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.

Happy ‘Holidays’!

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

LSW's Minimalist Wreath

LSW’s Minimalist Wreath

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

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

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

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

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport, Wales

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

Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green Rovers Supporters Watch A Mighty Win At Newport County

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

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

On A Frosty Walk Just Before Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Doing More With Soup

On A Local Walk Recently Recommended By The Sunday Times

Another Beautiful Clear Autumn Day: On A Local Walk (Recently Recommended By The Sunday Times)

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) is in the second of her twice-annual gap between garden guiding and packing hampers in a warehouse.  We failed to maximise use of this gap to get away on holiday this year.  However, the weather has continued to be great and we have managed some lovely, long, local walks together – usually with rest and relaxation in a pub at the end of them.

Pinbury Park

One Of Our Favourite Local Walks Around Sapperton And Pinbury Park

Despite sustaining these walking expeditions, I’ve slowed down overall as autumn has drawn in and the days have got shorter.  I’m not getting as much done as I did in the summer.  It’s nice that I have the ‘slow down’ option but it doesn’t feel right; indeed, it’s not.  I should be trying to get more done in a shorter daylight period and shifting to tasks that don’t need daylight.

I recall that I went through a similar period or relative sloth last year after the early glow of not having to go to work every day had started to wear off.  Then, I needed to structure my days a bit more and the main response was to set out layered to-do lists – for the long term, the medium term and for the immediate.  Those to-do lists worked then and so I have resurrected them in the last week.  They hadn’t entirely lapsed but I haven’t been maintaining them religiously enough to drive activity.  Now I am, I’m already feeling the benefit and the quiet satisfaction of ticking things off.

To be fair to myself, I do have an excuse for recent relative inactivity.  I strained something deep in my right side while digging up a particularly long-rooted and recalcitrant dock plant in the meadow.  I didn’t think much of it at the time but getting old means longer recovery times and, three weeks on, I’m still struggling with it.

After a couple of weeks I started looking up possible other causes for the nagging ache.  Predictably (for those who know me), I ‘Googled’ liver disease, kidney failure, pancreatic cancer and other disasters.  More rationally, LSW rubbished that as catastrophist, ‘Googled’ side strain and confirmed that such muscle pulls can take 1 to 2 months to repair.  She’s right and avoiding bending and sharp movement is the only treatment.

That has been my excurse for reducing the amount of gardening I have been doing and for stepping up my investment in sitting on the sofa reading fiction.  I have just finished the excellent Before the Fall by Noah Hawley and am now half way through the remarkable Milkman, the Booker Prize Winner by Anna Burns.  Unfortunately even the high quality of the prose is usually insufficient to prevent inadvertent siestas.  It is those little sofa dozes I most want to cut out.

One way of sustaining activity has been to increase cooking of meals.  I have had some unexpected success with some (admittedly straightforward) Yotam Ottolenghi evening meal recipes.  Also, as we have moved from summer to colder weather, I have swapped out the salad lunches which I used to make for LSW (ready for her return from her mornings’ work) for soups.

Dinner Looking Roughly Like It Did In The Recipe Book

Dinner Looking Roughly Like It Did In The Recipe Book

These soups take longer to make than the simple salads I made routinely earlier in the year.  However, there is a greater sense of achievement (and better aromas) in cooking combinations of celeriac, leeks, beetroot, apples and so on than there is in simply slicing lettuces, cucumbers and tomatoes into a bowl.  Also, I can make quantities that last us for days so the cooking doesn’t need to be daily.  Anyway, I’ve got the time, vegetable soup fits with our aim to reduce meat consumption (and our impact on the planet), it just feels better that the ingredients are in season, and the warmth of the soup feels in tune with the chillier temperatures outside.

One other achievement not requiring much movement of my side has been that LSW and I were in a Quiz team that won a charity quiz event.  This was at the nearby and beautiful Westonbirt School which I had not been to before.  I had a good time being supportive of other team members who knew far more answers than I, and LSW and I took away a bottle of Prosecco each for our efforts.

Approaching Westonbirt School And Victory In Their Annual Quiz

Approaching Westonbirt School And Victory In Their Annual Charity Quiz

Earlier that same week, LSW had also won her end of season quiz at her place of work.  She is on a roll!  I can’t make our local pub quiz next week (due to a clash with football – Forest Green Rovers are doing well since you ask!) but I expect to hear of more of her quiz team’s success at that.

Hopefully, by then, I will be fully operational and firing on all cylinders again.

It Nearly Came Home

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

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

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

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

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

St Nicholas Church, Asthall And Asthall Manor Gardens

St Nicholas Church, Asthall And Asthall Manor Gardens

On Form Sculpture Exhibition, Asthall Manor Gardens

On Form Sculpture Exhibition, Asthall Manor Gardens

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

Sunset On Long Grass In Our Meadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Too Old Yet

Following my last post here, I was admonished by both Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and Eldest Son (ES) for not mentioning an incident that occurred last time I was in London.

Following the gig I saw with ES and one of his best friends, we wanted to find a bar in Camden that would allow us to unwind a bit with some more drinks. We approached a lively bar but I was refused entry; ES and his friend were welcome but, evidently, I was not. Admittedly my memory from similar past occasions may be fuzzy but I can’t remember being denied entry to a bar or club before. I was astonished but all three of us found it very funny.

At the time I assumed it was because I was overly merry – ES would probably corroborate this – but later, as I considered how relatively little I had had to drink over the few hours of the gig, I wondered if the barrier to entry was on grounds of age. I didn’t ask at the time and so I will never know, but I would have increased the average age of the clientele significantly had I gone in. Given that we managed to get into the next bar I shan’t worry too much but, with yet another birthday coming up tomorrow, I wonder if I will experience this sort of ageist rebuttal again.

LSW and I had no such problem getting into another venue – The Forge – in Bristol last week. The Forge had cropped up one of LSW’s favourite blog sites as one that hosts craft workshops, yoga sessions and performance art including music. We went more to see the venue than the band (although listening to them on Spotify had allowed us to build optimism that we would enjoy them in advance).

The Forge, Bristol

Awaiting The Band At The Forge, Bristol

In practice, the headline act – Albert Jones – turned out to be excellent. The venue was also great although the audience was seemingly full of close friends who spent most of the time catching up with each other rather noisily instead of listening to the music – something I’m always irritated by more than I should be.

We conjoined the trip to The Forge with a scouting exercise around residential north and west Bristol. Cheltenham, Bath and Bristol are nearby cities and towns that LSW and I are considering as a place to live in at some point in the future. In part, a move to an urban area would reduce our reliance on a car while putting us in easier reach of entertainment and other facilities. It would respond to our probable decreasing personal mobility as we get older. Moving house is not something that we plan to do for several years – we are still upgrading the current one for goodness sake! – but it’s better to think and plan ahead.

Having walked several residential streets and looked at a number of estate agents’ windows, we concluded that Bristol is definitely an option. I would like the big, gritty, city feel but LSW would prefer Cheltenham due to its smaller size and more sophisticated feel. Visiting The Forge with its huge windows and elevated out-look, tempted LSW to imagine life in a top-floor loft apartment in a converted warehouse. I’m not sure how that will reconcile with the need to think about our future mobility. However, it’s fun to contemplate the possibilities and we are lucky to be able to do so.

Meanwhile, although it may be my birthday tomorrow (and I apparently increasingly run the risk of exclusion from some bars and clubs), LSW and I are still in good health. We can therefore focus on enjoying our current house, garden and rural community rather than worry too much about next steps yet.

Small Reserve, Big Game

After a trip around the largely excellent South Africa National Gallery, a wonderful lunch at Constantia Glen (a wine estate just outside Cape Town), and a welcome rest for my gammy knee before packing, we set off on the next leg of our southern South African trip. This was a short hop east by plane to Port Elizabeth to visit a game reserve north of that industrial city.

The trip was made more stressful than planned by a more than three hour delay to the one hour flight – thereby putting our game reserve tour in jeopardy – and an awareness that Long Suffering Wife (LSW) was indeed suffering from a steadily worsening bout of food poisoning.

We made it to the game reserve in time. However, as the tour was about to set off, LSW realised that the prospect of jiggling about in the back of a jeep for several hours with no access to secure conveniences (there were lions about!) would not be compatible with her worsening condition. As she was ushered off to our overnight accommodation for rest and recuperation, I went off with four others and our guide to see the wildlife.

I’ve not been to a zoo since our sons were small and have never been to a wildlife park before, so I was unsure what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised.

The reserve – the Schotia Private Game Reserve – was relatively small but there was enough cross-country bumping around in a big jeep to make it feel as though we were on a wild adventure and that there was a risk we might not see the important wildlife. In fact, the afternoon, night and then morning tour – which fortunately LSW was well enough to make – delivered a close up view of all of the animals I expected to see, and more. Communication between the guides was effective in getting us to the right places at the right times but the tour didn’t feel formulaic.

We saw lions, monkeys, wildebeest, a porcupine, giraffes, elephants, hippos, water buffalo, wart hogs, zebra, rhinoceros, a wide variety of antelope, eagles and other native birds, huge termite hills and massive dung beetles. All could all be seen at surprisingly close range although my inexperience with binoculars and the limitations of the iPhone camera was a poor comparison to my fellow travellers’ cameras. The termite I was encourage to eat tasted of basil – there’s a first (and probably last) time for everything I guess.

Schotia's Lions

Schotia Private Game Reserve’s Lions – Replete And Slow Moving After Apparently Catching A Zebra The Previous Day

Schotia's Rhinoceroses

Schotia’s Rather Grumpy Rhinoceroses

The half-hearted charge of a grumpy rhino on one of the other vehicles underlined the truly wild state of the animals. So too did the distended stomachs of the lions who had apparently killed a zebra on our first day and had hidden in bushes to eat it. They were too fat and lazy to move much when we got to them on the night trip and then the following morning.

 

The braai (South African barbeque) dinner in a traditional style reed-roofed building with open fires and a bottomless bar was generous and I didn’t hold back given I was eating for two in LSW’s absence. Over dinner, our guide shared some of his interesting history as an Afrikaner soldier and dispossessed farmer and his route to becoming a game reserve guide. His views on religion, abortion, and one or two other topics didn’t square with mine but it was fascinating to hear his personal story and his mix of hope and concern for his country. The interlude was also an opportunity to get ideas from my well-travelled fellow jeep occupants (from Germany and Canada) for future overseas trips.

The 20 hours at Schotia was an excellent introduction to what I might have experienced on a larger reserve where more time would have been required and the animals, while greater in number, might have been further away. Maybe we will try the much larger scale of Kruger or Hluhluwe Umfolofi next time (with a better camera) but I doubt we will get better value for money than we did at Schotia.

 

Various Items From The Most Interesting Part Of The South Africa National Gallery Exhibitions In Cape Town – Old And New Textiles And Beadwork

IMG_5705

One Of Several Works By El Anatsui Exhibited In The South Africa National Gallery And Made From Bottle Caps And Seals Sown Together Into Drapes

 

Cape Town With A Limp

We are nearing the half way mark in our trip to the South African Cape. We have been based in a well-appointed, spacious house in a pretty and central part of Cape Town (Bo Kaap). It has incredible views of the iconic Table Mountain and an enchanting wake up call from the local muezzin. The house is owned by a friend I have known since university and who was my Best Man. He loves South Africa and I’m not surprised; from what we have seen already, its amazing.

View From Our Breakfast And Evening Drinks Terrace At The House

View From The Breakfast And Evening Drinks Terrace At The House

We have been blessed with wonderful weather; few clouds in the mornings and sunny and very breezy in the afternoons. That has been great for us but less good for the local population who are experiencing an unprecedented drought. Water rationing is in place – so our morning showers have been short and bracing – but rationing could get a lot more stringent by April if there is no rain. The rationing has certainly got Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I thinking about resource waste in general. It has been a surprise that recycling here is negligible after the strictures of our local Council in the U.K.

With the weather no impediment, we have got a lot ‘done’. This despite a problem with one of my knees ‘blowing up’ (cartilage tear? gout?). It’s improving and LSW has been very patient with my slow limp and the need to do the driving (I confess, as usual). It’s another reminder of why I retired when I did; before these sorts of issues become routine.

Early on we walked around the smartened-up dock area and later went to an old grain store imaginatively converted into a modern art gallery by Thomas Heatherwick. For me, the building was more interesting than 95% of the art but it is an impressive achievement, showcasing African artists.

The Zeitz Mocaa Modern Art Gallery: A Startling Building Interior

Cape Town is not as walkable as Brisbane or Melbourne where we went last year. Downtown is dominated by the car and we do feel more nervous about personal security – though in practice everyone has been very friendly. So, since that first day, we have mainly been out and around Cape Town by car, taxi and Uber, experiencing the panoramas and excellent food and wine on offer.

Long Street, Company Gardens And Typical Bo Kaap Houses; All Close To Where We Are Staying

The food is right up our street; tasty, locally sourced, healthy and light. The prawn dish I had in a hip restaurant in an old biscuit factory in Woodstock was the best prawn dish I can remember.

The wineries just outside the city are wonderful estates showing off their wares and their scenery and some provide tremendous culinary experiences. Babylonstoren was super and we are returning to Constantia Glen for a meal overlooking the vineyards, and the usual awesome mountain backdrop, for our last day in Cape Town.

Babylonstoren: A More Natural And Integrated Version Of Our Cotswolds Daylesford With Great Wines Produced On-site. Fabulous

The views from Table Mountain and, further afield, Cape Point were jaw dropping. More unexpected was the incredible drive down the coast past Chapmans Peak. The beaches were amazing as usual but the engineering to create the road itself was spectacular.

One Of Many Wonderful Views From Table Mountain

Cape Point: Across False Bay, Dias Beach And The Local Baboons

The ’12 Apostles’ From Chapmans Peak Drive. Worthy Competitors Versus The ’12 Apostles’ (Sea Stacks) We Saw In Australia Last Year

The Aptly Named Long Beach (From Chapmans Peak Drive)

Oh my, I have written enough but still haven’t mentioned the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the wild life and a number of other observations (for example, the welcome scarcity of dogs and insects other than butterflies and a few bees). I’m glad we went to the superbly laid out and informative Kirstenbosch gardens early in our trip. That equipped us with a bit of knowledge that was useful in our subsequent outings.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Note The Schoolkids Loving Their Day There; A Joy To Watch

And we have seen lots of wild penguins, an eagle owl, a tortoise and dassies (guinea pig relations) close up. The penguins are such a sweet laugh when on land!

African Penguin, Indifferent Dassie and Untroubled Tortoise

Hopefully more wildlife, dramatic coast and mountains next week as I perfect my limp.

Evening View Of Table Mountain From Our House

Fixing A Pain In The Neck

Since my last post, Storm Fionn and then a series of grey, wet days have forced the early signs of Spring into something of a retreat. The frozen lake I passed during one of my daily walks last week was a beautiful criss-cross of ice patterns indicating that Winter is not done yet.

Lake at John Cocks Cottage

Frozen Lake at John Cocks Cottage, Horsley

On the other hand, I saw ducklings on a larger lake a few days later – surely too early! Climate Change or Climate Disruption – whatever we want to call it – is creating some strange and unexpected juxtapositions. The ducks are as good an indicator as any that, for all the brief periods of the extremes of wind, ice and snow recently, we have just experienced one of the warmest years ever.

I’m still struggling a bit with a stiff back and neck (which wasn’t helped by my comical looking fall in the ice a few weeks ago). I have decided to try some new treatment.

Years ago I received treatment from a Physiotherapist for a locked up back and still do the exercises recommended by her (admittedly, rather intermittently). Then, when we were in Australia last Autumn, Youngest Son’s girlfriend – a trained Osteopath – gave me a thorough and very professional osteopathy session. While she demonstrated considerable bravery in offering the session, I showed cowardice at the other end of the scale by eschewing the more drastic manipulations she recommended. Nonetheless, there was some welcome improvement in my movement.

I have therefore sought out some similar treatment locally. Despite the rural nature of where we live, there are a surprisingly wide range of options and number of places to try; health is, of course, a boom industry in an ageing population. I ended up opting for a well-being centre and practitioner that I can walk to and who was recommended by a friend.

It turned out that the specialist is a Chiropractor. I’ve not had one of those before. As I related my medical history, he described the treatments offered by Physiotherapists somewhat disparagingly – there seems to be little love lost between the various physical therapy disciplines – and explained how his treatment would be different from that Osteopaths provide.

I’ve only had two sessions so far so the jury is out on the degree of success the treatment is having. A back and neck problem I have had off and on for months is hardly going to be sorted out in a week. However, I’m sceptical so far.

The type of chiropractic therapy I am undergoing is a ‘brand’ called McTimoney. Its very gentle and largely involves little slaps, flicks, rubs and pokes that are designed to invoke natural body reflexes in a way that realigns things that have got out of sync. That it doesn’t involve much big clicking or crunching of bones and ligaments is good for a coward like me but I wonder if I’m going to see much improvement without more drastic action.

The other concern is that both the previous sessions physiotherapy and osteopathic treatment I’ve had concluded with me getting exercises to do that helped me feel more in control. My new Chiropractor has yet to offer that. It’s not that I want more exercises to do – I don’t do the ones I have already been given regularly enough to justify getting hold of more – but knowing I should do them puts the onus on me rather than simply trying to outsource the problem.

I have a couple of sessions booked so will wait and see……. at least, now I’m retired, I can have the sessions without the hassle of having to book time out of the office or around meetings.

2018 Resolution Setting

Happy New Year!

Fireworks

New Year Fireworks in Bath (More Impressive Than This Photo Reflects)

How lovely it is (and how smug I feel) not to have to re-galvanise myself for work as the first working week of 2018 starts up.

Not that we didn’t have a very early start this morning. We had to take Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend to the airport for their return to Australia – a process made more stressful by YS assuming they were leaving from Heathrow when in fact we needed to get to Gatwick! Having dropped them off just in time, I am able to consider my New Year resolutions in relative tranquillity.

I am the sort of person who makes lists and so making New Year’s resolutions comes naturally to me. Of course, this does not mean I am better than most at completing them.

As with all objectives the idea is to make the resolutions for 2018 challenging but achievable (and measurable). This year I need to attune them to my new retired status. Some are continuations of the 2017 resolutions – especially those that I failed – and a few are new. So here goes:

Resolution 1: Get Below 11 Stone. This will be the third year in succession I have had this resolution. A big effort will be required but achievement of Resolutions 2 and 3 will help – I’m going to succeed this year!

Resolution 2: Average 15,000 Steps/Day. This target is up from the 13,500 2017 target and from my achieved figure for 2017 of 14,200. Achievement will depend on staying fit but the reverse is true too. This level of walking will be fun given the attractiveness of local routes, should be achievable given the planned excursions on holidays, and will be necessary if I am to achieve Resolution 1.

Resolution 3: Have 140 No-Alcohol Days. This is the level of alcohol free days I achieved in 2012 but it is a 20% uplift on 2017’s level. It will be hard to meet this objective now I’m retired even though there is no work-related drinking now. This is because of the likely increase in holiday drinking and the temptation of evening drinks with Long Suffering Wife (LSW) in front of our wood-burner in winter or in our garden in summer. I will need to be disciplined.

That gets the basic health and fitness related resolutions that are carried forward from 2017 out of the way. The others are more trivial or more oriented to specific tasks.

Resolution 4: Grow a Beard. This is like an anti-resolution in that it involves a reduction in effort. I used not to shave at weekends but retirement has meant that Saturdays and Sundays are largely the same as other days. Rather surprisingly, given that shaving is a bit if a chore, I reverted to mid-week habits and, since retirement last July, I have shaved every day. All three of our sons have beards and, at Christmas, they suggested I grow one too. Unexpectedly, that got LSW’s enthusiastic approval so I’m already on my way.

Resolution 5: Sort Our Internet Out. Recent road repair and housing development in the village, has enabled new fibre connection. I need to master how to take advantage of this to improve our Internet quality so we can watch uninterrupted catch-up TV more consistently and not suffer the abuse we get from our city-based sons about our chronically poor download/upload speeds. I hate doing this sort of thing but LSW is keen that I take on more house utility management and responsibility.

Resolution 6: Implement Better Composting. I love making and then using compost in the garden. Almost three years ago, I was given a wooden frame compost bin kit for self-construction and installation but it remains untouched. To install the bins in the right location means dismantling the current temporary arrangements, fixing the shed guttering which currently pours water into these, and digging deep holes in rocky, sloping ground. It’s a major project (for me) but this is the year to do it!

Resolution 7: Change All My Passwords. At the risk of confusing my online/mobile password use even more than now, I want to drive a systematic change to all of them. Most have been unchanged since I first set them up, often years ago. Several are written down. I need to improve my personal security by changing them and by making them less obvious; a boring but probably sensible objective.

Resolution 8: Buy LSW More Flowers. Especially now circumstances have changed and I’m a cost not a revenue, I need to work at being a worthwhile, retired husband. This resolution would be a good, if symbolic, start to that. Given my mediocre record of flower-giving last year, I’ll aim for a small improvement of at least once a month. I know that LSW would like me to do more driving rather than flower-giving so I’ll try to do both.

Flowers

Flowers for LSW. Not Much Choice In Nailsworth Shops Today – But A Start!

I could add objectives around clarifying how to spend the rest of my discretionary retirement time; for example, revisiting my attempts to learn Italian, doing political history courses, documenting local circular footpath walks, doing something constructive in the local community, and doing something creative. But that feels like too much of a hook to put myself on right now. It’s weak, I know, but I’m enjoying myself too much without these extra pressures and will think again about this in Spring.

I hope you have decided your resolutions for 2018.  Have a great year!

2017 Resolution Review

I hope that you had a great Christmas.

I enjoyed the festive period a lot, and probably even more than usual. There was variety – terrific Christmas lunch with family, visits from very old friends, and sunny walks with local, relatively new friends. There was proper Winter weather with quantities of snow we haven’t seen for a few years. Critically, for the first time in a while, we had all three sons with us plus the added dimension of Middle Son’s girlfriend and a great friend of Youngest Son over from Australia. Things were going on a lot of the time but it was relaxed.

Nailsworth In Winter

Nailsworth (My Local Town) In Winter

The snow made the landscape beautiful. Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I had a lovely walk through it just after Boxing Day with a friend from university (and Best Man at our wedding). His Christmas period visits over the years have often coincided with cold, crisp weather and he wasn’t disappointed this time around. The only down side was the ice which caused us both to fall over like little old men – in my case leaving me with a ricked neck that I am still nursing. Since then, LSW has frequently pointed out the efficacy of actually wearing the ‘Yak Traks’ that aid shoe grip rather than just having them in one’s pocket!

Snowy Cotswolds
Snowy Cotswolds

 

Inevitably perhaps, I ate and drank a lot over the Christmas period. That messed with two of my 2017 New Year resolutions concerning weight loss and the count of no-alcohol days. Before resetting the resolutions for 2018 I have briefly taken stock of how I did in 2017.

Resolution 1: Retire. That was achieved and made 2017 a momentous year for me. It impacted – mainly favourably – my ability to achieve the other resolutions I made a year ago.

Resolution 2: Increase My No-Alcohol Days from 2016 (124 days). I failed on this by 8 days. It is noticeable that the number declined after retirement in July. I used to drink almost exclusively at weekends and, now every day feels like a weekend….. well, it’s harder to maintain discipline.

Resolution 3: Get Below 11 Stone. In practice this meant losing about 10 pounds; I failed. I got close in mid-December but failing on Resolution 2 and overeating during the festive period put paid to success. I feel retirement has allowed more control over what I eat and I am helped by LSW also managing her weight proactively. I can achieve this target in 2018.

Resolution 4: Average 13,500 Steps/Day. This fairly aggressive increase on previous years – as measured on my iPhone – was achieved easily due to my new pattern of daily living post-retirement. My daily average for 2017 was 14,200.

Resolution 5: Read the Daily Newspaper Thoroughly. This was in response to my feeling that my attention span was becoming shorter. I think this had been the result of increasing reliance on the Internet as a way of receiving and digesting news. I felt I was missing out on depth of analysis. Retirement has given me the time to achieve this resolution – although it’s hard to measure the success and impact on my understanding of current affairs.

Resolution 6: Keep Going to Gigs and Cinema. This has been partially achieved in that I have been to lots of gigs before and after retirement. Several recent local ones have been excellent. However, local availability of the sort of cinema I like is very limited now I have retired to the country. I am retreating to boxed sets on catch-up TV and that’s fine for now.

Resolution 7: Read 16 books. Retirement has really helped here and I achieved this with 3 weeks to spare. My most enjoyed book this year was Under Major Domo Minor by Patrick De Witt.

Resolution 8: Buy LSW Flowers Occasionally. This was achieved, although ‘occasionally’ is the operative word here. I promise to do better Dear!

Making A New Friend

Christmas – A Time To Make New Friends

Time to get busy setting resolutions for 2018….. Have a Very Happy New Year!