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

Trips, Royals and Trophies

Recently, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have tried to arrange at least one mid-week trip out from home each week.  This is, as LSW puts it, to mark that I am now retired and so have the flexibility to visit places during the week rather than during the more crowded weekends.  These have to fit around her continuing part time work commitments and, to a lesser extent, my trips to London but we have managed them with reasonable regularity.

Last week, we capitalised on the excellent weather and visited two gardens in the North Cotswolds.  Bourton House Gardens is relatively new having been laid out and planted around a beautiful 18th century manor house just 30 years ago.  The colourful flower beds, potted tulips, box bush topiary and knot garden were inspiring.  Best of all, for me, was a walk around an arboretum, with a simple pamphlet guide, that helped us decide which sorts of trees to plant in our own field alongside the few fruit trees we have already established.  Current favourites are Whitebeam and Poplar.

Bourton Hill Gardens

Bourton House Gardens

We then went to Snowshill Manor.  This turned out to be an interesting, coincidental adjunct to my pondering a couple of weeks ago about the accumulation of material goods and de-cluttering.  Prior to being given to the National Trust, the house and garden was owned by Charles Wade, a compulsive collector of items recording craft and workmanship.  He lived in a small cottage adjacent to the medieval manor house which he bought specifically to accommodate his large and varied collection of cabinets, artwork, costumes, musical instruments, tools and other artefacts.  The dusting challenge for his housekeeper and, now, the National Trust, must be huge!

Part Of Charles Wade’s Collection (Masks And Musical Instruments) at Snowshill Manor

Part of Charles Wade’s Collection (Masks And Musical Instruments Are Shown Here) At Snowshill Manor

The collection, and his compact personal accommodation, were interesting but even better were the gardens and the views from them.  In weather such as that we have enjoyed through much of May, England can look marvellous and it certainly was in the Cotswolds that day.

Snowshill Manor Gardens

Snowshill Manor Gardens

We rounded off the trip with a visit to Daylesford luxury farm shop which LSW loves.  The shops – even the grocery shelves and the food counters – look rather like art shows.  The prices are almost prohibitively geared to out-of-London trippers but the quality is high and several pieces inspired ideas for things that we might try to replicate in some way at home.  We stuck with those ideas rather than buy anything more than lunch in the sun.

LSW really enjoyed the Royal wedding last week.  Whilst not being particularly interested in the Royal Family myself, I can understand her positive sentiments about the wedding.  The bride and groom looked adoring and very happy.  Meghan’s mixed race heritage is a welcome extension to the Royal’s outlook, diversity and modernism.

LSW watched the wedding proceedings for hours and then watched the replays.  At one point she was watching a replay while I was watching a replay of Forest Green Rovers’ promotion playoff-winning performance at Wembley exactly a year ago.  We both had tears of joy in our eyes!

This season, Forest Green Rovers (FGR) barely avoided relegation from their newly elevated status in League 2 of the English Football League.  That was good enough for me.  The performance was burnished for me by my pride in winning the FGR Prediction League competition (for the second time in 10 years).  The competition trophy will have to be found a small space somewhere as other stuff is bundled off to car-boot sales, charity shops or the dump – but only for a year since I doubt I will be so lucky to win next season.

The Forest Green Rovers Prediction League Trophy

The Forest Green Rovers Football Club Prediction League Trophy (The Colin Gardner Shield)

Spring and Stuff

Spring has arrived late but with waves of sun and warmth that suggest it is trying to catch up on lost time.  Leaves and blossom have burst into life and colour and the landscape suddenly has that fresh feel of Spring.  The carpets of bluebells in the nearby woods are already usurped by the wild garlic and the paths and verges are lined with cow parsley 4 foot high.  Already, we seem to be marching into summer.

Wild Flowers OnThe Way to Town

Cow Parsley, Wild Garlic, Bluebells And Cowslips On The Walk Into Town

The recent improvement in the weather has encouraged me to resume vegetable gardening in between trips to London (a cheeky, impromptu visit primarily to see a favourite band, Kefaya) and Nottingham (to see my parents).  I have been planting seeds, digging the vegetable patch and putting up a bit of new fencing.  For the first time, I am retired from work during a Spring.  When I was working, I used to perform what I called ‘speed gardening’ at weekends.  This year I can devote time throughout the week to a more relaxed style of gardening.

From bitter experience I know that not all this reinvigorated effort will bear fruit in terms of usable crops.  Not everything germinates or thrives and squirrels, deer and badgers have taken more than their fair share in recent years.  However, now Spring is here, frustrations with the local wildlife, and memories of needless gluts of vegetables that the animals don’t like, are set aside and the vegetable patch is cultivated once more.  Once again, in a few months’ time, we will probably be scouring recipe books and the internet for meals requiring lots of beetroot or courgettes and having beans with every meal.

About three weeks ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) had one of her periodic purges of our possessions to populate a table at a village table-top sale.  I had my usual power of veto to prevent the discarding of things that might conceivably be useful to me, our sons or any of their as yet entirely unplanned children at some point in the future.  However, I kept my veto in my pocket and a car-load of stuff was priced up and went for sale.

Unfortunately, our village evidently has a lot of people who want to offload things but few who wanted to accumulate them.  By the end of the sale, due to LSW buying yet another designer tap, she came back out of pocket and only one item lighter.  Given the investment of time in pricing all this stuff up, LSW had another go at a local car-boot sale.  She had about £60 more success but it’s clear that much of what we are trying to sell is going to take the normal trip to the local charity shops.

We gather so many material goods over a lifetime.  Some have a now outdated function and some are purely decorative but are no longer in vogue or have a place.  A classic example was an Apilco tea set which we once used and loved but which has been in a cupboard untouched for years.  We tested whether any of the sons wanted it and got negative responses (‘its horrific’ said one).  They already have what crockery they need and, if they need more, will go online at Amazon, John Lewis or Ikea.  Handing stuff down over the generations doesn’t seem to work any longer.

Apilco Tea Set

Apilco Tea Set Awaiting A New Home

At our age, we simply don’t need many additional material goods.  Indeed, LSW is strong – and persuasive in the face of my greater, but softening, reticence – on reducing our footprint by clearing our old stuff out.  Thank goodness for the recycling work of charity shops but the dump is also a regular destination.

These thoughts were going through my mind as LSW and I visited the annual neighbourhood open studios events of the last couple of weeks.  Lots of creative and talented people were displaying their art and craft work in their homes and in local galleries; some was impressive.  In past years we have bought some of the items but, more recently, we have walked around the open studios rather aimlessly.  We just don’t need any more things to sit on shelves or to go on walls.

LSW has recently started a ceramics course.  My fear is that her work – worthy and perhaps even lovely as it may turn out to be – will be another avenue of stuff entering our home.  If so, then at least I will have a bargaining chip in negotiations around hanging onto some of my long-standing possessions for another year.  But my realisation that I have to declutter that stuff is growing – maybe I’ll go to the next car boot sale or even learn to try eBay…..

Kefaya At Archspace, Haggerston, London

Kefaya At Archspace, Haggerston, London; One Of My Favourite Bands

Not Too Old Yet

Following my last post here, I was admonished by both Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and Eldest Son (ES) for not mentioning an incident that occurred last time I was in London.

Following the gig I saw with ES and one of his best friends, we wanted to find a bar in Camden that would allow us to unwind a bit with some more drinks. We approached a lively bar but I was refused entry; ES and his friend were welcome but, evidently, I was not. Admittedly my memory from similar past occasions may be fuzzy but I can’t remember being denied entry to a bar or club before. I was astonished but all three of us found it very funny.

At the time I assumed it was because I was overly merry – ES would probably corroborate this – but later, as I considered how relatively little I had had to drink over the few hours of the gig, I wondered if the barrier to entry was on grounds of age. I didn’t ask at the time and so I will never know, but I would have increased the average age of the clientele significantly had I gone in. Given that we managed to get into the next bar I shan’t worry too much but, with yet another birthday coming up tomorrow, I wonder if I will experience this sort of ageist rebuttal again.

LSW and I had no such problem getting into another venue – The Forge – in Bristol last week. The Forge had cropped up one of LSW’s favourite blog sites as one that hosts craft workshops, yoga sessions and performance art including music. We went more to see the venue than the band (although listening to them on Spotify had allowed us to build optimism that we would enjoy them in advance).

The Forge, Bristol

Awaiting The Band At The Forge, Bristol

In practice, the headline act – Albert Jones – turned out to be excellent. The venue was also great although the audience was seemingly full of close friends who spent most of the time catching up with each other rather noisily instead of listening to the music – something I’m always irritated by more than I should be.

We conjoined the trip to The Forge with a scouting exercise around residential north and west Bristol. Cheltenham, Bath and Bristol are nearby cities and towns that LSW and I are considering as a place to live in at some point in the future. In part, a move to an urban area would reduce our reliance on a car while putting us in easier reach of entertainment and other facilities. It would respond to our probable decreasing personal mobility as we get older. Moving house is not something that we plan to do for several years – we are still upgrading the current one for goodness sake! – but it’s better to think and plan ahead.

Having walked several residential streets and looked at a number of estate agents’ windows, we concluded that Bristol is definitely an option. I would like the big, gritty, city feel but LSW would prefer Cheltenham due to its smaller size and more sophisticated feel. Visiting The Forge with its huge windows and elevated out-look, tempted LSW to imagine life in a top-floor loft apartment in a converted warehouse. I’m not sure how that will reconcile with the need to think about our future mobility. However, it’s fun to contemplate the possibilities and we are lucky to be able to do so.

Meanwhile, although it may be my birthday tomorrow (and I apparently increasingly run the risk of exclusion from some bars and clubs), LSW and I are still in good health. We can therefore focus on enjoying our current house, garden and rural community rather than worry too much about next steps yet.

Busy With Peak Beard

It’s been a pretty packed couple of weeks at and around home, and then in London. Last week’s visit to London was triggered by the opportunity to catch up with a Madagascan friend who was once a marvellous au pair for us when our kids were small. She is now living in the US but was visiting London with her husband. We had a lovely lunch at some very hospitable mutual friends. We then visited Kew Gardens with particular attention to the Orchid Festival.

When we lived in Kew, I treated Kew Gardens almost as an alternate back garden and visited them at least once a week, dragging one or more sons with me. The gardens have been developed in a number of interesting ways in the intervening 20 years but retain their beauty, neatness and scale. I shall plan a longer and more comprehensive visit later in the year when there is more colour and warmth outside the unique greenhouses.

Kew Gardens Orchids

A Small Sample Of Orchids From The Exhibition in Kew Gardens

That excursion was followed by dinner and an overnight stay at the house of some other long-standing friends in Chiswick. It has been a while since I have attended a London dinner party. After the last few months of early nights of rural entertainment, it was a shock to find myself drinking, eating and still deep in conversation at 2am. Given that interesting gins and tasty wines had been opened before 7pm, it was a wonder we got back to Gloucestershire in time for me to attend the next critical game in Forest Green Rovers’ attempt to stave off relegation.

Previous to all of this conviviality with Long Suffering Wife (LSW), I had ventured up to London to do a few things alone (while LSW fulfilled her book club commitment). As before, I stayed with eldest Son (ES) in my old Barbican flat; what an excellent arrangement this is turning out to be. After dinner with him I had breakfast with Middle Son (MS) and so was able to report back to LSW on their well-being and current hopes, fears and habits.

I also fitted in the Museum of London’s Fatberg exhibition – a fascinating and very topical 30 minutes of facts and societal concern – and a visit to the Charles I King and Collector exhibition at the Royal Academy.

The Museum of London Fatberg

The Museum of London Fatberg (A Foot Long Segment of the Biggest Fatberg Ever Found And More Interesting Than It Looks Here).

The Charles 1 exhibition was huge and impressive. The way the collection came together during Charles I’s reign, was dispersed after his head was cut off by Cromwell and then partially reassembled (and further reassembled for this exhibition) was fascinating. It also provided an opportunity to observe some interesting beard and moustache styles from the 17th century that I am tempted to reproduce with my own burgeoning facial hair.

Charles I and His LSW

Charles I With Peak Beard And His LSW

Of my New Year resolutions, perhaps that to grow a beard has been the one in which I have made most progress so far. Unsurprisingly, LSW has already vetoed the Charles 1 style handlebar moustache and, just today, she has started to make noises about the bushiness starting to exceed her tastes. The scissors are ready so peak beard is about to pass.

Peak Beard?

Peak Beard? Nearly Two Months’ Growth But Ready For A Trim?

Other events in London included one of the longest lunch (and related drinks) sessions I have had for a while. This was with another retiree with about 18 months more experience than I. It was fun talking about mutual ex-colleagues, the more frequent and extended holidays now possible without the constraints of work, and the possibilities of using some of the extra discretionary time we now have to play the credit card promotional offer ‘game’. Given the benefits, I need to try that by applying for, using and then discarding new credit cards; after all, I have the time to do so.

I also saw two films: The Shape of Water (a beautifully shot but simple love story) and Lady Bird (fine and very well acted but probably most cogent to a mother or a daughter). I had one other late night visiting a pop up art exhibition called PoptArt Gallery run by one of Youngest Son’s (YS) ex-college friends. These pop ups have been running for a couple of years and have become progressively more sophisticated. This occurrence was in a stylish private club. The art was as interesting as ever but the main attraction was to catch up with the organiser and to meet her friends, some of whom know YS.

London Graffiti

Noticed During My Walks Through London This Week: An Example of London’s Wonderful Graffiti (This By Bambi)

After all that rushing about in London, it would be very satisfactory to settle back into impending Spring in Gloucestershire (and do more decorating of the TV room of course!). Not much time for that though…. we are off to Cape Town next week. Exciting times……