Hunkering Down For Coronavirus? Not Quite Yet

The news is dominated by the progress of coronavirus and our response to it.  In line with one of my New Year resolutions, and to assuage Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) dislike of my chuntering on to myself in response to the radio news, I have reduced the amount of news I listen to, especially in the morning.  Nonetheless, the reports of infections, deaths, stock market collapses and empty toilet roll shelves, creates a compelling narrative and visceral sensation.

The prospects, not least for my pension, look gloomy but whether the current levels of fear of coronavirus are fully justified is not quite concrete.  As a result, and despite my natural pessimism on this sort of thing, my personal response, in terms of activities undertaken, has been uncertain and mixed.

For example, I did brave the snuffling crowds to travel up to London last week by train and tube to attend one of my regular evening sessions with old friends there.  We went to a busy pub and Russian restaurant in Soho (we are up to R in the alphabet of cuisines we are sampling).  The washing of my hands in the loo a little more self-consciously and for longer than usual, and the eschewing of handshakes, were the only concessions to the virus.  Unless, that is, we count the imbibing of a few flavoured vodkas and the antiseptic qualities of their alcohol content.

A Selection Of Vodkas, Part Finished. Best Was The Horseradish Flavoured One

A Selection Of Vodkas, Part Finished. The Horseradish Flavoured Vodka was The Best And Has Already Been Quaffed

On the other hand, I chose not to go to a Forest Green Rovers (FGR) football match in nearby Swindon which normally I would have attended.  I rejected sitting on a stuffy train or bus for an hour next to old people like me and then being packed into the ‘away’ end.  Instead, I favoured a breezy walk to an airy view of a much smaller game at Shortwood, the even more local football ground just over the hill.  I felt rotten about the decision afterwards because it felt like conceding ground to the virus while missing out on what has recently become a rare win for FGR.

Since then, I have continued retired life as I did before the advent of the coronavirus outbreak.  I continue to walk into town daily. I have been to a pub to meet a village mate.  I have attended two optional meetings on local climate change response activity and have been to a local dinner party.  LSW and I plan to go to Bath for a concert and (assuming it is on) I plan to see FGR’s game at the weekend from the (fairly) packed stand.

I keep veering along a continuum from avoiding unnecessary contact with others through thinking that what ‘will be will be’ and doing normal things but in a restrained way, to full out participation in events because it might be the last chance I get to do so for a while.

Hopefully, now spring and some warmer weather is coming, the trepidation about the virus and the more scary statistics associated with it will reduce.  However, the news readers, politicians and experts on the radio that I have listened to tell me that things will get much worse before they get better.  I suspect several limitations on normal living are imminent.  Should that be the case I will absorb myself in splendid isolation in the garden, clearing the winter weeds and clutter and digging over the vegetable patch.  In any case, that’s a task I have postponed for long enough already.

While in London last week, I did fit in an exhibition.  This was the Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography exhibition at the Barbican.  This inadvertently continued my recent run of visiting photographic exhibitions – the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, the Don McCullin exhibition at Hauser & Wirth last month, and now this.

Overall, I enjoyed it – these large exhibitions at such prestigious venues are so well thought out and always worth seeing – but my level of enjoyment fluctuated as I progressed through it and I ‘tired’ towards the end.

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

The exhibition starts with a series of photos focusing on men as soldiers, athletes and cowboys in traditionally male roles.  However, the chosen photographs deliberately undermine the typical view of the male; the soldiers are out of combat and apparently defenceless, the athletes are barely beyond pubescence, the cowboys are of ambiguous sexuality.

Studio Photos Found Abandoned by Thomas Dworzak In Afghanistan: A Strange Mix Of Guns, Flowers and Kohl

The theme of subverting the masculine ideal here was quite interesting and the video by Jeremy Deller of cross-dressing wrestler Adrian Street was compelling enough to watch all the way through.  (It brought back memories of the routine of watching all-in wrestling on the BBC before the reading of the Saturday football results back in the 1960s and 70s.)

'Rusty' By Catherine Opie

‘Rusty’ By Catherine Opie

There was some more unexpected material on masculine spaces – fraternities in the US and Mens’ Clubs in London – and some more playful stuff on men and fatherhood on the ground floor of the exhibition.

Hans Eijkelboom's 'My Family': A Playful Set Of Photo's With Him Posing As Husband to Housewives Asked At Random To Pose With Him In Their Homes

Hans Eijkelboom’s ‘My Family’: A Playful Set Of Photo’s With Him Posing As Husband To Housewives Asked At Random To Pose With Him In Their Homes (Real Husbands Absent!)

Upstairs, as the examination into the ‘plurality of subversive masculinities’ continued, the more predictable focus was more on ‘Queer’ culture (that appears to be an ok word to use again), homosexuality and race.  I found this less interesting although I again enjoyed some of the more light-hearted pieces and there were a few impressive photos by Deana Lawson and Rotimi Fani-Kayode who’s work I have seen somewhere before.

Piotr Uklanski's 'The Nazi's': Montage Of Famous Actors Playing Nazi Leaders

Piotr Uklanski’s ‘The Nazi’s’: Montage Of Famous Actors Playing Nazi Leaders

I’m wondering if my plans to visit London again over the next month or so will remain intact during the coronavirus crisis; fingers crossed on that.  One thing for sure – I’m glad I have retired and have a choice (provided I don’t catch it!)

Revisiting The Newt And Hauser & Wirth

Last autumn, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I visited the new garden in East Somerset adjoining a smart, refurbished hotel called The Newt.  This is a large and new garden that is the realised dream of a wealthy South African couple who had previously built the wonderful Babylonstoren complex near Cape Town which we visited a couple of years ago.

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

I described our first visit to The Newt gardens in this blog and won’t repeat my impressions here in any detail.  Suffice to say that the garden is of very high quality design and execution and it continues to develop.  It is therefore worth seeing, not only through the seasons, but also from year to year so that one can follow its evolution.  The cost of entry has gone up to £20 each but that includes unlimited visits for a year.  We will certainly try to go back this summer.

The Nest Gardens: The Cider Press, Bar And Cellar

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

We visited the gardens with two very old friends who had come to stay with us for a couple of days.  We were fortunate that the day we chose for the trip was one of only a handful of dry, sunny days we have had in February.  We maximised the value of the weather by lunching at the bright, airy and excellent At The Chapel in Bruton and then visiting the nearby Somerset branch of Hauser & Wirth galleries and its Piet Oudolf garden.

We have visited Hauser & Wirth a few times and always find it interesting.  On this occasion there were two exhibitions – both free.  The first was of some work by a Swiss guy (memorably) named Not Vital.  He is interested in architecture and the relationship between buildings and landscape and people.  The shiny metal building shapes gave off interesting reflections – and co-incidentally mimicked the shape of the nearby dovecote on a hillside overlooking the gallery – but I didn’t really ‘get’ the rest of the work.

'Cannot Enter Cannot Exit' By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth

‘Cannot Enter Cannot Exit’ By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth (With The Dovecote In The Distance)

Much more absorbing was a range of work on display by an apparently famous photographer called Don McCullin.  I wasn’t familiar with him but our friends – both of whom are keen photographers – were and so our visit had propitious timing for them.  Certainly the range of subject matter in the photographs, which were all black and white, was broad: from local countryside to industrial wastelands, from peaceful riverside views in India to war-torn Syria and the bleak stillness of the Arctic.  Many of the pictures really did draw the viewer in and even my untutored eye for photography could see they had gravitas.

'Batcombe Vale' By Don McCullin

‘Batcombe Vale’ By Don McCullin

As the sun started to set, we eventually found a path to the nearby ruined Bruton Dovecote that we had spotted from the restaurant earlier.  Our stay at this viewpoint was truncated slightly by the imminent arrival of some other tourists.  We had inadvertently misdirected them earlier as we struggled to find our way to the dovecote and we were too embarrassed to engage them again.  In any case, the view was a nice way to round off a sunny day in the country.

Bruton Dovecote

Bruton Dovecote, East Somerset

Certainly sunny and dry days have been rare recently.  Many in the UK far have been far less fortunate that us.  We have been able to just observe the flooding and full rivers rather than finding ourselves caught up in the misery of having a flooded home.  Indeed, the rain and resulting sodden ground has been a continuing, excellent excuse to postpone any attack on the overgrown and untended vegetable patch and allotment.

Rainwater Overwhelming Local Drains And Filling Streams

Instead of gardening, I have been hunkering down in my study writing up the results of the recent Village Meeting I helped to arrange to discuss how we make our village more resilient and responsive to the Climate Emergency.  There were expected threads of thought around reducing energy demand through insulation and generating local energy.  However, the main theme that arose was that we need to operate even more as a neighbourly community that shares (things, services and knowledge), especially where this leads to avoiding new purchases through borrowing, recycling/upcycling and reuse.

Unfortunately, two weeks after the meeting, we have suffered a blow to this community-strengthening aspiration in that the pub in the centre of the village has closed.  This was not unexpected and is hopefully temporary.

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

I recently organised a social evening in the pub to try to encourage more local use of its facilities.  I am getting increasingly involved in local activities of that sort.  Once the Neighbourhood Plan is complete – and good progress has been made on that recently – I will have more time to engage with groups that might energise the pub and other community buildings we have such as the church and shop.  LSW is pleased I am getting more involved in village life and I confess that I am enjoying it much more than I anticipated when I retired.

Home From Home

I retired about 30 months ago.  I moved back to the family home in Gloucestershire and gave up my London flat to Eldest Son (ES).  The flat is centrally and very conveniently located in the Barbican but it was, during my 18 years of mid-week living there, never more than a bolt-hole for temporary occupancy.  It rarely received any love and attention and, if I am honest, was only subjected to a proper cleanse when Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) occasionally came to visit.  (Then, I’d ‘tidy’ beforehand to create a tolerable impression, and LSW would tut at my inadequacy and grudgingly do a more thorough ‘clean’).

ES continues to live in the flat and now shares it with his girlfriend.  They were in Paris last week celebrating their birthdays.  That gave LSW and I the opportunity to pop up to London to see Middle Son, Youngest Son and some old friends, and to visit a few exhibitions.  We had a great time.

What made the trip especially nice was that our stay was anchored by a very comfortable stay in the Barbican flat.  We were able to see how it has been turned into a spotless, house-plant friendly, warm (in all senses of the word) home by ES and, especially, his girlfriend.  It’s great to see the flat still being put to such good use.

Our London trip was also helped by lovely clear blue skies.  All cities look better in sunny weather but the views of the Thames and its surrounds are especially enhanced by brilliant winter sun.

Bright London Day From Westminster Bridge

Bright London Day From Westminster Bridge

LSW and I visited the Garden Museum in Lambeth.  The tower was open and, having puffed up a long, steep, spiral, stone staircase, we came out onto a lovely view of Lambeth Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the City and, of course, the winding Thames.

View From The Tower Of The Garden Museum, Lambeth

Part of the Panoramic View From The Tower Of The Garden Museum, Lambeth

We also saw the latest exhibition in the museum.  This was a small but concisely curated history of London’s Royal Parks.  It covered their origins as royal hunting grounds in the 15th century and their gradual opening up to increasing proportions of the public during recent centuries.  It covered their use as recreation spaces (and how such recreation has changed over time), places of protest and places for celebration.  Perhaps most surprising was the section on how the parks have been used for military training including trench warfare during the First World War.

Feeding Pelicans In St James's Park

Feeding Pelicans In St James’s Park

We walked along the Embankment south of the Thames to Tate Modern; a really refreshing walk in the sun.  While LSW went off on a shopping assignment, I wandered through parts of Tate Modern and took in the Dora Maar exhibition there.  I only knew of Maar as one of Picasso’s many muses but the exhibition shows her to be a successful and diverse artist in her own right.

Kara Walker's Huge Fountain In The Turbine Room At The Tate Modern

Kara Walker’s Huge Fountain In The Turbine Room At The Tate Modern (Inspired By The History Of Slavery)

Maar’s early fashion photos are clearly impressive even to my untrained eye.  I was less satisfied with her surrealist photography, although it was interesting to see her attempts to meld the photographic capture of reality with the weirdness and spontaneity of the surrealist movement she became part of.  More interesting, were her later paintings.  One of these captured brilliantly, I thought, the inevitable tension of the period when she was living with Picasso under the same roof as his wife!

The Conversation By Dora Maar

The Conversation By Dora Maar (1937) – A Tense Moment Between Mistress and Wife?

For me, the best exhibition LSW and I visited during our stay was the Anselm Keifer exhibition at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey which had astonished me back in late November.  I loved the way the enormous art worked for me when standing right back from it and when right up close.  The exhibition was almost as impactful this time as last.  I will remember it for a long time.

Anselm Kiefer Painting at The White Cube Gallery - Standing Back And Up Close

Anselm Kiefer Work at The White Cube Gallery – Standing Back And Up Close

However, almost as good was the exhibition of colonial Indian master artists’ work at the Wallace Collection.  The art was commissioned by leaders of the East India Company at the height of colonial Britain to capture the fauna, flora and culture of paintings of India.

Indian Flora And Fauna By Shaikh Zain ud-Din (1780)

Indian Flora And Fauna By Shaikh Zain ud-Din (1780)

The exhibition showed how the Indian artists cleverly and subtly chafed against their subordinate position by portraying their masters in uncomfortable or unusual positions.  For example, a grimacing British officer was shown lying ill at ease in a coffin-like box being carried by beautifully painted natives.  Elsewhere, a daughter of an officer was portrayed on a wonderfully rendered horse surrounded by clearly proud, indigenous stable hands, but with her face hidden from view by her bonnet.

Best of all in this exhibition were the wonderfully detailed and beautifully painted pictures of the animals and plants of India.  The animals had every hair of fur meticulously drawn and the pictures of butterflies and birds in branches of trees were cleverly structured and strikingly laid out.  I love the Wallace Collection and this was another very good exhibition there.

I’m in London again next month and am looking forward to more cultural exploits then, although ES will be in town this time and so the flat’s sofa bed will have to suffice for me.

Four Exhibitions, Three Sons, Two Breakfasts And One Gig

For much of my working life, I was in London while the family were in Gloucestershire.  I usually only got to see Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and our three sons during weekends when work often intruded and I wanted to rest.  Then the sons grew up and each of them spent time with me sleeping on the floor of my London flat while they took their first steps into the world of work.  The flat is very small so, although I got to know each so much better, the close proximity and sleeping arrangements were sometimes a stress.

Now, Eldest Son (ES), Middle Son (MS) and Youngest Son (YS) are all based in London and I have entered something of a golden period as a parent.  Now I am able to see them in short spells and in a relaxed way – over dinner, at breakfast, at a gig or in an exhibition. All I have to do is schedule the rendezvous around their diaries and enjoy the moment.  I plan to make the most of these arrangements while they last.

Last week, I was up in London again and was able to see all three sons.  The main reason for visiting London was to see a gig by Nuria Graham.  I first saw her in 2015 at Rough Trade and have now seen her twice since.  She is Spanish with some Irish heritage and writes some great tunes with intriguing English lyrics.  YS and I saw her at Jazz Servant Quarters which was just the type of venue I like: tiny (capacity for only 40 people) with a great sound system.  I loved the whole evening and plan to visit Jazz Servant Quarters again and also see Nuria once more next April.

Nuria Graham At Jazz Servant Quarters

Nuria Graham At Jazz Servant Quarters

Next morning, having stayed with YS overnight on their ailing inflatable bed, we went with his girlfriend for breakfast at the new Ozone Cafe in Hackney.  I love the treat of breakfast in London.  It often includes unusual and quality ingredients, it sets me up for the day of city exploration and usually obviates the need for lunch.

Ozone, Hackney

Ozone, Hackney

The previous day I had breakfasted at one of my favourite cafes – Ask For Janice in Smithfield – and had felt full most of the day.  At Ozone, I was a little more restrained since I was meeting an old friend for lunch at The Coach in Clerkenwell later.  Nonetheless, breakfast was ample and excellent and, of course, given its Ozone pedigree already tried elsewhere in the City, achingly trendy.

While in London I also went for dinner at Smokestak with MS, ES and his girlfriend.  Smokestak is only one or two steps up from fast food – we were in and out in an hour – but the food was great and the atmosphere was buzzy.  As MS said, despite the restaurant being famous for its meat dishes (and I loved the fried ox cheek), the vegetarian plates were perhaps the best.  I certainly ate well during my London visit.

Across the two days I was in London I went to four exhibitions.  On LSW’s recommendation from the previous weekend, I went to the Royal Academy to see the large Antony Gormley exhibition (now finished).  It was certainly impressive – not least the engineering that had gone into making several of the rooms dramatic, single-piece displays.

More Anthony Gormley At The Royal Academy

Iron Baby (1999), Matrix (2019) and Clearing VII (2019) By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

One room was filled with seemingly continuous loops of metal (8 kilometres worth) resembling a huge circular scribble.  Another was a room filled with silt and water.  Another had two huge cast iron baubles hanging from the roof.  And then another had Gormley’s trademark human forms, also cast in iron, set at various angles and amongst which the crowds could meander.

Host (2019), Piles (2018), Lost Horizon (2008) and Fruit (1993) By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

Host (2019), Piles (2018), Lost Horizon (2008) and Fruit (1993) By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

These were all certainly memorable but, at the time, I confess I enjoyed looking at his numerous workbooks more.  These showed how the ideas were generated rather than the final forms and it was more calming to look at these rather than negotiate the crowds in the rooms holding Gormley’s main works.

Some Of Antony Gormley's Workbooks

Some Of Antony Gormley’s Workbooks

Subject II By Anthony Gormley At The Royal Academy

Subject II By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

The Bridget Riley Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery was also impressive.  Photos of much of her work don’t work because they play with our way of seeing so much.  For example, Horizontal Vibration (1961) really does seem to vibrate before your eyes. ‘Current’ (1964) is like an optical illusion that feels destabilising if looked at for more than a few seconds.  These are clever and, I’m sure, were ground-breaking in their time but I love her brightly coloured works with stripes and diagonals more.

Though organised by topic rather than chronologically, the exhibition did a good job of tracing her thinking from her early drawings and the influence of Seurat on her work.  It covered her black and white visual exercises, her moves into curves and then colour and, finally, recent works that resembled Hirst’s dot paintings but which were clearly rooted in what she has done before.  The exhibition was an enlightening and cheering way to pass an afternoon.

Stripes And Diagonals By Bridget Riley At The Hayward Gallery

Currents (1961) And Stripes And Diagonals By Bridget Riley At The Hayward Gallery

I squeezed in a visit to the British Library to see the Buddhism exhibition there. Most of the exhibits were brilliantly, brightly coloured 19th century picture books showing the events in the life of the historical Buddah. There were also much older scrolls, wood panels and palm leaves inscribed with delicate texts and images. Once more, it was hard not to be impressed but, for me, the exhibition lacked a theme and was little more than the sum of its parts.

A Scroll Depicting Mahakala (A Protector Deity) And Tales From The Historical Buddha's Life In Folding Books

A 16th Century Tibetan Scroll Depicting Mahakala (A Protector Deity) And Tales From The Historical Buddha’s Life In 19th Century Folding Books

Nepalese Buddhist Palm Leaf Texts (17th and 12th Century)

Nepalese Buddhist Palm Leaf Texts (17th and 12th Century)

The fourth (and, in my view, best) exhibition I saw was that of a recent body of work by Anselm Keifer at White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey.  Anselm had been featured the day before I visited in the Guardian newspaper and the exhibition had been recommended by a friend.  I had not heard of Anselm previously and I went with no great expectations.

As soon as I entered the gallery I was blown away by the rhythm and enormity of the work in the central hall and then, as I moved into the adjoining rooms, by the scale of the paintings, their depth and the overall sense of brooding dystopia.  The paintings worked from a distance and right up close and I was fascinated even though I didn’t really understand what I was seeing.

Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot By Anselm Keifer

Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot By Anselm Keifer (Here Showing Just Part Of A 30 Vitrine Installation)

The White Cube is a tremendous, huge space; it needed to be to accommodate the work.  The exhibition is on until 26 January next year and I would like to go again (unlike the other exhibitions I saw, its free!).

The White Cube Gallery With Anselm Keifer Paintings

The White Cube Gallery With Anselm Keifer Paintings

Anselm Keifer At White Cube

The Gordian Knot By Anselm Keifer At White Cube (With A Real Axe And Real Blackened Branches)

Superstrings By Anselm Kiefer At White Cube Gallery

Superstrings By Anselm Kiefer At White Cube Gallery

I’m planning one more visit to London before Christmas.  I’m looking forward to another round of exhibitions, breakfasts and meeting up with one or more of our sons.

Squeezing In The Football

A couple of week-ends ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went up to London to stay with a couple who have been friends of ours for a few decades.  They live in Chiswick and the territory is familiar to us since we lived for several years in the 1990’s in nearby Kew.  The stay with them was a chance to catch up on our respective lives and those of our offspring, to observe recent neighbourhood changes, to share views of current issues and re-discover a couple of walks that we haven’t done for years.  We had a great time.

We went up to London on the Friday morning and parked outside our old house in Kew.  There was then time for me to visit Tate Britain and see the William Blake exhibition there, and for LSW to head into central London to peruse the shops there.

Jacob And The Angel By Sir Jacob Epstein

Jacob And The Angel By Sir Jacob Epstein At Tate Britain

It seems that William Blake was somewhat of a mystery during his life-time and remains so today.  I enjoyed the cleverly displayed books of illustrated poems and his apparent pre-occupation with the darker aspects of myth and religion.  I liked the combination of big works with grand gestures and delicate pieces with intricate engraving.  The narrative of his topsy-turvy life was interesting too but, for me, too much of his motivation was left unexplained – perhaps because there is no definitive view on what he was trying to achieve.

William Blake Engravings At Tate Britain

William Blake Engravings At Tate Britain: ‘Christian Drawn Out Of The Slough By Help’, ‘I Sought Pleasure And Found Pain’ and ‘House of Death’

As it happens, I also struggled with finding a real point to the popular and much publicised ‘Year 3’ exhibit by Steve McQueen in the main hall of the Tate.  This was a huge display of hundreds of traditional school class photos showing all Year 3 children in London schools.  I confess I didn’t ‘get it’ although I understand that many of the participating classes will now visit Tate Modern to see their photo and also, hopefully, kindle a love of art.

Steve McQueen's 'Year 3' Photographs At Tate Modern

Steve McQueen’s ‘Year 3’ Photographs At Tate Modern

On the Friday evening, our male football loving host and I eschewed the possibility of going to see his football team play an evening game.  Instead, we relaxed over excellent food and rather too much good wine and chatted.  However, I had forewarned the company that I was committed to seeing my team – Forest Green Rovers (FGR) – and two of our sons at Leyton (Orient) the following afternoon.

On the Saturday morning, following a satisfying carbohydrate and coffee breakfast, we went, fully fuelled up, to The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square.  I had visited this lovely, free museum earlier this year when seeing a Henry Moore exhibition there.  This time, I focused on the paintings on the first floor which I didn’t remember from my earlier visit.  What was especially interesting about this was that several were of Venice which LSW and I had visited only a week or so previously.  The paintings by Canaletto and his school of artists, brought home what we had felt during our Venice visit: that Venice has hardly changed in centuries.

Venice Cityscapes By Canaletto and School Of Canaletto In The Wallace Collection

I left the others at the Wallace Collection, with their plans for lunch and a visit to the Antony Gormley exhibition at the Royal Academy, and headed east to grimier terrain in Leyton.  It was great to meet up with Middle Son (MS), Youngest Son (YS) and one of his friends there.  The game itself was thrilling and FGR achieved a hard fought and rather fortunate 4-2 win.

Forest Green Players Celebrating Their Win At Leyton Orient

Forest Green Players Celebrating Their Win At Leyton Orient

We left the ground buzzing with football excitement and the sons started talking about seeing the late afternoon Premiership football game in a nearby pub somewhere.  Two of our party were sporting distinctive FGR shirts so prudence was forcing them to think of pubs away from Leyton where Orient fans wouldn’t be drowning their sorrows.  They settled on Bethnal Green a couple of tube stops away.  That was on my way back to the hospitality in Chiswick so I went with them.

I love football (you may have noticed!) and I wanted to both spend more time with YS and MS and see the Premiership game too.  So, almost without really consciously deciding anything I sleepwalked with them out of the tube, out of the station and into a grotty but TV-equipped pub to watch the game.

As the first half progressed I wondered about the second pint of (awful) beer and whether I could stay a bit longer without annoying LSW and our hosts back in Chiswick.  My decision making was forced by a text on our family group-chat from LSW who was wondering where I was.  While I was pondering a response MS, YS and his friend burst out laughing.  YS had already posted a picture of me, clearly in a pub and looking at the text on my phone.  I was rumbled!

I sloshed the second pint down and left the pub at half time.  I arrived back in Chiswick in time to have got away with squeezing in the football.  I settled back into our hosts’ wonderful hospitality, still excited by my team’s win and armed with news from MS and YS.

Next day was calmer.  We had a relaxed walk around Chiswick down by the Thames and topped up with alcohol at a local pub before indulging in Sunday lunch.  Good times indeed!

Chiswick Views

Dipping Into Culture

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I still haven’t quite planned our trip away this summer/autumn but we have both made an effort to attend some local cultural events to keep our entertainment levels up.  Indeed, as I write this, LSW is attending a couple of talks at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and will no doubt return full of much new thinking.

We went to two contrasting concerts recently.  The first was a programme of what I suppose are modern classical music composers and performers.  The concert had been arranged by a local magazine and creative arts consortium called Good On Paper.  The five performers were a mix of local and internationally renowned musicians.  All were interesting – especially avant-garde cellist Sebastian Plano and Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit – and there were passages I really enjoyed.  The final act was the now famous Lubomyr Melnyk who demonstrated his ‘continuous music’ piano playing; it was technically impressive but, by the end, for me, overbearing.

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Later in the week LSW and I went to the Tetbury Music Festiival.  Despite the proximity to our home, this was, rather shamefully, our first visit to the festival.  We saw an excellent performance of three piano trios (by Haydn, Schumann and Schubert).  This was the first classical music concert I had been to for many years and I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it.  I also surprised myself in that I actually knew the last work by Schubert; it must have been one my Dad had taken me to see played when I was a teenager and he first introduced me to classical music.

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

It felt good to support these local cultural events and I hope their success breeds more in the future.  The atmosphere for both was reverential and enhanced by the beautiful surroundings of a church.  Whatever the concert – modern classical, classical classical or just modern, I do like to be able to listen to the music rather than the chatter of the crowd.  A third concert I saw this week at the wonderfully eclectic Rich Mix in London also provided these sorts of listening conditions as I saw one of my favourite bands: Kefaya.

This concert was totally different from the other two.  Kefaya is a cross-cultural collective who play jazz with Middle Eastern, south and south-east Asian and Caribbean influences.  I have seen Kefaya in various guises many times over the last few years.  Here, they mostly ran through their latest album of Afghan songs fronted by an Afghani singer.  There was a lot of energy in the largely Afghani audience but, again, there was respect for the music and full attention to the band.  I loved it – especially when they let loose with their trademark jazzy duelling between guitar and keyboards, all backed up by phenomenally pacey and intricate tabla playing.

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Apart from music LSW and I have also taken in some local art.  We have known local artist, Maggie Shaw, for many years and have bought many examples of her work; several remain our favourite pieces of art in our house.  Unfortunately she died last year.

We were honoured to be part of her memorial exhibitions at the beginning of this year and lent one of her largest pieces for this.  Last week there was a further exhibition of her more recent work alongside that of two of her companion artists.  As usual, Maggie’s work stood out for me as truly remarkable.  Had we not already been in possession of so much of her output (and not starting to think about further downsizing of our house and wall space) we might have bought another of her pictures.

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw's and Others' Work

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw’s And Others’ Work At Stratford Park, Stroud

The absence of demands on my time from any work, continue to make it easy to fit in trips to Nottingham to visit my parents, and to London to see sons, exhibitions and gigs there.  This week, on the back of a regular meeting in London with my financial advisor and the Kefaya gig, I was able to catch up with Eldest Son, his girlfriend and Youngest Son’s girlfriend; a real pleasure.  I also visited the new exhibition at The Barbican where I am still a member and so can feel I am attending for free.

The latest exhibition at the Barbican is called Into The Night: Cabarets and Clubs In Modern Art and, as the title suggests, it is about the relationship between art and nightlife.  It examines this relationship in the period from 1880 to the late-1960s through focus on a dozen nightclubs in a variety of cities including Tehran, Ibadan in Nigeria, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City and New York.

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City. It Seemed To Me To Sum Up The Atmosphere These Nightclubs Tried to Engender!

As usual, the exhibition was very well presented.  My favourite section was probably that on Vienna’s Cabaret Fledermaus (1907-13).  The posters, menus, programmes, ashtrays, flower pots, chairs and other accessories to an experience at this club were all exquisitely designed along consistent lines.  The set and costume designs for the performances were flamboyant and smacked of decadence.

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

For each of the clubs chosen for the exhibition, drawings, pictures and photos helped to bring it must have been like to actually be in the nightclubs.  Aiding this further, the exhibition included reconstructions of parts of four of the nightclubs.  Particularly striking were the zinc shadow theatre models for the Chat Noir club in Paris.  For each reconstruction, despite the recorded sound, the only thing lacking was the smoke, bustle, heat and pandemonium that must have driven the fun of the customers in between – and maybe during – the cabaret and other performances.  It was a well arranged exhibition and was very enjoyable.

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir's Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir’s Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Top tasks for this week: planting the whitebeam and cherry trees I mentioned we had bought in my last blog post, planting lots of bulbs and organising that long-considered trip away.

Recoveries And Retirement

I once again have a rather bizarre (and misplaced) sense of intrepid traveller and blogger as I wrote the bulk of this post during a train journey to and from Nottingham.  I confess that the journey is more mundane than some I had imagined I would be taking prior to retirement.  There is always a little twist of excitement in a train journey and in watching the fields flash by and in seeing the towns, back gardens, and industrial developments and wastelands, all from unusual angles.  That is somehow enhanced by writing about it ‘real-time’ on my phone.

Near Oddingly, En-Route From Nottingham

Near Oddingly, En-Route From Nottingham

I have been to Nottingham to observe the welcome and speedy recovery of my Mum from a fall in which she broke her leg about three weeks ago.  Mercifully, she is out of hospital and back at home and my Dad is looking after her well and as independently as possible.  That is a relief all round (although a further minor fall while I was with them shows that the path to recovery is rarely straight)!

It’s been a good week for monitoring recoveries.  Middle Son (MS) visited us in Gloucestershire last weekend and we were able to see for ourselves how far he has come since his serious accident almost three months ago.  There is a long way to go to retrieve full function but he is mastering crutches, very independent and progressing every day.  That again is a relief all round (though, again, a further visit to hospital today for a residual ailment shows the skewed path to full recovery)!

As I ponder my train-side view, I am considering the past couple of weeks and the conversations I have had regarding my retirement and how I have found the experience.  I went to a retirement celebration for a past work colleague and friend that brought back many memories of work in the 1980’s.  I also participated in another occurrence of a regular restaurant event with a bunch of male friends of similar age to myself who I first met in London decades ago.  At both, I answered about my retirement life, confirmed that I continue to enjoy it a lot, and wondered why so many of my contemporaries continue to work.

Views From The Gherkin, London During A Retirement Party There

Some of the responses to my question about why my friends and ex-work colleagues (especially) still work were along the lines of how they need to so as to maintain their life style.  In some cases I think this may be cover for admitting that they actually enjoy work and would miss it too much.  That would be a more honest response and one I can understand.

Each to his or her own!  It so happened that I did not enjoy work as much, nor as consistently, as my friends apparently do.  Work has provided income to enable a very comfortable life and, now (so far, at least) a comfortable retirement.  But I was very happy to finish working and I continue to be very happy that I can devote the hours previously spent at work to things that I often felt I had to rush or failed to find time for.  I want to do that while I still have reasonable health.

The flexibility retirement affords has been liberating.  I no longer have to squeeze visits (to my parents for example) between work commitments.  I can visit London when I want, and now I have more opportunities to see friends elsewhere in the country and can combine that with watching my football team play away from home.

I did exactly that two weekends ago when I visited my Best Man (BM) and saw Forest Green Rovers (FGR) in Cambridge.  FGR won and that capped an excellent weekend of walking, wine, beer, food and chatting about our different lives.  BM is certainly someone who to loves his work and my hopes that he will retire, and so be able to spend more time enlivening my own retirement, are firmly in abeyance.

View Of The River Cam, Cambridge

Views Of Gamlingay In Cambridgeshire (top) and the Royal Society For Protection Of Birds (RSPB) Near Sandy (Bedfordshire)

Views Of Gamlingay In Cambridgeshire (top) and the Royal Society For Protection Of Birds (RSPB) Site Near Sandy (Bedfordshire)

Other highpoints of the last two weeks – and I am deliberately picking these to highlight the variety – have included harvesting my onions and a brief visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.  The onion (and my beetroot) harvest have been magnificent this year. If I manage to store them properly, we should have onions to last until Christmas.

Just prior to meeting up with my old friends for dinner, I saw an exhibition called Architecture of London at the Guildhall Art Gallery.  This was, as almost all these kinds of curated exhibitions are, interesting and contained some fine works and information.  I was almost a lone visitor and could take my time in taking in the show.

Works By Thomas, Bach, Egonu, Lowe And Beavon

Works By Thomas, Bach, Egonu, Lowe And Bach In The Architecture Of London Exhibition At The Guildhall Art Gallery

The exhibition covered the transformations following the Great Fire of London and the Second World War blitz particularly well.  I especially enjoyed the mix of vintages of the art on show and the inclusion of abstract art.  The scope of the exhibition was perhaps too large and the art on show to demonstrate the points being made felt, in places, a little random.  However, the Guildhall Art Gallery is a quiet and edifying place to spend an hour or two and I enjoyed it.

Paintings By Piper and Johnson at The Guildhall Art Gallery

London From Crowwell Tower, Barbican By Richard Ian Bentham Walker (1977)

London From Cromwell Tower, Barbican By Richard Ian Bentham Walker (1977) at The Guildhall Art Gallery. Always Nice To See Views Of The Barbican (But Unfortunately Not My Flat)

Returning to the here and now, the only problem with blogging on the train is that the tables are so small and the space is so cramped.  I’ll be glad to get off and stretch this stiffness out….  ‘Til next time.

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.

IMG_4113

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.

IMG_4117

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