Excuses To Visit London

Before retirement, I sometimes planned to work when travelling by train.  Now, I often get on the train with great resolve to read my current book or the newspaper.  Almost invariably, though, then and now, reading sends me falling into that unsatisfactory doze state never refreshes.  Indeed, such dozing is not really relaxing since I worry subconsciously during, and then afterwards, that I have been snoring loudly and irritating (or, worse, amusing) fellow passengers.  The one thing that always keeps me awake on the train is using my computer keyboard.  So, there is something energising about writing these blog posts on the train.

This is my second trip to London in a few days – I need very little excuse to fulfil my London fix and escape from the country (lovely as The Cotswolds are).

The first was in my ailing, misfiring and rusting Saab which was brought into action while Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) Volkswagen is read what may be the Last Rites in the garage.  LSW and I came up London to attend a 60th birthday dinner party of a long standing friend in Kew – a very amusing reconstruction of a party we had attended 20 years before.

Impressive Birthday Cake!

Impressive Birthday Cake!

We took the opportunity to visit the Annie Albers exhibition at Tate Modern and to see the new, up-market shopping centre just north of Kings Cross (Coal Drops Yard).

The Annie Albers exhibition was diverse.  Alongside the expected textiles were paintings, drawings and ingenious necklaces (my favourite exhibits since they were so simple and inspiringly made from everyday objects).  It was an interesting history of a very impressive artist and some of the items were lovely, but, perhaps because of the diversity, the exhibition never really took off for me.

Selection of Annie Albers’ Work

Our visit to Coal Drops Yard was, in some ways, just a normal window-shopping trip.  But it’s clearly a cut above most shopping centres with some of the shops like art galleries with beautiful artefacts and prices I hardly dare look at.  Also, the architecture, mostly by Thomas Heatherwick, is remarkable – especially the gasometers converted into luxury flats overlooking the new coal yard restoration and transformation.  The best aspect of the visit was trying to recall what this area looked like when it used to be one of our youthful haunts in the late 70s and 80s; the canal isn’t much changed but, truly, Kings Cross has been transformed almost entirely since then.

Coal Drops Yard

Unfortunately, after the birthday party and a very late night, we had to leave London relatively early on Sunday – albeit after a wonderfully various and hearty breakfast provided by the family of our birthday-girl.  This was to enable a return in my rust bucket car in time for a memorial service for an artist friend of ours who died a couple of months ago.  LSW and many others spoke very movingly and humorously about their memories of an artist whose work is well represented in our house.

Now, rested and ready to go again, I’m on my way back to London for a gig and a dental appointment (which is my excuse for this trip).

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I didn’t have time to finish the blog on the train (but I didn’t fall asleep, I promise).

I have since had another eventful day in London – visiting the Fashioned From Nature exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and then seeing Malcolm Middleton for the sixth time in a club in Hackney.  Both were very worthwhile.

Today I’m going to try the Barbican exhibition on Modern Couples and then meet Eldest and Middle Sons for a drink, some food and a film – oh, and I’ll fit the dentist in.  Such freedom and fun in this retired life!  I’ll say more in my next post – maybe to be authored on my return train trip…..

My First Wasted Day?

There were times when I was at work when I felt I had wasted my time.  Sometimes a day seemed to go by without anything productive coming out of endless meetings or numbing strings of emails.  Sometimes whole months were dedicated to initiatives, projects or sales drives that either petered out or were delivered but then were reversed by the next top management team’s new ideas.  But, when I look back, every day I usually learned something about myself, colleagues, my role or how to do it better.

Since retiring, I don’t think that I have wasted any day.  Yes, some have been less productive than other s and less productive than they should have been.  The to-do lists I maintain have sometimes remained a bit static.  Some afternoons have been more somnolent than planned.  But every day has added something.  Until yesterday!

I had expected this blog post to include details about a wonderful weekend away in north Suffolk and Norfolk where we were planning to meet up with two couples who Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have known for ages.  The couple we were planning to stay with are particularly good friends who we mutually introduced to each other almost 40 years ago and with whom we have contemporaneous offspring and many shared experiences.

Unfortunately, about 100 miles out from home and two thirds of the way there, LSW’s car gave out.  The bulk of the day was spent on the side of the road waiting for the mechanic, then waiting in a tiny Marks and Spencer (sub-)service station for the recovery vehicle, and then in the back of the recovery lorry as it took us home.

LSW's Stricken Car Being Loaded Up For Maybe Its Last But One Trip

LSW’s Stricken Car Being Loaded Up For Maybe Its Last But One Trip

There were some upsides.  When the engine cut out at 70mph in the outside lane of the dual carriageway A421, we were parallel with, and not just in front of, a big lorry so could fall back and get into the inside lane without forcing the lorry to slow abruptly.  We then coasted to the edge of a layby so we were just about off the road; an engine failure a few yards earlier and I would have had to have pushed the car in the nearside lane of the carriage way.  It could have been a lot worse and the only physical risk was that my bladder would burst before the mechanic arrived.

When he did, he quickly confirmed that the car was dead – frustratingly due to some apparently poorly done preventative work we had done to replace the cam belt in our local and previously unimpeachable garage last week.  Pound notes floated in front of my eyes…..

He took us to a local petrol station cum café.  The upside here (apart from the presence of a toilet) were the staff; they were so understanding and nice to us.  Three hours staring at shelves of ready-made meals wasn’t fun but it was a first world problem made easier by their hospitality.

Elstow Interchange M&S - Our View For Three Hours on Saturday

Elstow Interchange M&S Services – Our View For Three Hours on Saturday (At Least It Was Relatively Warm)

Then the trip back with the recovery lorry with the car on the back was long.  But again here was the upside of the chirpy driver who described some of his life candidly, imparted some useful (but rather depressing) knowledge about the impact of a loose cam belt on the rest of the engine, and went out his way to drive us home after dropping the car off at the garage.  The journey was something of a reaffirmation of the goodness of human nature on near the minimum wage.

The final upside has been that we have a small mountain of rather nice cheese that we had planned to offer to our Suffolk hosts but had to bring back home.  That has been partly dispatched already and all meals this week will have a delightful accompaniment.  Also, because we had no proper provisions in for the weekend, we have been ‘forced’ out to the local pub for Sunday lunch (which was very good).

So, yes, the forking out for a new car and the anticipated rumpus with the delinquent garage will hurt and the weekend was disappointing given the expectations.  But it could have been worse.  There were some positives.  And maybe having ‘wasted’ days like yesterday help me to recalibrate so I appreciate the good days more.