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

Funerals and Films

Hints of the wonderful summer just passed have continued to tinge our descent into autumn with further spells of warm and sunny weather in among the wetter, greyer autumnal days.

Wonderful Mid Autumn Day

View From A Neighbourhood Walk Today: Wonderful Mid Autumn Day With Beginnings Of Autumn Colour

My almost daily walks into the local town seem to have new colours to offer every day.  Although I loved my first full summer of retirement, especially as it was so marvellous weather-wise, I am now looking forward again to the difference autumn then winter brings.

Autumn Views On The Walk To Town

Autumn Views On The Walk To Town

The last couple of weeks have been relatively quiet as we have slipped into the cosiness of darker evenings in front of the wood-burner.  However, I have managed to fit in another trip to London.  Unfortunately, the prime reason for the visit was a funeral. In fact, I attended two funerals in two days – one in Gloucester, for a much-liked neighbour, and the other in Essex.  These were the first I had attended for a couple of years and I had forgotten how emotionally draining they are even when not for the very closest friends or family.

As in other activities, retirement has brought a new flexibility in being able to properly celebrate the lives of those who have died.  I was honoured to be invited and be able to attend both funerals and to hear recollections of both who had passed away.

The second funeral was for the father of my Best Man (BM).  I had met him and his wife a few times including at a couple of key life events: my university graduation and my engagement to Long-Suffering Wife.

Through a few quirks of coincidence, my marriage proposal to LSW took place at BM’s parents’ house about 35 years ago during a small get together with them and some close friends.  The details are a blur now.  But I do recall, with some embarrassment then and now, how the best laid plans ended up with me handing LSW some flowers and my proposal of marriage in the upstairs bathroom/toilet (that’s where BM and I had hidden the flowers!).  That wasn’t as romantic as planned but I also fondly recall us returning downstairs together with the flowers and beaming faces for the celebrations (highly justified as it has turned out!)

Attending these funerals has underlined for me the importance of doing at least some advance planning for these events so as to ensure that those likely to need to make the arrangements know one’s preferences.  In general, I don’t much care what happens at my funeral; I’ll not be there.  However, I am going to write down a few preferred dos and don’ts.  For example, I’d like cremation, a sustainably produced coffin, minimal or no religion, nice music, and pictures on the order of service.  I have some time, I hope, to set out my preferences but funerals (as if retirement hasn’t done so already) do bring home that life is absolutely finite; so I’m going to get on with writing down my guidance.

More positively, I have seen a few films recently.  LSW and I saw The Wife (very well acted, especially by Glenn Close) and A Star Is Born (tremendous entertainment and potentially Oscar winning performances from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper).  Also, I saw First Man (excellent technical effects) with Eldest Son (ES) while I stayed in London with him.

Additionally, ES often treats me to off kilter, downloaded films when I stay with him and this time was no exception.  Last month when I was in London, we saw The Endless (compellingly memorable, thought provoking and strange) and saw You Were Never Really Here (just strange) this time.  I love cinema almost as much as ES so these times with him, when we see films outside of the mainstream, are a good joint pleasure to enhance my London trips.

Another positive has been my transformation of the fruits of our crab apple tree crab apple jelly.  The jelly is a rather unusual texture – even more jelly-like than normal. But, I did make it on my own, I love the colour, and its tastes great.  I’m pretty proud of it.  Here is a picture of the apples on the tree and the resultant jars of jelly.

 

Spring Or April Fool

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

Stratford Park

Stratford Park, Stroud in Early Spring Snow

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

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

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

TV Room Woodwork Painting

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

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

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

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

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

Messums Wiltshire Gallery

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

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

Busy With Peak Beard

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

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

Kew Gardens Orchids

A Small Sample Of Orchids From The Exhibition in Kew Gardens

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

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

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

The Museum of London Fatberg

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

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

Charles I and His LSW

Charles I With Peak Beard And His LSW

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

Peak Beard?

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

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

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

London Graffiti

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

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

Prelude to Spring

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

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

Snowdrops

Spring is Coming!

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

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

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

Three Pieces By Ilya Kabakov

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

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

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

This is fun and I think Spring will be better!

First Daffodils of 2018

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

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!

New Experiences

I have been encouraged by the variety of things I have found to do out here in rural England having retired from job and metropolis.

Clearly there is far less variety than in London and we often have to drive rather than walk, as before, to get to it. But what I am finding is that the relative lack of choice is actually creating a refreshing expansion of my experience by forcing me to see and do things that I would probably not have considered pre-retirement.

There have been a few very enjoyable examples in the last couple of weeks.

Last week and this we ventured to a local, independent, single-screen cinema I have never visited before in Wotton. It turns out to offer a limited but attractive programme of films about a month old that are in the tier below the Hollywood blockbusters that dominate, rather tiresomely, the local multiplex.

Wooton Electric Picture House

Wotton Electric Picture House

In both visits I saw films (Maudie and The Big Sick) that I would not normally have chosen to go out for but which turned out to be very good.   More predictably, given that Maudie is a gritty biopic about a painter of naïve pictures in Nova Scotia and The Big Sick is a rom-com with a happy ending, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) also loved them, so they can come recommended. Had I still been working in London, I would have missed both.

Saturday evenings have long been the only ones that I usually spent fully out of London. Post-retirement I can afford to use them less sparingly. Last Saturday we went to a concert of classical Spanish guitar in our local village church. It wasn’t well publicised or particularly well attended. Pre-retirement, I wouldn’t have spotted that it was on and, even if I had, I doubt I’d have used a precious Saturday evening on it. But I was so glad I did – it was a remarkably high quality performance by a relatively local chap called Alan Brinley Shaw.

Alan Brinley Shaw

Alan Brinley Shaw at Horsley Church

I’m looking forward to more of the similar.

Music, Reading and Box Set Catch-up

I’m not a musician (at all!) but I have always loved listening contemporary music. For the last decade, I have particularly enjoyed watching live performances, usually in small, intimate venues in London.

I have also always enjoyed reading. During my working life, I have got on best with fiction that can be read in 5 to 10 minute doses just before sleep (do people really read books at a sitting as they claim in some book reviews?)

Additionally, in terms of cultural pursuits, I have always enjoyed going to the cinema and watching TV drama.

Now work is out of the way, I can spend more time on all of these cultural activities.

Reading is something that I have already stepped up. My new year’s resolution of reading more than 16 books in 2018 now seems achievable, despite a slow start to the year pre-retirement. I’m enjoying that pleasure of finishing a good book increasingly frequently. The only problem is that the habit of falling to sleep after a few pages, which used to be fine having gone to bed, is now creating what might charitably be called successive siestas.

Despite those soporific moments, I have recently finished A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain; I would recommend them all. I can’t imagine when I last completed three books in 6 weeks (though admittedly the former was only 150 pages and felt a bit of a lovely cheat).

Having moved from living above Cinema 2 and 3 at the Barbican to a village near Stroud, the options for watching current and relatively high brow film have drastically reduced. LSW and I did see Dunkirk at the Stroud multiplex last week which was fine. However, the cinema there generally only manages kids films and blockbusters.

I’m told there are local independent cinemas I should visit and there are occasional live broadcasts of West End Opera and plays at the multiplex. I will try out all of that in due course but my immediate retreat from arty cinema has been to catch-up on TV drama series.

I particularly like the new wave of continental crime thrillers – will they still be available after Brexit? Most recently, I have been watching I Know Who You Are (Spanish), Black Widow (Dutch), Dicte (Danish) and The Passenger (French) and it was only my predilection for delayed gratification that prevented me ploughing through all of these at an unhealthy rate. With the facilities afforded by catch-up TV, there is an almost unlimited supply of gripping drama.

I miss the London music scene but I am starting to explore the local live music options. More on this next post….