Retirement: Five Years On

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

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

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

Long, Local, Countryside Walks – A Great Retirement Treat

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

Pre-Covid Travel We Did Manage: South Africa 2018

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

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

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

Back Streets Of Edinburgh 2022

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

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

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

Our Meadow And Vegetable Patches: Varying Levels Of Untidiness

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

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

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

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

My Current Retirement Home

Friends, Family and Parochial Busyness

Since retiring almost five years ago, I have frequently been surprised by how busy I have felt.  Late May and Early June have certainly felt that way although, when I look back, I’m not sure why. 

Certainly, I have done a one or two weeks of work on follow up activities relating to a Village Meeting that the local Climate Action Network group I belong to arranged with the Parish Council.  And, ok, we have had visitors other than family coming to stay for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

We also had the festivities around the Queens Jubilee (though in our village, these only really stretched to installation of a new commemorative bench and, more engagingly, a four day beer festival in the village pub).  We even hosted a long-promised but long awaited drinks event for a few locals in our garden.  Plus we had a really lovely visit from our First Grandchild (FG), his parents and his other Grandparents. Oh, and the London Barbican flat that I used before retirement was sold!

Village Pub (The Hog) Ju-Beer-Lee Beer Festival

Does that sound like a busy month?

In any case, almost all of it has been a lot of fun and, in the case of the work on the presentations of the summary of feedback from the Village Meeting, I feel like I have achieved something worthwhile for the greater good.  I get to present most of it to the Parish Council next week so I hope they will feel the same way.

Lacing all these little events together has been the routine of shopping, cooking, gardening and walking. 

Shopping and cooking has been marked by an uptick (in my perception, at least) in the frequency and innovation of my evening meal preparation.  I am enjoying cooking more and more as I gain confidence in swapping out recipe ingredients for others to add variety and to use up vegetables otherwise likely to be wasted.  ‘Important’ meals for most visitors usually remain the in the ambit of Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) but no longer is this a golden rule and my (in)famous Coronation Chicken (courtesy of Thomasina Miers) got an outing when my Best Man came to visit during the village pub beer festival a couple of weeks ago.

This Coronation Chicken Recipe From Thomasina Miers Is Easy But Creates A Delicious, Colourful, Warm Salad

Gardening has been more fraught with the need to focus on the Village Meeting, days of relatively inclement weather, and early afternoon indolence combining to delay planting out of straggly, pot bound vegetable seedlings.  Now almost everything is in the ground the slugs are having a better time of it, but at least my seedlings have a chance of producing something.

Our Terrace Garden In Bloom

The local walks have been increasingly pleasant as the weather has improved on our way to the longest day and summer.  Plus I have got real enjoyment from using a mobile phone app that identifies birds from their birdsong.  The app is called Merlin Bird ID (although I understand from others I have spoken to that there are several alternatives).  When I first tried it a few months ago, I wasn’t sure it was accurate.  Now I believe it is and using it has begun to help me learn to identify birds before I even open the app and turn the recording/identification function on.  It’s adding another pleasurable dimension to my walks in much the same way the app Candide did for me from sometime last year as I tried to identify plants as I went.

Much Loved Sycamore At The Top Of Our Lane

LSW and I are off to Lyme Regis this coming weekend where, Covid permitting, we will meet up with Middle Son, Youngest Son and their partners.  I’m looking forward to that – and the break in my (busy) routine – immensely.

Last View Of The Barbican Flat – Empty And Sold!

Momentous November

It’s been a very good month for me.  Early in November, our new, first grandchild arrived safely.  We were able to visit his city of birth, Edinburgh, to congratulate the new parents in person and hold and cuddle the little fella for the first time.  Even in those first few days we saw him change and settle into a routine that is destabilising and sleep depriving for his parents but which looked normal.  We miss him already and can’t wait to return to Edinburgh just before Christmas and again in 2022.

The First Of The New Baby Congratulations Cards

I’ve been looking forward to being a Grandad for a few years.  So far, it is just as I expected.  I feel proud and loving, but glad I can feel all that emotional warmth without all the challenge and awkward practicality of having to be a new parent.  That looks as demanding as ever but Eldest Son (ES) and his partner are more than coping and their rewards will be immense too.

It is so great that I’m now retired and so we can pop up to Edinburgh without having to slip the visits between any work commitments.  Also, the fact that the pandemic has curtailed any plans for exotic holidays abroad over the last year or so means that we can splash out on the rail travel and hotels without feeling too extravagant.  If our other sons have children too (say, in Belfast and/or Bristol) than I can see these sorts of lovely, spirit-lifting Grandad visits are going to become a major preoccupation!

Edinburgh On A Sunny Day

We saw Edinburgh this time in cold but mainly sunny weather – the haar was nowhere to be seen.  As before, we were impressed by the number of small independent shops and cafes.  Two of our three breakfasts (at Urban Angel and Union Brew Lab) were really excellent.  We even managed a lunch and a coffee break in a couple of cool and friendly places with a completely relaxed grandchild.

The Royal Botanic Garden and Inverleith Park were also lovely and the preparations for the Christmas light show in the former looked very promising.  We had a very pleasant time walking miles around the city and practicing our pram pushing skills.  We also were able to meet with the other grandparents again over a tasty Indian takeaway meal they provided while the little one snoozed in his Moses basket.  I understand that he snoozed a bit less after we left!

This month was also momentous for the passing of my Dad’s 90th birthday.  I was able to visit him briefly in Nottingham to celebrate this big milestone.  We marked the occasion with a very substantial and very satisfactory meal at Côte, which is an old favourite, and with a tipple or two from my Dad’s impressive collection of liqueurs.  He misses my Mum, as we all do, but we had a quietly relaxed and convivial time comforted by the knowledge that at least she was aware, earlier this year, that her great grandchild was on his way.

In between all this celebration, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also managed a rather ad hoc visit to London to see LSW’s sister and then our Middle Son (MS) and his partner.  I love going up to London to catch up with developments around the City and the East End, visit the galleries and just absorb the bustle.

I Won’t Ever Tire Of The London Skyline

Of course, that bustle is reduced during the ongoing pandemic.  Nonetheless, the restaurant MS took us to (Sager & Wilde) was busy and had a great atmosphere (as well as good food) and the exhibitions at Tate Modern were booked up.  Still, I loved meandering around the Tate Modern.  The Turbine Hall had an interesting mobile exhibit and the general collection I walked through on the 3rd floor was, as usual, a little staggering in terms of the quality of the art.

‘In Love With The World’ By Anicka Yi In The Turbine Hall Of Tate Modern; Like Floating Jellyfish
Works By Emily Karne Kngwarreye And John Mawurndjul In An Exhibition Of Australian Art At Tate Modern

Back in Gloucestershire, in the gaps between all these excursions, I have managed to sustain the normal routines of watching my football team (Forest Green Rovers still ‘top of the league and having a laugh’), walking, cooking, a bit of garden clearance ahead of winter, and some activity around our local Horsley Climate Action Network (HCAN) group. 

Watching The Village Football Team On Weekends When Forest Green Rovers Don’t Have A Game

A particular relief is that, following the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), I have managed to write and publish our quarterly HCAN newsletter.   LSW and I plan to travel to Edinburgh on a more frequent basis next year to watch our new grandchild develop and we will also visit MS and Youngest Son when we can.  Therefore my commitment to HCAN may reduce to simply sustaining that newsletter routine.  It’s been a momentous month and momentum around family is going to continue to be the priority as we move towards, and into, 2022.

Autumn Colour On The Way Into Town

Village Climate Action

The last few weeks seem to have been busy.  It’s funny how retirement has changed my feeling of what a busy life is.  I can dawdle through breakfast, stroll around the local area while ‘getting my steps in’ most of the morning, browse the newspaper for an hour, snooze a bit after lunch, and cook and watch box set episodes in the evenings.  Compared with a 45-50 hour week in a helter-skelter office, it’s a breeze.  And yet, working in our local, village climate action group, which generates the pressure of a few extra meetings, the need to manage a few peoples’ surprisingly acute sensitivities, a commitment to arrange and attend a couple of public events, the responsibility for our newsletter and the imperative of responding to a score of emails, my days can suddenly feel very full. 

Dawn This Morning On The Way To Town – Just To Prove I Do Get Up Early Some Days In Retirement!

I have enjoyed being part of our local village climate action group since I retired.  It has been a good way to become better known in the village, to meet villagers I didn’t know when I was commuting to London each week, and to feel part of the local community.  Our main objective is to keep the climate and ecological crises high on village residents’ radar.

To that end I have helped prepare for and then man a couple of stalls advertising our existence and interests in the last couple of weeks.  The first was in our local market town at the annual Nailsworth Town Meeting where we helped out our (big) sister climate action group.

The Nailsworth Climate Action Network Stall At The ‘Town Meeting’

The second was at our local village fete.  Given the size of our village, this fete (especially the ever-expanding dog show) punches well above its weight.  It also has the benefit of always having nice, sunny weather – I don’t know how the organisers manage that!

Horsley Village Fete Morris Dancers In Full Swing

While Long-Suffering Wife crowned days of organisation and food preparation by slaving away managing the teas and cakes service in the Village Hall, I stood in blazing September sun in front of or climate action group stall trying to catch the eye of passers-by that I could have a chat with.  Speaking to strangers is something I am not comfortable with but I now know enough village people well enough to intrude on their fun by saying a few words about the climate emergency before moving on to other village news. 

Our Climate Action Network Stall At The Horsley Village Fete

It’s more tiring than expected though – or again is this just because I’m getting soft in retirement?  I was glad that I had the excuse of a football game to see and could slope off well before the end (especially as my team, Forest Green Rovers, won to go top of their league).  I offset my feebleness and lack of stamina on our fete stall by spending a few hours afterwards collating the results of some informal surveys we conducted.  So I feel I did ‘my bit’.

A highlight in the activities of our climate action group in the last few weeks has been a visit to a local farm where the farmer is trying to farm sustainably.  It was a fascinating visit even though the weather was at the other end of the scale from that we had at the fete – cold, wet and windy.

The farmer is what he called a ‘generational farmer’; that is someone who is part of a family tree that has farmed the land for generations and who hopes to pass it on to his kids.  That is important since he therefore has a vested interest in thinking about the long term health of the farmland he owns and has a sense of stewardship for. 

View Towards Horsley Village From The Farm

He emphasised the need for corridors (such as overgrown hedges) for wildlife through what he called a ‘mosaic’ of different habitats and productive fields.  He strives for a balance between his responsibility to produce food for the nation (and make enough profit) and the need to maintain biodiversity and soil health (so there is longevity to that profitability).  Some of what he is doing is experimental.  In most cases, the sustainable agricultural activity has a clear, short term cost but an unclear, long term benefit.  It is an act of faith that is only justifiable to the farmer personally because he and his family hope to farm the land for decades.

Some Of This Year’s Milling Wheat Crop (Awaiting An HGV Driver!)

His 80 cows have so much space and are so semi-wild that we didn’t see them at any time during our 90 minute trudge through the drizzle.  Among the stretches of arable fields were re-wilded areas, copses, overgrown hedges, fields of colourful mixes of plants that encourage field birds, and of legumes that replenish the soil.  Some areas of poor soil have been turned over to natural grassland which has reduced erosion and allowed flora and fauna diversity to prosper.  Some harvested fields have been left to regenerate with spilled seed that protects the surface from the elements and provides a habitat for voles which are predated by barn owls and short-eared owls. 

Part of the Farm ‘Mosaic’: Untended Grassland, Legumes, And Field Bird Crops

It was a life affirming and uplifting visit.  Clearly there are many challenges in farming in this sustainable way – not least the uncertainty in bureaucracy and payments as we move from EU to UK farming policies, protocols and subsidy administration following Brexit.  Indeed, farming sounded like a lot of hard work.  Not like retirement!

Nearing Pub Normality

Yesterday, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to the village pub: The Hog.  Whether relieving the coronavirus lock down at this point in vaccination programme and while new coronavirus variants are swirling about is sensible or not, I’m not sure.  But after almost 6 months of missing out on going to the pub, it felt like progress.  It felt like near-normal fun!

The Big Red Bus Bar Parked In The Garden Of Our Local Pub

The pub was well organised in catering for an excited bunch of villagers amid the continuing social distancing guidelines.  The pub garden was very tidy, new table service app worked, the sun was shining and the beer tasted good. 

The pub management are a lovely village family who have been very resilient during they took over the pub lease just before the first lock down last Spring.  They have done a lot of work to make the place a pub with a traditional, drink-focused and village feel.  The improvements inside and out look judicious and practical and all we need now is good weather without onerous social distancing.

Hopefully lock down will continue to be relieved (with just cause) and we will soon be allowed use of the inside of the pub as well as the (still rather chilly) garden area.  That way, we customers can benefit from all the effort and investment the management have made and the pub can again become a full, vibrant focal point for the community and for impromptu gossip and discussion.

The only downside is that the re-opening of the local pub will put pressure on my alcohol consumption.  I’ve done so well in the last year to reduce my alcohol units consumption and to increase alcohol-free days as advised by doctors and the press.  Hopefully the restraint of the last three months, in particular, has left me a sufficient contingency as I strive to meet my New Year resolution targets for 2021.  I can certainly see those targets are going to come under pressure now the pub has reopened, and I am enticed by the long awaited pleasure of beer drinking after weekend walks and on days of celebration – like pub reopening day, yesterday!

Recent life has otherwise been fairly unremarkable, although we did go on a new (for me) and delightful walk last weekend around Sapperton and Edgeworth a few miles north east from where we live. 

Walk From Sapperton (Top Right) to Edgeworth; Lovely!

I have also continued to busy myself with local village activities.  The Neighbourhood Plan which I helped develop many months ago, is finally being presented to the village for a referendum for approval or rejection.  After so much effort by so many over several months (nay, years!), rejection cannot be contemplated so posters and leaflets have been prepared to encourage a ‘yes’ vote.  I’m discovering some previously unknown nooks and crannies in the village as I deliver some of the leaflets.

More From That Sapperton To Edgeworth Ramble

Work with our village climate action group has also rumbled on.  Somehow, involvement has crept up to, I estimate, an average of over an hour a day.  The focus in recent weeks has been on a phone around of people in the village who have expressed interest in the group and who receive our seasonal newsletter.  Now the focus is on the Spring edition of that newsletter and on following up the points raised during the phone around including discussion of how we embrace the Ecological Emergency as well as the Climate Emergency. 

None of this is exactly earth shattering but it all takes time and, despite the availability of almost infinite discretionary time in retirement, I do need to maintain boundaries around this stuff.  Otherwise, I can see I will get frustrated by lack of attention to other areas of pleasure such as walking, reading and gardening (nothing gets in the way of watching Forest Green Rovers!).

I have also, rather fleetingly, been involved in a proposal to establish a Community Land Trust in the village.  The idea was to find funding from the village, loans and other financial means to enable purchase of a house and its 13 acres of woods and fields, and then run the assets from a Community Land Trust that would provide affordable housing and preserve the excellent biodiversity in the fields and woods. 

The opportunity was precipitated by the death of an old and rather famous activist in the village who had been generous with both the house and the lands by providing young people with accommodation and allowing community cultivation of some of the surrounds.  Unfortunately, the scale of the financing for the purchase and the short timescales in which the funding needed to be raised proved to be insurmountable obstacles. 

Entrance Sign For the Horsley Orchard On The Site Of The Land Proposed Community Land Trust

The idea has therefore died for now.  However, the need for affordable housing in rural areas like ours and the desire to increase local biodiversity remains and finding out how Community Land Trusts work was engaging.  It was good, too, to make some completely new and interesting acquaintances during the ultimately aborted process.  Maybe there will be a chance to get involved in similar projects in the future.

The Horsley Orchard – Now At Risk Of Further Abandonment Following The Demise Of The Community Trust Idea

Meanwhile, another trip to the local pub needs to be scheduled…….

Football Coming Home?

Last weekend, I went to my first live football game for almost 6 months.  Granted, it was a relatively small local village affair but it stoked feelings of regret for the football I have missed due to the Coronavirus and some excitement for the delayed but impending advent of the new football season.

The match was played on our village playing field – an unassuming but picturesque venue – between our very own Horsley United and a guest team.

Pre-Match Line-ups For Horsley United And The Guest XI

Pre-Match Line-ups For Horsley United And The Guest XI

The match was a celebration of Horsley United’s promotion to Stroud District League 2 last season.  Somehow, the organisers had managed to attract three ex-Premier English League footballers to play for the opposition (Deon Burton, Lee Hendrie and Lee Carsley).  Each of these showed their class (and their age) and they added an unexpected gloss to a very pleasant occasion.

I have to say, too, that Horsley United look a much better team this season.  While Stuart Hendrie (Lee Hendrie’s younger brother and another professional footballer) was probably the best player on the pitch, two new young Horsley strikers caught the eye and ultimately won the game.  I look forward to seeing village football again soon.

My main team, Forest Green Rovers, have also started playing friendlies.  The building anticipation for Forest Green Rovers’ new season in English Football League 2 has been accelerated by the streaming over the Internet of some of the more important friendly games and the availability of season tickets.  I fear that social distancing in the main stand, which has reduced capacity by about 75%, will mean that my allocated season ticket seat will be near the front or sides of the main stand where the risk of getting very wet in westerly storms is high.  However, I may get lucky and, anyway, I have waterproofs and I can’t wait for the season proper to start.

Initially, games will be streamed since the stadium can’t be opened until infection and death rates are lower.  There is hope that this will be sometime in October but, given the experience of other countries in Europe, our confused approach to lock down in the UK, and currently rising infection rates, I’m not so optimistic.  My purchase of a season ticket within an hour of sales starting was an act of faith and of support for the football club I love; hopefully, it pays off.

Forest Green Rovers's Current Stadium

Forest Green Rovers’s Current Stadium

In the two weeks since our trip to Northern Ireland I have become aware of how much I needed that trip away from home for the first time in five months.  The lock-down days have now returned to their rather lustreless routine.  The walks through local nature continue to be very pleasant – I spotted some bats a couple of evenings ago which was an example of how uplifting little incidents on these walks can be.  The garden continues to be a pleasure even in the relative wetness of this year’s August.  The gentle rhythm of walking, shopping, reading, listening to music, cooking and eating, snoozing and watching catch-up television generates contentment if not outright excitement.

One Of The Local Walk Pleasures - A Glorious Sunset

One Of The Local Walk Pleasures – A Glorious Sunset

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has found another outlet from this routine with another short trip – this time with a work colleague to (very) northern Scotland.

Her absence has accentuated the predictability of my own home routine.  I look forward to LSW’s return.  I look forward to the return to a football season.  I look forward to other signs of post lock down normality.

Another Bonus From Having Time In Retirement To Stroll Through The Local Countryside: One of 'My Five A Day'

Another Bonus From Having Time In Retirement To Stroll Through The Local Countryside: One Of ‘My Five A Day’

Actually, as I think back over the last couple of weeks, there have been more breaks from lock-down routine than it feels.  Eldest Son visited us on his way to a camping trip.  Middle Son is visiting us tomorrow following a meet up with friends in Bristol.  We also managed a very pleasant ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ lunch with friends last week at our local and excellent William’s Kitchen.  Another move toward normality is the restart of the monthly series of village pub quizzes from next month.

I helped keep some semblance of momentum around the village quiz going earlier this year.  Now, the local pub is setting up a quiz that will be adherent to the government guidelines for social distancing, for making too much noise and for having too much fun during the pandemic.  Despite my general hopelessness at answering the quiz questions, I am looking forward to participating in something that, like the start of the football season, suggests we have turned a corner in the pandemic.  Once again, my fingers are crossed.

New Beginnings

Blowy Day In Our Field

Blowy Day In Our Field

Life in our home has become a little quieter since lockdown eased enough for Youngest Son (YS) to leave us for his new start in Northern Ireland.  The Monopoly Deal box has gone, the breakfast coffee isn’t quite so consistently good (YS is a qualified barista!) and there isn’t as much energy and enthusiasm in the house.  We miss him.

The upsides are that he is with his girlfriend again at last, is excited about a new career as videographer in Belfast, and my study is empty of all his stuff.  I have also taken on YS’s grocery lockdown delivery slot for the Village Shop which is making me feel more helpful and virtuous.

Otherwise, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I continue much as we have throughout the lockdown.  The main twist to our lockdown routine has been triggered by the gradual opening of the village pub, now, mercifully, under new management.  It has been great to re-integrate visits to our local pub into our activities once again.

We first tried the take-away arrangements, sipping beer on the kerbside from a bottle and glasses that we had brought.  Then, at the weekend, we paid our first proper visits, post-lockdown, to see the changes the new leaseholders have made to improve the pub and make appropriate social distancing possible.  Although the pub was busy, we felt safe and the changes that have been made to the interior – narrowing the bar and moving the kitchen – have made the pub look and feel like a local pub for the first time.

Approaching The Hog

Approaching The Hog Post-Lockdown

Critically too, the new leaseholders already know loads of people in the village and so I believe villagers will want it to succeed more than ever.  The pub has had a chequered history and now is a difficult time for anyone in the hospitality business, but, as we chatted to fellow villagers, it felt like a positive new beginning for The Hog at Horsley.

I am hoping for new beginnings and directions elsewhere too.  The coronavirus outbreak has forced massive re-thinking in government and in many families.  There is talk of building back the way we live and the economy in a better, greener way.  A recent YouGov poll suggested that only 6% of people want a return to the same type of economy as before the coronavirus pandemic.  Hoo-ray!

Hopefully the re-build of the UK will involve increasing home working, walking and cycling and an improved electric car charging network to reduce carbon emissions and reduce air pollution.  Perhaps Treasury money will be found to create an enlarged skill pool (re-trained baristas perhaps) for the retrofit of homes through improving insulation and replacement of oil and gas boilers; that would create jobs and reduce our carbon footprint.

Maybe too, we will see promotion of renewable energy, more sustainable and diverse food production, and a continuation of the local community support groups that have taken off during the lock down.  I’m still hopeful that something positive will come out of the mess the virus outbreak got us into.

The Way To Go?

The Way To Go? Local Wind Turbines Near Forest Green Rovers’ Ground

In our small village climate action group we are looking at how, amid the virus disaster, we can help to perpetuate some of the positive side-effects of the lockdown on the village’s carbon footprint and its resilience to the climate emergency.  We are trying to promote our existing community assets such as the pub and shop, encouraging local and sustainable food production, and investigating community energy schemes and better, greener local transport solutions.  We have a plan – indeed, just last night, I presented it to the wider Stroud District Climate Action Network – and we just need more time and energy (probably a little more than we actually have) to implement it.

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

My involvement has been focused on trying to help sustain the revenue growth the Community Shop has seen during lockdown.  I am reluctant to become a full blown volunteer (beyond my new weekly delivery duties) or Committee Member.  That is because I fear that, on top of other regular commitments LSW and I already have (and will have when the football season starts again!), signing up formally might be an obstacle to the sort of travelling we want to do – once that is unencumbered by the current coronavirus fears and constraints.

However, I am anyway getting increasingly involved in trying to understand how we sustain the popularity of the shop as lockdown continues to ease.  It’s interesting and more complex than I thought and I think that I can help – we’ll see how this participation develops.

Another recent new beginning is that LSW and I are re-starting outings away from the local vicinity.  The easing of the lockdown has allowed LSW to see more of her old workmates during tours of local, recently re-opened gardens.  Then, this week, we drove several miles south to Old Sodbury.  There, we took a break from the numerous local walks from our house to explore one of the many Cotswold Way circular walks.

It was a lovely blustery walk that took in big views and an impressive Iron Age fort, and it was fun simply because it was new to us.  We will try some of the other parts of the Cotswold Way – it is something I have long wanted to traverse – but we will have to get used to meeting more people on the way than we are used to in our equally attractive local walks.

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

We are very spoilt for lovely, quiet walks where we live.  Amid all the current change – positive and negative – those remain consistently enjoyable.

Lockdown Life In The Country

The lockdown continues to affect me much less than most people and I count my blessings for that – and for avoiding infection so far.  I’m retired and live in the country with plenty of space, leisure time and a nice garden to sit or work in.  I know many are far less fortunate – and doubly so because the weather has been so lovely since the lockdown kicked off.

Nonetheless, the difference for me between this Easter and last year’s Easter is a stark indicator of how much the world has changed.  Last Easter, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I hosted a treasure hunt and lunch for 19 of our family.  Two of our sons brought their girlfriends to stay with us and, throughout Easter Sunday, the extended family intermingled in the garden over drinks and food.  There is none of that this year.  The only similarity is that the weather is hot and sunny, the new lambs are in the next door field again and all the other reliable signs of Spring are in evidence.

The First Ducklings I Have Seen This Year And Spring Lambs In The Neighbouring Field

Easter weekend is, this year, just like any other day in lockdown.  There is now so little difference between one day and another.  Planning and execution of holidays, trips to London and visits to my parents in Nottingham has stopped.  Now planning is merely about deciding which circuitous and deserted route to take into the local shops, who is going to cook the evening meal and with what, and what trivial task will be undertaken today.

A View On One Of My Favourite Circuitous Walks To The Shops

A View On One Of My Favourite Circuitous Walks To The Shops

Most of my usual routines have persisted; I’m a creature of habit after all!  For example, I still have fruit/yogurt/granola breakfast midweek but bread and jam at the weekends.  The consistency of our salad lunches (except Sundays when we have roast chicken) has remained unperturbed by the Coronavirus.  I still insist on listening to the radio news headlines twice a day (at 1pm and 5pm) despite their increasing repetition and depressing content.  I still walk into town every morning to collect my newspaper.  LSW and I still attempt the Guardian Quick Crossword together every late afternoon over tea.

But now, some new markers for the progression of the day and week have emerged.  For instance, primarily at Youngest Son’s (YS’s) prompting, we play a game of Monopoly Deal after every lunch and dinner.  Primarily at LSW’s prompting, we participate in the regular Thursday evening ‘Clap for Care Workers’ event in our lane alongside her ‘Hearts For Horsley’ banner – now, one of almost 100 in the vicinity.

Hearts Around Horsley Banners/Flags Including LSW’s And A Lego Version

Life has slowed down.  It is just less full without the trips away from our home and my attendance at football games.  Football ceasing at Forest Green Rovers during the lockdown has, I estimate, given me a day a week back now that there is no game to prepare for, travel to, watch, write up on the forums afterwards and generally worry about.

Now I spend more time sitting down to read my book or the newspaper in the afternoons which risks, and often leads to, snoozing.  Amid the tendency to inactivity, my to-do lists have become more important again as I try to ensure that at least one thing worthwhile is completed each day.  LSW, YS and I have collectively tried to structure our days and weeks to make sure we stay focused on achieving something even when there is so little pressing to do.

Wood Anemones Among First Bluebells And Massed Cherry Blossom

Another example of imposing a new structure to our time is that we have started to stick more rigidly to a schedule of drinking alcohol on just Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.  This new rhythm feels more feasible now we are not going to dinner parties, social events or holiday destinations any more.  It is certainly helping me achieve my New Year resolutions for alcohol-free days and reduced overall alcohol intake.  The loss of the pre-Coronavirus/pre-Pub closure routines of the monthly Pub Quiz and beer while the Sunday roast is cooking has, alone, reduced my alcohol intake by about 10%.

As with the other (few) positive impacts of the virus outbreak – on increased local shopping and home cooking, decreased carbon emissions and improved air quality for example – it will be interesting to see if I revert to bad habits and previous levels of alcohol once the lockdown has passed.  I’m confident I can avoid that.

Meanwhile, we all need to enjoy Spring as much as we can while, predominantly, staying at home and away from people outside our household (‘to protect the NHS and save lives’, including our own).  Easy for me to say while in my relatively comfortable position, but I hope everyone reading this adheres to the current health guidelines and avoids the virus too.

My Thank You To Our Bin Men In A Time Of Crisis

My Thank You To Our Bin Men In A Time Of Crisis

No April Fool, Lockdown Is Real

April is here!  The lambs are in the field running and jumping hither and thither.  Buds are bursting and flowers are proliferating.  We have had a spell of sunny and almost warm weather.  Normally, this would be a time for rejoicing at the season of renewal.

Lovely Signs Of Spring Alongside My Walks

Lovely Signs Of Spring Alongside My Walks

Who would have thought at New Year that, by April Fool’s day 2020, we would be well into an indefinite period of not being able to get closer than two metres to another person (outside of one’s household).  But it’s no April’s Fool joke; how things have changed in three months!  It is incredible that the misuse of a bat (or whatever) in Wuhan can have had such a damaging impact, so rapidly, on our globalised world.

I’ve recorded here before that I am much relieved that I am retired during this ‘lockdown’ period.  I know of several in our village who are struggling to work from home due to the poor local broadband service quality and I wouldn’t want to be reliant on the Internet.  In any case, the ultimate flexibility of my retirement schedule means that I can adapt easily to the new restrictive contact and movement regime.

In practice, my routines haven’t changed very much yet.  Because we live in a very rural area, I can still go on walks safe in the knowledge that I will meet, and have to skirt around, almost no-one.  I visit the ever reducing number of local shops rather less and my usual walk through the local college grounds has shut.  But that just means I am gardening a bit more and trying new, less popular walking routes.  Armed with my hand sanitiser, I feel fairly safe.

Deserted Local Valley

Deserted Local Valley

We are very fortunate that we live in a lively and neighbourly village.  Growing an already good community spirit was one of the key themes coming out of a village meeting on climate change that I helped to arrange in February.  (Goodness, was it really so recently?  Such a gathering would be unthinkable just six weeks on!)  One positive is that the virus crisis has engendered that increase in community sprit despite the need for ‘social distancing’.

More people than ever are willing to stop and have a more-than-arms- length chat from their gardens or as one passes in the lanes.  The hamlet WhatsApp group Long Suffering Wife (LSW) has established is operational and buzzing with information and produce swaps.  The village shop has so many volunteering to deliver essentials that my offer hasn’t yet been called upon.  The clap for care workers event last Thursday evening was vibrant and moving.  Villagers have shown solidarity in adversity by erecting flags and banners to celebrate the village.  All of that has been rather uplifting against the depressing backdrop of economic collapse and the suffering of so many less fortunate.

About 20% Of Homes In Our Village Have ‘Hearts Around Horsley’ Banners Or Flags Out As A Show Of Community Solidarity Against The Virus

A real downside of the lockdown is that I am not able to visit my Mum and Dad. Indeed, because she is in a care home, not even my Dad can visit my Mum now.  Dad and I, and some of my sons, are writing letters to her to give her a reminder that she is in our thoughts.  There’s no denying though that it is a tough time for everyone giving and receiving nursing and social care at the moment.  At least Mum and Dad, and the rest of us in the family, are all free of the virus so far.

It has dawned on Youngest Son (YS) that he is going to be staying with us, and apart from his girlfriend, for some time.  He has no work now so is glad of the food and roof over his head, and he is pleased he is out of London.  However, no matter how many times we play Monopoly Deal to keep him entertained, he can’t wait to get on with ‘real’ life again.  In contrast, Eldest Son (ES) and Middle Son (MS), who work in London in the games and advertising industry, are busier at work than ever.  They are responding to the demands of the increased number of couch potatoes playing videogames and watching TV.

Many of the impacts of the virus outbreak have been predictable – in type, if not degree.  Others have, for me at least, been more unpredictable.  It has been encouraging, for example, to see how quickly air pollution has reduced since the economic slowdown.  Humans, as well as nature, adapt quickly to change and it will be interesting to see whether some of the new habits – local shopping, greater reuse of materials, walking not driving, and so on – persist after the lockdown ends.

Levels of (Nasty) Nitrous Oxide (NO2) Measured By Satellite Over China And The UK 2019 Versus Last Week (Relative NO2 Levels Shown In Pink)

I wonder too, whether more people will drift to the countryside from the cities where the infection rates are more concentrated and lockdown leisure pursuits are more limited (we will get fast broadband out here eventually!)  Certainly, I feel very lucky that I live in a house large enough to enable its occupants to sit in their own room when they want, amid a garden that, once the weather warms a little more, will be lovely to sit in, and in a spirited village that has wonderful, accessible countryside around it.

Stay safe.

Spring Lambs.  Watching Them Gambol In The Field Opposite Our House Is A Rare Privilege

Spring Lambs. Watching Them Gambol In The Field Opposite Our House Is A Rare Privilege

Revisiting The Newt And Hauser & Wirth

Last autumn, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I visited the new garden in East Somerset adjoining a smart, refurbished hotel called The Newt.  This is a large and new garden that is the realised dream of a wealthy South African couple who had previously built the wonderful Babylonstoren complex near Cape Town which we visited a couple of years ago.

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

I described our first visit to The Newt gardens in this blog and won’t repeat my impressions here in any detail.  Suffice to say that the garden is of very high quality design and execution and it continues to develop.  It is therefore worth seeing, not only through the seasons, but also from year to year so that one can follow its evolution.  The cost of entry has gone up to £20 each but that includes unlimited visits for a year.  We will certainly try to go back this summer.

The Nest Gardens: The Cider Press, Bar And Cellar

The Newt Gardens: The Bathing Pond Looking Up To The Cascade And Conservatory

We visited the gardens with two very old friends who had come to stay with us for a couple of days.  We were fortunate that the day we chose for the trip was one of only a handful of dry, sunny days we have had in February.  We maximised the value of the weather by lunching at the bright, airy and excellent At The Chapel in Bruton and then visiting the nearby Somerset branch of Hauser & Wirth galleries and its Piet Oudolf garden.

We have visited Hauser & Wirth a few times and always find it interesting.  On this occasion there were two exhibitions – both free.  The first was of some work by a Swiss guy (memorably) named Not Vital.  He is interested in architecture and the relationship between buildings and landscape and people.  The shiny metal building shapes gave off interesting reflections – and co-incidentally mimicked the shape of the nearby dovecote on a hillside overlooking the gallery – but I didn’t really ‘get’ the rest of the work.

'Cannot Enter Cannot Exit' By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth

‘Cannot Enter Cannot Exit’ By Not Vital At Hauser & Wirth (With The Dovecote In The Distance)

Much more absorbing was a range of work on display by an apparently famous photographer called Don McCullin.  I wasn’t familiar with him but our friends – both of whom are keen photographers – were and so our visit had propitious timing for them.  Certainly the range of subject matter in the photographs, which were all black and white, was broad: from local countryside to industrial wastelands, from peaceful riverside views in India to war-torn Syria and the bleak stillness of the Arctic.  Many of the pictures really did draw the viewer in and even my untutored eye for photography could see they had gravitas.

'Batcombe Vale' By Don McCullin

‘Batcombe Vale’ By Don McCullin

As the sun started to set, we eventually found a path to the nearby ruined Bruton Dovecote that we had spotted from the restaurant earlier.  Our stay at this viewpoint was truncated slightly by the imminent arrival of some other tourists.  We had inadvertently misdirected them earlier as we struggled to find our way to the dovecote and we were too embarrassed to engage them again.  In any case, the view was a nice way to round off a sunny day in the country.

Bruton Dovecote

Bruton Dovecote, East Somerset

Certainly sunny and dry days have been rare recently.  Many in the UK far have been far less fortunate that us.  We have been able to just observe the flooding and full rivers rather than finding ourselves caught up in the misery of having a flooded home.  Indeed, the rain and resulting sodden ground has been a continuing, excellent excuse to postpone any attack on the overgrown and untended vegetable patch and allotment.

Rainwater Overwhelming Local Drains And Filling Streams

Instead of gardening, I have been hunkering down in my study writing up the results of the recent Village Meeting I helped to arrange to discuss how we make our village more resilient and responsive to the Climate Emergency.  There were expected threads of thought around reducing energy demand through insulation and generating local energy.  However, the main theme that arose was that we need to operate even more as a neighbourly community that shares (things, services and knowledge), especially where this leads to avoiding new purchases through borrowing, recycling/upcycling and reuse.

Unfortunately, two weeks after the meeting, we have suffered a blow to this community-strengthening aspiration in that the pub in the centre of the village has closed.  This was not unexpected and is hopefully temporary.

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

I recently organised a social evening in the pub to try to encourage more local use of its facilities.  I am getting increasingly involved in local activities of that sort.  Once the Neighbourhood Plan is complete – and good progress has been made on that recently – I will have more time to engage with groups that might energise the pub and other community buildings we have such as the church and shop.  LSW is pleased I am getting more involved in village life and I confess that I am enjoying it much more than I anticipated when I retired.