Nearing Pub Normality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More From That Sapperton To Edgeworth Ramble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting The Newt And Hauser & Wirth

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

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

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

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

The Nest Gardens: The Cider Press, Bar And Cellar

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Batcombe Vale' By Don McCullin

‘Batcombe Vale’ By Don McCullin

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

Bruton Dovecote

Bruton Dovecote, East Somerset

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

Rainwater Overwhelming Local Drains And Filling Streams

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

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

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

The Pub In The Centre Of The Village: The Hog

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

Back In The Shire

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

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

Local Beech Woods

A New Walk Through Beech Woods

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

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

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

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

Tree Planting In Nailsworth

Ceremonial Tree Planting In Nailsworth – The First Of Many!

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

Gravel Laying In Horsley Churchyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Batch Of Christmas Paper Hats

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

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