid information about him and his muses.

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Hogarth’s The March Of The Guards To Finchley

I had not heard of Lee Krasner before visiting the exhibition at the Barbican.  LSW was much more in the know than I and she was very keen to go.  She was spot on; it was a fascinating exhibition and full of very impressive art.  She was married to Jackson Pollock but embraced many more styles than I associate with him.  The narrative of her life, picked out by the different sections of the art on show, was compelling, the colours were terrific.  I think I will use my Barbican membership to visit again later this year.

Detail From Two Early Krasner Paintings

The Natalia Goncharova art exhibition at The Tate Modern was also worth seeing. Again there was a clear progression to her style through the early years of her life.  She was incredibly prolific during this period and it was noticeable that there was little on show from her later years except for examples of her work in designing theatre sets and costumes.  Interesting as that aspect is, I was more impressed by her earlier work.

Harvest By Natalia Goncharova

Harvest By Natalia Goncharova

So, back to thinking about MS and his recovery…. We will be back in London soon to see his progress first hand and to slip in a few more cultural treats.

 

TV Mini-Series And Music In The Rain

View From The Garden - Sun And Impending Hailstorm

View From The Garden – Sun And Impending Hailstorm

June has been a very wet month so far but I suppose the garden and allotment needed the rain after such a dry Spring.  Few vegetables are growing quickly yet but the garden flowers are thriving.  Encouragingly, the bees flitting among them, between the bouts of rain, seem more numerous than last year.

Partly due to the weather, Long-Suffering Wife and I have been watching more box-set TV recently.  Much of what we have watched has been excellent and I’m pleased ‘Killing Eve’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ have started up again.  Of recent TV treats, I particularly recommend:

  • The Virtues’ (Channel 4) which has an astonishing performance by Steven Graham and a climax that had me holding my breath tensely for ages and mentally urging his character to do the right thing
  • The Looming Tower’ (BBC) starring the brilliant Jeff Daniels, which is showing how infighting between the FBI and the CIA contributed to the terrorist success of 9/11
  • Chernobyl’ (Sky Atlantic) which reproduced compellingly and with amazing special effects and crowd scenes, the (western understanding of the) nuclear disaster there.

We were able to see the last of these thanks to Youngest Son (YS) having access, in ways I’m not sure I want to know about, to channels and films that are not available to us through our normal facilities.  This has been just one of the upsides of having him around for a few weeks since he returned from Australia.  YS’s cheery demeanour has certainly brightened our days recently as the rain has set in.  However, he has now disappeared to undertake a video project in the US and left us with the rain continuing to pour down.

The Garden In A Hailstorm

The Garden In A Hailstorm

Another very good mini-series, still currently ongoing, is Years and Years.  This follows a fictitious family through a vision of the next 15 years of global and UK politics and social development.  It is not a cheery watch since it picks up some of the most modern-day contentious issues and shows how they may unfold in the near future with pretty depressing effects.  One of the issues, of course, is the climate emergency and the story postulates a future where 80 days of heavy rain with flooding is a norm.  I’m fed up with the rain after a week; I can barely imagine a future where it rains for months!

I hope that the future is brighter – and not just weather wise – than Years and Years predicts.  However, I confess that the management of immigration, the climate emergency, the future of democracy on both sides of the Atlantic and the apparent rise of shallow populism are growing concerns for me.  It is fortunate, then, that YS keeps LSW’s and my rants at the radio news over breakfast and lunch in check (to a degree).  They may get ridiculous while he is away.

To help distract ourselves from precipitation and political current affairs, LSW and I have been to a couple of very good gigs over the last few days.  The first was very local at the refurbished Tetbury Goods Shed and featured a local band called Faeland who I didn’t know until a week ago but who are lovely.  They follow the folk music idiom but with bright, modern songs and an engaging presence. LSW loved them too – and very much enjoyed the provision of comfortable seating and a perfect view at the venue.

Faeland At The Tetbury Goods Shed

Faeland At The Tetbury Goods Shed

She was less enamoured by the shoulder to shoulder standing room only at The Exchange in Bristol.  Here we saw a singer-songwriter I have been following and enjoying hugely on Spotify and CD for a couple of years – Billie Marten.  I love her songs and, although she could have engaged a tight packed, eager and intimate audience a little more, I enjoyed the gig very much. LSW enjoyed it too but I was nervous about her comfort and we left just before the end.  That was fine since Billie Marten had already played for an hour and I may anyway get the chance to see her again in London.

Billie Marten At The Exchange, Bristol

Billie Marten At The Exchange, Bristol

As I complete this post, I see that the sun has come out.  I shall go out for a walk humming tunes from Faeland and Billie Marten and think cheery thoughts……

Allotment Wars!

Just over 10 years ago, I was made redundant from a large consulting firm I had worked for since leaving university.  I took a break from 33 years of work and, a year later, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) persuaded me to buy a derelict corrugated iron bungalow with the remaining redundancy money.  Then, as the kids left home, we sold our family house.  That enabled some downsizing and renovation of the ‘Tin House’.  We lived in the ‘Tin House’ for a year while we upgraded our current home.  Now we rent it out with the vague plan to move back into it when we downsize again.

Our 'Tin House' Post Re-Build in 2013

Our ‘Tin House’ Post Re-Build in 2013

When we bought the ‘Tin House’, it had only a small front garden.  We bought a small extra parcel of land at the back so that, after any future move back to the bungalow, I would be able to continue my enjoyment of vegetable growing in retirement.  I also put myself on what I understood to be a very long waiting list for an allotment in the beautiful Rose Barrow allotment gardens just a little further up the hill.

View From Behind Our 'Tin House'

View From Behind Our ‘Tin House’

In practice, the wait for an allotment was much shorter than expected and, for the last half dozen years, I have been tending a quarter of a full allotment.  This has not been all plain sailing however.

View From The Entrance To Rose Barrow Allotments

View From The Entrance To Rose Barrow Allotments

The first challenge has been that, having moved from the ‘Tin House’, we now live 2-3 miles away.  Unless I undertake a stiff walk there and back carrying tools and (at least potentially) harvests, I have to visit it by car.  The result is that my visits are more infrequent that they should be to undertake the war on weeds, to water in dry spells and to pick any crops.  That restricts me to low maintenance crops and means I constantly test the patience of the allotment management who police the quality of upkeep.

Examples Of Well Tended Allotments At Rose Barrow

Examples Of Well Tended Allotments At Rose Barrow

One such manager has been keen to take over my patch because it is in between a couple of allotments he already operates and his back garden.  I have resisted, for a couple of years, giving up my investment of digging and composting effort.  In doing so, I felt like one of those long-standing house owners holding out against the big developer wanting to demolish swathes of buildings in order to erect new, swish skyscrapers.  But, last year, I accepted that this was an extreme view, and took the practical and reasonable step of relinquishing my plot in exchange for another.

Overall I was content with the move despite the risk that I am now too near the allotment bonfire space to avoid scorched lettuces and leeks!  I started to dig the new plot over last winter, planted some Jerusalem artichokes and harvested some rhubarb.  All was settled and agreeable.

However, last week I arrived on my little plot to find someone else has commandeered it, had trampled my planting, had taken my compost bin and had erected netting over my inherited currant bushes.  Outrage!

Recognising that possession is ‘nine tenths of the law’ (and because I had nowhere else to put them), I dug over part of the patch again and planted a few rows of leeks and beetroot.  I was ready for war!

It seems that a couple had spoken with the previous incumbent of the whole allotment of which my slice is a part and had agreed to take it all on without confirming with allotment management.  They were unaware of my existing claim, my payment (all of £2!) and my effort to rehabilitate the plot.  It turns out that they are old acquaintances and we have been able to work out a way forward which leaves me with a plot that is a little smaller than the one I relinquished last year but which will be adequate.  My compost bin is restored.  Peace has broken out.

My New Quarter Allotment

My New Quarter Allotment. The War On The Couch Grass Begins!

The new plot is freer of bindweed than the previous one.  However, it is largely covered by very deep and well-established couch grass – another allotment devil to do war with but a manageable one if countered with thoroughness and determination.  Once I have dug out the worst of the couch grass a few times over the next couple of years, and grubbed up some old currant bushes to create some more space far enough from the bonfire, I will have a good little plot to augment my vegetable patches at home.

I may not visit my allotment often until we move back to the ‘Tin House’, but when I do I will love the relaxation from the repetition of the physical exercise of digging and weeding. I like too the mundane chats with allotment neighbours about the weather, the persistence of the perennial weeds and the poverty or fruitfulness of this year’s crops.  I love the singing of the birds and the peace and quiet of the enclosed allotments.  I love it that I have more time since retirement to soak up all of this.  The war is over and I’m happy again.

From Writing to Artificial Intelligence

A relatively quiet week or so has been punctuated by another trip to London and the return from Australia of Youngest Son (YS).  YS and his Northern Irish girlfriend have been working (and playing) successfully in Australia for almost three years.  It’s great to have YS back in closer proximity after so long but I’m sorry we no longer have such a good excuse to visit Australia!

YS At Heathrow.  Big Hug Imminent!

YS At Heathrow. Big Hug Imminent!

It will be interesting to see how things work out for YS and his girlfriend in London during such a precarious time for the United Kingdom.  Fortunately, they very excited by the prospect and are far more optimistic about life in general than I.  They made a great life in Australia from a standing start and I’m sure they will employ their energy and contacts to do the same in London.

I continue to make the most of my opportunities to visit the excitement of London with overnight stays in my old flat.  I based my trip up to London this time around another reunion of old work colleagues – this time from a bank I worked at 15 years ago.  Once that get together was in the diary I could fit in other things around it.  I saw a film (High Life) with Eldest Son (ES) (which was more interesting than truly enjoyable) and, as has become my norm, went to The Lantern Society Folk Club and a couple of exhibitions.

The first of these exhibitions was a history of Writing at the British Library.  This shows how different types of writing emerged amongst early human communities roughly simultaneously in a several different places across the globe.  This accounts for the huge variation in language types and structures and also the variety of writing styles and media through modern history and today.

A Limestone Stela With Classical Heiroglyphs

A Limestone Stela With Classical Hieroglyphs (The Oldest Object Held By The British Library)

The exhibition then focuses on the development of our alphabet from images (e.g. an ox head shape for the letter ‘a’) used in Egypt.  These were refined progressively through simplification and transformation by the Phoenicians, the Greeks then the Italians and, especially, the Romans (who got us writing from left to right).  Further evolution of our western writing styles, fonts and media to develop readability, speed of writing and then mass production are explained clearly and interestingly with lots of tangible examples.  I became thoroughly absorbed in the exhibition.

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A Japanese ‘Four Treasures Of The Study’ – Ink (Made From Grinding An Ink Stone With Drops Of Water) And Brushes In A Beautiful Box

The British Library has such beautiful texts in its possession to illustrate every development in the art and science of writing.  In addition to the examples of writing, there were sections on writing materials spanning examples of use of clay, wax, metal, stone, skin, palm leaves and, of course, the early efforts to produce paper (by the Chinese).  Printing innovations, writing implements (including a comparison between mass produced BIC biros and Montblanc fountain pens) and much more is covered.  It is a multi-faceted and fascinating exhibition.

A 1977 Vintage Macintosh Apple II Computer

A 1977 Vintage Macintosh Apple II Computer (Part Of The Section Illustrating Progression of Typewriters to Computers And Word Processing)

Less successful is the exhibition of Artificial Intelligence (AI); More Than Human at the Barbican.  I am very interested in this topic and was looking forward to the exhibition.  It is large and I spent three hours viewing it.  However, I left vaguely unsatisfied; I’m not sure I have worked out all the reasons why yet.

I went on the first day of the exhibition and some of the interactive exhibits needed tweaking to be successful.  But a more fundamental weakness is the amount of space devoted to cultural roots relating to the human desire to animate the inanimate and to create non-human life (Frankenstein for example).  This meant that, for me, there was insufficient focus on current and future use of AI.

The history of AI is laid out in detail and was a little overwhelming.  I invested a lot of time in understanding the key developmental moments, the surges in optimism surrounding the AI technology (the ‘Golden Ages’) and the periodic ‘winters’ when that optimism seemed misplaced.  There is also good information that I recall from when I used to work in Information Technology on the differences between Expert Systems and Learning Systems, and between simulation, understanding and intelligence.

Exhibits In The AI: More Than Human Exhibition

Exhibits In The AI: More Than Human Exhibition (An Interactive Model For City Planning, Aibo The Robot Dog And A Robot Able To Mimic Human Movement)

That laid a good foundation for the latter sections of the exhibition which focus on current and, to a degree, future practical use of AI.  The examples on show, though, often seemed a little perfunctory and rather unconnected.  Some demonstrated what I would consider to be advanced computer power not, specifically, AI.

However, there were some good examples too.  These include those showing how AI is accelerating and improving areas as diverse as medical understanding and treatments, pedestrian and driver safety, city planning, customer problem solving, education and even dating.  There are also sections (too brief in my view) on the ethics of AI.  For instance, these include the dangers of AI in war, the risk of bias being built into the algorithms, and of AI being used to undermine our privacy, freedom and perception of the truth.  The exhibit showing AI helping lip-synching of Barack Obama was a rather chilling demonstration of the latter.

Since I’m a Barbican Member, I can go again for free and will plan to take ES who is also interested in the potential (and dangers) of AI.  Maybe with his insights alongside me, I will enjoy the exhibition more.

Back home, the focus is on catching up with YS (while he stays with us to gird himself for his move to London) and on gardening.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has got large parts of the garden looking very full and attractive.

Foxgloves, Erigeron, Geraniums And Flowering Weeds At The Back Of Our House

Foxgloves, Erysimum, Geraniums And Other Flowers At The Back Of Our House

My vegetable seedlings are planted and just await proper rain and, no doubt, a slug onslaught.  The meadow is looking lush and healthy. Just a few more degrees of heat and summer will be here…..

Our Favourite Irises In Our Garden

Our Favourite Irises In Our Garden

 

Going To Malvern Not Wembley

Some of the last week or so has been spent managing my disappointment that Forest Green Rovers (FGR), the football team I follow avidly and actively, just failed to make it through to the English Football League 2 (EFL2) Playoff Final at Wembley.  FGR have had a great season following the struggles experienced last year during our first season at this level.  However, we just fell short of entitlement to a third visit to Wembley in four years.  I’ve amended my diary to free up the play-off final weekend, responded to the commiserations from friends, and adjusted the focus of my hopes towards next season.

Lining Up For The 1st Leg Playoff Semi-Final At Prenton Park (Tranmere Rovers)

Lining Up For The 1st Leg Playoff Semi-Final At Prenton Park (Tranmere Rovers)

We (and I do think of FGR as a ‘we’) nearly managed automatic promotion but we faltered near the end of this season with a 4-3 loss at Crewe Alexandra having be3-1 up.  Then, in the play-off semi-final against Tranmere Rovers, the fine margins between success and failure fell against us.  It didn’t help that we had a player sent off in both home and away legs but, in truth, we also didn’t quite play to our potential.  Now we have to wait for a team rebuild for next season and see if we can challenge for promotion again.  I’ve renewed my season ticket but am already missing the weekly routine of live football!

FGR Lining Up at Gresty Road, Crewe Alexandra

FGR Lining Up At Crewe Alexandra. We Are Getting Used To Playing At These (Relatively) Big Stadia

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) does long-suffer when it comes to my obsession with football.  But she and I did have a trip out that was rather different from the one I had been planning to Wembley.  We bought a fully electric car recently to replace one of our two existing and now aged cars – probably my rusting, but still remarkably effective, hulk of a Saab will go for scrap.  LSW had been using her new electric e-Golf for local trips to and from work but wanted to try out a longer run that would involve practicing charging at a service station.  We chose a visit to the Malvern Spring Festival and charged up successfully at the rather wonderful Gloucester Services, Farm Shop and Kitchen on the way back.

The Festival is a vast exhibition of plants, gardens, art and everything to do with gardening.  It is very popular and there were large crowds.  There is more of a focus on selling garden paraphernalia than I remember there being at the Chelsea Flower Show.  The amount of space available at the Malvern Festival is conducive to that and I enjoyed wandering around the multitude of outlets and tents even though the weather was damp and grey.

Riot of Colour In The Floral Tent At The Malvern Spring Show

Riot of Colour In The Floral Tent At The Malvern Spring Show

Both LSW and I love aspects of gardening.  I tend to focus on the vegetable patch and my allotment while LSW prefers mapping out and planting the flower beds.  However, we didn’t go to the show with any clear purchase plan and only came away with three small perennials and, for me, a £2 pot of recently germinated dill.  Given the vast quantity of stuff that was on sale, we weren’t great customers; just voyeurs!

Habit of Living Garden By Tatlow and Hathaway

Habit of Living Garden By Tatlow And Hathaway – Probably My Favourite Show Garden At Malvern

We had a very pleasant, relaxed morning despite the rather grim weather.  Some of the model gardens were very impressive and, because was the first day of the Festival, the rain hadn’t yet made the car park or walkways too muddy.

It was nice to get out of the drizzle to hear some of the speakers (including James Alexander-Sinclair, Jamie Butterworth and Jo Whiley) in the main marquee.  There, we were also treated to an eclectic fashion exhibition where the designs were based on different plant types and garden themes.  Most of the outfits were rather skimpy and I sympathised with the models and dancers who had to tolerate the cold as well as the weirdness of some of the things they were wearing.  They seemed to enjoy it as much as we did though.

Part Of The 'Floral Eccentricity' Show By Sarah Champier

Part Of The ‘Floral Eccentricity’ Show By Sarah Champier. Brrrr!

The What If Garden With More Underdressed Dancers

The What If Garden With More Underdressed Dancers

Fortunately the weather improved after the Malvern excursion.  That gave LSW and I the first opportunities since Easter to sit out in the garden, have a relaxing glass of wine or two, and to survey our past gardening efforts.  We have gradually got increasing control of the small meadow-cum-orchard that adjoins the main garden.  We moved a bench up to the top of it last year.  From there we have a sunny view and can see the gradually increasing diversity of the meadow.

View From The Bench Near The Top Of Our Meadow

View From The Bench Near The Top Of Our Meadow

Common Blue And Little Copper Butterflies

Common Blue And Little Copper Butterflies In Our Meadow. A Very Pleasing Addition to Fauna There

I think we will spend more time there in summer evenings this year while planning further garden evolution and pondering the possibility of Wembley next football season.