Overstepping The Mark To Normality?

Over the last couple of weeks I have done a number of things that have pushed my risk of catching Covid 19.  I haven’t caught it – presumably thanks to being double vaccinated – but have felt in jeopardy on a few occasions.  With the exception of our planned trips to Scotland (lockdown restrictions permitting) when Eldest Son and his fiancés’ baby arrives and then for Christmas, I plan to reduce my exposure to the pandemic a bit in the next few weeks.

For the first time since the pandemic struck, Long-suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to a large indoor event.  We attended two very interesting talks at the Cheltenham Literary Festival along with a few hundred others who were mostly masked and who were, by and large of the age that would have been double vaccinated.  Any feeling of risk of contagion was quickly overtaken by my interest in what was being said.

Feargal Cochrane And Patrick McGuire Discussing Northern Ireland At The Cheltenham Literary Festival

The first talk was about the Labour Party and whether it has any chance of winning an election any time soon.  The conclusion between three Labour party sympathisers seemed to be a resounding ‘no’ but the reasons and the possible deflections to that verdict were well set out in arguments that seemed to spill new thoughts and ideas every few seconds.

The second talk concerned the recent history of Northern Ireland.  This is of particular interest because Youngest Son (YS) and his Belfast-born partner are now making their careers and lives in Northern Ireland.  Having visited a couple of times, we love the country and want it to succeed.  The risks to that success are rooted in history there, recent disinterest in Westminster, and the touch-paper lit by Brexit.  It was a fascinating talk and increased my wish that the current difficulties around the new Northern Ireland Protocol agreement with the European Union can be resolved soon and relatively painlessly.

Then, last week, I travelled up to London.  I hunkered down in a corner on the train up and then walked across London to our flat.  On the way I visited the new Marble Arch Mound.  The Mound and the view from it was a lot less impressive than the scaffolding on which it is built but the light show inside was a nice bonus.

The main purpose of my London trip was to visit my dentist there for a check-up and hygienist appointment that had been postponed several times over the last year due to the pandemic.  The Covid protocols in the dental surgery made me feel very safe and I got away with just a couple of bloodied gums and some new dental hygiene advice.

I felt less safe on the tube to and from a football match (it wasn’t quite coincidence that my football team – table topping Forest Green Rovers – were playing at Leyton Orient the day after my dental appointment!).  Despite guidance that masks should be worn, only a minority did so.  Fortunately I only needed to be on the tube for four stops each way. 

At the match itself, masks were completely absent but the excitement of the football always swamps any feelings I have of Covid risk during games.

Celebrating Shared Spoils After A Tight Game (Nice Orient Mascots!)

The visit to London was a lovely break.  I visited an unusual and stimulating exhibition by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama at the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey.  His art there incorporated old maps (which I love), ideas about colonialism and the story of his renovation of a bat infested grain silo complex.  The White Cube is a wonderful space and it’s free to visit.

Variety Of Ibrahim Mahama’s Work At The White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey
Ibrahim Mahama’s ‘Capital Corpses’ – 100 Rusty Sewing Machines That Bash Away On Vintage Desks (Its Quite a Noise!)

I also got to see Middle Son (MS) and his partner at the football match but also for dinner and lunch.  It was great to catch up with what they are up to. Dinner at Bottega Prelibato was excellent and felt pretty safe. 

However, it was during that dinner that I decided that I would forgo another planned London trip the following week during which I was scheduled to see the band Tourist with MS.  The idea of being in a cavernous, enclosed space with several bouncing and singing, young and partially vaccinated people felt like an overstepping of the Covid risks.  MS and his partner were able to use the tickets and I’m left with regret but well-being.

Other safe events were a visit by YS and his mate on their way to a holiday in Wales and a simultaneous visit by a couple who have been decades-long friends from London.  All had gone beyond the call of duty by having recent lateral flow tests – something I need to get in the habit of doing – before visiting us.  It was an extremely convivial weekend full of chats, walks, good food and a local art exhibition by a West Country chap called Stuart Voaden.  His day was made too by the fact that our friends purchased some of his work.  We all had fun.

What felt less safe – although it was fun too – was a visit to the local pub last week.  For a few weeks now, since the weather got colder, I have been drinking inside rather than in the pub garden.  Even during the busy recent Quiz Night the environment felt relatively Covid-free.  However, the ‘Jam Night’ last week was a night of full blown sing songs and, as I left after a few noisy beers, I wondered if that had been my peak risk of infection during the last few weeks.  I’m going to go to the pub on quieter nights for a while.

Everyone has a different feel for the balance of risk in relation to Covid.  I know that I’m lucky that I can choose how much risk I take.  The last few weeks have been interesting in helping me determine what is and what is not ok for me in advance of my booster jab and, one hopes, a final decline in Covid cases.

Postscript: Just one more shout out for our Café-au-Lait dahlias which have given me so much pleasure as cut blooms over the last few months.  They will continue for a little while yet until they are blasted by the first frost. 

Also, I am pleased that my limited range of vegetable harvest has been decent again this year.  I can’t grow a lot of things since I struggle to protect them from mammals both large (deer, badgers) and small (voles, mice).  However, some basic fencing and conservative plant choices have meant we have plenty of squash, chard, beetroot, onions and potatoes stored in the old stables as we enter winter.

Home Grown Veg! The Crown Prince Squash (Top Right And 1 of 5) Is A Whopping Stone In Weight

Old Friends

With the relaxing of the coronavirus lock down we have been emboldened to travel further afield to see friends and relatives.  At the end of last month we went to Nottingham and Edinburgh and last week we visited friends in Eye, Suffolk.  It had been over a year since we had seen these old friends and over two years since our last visit to Suffolk.  There was much to catch up on.

Unexpectedly Spectacular View At Diss, Just North Of Eye

Once again, we had great Suffolk weather.  That showed off to best effect the improvements to our friends’ house and outbuildings, which had continued up to the lock down last year, and the private allotments that they have recently purchased and taken fuller control of. 

The Entrance To, And The Developing Harvest Of, Our Friend’s Allotments

These allotments are tremendous; they are colourful, well-tended and, judging from the health of the vegetables on show, fertile and not by savaged by deer or badgers.  I am particularly jealous of this last point having seen all my Jerusalem artichokes on my own tiny allotment plot excavated and eaten by relentless badgers in recent weeks.

Since our last visit to the Eye allotments, the wife in the couple has extended her animal husbandry alongside the vegetables, flower beds and an orchard cum meadow.  There are now pigs in addition to the squad of chickens and a grumpy, blind duck. 

Happy But Unsuspecting Pigs

There has already been a cycle of acquiring pigs, feeding them up and sending them to slaughter that the current pair Oxford Sandy and Blacks/Gloucester Old Spot crosses are blissfully unaware of.  Given how friendly and enthusiastic for life that they are, I’m not sure I could bear the emotion of farming pigs in this way but I have to say that the pork we had at dinner on the first night of our stay was delicious!

Eye Church In Morning Sun

Eye itself is a pretty town in which the wife in the couple seems to know everyone.  The town is a good size with a market and a nice range of independent shops.  It is surrounded by a mix of chicken factories and old airfields that are starting to be homes for small businesses.  One such is Bruha Brewing which we were able to visit (following my first and rather precarious cycle ride for several years) to sample their very satisfying craft beer. 

Big Fields, Big Skies

The town is also surrounded by arable farms criss-crossed by lanes and footpaths and we took ample opportunity afforded by the sunny weather to get our steps up to normal levels after the long drive to Suffolk.  There was time, too, to visit Wyken Hall Gardens and have a lovely lunch (again) at its restaurant, The Leaping Hare.  We have a lot of shared history with our Suffolk friends and it was great to catch up in such relaxed and attractive surroundings.

Views In Wyken Gardens, Suffolk

Then, this week, we had a visit from my best man (BM) who is another long standing friend from university.  Again, the formula of a pub visit, walking and a nice meal was a good, solid backdrop for a great mutual sharing of recent events and life developments.  BM’s life rarely seems dull and a recent hip replacement and impending retirement added to the normal interest.  If he doesn’t move on to a new job after all, perhaps we will be able to catch up more often.

Some Big Fields In Gloucestershire Too!
And We Have Sandy And Black Pigs In Gloucestershire Too!

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are starting to enjoy and plan more trips and visits as Covid lockdowns are eased to allow them.  Last month, for the first time for me in ages, we visited LSW’s aunt, cousin and his wife for dinner.  It was an evening enlivened by their dog amusingly pinching a third of the quiche (the rest that he left for us was lush!) and a spectacular view of a sunset over the Severn valley from their house. 

Sunset From LSW’s Aunt’s House

Now we are starting to schedule trips to Ireland, London, Scotland, Bath plus dates for local get-togethers with local village friends and neighbours.  Normality in retirement is returning.

A Jab In The Map Of Perfect Tiny Things

Dawn Walk – Perfect Start To The Day

A couple of weekends ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I streamed and watched a film called The Map of Tiny Perfect Things.  It was a slight but charming fantasy about a couple of teenagers in an ordinary American town experiencing exactly the same day over and over again.  The repetition of events allowed the teenage boy to map out a series of funny or spectacular moments that occurred during the day and then schedule to view them, or interact with them in different ways, during each daily repetition.  It was Groundhog Day with teenagers rather than Bill Murray.

A Little Film With A Good Message For Me

The ‘Map of Tiny Perfect Things’ was entertaining enough, but what made it memorable was that it resonated with our current situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  We are in what sometimes seem like an endless lock down; every day feels, rather weirdly, very much like the last. 

The film reminded me that we need to appreciate all the good things – even if they can often only be little things at the moment.  I need to do more of that despite, or perhaps because of, the back drop of the pandemic (and even while railing against all of the inequality, strife, climate emergency concerns and political shenanigans of the world).  What we can all do is take comfort from the tiny pleasurable moments in each locked-down day.

A Perfect Walk Among Tall, Straight Beeches In Conygre Woods, Kingscote

Those moments might be the sighting of a kestrel or a group of buzzards during an airy walk across the Cotswold Tops, or seeing a flock of chattering long tailed tits in the ivy opposite our house.  Recently, while on a walk with Middle Son and his girlfriend – in itself, a set of (slightly illicit) lovely moments – I saw a dipper and then, later, the iridescence of a kingfisher.  Another perfect thing might be coming across a particularly attractive moss-covered tree, or suddenly spotting the semi-wild but inquisitive pigs snuffling around in the local woods. Another perfect moment was seeing the result of my recent and hugely overdue haircut (courtesy of LSW).

Perfect Moss, Moss, Moss

Then, today, I had a welcome tiny moment when I had the first of my anti-coronavirus vaccinations.  The moment of the jab itself was painless but it still felt like an important instant that signals the start of a new phase.  Lock down may still have some weeks to run.  For a few weeks yet, meetings with friends and Middle Son and his girlfriend may continue to be chilly snacks in the garden, or bracing walks, rather than gatherings around cosy wood-burners or indoor dinners.  However, change and more frequent, and more obviously perfect, tiny moments are coming.

View Over Stroud While Waiting The Advised 15 Minutes Post-Jab

In any case, the progression of the seasons has helped provide a structure for time spent – we aren’t really living at a standstill.  Spring is here and every warm and sunny day now provides a hint of the summer to come.  The buds in the hedgerows are swelling and bursting, the birds have long been active and noisy, and the fading snowdrops are now outshone by anenomes, crocuses and daffodils.

Perfect Snowdrop Carpet

For me, the football season has also provided a structure to the chronology and a sense of progression over time. My local and favourite team, Forest Green Rovers, are doing very well. Watching every one of their games through an internet streaming service (now physical attendance at games is prohibited again) has been a real boon. Indeed, on the coldest football evenings, I’ve been very glad to be able to watch my team from the comfort of our living room rather than the frozen stand in our stadium. I am finding that the football season is providing a way – albeit a tense one – through the repetition and drift of time in pandemic lock down.

This has been my first post to this blog for a few weeks.  In part, that has been due to distractions due to a busy period with our local climate action group and, more recently, involvement with a local Community Land Trust project.  Also, though, those weeks have been dominated by a routine of relative inactivity so as to avoid the coronavirus risk.  There hasn’t seemed much to say. 

Walkers View On The Way To The Shops

I think I need to pay more attention to those transient, tiny, perfect moments in my routine and make the most of them.   But, also, I am hoping that my vaccination jab, and the end of lock down over the next several weeks, paves the way to a new context for those moments.  That context will include, once again, proper socialising, travel and substantial events; a map of large perfect moments.

Hope and Resolve in 2021

Yesterday, Storm Christoph, which has been battering and flooding many parts of the UK, brought us a dramatic combination of rain, wind, thunder, lightning, snow, bright sunshine and then a great sunset.  I suspect that we might see a similar drama in events and a variety of ups and downs in 2021 as we wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the impact of Brexit and the normal hurly-burly of life.

Sunset Over The Garden After The Storm

Currently, the rather boring but necessary lockdown continues and Winter life revolves around meals at home, shopping for them, walking the local lanes and fields, reading books, listening to the (voluminous and ever changing) news, watching TV dramas in front of the woodburner, and sleep.  But the delivery of vaccines is providing some hope that, in a few months, we will be able to resume adventures around the UK and meet people normally again. 

Morning Mist On The Cotswold Tops

Yes, there are new variants of the virus and, yes, the death rate will rise yet further before it subsides, but there is expectation now that the current pandemic will pass (or, at least, become a lot less disruptive) during 2021.  Of course, I am dearly hoping that is the case.  However, I also hope that the Government does not hide behind an effective roll-out of the vaccines (assuming they manage that).  We must learn, and make transparent, the lessons learnt from doing almost everything too little and too late to combat the virus.  After all, this is hardly likely to be the last pandemic we need to deal with and we need to do far better next time.

Against the uncertain backdrop of pandemic and Brexit, it is hard to set concrete personal resolutions for the New Year.  The lockdown has induced a gentle lethargy in me (I’m one of the lucky ones).  I think it is going to take the fine Spring weather and an end of the lockdown to generate some proper enthusiasm to break that ennui.  So my resolution process this year is really to just continue on the path set over the last couple of years. 

For example, I will maintain my target of walking an average of over 15,000 steps a day.  Apart from a bit of garden pottering, that is really my only substantive exercise these days.  So, it’s good that I exceeded that target again in 2020 and I plan to do so once more in 2021.  That should be achievable, and be thoroughly enjoyable to achieve in our lovely countryside, provided I stay healthy.  Hopefully, many of those steps will be taken a little further afield than was possible in 2020.

Evening Mist In Our Valley

The 2020 resolution achievements I proudest of in 2020 were those relating to increasing alcohol-free days and reducing average alcohol units per day.  I beat my target of 40% alcohol free days by more than 10% – well over half or 2020 was alcohol free!  I also thrashed my 10% reduction target of decreasing my alcohol unit intake.  My tracking on the Drinkaware app has shown that I managed a 35% reduction in alcohol compared to 2019 and I now average 22 units/week.

That still leaves me well above the recommended limit of alcohol intake (14 units a week); so there is more to do.  However, there is a balance to be struck here.  Until I really can’t drink whiskey, wine or beer for precipitate health reasons, I need to weigh the benefit to my feelings and mental health with the physical risks of exceeding the rigour of what is recommended.  So many pleasures have been curtailed during this pandemic, reducing further the pleasure I get from what is now a relatively occasional drink is not in my set of 2021 targets.  I will just aim to at least repeat what I achieved in 2020 – that will involve will power sufficient to be challenging enough.

That, plus the continuation of walking, should help with my perennial objective of getting my weight below 11 stone.  By the week before Christmas, I had managed that.  However, for the second year in a row, the combination of mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, brandy butter and a major Christmas dinner – lovely as that all was – tipped me over the edge of the 11 stone marker just before year end and just as it did in 2019.  My resolution this year is to reduce my weight to such a degree by mid-December that I can enjoy those Christmas excesses without jeopardising target achievement.

Other resolutions from last year have been a bit of a washout.  I failed to listen to the news on the radio less and listen to music more.  There was just so much news from the pandemic, to Trump, to Brexit, that I just couldn’t stop taking it in.  Plus I failed to reach my target of reading 20 books (I managed only 13, a poor show given how much discretionary time I now have and how much I enjoy good fiction).  I resolve to do better in 2021.

Long-Suffering Wife and I failed, for obvious reasons, to achieve our resolution to get out together around the UK more.  We made it to Belfast for the first time but other holidays to Cornwall and Wales were planned then cancelled.  This year, when the virus allows, we will revisit Belfast where Youngest Son is establishing himself, and visit Eldest Son in his new home in Edinburgh.  We also have booked, rather ambitiously, a family Christmas on the west coast of Skye; if that comes off, the world really will have returned to something like normality.

Memories Of Exploring The UK In 2020; Belfast Lough

This time last year I said in these blogs: “I think that 2020 is going to be a far better year than 2019”.  In some ways it was in that we had no sons in near fatal accidents.  Now, I really do think 2021 will be far better than last year but who knows what it will throw at us.  Good job my resolutions are not critical work targets that must be met; I can relax, be flexible, go with the flow and just be content with pushing myself just a tiny bit.

Early Snowdrops – A Sign Of A Brighter Future?

Goodbye (Good Riddance) 2020

Most of 2020 was pretty awful for the World due to the coronavirus pandemic.  For many, it will be a year remembered as one in which health and jobs were impacted hugely and where tragedy struck.  It is surely everyone’s hope that vaccines and natural progression of the virus will mean that, during 2021, the incidence of such these impacts and tragedies will lessen to insignificance.

Winter In The Shire

I have confessed in these blogs that the impact of the pandemic on me personally, especially during the spring and summer, has generally felt little more than inconvenience with a touch of boredom.  Certainly the personal impact of the pandemic has been much less than Middle Son’s accident in 2019.  My Mum contracted the virus in her care home but has recovered.  Phone and Zoom calls have provided the means of staying in touch with Dad.  Youngest Son briefly lost work but that just meant we had the pleasure of his company in our home for a few months.  We have been very lucky so far.  Nonetheless, I am very glad to be saying goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021 and a new feeling of hopefulness.

Christmas House

Our family Christmas with all three of our sons here in Gloucestershire was made possible by Middle Son’s girlfriend being willing to drive Middle and Eldest Son across London just before the Tier 4 lockdown was announced, a bit of bending of the rules relating to Christmas gatherings, and a bit of judicious coronavirus testing.   

This Year’s Christmas Tree

Wrenching Middle and Eldest Son out of London earlier than planned caused some upheaval to their plans.  Eldest Son had some more work to complete.  Middle Son hadn’t had time to relax after finishing work for the year.  He showed the signs of work stress that reminded me vividly of the sort of stress I used to suffer when I was working in a big corporation.  Soon though, everyone chilled out and we had a few lovely and highly-valued days together.  I hope all readers of this were able to enjoy the Christmas period as much.

We ate well, with everyone sharing in the cooking, and our recycling bin reveals that we drank well too.  The weather was kind enough to allow some very pleasurable local walks over the Christmas period.  The exercise from those walks enabled periods of guilt-free slouching on the sofa in front of the fire, watching films and football on the TV together.  Long-Suffering Wife has just bought a new, wider screen TV so it would have been rude not to!

Sunny Christmas Day Walk Above Horsley Village

Rather boldly, we have already planned next Christmas.  On Christmas Day Youngest Son noticed that a property on the western edge of Skye in Scotland, that he had been alerted to by Eldest Son’s girlfriend, was free for 2021 Christmas week.  Immediately the other sons expressed interest and so we booked it straightaway.  Hopefully our sons’ respective girlfriends will also be able to join us for at least part of that Christmas week.  Christmas 2020 was a very different Christmas from normal and 2021’s Christmas promises to be even more different; that is an extra thing to look forward to in 2021.

Misty Boxing Day Morning Walk

I’m sure 2021 is going to have its challenges.  Climate change may (should!) start to take centre stage in terms of a World crisis.  The impact of the recent Brexit deal will bite across the UK.  Forest Green Rovers football club might not be promoted.  Other First -World problems might beset us.  But, with 2020 finally done and dusted, we can look forward in hope to less social distancing and more normal personal interactions, more unimpeded travel, and Christmas in Skye.

Happy New Year!

The Garden Under The First Real Snow of the Winter

Shrinking Life Boundaries

I’m leaving October with the rain pouring down outside and the threat of a further significant tightening of the lockdown against the pandemic apparently imminent.  One can always expect the rain in the UK at this time of year but who would have predicted, this time last year for example, that life would be so constrained.  I certainly hadn’t imagined that retired life would be so narrow and boundaried.  I expected to be travelling, exploring and experiencing variety whereas, now, life has shrunk to very modest activities.

A Windy And Wet Autumnal Day From The Warmth Of Indoors

Of course, the little island of life that I have retreated to is very comfortable relative to many.  Despite all that one reads and hears on the radio, it is hard to put oneself in the shoes of a young intern now without an internship, a single mother without an income, or someone like my Mum cooped up in a care home without visitors.  It’s a tough period in which to be holding a poor hand of life cards in the UK and the deaths of those in the Channel this week hint at how much worse things are in some other parts of the world.

A few days ago we took Youngest Son (YS) up to Heathrow.  (He had been over from Belfast to drop off a car and do a video job in London which was ultimately, disappointingly cancelled due to a Covid-19 infection at his client.)  On the way back Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I listened to a radio programme hosted by Arlo Parks, a young British singer/songwriter, on the demise of live music during the pandemic.  As I listened, I realised that it is probably watching live music that I miss most in this constricted pandemic life.

Up Close With Zun Zun Egui at Cafe Oto (My Favourite Music Venue), London March 2015

One of the points made in the programme was that live concerts are more than just opportunities to hear live music that one likes or might like.  These concerts are short periods when pretty much everyone in the room come together for a common experience and somehow that lifts the listening to the music to a broader, collective emotional high. 

Mogwai At The Roundhouse, London June 2015 – One Of The Bigger Gigs I have Been To

This experience can be near perfect or fall flat; that is not always because of the quality of the music.   I have listed all the gigs I have been to since mid-2007 (368) and rated them as I went. 

Jazz Servant Quarters, London; A Tiny Venue With Nuria Graham

My ratings have, of course, been determined mostly by the quality of the performer – and that is not just the quality of the music but also whether the artist looked like they were enjoying playing, their engagement and the banter between songs, and the overall atmosphere they created.  But there are other factors contributing to the overall enjoyment and, therefore, the rating.  These include the quality of the venue and the audience. 

The Antlers At Union Chapel, London, April 2019

On that last point, I’m old-age and traditional.  I hate being in an audience where the crowd are more interested in shouting over the music at each other than listening and getting into the show.  I wonder why people go to a gig if all they want to do is chat to each other – just go to a bar instead why don’t you?  I’ve learnt which venues, in east London at least, are best for listening to the music and experiencing the togetherness that Arlo Parks and her colleagues on that radio programme talked about.  It’s that, and the anonymity of being in the crowd where everyone is focused on the stage, that I miss.

Faeland At Chapel Arts. The Last Concert I Attended

I’m missing visiting London, visiting exhibitions and live football too.  I’m regretful that I can’t travel – it looks like our planned trip to Wales next month is doomed.  But when one of my biggest worries is whether I will be able to get another haircut this year, I should quit moaning and appreciate the things I can do. 

So, in that spirit, here are a couple of pictures from recent, lovely woodland walks!

Stay safe!

Football Coming Home?

Last weekend, I went to my first live football game for almost 6 months.  Granted, it was a relatively small local village affair but it stoked feelings of regret for the football I have missed due to the Coronavirus and some excitement for the delayed but impending advent of the new football season.

The match was played on our village playing field – an unassuming but picturesque venue – between our very own Horsley United and a guest team.

Pre-Match Line-ups For Horsley United And The Guest XI

Pre-Match Line-ups For Horsley United And The Guest XI

The match was a celebration of Horsley United’s promotion to Stroud District League 2 last season.  Somehow, the organisers had managed to attract three ex-Premier English League footballers to play for the opposition (Deon Burton, Lee Hendrie and Lee Carsley).  Each of these showed their class (and their age) and they added an unexpected gloss to a very pleasant occasion.

I have to say, too, that Horsley United look a much better team this season.  While Stuart Hendrie (Lee Hendrie’s younger brother and another professional footballer) was probably the best player on the pitch, two new young Horsley strikers caught the eye and ultimately won the game.  I look forward to seeing village football again soon.

My main team, Forest Green Rovers, have also started playing friendlies.  The building anticipation for Forest Green Rovers’ new season in English Football League 2 has been accelerated by the streaming over the Internet of some of the more important friendly games and the availability of season tickets.  I fear that social distancing in the main stand, which has reduced capacity by about 75%, will mean that my allocated season ticket seat will be near the front or sides of the main stand where the risk of getting very wet in westerly storms is high.  However, I may get lucky and, anyway, I have waterproofs and I can’t wait for the season proper to start.

Initially, games will be streamed since the stadium can’t be opened until infection and death rates are lower.  There is hope that this will be sometime in October but, given the experience of other countries in Europe, our confused approach to lock down in the UK, and currently rising infection rates, I’m not so optimistic.  My purchase of a season ticket within an hour of sales starting was an act of faith and of support for the football club I love; hopefully, it pays off.

Forest Green Rovers's Current Stadium

Forest Green Rovers’s Current Stadium

In the two weeks since our trip to Northern Ireland I have become aware of how much I needed that trip away from home for the first time in five months.  The lock-down days have now returned to their rather lustreless routine.  The walks through local nature continue to be very pleasant – I spotted some bats a couple of evenings ago which was an example of how uplifting little incidents on these walks can be.  The garden continues to be a pleasure even in the relative wetness of this year’s August.  The gentle rhythm of walking, shopping, reading, listening to music, cooking and eating, snoozing and watching catch-up television generates contentment if not outright excitement.

One Of The Local Walk Pleasures - A Glorious Sunset

One Of The Local Walk Pleasures – A Glorious Sunset

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has found another outlet from this routine with another short trip – this time with a work colleague to (very) northern Scotland.

Her absence has accentuated the predictability of my own home routine.  I look forward to LSW’s return.  I look forward to the return to a football season.  I look forward to other signs of post lock down normality.

Another Bonus From Having Time In Retirement To Stroll Through The Local Countryside: One of 'My Five A Day'

Another Bonus From Having Time In Retirement To Stroll Through The Local Countryside: One Of ‘My Five A Day’

Actually, as I think back over the last couple of weeks, there have been more breaks from lock-down routine than it feels.  Eldest Son visited us on his way to a camping trip.  Middle Son is visiting us tomorrow following a meet up with friends in Bristol.  We also managed a very pleasant ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ lunch with friends last week at our local and excellent William’s Kitchen.  Another move toward normality is the restart of the monthly series of village pub quizzes from next month.

I helped keep some semblance of momentum around the village quiz going earlier this year.  Now, the local pub is setting up a quiz that will be adherent to the government guidelines for social distancing, for making too much noise and for having too much fun during the pandemic.  Despite my general hopelessness at answering the quiz questions, I am looking forward to participating in something that, like the start of the football season, suggests we have turned a corner in the pandemic.  Once again, my fingers are crossed.

Belfast

After long consideration of the relative risks during the Coronavirus pandemic, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I finally swallowed feelings of unease and flew to Belfast to see Youngest Son (YS) and his Northern Irish girlfriend in their new home.  We had a packed four full days there – so packed that I will use two blog posts to cover my thoughts on our trip.  Here is the first.

Travel to Belfast by car and ferry was going to take a day and the fastest route involved travelling through the Irish Republic.  We were concerned about possible quarantine restrictions being imposed there during our trip but the ferry direct to Belfast from Birkenhead took nine hours and we couldn’t face that.  So we plumped for a short flight from Bristol, our closest airport, and a payment to Solar Aid to offset the carbon emission and to help people in Africa.

The 'Beacon Of Hope', Belfast (Also Known As: 'Nuala With The Hula' and 'The Thing With The Ring'

The ‘Beacon Of Hope’, Belfast (Also Known As: ‘Nuala With The Hula’ and ‘The Thing With The Ring’)

We had a wonderful time in and around a surprisingly sunny Belfast.  Fundamentally, it was good to be able to see how YS now lives.  Also, having shared a number of misgivings about his move to Northern Ireland while he had been staying with us during the Covid-19 lockdown, the visit indicated our validation of his move.  Beyond that, we ate and drank well, got a good feel for Belfast, and managed a day on the north Antrim coast and a day in the Mourne Mountains.  I’ll write more on those two trips another time.

LSW had the wise suggestion of starting our stay with a bus tour of Belfast.  With our best face masks firmly fastened again, we rode around centre and immediate suburbs of Belfast.  Much of the journey was through and past places that we recalled vividly from news reports of sectarian strife in the latter part of the last century: the Europa Hotel, Shankhill Road, Falls Road, Crumlin Road Gaol.  The Peace Wall separating communities in the west of the city is now repurposed for genuine messages of peace but it was still shocking.  The murals and the flags in many of the streets indicated the recent rawness of The Troubles.  Coupled with the helpful bus tour commentary, we got a very good introduction to the city.

Two Of The Very Many Street Murals Reflecting The Troubles Of The Past

Two Of The Very Many Street Murals Reflecting The Troubles Of The Past

Early highlights of the tour were the famous Belfast shipyards and new Titanic Experience museum which we visited on the following day.  My expectations of the visit weren’t very high – I thought that the exhibition would major on the sinking and the romance of the likes of Winslet and de Caprio in the award winning film; I was wrong.

The Titanic Experience Building

The Titanic Experience Building

The material on the Titanic’s fatal maiden voyage and a cross-section of the people who travelled and survived was well presented.  The exhibition also provided a lot of fascinating context such as the history of Belfast and, especially, the way industry built up around linen manufacture and then shipbuilding.  The exhibits included interactive displays and a splendidly unexpected and well operated automated ride through part of the building.  This was laced with audio and video that allowed us to get a better feel for the working conditions in the dry docks and the scale of undertaking to build the Titanic.

Our fortune with the weather made wandering the streets of Belfast pleasant.  There are few pre-Victorian buildings and many central streets are a strange mix of run down warehouses and old office buildings, late-Victorian civic and religious buildings (such as the Customs House, City Hall, and St Annes Cathedral) and the usual modern mish-mash of shops and offices.

Albert Memorial Clock (Yes, It Really Is Leaning Over), St Annes Cathedral And Belfast City Hall

Albert Memorial Clock (Yes, It Really Is Leaning Over), St Annes Cathedral And Belfast City Hall

One of the most impressive buildings is Stormont which is now the home of Northern Ireland’s Parliamentary assembly.  It was built in the 1930s next to the late Victorian Stormont Castle and sits in wide open grass and wooded grounds.  It is surprisingly accessible and views of it and from it are impressive.

Stormont

Stormont

Apart from Stormont and the City Hall, the city did not appear elegant but there is huge potential and an emerging vibrancy.  We saw the rumbustiousness of that vibrancy on Saturday night in the bar-laden Cathedral Quarter (not much social distancing there!) and in the presence of new hip coffee shops, cafes and restaurants.  Of these we particularly liked Freight, Established, General Merchants and OX Cave (sister wine bar to OX restaurant which we look forward to trying next time we are in Belfast).  Our centrally located hotel, The Flint, was also cool and comfortable.  We felt safe from Covid-19 and everything else wherever we went and the people we met were very friendly.

Belfast 3-D Street Art

Belfast 3-D Street Art

Other highlights in the City were a mini picnic and coastal walk along the river Langan estuary to Helens Bay and visit to Belfast’s rather weary but endearing Botanic Gardens.  The Palm House there is a scaled down, but rather more beautiful, version of the Palm House in Kew Gardens.  LSW and I used to live in Kew and so it brought back some old memories.

Palm House, Belfast Botanic Gardens

Palm House, Belfast Botanic Gardens

On our final evening in Belfast, we went to dinner at the house of YS’s girlfriend’s parents.  We had a lovely evening enjoying their hospitality and catching up with them for the first time since they visited Gloucestershire several years ago.  It was an excellent finale to an excellent few days in Belfast.

Sunset Across Langan River Estuary

Sunset Across Langan River Estuary

 

New Beginnings

Blowy Day In Our Field

Blowy Day In Our Field

Life in our home has become a little quieter since lockdown eased enough for Youngest Son (YS) to leave us for his new start in Northern Ireland.  The Monopoly Deal box has gone, the breakfast coffee isn’t quite so consistently good (YS is a qualified barista!) and there isn’t as much energy and enthusiasm in the house.  We miss him.

The upsides are that he is with his girlfriend again at last, is excited about a new career as videographer in Belfast, and my study is empty of all his stuff.  I have also taken on YS’s grocery lockdown delivery slot for the Village Shop which is making me feel more helpful and virtuous.

Otherwise, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I continue much as we have throughout the lockdown.  The main twist to our lockdown routine has been triggered by the gradual opening of the village pub, now, mercifully, under new management.  It has been great to re-integrate visits to our local pub into our activities once again.

We first tried the take-away arrangements, sipping beer on the kerbside from a bottle and glasses that we had brought.  Then, at the weekend, we paid our first proper visits, post-lockdown, to see the changes the new leaseholders have made to improve the pub and make appropriate social distancing possible.  Although the pub was busy, we felt safe and the changes that have been made to the interior – narrowing the bar and moving the kitchen – have made the pub look and feel like a local pub for the first time.

Approaching The Hog

Approaching The Hog Post-Lockdown

Critically too, the new leaseholders already know loads of people in the village and so I believe villagers will want it to succeed more than ever.  The pub has had a chequered history and now is a difficult time for anyone in the hospitality business, but, as we chatted to fellow villagers, it felt like a positive new beginning for The Hog at Horsley.

I am hoping for new beginnings and directions elsewhere too.  The coronavirus outbreak has forced massive re-thinking in government and in many families.  There is talk of building back the way we live and the economy in a better, greener way.  A recent YouGov poll suggested that only 6% of people want a return to the same type of economy as before the coronavirus pandemic.  Hoo-ray!

Hopefully the re-build of the UK will involve increasing home working, walking and cycling and an improved electric car charging network to reduce carbon emissions and reduce air pollution.  Perhaps Treasury money will be found to create an enlarged skill pool (re-trained baristas perhaps) for the retrofit of homes through improving insulation and replacement of oil and gas boilers; that would create jobs and reduce our carbon footprint.

Maybe too, we will see promotion of renewable energy, more sustainable and diverse food production, and a continuation of the local community support groups that have taken off during the lock down.  I’m still hopeful that something positive will come out of the mess the virus outbreak got us into.

The Way To Go?

The Way To Go? Local Wind Turbines Near Forest Green Rovers’ Ground

In our small village climate action group we are looking at how, amid the virus disaster, we can help to perpetuate some of the positive side-effects of the lockdown on the village’s carbon footprint and its resilience to the climate emergency.  We are trying to promote our existing community assets such as the pub and shop, encouraging local and sustainable food production, and investigating community energy schemes and better, greener local transport solutions.  We have a plan – indeed, just last night, I presented it to the wider Stroud District Climate Action Network – and we just need more time and energy (probably a little more than we actually have) to implement it.

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

My involvement has been focused on trying to help sustain the revenue growth the Community Shop has seen during lockdown.  I am reluctant to become a full blown volunteer (beyond my new weekly delivery duties) or Committee Member.  That is because I fear that, on top of other regular commitments LSW and I already have (and will have when the football season starts again!), signing up formally might be an obstacle to the sort of travelling we want to do – once that is unencumbered by the current coronavirus fears and constraints.

However, I am anyway getting increasingly involved in trying to understand how we sustain the popularity of the shop as lockdown continues to ease.  It’s interesting and more complex than I thought and I think that I can help – we’ll see how this participation develops.

Another recent new beginning is that LSW and I are re-starting outings away from the local vicinity.  The easing of the lockdown has allowed LSW to see more of her old workmates during tours of local, recently re-opened gardens.  Then, this week, we drove several miles south to Old Sodbury.  There, we took a break from the numerous local walks from our house to explore one of the many Cotswold Way circular walks.

It was a lovely blustery walk that took in big views and an impressive Iron Age fort, and it was fun simply because it was new to us.  We will try some of the other parts of the Cotswold Way – it is something I have long wanted to traverse – but we will have to get used to meeting more people on the way than we are used to in our equally attractive local walks.

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

We are very spoilt for lovely, quiet walks where we live.  Amid all the current change – positive and negative – those remain consistently enjoyable.

Another Chapter On The Roller-Coaster

Late Evening Sun In The Garden

Late Evening Sun In The Garden And Meadow

Life can seem like a roller-coaster with its ups and downs.  Also, it often seems comprised of episodes or chapters, as in a book, where the start and end of each section is triggered by a significant event.  Maybe I am mixing metaphors but I have thought of both roller-coasters and multi-chapter books as retired life has progressed this week.

A year ago, our family life was upturned by Middle Son (MS) being run down on a pedestrian crossing by a police fugitive in a car.  He has made a good recovery (though I bet he will be stopped at every X-Ray machine at airports).  Finally too, just this week, the police arrested the culprit.  MS’s accident was a deep low on the roller-coaster but, although the court case and insurance claim is still to come, he and we have moved onwards and upwards.  It was great to see him looking happy this last weekend when he, Eldest Son (ES), and ES’s lovely girlfriend visited us for the day to celebrate Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) birthday.

Birthday Banners And Delicious Homemade Birthday Food

Birthday Banners And Delicious Homemade Birthday Food

We had a highly convivial day marking LSW’s (big-with-a-nought-on-it) birthday with all our sons.  There was even some probably ill-advised hugging!  The sun shone, there was great food and, mid-afternoon, LSW had a visit from the family of her younger brother and her mother.  We observed social distancing outdoors with them but the atmosphere of sociability and exuberance pushed away the disappointment of having had to cancel LSW’s our original plan birthday holiday plan due to the Covid-19 crisis.  It felt liberating just to have a lot of people in our garden again; a lovely slice of (almost) normality…..

Of course, a birthday can mark the start of a new chapter of life.  This one did so, especially, because Covid-19 lockdown has eased enough that Youngest Son (YS) was able to leave us, a couple of days after the birthday celebrations, for a new start in Northern Ireland.  That has left a hole in our days that will take a while to re-seal with other interactions and activities.

Watching Youngest Son From Our Bedroom Departing In The Wee Early Hours

Watching Youngest Son From Our Bedroom Departing In The Wee Hours Of The Morning

YS had been with us for three months and his can-do enthusiasm and almost constant positivity (so different from me) will be sorely missed.  As parents, it was a privilege to have him at such close quarters for so long.  I suspect our first post-lockdown trip will be to Belfast to see how he is settling in there and we are looking forward to that hugely.  Not only will we see him again then, but a trip away from home will be a welcome break from our re-trenched lockdown routine, and a chance to see a part of Britain I have not seen before.  Four years ago – almost to the day – we were waving YS off to what turned out to be three years in Australia; Northern Ireland is not so far!

Until we are able to make such a trip we are more than making do outdoors with the enjoyment of our garden and the seemingly endless variety of local walks.

A Selection Of Garden Flowers

A Selection Of Garden Flowers

The garden is full of flowers, the meadow is gradually revealing increasing plant diversity in response to our benign management, and both garden and meadow are full of bees, butterflies and other insects.

Marbled White Butterfly - Stationary Just Long Enough For A Photo

Marbled White Butterfly – Stationary In Our Field Just Long Enough For A Blurry Photo

My life chapters may be moving at a more sedate pace than YS’s but my roller coaster is nicely located for a contented retiree 🙂