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

Funeral Reunion

My Mum’s funeral last week was as emotionally moving as expected.  Dad did her proud with his arrangements.  Mum would have loved the music, the simplicity, the intimacy and the fact that all her close family were all there to say goodbye. 

I can’t actually recall the last time that we were all together on something other than Zoom; probably a decade or two have passed since we managed it.  It was great that all three of our sons could take a break from work to be there.  I recall how hard it is sometimes to get away from work for unplanned events but this one was a biggie.

Dahlias, Cosmos And A Proliferation Of Tomatoes In My Dad’s Garden

The celebration of Mum’s life was dominated by my Dad reading out a last letter he had written to her.  This was the last of 354 letters that he had written daily to her when Mum’s care home stopped taking visitors last year because of the pandemic.  Fortunately the care home had opened up again before Mum died so Dad replaced the series of letters with frequent visits and, charmingly, readings of short stories (mainly tales of Paddington Bear that Mum loved and which my sister and I had grown up with).  This last letter, though, was especially poignant.

By the time Dad had finished reading the letter I (and I wasn’t alone) was tearful and a barely managed my brief recollection of a few relevant memories and Mum’s quiet love for us.  My sister too said a few lovely words through the emotion.  Then we all retired to Dad’s house for lunch which was a very pleasant affair that was full of chat about memories and next steps.

Fortunately my sister has been able to work from my Dad’s house for a week or so and then will take some holiday.  They will continue the task of rationalising possessions acquired over decades but also, I’m sure, provide some mutual emotional support.  Then, I hope that Dad can come and visit us in Gloucestershire for a while later this year.  We move on…..

The flurry of activity around the funeral last week has folded back into the routine of quasi-lockdown life.  We are starting to do the normal forms of socialising but mask wearing in shops and social distancing from all but some relatives and close friends seems to be a permanent part of our way of life now. 

Youngest Son (YS) stayed with us before and after the funeral and between video shoots and we ventured to the local pub with him. We actually drank inside – such a novelty!  To remind us that the pandemic is not over however, that same pub is now shut for 10 days due to a positive Covid test among the pub team.  It ain’t over!

After taking YS back to the airport for his flight back to Belfast, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I visited Tyntesfield House Gardens in Somerset.

Tyntesfield House And Chapel, North Somerset

The house and chapel are Victorian and were built in a rather loud gothic style by William Gibbs who apparently made his fortune from trading guano as fertiliser.  The buildings are certainly a grand statement of his wealth and, on a less busy day, we will visit again and go inside to see the ornate rooms with their paintings and furniture.

Tyntesfield House And Gardens Including Chillies Drying In The Greenhouse And Impressively Long Straight Rows Of Vegetable Plants

The walled kitchen garden, orangery and dahlia beds were impressive and quite inspiring to walk around.  Some of the dahlias were gorgeous and we arrived at the right time to see them at their best. 

Dahlias At Tyntesfield House Gardens – I Wanted Them All!

We just have one dahlia in our garden (Café Au Lait which produces huge blooms that last well even when cut).  However, my Dad has a lovely one in his garden I may be able to filch part of and I will try to find some room for some others and then protect them avidly from frost.

One Of Our Cafe Au Lait Blooms – This One Slightly Pinker Than Usual

Tyntesfield House was acquired by the National Trust in 2002.  That LSW and I are members is thanks to my Mum and Dad who bought us life membership around the time we were married.  We both hold on stubbornly to our original membership cards that are so old that they defy the automatic card reader systems the National Trust have installed, and which attract knowing looks from some of the National Trust staff.  Those cards are still so valuable to us and are great reminders of the generosity and life-long interests of my dear Dad and, my now departed, Mum.

Parkland Adjoining Tyntesfield House

Sons: Home And Away

We recently lost Middle Son and his partner to London.  They had been staying in our rental ‘tin house’ a couple of villages away from us while London stagnated and then started to bounce back from the Coronavirus lockdown.  Now he is back enjoying a resurgent but safer (I hope) London.  However, we have been compensated by a recent visit to Northern Ireland to see Youngest Son (YS) and his partner and then, over the last few days, a visit to us by Eldest Son (ES) and his partner on their way to a wedding.

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland; Emerging From Morning Mist

These contacts with our sons are priceless.  When I was working there didn’t seem much time for more than transactional exchanges with them.  Of course, now it is they who are time-constrained by work. However, since retirement, I feel more relaxed and have more time to understand their lives and what makes them tick.

Plus, they live in wonderful places.  We loved our trip to Edinburgh to see ES a couple of months ago Now, all things being well, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are planning further trips there later in the year pre and post-grandfatherhood/grandmotherhood.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has continued to surprise and our trip a couple of weekends ago to see YS there was lovely and, once again, enlightening.  We were lucky that our trip coincided with the rarest of events in Northern Ireland – a warm and sunny period of weather!  I’m joking, but certainly the weather was a treat and helped show off Belfast and surrounds in their best light.

Sunset Over Orlock Point From The Old Coach Road, County Down, Northern Ireland

YS was, as ever, keen to ensure we saw the best of County Down and County Antrim.  He planned an itinerary for us of forest walks, waterfalls, mountain walks and coastal walks and drives.  The trip was dotted with excellent breakfasts and dinners in cafes and restaurants run by young, creative entrepreneurs who have imported the best of big city cuisine to Belfast and the nearby towns.  The high quality reminded us of or meals in Australia when we went there.  Even in Ballymena which seemed relatively run down, there was a café, Middletown Coffee Co, selling some of the best breakfast fare I have had; the toastie was tremendous.   

In a similar vein, Boundary Brewing, which we went to on our first night in Belfast, was just about the best pop up warehouse bar I had ever been to.  A lot of Belfast is rather unreformed with architecture focused on function and security but pockets of Belfast are truly inspirational in the way they are taking off with creative businesses, eateries and drinking holes.

Boundary Brewing: Wonderful Space, Wonderful View, Wonderful Beer, Wonderful Pizza

Of course, YS maintained his reputation for taking us off to see wonderful sunsets and sunrises.  The sunrise we saw demanded a 4.00am departure but YS’s enthusiasm as he prepared everything the night before for coffee by a campfire as the sun came up, and his willingness to allow us all to snooze in the car as he hurtled to the 5.20am sunrise, was compelling.  We made it to a deserted White Park Bay just as the sun peeked over the horizon and through the just-enough-cloud that YS had laid on for us. 

Perfect Sunrise Over White Parks Beach, County Antrim

I think we will all remember the moment for ever; or at least until the next sunrise YS takes us to.

Finding A Spot For A Campfire and Coffee; Plenty Of Options At This Time Of The Morning!

Breakfast that day was also excellent; this time it was in Portstewart at Awaken.  By the time we had driven the coast road back to YS’s home we were ready for a quiet pint in a local pub, a gentle stroll in a nearby park, a nap and a pause in eating before setting out to another well-appointed new restaurant, Yugo East.  There we had a multi-course, fixed-price menu of considerable sophistication.  I’m not sure why I didn’t expect this level of quality in Belfast but I am coming to do so.

Our forest walk was at Glenariff Forest Park which was delightful and which we will return to when there is more water to gush through the narrow ravines and over the numerous waterfalls. 

One Of The Many Waterfalls In Glenariff Forest Park

We then walked up a mountain, created from a pre-historic volcanic plug, called Slemish.  This dominates the landscape between Ballymena and the coast and provides great views.  We didn’t need to rush in the warm weather, there were occasional cooling breezes, and the panorama from the top was a great reward for the scramble up and down.

Looking North From Slemish, County Antrim

Our final day was quieter since YS and his partner had to return to work.  After another great breakfast at General Merchants  in East Belfast, LSW and I simply boarded a public bus and travelled from the far west side of Belfast via the Falls Road and back again.  The bold murals lining some of the route are a clear reminder of Belfast’s past.  The burnt patches of land resulting from the Battle of the Boyne bonfire celebrations in mid-July are a reminder than there are still strong tensions below the surface of Northern Irish life. 

Some Of The More Modern Murals In Belfast

We took in an architectural tour of the city centre and had a final fill up at Established Coffee before a last walk with YS down the Comber Greenway (the first of a large network of such cycle/walk ways being implemented across Northern Ireland) built on the route of the now defunct Belfast and County Down railway.  YS then whisked us off to the airport and home. 

Both trips we have made to YS’s new home in Northern Ireland have been great and we know there is lots more to see.   We will be back again soon but armed with waterproof clothing since surely we can’t be as luck with the weather again?

YS Even Laid On Dolphin Watching At Portstewart!

Old Friends

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

Unexpectedly Spectacular View At Diss, Just North Of Eye

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

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

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

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

Happy But Unsuspecting Pigs

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

Eye Church In Morning Sun

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

Big Fields, Big Skies

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

Views In Wyken Gardens, Suffolk

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

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

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

Sunset From LSW’s Aunt’s House

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

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

Birthday Past and Birthday Future

The last few weeks seem to have had a quickening pace.  Gradually, the easing of lockdown is formally (within the rules) and informally (just beyond the margins of the rules) opening up more social contact.  Spring is moving on apace and the garden is requiring increasing amounts of attention.  Our local climate action group has become more active and more of a time-suck.  And it has been my birthday!

Yellow Fields Between May Showers

My birthday week – and it did feel like the celebration was spread over a week – was full of lovely activities and moments. 

Youngest Son (YS) came to visit with his partner for a few days on his way to a video shoot in London.  Middle Son (MS) and his partner, living temporarily out of London and renting our ‘Tin House’ in a nearby village, came over to help celebrate, help YS get games started (he does love his Monopoly Deal!) and enjoy the birthday food and drinks.  On the day itself, Long-Suffering Wife’s younger brother, his wife and youngest daughter came over for dinner; we haven’t had so many in our house at one time for well over a year and it was great fun.

Birthday Fun In The Local Pub

Even the (birthday) walks in the local countryside felt special in that week.  We were joined on one of those walks by one of YS’s best friends and, so, one of ours.  He is an Australian rather stranded in London by the pandemic but as upbeat and entertaining as ever.  Stumbling through playing a Pub Quiz and then walking back through bluebell woods with him, YS and his girlfriend before collapsing in front of a cheesy film on the television, will be a lasting memory. 

Birthday Walk Through Kingscote Graveyard

To crown the week, my football team, Forest Green Rovers, won their final game of the league season to qualify for the promotion playoffs.  The last few months have been a struggle for the team but anything could happen over the next two or (if we get to the Wembley final) three games.  Next week will be tense.

Peak Bluebell Season

Even better, now the relative excitement of my birthday week has passed, is that there is a far more important birthday to come.  I could mean LSW’s in June but actually it is the real birthday of a grandchild!  If all goes to plan, I will be a Grandad by November. 

I’m so thrilled by the prospect and another lasting memory will be Eldest Son (ES) and his partner telling us on a Zoom call.  I shall also always cherish the recording of ES separately telling his brothers – that interaction was both funny and very moving as it captured the emotions of the moment between siblings so wonderfully.

ES and his partners’ joyful news has heightened our excitement around our upcoming trip to Edinburgh to stay with them for a few days.  We can’t wait to see their new flat there and how they live (while recognising that the latter will be rather disrupted later this year!) 

Local Wildlife – A Grey Heron

Life seems to be accelerating again and I just hope the coronavirus variants don’t slow life down again before we get to Edinburgh.

Paths Among More Yellow Fields

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

 

35 Years Ago

Yesterday was Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) and my wedding anniversary.  We have been married for 35 years.  Now that is long-suffering!  Nah, I’m kidding; neither of us would have put up with a marriage of suffering for very long.  It has been a very successful union and the fact we are still united is a testament to that.

Our Wedding Cake

Our 1985 Wedding Cake

Of course, there have been some downs as well as ups.  Most of the downs related to the stresses of my professional work life or the strains of parenting three young boys.  The 1990’s, when those two stress generators came to a peak together, were certainly challenging.

My Family At Our Wedding With More Hats Than Usual

My Family At LSW’s And My Wedding (With More Hats Than Usual)

Overlaying all that peak stress with a move of the family from London to Gloucestershire in 1998 wasn’t easy but, with hindsight, was probably a critical success factor for the longevity of our marriage.  I continued to work in London and commuted weekly from the new family home.  That meant my work stress could be isolated from the family to a degree and maybe it’s true that (my weekly) ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.

Our First House In Gloucestershire From Which I Commuted To London Weekly

Our First House In Gloucestershire From Which I Commuted To London Weekly

As the boys have grown into adults so there have been times when we have been reminded of another old adage: ‘small children, small problems; big children, big problems’.  LSW’s emotional intelligence and parenting training and skills have been to the fore as we negotiated those challenging times together.  But as my professional life has wound down and then I retired, so I have been able to contribute to family life a bit more equally and become more relaxed.  We are still happy with our lot and each other.

LSW and I dined out at Calcot Hotel restaurant to celebrate our anniversary.  A meal out in a restaurant felt like a bigger deal than usual – not only because it was our anniversary – but because it was the first time we had eaten in a restaurant since we went to Bath just before the Coronavirus lockdown, well over four months ago.  It was a very pleasant meal and break from routine.  The restaurant had made social distancing arrangements and we felt safe.  The evening was a welcome change from testing out home cooking recipes from our shelves of recipe books and piles of newspaper cuttings.

Calcot Hotel And Spa At Night

Calcot Hotel And Spa At Night

Over dinner, as has been the case at such events for over 30 of those married years, we talked about our sons; how alike they are, how different they are, our hopes for them and how they are being realised.  We also talked about our respective families; how different our family traits are and how different our respective siblings are.  We also talked a bit – as we had on a recent local walk together – about how we have managed 35 years of marriage.

I read recently an article which postulated tolerance as the main driver for a successful marriage.  Certainly compromise is required.  However, there need to be boundaries to compromise and tolerance.  Constantly being tolerant, to the point of always giving in, builds resentment.  Poor or unthinking behaviour needs to be challenged even if change is only even likely to be partial and slow.  LSW’s thinking is that both participants in the marriage need to be confident in themselves so they know when to be tolerant, when to compromise and when to draw a boundary and stick to it.  That all sounds about right to me and is certainly true of LSW.

Onwards to another 35 years of marriage?  I’ll be 99!  I’m not at all confident I’ll be around to celebrate that but I’m happy enough living in the present in our road-tested marriage.  As one of our boys used to say – I forget which – ‘Good choosing Dad!’  But choosing is only the first step.  Sticking at it for 35 years requires luck, patience, tolerance, self-confidence, hard work and, no doubt, much more.

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 🙂