Secret Santa Scores A Hit

Last Christmas, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), our three sons and I, decided to replace the tradition of us each giving everyone else a present, with a Secret Santa arrangement.  In this, each person draws a lot to determine which single person they should buy a Secret Santa present for up to a (relatively small) price limit.  This allows more focus and so reduces considerably the stress of (useful) present buying and the chance of getting something unwanted.

The reason I recall this now is that last week I was able to act upon my Secret Santa present: a ticket to a gig by Yo La Tengo at Hackney Arts Centre.  Actually, the giver, Eldest Son (ES), was no secret and, indeed, I went with him.  But Secret Santa was, for me as a receiver, a great hit.

Yo La Tengo is a band I have loved since I started buying albums by them in 2000.  In fact, they have been together as a three piece since the mid 1980’s and, as ES said after the gig, they have become very proficient at what they do.  Their music varies from gentle muses to Velvet Underground-like wig outs.  Unfortunately they didn’t rock ES’s boat but I loved almost all of the two-and-a-half hour performance.  I’m still humming their tunes to myself every day.

The venue is a gutted old cinema with bare walls and the seats taken out (contrary to the picture of comfortable seating on their website!).  We had to sit on nicely preserved, but very hard, wooden steps.  My back and bum could only take hour of that but then I was able to stand at the front and the two halves of the gig from the two vantage points was nice variety.

Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo At Hackney Arts Centre

I made two separate trips to London last week.  During these I met with a fellow retiree ex-work colleague for lunch, caught up with Middle Son (MS) for breakfast and met up with ES and his girlfriend.  I also went once again to my favourite folk club – The Lantern Society – which was once again consistently good across 10 brief but high quality and varied acts.

Live At The Lantern Society

Live At The Lantern Society

I then travelled up to my parents in Nottingham and jumped on from there to Mansfield to see my football team (lose entertainingly again).

Forest Green Rovers At Mansfield Town

Forest Green Rovers At Mansfield Town (With 170 Fellow Travelling Supporters)

The most surprising element amid all this was a visit I made to the Guildhall Art Gallery.  Although it is only a 10 minute walk from where I lived for 20 years, I had never been before.  I went to see an exhibition of Victorian art portraying lives and perceptions of children.  However, I also walked around the rest of an impressive gallery and the very well exhibited remains of a Roman amphitheatre in the bowels of the building. London never ceases to surprise.

Guildhall Art Gallery

Guildhall Art Gallery (Pre-Raphaelite Section)

Roman Amphitheatre Under The Guildhall, London

Roman Amphitheatre Under The Guildhall, London

The main exhibition at the gallery, called Seen and Heard was interesting, informative and well presented.  It resonated well with a book I’m just finishing called A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively.  As it happens this was another Christmas present, this time from LSW’s Aunt. Lively uses her memory of artefacts and aspects of a rather grand childhood home in west Somerset to launch narratives on how various elements of social life have changed in the last 150 years or so.

The First Sermon and The Second Sermon By Millais

The First Sermon (Girl Sleeping) and The Second Sermon (Girl Not Sleeping) By Millais At The ‘Seen And Heard’ Exhibition

Lively covers childhood, gardening, hunting, immigration and marriage and much more.  The chapters covering childhood and parenting interlocked with some of what I saw at the Guildhall and it all rang true.  In particular, the section on her marriage got me nodding my head in agreement.  Here is an extract of one paragraph:

“Every marriage is a journey, a negotiation, an accommodation.  In a long marriage, both partners will mutate; the people who set out together are not the same two people after ten years, let alone thirty or more…… Our marriage was like most; it had its calm reaches, its sudden treacherous bends, its episodes of white water to be navigated with caution and a steady nerve…… We meshed entirely in tastes and inclinations, could always fire one another with new interest, and laid down over the years that rich sediment of shared references and mutual recognition familiar to all who have known long companionship. You are separate people, but there is a shadowy presence which is an entity, the fusion of you both.”

I’m expecting LSW and I to build another layer of sediment of shared memory over the next few weeks as we travel to Qatar and then tour Sydney, Tasmania and Perth in Australia.  Watch this space.

Winter Catching Up

At last, a proper winter seems to have arrived.  We don’t have the extreme of the polar vortex that Canada and the northern states of the USA are currently experiencing, but we have had some frosty starts and, now, a heavy layer of snow.  School seems to be cancelled and kids are in the field opposite the house, sledging to their heart’s content.  The silent garden looks magical now it is cloaked in snow.  I know it is the increasing climate extremes that are the worry but it is comforting that we can still have real winter weather amid the trend towards global warming.

Snow And Sledging Outside Our Front Door

Snow And Sledging Outside Our Front Door

Middle Son texted to tell us London just has rain and in any case, the warmth of London’s buildings normally means that snow we see in rural areas becomes grey slush in the city centre.  However, London has other attractions and I was able to pay another visit last week.

The main reason for the visit was to meet up with some old work colleagues, as we do once or twice a year.  We worked together in 1977/8 and those times that were so formative to our early careers remain pretty vivid in our collective and shared memory.  We recalled some of those memories again.  We also caught up with more recent life developments and steered away from divisive Brexit debate sufficiently to make the get together over beers and curry very pleasant.

When I travel up to London for an event like this I have the flexibility of no time or work commitments plus the availability of a sofa bed in the flat we rent out to Eldest Son.  That enables planning of extra-curricular activity to maximise the diversity of fun during my stay.

Almost always, I include a trip to Rough Trade Records so I can work my way around the listening posts there and catch up with latest music they are promoting.  This time I also attended one of their free gigs.  The band, Toy, is one I have followed since I enjoyed them at the same venue in September 2012.  I’ve seen them a couple of times since including, believe it or not, at a remarkable gig primarily for the deaf/hard of hearing in 2015.  They were worth seeing for a fourth time and I’m sure they now have even more hair.

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Toy At Rough Trade

I also went to the Good Grief, Charlie Brown exhibition at Somerset House.  It was interesting to read about, and see through examples, how Charles M. Schultz developed his cartoon technique and characters.  The exhibition was also instructive on how Schultz managed, even as a white, middle class and relatively conventional American, to dabble in modern day issues such as gender identity, race, abortion, feminism and psychiatry/mental illness while growing his audience for his modest and understated Peanuts cartoon strips.  However, one would need to be a very dedicated follower to review all of the material on show and I think I grasped the main themes without concentrating on it all.

Charles M. Schultz's Characters From Peanuts And A Sample Early Cartoon

Charles M. Schultz’s Characters From Peanuts And A Sample Early Cartoon

Following a rather overly meaty breakfast (of three separate dishes of merguez sausage, black pudding and chorizo), I headed north to Stevenage for a Forest Green Rovers Football Club away game.  I watched us notch up another excellent win with my Best Man (BM) who lives nearby.  I then stayed a couple of nights with him and we spent the weekend watching more football, walking around the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) site where he used to work (as we had last September), and visiting St Albans.

Views At The RSPB Reserve, Sandy, Bedfordshire

St Albans Cathedral

St Albans Cathedral: Naves, St Albans Shrine, Mosaic Floor And 17th Century Graffiti

I hadn’t been to St Albans for years.  It still hold happy, though blurred, memories of my first excursion out of London to St Albans with my now Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) in her unassuming, idiosyncratic but effective Citroen Diane.  This time, BM and I visited the Roman ruins, the very old and lovely Cathedral and a very nice pub.  But we also saw the lake LSW and I held hands by over 35 years ago.

St Albans: Roman Theatre, Roman Mosaic And The Romantic Lake

St Albans: Roman Theatre, Roman Mosaic And The ‘Romantic’ Lake

I had a very relaxed and amusing time with BM. He continues to do big corporate work and travels a lot.  It was good to catch up on events in his complex and busy life but also to mentally compare his world with mine.  I’m very happy with my simpler, leisure-oriented lot.

Snowy Garden

Snowy Garden

Retirement Time

Now I am retired, and no longer have to spend 50-60 hours a week working or travelling to and from work, I can extend what used to be rushed tasks at home over longer periods.  I can also take a few more risks with events that I invest time in.  There have been some good examples of both in the last week or so.

I have spoken before in this blog about what I called ‘speed gardening’.  This was the result of the pressure I felt to get substantial tasks in the garden done in the slivers of time available at the weekends before my Sunday commute back to work in London.  I rushed around trying to get things done and, while it kept me fitter than I am now, it wasn’t altogether satisfactory enjoyment.  Now, if a job doesn’t get done as planned on one day, well, there is always tomorrow!

This week’s example was ‘doing the bonfire’.  The pile of garden detritus requiring disposal – and burning it is the most convenient if not the most environmentally friendly way – had become huge following some recent tree maintenance.  I had the time to salvage logs and ‘loglets’ pretty thoroughly but there was a large amount of brash together with a solid mass of other woody matter.  I moved the base of the bonfire pile (so any small creatures could escape) and organised the brash so Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I could load it easily onto the flames in batches.

We managed to clear half the waste in a couple of hours before darkness descended.  The process was very satisfying in some base animalistic way.  In my more relaxed and retired mode, I wasn’t concerned that we didn’t finish.  There is always another day.

The example of having more time to take risks with events was that, when I went up to London for a couple of days this week, primarily to see the Jusepe de Ribera exhibition before it closes at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, I also booked a couple of other events about which I knew very little.  One was successful the other rather less so but, either way, I have so much more leisure time now that success or otherwise seems less crucial.

Of course, a successful event is still to be aimed at (time and energy is not infinite, after all). Certainly the Ribera exhibition, entitled ‘Art of Violence’, was riveting and impactful.  There weren’t many large paintings but those that were on show really conveyed the pain of martyrs on the way to their martyrdom.  As impressive were the numerous, much smaller sketches and wash and ink drawings of torture and martyrdom.  These were so intricate and compelling that they drew you into close inspection despite the horror they depicted.  My visit was complemented by the chance to catch up briefly with Eldest Son’s (ES’s) previous girlfriend who works at the gallery; we remain friends.

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The Martyrdom Of St Bartolomew By Jusepe de Ribera (sorry the picture fails to capture the piercing look of the Saint)

Examples Of Ink And Wash Drawings By Ribera

Another, more unexpected success, was that ES and I went to a lecture on, and demonstration of, how Russians in the Cold War created illicit copies of western music during Stalin’s regime (and often went to jail when caught).  The fascinating twist was that, because materials were scarce, the early copies were made by creating grooves on discarded x-rays with home-made lathes.  The resulting ‘records’ therefore had x-ray pictures on them.  Although the sound quality wasn’t great, the recordings were much sought-after snatches of the forbidden jazz and rock and roll of the west and each was unique.

Stephen Coates Explaining The X-Ray Audio Project

Stephen Coates (Ex-The Real Tuesday Weld) Explaining The X-Ray Audio Project And The History Of Illicit Music Recording In Cold War Russia

Pictures and video footage of interviews with some of the protagonists in the schemes to create the lathes, to procure the x-rays (being discarded by hospitals because they were inflammable and presented a fire risk) and to cut the recordings added extra life to some well told stories about the copying process.  These stories recalled, and tied in neatly with, aspects of the film Cold War by Pawel Pawlikowski that I saw with ES recently, books I read years ago by Josef Skvorecky about underground music in Czechoslovakia, and also an excellent book I read recently called A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

The evening culminated in Thurston Moore – a guitarist previously with Sonic Youth – recording a couple of things onto x-ray disks so they could be played back to us.  It was pretty visceral stuff – in a very different way to the Ribera exhibition – and ES and I will remember it for a long time.

The X-Ray Audio Project With A Thurston Moore Demonstration

Less successful, but entertaining nonetheless, was a gig I went to in one of my old stomping grounds in Homerton, Hackney.  Chats Palace was the venue and it seemed much the same as I could remember from when I was last there in the early 1980’s.  I saw William Doyle who I liked in his incarnation as East India Youth a few years back and who has produced some interesting ambient music recently.  He now has a new band who are preparing to release their first album together.  They were good in parts but, I felt, still finding their feet.

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

I may have much more leisure time now but, when I’m in London, I have to squeeze in plenty of activity.  Fortunately ES and Middle Son both had time for breakfast with me.  I also walked around Dulwich Park, visited Rough Trade Records (as usual), went to Southwark Cathedral for the first time, snacked in Borough Market and, in lovely weather, took in the scale of London from London Bridge.  I still love London and have the time to enjoy it.

Views From London Bridge

Views From London Bridge

Two Exhibitions And More

For those who followed my last post, no, I didn’t write this on the train home from London.  No, I didn’t stay awake either but I didn’t snore (surely not!).

I was tired after my trip to London.  I didn’t get back until late on Monday from seeing Malcolm Middleton (an indie-rock Scottish depressive who somehow always manages to cheer me up with what he calls his ‘downbeat shite’) in a converted old men’s club in Hackney.  Then, on Tuesday, I went to see the Japanese film and Palme D’Or winner called Shoplifters with Eldest and Middle Sons and that didn’t finish until quite late.  Those relatively late nights were each followed by a couple of nights on a sofa bed which is never as restful as my own bed, a lot of walking through Christmassy streets and a nice lunch with an old ex-work colleague.

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

Quite a lot of the walking was around a couple of exhibitions.

The first was Fashioned From Nature at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) which is on for another month or so and which I would recommend.  The V&A has an amazing permanent collection of fashion but this exhibition was more interesting for me (I am hardly a fashionista!) because it dealt more with the social and environmental impact of fashion than the development of fashion through the ages.

There were certainly some remarkable individual pieces of clothing but the focus was on how humans initially used nature to cloth ourselves – using flax for linen, fur, cotton, silk, bone, feathers and even beetle shells – and then how fashion and clothing manufacture has damaged nature through mass production/consumption.

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

That environmental damage began even before the industrial revolution.  I learnt, for example, that the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’ came from the mercury poisoning common among those who made felt hats.  They breathed in the mercury nitrate they used and that disoriented them before they flushed it into the water supply.  As synthetic materials were developed and mass produced, so the risk of chemical damage increased, the demand for agricultural monocultures grew, slavery became rife, and the problems of pollution and waste (such as management of micro-plastics resulting from clothing) became more complex.

There were a wide range of interesting exhibits showing sustainable fashion.  Others illustrated how fashion has been used to highlight the importance of clothing reuse and repair, and the impact of fashion on nature.  Overall it was an impressive, relevant exhibition and an absorbing hour or two.

I also visited the Modern Couples exhibition at the Barbican which was subtitled Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde.  This exhibition pulls together work of 40 couples active in art in the last century.  It attempts to show how these couples, through their passion, ideas, contacts and often experimental and strange relationships, influenced the work they produced.

As with the Fashioned from Nature exhibition, there were some very strong individual pieces on show.  Many of the relationships that were described were very interesting with several of the featured artists (Max Ernst and Man Ray, for example) cropping up two or three times in apparently intense but short-lived liaisons.  Some of couples’ relationships ended in suicide or murders of passion.  As I navigated the exhibition, I became increasingly thankful for my rather more straightforward and stable married relationship.

I Am Beautiful by Rodin

I Am Beautiful by Rodin (An Amalgam Of Two Previously Separate Works In Celebration Of His Love)

Over 40 interwoven themes were explored across the 40 couples presented – including how the men in the relationship tended to become the more famous even where the participants were libertarian and feminist.  These themes and the sheer number of couples covered made the exhibition large and rather complex.  It was impressive but I confess that I had to absorb it over two sessions; fortunately I now have the time to do that sort of pacing.

In other news: the Volkswagen is back.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been grudgingly reliant on my ailing and rust-ridden Saab to get to work.  But now the local garage has replaced the Volkswagen’s engine (and more) following the cam-belt assembly failure a couple of weekends ago.  They did this all at their cost since it was the cam-belt replacement they had done that prompted the problem.  The garage even gave us a bottle of wine for our trouble so we will continue to use them and recommend them – provided the car gets us to the airport tomorrow on our way to the Christmas markets of Cologne.  We’re looking forward to them.

London's Regent Street Christmas Lights

London’s Regent Street Christmas Lights

Excuses To Visit London

Before retirement, I sometimes planned to work when travelling by train.  Now, I often get on the train with great resolve to read my current book or the newspaper.  Almost invariably, though, then and now, reading sends me falling into that unsatisfactory doze state never refreshes.  Indeed, such dozing is not really relaxing since I worry subconsciously during, and then afterwards, that I have been snoring loudly and irritating (or, worse, amusing) fellow passengers.  The one thing that always keeps me awake on the train is using my computer keyboard.  So, there is something energising about writing these blog posts on the train.

This is my second trip to London in a few days – I need very little excuse to fulfil my London fix and escape from the country (lovely as The Cotswolds are).

The first was in my ailing, misfiring and rusting Saab which was brought into action while Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) Volkswagen is read what may be the Last Rites in the garage.  LSW and I came up London to attend a 60th birthday dinner party of a long standing friend in Kew – a very amusing reconstruction of a party we had attended 20 years before.

Impressive Birthday Cake!

Impressive Birthday Cake!

We took the opportunity to visit the Annie Albers exhibition at Tate Modern and to see the new, up-market shopping centre just north of Kings Cross (Coal Drops Yard).

The Annie Albers exhibition was diverse.  Alongside the expected textiles were paintings, drawings and ingenious necklaces (my favourite exhibits since they were so simple and inspiringly made from everyday objects).  It was an interesting history of a very impressive artist and some of the items were lovely, but, perhaps because of the diversity, the exhibition never really took off for me.

Selection of Annie Albers’ Work

Our visit to Coal Drops Yard was, in some ways, just a normal window-shopping trip.  But it’s clearly a cut above most shopping centres with some of the shops like art galleries with beautiful artefacts and prices I hardly dare look at.  Also, the architecture, mostly by Thomas Heatherwick, is remarkable – especially the gasometers converted into luxury flats overlooking the new coal yard restoration and transformation.  The best aspect of the visit was trying to recall what this area looked like when it used to be one of our youthful haunts in the late 70s and 80s; the canal isn’t much changed but, truly, Kings Cross has been transformed almost entirely since then.

Coal Drops Yard

Unfortunately, after the birthday party and a very late night, we had to leave London relatively early on Sunday – albeit after a wonderfully various and hearty breakfast provided by the family of our birthday-girl.  This was to enable a return in my rust bucket car in time for a memorial service for an artist friend of ours who died a couple of months ago.  LSW and many others spoke very movingly and humorously about their memories of an artist whose work is well represented in our house.

Now, rested and ready to go again, I’m on my way back to London for a gig and a dental appointment (which is my excuse for this trip).

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I didn’t have time to finish the blog on the train (but I didn’t fall asleep, I promise).

I have since had another eventful day in London – visiting the Fashioned From Nature exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and then seeing Malcolm Middleton for the sixth time in a club in Hackney.  Both were very worthwhile.

Today I’m going to try the Barbican exhibition on Modern Couples and then meet Eldest and Middle Sons for a drink, some food and a film – oh, and I’ll fit the dentist in.  Such freedom and fun in this retired life!  I’ll say more in my next post – maybe to be authored on my return train trip…..

Remember, Remember

The week has been busy and I have had a number of interactions with the United Kingdom’s national commemoration of the armistice at the end of the First World War on 11 November 1918.

Commemorative Poppies In Our Local Town, Nailsworth

Illuminated Commemorative Poppies In Our Local Town, Nailsworth

When I was in Lincoln last weekend I saw rehearsals for a memorial ceremony while I visited the cathedral.

Remembrance Service Choir Practice At Lincoln Cathedral

Remembrance Service Choir Practice At Lincoln Cathedral

Then, at the football match I went to see in Lincoln, there was a pre-match rendition of The Last Post, a minute’s silence and a collection by, amongst others, a man dressed as a huge poppy.  There was a similar pre-match marking of the armistice when I went to Oxford United’s stadium for another football game there.  On both occasions, the bugle playing was eerie and moving as the notes swirled around the windy stadia.

Remembrance Ceremonies At Oxford (Top) And Lincoln Football Grounds Prior to Matches With Forest Green Rovers

Remembrance Ceremonies At Oxford (Top) And Lincoln Football Grounds Prior to Matches With Forest Green Rovers

During my visit to London last week to see a band with Middle Son (MS), I also fitted in a visit to the ‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’ installation at the Tower of London.  This consists of 10,000 hand-lit memorial flames and it was as impressive as the installation of bright red poppies spewing out of the Tower of London a few years ago.  The flames are a remarkable and imaginative way of marking the end of the First World War and the sacrifice of so many soldiers during its execution.

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The scale of that sacrifice became even starker to me as I visited another exhibition – ‘Shrouds of the Somme’ – at the Olympic Park to the east of London.  In contrast with the Tower of London exhibition where the crowds were enormous and the queues were hours long, the Olympic Park exhibition was very accessible and there was more time to think about what I was seeing.

1st World War Commemoration At The Olympic Park, London

1st World War Commemoration At The Olympic Park, London.

The main display here consisted of 72,396 shrouded figures – one for each of the British Commonwealth servicemen killed at the Somme whose bodies were not found – laid out in rows across a field.  There was then a separate set of the same shrouded figures – one for each day of the First World War – labelled with the number of servicemen killed on each day.  It was a very impactful exhibition.

The numbers of dead in the First World War are quite well known but still incomprehensible.  The 72,396 are just the dead whose bodies were not recovered mainly because they were simply fragmented and lost in the mud.  The 953,104 total dead represented at the Olympic Park are just those from the UK and the Commonwealth.  The 9 million soldiers from all nations who died were far outnumbered by the more than 20 million wounded and beyond that there was mental scarring beyond understanding.  It was a crazy, horrific war.

The nationwide commemoration and remembrance of the First World War – the centrepiece exhibitions I saw in London, the faces of soldiers etched on beaches around the country I saw on the TV news, the processions and the local displays and events, including a poignant and unexpectedly long roll call of the war-dead in our own little village – has all been very impressive and moving.  At the Olympic Park especially, I had time to reflect on the importance of remembering the disaster of past wars and avoiding a repeat.  The current rise of nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic makes the lessons of the past especially timely.  Unfortunately, it is one thing to remember the lessons and another to act on them.

On a jollier note, MS and I had a really good time watching Roosevelt, a German electro-pop artist.  I can’t recall smiling so much during a musical performance.  The music is straightforward and the next note always seems exactly as anticipated – does that make it predictable or just perfect?  Either way, we both had great fun seeing Roosevelt again.

Roosevelt At Oval Space, London

Roosevelt At Oval Space, London

Co-incidentally, he is from Cologne where we are having a Christmassy city-break next month.  However, we went to dinner last night with a couple who are fascinated by bio-dynamic agriculture, the annual equinox cycle and creativity tied into the seasons.  As usual, the discussions were fascinating but they didn’t want to talk about Christmas or our Christmas market visit until next month.  Instead they wanted to continue focus on the joys of autumn. They are right; the autumnal weather is still good and the colour on the trees and bushes remains marvellous.  Autumn is still out there waiting to be enjoyed.

I make no excuse for including yet another set of pictures from my walk into town this morning.  I am privileged to have the opportunity to enjoy these walks every day.

Autumn Views And Colour On My Walk Into Town

Autumn Views And Colour On My Walk Into Town

Funerals and Films

Hints of the wonderful summer just passed have continued to tinge our descent into autumn with further spells of warm and sunny weather in among the wetter, greyer autumnal days.

Wonderful Mid Autumn Day

View From A Neighbourhood Walk Today: Wonderful Mid Autumn Day With Beginnings Of Autumn Colour

My almost daily walks into the local town seem to have new colours to offer every day.  Although I loved my first full summer of retirement, especially as it was so marvellous weather-wise, I am now looking forward again to the difference autumn then winter brings.

Autumn Views On The Walk To Town

Autumn Views On The Walk To Town

The last couple of weeks have been relatively quiet as we have slipped into the cosiness of darker evenings in front of the wood-burner.  However, I have managed to fit in another trip to London.  Unfortunately, the prime reason for the visit was a funeral. In fact, I attended two funerals in two days – one in Gloucester, for a much-liked neighbour, and the other in Essex.  These were the first I had attended for a couple of years and I had forgotten how emotionally draining they are even when not for the very closest friends or family.

As in other activities, retirement has brought a new flexibility in being able to properly celebrate the lives of those who have died.  I was honoured to be invited and be able to attend both funerals and to hear recollections of both who had passed away.

The second funeral was for the father of my Best Man (BM).  I had met him and his wife a few times including at a couple of key life events: my university graduation and my engagement to Long-Suffering Wife.

Through a few quirks of coincidence, my marriage proposal to LSW took place at BM’s parents’ house about 35 years ago during a small get together with them and some close friends.  The details are a blur now.  But I do recall, with some embarrassment then and now, how the best laid plans ended up with me handing LSW some flowers and my proposal of marriage in the upstairs bathroom/toilet (that’s where BM and I had hidden the flowers!).  That wasn’t as romantic as planned but I also fondly recall us returning downstairs together with the flowers and beaming faces for the celebrations (highly justified as it has turned out!)

Attending these funerals has underlined for me the importance of doing at least some advance planning for these events so as to ensure that those likely to need to make the arrangements know one’s preferences.  In general, I don’t much care what happens at my funeral; I’ll not be there.  However, I am going to write down a few preferred dos and don’ts.  For example, I’d like cremation, a sustainably produced coffin, minimal or no religion, nice music, and pictures on the order of service.  I have some time, I hope, to set out my preferences but funerals (as if retirement hasn’t done so already) do bring home that life is absolutely finite; so I’m going to get on with writing down my guidance.

More positively, I have seen a few films recently.  LSW and I saw The Wife (very well acted, especially by Glenn Close) and A Star Is Born (tremendous entertainment and potentially Oscar winning performances from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper).  Also, I saw First Man (excellent technical effects) with Eldest Son (ES) while I stayed in London with him.

Additionally, ES often treats me to off kilter, downloaded films when I stay with him and this time was no exception.  Last month when I was in London, we saw The Endless (compellingly memorable, thought provoking and strange) and saw You Were Never Really Here (just strange) this time.  I love cinema almost as much as ES so these times with him, when we see films outside of the mainstream, are a good joint pleasure to enhance my London trips.

Another positive has been my transformation of the fruits of our crab apple tree crab apple jelly.  The jelly is a rather unusual texture – even more jelly-like than normal. But, I did make it on my own, I love the colour, and its tastes great.  I’m pretty proud of it.  Here is a picture of the apples on the tree and the resultant jars of jelly.

 

Autumn Gardening

The summer weather has been terrific this year and the sunshine and relative warmth has continued into the beginnings of autumn.  The sun now sets too early behind trees and the gradient of our paddock for Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I to continue our pattern of evening drinks in the new walled garden that we established earlier in the year.  However, the weather has been conducive to relaxed walks through the gently browning countryside and to steady clearing and digging over of the vegetable patch ready for winter.

Autumnal Sunset From My Vegetable Patch

Autumnal Sunset From My Vegetable Patch

Despite the dry summer, there is still plenty of beetroot and chard to harvest.  Also, I have managed to keep my leeks alive and, having transplanted them in newly dibbed holes, I find I have over a hundred to nurture and then eat through the winter months.  That’s a lot of leeks to go into soup with the sack of potatoes I dug up a couple of weeks ago!

Leeks All Over The Vegetable Patch (With Beans, Beet and Chard)

Leeks, Leeks and More Leeks All Over The Vegetable Patch (With Beans, Beet and Chard)

Once again I am reminded of the relatively slow and relaxed pace at which I can undertake gardening since my retirement.  I have always loved this time of year (and early spring) in the vegetable garden, when creating tracts of freshly dug earth is the main task.  Since retirement, I have more time to pause between bursts of digging, to rest my back and to admire the neatness of the bare earth that, following application of some manure, will be poised for next season’s planting and growth.

The past couple of weeks have been a pleasant mix of pottering around the garden, social events with family and friends, and more sightseeing in London.  My trip to London was based around an irregular but broadly quarterly get together of old male friends over a restaurant dinner (dubbed ‘The Boys Night Out’).  This is working through an alphabet of nations cum culinary styles and we were up to O for Ottoman last week.  It was cheap and cheerful and good to catch up.

I also walked for miles to and around the vastness of Hyde Park (with its tediously noisy and ever more numerous green parakeets) and visited the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum.

Views of Hyde Park

Views of Hyde Park (The Round Pond, The Princess Diana Garden And Christo’s Floating Pyramid of 7,506 Oil Drums)

The Kahlo exhibition focused on her way of life rather than her art.  The exhibition makes clear what a tour de force she must have been.  She was fiercely determined to overcome adversity (including polio, a near fatal accident, a miscarriage, leg amputation, periodic political ostracism) and she constantly underlined her strong sense of identity.  Her love life was lively and complex and her life-long partner – a muralist called Diego Rivera whom she married twice – must have been a patient man.  The exhibition is sold out so my recently instigated V&A membership (giving me free, unlimited entry) paid off.  The investment of time was very worthwhile.

Frida Kahlo Exhibition

The V&A Frida Kahlo Exhibition Including Her Prosthetic Leg With Bells On, A Hand-Painted Corset And Typical Mexican Dress

Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend stayed with us for a weekend.  It was lovely to have them and the highlight – apart from the curry and the roast dinner that ES asked LSW to make – was a visit to Gifford’s Circus.  This is an internationally famous but locally based circus that LSW has seen a few times.  It was my first visit and I really enjoyed the energy, innovation, daring and clever humour; it was a real treat in a packed, traditional circus tent.

LSW and I also had a sunny late summer day in Bath.  We were there to see Olafur Arnalds, an Icelandic multi-instrumentalist who combines electronica, piano and strings to create atmospheric, evocative music that both of us love.  The concert was a great success – great sound, good seats and LSW loved it (always important since I want to go with her to more gigs).

We made time for dinner and also a trip to the American Museum and Gardens set in beautiful countryside to the east of Bath.  The gardens are being renovated and extended and will be worth another visit in a year or two.  As ever, it seems, we were blessed by wonderful weather.

The American Museum And Gardens, Bath

The American Museum And Gardens, Bath (House, Pumpkin Garden And Lovely Views)

But autumn with its shorter days and colder, wetter weather is here.  That will bring different pleasures.

Getting Hot In London

The highlight last week, in most ways, was a trip to London. However, the timing turned out to be awkward given the extreme temperatures.  It was baking on the London streets, even warmer on the tube and there were fewer places to hide from the heat than I can find at home in the country.

It was great to see and catch up with Eldest and Middle Son over dinner.  We drank and ate well at Bar Duoro in Southwark in a reprise of the feel of my time in Porto the previous week.

The other main reason for my trip was to visit, for my first time, the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

This year the Exhibition has been curated primarily by Grayson Perry. I was keen to see his stamp on the event having read a book by him – The Descent of Man – last year.  It was an unusual book about masculinity, its origins, its role in society and its possible future.  It provided some insights into his own childhood and emotional development and so I was keen to see how this was manifest in the Summer Exhibition.

Extravagance And Colour At The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Even the rooms not curated by Grayson had his imprint and he co-ordinated the Exhibition into a rather crazy and exuberant whole.  As usual (as I understand it), the Exhibition comprised a huge number of works (about 1,350 this time, varying in price from £100 to more than £100,000 and 95% sold already) which, in many of the rooms, were crammed into the space available so that it was almost impossible to focus on any one work.  The overall impression was one of irreverence, humour, colour and fun.

Works By Phylida Barlow (lost In Thought) And Debbie Lawson (Red Bear) In The Summer Exhibition

There were undercurrents of left wing politics, social justice and anti-establishmentarianism that occasionally burst out in individual pieces.  But most of any seriousness was seemingly wilfully undermined by the overwhelming scale, the hints at subversion and the sheer ‘bonkersness’ of several of the selections and their layout.  It was fun but a bit overwhelming.

Some Of The More Overtly Political Pieces At The Summer Exhibition

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A Work By El Anatusi At The Summer Exhibition That Reminded Me Of Similar Items By Him I Had Seen In Cape Town Earlier In The Year – It Was Nice To Make The Connection!

The BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery was much smaller scale and more accessible.  The little stories accompanying the pictures were helpful in providing a ‘way into’ the art that contrasted with the feeling of being hit by a colourful sledgehammer at the Summer Exhibition a couple of hours before.  The National Portrait Gallery was busy but I enjoyed the feeling of intimacy with the art there.img_0513.jpg

Winner of The BP Portrait Award 2018 – The Angel At My Table By Miriam Escofet

At least it was cool in the galleries.  On my second evening in London I ventured to a gig at Rough Trade to see three ‘up and coming’ bands (Echo Ladies, Linda Guilana and Grimm Grimm).  They were all interesting in their way but the heat near the stage was excessive and it was too hot to get excited.  I was glad of the chance to browse the listening posts at Rough Trade but appreciated getting back out in the gentle dusk breeze on the walk back to the flat.

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Hot In Rough Trade Records With Echo Ladies

I had planned to visit the Asterix Exhibition at the Jewish Museum on my last day in London, but the prospect of even higher London temperatures prompted me to cut my visit short and I returned to Gloucestershire early that morning.  My retirement means that I have the flexibility of rescheduling and planning another London trip soon and that is already in train.

Back in Gloucestershire, I am licking my wounds from the barbs of Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) remembering our (33rd) wedding anniversary while I completely failed to do so.  Usually we both forget the anniversary but LSW has upped her game and I will need to respond in kind.

Also back here in Gloucestershire, the extended hot spell has finally broken and we have some rain at last.  Already, the pasture opposite our house has shifted almost imperceptibly from brown towards green.  The rain feels like a relief but I’m looking forward to resumption of normal sunny service next week before I go to the Cambridge Folk Festival with an old friend.  I’m looking forward to the next break in routine that will bring.

Pleasantly Full Days

Life seems to have been particularly busy in the last ten days or so since my last trip to London.  There I got a dental check-up (my teeth are fine), visited the Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece Exhibition (fascinating and beautifully laid out) and took Middle and Eldest Son to dinner and The Lantern Society, my favourite Folk Club (what a treat to catch up with them both!)

At The Lantern Society

At The Lantern Society

Rodin's The Thinker And The Kiss

Rodin’s The Thinker And The Kiss – Two Items In An Intriguing British Museum Exhibition

The weather has been highly conducive to gardening.  We have had long periods of sun, but reasonable temperatures, and just enough rain.  As a result, many days have been dominated by clearing weeds, planting out seedlings, localised manual watering and working out how to keep the destructive birds, mammals, molluscs and insects at bay.  Almost everything that needs protection now has some form fencing, netting or other damage prevention measure in place.  I will now sit back, wait and watch the ways the animals will thwart me anyway.

In my last post, I compared the post-modernist house of Erno Goldfinger to a previous house of ours.  My last visit to London and overnight stay in the Barbican reminded me, too, that the post-modernist gardens there are now being echoed by Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) planting of our new walled garden.  Our final load of gravel and the water feature have now arrived and so our new garden just lacks maturity, but there are already some similarities with the Barbican gardens (although the scale there is massive compared to that of our ex-car parking area).  It has certainly been pleasant sitting in the new garden in the sun with a glass of wine after sweating over weeds, seedlings, bean poles and netting.

Our New Garden and The Barbican Gardens

Our New Garden And The Barbican Gardens; Ours Has Some Maturing To Do!

LSW and I have also been enjoying the annual Nailsworth Festival and, especially, two walks arranged under the auspices of the festival.  The first was a history walk in the vicinity of our house.  It added to our knowledge of the footpaths, industry and religious history of the area – particularly the historic presence of the Quakers and Baptists in what was once one of the largest non-conformist settlements in the country.

History Walk

An Attentive Audience On The Nailsworth History Walk

The second was a 12 mile walk billed as being a walk from Nailsworth to ‘the sea’. In fact, ‘the sea’ was the tidal estuary of the River Severn at a point where a number of sea going ships were beached to bolster the coastline alongside the canal along which we had walked. The so-called Purton Hulks, were an interesting climax to a full day of walking up and down the Cotswold escarpment and across the Severn valley in perfect walking weather. LSW and I certainly pushed up our daily step count averages that day!

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Purton Hulks

Purton Hulks

We also had a good day out walking in New Quay and Aberaeron in West Wales. We were staying with friends who have a second home there in what seems to be a lively and familiar community of second-homers based in London, Birmingham and South Wales. The health benefits of all the recent walking were offset by rather too much tasty food and drink in New Quay. On the route back from Wales, these indulgences continued as we stopped off at a family party celebrating a brief visit of one of LSW’s first cousins (once removed) from Singapore; lovely!

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

The food, drink and merriment isn’t going to stop this week with more of the World Cup to watch and celebrate (I hope), and the marking of LSW’s birthday with dinner in London on the way to a weekend in Paris.

So: busy and full days, full weeks and, as I near 12 months of retirement, I will shortly look back on a full year.