Retirement: Five Years On

Five years ago today, I experienced my first day of retirement after almost 40 years of corporate working.  I haven’t done a stroke of paid work since retiring and I haven’t regretted that for one minute.  I have been lucky that my health has been good (I know a few new retirees who have not been so fortunate) and that earning and saving during my working life has meant that I could retire in my early 60s and still live comfortably (again, not something that is possible for all). 

Taking The Retirement Step Five Years Ago: Mr Archer Has Left The Building!

I have also been lucky in that retirement moved me more permanently to our family home in a lovely part of Gloucestershire but that I could also keep a degree of access to my London flat for a few years.  That meant that I could wean myself off London cultural life gradually.  That London facility has just been sold and now I am tied much more to Gloucestershire day to day (something that probably means Long-Suffering Wife is a little more long-suffering these days).  However, while cultural exploits are now less frequent, the countryside here is highly alluring, the rural walks are delightful and the pandemic lockdown had already trained me to make the most of the local.

Long, Local, Countryside Walks – A Great Retirement Treat

Five years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect from retirement (that was one of the reasons why I started this blog when I retired) and there certainly have been some surprises along the way.   The Covid pandemic has been a big one and that has curtailed a lot of the travel that I anticipated doing.  Middle Son’s accident a few years ago was also completely impossible to anticipate and has taken a while to recover from.  Now a needless world war is causing more widespread disruption in which to plan.

Pre-Covid Travel We Did Manage: South Africa 2018

Our sons’ locations have also been unpredictable and yet this has determined a lot of our travel.  When Youngest Son was in Australia we went there (twice); currently he is in Belfast and we have visited there twice too.  Middle Son remains in London so we have seen him there but we wait on tenterhooks as to where he will move to next and more permanently. 

Sydney 2019
Northern Ireland Summer 2021; (Typically Very) Early Morning Trip With Youngest Son

Meanwhile, Eldest Son is settled in Edinburgh with his partner and they have produced the loveliest retirement surprise – our First Grandchild – and so Edinburgh has become another regular destination.

Back Streets Of Edinburgh 2022

As I did a year after leaving employment, I have gone back to the initial impressions I had of retirement which I set out after the first six months (here and here).  To recap, the main personal lessons, in summary, were:

  • Work didn’t and doesn’t define me and I don’t miss it
  • There is plenty to do in retirement
  • There is still need for structure
  • Holidays (trips away from home) are more relaxing now
  • I miss London, but not as much as I expected
  • Summer Is A Good Time To Retire
  • Remember That Retirement Affects One’s Partner Too
  • Spend Time Getting To Know One’s (New) Neighbourhood
  • Don’t Rush Into Any New Big Time Commitments
  • Health, As Always, Is Critical.

Once again, I don’t see much to change or add to that.  I have certainly found plenty to do in retirement and have enjoyed getting involved more in the local community, but a key attraction is that little has to be done in a hurry.  Even though I have taken on a few commitments around the village, particularly regarding local climate action, and even though some of these have become quite substantial, the pace is much more relaxed.   As in work, there seems to be much to do but, in retirement, most can wait until tomorrow.

Our Meadow And Vegetable Patches: Varying Levels Of Untidiness

I have been able to create new routines and structures for my day primarily around walking, shopping and cooking.  They help provide some balance between doing and doing very little that create a feeling of busyness but with a flexibility on timescales that is just challenging enough for me.

That flexibility is perhaps the most attractive thing.  We can travel or not.  I can offer to help with something or not (I remain careful not to promise things I can’t deliver).  I can go out gardening today or leave it till later because Wimbledon tennis is on or it looks like rain.  I can take a long walk because the weather is nice or I can sit and play a computer game for an hour or two.  I can cook simply or take the time to explore into new cooking territory.  I can go to a Forest Green Rovers away game halfway across the country or sit nervously alongside the radio commentary. 

Who Wouldn’t Want To Travel Halfway Across The Country To See The New Forest Green Rovers Away Kit?

The choices are more attractive than when I was working, the execution of those choices is more relaxed, and it’s been a very good five years!

My Current Retirement Home

Laughing In Lyme

We had a great long weekend in Lyme Regis.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I started our weekend by meeting up with Youngest Son (YS) and his partner in Bristol on Friday morning.  They had stayed overnight in Bristol to check out the Bristol vibe and had found a café/bar adjoining a boutique hotel called Artist Residence Bristol.  It was perfect; great breakfast, service and start to the day.

Artist Residence Cafe/Bar In Bristol

We drove together down to Lyme Regis to stay in a flat overlooking the Harbour and the famous Cobb breakwater that protects it.  The stay was the result of a successful charity auction bid a few months ago when our village raised almost £14,000 for the victims of the war on Ukraine.  We had little idea of what the flat would be like but trusted that, given the owners had been so generous in offering the flat as an auction lot, it would be well appointed and comfortable.

That is exactly how it turned out and more.  The flat was indeed well presented, well provisioned, homely and just right for the six of us.  What was unexpected was the spectacular view from its windows facing Lyme Bay.  We were in the tallest building around the Harbour and overlooked it all.

View Of The Cobb From Our Flat For The Weekend

We spent the late afternoon over a late lunch (for me, an unnecessarily huge bowl of cheesy nachos at Swim) on the sea front and then walking around the town and along the seafront in gorgeous weather. 

Busy Lyme Regis Sea Front And A Big Arrow To Indicate Where We Stayed
Lyme Regis Beach

YS picked up Middle Son (MS) and his partner from nearby Axminster station.   While they freshened up in the flat, LSW and I set about pre-dinner drinks and a walk through the gardens overlooking the bay.  We then met up together for dinner at Mark Hix’s The Oyster & Fish House.  Again we had spectacular views across the bay and the food was very good (I just wish I had gone for the three types of fish for two people which MS and his partner shared, and which looked exceptional).

Next day, another substantial breakfast at Town Mill Bakery and Cafe was followed by a bit of crabbing by the youngsters.  I thought the chance of catching a crab off The Cobb was small but it was amusing to watch the enthusiastic early efforts.  I left for a walk along the coast to the west of the town and so missed the triumph that met capture of two crabs by both MS’s and YS’s partners.  There were a lot of photos of smiles (I won’t share here to protect the innocent!) and talk of doing more crabbing with the remains of the mackerel bait on the following day.

Superior Housing To The West Of Lyme Regis – Old, New and Strange

We joined up again for a walk along the east coast of the Bay.  Landslips had destroyed some of the paths but we were able to go far enough to get proper exercise in before retreating to the Town Mill Micro Brewery (again!) for some well-deserved and lovely craft beers.

The Jurassic Coast East Of Lyme Regis
Land-slipped Coast And New Sea Protection Walls Just East Of Lyme Regis

The only downside during our time in the micro-brewery was being told that, in preparation for the following day’s crabbing the youngsters had left the remains of the mackerel bait with the crabbing equipment in our block of flats just outside the ground floor apartment.  I felt a strong responsibility for making sure the neighbours of those lending their flat to us weren’t inconvenienced by rotting mackerel outside their front door.  So I strode quickly back to the flat to move the crabbing stuff up to outside our flat door so at least we would be the only people who would have to put up with the smell. 

I also picked up Heckmeck – a crazy dice game and one of our favourites and, as the weather drew in and it got appreciably colder, we moved to a tiny space indoors at the brewery for a rather noisy game. 

Heckmeck And Craft Beer

Back at the flat we restocked the beer supply, opened a few and played a new game called Twin It!  This team game is simple in concept but very fast moving and so stressful that we could only cope with one round.  I can’t wait for an occasion to play again though.  Fortunately LSW and I had time to calm down as the youngsters went off to pick up fish and chips from the renowned and family run Lyme’s Fish Bar and then we tucked in.  One more round of Heckmeck rounded off a full and excellent day.

Our final day started with the niffyness of mackerel as we left the flat and then, once again, a large breakfast, this time at the splendidly located The Lyme Bay

At some point during breakfast I learnt that, on the way to the cafe, the rotting mackerel had been discarded and crabbing was no longer on the agenda.   Why the crabbing equipment hadn’t been discarded the previous day was unclear to me but what a lot of ‘wasted stress’ I had expended the evening before!   Everyone seemed very amused at my discombobulation. 

Striding Out On The Coastal Path West Of Lyme Regis

Still, the lack of crabbing enabled time for one more walk along the coast before we headed off from Lyme Regis with some great memories and laughs in the bank.  It was great to have spent a full weekend with YS, MS and their partners.  Loved it!

Overlooking Lyme Regis From The East

Friends, Family and Parochial Busyness

Since retiring almost five years ago, I have frequently been surprised by how busy I have felt.  Late May and Early June have certainly felt that way although, when I look back, I’m not sure why. 

Certainly, I have done a one or two weeks of work on follow up activities relating to a Village Meeting that the local Climate Action Network group I belong to arranged with the Parish Council.  And, ok, we have had visitors other than family coming to stay for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

We also had the festivities around the Queens Jubilee (though in our village, these only really stretched to installation of a new commemorative bench and, more engagingly, a four day beer festival in the village pub).  We even hosted a long-promised but long awaited drinks event for a few locals in our garden.  Plus we had a really lovely visit from our First Grandchild (FG), his parents and his other Grandparents. Oh, and the London Barbican flat that I used before retirement was sold!

Village Pub (The Hog) Ju-Beer-Lee Beer Festival

Does that sound like a busy month?

In any case, almost all of it has been a lot of fun and, in the case of the work on the presentations of the summary of feedback from the Village Meeting, I feel like I have achieved something worthwhile for the greater good.  I get to present most of it to the Parish Council next week so I hope they will feel the same way.

Lacing all these little events together has been the routine of shopping, cooking, gardening and walking. 

Shopping and cooking has been marked by an uptick (in my perception, at least) in the frequency and innovation of my evening meal preparation.  I am enjoying cooking more and more as I gain confidence in swapping out recipe ingredients for others to add variety and to use up vegetables otherwise likely to be wasted.  ‘Important’ meals for most visitors usually remain the in the ambit of Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) but no longer is this a golden rule and my (in)famous Coronation Chicken (courtesy of Thomasina Miers) got an outing when my Best Man came to visit during the village pub beer festival a couple of weeks ago.

This Coronation Chicken Recipe From Thomasina Miers Is Easy But Creates A Delicious, Colourful, Warm Salad

Gardening has been more fraught with the need to focus on the Village Meeting, days of relatively inclement weather, and early afternoon indolence combining to delay planting out of straggly, pot bound vegetable seedlings.  Now almost everything is in the ground the slugs are having a better time of it, but at least my seedlings have a chance of producing something.

Our Terrace Garden In Bloom

The local walks have been increasingly pleasant as the weather has improved on our way to the longest day and summer.  Plus I have got real enjoyment from using a mobile phone app that identifies birds from their birdsong.  The app is called Merlin Bird ID (although I understand from others I have spoken to that there are several alternatives).  When I first tried it a few months ago, I wasn’t sure it was accurate.  Now I believe it is and using it has begun to help me learn to identify birds before I even open the app and turn the recording/identification function on.  It’s adding another pleasurable dimension to my walks in much the same way the app Candide did for me from sometime last year as I tried to identify plants as I went.

Much Loved Sycamore At The Top Of Our Lane

LSW and I are off to Lyme Regis this coming weekend where, Covid permitting, we will meet up with Middle Son, Youngest Son and their partners.  I’m looking forward to that – and the break in my (busy) routine – immensely.

Last View Of The Barbican Flat – Empty And Sold!

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

Isle Of Skye Christmas

I described our journey to Edinburgh and then the Isle of Skye in my last post.  Here I’ll relate some of the high points of what was probably the best UK holiday I have had since I was child.  We all (Middle Son, Youngest Son, their partners, Long-Suffering Wife and myself) had a fabulous Christmas period on the westernmost edge of the island.

Our Holiday Location

Our adventure started the first full day after our arrival.  As Youngest Son (YS) and his partner took up primary breakfast-making duty (a role they thankfully assumed pretty much throughout the week since they were very good at it), so the murky dawn dissipated.  Gradually, the full glory of our view across Loch Pooltiel to the cliff and waterfall beyond, became clear.  Then, after breakfast, we all opened the little gate separating the house area from the open moorland and set out for a walk.  Our hearts leapt almost immediately as we spotted a seal near the nearby salmon farm.

Little Gate From Our House To Peat And Cliffs

We wandered over ancient strip fields, boggy peat and wonderfully named craggy ridges: Biod Ban, An Ceannaich and Druim nan-Sgarbh.  The colours of the moss, lichen and grass underfoot were gorgeous and then, as we breached one more ridge, we were able to look south across unexpectedly dramatic cliffs.  It was a breath-taking moment.

South Facing Cliffs Behind Our Holiday Home In Lower Milovaig

Over the following few, rather grey days, I continued to walk around the local area.  The nearest village and shop was a pleasant but sometimes damp, 45 minute walk.  This was either along the loch or over the hills behind the house and between a mix of old crofts and new, designer holiday-let houses. 

The Surprisingly Well-Stocked Village Shop In Glendale

The infrequent copses of trees along the way dripped with lichen.  The landscape colours were a little mournful but somehow peaceful, comforting and easy on the eye.  They reminded me of some of the colours I recall from children’s paint boxes: burnt umber, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, crimson, teal green.

The Colours Underfoot

Between walks and other outings, we settled into chat, films and football on the telly, meals and games.  Monopoly Deal inevitably appeared but new games called Heckmeck (translates to ‘Nonsense’ in German) and Obama Llama were favourites.  I was ok at Heckmeck but hopeless at games like Obama Llama and Heads Up! which involved acting out – like souped-up Charades.  Simulating a penguin without speaking by waddling then diving onto the sofa (i.e. the icy sea!) was probably the low point for me.

Panorama South Of Neist Point

As the weather improved, we all headed out to see the most westerly point of Skye and the lighthouse at Neist Point (Rubha na h-Eist).  The lighthouse is, as expected, beautifully positioned among high cliffs.  The rocks, and plant life hanging onto them, were interesting and we spent a happy hour amongst these chatting and watching the waves.

Neist Point Lighthouse
Rocks (Basalt) And Lichen At Neist Point

By Christmas Eve afternoon, sun was beginning to peek between the layers of clouds more regularly.  To celebrate that and the impending Christmas, we scooted back out to Neist Point with a bottle of prosecco to celebrate the sunset over the Inner Hebrides.  We were taken aback by the strength of the wind – it made the prosecco hard to pour!  It was another very memorable time for our group. 

Sunset At Neist Point

Christmas Day morning started with Secret Santa present opening.  Long-Suffering Wife was my not-so-Secret Santa and she took the opportunity to give me a smart wash bag which replaced a perfectly effective, but admittedly unattractive, plastic shopping bag which I have used since a trip to South Africa almost four years ago.  LSW was overjoyed as that faithful plastic bag was discarded at last to hold kitchen waste and then be deposited in the rubbish bins.

We then postponed Christmas lunch until after dusk and, instead, used the hours of light to explore the Coral Beach (Traigh a Chorail) north of our nearest town (Dunvegan) and its coastal castle.  On the walk to the beaches, we saw a sea otter – the first I have ever seen. 

The Walk To Coral Beach (The White In The Distance)

The beaches themselves are made up of bleached fragments of a coral called Maerl that grows in Loch Dunvegan and which, when alive, is deep red.  The rising sun, bright blue sky, deep blue sea, rocky promontories and white beaches led to another batch of photos and happy memories.

LSW conjured up a lovely Christmas dinner from local vegetables and two very free-range chickens.  As per recent Christmas traditions, I provided a Christmas picture quiz and Christmas hats laced with sparklers, rather too many chocolate Brussel sprouts, jokes and (cardboard) party poppers.  As had been the case every day, the drinks flowed alongside extremely tasty and filling plates food including, of course given that it was Christmas Day, Christmas pudding with brandy butter. 

Christmas Gingerbread House, Tree And Droopy-Eyed Snowman Made, Enterprisingly, By The ‘Younger Ones’

The sky was so clear that night that when we turned off the house lights, went outside and looked up for while, we could see the Milky Way.  It was as clear as I have seen it since I was in remote Madagascar over 15 years ago.  We even saw a couple of shooting stars (but not the Northern Lights).  A very jolly time, enlivened by some sparkler waving, was had by all.

Our holiday crescendo was on Boxing Day – our last full day on Skye.  YS was very keen to take us to a mountainous area on the other north side of Skye called The Quiraing that he had visited on a previous trip to the isle.  The weather was cold and icy but there was barely a cloud in the sky, so off we set. 

Loch Dunvegan Near Colbost

The route to The Quiraing was beautiful.  It skirted island-strewn lochs and passed through small villages and fishing towns before we headed inland to the northern mountains of Skye.  As we emerged from our cars at the tourist car park, The Quiraing stretched out wonderfully before us.  It was one of the most jaw dropping landscapes I have seen in the UK.

The Quiraing, North Skye

The subsequent walk along The Quiraing to The Needle was just tricky enough in the patches of ice to be a challenging adventure but straightforward enough to feel safe.  The sound of collapsing ice sheets and icicles on the cliffs above added to the sense of drama. 

The Needle, The Quiraing

Everywhere one looked, the vistas were huge and we capped these views with a sighting of a golden eagle (another first in the wild for me).  In the distance, the snow-capped tops of mountains on the Hebrides were beautiful reminders that this was a rare sunny day and we were so lucky to have one on our last day. 

View South East From The Quiraing

Even the journey back to Edinburgh the following day was a final hurrah for sun-lit, mist-draped, snow-covered mountains. 

Loch Garry On The Way Home
On the Way Home

We had been so fortunate with the weather.  We had been fortunate with Covid and avoiding it.  We had been fortunate that all the holiday logistics had worked out well.  We had been fortunate in so many ways to have a Scottish holiday we will remember forever.

Sunset Over The Hebrides From The Cliffs Behind Our Holiday Rental

The Lull Before Christmas

Life has been relatively quiet recently and, increasingly, I have dipped out of large social gatherings such as the Community Shop Christmas Party and the monthly local Pub Quiz.  This is in the hope that I avoid the latest Omicron variant of Coronavirus at least until after the Christmas period. 

Christmas too is going to involve fewer social contacts than usual but we do hope to see all our sons, their partners and our new grandchild.  It’s going to be a treat but a different treat from the usual.

The last few days have included a number of Christmas preparations (including my booster jab).  Our family are doing a Secret Santa again this year so little present buying is required.  But, despite the other differences to our Christmas Day this year, I am maintaining the recent traditions of home-made party hats and a Christmas picture quiz.  Both are now ready to go. 

Local walks have continued to be a Covid-safe feature of my retirement.   I’ve been on a couple of different ones with mates from the village.  That is always interesting, not only for the conversation but because, no matter how many times I traverse the local footpaths, they almost always take me on routes or to places that they know but which are slightly different from my normal haunts.

Local Woodland Old Spot Pigs – Well Fed By The Undergrowth And Rather Fatter Since The Last Time I Saw Them!
An Unusual, Local Double-Stepped Stile I Hadn’t Seen Before

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also squeezed in a rather impromptu visit to Bath.  Walking past the Georgian Crescents and through the streets reprised a visit we did a couple of months ago.  Then, I visited The Holburne Museum and saw an interesting exhibition on (Dante Gabriel) Rossetti and his portraits of his muses and girlfriends (usually, they were both).   He certainly seems to like women with big, lustrous hairdos!

A Rossetti Portrait, Holburne Museum, Bath
View Of Great Pulteney Street From The Holburne Museum

This time, the main purpose to the visit was to try out lunch at the relatively new Landrace Bakery.  We have loved the Bakery and café since it opened well before Covid struck; LSW has been going there since it opened.  Landrace has more than survived the lockdowns of the last 18 months by evolving and shifting its focus to takeaway and, most recently, a small restaurant upstairs.  The lunch we had there didn’t disappoint.  The service was informal but excellent, the servings were tasty and of a good size and, despite the ‘London prices’, lunch was good value overall.  We’ll go again and we recommend it.

Georgian Crescents Overlooking High Common, Bath
Luke Jerram’s Impressive ‘Moon’ Artwork, On Show When We Visited Bath Cathedral

But now, attention turns to a trip to Scotland and to Christmas.  The socialising may have been scaled back in the run up and the numbers around the Christmas table will be less than a third of last year.  Nonetheless I am looking forward to it more than ever after the constraints of the last year and in advance of the restrictions that are likely to come as the pandemic moves to its next stage.  Hopefully we will get away with a great little Christmas!

I hope too that readers of this have a happy and healthy Christmas and holiday period. 

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

Overstepping The Mark To Normality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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