A Pensionable Age

It was my birthday last week and I am now, officially, a pensioner.  I can’t wait to get my bus pass and try it out!

I had an absolutely wonderful birthday week and, for the first time in what might be decades, I spent my actual birthday with both my Dad and my sister who has her birthday just the day before mine.  She is staying with my Dad and so I popped up to Nottingham to see them both on the way to see Forest Green Rovers’ last, critical game of the season in Mansfield, and then on to Edinburgh.

The weather in Nottingham was kind enough to enable some pleasant local walks but the highlight of my stay – apart perhaps from our joint birthday meal out at a local restaurant – was an evening playing Mahjong

The Family Mahjong Set

My Dad (and now my sister) has inherited a fine and thankfully complete bone and hand painted Mahjong set which my Grandad brought from India when he returned to England.  The game is a delicate balance of luck and skill but the pleasure really comes from the handling of the bone bricks and counters.  Playing again as a family was such fun although we all missed the fourth hand in the game – Mum.

Three-Player Mahjong; My Winning Hand (Hehe!)

Of course the next highlight was Forest Green Rovers’ game at Mansfield.  We needed to achieve a better result on the day than Exeter City (who were playing at home in Exeter) to win the English Football League Division 2 Championship.  We came from behind twice against Mansfield with two fine goals right in front of us to gain a draw.  Then, a minute after our result, we heard that Exeter had lost; we are Champions!  Joy was unconfined on and off the pitch!

Champions!

I had to leave those celebrations early and quickly to get my train north to Edinburgh.  I arrived just before midnight in the midst of First Grandchild’s (FG’s) sleep training.  I was quiet and careful not to disrupt the discipline of feeding him at fixed times and of forcing him to settle himself when waking during the night.  FG’s progress during my few days in Edinburgh was transformational but not entirely linear – nor will it be continuous going forward.  But the direction of travel is extremely positive and, for Eldest Son and, especially, his partner, the huge reduction in FG’s demands during evenings and the night is already life changing for them (and FG).

Big Beach And Big Sky: Portobello, Edinburgh

Seeing FG again was a real treat and I had such a great time in Edinburgh again.  I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens once more (with a sleeping FG).  I am now familiar with the gardens but, of course, it is now Spring so everything looks different – and even more interesting – than it did during my last visit.  The last of the tulips are out and the rhododendrons are looking gorgeous.  The trees are freshly in leaf and the birds are super-active.  Fortunately, FG slumbered throughout.

Royal Botanical Gardens: Tulips In The Demonstration Garden

It is at this time of the year that one can see that, indeed, the Botanical Garden in Edinburgh has the largest collection of rhododendrons in the world.  There is such a variety on show and now is peak flowering time.  A small but interesting exhibition in Inverleith House set out the characteristics of rhododendrons, their world distribution, their history in gardening, and the challenges to indigenous plant-life some varieties have caused as they have escaped into the wilds of the northern hemisphere, including Scotland. 

Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens: Fresh Leafed Trees And Flowering Rhododendrons

I also went to a superb exhibition of Barbara Hepworth’s work at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.  It was a straightforward retrospective but, I thought, the pieces on show were not only excellent illustrations of the progression her art took through her life but were, in several cases, just astonishingly good.  I loved the exhibition.

Barbara Hepworth At The Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art

In part, as I have noted during previous visits to Edinburgh galleries, my pleasure was heightened by the fact that there were no crowds vying for views of the work on show.  Exhibitions in London may be more high profile but they can also attract crowds that can detract from the show.  Being another capital and highly cultural city, Edinburgh can attract big names and marvellous works but without the huge audiences – at least, outside of Edinburgh Festival timings. 

Barbara Hepworth Bronzes And More
More Hepworth At The Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art

My final cultural exploit in Edinburgh was to see the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  The big ‘wow!’ here is the Great Hall of the building itself.  As one walks into the building for the first time, it is a jaw-droppingly beautiful space.

The Great Hall At The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The art on show is, predictably, almost exclusively portraiture.  I can only take so much of that and I may have overdone it as the chronologically organised galleries became a bit of a blur after a while. 

The Library At The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

There was however, a mixed but, overall, interesting exhibition on the Scottish census.  This included a piece of a project by Kieron Dodds to photograph ginger-haired people.  These tend to be in distinct geographic pockets around the world – apparently, for example, 13% of people in Scotland are have ginger coloured hair and there are distinct preponderances of ginger colouring in parts of the Caribbean and Russia.  The project felt relevant given that FG’s current hair colour is also a little ginger.

‘Gingers’ By Kieron Dodds

Then it was back to London to carry out a chore or two in the Barbican flat prior to sale (we hope).  I saw The Northman in a cinema – my first cinema visit for a long while.  It was worth seeing on the big screen if only for the amazing Icelandic scenery but, apart from one twist exquisitely delivered by Nicole Kidman, it was, for me, no more than a bit of moderately entertaining, macho-violent, Nordic swashbuckling. 

I capped off birthday week with breakfast with Middle Son – always a treat to get an update on his shifting plans.  Then home to get my bus pass application in……

Spring Visits

Ok, so yesterday afternoon we had a brief blizzard of snowflakes, but Spring is well and truly here!  Trees are starting to reveal their leaves and the blackthorn has been in flower for weeks.  Cherries and magnolias are in full bloom.  Lambs have arrived in the fields adjacent to and opposite our house.  Their carefree gambolling about on wobbly legs is always a huge pleasure to watch at this time of year.

Worryingly, but not unexpectedly given the fact of global warming, Spring seems earlier every year.  Even by mid-March I was starting to see a range of butterflies (including Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Small Tortoiseshell, Orange Tip and Red Admiral).  But, whenever Spring feels like it has arrived, it is always a joy.

Once again, during a trip to Edinburgh, the weather was very kind.  One time in the future when we visit Edinburgh, all our sunny days there so far are going to be repaid by relentless rain and grey but…  not yet!

On Carlton Hill, Edinburgh With FG (Asleep And Out Of Shot)

On this trip there was the novelty and pleasure of picking up my Dad on the way and taking him up to Edinburgh with us.  That enabled him to see Edinburgh again for the first time in a decade or so but also, critically, to meet his great grandchild (our First Grandchild (FG)).  It was actually too, the first time he had me FG’s mother since previous attempts to meet up had been thwarted by train cancellations or pandemic restrictions.  The building of new relationships even extended to my Dad meeting FG’s other grandparents over a lovely lunch at their flat.

Of course, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I did our pram-pushing duties to send FG off to sleep while taking in the sights and smells of Edinburgh.  (There is a brewery in the city and the smell of hops reminded me of the breweries in my home town of Reading when I was a kid.)  Once again we visited the excellent Royal Botanic Garden which was perfect in the sun. 

Inside The Alpine Houses At The Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
The Obligatory (But Lovely) Slew Of Daffodils In The Royal Botanical Gardens

In the Botanic Garden entrance hall was a colourful and interesting exhibition (called ‘Forth Lines’) of local artists’ embroidery with each of 96 panels depicting a point along the Firth of Forth coastline.  FG stayed asleep long enough for me to enjoy it and to encourage my thinking about future walks along that coastline.

Sample Rows Of Embroidery Pieces By Local Artists And Residents Along The Firth Of Forth (The ‘Forth Lines’ Exhibition)
One Of The Individual Panels From The ‘Forth Lines’ Exhibition (By Kathleen Wilson)

Another exhibition I visited while in Edinburgh was a major exhibition of John James Audubon’s pictures of birds at the National Museum of Scotland.  My Dad has long been interested in Audubon and I tagged along since I love exhibitions of this sort and it was great to share the experience with my Dad.  It is an excellent exhibition. Our only wish was that there would be more on the process of actually executing the drawings, engravings and colouration – it was clearly a substantial team effort. Regardless of this, the resultant prints on show are stunning and the explanations of them and of Audubon’s life were fascinating.

Audubon was certainly a rather strange character.  He was born in 1785 in Haiti to French parents – a plantation owner and his maid – and became a self-trained naturalist, artist and hunter. 

Audubon had many contradictions.  He owned slaves and dabbled in ideas related to eugenics but took funding from slavery abolitionists. He shot thousands of birds in his life but was also one of the first to document how industrialisation and agriculture were destroying bird habitats.  His lack of an academic background meant many in the scientific community in America denigrated him but he was – with his drawing talent, determination to succeed and his wild looks (complete with bear oil slicked hair) – a big hit in the academic and artistic circles of Edinburgh.

Detail From Plate 26 Of ‘Birds Of America’ – ‘Carolina Parrot’ by Audubon

It was here and then London that he gained sponsorship for (apparently £2m in today’s money) and published his most famous and hugely popular work, ‘The Birds of America’.  The huge volumes consist of 435 hand-coloured, life-size prints of 497 bird species, made from engraved copper plates of various sizes depending on the size of the image.  One of the volumes was on show at the exhibition alongside numerous individual prints.  The book was extravagantly large because, remarkably, each bird picture it contained was drawn at life size.

One Of The Volumes Of Audubon’s ‘Birds Of America’

The prints on show were vibrant and wonderful and the lack of crowds at the exhibition meant that the stunning detail could be seen up close and at leisure.  That many of Audubon’s prints boasted incorrectly of newly discovered species or were anatomically incorrect didn’t matter given the high quality of the overall impact. 

Detail From Plate 72 Of ‘Birds Of America’ – ‘Swallow Tailed Hawk’ by Audubon

The exhibition was also good because it told Audubon’s story about his talent (and the way the world responded to it) interestingly, and it was honest about his flaws.  Most of all, it was great to have the afternoon with my Dad sharing something so memorable.

Although We Didn’t Explore It Beyond the Audubon Exhibition This Time, The National Museum of Scotland Is In a Lovely Building

To round off March, LSW and I visited The Newt Garden in Somerset for the second time this year.  Spring has definitely come to this 350 acre garden and woodland.  Already, the myriad varieties of cordon and espaliered apple plants are starting to come into flower. 

The Newt Gardens – The Parabola Garden

As reported in this blog several times before, it is a wonderful garden which continues to evolve and grow.  This time we were able to visit with two friends from our village which added a lovely extra dimension which was topped off by a delicious lunch in the Garden restaurant.  I’m looking forward already to visiting again later in the year.

The Gardeners Cottage And Magnolia From The Victorian Garden At The Newt

Before that, we have April to look forward to: a re-warming of the weather, the Football League run-in of the final games of the season (I go in hope for Forest Green Rovers), more blossoming of plants and shrubs, thriving seedlings (again, I hope), and Easter with Youngest Son and his partner.  Not a bad prospect but what a shame it is the global context of Russia’s dire attack on Ukraine.  Spring is sprung but not everyone can appreciate it right now.

Bonus Photos of Sunny Edinburgh