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.

Secret Santa Scores A Hit

Last Christmas, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), our three sons and I, decided to replace the tradition of us each giving everyone else a present, with a Secret Santa arrangement.  In this, each person draws a lot to determine which single person they should buy a Secret Santa present for up to a (relatively small) price limit.  This allows more focus and so reduces considerably the stress of (useful) present buying and the chance of getting something unwanted.

The reason I recall this now is that last week I was able to act upon my Secret Santa present: a ticket to a gig by Yo La Tengo at Hackney Arts Centre.  Actually, the giver, Eldest Son (ES), was no secret and, indeed, I went with him.  But Secret Santa was, for me as a receiver, a great hit.

Yo La Tengo is a band I have loved since I started buying albums by them in 2000.  In fact, they have been together as a three piece since the mid 1980’s and, as ES said after the gig, they have become very proficient at what they do.  Their music varies from gentle muses to Velvet Underground-like wig outs.  Unfortunately they didn’t rock ES’s boat but I loved almost all of the two-and-a-half hour performance.  I’m still humming their tunes to myself every day.

The venue is a gutted old cinema with bare walls and the seats taken out (contrary to the picture of comfortable seating on their website!).  We had to sit on nicely preserved, but very hard, wooden steps.  My back and bum could only take hour of that but then I was able to stand at the front and the two halves of the gig from the two vantage points was nice variety.

Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo At Hackney Arts Centre

I made two separate trips to London last week.  During these I met with a fellow retiree ex-work colleague for lunch, caught up with Middle Son (MS) for breakfast and met up with ES and his girlfriend.  I also went once again to my favourite folk club – The Lantern Society – which was once again consistently good across 10 brief but high quality and varied acts.

Live At The Lantern Society

Live At The Lantern Society

I then travelled up to my parents in Nottingham and jumped on from there to Mansfield to see my football team (lose entertainingly again).

Forest Green Rovers At Mansfield Town

Forest Green Rovers At Mansfield Town (With 170 Fellow Travelling Supporters)

The most surprising element amid all this was a visit I made to the Guildhall Art Gallery.  Although it is only a 10 minute walk from where I lived for 20 years, I had never been before.  I went to see an exhibition of Victorian art portraying lives and perceptions of children.  However, I also walked around the rest of an impressive gallery and the very well exhibited remains of a Roman amphitheatre in the bowels of the building. London never ceases to surprise.

Guildhall Art Gallery

Guildhall Art Gallery (Pre-Raphaelite Section)

Roman Amphitheatre Under The Guildhall, London

Roman Amphitheatre Under The Guildhall, London

The main exhibition at the gallery, called Seen and Heard was interesting, informative and well presented.  It resonated well with a book I’m just finishing called A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively.  As it happens this was another Christmas present, this time from LSW’s Aunt. Lively uses her memory of artefacts and aspects of a rather grand childhood home in west Somerset to launch narratives on how various elements of social life have changed in the last 150 years or so.

The First Sermon and The Second Sermon By Millais

The First Sermon (Girl Sleeping) and The Second Sermon (Girl Not Sleeping) By Millais At The ‘Seen And Heard’ Exhibition

Lively covers childhood, gardening, hunting, immigration and marriage and much more.  The chapters covering childhood and parenting interlocked with some of what I saw at the Guildhall and it all rang true.  In particular, the section on her marriage got me nodding my head in agreement.  Here is an extract of one paragraph:

“Every marriage is a journey, a negotiation, an accommodation.  In a long marriage, both partners will mutate; the people who set out together are not the same two people after ten years, let alone thirty or more…… Our marriage was like most; it had its calm reaches, its sudden treacherous bends, its episodes of white water to be navigated with caution and a steady nerve…… We meshed entirely in tastes and inclinations, could always fire one another with new interest, and laid down over the years that rich sediment of shared references and mutual recognition familiar to all who have known long companionship. You are separate people, but there is a shadowy presence which is an entity, the fusion of you both.”

I’m expecting LSW and I to build another layer of sediment of shared memory over the next few weeks as we travel to Qatar and then tour Sydney, Tasmania and Perth in Australia.  Watch this space.

Winter Catching Up

At last, a proper winter seems to have arrived.  We don’t have the extreme of the polar vortex that Canada and the northern states of the USA are currently experiencing, but we have had some frosty starts and, now, a heavy layer of snow.  School seems to be cancelled and kids are in the field opposite the house, sledging to their heart’s content.  The silent garden looks magical now it is cloaked in snow.  I know it is the increasing climate extremes that are the worry but it is comforting that we can still have real winter weather amid the trend towards global warming.

Snow And Sledging Outside Our Front Door

Snow And Sledging Outside Our Front Door

Middle Son texted to tell us London just has rain and in any case, the warmth of London’s buildings normally means that snow we see in rural areas becomes grey slush in the city centre.  However, London has other attractions and I was able to pay another visit last week.

The main reason for the visit was to meet up with some old work colleagues, as we do once or twice a year.  We worked together in 1977/8 and those times that were so formative to our early careers remain pretty vivid in our collective and shared memory.  We recalled some of those memories again.  We also caught up with more recent life developments and steered away from divisive Brexit debate sufficiently to make the get together over beers and curry very pleasant.

When I travel up to London for an event like this I have the flexibility of no time or work commitments plus the availability of a sofa bed in the flat we rent out to Eldest Son.  That enables planning of extra-curricular activity to maximise the diversity of fun during my stay.

Almost always, I include a trip to Rough Trade Records so I can work my way around the listening posts there and catch up with latest music they are promoting.  This time I also attended one of their free gigs.  The band, Toy, is one I have followed since I enjoyed them at the same venue in September 2012.  I’ve seen them a couple of times since including, believe it or not, at a remarkable gig primarily for the deaf/hard of hearing in 2015.  They were worth seeing for a fourth time and I’m sure they now have even more hair.

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Toy At Rough Trade

I also went to the Good Grief, Charlie Brown exhibition at Somerset House.  It was interesting to read about, and see through examples, how Charles M. Schultz developed his cartoon technique and characters.  The exhibition was also instructive on how Schultz managed, even as a white, middle class and relatively conventional American, to dabble in modern day issues such as gender identity, race, abortion, feminism and psychiatry/mental illness while growing his audience for his modest and understated Peanuts cartoon strips.  However, one would need to be a very dedicated follower to review all of the material on show and I think I grasped the main themes without concentrating on it all.

Charles M. Schultz's Characters From Peanuts And A Sample Early Cartoon

Charles M. Schultz’s Characters From Peanuts And A Sample Early Cartoon

Following a rather overly meaty breakfast (of three separate dishes of merguez sausage, black pudding and chorizo), I headed north to Stevenage for a Forest Green Rovers Football Club away game.  I watched us notch up another excellent win with my Best Man (BM) who lives nearby.  I then stayed a couple of nights with him and we spent the weekend watching more football, walking around the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) site where he used to work (as we had last September), and visiting St Albans.

Views At The RSPB Reserve, Sandy, Bedfordshire

St Albans Cathedral

St Albans Cathedral: Naves, St Albans Shrine, Mosaic Floor And 17th Century Graffiti

I hadn’t been to St Albans for years.  It still hold happy, though blurred, memories of my first excursion out of London to St Albans with my now Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) in her unassuming, idiosyncratic but effective Citroen Diane.  This time, BM and I visited the Roman ruins, the very old and lovely Cathedral and a very nice pub.  But we also saw the lake LSW and I held hands by over 35 years ago.

St Albans: Roman Theatre, Roman Mosaic And The Romantic Lake

St Albans: Roman Theatre, Roman Mosaic And The ‘Romantic’ Lake

I had a very relaxed and amusing time with BM. He continues to do big corporate work and travels a lot.  It was good to catch up on events in his complex and busy life but also to mentally compare his world with mine.  I’m very happy with my simpler, leisure-oriented lot.

Snowy Garden

Snowy Garden

Happy ‘Holidays’!

Of course, having retired, the period arounds Christmas and New Year’s Day are no longer really holidays for me.  But still, they are time for families to get together and to eat, drink and be at least a bit merrier than usual (at least, for the fortunate families).  We have managed that and I hope readers of this did too.

LSW's Minimalist Wreath

LSW’s Minimalist Wreath

Eldest and Middle Sons came back to visit us for a few days around Christmas and it was great to spend time with them and to see them go off to catch up with their old school mates.  It’s important that they maintain those ties and I regret not doing so when I was their age.  We spoke to and saw Youngest Son (YS) on WhatsApp but he was enjoying prawns and beer on a Queensland beach.  He tells us that it may be his last beach Christmas in Australia and that he will return to England next year.  Before that, LSW and I are travelling to Australia and meeting YS in Tasmania in March to make the most of him being on the other side of the world.

Christmas Day here was just about as full-on as usual.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) allocated tasks to the boys and I, and she provided all but the turkey for a dozen excited extended family members.  As part of a well tried split of responsibilities, the family of LSW’s younger brother brought a sumptuous roasted bird for us to tuck into.  The food was terrific.

The post-lunch quiz that I compiled (to fulfil what has become a bit of a family tradition) was as hotly contested as usual, but it rounded off the afternoon nicely prior to flaking out in front of a Netflix film and a few lunch left-overs.

I side-stepped some of the festivities and food on Boxing Day by going off to Newport to watch Forest Green Rovers.  I enjoyed finding the old part of the city and a Cathedral I didn’t know Newport had.  But I loved, even more, that we achieved one of our best wins of the season.  I came back hoarse but happy.

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport, Wales

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport, Wales: Very Old, Dramatically Sited And Very Pretty Inside

Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green Rovers Supporters Watch A Mighty Win At Newport County

This ‘holiday’ period is traditionally a time when I consider New Year resolutions.  But first I need to check how I did against those I set last year and the answer is: only moderately.  I’ve succeeded with those that are essentially enjoyable but not so well on those that were more challenging.

So, for example, I did grow a beard and I’m happy with it.  I did buy LSW more flowers too and need to reinvigorate that resolution when Spring comes around again.  Also, I exceeded my target of averaging 15,000 walking steps a day (I averaged 15,880) but that’s because I love walking and now have loads of time to do it in the beautiful surrounding valleys.  That much walking did help me to (just) achieve my target of lowering my weight to 11 stone in the summer and then again just before Christmas.  However, I need to renew that weight objective since Christmas eating and drinking has tripped me back over target.

On A Frosty Walk Just Before Christmas

On A Frosty Walk Just Before Christmas – Probably The 300th Time Past This Spot In 2018 But, Every Time, Slightly Different

I also have to renew my objective of achieving 140 no-alcohol days in the year.  I only managed 120 – more than the previous year but not enough.  I underestimated the impact of the wonderful sunny and hot summer on my evening drinking habits; it was just so nice sitting in the newly built garden in the evening warmth with a cold glass of wine day after day.  I hope summer next year is as good but I will be stronger willed, I promise.

On the technology front, I did, as resolved, change almost all my passwords and did it in a way that hasn’t made remembering them too hard.  However, I haven’t done much about my resolution to get a better Internet service so as to reduce frustrated evenings in front of the rotating wait signal on the telly when trying to watch catch-up TV.  However, I have instigated, and eavesdropped on, conversations at the regular village pub Men’s Nights with those who know more than I about the local broadband implementation.  Fibre broadband is coming next year apparently.

I’m disappointed with myself that I’m carrying forward the resolution to implement better compost heaps in the garden.  I have made progress with the existing heaps and compost bins.  However, while I’m blaming the side strain I suffered a couple of months ago, I know I should have done more.  The components for the super-duper compost bins LSW gave me a few years ago remain untouched in the shed.  Fixing this is another resolution to carry forward.

I’ll augment the carry forward resolutions with a couple of new ones but I’m off to enjoy New Year’s Eve first.  Have fun!

Lincoln And Parental Visit

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) assures me that I went to Lincoln with her over 30 years ago.  My degrading memory apparently doesn’t stretch to that.  So, when I visited Lincoln last weekend, it felt fresh and surprising.

River Witham in Lincoln

River Witham in Lincoln

The cathedral was bigger, taller and more imposing than I had imagined.  The hill up to the cathedral tested my fitness more than I anticipated.  The medieval castle walls, around what is now a rather impressive Victorian prison, were more intact and offered better views than I expected.  It is a lovely city centre built on a hill by people who understood the dangers of flooding and the benefits of a prominent position in low, flat countryside.

Lincoln Cathedral From The Castle Walls

Lincoln Cathedral From The Castle Walls

I was in Lincoln to support my football team – Forest Green Rovers (we played very well but lost narrowly and unluckily to the league leaders).  I took the opportunity to combine a bit of footy away travel with a visit to my parents in Nottingham.  It was great to catch up with them, to check on how they are doing, and to sample a local restaurant with them.

Views of Lincoln, The Castle Walls And The Prison

Views of Lincoln, The Castle Walls And The Prison

We also progressed some recent discussion I have had with them about my family tree.  My Dad has already done a fair amount of work on his side of the family but my Mum’s side is largely blank at the moment and I want to investigate and document that more fully.  So far, all I have done is translate my Dad’s investigations and free text notes into a PowerPoint graphic.  I’m not sure how far I can go but I am thinking that fleshing out the family tree will give me an excuse to revisit my Dad’s roots around Kintbury in rural Berkshire, and my Mum’s on the Isle of Wight.

While I was with my parents I also followed up on my desire – as I mentioned here a few weeks ago following attendance at a couple of funerals – to document my preferences for my, and my parents’, funerals.  As expected, I got some good ideas for classical music selections from my Dad.

I got some very useful pointers on what to think about in a blog comment from an old friend who had had similar recent funeral experiences.  I have used that as a starting point for a simple spreadsheet structure listing things like preferred coffin type, flowers (or not), music, readings, speakers etc.  I will use this to document the things that will help guide organisers of my funeral, and that of my parents, when the time comes.  It sounds morbid to be thinking of this now but I think this is bound to help those who follow at a time when they will be stressed.

Back at home, I have been working increasingly diligently through my day to day to do list.  However, as mentioned last blog post, I have strained something in my side – is it getting better or am I just getting used to it I wonder – and that has restricted me to only light physical activity and little gardening.

I have, though, had sitting-on-the-sofa time to finish reading the Milkman by Anna Burns.  I can see why it won the Booker Prize.  It’s difficult to recommend it since it is so unconventional.  It has page-long paragraphs filled with snatches of dialogue and long sentences that are written as one thinks and talks rather than as one normally writes.  But it is very relevant given the current issues around female abuse, fake news and the potential Brexit threat to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland.  Ultimately, I enjoyed it a lot and so I do recommend it.

I’m now choosing my next book to read and then heading off on a brief trip to London.  Centrepiece for that is a gig with Middle Son (MS).  Nothing like a bit of Europop to elevate the spirits…..

 

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…..

Finished At Last!

Those of you following this blog for a while will know that I have been painting the woodwork in our ‘TV Room’ – new shutters, skirting and panelling and the old doors – for the last 8 months.  This week, I finally finished!

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) remains astonished at how long I have taken over this but at least she hasn’t changed her mind about the dark blue colour during the protracted execution and she likes the result.  The parts I did towards the end of the exercise are better than the early efforts but it looks alright if you don’t look too closely.  We now have to paint the walls.  LSW is planning to impress me up by doing those in a matter of a few days.  Maybe hiring a professional is a better idea; we’ll see.

Of course, the primary reason why it took so long to complete this apparently simple painting task, apart from my inexperience, was my reluctance to devote more than 1-2 hours a day to the (admittedly intermittent) work.  Although I’m still a bit frustrated by the patchiness of the end product, I did enjoy the work overall.  I especially liked that I could paint to the rhythm of some of my CDs.  I’ve always wanted a job where I could listen to my favourite music at the same time as working, and retirement has enabled that!

Now I have finished, I have to find a productive way of utilising the hours per week that are freed up.  No problem; there are plenty of competing options and in any case there are lots of events already in the diary over the next couple months.

For example, the football season has re-started.  I plan to attend several Forest Green Rovers (FGR) games, both home and away, in the next few months.  While I attended the Cambridge Folk Festival, which I talked about in my last blog post, FGR enhanced my enjoyment by winning their first game.  Somehow, the music seemed to sound a lot better once I knew FGR had secured three points!

Since then I have seen three games and we remain unbeaten; a very promising start.  I especially enjoyed our win at Swindon who have become local rivals as we have risen and they have fallen (they were in the Premier League just 25 years ago).  I enjoyed joining in on the mischievous chants: ‘Premier League to village team/Forest Green’ and ‘Your ground’s too big for you’; it is, as the picture below shows.

Swindon Football Club

Swindon’s Empty Don Rogers Stand During Warm Up Versus FGR – How The Mighty Have Fallen

Between the football commitments, LSWs work and the rush to complete the TV Room paintwork (so I could show it off to weekend visitors from London and then my parents when they visited us), LSW and I have resumed our ‘days out’.

We really enjoyed a trip to East Somerset.  We went primarily to see the Alexander Calder exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in Somerset.  This was notable for containing a large number of personal, functional items designed and made by Calder alongside a splendid sample of his sculpture and mobiles.  It was an excellent exhibition and a visit to Hauser & Wirth, including the adjoining garden, is always a treat.

Piet Oudolf Gardens At Hauser & Wirth

Piet Oudolf Gardens At Hauser & Wirth

Following a very good lunch at the light and airy Chapel in Bruton, the sun came out and we paid an impromptu visit to Iford Manor Garden.  This was a rather unexpected joy. It was an intimate, Italianate garden full of 100 year old mock-Italian buildings adorned with original, imported Italian sculpture and friezes.  It adjoined an archetypally English river scene and old, golden manor buildings, and looked wonderful in the sun.

Iford Manor And Gardens

Iford Manor And Gardens

More day trips like this – as well as longer excursions once LSW’s work is on pause – are being planned to fill my retirement itinerary.

 

Trips, Royals and Trophies

Recently, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have tried to arrange at least one mid-week trip out from home each week.  This is, as LSW puts it, to mark that I am now retired and so have the flexibility to visit places during the week rather than during the more crowded weekends.  These have to fit around her continuing part time work commitments and, to a lesser extent, my trips to London but we have managed them with reasonable regularity.

Last week, we capitalised on the excellent weather and visited two gardens in the North Cotswolds.  Bourton House Gardens is relatively new having been laid out and planted around a beautiful 18th century manor house just 30 years ago.  The colourful flower beds, potted tulips, box bush topiary and knot garden were inspiring.  Best of all, for me, was a walk around an arboretum, with a simple pamphlet guide, that helped us decide which sorts of trees to plant in our own field alongside the few fruit trees we have already established.  Current favourites are Whitebeam and Poplar.

Bourton Hill Gardens

Bourton House Gardens

We then went to Snowshill Manor.  This turned out to be an interesting, coincidental adjunct to my pondering a couple of weeks ago about the accumulation of material goods and de-cluttering.  Prior to being given to the National Trust, the house and garden was owned by Charles Wade, a compulsive collector of items recording craft and workmanship.  He lived in a small cottage adjacent to the medieval manor house which he bought specifically to accommodate his large and varied collection of cabinets, artwork, costumes, musical instruments, tools and other artefacts.  The dusting challenge for his housekeeper and, now, the National Trust, must be huge!

Part Of Charles Wade’s Collection (Masks And Musical Instruments) at Snowshill Manor

Part of Charles Wade’s Collection (Masks And Musical Instruments Are Shown Here) At Snowshill Manor

The collection, and his compact personal accommodation, were interesting but even better were the gardens and the views from them.  In weather such as that we have enjoyed through much of May, England can look marvellous and it certainly was in the Cotswolds that day.

Snowshill Manor Gardens

Snowshill Manor Gardens

We rounded off the trip with a visit to Daylesford luxury farm shop which LSW loves.  The shops – even the grocery shelves and the food counters – look rather like art shows.  The prices are almost prohibitively geared to out-of-London trippers but the quality is high and several pieces inspired ideas for things that we might try to replicate in some way at home.  We stuck with those ideas rather than buy anything more than lunch in the sun.

LSW really enjoyed the Royal wedding last week.  Whilst not being particularly interested in the Royal Family myself, I can understand her positive sentiments about the wedding.  The bride and groom looked adoring and very happy.  Meghan’s mixed race heritage is a welcome extension to the Royal’s outlook, diversity and modernism.

LSW watched the wedding proceedings for hours and then watched the replays.  At one point she was watching a replay while I was watching a replay of Forest Green Rovers’ promotion playoff-winning performance at Wembley exactly a year ago.  We both had tears of joy in our eyes!

This season, Forest Green Rovers (FGR) barely avoided relegation from their newly elevated status in League 2 of the English Football League.  That was good enough for me.  The performance was burnished for me by my pride in winning the FGR Prediction League competition (for the second time in 10 years).  The competition trophy will have to be found a small space somewhere as other stuff is bundled off to car-boot sales, charity shops or the dump – but only for a year since I doubt I will be so lucky to win next season.

The Forest Green Rovers Prediction League Trophy

The Forest Green Rovers Football Club Prediction League Trophy (The Colin Gardner Shield)

The Cost of Entertainment

So, still not much Spring in the air and the water-courses have been full.  But lambs are starting to pop out and Spring weather is apparently going to finally arrive next week.  Such a relief!

Full Water Courses and New Lambs

Full Local Water Courses and New Lambs

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to the Theatre Royal in Bath last week to see Mary Stuart starring Juliette Stephenson and Lia Williams.  The last time I went to the theatre was years ago when I saw War Horse in London.  I really can’t recall when, before that, I saw a play.  In retrospect, it’s surprising that I didn’t do more theatre-going while I was in London – one of the theatre capitals of the world.  I love cinema, which is perhaps the closest art form, and I love live music which provides similar intimacy.  So why not go to more theatre?

Part of the reason is that a large part of good acting is in facial expression.  My eyesight is just not good enough to be able to discern the subtlety of such expression from the distances I expect to find myself away from the stage and so I feel I will miss out.  That was true in Bath earlier this week but, in truth, the performance was very enjoyable anyway.

The other reason for not going to many shows in London was my perception of the expense of the ticket relative to my knowledge of the theatre and, therefore, my chances of enjoying the experience.  However, the costs of going to the theatre are lower outside of London and we knew the play LSW and I saw in Bath would be good because we’d seen the reviews and it had already had a successful run in London.  In any case, I have been thinking more about the relative cost of the entertainments I choose.

The tickets for Theatre Royal cost £33 each.  That is quite a lot of money in absolute terms and, given that the theatre has a capacity of 900 and was packed, that creates a decent revenue stream for the theatre.  But then we were seeing a couple of near-top actresses, and a cast of 20 or so, all directed and acting in front of a backdrop and lighting that all needs to be maintained and manned.  This production is a success but not all are and so maybe Mary Stuart has to cover losses on other plays.  Also, the play was a pretty compelling three hours long – so that’s around £11 per hour of (dramatic, absorbing and memorable) entertainment.

A week before, I had travelled up to London to see Forest Green Rovers (FGR) Football Club lose against our relegation rivals Barnet.  The ticket cost £23 which is above average for English Football League 2.  For that, over 90 minutes, I saw a poor game of football with a bad result for us.  I can’t say I enjoyed the experience and it cost of over £15 per hour.  Of course, had FGR played well and won, I would have been overjoyed and very pleased to have seen the game.  But FGR’s away form is such that I could have expected disappointment.

Small scale live music gigs are very good relative value.  Many I have attended in recent years have cost less than £10 and, with support bands, provide around two hours of entertainment at £5-8 per hour.  The latest band I saw was a (supposedly) up and coming band called Goat Girl.  For the cost of a CD (£11), I got in to see them live in the intimate surroundings of Rough Trade East record store in Shoreditch, London.  It was a lively hour, I liked much of the music and it was very good value (given I have the CD memento).

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Goat Girl at Rough Trade (With Goat Props!)

Of course, the quality of music venue (the comfy seats available at Theatre Royal Bath are not an option in the small venues I tend to go to!) and the quality of the music is variable.  Generally though, I will have listened to the band on Spotify or CD in advance and have enough knowledge to aim at events I enjoy.  The good value of live music has, for me, been pretty consistent over several years.

The other thing I did on my football and music trip to London was go to a couple of art galleries.  Both shows, at the Hayward Gallery and the Barbican, entertained me for about 90 minutes.  By far the most interesting was the excellent exhibition of Andreas Gursky photographs at the Hayward.  It provided a fascinating insight into the work of someone I had never heard of before at a rate of about £10 per hour.  Thinking back to other exhibitions I have seen recently, that rate of entertainment cost per hour seems about the norm for me.  I like free art shows but having to pay focuses my attention of what I am seeing.

Example Of Gursky's Work

Example of Andreas Gursky’s Photos: Paris, Montparnasse

Example of Gursky's Work

Further Example of Andreas Gursky’s Photos: Bahrain Racetrack

Another Kind Of Life

Exhibition: Another Kind of Life, Photography on the Margins (Here, A Nigerian Man With His Hyena by Peter Hugo)

I might consider further the relative value of other entertainments such as restaurants, cinema, watching catch-up TV, gardening and walking (which is certainly cheapest!)  Clearly cost per hour is not the only factor.  However, from the past week I conclude that:

  • Theatre (out of London at least) is better value than I previously thought – I really enjoyed it
  • Music events are high value entertainment provided I keep my knowledge of what I am going to see current
  • Art exhibitions are good entertainment value despite the high absolute cost of tickets; indeed, I suspect the fact there is a high cost drives me to concentrate more on what I am seeing and get more out of it
  • following Forest Green Rovers away from home is bad value unless we win (just twice in the last 9 months!).

Nonetheless, the pain of the football fan is to carry on ploughing the same furrow regardless of results so I’ll be handing over my cash at Cheltenham on Saturday and hoping for value for money and, rather desperately, three points for FGR.

February Ups and Downs

Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have decided February is the month to avoid in the UK. There are just too many dismal weather days in February. We will escape to Cape Town’s drought at the end of February but will plan next year’s holiday abroad to be a bit earlier.

Actually, this week, the weather has been very variable rather than poor. We have had clear blue skies and relentlessly grey drizzle on almost alternate days throughout the last week. LSW and I even managed to get a pretty massive bonfire going to clear a load of long standing bramble piles, broken pallets and old fence posts.

Bonfire

Bonfire As An Art Work? No, Just A Task On The List Done

Like the weather, my week has also been rather up and down.

The lowest point was travelling to Newport in Wales for a Forest Green Rovers game. It was postponed about 15 minutes after I arrived due to a waterlogged pitch (or the fact that Newport were tired after their FA Cup tie in midweek against Tottenham Hotspur depending on one’s level of scepticism). What a waste of time and money!

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Newport In The Rain On The Way To A Cancelled Match. Grim!

The week had started well with a visit to my parents in Nottingham. I travel up to see them too infrequently but, now I have retired, I have no excuse.   I will take the rusting old Saab up to them more often in the future. The journey up and back wasn’t without its delays but it’s a relatively easy trip. I drive very little – much to LSW’s annoyance – and I had forgotten how good it is to have the stereo and my favourite CDs in the car; it’s a real music cocoon and, in it, no-one cares about the volume except me.

It was good to see my parents. They are in their mid-eighties but continue to live independently and well. Despite my Mum’s troublesome back and a recently replaced knee, they are still mobile and going to occasional films and concerts.

Mum and Dad

Mum and Dad At Home

They took me to a local gastro-pub that was a cut above the average. One of the things we chatted about was retirement and my Dad’s experience of going through that about 20 years ago. He thought the lessons I felt I had learnt that I described in this blog in December were fair. Like me, he didn’t miss work after retirement. However, he now works very part time in a charity shop and that is something I might consider at some point.

The only wrinkle arising from the evening in a pub was that I was tempted to drink on what I had planned to be a non-alcohol day and to help my Mum out with her (very tasty) venison main course. This early in the year, I think I can spare a bit of slippage against my New Year resolutions regarding drink and weight. Anyway, it’s not every week that I’ll be enjoying my parents company. It was a very good evening.

I slept in my sister’s old bedroom. Like much of the rest of the upstairs, it contains a lot of books. My Dad is gradually reducing the number but I sense that working in a charity bookshop is not helping with the reduction process; he likes books! De-cluttering is not a focus for my parents and it was nice to see lots of things that I remember from my childhood.

Fred Bear

Fred: Not My First Teddy Bear But My Biggest

Back at home, LSW maintains a pretty tight, minimalist ship. I brought back a few old board games with some trepidation of her reaction to having more ‘stuff’. I stashed them out of the way in the top floor cupboards but have promised to do a cull of old toys to compensate.

After my return from Nottingham, LSW and I visited Ledbury in Herefordshire with her Mum. It was one of those grey February days but pleasant enough; we’ll return later in the year. Most interesting was a brief sojourn in an unprepossessing pub while I was waiting for LSW and Mother-in-Laws’ shopping to conclude. The pub just had an unsmiling barman, someone determinedly playing the slot machine, a few near-silent individuals standing at the bar and another, like me, sitting at tables at the sides. The pub was ominously silent for long periods but conversations would occasionally break out that were dominated by references to fights and ‘trouble’; it was a glimpse into a different world…..

Ledbury

Ledbury Church Street

I can sense LSW getting impatient with the lack of TV room decoration progress – I need to make the most of the unappealing February weather by getting on with that in this coming week. I have no excuse there either.