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?

Gorgeous 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.

Distractions Amid The Wreckage

It’s been nearly two weeks since Middle Son’s (MS’s) accident on a pedestrian crossing.  LSW and I are popping up and down to London to see MS while he is in hospital waiting for, and then recovering from, the operations to repair him.  We have the flexibility to be able to supplement and fit in around visits from his others.  Outside of visiting hours we are able to visit London-based exhibitions and in between trips to London, we tend the everyday of house and garden.

Royal London Hospital

Royal London Hospital

The garden is certainly looking full and colourful.  After an unusually slow start, the vegetable patch is starting to come to life.  The slugs, deer and pigeons are enjoying a lot of the potential vegetable and fruit produce.  However, I hope to pick the blackcurrants that survived the pigeon onslaught next week and chard, spinach and beetroot are now ready for the first harvests.

Marbled White and Ringlet Butterflies and A Crab Spider

Marbled White and Ringlet Butterflies And A Crab Spider

The meadow is also looking healthy and, in this last week’s sunshine and warmth, it has been full of butterflies and other insects.  Youngest Son (YS) and his partner have been staying with us and have been able to enjoy the garden before swapping the rural peace for their new life in London.  It has been great to have had their cheery demeanour around the place.

The London exhibition LSW and I went to see in a few spare hours was the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  The ostentation on show was perhaps the least appropriate thing to appreciate while our minds were wrestling with the gritty practicalities of MS’s circumstances.  However, it is a very stylish and well-presented show covering Dior’s clothes, perfumes, partnerships with makers of accessories and seamstresses.

Ulysse Coat By Dior (1952)

Ulysse Coat By Dior (1952)

The outfits on show demonstrate Christian Dior’s career and then the contributions of the lead designers who followed him in driving forward the Dior brand.  The clothes are consistently beautiful or dramatic or both and the rooms showing his ball gown and garden-influenced designs were particularly impressive.

Dior Ball Gowns 1950 To Today

Dior Ball Gowns 1950 To Today

Dior Perfume Bottles And Travel Set From The 1950s

Dior Perfume Bottles And Travel Set From The 1950s

At the end of the exhibition was a wall with a quote from Christian Dior: “In the world today, haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvellous”.  The show managed to underline that.

Exotic Dior Dresses Influenced By His Travels in Japan and Egypt

I also managed to get to see a free gig by D’Voxx at Rough Trade East.  I knew nothing about this electronic duo before turning up but it was another temporary but welcome distraction from reality.  The music they played was interesting and got me nodding away to the beats, but what made the gig unusual was that both performers were using modular synthesisers that looked ancient and that seemed to require a lot of wire waving and plug swapping alongside the normal knob-twiddling.  It was quite a sight and a fun experience.

IMG_3804

LSW and I are heading back to London tomorrow.  Maybe we will find a couple more diverse distractions like Dior and D’Voxx to divert us before MS’s final operations and discharge.  Fingers crossed for him.

TV Mini-Series And Music In The Rain

View From The Garden - Sun And Impending Hailstorm

View From The Garden – Sun And Impending Hailstorm

June has been a very wet month so far but I suppose the garden and allotment needed the rain after such a dry Spring.  Few vegetables are growing quickly yet but the garden flowers are thriving.  Encouragingly, the bees flitting among them, between the bouts of rain, seem more numerous than last year.

Partly due to the weather, Long-Suffering Wife and I have been watching more box-set TV recently.  Much of what we have watched has been excellent and I’m pleased ‘Killing Eve’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ have started up again.  Of recent TV treats, I particularly recommend:

  • The Virtues’ (Channel 4) which has an astonishing performance by Steven Graham and a climax that had me holding my breath tensely for ages and mentally urging his character to do the right thing
  • The Looming Tower’ (BBC) starring the brilliant Jeff Daniels, which is showing how infighting between the FBI and the CIA contributed to the terrorist success of 9/11
  • Chernobyl’ (Sky Atlantic) which reproduced compellingly and with amazing special effects and crowd scenes, the (western understanding of the) nuclear disaster there.

We were able to see the last of these thanks to Youngest Son (YS) having access, in ways I’m not sure I want to know about, to channels and films that are not available to us through our normal facilities.  This has been just one of the upsides of having him around for a few weeks since he returned from Australia.  YS’s cheery demeanour has certainly brightened our days recently as the rain has set in.  However, he has now disappeared to undertake a video project in the US and left us with the rain continuing to pour down.

The Garden In A Hailstorm

The Garden In A Hailstorm

Another very good mini-series, still currently ongoing, is Years and Years.  This follows a fictitious family through a vision of the next 15 years of global and UK politics and social development.  It is not a cheery watch since it picks up some of the most modern-day contentious issues and shows how they may unfold in the near future with pretty depressing effects.  One of the issues, of course, is the climate emergency and the story postulates a future where 80 days of heavy rain with flooding is a norm.  I’m fed up with the rain after a week; I can barely imagine a future where it rains for months!

I hope that the future is brighter – and not just weather wise – than Years and Years predicts.  However, I confess that the management of immigration, the climate emergency, the future of democracy on both sides of the Atlantic and the apparent rise of shallow populism are growing concerns for me.  It is fortunate, then, that YS keeps LSW’s and my rants at the radio news over breakfast and lunch in check (to a degree).  They may get ridiculous while he is away.

To help distract ourselves from precipitation and political current affairs, LSW and I have been to a couple of very good gigs over the last few days.  The first was very local at the refurbished Tetbury Goods Shed and featured a local band called Faeland who I didn’t know until a week ago but who are lovely.  They follow the folk music idiom but with bright, modern songs and an engaging presence. LSW loved them too – and very much enjoyed the provision of comfortable seating and a perfect view at the venue.

Faeland At The Tetbury Goods Shed

Faeland At The Tetbury Goods Shed

She was less enamoured by the shoulder to shoulder standing room only at The Exchange in Bristol.  Here we saw a singer-songwriter I have been following and enjoying hugely on Spotify and CD for a couple of years – Billie Marten.  I love her songs and, although she could have engaged a tight packed, eager and intimate audience a little more, I enjoyed the gig very much. LSW enjoyed it too but I was nervous about her comfort and we left just before the end.  That was fine since Billie Marten had already played for an hour and I may anyway get the chance to see her again in London.

Billie Marten At The Exchange, Bristol

Billie Marten At The Exchange, Bristol

As I complete this post, I see that the sun has come out.  I shall go out for a walk humming tunes from Faeland and Billie Marten and think cheery thoughts……

Allotment Wars!

Just over 10 years ago, I was made redundant from a large consulting firm I had worked for since leaving university.  I took a break from 33 years of work and, a year later, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) persuaded me to buy a derelict corrugated iron bungalow with the remaining redundancy money.  Then, as the kids left home, we sold our family house.  That enabled some downsizing and renovation of the ‘Tin House’.  We lived in the ‘Tin House’ for a year while we upgraded our current home.  Now we rent it out with the vague plan to move back into it when we downsize again.

Our 'Tin House' Post Re-Build in 2013

Our ‘Tin House’ Post Re-Build in 2013

When we bought the ‘Tin House’, it had only a small front garden.  We bought a small extra parcel of land at the back so that, after any future move back to the bungalow, I would be able to continue my enjoyment of vegetable growing in retirement.  I also put myself on what I understood to be a very long waiting list for an allotment in the beautiful Rose Barrow allotment gardens just a little further up the hill.

View From Behind Our 'Tin House'

View From Behind Our ‘Tin House’

In practice, the wait for an allotment was much shorter than expected and, for the last half dozen years, I have been tending a quarter of a full allotment.  This has not been all plain sailing however.

View From The Entrance To Rose Barrow Allotments

View From The Entrance To Rose Barrow Allotments

The first challenge has been that, having moved from the ‘Tin House’, we now live 2-3 miles away.  Unless I undertake a stiff walk there and back carrying tools and (at least potentially) harvests, I have to visit it by car.  The result is that my visits are more infrequent that they should be to undertake the war on weeds, to water in dry spells and to pick any crops.  That restricts me to low maintenance crops and means I constantly test the patience of the allotment management who police the quality of upkeep.

Examples Of Well Tended Allotments At Rose Barrow

Examples Of Well Tended Allotments At Rose Barrow

One such manager has been keen to take over my patch because it is in between a couple of allotments he already operates and his back garden.  I have resisted, for a couple of years, giving up my investment of digging and composting effort.  In doing so, I felt like one of those long-standing house owners holding out against the big developer wanting to demolish swathes of buildings in order to erect new, swish skyscrapers.  But, last year, I accepted that this was an extreme view, and took the practical and reasonable step of relinquishing my plot in exchange for another.

Overall I was content with the move despite the risk that I am now too near the allotment bonfire space to avoid scorched lettuces and leeks!  I started to dig the new plot over last winter, planted some Jerusalem artichokes and harvested some rhubarb.  All was settled and agreeable.

However, last week I arrived on my little plot to find someone else has commandeered it, had trampled my planting, had taken my compost bin and had erected netting over my inherited currant bushes.  Outrage!

Recognising that possession is ‘nine tenths of the law’ (and because I had nowhere else to put them), I dug over part of the patch again and planted a few rows of leeks and beetroot.  I was ready for war!

It seems that a couple had spoken with the previous incumbent of the whole allotment of which my slice is a part and had agreed to take it all on without confirming with allotment management.  They were unaware of my existing claim, my payment (all of £2!) and my effort to rehabilitate the plot.  It turns out that they are old acquaintances and we have been able to work out a way forward which leaves me with a plot that is a little smaller than the one I relinquished last year but which will be adequate.  My compost bin is restored.  Peace has broken out.

My New Quarter Allotment

My New Quarter Allotment. The War On The Couch Grass Begins!

The new plot is freer of bindweed than the previous one.  However, it is largely covered by very deep and well-established couch grass – another allotment devil to do war with but a manageable one if countered with thoroughness and determination.  Once I have dug out the worst of the couch grass a few times over the next couple of years, and grubbed up some old currant bushes to create some more space far enough from the bonfire, I will have a good little plot to augment my vegetable patches at home.

I may not visit my allotment often until we move back to the ‘Tin House’, but when I do I will love the relaxation from the repetition of the physical exercise of digging and weeding. I like too the mundane chats with allotment neighbours about the weather, the persistence of the perennial weeds and the poverty or fruitfulness of this year’s crops.  I love the singing of the birds and the peace and quiet of the enclosed allotments.  I love it that I have more time since retirement to soak up all of this.  The war is over and I’m happy again.

Going To Malvern Not Wembley

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

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

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

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

FGR Lining Up at Gresty Road, Crewe Alexandra

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

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

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

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

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

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

Habit of Living Garden By Tatlow and Hathaway

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

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

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

Part Of The 'Floral Eccentricity' Show By Sarah Champier

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

The What If Garden With More Underdressed Dancers

The What If Garden With More Underdressed Dancers

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

View From The Bench Near The Top Of Our Meadow

View From The Bench Near The Top Of Our Meadow

Common Blue And Little Copper Butterflies

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

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

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.

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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.