So Much To Do, So Much Time?

CoroGorgeous Spring weather is here but the lockdown to prevent the rapid spread of Covid-19 continues.  So many in the UK and worldwide are horribly constrained by the lockdown and I am fortunate that I can continue to enjoy this wonderful Spring.

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

There are arguments raging as to whether the UK lockdown was aggressive or early enough, about how long it should last and how it should be relaxed over time.  Given the evident lack of testing and tracing capability, and the paucity of vital protective equipment available to health care workers, it seems to me that the lockdown should have been implemented much earlier.

I wonder why our Prime Minister was openly glad-handing others so long after the infectiousness of the virus was clear, and why did the Cheltenham race festival with its 100,000 racegoers take place in mid-March?  Given that a pandemic was an obvious risk, why did we not have more equipment in our stockpiles in anticipation?

Now we have ‘let the cat out of the bag’, as it were, it looks like getting it back under control is going to take an extended period of social and business restrictions.  That is already creating huge economic and social problems.  Loneliness, anxiety, depression are all bound to increase.  Worries about domestic violence, money, entertaining and educating kids, and many other unplanned problems are mounting for many.  It is hard to imagine what life in the UK might be like in a year or so if the lockdown cannot be relaxed significantly by then.

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

Meanwhile, I continue to be one of the lucky ones.  I haven’t contracted the virus and don’t know anyone personally who has suffered badly from it – yet.  I don’t have to work or travel any more.  I live in the country and so can still get out and about without needing to worry about social distancing while outdoors.  Indeed, the countryside is splendidly empty of people, vibrant with wildlife and looks lovely in the fullness of what has been terrifically consistent Spring sunshine.

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

I am maintaining my 15,000 steps a day average by finding ever more extravagant detours into the surrounding rural wilderness on my way to the newsagent in town.  This walking, in combination with a steady reduction in alcohol intake over the last three months (in line with my New Year resolutions) has got my weight down close to my target.  That, plus plenty of gardening, is improving my overall health and readiness to take on Covid-19 if and when it hits me.

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

My days are surprisingly full.  There is so much music to listen to and so many box-set series TV to watch (I’m loving Trigonometry and Devs on the BBC at the moment).  There are so many books on my ‘To Be Read’ shelf still (I’m half way through Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and enjoying that).  I play games on my mobile; I am keeping my empire in Forge of Empires going and gradually improving my battle technique in Clash of Clans.

Yet these are all just fill-in activities around the main, constant structure of almost every locked down day (Sunday is still a slight exception).  Tea in bed is followed by leisurely breakfast.  Then there is the round-about walk into town for the newspaper followed by digestion of its main stories.  Then I make a salad lunch which is followed by the first game of Monopoly Deal of the day with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and Youngest Son (YS).

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards. More Fun Than It Sounds!

Most afternoons I work in the garden – there are simply more jobs in the garden than I can fit into the time and my reserves of energy – or I spend an hour or two writing this or moving forward the village Neighbourhood Plan and Climate Action Network group.

I stop to follow the daily government briefing on Covid-19 at 5pm.  It’s repetitive but worth listening to, I think, for the subtle attempts to re-write history and the almost obsessional denial of any mistakes.  Those denials are even with hindsight and in the knowledge that no-one could get the response to the pandemic entirely right.  Indeed, there may be no ‘right answers’ and certainly none we can discern yet.  YS still can’t get over how much I chunter on to the radio with my moaning about politicians.

If it is my turn to cook then I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for that.  I’m finding that while recipes are invariably right about cooking times, they underestimate preparation time (by me, anyway) by 300%.

Finally we will eat and then play another game of Monopoly Deal before retiring to the TV room.  The day is crowned with another railing against politicians on the television evening news and then its reading in bed and sleep.

Special events rarely disturb this pattern.  LSW and YS have deemed Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as ‘drinking days’.  On these we often lap up the privilege we have of a garden to retreat to, by taking a bottle of wine up to the fading warmth of the setting sun at the top of our field.

Evening Wine In Our Field

Evening Wine In Our Field

The Thursday ‘Clap for Carers’ has become an increasingly important interlude and is now accompanied by a neighbour playing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ proficiently and commendably on saxophone.  Also a new virtual, monthly village quiz has kicked off; I’m scheduled to arrange the May occurrence so preparation for that will fill a rainy day or two.

There seems to be so much to do.  I do hope we find a way to end the lockdown soon but it has helped me fit all these local activities in.

London Variety Part II

As planned, we are in London again.  We are treating the week as something of a holiday and the weather is so warm it certainly feels like could be in Madrid or Rome.  We are effectively being tourists in our capital city and are working our way through a plan of food, music and art.  We are also taking the opportunity to catch up with Middle Son (MS), stay in his new flat with its wonderous view of central, southern and northern London, and even to cook in his kitchen.

View Of The City And Canary Wharf From MS And His Girlfriends' Flat

View Of The City And Canary Wharf From MS And His Girlfriends’ Flat

I have been cooking increasingly often in retirement and, even more surprisingly, am cooking increasingly vegetarian meals.  Earlier this week, we further adopted MS’s flat as a sort of Air BnB by inviting over Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend.  I cooked a meal of bulgar wheat, tomatoes, aubergine and lemon and mint yogurt that I have been perfecting at home.  Admittedly, this time, I added a few slices of (probably farmed!) salmon. So, not vegetarian after all, but we are reducing meat intake slowly.  Anyway, it was a lovely evening watching the sun go down over Alexandra Palace.

Sunset Over Walthamstow

Sunset Over Walthamstow

During this London visit, we have also stayed with Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend in their new flat in Hackney.  We had planned to see an American guitarist called William Tyler with them at Cafe Oto which is one of my favourite music venues.  Unfortunately, YS’s wasn’t well and so only Long-Suffering Wife and I made it to the gig.

We got there early enough for front row seats and the performers and music were as intimate as they always seem to be at Café Oto.  William Tyler’s technique was awesome and, despite him not having a band or vocals (apart from some amusing inter-song banter), I loved the whole experience.

William Tyler At Cafe Oto

William Tyler At Cafe Oto

LSW and I have also visited (in my case, revisited) the Temple of Mithras in the new Bloomberg Building in Walbrook.  I first saw this in February last year and was impressed by the classy presentation of this ancient monument – discovered during demolition after the Second World War and relocated to its current underground site a few years ago.  The information about the cult that worshipped here in Roman times is scarce and the ruins themselves are sparse.  However, the free show (but you have to book) makes the most of a little.  The lighting is very clever and it engenders an atmosphere of mystery and eeriness.  I recommend the 30 minute investment of time.

The Temple Of Mithras

The Temple Of Mithras

We then went on to Tate Britain. Our intention was to see the Frank Bowling exhibition but, as we had with the Van Gogh exhibition at Tate Modern a couple of weeks before, we made the rookie error of turning up a day after the exhibition had closed!  Never mind; the Tate always has great art to feast on.

I was relatively controlled and focused on just 8-10 rooms including those housing the Turners.  I do love his portrayal of outdoor light, especially in his later, almost abstract work.  I particularly enjoy his seascapes which either capture the energy of windswept skies and seas, or the calm of his famous sunsets.

Turner's 'Fishing Boats Bringing A Disabled Ship Into Port Ruysdael' (1844)

Turner’s ‘Fishing Boats Bringing A Disabled Ship Into Port Ruysdael’ (1844)

On this visit I also enjoyed some of the British abstract art from the 1950s including Howard Hodgkin, the paintings of the St Ives crowd and the Bloomsbury Group, and the Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth sculptures.  There was also a rather odd but interesting new installation of old machines – posing as art – in the main hall.  This was called Asset Strippers and was created by Mike Nelson as an ode to the last days of the industrial revolution in Britain.  Given the UK economy focus on services, it did provide a whiff of nostalgia perhaps.

Howard Hodgkin's 'Dinner At West Hill' (1966)

Howard Hodgkin’s ‘Dinner At West Hill’ (1966)

Moore and Hepworth

Later the same day, I revisited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow that I went to earlier this month in the midst of MS’s early recovery from his accident.  Then, I couldn’t concentrate much on what I was seeing.  This time I spent longer in the temporary exhibition of Madge Gill’s work and the permanent history of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement he founded with a few of his early friends and business partners.

Embroidery By Madge Gill

Embroidery By Madge Gill (Victorian/Edwardian Artist From Walthamstow)

The portrayal of William Morris, his life, his work and his influences and influence is well structured and compelling.  He was an artist, designer, colourist (fascinated by natural dyes), writer, printer of books, retailer, environmentalist, and, from the age of 50 a raging socialist activist.  He fitted so much into his life and his concern for social issues and the environment, particularly after he visited Iceland, was remarkable.

Honeysuckle Print Wallpaper - Typical William Morris

Honeysuckle Print Wallpaper – Typical William Morris

I ended up liking him and want to find out more about him (and his close colleague John Ruskin).  He seems to have been a man ahead of his time on social and environmental issues and but also, in his hankering for past styles and craftsmanship, a man out of time in the century of industrial revolution.  It is great that the Gallery, like Tate Modern and the Temple of Mithras, is free to visitors – that is in line with Morris’s beliefs: “I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.

William Morris Gallery

William Morris Gallery

Following so much cultural input, LSW, MS and I headed off for a local pizza at Sodo Pizza which was sufficiently wheel chair friendly and excellent.  I’m enjoying my stay in Walthamstow!

Doing More With Soup

On A Local Walk Recently Recommended By The Sunday Times

Another Beautiful Clear Autumn Day: On A Local Walk (Recently Recommended By The Sunday Times)

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) is in the second of her twice-annual gap between garden guiding and packing hampers in a warehouse.  We failed to maximise use of this gap to get away on holiday this year.  However, the weather has continued to be great and we have managed some lovely, long, local walks together – usually with rest and relaxation in a pub at the end of them.

Pinbury Park

One Of Our Favourite Local Walks Around Sapperton And Pinbury Park

Despite sustaining these walking expeditions, I’ve slowed down overall as autumn has drawn in and the days have got shorter.  I’m not getting as much done as I did in the summer.  It’s nice that I have the ‘slow down’ option but it doesn’t feel right; indeed, it’s not.  I should be trying to get more done in a shorter daylight period and shifting to tasks that don’t need daylight.

I recall that I went through a similar period or relative sloth last year after the early glow of not having to go to work every day had started to wear off.  Then, I needed to structure my days a bit more and the main response was to set out layered to-do lists – for the long term, the medium term and for the immediate.  Those to-do lists worked then and so I have resurrected them in the last week.  They hadn’t entirely lapsed but I haven’t been maintaining them religiously enough to drive activity.  Now I am, I’m already feeling the benefit and the quiet satisfaction of ticking things off.

To be fair to myself, I do have an excuse for recent relative inactivity.  I strained something deep in my right side while digging up a particularly long-rooted and recalcitrant dock plant in the meadow.  I didn’t think much of it at the time but getting old means longer recovery times and, three weeks on, I’m still struggling with it.

After a couple of weeks I started looking up possible other causes for the nagging ache.  Predictably (for those who know me), I ‘Googled’ liver disease, kidney failure, pancreatic cancer and other disasters.  More rationally, LSW rubbished that as catastrophist, ‘Googled’ side strain and confirmed that such muscle pulls can take 1 to 2 months to repair.  She’s right and avoiding bending and sharp movement is the only treatment.

That has been my excurse for reducing the amount of gardening I have been doing and for stepping up my investment in sitting on the sofa reading fiction.  I have just finished the excellent Before the Fall by Noah Hawley and am now half way through the remarkable Milkman, the Booker Prize Winner by Anna Burns.  Unfortunately even the high quality of the prose is usually insufficient to prevent inadvertent siestas.  It is those little sofa dozes I most want to cut out.

One way of sustaining activity has been to increase cooking of meals.  I have had some unexpected success with some (admittedly straightforward) Yotam Ottolenghi evening meal recipes.  Also, as we have moved from summer to colder weather, I have swapped out the salad lunches which I used to make for LSW (ready for her return from her mornings’ work) for soups.

Dinner Looking Roughly Like It Did In The Recipe Book

Dinner Looking Roughly Like It Did In The Recipe Book

These soups take longer to make than the simple salads I made routinely earlier in the year.  However, there is a greater sense of achievement (and better aromas) in cooking combinations of celeriac, leeks, beetroot, apples and so on than there is in simply slicing lettuces, cucumbers and tomatoes into a bowl.  Also, I can make quantities that last us for days so the cooking doesn’t need to be daily.  Anyway, I’ve got the time, vegetable soup fits with our aim to reduce meat consumption (and our impact on the planet), it just feels better that the ingredients are in season, and the warmth of the soup feels in tune with the chillier temperatures outside.

One other achievement not requiring much movement of my side has been that LSW and I were in a Quiz team that won a charity quiz event.  This was at the nearby and beautiful Westonbirt School which I had not been to before.  I had a good time being supportive of other team members who knew far more answers than I, and LSW and I took away a bottle of Prosecco each for our efforts.

Approaching Westonbirt School And Victory In Their Annual Quiz

Approaching Westonbirt School And Victory In Their Annual Charity Quiz

Earlier that same week, LSW had also won her end of season quiz at her place of work.  She is on a roll!  I can’t make our local pub quiz next week (due to a clash with football – Forest Green Rovers are doing well since you ask!) but I expect to hear of more of her quiz team’s success at that.

Hopefully, by then, I will be fully operational and firing on all cylinders again.

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.

 

Fun in Porto

Last weekend, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I had a short break in Porto, Portugal’s second city. We went with an old friend of ours.  We have a lot of shared history including our revelry at the Horsley Village Disco I wrote about last December.  Almost 40 years ago, I introduced her to her (now) husband and, a few years later, she introduced me to my (now) wife.  We had a lot of fun in those days of our relative youth and we had a great time again last weekend.

Porto From Torre Dos Clerigos

Porto From Torre Dos Clerigos

About 18 months ago LSW and I visited Lisbon, Portugal’s capital. Lisbon is a wonderful historical city with lovely walks and views, we were lucky with the weather, we found the people very friendly and we enjoyed ourselves very much.  We therefore were keen to try Portugal again.

We were not disappointed; indeed in many ways Porto was even more enjoyable.  Again, the weather was sunny and the people we met were relaxed and friendly.  The historic streets with their tiled and balconied buildings were attractive and interesting.  The views across the hills of the city and the river were sunlit and dramatic.  Porto is a little slower, more laid back and perhaps even more at ease with itself than Lisbon.  It has an atmosphere that was perfect for our little group.

Porto And The Duoro River

Views of Porto And The Duoro River

Porto's Graffiti, Trams And Tiled Buildings

Porto’s Graffiti (including The 3-D Rabbit!), Trams And Tiled Buildings

Our sketchy plans for what we wanted to see and do seemed to keep falling into place.  Even fully booked restaurants found space for us.  We managed to get prime tables in roof-top bars overlooking the stunning Douro River that splits the city in two.  We stumbled upon free port tasting and barely advertised museums that pleasantly filled the gaps between excellent meals and chats over bottles of local wine.  The relaxed approach culminated in a takeaway of chicken, chips and salad (accompanied by copious amounts of local wine and port, of course) eaten heartily in our very good AirBnB on the last night of our stay.

Porto Churches And Cathedrals

Porto Churches And Cathedrals

Upon our return we found that the weather had been even hotter in our garden than in Porto and that there had only been one short rain shower to sustain the garden.  It is looking increasingly parched and manual watering is no longer enough to sustain everything.  However, my focus on keeping the beans and blackcurrant plants going is paying off.  We are able to have a variety of types of bean at every meal now and I have made a year’ supply of blackcurrant jam with loads more still to pick.

Another Year's Supply Of Blackcurrant Jam

Another Year’s Supply Of Blackcurrant Jam

My allotment is faring less well – it’s a long story as to why I have it since it is a few miles from where we now live and so I can’t keep it watered sufficiently.  The good thing is that the weeds are not thriving there either due to the lack of rain – although the leeks I failed to harvest last year are looking impressive.  More on the allotment another time…..

Dry Allotment

My Dry Allotment With Last Year’s Unpicked Leeks

Meanwhile, I’m planning to visit London again next week and, beyond that, now Paris and Porto have been visited in the last month, LSW and I need to get another holiday into the diary.

6 Months On (Part II)

The last post listed the first five lessons learnt since my retirement six months ago. They were:

  • Work didn’t and doesn’t define me and I don’t miss it,
  • There is plenty to do in retirement,
  • There is still need for structure,
  • Holidays (trips away from home) are more relaxing now,
  • I miss London, but not as much as I expected.

A few others that come to mind are:

Summer Is A Good Time To Retire. The sun tends to shine, it’s relatively warm and there are few weather related impediments to doing whatever one wants. Given I wasn’t sure how would fill my time as I moved into retirement, that was important for me.

Derry Watkins's Garden

Summer in Derry Watkins’s Special Plants Nursery Garden, Near Bath

Remember That Retirement Affects One’s Partner Too. Many cautioned me about how Long Suffering Wife (LSW) might react to having me ‘under her feet’ for so much more time relative to when I was living through the week in London. In fact, LSW’s work takes her out of the house two days a week and she continues her normal round of visits to friends and relatives so we still spend a lot of the day apart. That’s good since I am conscious of the need to maintain independence and separation as well as togetherness.

Also, I am still only gradually accommodating the little compromises to living together full time. For example, cutting up the salad much more finely than I prefer, compromising on the music we listen to when we are both around, drying up with a tea towel after washing up (what is the point of not just letting things dry naturally!) and using LSW’s brand of yogurt. We are getting by pretty well I think – but maybe I should ask again…..

Spend Time Getting to Know One’s (New) Neighbourhood. I have enjoyed the daily walks into town and the variations in route I have been able to build in to widen and deepen familiarity with the local views, footpaths and houses. LSW and I have also gone further afield (for example, Bristol, Cheltenham and Tetbury) and gradually my knowledge of South Gloucestershire is becoming more commensurate with having had a family home in here for 20 years. I’m also getting better at remembering local peoples’ names now I meet them more routinely – much to LSW’s relief.

Summer View in Cheltenham

Summer View in Cheltenham

Don’t Rush Into Any New Big Time Commitments. Maybe I’ll get around to it but I just haven’t felt any great compulsion to take on any worthy (or unworthy for that matter) commitments since retiring. I suppose reigniting my participation in the Forest Green Rovers Football Supporters Club or volunteering in the village shop are the obvious possibilities; but not yet.

Health, As Always, Is Critical. One of the factors in retiring when I did was a concern for my health. Old age is, of course, creeping on, but health hasn’t stopped me doing anything yet. I’m going to press on while I can and do things such as eating sensibly, walking and gardening that, hopefully, keep me healthy.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Home Grown Jerusalem Artichokes Made Into Jerusalem Artichoke and Pea Soup – Very Healthy!

I Really Don’t Like Snakes. I recall seeing a grass snake that had got caught in some netting in the garden of our previous house 15 years ago. That frightened me near to death when it moved. But that was nothing compared to the mean look of the snake I near stepped on in Australia. That look it gave me as it slid off with me reeling back and falling on my bum will stay with me forever.

I’m sure that there will be many more lessons to be learned in the next six months of retirement.