Hunkering Down For Coronavirus? Not Quite Yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

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

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

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

'Rusty' By Catherine Opie

‘Rusty’ By Catherine Opie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Endlessly Walking Again?’

I continue to walk a lot.  I walk with friends, with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and alone.  I walk routinely every day to get groceries and a newspaper from the local town.  I walk to football matches, I walk more aimlessly through the local countryside to take in the glories of local nature, and I walk around towns and cities I visit to take in their vibe.  I walk fast, I walk slow.  I walk a lot.

Typical Cotswold View On One OF My Local Walks

Typical Cotswold View On One Of My Local Walks – Looking Across To Woodchester Park From Forest Green

All this walking has been noticed in the village.  I was on a lengthy walk the other day and ended up a couple of miles away from home near the offices of a neighbour who lives near to us.  As she came out of her office, she noticed me walking so far from home and remarked: ‘endlessly walking again?’  I smiled and confessed to not having a great purpose to my walk but explained that the sun was shining and I felt I was making good use of the day.

Graffiti Under The Old Railway Bridge On The Way To Woodchester

Certainly, some of the walking is for walking’s sake and has no other real objective other than the health benefit.  I was therefore pleased this week to see a couple of vindications of walking as a health booster.  The first was in a casual blog like mine and the second in the Guardian newspaper.  It’s possible to find validation for almost anything online these days but finding support for what one is already doing is always comforting.

Dipper Spotted In A Local Stream

Dipper Spotted In A Local Stream

The blog I saw summarised some of the benefits of walking.  In essence, walking can help mental and physical health and prolong life.  It helps us control weight, reduces stress and, because it’s an outdoor activity, helps us produce vital vitamin D.

The newspaper article summarised a book by Shane O’Mara, a neuroscientist, called In Praise of Walking and was a more intricate argument for walking as a health (especially brain) enhancer.  O’Mara calls walking a ‘superpower’ that ‘unlocks the cognitive powers of the brain like nothing else’.  In his book, he explains how and why from a neuroscience perspective, based on personal experience and scientific study.  I’ll leave you to read the article if you want to know more, but I’m not surprised by the conclusions he draws; walking does make me feel good!

On The Cotswolds Tops

On The Cotswolds Tops

Since Christmas, in addition to the normal return and circular walks to the town and around our village, I have been on a few notable walks in the local area.

Just after Christmas several from LSW’s family and I went on a walk together in the Slad Valley just north of Stroud.  This was on the path of the recently established Laurie Lee walk.  Lee was, and remains, a famous local poet and the walk was dotted with plinths with some of his poetry.  Someone in our group had that bright idea of having one of us read out each poem; I don’t really ‘get’ poetry and I felt a little self-conscious doing mine.

The Laurie Lee Poetry Walk

We planned to end the walk in time-honoured fashion in The Woolpack (Laurie Lee’s erstwhile local).  Unfortunately recent publicity for the walk and pub meant there wasn’t even standing room inside when we arrived.  It was an energetic and lovely walk though.

Panoramic View Of Slad Valley

Panoramic View Of Slad Valley – Laurie Lee Country

After New Year, my Best Man (BM) and his rather younger Chinese Girlfriend (CG) came to visit us.  BM loves walking and likes the contrast of our local, hill and valley landscape to that where he lives in Cambridgeshire.

We undertook a long local walk together (that LSW and I had recently discovered) despite CGs somewhat unsuitable footwear.  She endured the mud and blisters heroically but was put off a bit by the remains of a dead bird we passed on the way – it turned out that she doesn’t like to be close to birds and especially dead ones.

Imagine, then, LSW’s and my embarrassment when, on our way back on the walk, we unavoidably had to pass an ongoing pheasant shoot.  It was dramatic and noisy with 40 to 50 birds being shot out of the air in the space of 10 minutes as we passed.  It was an exciting sight I had not seen before but CG was understandably horrified.  It was unintended but not a good way to treat a guest!

Unfortunate Pheasants

Unfortunate Pheasants

Next week I’m off to Nottingham for my now roughly monthly visits to Mum and Dad there, and to London for a couple of days.  I’ll be swapping countryside walking for the urban stuff.

New Year Resolutions: Making Them And Breaking Them

Happy New Year!

It’s that time for reviewing last year’s resolutions, checking progress and renewing the challenges for the coming year.  Looking forward with vigour to the next year offsets the feeling of anti-climax now our sons have returned to their homes, the holiday season parties are over, and the leftovers from big festive, family meals are almost gone.  So how did I do in my third retirement year and what should I be setting as targets for next year?

Christmas Lunch Set For 19!

Christmas Lunch Set For 19 At Ours!

Well, the past year – the last six months, anyway – have been coloured by Middle Son’s accident and my Mum’s increasing debilitation that has led to her taking up residence in a home.  It’s not been a great year and the time focused on these events has deflected me from some of the more challenging of my new year resolutions set this time last year.  Excuses, excuses!

On the positive side, I have again exceeded my target of average number of steps per day (15,000).  I have managed an average of 16,054 per day and exceeded a daily average of 15,000 steps almost every week during the year.

Views From Our New Year’s Day Walk

Unfortunately, this has become almost my only exercise as gardening has taken a back seat this year.  My overall fitness has probably declined and my weight target of getting down to 11 stone (70kg) has again just been missed.  I was on target to meet that weight target in November but Christmas excess put paid to achieving the objective.  That’s annoying since disappointment here was avoidable and I will retain the weight target for 2020 while trying to step up other core-strength exercises.

Ruskin Mill Lake On The Way To The Local Town - One Of My Favourite Local Places

Ruskin Mill Lake, On The Way To The Local Town – One Of My Favourite Local Places

My best achievement of the year was that I did exceed my target of no alcohol days.  I beat the target of 140 by 4 and that made it my best year since measurement began (and, frankly, since I was a teenager).  Also frankly, and a little embarrassingly, it felt like hard work achieving this.

14 Years Of Tracking No-Alcohol Days Per Year

14 Years Of Tracking No-Alcohol Days Per Year (With A Generous Trend Line in Red)

This year I have also been tracking the number of alcohol units I have each day using the Drinkaware app.  I now have a baseline against I can record what I hope will be future reduction but it has been a scary exercise.  I consume an average of 35 alcohol units per week.  That is more than double the recommended weekly average.  I must therefore look for a significant improvement next year – I’ll try an initial 10% – but know that also will be tough given habits that have built up over decades.

Tracking Of Alcoholic Units By Month In 2019

Tracking Of Alcoholic Units By Month In 2019

I did plan to create a plan for volunteering during this year.  I haven’t really done that but I have stepped up involvement in the construction of the local Neighbourhood Plan and that did consume a lot of time at various times of the year.  I am also a core member of the local Carbon Neutral Horsley group that is encouraging moves towards carbon neutrality by 2030 in the Parish.  Both these local initiatives are going to be a continuing focus in 2020.

I failed on all my other 2019 resolutions despite the freedom and flexibility retirement offers.  The compost bins near the vegetable patch are in reasonable shape but have not been redeveloped as planned.  I’m dropping that resolution since it is replaced by a wider plan to decide on what to do with our nearby and gradually crumbling stables.

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also failed, after a bright start, to engineer significantly more trips out to see parts of the UK this year.  We’ll carry that resolution forward though because we have enjoyed the trips we did make, such trips will be more climate-friendly than air trips abroad now we have our electric car, and I still feel that my knowledge of the UK countryside needs renewal.

Christmas Morning From Our House

Christmas Morning From Our House

I will also carry forward the resolution I had to listen to less news and more music.  LSW and I both palpably failed on this.  We listened to the BBC on the radio morning, noon and night as the Brexit and other debates unfolded.  LSW and I both spent hours ranting at what we heard and my only comfort is that when I have stayed with my parents this year, I heard my Dad doing exactly the same; ranting at the radio must be a genetic trait!

One resolution I will add this year is to read more books.  In 2018, I read a number of what I thought were excellent books: The Milkman by Anna Burns, Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves, Before The Fall by Noah Hawley, The Dry by Jane Harper (very relevant with Australia on fire at the moment) and, most of all, A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles.

During 2019, I didn’t read anything I considered as good as these.  Nonetheless I loved the reading process, the thinking involved and the relaxation (sometimes too much, as I often slipped into ‘siesta’).  Given my enjoyment of reading I really should find time for more.  I plan to read at least 20 books this year thereby beating my record of 17 in 2018 and 16 in 2019.  I hope to find some more great books among these.

So, onwards to 2020!  I am rather despondent about several aspects of the world and the current political situation in the UK.  However, I think that 2020 is going to be a far better year than 2019 and I’m going to aim to meet my resolutions for the new year with a spring in my step – all 192,648 of them!

Me Setting Off Into 2020!

Me Setting Off Into 2020!

Rakowitz and Bacon

While Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were in London awaiting Middle Son’s (MS’s) final operations and discharge from hospital, we did, as predicted, fit in a couple more exhibitions:

  • At the Whitechapel Gallery, an exhibition of work from the last twenty years by Michael Rakowitz, an Iraqi-American artist perhaps most famous for his work currently on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square
  • At the Gagosian Gallery, which neither of us had visited before, an exhibition of about a dozen paintings by Francis Bacon who is one of my favourite artists.

The visits took our minds off MS’s predicament, filled in the non-visiting hours at the hospital and were well worth seeing anyway.

Michael Rakowitz's The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist In Trafalgar Square

Michael Rakowitz’s The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist In Trafalgar Square

The Rakowitz exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery was an interesting mix of visual effects across eight ‘installations’.  All of them related to history and most, a little depressingly, draw inspiration from examples of thwarted hope.  For example, the first exhibit, called ‘Dull Roar’ is a very large inflatable building depicting a multi-racial social housing experiment in St Louis, Missouri.  Its cyclical inflation and deflation over a period of a few minutes is a metaphor for the initial hope when the building was opened and its failure as it fell into disrepair, became a focus for social unrest and was ultimately demolished.

'Dull Roar' And 'White Man Got No Dreaming' By Rakowitz

‘Dull Roar’ (Foreground) And ‘White Man Got No Dreaming’ By Rakowitz

Other rooms and exhibits highlight book destruction, the destruction and reconstruction of antiquities in the war-torn Middle-East and the rise and fall of The Beatles.  The latter includes off-cuts from a 1970 documentary film of the group and many artefacts relating to The Beatles.  These are annotated with postulations about how the break-up occurred and parallels with late 20th century North African history.  The film recounted the The Beatles’ last attempt to repair their relationship with a triumphant concert in North Africa.  The concert never happened.

Archaeological Reconstructions Made Of Middle Eastern Food Packaging (Like The 4th Plinth Monument)

Some Of Rakowitz’s Archaeological Reconstructions Made Of Middle Eastern Food Packaging

The exhibition had a lot of variety and depth and made good use of the Whitechapel Gallery space.

The Gagosian Gallery in Grosvenor Hill (I now find that there are three Gagosian Galleries in London alone and many more worldwide) is also a great art space with large, light rooms.  It’s an interesting rectangular and ultra-modern building tucked behind Berkeley Square.  Inside were a relatively small number of Francis Bacon’s double figure paintings.  All were instantly recognisable as Bacon’s work and about half of them were as dramatic and terrific as I had hoped.

One of the Gagosian Exhibition Paintings By Francis Bacon

One of the Gagosian Exhibition Paintings By Francis Bacon

Most of the works were, as expected, clearly inspired by his anxious, passionate and probably violent relationships.  What was more of a surprise was the interest he had in monkeys and baboons that had been engendered by his trips to Africa.  A couple of the paintings reflected this.

Unlike the Whitechapel Gallery which was a bit pricey to visit, the Gagosian is free.  What’s not to like!

The Gagosian Gallery, Grosvenor Hill

The Gagosian Gallery, Grosvenor Hill

Now we are back in Gloucestershire with MS.  Fortunately the weather has remained wonderful.  The garden is in peak colour – although it could do with a refreshing downpour – and the vegetables are growing faster than the deer can eat them.

The New Garden In Bloom

The New Garden In Bloom

I have reverted to my pattern of last summer of walking in to the local town’s shops before breakfast when it is cool.  That means that LSW can get to work without us leaving MS alone for long and gives me the chance to enjoy the local countryside in the lovely morning light.  We have much to be thankful for.

View Towards Nympsfield On The Walk To Nailsworth

View Towards Nympsfield On The Walk To Nailsworth

Jolly Newcomers - Just For A Week - In A Field On The Way To Nailsworth

Jolly Newcomers – Just For A Week – In A Field On The Way To Nailsworth

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.

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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.

Nice And Nasty Birthday Surprises

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have made two trips to London in the last week. The first was to celebrate LSW’s birthday.  That was very enjoyable.  We stayed in the Barbican flat and the surrounding gardens and the window-boxes of many of the flats look lovely at this time of year.

View Of The Barbican Complex In The Sun

View Of The Barbican Complex In The Sun

The second was much more traumatic surprise.

This was a rapid and urgent scoot up to Royal London Hospital to be with Middle Son (MS).  He had been knocked down by a car in a hit-and-run accident during a police car chase.

MS is recovering but has some seriously broken bones and a lot of bruises, so he will probably spend his own upcoming birthday in hospital and has a few frustrating months of rehabilitation ahead of him.  At least now I am retired I can lend full physical as well as moral support.  MS also has great support from his partner, brothers and friends.  He’s a tough cookie too, he’s in a good hospital and he will bounce back.

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London has great museums, art galleries and restaurants.  We experienced while celebrating LSW’s birthday by visiting the Natalia Goncharova exhibition at Tate Modern, the Lee Krasner exhibition at the Barbican and eating out with Youngest Son (YS) at the buzzy and lovely Morito restaurant.

We also visited Walthamstow to get a feel for one of the areas MS and his partner have been looking to buy a house in – a project I suspect will be on hold for a bit now.  Plus I visited the Foundling Museum.

Sitting here in a hospital waiting room I can’t compose much about those visits; my head is too distracted with recent events.  However here is a quick view of the high points with some pictures added since I got back home.

The Foundling Museum was interesting but while there are some fascinating items and facts on show, the topic based layout didn’t work for me.  I struggled to build up the chronology of the way the Foundling Hospital developed from 1741 through to the modern day from the exhibits although, half way round, I did find a clear timeline in the free paper guide pamphlet so my issue was mostly my fault.

A Selection Of Tokens On Show At The Foundling Museum

A Selection Of 18th Century Tokens Used To Identify Orphaned Babies Left With The Foundling Museum

The museum’s temporary exhibit of Hogarth and his depiction of noise in his pictures and cartoons is set out more engagingly.  Different elements of a single painting by him are picked out to illustrate six different aspects of 18th century street life from street music to drinking, disease and prostitution.  There is also an exhibition of some of George Handel’s work (both Hogarth and Handel were early sponsors of the Foundling Hospital) which provided welcome comfortable chairs in which to listen to some snatches of his lovely music amid information about him and his muses.

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Hogarth’s The March Of The Guards To Finchley

I had not heard of Lee Krasner before visiting the exhibition at the Barbican.  LSW was much more in the know than I and she was very keen to go.  She was spot on; it was a fascinating exhibition and full of very impressive art.  She was married to Jackson Pollock but embraced many more styles than I associate with him.  The narrative of her life, picked out by the different sections of the art on show, was compelling, the colours were terrific.  I think I will use my Barbican membership to visit again later this year.

Detail From Two Early Krasner Paintings

The Natalia Goncharova art exhibition at The Tate Modern was also worth seeing. Again there was a clear progression to her style through the early years of her life.  She was incredibly prolific during this period and it was noticeable that there was little on show from her later years except for examples of her work in designing theatre sets and costumes.  Interesting as that aspect is, I was more impressed by her earlier work.

Harvest By Natalia Goncharova

Harvest By Natalia Goncharova

So, back to thinking about MS and his recovery…. We will be back in London soon to see his progress first hand and to slip in a few more cultural treats.

 

Walking, Drinking And Bending at 63

I had a birthday last week and I’ve made it to 63 years of age.  When I was in my twenties I didn’t believe I’d get so far and I’m sure some of the damage I did to my body around that time will catch up with me in due course.  But not yet, it seems!

I do a lot of walking to maintain a modicum of fitness.  My average number of steps per day has steadily increased in recent years and, especially since I retired nearly two years ago.  Many of those steps are up and down the steep valley slopes near where I now live.  They are therefore more testing than the pure statistics suggest.  However, I do wonder if increasing walking just makes me better at walking rather than fit and I do need to ensure that I walk at a heart-exciting pace so that I do get a true health benefit.

Of course, walking is not just for fitness.  I do need to get from A to B and, since we tend to shop daily for just what we need each day, this includes a daily walk into the local town (Nailsworth).  There is a real pleasure in this which I have mentioned in these posts before, not least because of the variety of routes and the lovely countryside to view on the way.

Bluebell Woods Near Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

Bluebell Woods Near Nailsworth, Gloucestershire (One Of The Few Places Not Yet Overrun By Wild Garlic)

I’m fortunate in that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has also developed a love of walking in recent years.  That means we can venture out on walks for walking’s sake together while discussing the issues of family, friends and the wider world.  We also encourage friends who visit to join us on some of the nicest walks near our home.  Indeed, that is how we celebrated my birthday when my Best Man visited us.  After a lovely, sunlit three hour traverse of several valleys we adjourned to the local pub (as you do).

Birthday Walk West Of Horsley, Gloucestershire To Owlpen And Back

Birthday Walk West Of Horsley, Gloucestershire To Owlpen And Back (Wild Garlic, Owlpen Manor And Rape Fields)

Nonetheless, much of the walking I do is alone and that too is calming and enjoyable.  I don’t tend to think of matters of great import when walking alone.  I watch nature around me, make mental to do lists, envisage great wins for Forest Green Rovers Football Club, play Pokemon Go, think about my next blog post and let my mind go near blank.  The emptiness of mind as one simply puts one foot in front of the other amid beautiful countryside is what makes walking relaxing.

Sunlight Through Trees Near Owlpen

Sunlight Through Trees Near Owlpen, Gloucestershire

Reaching 63 has got me thinking about a couple of other aspects of health that I need to give more attention to.  For about 15 years I have tracked the number of no-alcohol days that I manage.  For the most part the trend has been steadily increasing – that is, improving.  My current, (for me) aggressive target is to be alcohol-free 140 days in the year.  I have only managed that once in the last 15 years and I’m not on track to meet it again but I am going to be more resolute, I promise.

I have also, for the last 6 months, been tracking my daily alcoholic unit intake using an application called Drinkaware.  This is scarier since I am way over the safe limits health researchers have determined.

Part of my problem here is that in measuring only non-alcohol days, I have been only measuring my performance in one dimension.  So, on a day when I might have one drink – to be sociable during a meeting with friends or to fill in time before a football match for example – I then think: ah, I’m not having a no-alcohol day, so why not have a few more drinks later.  Dumb huh?  I need to do better and will continue to track daily alcohol volume intake as well as no alcohol days.  Just the action of tracking should encourage improvement.

The other health aspect that I need to work on is balance and flexibility.  This is being underlined daily at the moment by a lower back pain I get after sitting down – something I do less of now I’m retired but which still occupies hours a day.

I’m also reminded of my failures in this area by the Instagram feeds that I see almost daily being posted by Youngest Son’s girlfriend.  She is an osteopath and yoga teacher and has a great Instagram feed and blog (becthomaswellness.com) showing how to maintain core strength and flexibility.  She recently posted a video specifically on how she keeps her spine supple and it was pretty inspiring.

Today I can’t physically do (at least not properly) 10% of the exercises she does but I need to do more than the 1% I currently do on some days.  Just writing this down here feels like it is strengthening my resolve.  But the important thing is action not words.

Let’s see how I am doing by the time I am 64.  Meanwhile, I’ll build consuming one of my birthday presents into my strengthened fitness and health regime……

Tasty Birthday Present From Middle Son

Tasty Birthday Present From Middle Son

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.