Going To Malvern Not Wembley

Some of the last week or so has been spent managing my disappointment that Forest Green Rovers (FGR), the football team I follow avidly and actively, just failed to make it through to the English Football League 2 (EFL2) Playoff Final at Wembley.  FGR have had a great season following the struggles experienced last year during our first season at this level.  However, we just fell short of entitlement to a third visit to Wembley in four years.  I’ve amended my diary to free up the play-off final weekend, responded to the commiserations from friends, and adjusted the focus of my hopes towards next season.

Lining Up For The 1st Leg Playoff Semi-Final At Prenton Park (Tranmere Rovers)

Lining Up For The 1st Leg Playoff Semi-Final At Prenton Park (Tranmere Rovers)

We (and I do think of FGR as a ‘we’) nearly managed automatic promotion but we faltered near the end of this season with a 4-3 loss at Crewe Alexandra having be3-1 up.  Then, in the play-off semi-final against Tranmere Rovers, the fine margins between success and failure fell against us.  It didn’t help that we had a player sent off in both home and away legs but, in truth, we also didn’t quite play to our potential.  Now we have to wait for a team rebuild for next season and see if we can challenge for promotion again.  I’ve renewed my season ticket but am already missing the weekly routine of live football!

FGR Lining Up at Gresty Road, Crewe Alexandra

FGR Lining Up At Crewe Alexandra. We Are Getting Used To Playing At These (Relatively) Big Stadia

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) does long-suffer when it comes to my obsession with football.  But she and I did have a trip out that was rather different from the one I had been planning to Wembley.  We bought a fully electric car recently to replace one of our two existing and now aged cars – probably my rusting, but still remarkably effective, hulk of a Saab will go for scrap.  LSW had been using her new electric e-Golf for local trips to and from work but wanted to try out a longer run that would involve practicing charging at a service station.  We chose a visit to the Malvern Spring Festival and charged up successfully at the rather wonderful Gloucester Services, Farm Shop and Kitchen on the way back.

The Festival is a vast exhibition of plants, gardens, art and everything to do with gardening.  It is very popular and there were large crowds.  There is more of a focus on selling garden paraphernalia than I remember there being at the Chelsea Flower Show.  The amount of space available at the Malvern Festival is conducive to that and I enjoyed wandering around the multitude of outlets and tents even though the weather was damp and grey.

Riot of Colour In The Floral Tent At The Malvern Spring Show

Riot of Colour In The Floral Tent At The Malvern Spring Show

Both LSW and I love aspects of gardening.  I tend to focus on the vegetable patch and my allotment while LSW prefers mapping out and planting the flower beds.  However, we didn’t go to the show with any clear purchase plan and only came away with three small perennials and, for me, a £2 pot of recently germinated dill.  Given the vast quantity of stuff that was on sale, we weren’t great customers; just voyeurs!

Habit of Living Garden By Tatlow and Hathaway

Habit of Living Garden By Tatlow And Hathaway – Probably My Favourite Show Garden At Malvern

We had a very pleasant, relaxed morning despite the rather grim weather.  Some of the model gardens were very impressive and, because was the first day of the Festival, the rain hadn’t yet made the car park or walkways too muddy.

It was nice to get out of the drizzle to hear some of the speakers (including James Alexander-Sinclair, Jamie Butterworth and Jo Whiley) in the main marquee.  There, we were also treated to an eclectic fashion exhibition where the designs were based on different plant types and garden themes.  Most of the outfits were rather skimpy and I sympathised with the models and dancers who had to tolerate the cold as well as the weirdness of some of the things they were wearing.  They seemed to enjoy it as much as we did though.

Part Of The 'Floral Eccentricity' Show By Sarah Champier

Part Of The ‘Floral Eccentricity’ Show By Sarah Champier. Brrrr!

The What If Garden With More Underdressed Dancers

The What If Garden With More Underdressed Dancers

Fortunately the weather improved after the Malvern excursion.  That gave LSW and I the first opportunities since Easter to sit out in the garden, have a relaxing glass of wine or two, and to survey our past gardening efforts.  We have gradually got increasing control of the small meadow-cum-orchard that adjoins the main garden.  We moved a bench up to the top of it last year.  From there we have a sunny view and can see the gradually increasing diversity of the meadow.

View From The Bench Near The Top Of Our Meadow

View From The Bench Near The Top Of Our Meadow

Common Blue And Little Copper Butterflies

Common Blue And Little Copper Butterflies In Our Meadow. A Very Pleasing Addition to Fauna There

I think we will spend more time there in summer evenings this year while planning further garden evolution and pondering the possibility of Wembley next football season.

The Future Starts Here

Immediately after our trip to Split I went to London to visit the Victoria and Albert (V&A) exhibition called The Future Starts Here with Eldest Son (ES).

I am increasingly interested in the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on work.  ES has been fascinated by this topic for a while and he lent me a book on the subject recently which I am still digesting.  In the meantime we saw this V&A exhibition of about 150 futuristic objects.  It aims to show through these objects how, already, seemingly far-fetched ideas are starting to have a real impact on our lives and may have unexpected – wanted and unwanted – impacts in the future.

Some Objects At the Future Starts Here Exhibition

Some Objects At the Future Starts Here Exhibition: A Bank Of 3D Printers, Two Tiny Devices That Hold Truly Massive Amounts Of Data (360 Terabytes), And A Long Life Kit

At the end of the exhibition we were invited to complete a survey which indicated our reaction to what we had seen and how we felt about the future impact of technology on our lives.  ES came out, perhaps unsurprisingly, as a ‘Tech Disciple’.  In contrast, I was a ‘Well Informed Worrier’.  That meant that while I am ‘on top of what is going on, [I am] most pessimistic about society’s future and the impact of technology, [and feel that I] will personally will be negatively affected by change’.

This will come as no surprise to Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) who often berates me about my worrying in a variety of areas of life.  However, I think that while I worry about change, I actually can cope with it quite well when it happens.  I think and hope this will be true of technology, automation and artificial intelligence.  I won’t rush to embrace it but, as each advance becomes main-stream, I will continue to use them and benefit from them.

Having retired, and at my age, most of my concerns are for my children and their children (should any arrive).  Yes, robots may help them rear babies by reading them stories and rocking them to sleep in optimum ways.  Driverless taxis may reduce traffic and the need to own cars.  Technology may help us live longer.  But do we really want to entrust baby care to a non-human, will driverless cars really be secure and safe, and do we really want our bodies to outlive our brains or have our brains live on as a copy in a robot?  I fear that we may be overtaken by the technological possibilities before we have even begun to properly frame the right questions about them.

Driverless Car At The V&A Future Starts Here Exhibition

Driverless Car At The V&A Future Starts Here Exhibition

Regardless, technological advance is here and accelerating.  The impact on the nature of work will be huge.  My sons seem to welcome this but I wonder if even they can envisage the depth of change that is coming.  I’ll return to this subject here when I have re-read ES’s book: The Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford.  It sets out the logic for a rapid decline in the availability of human employment.  Even for someone who has retired and already moved voluntarily into post-work mode (with the backing of 40 years of work and savings), I found it pretty scary (and well written).

A true ‘post-work’ society, where robots have replaced the labour of not only routine manufacturing and distribution jobs but also many white collar and middle management roles, will certainly be very different from that of today.  I’m interested to see the development of coping mechanisms that such a society will require to combat the dangers of control by a few technology owners, growing financial inequality threatened by such concentration of power, and the sheer amount of ‘free time’ people may have.

After the exhibition, ES and I also dropped in on an V&A exhibition about modern Videogames.  We both loved this – especially ES since computer games are pre-occupation in day to day work as well as a regular pastime.  Watching and playing some of the games was very amusing and the increasing emphasis on atmosphere and emotions in modern games was interesting.  It was another well laid out exhibition and I became a member of the V&A so I can attend more for free in the future.  I’m looking forward to using some of my post-work time for that!

Examples Of Modern Videogame Artwork at the V&A Videogame Exhibition

Examples Of Modern Videogame Artwork at the V&A Videogame Exhibition (Bloodborne, The Graveyard and Journey)

That weekend was capped off by a further visit to my Best Man (BS) in Cambridgeshire.  We spent time catching up as usual but also sorted about half of his vast collection of CDs into alphabetical order – just the sort of task I love.  We also saw Forest Green Rovers eke out a fine draw at MK Dons and visited his previous place of work at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Bedfordshire.  We were blessed with lovely weather (and a great Forest Green Rovers performance) and I had a very enjoyable time.

The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds HQ and Grounds

The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds (RSPB) HQ and Grounds

After a relatively quiet week, the weekend just past was dominated and enhanced by the visit of Middle Son (MS), his girlfriend, her dad, his wife and their two young boys.  They were all attending a wedding nearby so stayed with us for a couple of days.  It was lovely to see MS and his girlfriend again and to meet her family.  Having all this leisure time in retirement makes accommodating such visits so much more relaxing than it would have been a couple of years ago when I would have been checking work email and rushing back to London on a Sunday afternoon.  We had a great weekend.

Now I’m off to London to make more use of my V&A membership, see a film with ES and catch up with a bunch of old London friends.  Busy, busy, busy…..

Neighbourhood Activity

For over three years, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been helping development of the village Neighbourhood Plan.  This aims to set out for the District Council how the people of Horsley wish to see the land in the village used and developed over the next 25-30 years.  The Plan has required much consultation, drafting of fine words and picture taking, and very many meetings for LSW.  I also got involved earlier this year in drafting and formatting a particular section on preferred green spaces in the village.

Horsley

Picture of Our Village Taken From The Draft Neighbourhood Plan Consultation Leaflet

The group co-ordinating the Plan development, including LSW, are now on the final push to get the plan to a state ready for review by the Council and a further round of local consultation.  Last week they asked for help to structure the Plan appendices and to achieve greater consistency of look and feel across the whole document, mainly by reducing the range of formatting quirks employed by each contributor.

Following prompting from LSW, I volunteered. LSW has long wanted me to get more involved in village affairs and this was my chance.  Little did I think that it would end up echoing the intensity and effort of my pre-retirement days but, after 25 hours of sitting at my PC editing the document over four days, I’m done!

There may be further rounds of such intense effort required following review and consultation.  However, I’m a Windows user and the bulk of the others who have technical and design input are Mac users.  The two are not compatible and so I’m ready to bow out.  Even if I am not required going forward I have earned some ‘brownie points’ with LSW.

That is just as well since I have proactively planned to be away during the village fete where LSW has a key role organising the Village Hall catering.  Some time ago (admittedly when I knew the date of the fete), I arranged to meet up with my Best Man (BM) in Cambridgeshire and to fit in Forest Green Rovers’ (FGR) away game at Milton Keynes Dons.  My absence this coming weekend, which will include a trip to London too, is being frowned upon by LSW.  But at least I moved the Neighbourhood Plan forward beforehand so, on balance, I’ve got away with it.

I have been away from home quite a lot recently.  In late August I was in London to catch up with a couple of past work colleagues and to see a band that I have been tracking for about 5 years.  They are The Correspondents and, although the music is not all to my taste, the live act is as full of energy as anything I have seen.  I even played a part in the lead singer’s crowd surfing exploits and got my hands on a (minor) celebrity for the first time.  I recommend checking out video of their gigs – the lead singer’s moves are amazing.

The Correspondents

The Correspondents At The Old Queens Head, London

Following that, I went to Nottingham to visit my parents and see FGR win at Notts County.  It was great to be able to show my Dad how far FGR have come since I first started supporting my local team 20 years ago.

Despite being away so much, there has been time to participate in a couple of regular village events which I used to miss when working in London: the monthly Village Quiz Night (we came second again) and the monthly Men’s Night.  Both are good ways to keep up with village gossip.

The quiz is particularly well constructed and run and is a very enjoyable challenge. Our team, usually of six but occasionally augmented by visiting offspring (Middle Son (MS) joined us a month ago and someone else’s daughter joined us this week), is varied.  That means our knowledge doesn’t overlap too much and we are contenders.  I usually can contribute on sport and geography but I’m too slow or too dense to add much elsewhere.  These events are nice slices of rural life I didn’t have prior to retirement and both events help to keep our pub in business.

One less alluring aspect of rural life this week was an invasion into our garden of 70 sheep through some broken fencing in the adjacent field.  Our grass got a welcome trim and some unexpected fertiliser but a few of the fruit trees and my leeks took a bit of a battering.  Fortunately the farmer was nearby and available.  He shooed them back within 30 minutes or so and damage to garden and sheep was insignificant (indeed, the sheep probably enjoyed the change of routine).  Oh, the joys of country living!

It Nearly Came Home

So, the England football team are out of the World Cup and football is not ‘coming home’ after all.  The team exceeded my expectations but failed to beat Croatia in the semi-final and the sense of anti-climax is huge.  England supporters have to console themselves with the knowledge that their youthful and promising team played in a positive way.  I also console myself with the knowledge that the English football season starts soon and the passion can be let loose there all over again.

The progression towards the climax of the World Cup, Wimbledon tennis and, in the last few days, the Tour de France, has meant I have spent increasing amounts of time watching the TV.  Afternoon sport is a real retirement luxury.

On a couple of afternoons I was able to combine following the television coverage of the tennis with painting of the TV room.  However, I was painting the front door of the cupboard hosting the TV itself and it felt a bit weird having the picture on the other side of a closed cupboard.  Now that cupboard is done, marrying following the sport with finishing the painting should be more effective!

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been rather more long-suffering than usual given that the football has disrupted a few evenings.  She has little general interest in football and often gets too nervous during the England games to watch them.  Like many, though, she has been rather taken by the down to earth nature of the England heroes and the manager, Gareth Southgate.  He certainly did a decent job with limited resources (albeit with a lucky set of fixtures), and there is the promise of improvement.

In spite of the compulsion to fit in around the sport, LSW and I have managed to get out for a couple of ‘outings’.  The best was to Asthall Manor Gardens which was hosting a biennial exhibition of sculpture – the On Form Exhibition.  There were almost 400 sculptures from 40 artists laid out in the manor and across the beautiful gardens and meadows surrounding it.  Of course, this was all enhanced by the perfect warm and sunny weather that we have come to expect this summer.  We retreated afterwards to an excellent, good-value lunch at Upton Firehouse at the Upton Smokery; we will try that again.

St Nicholas Church, Asthall And Asthall Manor Gardens

St Nicholas Church, Asthall And Asthall Manor Gardens

On Form Sculpture Exhibition, Asthall Manor Gardens

On Form Sculpture Exhibition, Asthall Manor Gardens

Our own garden and meadow looks good at the moment despite the lack of rain.  The new walled garden has been planted with things that are reasonably drought-resistant and we have succumbed to a routine of selective manual watering to keep the rest going.  In the evenings, once the temperatures have cooled a bit, it has been lovely sitting out in the garden looking out across the flowers and long meadow grass with a glass of wine.  (Numbers of non-alcohol days remain depressed by the incidence of sunny evenings and the obligatory beers during England games.)

Sunset On Long Grass In Our Meadow

Sunset On Long Grass In Our Meadow Beyond The New Walled Garden

A flock of sheep that have made a recent, welcome return to the field opposite our house; they make our location look extra rural.  Like the sheep, I seek out the cool of shade through most of the day.  Even so, I have managed to keep up my walks and step-count by venturing into the local town before breakfast and before the temperatures become uncomfortable.

However, a number of recent information sources (a doctor I met during our June trip to Newquay, a chat with a local resident who uses a personal trainer, and an article in the Guardian newspaper) have indicated that even brisk walking in our hilly landscape is insufficient for the health of aging people.

What we oldsters also need to do is build up core strength, balance and muscle volume to counteract the natural degradation of muscle after our forties.  I’ve started to incorporate some minimal and brief resistance-based training into my (almost) daily back exercise routines but I know I need to make these more comprehensive and regular.  Lack of will-power and a reluctance to bother to change into clothing more appropriate for serious exercise are real obstacles I need to overcome.

The good news on the health front is that an eye test this week showed my eyesight has improved significantly in the last year.  Surely that can only be because I have retired and no longer spend 8-10 hours a day squinting at a computer screen.

So, not only has retirement allowed me the flexibility to watch the best of summer sport live, I can now see it with better eyes!  Long may that last…..