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.

Allotment Wars!

Just over 10 years ago, I was made redundant from a large consulting firm I had worked for since leaving university.  I took a break from 33 years of work and, a year later, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) persuaded me to buy a derelict corrugated iron bungalow with the remaining redundancy money.  Then, as the kids left home, we sold our family house.  That enabled some downsizing and renovation of the ‘Tin House’.  We lived in the ‘Tin House’ for a year while we upgraded our current home.  Now we rent it out with the vague plan to move back into it when we downsize again.

Our 'Tin House' Post Re-Build in 2013

Our ‘Tin House’ Post Re-Build in 2013

When we bought the ‘Tin House’, it had only a small front garden.  We bought a small extra parcel of land at the back so that, after any future move back to the bungalow, I would be able to continue my enjoyment of vegetable growing in retirement.  I also put myself on what I understood to be a very long waiting list for an allotment in the beautiful Rose Barrow allotment gardens just a little further up the hill.

View From Behind Our 'Tin House'

View From Behind Our ‘Tin House’

In practice, the wait for an allotment was much shorter than expected and, for the last half dozen years, I have been tending a quarter of a full allotment.  This has not been all plain sailing however.

View From The Entrance To Rose Barrow Allotments

View From The Entrance To Rose Barrow Allotments

The first challenge has been that, having moved from the ‘Tin House’, we now live 2-3 miles away.  Unless I undertake a stiff walk there and back carrying tools and (at least potentially) harvests, I have to visit it by car.  The result is that my visits are more infrequent that they should be to undertake the war on weeds, to water in dry spells and to pick any crops.  That restricts me to low maintenance crops and means I constantly test the patience of the allotment management who police the quality of upkeep.

Examples Of Well Tended Allotments At Rose Barrow

Examples Of Well Tended Allotments At Rose Barrow

One such manager has been keen to take over my patch because it is in between a couple of allotments he already operates and his back garden.  I have resisted, for a couple of years, giving up my investment of digging and composting effort.  In doing so, I felt like one of those long-standing house owners holding out against the big developer wanting to demolish swathes of buildings in order to erect new, swish skyscrapers.  But, last year, I accepted that this was an extreme view, and took the practical and reasonable step of relinquishing my plot in exchange for another.

Overall I was content with the move despite the risk that I am now too near the allotment bonfire space to avoid scorched lettuces and leeks!  I started to dig the new plot over last winter, planted some Jerusalem artichokes and harvested some rhubarb.  All was settled and agreeable.

However, last week I arrived on my little plot to find someone else has commandeered it, had trampled my planting, had taken my compost bin and had erected netting over my inherited currant bushes.  Outrage!

Recognising that possession is ‘nine tenths of the law’ (and because I had nowhere else to put them), I dug over part of the patch again and planted a few rows of leeks and beetroot.  I was ready for war!

It seems that a couple had spoken with the previous incumbent of the whole allotment of which my slice is a part and had agreed to take it all on without confirming with allotment management.  They were unaware of my existing claim, my payment (all of £2!) and my effort to rehabilitate the plot.  It turns out that they are old acquaintances and we have been able to work out a way forward which leaves me with a plot that is a little smaller than the one I relinquished last year but which will be adequate.  My compost bin is restored.  Peace has broken out.

My New Quarter Allotment

My New Quarter Allotment. The War On The Couch Grass Begins!

The new plot is freer of bindweed than the previous one.  However, it is largely covered by very deep and well-established couch grass – another allotment devil to do war with but a manageable one if countered with thoroughness and determination.  Once I have dug out the worst of the couch grass a few times over the next couple of years, and grubbed up some old currant bushes to create some more space far enough from the bonfire, I will have a good little plot to augment my vegetable patches at home.

I may not visit my allotment often until we move back to the ‘Tin House’, but when I do I will love the relaxation from the repetition of the physical exercise of digging and weeding. I like too the mundane chats with allotment neighbours about the weather, the persistence of the perennial weeds and the poverty or fruitfulness of this year’s crops.  I love the singing of the birds and the peace and quiet of the enclosed allotments.  I love it that I have more time since retirement to soak up all of this.  The war is over and I’m happy again.

Walking, Drinking And Bending at 63

I had a birthday last week and I’ve made it to 63 years of age.  When I was in my twenties I didn’t believe I’d get so far and I’m sure some of the damage I did to my body around that time will catch up with me in due course.  But not yet, it seems!

I do a lot of walking to maintain a modicum of fitness.  My average number of steps per day has steadily increased in recent years and, especially since I retired nearly two years ago.  Many of those steps are up and down the steep valley slopes near where I now live.  They are therefore more testing than the pure statistics suggest.  However, I do wonder if increasing walking just makes me better at walking rather than fit and I do need to ensure that I walk at a heart-exciting pace so that I do get a true health benefit.

Of course, walking is not just for fitness.  I do need to get from A to B and, since we tend to shop daily for just what we need each day, this includes a daily walk into the local town (Nailsworth).  There is a real pleasure in this which I have mentioned in these posts before, not least because of the variety of routes and the lovely countryside to view on the way.

Bluebell Woods Near Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

Bluebell Woods Near Nailsworth, Gloucestershire (One Of The Few Places Not Yet Overrun By Wild Garlic)

I’m fortunate in that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has also developed a love of walking in recent years.  That means we can venture out on walks for walking’s sake together while discussing the issues of family, friends and the wider world.  We also encourage friends who visit to join us on some of the nicest walks near our home.  Indeed, that is how we celebrated my birthday when my Best Man visited us.  After a lovely, sunlit three hour traverse of several valleys we adjourned to the local pub (as you do).

Birthday Walk West Of Horsley, Gloucestershire To Owlpen And Back

Birthday Walk West Of Horsley, Gloucestershire To Owlpen And Back (Wild Garlic, Owlpen Manor And Rape Fields)

Nonetheless, much of the walking I do is alone and that too is calming and enjoyable.  I don’t tend to think of matters of great import when walking alone.  I watch nature around me, make mental to do lists, envisage great wins for Forest Green Rovers Football Club, play Pokemon Go, think about my next blog post and let my mind go near blank.  The emptiness of mind as one simply puts one foot in front of the other amid beautiful countryside is what makes walking relaxing.

Sunlight Through Trees Near Owlpen

Sunlight Through Trees Near Owlpen, Gloucestershire

Reaching 63 has got me thinking about a couple of other aspects of health that I need to give more attention to.  For about 15 years I have tracked the number of no-alcohol days that I manage.  For the most part the trend has been steadily increasing – that is, improving.  My current, (for me) aggressive target is to be alcohol-free 140 days in the year.  I have only managed that once in the last 15 years and I’m not on track to meet it again but I am going to be more resolute, I promise.

I have also, for the last 6 months, been tracking my daily alcoholic unit intake using an application called Drinkaware.  This is scarier since I am way over the safe limits health researchers have determined.

Part of my problem here is that in measuring only non-alcohol days, I have been only measuring my performance in one dimension.  So, on a day when I might have one drink – to be sociable during a meeting with friends or to fill in time before a football match for example – I then think: ah, I’m not having a no-alcohol day, so why not have a few more drinks later.  Dumb huh?  I need to do better and will continue to track daily alcohol volume intake as well as no alcohol days.  Just the action of tracking should encourage improvement.

The other health aspect that I need to work on is balance and flexibility.  This is being underlined daily at the moment by a lower back pain I get after sitting down – something I do less of now I’m retired but which still occupies hours a day.

I’m also reminded of my failures in this area by the Instagram feeds that I see almost daily being posted by Youngest Son’s girlfriend.  She is an osteopath and yoga teacher and has a great Instagram feed and blog (becthomaswellness.com) showing how to maintain core strength and flexibility.  She recently posted a video specifically on how she keeps her spine supple and it was pretty inspiring.

Today I can’t physically do (at least not properly) 10% of the exercises she does but I need to do more than the 1% I currently do on some days.  Just writing this down here feels like it is strengthening my resolve.  But the important thing is action not words.

Let’s see how I am doing by the time I am 64.  Meanwhile, I’ll build consuming one of my birthday presents into my strengthened fitness and health regime……

Tasty Birthday Present From Middle Son

Tasty Birthday Present From Middle Son

Marvellous MONA

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have been back from our Australia trip for about two weeks.  Those weeks have been spent quietly slotting back into a daily routine.  I have been getting a fork into the vegetable patch, strolling around the neighbourhood to spot the small changes that took place while we were away, catching up on a couple of Forest Green Rovers FC games, and recovering from the jet lag.  Once again I feel so relieved that, having retired, I can do all this without the worry of having to catch up at work while negotiating jet lag muzziness.

Though these two weeks, the memories of Australia have lived on pretty vividly.  They are reinforced by each retelling of our exploits down under to friends and relatives.  We’ve had some very good holidays in recent years but our Australia trip was one of the best.

One of the most exhilarating days that we had in Australia was that we spent in Hobart visiting the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).  This was set up by and is run and financed by David Walsh, a millionaire Tasmanian who made his fortune through gambling.  He is passionate about art and giving something back to Tasmania.  Visiting the gallery is free for Tasmanians and it has become a huge tourist attraction.

MONA

Museum Of Old And New Art (MONA)

The visit started on a purpose-built jetty from which Youngest Son (YS) (who paid for the excursion), Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), and I boarded a strangely shaped and coloured ferry.  As we boarded we were invited to load up a MONA app on our phones and, as we started to look through the web site pages, we could see we would be in for a fun time.  This feeling was underlined by the presence of a full size cow sculpture on the boat and seats that looked like sheep.

The journey itself, up the Derwent River, gave us a new, interesting view of Hobart’s industry and huge river side mansions.  Then, as we approached MONA on its own island in the middle of the river, we could make out a series of balconies, walkways and low-slung, rather strange looking buildings.  As we left the ferry and entered one of these I was reminded of Thunderbirds and Tracy Island; it all felt slightly off kilter and unreal.

Inside it quickly became apparent that the bulk of the cavernous space for the art, the bars and the selection of restaurants is carved deep into the sandstone rock of the island.  There are spiral staircases, long corridors, small and huge rooms and, everywhere, fascinating sights.  I loved, for example, the slot machine beer dispenser which took one’s money and took its time to decide whether to dispense a lovely, expensive craft beer or a can of bog-standard Fosters lager.  I didn’t try it but was entertained by the relief or the frustration of others who did.

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Lucky Dip Beer Dispensary

As we moved around, so all the art was labelled, described and explained by the location sensitive app on our phones.  This provided various levels of detail – as much or as little as you wanted – on whatever was nearby.  I experienced something similar at the Opera exhibition at the Victoria and Albert just over a year ago but nothing as slick, comprehensive or amusing as this.

Screenshots From The MONA App

And so onto the art!  Incredible!

The first exhibit, Mummy and Coffin of Pausiris, required application for entry on the MONA app.  When my turn came I was let into a dark room, alone, and made my way around a platform with black water on either side.  In the middle of the room was, on one side of the platform, an Egyptian mummy in its shroud.  On the other side was a CAT scan of the same mummy that presented layers of the mummy progressively so that the mummified flesh was peeled back gradually to reveal organs then bones.  Some of these were damaged and indicated the cause of death and that, plus the irregular drips of water in the silent, dark room, made this lone experience really eerie and memorable.

Perhaps the best exhibit was Artifact by Gregory Barsamian.  I think it was YS’s favourite too.  It was a large bronze head on its side with several portals so you could see inside.  From each portal one got a different view of what resembled a rotating machine with birds, balls, hands, heads and wheels all moving around in sync in a quiet whirlwind of stroboscopic light.  It was riveting but I couldn’t grasp what I was seeing then and can’t hope to describe it adequately now.  It was astonishing and brilliant.

Inside Artifact by Gregory Barsamian

Inside Artifact by Gregory Barsamian (But I Just Couldn’t Capture Any Of The Movement or Impact Of It Here)

That was unsettling but even more so was the tattooed man, Tim.  The gallery has bought the tattoos on the back of this man and he is paid to sit all day, silently and still, to exhibit it.  It raised some deep ambiguity about ownership, slavery and art.

Tim, The Tattooed Man By Wim Delvoye

Tim, The Tattooed Man By Wim Delvoye Overlooking One Of The Restaurants Cut Deep Into The Sandstone

Other exhibits were also designed to keep one off balance.  Near Artifact was a bowl of water on a chair with a large sharp knife and two red and orange goldfish in it.  It was a simple piece (by Jannis Kounellis) but unnervingly reminiscent of blood in water.

Untitled, By Jannis Kounellis

Untitled, By Jannis Kounellis

Another exhibit (Kryptos by Brigita Ozolins) was a room set up as a small black maze with niches holding ancient vases.  When one got to the middle of the maze there was something unconscious that prompted one to look up.  Above was a mirror reflecting my upturned face; it scared the living daylights out of me.

I could go on.  There was the room half full of dense, black oil by Richard Wilson.  There was a grave stone at which we could throw glass bottles.  There was a huge room of tables with moving pellets, stroboscopic lighting, vast noise and hundreds of digital displays filled with alphanumeric characters (Supersymmetry by Ryoji Ikeda).  There lovely set of pieces by an Australian artist called Patrick Hall with opening drawers with recorded sounds, words and inscriptions.  There was a room with smelly hanging bowls linked by tubes and being fed food so that they reproduced the workings of the human digestive tract from start to finish (Cloaca Professional by Wim Delvoye).  There were skeletons making love, corridors with ever changing wall colours, a fat red car and hundreds of other works of art that surprised, enthralled and unsettled.

Fat Car By Erwin Wurm and Cloaca Professional In Action

It was simply the most engaging and enjoyable art exhibition I have ever seen.  It was huge but my attention didn’t drop once over about 4 hours. I’d love to go back and I recommend it to all.

One Of The MONA Rooms (Artifact In The Corner)

One Of The MONA Rooms (Artifact In The Corner)

Views Around MONA

 

Winter Catching Up

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

Snow And Sledging Outside Our Front Door

Snow And Sledging Outside Our Front Door

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

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

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

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

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Toy At Rough Trade

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

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

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

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

Views At The RSPB Reserve, Sandy, Bedfordshire

St Albans Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

Snowy Garden

Snowy Garden

Retirement Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples Of Ink And Wash Drawings By Ribera

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

Stephen Coates Explaining The X-Ray Audio Project

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

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

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

The X-Ray Audio Project With A Thurston Moore Demonstration

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

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

William Doyle In Full Flow At Chats Palace

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

Views From London Bridge

Views From London Bridge

The Future Starts Here

Immediately after our trip to Split I went to London to visit the Victoria and Albert (V&A) exhibition called The Future Starts Here with Eldest Son (ES).

I am increasingly interested in the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on work.  ES has been fascinated by this topic for a while and he lent me a book on the subject recently which I am still digesting.  In the meantime we saw this V&A exhibition of about 150 futuristic objects.  It aims to show through these objects how, already, seemingly far-fetched ideas are starting to have a real impact on our lives and may have unexpected – wanted and unwanted – impacts in the future.

Some Objects At the Future Starts Here Exhibition

Some Objects At the Future Starts Here Exhibition: A Bank Of 3D Printers, Two Tiny Devices That Hold Truly Massive Amounts Of Data (360 Terabytes), And A Long Life Kit

At the end of the exhibition we were invited to complete a survey which indicated our reaction to what we had seen and how we felt about the future impact of technology on our lives.  ES came out, perhaps unsurprisingly, as a ‘Tech Disciple’.  In contrast, I was a ‘Well Informed Worrier’.  That meant that while I am ‘on top of what is going on, [I am] most pessimistic about society’s future and the impact of technology, [and feel that I] will personally will be negatively affected by change’.

This will come as no surprise to Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) who often berates me about my worrying in a variety of areas of life.  However, I think that while I worry about change, I actually can cope with it quite well when it happens.  I think and hope this will be true of technology, automation and artificial intelligence.  I won’t rush to embrace it but, as each advance becomes main-stream, I will continue to use them and benefit from them.

Having retired, and at my age, most of my concerns are for my children and their children (should any arrive).  Yes, robots may help them rear babies by reading them stories and rocking them to sleep in optimum ways.  Driverless taxis may reduce traffic and the need to own cars.  Technology may help us live longer.  But do we really want to entrust baby care to a non-human, will driverless cars really be secure and safe, and do we really want our bodies to outlive our brains or have our brains live on as a copy in a robot?  I fear that we may be overtaken by the technological possibilities before we have even begun to properly frame the right questions about them.

Driverless Car At The V&A Future Starts Here Exhibition

Driverless Car At The V&A Future Starts Here Exhibition

Regardless, technological advance is here and accelerating.  The impact on the nature of work will be huge.  My sons seem to welcome this but I wonder if even they can envisage the depth of change that is coming.  I’ll return to this subject here when I have re-read ES’s book: The Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford.  It sets out the logic for a rapid decline in the availability of human employment.  Even for someone who has retired and already moved voluntarily into post-work mode (with the backing of 40 years of work and savings), I found it pretty scary (and well written).

A true ‘post-work’ society, where robots have replaced the labour of not only routine manufacturing and distribution jobs but also many white collar and middle management roles, will certainly be very different from that of today.  I’m interested to see the development of coping mechanisms that such a society will require to combat the dangers of control by a few technology owners, growing financial inequality threatened by such concentration of power, and the sheer amount of ‘free time’ people may have.

After the exhibition, ES and I also dropped in on an V&A exhibition about modern Videogames.  We both loved this – especially ES since computer games are pre-occupation in day to day work as well as a regular pastime.  Watching and playing some of the games was very amusing and the increasing emphasis on atmosphere and emotions in modern games was interesting.  It was another well laid out exhibition and I became a member of the V&A so I can attend more for free in the future.  I’m looking forward to using some of my post-work time for that!

Examples Of Modern Videogame Artwork at the V&A Videogame Exhibition

Examples Of Modern Videogame Artwork at the V&A Videogame Exhibition (Bloodborne, The Graveyard and Journey)

That weekend was capped off by a further visit to my Best Man (BS) in Cambridgeshire.  We spent time catching up as usual but also sorted about half of his vast collection of CDs into alphabetical order – just the sort of task I love.  We also saw Forest Green Rovers eke out a fine draw at MK Dons and visited his previous place of work at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Bedfordshire.  We were blessed with lovely weather (and a great Forest Green Rovers performance) and I had a very enjoyable time.

The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds HQ and Grounds

The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds (RSPB) HQ and Grounds

After a relatively quiet week, the weekend just past was dominated and enhanced by the visit of Middle Son (MS), his girlfriend, her dad, his wife and their two young boys.  They were all attending a wedding nearby so stayed with us for a couple of days.  It was lovely to see MS and his girlfriend again and to meet her family.  Having all this leisure time in retirement makes accommodating such visits so much more relaxing than it would have been a couple of years ago when I would have been checking work email and rushing back to London on a Sunday afternoon.  We had a great weekend.

Now I’m off to London to make more use of my V&A membership, see a film with ES and catch up with a bunch of old London friends.  Busy, busy, busy…..

Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It

Will Smith’s ‘Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It’ was hardly the sort of music that was available at the Cambridge Folk Festival and so is a slightly misleading title for this.  But, during my visit to part of the festival last weekend, there were a lot of jigs and I did do a lot of foot-tapping and unobtrusive swaying to the sounds on offer.  They were primarily various forms of folk music but also blues, soul and Americana.  The sun shone, the atmosphere was relaxed, the festival facilities were first rate, and the music – while not entirely my favourite genre – was very easy on the ear and some was excellent.

Cambridge Festival, Stage 1 With Kate Rusby

Cambridge Festival, Stage 1 With Kate Rusby, A Laid Back Audience (So Many Folding Chairs!) And A Big Sky

I went with an old friend of mine – my Best Man (BM) at my wedding just over 33 years ago.  I was able to stay with at his house, a 30 minute taxi ride away from the festival, for the weekend.  We chatted, caught up on our respective lives and plans, ate and drank well, and enjoyed both the folk festival and the surrounding countryside (which, in a refreshing contrast to the deeply incised valleys around our Gloucestershire home, is open and undulating).  It was, as hoped for, a wonderful change from my routine.

Once again, my retirement meant that, for me at least, the weekend was more relaxed than would have been the case a few years, or even a few months, ago.  I was able to drive to and from Cambridgeshire in a measured way outside of peak traffic hours, there was no rush to do anything and we got the gentle pace of our activities about right.

On the Saturday of the folk festival we arrived when it opened but realised that an 11 hour stint of listening to the array of bands across several stages would exhaust us physically and mentally, especially given the hot and sunny weather.  We saw about 15 bands/performers over about 8 hours that day.  The best of these, for me, were The East Pointers (Americana) and Eric Bibb (blues) but the majority were traditional and rather basic folk bands.  We left early for a curry dinner, thereby missing a couple of headline acts, but, frankly, we were sated.

Cambridge Festival: The Shee, Eric Bibb And Alison Russell From The Birds Of Chicago

Cambridge Festival: The Shee, Eric Bibb And Alison Russell From The Birds Of Chicago

On the Sunday we decided to only attend the festival towards the end of the day. That enabled us to fit in a visit to Ely.  The town was gorgeous in the sunlight and history oozed from every turn.  Ely’s cathedral is terrific; it dominates the town and also the flat, fenland countryside for many miles around it.  It lost much of its ornamentation during the 16th century Reformation and then during Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan reign (he lived in Ely after all!).  But the grandeur and sheer engineering feat of its towers, nave and Lady Chapel remain.

Ely Cathedral, The Ouse And Oliver Cromwell's House

Ely Cathedral, The Ouse And Oliver Cromwell’s House

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

After tucking into a craft beer and lunch we walked around the town and down the Ouse River before popping into Anglesea Abbey on the way to Cambridge; another weather-enhanced treat.

Anglesea Abbey

Anglesea Abbey

We then returned to the folk festival and timed our arrival to see Kate Rusby (lovely voice) and, my BMs favourite, Birds of Chicago (excellent, radiant harmonies with a vibrant and emotional – almost tearful – female lead).  We also saw a clearly famous and popular John Prine but we looked at each other during his set and it was clear we had both had enough folk music for one weekend.

We left the music, sandals, tattoos and occasional whiffs of pot at the festival for a snack and a final bottle of wine back at my BM’s comfortable house and listened to some of his vast collection of CDs.  We congratulated ourselves on getting the pace of the weekend right.  As we looked back on a very good time, my BM prepared for a new working week and I considered the prospect of the leisure of another episode of relaxed retirement.

And so it is…..

A Year On….

This day a year ago was the day I went over my personal ‘cliff edge’ by leaving London and starting my retirement in the country.

There were no half-measures as far as work was concerned. Indeed I have hardly thought about work since I left; I simply stopped.  Leaving London was less precipitate since the family home has been in Gloucestershire for about 20 years and I spent most weekends there over that time.  Critically too, I have retained a foothold in London in that I can stay with Eldest Son in the Barbican flat while he lives there.

It’s been a great year – maybe the best, despite my deep concerns for what is going on in the World beyond my daily sphere of influence.  I don’t regret the retirement decision, or the way I did it, a bit.

Six months into retirement, last December, I set out the lessons I thought I had learnt about my retirement up to that point (here and here).  To recap, the main personal lessons, in summary, were:

  • Work didn’t and doesn’t define me and I don’t miss it
  • There is plenty to do in retirement
  • There is still need for structure
  • Holidays (trips away from home) are more relaxing now
  • I miss London, but not as much as I expected
  • Summer Is A Good Time To Retire
  • Remember That Retirement Affects One’s Partner Too
  • Spend Time Getting To Know One’s (New) Neighbourhood
  • Don’t Rush Into Any New Big Time Commitments
  • Health, As Always, Is Critical.

I don’t think I would change those much a further six months into retirement.

I worry a bit that I’m still not feeling ready to commit time to some project, voluntary exercise or local organisation.  Most of my reticence in getting involved in something like that stems from the difficulties we already have in getting away for holidays without disrupting Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSWs) work and course commitments.  We have enjoyed our holidays in Australia, South Africa and, most recently, in Paris so much.  I don’t want to put further obstacles in the way of scheduling more.

In any case, the point that there is plenty to do in retirement and that I feel busy already remains true.  The last few weeks have felt particularly full. In addition to our trip to Paris, there have been outings to gardens, pubs and friends.  Also, the football World Cup has been an increasingly enjoyable time-suck as we have moved into the knockout stages and given that the England team still have a chance to impress.  Most enjoyably, we had a lovely visit from Youngest Son (YS) on his way from Australia to a video shoot he has been selected for in Croatia during their Yacht Week.

Face Time and Whatsapp communication from Australia, plus pictures on Instagram, provide an inadequate substitute for seeing YS in the flesh so it was tremendous to have him staying with us for a few days.  Unlike his last visit at Christmas, we had time to chat with him at some length.  It was great to hear how he is doing what he wants – travelling and filming – and he is in his element in Australia where so much of life is spent outdoors, energetically, in wonderful weather.

Of course, the weather here, too, has been magnificent.  We were encouraged by it to make an early morning trip with YS to see dawn at Cheddar Gorge.

Cheddar Gorge Just After Dawn

The sunlight on the gorge sides was gorgeous and the early start meant we could squeeze in a recuperative snooze and a canal-side walk all before a pub lunch.

LSW and YS

LSW and YS Walking Near Frampton Mansell, Gloucestershire

Of course there are downsides with the dry, sunny weather – the inevitable water shortages, the moor fires in the north of the country and the drying out of the garden – and the languorous periods lounging in the garden have had the unfortunate side effect of depressing my non-alcohol day count in June (I only managed four).  However, I say, bring on some more sun and warmth now I’m retired and can enjoy it fully.  Summer is a great time to be retired!

Oh Paris!

What a wonderful city Paris is!  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have just returned from a weekend break there to celebrate LSW’s birthday.  I love cities but Paris is particularly special, especially when the sun is shining as it did for us.  The streets bustle around the spill-overs from the brasseries, bistros and cafes, the historic architecture is casually lovely and the newer buildings are often intriguing.  The shiny thread of the Seine is more heavily used than the Thames in London and its banks and bridges provide tremendous views.

View Of The Cathedral Notre-Dame De Paris

View Of The Cathedral Notre-Dame De Paris

LSW and I have been to Paris a few times during the decades of our relationship.  We steered away from the crowds this time and saw some of the lesser known areas of Paris.  We spent some time walking around graffiti strewn Butte De Calles – just south from our compact, clean, friendly hotel – and then a few hours strolling up the Canal St Martin/Bassin De Villette/Canal De L’Ourcq in the north east.  We also walked the Viaduct Des Artes out from the Bastille to the Peripherique to the east.  All these walks gave us an unusual and fascinating perspective of the underside of Paris that we hadn’t seen before.

Graffiti in Butte De Calles

Graffiti in Butte De Calles

I also visited one of the big cemeteries (Pére Lachaise) which was a wonderfully shady break from the sun and heat.  Cemeteries are another thing the countries on the continent do well.

Cemetiere Du Pere Lachaise

Cemetiere Du Pere Lachaise (Including The Tomb Of Oscar Wilde Second of Right)

Both LSW and I (together and separately) saw wonderfully cluttered bookshops, browsed unreformed hardware stores and visited stylish clothes shops.

Whisks Inside An Old Fashioned Parisian Hardware Store

Whisks Inside An Old Fashioned Parisian Hardware Store (The Price Of Which Had To be Looked Up In A Catalog)

We also visited the Sunday street markets.  We have been trying to sell our stuff in car boot and table top sales recently.  Having seen the scale and popularity of the Sunday flea markets in the Parisian squares and along several main streets, we joked that we should have taken a car load of stuff over to Paris to sell it there.  We generally avoided the crowds but short spells in the flea and food markets were invigorating.

Street Market Near Place De La Republique

Street Market Near Place De La Republique

Of course, we felt obliged to see some of the iconic sights of Paris including the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Jardin Du Luxembourg, Basilica du Sacre Coeur, and the Jardin Des Plantes; all looking splendid in the weather we were blessed with.

The Eiffel Tower From Champs De Mars

The Eiffel Tower From Champs De Mars

We also squeezed in some arty culture by visiting the Palais de Tokyo and the Atelier Brancusi.  The former had two wonderful rooms filled mainly with Delaunay and Dufy paintings.  The latter was a reconstruction of Brancusi’s studios and was brilliantly done.  Both were free, neither were crowded and neither took long to absorb; perfect!

Dufy, Dufy, Delaunay And Bonnard At Palais De Tokyo

Dufy, Dufy, Delaunay And Bonnard At Palais De Tokyo

Views In Atelier Brancusi; His Reconstructed Studio

Views In Atelier Brancusi; His Reconstructed Studio

In between these 25,000 step days, the art and the taking in of the views, we spent a lot of time chilling in bars and cafes – well not chilling because it was too warm for that, but relaxing thoroughly.  We ate simply.  My favourite meal – which I had often enough to become a temporary expert in the subtle variations on offer – was Croque Madame (Croque Monsuieur with an egg on top).  We did eat in a proper restaurant once but most of our expenditure was on wine drunk slowly but steadily while watching the world go past our favourite bars.  Paris does the street bars and café scene so well at every turn.

Retirement seems to have calmed my concern that if I’m not on my way to something I’m not doing enough with my holiday; I can just sit and chat now.  Our trip was very relaxing but we also ‘did’ a lot.  My only worry is that excellent weather we have had on recent holidays is due to balance out on our next one in Porto in July (I have to worry about something).

First, this coming week will be dominated by a visit to England by our Youngest Son (YS).  He is over from Australia for a few days on his way to an exciting-sounding video job at Croatia Yacht Week.  I might investigate whether I can be his bag-carrier.  I suspect he will be looking for someone stronger and more good looking and so will just make do with the treat of seeing him for the first time since New Year.

Pompidou Centre, Sacre Couer, Bibliotheque De L'Arsenal

Varied Paris Architecture: Pompidou Centre, Sacre Du Couer, Bibliotheque De L’Arsenal

Palais De Tokyo

Palais De Tokyo