Happy ‘Holidays’!

Of course, having retired, the period arounds Christmas and New Year’s Day are no longer really holidays for me.  But still, they are time for families to get together and to eat, drink and be at least a bit merrier than usual (at least, for the fortunate families).  We have managed that and I hope readers of this did too.

LSW's Minimalist Wreath

LSW’s Minimalist Wreath

Eldest and Middle Sons came back to visit us for a few days around Christmas and it was great to spend time with them and to see them go off to catch up with their old school mates.  It’s important that they maintain those ties and I regret not doing so when I was their age.  We spoke to and saw Youngest Son (YS) on WhatsApp but he was enjoying prawns and beer on a Queensland beach.  He tells us that it may be his last beach Christmas in Australia and that he will return to England next year.  Before that, LSW and I are travelling to Australia and meeting YS in Tasmania in March to make the most of him being on the other side of the world.

Christmas Day here was just about as full-on as usual.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) allocated tasks to the boys and I, and she provided all but the turkey for a dozen excited extended family members.  As part of a well tried split of responsibilities, the family of LSW’s younger brother brought a sumptuous roasted bird for us to tuck into.  The food was terrific.

The post-lunch quiz that I compiled (to fulfil what has become a bit of a family tradition) was as hotly contested as usual, but it rounded off the afternoon nicely prior to flaking out in front of a Netflix film and a few lunch left-overs.

I side-stepped some of the festivities and food on Boxing Day by going off to Newport to watch Forest Green Rovers.  I enjoyed finding the old part of the city and a Cathedral I didn’t know Newport had.  But I loved, even more, that we achieved one of our best wins of the season.  I came back hoarse but happy.

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport, Wales

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport, Wales: Very Old, Dramatically Sited And Very Pretty Inside

Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green Rovers Supporters Watch A Mighty Win At Newport County

This ‘holiday’ period is traditionally a time when I consider New Year resolutions.  But first I need to check how I did against those I set last year and the answer is: only moderately.  I’ve succeeded with those that are essentially enjoyable but not so well on those that were more challenging.

So, for example, I did grow a beard and I’m happy with it.  I did buy LSW more flowers too and need to reinvigorate that resolution when Spring comes around again.  Also, I exceeded my target of averaging 15,000 walking steps a day (I averaged 15,880) but that’s because I love walking and now have loads of time to do it in the beautiful surrounding valleys.  That much walking did help me to (just) achieve my target of lowering my weight to 11 stone in the summer and then again just before Christmas.  However, I need to renew that weight objective since Christmas eating and drinking has tripped me back over target.

On A Frosty Walk Just Before Christmas

On A Frosty Walk Just Before Christmas – Probably The 300th Time Past This Spot In 2018 But, Every Time, Slightly Different

I also have to renew my objective of achieving 140 no-alcohol days in the year.  I only managed 120 – more than the previous year but not enough.  I underestimated the impact of the wonderful sunny and hot summer on my evening drinking habits; it was just so nice sitting in the newly built garden in the evening warmth with a cold glass of wine day after day.  I hope summer next year is as good but I will be stronger willed, I promise.

On the technology front, I did, as resolved, change almost all my passwords and did it in a way that hasn’t made remembering them too hard.  However, I haven’t done much about my resolution to get a better Internet service so as to reduce frustrated evenings in front of the rotating wait signal on the telly when trying to watch catch-up TV.  However, I have instigated, and eavesdropped on, conversations at the regular village pub Men’s Nights with those who know more than I about the local broadband implementation.  Fibre broadband is coming next year apparently.

I’m disappointed with myself that I’m carrying forward the resolution to implement better compost heaps in the garden.  I have made progress with the existing heaps and compost bins.  However, while I’m blaming the side strain I suffered a couple of months ago, I know I should have done more.  The components for the super-duper compost bins LSW gave me a few years ago remain untouched in the shed.  Fixing this is another resolution to carry forward.

I’ll augment the carry forward resolutions with a couple of new ones but I’m off to enjoy New Year’s Eve first.  Have fun!

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

2017 Resolution Review

I hope that you had a great Christmas.

I enjoyed the festive period a lot, and probably even more than usual. There was variety – terrific Christmas lunch with family, visits from very old friends, and sunny walks with local, relatively new friends. There was proper Winter weather with quantities of snow we haven’t seen for a few years. Critically, for the first time in a while, we had all three sons with us plus the added dimension of Middle Son’s girlfriend and a great friend of Youngest Son over from Australia. Things were going on a lot of the time but it was relaxed.

Nailsworth In Winter

Nailsworth (My Local Town) In Winter

The snow made the landscape beautiful. Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I had a lovely walk through it just after Boxing Day with a friend from university (and Best Man at our wedding). His Christmas period visits over the years have often coincided with cold, crisp weather and he wasn’t disappointed this time around. The only down side was the ice which caused us both to fall over like little old men – in my case leaving me with a ricked neck that I am still nursing. Since then, LSW has frequently pointed out the efficacy of actually wearing the ‘Yak Traks’ that aid shoe grip rather than just having them in one’s pocket!

Snowy Cotswolds
Snowy Cotswolds

 

Inevitably perhaps, I ate and drank a lot over the Christmas period. That messed with two of my 2017 New Year resolutions concerning weight loss and the count of no-alcohol days. Before resetting the resolutions for 2018 I have briefly taken stock of how I did in 2017.

Resolution 1: Retire. That was achieved and made 2017 a momentous year for me. It impacted – mainly favourably – my ability to achieve the other resolutions I made a year ago.

Resolution 2: Increase My No-Alcohol Days from 2016 (124 days). I failed on this by 8 days. It is noticeable that the number declined after retirement in July. I used to drink almost exclusively at weekends and, now every day feels like a weekend….. well, it’s harder to maintain discipline.

Resolution 3: Get Below 11 Stone. In practice this meant losing about 10 pounds; I failed. I got close in mid-December but failing on Resolution 2 and overeating during the festive period put paid to success. I feel retirement has allowed more control over what I eat and I am helped by LSW also managing her weight proactively. I can achieve this target in 2018.

Resolution 4: Average 13,500 Steps/Day. This fairly aggressive increase on previous years – as measured on my iPhone – was achieved easily due to my new pattern of daily living post-retirement. My daily average for 2017 was 14,200.

Resolution 5: Read the Daily Newspaper Thoroughly. This was in response to my feeling that my attention span was becoming shorter. I think this had been the result of increasing reliance on the Internet as a way of receiving and digesting news. I felt I was missing out on depth of analysis. Retirement has given me the time to achieve this resolution – although it’s hard to measure the success and impact on my understanding of current affairs.

Resolution 6: Keep Going to Gigs and Cinema. This has been partially achieved in that I have been to lots of gigs before and after retirement. Several recent local ones have been excellent. However, local availability of the sort of cinema I like is very limited now I have retired to the country. I am retreating to boxed sets on catch-up TV and that’s fine for now.

Resolution 7: Read 16 books. Retirement has really helped here and I achieved this with 3 weeks to spare. My most enjoyed book this year was Under Major Domo Minor by Patrick De Witt.

Resolution 8: Buy LSW Flowers Occasionally. This was achieved, although ‘occasionally’ is the operative word here. I promise to do better Dear!

Making A New Friend

Christmas – A Time To Make New Friends

Time to get busy setting resolutions for 2018….. Have a Very Happy New Year!

The Quickening Pace Toward Christmas

In my working life there were, of course, deadlines every week, every day and, often, very hour. I have grown used to not facing them since retiring. Now, the days tend to drift by guided by to do lists with ambiguous or undetermined timelines and I can do what I want, when I want. That’s great. However, the last couple of weeks have seen a quickening of life’s pace, a variety of social events and a few deadlines that have shaken my reverie.

The main imperative has been to complete painting of the window alcoves in the upgraded TV room before arrival of the plumber to install new radiators. My inexperience in decoration led me to be surprised by the need for four coats of paint, day long drying times in between each and sanding down after each intermediate coat; that all created a lead time that left me feeling under significant time pressure. However, I managed to meet the deadline.

This early success (another 90% of the room remains to be decorated!) was despite a brief trip to London to enjoy a catch up with old friends from our time in Kew nearly 20 years ago. We enjoyed a delightful evening party with and then a lovely bagel-based breakfast in two different couples’ houses. Where we stayed overnight was almost directly opposite where we lived for several years.

An even longer standing friend, dating back to LSW’s and my first months in London 40 years ago, visited us in Gloucestershire. We had a few bottles of wine with her, Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend. That was sufficient to make the idea of going to the local village disco seem like a good idea. That turned out to be excellent with music expertly sampled from the last 40 years and daft dancing fuelled by inexpensive but powerful cocktails. We had such a laugh! My challenge with the decorating was more than matched by the challenge LSW faced in having to get up at 5am next morning to take YS and girlfriend to the railway station – ouch!

Other events this week have included celebration of the re-opening of the main road between our village of Horsley and the local town of Nailsworth. The closure has been for over 4 months and has been an economic blow for the local pub, The Hog. We had a few drinks there to mark the road re-opening and the end of the ‘rat run’ congestion in the lane outside our house.

I also saw the new Star Wars film with Eldest Son (ES) and YS. I’ve seen all the Star Wars films but I struggle to follow the plot that has run back and forth through them. ES and YS tried to educate me by getting me to re-watch the previous film earlier in the day and their guidance helped. The latest addition to the series is well-made and the formula worked again. It was rare fun to have an outing with two sons.

Amid all this hustle and bustle, dancing and decorating, I have managed a few long walks. The weather has been variable as we have approached the year’s shortest day but retirement offers the chance to get out and about whenever it perks up. I’m very lucky to find myself retired in such a lovely part of England and be able to enjoy it.

Mossy Banks and Big Skies Near Horsley

Mossy Banks and Big Skies near Horsley

Finally, Happy Christmas to you all. Have a great festive period.

Christmas Tree

Happy Christmas!