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.

Back In The Shire

Those who follow this blog, or otherwise know me, will know that I am an urban man at heart.  For most of my adult life, the city – specifically London – has been the place to live and the country has been something to visit.  Now I’m retired to the country and visit the city.  I had a good dose of London life earlier this month but, for the last week or so, I’ve thrown myself into rural living back in Gloucestershire; it has been relatively various, worthy and entertaining.

The rainy weather hasn’t prevented me getting out for daily, lengthy walks.  LSW and some of her local friends have taken me on some routes I have not ventured on before and that has been enlightening.  I continue to get to know the area and to enjoy walking in it.  I’m comfortable that my steps target for the year is going to be met easily – one of the few 2019 resolutions that will be, I fear.

Local Beech Woods

A New Walk Through Beech Woods

Of course, Christmas is coming (putting my 2019 resolution target for alcohol free days in jeopardy).  I attended my first party of the season last week courtesy of the management of the Horsley Village Community Shop.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) works there very part time and so was invited gratis.  I paid an entrance fee to attend alongside her.  It was a very lively and pleasant celebration and a chance for me to get to know a few more local people.  The event packed out the village pub for the second time in a few days following the monthly village quiz a few days before.

The village shop, like the village pub, survives on the margins of commercial viability.  The shop is reliant on hardworking management and a squad of very part time volunteers like LSW.  I have been tempted to join this assorted band but have focused instead on helping with the Neighbourhood Plan and a small volunteer group looking to promote carbon neutrality in the village.

Delivery of Fresh Duchy Farm Vegetables To The Horsley Community Village Shop

Already, the Parish Council has supervised the planting of over 100 small trees this Autumn as part of a drive to increase carbon sequestration across the Parish.  More planting is planned and there are even grander plans in our nearby town of Nailsworth.  There, a symbolic start was made with the planting of a single holm oak and the distribution of around 100 smaller trees to those, including LSW and I, who turned up to watch.  We picked up a guilder rose tree and now need to complete the bargain by planting it.

Tree Planting In Nailsworth

Ceremonial Tree Planting In Nailsworth – The First Of Many!

One further bit of worthiness was a bit of renovation of the Horsley churchyard paths that I arrived just in time to make a minimal contribution to.  Village activities like these all help to make me feel part of the rural life here after decades of city living.

Gravel Laying In Horsley Churchyard

Gravel Laying In Horsley Churchyard (That’s My Spade Resting Lower Left)

The Neighbourhood Plan is now drafted and under review by Stroud District Council.  The hardcopy available in the village shop looks great and the pictures, especially, bring it to life.  It will be interesting to see what critique the Council provide – especially of the proposed ‘local green spaces’, one of which is adjacent to our land.

Comments and subsequent reworking of the Plan are not likely until next year and current attention is on consultation around the wider Gloucestershire County Local Plan.  I have some work to do in the New Year to help provide the village council with comments on this Plan from a carbon neutral and sustainability point of view.  I also need to analyse and present some recent village survey data on thermal efficiency.  Until all that is done, I don’t feel like tying myself down to a shift in the village shop.

Christmas preparations are underway in our house. Some of the Christmas lights are already up.  The Christmas tree is bought and will be erected and decorated next week.  That is all LSW’s province.

Christmas Lights In Our Kitchen/Diner Reception And Down The Stairs

My main Christmas task is to develop the annual family Christmas quiz.  This will follow Christmas dinner (with the 19 members of LSW’s family including me and our sons who will all be with us this year) and has become a bit of a tradition over the last decade or so.  I have also taken on making Christmas party hats from old newspapers and packaging these up with jokes from the Internet and a chocolate.  The first batch of ten hats is nearing completion – this is a small stab at recycling rather than buying lots of throwaway crackers.

First Batch Of Christmas Paper Hats

First Batch Of Christmas Paper Hats (Tasteful Financial Times Pink)

I’m back up to London next week to see the Moving to Mars exhibition at the Design Museum that Eldest Son is keen to see and for which he has bought tickets.  The visit gives LSW and I a chance to wish Eldest and Youngest Sons’ girlfriends happy Christmas personally.  From London I will then travel north to Nottingham to do the same with my Mum and Dad.  Then, it will be back to the shire once again for the Christmas Pub Quiz and the rest of the festive period.  All good!

Autumn In My Little Town

View Of Nailsworth Looking South

View Of Nailsworth Looking South

I’ve been retired for well over two years now.  New daily routines have shifted as I have settled into retirement and as the seasons have cycled around.  However, when I am not away from home, one of the daily constants has been that I walk into the local town of Nailsworth to pick up the newspaper and buy the day’s groceries.  It’s been one of my great and most consistent retirement pleasures.

These walks have been particularly splendid recently as the Autumn colours have intensified across the hills and valleys through which I walk.  Also, in recent weeks the streams in the valleys have gushed with copious amounts of rainwater and have provided a noisier soundtrack to the burgeoning Autumn colour.

Sun Catching The Tops Of Trees In Ruskin Mill Valley

Late Sun Catching The Tops Of Trees In Ruskin Mill Valley

There are multiple routes and detours that I take to create daily variety.  However, the most rewarding walk is through the bottom of the valley between our home and Nailsworth centre.  I thought I would share a few pictures of this frequent and favourite walk.

Satellite Picture (Courtesy Google) OF My Walk Into Nailsworth

Satellite Picture (Courtesy Google) Of My Walk Into Nailsworth – From The Blue Dot (Upper Downend), East Then North-East Up The Valley To Nailsworth

The start point is, of course, my home in the hamlet of Downend near Horsley.  Our field has a small stream running through it.  This joins the Downend stream nearby and I head north-east down through its valley in which our hamlet nestles.  When this reaches another, larger valley I continue north to where it opens out to a confluence of rivers around which Nailsworth has thrived, first as a mill town and now as a small (monthly) market town.

Upper Downend

Upper Downend

As I leave Downend, I pass some old cottages and houses and cross the Old Horsley Road.  I then dip downwards into the larger, wider valley flanked by dense woods to the east.  Following the ever enlarging stream, I pass some small fields and a couple of pretty lakes.  The larger of these is often the haunt of a swan, herons, kingfishers and several varieties of duck.

Much of the land in the valley, and up the slopes to the east, is owned and managed by Ruskin Mill Trust.  The college here caters for challenged teenagers.  The grounds include two historic wool mills, several acres of woodland, a biodynamic livestock and fish farm, a shop where some of the produce is sold, a forge, a popular café, and an arts centre and music venue.  Locals like me are privileged to have access to these grounds which are always evolving in interesting ways under the management of the Trust and which often teem with fish and birds.

Craft Workshops And Running Water In Ruskin Mill College Grounds

Craft Workshops And Running Water In Ruskin Mill College Grounds

Views Near Ruskin Mill College

Views Near Ruskin Mill College

Beyond the college grounds I cross the road and the stream (now a small river) once more.  As I approach the outskirts of Nailsworth, I look out for dippers in the stream.  I had never heard of these birds before seeing them here and also in Downend itself.  They are shy but fascinating to watch as they live up to their name by dipping their heads up and down and dive into the water to catch their prey.

Dipper Habitat On The Outskirts Of Nailsworth

Dipper Habitat On The Outskirts Of Nailsworth

Nailsworth sits at the junction of two valleys and is overlooked by typical Cotswold woodland and hillsides (‘Cotswold Tops’).  The best time to visit is early morning when wood smoke and mist often sits above the town but below the hill tops.  The floral displays in the town this year have been award winning and many of the narrow streets and Cotswold stone buildings are always attractive.

Nailsworth Clock Tower

Nailsworth Clock Tower

Like many such towns in this age of the internet and same day delivery, it is a struggle to establish a thriving retail business in Nailsworth.  There is a persistent turnover of small independent shops and probably more shops selling small gifts and vaping equipment than is necessary.  However, some good clothes, homeware and hardware shops have prospered.  There are also a few decent pubs and café/restaurants, plus – critically for me – a newsagent, a small supermarket and health food store.

Roofs Of Nailsworth

Roofs Of Nailsworth

I’m an urban man at heart – the country was always a place to visit rather than live in through the first 60 years of my life.  I still hanker after London having left it upon retirement.  But this Cotswold landscape I now find myself living in is very attractive.  While I still can, my daily walks into the local town will continue to help me experience and appreciate it.

Postscript: I mentioned that Ruskin Mill College have a small music venue and Long-Suffering Wife and I thoroughly enjoyed a gig there last night.  The main act was Trio Dhoore who are three young, charming Flemish brothers who play diatronic accordion, guitar and, a first for me, the hurdy gurdy.  The music was wonderfully deep, rich and warm and the banter between tunes matched this warmth perfectly.  The trio of brothers seemed to enjoy the evening as much as we did; it was a lovely couple of hours.

Trio Dhoore At Ruskin Mill

The Rather Wonderful ‘Trio Dhoore’ At Ruskin Mill

 

Neighbourhood Activity

For over three years, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been helping development of the village Neighbourhood Plan.  This aims to set out for the District Council how the people of Horsley wish to see the land in the village used and developed over the next 25-30 years.  The Plan has required much consultation, drafting of fine words and picture taking, and very many meetings for LSW.  I also got involved earlier this year in drafting and formatting a particular section on preferred green spaces in the village.

Horsley

Picture of Our Village Taken From The Draft Neighbourhood Plan Consultation Leaflet

The group co-ordinating the Plan development, including LSW, are now on the final push to get the plan to a state ready for review by the Council and a further round of local consultation.  Last week they asked for help to structure the Plan appendices and to achieve greater consistency of look and feel across the whole document, mainly by reducing the range of formatting quirks employed by each contributor.

Following prompting from LSW, I volunteered. LSW has long wanted me to get more involved in village affairs and this was my chance.  Little did I think that it would end up echoing the intensity and effort of my pre-retirement days but, after 25 hours of sitting at my PC editing the document over four days, I’m done!

There may be further rounds of such intense effort required following review and consultation.  However, I’m a Windows user and the bulk of the others who have technical and design input are Mac users.  The two are not compatible and so I’m ready to bow out.  Even if I am not required going forward I have earned some ‘brownie points’ with LSW.

That is just as well since I have proactively planned to be away during the village fete where LSW has a key role organising the Village Hall catering.  Some time ago (admittedly when I knew the date of the fete), I arranged to meet up with my Best Man (BM) in Cambridgeshire and to fit in Forest Green Rovers’ (FGR) away game at Milton Keynes Dons.  My absence this coming weekend, which will include a trip to London too, is being frowned upon by LSW.  But at least I moved the Neighbourhood Plan forward beforehand so, on balance, I’ve got away with it.

I have been away from home quite a lot recently.  In late August I was in London to catch up with a couple of past work colleagues and to see a band that I have been tracking for about 5 years.  They are The Correspondents and, although the music is not all to my taste, the live act is as full of energy as anything I have seen.  I even played a part in the lead singer’s crowd surfing exploits and got my hands on a (minor) celebrity for the first time.  I recommend checking out video of their gigs – the lead singer’s moves are amazing.

The Correspondents

The Correspondents At The Old Queens Head, London

Following that, I went to Nottingham to visit my parents and see FGR win at Notts County.  It was great to be able to show my Dad how far FGR have come since I first started supporting my local team 20 years ago.

Despite being away so much, there has been time to participate in a couple of regular village events which I used to miss when working in London: the monthly Village Quiz Night (we came second again) and the monthly Men’s Night.  Both are good ways to keep up with village gossip.

The quiz is particularly well constructed and run and is a very enjoyable challenge. Our team, usually of six but occasionally augmented by visiting offspring (Middle Son (MS) joined us a month ago and someone else’s daughter joined us this week), is varied.  That means our knowledge doesn’t overlap too much and we are contenders.  I usually can contribute on sport and geography but I’m too slow or too dense to add much elsewhere.  These events are nice slices of rural life I didn’t have prior to retirement and both events help to keep our pub in business.

One less alluring aspect of rural life this week was an invasion into our garden of 70 sheep through some broken fencing in the adjacent field.  Our grass got a welcome trim and some unexpected fertiliser but a few of the fruit trees and my leeks took a bit of a battering.  Fortunately the farmer was nearby and available.  He shooed them back within 30 minutes or so and damage to garden and sheep was insignificant (indeed, the sheep probably enjoyed the change of routine).  Oh, the joys of country living!

The Quickening Pace Toward Christmas

In my working life there were, of course, deadlines every week, every day and, often, very hour. I have grown used to not facing them since retiring. Now, the days tend to drift by guided by to do lists with ambiguous or undetermined timelines and I can do what I want, when I want. That’s great. However, the last couple of weeks have seen a quickening of life’s pace, a variety of social events and a few deadlines that have shaken my reverie.

The main imperative has been to complete painting of the window alcoves in the upgraded TV room before arrival of the plumber to install new radiators. My inexperience in decoration led me to be surprised by the need for four coats of paint, day long drying times in between each and sanding down after each intermediate coat; that all created a lead time that left me feeling under significant time pressure. However, I managed to meet the deadline.

This early success (another 90% of the room remains to be decorated!) was despite a brief trip to London to enjoy a catch up with old friends from our time in Kew nearly 20 years ago. We enjoyed a delightful evening party with and then a lovely bagel-based breakfast in two different couples’ houses. Where we stayed overnight was almost directly opposite where we lived for several years.

An even longer standing friend, dating back to LSW’s and my first months in London 40 years ago, visited us in Gloucestershire. We had a few bottles of wine with her, Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend. That was sufficient to make the idea of going to the local village disco seem like a good idea. That turned out to be excellent with music expertly sampled from the last 40 years and daft dancing fuelled by inexpensive but powerful cocktails. We had such a laugh! My challenge with the decorating was more than matched by the challenge LSW faced in having to get up at 5am next morning to take YS and girlfriend to the railway station – ouch!

Other events this week have included celebration of the re-opening of the main road between our village of Horsley and the local town of Nailsworth. The closure has been for over 4 months and has been an economic blow for the local pub, The Hog. We had a few drinks there to mark the road re-opening and the end of the ‘rat run’ congestion in the lane outside our house.

I also saw the new Star Wars film with Eldest Son (ES) and YS. I’ve seen all the Star Wars films but I struggle to follow the plot that has run back and forth through them. ES and YS tried to educate me by getting me to re-watch the previous film earlier in the day and their guidance helped. The latest addition to the series is well-made and the formula worked again. It was rare fun to have an outing with two sons.

Amid all this hustle and bustle, dancing and decorating, I have managed a few long walks. The weather has been variable as we have approached the year’s shortest day but retirement offers the chance to get out and about whenever it perks up. I’m very lucky to find myself retired in such a lovely part of England and be able to enjoy it.

Mossy Banks and Big Skies Near Horsley

Mossy Banks and Big Skies near Horsley

Finally, Happy Christmas to you all. Have a great festive period.

Christmas Tree

Happy Christmas!

New Experiences

I have been encouraged by the variety of things I have found to do out here in rural England having retired from job and metropolis.

Clearly there is far less variety than in London and we often have to drive rather than walk, as before, to get to it. But what I am finding is that the relative lack of choice is actually creating a refreshing expansion of my experience by forcing me to see and do things that I would probably not have considered pre-retirement.

There have been a few very enjoyable examples in the last couple of weeks.

Last week and this we ventured to a local, independent, single-screen cinema I have never visited before in Wotton. It turns out to offer a limited but attractive programme of films about a month old that are in the tier below the Hollywood blockbusters that dominate, rather tiresomely, the local multiplex.

Wooton Electric Picture House

Wotton Electric Picture House

In both visits I saw films (Maudie and The Big Sick) that I would not normally have chosen to go out for but which turned out to be very good.   More predictably, given that Maudie is a gritty biopic about a painter of naïve pictures in Nova Scotia and The Big Sick is a rom-com with a happy ending, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) also loved them, so they can come recommended. Had I still been working in London, I would have missed both.

Saturday evenings have long been the only ones that I usually spent fully out of London. Post-retirement I can afford to use them less sparingly. Last Saturday we went to a concert of classical Spanish guitar in our local village church. It wasn’t well publicised or particularly well attended. Pre-retirement, I wouldn’t have spotted that it was on and, even if I had, I doubt I’d have used a precious Saturday evening on it. But I was so glad I did – it was a remarkably high quality performance by a relatively local chap called Alan Brinley Shaw.

Alan Brinley Shaw

Alan Brinley Shaw at Horsley Church

I’m looking forward to more of the similar.