Retirement: Five Years On

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

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

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

Long, Local, Countryside Walks – A Great Retirement Treat

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

Pre-Covid Travel We Did Manage: South Africa 2018

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

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

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

Back Streets Of Edinburgh 2022

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

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

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

Our Meadow And Vegetable Patches: Varying Levels Of Untidiness

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

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

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

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

My Current Retirement Home

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!

Big Month and Bacon

April 2022 was a truly memorable month.  Eldest Son (ES) and his partner (plus First Grandchild) bought a flat – the first of our sons to become a home owner.  Also (and I’m afraid ES, at least as significantly) Forest Green Rovers were promoted to English Football League Division 1 (EFL1)! 

Joy Unconfined

I have supported Forest Green Rovers Football Club since the family moved to Gloucestershire almost 25 years ago.  I was finding it increasingly fraught and onerous to take our boys the 70 miles there and back to my boyhood club of Reading.  I wanted them to like football and have the opportunity to watch it live and so I turned to the ‘biggest’ local Club: Forest Green Rovers.

When my support started, the Club had just been promoted to the National Conference League (the fifth tier in England) and offered a poorly attended, but viscerally intimate, version of semi-professional and then fully professional football.  I watched the football while the boys messed about one the terraces with each other and with Lego.  

The Club were perennial underdogs at that time.  However, the Club was transformed progressively following investment from green energy industrialist Dale Vince in 2010.  Dale uses the Club to promote his green and vegan values – we are reportedly the ‘greenest’ football club in the world – but has also applied finance, ambition and vision to the Club.  Promotion to EFL2 followed via the playoffs and a truly remarkable day at Wembley.  Now, just 5 years later, we are promoted again to EFL1.  Next year will be very difficult but it has been a wonderful journey for me and all the other fans of the Club. 

After A Win Versus Oldham Athletic Which Virtually Guaranteed Promotion

Unfortunately we are likely to just miss out on finishing top of EFL2 following a relatively poor run of recent results.  But one chance remains if we can win our last game at Mansfield next weekend.   In a slightly crazy itinerary, I am going to that game via my Dad in Nottingham and then onwards to Edinburgh to see ES’s new flat.  The start of another memorable month perhaps…..

April was not solely dominated by football.  I also attended an alumni event in London with people who were exact or approximate contemporaries during my first 2-3 years of work way back in the 1970s.  It was a great to catch up and also an opportunity to tidy our Barbican flat ready for sale and to see a London exhibition.

I chose to visit the Francis Bacon, Man and Beast Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.  It’s hard to say I ‘like’ Bacon’s art since it is so menacing and challenging but I do enjoy seeing it and admire it hugely.  I had last seen an exhibition of his work almost three years ago at the Gagosian Gallery in London.  That had highlighted Bacon’s interest in animals and the new exhibition at The Royal Academy followed that wildlife and animal theme.

In practice, some of the work on show was only loosely linked to his fascination with wildlife and the parallels between wild animals and humans (much of which seems to have stemmed from his early life as a horse-breeders son).  There were a number of works that one almost expects to see at a Bacon exhibition and the links between these to apes, bulls, birds (but never horses) sometimes seemed tenuous.

Royal Academy Exhibition: Typical Images By Francis Bacon (Head VI, Figure Study II) And, More Unusual ‘Landscape Near Malabata’ (Bottom Right)

Nonetheless, it was an excellent exhibition that told a fascinating life story and that was well worth seeing.  I found the triptych’s at the end of the exhibition particularly daunting but impressive. 

Royal Academy Exhibition of Francis Bacon Triptychs

I was lucky too that I was able to attend as the exhibition opened when it wasn’t too crowded.  That enabled time and space to take in all the skewed wildness and menace in some of Bacon’s best work.

‘Two Studies From The Human Body’ By Francis Bacon – Probably My Favourite Painting In This Royal Academy Exhibition

Back home, we had a very family oriented Easter with Youngest Son, his partner and pretty much all of Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) close relatives.  The weather was kind enough to enable us to spill outside for a lot of welcome catch-ups with LSW’s nieces and nephews.  We hadn’t seen YS since Christmas so it was just great to see him and his partner over the long weekend too.  We must plan another trip to Belfast……

One Of The Signs That Spring Is Here: The Annual ‘Amberley Cow Hunt’ – ‘Mootallica’ and ‘Calf Awake’. Two Of Over 30 Displays

Spring hasn’t fully warmed up yet but gardening has started in earnest – I can tell from the muscle aches and the good nights’ sleep.  Preparing the ground for vegetables at this time of year by digging it over and clearing weeds is one of my favourite tasks; there is no pressure yet to protect stuff from deer, voles, mice and badgers or to actually produce any vegetables yet.  It’s just good old physical work and I don’t have so many vegetable beds that I need to overdo any exertions.

‘Everest’ Crab Apple and Camassia In Our Garden
Local Bluebell Woods

It’s is lovely and lucky to be doing that gardening in such a pretty and relatively untroubled part of the World.

The Cotswold Countryside Appears To Be Supporting Ukraine

Overstepping The Mark To Normality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Surprise Test Event

The undoubted highlight in what has been a further two weeks of Covid-19 quietude was a surprise test event held at Forest Green Rovers Football Club (FGR) – my team!  Test events to ‘test’ the efficacy of running sporting events that are open to the public during the pandemic have been scheduled across several sports for some weeks.  Because of the latest surge in infections many have been cancelled but apparently FGR were asked, at short notice, whether they wanted to hold one.  They obliged by inviting all their season ticket holders to take part.

Once I knew that my allocated, socially-distanced seat in the stand wouldn’t be in any potential driving rain, I jumped at the chance.  In the event, it was a sunny day.  The attractive, hilly walk to the ground felt like old times, and the whole occasion was a very exciting break from Covid-19 routines. 

There were socially distanced queues for temperature checks and then to get into the stadium.  The imposition of face masks muffled my cheers of team loyalty and those of the other 500 supporters.  But, not only did was event an emotional highlight, it felt safe.

The game itself was one FGR should have won.  However, following two players being sent off (the opposition), a missed penalty (us) and a scorching last-minute-of-injury-time equaliser (us), we had to be content with an eventful and dramatic draw. 

FGR vs Bradford City; The Only Professional Game I Will See Kick Off Live This Season?

Unfortunately, the increasing progress of the Covid-19 infection rate means that this event is likely to have been a one-off.  Further attendance of live FGR games feels a long way away again.  But I feel lucky that I had a brief reminder of the visceral pleasure of live football in a stadium.  (And we didn’t lose!)

As another highlight, Long Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) mother took us out for a very pleasant lunch (only our second restaurant lunch in 6 months) at The Potting Shed.  We also walked to the relatively new Wild Carrot Cafe on the very rural edge of the Parish and have made a few visits to our local and increasingly pandemic restriction-bound local pub.

The Wild Carrot Cafe, Chavenage

Otherwise, waking life has been a merry-go-round of walks, day-to-day shopping, meals and catch up television.  Outlander (just Series 1 so far) has been our latest TV box set plough-through.  That was very watchable except for the rape and torture scenes during which I tended to go off to make my warming evening drink!

There have been a few little frissons of excitement courtesy of nature.  I saw my first lizard (other than slow worms) in the garden.  We also had a huge dragonfly perch briefly on our garden table.  The friendly pheasant is back. 

Garden Visitors

Indeed, the garden continues to be a bountiful pleasure with masses of chard, huge but tasty beetroot, courgettes (of course) and masses of wonderful dahlias from two plants that have survived the cold of the last two winters. 

They Just Keep On Coming: ‘Cafe Au Lait’ Dahlias

The walled garden we had built three years ago is still laced with lots of white, purple and pink flowers among the tall grasses and shrubs.

Still Lots Of Colour In The Garden

Meanwhile, achingly slow progress is being made on a new garden behind and above the house.  LSW loves a project and, when the builders have finally completed the terracing and walling, there will be loads of work for us to do to clear unwanted plants (bind weed and hypericum is rife, is hard to eradicate and both LSW and I hate it) and renew the area with new ones.

Diggers In Our Garden Once Again

We are so lucky to have the space to be able to enjoy a garden and enough cash to be able to remodel it.  The garden has been such a boon during these weird, pandemic times.  It’s such a shame though, that this weirdness will continue, as most of us feared, into autumn, winter and beyond.   I look forward to my next sporting test event – whenever that may be – as a sign that these weird times may be ending.  Stay safe, all.

Colourful Hedgerows This Year (Black Bryony, Hawthorn and Rose Hips)

Resplendent Nature At Every Turn

Retirement has brought me closer to Nature and I seem to have had even more than my usual exposure to Nature in the last two weeks.  The local walks have been particularly good.  The rain in June and early July has made the pastures, hedgerows and trees a lush green and the recent sun has brought out the garden and wild flowers so they are now showing off their peak displays.

My Favourite Field

My Favourite Field – Filling With Maize This Year

One walk was especially spicy in underlining our closeness to Nature.  We were crossing a field with a neighbour during a walk that we hadn’t undertaken for a while, when we saw another figure crossing the field at right angles to us.  Thirty yards out, we could only see the man’s bare and bronze torso above the wheat.  As we crossed paths though, it became clear that we had met – and then briefly engaged in conversation with – the infamous ‘Naked Rambler’.  Our neighbour remarked that his naked rambling exploits are frequent since ‘he was brown all over with no tan lines’.  I could only mutter that I hoped he looked out for stinging nettles.  The encounter made our day.

The Naked Rambler

The Naked Rambler (Picture Courtesy The Evening Standard – I Didn’t Have The B*lls To Take My Own Picture Of Him)

We also completed a series of walks when my Best Man (BM) visited us last weekend. He has been working from home and in isolation throughout lockdown and needed a break.  Fortunately the weather was excellent and we were able to visit our now re-opened pub for our first sit down (outside) meal since lockdown started.

On A Local Walk: Strip Of Green Manure In Full Flower

On A Local Walk: Strip Of Green Manure In Full Flower

A highlight during his stay was a long walk during which we saw a field sown with green manure coming extravagantly into flower.  Another marvellous natural phenomenon was the sighting of a crazily large number of small white butterflies fluttering together in the sun and drinking from wet mud on our path.  Both were uplifting sights.

Flowers In The Strip of Green Manure - Antirhinums, Phacelia, Sainfoin And Many More

Flowers In The Strip of Green Manure – Antirrhinums, Phacelia, Sainfoin, Bladder Campion And Many More

BM works for a large oil company which is trying to shift away from fuelling (literally) carbon emissions.  His job is changing and intense.  Even while he was with us, he had to prepare a short presentation that he was due to give on the following Monday.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were sufficiently intrigued by this that we signed up for the public event he was a panel member for and run by the ‘World Business Council for Sustainable Development’ entitled ‘Nature Action for a Healthy and Resilient Future’; what a couple of mouthfuls!

As I listened in to the webinar, I was reminded of my own corporate work life by the business jargon being used by the numerous presenters including BM, and how it flows off the tongues of business professionals.  I was also left with a greater feeling of hope for Nature and the planet.

I suspect that the event was populated largely by the ‘green mouthpieces’ of the corporations that were represented.  However, several sounded convincing about their company ambitions and commitments and the scale of the opportunity to turn our destruction of the planet around while creating millions of worthwhile jobs in new green industries was clear.

Optimistic-Looking Daisies

Optimistic-Looking Daisies

I have just started reading Wilding by Isabella Tree.  She is so aptly named given that the book is the story of how a failing arable farm has been turned into a successful experiment for re-wilding a large tract of land in Sussex.  The timeline at the start of the book shows how allowing nature to reclaim intensively farmed land can bring back flora and fauna diversity very quickly.  Given the chance, Nature can recover surprisingly quickly and I’m enjoying Isabella’s account of her experience.

Butterflies Everywhere: Comma, Peacock, Small White, Ringlet And Skipper

Butterflies Everywhere: Comma, Peacock, Small White, Ringlet And Skipper

I have continued to busy myself with some local climate action activities – my small push towards alleviating the pressure on Nature.  There is also much to do in the garden and on the allotment given that we are in peak growth season for vegetables and weeds.  We are thinking up creative ways to use the inevitable courgette mountain, we are eating chard with almost every meal and the runner bean avalanche is about to hit us.  In the next week too, I will need to brush up on my blackcurrant jam making skills since I have a bumper blackcurrant crop this year.

Flowers Among The Veg On The Allotments

Flowers Among The Vegetables On The Allotments

Nature is amazing.  Just last week, we saw a recurrence of another incredible phenomenon we have been lucky enough to spot a few times before: the inundation of our home valley by seagulls predating on flying ants.  It is almost unbelievable that the gulls will fly over 25 miles from the nearest coast on just the right day to catch the flying yellow meadow ants that rise from their nests in our neighbouring fields on just a couple of days a year; but there they were again.

Garden Views: Panorama From Our New Gate, Hollyhocks and First Use Of The New Fire Pit

Garden Views: Panorama From Our New Gate, Hollyhocks and First Use Of The New Fire Pit

Nature can also do us damage.  Badgers rip up crops, deer eat the roses and strawberries, earwigs are eating the dahlias, blackfly are tormenting my beans and hay fever can be really annoying.  The climate emergency and the creation of new human diseases when we encroach too much on the wild are macro problems far greater than my local problems with wildlife.  The solutions to these are going to be challenging to find but my immersion in Nature this week underlines the importance of doing so, and gave me some more hope.

Another Chapter On The Roller-Coaster

Late Evening Sun In The Garden

Late Evening Sun In The Garden And Meadow

Life can seem like a roller-coaster with its ups and downs.  Also, it often seems comprised of episodes or chapters, as in a book, where the start and end of each section is triggered by a significant event.  Maybe I am mixing metaphors but I have thought of both roller-coasters and multi-chapter books as retired life has progressed this week.

A year ago, our family life was upturned by Middle Son (MS) being run down on a pedestrian crossing by a police fugitive in a car.  He has made a good recovery (though I bet he will be stopped at every X-Ray machine at airports).  Finally too, just this week, the police arrested the culprit.  MS’s accident was a deep low on the roller-coaster but, although the court case and insurance claim is still to come, he and we have moved onwards and upwards.  It was great to see him looking happy this last weekend when he, Eldest Son (ES), and ES’s lovely girlfriend visited us for the day to celebrate Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) birthday.

Birthday Banners And Delicious Homemade Birthday Food

Birthday Banners And Delicious Homemade Birthday Food

We had a highly convivial day marking LSW’s (big-with-a-nought-on-it) birthday with all our sons.  There was even some probably ill-advised hugging!  The sun shone, there was great food and, mid-afternoon, LSW had a visit from the family of her younger brother and her mother.  We observed social distancing outdoors with them but the atmosphere of sociability and exuberance pushed away the disappointment of having had to cancel LSW’s our original plan birthday holiday plan due to the Covid-19 crisis.  It felt liberating just to have a lot of people in our garden again; a lovely slice of (almost) normality…..

Of course, a birthday can mark the start of a new chapter of life.  This one did so, especially, because Covid-19 lockdown has eased enough that Youngest Son (YS) was able to leave us, a couple of days after the birthday celebrations, for a new start in Northern Ireland.  That has left a hole in our days that will take a while to re-seal with other interactions and activities.

Watching Youngest Son From Our Bedroom Departing In The Wee Early Hours

Watching Youngest Son From Our Bedroom Departing In The Wee Hours Of The Morning

YS had been with us for three months and his can-do enthusiasm and almost constant positivity (so different from me) will be sorely missed.  As parents, it was a privilege to have him at such close quarters for so long.  I suspect our first post-lockdown trip will be to Belfast to see how he is settling in there and we are looking forward to that hugely.  Not only will we see him again then, but a trip away from home will be a welcome break from our re-trenched lockdown routine, and a chance to see a part of Britain I have not seen before.  Four years ago – almost to the day – we were waving YS off to what turned out to be three years in Australia; Northern Ireland is not so far!

Until we are able to make such a trip we are more than making do outdoors with the enjoyment of our garden and the seemingly endless variety of local walks.

A Selection Of Garden Flowers

A Selection Of Garden Flowers

The garden is full of flowers, the meadow is gradually revealing increasing plant diversity in response to our benign management, and both garden and meadow are full of bees, butterflies and other insects.

Marbled White Butterfly - Stationary Just Long Enough For A Photo

Marbled White Butterfly – Stationary In Our Field Just Long Enough For A Blurry Photo

My life chapters may be moving at a more sedate pace than YS’s but my roller coaster is nicely located for a contented retiree 🙂

Another Day In Paradise?

It feels churlish to complain about the coronavirus lockdown when I know that I have the multiple benefits of living in spacious house and garden in a beautiful part of the world, in sunny weather, with huge amounts of discretionary time and no immediate money worries.  I hadn’t imagined that retirement would be like this but it is certainly more relaxed and peaceful than I had expected.  So, on we go with another day in Paradise?

Local Paradise

Local Paradise

Maybe, but I’m getting increasingly bored and frustrated by the lockdown.

The lockdown rules seem to be constantly changing in ways I don’t really understand and which lead to apparent inconsistencies.  Of course, I can only read a small proportion of the increasingly diverse scientific advice.  I can only partially understand the economic and wider physical and mental health implications of social distancing.  However, I look at other countries in Europe that are similar to ours and feel they are coping better; their lockdowns appear less strict and executed to a more logical, progressive and strategic plan.

I suppose my current frustration is accentuated by the knowledge that we had planned to be walking from Minehead in Somerset, along the north Devon coast to Padstow in Cornwall right now.  I recall how Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I felt so proud of ourselves when we finished booking all 14 of the Air BnB’s along the route.  We were so pleased that we had booked a house that was perfect for a week-long celebration of LSW’s (big) birthday with our sons, their girlfriends and some old friends at the end of our fortnight of walking.

Route Of Our Planned Walk

Route Of Our Planned Walk – South West Coastal Path From Minehead To Padstow (The Yellow Line)

That has all been cancelled progressively over the last few weeks as the lockdown rules on overnight stays have tightened and it has become clear that pubs and restaurants won’t be substantially open for a few weeks yet.  The silver lining to this has been that LSW strained her back recently and the holiday cancellation has given her a chance to recover properly – she would have been sorely challenged by daily walks we planned – and also that the weather has suddenly turned mediocre.

One Of The Many Indicators That Persuaded Us That A Cornish Holiday Right Now Is Inappropriate

Instagram Post By The Economist: One Of The Many Indicators That Persuaded Us That A Cornish Holiday Right Now Is Inappropriate

We will just have to shift the whole three week plan to next summer, and then hope that the weather is sublime and that we are still fit enough to do the walk.  It will, though, have to be slotted in among all the other trips around the UK that we are envisaging ambitiously for when freedom is returned!

One foretaste of the renewed possibilities once the lockdown is ended was that Youngest Son and I did manage to get up to see my parents in Nottingham last week.  This was my first visit since mid-February.  I look forward to the rules changing so that I can once again sit with Mum for a while in the residential home and can stay overnight with my Dad.  However, it was very good, and rather emotional, to see them both even though the visit was only relatively brief (and, fortunately, in the sun).

It was good too to be able to help my Dad complete the netting of his fruit and vegetable plot.  He had just lost a batch of mangetout to the dreaded pigeons and I know how distressing losing crops to animals and birds can be.  Now most of his crops, like mine I hope, are protected.

My Vegetable Patch And Raised Beds – Protected From Most of the Local Wildlife

I will try to repeat the visit Dad again next month (and, no doubt, compare gardening experience and produce) regardless of whether lockdown restrictions have been relaxed further.

There is certainly a lot to look forward to once this damnable virus is past.

Smiling Garden Flowers And Buzzing Bees – Gloriously Oblivious To Coronavirus!

So Much To Do, So Much Time?

CoroGorgeous Spring weather is here but the lockdown to prevent the rapid spread of Covid-19 continues.  So many in the UK and worldwide are horribly constrained by the lockdown and I am fortunate that I can continue to enjoy this wonderful Spring.

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

There are arguments raging as to whether the UK lockdown was aggressive or early enough, about how long it should last and how it should be relaxed over time.  Given the evident lack of testing and tracing capability, and the paucity of vital protective equipment available to health care workers, it seems to me that the lockdown should have been implemented much earlier.

I wonder why our Prime Minister was openly glad-handing others so long after the infectiousness of the virus was clear, and why did the Cheltenham race festival with its 100,000 racegoers take place in mid-March?  Given that a pandemic was an obvious risk, why did we not have more equipment in our stockpiles in anticipation?

Now we have ‘let the cat out of the bag’, as it were, it looks like getting it back under control is going to take an extended period of social and business restrictions.  That is already creating huge economic and social problems.  Loneliness, anxiety, depression are all bound to increase.  Worries about domestic violence, money, entertaining and educating kids, and many other unplanned problems are mounting for many.  It is hard to imagine what life in the UK might be like in a year or so if the lockdown cannot be relaxed significantly by then.

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

Meanwhile, I continue to be one of the lucky ones.  I haven’t contracted the virus and don’t know anyone personally who has suffered badly from it – yet.  I don’t have to work or travel any more.  I live in the country and so can still get out and about without needing to worry about social distancing while outdoors.  Indeed, the countryside is splendidly empty of people, vibrant with wildlife and looks lovely in the fullness of what has been terrifically consistent Spring sunshine.

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

I am maintaining my 15,000 steps a day average by finding ever more extravagant detours into the surrounding rural wilderness on my way to the newsagent in town.  This walking, in combination with a steady reduction in alcohol intake over the last three months (in line with my New Year resolutions) has got my weight down close to my target.  That, plus plenty of gardening, is improving my overall health and readiness to take on Covid-19 if and when it hits me.

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

My days are surprisingly full.  There is so much music to listen to and so many box-set series TV to watch (I’m loving Trigonometry and Devs on the BBC at the moment).  There are so many books on my ‘To Be Read’ shelf still (I’m half way through Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and enjoying that).  I play games on my mobile; I am keeping my empire in Forge of Empires going and gradually improving my battle technique in Clash of Clans.

Yet these are all just fill-in activities around the main, constant structure of almost every locked down day (Sunday is still a slight exception).  Tea in bed is followed by leisurely breakfast.  Then there is the round-about walk into town for the newspaper followed by digestion of its main stories.  Then I make a salad lunch which is followed by the first game of Monopoly Deal of the day with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and Youngest Son (YS).

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards. More Fun Than It Sounds!

Most afternoons I work in the garden – there are simply more jobs in the garden than I can fit into the time and my reserves of energy – or I spend an hour or two writing this or moving forward the village Neighbourhood Plan and Climate Action Network group.

I stop to follow the daily government briefing on Covid-19 at 5pm.  It’s repetitive but worth listening to, I think, for the subtle attempts to re-write history and the almost obsessional denial of any mistakes.  Those denials are even with hindsight and in the knowledge that no-one could get the response to the pandemic entirely right.  Indeed, there may be no ‘right answers’ and certainly none we can discern yet.  YS still can’t get over how much I chunter on to the radio with my moaning about politicians.

If it is my turn to cook then I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for that.  I’m finding that while recipes are invariably right about cooking times, they underestimate preparation time (by me, anyway) by 300%.

Finally we will eat and then play another game of Monopoly Deal before retiring to the TV room.  The day is crowned with another railing against politicians on the television evening news and then its reading in bed and sleep.

Special events rarely disturb this pattern.  LSW and YS have deemed Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as ‘drinking days’.  On these we often lap up the privilege we have of a garden to retreat to, by taking a bottle of wine up to the fading warmth of the setting sun at the top of our field.

Evening Wine In Our Field

Evening Wine In Our Field

The Thursday ‘Clap for Carers’ has become an increasingly important interlude and is now accompanied by a neighbour playing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ proficiently and commendably on saxophone.  Also a new virtual, monthly village quiz has kicked off; I’m scheduled to arrange the May occurrence so preparation for that will fill a rainy day or two.

There seems to be so much to do.  I do hope we find a way to end the lockdown soon but it has helped me fit all these local activities in.

Summer’s Slow Demise

The weather during most of September has been excellent.  Now, though, summer has gradually drawn to a close.  There are still warm and sunny intervals but rain clouds are more prevalent, the tiring trees are dripping brown, and the streams are filling up.  Autumn is here.

The new walled garden still looks full of colour – Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has done a great job of maintaining its life throughout the summer and now on into Autumn.  The dahlias, which she has tried growing for the first time, largely succumbed to the slugs early on, but those that survived now look magnificent.  The scabious, salvia, cosmos (my small contribution), gaura and ever-resilient verbena bonariensis still look great and the last of the bee activity of the season continues to feed on these.

Last, Fading Colour In The Walled Garden

Last, Fading Colour In The Walled Garden

The badgers took all the sweetcorn – they didn’t leave one for us! But there are still vegetables to harvest – leeks, beetroot, potatoes and chard – plus one last elephantine courgette.  However, thoughts are now moving on to clearing away the vegetable beds, planting bulbs for next year and putting in a couple more trees.  We have ordered loads of alliums which I (and the bees) love and some more narcissuses for the field.  I have gathered some wildflower, hollyhock and foxglove seed and now need to do something with it!

We can see a lot of the ash trees in the vicinity are diseased.  We have a very impressive, large ash at the edge of our property.  It looks appears to be thriving but must surely be threatened by the surrounding ash die-back disease despite its current good health.  We need to get ahead of the damage and start planting to fill potential gaps.  We have just ordered a cherry and a whitebeam to offset the cutting back we did earlier in the year, and to augment the little orchard we have established over the last few years.  However, more tree-planting may be required.

I attended my Parish Council meeting for the village we now live in last week.  This was one of a series of meetings I attended related to carbon footprint reduction in the village, local sustainability initiatives and climate change.  At the Parish Council meeting I supported a move towards our village becoming carbon neutral and one of the first steps is to plant a 1,000 trees in the Parish.  It’s a start and we’ll offer to take three or four more in our field.  But I’m aware that other trees will die or need to come down because they obstruct power lines adjacent to our land, so all we are likely to manage is a rough equilibrium.  I hope others with space do better.

Local Tree Planting Scheme To Reduce Flooding

Local Tree Planting Scheme In Kingscote Woods To Reduce Flooding

As we have become increasingly aware of the climate change and sustainability issues, so LSW and I have suffered increasing angst about air travel which has such a big carbon emission impact.  Our trips to Canada, Australia (twice!), South Africa and cities in Europe in recent years have magnified our carbon footprint.  We haven’t looked to offset these trips up to now but are certainly planning to do so in the future.

Fortunately for the planet, our prevarication in the face of Middle Son’s accident, and then my mother’s recent falls, have given us excuses to shelve our summer and autumn holiday plans to burn up more exhaust in the upper atmosphere.  Maybe we will train-ride to Lyon for a few days in October…..

Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy the local walks.  The wildlife on the way to the local town each day is constantly shifting in character and behaviour.  Seeing it every day allows observation of the slightest changes – the loneliness of the swan, the arrival of little egrets, and the growing snuffling aloofness of the increasingly porky pigs.

Local Wildlife - New Chicks, Lonely Swan, Foraging Old Spot Pigs And, If You Look Carefully, Little Egrets

Local Wildlife – New Chicks, Lonely Swan, Foraging Old Spot Pigs And (If You Look Carefully) Little Egrets

This fascination has been augmented by the joy of being able to pick and eat the blackberries on the way.  Even better, there are enough – it has been a truly wonderful year for hedgerow blackberries – for cooking and for freezing for breakfasts and puddings during the forthcoming winter.

Masses Of Wild Blackberries Picked In Less Than 30 Minutes

Masses Of Wild Blackberries Picked In Less Than 30 Minutes

I shall miss the summer as it creeps away.  I shall miss the casualness of not having to worry too much about whether it is going to rain or the need for a coat.  I shall miss the sun and sitting and walking in it.  But Autumn will have its splendours too, and we are lucky enough to have a house that can withstand the winter cold.  In those circumstances, even winter can be attractive.  Goodbye summer.