So Much To Do, So Much Time?

CoroGorgeous Spring weather is here but the lockdown to prevent the rapid spread of Covid-19 continues.  So many in the UK and worldwide are horribly constrained by the lockdown and I am fortunate that I can continue to enjoy this wonderful Spring.

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

There are arguments raging as to whether the UK lockdown was aggressive or early enough, about how long it should last and how it should be relaxed over time.  Given the evident lack of testing and tracing capability, and the paucity of vital protective equipment available to health care workers, it seems to me that the lockdown should have been implemented much earlier.

I wonder why our Prime Minister was openly glad-handing others so long after the infectiousness of the virus was clear, and why did the Cheltenham race festival with its 100,000 racegoers take place in mid-March?  Given that a pandemic was an obvious risk, why did we not have more equipment in our stockpiles in anticipation?

Now we have ‘let the cat out of the bag’, as it were, it looks like getting it back under control is going to take an extended period of social and business restrictions.  That is already creating huge economic and social problems.  Loneliness, anxiety, depression are all bound to increase.  Worries about domestic violence, money, entertaining and educating kids, and many other unplanned problems are mounting for many.  It is hard to imagine what life in the UK might be like in a year or so if the lockdown cannot be relaxed significantly by then.

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

Meanwhile, I continue to be one of the lucky ones.  I haven’t contracted the virus and don’t know anyone personally who has suffered badly from it – yet.  I don’t have to work or travel any more.  I live in the country and so can still get out and about without needing to worry about social distancing while outdoors.  Indeed, the countryside is splendidly empty of people, vibrant with wildlife and looks lovely in the fullness of what has been terrifically consistent Spring sunshine.

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

I am maintaining my 15,000 steps a day average by finding ever more extravagant detours into the surrounding rural wilderness on my way to the newsagent in town.  This walking, in combination with a steady reduction in alcohol intake over the last three months (in line with my New Year resolutions) has got my weight down close to my target.  That, plus plenty of gardening, is improving my overall health and readiness to take on Covid-19 if and when it hits me.

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

My days are surprisingly full.  There is so much music to listen to and so many box-set series TV to watch (I’m loving Trigonometry and Devs on the BBC at the moment).  There are so many books on my ‘To Be Read’ shelf still (I’m half way through Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and enjoying that).  I play games on my mobile; I am keeping my empire in Forge of Empires going and gradually improving my battle technique in Clash of Clans.

Yet these are all just fill-in activities around the main, constant structure of almost every locked down day (Sunday is still a slight exception).  Tea in bed is followed by leisurely breakfast.  Then there is the round-about walk into town for the newspaper followed by digestion of its main stories.  Then I make a salad lunch which is followed by the first game of Monopoly Deal of the day with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and Youngest Son (YS).

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards. More Fun Than It Sounds!

Most afternoons I work in the garden – there are simply more jobs in the garden than I can fit into the time and my reserves of energy – or I spend an hour or two writing this or moving forward the village Neighbourhood Plan and Climate Action Network group.

I stop to follow the daily government briefing on Covid-19 at 5pm.  It’s repetitive but worth listening to, I think, for the subtle attempts to re-write history and the almost obsessional denial of any mistakes.  Those denials are even with hindsight and in the knowledge that no-one could get the response to the pandemic entirely right.  Indeed, there may be no ‘right answers’ and certainly none we can discern yet.  YS still can’t get over how much I chunter on to the radio with my moaning about politicians.

If it is my turn to cook then I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for that.  I’m finding that while recipes are invariably right about cooking times, they underestimate preparation time (by me, anyway) by 300%.

Finally we will eat and then play another game of Monopoly Deal before retiring to the TV room.  The day is crowned with another railing against politicians on the television evening news and then its reading in bed and sleep.

Special events rarely disturb this pattern.  LSW and YS have deemed Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as ‘drinking days’.  On these we often lap up the privilege we have of a garden to retreat to, by taking a bottle of wine up to the fading warmth of the setting sun at the top of our field.

Evening Wine In Our Field

Evening Wine In Our Field

The Thursday ‘Clap for Carers’ has become an increasingly important interlude and is now accompanied by a neighbour playing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ proficiently and commendably on saxophone.  Also a new virtual, monthly village quiz has kicked off; I’m scheduled to arrange the May occurrence so preparation for that will fill a rainy day or two.

There seems to be so much to do.  I do hope we find a way to end the lockdown soon but it has helped me fit all these local activities in.

A Fine Day In Bath And Social Distancing

Ten days ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to a concert in Bath.  We were aware of the emerging concerns about how Covid-19 spreads and the increasing need for social distancing.  Indeed, two locals who we planned to go with opted out because of their concerns.  However, we were confident we could go to the concert and still stay broadly within the then current rules and, with judicious use of soap and sanitiser, minimise risk to ourselves and others.

The Rather Wonderful Faeland At Chapel Arts

The Rather Wonderful Faeland At Chapel Arts

Co-incidentally, two very old friends who are visiting the UK from the USA were due to be picked up by us from Bath the following day.  This was a further health risk but one we calculated to take because it was a very rare chance for LSW to meet one of her goddaughters.  So we not only went to Bath but, co-joined the two events and stayed overnight at a fairly central, good value hotel before bringing goddaughter and her mother for a brief stay at our house.

Bath Abbey Outside At Night And Inside

All this seems relatively reckless ten days on.  However, Bath was radiant in the sunshine, we ate splendidly at Landrace Bakery and Beckford Bottle Shop, took in a couple of exhibitions and saw Faeland at Chapel Arts, all of which was rather wonderful. Then we had a lovely 24 hours with our friends before they returned to the US and self-isolation.  We all got away with it, remain uninfected (at time of writing) and finished normal life (for a while at least) on a high.

As it turned out the concert was sparsely attended so we could sit 3-4 metres away from anyone else.  It was uplifting to see Faeland again.  They were in good form and their song ‘All My Swim’ is an absolute favourite.  I was fortunate to meet the band at the interval to say so to directly to them.  What is great is that LSW and I love them equally and, Covid-19 permitting, we will plan to see them again in the autumn.

Wandering the streets of Bath was relatively minimal risk in terms of infection but we also ventured into the Francis Gallery (a lovely bright, airy space showing ceramics by Paul Philp) and then the Holbourne Museum.

Views Of Bath: Holbourne Museum (Top), Queen Square (Bottom Left) And Pulteney Bridge

Views Of Bath: Holbourne Museum (Top), Queen Square (Bottom Left) And Pulteney Bridge

The Francis Gallery

The Francis Gallery, Bath

The Holbourne Museum is currently showing an exhibition of Grayson Perry work from his ‘pre-therapy years’.  Having read his book ‘The Descent of Man’ a couple of years ago, I feel I understand a little about him and his outré leanings.  Even though I find his work interesting rather than attractive, I was glad of the opportunity to see this show and to learn some more.

Vases And Plates by Grayson Perry, Holbourne Museum Exhibition

Vases And Plates by Grayson Perry, Holbourne Museum Exhibition

The exhibition was very well laid out and the work was well documented and explained (often in Grayson’s own words).  Each item was complex and demanded study.  Even though the exhibition was small relative to some I have seen in London in recent years, it was dense with information and the reactions it inspired.  I enjoyed the weirdness Grayson invests in his work but also craftsmanship.  It was fun, too, to spot the recurrence of themes through the exhibition and to map them to those I recalled in other work of his that I have seen previously.

The rest of the museum was well worth spending time in (and the 2 metre social distancing was easy to maintain).  The museum has a good collection of 17th century paintings from the Low Countries.  What LSW and I liked best though, were the collections of highly crafted stump work tapestries cum embroideries, Japanese netsuke and other ornaments.  Some were directly on show in cabinets but once I discovered the drawers under these I, felt I was uncovering a wonderful treasure trove.

Amazing Set Of Netsuke, Holbourne Museum, Bath

Amazing Set Of Netsuke, Holbourne Museum, Bath

Late 18th Century Ivory Carving - Incredible Detail In A 6cm Diameter Minature

Holbourne Museum, Bath: Late 18th Century Ivory Carving – Incredible Detail In A 6cm Diameter Miniature

Ten days on and we are doing our social distancing more intensely.  Youngest Son has joined us from London where his business has ground to a halt.  We are ‘battening down the hatches’ and wondering how many new terms like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ are going to enter the Oxford English Dictionary during this viral outbreak.

Last week, I pitied the health and other key workers trying to find food in the shops while holding down their vital jobs.  Those made jobless recently and those, like me, who are retired, have time on their hands.  They are able to devote time to finding what they feel they need.  Indeed, some probably shop for entertainment and for something to do rather than in a panic.  Whatever, the nearby shops were almost bereft of fresh fruit and vegetables last week.

Local home store cupboards must now be full since the shops were less busy and fuller of goods this morning.  I just hope now that those who have purchased so much in recent days actually use the food they bought and don’t waste it.

Time Now For Local Walks In Countryside That Is Empty Except For Sheep And Birds

For a while at least, there won’t be any more trips out like that to Bath.  In fact, LSW and I are now considering cancelling what we can of our recently booked walking holiday down the first third of the South West Coastal Path and week in Padstow to celebrate LSW’s birthday in June.  Local walking and gardening are the main entertainments for me now.  Fortunately the weather has turned sunny and warmer just in time.  Stay safe…..

Increasingly Bold Pheasant In Our Garden

Increasingly Bold Pheasant In Our Garden; Lucky For Us That We can Self Isolate Here

Four Exhibitions, Three Sons, Two Breakfasts And One Gig

For much of my working life, I was in London while the family were in Gloucestershire.  I usually only got to see Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and our three sons during weekends when work often intruded and I wanted to rest.  Then the sons grew up and each of them spent time with me sleeping on the floor of my London flat while they took their first steps into the world of work.  The flat is very small so, although I got to know each so much better, the close proximity and sleeping arrangements were sometimes a stress.

Now, Eldest Son (ES), Middle Son (MS) and Youngest Son (YS) are all based in London and I have entered something of a golden period as a parent.  Now I am able to see them in short spells and in a relaxed way – over dinner, at breakfast, at a gig or in an exhibition. All I have to do is schedule the rendezvous around their diaries and enjoy the moment.  I plan to make the most of these arrangements while they last.

Last week, I was up in London again and was able to see all three sons.  The main reason for visiting London was to see a gig by Nuria Graham.  I first saw her in 2015 at Rough Trade and have now seen her twice since.  She is Spanish with some Irish heritage and writes some great tunes with intriguing English lyrics.  YS and I saw her at Jazz Servant Quarters which was just the type of venue I like: tiny (capacity for only 40 people) with a great sound system.  I loved the whole evening and plan to visit Jazz Servant Quarters again and also see Nuria once more next April.

Nuria Graham At Jazz Servant Quarters

Nuria Graham At Jazz Servant Quarters

Next morning, having stayed with YS overnight on their ailing inflatable bed, we went with his girlfriend for breakfast at the new Ozone Cafe in Hackney.  I love the treat of breakfast in London.  It often includes unusual and quality ingredients, it sets me up for the day of city exploration and usually obviates the need for lunch.

Ozone, Hackney

Ozone, Hackney

The previous day I had breakfasted at one of my favourite cafes – Ask For Janice in Smithfield – and had felt full most of the day.  At Ozone, I was a little more restrained since I was meeting an old friend for lunch at The Coach in Clerkenwell later.  Nonetheless, breakfast was ample and excellent and, of course, given its Ozone pedigree already tried elsewhere in the City, achingly trendy.

While in London I also went for dinner at Smokestak with MS, ES and his girlfriend.  Smokestak is only one or two steps up from fast food – we were in and out in an hour – but the food was great and the atmosphere was buzzy.  As MS said, despite the restaurant being famous for its meat dishes (and I loved the fried ox cheek), the vegetarian plates were perhaps the best.  I certainly ate well during my London visit.

Across the two days I was in London I went to four exhibitions.  On LSW’s recommendation from the previous weekend, I went to the Royal Academy to see the large Antony Gormley exhibition (now finished).  It was certainly impressive – not least the engineering that had gone into making several of the rooms dramatic, single-piece displays.

More Anthony Gormley At The Royal Academy

Iron Baby (1999), Matrix (2019) and Clearing VII (2019) By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

One room was filled with seemingly continuous loops of metal (8 kilometres worth) resembling a huge circular scribble.  Another was a room filled with silt and water.  Another had two huge cast iron baubles hanging from the roof.  And then another had Gormley’s trademark human forms, also cast in iron, set at various angles and amongst which the crowds could meander.

Host (2019), Piles (2018), Lost Horizon (2008) and Fruit (1993) By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

Host (2019), Piles (2018), Lost Horizon (2008) and Fruit (1993) By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

These were all certainly memorable but, at the time, I confess I enjoyed looking at his numerous workbooks more.  These showed how the ideas were generated rather than the final forms and it was more calming to look at these rather than negotiate the crowds in the rooms holding Gormley’s main works.

Some Of Antony Gormley's Workbooks

Some Of Antony Gormley’s Workbooks

Subject II By Anthony Gormley At The Royal Academy

Subject II By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

The Bridget Riley Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery was also impressive.  Photos of much of her work don’t work because they play with our way of seeing so much.  For example, Horizontal Vibration (1961) really does seem to vibrate before your eyes. ‘Current’ (1964) is like an optical illusion that feels destabilising if looked at for more than a few seconds.  These are clever and, I’m sure, were ground-breaking in their time but I love her brightly coloured works with stripes and diagonals more.

Though organised by topic rather than chronologically, the exhibition did a good job of tracing her thinking from her early drawings and the influence of Seurat on her work.  It covered her black and white visual exercises, her moves into curves and then colour and, finally, recent works that resembled Hirst’s dot paintings but which were clearly rooted in what she has done before.  The exhibition was an enlightening and cheering way to pass an afternoon.

Stripes And Diagonals By Bridget Riley At The Hayward Gallery

Currents (1961) And Stripes And Diagonals By Bridget Riley At The Hayward Gallery

I squeezed in a visit to the British Library to see the Buddhism exhibition there. Most of the exhibits were brilliantly, brightly coloured 19th century picture books showing the events in the life of the historical Buddah. There were also much older scrolls, wood panels and palm leaves inscribed with delicate texts and images. Once more, it was hard not to be impressed but, for me, the exhibition lacked a theme and was little more than the sum of its parts.

A Scroll Depicting Mahakala (A Protector Deity) And Tales From The Historical Buddha's Life In Folding Books

A 16th Century Tibetan Scroll Depicting Mahakala (A Protector Deity) And Tales From The Historical Buddha’s Life In 19th Century Folding Books

Nepalese Buddhist Palm Leaf Texts (17th and 12th Century)

Nepalese Buddhist Palm Leaf Texts (17th and 12th Century)

The fourth (and, in my view, best) exhibition I saw was that of a recent body of work by Anselm Keifer at White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey.  Anselm had been featured the day before I visited in the Guardian newspaper and the exhibition had been recommended by a friend.  I had not heard of Anselm previously and I went with no great expectations.

As soon as I entered the gallery I was blown away by the rhythm and enormity of the work in the central hall and then, as I moved into the adjoining rooms, by the scale of the paintings, their depth and the overall sense of brooding dystopia.  The paintings worked from a distance and right up close and I was fascinated even though I didn’t really understand what I was seeing.

Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot By Anselm Keifer

Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot By Anselm Keifer (Here Showing Just Part Of A 30 Vitrine Installation)

The White Cube is a tremendous, huge space; it needed to be to accommodate the work.  The exhibition is on until 26 January next year and I would like to go again (unlike the other exhibitions I saw, its free!).

The White Cube Gallery With Anselm Keifer Paintings

The White Cube Gallery With Anselm Keifer Paintings

Anselm Keifer At White Cube

The Gordian Knot By Anselm Keifer At White Cube (With A Real Axe And Real Blackened Branches)

Superstrings By Anselm Kiefer At White Cube Gallery

Superstrings By Anselm Kiefer At White Cube Gallery

I’m planning one more visit to London before Christmas.  I’m looking forward to another round of exhibitions, breakfasts and meeting up with one or more of our sons.

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

 

Dipping Into Culture

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I still haven’t quite planned our trip away this summer/autumn but we have both made an effort to attend some local cultural events to keep our entertainment levels up.  Indeed, as I write this, LSW is attending a couple of talks at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and will no doubt return full of much new thinking.

We went to two contrasting concerts recently.  The first was a programme of what I suppose are modern classical music composers and performers.  The concert had been arranged by a local magazine and creative arts consortium called Good On Paper.  The five performers were a mix of local and internationally renowned musicians.  All were interesting – especially avant-garde cellist Sebastian Plano and Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit – and there were passages I really enjoyed.  The final act was the now famous Lubomyr Melnyk who demonstrated his ‘continuous music’ piano playing; it was technically impressive but, by the end, for me, overbearing.

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Later in the week LSW and I went to the Tetbury Music Festiival.  Despite the proximity to our home, this was, rather shamefully, our first visit to the festival.  We saw an excellent performance of three piano trios (by Haydn, Schumann and Schubert).  This was the first classical music concert I had been to for many years and I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it.  I also surprised myself in that I actually knew the last work by Schubert; it must have been one my Dad had taken me to see played when I was a teenager and he first introduced me to classical music.

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

It felt good to support these local cultural events and I hope their success breeds more in the future.  The atmosphere for both was reverential and enhanced by the beautiful surroundings of a church.  Whatever the concert – modern classical, classical classical or just modern, I do like to be able to listen to the music rather than the chatter of the crowd.  A third concert I saw this week at the wonderfully eclectic Rich Mix in London also provided these sorts of listening conditions as I saw one of my favourite bands: Kefaya.

This concert was totally different from the other two.  Kefaya is a cross-cultural collective who play jazz with Middle Eastern, south and south-east Asian and Caribbean influences.  I have seen Kefaya in various guises many times over the last few years.  Here, they mostly ran through their latest album of Afghan songs fronted by an Afghani singer.  There was a lot of energy in the largely Afghani audience but, again, there was respect for the music and full attention to the band.  I loved it – especially when they let loose with their trademark jazzy duelling between guitar and keyboards, all backed up by phenomenally pacey and intricate tabla playing.

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Apart from music LSW and I have also taken in some local art.  We have known local artist, Maggie Shaw, for many years and have bought many examples of her work; several remain our favourite pieces of art in our house.  Unfortunately she died last year.

We were honoured to be part of her memorial exhibitions at the beginning of this year and lent one of her largest pieces for this.  Last week there was a further exhibition of her more recent work alongside that of two of her companion artists.  As usual, Maggie’s work stood out for me as truly remarkable.  Had we not already been in possession of so much of her output (and not starting to think about further downsizing of our house and wall space) we might have bought another of her pictures.

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw's and Others' Work

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw’s And Others’ Work At Stratford Park, Stroud

The absence of demands on my time from any work, continue to make it easy to fit in trips to Nottingham to visit my parents, and to London to see sons, exhibitions and gigs there.  This week, on the back of a regular meeting in London with my financial advisor and the Kefaya gig, I was able to catch up with Eldest Son, his girlfriend and Youngest Son’s girlfriend; a real pleasure.  I also visited the new exhibition at The Barbican where I am still a member and so can feel I am attending for free.

The latest exhibition at the Barbican is called Into The Night: Cabarets and Clubs In Modern Art and, as the title suggests, it is about the relationship between art and nightlife.  It examines this relationship in the period from 1880 to the late-1960s through focus on a dozen nightclubs in a variety of cities including Tehran, Ibadan in Nigeria, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City and New York.

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City. It Seemed To Me To Sum Up The Atmosphere These Nightclubs Tried to Engender!

As usual, the exhibition was very well presented.  My favourite section was probably that on Vienna’s Cabaret Fledermaus (1907-13).  The posters, menus, programmes, ashtrays, flower pots, chairs and other accessories to an experience at this club were all exquisitely designed along consistent lines.  The set and costume designs for the performances were flamboyant and smacked of decadence.

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

For each of the clubs chosen for the exhibition, drawings, pictures and photos helped to bring it must have been like to actually be in the nightclubs.  Aiding this further, the exhibition included reconstructions of parts of four of the nightclubs.  Particularly striking were the zinc shadow theatre models for the Chat Noir club in Paris.  For each reconstruction, despite the recorded sound, the only thing lacking was the smoke, bustle, heat and pandemonium that must have driven the fun of the customers in between – and maybe during – the cabaret and other performances.  It was a well arranged exhibition and was very enjoyable.

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir's Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir’s Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Top tasks for this week: planting the whitebeam and cherry trees I mentioned we had bought in my last blog post, planting lots of bulbs and organising that long-considered trip away.

London Variety Part II

As planned, we are in London again.  We are treating the week as something of a holiday and the weather is so warm it certainly feels like could be in Madrid or Rome.  We are effectively being tourists in our capital city and are working our way through a plan of food, music and art.  We are also taking the opportunity to catch up with Middle Son (MS), stay in his new flat with its wonderous view of central, southern and northern London, and even to cook in his kitchen.

View Of The City And Canary Wharf From MS And His Girlfriends' Flat

View Of The City And Canary Wharf From MS And His Girlfriends’ Flat

I have been cooking increasingly often in retirement and, even more surprisingly, am cooking increasingly vegetarian meals.  Earlier this week, we further adopted MS’s flat as a sort of Air BnB by inviting over Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend.  I cooked a meal of bulgar wheat, tomatoes, aubergine and lemon and mint yogurt that I have been perfecting at home.  Admittedly, this time, I added a few slices of (probably farmed!) salmon. So, not vegetarian after all, but we are reducing meat intake slowly.  Anyway, it was a lovely evening watching the sun go down over Alexandra Palace.

Sunset Over Walthamstow

Sunset Over Walthamstow

During this London visit, we have also stayed with Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend in their new flat in Hackney.  We had planned to see an American guitarist called William Tyler with them at Cafe Oto which is one of my favourite music venues.  Unfortunately, YS’s wasn’t well and so only Long-Suffering Wife and I made it to the gig.

We got there early enough for front row seats and the performers and music were as intimate as they always seem to be at Café Oto.  William Tyler’s technique was awesome and, despite him not having a band or vocals (apart from some amusing inter-song banter), I loved the whole experience.

William Tyler At Cafe Oto

William Tyler At Cafe Oto

LSW and I have also visited (in my case, revisited) the Temple of Mithras in the new Bloomberg Building in Walbrook.  I first saw this in February last year and was impressed by the classy presentation of this ancient monument – discovered during demolition after the Second World War and relocated to its current underground site a few years ago.  The information about the cult that worshipped here in Roman times is scarce and the ruins themselves are sparse.  However, the free show (but you have to book) makes the most of a little.  The lighting is very clever and it engenders an atmosphere of mystery and eeriness.  I recommend the 30 minute investment of time.

The Temple Of Mithras

The Temple Of Mithras

We then went on to Tate Britain. Our intention was to see the Frank Bowling exhibition but, as we had with the Van Gogh exhibition at Tate Modern a couple of weeks before, we made the rookie error of turning up a day after the exhibition had closed!  Never mind; the Tate always has great art to feast on.

I was relatively controlled and focused on just 8-10 rooms including those housing the Turners.  I do love his portrayal of outdoor light, especially in his later, almost abstract work.  I particularly enjoy his seascapes which either capture the energy of windswept skies and seas, or the calm of his famous sunsets.

Turner's 'Fishing Boats Bringing A Disabled Ship Into Port Ruysdael' (1844)

Turner’s ‘Fishing Boats Bringing A Disabled Ship Into Port Ruysdael’ (1844)

On this visit I also enjoyed some of the British abstract art from the 1950s including Howard Hodgkin, the paintings of the St Ives crowd and the Bloomsbury Group, and the Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth sculptures.  There was also a rather odd but interesting new installation of old machines – posing as art – in the main hall.  This was called Asset Strippers and was created by Mike Nelson as an ode to the last days of the industrial revolution in Britain.  Given the UK economy focus on services, it did provide a whiff of nostalgia perhaps.

Howard Hodgkin's 'Dinner At West Hill' (1966)

Howard Hodgkin’s ‘Dinner At West Hill’ (1966)

Moore and Hepworth

Later the same day, I revisited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow that I went to earlier this month in the midst of MS’s early recovery from his accident.  Then, I couldn’t concentrate much on what I was seeing.  This time I spent longer in the temporary exhibition of Madge Gill’s work and the permanent history of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement he founded with a few of his early friends and business partners.

Embroidery By Madge Gill

Embroidery By Madge Gill (Victorian/Edwardian Artist From Walthamstow)

The portrayal of William Morris, his life, his work and his influences and influence is well structured and compelling.  He was an artist, designer, colourist (fascinated by natural dyes), writer, printer of books, retailer, environmentalist, and, from the age of 50 a raging socialist activist.  He fitted so much into his life and his concern for social issues and the environment, particularly after he visited Iceland, was remarkable.

Honeysuckle Print Wallpaper - Typical William Morris

Honeysuckle Print Wallpaper – Typical William Morris

I ended up liking him and want to find out more about him (and his close colleague John Ruskin).  He seems to have been a man ahead of his time on social and environmental issues and but also, in his hankering for past styles and craftsmanship, a man out of time in the century of industrial revolution.  It is great that the Gallery, like Tate Modern and the Temple of Mithras, is free to visitors – that is in line with Morris’s beliefs: “I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.

William Morris Gallery

William Morris Gallery

Following so much cultural input, LSW, MS and I headed off for a local pizza at Sodo Pizza which was sufficiently wheel chair friendly and excellent.  I’m enjoying my stay in Walthamstow!

Distractions Amid The Wreckage

It’s been nearly two weeks since Middle Son’s (MS’s) accident on a pedestrian crossing.  LSW and I are popping up and down to London to see MS while he is in hospital waiting for, and then recovering from, the operations to repair him.  We have the flexibility to be able to supplement and fit in around visits from his others.  Outside of visiting hours we are able to visit London-based exhibitions and in between trips to London, we tend the everyday of house and garden.

Royal London Hospital

Royal London Hospital

The garden is certainly looking full and colourful.  After an unusually slow start, the vegetable patch is starting to come to life.  The slugs, deer and pigeons are enjoying a lot of the potential vegetable and fruit produce.  However, I hope to pick the blackcurrants that survived the pigeon onslaught next week and chard, spinach and beetroot are now ready for the first harvests.

Marbled White and Ringlet Butterflies and A Crab Spider

Marbled White and Ringlet Butterflies And A Crab Spider

The meadow is also looking healthy and, in this last week’s sunshine and warmth, it has been full of butterflies and other insects.  Youngest Son (YS) and his partner have been staying with us and have been able to enjoy the garden before swapping the rural peace for their new life in London.  It has been great to have had their cheery demeanour around the place.

The London exhibition LSW and I went to see in a few spare hours was the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  The ostentation on show was perhaps the least appropriate thing to appreciate while our minds were wrestling with the gritty practicalities of MS’s circumstances.  However, it is a very stylish and well-presented show covering Dior’s clothes, perfumes, partnerships with makers of accessories and seamstresses.

Ulysse Coat By Dior (1952)

Ulysse Coat By Dior (1952)

The outfits on show demonstrate Christian Dior’s career and then the contributions of the lead designers who followed him in driving forward the Dior brand.  The clothes are consistently beautiful or dramatic or both and the rooms showing his ball gown and garden-influenced designs were particularly impressive.

Dior Ball Gowns 1950 To Today

Dior Ball Gowns 1950 To Today

Dior Perfume Bottles And Travel Set From The 1950s

Dior Perfume Bottles And Travel Set From The 1950s

At the end of the exhibition was a wall with a quote from Christian Dior: “In the world today, haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvellous”.  The show managed to underline that.

Exotic Dior Dresses Influenced By His Travels in Japan and Egypt

I also managed to get to see a free gig by D’Voxx at Rough Trade East.  I knew nothing about this electronic duo before turning up but it was another temporary but welcome distraction from reality.  The music they played was interesting and got me nodding away to the beats, but what made the gig unusual was that both performers were using modular synthesisers that looked ancient and that seemed to require a lot of wire waving and plug swapping alongside the normal knob-twiddling.  It was quite a sight and a fun experience.

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LSW and I are heading back to London tomorrow.  Maybe we will find a couple more diverse distractions like Dior and D’Voxx to divert us before MS’s final operations and discharge.  Fingers crossed for him.

TV Mini-Series And Music In The Rain

View From The Garden - Sun And Impending Hailstorm

View From The Garden – Sun And Impending Hailstorm

June has been a very wet month so far but I suppose the garden and allotment needed the rain after such a dry Spring.  Few vegetables are growing quickly yet but the garden flowers are thriving.  Encouragingly, the bees flitting among them, between the bouts of rain, seem more numerous than last year.

Partly due to the weather, Long-Suffering Wife and I have been watching more box-set TV recently.  Much of what we have watched has been excellent and I’m pleased ‘Killing Eve’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ have started up again.  Of recent TV treats, I particularly recommend:

  • The Virtues’ (Channel 4) which has an astonishing performance by Steven Graham and a climax that had me holding my breath tensely for ages and mentally urging his character to do the right thing
  • The Looming Tower’ (BBC) starring the brilliant Jeff Daniels, which is showing how infighting between the FBI and the CIA contributed to the terrorist success of 9/11
  • Chernobyl’ (Sky Atlantic) which reproduced compellingly and with amazing special effects and crowd scenes, the (western understanding of the) nuclear disaster there.

We were able to see the last of these thanks to Youngest Son (YS) having access, in ways I’m not sure I want to know about, to channels and films that are not available to us through our normal facilities.  This has been just one of the upsides of having him around for a few weeks since he returned from Australia.  YS’s cheery demeanour has certainly brightened our days recently as the rain has set in.  However, he has now disappeared to undertake a video project in the US and left us with the rain continuing to pour down.

The Garden In A Hailstorm

The Garden In A Hailstorm

Another very good mini-series, still currently ongoing, is Years and Years.  This follows a fictitious family through a vision of the next 15 years of global and UK politics and social development.  It is not a cheery watch since it picks up some of the most modern-day contentious issues and shows how they may unfold in the near future with pretty depressing effects.  One of the issues, of course, is the climate emergency and the story postulates a future where 80 days of heavy rain with flooding is a norm.  I’m fed up with the rain after a week; I can barely imagine a future where it rains for months!

I hope that the future is brighter – and not just weather wise – than Years and Years predicts.  However, I confess that the management of immigration, the climate emergency, the future of democracy on both sides of the Atlantic and the apparent rise of shallow populism are growing concerns for me.  It is fortunate, then, that YS keeps LSW’s and my rants at the radio news over breakfast and lunch in check (to a degree).  They may get ridiculous while he is away.

To help distract ourselves from precipitation and political current affairs, LSW and I have been to a couple of very good gigs over the last few days.  The first was very local at the refurbished Tetbury Goods Shed and featured a local band called Faeland who I didn’t know until a week ago but who are lovely.  They follow the folk music idiom but with bright, modern songs and an engaging presence. LSW loved them too – and very much enjoyed the provision of comfortable seating and a perfect view at the venue.

Faeland At The Tetbury Goods Shed

Faeland At The Tetbury Goods Shed

She was less enamoured by the shoulder to shoulder standing room only at The Exchange in Bristol.  Here we saw a singer-songwriter I have been following and enjoying hugely on Spotify and CD for a couple of years – Billie Marten.  I love her songs and, although she could have engaged a tight packed, eager and intimate audience a little more, I enjoyed the gig very much. LSW enjoyed it too but I was nervous about her comfort and we left just before the end.  That was fine since Billie Marten had already played for an hour and I may anyway get the chance to see her again in London.

Billie Marten At The Exchange, Bristol

Billie Marten At The Exchange, Bristol

As I complete this post, I see that the sun has come out.  I shall go out for a walk humming tunes from Faeland and Billie Marten and think cheery thoughts……

From Writing to Artificial Intelligence

A relatively quiet week or so has been punctuated by another trip to London and the return from Australia of Youngest Son (YS).  YS and his Northern Irish girlfriend have been working (and playing) successfully in Australia for almost three years.  It’s great to have YS back in closer proximity after so long but I’m sorry we no longer have such a good excuse to visit Australia!

YS At Heathrow.  Big Hug Imminent!

YS At Heathrow. Big Hug Imminent!

It will be interesting to see how things work out for YS and his girlfriend in London during such a precarious time for the United Kingdom.  Fortunately, they very excited by the prospect and are far more optimistic about life in general than I.  They made a great life in Australia from a standing start and I’m sure they will employ their energy and contacts to do the same in London.

I continue to make the most of my opportunities to visit the excitement of London with overnight stays in my old flat.  I based my trip up to London this time around another reunion of old work colleagues – this time from a bank I worked at 15 years ago.  Once that get together was in the diary I could fit in other things around it.  I saw a film (High Life) with Eldest Son (ES) (which was more interesting than truly enjoyable) and, as has become my norm, went to The Lantern Society Folk Club and a couple of exhibitions.

The first of these exhibitions was a history of Writing at the British Library.  This shows how different types of writing emerged amongst early human communities roughly simultaneously in a several different places across the globe.  This accounts for the huge variation in language types and structures and also the variety of writing styles and media through modern history and today.

A Limestone Stela With Classical Heiroglyphs

A Limestone Stela With Classical Hieroglyphs (The Oldest Object Held By The British Library)

The exhibition then focuses on the development of our alphabet from images (e.g. an ox head shape for the letter ‘a’) used in Egypt.  These were refined progressively through simplification and transformation by the Phoenicians, the Greeks then the Italians and, especially, the Romans (who got us writing from left to right).  Further evolution of our western writing styles, fonts and media to develop readability, speed of writing and then mass production are explained clearly and interestingly with lots of tangible examples.  I became thoroughly absorbed in the exhibition.

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A Japanese ‘Four Treasures Of The Study’ – Ink (Made From Grinding An Ink Stone With Drops Of Water) And Brushes In A Beautiful Box

The British Library has such beautiful texts in its possession to illustrate every development in the art and science of writing.  In addition to the examples of writing, there were sections on writing materials spanning examples of use of clay, wax, metal, stone, skin, palm leaves and, of course, the early efforts to produce paper (by the Chinese).  Printing innovations, writing implements (including a comparison between mass produced BIC biros and Montblanc fountain pens) and much more is covered.  It is a multi-faceted and fascinating exhibition.

A 1977 Vintage Macintosh Apple II Computer

A 1977 Vintage Macintosh Apple II Computer (Part Of The Section Illustrating Progression of Typewriters to Computers And Word Processing)

Less successful is the exhibition of Artificial Intelligence (AI); More Than Human at the Barbican.  I am very interested in this topic and was looking forward to the exhibition.  It is large and I spent three hours viewing it.  However, I left vaguely unsatisfied; I’m not sure I have worked out all the reasons why yet.

I went on the first day of the exhibition and some of the interactive exhibits needed tweaking to be successful.  But a more fundamental weakness is the amount of space devoted to cultural roots relating to the human desire to animate the inanimate and to create non-human life (Frankenstein for example).  This meant that, for me, there was insufficient focus on current and future use of AI.

The history of AI is laid out in detail and was a little overwhelming.  I invested a lot of time in understanding the key developmental moments, the surges in optimism surrounding the AI technology (the ‘Golden Ages’) and the periodic ‘winters’ when that optimism seemed misplaced.  There is also good information that I recall from when I used to work in Information Technology on the differences between Expert Systems and Learning Systems, and between simulation, understanding and intelligence.

Exhibits In The AI: More Than Human Exhibition

Exhibits In The AI: More Than Human Exhibition (An Interactive Model For City Planning, Aibo The Robot Dog And A Robot Able To Mimic Human Movement)

That laid a good foundation for the latter sections of the exhibition which focus on current and, to a degree, future practical use of AI.  The examples on show, though, often seemed a little perfunctory and rather unconnected.  Some demonstrated what I would consider to be advanced computer power not, specifically, AI.

However, there were some good examples too.  These include those showing how AI is accelerating and improving areas as diverse as medical understanding and treatments, pedestrian and driver safety, city planning, customer problem solving, education and even dating.  There are also sections (too brief in my view) on the ethics of AI.  For instance, these include the dangers of AI in war, the risk of bias being built into the algorithms, and of AI being used to undermine our privacy, freedom and perception of the truth.  The exhibit showing AI helping lip-synching of Barack Obama was a rather chilling demonstration of the latter.

Since I’m a Barbican Member, I can go again for free and will plan to take ES who is also interested in the potential (and dangers) of AI.  Maybe with his insights alongside me, I will enjoy the exhibition more.

Back home, the focus is on catching up with YS (while he stays with us to gird himself for his move to London) and on gardening.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has got large parts of the garden looking very full and attractive.

Foxgloves, Erigeron, Geraniums And Flowering Weeds At The Back Of Our House

Foxgloves, Erysimum, Geraniums And Other Flowers At The Back Of Our House

My vegetable seedlings are planted and just await proper rain and, no doubt, a slug onslaught.  The meadow is looking lush and healthy. Just a few more degrees of heat and summer will be here…..

Our Favourite Irises In Our Garden

Our Favourite Irises In Our Garden

 

Two London Visits

I continue to be able to ameliorate my yearning for the buzz of living in London with one or two visits each month.  These are often based around meetings with old friends or gigs of bands that I like but can’t see out in the country.  That was the case this month and, once again, my ability to camp in my old flat on the sofa bed has proved very convenient.

During the last week I saw a couple of gigs.  The first was The Antlers at Union Chapel with Middle Son (MS).  This was a celebration of the ten year anniversary one of my favourite albums: Hospice.  It’s a very sad album about domestic, emotional abuse (apparently) and (more clearly) terminal illness.  That may not sound appetising but it’s wonderfully powerful and the stripped back acoustic version The Antlers performed was moving and beautiful.  It drew on the hushed and respectful atmosphere the Union Chapel often generates and I love going there despite the unforgivingly hard pew seating.

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The Antlers At Union Chapel

The next day, following a planned lunch with one old friend and then an impromptu meeting and beer with another outside Rough Trade East, I saw Malena Zavala at The Moth Club in Hackney.  This is a compact venue that is an ex-military veterans club with sparkling ceilings and amusing customer signs I have mentioned in previous blog posts.  The support band (Wovoka Gentle) and Malena were both good.  Malena mixed the tuneful, dreamy songs I knew with warm Latin rockers that indicated her Argentinian heritage.  I, and the rest of her audience, had a great, foot-tapping evening.

Malena Zavala and Support (Wovoka Gentile) at The Moth Club

Malena Zavala and Support (Wovoka Gentile) at The Moth Club

Earlier in April I had visited London for another gathering of old friends.  On the back of that I visited two places I had not been to before: The British Library and The Wallace Collection in Hertford House.

The British Library is vast and I limited myself to just the art exhibitions and the Library Treasury Gallery.  The latter provided an insight into the types of document that is held in the enormous reserves of the library.  There were beautiful illuminated books, religious texts representing all the main religions, historical documents (such as the book of Welsh Laws), important scientific papers and literature (such as the 14th century Gawain and The Green Knight) and sections covering Shakespeare and The Beatles.  I was drawn particularly to the old maps and I will look out for future special exhibitions that showcase the library’s holding of these.

The British Library

The British Library

One especially interesting section was on ‘Friendship Before Social Networks’.  This displayed many Friendship and Student Albums dating from the mid-16th century to Victorian times that individuals used to record the friends they met and the things they saw and did.  They were a little like artists’ sketch-books and many were really intricately completed and beautiful.  Their aim was to record, or even show off, the social networks and activities of their owners in much the way Facebook and Instagram often do today; fascinating!

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) tells me that I saw at least part of the Wallace Collection at Somerset House many years ago.  I barely recall that and, in any case, the collection is now in Hertford House in Manchester Square.  Like the British Library, the permanent exhibition of art, armour and weapons collected in the 18th and 19th centuries (and bequeathed to the British nation by Lady Wallace in 1897) is free.  I love it that such attractions are open to all without mandatory charge – not least because I could visit on consecutive days rather than struggle to take it all in in one go.

The Back State Room, Hertford House (Wallace Collection)

The Back State Room, Hertford House (Wallace Collection)

The armoury is particularly impressive although I rather hankered for the more selective and minimalist displays LSW and I had seen in Kolumba in Cologne and in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.  The Wallace Collection of armour and weapons is certainly comprehensive but also a bit overwhelming.

Part Of The Wallace Collection Armoury

Part Of The Wallace Collection Armoury

Not so, apparently, for Henry Moore the famous British sculptor.  He loved the armoury and visited it often during his time in London.  It inspired his development of the head and helmet as one of his iconic sculptural forms.  This was the subject of what I thought was a tremendous exhibition of his ‘Helmet Heads’ in the basement of Hertford House.  This wasn’t free but it was excellent in terms of the items on display and the information about how the helmets concept influenced his ideas throughout much of his life.  It’s on until 23 June 2019 and I recommend it.

One Of Henry Moore's Helmet Heads

One Of Henry Moore’s ‘Helmet Heads’

I’m back home now and the focus is on the last few games of Forest Green Rover’s unexpectedly successful and entertaining football season and on population of the vegetable patch and allotment.  Easter saw marvellous weather and it would be nice to see a return of that so gardening and football can be followed by wine in sun in LSW’s new garden.