Distractions Amid The Wreckage

It’s been nearly two weeks since Middle Son’s (MS’s) accident on a pedestrian crossing.  LSW and I are popping up and down to London to see MS while he is in hospital waiting for, and then recovering from, the operations to repair him.  We have the flexibility to be able to supplement and fit in around visits from his others.  Outside of visiting hours we are able to visit London-based exhibitions and in between trips to London, we tend the everyday of house and garden.

Royal London Hospital

Royal London Hospital

The garden is certainly looking full and colourful.  After an unusually slow start, the vegetable patch is starting to come to life.  The slugs, deer and pigeons are enjoying a lot of the potential vegetable and fruit produce.  However, I hope to pick the blackcurrants that survived the pigeon onslaught next week and chard, spinach and beetroot are now ready for the first harvests.

Marbled White and Ringlet Butterflies and A Crab Spider

Marbled White and Ringlet Butterflies And A Crab Spider

The meadow is also looking healthy and, in this last week’s sunshine and warmth, it has been full of butterflies and other insects.  Youngest Son (YS) and his partner have been staying with us and have been able to enjoy the garden before swapping the rural peace for their new life in London.  It has been great to have had their cheery demeanour around the place.

The London exhibition LSW and I went to see in a few spare hours was the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  The ostentation on show was perhaps the least appropriate thing to appreciate while our minds were wrestling with the gritty practicalities of MS’s circumstances.  However, it is a very stylish and well-presented show covering Dior’s clothes, perfumes, partnerships with makers of accessories and seamstresses.

Ulysse Coat By Dior (1952)

Ulysse Coat By Dior (1952)

The outfits on show demonstrate Christian Dior’s career and then the contributions of the lead designers who followed him in driving forward the Dior brand.  The clothes are consistently beautiful or dramatic or both and the rooms showing his ball gown and garden-influenced designs were particularly impressive.

Dior Ball Gowns 1950 To Today

Dior Ball Gowns 1950 To Today

Dior Perfume Bottles And Travel Set From The 1950s

Dior Perfume Bottles And Travel Set From The 1950s

At the end of the exhibition was a wall with a quote from Christian Dior: “In the world today, haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvellous”.  The show managed to underline that.

Exotic Dior Dresses Influenced By His Travels in Japan and Egypt

I also managed to get to see a free gig by D’Voxx at Rough Trade East.  I knew nothing about this electronic duo before turning up but it was another temporary but welcome distraction from reality.  The music they played was interesting and got me nodding away to the beats, but what made the gig unusual was that both performers were using modular synthesisers that looked ancient and that seemed to require a lot of wire waving and plug swapping alongside the normal knob-twiddling.  It was quite a sight and a fun experience.

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LSW and I are heading back to London tomorrow.  Maybe we will find a couple more diverse distractions like Dior and D’Voxx to divert us before MS’s final operations and discharge.  Fingers crossed for him.

Two Exhibitions And More

For those who followed my last post, no, I didn’t write this on the train home from London.  No, I didn’t stay awake either but I didn’t snore (surely not!).

I was tired after my trip to London.  I didn’t get back until late on Monday from seeing Malcolm Middleton (an indie-rock Scottish depressive who somehow always manages to cheer me up with what he calls his ‘downbeat shite’) in a converted old men’s club in Hackney.  Then, on Tuesday, I went to see the Japanese film and Palme D’Or winner called Shoplifters with Eldest and Middle Sons and that didn’t finish until quite late.  Those relatively late nights were each followed by a couple of nights on a sofa bed which is never as restful as my own bed, a lot of walking through Christmassy streets and a nice lunch with an old ex-work colleague.

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

Quite a lot of the walking was around a couple of exhibitions.

The first was Fashioned From Nature at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) which is on for another month or so and which I would recommend.  The V&A has an amazing permanent collection of fashion but this exhibition was more interesting for me (I am hardly a fashionista!) because it dealt more with the social and environmental impact of fashion than the development of fashion through the ages.

There were certainly some remarkable individual pieces of clothing but the focus was on how humans initially used nature to cloth ourselves – using flax for linen, fur, cotton, silk, bone, feathers and even beetle shells – and then how fashion and clothing manufacture has damaged nature through mass production/consumption.

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

That environmental damage began even before the industrial revolution.  I learnt, for example, that the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’ came from the mercury poisoning common among those who made felt hats.  They breathed in the mercury nitrate they used and that disoriented them before they flushed it into the water supply.  As synthetic materials were developed and mass produced, so the risk of chemical damage increased, the demand for agricultural monocultures grew, slavery became rife, and the problems of pollution and waste (such as management of micro-plastics resulting from clothing) became more complex.

There were a wide range of interesting exhibits showing sustainable fashion.  Others illustrated how fashion has been used to highlight the importance of clothing reuse and repair, and the impact of fashion on nature.  Overall it was an impressive, relevant exhibition and an absorbing hour or two.

I also visited the Modern Couples exhibition at the Barbican which was subtitled Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde.  This exhibition pulls together work of 40 couples active in art in the last century.  It attempts to show how these couples, through their passion, ideas, contacts and often experimental and strange relationships, influenced the work they produced.

As with the Fashioned from Nature exhibition, there were some very strong individual pieces on show.  Many of the relationships that were described were very interesting with several of the featured artists (Max Ernst and Man Ray, for example) cropping up two or three times in apparently intense but short-lived liaisons.  Some of couples’ relationships ended in suicide or murders of passion.  As I navigated the exhibition, I became increasingly thankful for my rather more straightforward and stable married relationship.

I Am Beautiful by Rodin

I Am Beautiful by Rodin (An Amalgam Of Two Previously Separate Works In Celebration Of His Love)

Over 40 interwoven themes were explored across the 40 couples presented – including how the men in the relationship tended to become the more famous even where the participants were libertarian and feminist.  These themes and the sheer number of couples covered made the exhibition large and rather complex.  It was impressive but I confess that I had to absorb it over two sessions; fortunately I now have the time to do that sort of pacing.

In other news: the Volkswagen is back.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been grudgingly reliant on my ailing and rust-ridden Saab to get to work.  But now the local garage has replaced the Volkswagen’s engine (and more) following the cam-belt assembly failure a couple of weekends ago.  They did this all at their cost since it was the cam-belt replacement they had done that prompted the problem.  The garage even gave us a bottle of wine for our trouble so we will continue to use them and recommend them – provided the car gets us to the airport tomorrow on our way to the Christmas markets of Cologne.  We’re looking forward to them.

London's Regent Street Christmas Lights

London’s Regent Street Christmas Lights

Excuses To Visit London

Before retirement, I sometimes planned to work when travelling by train.  Now, I often get on the train with great resolve to read my current book or the newspaper.  Almost invariably, though, then and now, reading sends me falling into that unsatisfactory doze state never refreshes.  Indeed, such dozing is not really relaxing since I worry subconsciously during, and then afterwards, that I have been snoring loudly and irritating (or, worse, amusing) fellow passengers.  The one thing that always keeps me awake on the train is using my computer keyboard.  So, there is something energising about writing these blog posts on the train.

This is my second trip to London in a few days – I need very little excuse to fulfil my London fix and escape from the country (lovely as The Cotswolds are).

The first was in my ailing, misfiring and rusting Saab which was brought into action while Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) Volkswagen is read what may be the Last Rites in the garage.  LSW and I came up London to attend a 60th birthday dinner party of a long standing friend in Kew – a very amusing reconstruction of a party we had attended 20 years before.

Impressive Birthday Cake!

Impressive Birthday Cake!

We took the opportunity to visit the Annie Albers exhibition at Tate Modern and to see the new, up-market shopping centre just north of Kings Cross (Coal Drops Yard).

The Annie Albers exhibition was diverse.  Alongside the expected textiles were paintings, drawings and ingenious necklaces (my favourite exhibits since they were so simple and inspiringly made from everyday objects).  It was an interesting history of a very impressive artist and some of the items were lovely, but, perhaps because of the diversity, the exhibition never really took off for me.

Selection of Annie Albers’ Work

Our visit to Coal Drops Yard was, in some ways, just a normal window-shopping trip.  But it’s clearly a cut above most shopping centres with some of the shops like art galleries with beautiful artefacts and prices I hardly dare look at.  Also, the architecture, mostly by Thomas Heatherwick, is remarkable – especially the gasometers converted into luxury flats overlooking the new coal yard restoration and transformation.  The best aspect of the visit was trying to recall what this area looked like when it used to be one of our youthful haunts in the late 70s and 80s; the canal isn’t much changed but, truly, Kings Cross has been transformed almost entirely since then.

Coal Drops Yard

Unfortunately, after the birthday party and a very late night, we had to leave London relatively early on Sunday – albeit after a wonderfully various and hearty breakfast provided by the family of our birthday-girl.  This was to enable a return in my rust bucket car in time for a memorial service for an artist friend of ours who died a couple of months ago.  LSW and many others spoke very movingly and humorously about their memories of an artist whose work is well represented in our house.

Now, rested and ready to go again, I’m on my way back to London for a gig and a dental appointment (which is my excuse for this trip).

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I didn’t have time to finish the blog on the train (but I didn’t fall asleep, I promise).

I have since had another eventful day in London – visiting the Fashioned From Nature exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and then seeing Malcolm Middleton for the sixth time in a club in Hackney.  Both were very worthwhile.

Today I’m going to try the Barbican exhibition on Modern Couples and then meet Eldest and Middle Sons for a drink, some food and a film – oh, and I’ll fit the dentist in.  Such freedom and fun in this retired life!  I’ll say more in my next post – maybe to be authored on my return train trip…..

Autumn Gardening

The summer weather has been terrific this year and the sunshine and relative warmth has continued into the beginnings of autumn.  The sun now sets too early behind trees and the gradient of our paddock for Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I to continue our pattern of evening drinks in the new walled garden that we established earlier in the year.  However, the weather has been conducive to relaxed walks through the gently browning countryside and to steady clearing and digging over of the vegetable patch ready for winter.

Autumnal Sunset From My Vegetable Patch

Autumnal Sunset From My Vegetable Patch

Despite the dry summer, there is still plenty of beetroot and chard to harvest.  Also, I have managed to keep my leeks alive and, having transplanted them in newly dibbed holes, I find I have over a hundred to nurture and then eat through the winter months.  That’s a lot of leeks to go into soup with the sack of potatoes I dug up a couple of weeks ago!

Leeks All Over The Vegetable Patch (With Beans, Beet and Chard)

Leeks, Leeks and More Leeks All Over The Vegetable Patch (With Beans, Beet and Chard)

Once again I am reminded of the relatively slow and relaxed pace at which I can undertake gardening since my retirement.  I have always loved this time of year (and early spring) in the vegetable garden, when creating tracts of freshly dug earth is the main task.  Since retirement, I have more time to pause between bursts of digging, to rest my back and to admire the neatness of the bare earth that, following application of some manure, will be poised for next season’s planting and growth.

The past couple of weeks have been a pleasant mix of pottering around the garden, social events with family and friends, and more sightseeing in London.  My trip to London was based around an irregular but broadly quarterly get together of old male friends over a restaurant dinner (dubbed ‘The Boys Night Out’).  This is working through an alphabet of nations cum culinary styles and we were up to O for Ottoman last week.  It was cheap and cheerful and good to catch up.

I also walked for miles to and around the vastness of Hyde Park (with its tediously noisy and ever more numerous green parakeets) and visited the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum.

Views of Hyde Park

Views of Hyde Park (The Round Pond, The Princess Diana Garden And Christo’s Floating Pyramid of 7,506 Oil Drums)

The Kahlo exhibition focused on her way of life rather than her art.  The exhibition makes clear what a tour de force she must have been.  She was fiercely determined to overcome adversity (including polio, a near fatal accident, a miscarriage, leg amputation, periodic political ostracism) and she constantly underlined her strong sense of identity.  Her love life was lively and complex and her life-long partner – a muralist called Diego Rivera whom she married twice – must have been a patient man.  The exhibition is sold out so my recently instigated V&A membership (giving me free, unlimited entry) paid off.  The investment of time was very worthwhile.

Frida Kahlo Exhibition

The V&A Frida Kahlo Exhibition Including Her Prosthetic Leg With Bells On, A Hand-Painted Corset And Typical Mexican Dress

Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend stayed with us for a weekend.  It was lovely to have them and the highlight – apart from the curry and the roast dinner that ES asked LSW to make – was a visit to Gifford’s Circus.  This is an internationally famous but locally based circus that LSW has seen a few times.  It was my first visit and I really enjoyed the energy, innovation, daring and clever humour; it was a real treat in a packed, traditional circus tent.

LSW and I also had a sunny late summer day in Bath.  We were there to see Olafur Arnalds, an Icelandic multi-instrumentalist who combines electronica, piano and strings to create atmospheric, evocative music that both of us love.  The concert was a great success – great sound, good seats and LSW loved it (always important since I want to go with her to more gigs).

We made time for dinner and also a trip to the American Museum and Gardens set in beautiful countryside to the east of Bath.  The gardens are being renovated and extended and will be worth another visit in a year or two.  As ever, it seems, we were blessed by wonderful weather.

The American Museum And Gardens, Bath

The American Museum And Gardens, Bath (House, Pumpkin Garden And Lovely Views)

But autumn with its shorter days and colder, wetter weather is here.  That will bring different pleasures.

Catching Up With London

The effects of my retirement last year are not only about me. Long Suffering Wife (LSW) had to be in agreement that my retirement was a good idea since it was clear that there would be a significant impact on her too. That has proved to be the case since I stopped work and moved back to the family home from my 5-day-a-week flat in London. She no longer has large tracts of the day to herself and the house that she controls so well now has an additional presence (/interloper?). It was therefore somewhat of a relief for LSW when, for the first time in 7 months of retirement, I headed back to London for a few days last week and gave her a bit of space and time alone.

I know that she enjoyed that. I also had a very good time.

Replica of the London Olympic Flame Mechanism

Replica Of The London Olympic Flame Mechanism At The Museum Of London

I visited the Museum of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Temple of Mithras under the new Bloomberg building. I also took in an occurrence of The Lantern Society (one of the best folk clubs in London and one I had frequented regularly until last July) and spent a couple of hours in the Rough Trade East record shop listening to new music. That was all fitted in around a few catch ups with Middle Son (MS) and some old friends. It was also good to go out for dinner with Eldest Son (ES) who put me up in our Barbican flat. It was an active few days.

Tudor Portraits At The National Portrait Gallery

Tudor Portraits At The National Portrait Gallery (Katherine Parr, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Henry VII). Wonderful Vibrant Colours Still

The cultural highlight was the Opera exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s a history of opera told through focus on seven operas as they premiered in seven cities including Venice, London, Paris, Dresden and Leningrad. The exhibition shows how each opera was influenced by the events and politics of the time and, in turn, ignited passions in the cities in which they were performed. The magic was in the immersive experience generated by the wearing of headphones that responded to where one stood physically in the exhibition. They played the operas (also shown in videos) but also provided spoken insights into them and other sound effects all of which amplified the historical context in the cities in which the operas debuted. It is a fascinating exhibition.

I also loved the Temple of Mithras which was a swish and free exhibition of a Roman temple that was discovered in the Second World War and is now re-positioned in its original location under the new buildings in Walbrook. A lot of money has been thrown at the display and it’s well worth booking up a visit.

Temple Of Mithras

Temple of Mithras, Walbrook

After all that walking and cultural input, it was important to eat and drink well and I did! The ineptly named Flavour Bastard restaurant provided a very tasty lunch. It was near empty but that meant there was no rush as I caught up with an ex-Accenture colleague made redundant from Accenture with myself in around 2009. The canapes at the Accenture Alumni event I briefly attended were small and tricky to eat but dinner at Flat Iron with ES was more straightforward.

I also had a good evening of beer and curry with two other work ex-colleagues from a project way back in 1977. We have differing views on Brexit but otherwise set the world to rights and discussed the benefits of retirement. One retired 5 years ago, the other has yet to sample the delights.

Mark and Mike

Old Mates Contemplating Retirement, Grandfatherhood, Beer And Where The Next Curry Will Be

We agreed that what primarily keeps, or kept, us at work were the qualities of people we work(ed) with. In my case the impact of that aspect of retirement was diminished by the fact that, in the later years of my career, most of the people I interacted with were overseas. Therefore interactions were rarely face to face and were, correspondingly, of relatively limited depth. That reduced the sense of loss when I retired.

I think we also concluded that a clean break from work is probably the best option – one can always resume some form of work later if work-less retirement doesn’t provide all one needs. Finishing work abruptly on a stress high may not be healthy but, in my case, the intensity of work had already decreased as I moved into the final work years. So, again, the impact of stopping work was not as great for me as it may be for some.

More of an impact for me was the sudden move out of London. However, that also has been ameliorated by the fact that I can still have weeks like last week when I can visit and stay in my old flat on the sofa bed.

I’m looking forward to my next visit already.

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Music At The Lovely Lantern Society Folk Club