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.

February Ups and Downs

Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have decided February is the month to avoid in the UK. There are just too many dismal weather days in February. We will escape to Cape Town’s drought at the end of February but will plan next year’s holiday abroad to be a bit earlier.

Actually, this week, the weather has been very variable rather than poor. We have had clear blue skies and relentlessly grey drizzle on almost alternate days throughout the last week. LSW and I even managed to get a pretty massive bonfire going to clear a load of long standing bramble piles, broken pallets and old fence posts.

Bonfire

Bonfire As An Art Work? No, Just A Task On The List Done

Like the weather, my week has also been rather up and down.

The lowest point was travelling to Newport in Wales for a Forest Green Rovers game. It was postponed about 15 minutes after I arrived due to a waterlogged pitch (or the fact that Newport were tired after their FA Cup tie in midweek against Tottenham Hotspur depending on one’s level of scepticism). What a waste of time and money!

IMG_5414

Newport In The Rain On The Way To A Cancelled Match. Grim!

The week had started well with a visit to my parents in Nottingham. I travel up to see them too infrequently but, now I have retired, I have no excuse.   I will take the rusting old Saab up to them more often in the future. The journey up and back wasn’t without its delays but it’s a relatively easy trip. I drive very little – much to LSW’s annoyance – and I had forgotten how good it is to have the stereo and my favourite CDs in the car; it’s a real music cocoon and, in it, no-one cares about the volume except me.

It was good to see my parents. They are in their mid-eighties but continue to live independently and well. Despite my Mum’s troublesome back and a recently replaced knee, they are still mobile and going to occasional films and concerts.

Mum and Dad

Mum and Dad At Home

They took me to a local gastro-pub that was a cut above the average. One of the things we chatted about was retirement and my Dad’s experience of going through that about 20 years ago. He thought the lessons I felt I had learnt that I described in this blog in December were fair. Like me, he didn’t miss work after retirement. However, he now works very part time in a charity shop and that is something I might consider at some point.

The only wrinkle arising from the evening in a pub was that I was tempted to drink on what I had planned to be a non-alcohol day and to help my Mum out with her (very tasty) venison main course. This early in the year, I think I can spare a bit of slippage against my New Year resolutions regarding drink and weight. Anyway, it’s not every week that I’ll be enjoying my parents company. It was a very good evening.

I slept in my sister’s old bedroom. Like much of the rest of the upstairs, it contains a lot of books. My Dad is gradually reducing the number but I sense that working in a charity bookshop is not helping with the reduction process; he likes books! De-cluttering is not a focus for my parents and it was nice to see lots of things that I remember from my childhood.

Fred Bear

Fred: Not My First Teddy Bear But My Biggest

Back at home, LSW maintains a pretty tight, minimalist ship. I brought back a few old board games with some trepidation of her reaction to having more ‘stuff’. I stashed them out of the way in the top floor cupboards but have promised to do a cull of old toys to compensate.

After my return from Nottingham, LSW and I visited Ledbury in Herefordshire with her Mum. It was one of those grey February days but pleasant enough; we’ll return later in the year. Most interesting was a brief sojourn in an unprepossessing pub while I was waiting for LSW and Mother-in-Laws’ shopping to conclude. The pub just had an unsmiling barman, someone determinedly playing the slot machine, a few near-silent individuals standing at the bar and another, like me, sitting at tables at the sides. The pub was ominously silent for long periods but conversations would occasionally break out that were dominated by references to fights and ‘trouble’; it was a glimpse into a different world…..

Ledbury

Ledbury Church Street

I can sense LSW getting impatient with the lack of TV room decoration progress – I need to make the most of the unappealing February weather by getting on with that in this coming week. I have no excuse there either.