Sunshine in Suffolk

Framlingham College From Below The Castle

Framlingham College From Below The Castle

The highlight of the last couple of weeks has been a trip to some old friends in Suffolk.  We last visited them shortly after I retired in mid-2017 and then attempted to make a further visit in Autumn last year.  Readers of this blog might recall that became what I called at the time: my first wasted day of my retirement.  That was because we had to abort the visit half way to Suffolk because Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) previously trusty car stopped working in the outside lane of a dual carriageway just outside Bedford.  We spent the rest of a very frustrating day standing in a layby and then a tiny roadside shop and, finally, in the recovery truck on the way back home.

The garage has, since then, replaced the car engine (gratifyingly, at their expense since the cause of the problem was some work that they had done on the car).  This time the car was faultless on our way across country to Eye in Suffolk and our time with our friends was, perhaps, all the better for the delayed gratification.

Our friends have been upgrading their house, which was once a rectory, for several years.  The delay to our visit meant that there was even more work on their house to admire.  A key feature is the garden and, especially, the adjoining allotments.  Their scale, the fact they are well tended and the presence of some lovely surrounding walls reminds me of the allotments in the village near to our house where I intermittently tend a small patch of ground.  Beyond this, though, the comparison falters.  The allotments adjacent to our friends are private, not public, and are more like a small holding with just a few plot holders, old workshops and animals.

Our friends are in the process of acquiring the allotments.  In her retirement, the wife in the couple is taking on the management of the tenants and is already a tour de force in ensuring the allotments are well organised, productive and look splendid.  She loves the process and the results of her efforts and it was inspiring to see her cultivation, her happy, inquisitive chickens, and the area reserved for a new pig sty.

The Eye Allotments

The Eye Allotments; Chickens, Scarecrow and Calm Space

The weather was kind to us during our visit.  We had sunshine most of the time and the English countryside always looks good in sun.  Our hosts were generous with their time and thinking.  They planned some great walks and were prepared to drive us through bright, undulating landscapes to interesting villages, coastline and pubs.  Aldeburgh and the walk along the beach both north and south of the town as the sun set, was a particular highpoint.

Views of Aldeburgh

Views of Aldeburgh Including The Moot Hall And The Scallop By Maggi Hambling

More Views of Aldeburgh

More Views of Aldeburgh Including The Scallop and the Martello Tower

Another treat was Framlingham.  I had not heard of this town before (despite it apparently being Ed Sheeran’s home town and the setting for The Detectorists) but it is wonderfully set on relatively high ground near an open valley.  It’s full of historical buildings both in the centre and, most notably, on each side of The Framlingham Mere where the old and impressive castle looks across to the rather grand Framlingham College.

Framlingham, like the other villages and towns we visited, all seemed to have pretty hearts and striking, flint faced churches.  These were invariably oversized for the scale of the current local population but not, presumably, for the wealth of the communities when they were built centuries ago.  Having lived in the Cotswolds for many years, LSW and I would find it hard not to live among hills and sharply incised valleys but Suffolk has other charms and attractions.

Suffolk Flint-Faced Churches

Suffolk Flint-Faced Churches

LSW and I and our Suffolk friends have each known each other for between 35 and 40 years and so there was a lot of shared history to chew over as we journeyed around the countryside, drank the local beer and ate the excellent food they prepared for us.  We had a great time.

Pub in Fressingham

Fox And Goose Pub In Fressingham

In the week since our Suffolk trip we have returned to some reworking of the local neighbourhood plan and I have spent time helping to re-draft one of its sections.  That now will have to go on hold because, this coming week, I have two brief trips to London and a Forest Green Rovers game to see in Mansfield near where my parents live.

Upon my return from them I will draw breath before LSW and my set out on our next trip away together.  This time the trip is a little further afield than Suffolk as we revisit Australia before Youngest Son returns to the UK later this year.  All good….

Retirement Time

Now I am retired, and no longer have to spend 50-60 hours a week working or travelling to and from work, I can extend what used to be rushed tasks at home over longer periods.  I can also take a few more risks with events that I invest time in.  There have been some good examples of both in the last week or so.

I have spoken before in this blog about what I called ‘speed gardening’.  This was the result of the pressure I felt to get substantial tasks in the garden done in the slivers of time available at the weekends before my Sunday commute back to work in London.  I rushed around trying to get things done and, while it kept me fitter than I am now, it wasn’t altogether satisfactory enjoyment.  Now, if a job doesn’t get done as planned on one day, well, there is always tomorrow!

This week’s example was ‘doing the bonfire’.  The pile of garden detritus requiring disposal – and burning it is the most convenient if not the most environmentally friendly way – had become huge following some recent tree maintenance.  I had the time to salvage logs and ‘loglets’ pretty thoroughly but there was a large amount of brash together with a solid mass of other woody matter.  I moved the base of the bonfire pile (so any small creatures could escape) and organised the brash so Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I could load it easily onto the flames in batches.

We managed to clear half the waste in a couple of hours before darkness descended.  The process was very satisfying in some base animalistic way.  In my more relaxed and retired mode, I wasn’t concerned that we didn’t finish.  There is always another day.

The example of having more time to take risks with events was that, when I went up to London for a couple of days this week, primarily to see the Jusepe de Ribera exhibition before it closes at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, I also booked a couple of other events about which I knew very little.  One was successful the other rather less so but, either way, I have so much more leisure time now that success or otherwise seems less crucial.

Of course, a successful event is still to be aimed at (time and energy is not infinite, after all). Certainly the Ribera exhibition, entitled ‘Art of Violence’, was riveting and impactful.  There weren’t many large paintings but those that were on show really conveyed the pain of martyrs on the way to their martyrdom.  As impressive were the numerous, much smaller sketches and wash and ink drawings of torture and martyrdom.  These were so intricate and compelling that they drew you into close inspection despite the horror they depicted.  My visit was complemented by the chance to catch up briefly with Eldest Son’s (ES’s) previous girlfriend who works at the gallery; we remain friends.

img_1875

The Martyrdom Of St Bartolomew By Jusepe de Ribera (sorry the picture fails to capture the piercing look of the Saint)

Examples Of Ink And Wash Drawings By Ribera

Another, more unexpected success, was that ES and I went to a lecture on, and demonstration of, how Russians in the Cold War created illicit copies of western music during Stalin’s regime (and often went to jail when caught).  The fascinating twist was that, because materials were scarce, the early copies were made by creating grooves on discarded x-rays with home-made lathes.  The resulting ‘records’ therefore had x-ray pictures on them.  Although the sound quality wasn’t great, the recordings were much sought-after snatches of the forbidden jazz and rock and roll of the west and each was unique.

Stephen Coates Explaining The X-Ray Audio Project

Stephen Coates (Ex-The Real Tuesday Weld) Explaining The X-Ray Audio Project And The History Of Illicit Music Recording In Cold War Russia

Pictures and video footage of interviews with some of the protagonists in the schemes to create the lathes, to procure the x-rays (being discarded by hospitals because they were inflammable and presented a fire risk) and to cut the recordings added extra life to some well told stories about the copying process.  These stories recalled, and tied in neatly with, aspects of the film Cold War by Pawel Pawlikowski that I saw with ES recently, books I read years ago by Josef Skvorecky about underground music in Czechoslovakia, and also an excellent book I read recently called A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

The evening culminated in Thurston Moore – a guitarist previously with Sonic Youth – recording a couple of things onto x-ray disks so they could be played back to us.  It was pretty visceral stuff – in a very different way to the Ribera exhibition – and ES and I will remember it for a long time.

The X-Ray Audio Project With A Thurston Moore Demonstration

Less successful, but entertaining nonetheless, was a gig I went to in one of my old stomping grounds in Homerton, Hackney.  Chats Palace was the venue and it seemed much the same as I could remember from when I was last there in the early 1980’s.  I saw William Doyle who I liked in his incarnation as East India Youth a few years back and who has produced some interesting ambient music recently.  He now has a new band who are preparing to release their first album together.  They were good in parts but, I felt, still finding their feet.

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

I may have much more leisure time now but, when I’m in London, I have to squeeze in plenty of activity.  Fortunately ES and Middle Son both had time for breakfast with me.  I also walked around Dulwich Park, visited Rough Trade Records (as usual), went to Southwark Cathedral for the first time, snacked in Borough Market and, in lovely weather, took in the scale of London from London Bridge.  I still love London and have the time to enjoy it.

Views From London Bridge

Views From London Bridge

Steady As We Go Into 2019

The first snowdrops have arrived.  I sensed a little more light in the kitchen when I came downstairs this morning.  Moles are extending their network of tunnels and earth mounds across the vegetable patch.  These are some of the diverse, recent signs that we are moving inexorably towards Spring.  Now Christmas and New Year celebrations have passed, I’m looking forward to that.

The First Snowdrops

The First Snowdrops I Have Seen This Year

The relatively quiet period following New Year is a good one for taking stock and making New Year resolutions.

This time last year, I was settling into retirement and thinking about how my first full year of retirement might go.  It felt important then to think about my New Year resolutions as markers for desired progress in a couple of directions.  Overall, 2018 was very enjoyable for me and retirement has lived up to expectations even though, as I pointed out in my last blog post, I didn’t achieve all my specific objectives.  Going into 2019, I don’t feel I need to change very much.

So, many of my resolutions for 2019 are to continue where I left off in 2018.  For example, the objectives I had around health – losing weight, drinking less, walking more – can be simply perpetuated with the targets I largely achieved last year, namely:

  • Get Below 11 Stone (and stay there this time)
  • Average 15,000 Steps/Day (a joy since the surrounding countryside is so lovely)
  • Have 140 No-Alcohol Days (increasing progress from last year plus starting to track alcohol units consumed too).

Also, I will carry forward the objective to implement better composting arrangements in the garden.  This sounds trivial but it requires me to get my achy back returned to something like full strength.  It also requires confirmation of new compost bin location. In turn, that depends on planning with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) the future for the old and gradually collapsing stables in our field.  This is because installing the new bins will involve significant earth and rock moving and don’t want to have to relocate them nor restrict the options for the stables’ demise or transformation.  This resolution is therefore a proxy for taking a few significant interim steps as well as one aimed at improving my compost.

I only have three new resolutions.

The first is less news and more music.  This recognises that, in recent months, I have been listening to a lot of news (especially related to Brexit and President Trump).  On average, I estimate I have been listening to 4 hours of radio news each day in addition to reading the Guardian newspaper reasonably thoroughly and watching the late evening news on TV.  I want to stay current and have an informed view but this is probably excessive (especially as I get so frustrated with what I hear).  On the other hand, I have multiple lists of new music I want to listen to and I want to re-appraise some of the best of what I already know.  Simple: dial down BBC Radio 4 news, dial up Spotify, and keep going to gigs/concerts.

The second is to step up the number of trips of 1-2 days that I make with LSW to other parts of the United Kingdom.  I have started the way I mean to carry on we made a short-notice trip to The Gower Peninsula in Wales when we saw the weather was going to be nice earlier this week.  We re-visited a bed-and-breakfast, a restaurant and some coastline we had good memories of from almost three years ago.  The two days away were a good template for further excursions we will make on top of the frequent trips to London I plan to continue well into 2019.

Worms Head: The Gower Peninsula, Wales

Worms Head: The Gower Peninsula, Wales

Coastline Near Worms Head

Oxwich, The Gower, Wales

Finally, although I’m still not ready to add a commitment to voluntary work to my 2019 objectives, I do think I should try to develop a plan for a plan for volunteering in the next year.  I know that I should find time for ploughing something back and finding a new sense of purpose and so will look at some options.  Frankly and selfishly though, and with the brief but quite intense experience of helping with the local village’s Neighbourhood Plan last year behind me, I don’t want hard new commitments to get in the way of everything else I am enjoying so much.  I won’t be rushing into anything.

Autumn Gardening

The summer weather has been terrific this year and the sunshine and relative warmth has continued into the beginnings of autumn.  The sun now sets too early behind trees and the gradient of our paddock for Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I to continue our pattern of evening drinks in the new walled garden that we established earlier in the year.  However, the weather has been conducive to relaxed walks through the gently browning countryside and to steady clearing and digging over of the vegetable patch ready for winter.

Autumnal Sunset From My Vegetable Patch

Autumnal Sunset From My Vegetable Patch

Despite the dry summer, there is still plenty of beetroot and chard to harvest.  Also, I have managed to keep my leeks alive and, having transplanted them in newly dibbed holes, I find I have over a hundred to nurture and then eat through the winter months.  That’s a lot of leeks to go into soup with the sack of potatoes I dug up a couple of weeks ago!

Leeks All Over The Vegetable Patch (With Beans, Beet and Chard)

Leeks, Leeks and More Leeks All Over The Vegetable Patch (With Beans, Beet and Chard)

Once again I am reminded of the relatively slow and relaxed pace at which I can undertake gardening since my retirement.  I have always loved this time of year (and early spring) in the vegetable garden, when creating tracts of freshly dug earth is the main task.  Since retirement, I have more time to pause between bursts of digging, to rest my back and to admire the neatness of the bare earth that, following application of some manure, will be poised for next season’s planting and growth.

The past couple of weeks have been a pleasant mix of pottering around the garden, social events with family and friends, and more sightseeing in London.  My trip to London was based around an irregular but broadly quarterly get together of old male friends over a restaurant dinner (dubbed ‘The Boys Night Out’).  This is working through an alphabet of nations cum culinary styles and we were up to O for Ottoman last week.  It was cheap and cheerful and good to catch up.

I also walked for miles to and around the vastness of Hyde Park (with its tediously noisy and ever more numerous green parakeets) and visited the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum.

Views of Hyde Park

Views of Hyde Park (The Round Pond, The Princess Diana Garden And Christo’s Floating Pyramid of 7,506 Oil Drums)

The Kahlo exhibition focused on her way of life rather than her art.  The exhibition makes clear what a tour de force she must have been.  She was fiercely determined to overcome adversity (including polio, a near fatal accident, a miscarriage, leg amputation, periodic political ostracism) and she constantly underlined her strong sense of identity.  Her love life was lively and complex and her life-long partner – a muralist called Diego Rivera whom she married twice – must have been a patient man.  The exhibition is sold out so my recently instigated V&A membership (giving me free, unlimited entry) paid off.  The investment of time was very worthwhile.

Frida Kahlo Exhibition

The V&A Frida Kahlo Exhibition Including Her Prosthetic Leg With Bells On, A Hand-Painted Corset And Typical Mexican Dress

Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend stayed with us for a weekend.  It was lovely to have them and the highlight – apart from the curry and the roast dinner that ES asked LSW to make – was a visit to Gifford’s Circus.  This is an internationally famous but locally based circus that LSW has seen a few times.  It was my first visit and I really enjoyed the energy, innovation, daring and clever humour; it was a real treat in a packed, traditional circus tent.

LSW and I also had a sunny late summer day in Bath.  We were there to see Olafur Arnalds, an Icelandic multi-instrumentalist who combines electronica, piano and strings to create atmospheric, evocative music that both of us love.  The concert was a great success – great sound, good seats and LSW loved it (always important since I want to go with her to more gigs).

We made time for dinner and also a trip to the American Museum and Gardens set in beautiful countryside to the east of Bath.  The gardens are being renovated and extended and will be worth another visit in a year or two.  As ever, it seems, we were blessed by wonderful weather.

The American Museum And Gardens, Bath

The American Museum And Gardens, Bath (House, Pumpkin Garden And Lovely Views)

But autumn with its shorter days and colder, wetter weather is here.  That will bring different pleasures.

Neighbourhood Activity

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

Horsley

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Correspondents

The Correspondents At The Old Queens Head, London

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

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

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

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

Fun in Porto

Last weekend, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I had a short break in Porto, Portugal’s second city. We went with an old friend of ours.  We have a lot of shared history including our revelry at the Horsley Village Disco I wrote about last December.  Almost 40 years ago, I introduced her to her (now) husband and, a few years later, she introduced me to my (now) wife.  We had a lot of fun in those days of our relative youth and we had a great time again last weekend.

Porto From Torre Dos Clerigos

Porto From Torre Dos Clerigos

About 18 months ago LSW and I visited Lisbon, Portugal’s capital. Lisbon is a wonderful historical city with lovely walks and views, we were lucky with the weather, we found the people very friendly and we enjoyed ourselves very much.  We therefore were keen to try Portugal again.

We were not disappointed; indeed in many ways Porto was even more enjoyable.  Again, the weather was sunny and the people we met were relaxed and friendly.  The historic streets with their tiled and balconied buildings were attractive and interesting.  The views across the hills of the city and the river were sunlit and dramatic.  Porto is a little slower, more laid back and perhaps even more at ease with itself than Lisbon.  It has an atmosphere that was perfect for our little group.

Porto And The Duoro River

Views of Porto And The Duoro River

Porto's Graffiti, Trams And Tiled Buildings

Porto’s Graffiti (including The 3-D Rabbit!), Trams And Tiled Buildings

Our sketchy plans for what we wanted to see and do seemed to keep falling into place.  Even fully booked restaurants found space for us.  We managed to get prime tables in roof-top bars overlooking the stunning Douro River that splits the city in two.  We stumbled upon free port tasting and barely advertised museums that pleasantly filled the gaps between excellent meals and chats over bottles of local wine.  The relaxed approach culminated in a takeaway of chicken, chips and salad (accompanied by copious amounts of local wine and port, of course) eaten heartily in our very good AirBnB on the last night of our stay.

Porto Churches And Cathedrals

Porto Churches And Cathedrals

Upon our return we found that the weather had been even hotter in our garden than in Porto and that there had only been one short rain shower to sustain the garden.  It is looking increasingly parched and manual watering is no longer enough to sustain everything.  However, my focus on keeping the beans and blackcurrant plants going is paying off.  We are able to have a variety of types of bean at every meal now and I have made a year’ supply of blackcurrant jam with loads more still to pick.

Another Year's Supply Of Blackcurrant Jam

Another Year’s Supply Of Blackcurrant Jam

My allotment is faring less well – it’s a long story as to why I have it since it is a few miles from where we now live and so I can’t keep it watered sufficiently.  The good thing is that the weeds are not thriving there either due to the lack of rain – although the leeks I failed to harvest last year are looking impressive.  More on the allotment another time…..

Dry Allotment

My Dry Allotment With Last Year’s Unpicked Leeks

Meanwhile, I’m planning to visit London again next week and, beyond that, now Paris and Porto have been visited in the last month, LSW and I need to get another holiday into the diary.

It Nearly Came Home

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

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

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

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

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

St Nicholas Church, Asthall And Asthall Manor Gardens

St Nicholas Church, Asthall And Asthall Manor Gardens

On Form Sculpture Exhibition, Asthall Manor Gardens

On Form Sculpture Exhibition, Asthall Manor Gardens

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

Sunset On Long Grass In Our Meadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pleasantly Full Days

Life seems to have been particularly busy in the last ten days or so since my last trip to London.  There I got a dental check-up (my teeth are fine), visited the Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece Exhibition (fascinating and beautifully laid out) and took Middle and Eldest Son to dinner and The Lantern Society, my favourite Folk Club (what a treat to catch up with them both!)

At The Lantern Society

At The Lantern Society

Rodin's The Thinker And The Kiss

Rodin’s The Thinker And The Kiss – Two Items In An Intriguing British Museum Exhibition

The weather has been highly conducive to gardening.  We have had long periods of sun, but reasonable temperatures, and just enough rain.  As a result, many days have been dominated by clearing weeds, planting out seedlings, localised manual watering and working out how to keep the destructive birds, mammals, molluscs and insects at bay.  Almost everything that needs protection now has some form fencing, netting or other damage prevention measure in place.  I will now sit back, wait and watch the ways the animals will thwart me anyway.

In my last post, I compared the post-modernist house of Erno Goldfinger to a previous house of ours.  My last visit to London and overnight stay in the Barbican reminded me, too, that the post-modernist gardens there are now being echoed by Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) planting of our new walled garden.  Our final load of gravel and the water feature have now arrived and so our new garden just lacks maturity, but there are already some similarities with the Barbican gardens (although the scale there is massive compared to that of our ex-car parking area).  It has certainly been pleasant sitting in the new garden in the sun with a glass of wine after sweating over weeds, seedlings, bean poles and netting.

Our New Garden and The Barbican Gardens

Our New Garden And The Barbican Gardens; Ours Has Some Maturing To Do!

LSW and I have also been enjoying the annual Nailsworth Festival and, especially, two walks arranged under the auspices of the festival.  The first was a history walk in the vicinity of our house.  It added to our knowledge of the footpaths, industry and religious history of the area – particularly the historic presence of the Quakers and Baptists in what was once one of the largest non-conformist settlements in the country.

History Walk

An Attentive Audience On The Nailsworth History Walk

The second was a 12 mile walk billed as being a walk from Nailsworth to ‘the sea’. In fact, ‘the sea’ was the tidal estuary of the River Severn at a point where a number of sea going ships were beached to bolster the coastline alongside the canal along which we had walked. The so-called Purton Hulks, were an interesting climax to a full day of walking up and down the Cotswold escarpment and across the Severn valley in perfect walking weather. LSW and I certainly pushed up our daily step count averages that day!

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Purton Hulks

Purton Hulks

We also had a good day out walking in New Quay and Aberaeron in West Wales. We were staying with friends who have a second home there in what seems to be a lively and familiar community of second-homers based in London, Birmingham and South Wales. The health benefits of all the recent walking were offset by rather too much tasty food and drink in New Quay. On the route back from Wales, these indulgences continued as we stopped off at a family party celebrating a brief visit of one of LSW’s first cousins (once removed) from Singapore; lovely!

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

The food, drink and merriment isn’t going to stop this week with more of the World Cup to watch and celebrate (I hope), and the marking of LSW’s birthday with dinner in London on the way to a weekend in Paris.

So: busy and full days, full weeks and, as I near 12 months of retirement, I will shortly look back on a full year.

Picasso And Goldfinger

As I write this, I am travelling up to London for the second time in a week; I still look forward to my regular ‘fix’ of London life.  Today, I’m using the excuse of the need to visit my long-term dentist for a check-up.  The previous visit was primarily to enable Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I to meet with Eldest Son’s (ES’s) new girlfriend for the first time.  She was lovely and we all had a splendid evening at one of our favourite restaurants: Morito in Hackney Road.

I also managed to squeeze in a rather drunken lunch and impromptu darts match with an old mate of mine from my Accenture days – getting on for a decade ago now.  Meanwhile, LSW saw an art exhibition and we followed up next day with a bit more culture.  First LSW and I saw the Picasso exhibition at Tate Modern and then we went to Hampstead to visit 2 Willow Road, a modernist house designed and previously owned by architect, Erno Goldfinger.

The Picasso exhibition was unusual in that it focused on just one year of his life.  That was 1932 during which he conducted a secret affair with a young woman who he painted almost daily.  It was interesting to hear how the affair came to light – including to his wife – only at a retrospective exhibition of his work which included several paintings of his mistress.  For someone so apparently confident in his ability, it was also fascinating to hear how he curated the 1932 retrospective in a way to try to reassert his continuing relevance following the success of his earlier work.

Picasso

One Of The Many Paintings Picasso Created in 1932 Showing His Secret Mistress

The visit to 2 Willow Road was also eye opening.  It’s an early reinforced concrete building built in 1939 by and for the architect who later became (in)famous for some of the tallest reinforced concrete residential tower blocks in London.  It was given to the National Trust after his death and has been largely untouched since then.  The art he collected – including pieces by Henry Moore, Bridget Riley, Max Ernst and Delaunay – is still on show and we got a real feeling for the way he lived and entertained.

Most interesting were the similarities between the features (such as the en suite sinks), inter-room connectivity (facilitated by removable and sliding doors) and huge windows in 2 Willow Road, and the nature of our previous family home built in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire almost 20 years later.  Clearly, unbeknownst to us, the architect who designed our house and the one we used to develop it were familiar with Erno Goldfinger.  Like 2 Willow Road, I suspect, our previous house was rather ugly to look at, but lovely to live in.

2 Willow Road

2 Willow Road, Hampstead

Now we have moved on to an old farm house with a Georgian façade.  However, the extension LSW helped to design a few years ago offers plenty of space and light so we have retained some of the best aspects of our house in Minchinhampton.  The combination of old house and modern extension feels right and our garden – recently walled and extended to take over half of the previous car parking space – is more manageable than that we had before.  With the additional time I now have, and LSW’s increased interest in gardening (plus 4 hours of paid help most weeks), we are gradually getting control of the garden.  Once I finish the endless painting of the TV room I will have even more time to relax in it!

Part of the New Garden Area At Our House

Part of the New Garden Area At Our House

Spring and Stuff

Spring has arrived late but with waves of sun and warmth that suggest it is trying to catch up on lost time.  Leaves and blossom have burst into life and colour and the landscape suddenly has that fresh feel of Spring.  The carpets of bluebells in the nearby woods are already usurped by the wild garlic and the paths and verges are lined with cow parsley 4 foot high.  Already, we seem to be marching into summer.

Wild Flowers OnThe Way to Town

Cow Parsley, Wild Garlic, Bluebells And Cowslips On The Walk Into Town

The recent improvement in the weather has encouraged me to resume vegetable gardening in between trips to London (a cheeky, impromptu visit primarily to see a favourite band, Kefaya) and Nottingham (to see my parents).  I have been planting seeds, digging the vegetable patch and putting up a bit of new fencing.  For the first time, I am retired from work during a Spring.  When I was working, I used to perform what I called ‘speed gardening’ at weekends.  This year I can devote time throughout the week to a more relaxed style of gardening.

From bitter experience I know that not all this reinvigorated effort will bear fruit in terms of usable crops.  Not everything germinates or thrives and squirrels, deer and badgers have taken more than their fair share in recent years.  However, now Spring is here, frustrations with the local wildlife, and memories of needless gluts of vegetables that the animals don’t like, are set aside and the vegetable patch is cultivated once more.  Once again, in a few months’ time, we will probably be scouring recipe books and the internet for meals requiring lots of beetroot or courgettes and having beans with every meal.

About three weeks ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) had one of her periodic purges of our possessions to populate a table at a village table-top sale.  I had my usual power of veto to prevent the discarding of things that might conceivably be useful to me, our sons or any of their as yet entirely unplanned children at some point in the future.  However, I kept my veto in my pocket and a car-load of stuff was priced up and went for sale.

Unfortunately, our village evidently has a lot of people who want to offload things but few who wanted to accumulate them.  By the end of the sale, due to LSW buying yet another designer tap, she came back out of pocket and only one item lighter.  Given the investment of time in pricing all this stuff up, LSW had another go at a local car-boot sale.  She had about £60 more success but it’s clear that much of what we are trying to sell is going to take the normal trip to the local charity shops.

We gather so many material goods over a lifetime.  Some have a now outdated function and some are purely decorative but are no longer in vogue or have a place.  A classic example was an Apilco tea set which we once used and loved but which has been in a cupboard untouched for years.  We tested whether any of the sons wanted it and got negative responses (‘its horrific’ said one).  They already have what crockery they need and, if they need more, will go online at Amazon, John Lewis or Ikea.  Handing stuff down over the generations doesn’t seem to work any longer.

Apilco Tea Set

Apilco Tea Set Awaiting A New Home

At our age, we simply don’t need many additional material goods.  Indeed, LSW is strong – and persuasive in the face of my greater, but softening, reticence – on reducing our footprint by clearing our old stuff out.  Thank goodness for the recycling work of charity shops but the dump is also a regular destination.

These thoughts were going through my mind as LSW and I visited the annual neighbourhood open studios events of the last couple of weeks.  Lots of creative and talented people were displaying their art and craft work in their homes and in local galleries; some was impressive.  In past years we have bought some of the items but, more recently, we have walked around the open studios rather aimlessly.  We just don’t need any more things to sit on shelves or to go on walls.

LSW has recently started a ceramics course.  My fear is that her work – worthy and perhaps even lovely as it may turn out to be – will be another avenue of stuff entering our home.  If so, then at least I will have a bargaining chip in negotiations around hanging onto some of my long-standing possessions for another year.  But my realisation that I have to declutter that stuff is growing – maybe I’ll go to the next car boot sale or even learn to try eBay…..

Kefaya At Archspace, Haggerston, London

Kefaya At Archspace, Haggerston, London; One Of My Favourite Bands