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

Happy Week

The last week or so has seen warm temperatures at last.  Despite my fears, Forest Green Rovers have had sufficient success on the football field to ensure that a dreaded relegation will almost certainly be avoided.  I’ve been able to get started on preparing the vegetable patch and growing seedlings for the garden and managed to fit in another trip to London.  It’s been a good time.

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Lincoln Fields: Every Green Space In London Fully Occupied When The Sun Comes Out!

There has also been some nostalgia this week.  20 years ago, Boards of Canada, a band producing an evocative brand of psychedelic electronica, released their first studio album called Music Has The Right To Children.  I bought the CD soon afterwards and have spent the last 20 years buying their other albums and loving almost every minute of them.

It’s hard to pick a favourite band because there are so many music genres and different music suits different moods and circumstances.  But I believe that, at any time over the last 20 years (including today), I would have said Boards of Canada are my favourite band.  An example of their sound – with typically off-beat images evoking public service documentaries, childhood and nostalgia is here (Everything You Do Is Balloon).

Boards of Canada are two Scottish brothers who have only produced three more full albums since that first one that got me hooked.  To my knowledge, they have never played live.  They leave me grasping for more.  I therefore jumped at Eldest Son’s (ES’s)suggestion that we go to a jazz interpretation of the Music Has the Right to Children by Byron Wallen’s Gamelan Ensemble at Camden’s Jazz Club in London.  It was an excellent event – though inevitably a shadow of the real thing – and so popular that, I understand, a repeat performance is being scheduled.

Byron Wallen's Gamelan Ensemble Reinterpret Boards of Canada At The Jazz Club, Camden

Byron Wallen’s Gamelan Ensemble Reinterpret Boards of Canada At The Jazz Club, Camden

The gig was a good reason to visit London for a couple of days.  I not only spent time with ES – as usual staying in the Barbican flat he rents from us in a very convenient arrangement – but also managed to meet up with Middle Son (MS).  I also saw the Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition at Somerset House, which was a huge and incredibly varied array of often remarkable photos, and then the superb, new Monet and Architecture exhibition at the National Gallery.

Sony World Photography Award Winner: Veselin Atanasov

Sony World Photography Award Winner: Veselin Atanasov

I really enjoyed the Monet exhibition which recalled the Impressionists in London exhibition I saw at Tate Britain last year.  Several of individual pictures were stunning, the information provided was just the right level for me (not too much and nothing highfalutin), and the gallery was busy but empty enough that I could see every piece up close.  There was a little personal nostalgia here too since the exhibition sponsor was my last employer before retirement.

Monet and Architecture

Monet And Architecture: The Boulevard Des Capucines, Paris

Since returning to Gloucestershire, I have started longer spells of gardening than I managed before Spring truly sprang into life this week.  I have also resumed the interminable painting of the TV Room.  Both activities have provided moments of humour.

My vegetable patch is adjoined by a field of sheep that have been fed with hay recently because the pasture is so far behind its normal growth levels due to the poor weather.  When I appear in the vegetable patch they expect me to feed them and so rush over towards me.  One got so enthusiastic that he barged through the fence, jumped over the wall and started munching the weeds in our garden.  Fortunately, we managed to guide the sheep back to his field quickly enough to leave us amused by the experience rather than concerned.

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Sheep Intruding Into Our Garden

On the painting front, I have recently opened another pot.  As I was leaning over it to dip in my brush, my spectacles dropped off directly into the paint.  I felt pretty stupid as I fished the drenched, dark blue spectacles out and rinsed them off.  Luckily, the paint is water based so, as with the sheep, no harm was done.

Happy week!

Sunny London

Sunny London: Somerset House, Royal Courts of Justice, St Pauls And The 4th Plinth In Trafalgar Square

The Cost of Entertainment

So, still not much Spring in the air and the water-courses have been full.  But lambs are starting to pop out and Spring weather is apparently going to finally arrive next week.  Such a relief!

Full Water Courses and New Lambs

Full Local Water Courses and New Lambs

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to the Theatre Royal in Bath last week to see Mary Stuart starring Juliette Stephenson and Lia Williams.  The last time I went to the theatre was years ago when I saw War Horse in London.  I really can’t recall when, before that, I saw a play.  In retrospect, it’s surprising that I didn’t do more theatre-going while I was in London – one of the theatre capitals of the world.  I love cinema, which is perhaps the closest art form, and I love live music which provides similar intimacy.  So why not go to more theatre?

Part of the reason is that a large part of good acting is in facial expression.  My eyesight is just not good enough to be able to discern the subtlety of such expression from the distances I expect to find myself away from the stage and so I feel I will miss out.  That was true in Bath earlier this week but, in truth, the performance was very enjoyable anyway.

The other reason for not going to many shows in London was my perception of the expense of the ticket relative to my knowledge of the theatre and, therefore, my chances of enjoying the experience.  However, the costs of going to the theatre are lower outside of London and we knew the play LSW and I saw in Bath would be good because we’d seen the reviews and it had already had a successful run in London.  In any case, I have been thinking more about the relative cost of the entertainments I choose.

The tickets for Theatre Royal cost £33 each.  That is quite a lot of money in absolute terms and, given that the theatre has a capacity of 900 and was packed, that creates a decent revenue stream for the theatre.  But then we were seeing a couple of near-top actresses, and a cast of 20 or so, all directed and acting in front of a backdrop and lighting that all needs to be maintained and manned.  This production is a success but not all are and so maybe Mary Stuart has to cover losses on other plays.  Also, the play was a pretty compelling three hours long – so that’s around £11 per hour of (dramatic, absorbing and memorable) entertainment.

A week before, I had travelled up to London to see Forest Green Rovers (FGR) Football Club lose against our relegation rivals Barnet.  The ticket cost £23 which is above average for English Football League 2.  For that, over 90 minutes, I saw a poor game of football with a bad result for us.  I can’t say I enjoyed the experience and it cost of over £15 per hour.  Of course, had FGR played well and won, I would have been overjoyed and very pleased to have seen the game.  But FGR’s away form is such that I could have expected disappointment.

Small scale live music gigs are very good relative value.  Many I have attended in recent years have cost less than £10 and, with support bands, provide around two hours of entertainment at £5-8 per hour.  The latest band I saw was a (supposedly) up and coming band called Goat Girl.  For the cost of a CD (£11), I got in to see them live in the intimate surroundings of Rough Trade East record store in Shoreditch, London.  It was a lively hour, I liked much of the music and it was very good value (given I have the CD memento).

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Goat Girl at Rough Trade (With Goat Props!)

Of course, the quality of music venue (the comfy seats available at Theatre Royal Bath are not an option in the small venues I tend to go to!) and the quality of the music is variable.  Generally though, I will have listened to the band on Spotify or CD in advance and have enough knowledge to aim at events I enjoy.  The good value of live music has, for me, been pretty consistent over several years.

The other thing I did on my football and music trip to London was go to a couple of art galleries.  Both shows, at the Hayward Gallery and the Barbican, entertained me for about 90 minutes.  By far the most interesting was the excellent exhibition of Andreas Gursky photographs at the Hayward.  It provided a fascinating insight into the work of someone I had never heard of before at a rate of about £10 per hour.  Thinking back to other exhibitions I have seen recently, that rate of entertainment cost per hour seems about the norm for me.  I like free art shows but having to pay focuses my attention of what I am seeing.

Example Of Gursky's Work

Example of Andreas Gursky’s Photos: Paris, Montparnasse

Example of Gursky's Work

Further Example of Andreas Gursky’s Photos: Bahrain Racetrack

Another Kind Of Life

Exhibition: Another Kind of Life, Photography on the Margins (Here, A Nigerian Man With His Hyena by Peter Hugo)

I might consider further the relative value of other entertainments such as restaurants, cinema, watching catch-up TV, gardening and walking (which is certainly cheapest!)  Clearly cost per hour is not the only factor.  However, from the past week I conclude that:

  • Theatre (out of London at least) is better value than I previously thought – I really enjoyed it
  • Music events are high value entertainment provided I keep my knowledge of what I am going to see current
  • Art exhibitions are good entertainment value despite the high absolute cost of tickets; indeed, I suspect the fact there is a high cost drives me to concentrate more on what I am seeing and get more out of it
  • following Forest Green Rovers away from home is bad value unless we win (just twice in the last 9 months!).

Nonetheless, the pain of the football fan is to carry on ploughing the same furrow regardless of results so I’ll be handing over my cash at Cheltenham on Saturday and hoping for value for money and, rather desperately, three points for FGR.

Spring Or April Fool

One of the toughest things about coming back from South Africa has been readjusting to the English weather (‘you poor things’ I hear you cry!).  Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were lucky to miss the cold and snow of the ‘Beast from the East’ just as we left.  However, we returned in time for the mini version of that icy blast and, for the last week or so, have struggled to avoid the rain.

Stratford Park

Stratford Park, Stroud in Early Spring Snow

But today, April Fools Day, is sunny and bright!  Is Spring here at last or is this nature’s April Fool prank?

There are many signs of spring.  The sheep are back in the field opposite our house and their lambs will soon arrive, tree buds are becoming full and starting to open, the daffodils that survived the weight of the snow last month are out, and the birds are singing more enthusiastically.  As we move into April I am hoping that the rain will relent, there will be a sustained return to warmth and that this morning’s brightness is no false promise.

Since our return from South Africa, LSW and I have been planning our next trips abroad – to Paris and Porto in the summer – and getting back into familiar routines.  LSW is re-starting her part time garden guide job and resuming her slot in the village shop.  I have been walking, reading, catching up on the TV we missed while we were away, supporting Forest Green Rovers Football Club’s struggle to avoid relegation, and (seemingly interminably) painting the TV room woodwork a dark blue.  Both before and after our South Africa trip, I have been getting up a bit earlier and walking into Nailsworth before, rather than after, breakfast.  That has created space in the routine to do painting in the mornings as well as some afternoons.  Progress in the TV room has quickened a bit – though not enough for LSW’s liking – and one end is now done (provided no-one looks too closely).

TV Room Woodwork Painting

TV Room Woodwork Painting – About A Third Done And Proud Of It!

Both of us have also started digging in the garden and setting out seed trays but this has been rather tentative given the rain and sodden ground.  LSW is excited by a new walled garden she has had designed and built to replace part of our previous car park area.  Now she is in the process of inserting the first wave of plants.  I am trying to populate our small field with a greater variety of meadow flowers – another long term project I suspect.

The drift back into a routine has been punctuated by a few highlights.  On the evening of our return to England LSW and I attended a local event at which George Monbiot, a political and environmental activist, spoke about his latest ideas and book.  It was a very well structured and inspiring talk that was full of optimism in the face of what George, and many of us, see as clear political and social dangers.  The main message is that we need to defeat the neo-liberalism that dominates today with a new narrative that expounds the value of community, the household and what he calls ‘the commons’ which I understood to be assets owned and managed in common by communities.  A lot of this dovetails into thinking around the post-work society that may flow from robotics and other technical developments that eliminate jobs; this is a fascinating area.

Later in the week, LSW and I were both moved more than expected by the Italian, Oscar-winning film Call Me By My Name.  It is a gently-paced story of young (homosexual) love with some great acting, excellent music and a direct and important message about parenting.  The film was shown at our usually tedious cinema multiplex as part of a promising programme of one off showings of films beyond the normal diet of kids’ movies and action blockbusters; more please!

Then, just before Easter, we ventured out on a rainy trip to Wiltshire and Somerset to visit the Messums Gallery near Tisbury and the Hauser & Wirth outlet and gallery near Bruton.  The buildings were more interesting than most of the art but there were some startling pieces and we had a lovely lunch at Hauser & Wirth.  Certainly, it was better being out and about in the wet pre-Spring weather than staring at the rain from our back door.

Messums Wiltshire Gallery

Messums Wiltshire Gallery: Light Installation, Art Space and ‘Nomad Patterns’ by Livia Marin

Spring: no more delay please. Let today be a turning point and hurry up and arrive properly!

Fixing A Pain In The Neck

Since my last post, Storm Fionn and then a series of grey, wet days have forced the early signs of Spring into something of a retreat. The frozen lake I passed during one of my daily walks last week was a beautiful criss-cross of ice patterns indicating that Winter is not done yet.

Lake at John Cocks Cottage

Frozen Lake at John Cocks Cottage, Horsley

On the other hand, I saw ducklings on a larger lake a few days later – surely too early! Climate Change or Climate Disruption – whatever we want to call it – is creating some strange and unexpected juxtapositions. The ducks are as good an indicator as any that, for all the brief periods of the extremes of wind, ice and snow recently, we have just experienced one of the warmest years ever.

I’m still struggling a bit with a stiff back and neck (which wasn’t helped by my comical looking fall in the ice a few weeks ago). I have decided to try some new treatment.

Years ago I received treatment from a Physiotherapist for a locked up back and still do the exercises recommended by her (admittedly, rather intermittently). Then, when we were in Australia last Autumn, Youngest Son’s girlfriend – a trained Osteopath – gave me a thorough and very professional osteopathy session. While she demonstrated considerable bravery in offering the session, I showed cowardice at the other end of the scale by eschewing the more drastic manipulations she recommended. Nonetheless, there was some welcome improvement in my movement.

I have therefore sought out some similar treatment locally. Despite the rural nature of where we live, there are a surprisingly wide range of options and number of places to try; health is, of course, a boom industry in an ageing population. I ended up opting for a well-being centre and practitioner that I can walk to and who was recommended by a friend.

It turned out that the specialist is a Chiropractor. I’ve not had one of those before. As I related my medical history, he described the treatments offered by Physiotherapists somewhat disparagingly – there seems to be little love lost between the various physical therapy disciplines – and explained how his treatment would be different from that Osteopaths provide.

I’ve only had two sessions so far so the jury is out on the degree of success the treatment is having. A back and neck problem I have had off and on for months is hardly going to be sorted out in a week. However, I’m sceptical so far.

The type of chiropractic therapy I am undergoing is a ‘brand’ called McTimoney. Its very gentle and largely involves little slaps, flicks, rubs and pokes that are designed to invoke natural body reflexes in a way that realigns things that have got out of sync. That it doesn’t involve much big clicking or crunching of bones and ligaments is good for a coward like me but I wonder if I’m going to see much improvement without more drastic action.

The other concern is that both the previous sessions physiotherapy and osteopathic treatment I’ve had concluded with me getting exercises to do that helped me feel more in control. My new Chiropractor has yet to offer that. It’s not that I want more exercises to do – I don’t do the ones I have already been given regularly enough to justify getting hold of more – but knowing I should do them puts the onus on me rather than simply trying to outsource the problem.

I have a couple of sessions booked so will wait and see……. at least, now I’m retired, I can have the sessions without the hassle of having to book time out of the office or around meetings.

Prelude to Spring

One of the enjoyable things about retirement and, consequently, being able to spend to spend far more time out and about in the country, is that I’m noticing the seasons to much a greater extent than before. In the last couple of weeks I have noticed that the late afternoons are starting to get a little brighter (though the mornings seem as dark as they did when Winter set in). I’m not sure I would have noticed this quiet change sitting under the neon in a London office.

The daily walks to Nailsworth are already revealing the first hints that Spring is not too far off. Small birds are singing a little more vigorously. A pair of little egrets has arrived near the lake I walk past. Long Suffering Wife (LSW) has seen dippers and I have seen a yellow hammer. The kingfishers seem more visible and active. Snowdrops are starting to appear in clumps and the local supermarket has started to stock bunches of daffodils – very helpful in supporting my New Year resolution to buy LSW more flowers!

Snowdrops

Spring is Coming!

There are few weeks to go before the renewal of Spring really takes hold but, now Christmas and the New Year are past, I can now envision it – and far earlier, I think, than in previous years.

LSW and I plan to short circuit the wait by having a holiday in Cape Town in late February. This idea, and a separate one to spend a few days in Portugal, is not yet fully planned but it’s nice to have the flexibility to be able to think about avoiding the last vestiges of Winter’s cold and grey.

Meanwhile LSW and I are settling back into our domestic routines – punctuated by a very active and pleasant couple of days in London. The trip was primarily to celebrate Eldest Son’s 30th birthday but also included visits to Tate Modern, the Whitechapel Gallery, a 40th floor breakfast and dinner for two in one of our favourite restaurants (Morito).

Three Pieces By Ilya Kabakov

Three Pieces By Ilya Kabakov At The Current Tate Modern Exhibition of His Work (Not Sure Why I Liked It So Much, But I Did)

Either side of the London visit, LSW has been managing transformation of our muddy car park space into a walled garden. I am trying to balance clearing the fridge and freezer of food left over from the Christmas period with the need to lose the half a stone I put on during it. I have also resumed decorating the TV room; the brush strokes have become more rhythmic since I set up some music facilities in the room but are not necessarily delivering higher quality.

We are both striving to keep up to date with several catch-up TV series, stepping up reading, trying out new venues like the rather characterful Stroud Brewery Bar and getting out to see bands (This Is The Kit were marvellous) and cinema (we can now recommend Brad’s Status starring Ben Stiller and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri in which Frances McDormand is remarkable).

This is fun and I think Spring will be better!

First Daffodils of 2018

First Daffodils of 2018 – An Easy Way to Maintain My Record of Flower Giving!