Task Oriented Autumn

A few posts ago I mentioned that I had started going to a Mental Fitness For Men group under the auspices of Talk Club.  Our local pub landlord has arranged weekly Talk Club sessions and I have made it to most of them since they started a few months ago.  The sessions are of fixed format but the people who turn up each week vary so there is always something new to listen to as well as, usually, something new to say. 

I’ve found the meetings useful in that they help me frame what I am grateful for and what I’m going to do in the next week to make things feel better for myself.  However, I do often feel daunted by the lucidity with which most others in the weekly groups talk about the way they feel.  In comparison I tend to fall back into talking about things I have done and things I’m going to do.  I have explained to the group (and myself) that I tend to feel happiest when I am ticking off tasks on my to-do list but I suspect that I need to get deeper into how I feel about life rather than describing tasks.

Having said that, I have felt a certain contentment that, by and large, I have done what I said I would do over the last few weeks.  The tasks have varied from raking up the scythed and strimmed grass in the meadow (into piles I don’t quite know what to do with), to harvesting the last summer crops and gathering seed for next year, to production of a string of documents I promised for the local Climate Action Network group that I belong to. 

Not Quite A Crown Prince Squash. Grown From Gathered 2021 Seed And Reverted From F1 Hybrid – Tasty Though!

Today, post-Foodbank duties, I am even finally managing to get around to making crab apple jelly which is a task that has been on my to-do list for a few weeks.  Overall, October and early November has been a good month for tiny achievements amongst my retirement routine!

Making Crab Apple Jelly – Tree -> Apples -> Straining -> Jelly! (First Of Two Batches)

There have been a few other high points recently.  Middle Son (MS) and his partner have moved from London to Bristol – just 45 minutes away.  That means that we will see them more often.  For example, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were delighted when they popped over for an impromptu dinner a couple of Fridays ago.  It was lovely to have a normalised drop-in-type arrangement with one of our sons rather than have to think about days packing, travelling and staying away from home. 

Not that those sorts of visits are not welcome.  We are off to Edinburgh again later this week and can’t wait to see First Grandchild (FG) again (and his parents!) for the first time in over two months.  It’s going to be a special visit this time to celebrate not only FG’s first birthday, but also Eldest Son (ES) and his partner’s marriage.  I’m so glad they have chosen a relatively low key way of getting married and celebrating that with a few close relatives.  However, the event is momentous nonetheless and it will be lovely to have all our boys, their partners, my Dad and my sister all together with FG in one place at the same time. 

We have also had some old friends come to visit us for a weekend.  We have been rather poor at inviting people over for almost anything since the Covid pandemic; we seem to have just got out of that pattern of being.  But it was great to see these long standing and close friends again.  We had an active but relaxed time with them that culminated in a delightful walk in the Slad Valley and then an excellent lunch at The Woolpack (of Laurie Lee fame).

The Slad Valley Near Stroud Between Autumn Showers

Much of the rest of the time in the last few weeks has been more routine.  However, I helped to advertise a talk that our village Climate Action Network group arranged with the Parish Council on rewilding and the impact of climate change on our local trees.  The theme of this talk, and a continuing series we have planned for next year, is ‘hope’.  This is to counteract the inevitable descent into gloom if we consider and talk too much about the climate and biodiversity emergencies alongside other current preoccupations such as the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

The first talk in the ‘Hope Talks’ series was almost wildly successful.  We have a hard act to follow as we go into next year.  The talks themselves bring the village together and just the fact they happen adds to the resilience of the community and its cohesiveness.  I edit a quarterly newsletter (another task done this week!) and submit articles to the monthly village magazine but these ‘Hope Talks’ hold out greater promise for conveying useful information while being a great relationship building mechanism.

Our Learned ‘Hope Talk’ Speaker – Local Resident, Dr David Bullock (With Props)

Of course, other continuing elements of my recent retirement routine have been steadfast support of local football teams (Forest Green Rovers but also Shortwood United and Horsley United) and more of the Autumnal walks I talked about in my last post. 

Local Team Shortwood United In The Process Of Winning 5-0

The Autumn weather has been so mild and, until recently, so dry that the walks have been particularly pleasant.  The colours in the trees have been changing quite variably from species to species.  That has meant that while the reds and yellows have perhaps not been as spectacular as in some past years, the blending of different colours across the valley slopes has been very attractive.

Local Walk Lined With Lime And Hazel Trees

I plan to keep up the local walks even as the winter weather closes in.  However, I do also plan to reduce the number of discretionary, extraneous things I commit to in the next few months.  At least that way I may be able to think more about abstract feelings rather than worrying about the state of my to-do list and the rate of knocking items off it.  I may even resort to that old trick of adding things to the to-do list that I have already done…..

Lovely Valley, Lovely Weather, Long Shadows

Active Autumn

As I walked through woodland this morning amid a cascade of falling leaves, it was clear that Autumn is very much here again.  September has been a time for harvest but also the last throes of summer-style travel and partying.  I now see October as a time for buckling down for some rather delayed home-based administration and task tidy up before our next trip to Edinburgh in November and then the excitement of Christmas.

Autumn Colour (In This Case, The Incongrouously Named Black Bryony)

September was certainly busy and was capped last weekend by a long-delayed visit to us by my Dad and my sister.  That was quietly relaxing and allowed my Dad to catch up with developments in our house since his last, pre-Covid visit, and meet up with a few other local relatives.  It also allowed us to jointly celebrate Middle Son (MS) and his partner moving into their newly-purchased, pretty, terraced house in Bristol.  A few days ago, that hard-won purchase suddenly seemed in jeopardy as the Government made a big misstep that caused interest rates to surge and mortgage deals to be pulled from the market.  Our very happy afternoon with MS and his partner was blessed by Virgin Money’s forbearance and lovely sunshine.

Earlier in the month, not only did I manage to visit London and Edinburgh, but I also attended Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) college reunion with a bunch of her fellow physiotherapy students 40 years on from their graduation in Leeds.

The reunion was held in Buxton which I had not visited for decades.  We stayed in a very comfortable and central hotel (The Buxton Crescent Hotel) which produced substantial breakfasts and very good evening meals for the group.  The whole event over a long weekend was an enjoyable mix of free time, a long walk across the local Peak District, and organised eating, drinking and socialising both in the hotel and in nearby bars and restaurants.  There were a few other (non-physio) partners of LSW’s fellow graduates in attendance so I didn’t feel too out of place.  There was a wide variety of personalities, and everyone was interesting in some way.  It was a nice thing to do and LSW really enjoyed the mass catch-up.

On The Three Shires Walk Near Buxton (Starting In Mist At The Cat And Fiddle Pub, Finishing In A Bit Of Sun)

Buxton itself is a lovely spa town with many impressive Georgian and Victorian limestone buildings – like a smaller version of Bath, which we know well, and similar to Harrogate which we visited on the way to Edinburgh last year.  The evening/night life was surprisingly lively and well catered for by a large number of busy and interesting craft beer bars.  We sampled a couple of those with and without the reunion entourage.

A Variety Of Attractive Buildings In Buxton

On our ‘free day’, LSW and I went off for a fairly long but pleasant drive to Hardwick Hall.  It’s an impressive late-Tudor building surrounded by attractive gardens that I recall – as I do Buxton – from holidays with my parents very many years ago.  The weather was kind, the afternoon was lovely and it was great to get value from the life National Trust Membership that my parents bought us so generously when, I think, we got married.

Inside Hardwick Hall

Back in our home village, my schedule has been peppered by the normal smattering of walks, gardening, short shifts at the local Food Bank, my team’s football matches and Men’s Mental Fitness nights (which have helped salve the depression cause by the poor football results!). 

A Local Walk Under A Luminous Autumn Sky

LSW and I also went to a film showing – ‘Drawn to War’, a film about the life and work of the painter and Second World War artist Eric Ravilious.  It was our first cinema outing together of the year and was very enjoyable due both to the content of the film and the novelty of the evening outing.

However, the recent Autumn highlight in the village was a substantial, superbly organised and hugely entertaining 50th birthday party of a friend of ours.  The invitees were a mix of her relatives, long standing friends and more recently acquired friends from the village like ourselves.  The entertainment was a combination of a bar, a wonderful buffet, an open sided marquee with a dance floor, a DJ, a couple of fire eaters (believe it or not – see below!) and varied, if increasingly inebriated, conversation.  I’ve not danced so much for a decade and LSW and I both had great fun.

Local Fire Eating!

September has also been a time when I have reaped a harvest of onions and potatoes.  Both have been surprisingly productive given the lack of rain during much of the summer.  That shortage of rain hampered bean germination but judicious watering has saved some of the squash and chard. 

A Fraction Of This Year’s Garden Produce

Also, the dry, hot summer enabled me to grow a lot of tomatoes in an open vegetable plot for the first time since I left my allotment in London 25 years ago.  Inevitably perhaps, most of the tomatoes are very green but, with our climate inexorably warming, I will try tomato growing again next year.

Finally, as I have in previous years, I find I have to comment on the late summer/early autumn flowering of our remaining two dahlia plants.  I have simply never enjoyed cutting flowers and then displaying them in our kitchen/diner so much as I have these Café Au Lait dahlias.  Their blooms are large, subtly coloured and, once they start, simply go on and on until the first frost.  Now we are in October, those frosts will come soon enough but, for now, these dahlias continue to be a splendid echo of summer and a thoroughly rewarding aspect of Autumn.

Seeing Football, Missing Football

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

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

My Grey Hair And FG’s Ginger Hair

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

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

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

A Minutes Silence For The Queen at Charlton Athletic

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

Edinburgh’s Inverleith Park: Picnic Panorama

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

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

Aerial View Of Part Of The Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

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

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

National Museum Of Scotland, Edinburgh

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

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

Edinburgh Rubbish!

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

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

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!

Old Mates, New Gig

In the last two weeks I have revived two lines of enjoyment that have been very constrained since the start of the pandemic two years ago: going to a gig and meeting up with groups of old friends on London. 

London – Always A Treat To Visit This Great City

It was on the 13 March 2020 that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to Bath to see a concert by Faeland.  It was a similar length of time ago when I last met up with a bunch of old, London-based friends as part of an ongoing set of get-togethers to visit restaurants representing each, in turn, a letter of the alphabet.  We had been stuck on ‘S’ (for Spain as it turned out) for around two years.

It’s always good to visit London and always great to catch up with old friends there.  Not only did I get to meet with my alphabetically-sequenced restaurant group of mates (at Donostia) but I also separately caught up with a few other long-standing ex-workmates and friends over lunch at Ombra.  Both restaurants were small-dish-based (Basque and Italian respectively).  Neither was inexpensive but the food was tasty, the wine flowed and the company was very welcome after such a long break from group conviviality.

Views From Our Barbican Flat – Now For Sale (Sadly)

LSW and I also caught up with some old friends before going on to a concert by Hope Tala at Village Underground.  This is a great, medium-sized venue that I have been to many times before, but not since retirement getting on for 5 years ago.  We met up beforehand at the bar at Tavla with a couple of female friends from our time living in Kew.   At this moment in the Covid pandemic recovery, it’s a very relaxed and convenient bar for these purposes – buzzy but not too crowded with good value drinks and friendly service – and it has become our go-to bar in East London.

Getting Busier Again – Whitecross Street Lunch Market Next To Our Flat

Hope Tala is a good friend of the daughter of one of these Kew friends – hence the choice of concert.  The daughter is now doing many of Hope’s music videos.  This is a line of work that has become more interesting to me since Youngest Son (YS) dabbled in music video as part his mainstream video business (at Wilson Archer Films).  Hope played an energetic and vibrant gig that was full of poppy riffs with a Latin tinge.  I’ve surprised myself with the extent the songs have stayed in my head for the days since.  Based on what I heard, Hope Tala will go far and I hope that creates a platform for more video creation for our friend’s daughter.

Hope Tala And Band At Village Underground

While in London, I fitted in a three exhibitions but I’ll take a breath and post separately on those.  Following the recent meetings of groups of London-based friends, a gig (at last!), and a few exhibition visits, life seems to be returning to normal.  Next week we are off to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild (FG) again.  This time we are planning to take my Dad up in our new electric car so he can meet his great grandchild for the first time.  We saw FG just a couple of weeks ago when he and his parents flew down to see us for FG’s first trip out of Edinburgh.  Now I can’t wait to see his further development since (which seems to include the discovery of his ability to squeal loudly!)

In the midst of the dreadfulness of what is going on in Ukraine it seems incongruous to be having a good time and moving back fully to what I would probably call normality.  All we can do is hope that some semblance of normality returns quickly in Eastern Europe too.  It seems that maybe only one man can make that happen!

Late Winter Skies On A Local Walk Home

Old Friends

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

Unexpectedly Spectacular View At Diss, Just North Of Eye

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

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

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

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

Happy But Unsuspecting Pigs

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

Eye Church In Morning Sun

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

Big Fields, Big Skies

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

Views In Wyken Gardens, Suffolk

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

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

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

Sunset From LSW’s Aunt’s House

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

Birthday Past and Birthday Future

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

Yellow Fields Between May Showers

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

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

Birthday Fun In The Local Pub

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

Birthday Walk Through Kingscote Graveyard

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

Peak Bluebell Season

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

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

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

Local Wildlife – A Grey Heron

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

Paths Among More Yellow Fields

Pushing The Lockdown Boundary

CroAt a time when the Governments special adviser, Dominic Cummings, is dominating the news with his transgressions beyond the coronavirus lockdown boundaries, we too are pushing the lockdown envelope – albeit in much less obvious, controversial or dramatic fashion.  Our story is considerably less convoluted; we want to see our closest relatives and friends face to face.

Over the Bank Holiday weekend, Youngest Son (YS) offered to drive to London and back to collect Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend.  This enabled them to stay for a couple of days at our house and spend extended time out of their little flat in which they have been rather cooped up.  We eschewed hugging and touching but it was lovely to have them with us for a while and to catch up on their plans together.  Their visit was a welcome break from our normal routine.  It was an excuse to show off the garden and the local countryside and to eat slightly more luxuriously than usual.  It also provided an extra couple of players for our rounds of Monopoly Deal (now all but cemented into our daily cycle of lockdown-life).

Not Socially Distanced (But Pretty Safe) Monopoly Deal

Not Strictly Socially Distanced (But Pretty Safe) Monopoly Deal

Long Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) mother also visited us one afternoon (lockdown rule compliant) and a couple of other friends come over for a drink (non-compliant) last week.  We have also continued a regular social distanced Sunday lunch drink in our garden with a couple of neighbours (marginally compliant).  All these little events help pass the lockdown days in relaxed conversation in the continuingly gorgeous weather.

Peonies At Peak In The Garden

Gradually the lockdown is going to be relaxed.  In some ways I don’t want the peace and quiet of the lockdown to end.  But I know that the lockdown is hard for so many and, in any case, I’d love to be able to visit my Mum and stay with my Dad.  I want to see the return of live music venues, sport, cafes and restaurants.  I want to have a party! Instead of running an online village quiz (which fortunately was successful and fun) I want to participate in the village quiz in the village pub!

YS – a videographer by trade as Wilson Archer Films – has kept himself busy while staying with us with self-training, a week of work in London for London Flower School, helping with deliveries for the local community shop and (usually) thrashing LSW and I at Monopoly Deal.  He has also been developing a video of our house and garden.  This is to add to his portfolio as a real estate video producer and to help LSW, potentially, market the house as a location shoot in a no-Covid-19 future.

The Videographer At Work

The Videographer At Work

This is all well and good, and LSW and I have loved having him and his chirpy energy around, but YS is desperate for lockdown relaxation so he can stop living with his parents, see his girlfriend again and set up a new chapter of his life with her in Belfast.  Everyone wants to get back to something closer to normality.

Flowers From London Flower School Left Over After YS's Shoot

Flowers From London Flower School Left Over After YS’s Shoot, Gracing Our Dining Table

Meanwhile, the days have largely continued to circle around the walk into town for the daily shopping, a walk in the brilliantly green woods or across fields carpeted with wild flowers, a bit of gardening, three meals a day and TV in the evenings (LSW and I really liked Normal People).

Underrated Cow Parsley On The Way To Forest Green

Underrated Cow Parsley On The Way To Forest Green

In the marvellous Spring weather all of this has felt like an illicit pleasure – knowing that key workers and many others are having a tough time, even as the lockdown rules slowly fall away.

Inquisitive Cows In the Field On the Hill Behind Our House

Inquisitive Cows In the Field On the Hill Behind Our House – A Change From Endless Pictures Of Lambs!

Hunkering Down For Coronavirus? Not Quite Yet

The news is dominated by the progress of coronavirus and our response to it.  In line with one of my New Year resolutions, and to assuage Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) dislike of my chuntering on to myself in response to the radio news, I have reduced the amount of news I listen to, especially in the morning.  Nonetheless, the reports of infections, deaths, stock market collapses and empty toilet roll shelves, creates a compelling narrative and visceral sensation.

The prospects, not least for my pension, look gloomy but whether the current levels of fear of coronavirus are fully justified is not quite concrete.  As a result, and despite my natural pessimism on this sort of thing, my personal response, in terms of activities undertaken, has been uncertain and mixed.

For example, I did brave the snuffling crowds to travel up to London last week by train and tube to attend one of my regular evening sessions with old friends there.  We went to a busy pub and Russian restaurant in Soho (we are up to R in the alphabet of cuisines we are sampling).  The washing of my hands in the loo a little more self-consciously and for longer than usual, and the eschewing of handshakes, were the only concessions to the virus.  Unless, that is, we count the imbibing of a few flavoured vodkas and the antiseptic qualities of their alcohol content.

A Selection Of Vodkas, Part Finished. Best Was The Horseradish Flavoured One

A Selection Of Vodkas, Part Finished. The Horseradish Flavoured Vodka was The Best And Has Already Been Quaffed

On the other hand, I chose not to go to a Forest Green Rovers (FGR) football match in nearby Swindon which normally I would have attended.  I rejected sitting on a stuffy train or bus for an hour next to old people like me and then being packed into the ‘away’ end.  Instead, I favoured a breezy walk to an airy view of a much smaller game at Shortwood, the even more local football ground just over the hill.  I felt rotten about the decision afterwards because it felt like conceding ground to the virus while missing out on what has recently become a rare win for FGR.

Since then, I have continued retired life as I did before the advent of the coronavirus outbreak.  I continue to walk into town daily. I have been to a pub to meet a village mate.  I have attended two optional meetings on local climate change response activity and have been to a local dinner party.  LSW and I plan to go to Bath for a concert and (assuming it is on) I plan to see FGR’s game at the weekend from the (fairly) packed stand.

I keep veering along a continuum from avoiding unnecessary contact with others through thinking that what ‘will be will be’ and doing normal things but in a restrained way, to full out participation in events because it might be the last chance I get to do so for a while.

Hopefully, now spring and some warmer weather is coming, the trepidation about the virus and the more scary statistics associated with it will reduce.  However, the news readers, politicians and experts on the radio that I have listened to tell me that things will get much worse before they get better.  I suspect several limitations on normal living are imminent.  Should that be the case I will absorb myself in splendid isolation in the garden, clearing the winter weeds and clutter and digging over the vegetable patch.  In any case, that’s a task I have postponed for long enough already.

While in London last week, I did fit in an exhibition.  This was the Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography exhibition at the Barbican.  This inadvertently continued my recent run of visiting photographic exhibitions – the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, the Don McCullin exhibition at Hauser & Wirth last month, and now this.

Overall, I enjoyed it – these large exhibitions at such prestigious venues are so well thought out and always worth seeing – but my level of enjoyment fluctuated as I progressed through it and I ‘tired’ towards the end.

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

The exhibition starts with a series of photos focusing on men as soldiers, athletes and cowboys in traditionally male roles.  However, the chosen photographs deliberately undermine the typical view of the male; the soldiers are out of combat and apparently defenceless, the athletes are barely beyond pubescence, the cowboys are of ambiguous sexuality.

Studio Photos Found Abandoned by Thomas Dworzak In Afghanistan: A Strange Mix Of Guns, Flowers and Kohl

The theme of subverting the masculine ideal here was quite interesting and the video by Jeremy Deller of cross-dressing wrestler Adrian Street was compelling enough to watch all the way through.  (It brought back memories of the routine of watching all-in wrestling on the BBC before the reading of the Saturday football results back in the 1960s and 70s.)

'Rusty' By Catherine Opie

‘Rusty’ By Catherine Opie

There was some more unexpected material on masculine spaces – fraternities in the US and Mens’ Clubs in London – and some more playful stuff on men and fatherhood on the ground floor of the exhibition.

Hans Eijkelboom's 'My Family': A Playful Set Of Photo's With Him Posing As Husband to Housewives Asked At Random To Pose With Him In Their Homes

Hans Eijkelboom’s ‘My Family’: A Playful Set Of Photo’s With Him Posing As Husband To Housewives Asked At Random To Pose With Him In Their Homes (Real Husbands Absent!)

Upstairs, as the examination into the ‘plurality of subversive masculinities’ continued, the more predictable focus was more on ‘Queer’ culture (that appears to be an ok word to use again), homosexuality and race.  I found this less interesting although I again enjoyed some of the more light-hearted pieces and there were a few impressive photos by Deana Lawson and Rotimi Fani-Kayode who’s work I have seen somewhere before.

Piotr Uklanski's 'The Nazi's': Montage Of Famous Actors Playing Nazi Leaders

Piotr Uklanski’s ‘The Nazi’s’: Montage Of Famous Actors Playing Nazi Leaders

I’m wondering if my plans to visit London again over the next month or so will remain intact during the coronavirus crisis; fingers crossed on that.  One thing for sure – I’m glad I have retired and have a choice (provided I don’t catch it!)

Revisiting The Newt And Hauser & Wirth

Last autumn, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I visited the new garden in East Somerset adjoining a smart, refurbished hotel called The Newt.  This is a large and new garden that is the realised dream of a wealthy South African couple who had previously built the wonderful Babylonstoren complex near Cape Town which we visited a couple of years ago.

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

I described our first visit to The Newt gardens in this blog and won’t repeat my impressions here in any detail.  Suffice to say that the garden is of very high quality design and execution and it continues to develop.  It is therefore worth seeing, not only through the seasons, but also from year to year so that one can follow its evolution.  The cost of entry has gone up to £20 each but that includes unlimited visits for a year.  We will certainly try to go back this summer.

The Nest Gardens: The Cider Press, Bar And Cellar

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

We visited the gardens with two very old friends who had come to stay with us for a couple of days.  We were fortunate that the day we chose for the trip was one of only a handful of dry, sunny days we have had in February.  We maximised the value of the weather by lunching at the bright, airy and excellent At The Chapel in Bruton and then visiting the nearby Somerset branch of Hauser & Wirth galleries and its Piet Oudolf garden.

We have visited Hauser & Wirth a few times and always find it interesting.  On this occasion there were two exhibitions – both free.  The first was of some work by a Swiss guy (memorably) named Not Vital.  He is interested in architecture and the relationship between buildings and landscape and people.  The shiny metal building shapes gave off interesting reflections – and co-incidentally mimicked the shape of the nearby dovecote on a hillside overlooking the gallery – but I didn’t really ‘get’ the rest of the work.

'Cannot Enter Cannot Exit' By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth

‘Cannot Enter Cannot Exit’ By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth (With The Dovecote In The Distance)

Much more absorbing was a range of work on display by an apparently famous photographer called Don McCullin.  I wasn’t familiar with him but our friends – both of whom are keen photographers – were and so our visit had propitious timing for them.  Certainly the range of subject matter in the photographs, which were all black and white, was broad: from local countryside to industrial wastelands, from peaceful riverside views in India to war-torn Syria and the bleak stillness of the Arctic.  Many of the pictures really did draw the viewer in and even my untutored eye for photography could see they had gravitas.

'Batcombe Vale' By Don McCullin

‘Batcombe Vale’ By Don McCullin

As the sun started to set, we eventually found a path to the nearby ruined Bruton Dovecote that we had spotted from the restaurant earlier.  Our stay at this viewpoint was truncated slightly by the imminent arrival of some other tourists.  We had inadvertently misdirected them earlier as we struggled to find our way to the dovecote and we were too embarrassed to engage them again.  In any case, the view was a nice way to round off a sunny day in the country.

Bruton Dovecote

Bruton Dovecote, East Somerset

Certainly sunny and dry days have been rare recently.  Many in the UK far have been far less fortunate that us.  We have been able to just observe the flooding and full rivers rather than finding ourselves caught up in the misery of having a flooded home.  Indeed, the rain and resulting sodden ground has been a continuing, excellent excuse to postpone any attack on the overgrown and untended vegetable patch and allotment.

Rainwater Overwhelming Local Drains And Filling Streams

Instead of gardening, I have been hunkering down in my study writing up the results of the recent Village Meeting I helped to arrange to discuss how we make our village more resilient and responsive to the Climate Emergency.  There were expected threads of thought around reducing energy demand through insulation and generating local energy.  However, the main theme that arose was that we need to operate even more as a neighbourly community that shares (things, services and knowledge), especially where this leads to avoiding new purchases through borrowing, recycling/upcycling and reuse.

Unfortunately, two weeks after the meeting, we have suffered a blow to this community-strengthening aspiration in that the pub in the centre of the village has closed.  This was not unexpected and is hopefully temporary.

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

I recently organised a social evening in the pub to try to encourage more local use of its facilities.  I am getting increasingly involved in local activities of that sort.  Once the Neighbourhood Plan is complete – and good progress has been made on that recently – I will have more time to engage with groups that might energise the pub and other community buildings we have such as the church and shop.  LSW is pleased I am getting more involved in village life and I confess that I am enjoying it much more than I anticipated when I retired.