Spring Or April Fool

One of the toughest things about coming back from South Africa has been readjusting to the English weather (‘you poor things’ I hear you cry!).  Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were lucky to miss the cold and snow of the ‘Beast from the East’ just as we left.  However, we returned in time for the mini version of that icy blast and, for the last week or so, have struggled to avoid the rain.

Stratford Park

Stratford Park, Stroud in Early Spring Snow

But today, April Fools Day, is sunny and bright!  Is Spring here at last or is this nature’s April Fool prank?

There are many signs of spring.  The sheep are back in the field opposite our house and their lambs will soon arrive, tree buds are becoming full and starting to open, the daffodils that survived the weight of the snow last month are out, and the birds are singing more enthusiastically.  As we move into April I am hoping that the rain will relent, there will be a sustained return to warmth and that this morning’s brightness is no false promise.

Since our return from South Africa, LSW and I have been planning our next trips abroad – to Paris and Porto in the summer – and getting back into familiar routines.  LSW is re-starting her part time garden guide job and resuming her slot in the village shop.  I have been walking, reading, catching up on the TV we missed while we were away, supporting Forest Green Rovers Football Club’s struggle to avoid relegation, and (seemingly interminably) painting the TV room woodwork a dark blue.  Both before and after our South Africa trip, I have been getting up a bit earlier and walking into Nailsworth before, rather than after, breakfast.  That has created space in the routine to do painting in the mornings as well as some afternoons.  Progress in the TV room has quickened a bit – though not enough for LSW’s liking – and one end is now done (provided no-one looks too closely).

TV Room Woodwork Painting

TV Room Woodwork Painting – About A Third Done And Proud Of It!

Both of us have also started digging in the garden and setting out seed trays but this has been rather tentative given the rain and sodden ground.  LSW is excited by a new walled garden she has had designed and built to replace part of our previous car park area.  Now she is in the process of inserting the first wave of plants.  I am trying to populate our small field with a greater variety of meadow flowers – another long term project I suspect.

The drift back into a routine has been punctuated by a few highlights.  On the evening of our return to England LSW and I attended a local event at which George Monbiot, a political and environmental activist, spoke about his latest ideas and book.  It was a very well structured and inspiring talk that was full of optimism in the face of what George, and many of us, see as clear political and social dangers.  The main message is that we need to defeat the neo-liberalism that dominates today with a new narrative that expounds the value of community, the household and what he calls ‘the commons’ which I understood to be assets owned and managed in common by communities.  A lot of this dovetails into thinking around the post-work society that may flow from robotics and other technical developments that eliminate jobs; this is a fascinating area.

Later in the week, LSW and I were both moved more than expected by the Italian, Oscar-winning film Call Me By My Name.  It is a gently-paced story of young (homosexual) love with some great acting, excellent music and a direct and important message about parenting.  The film was shown at our usually tedious cinema multiplex as part of a promising programme of one off showings of films beyond the normal diet of kids’ movies and action blockbusters; more please!

Then, just before Easter, we ventured out on a rainy trip to Wiltshire and Somerset to visit the Messums Gallery near Tisbury and the Hauser & Wirth outlet and gallery near Bruton.  The buildings were more interesting than most of the art but there were some startling pieces and we had a lovely lunch at Hauser & Wirth.  Certainly, it was better being out and about in the wet pre-Spring weather than staring at the rain from our back door.

Messums Wiltshire Gallery

Messums Wiltshire Gallery: Light Installation, Art Space and ‘Nomad Patterns’ by Livia Marin

Spring: no more delay please. Let today be a turning point and hurry up and arrive properly!

The Little Karoo

The final leg of our tour of the South African Cape was a drive along the coastal Garden Route and across the Little Karoo, a 300-kilometre-long valley formed by two parallel mountain ranges, the Swartberg to the north, and the Langeberg and Outeniqua ranges to the south. From the Schotia game reserve we drove to Plettenberg Bay and stayed for a couple of nights. We then drove inland via Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, Swellendam, Bonnievale and, finally, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch in the winelands.

The scenery throughout the trip was sensational. Plettenberg Bay and nearby Knysna were touristy and Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) food poisoning, and my dodgy knee, prevented us from getting far off the beaten track. But the views of the gorges down to the sea along the coast road to Plettenberg Bay were dramatic, we saw dolphins in the bay, and the beach we overlooked from our hotel was clean, impressive and almost empty.

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Overlooking Plettenberg Bay

As we headed west via another gorgeous beach at Sedgefield and then inland, we stopped off at George to visit a ceramics shop called Wonki Ware. This is a brand that LSW has admired for a long time. Visiting the small factory, and seeing the hand crafting of the wonkiness of the pots, plates and cups, made a lovely connection to the Wonki Ware products we have acquired over the years. Inevitably, we came away with a couple more items.

The Wonky Ware Factory And Shop

The Wonki Ware Factory And Shop in George

Oudtshoorn is in the heart of ostrich farming country so we saw plenty of those. The highlight of the local area, though, was the Cango caves complex. We restricted ourselves to the standard tour rather than the longer ‘adventure tour’ which sounded scarily physically demanding. Nonetheless, we were astounded by the caves. The vast cave structure and its stalagmites, stalactites, pillars and limestone flow-forms, plus the bats, were wonderfully presented by a guide who clearly loved them all.

Cango Caves

The Cango Caves (Sorry About The Lack Of Indication Of Scale – They Were Huge)

From the caves we took an indirect route west through the Groenfontein Valley to Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Barrydale. Much of the route was on decent dirt tracks. The slow pace they enforced was ideal for taking in the wonderful mountain and desert landscape. The mountains had such a grand scale and variety. Some were bare rock, while some were covered with fragrant Fynbos vegetation and others, nearer the winelands, with grass. Some were grey and others were orange or red. Some were rounded but most were craggy and imposing. This drive, and the similar one using even more obscure dirt tracks the following day between Swellendam and Franschhoek, was a holiday highpoint.

We stopped in the middle of nowhere at Ronnie’s Sex Shop for (just) some chips.  (His mates apparently added the middle word, it stuck, the bar became adorned with old fashioned bras and tough looking bikers and the shop has become a tourist attraction).

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Ronnies Sex Shop In The Middle Of Nowhere

Our boutique accommodation in Swellendam was secluded and encapsulated the Dutch heritage that dominates much of the style of the up-market architecture. Our rooms in Swellendam provided LSW’s ‘ooh here’s a bath’ moment (akin to that she had had in Trentham during our Australia trip) and, since Swellendam was not under drought constraints, she loved using it. As usual the food was excellent. However, LSW’s continuing stomach issues prevented her from partaking and, in a rather poor attempt to show solidarity, I ate in our room not the restaurant. I’m not sure that the resultant aromas in our room helped her much.

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Our Swellendam Hotel: Old Dutch Architecture At De Kloof

It was only on our last day, on our route to the airport that LSW was able to have a full lunch. This was at one of the innumerable wineries (Chef’s Warehouse at Maison) in and around Franschhoek. Lunch was really special and memorable – not only for the quality and value of the service, food and wine (and the inevitable mountain backdrop) but also since it marked LSW’s long awaited recovery. I’m no wine connoisseur but the wine tasted terrific and we ended up buying a souvenir crate of it which will arrive at our house in a couple of weeks as a reminder of a wonderful holiday and final lunch.

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Chef’s Warehouse At Maison (Lovely)

The drought is a big challenge in the west of the Cape. We saw a lot of empty reservoirs as we approached Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Certainly  the part of South Africa we visited was marvellous and the weather was perfect throughout – very different from the cold and snow we just missed back in the UK as we left and the snow again this weekend. The physical geography is awesome – both the coast, especially south of Cape Town, and the mountains – but easy to get to. The wildlife – the bird song, the vegetation as well as the well-advertised game animals – was delightful; where else does one see road signs warning drivers to not feed the baboons, to look out for crossing tortoises or to avoid penguins in the roadway? The Dutch and French influence on architecture and the excellent food and wine (at 50% the cost of London) was a pleasure too.

 

The drought is a big challenge in the west of the Cape. We saw a lot of empty reservoirs as we approached Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Drought in West Cape

Evidence OF The West Cape Drought – An Empty Reservoir

Clearly too, security is an underlying issue. During the day almost everyone was smiling and friendly but we were constantly warned not to walk out at night and never to leave anything in our car. Inequality and the racial divide are also obvious. All the towns – except Franschhoek a Huguenot heritage town which seemed uniformly wealthy, stylish and classy – had precarious shanties as well as the gated estates and the contrasts were stark. Almost all the restaurants had clientele that were 95% white and staff that were 95% non-white. By the end of the holiday we were starting to feel a little uncomfortable with that and the way some clientele seemed to treat those who served them.

It will be interesting to see if things have changed by the time our plans to visit South Africa again in a few years’ time come to fruition. Meanwhile, I’m glad to be able to process the wonderful memories of our trip without the pressure of any work and to start thinking about our next excursion.

Small Reserve, Big Game

After a trip around the largely excellent South Africa National Gallery, a wonderful lunch at Constantia Glen (a wine estate just outside Cape Town), and a welcome rest for my gammy knee before packing, we set off on the next leg of our southern South African trip. This was a short hop east by plane to Port Elizabeth to visit a game reserve north of that industrial city.

The trip was made more stressful than planned by a more than three hour delay to the one hour flight – thereby putting our game reserve tour in jeopardy – and an awareness that Long Suffering Wife (LSW) was indeed suffering from a steadily worsening bout of food poisoning.

We made it to the game reserve in time. However, as the tour was about to set off, LSW realised that the prospect of jiggling about in the back of a jeep for several hours with no access to secure conveniences (there were lions about!) would not be compatible with her worsening condition. As she was ushered off to our overnight accommodation for rest and recuperation, I went off with four others and our guide to see the wildlife.

I’ve not been to a zoo since our sons were small and have never been to a wildlife park before, so I was unsure what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised.

The reserve – the Schotia Private Game Reserve – was relatively small but there was enough cross-country bumping around in a big jeep to make it feel as though we were on a wild adventure and that there was a risk we might not see the important wildlife. In fact, the afternoon, night and then morning tour – which fortunately LSW was well enough to make – delivered a close up view of all of the animals I expected to see, and more. Communication between the guides was effective in getting us to the right places at the right times but the tour didn’t feel formulaic.

We saw lions, monkeys, wildebeest, a porcupine, giraffes, elephants, hippos, water buffalo, wart hogs, zebra, rhinoceros, a wide variety of antelope, eagles and other native birds, huge termite hills and massive dung beetles. All could all be seen at surprisingly close range although my inexperience with binoculars and the limitations of the iPhone camera was a poor comparison to my fellow travellers’ cameras. The termite I was encourage to eat tasted of basil – there’s a first (and probably last) time for everything I guess.

Schotia's Lions

Schotia Private Game Reserve’s Lions – Replete And Slow Moving After Apparently Catching A Zebra The Previous Day

Schotia's Rhinoceroses

Schotia’s Rather Grumpy Rhinoceroses

The half-hearted charge of a grumpy rhino on one of the other vehicles underlined the truly wild state of the animals. So too did the distended stomachs of the lions who had apparently killed a zebra on our first day and had hidden in bushes to eat it. They were too fat and lazy to move much when we got to them on the night trip and then the following morning.

 

The braai (South African barbeque) dinner in a traditional style reed-roofed building with open fires and a bottomless bar was generous and I didn’t hold back given I was eating for two in LSW’s absence. Over dinner, our guide shared some of his interesting history as an Afrikaner soldier and dispossessed farmer and his route to becoming a game reserve guide. His views on religion, abortion, and one or two other topics didn’t square with mine but it was fascinating to hear his personal story and his mix of hope and concern for his country. The interlude was also an opportunity to get ideas from my well-travelled fellow jeep occupants (from Germany and Canada) for future overseas trips.

The 20 hours at Schotia was an excellent introduction to what I might have experienced on a larger reserve where more time would have been required and the animals, while greater in number, might have been further away. Maybe we will try the much larger scale of Kruger or Hluhluwe Umfolofi next time (with a better camera) but I doubt we will get better value for money than we did at Schotia.

 

Various Items From The Most Interesting Part Of The South Africa National Gallery Exhibitions In Cape Town – Old And New Textiles And Beadwork

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One Of Several Works By El Anatsui Exhibited In The South Africa National Gallery And Made From Bottle Caps And Seals Sown Together Into Drapes

 

Cape Town With A Limp

We are nearing the half way mark in our trip to the South African Cape. We have been based in a well-appointed, spacious house in a pretty and central part of Cape Town (Bo Kaap). It has incredible views of the iconic Table Mountain and an enchanting wake up call from the local muezzin. The house is owned by a friend I have known since university and who was my Best Man. He loves South Africa and I’m not surprised; from what we have seen already, its amazing.

View From Our Breakfast And Evening Drinks Terrace At The House

View From The Breakfast And Evening Drinks Terrace At The House

We have been blessed with wonderful weather; few clouds in the mornings and sunny and very breezy in the afternoons. That has been great for us but less good for the local population who are experiencing an unprecedented drought. Water rationing is in place – so our morning showers have been short and bracing – but rationing could get a lot more stringent by April if there is no rain. The rationing has certainly got Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I thinking about resource waste in general. It has been a surprise that recycling here is negligible after the strictures of our local Council in the U.K.

With the weather no impediment, we have got a lot ‘done’. This despite a problem with one of my knees ‘blowing up’ (cartilage tear? gout?). It’s improving and LSW has been very patient with my slow limp and the need to do the driving (I confess, as usual). It’s another reminder of why I retired when I did; before these sorts of issues become routine.

Early on we walked around the smartened-up dock area and later went to an old grain store imaginatively converted into a modern art gallery by Thomas Heatherwick. For me, the building was more interesting than 95% of the art but it is an impressive achievement, showcasing African artists.

The Zeitz Mocaa Modern Art Gallery: A Startling Building Interior

Cape Town is not as walkable as Brisbane or Melbourne where we went last year. Downtown is dominated by the car and we do feel more nervous about personal security – though in practice everyone has been very friendly. So, since that first day, we have mainly been out and around Cape Town by car, taxi and Uber, experiencing the panoramas and excellent food and wine on offer.

Long Street, Company Gardens And Typical Bo Kaap Houses; All Close To Where We Are Staying

The food is right up our street; tasty, locally sourced, healthy and light. The prawn dish I had in a hip restaurant in an old biscuit factory in Woodstock was the best prawn dish I can remember.

The wineries just outside the city are wonderful estates showing off their wares and their scenery and some provide tremendous culinary experiences. Babylonstoren was super and we are returning to Constantia Glen for a meal overlooking the vineyards, and the usual awesome mountain backdrop, for our last day in Cape Town.

Babylonstoren: A More Natural And Integrated Version Of Our Cotswolds Daylesford With Great Wines Produced On-site. Fabulous

The views from Table Mountain and, further afield, Cape Point were jaw dropping. More unexpected was the incredible drive down the coast past Chapmans Peak. The beaches were amazing as usual but the engineering to create the road itself was spectacular.

One Of Many Wonderful Views From Table Mountain

Cape Point: Across False Bay, Dias Beach And The Local Baboons

The ’12 Apostles’ From Chapmans Peak Drive. Worthy Competitors Versus The ’12 Apostles’ (Sea Stacks) We Saw In Australia Last Year

The Aptly Named Long Beach (From Chapmans Peak Drive)

Oh my, I have written enough but still haven’t mentioned the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the wild life and a number of other observations (for example, the welcome scarcity of dogs and insects other than butterflies and a few bees). I’m glad we went to the superbly laid out and informative Kirstenbosch gardens early in our trip. That equipped us with a bit of knowledge that was useful in our subsequent outings.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Note The Schoolkids Loving Their Day There; A Joy To Watch

And we have seen lots of wild penguins, an eagle owl, a tortoise and dassies (guinea pig relations) close up. The penguins are such a sweet laugh when on land!

African Penguin, Indifferent Dassie and Untroubled Tortoise

Hopefully more wildlife, dramatic coast and mountains next week as I perfect my limp.

Evening View Of Table Mountain From Our House

Busy With Peak Beard

It’s been a pretty packed couple of weeks at and around home, and then in London. Last week’s visit to London was triggered by the opportunity to catch up with a Madagascan friend who was once a marvellous au pair for us when our kids were small. She is now living in the US but was visiting London with her husband. We had a lovely lunch at some very hospitable mutual friends. We then visited Kew Gardens with particular attention to the Orchid Festival.

When we lived in Kew, I treated Kew Gardens almost as an alternate back garden and visited them at least once a week, dragging one or more sons with me. The gardens have been developed in a number of interesting ways in the intervening 20 years but retain their beauty, neatness and scale. I shall plan a longer and more comprehensive visit later in the year when there is more colour and warmth outside the unique greenhouses.

Kew Gardens Orchids

A Small Sample Of Orchids From The Exhibition in Kew Gardens

That excursion was followed by dinner and an overnight stay at the house of some other long-standing friends in Chiswick. It has been a while since I have attended a London dinner party. After the last few months of early nights of rural entertainment, it was a shock to find myself drinking, eating and still deep in conversation at 2am. Given that interesting gins and tasty wines had been opened before 7pm, it was a wonder we got back to Gloucestershire in time for me to attend the next critical game in Forest Green Rovers’ attempt to stave off relegation.

Previous to all of this conviviality with Long Suffering Wife (LSW), I had ventured up to London to do a few things alone (while LSW fulfilled her book club commitment). As before, I stayed with eldest Son (ES) in my old Barbican flat; what an excellent arrangement this is turning out to be. After dinner with him I had breakfast with Middle Son (MS) and so was able to report back to LSW on their well-being and current hopes, fears and habits.

I also fitted in the Museum of London’s Fatberg exhibition – a fascinating and very topical 30 minutes of facts and societal concern – and a visit to the Charles I King and Collector exhibition at the Royal Academy.

The Museum of London Fatberg

The Museum of London Fatberg (A Foot Long Segment of the Biggest Fatberg Ever Found And More Interesting Than It Looks Here).

The Charles 1 exhibition was huge and impressive. The way the collection came together during Charles I’s reign, was dispersed after his head was cut off by Cromwell and then partially reassembled (and further reassembled for this exhibition) was fascinating. It also provided an opportunity to observe some interesting beard and moustache styles from the 17th century that I am tempted to reproduce with my own burgeoning facial hair.

Charles I and His LSW

Charles I With Peak Beard And His LSW

Of my New Year resolutions, perhaps that to grow a beard has been the one in which I have made most progress so far. Unsurprisingly, LSW has already vetoed the Charles 1 style handlebar moustache and, just today, she has started to make noises about the bushiness starting to exceed her tastes. The scissors are ready so peak beard is about to pass.

Peak Beard?

Peak Beard? Nearly Two Months’ Growth But Ready For A Trim?

Other events in London included one of the longest lunch (and related drinks) sessions I have had for a while. This was with another retiree with about 18 months more experience than I. It was fun talking about mutual ex-colleagues, the more frequent and extended holidays now possible without the constraints of work, and the possibilities of using some of the extra discretionary time we now have to play the credit card promotional offer ‘game’. Given the benefits, I need to try that by applying for, using and then discarding new credit cards; after all, I have the time to do so.

I also saw two films: The Shape of Water (a beautifully shot but simple love story) and Lady Bird (fine and very well acted but probably most cogent to a mother or a daughter). I had one other late night visiting a pop up art exhibition called PoptArt Gallery run by one of Youngest Son’s (YS) ex-college friends. These pop ups have been running for a couple of years and have become progressively more sophisticated. This occurrence was in a stylish private club. The art was as interesting as ever but the main attraction was to catch up with the organiser and to meet her friends, some of whom know YS.

London Graffiti

Noticed During My Walks Through London This Week: An Example of London’s Wonderful Graffiti (This By Bambi)

After all that rushing about in London, it would be very satisfactory to settle back into impending Spring in Gloucestershire (and do more decorating of the TV room of course!). Not much time for that though…. we are off to Cape Town next week. Exciting times……

February Ups and Downs

Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have decided February is the month to avoid in the UK. There are just too many dismal weather days in February. We will escape to Cape Town’s drought at the end of February but will plan next year’s holiday abroad to be a bit earlier.

Actually, this week, the weather has been very variable rather than poor. We have had clear blue skies and relentlessly grey drizzle on almost alternate days throughout the last week. LSW and I even managed to get a pretty massive bonfire going to clear a load of long standing bramble piles, broken pallets and old fence posts.

Bonfire

Bonfire As An Art Work? No, Just A Task On The List Done

Like the weather, my week has also been rather up and down.

The lowest point was travelling to Newport in Wales for a Forest Green Rovers game. It was postponed about 15 minutes after I arrived due to a waterlogged pitch (or the fact that Newport were tired after their FA Cup tie in midweek against Tottenham Hotspur depending on one’s level of scepticism). What a waste of time and money!

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Newport In The Rain On The Way To A Cancelled Match. Grim!

The week had started well with a visit to my parents in Nottingham. I travel up to see them too infrequently but, now I have retired, I have no excuse.   I will take the rusting old Saab up to them more often in the future. The journey up and back wasn’t without its delays but it’s a relatively easy trip. I drive very little – much to LSW’s annoyance – and I had forgotten how good it is to have the stereo and my favourite CDs in the car; it’s a real music cocoon and, in it, no-one cares about the volume except me.

It was good to see my parents. They are in their mid-eighties but continue to live independently and well. Despite my Mum’s troublesome back and a recently replaced knee, they are still mobile and going to occasional films and concerts.

Mum and Dad

Mum and Dad At Home

They took me to a local gastro-pub that was a cut above the average. One of the things we chatted about was retirement and my Dad’s experience of going through that about 20 years ago. He thought the lessons I felt I had learnt that I described in this blog in December were fair. Like me, he didn’t miss work after retirement. However, he now works very part time in a charity shop and that is something I might consider at some point.

The only wrinkle arising from the evening in a pub was that I was tempted to drink on what I had planned to be a non-alcohol day and to help my Mum out with her (very tasty) venison main course. This early in the year, I think I can spare a bit of slippage against my New Year resolutions regarding drink and weight. Anyway, it’s not every week that I’ll be enjoying my parents company. It was a very good evening.

I slept in my sister’s old bedroom. Like much of the rest of the upstairs, it contains a lot of books. My Dad is gradually reducing the number but I sense that working in a charity bookshop is not helping with the reduction process; he likes books! De-cluttering is not a focus for my parents and it was nice to see lots of things that I remember from my childhood.

Fred Bear

Fred: Not My First Teddy Bear But My Biggest

Back at home, LSW maintains a pretty tight, minimalist ship. I brought back a few old board games with some trepidation of her reaction to having more ‘stuff’. I stashed them out of the way in the top floor cupboards but have promised to do a cull of old toys to compensate.

After my return from Nottingham, LSW and I visited Ledbury in Herefordshire with her Mum. It was one of those grey February days but pleasant enough; we’ll return later in the year. Most interesting was a brief sojourn in an unprepossessing pub while I was waiting for LSW and Mother-in-Laws’ shopping to conclude. The pub just had an unsmiling barman, someone determinedly playing the slot machine, a few near-silent individuals standing at the bar and another, like me, sitting at tables at the sides. The pub was ominously silent for long periods but conversations would occasionally break out that were dominated by references to fights and ‘trouble’; it was a glimpse into a different world…..

Ledbury

Ledbury Church Street

I can sense LSW getting impatient with the lack of TV room decoration progress – I need to make the most of the unappealing February weather by getting on with that in this coming week. I have no excuse there either.

Catching Up With London

The effects of my retirement last year are not only about me. Long Suffering Wife (LSW) had to be in agreement that my retirement was a good idea since it was clear that there would be a significant impact on her too. That has proved to be the case since I stopped work and moved back to the family home from my 5-day-a-week flat in London. She no longer has large tracts of the day to herself and the house that she controls so well now has an additional presence (/interloper?). It was therefore somewhat of a relief for LSW when, for the first time in 7 months of retirement, I headed back to London for a few days last week and gave her a bit of space and time alone.

I know that she enjoyed that. I also had a very good time.

Replica of the London Olympic Flame Mechanism

Replica Of The London Olympic Flame Mechanism At The Museum Of London

I visited the Museum of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Temple of Mithras under the new Bloomberg building. I also took in an occurrence of The Lantern Society (one of the best folk clubs in London and one I had frequented regularly until last July) and spent a couple of hours in the Rough Trade East record shop listening to new music. That was all fitted in around a few catch ups with Middle Son (MS) and some old friends. It was also good to go out for dinner with Eldest Son (ES) who put me up in our Barbican flat. It was an active few days.

Tudor Portraits At The National Portrait Gallery

Tudor Portraits At The National Portrait Gallery (Katherine Parr, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Henry VII). Wonderful Vibrant Colours Still

The cultural highlight was the Opera exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s a history of opera told through focus on seven operas as they premiered in seven cities including Venice, London, Paris, Dresden and Leningrad. The exhibition shows how each opera was influenced by the events and politics of the time and, in turn, ignited passions in the cities in which they were performed. The magic was in the immersive experience generated by the wearing of headphones that responded to where one stood physically in the exhibition. They played the operas (also shown in videos) but also provided spoken insights into them and other sound effects all of which amplified the historical context in the cities in which the operas debuted. It is a fascinating exhibition.

I also loved the Temple of Mithras which was a swish and free exhibition of a Roman temple that was discovered in the Second World War and is now re-positioned in its original location under the new buildings in Walbrook. A lot of money has been thrown at the display and it’s well worth booking up a visit.

Temple Of Mithras

Temple of Mithras, Walbrook

After all that walking and cultural input, it was important to eat and drink well and I did! The ineptly named Flavour Bastard restaurant provided a very tasty lunch. It was near empty but that meant there was no rush as I caught up with an ex-Accenture colleague made redundant from Accenture with myself in around 2009. The canapes at the Accenture Alumni event I briefly attended were small and tricky to eat but dinner at Flat Iron with ES was more straightforward.

I also had a good evening of beer and curry with two other work ex-colleagues from a project way back in 1977. We have differing views on Brexit but otherwise set the world to rights and discussed the benefits of retirement. One retired 5 years ago, the other has yet to sample the delights.

Mark and Mike

Old Mates Contemplating Retirement, Grandfatherhood, Beer And Where The Next Curry Will Be

We agreed that what primarily keeps, or kept, us at work were the qualities of people we work(ed) with. In my case the impact of that aspect of retirement was diminished by the fact that, in the later years of my career, most of the people I interacted with were overseas. Therefore interactions were rarely face to face and were, correspondingly, of relatively limited depth. That reduced the sense of loss when I retired.

I think we also concluded that a clean break from work is probably the best option – one can always resume some form of work later if work-less retirement doesn’t provide all one needs. Finishing work abruptly on a stress high may not be healthy but, in my case, the intensity of work had already decreased as I moved into the final work years. So, again, the impact of stopping work was not as great for me as it may be for some.

More of an impact for me was the sudden move out of London. However, that also has been ameliorated by the fact that I can still have weeks like last week when I can visit and stay in my old flat on the sofa bed.

I’m looking forward to my next visit already.

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Music At The Lovely Lantern Society Folk Club

Fixing A Pain In The Neck

Since my last post, Storm Fionn and then a series of grey, wet days have forced the early signs of Spring into something of a retreat. The frozen lake I passed during one of my daily walks last week was a beautiful criss-cross of ice patterns indicating that Winter is not done yet.

Lake at John Cocks Cottage

Frozen Lake at John Cocks Cottage, Horsley

On the other hand, I saw ducklings on a larger lake a few days later – surely too early! Climate Change or Climate Disruption – whatever we want to call it – is creating some strange and unexpected juxtapositions. The ducks are as good an indicator as any that, for all the brief periods of the extremes of wind, ice and snow recently, we have just experienced one of the warmest years ever.

I’m still struggling a bit with a stiff back and neck (which wasn’t helped by my comical looking fall in the ice a few weeks ago). I have decided to try some new treatment.

Years ago I received treatment from a Physiotherapist for a locked up back and still do the exercises recommended by her (admittedly, rather intermittently). Then, when we were in Australia last Autumn, Youngest Son’s girlfriend – a trained Osteopath – gave me a thorough and very professional osteopathy session. While she demonstrated considerable bravery in offering the session, I showed cowardice at the other end of the scale by eschewing the more drastic manipulations she recommended. Nonetheless, there was some welcome improvement in my movement.

I have therefore sought out some similar treatment locally. Despite the rural nature of where we live, there are a surprisingly wide range of options and number of places to try; health is, of course, a boom industry in an ageing population. I ended up opting for a well-being centre and practitioner that I can walk to and who was recommended by a friend.

It turned out that the specialist is a Chiropractor. I’ve not had one of those before. As I related my medical history, he described the treatments offered by Physiotherapists somewhat disparagingly – there seems to be little love lost between the various physical therapy disciplines – and explained how his treatment would be different from that Osteopaths provide.

I’ve only had two sessions so far so the jury is out on the degree of success the treatment is having. A back and neck problem I have had off and on for months is hardly going to be sorted out in a week. However, I’m sceptical so far.

The type of chiropractic therapy I am undergoing is a ‘brand’ called McTimoney. Its very gentle and largely involves little slaps, flicks, rubs and pokes that are designed to invoke natural body reflexes in a way that realigns things that have got out of sync. That it doesn’t involve much big clicking or crunching of bones and ligaments is good for a coward like me but I wonder if I’m going to see much improvement without more drastic action.

The other concern is that both the previous sessions physiotherapy and osteopathic treatment I’ve had concluded with me getting exercises to do that helped me feel more in control. My new Chiropractor has yet to offer that. It’s not that I want more exercises to do – I don’t do the ones I have already been given regularly enough to justify getting hold of more – but knowing I should do them puts the onus on me rather than simply trying to outsource the problem.

I have a couple of sessions booked so will wait and see……. at least, now I’m retired, I can have the sessions without the hassle of having to book time out of the office or around meetings.

Prelude to Spring

One of the enjoyable things about retirement and, consequently, being able to spend to spend far more time out and about in the country, is that I’m noticing the seasons to much a greater extent than before. In the last couple of weeks I have noticed that the late afternoons are starting to get a little brighter (though the mornings seem as dark as they did when Winter set in). I’m not sure I would have noticed this quiet change sitting under the neon in a London office.

The daily walks to Nailsworth are already revealing the first hints that Spring is not too far off. Small birds are singing a little more vigorously. A pair of little egrets has arrived near the lake I walk past. Long Suffering Wife (LSW) has seen dippers and I have seen a yellow hammer. The kingfishers seem more visible and active. Snowdrops are starting to appear in clumps and the local supermarket has started to stock bunches of daffodils – very helpful in supporting my New Year resolution to buy LSW more flowers!

Snowdrops

Spring is Coming!

There are few weeks to go before the renewal of Spring really takes hold but, now Christmas and the New Year are past, I can now envision it – and far earlier, I think, than in previous years.

LSW and I plan to short circuit the wait by having a holiday in Cape Town in late February. This idea, and a separate one to spend a few days in Portugal, is not yet fully planned but it’s nice to have the flexibility to be able to think about avoiding the last vestiges of Winter’s cold and grey.

Meanwhile LSW and I are settling back into our domestic routines – punctuated by a very active and pleasant couple of days in London. The trip was primarily to celebrate Eldest Son’s 30th birthday but also included visits to Tate Modern, the Whitechapel Gallery, a 40th floor breakfast and dinner for two in one of our favourite restaurants (Morito).

Three Pieces By Ilya Kabakov

Three Pieces By Ilya Kabakov At The Current Tate Modern Exhibition of His Work (Not Sure Why I Liked It So Much, But I Did)

Either side of the London visit, LSW has been managing transformation of our muddy car park space into a walled garden. I am trying to balance clearing the fridge and freezer of food left over from the Christmas period with the need to lose the half a stone I put on during it. I have also resumed decorating the TV room; the brush strokes have become more rhythmic since I set up some music facilities in the room but are not necessarily delivering higher quality.

We are both striving to keep up to date with several catch-up TV series, stepping up reading, trying out new venues like the rather characterful Stroud Brewery Bar and getting out to see bands (This Is The Kit were marvellous) and cinema (we can now recommend Brad’s Status starring Ben Stiller and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri in which Frances McDormand is remarkable).

This is fun and I think Spring will be better!

First Daffodils of 2018

First Daffodils of 2018 – An Easy Way to Maintain My Record of Flower Giving!

2018 Resolution Setting

Happy New Year!

Fireworks

New Year Fireworks in Bath (More Impressive Than This Photo Reflects)

How lovely it is (and how smug I feel) not to have to re-galvanise myself for work as the first working week of 2018 starts up.

Not that we didn’t have a very early start this morning. We had to take Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend to the airport for their return to Australia – a process made more stressful by YS assuming they were leaving from Heathrow when in fact we needed to get to Gatwick! Having dropped them off just in time, I am able to consider my New Year resolutions in relative tranquillity.

I am the sort of person who makes lists and so making New Year’s resolutions comes naturally to me. Of course, this does not mean I am better than most at completing them.

As with all objectives the idea is to make the resolutions for 2018 challenging but achievable (and measurable). This year I need to attune them to my new retired status. Some are continuations of the 2017 resolutions – especially those that I failed – and a few are new. So here goes:

Resolution 1: Get Below 11 Stone. This will be the third year in succession I have had this resolution. A big effort will be required but achievement of Resolutions 2 and 3 will help – I’m going to succeed this year!

Resolution 2: Average 15,000 Steps/Day. This target is up from the 13,500 2017 target and from my achieved figure for 2017 of 14,200. Achievement will depend on staying fit but the reverse is true too. This level of walking will be fun given the attractiveness of local routes, should be achievable given the planned excursions on holidays, and will be necessary if I am to achieve Resolution 1.

Resolution 3: Have 140 No-Alcohol Days. This is the level of alcohol free days I achieved in 2012 but it is a 20% uplift on 2017’s level. It will be hard to meet this objective now I’m retired even though there is no work-related drinking now. This is because of the likely increase in holiday drinking and the temptation of evening drinks with Long Suffering Wife (LSW) in front of our wood-burner in winter or in our garden in summer. I will need to be disciplined.

That gets the basic health and fitness related resolutions that are carried forward from 2017 out of the way. The others are more trivial or more oriented to specific tasks.

Resolution 4: Grow a Beard. This is like an anti-resolution in that it involves a reduction in effort. I used not to shave at weekends but retirement has meant that Saturdays and Sundays are largely the same as other days. Rather surprisingly, given that shaving is a bit if a chore, I reverted to mid-week habits and, since retirement last July, I have shaved every day. All three of our sons have beards and, at Christmas, they suggested I grow one too. Unexpectedly, that got LSW’s enthusiastic approval so I’m already on my way.

Resolution 5: Sort Our Internet Out. Recent road repair and housing development in the village, has enabled new fibre connection. I need to master how to take advantage of this to improve our Internet quality so we can watch uninterrupted catch-up TV more consistently and not suffer the abuse we get from our city-based sons about our chronically poor download/upload speeds. I hate doing this sort of thing but LSW is keen that I take on more house utility management and responsibility.

Resolution 6: Implement Better Composting. I love making and then using compost in the garden. Almost three years ago, I was given a wooden frame compost bin kit for self-construction and installation but it remains untouched. To install the bins in the right location means dismantling the current temporary arrangements, fixing the shed guttering which currently pours water into these, and digging deep holes in rocky, sloping ground. It’s a major project (for me) but this is the year to do it!

Resolution 7: Change All My Passwords. At the risk of confusing my online/mobile password use even more than now, I want to drive a systematic change to all of them. Most have been unchanged since I first set them up, often years ago. Several are written down. I need to improve my personal security by changing them and by making them less obvious; a boring but probably sensible objective.

Resolution 8: Buy LSW More Flowers. Especially now circumstances have changed and I’m a cost not a revenue, I need to work at being a worthwhile, retired husband. This resolution would be a good, if symbolic, start to that. Given my mediocre record of flower-giving last year, I’ll aim for a small improvement of at least once a month. I know that LSW would like me to do more driving rather than flower-giving so I’ll try to do both.

Flowers

Flowers for LSW. Not Much Choice In Nailsworth Shops Today – But A Start!

I could add objectives around clarifying how to spend the rest of my discretionary retirement time; for example, revisiting my attempts to learn Italian, doing political history courses, documenting local circular footpath walks, doing something constructive in the local community, and doing something creative. But that feels like too much of a hook to put myself on right now. It’s weak, I know, but I’m enjoying myself too much without these extra pressures and will think again about this in Spring.

I hope you have decided your resolutions for 2018.  Have a great year!