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 🙂

Another Day In Paradise?

It feels churlish to complain about the coronavirus lockdown when I know that I have the multiple benefits of living in spacious house and garden in a beautiful part of the world, in sunny weather, with huge amounts of discretionary time and no immediate money worries.  I hadn’t imagined that retirement would be like this but it is certainly more relaxed and peaceful than I had expected.  So, on we go with another day in Paradise?

Local Paradise

Local Paradise

Maybe, but I’m getting increasingly bored and frustrated by the lockdown.

The lockdown rules seem to be constantly changing in ways I don’t really understand and which lead to apparent inconsistencies.  Of course, I can only read a small proportion of the increasingly diverse scientific advice.  I can only partially understand the economic and wider physical and mental health implications of social distancing.  However, I look at other countries in Europe that are similar to ours and feel they are coping better; their lockdowns appear less strict and executed to a more logical, progressive and strategic plan.

I suppose my current frustration is accentuated by the knowledge that we had planned to be walking from Minehead in Somerset, along the north Devon coast to Padstow in Cornwall right now.  I recall how Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I felt so proud of ourselves when we finished booking all 14 of the Air BnB’s along the route.  We were so pleased that we had booked a house that was perfect for a week-long celebration of LSW’s (big) birthday with our sons, their girlfriends and some old friends at the end of our fortnight of walking.

Route Of Our Planned Walk

Route Of Our Planned Walk – South West Coastal Path From Minehead To Padstow (The Yellow Line)

That has all been cancelled progressively over the last few weeks as the lockdown rules on overnight stays have tightened and it has become clear that pubs and restaurants won’t be substantially open for a few weeks yet.  The silver lining to this has been that LSW strained her back recently and the holiday cancellation has given her a chance to recover properly – she would have been sorely challenged by daily walks we planned – and also that the weather has suddenly turned mediocre.

One Of The Many Indicators That Persuaded Us That A Cornish Holiday Right Now Is Inappropriate

Instagram Post By The Economist: One Of The Many Indicators That Persuaded Us That A Cornish Holiday Right Now Is Inappropriate

We will just have to shift the whole three week plan to next summer, and then hope that the weather is sublime and that we are still fit enough to do the walk.  It will, though, have to be slotted in among all the other trips around the UK that we are envisaging ambitiously for when freedom is returned!

One foretaste of the renewed possibilities once the lockdown is ended was that Youngest Son and I did manage to get up to see my parents in Nottingham last week.  This was my first visit since mid-February.  I look forward to the rules changing so that I can once again sit with Mum for a while in the residential home and can stay overnight with my Dad.  However, it was very good, and rather emotional, to see them both even though the visit was only relatively brief (and, fortunately, in the sun).

It was good too to be able to help my Dad complete the netting of his fruit and vegetable plot.  He had just lost a batch of mangetout to the dreaded pigeons and I know how distressing losing crops to animals and birds can be.  Now most of his crops, like mine I hope, are protected.

My Vegetable Patch And Raised Beds – Protected From Most of the Local Wildlife

I will try to repeat the visit Dad again next month (and, no doubt, compare gardening experience and produce) regardless of whether lockdown restrictions have been relaxed further.

There is certainly a lot to look forward to once this damnable virus is past.

Smiling Garden Flowers And Buzzing Bees – Gloriously Oblivious To Coronavirus!

Pushing The Lockdown Boundary

CroAt a time when the Governments special adviser, Dominic Cummings, is dominating the news with his transgressions beyond the coronavirus lockdown boundaries, we too are pushing the lockdown envelope – albeit in much less obvious, controversial or dramatic fashion.  Our story is considerably less convoluted; we want to see our closest relatives and friends face to face.

Over the Bank Holiday weekend, Youngest Son (YS) offered to drive to London and back to collect Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend.  This enabled them to stay for a couple of days at our house and spend extended time out of their little flat in which they have been rather cooped up.  We eschewed hugging and touching but it was lovely to have them with us for a while and to catch up on their plans together.  Their visit was a welcome break from our normal routine.  It was an excuse to show off the garden and the local countryside and to eat slightly more luxuriously than usual.  It also provided an extra couple of players for our rounds of Monopoly Deal (now all but cemented into our daily cycle of lockdown-life).

Not Socially Distanced (But Pretty Safe) Monopoly Deal

Not Strictly Socially Distanced (But Pretty Safe) Monopoly Deal

Long Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) mother also visited us one afternoon (lockdown rule compliant) and a couple of other friends come over for a drink (non-compliant) last week.  We have also continued a regular social distanced Sunday lunch drink in our garden with a couple of neighbours (marginally compliant).  All these little events help pass the lockdown days in relaxed conversation in the continuingly gorgeous weather.

Peonies At Peak In The Garden

Gradually the lockdown is going to be relaxed.  In some ways I don’t want the peace and quiet of the lockdown to end.  But I know that the lockdown is hard for so many and, in any case, I’d love to be able to visit my Mum and stay with my Dad.  I want to see the return of live music venues, sport, cafes and restaurants.  I want to have a party! Instead of running an online village quiz (which fortunately was successful and fun) I want to participate in the village quiz in the village pub!

YS – a videographer by trade as Wilson Archer Films – has kept himself busy while staying with us with self-training, a week of work in London for London Flower School, helping with deliveries for the local community shop and (usually) thrashing LSW and I at Monopoly Deal.  He has also been developing a video of our house and garden.  This is to add to his portfolio as a real estate video producer and to help LSW, potentially, market the house as a location shoot in a no-Covid-19 future.

The Videographer At Work

The Videographer At Work

This is all well and good, and LSW and I have loved having him and his chirpy energy around, but YS is desperate for lockdown relaxation so he can stop living with his parents, see his girlfriend again and set up a new chapter of his life with her in Belfast.  Everyone wants to get back to something closer to normality.

Flowers From London Flower School Left Over After YS's Shoot

Flowers From London Flower School Left Over After YS’s Shoot, Gracing Our Dining Table

Meanwhile, the days have largely continued to circle around the walk into town for the daily shopping, a walk in the brilliantly green woods or across fields carpeted with wild flowers, a bit of gardening, three meals a day and TV in the evenings (LSW and I really liked Normal People).

Underrated Cow Parsley On The Way To Forest Green

Underrated Cow Parsley On The Way To Forest Green

In the marvellous Spring weather all of this has felt like an illicit pleasure – knowing that key workers and many others are having a tough time, even as the lockdown rules slowly fall away.

Inquisitive Cows In the Field On the Hill Behind Our House

Inquisitive Cows In the Field On the Hill Behind Our House – A Change From Endless Pictures Of Lambs!

Life Drifting Along

Our Hamlet

The Westernmost Part Of Our Hamlet

This picture of our hamlet in Gloucestershire is a picture of sunny tranquillity.  That is, until you realise this is taken by a tree feller, who for two days, seared the air with the noise of his chainsaw!

Despite that aural intrusion, the last couple of weeks of lockdown has been peaceful and, frankly, have felt like a very pleasant, seamless drift from one day to the next.  The only things that keep me aware of what day it is are the maintenance of our routine of sourdough bread at the weekends and the date labels on my Guardian newspaper subscription vouchers.  I do wonder when and how the lockdown will end but, in the meantime, no complaints here yet.

Blue, Vapour Trail Free Skies Above Quintisential English Countryside

Blue, Vapour Trail Free Skies Above Quintessential English Countryside (And One Of The First Wind Turbines In The Country)

What might become boredom has been fended off by the recognition that there is always an endless number of jobs to do in the garden (and the good weather in which to do them) and some work to promote our village climate action group.  On the latter I have been interested in following up the themes that arose at out village meeting just before the lockdown that related to strengthening community cohesion, neighbourliness, sharing and mutual support.

Of course, a number of community based initiatives related to the virus outbreak are already underway in the village independent from our climate action group.  One group are making protective headgear for front line medical staff using 3-D printers.  Another, including Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), is sewing up gowns for nurses.  Our climate action group wants to build on that community spirit while focusing on things that reduce carbon emissions.

The WhatsApp Group that LSW set up in early April for sharing of services and things in our hamlet has been very successful.  Similar groups are already up and running in other hamlets around the parish.  Together with the village Facebook presence, they have served as useful support mechanisms during the lockdown.  A new group that our village climate action group established that is specifically focused on sharing seeds, seedlings, plants and surplus crops has also thrived.  Social media technology is really helping with social cohesion although we are also using old fashioned means of notice boards and local magazines to ‘spread the word’ to those who don’t use it.

Sourdogh Starter, Kombucha Scoby, Carpet Cleaner And Rhubarb - Just A Fraction Of The Things Swapped and Shared By LSW's WhatsApp Group

Sourdogh Starter, Kombucha Scoby, Carpet Cleaner And Rhubarb – Just A Fraction Of The Things Swapped And Shared By LSW’s WhatsApp Group

It is almost distasteful to imagine that there are positives arising from the coronavirus outbreak.  So many have died, so many are worried about their jobs and incomes, and so many are suffering from just being cooped up in their flats and houses.

However it is also possible to recognise that the lockdown introduced to dampen the Covid-19 infection rate has had some beneficial impact on community spirit, carbon emissions and air quality.  We are spending more time communicating with our neighbours (albeit while socially distancing) and we are working, entertaining ourselves and shopping more locally, and are therefore driving and flying less.

One Of The Innovations That Has Sprung Up In Our Hamlet - One Of Three A Joke-A-Day Boards

One Of The Innovations That Has Sprung Up In Our Hamlet – One Of Three ‘Joke-Of-The-Day’ Boards

Given that the ongoing climate emergency is going to eventually come back to be the headline risk to humanity, the question becomes: how do we sustain the effects of the lockdown that have had a positive impact on carbon emission levels and community resilience against the climate emergency, beyond the lockdown?

The area I am thinking about most at the moment is whether we can find ways of sustaining at least the majority of the extra revenue that has resulted from many more people in the using our Community Shop during the virus outbreak.  Revenues and footfall have more than doubled and so the shop is thriving relative to normal operation.  The shop has long been a great community asset but it is now even more of a hub around which neighbourliness, gossip and information can circulate.  It would be great to sustain some of those economics and the stronger social feel after the lockdown is eased, not least because local shopping will reduce carbon emissions in line with the objectives of our climate action group.

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Meanwhile, Zoom meetings are keeping LSW and I in touch with our sons in London and various friends – possibly more than usual in fact.  The ‘Clap for Carers’ session on Thursday evenings is becoming an ever more sophisticated event in our hamlet with a trumpet player now accompanying the saxophonist that started the musical dimension.  These events are ripples on a steady drift through a largely unchanging stream of locked down days.

Carpets Of Wild Garlic Amid Beech Trees

Carpets Of Wild Garlic Amid Beech Trees

How fortunate it is for me that the weather is so warm and sunny and I have the means to enjoy it.  The local woods have been full of bluebells and now are strewn with carpets of wild garlic.  The trees and hedgerows have that brilliant green foliage that Spring brings.  The skies are blue and populated with attractive clouds rather than the vapour trails of aeroplanes.  The birds seem louder and happier this year and the lambs more numerous.  My phone is full of pictures of sweet little lambs; how many does one need?

Stay safe!

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.