Retirement Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples Of Ink And Wash Drawings By Ribera

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

Stephen Coates Explaining The X-Ray Audio Project

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

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

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

The X-Ray Audio Project With A Thurston Moore Demonstration

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

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

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

Views From London Bridge

Views From London Bridge

Christmassy Cologne

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

View Of Cologne From The Kohl Triangle

View Of Cologne From The Kohl Triangle Skyscraper

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

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

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

Kolumba Museum

Kolumba Museum; Intriguing Mix Of Old And New

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

Museum Ludwig

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

Melaten-Friedhof Cemetery

Melaten-Friedhof Cemetery

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Is Coming!

Christmas Is Coming!

Two Exhibitions And More

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

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

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

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

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

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

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

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

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

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

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

I Am Beautiful by Rodin

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

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

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

London's Regent Street Christmas Lights

London’s Regent Street Christmas Lights

Autumn Gardening

The summer weather has been terrific this year and the sunshine and relative warmth has continued into the beginnings of autumn.  The sun now sets too early behind trees and the gradient of our paddock for Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I to continue our pattern of evening drinks in the new walled garden that we established earlier in the year.  However, the weather has been conducive to relaxed walks through the gently browning countryside and to steady clearing and digging over of the vegetable patch ready for winter.

Autumnal Sunset From My Vegetable Patch

Autumnal Sunset From My Vegetable Patch

Despite the dry summer, there is still plenty of beetroot and chard to harvest.  Also, I have managed to keep my leeks alive and, having transplanted them in newly dibbed holes, I find I have over a hundred to nurture and then eat through the winter months.  That’s a lot of leeks to go into soup with the sack of potatoes I dug up a couple of weeks ago!

Leeks All Over The Vegetable Patch (With Beans, Beet and Chard)

Leeks, Leeks and More Leeks All Over The Vegetable Patch (With Beans, Beet and Chard)

Once again I am reminded of the relatively slow and relaxed pace at which I can undertake gardening since my retirement.  I have always loved this time of year (and early spring) in the vegetable garden, when creating tracts of freshly dug earth is the main task.  Since retirement, I have more time to pause between bursts of digging, to rest my back and to admire the neatness of the bare earth that, following application of some manure, will be poised for next season’s planting and growth.

The past couple of weeks have been a pleasant mix of pottering around the garden, social events with family and friends, and more sightseeing in London.  My trip to London was based around an irregular but broadly quarterly get together of old male friends over a restaurant dinner (dubbed ‘The Boys Night Out’).  This is working through an alphabet of nations cum culinary styles and we were up to O for Ottoman last week.  It was cheap and cheerful and good to catch up.

I also walked for miles to and around the vastness of Hyde Park (with its tediously noisy and ever more numerous green parakeets) and visited the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum.

Views of Hyde Park

Views of Hyde Park (The Round Pond, The Princess Diana Garden And Christo’s Floating Pyramid of 7,506 Oil Drums)

The Kahlo exhibition focused on her way of life rather than her art.  The exhibition makes clear what a tour de force she must have been.  She was fiercely determined to overcome adversity (including polio, a near fatal accident, a miscarriage, leg amputation, periodic political ostracism) and she constantly underlined her strong sense of identity.  Her love life was lively and complex and her life-long partner – a muralist called Diego Rivera whom she married twice – must have been a patient man.  The exhibition is sold out so my recently instigated V&A membership (giving me free, unlimited entry) paid off.  The investment of time was very worthwhile.

Frida Kahlo Exhibition

The V&A Frida Kahlo Exhibition Including Her Prosthetic Leg With Bells On, A Hand-Painted Corset And Typical Mexican Dress

Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend stayed with us for a weekend.  It was lovely to have them and the highlight – apart from the curry and the roast dinner that ES asked LSW to make – was a visit to Gifford’s Circus.  This is an internationally famous but locally based circus that LSW has seen a few times.  It was my first visit and I really enjoyed the energy, innovation, daring and clever humour; it was a real treat in a packed, traditional circus tent.

LSW and I also had a sunny late summer day in Bath.  We were there to see Olafur Arnalds, an Icelandic multi-instrumentalist who combines electronica, piano and strings to create atmospheric, evocative music that both of us love.  The concert was a great success – great sound, good seats and LSW loved it (always important since I want to go with her to more gigs).

We made time for dinner and also a trip to the American Museum and Gardens set in beautiful countryside to the east of Bath.  The gardens are being renovated and extended and will be worth another visit in a year or two.  As ever, it seems, we were blessed by wonderful weather.

The American Museum And Gardens, Bath

The American Museum And Gardens, Bath (House, Pumpkin Garden And Lovely Views)

But autumn with its shorter days and colder, wetter weather is here.  That will bring different pleasures.

Split Panoramas

Flying Into Split, Croatia

Flying Into Split, Croatia

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to Split in Croatia last week in what proved to be a successful attempt to extend the summer vibe.  The weather was great – consistently up to 30 degrees, sunny, clear and with just light winds.  There was enough to in the vicinity of Split to occupy us for four days without exertion and with plenty of time in between sight-seeing for lolling rather sleepily in cafes and bars.  The only low point was when LSW went up to order drinks and a barman asked her if she was with the ‘old man’!

The self-contained apartment we stayed in, which ultimately I had chosen, was, to my relief, satisfactory.  LSW’s verdict was the four C’s: comfortable, clean, central but claustrophobic.  I understood the complaint about constrained space as I bashed my head of the sloping ceiling for the fourth time in as many days.

When I booked the accommodation, I liked the idea of being able to cook basic meals in the apartment but misjudged that in a number of ways.  The lack of a balcony overlooking anything of interest, the lack of basic ingredients (salt, pepper, oil etc.) in the apartment kitchen and, frankly, a lack of local markets with fresh vegetables and fruit, all meant that cooking for ourselves was more unattractive than it had been on some previous holidays.  Also, the late summer timing of our visit meant that the multitude of restaurants catering for the peak of the tourist season had plenty of space for us.  So, we ate out and we did so increasingly well as the holiday progressed.

Split itself is notable for the remains of a huge Roman palace around and among which the town has developed its core with various layers of history and architectural styles.  The palace walls, the busy, substantial harbour and the palm-lined esplanade looked particularly attractive at dusk as the sunset blossomed gently behind the headland, the city lights came on and the tourist shop gore became less distinct.

Split At Night: Houses and Palace Walls Draped With Washing

Split At Night: Houses And Palace Walls Draped With Washing

Split has a couple of recently renovated, spacious – and almost deserted – art galleries.  The artists were unfamiliar to me but the Gallery of Fine Arts provided an interesting hour while LSW went shopping.  The permanent exhibition of Croatian art was in strict chronological order from medieval gold leaf triptychs up to the modern day.  What became apparent was that for about a century until about 1930, the majority of top artists represented used very dark palettes, followed gloomy themes and produced rather unforgiving portraits.  There were several brighter, later pieces but I have never seen a collection of such melancholic work.

On the streets, tourists like us were still out in force despite the end of the school holidays.  The narrow streets of Split and Trogir were packed from mid-morning especially with what I called ‘arranged walking group clog’.  However, it was always easy to avoid the crowds by making an early start to our wanderings and by straying off the main drags.  In any case, as LSW said at the time, the advantage of being in such a tourist area is that the logistics are geared up for numbers and all our plans and logistics worked out comfortably with few queues.

We extended our exploits by bus and ferry to nearby towns and islands of Trogir, Supetar and Hvar.

Supetar was little more than a transit point for people travelling to other parts of the island of Brac, but all three had an attractive medieval core.  These were filled with limestone churches and houses glowing in the sun.  In each town, there was both detail (like iron work) to admire and wonderfully wide sea views.  Hvar, in particular, was very picturesque (and most clearly wealthy with its big, shiny yachts).  Its splendid castle looked imposing high above the town, the walk up to it was a lovely diversion through cicada-laden pine trees, and it provided great views from its walls.

Hvar

Hvar Main Square And Cathedral

At each new location, LSW became increasingly proficient with the panorama function on her phone – often from the tops of cathedral bell towers that were open in a way that Health and Safety would have rendered impossible in the UK.  As I sat in bars sipping the dark beer and sinking into the sofas, I tried to cull the myriad of photos I taken and replaced several of mine with better efforts from LSW.  A few examples are below.

Panoramic View of Supetar

Panoramic View of Supetar

Panoramic View of Hvar

Panoramic View of Hvar From The Castle

Panoramic View of Split

Panoramic View of Split From The Roman, Diocletian Palace Walls

Now we are back (so nice not to be coming back to work!), and we are starting to plan our next trip – probably a visit to a north European Christmas Market.  There are a lot of options….. any advice is welcome.

Finished At Last!

Those of you following this blog for a while will know that I have been painting the woodwork in our ‘TV Room’ – new shutters, skirting and panelling and the old doors – for the last 8 months.  This week, I finally finished!

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) remains astonished at how long I have taken over this but at least she hasn’t changed her mind about the dark blue colour during the protracted execution and she likes the result.  The parts I did towards the end of the exercise are better than the early efforts but it looks alright if you don’t look too closely.  We now have to paint the walls.  LSW is planning to impress me up by doing those in a matter of a few days.  Maybe hiring a professional is a better idea; we’ll see.

Of course, the primary reason why it took so long to complete this apparently simple painting task, apart from my inexperience, was my reluctance to devote more than 1-2 hours a day to the (admittedly intermittent) work.  Although I’m still a bit frustrated by the patchiness of the end product, I did enjoy the work overall.  I especially liked that I could paint to the rhythm of some of my CDs.  I’ve always wanted a job where I could listen to my favourite music at the same time as working, and retirement has enabled that!

Now I have finished, I have to find a productive way of utilising the hours per week that are freed up.  No problem; there are plenty of competing options and in any case there are lots of events already in the diary over the next couple months.

For example, the football season has re-started.  I plan to attend several Forest Green Rovers (FGR) games, both home and away, in the next few months.  While I attended the Cambridge Folk Festival, which I talked about in my last blog post, FGR enhanced my enjoyment by winning their first game.  Somehow, the music seemed to sound a lot better once I knew FGR had secured three points!

Since then I have seen three games and we remain unbeaten; a very promising start.  I especially enjoyed our win at Swindon who have become local rivals as we have risen and they have fallen (they were in the Premier League just 25 years ago).  I enjoyed joining in on the mischievous chants: ‘Premier League to village team/Forest Green’ and ‘Your ground’s too big for you’; it is, as the picture below shows.

Swindon Football Club

Swindon’s Empty Don Rogers Stand During Warm Up Versus FGR – How The Mighty Have Fallen

Between the football commitments, LSWs work and the rush to complete the TV Room paintwork (so I could show it off to weekend visitors from London and then my parents when they visited us), LSW and I have resumed our ‘days out’.

We really enjoyed a trip to East Somerset.  We went primarily to see the Alexander Calder exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in Somerset.  This was notable for containing a large number of personal, functional items designed and made by Calder alongside a splendid sample of his sculpture and mobiles.  It was an excellent exhibition and a visit to Hauser & Wirth, including the adjoining garden, is always a treat.

Piet Oudolf Gardens At Hauser & Wirth

Piet Oudolf Gardens At Hauser & Wirth

Following a very good lunch at the light and airy Chapel in Bruton, the sun came out and we paid an impromptu visit to Iford Manor Garden.  This was a rather unexpected joy. It was an intimate, Italianate garden full of 100 year old mock-Italian buildings adorned with original, imported Italian sculpture and friezes.  It adjoined an archetypally English river scene and old, golden manor buildings, and looked wonderful in the sun.

Iford Manor And Gardens

Iford Manor And Gardens

More day trips like this – as well as longer excursions once LSW’s work is on pause – are being planned to fill my retirement itinerary.

 

Getting Hot In London

The highlight last week, in most ways, was a trip to London. However, the timing turned out to be awkward given the extreme temperatures.  It was baking on the London streets, even warmer on the tube and there were fewer places to hide from the heat than I can find at home in the country.

It was great to see and catch up with Eldest and Middle Son over dinner.  We drank and ate well at Bar Duoro in Southwark in a reprise of the feel of my time in Porto the previous week.

The other main reason for my trip was to visit, for my first time, the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

This year the Exhibition has been curated primarily by Grayson Perry. I was keen to see his stamp on the event having read a book by him – The Descent of Man – last year.  It was an unusual book about masculinity, its origins, its role in society and its possible future.  It provided some insights into his own childhood and emotional development and so I was keen to see how this was manifest in the Summer Exhibition.

Extravagance And Colour At The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Even the rooms not curated by Grayson had his imprint and he co-ordinated the Exhibition into a rather crazy and exuberant whole.  As usual (as I understand it), the Exhibition comprised a huge number of works (about 1,350 this time, varying in price from £100 to more than £100,000 and 95% sold already) which, in many of the rooms, were crammed into the space available so that it was almost impossible to focus on any one work.  The overall impression was one of irreverence, humour, colour and fun.

Works By Phylida Barlow (lost In Thought) And Debbie Lawson (Red Bear) In The Summer Exhibition

There were undercurrents of left wing politics, social justice and anti-establishmentarianism that occasionally burst out in individual pieces.  But most of any seriousness was seemingly wilfully undermined by the overwhelming scale, the hints at subversion and the sheer ‘bonkersness’ of several of the selections and their layout.  It was fun but a bit overwhelming.

Some Of The More Overtly Political Pieces At The Summer Exhibition

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A Work By El Anatusi At The Summer Exhibition That Reminded Me Of Similar Items By Him I Had Seen In Cape Town Earlier In The Year – It Was Nice To Make The Connection!

The BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery was much smaller scale and more accessible.  The little stories accompanying the pictures were helpful in providing a ‘way into’ the art that contrasted with the feeling of being hit by a colourful sledgehammer at the Summer Exhibition a couple of hours before.  The National Portrait Gallery was busy but I enjoyed the feeling of intimacy with the art there.img_0513.jpg

Winner of The BP Portrait Award 2018 – The Angel At My Table By Miriam Escofet

At least it was cool in the galleries.  On my second evening in London I ventured to a gig at Rough Trade to see three ‘up and coming’ bands (Echo Ladies, Linda Guilana and Grimm Grimm).  They were all interesting in their way but the heat near the stage was excessive and it was too hot to get excited.  I was glad of the chance to browse the listening posts at Rough Trade but appreciated getting back out in the gentle dusk breeze on the walk back to the flat.

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Hot In Rough Trade Records With Echo Ladies

I had planned to visit the Asterix Exhibition at the Jewish Museum on my last day in London, but the prospect of even higher London temperatures prompted me to cut my visit short and I returned to Gloucestershire early that morning.  My retirement means that I have the flexibility of rescheduling and planning another London trip soon and that is already in train.

Back in Gloucestershire, I am licking my wounds from the barbs of Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) remembering our (33rd) wedding anniversary while I completely failed to do so.  Usually we both forget the anniversary but LSW has upped her game and I will need to respond in kind.

Also back here in Gloucestershire, the extended hot spell has finally broken and we have some rain at last.  Already, the pasture opposite our house has shifted almost imperceptibly from brown towards green.  The rain feels like a relief but I’m looking forward to resumption of normal sunny service next week before I go to the Cambridge Folk Festival with an old friend.  I’m looking forward to the next break in routine that will bring.

Oh Paris!

What a wonderful city Paris is!  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have just returned from a weekend break there to celebrate LSW’s birthday.  I love cities but Paris is particularly special, especially when the sun is shining as it did for us.  The streets bustle around the spill-overs from the brasseries, bistros and cafes, the historic architecture is casually lovely and the newer buildings are often intriguing.  The shiny thread of the Seine is more heavily used than the Thames in London and its banks and bridges provide tremendous views.

View Of The Cathedral Notre-Dame De Paris

View Of The Cathedral Notre-Dame De Paris

LSW and I have been to Paris a few times during the decades of our relationship.  We steered away from the crowds this time and saw some of the lesser known areas of Paris.  We spent some time walking around graffiti strewn Butte De Calles – just south from our compact, clean, friendly hotel – and then a few hours strolling up the Canal St Martin/Bassin De Villette/Canal De L’Ourcq in the north east.  We also walked the Viaduct Des Artes out from the Bastille to the Peripherique to the east.  All these walks gave us an unusual and fascinating perspective of the underside of Paris that we hadn’t seen before.

Graffiti in Butte De Calles

Graffiti in Butte De Calles

I also visited one of the big cemeteries (Pére Lachaise) which was a wonderfully shady break from the sun and heat.  Cemeteries are another thing the countries on the continent do well.

Cemetiere Du Pere Lachaise

Cemetiere Du Pere Lachaise (Including The Tomb Of Oscar Wilde Second of Right)

Both LSW and I (together and separately) saw wonderfully cluttered bookshops, browsed unreformed hardware stores and visited stylish clothes shops.

Whisks Inside An Old Fashioned Parisian Hardware Store

Whisks Inside An Old Fashioned Parisian Hardware Store (The Price Of Which Had To be Looked Up In A Catalog)

We also visited the Sunday street markets.  We have been trying to sell our stuff in car boot and table top sales recently.  Having seen the scale and popularity of the Sunday flea markets in the Parisian squares and along several main streets, we joked that we should have taken a car load of stuff over to Paris to sell it there.  We generally avoided the crowds but short spells in the flea and food markets were invigorating.

Street Market Near Place De La Republique

Street Market Near Place De La Republique

Of course, we felt obliged to see some of the iconic sights of Paris including the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Jardin Du Luxembourg, Basilica du Sacre Coeur, and the Jardin Des Plantes; all looking splendid in the weather we were blessed with.

The Eiffel Tower From Champs De Mars

The Eiffel Tower From Champs De Mars

We also squeezed in some arty culture by visiting the Palais de Tokyo and the Atelier Brancusi.  The former had two wonderful rooms filled mainly with Delaunay and Dufy paintings.  The latter was a reconstruction of Brancusi’s studios and was brilliantly done.  Both were free, neither were crowded and neither took long to absorb; perfect!

Dufy, Dufy, Delaunay And Bonnard At Palais De Tokyo

Dufy, Dufy, Delaunay And Bonnard At Palais De Tokyo

Views In Atelier Brancusi; His Reconstructed Studio

Views In Atelier Brancusi; His Reconstructed Studio

In between these 25,000 step days, the art and the taking in of the views, we spent a lot of time chilling in bars and cafes – well not chilling because it was too warm for that, but relaxing thoroughly.  We ate simply.  My favourite meal – which I had often enough to become a temporary expert in the subtle variations on offer – was Croque Madame (Croque Monsuieur with an egg on top).  We did eat in a proper restaurant once but most of our expenditure was on wine drunk slowly but steadily while watching the world go past our favourite bars.  Paris does the street bars and café scene so well at every turn.

Retirement seems to have calmed my concern that if I’m not on my way to something I’m not doing enough with my holiday; I can just sit and chat now.  Our trip was very relaxing but we also ‘did’ a lot.  My only worry is that excellent weather we have had on recent holidays is due to balance out on our next one in Porto in July (I have to worry about something).

First, this coming week will be dominated by a visit to England by our Youngest Son (YS).  He is over from Australia for a few days on his way to an exciting-sounding video job at Croatia Yacht Week.  I might investigate whether I can be his bag-carrier.  I suspect he will be looking for someone stronger and more good looking and so will just make do with the treat of seeing him for the first time since New Year.

Pompidou Centre, Sacre Couer, Bibliotheque De L'Arsenal

Varied Paris Architecture: Pompidou Centre, Sacre Du Couer, Bibliotheque De L’Arsenal

Palais De Tokyo

Palais De Tokyo

Pleasantly Full Days

Life seems to have been particularly busy in the last ten days or so since my last trip to London.  There I got a dental check-up (my teeth are fine), visited the Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece Exhibition (fascinating and beautifully laid out) and took Middle and Eldest Son to dinner and The Lantern Society, my favourite Folk Club (what a treat to catch up with them both!)

At The Lantern Society

At The Lantern Society

Rodin's The Thinker And The Kiss

Rodin’s The Thinker And The Kiss – Two Items In An Intriguing British Museum Exhibition

The weather has been highly conducive to gardening.  We have had long periods of sun, but reasonable temperatures, and just enough rain.  As a result, many days have been dominated by clearing weeds, planting out seedlings, localised manual watering and working out how to keep the destructive birds, mammals, molluscs and insects at bay.  Almost everything that needs protection now has some form fencing, netting or other damage prevention measure in place.  I will now sit back, wait and watch the ways the animals will thwart me anyway.

In my last post, I compared the post-modernist house of Erno Goldfinger to a previous house of ours.  My last visit to London and overnight stay in the Barbican reminded me, too, that the post-modernist gardens there are now being echoed by Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) planting of our new walled garden.  Our final load of gravel and the water feature have now arrived and so our new garden just lacks maturity, but there are already some similarities with the Barbican gardens (although the scale there is massive compared to that of our ex-car parking area).  It has certainly been pleasant sitting in the new garden in the sun with a glass of wine after sweating over weeds, seedlings, bean poles and netting.

Our New Garden and The Barbican Gardens

Our New Garden And The Barbican Gardens; Ours Has Some Maturing To Do!

LSW and I have also been enjoying the annual Nailsworth Festival and, especially, two walks arranged under the auspices of the festival.  The first was a history walk in the vicinity of our house.  It added to our knowledge of the footpaths, industry and religious history of the area – particularly the historic presence of the Quakers and Baptists in what was once one of the largest non-conformist settlements in the country.

History Walk

An Attentive Audience On The Nailsworth History Walk

The second was a 12 mile walk billed as being a walk from Nailsworth to ‘the sea’. In fact, ‘the sea’ was the tidal estuary of the River Severn at a point where a number of sea going ships were beached to bolster the coastline alongside the canal along which we had walked. The so-called Purton Hulks, were an interesting climax to a full day of walking up and down the Cotswold escarpment and across the Severn valley in perfect walking weather. LSW and I certainly pushed up our daily step count averages that day!

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Purton Hulks

Purton Hulks

We also had a good day out walking in New Quay and Aberaeron in West Wales. We were staying with friends who have a second home there in what seems to be a lively and familiar community of second-homers based in London, Birmingham and South Wales. The health benefits of all the recent walking were offset by rather too much tasty food and drink in New Quay. On the route back from Wales, these indulgences continued as we stopped off at a family party celebrating a brief visit of one of LSW’s first cousins (once removed) from Singapore; lovely!

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

The food, drink and merriment isn’t going to stop this week with more of the World Cup to watch and celebrate (I hope), and the marking of LSW’s birthday with dinner in London on the way to a weekend in Paris.

So: busy and full days, full weeks and, as I near 12 months of retirement, I will shortly look back on a full year.

Picasso And Goldfinger

As I write this, I am travelling up to London for the second time in a week; I still look forward to my regular ‘fix’ of London life.  Today, I’m using the excuse of the need to visit my long-term dentist for a check-up.  The previous visit was primarily to enable Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I to meet with Eldest Son’s (ES’s) new girlfriend for the first time.  She was lovely and we all had a splendid evening at one of our favourite restaurants: Morito in Hackney Road.

I also managed to squeeze in a rather drunken lunch and impromptu darts match with an old mate of mine from my Accenture days – getting on for a decade ago now.  Meanwhile, LSW saw an art exhibition and we followed up next day with a bit more culture.  First LSW and I saw the Picasso exhibition at Tate Modern and then we went to Hampstead to visit 2 Willow Road, a modernist house designed and previously owned by architect, Erno Goldfinger.

The Picasso exhibition was unusual in that it focused on just one year of his life.  That was 1932 during which he conducted a secret affair with a young woman who he painted almost daily.  It was interesting to hear how the affair came to light – including to his wife – only at a retrospective exhibition of his work which included several paintings of his mistress.  For someone so apparently confident in his ability, it was also fascinating to hear how he curated the 1932 retrospective in a way to try to reassert his continuing relevance following the success of his earlier work.

Picasso

One Of The Many Paintings Picasso Created in 1932 Showing His Secret Mistress

The visit to 2 Willow Road was also eye opening.  It’s an early reinforced concrete building built in 1939 by and for the architect who later became (in)famous for some of the tallest reinforced concrete residential tower blocks in London.  It was given to the National Trust after his death and has been largely untouched since then.  The art he collected – including pieces by Henry Moore, Bridget Riley, Max Ernst and Delaunay – is still on show and we got a real feeling for the way he lived and entertained.

Most interesting were the similarities between the features (such as the en suite sinks), inter-room connectivity (facilitated by removable and sliding doors) and huge windows in 2 Willow Road, and the nature of our previous family home built in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire almost 20 years later.  Clearly, unbeknownst to us, the architect who designed our house and the one we used to develop it were familiar with Erno Goldfinger.  Like 2 Willow Road, I suspect, our previous house was rather ugly to look at, but lovely to live in.

2 Willow Road

2 Willow Road, Hampstead

Now we have moved on to an old farm house with a Georgian façade.  However, the extension LSW helped to design a few years ago offers plenty of space and light so we have retained some of the best aspects of our house in Minchinhampton.  The combination of old house and modern extension feels right and our garden – recently walled and extended to take over half of the previous car parking space – is more manageable than that we had before.  With the additional time I now have, and LSW’s increased interest in gardening (plus 4 hours of paid help most weeks), we are gradually getting control of the garden.  Once I finish the endless painting of the TV room I will have even more time to relax in it!

Part of the New Garden Area At Our House

Part of the New Garden Area At Our House