A Wedding and a Birthday

Amid much happiness, our Eldest Son (ES) and his partner were married a couple of weekends ago.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I had a lovely time in Edinburgh celebrating this huge event with them.  What made it extra special for us was that ES and his (now) wife pared down the events of the weekend to a very intimate affair.  Everyone who took part was someone very close to the marrying couple.  That meant that every conversation with everyone in attendance felt meaningful.

The Happy Threesome!

The Registry Office was a grand building with pleasantly decorated rooms and an overseer of the process who achieved the right balance of formality and relaxed bonhomie.  First Grandchild (FG), was rather unwell but nonetheless, was well behaved, wasn’t sick on anyone’s dress and loved playing with the room’s long curtains.  ES looked smart and the bride looked stunning.  As they shared their home-made vows, my tears welled up; their personalisation of the exchange was really moving.

A Touch Of Unseasonable Hayfever?

Later in the afternoon and well into the evening, a wedding reception was held at the married couple’s new flat.  The flat looked great and was just the right size for a party of about 30 enthusiastic relatives and friends.  A few of the latter were fellow new parents who brought contemporaries of FG which added to the lovely, informal conviviality.  Everyone was very happy.

Lovely Wedding Reception Table Layout In The Married Couple’s Flat

The mantelpieces and tables had been beautifully decorated and set out by ES’s new parents in law.   The caterers knew what they were doing (they had been under close instruction from ES’s wife), the food was excellent, and the drinks and conversation flowed.  FG was excited by the hubbub and rallied at the important moments to be giggling sweetness itself, despite his illness.  The speeches were short and heartfelt and the intimacy of the event shone throughout.  We loved it – not only the fact that ES was now married, but that he and his new wife (especially!) had organised what seemed to be an ideal way of doing it.

First Grandchild (FG) Checking The Wedding Presents

On the following day, we refreshed with a sunny morning walk around the Royal Botanic Garden and then met up with a very small number of close relatives for a wonderful lunch at Timberyard.  LSW and I had been there once before and had been very impressed by the food, decor and ambience.  We were very impressed again.  It was the centrepiece to another lovely day.

Walking In Sunny Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh With Youngest And Middle Sons And Their Partners

My Dad and sister went back to rest at their hotel.  It had been marvellous that they had been able to come and they had made the most of their visit to Edinburgh by taking in a couple of art exhibitions as well as the wedding events.  Meanwhile, LSW and I retreated to the Air BnB that we had rented for ourselves, our Middle and Youngest Son and their partners.  There, we allowed our emotions to settle quietly in front of a second rate romantic comedy and assorted crisps.  What a couple of days!

And then the fun went on!  The Monday following the wedding was FG’s first birthday.  Unfortunately FG was still unwell and relatively subdued but he enjoyed early use of some of the presents and a trip to one of the local playgrounds.  Unlike him, we will remember his first birthday for ever.

Wedding Cake Cleverly Converting To Birthday Cake (FG Loves Penguins!)

We left Edinburgh late that afternoon leaving ES and wife to ponder how to manage FG’s illness while both are holding down a job working from home on the back of little sleep.  At that point we assumed that the conundrum they faced would be only for a day or two – it turned out to be another week.  Oh, the joys of parenthood!

Meanwhile, LSW and I set off for Dunkeld on the River Tay, on the southern edge of the Highlands for rather more rest and relaxation than the newly married couple were going to get.

Sun Setting On Edinburgh

Seeing Football, Missing Football

To Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) occasional frustration, I have been careful up to now to ensure that our trips to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild and his parents haven’t clashed with home fixtures for my football club, Forest Green Rovers (FGR).  I have a season ticket and, quite apart from my desire (obsession?) to see my team play whenever I reasonably can, I’m the sort of person that wants to get full value from my season ticket investment. 

However, I am not going to be able to keep this up since First Grandchild (FG) has a birthday around a weekend when FGR are playing at home.  Even football doesn’t take precedence over celebrating the end of his first year with us. 

My Grey Hair And FG’s Ginger Hair

That birthday is in November but I am already going to miss another home game later this week when I am accompanying LSW to her long-weekend college reunion in Buxton, Derbyshire.  I regret missing the game but, in truth, it is going to be nice to get away for a change of scene again given that we haven’t had a proper holiday this year.

In any case, I have just been able to engineer seeing an away game at Charlton in London during a trip ostensibly to attend my annual dental check-up and to fix a recently broken tooth.  So, I have managed to keep up my support in person at a good number of FGR’s games so far this season. 

Unfortunately, following promotion as Champions from English Football League 2 last May, this season in a higher league is a struggle.  The scale of the clubs we are playing, the impressiveness of their stadiums and the quality of the football is all much greater than in the past.  As a result, positive results have, so far, been hard to come by.

A Minutes Silence For The Queen at Charlton Athletic

So, it was great that I was able to see us wobble through to secure a draw and a well-earned point at Charlton Athletic – one of the ‘big’ teams who were once in the English Premier League but who now have to cope with us in English Football League 1 (EFL1).  Even better, I was able to meet up with a great Australian friend of Youngest Son (and devoted supporter of FGR) at the game and catch up, and sing along, with him.  Based on the performance in our last two games, I remain hopeful that we can consolidate our position in EFL1.

Edinburgh’s Inverleith Park: Picnic Panorama

More on my brief London trip another time…..  Earlier, our August trip to Edinburgh was, as usual, lovely. It was, of course, great to see how much First Grandchild had developed since the last time we have seen him some 6 weeks or so previously.  It was nice too to see how Eldest Son (ES) and his partner have settled into their new flat (including a newly decorated kitchen) and have got FGs sleeping at night more under control.

A major change since visits earlier in the year was that, whereas we used to take FG out in his buggy when it was time for him to sleep, now we take him out between naps to keep him awake.  That makes the walks around Edinburgh more interesting for him and us.  I can envisage that by the time of our next visit, FG won’t be so content to be in his buggy and will want to try out his embryonic walking skills.

Aerial View Of Part Of The Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

We did our usual trip to, and around, the Royal Botanic Gardens.  The gardens are interesting all year around and FG particularly likes the running water and waterfalls in the Rockery.  For me, the highlight was the Kitchen Garden in front of the Botanic Cottage which was planted with wild flowers.  The mix was varied cleverly throughout the planted space so that, when standing in the middle, the colour palette shifted as one turned around.

FG was much more impressed by our visit to the National Museum of Scotland.  I’m going to love taking him here every time I get up to Edinburgh.  For a small child, there is so much going on, so many buttons to push and so much movement.  At this stage, FG seems more interested in the other children than the exhibits but I can see hours of fun ahead.

National Museum Of Scotland, Edinburgh

We also had a lengthy walk to The Meadows to the south of Edinburgh centre.  Because the timing of our trip coincided with the Edinburgh Fringe – a gathering over a few weeks of a staggering multitude of performance artists from all over the UK and, indeed, the World – the central streets and cafes were crowded. 

The streets were also dominated by piles of rubbish because our visit also coincided with a strike by rubbish clearance workers in Edinburgh that had been going on for over a week.  The huge piles of trash everywhere underlined how much rubbish we generate in a typical big city and how dependent we are on public services to hide the issue of rubbish disposal from our day to day lives.

Edinburgh Rubbish!

Although the overflowing rubbish bins were not a great advertisement for Edinburgh (the workers dispute is now resolved), the city remains a great attraction for LSW and I.  The architecture in the centre is stunning, the galleries and museums are befitting of a capital city, the area ES and his partner live in is close to interesting shops, and even the playgrounds we took FG to seemed better appointed but more accessible than average. 

We are both looking forward to our November birthday party visit hugely – even though I will miss the delights of watching Forest Green Rovers play live!

Mental Fitness

As I move into my fifth year of retirement I’m maintaining a pretty stable routine but also trying a couple of new things. 

One new thing is signing up to an informal Mens’ Mental Fitness ‘Club’.  This is under the umbrella of a charity called Talk Club.  The roughly weekly sessions are arranged by the local pub landlord and a couple of his fellow facilitators.  They are held in his pub on a day when it is closed and no alcohol is available.  I’ve attended three sessions so far and it’s been an interesting, new experience.

Our Lovely, Innovative Village Pub

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) would say I’m a pessimist and she is often frustrated by my negativity.  But fundamentally, I’m happy and recognise my luck in life.  I wouldn’t consider that I have many mental issues yet (I just have political and environmental worries).  However, the sessions force each participant to consider their feelings in ways that many men, and certainly me, rarely do. 

How do I feel out of 10?  Why is that?  What am I thankful for?  What am I going to do this week to improve the way I feel?  Just about the only time I have historically thought about these things is when I am writing posts for this blog.  Now I have another reason and outlet.

The mental fitness sessions require answering all these questions and listening to other participants as they relate their feelings about them.  It’s such a simple, but different process from anything else I have done that it is surprising and freeing.  It certainly feels invigorating – both the relating of one’s own thoughts and the feeling that you are helping others by listening as they relay theirs. 

I’m going to keep up my participation whenever I can and am grateful that I live in a village with so cool a pub that it is trying the Talk Club sessions out.  I may be more listening than talking at the moment but who knows when challenging issues might arise and that might change.

Horsley Village Church (With Flag). I Love This Village

The other main innovation in the last few weeks has been that I have investigated helping out in the local District’s Foodbank (Stroud District Foodbank).  I went along to an open event at the local warehouse to see the operation and meet the organisers.  It is impressive, expanding and much (and increasingly) needed. 

The whole tour of the facility was very interesting.  Clients are starting to avoid deliveries of vegetables like potatoes because they can’t afford to cook them so the Foodbank are providing slo-cookers (remember those from the 80s!) because they are energy efficient.  The paper bags the food deliveries arrive in are reusable but have detachable name tags so that clients that do reuse them don’t suffer any stigma from using the Foodbank.  The Foodbank management have experience and know what they are doing.

Stroud Foodbank: Main Warehouse

My introduction to the Stroud Foodbank satellite ‘drop off centre’ is next week.  I don’t know how much I can help but I will try to and then see how things go.

Involvement at the Foodbank may mean dialling back a bit on my local Climate Change Network efforts; I hope not since this week’s record temperatures underline the need to keep awareness of the Climate and Biodiversity Emergencies at centre stage.  However, as I described in my last, Retirement: Five Years On post, my days seem strangely full already.  Also, the football season is about to start and there are visits to our sons in Belfast, Edinburgh and (hopefully, soon) Bristol to fit in.  Not to mention the squeezing in of Mens’ Mental Fitness evenings!

Meanwhile, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I made another trip to Edinburgh last weekend to see First Grandchild (FG) and his tired but loving parents.  We had a lovely time as usual.  Eldest Son’s (ES’s) fiancée is a great cook, we always feel very welcome, and we had another chance to meet ES’s future parents-in-law which is always fun.  Plus, of course, we saw FG again and were able to assess and enjoy his excitingly rapid development.

It is, of course, a slog to drive to and from Edinburgh – about 9 hours including the charge-up of our electric car.  But what a treat the weekend was!  We visited North Berwick to the east of Edinburgh where we tried out the well-tested seaside entertainments of fish and chips on the quayside and a walk along the beach.  FG had his first fish and chip lunch – the first of many I’m sure – and the fish I had from the Lobster Shack was exceptionally good.

Views Of North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland

I revisited the excellent Barbara Hepworth exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, this time with LSW.  I again found it was an impressive chronological account of some of her best work.  I’m not yet sure what exhibition will replace this or the Joan Eardley exhibition in the sister Modern Art Gallery over the road, but I’m expecting great things for our next or next but one Edinburgh visit.

The Hands, Barbara Hepworth, 1948 (Painted As Part Of A Series Following The Illness Of One OF Her Children)

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was when LSW and I were entrusted to take FG out for a trip to the Botanical Gardens.  We have done this before but, in the past, FG has napped throughout.  This time he was wide awake and expecting some entertainment and there was some concern that he would miss his Mum (something called ‘separation anxiety’ apparently).  We delivered FG’s entertainment by showing him waterfalls and rapids in the Rockery Garden and then by sitting near a crowd of Japanese children who were playing around a large picnic.  FG evidently loves the idea of running water and the proximity of noisy kids; he was a delight.

Views Of Edinburgh

We are already planning our next trip to Edinburgh and will also try to squeeze in a summer trip to Belfast.  We also have another short trip to London in a couple of weeks, reprising an even shorter one a couple of weeks ago to attend a highly convivial family birthday party.  It is those trips that help to sustain my mental fitness.  I look forward to being able to weave that into my reasoning for my ‘feelings score’ at my next Talk Club Mens’ Mental Fitness group session.

Impressive Antlers On Deer Finding Shade In Bushey Park Which I Was Able To Visit Prior To One Of LSW’s Niece’s Birthday Party

A Pensionable Age

It was my birthday last week and I am now, officially, a pensioner.  I can’t wait to get my bus pass and try it out!

I had an absolutely wonderful birthday week and, for the first time in what might be decades, I spent my actual birthday with both my Dad and my sister who has her birthday just the day before mine.  She is staying with my Dad and so I popped up to Nottingham to see them both on the way to see Forest Green Rovers’ last, critical game of the season in Mansfield, and then on to Edinburgh.

The weather in Nottingham was kind enough to enable some pleasant local walks but the highlight of my stay – apart perhaps from our joint birthday meal out at a local restaurant – was an evening playing Mahjong

The Family Mahjong Set

My Dad (and now my sister) has inherited a fine and thankfully complete bone and hand painted Mahjong set which my Grandad brought from India when he returned to England.  The game is a delicate balance of luck and skill but the pleasure really comes from the handling of the bone bricks and counters.  Playing again as a family was such fun although we all missed the fourth hand in the game – Mum.

Three-Player Mahjong; My Winning Hand (Hehe!)

Of course the next highlight was Forest Green Rovers’ game at Mansfield.  We needed to achieve a better result on the day than Exeter City (who were playing at home in Exeter) to win the English Football League Division 2 Championship.  We came from behind twice against Mansfield with two fine goals right in front of us to gain a draw.  Then, a minute after our result, we heard that Exeter had lost; we are Champions!  Joy was unconfined on and off the pitch!

Champions!

I had to leave those celebrations early and quickly to get my train north to Edinburgh.  I arrived just before midnight in the midst of First Grandchild’s (FG’s) sleep training.  I was quiet and careful not to disrupt the discipline of feeding him at fixed times and of forcing him to settle himself when waking during the night.  FG’s progress during my few days in Edinburgh was transformational but not entirely linear – nor will it be continuous going forward.  But the direction of travel is extremely positive and, for Eldest Son and, especially, his partner, the huge reduction in FG’s demands during evenings and the night is already life changing for them (and FG).

Big Beach And Big Sky: Portobello, Edinburgh

Seeing FG again was a real treat and I had such a great time in Edinburgh again.  I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens once more (with a sleeping FG).  I am now familiar with the gardens but, of course, it is now Spring so everything looks different – and even more interesting – than it did during my last visit.  The last of the tulips are out and the rhododendrons are looking gorgeous.  The trees are freshly in leaf and the birds are super-active.  Fortunately, FG slumbered throughout.

Royal Botanical Gardens: Tulips In The Demonstration Garden

It is at this time of the year that one can see that, indeed, the Botanical Garden in Edinburgh has the largest collection of rhododendrons in the world.  There is such a variety on show and now is peak flowering time.  A small but interesting exhibition in Inverleith House set out the characteristics of rhododendrons, their world distribution, their history in gardening, and the challenges to indigenous plant-life some varieties have caused as they have escaped into the wilds of the northern hemisphere, including Scotland. 

Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens: Fresh Leafed Trees And Flowering Rhododendrons

I also went to a superb exhibition of Barbara Hepworth’s work at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.  It was a straightforward retrospective but, I thought, the pieces on show were not only excellent illustrations of the progression her art took through her life but were, in several cases, just astonishingly good.  I loved the exhibition.

Barbara Hepworth At The Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art

In part, as I have noted during previous visits to Edinburgh galleries, my pleasure was heightened by the fact that there were no crowds vying for views of the work on show.  Exhibitions in London may be more high profile but they can also attract crowds that can detract from the show.  Being another capital and highly cultural city, Edinburgh can attract big names and marvellous works but without the huge audiences – at least, outside of Edinburgh Festival timings. 

Barbara Hepworth Bronzes And More
More Hepworth At The Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art

My final cultural exploit in Edinburgh was to see the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  The big ‘wow!’ here is the Great Hall of the building itself.  As one walks into the building for the first time, it is a jaw-droppingly beautiful space.

The Great Hall At The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The art on show is, predictably, almost exclusively portraiture.  I can only take so much of that and I may have overdone it as the chronologically organised galleries became a bit of a blur after a while. 

The Library At The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

There was however, a mixed but, overall, interesting exhibition on the Scottish census.  This included a piece of a project by Kieron Dodds to photograph ginger-haired people.  These tend to be in distinct geographic pockets around the world – apparently, for example, 13% of people in Scotland are have ginger coloured hair and there are distinct preponderances of ginger colouring in parts of the Caribbean and Russia.  The project felt relevant given that FG’s current hair colour is also a little ginger.

‘Gingers’ By Kieron Dodds

Then it was back to London to carry out a chore or two in the Barbican flat prior to sale (we hope).  I saw The Northman in a cinema – my first cinema visit for a long while.  It was worth seeing on the big screen if only for the amazing Icelandic scenery but, apart from one twist exquisitely delivered by Nicole Kidman, it was, for me, no more than a bit of moderately entertaining, macho-violent, Nordic swashbuckling. 

I capped off birthday week with breakfast with Middle Son – always a treat to get an update on his shifting plans.  Then home to get my bus pass application in……

Spring Visits

Ok, so yesterday afternoon we had a brief blizzard of snowflakes, but Spring is well and truly here!  Trees are starting to reveal their leaves and the blackthorn has been in flower for weeks.  Cherries and magnolias are in full bloom.  Lambs have arrived in the fields adjacent to and opposite our house.  Their carefree gambolling about on wobbly legs is always a huge pleasure to watch at this time of year.

Worryingly, but not unexpectedly given the fact of global warming, Spring seems earlier every year.  Even by mid-March I was starting to see a range of butterflies (including Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Small Tortoiseshell, Orange Tip and Red Admiral).  But, whenever Spring feels like it has arrived, it is always a joy.

Once again, during a trip to Edinburgh, the weather was very kind.  One time in the future when we visit Edinburgh, all our sunny days there so far are going to be repaid by relentless rain and grey but…  not yet!

On Carlton Hill, Edinburgh With FG (Asleep And Out Of Shot)

On this trip there was the novelty and pleasure of picking up my Dad on the way and taking him up to Edinburgh with us.  That enabled him to see Edinburgh again for the first time in a decade or so but also, critically, to meet his great grandchild (our First Grandchild (FG)).  It was actually too, the first time he had me FG’s mother since previous attempts to meet up had been thwarted by train cancellations or pandemic restrictions.  The building of new relationships even extended to my Dad meeting FG’s other grandparents over a lovely lunch at their flat.

Of course, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I did our pram-pushing duties to send FG off to sleep while taking in the sights and smells of Edinburgh.  (There is a brewery in the city and the smell of hops reminded me of the breweries in my home town of Reading when I was a kid.)  Once again we visited the excellent Royal Botanic Garden which was perfect in the sun. 

Inside The Alpine Houses At The Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
The Obligatory (But Lovely) Slew Of Daffodils In The Royal Botanical Gardens

In the Botanic Garden entrance hall was a colourful and interesting exhibition (called ‘Forth Lines’) of local artists’ embroidery with each of 96 panels depicting a point along the Firth of Forth coastline.  FG stayed asleep long enough for me to enjoy it and to encourage my thinking about future walks along that coastline.

Sample Rows Of Embroidery Pieces By Local Artists And Residents Along The Firth Of Forth (The ‘Forth Lines’ Exhibition)
One Of The Individual Panels From The ‘Forth Lines’ Exhibition (By Kathleen Wilson)

Another exhibition I visited while in Edinburgh was a major exhibition of John James Audubon’s pictures of birds at the National Museum of Scotland.  My Dad has long been interested in Audubon and I tagged along since I love exhibitions of this sort and it was great to share the experience with my Dad.  It is an excellent exhibition. Our only wish was that there would be more on the process of actually executing the drawings, engravings and colouration – it was clearly a substantial team effort. Regardless of this, the resultant prints on show are stunning and the explanations of them and of Audubon’s life were fascinating.

Audubon was certainly a rather strange character.  He was born in 1785 in Haiti to French parents – a plantation owner and his maid – and became a self-trained naturalist, artist and hunter. 

Audubon had many contradictions.  He owned slaves and dabbled in ideas related to eugenics but took funding from slavery abolitionists. He shot thousands of birds in his life but was also one of the first to document how industrialisation and agriculture were destroying bird habitats.  His lack of an academic background meant many in the scientific community in America denigrated him but he was – with his drawing talent, determination to succeed and his wild looks (complete with bear oil slicked hair) – a big hit in the academic and artistic circles of Edinburgh.

Detail From Plate 26 Of ‘Birds Of America’ – ‘Carolina Parrot’ by Audubon

It was here and then London that he gained sponsorship for (apparently £2m in today’s money) and published his most famous and hugely popular work, ‘The Birds of America’.  The huge volumes consist of 435 hand-coloured, life-size prints of 497 bird species, made from engraved copper plates of various sizes depending on the size of the image.  One of the volumes was on show at the exhibition alongside numerous individual prints.  The book was extravagantly large because, remarkably, each bird picture it contained was drawn at life size.

One Of The Volumes Of Audubon’s ‘Birds Of America’

The prints on show were vibrant and wonderful and the lack of crowds at the exhibition meant that the stunning detail could be seen up close and at leisure.  That many of Audubon’s prints boasted incorrectly of newly discovered species or were anatomically incorrect didn’t matter given the high quality of the overall impact. 

Detail From Plate 72 Of ‘Birds Of America’ – ‘Swallow Tailed Hawk’ by Audubon

The exhibition was also good because it told Audubon’s story about his talent (and the way the world responded to it) interestingly, and it was honest about his flaws.  Most of all, it was great to have the afternoon with my Dad sharing something so memorable.

Although We Didn’t Explore It Beyond the Audubon Exhibition This Time, The National Museum of Scotland Is In a Lovely Building

To round off March, LSW and I visited The Newt Garden in Somerset for the second time this year.  Spring has definitely come to this 350 acre garden and woodland.  Already, the myriad varieties of cordon and espaliered apple plants are starting to come into flower. 

The Newt Gardens – The Parabola Garden

As reported in this blog several times before, it is a wonderful garden which continues to evolve and grow.  This time we were able to visit with two friends from our village which added a lovely extra dimension which was topped off by a delicious lunch in the Garden restaurant.  I’m looking forward already to visiting again later in the year.

The Gardeners Cottage And Magnolia From The Victorian Garden At The Newt

Before that, we have April to look forward to: a re-warming of the weather, the Football League run-in of the final games of the season (I go in hope for Forest Green Rovers), more blossoming of plants and shrubs, thriving seedlings (again, I hope), and Easter with Youngest Son and his partner.  Not a bad prospect but what a shame it is the global context of Russia’s dire attack on Ukraine.  Spring is sprung but not everyone can appreciate it right now.

Bonus Photos of Sunny Edinburgh

London 2 Edinburgh 1; But Edinburgh Wins

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have travelled twice to London and once to Edinburgh in the last couple of weeks.  Our trips to London related to our preparations to sell our flat in the Barbican.  It is no longer required now that I have retired and our sons no longer have any great need for it.  I shall be sad to see it go – it was my base 5 days a week for pretty much 20 years of London working – but go it must.

We got those preparations for sale done very satisfactorily and the flat is on the market.  However, we also found time to visit a few exhibitions and bar and restaurant venues; London is always a great place to visit and the flat was, as ever, a very comfortable place to stay. 

Our Barbican Flat, Ready For Sale

Our trip to Edinburgh was sandwiched between those London trips.  Edinburgh is, of course, a much smaller city than London but it is a national capital and has many of the same sorts of sights and attractions.  Above all, it now is home to our First Grandchild (FG) and we currently need no greater attraction.  As any parent or grandparent will know, it is amazing how fast babies develop and start to take on a character of their own.  We are lucky to be able to see this with FG and it was such an enjoyable trip!

Once again we stayed in the Premier Inn Hub in Rose Street.  It is inexpensive, very comfortable, small but perfectly formed.  It is close to where Eldest Son (ES) and his partner live.  It is central and close to all the main city sights.  The Premier Inn Hub chain has become our go-to hotel and, once the London flat is sold, I can envisage us using it in London too.

Once again too, we visited the Joan Eardley exhibition (now finished) at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.  I enjoyed it hugely during our first visit.  This time we had FG duties (very willingly undertaken) so the visit was briefer but, not having heard of Eardley before last Autumn, she now has a firm place in my compendium of favourite artists.  FG wasn’t fussed by the art but seemed to like the ceiling lights.

‘Boats On The Shore’ By Joan Eardley (1963)

We also visited an exhibition (also now finished) in the Scottish National Gallery of JMW Turner watercolours.  These had been collected by Henry Vaughan , a great admirer of Turner, and then bequeathed by him to the Gallery in 1900.  As he did so, he specified that, to preserve their colour, they only be shown in the typically dull days of January.  This exhibition was a rare occasion when all 38 had been brought together in a single show. 

Turner is definitely one of my long standing artists and the exhibition demonstrated many of his best traits – the atmospheric glows of storms and skies, the complex colouring and the huge vistas.  There were also some more delicate portrayals such as an empty chair indicating the recent death of a friend.  No one painting felt great but the ‘whole’ created by the 38 pictures was interesting.

JMW Turner Watercolours From The Henry Vaughan Bequest At The Scottish National Gallery

Another highlight from this Edinburgh trip was our first walk all the way to Leith. 

Andrew Gormley Sculpture On The Walk To Leith

Leith has a rather different feel from the other parts of Edinburgh we have come to know.  Whereas large parts of the New Town area where ES lives are unchanged in a hundred years, Leith is developing quickly and has a slightly different, almost East London, buzz about it. 

Leith (Old Customs House To The Left)

In New Town, LSW and I spent an afternoon perusing the high quality art galleries in ES’s street (Dundas Street) and then had a relaxed drink or two in a relatively new bar called Spry.  Incredibly, despite it only apparently having about a dozen seats, we got a table by the window and liked the ambience very much.

Exotic And Rather Lovely Baskets By Gudrun Pagter and Baba Tea Company (Ghana) At The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh

As on previous trips, we ate well.  ES’s partner produced another lovely meal, we had a surprisingly relaxed evening at Pizza Express with a sleepy FG, and a substantial Indian takeaway.  It was great to meet up with ES’s partner’s parents again (especially as the football team I support happen to have beaten one of the teams her Dad supports in the afternoon 🙂 ).  And it was especially great to see FG smiling, growing and, between rather sleep-deprived nights, giving his new Mum and Dad some real joy.

Back in London, I visited the National Maritime Museum to see the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition.  I’ve seen this exhibition in previous years and, while I don’t understand the techniques used in taking the photographs, I love seeing the results.  It’s a little-known pleasure.

Astronomy Photographers Of The Year At The National Maritime Museum

LSW and I also had another pleasant (and, incredibly, free) dose of Isamu Noguchi; this time an exhibition of his relatively recent work in the large spaces of the White Cube Gallery.  It was, of course, a much smaller exhibition than that we had seen last month at the Barbican, but it reflected many of the same themes which I found reinforcing and strangely comforting. 

Works By Isamu Noguchi At The White Cube Gallery

On the way, we discovered a good new breakfast venue: Watch House at Tower Bridge.  Ozone, which is our normal breakfast haunt is also very good and both are open early.  Edinburgh has some excellent breakfast places but few open early enough for us.  It’s a small area for potential improvement in the comparison between London and Edinburgh.  However, First Grandchild puts a gloss on Edinburgh that makes it the go to city for me at the moment!

LSW and FGs’ Hands

Getting To Skye At Christmas

On Christmas Eve 2020, shortly after we had smuggled our sons out to our Gloucestershire home just before the 2020 Christmas Coronavirus lockdown, Youngest Son (YS) suggested that we hire a house in Skye for Christmas 2021.  Everyone was extremely keen on the idea and, after a few quick texts, our sons’ girlfriends were enthusiastic too.  I handed YS my credit card and he immediately booked a brand new, designer house on the western edge of Skye with the hope that Covid would be long passed or at least largely neutralised.

A year is a long time in which much has happened.  Covid is changed but very much still with us and it is still hampering all travel, socialising and entertainment.  Also, our first grandchild – not even a dot when we booked the house in Skye – has arrived recently.  That meant that Eldest Son and his partner had to drop out from our 2021 Christmas adventure.   To compensate, we all decided to incorporate a stop in Edinburgh on the way to and from Skye so that we could all (re-)introduce ourselves to First Grandchild (FG) around Christmas.

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I travelled by train to Edinburgh.  It’s a long journey but we decided against using the electric car because, in Winter, it requires charging so frequently that the journey would have taken a whole day.  We decided again a flight from Bristol because the cost for taking our bags was almost as much as for us plus we are trying to avoid flying in a probably futile (but well meaning) effort to reduce our carbon footprint.  Fortunately the trains were entirely on time and, with the exception of some rowdy 20-somethings who got on at Darlington, mask wearing was common.  We felt fairly safe and comfortable.

Getting to Edinburgh a few days ahead of the others (staying once again in an excellent Premier Inn Hub with small but perfectly formed rooms) enabled us to spend more time with FG and his parents and have a couple of extra days in the city we are coming to love. 

Blue Sky View Across The Meadows To Arthurs Seat, Edinburgh

The weather was very mixed.  We had some wonderful blue sky days and some that were dull and moist – the local word is ‘dreich’. 

Murky, Moody View Of Edinburgh Castle

Regardless, at night the Christmas lights on the commercial buildings and between the curtains of the Georgian terrace houses and flats enlivened the atmosphere. 

Christmas Lights In Edinburgh

With the last-minute news that Middle Son’s cold symptoms wasn’t the result of Covid and that he and his partner’s PCR tests had proved negative, we all convened in an AirBnB armed with negative Lateral Flow Tests.  We were all able to have multiple turns at holding FG who was, of course, absolutely lovely.  He is engaging eye contact increasingly and, although he usually maintains a vaguely suspicious and curious look, is starting to smile.  And then we set off for Skye.

Beauty On The Way To Skye

First we loaded up two hire cars with our luggage and panicked a bit when we saw how little room was left for the planned ‘big shop’ to get food and drink for the following seven days on Skye.  In a further wrinkle to our plans, Scottish licensing laws forced us to split the shop for food from that for drink which we postponed until Fort William.  Ultimately, it was all good and we got what we needed (and more).

At first, the drive across Scotland was through the dreich weather.  Then, suddenly, we were driving through wonderful fairytale, mountain landscapes overlaid by miles and miles of hoar frost.  I have seen such frosts in local pockets before but never on this impressive scale.  It was a magical sight. 

(Blurred) Pictures Of Many Square Miles Of Hoar Frost From A Moving Car

Blue Skies Over Hoar Frost At Dalwinnie

Then, as darkness began to close in, we passed the romantically positioned Eilean Donan Castle, looking rather mournful in the descending gloom, and then traversed the Skye Bridge onto the island.  Remarkably, there was still 90 minutes of driving to go (MS and YS took the strain on that).

Eilean Dolan Castle At Dusk

In darkness we found the house we had rented, unloaded all our goodies, confirmed the high quality of the premises, allocated the bedrooms, got the woodburner going, stretched our limbs and enjoyed the first of the evening meals prepared on a rota among the six of us.  It’s so nice having young people around who have the energy and willingness to prepare a fish curry for six after driving for day; delicious.

Our House For Christmas Week: Wood House (https://harlosh.co/wood-h)

When I was working, Christmas was a time to wind down and chill out.  When I started out on my career, I tended to work around Christmas but the pace was usually slow since few others were around and I could relax (relatively) without wasting precious holiday.  Increasingly, as the boys arrived and the family home moved to the country, I realised the benefit of an extended break at Christmas.  It became a time of winding down. 

Retirement now seems to be bringing a reversal.  Recently, Christmas seems to be one of the most energetic times of the year.  Christmases have been increasingly busy, especially for LSW as she focused on Christmas lunch at our house with large numbers of family.  We stepped up the activity levels even further with our Scottish adventure this year.  In a subsequent blog post I’ll describe the benefits of that uptick in activity as we spent Christmas on Skye (spoiler: it was fabulous!).

Happy New Year!

Momentous November

It’s been a very good month for me.  Early in November, our new, first grandchild arrived safely.  We were able to visit his city of birth, Edinburgh, to congratulate the new parents in person and hold and cuddle the little fella for the first time.  Even in those first few days we saw him change and settle into a routine that is destabilising and sleep depriving for his parents but which looked normal.  We miss him already and can’t wait to return to Edinburgh just before Christmas and again in 2022.

The First Of The New Baby Congratulations Cards

I’ve been looking forward to being a Grandad for a few years.  So far, it is just as I expected.  I feel proud and loving, but glad I can feel all that emotional warmth without all the challenge and awkward practicality of having to be a new parent.  That looks as demanding as ever but Eldest Son (ES) and his partner are more than coping and their rewards will be immense too.

It is so great that I’m now retired and so we can pop up to Edinburgh without having to slip the visits between any work commitments.  Also, the fact that the pandemic has curtailed any plans for exotic holidays abroad over the last year or so means that we can splash out on the rail travel and hotels without feeling too extravagant.  If our other sons have children too (say, in Belfast and/or Bristol) than I can see these sorts of lovely, spirit-lifting Grandad visits are going to become a major preoccupation!

Edinburgh On A Sunny Day

We saw Edinburgh this time in cold but mainly sunny weather – the haar was nowhere to be seen.  As before, we were impressed by the number of small independent shops and cafes.  Two of our three breakfasts (at Urban Angel and Union Brew Lab) were really excellent.  We even managed a lunch and a coffee break in a couple of cool and friendly places with a completely relaxed grandchild.

The Royal Botanic Garden and Inverleith Park were also lovely and the preparations for the Christmas light show in the former looked very promising.  We had a very pleasant time walking miles around the city and practicing our pram pushing skills.  We also were able to meet with the other grandparents again over a tasty Indian takeaway meal they provided while the little one snoozed in his Moses basket.  I understand that he snoozed a bit less after we left!

This month was also momentous for the passing of my Dad’s 90th birthday.  I was able to visit him briefly in Nottingham to celebrate this big milestone.  We marked the occasion with a very substantial and very satisfactory meal at Côte, which is an old favourite, and with a tipple or two from my Dad’s impressive collection of liqueurs.  He misses my Mum, as we all do, but we had a quietly relaxed and convivial time comforted by the knowledge that at least she was aware, earlier this year, that her great grandchild was on his way.

In between all this celebration, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also managed a rather ad hoc visit to London to see LSW’s sister and then our Middle Son (MS) and his partner.  I love going up to London to catch up with developments around the City and the East End, visit the galleries and just absorb the bustle.

I Won’t Ever Tire Of The London Skyline

Of course, that bustle is reduced during the ongoing pandemic.  Nonetheless, the restaurant MS took us to (Sager & Wilde) was busy and had a great atmosphere (as well as good food) and the exhibitions at Tate Modern were booked up.  Still, I loved meandering around the Tate Modern.  The Turbine Hall had an interesting mobile exhibit and the general collection I walked through on the 3rd floor was, as usual, a little staggering in terms of the quality of the art.

‘In Love With The World’ By Anicka Yi In The Turbine Hall Of Tate Modern; Like Floating Jellyfish
Works By Emily Karne Kngwarreye And John Mawurndjul In An Exhibition Of Australian Art At Tate Modern

Back in Gloucestershire, in the gaps between all these excursions, I have managed to sustain the normal routines of watching my football team (Forest Green Rovers still ‘top of the league and having a laugh’), walking, cooking, a bit of garden clearance ahead of winter, and some activity around our local Horsley Climate Action Network (HCAN) group. 

Watching The Village Football Team On Weekends When Forest Green Rovers Don’t Have A Game

A particular relief is that, following the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), I have managed to write and publish our quarterly HCAN newsletter.   LSW and I plan to travel to Edinburgh on a more frequent basis next year to watch our new grandchild develop and we will also visit MS and Youngest Son when we can.  Therefore my commitment to HCAN may reduce to simply sustaining that newsletter routine.  It’s been a momentous month and momentum around family is going to continue to be the priority as we move towards, and into, 2022.

Autumn Colour On The Way Into Town

Pre-Baby Edinburgh

Last weekend, we ventured north again to Edinburgh in our electric car.  We visited my Dad in Nottingham on the way. Then we had an overnight stay in Harrogate, and stopped briefly in Jedburgh, before reaching Edinburgh in time for pre-dinner drinks.  Apart from the brief catch up and lunch with my Dad, the main purpose of the trip was to see and stay with Eldest Son (ES) and his now very pregnant partner before the excitingly close baby due date. 

View of Jedburgh Abbey Across Jed Water

The journey was smooth albeit long due to the need to charge up the car every 100 miles or so, and to regulate speed so the battery didn’t get run down too quickly.  The charging of the car was almost without any problem.  Our relief at that was enhanced by the smugness of knowing that we didn’t have to search for, or queue for, apparently scarce supplies of petrol.  Having said that, we might not have got a ChargePlace Scotland charging point to function without the helpfulness of a Jedburgh resident.  We were a little lucky in an unpredictable e-charging world!

Stopping off in Harrogate, which is famous for its conference facilities, brought back some memories of a few corporate conferences I attended there back in the last century (it feels even longer ago than that….). On this occasion, the part of the town we were staying in was overrun by HGV company bosses and drivers who were attending a large lorry-fest. The lorries on show were for every imaginable purpose and all tremendously shiny – quite a sight!

Apparently A Current Rarity In The UK – HGV Drivers and HGVs (At A Show In Harrogate)

We loved Edinburgh this time as much on this trip as we did during our last one in the summer.  The scale, the architecture, the vistas, the proliferation of interesting independent shops, the history and the monuments are all attractive.  The excrescence that is the new shopping centre is a rare architectural misstep in the city centre and is rightly nicknamed by locals as the ‘golden turd’.   Almost everywhere else feels right, interesting or both.

Henry Dundas's Statue With The New Shopping Centre Peeking Out Rather Awfully Just Behind
Henry Dundas’s Statute With The New Shopping Centre Prominent Just Behind

We did quite a lot of walking and casual sightseeing. We retraced many of our previous steps along the Water of Leith that winds pleasantly through the city. This time, we managed to get to Calton Hill in sunshine.

Views Along The Water Of Leith
Arthur’s Seat From Calton Hill

On the Saturday I took a breezy walk around Holyrood Park and up Arthur’s Seat.  I was fortunate, given the intermittent, blustery drizzle, that it was reasonably dry on the way up and down since there was some slippery scrambling to do in places.  The view from the top was worth the effort and I look forward to repeating the climb on a sunnier day.

Central Edinburgh From Arthur’s Seat

Other highlights from the visit were a tour of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Royal Botanic Gardens

The Modern Art Gallery was a manageable size and contains some excellent and varied art.  Unexpectedly, it happens to contain one of Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) favourite paintings – ‘Lustre Bowl With Green Peas’ by William Nicholson (see below).

The current temporary exhibition was of paintings and related sketches by Joan Eardley. I had seen this had been reviewed favourably in the Guardian.  I loved the seascapes and landscapes which were all of a small village on the Scottish east coast where she had lived in, and alongside, some tiny, semi-derelict cottages.  That there were just two rooms of her work on show made the story around her art and the pictures themselves really accessible and absorbable.  The exhibition is on until early next year so there may be an opportunity to visit (for free) again.

Summer Fields (1961) By Joan Eardley

The Botanic Gardens were gorgeous despite the lateness of the season.  There were still splashes of vibrant colour and the gardens were exceptionally well maintained.  The rockery, in particular, was impressive and the Palm House, although empty and undergoing repairs, was beautifully proportioned.  An exhibition of photographs of unusual seeds was also interesting and we happily donated a bit of cash for the otherwise free visit. 

Late Summer Colour In The Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
Palm House, Route to The Vegetable Garden And A Greenhouse In The Edinburgh Botanical Gardens

ES’s partner cooked a lovely dinner when we arrived – she is a calm and excellent cook.  Next day we went to Leo’s Beanery  for a rather wonderful breakfast (see below).  We seemed spoilt for choice of breakfast eateries but this was a very good one that served up such substantial fare that I didn’t need lunch. 

Selection Of Breakfasts At Leo’s Beanery

Dinner on the Saturday was with ES partner’s parents (indeed, since our last Edinburgh visit, ES and his partner have got engaged so we should consider her parents as ES’s future parents-in-law).  The Palmerston was a perfect venue; the food, service (after an overly rapid start) and company were all very good. 

It was matched for quality by dinner on our last night in the north at Tom Kitchin’s The Scran & Scallie. My starter there included mushrooms, ox tongue, egg and bone marrow (still in the bone) in a presentation that made it one of the most interesting starters I’ve had for a while.

All these meals, walks and talks with ES and his (now) fiancée were enlivened with the expectation of motherhood, fatherhood, grandmotherhood and grandfatherhood in a month’s time.  How exciting!

Panorama Looking North From Carlton Hill, Edinburgh

Edinburgh: Athens of the North

There is an additional geographic centre of gravity in my life: Edinburgh. 

Edinburgh Castle

Eldest Son (ES) and his partner moved to Edinburgh from our flat in London in the New Year.  They have settled there and are due to have a baby there in November.  Last weekend, following relaxation of coronavirus restrictions over the last few weeks in both England and Scotland, we got to visit them and to see the city.

Their flat is in the heart of New Town.  This central area is the epitome of the town planning and developments that have given Edinburgh the moniker of ‘Athens of the North’.  Like a few other residential areas of Edinburgh, it is grandly Georgian with broad, airy streets.  It has well preserved, tall terraced buildings with colonnades and porticos redolent of Greek architecture, secluded communal gardens and, seemingly, a vista of a monument or an imposing public building at the end of every street. 

Dundas Street, Edinburgh. ES’s New Home

In ES’s partner we had a host who has lived in or near Edinburgh almost all her life so we had an excellent guide to the subtle differences between the different parts of the City.  The famous Princes Street has some great views of the castle and the Royal Mile is distinctive, but we preferred the adjacent, less crowded areas that were dominated by bustling, small independent cafes and shops rather than tired chains with their overblown price discount hoardings.

Princes Street, Edinburgh

ES’s flat is on the third floor of their building and the stairs are going to be challenging during his partner’s late pregnancy and, then, when the baby arrives.  So, as we walked around the city, we were considering the possible location of their next flat.  However, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also found ourselves peeking at estate agents windows and thinking about our possible future move – for at least part of each year – to Edinburgh.

Looking Over The Water of Leith, Edinburgh

There are many steps to negotiate before any such move – not least some firm decisions from Middle and Youngest Son on where they are going to settle since we want to be close and accessible to them all.

Alongside The Water Of Leith

We also need to come to terms with the colder and greyer weather in this ‘Athens of the North’.  We were fortunate that the weather was dry and sunny but we also experienced a misty haar that came in from the North Sea every morning to fill and darken the imposing streets.  That gave us a helpful taste of the climatic difference between Gloucestershire and East Scotland.  We are lucky to have options like Edinburgh as a place to live to think about but the weather has to be a consideration.

Calton Hill, Edinburgh In A Morning Haar

We met ES’s partner’s parents while we were in Edinburgh and it was lovely to meet them at last.  They gave us a sample of the warm local hospitality and excellent restaurant quality.  Then on our final night in Edinburgh we went with ES and his partner to Timberyard which was one of the best restaurants we have ever been to. 

Timberyard, Edinburgh (Pic Courtesy Square Meal)

It was a memorable and lovely city visit – all the better for the delayed gratification caused by coronavirus.

On the way up to Edinburgh we took a detour to visit my Mum and to have lunch with my Dad in Nottingham.  Mum’s care home has, of course, been considerate but restrictive on visits until recently out of respect for the pandemic.  Although my Dad has been visiting Mum increasingly frequently, this was the first time I had seen her for a year.  Mum is frailer now following a bout of coronavirus but it was great and fulfilling to see them both.

After Nottingham, we stayed overnight in York in a very comfortable Scandinavian-influenced boutique hotel with a Viking name (Jorvik House) that LSW had sought out.  We had the time and the sunny weather to take in the main central sites and to have a relaxing drink or two overlooking the river. 

York Minster And Other Buildings Of York

We also indulged in a stop off on our way back home from Edinburgh.  The Tebay Services Hotel was very functionally comfortable and convenient.  Happily, we had time to slip off the beaten path home down the M6 with a visit to Orton Fells near Appleby and the town itself.  While walking by the river there, by very lucky chance, we followed the sound of a distant PA system and stumbled upon a very impressive harness horse race event.  We got to it just in time to see the big race and came away from the town exhilarated by a new, vibrant, energy-filled experience.

Unexpected Harness Racing At Appleby-in-Westmorland

LSW and I have been lucky to have escaped the worst disruptions that this blasted pandemic has thrown at us all.  Nonetheless, travel to see friends and family has been curtailed and, now those restrictions are relaxing, we are planning more trips like that to Nottingham, York, Appleby and Edinburgh last weekend. 

This week will be spent catching up with local village matters (including preparing for and manning of our local Climate Action Network stall tomorrow), personal administration and essential gardening.  Then we are off again – this time to see friends in Suffolk and a very different ambience to the ‘Athens of the North’.

An Anthony Gormley Statue In The Water Of Leith, Edinburgh