Another Day In Paradise?

It feels churlish to complain about the coronavirus lockdown when I know that I have the multiple benefits of living in spacious house and garden in a beautiful part of the world, in sunny weather, with huge amounts of discretionary time and no immediate money worries.  I hadn’t imagined that retirement would be like this but it is certainly more relaxed and peaceful than I had expected.  So, on we go with another day in Paradise?

Local Paradise

Local Paradise

Maybe, but I’m getting increasingly bored and frustrated by the lockdown.

The lockdown rules seem to be constantly changing in ways I don’t really understand and which lead to apparent inconsistencies.  Of course, I can only read a small proportion of the increasingly diverse scientific advice.  I can only partially understand the economic and wider physical and mental health implications of social distancing.  However, I look at other countries in Europe that are similar to ours and feel they are coping better; their lockdowns appear less strict and executed to a more logical, progressive and strategic plan.

I suppose my current frustration is accentuated by the knowledge that we had planned to be walking from Minehead in Somerset, along the north Devon coast to Padstow in Cornwall right now.  I recall how Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I felt so proud of ourselves when we finished booking all 14 of the Air BnB’s along the route.  We were so pleased that we had booked a house that was perfect for a week-long celebration of LSW’s (big) birthday with our sons, their girlfriends and some old friends at the end of our fortnight of walking.

Route Of Our Planned Walk

Route Of Our Planned Walk – South West Coastal Path From Minehead To Padstow (The Yellow Line)

That has all been cancelled progressively over the last few weeks as the lockdown rules on overnight stays have tightened and it has become clear that pubs and restaurants won’t be substantially open for a few weeks yet.  The silver lining to this has been that LSW strained her back recently and the holiday cancellation has given her a chance to recover properly – she would have been sorely challenged by daily walks we planned – and also that the weather has suddenly turned mediocre.

One Of The Many Indicators That Persuaded Us That A Cornish Holiday Right Now Is Inappropriate

Instagram Post By The Economist: One Of The Many Indicators That Persuaded Us That A Cornish Holiday Right Now Is Inappropriate

We will just have to shift the whole three week plan to next summer, and then hope that the weather is sublime and that we are still fit enough to do the walk.  It will, though, have to be slotted in among all the other trips around the UK that we are envisaging ambitiously for when freedom is returned!

One foretaste of the renewed possibilities once the lockdown is ended was that Youngest Son and I did manage to get up to see my parents in Nottingham last week.  This was my first visit since mid-February.  I look forward to the rules changing so that I can once again sit with Mum for a while in the residential home and can stay overnight with my Dad.  However, it was very good, and rather emotional, to see them both even though the visit was only relatively brief (and, fortunately, in the sun).

It was good too to be able to help my Dad complete the netting of his fruit and vegetable plot.  He had just lost a batch of mangetout to the dreaded pigeons and I know how distressing losing crops to animals and birds can be.  Now most of his crops, like mine I hope, are protected.

My Vegetable Patch And Raised Beds – Protected From Most of the Local Wildlife

I will try to repeat the visit Dad again next month (and, no doubt, compare gardening experience and produce) regardless of whether lockdown restrictions have been relaxed further.

There is certainly a lot to look forward to once this damnable virus is past.

Smiling Garden Flowers And Buzzing Bees – Gloriously Oblivious To Coronavirus!

Recoveries And Retirement

I once again have a rather bizarre (and misplaced) sense of intrepid traveller and blogger as I wrote the bulk of this post during a train journey to and from Nottingham.  I confess that the journey is more mundane than some I had imagined I would be taking prior to retirement.  There is always a little twist of excitement in a train journey and in watching the fields flash by and in seeing the towns, back gardens, and industrial developments and wastelands, all from unusual angles.  That is somehow enhanced by writing about it ‘real-time’ on my phone.

Near Oddingly, En-Route From Nottingham

Near Oddingly, En-Route From Nottingham

I have been to Nottingham to observe the welcome and speedy recovery of my Mum from a fall in which she broke her leg about three weeks ago.  Mercifully, she is out of hospital and back at home and my Dad is looking after her well and as independently as possible.  That is a relief all round (although a further minor fall while I was with them shows that the path to recovery is rarely straight)!

It’s been a good week for monitoring recoveries.  Middle Son (MS) visited us in Gloucestershire last weekend and we were able to see for ourselves how far he has come since his serious accident almost three months ago.  There is a long way to go to retrieve full function but he is mastering crutches, very independent and progressing every day.  That again is a relief all round (though, again, a further visit to hospital today for a residual ailment shows the skewed path to full recovery)!

As I ponder my train-side view, I am considering the past couple of weeks and the conversations I have had regarding my retirement and how I have found the experience.  I went to a retirement celebration for a past work colleague and friend that brought back many memories of work in the 1980’s.  I also participated in another occurrence of a regular restaurant event with a bunch of male friends of similar age to myself who I first met in London decades ago.  At both, I answered about my retirement life, confirmed that I continue to enjoy it a lot, and wondered why so many of my contemporaries continue to work.

Views From The Gherkin, London During A Retirement Party There

Some of the responses to my question about why my friends and ex-work colleagues (especially) still work were along the lines of how they need to so as to maintain their life style.  In some cases I think this may be cover for admitting that they actually enjoy work and would miss it too much.  That would be a more honest response and one I can understand.

Each to his or her own!  It so happened that I did not enjoy work as much, nor as consistently, as my friends apparently do.  Work has provided income to enable a very comfortable life and, now (so far, at least) a comfortable retirement.  But I was very happy to finish working and I continue to be very happy that I can devote the hours previously spent at work to things that I often felt I had to rush or failed to find time for.  I want to do that while I still have reasonable health.

The flexibility retirement affords has been liberating.  I no longer have to squeeze visits (to my parents for example) between work commitments.  I can visit London when I want, and now I have more opportunities to see friends elsewhere in the country and can combine that with watching my football team play away from home.

I did exactly that two weekends ago when I visited my Best Man (BM) and saw Forest Green Rovers (FGR) in Cambridge.  FGR won and that capped an excellent weekend of walking, wine, beer, food and chatting about our different lives.  BM is certainly someone who to loves his work and my hopes that he will retire, and so be able to spend more time enlivening my own retirement, are firmly in abeyance.

View Of The River Cam, Cambridge

Views Of Gamlingay In Cambridgeshire (top) and the Royal Society For Protection Of Birds (RSPB) Near Sandy (Bedfordshire)

Views Of Gamlingay In Cambridgeshire (top) and the Royal Society For Protection Of Birds (RSPB) Site Near Sandy (Bedfordshire)

Other highpoints of the last two weeks – and I am deliberately picking these to highlight the variety – have included harvesting my onions and a brief visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.  The onion (and my beetroot) harvest have been magnificent this year. If I manage to store them properly, we should have onions to last until Christmas.

Just prior to meeting up with my old friends for dinner, I saw an exhibition called Architecture of London at the Guildhall Art Gallery.  This was, as almost all these kinds of curated exhibitions are, interesting and contained some fine works and information.  I was almost a lone visitor and could take my time in taking in the show.

Works By Thomas, Bach, Egonu, Lowe And Beavon

Works By Thomas, Bach, Egonu, Lowe And Bach In The Architecture Of London Exhibition At The Guildhall Art Gallery

The exhibition covered the transformations following the Great Fire of London and the Second World War blitz particularly well.  I especially enjoyed the mix of vintages of the art on show and the inclusion of abstract art.  The scope of the exhibition was perhaps too large and the art on show to demonstrate the points being made felt, in places, a little random.  However, the Guildhall Art Gallery is a quiet and edifying place to spend an hour or two and I enjoyed it.

Paintings By Piper and Johnson at The Guildhall Art Gallery

London From Crowwell Tower, Barbican By Richard Ian Bentham Walker (1977)

London From Cromwell Tower, Barbican By Richard Ian Bentham Walker (1977) at The Guildhall Art Gallery. Always Nice To See Views Of The Barbican (But Unfortunately Not My Flat)

Returning to the here and now, the only problem with blogging on the train is that the tables are so small and the space is so cramped.  I’ll be glad to get off and stretch this stiffness out….  ‘Til next time.

London Variety Part III

The exploitation of London’s variety continued last week during our last couple of day’s stay with Middle Son (MS).  We saw some old friends, invited Youngest Son (YS) and his girlfriend over to MS’s flat for dinner, did some even finer dining at Flor in Borough Market, and saw some more of Walthamstow.

Flor, Borough Market

Flor, Borough Market – Small Plates Served With A Smile And At An Easy Pace

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also took up some advice from a friend in our home village to visit Thomas Carlyle’s House in Chelsea.  Carlyle was a Victorian historian and socialite. My interest in him was enhanced by the fact that I had been to the William Morris Gallery earlier in the week.  Consequently, I could connect some of the dots between Carlyle’s friend and relationships and those of William Morris who was well known to Carlyle.  In particular, there were lots of references to John Ruskin with whom I have become rather fascinated.

Thomas Carlyle's House

Thomas Carlyle’s House

Thomas Carlyle’s house has been preserved by the National Trust in a state close to that pertaining when Carlyle died.  Few of the artefacts are of great artistic merit but the overall feel of the place felt authentic, the garden was surprisingly peaceful and the information leaflets throughout the rooms were very informative.

Thomas Carlyle's House - The Drawing Room

Thomas Carlyle’s House – The Drawing Room

In fact, it seems that Thomas’s Scottish and forthright wife, Jane, was the more interesting of the pair.  She was a great letter writer – an author of thousands of letters it seems.  These describe everyday life in her household and relationships amongst her friends and acquaintances.  Many of the extracts on display have a straightforwardness and humour that is charming and they are insightful about the quirks of life in upper-middle class Victorian London.

MS’s flat in central Walthamstow is very comfortable.  His enforced move out of his previous, smaller and darker flat in Pimlico has been one of few upsides following his accident.  He loves the views, sunsets and feeling of proximity to the weather from his 7th floor flat. Increasingly, he will get to enjoy the bustle of Walthamstow.  I already am.

Walthamstow has a pleasant centre with a village feel, open space (Lloyd Park especially), many reasonably intact Victorian residential streets, street markets and, in the graffiti and it’s rather strange Hoe Street Community Bank, a healthy scepticism of establishment.

Views Of Walthamstow

Eldest Son’s girlfriend has lived in Walthamstow in the past and has given advice on where to go.  Also, the daughter of a best friend of ours has lived there for several years.   She visited us last week in MS’s flat with her very sweet new baby.  She was able to impart even more current local knowledge on places to see, and to eat and drink in (including in the numerous local, independent breweries).

A Small Fraction Of Walthamstow High Street Market

A Small Fraction Of Walthamstow High Street Market

Wandering around the almost mile long high street market, and then the backstreets of Walthamstow, I discovered some of these.  Gods Own Junkyard and the Wildcard Brewery look to be worth trips when they open at weekends.  Future visits shouldn’t be short of options for eating and drinking in modern, industrial style places with a good atmosphere.  Indeed, with all three sons currently in the north-east quadrant of London – Barbican, Hackney and Walthamstow – options for somewhere to stay, places to go, and fun to have, all seem to have multiplied.  The incentive to visit London is as great as ever.

Gods Own Junkyard, Walthamstow

Gods Own Junkyard, Walthamstow

First though, deploying the flexibility of retired life, I have had to do a couple of days work at home on the village Neighbourhood Plan and then have travelled north to Nottingham to visit my parents.  Unfortunately my Mum has had a fall at home.  She is now recovering in hospital.  It was good to see them both, even in the circumstances, and now MS is on the mend, I can visit them more often.

Walking Along The Nottingham And Beeston Canal, Nottingham

Walking Along The Nottingham And Beeston Canal, Nottingham On The Way To Queen’s Hospital

I can see that my Senior Railcard is going to come in for some heavy use in Autumn as I shuffle from home to London to Nottingham.  Also, having missed a couple of games during my visits to London and Nottingham, I am off to Cambridge to see my football team (Forest Green Rovers) with my Best Man (BM).  Recent months haven’t been quite as I had foreseen, but I have been, and remain, busy.

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.