A Fine Day In Bath And Social Distancing

Ten days ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to a concert in Bath.  We were aware of the emerging concerns about how Covid-19 spreads and the increasing need for social distancing.  Indeed, two locals who we planned to go with opted out because of their concerns.  However, we were confident we could go to the concert and still stay broadly within the then current rules and, with judicious use of soap and sanitiser, minimise risk to ourselves and others.

The Rather Wonderful Faeland At Chapel Arts

The Rather Wonderful Faeland At Chapel Arts

Co-incidentally, two very old friends who are visiting the UK from the USA were due to be picked up by us from Bath the following day.  This was a further health risk but one we calculated to take because it was a very rare chance for LSW to meet one of her goddaughters.  So we not only went to Bath but, co-joined the two events and stayed overnight at a fairly central, good value hotel before bringing goddaughter and her mother for a brief stay at our house.

Bath Abbey Outside At Night And Inside

All this seems relatively reckless ten days on.  However, Bath was radiant in the sunshine, we ate splendidly at Landrace Bakery and Beckford Bottle Shop, took in a couple of exhibitions and saw Faeland at Chapel Arts, all of which was rather wonderful. Then we had a lovely 24 hours with our friends before they returned to the US and self-isolation.  We all got away with it, remain uninfected (at time of writing) and finished normal life (for a while at least) on a high.

As it turned out the concert was sparsely attended so we could sit 3-4 metres away from anyone else.  It was uplifting to see Faeland again.  They were in good form and their song ‘All My Swim’ is an absolute favourite.  I was fortunate to meet the band at the interval to say so to directly to them.  What is great is that LSW and I love them equally and, Covid-19 permitting, we will plan to see them again in the autumn.

Wandering the streets of Bath was relatively minimal risk in terms of infection but we also ventured into the Francis Gallery (a lovely bright, airy space showing ceramics by Paul Philp) and then the Holbourne Museum.

Views Of Bath: Holbourne Museum (Top), Queen Square (Bottom Left) And Pulteney Bridge

Views Of Bath: Holbourne Museum (Top), Queen Square (Bottom Left) And Pulteney Bridge

The Francis Gallery

The Francis Gallery, Bath

The Holbourne Museum is currently showing an exhibition of Grayson Perry work from his ‘pre-therapy years’.  Having read his book ‘The Descent of Man’ a couple of years ago, I feel I understand a little about him and his outré leanings.  Even though I find his work interesting rather than attractive, I was glad of the opportunity to see this show and to learn some more.

Vases And Plates by Grayson Perry, Holbourne Museum Exhibition

Vases And Plates by Grayson Perry, Holbourne Museum Exhibition

The exhibition was very well laid out and the work was well documented and explained (often in Grayson’s own words).  Each item was complex and demanded study.  Even though the exhibition was small relative to some I have seen in London in recent years, it was dense with information and the reactions it inspired.  I enjoyed the weirdness Grayson invests in his work but also craftsmanship.  It was fun, too, to spot the recurrence of themes through the exhibition and to map them to those I recalled in other work of his that I have seen previously.

The rest of the museum was well worth spending time in (and the 2 metre social distancing was easy to maintain).  The museum has a good collection of 17th century paintings from the Low Countries.  What LSW and I liked best though, were the collections of highly crafted stump work tapestries cum embroideries, Japanese netsuke and other ornaments.  Some were directly on show in cabinets but once I discovered the drawers under these I, felt I was uncovering a wonderful treasure trove.

Amazing Set Of Netsuke, Holbourne Museum, Bath

Amazing Set Of Netsuke, Holbourne Museum, Bath

Late 18th Century Ivory Carving - Incredible Detail In A 6cm Diameter Minature

Holbourne Museum, Bath: Late 18th Century Ivory Carving – Incredible Detail In A 6cm Diameter Miniature

Ten days on and we are doing our social distancing more intensely.  Youngest Son has joined us from London where his business has ground to a halt.  We are ‘battening down the hatches’ and wondering how many new terms like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ are going to enter the Oxford English Dictionary during this viral outbreak.

Last week, I pitied the health and other key workers trying to find food in the shops while holding down their vital jobs.  Those made jobless recently and those, like me, who are retired, have time on their hands.  They are able to devote time to finding what they feel they need.  Indeed, some probably shop for entertainment and for something to do rather than in a panic.  Whatever, the nearby shops were almost bereft of fresh fruit and vegetables last week.

Local home store cupboards must now be full since the shops were less busy and fuller of goods this morning.  I just hope now that those who have purchased so much in recent days actually use the food they bought and don’t waste it.

Time Now For Local Walks In Countryside That Is Empty Except For Sheep And Birds

For a while at least, there won’t be any more trips out like that to Bath.  In fact, LSW and I are now considering cancelling what we can of our recently booked walking holiday down the first third of the South West Coastal Path and week in Padstow to celebrate LSW’s birthday in June.  Local walking and gardening are the main entertainments for me now.  Fortunately the weather has turned sunny and warmer just in time.  Stay safe…..

Increasingly Bold Pheasant In Our Garden

Increasingly Bold Pheasant In Our Garden; Lucky For Us That We can Self Isolate Here

‘Endlessly Walking Again?’

I continue to walk a lot.  I walk with friends, with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and alone.  I walk routinely every day to get groceries and a newspaper from the local town.  I walk to football matches, I walk more aimlessly through the local countryside to take in the glories of local nature, and I walk around towns and cities I visit to take in their vibe.  I walk fast, I walk slow.  I walk a lot.

Typical Cotswold View On One OF My Local Walks

Typical Cotswold View On One Of My Local Walks – Looking Across To Woodchester Park From Forest Green

All this walking has been noticed in the village.  I was on a lengthy walk the other day and ended up a couple of miles away from home near the offices of a neighbour who lives near to us.  As she came out of her office, she noticed me walking so far from home and remarked: ‘endlessly walking again?’  I smiled and confessed to not having a great purpose to my walk but explained that the sun was shining and I felt I was making good use of the day.

Graffiti Under The Old Railway Bridge On The Way To Woodchester

Certainly, some of the walking is for walking’s sake and has no other real objective other than the health benefit.  I was therefore pleased this week to see a couple of vindications of walking as a health booster.  The first was in a casual blog like mine and the second in the Guardian newspaper.  It’s possible to find validation for almost anything online these days but finding support for what one is already doing is always comforting.

Dipper Spotted In A Local Stream

Dipper Spotted In A Local Stream

The blog I saw summarised some of the benefits of walking.  In essence, walking can help mental and physical health and prolong life.  It helps us control weight, reduces stress and, because it’s an outdoor activity, helps us produce vital vitamin D.

The newspaper article summarised a book by Shane O’Mara, a neuroscientist, called In Praise of Walking and was a more intricate argument for walking as a health (especially brain) enhancer.  O’Mara calls walking a ‘superpower’ that ‘unlocks the cognitive powers of the brain like nothing else’.  In his book, he explains how and why from a neuroscience perspective, based on personal experience and scientific study.  I’ll leave you to read the article if you want to know more, but I’m not surprised by the conclusions he draws; walking does make me feel good!

On The Cotswolds Tops

On The Cotswolds Tops

Since Christmas, in addition to the normal return and circular walks to the town and around our village, I have been on a few notable walks in the local area.

Just after Christmas several from LSW’s family and I went on a walk together in the Slad Valley just north of Stroud.  This was on the path of the recently established Laurie Lee walk.  Lee was, and remains, a famous local poet and the walk was dotted with plinths with some of his poetry.  Someone in our group had that bright idea of having one of us read out each poem; I don’t really ‘get’ poetry and I felt a little self-conscious doing mine.

The Laurie Lee Poetry Walk

We planned to end the walk in time-honoured fashion in The Woolpack (Laurie Lee’s erstwhile local).  Unfortunately recent publicity for the walk and pub meant there wasn’t even standing room inside when we arrived.  It was an energetic and lovely walk though.

Panoramic View Of Slad Valley

Panoramic View Of Slad Valley – Laurie Lee Country

After New Year, my Best Man (BM) and his rather younger Chinese Girlfriend (CG) came to visit us.  BM loves walking and likes the contrast of our local, hill and valley landscape to that where he lives in Cambridgeshire.

We undertook a long local walk together (that LSW and I had recently discovered) despite CGs somewhat unsuitable footwear.  She endured the mud and blisters heroically but was put off a bit by the remains of a dead bird we passed on the way – it turned out that she doesn’t like to be close to birds and especially dead ones.

Imagine, then, LSW’s and my embarrassment when, on our way back on the walk, we unavoidably had to pass an ongoing pheasant shoot.  It was dramatic and noisy with 40 to 50 birds being shot out of the air in the space of 10 minutes as we passed.  It was an exciting sight I had not seen before but CG was understandably horrified.  It was unintended but not a good way to treat a guest!

Unfortunate Pheasants

Unfortunate Pheasants

Next week I’m off to Nottingham for my now roughly monthly visits to Mum and Dad there, and to London for a couple of days.  I’ll be swapping countryside walking for the urban stuff.

New Year Resolutions: Making Them And Breaking Them

Happy New Year!

It’s that time for reviewing last year’s resolutions, checking progress and renewing the challenges for the coming year.  Looking forward with vigour to the next year offsets the feeling of anti-climax now our sons have returned to their homes, the holiday season parties are over, and the leftovers from big festive, family meals are almost gone.  So how did I do in my third retirement year and what should I be setting as targets for next year?

Christmas Lunch Set For 19!

Christmas Lunch Set For 19 At Ours!

Well, the past year – the last six months, anyway – have been coloured by Middle Son’s accident and my Mum’s increasing debilitation that has led to her taking up residence in a home.  It’s not been a great year and the time focused on these events has deflected me from some of the more challenging of my new year resolutions set this time last year.  Excuses, excuses!

On the positive side, I have again exceeded my target of average number of steps per day (15,000).  I have managed an average of 16,054 per day and exceeded a daily average of 15,000 steps almost every week during the year.

Views From Our New Year’s Day Walk

Unfortunately, this has become almost my only exercise as gardening has taken a back seat this year.  My overall fitness has probably declined and my weight target of getting down to 11 stone (70kg) has again just been missed.  I was on target to meet that weight target in November but Christmas excess put paid to achieving the objective.  That’s annoying since disappointment here was avoidable and I will retain the weight target for 2020 while trying to step up other core-strength exercises.

Ruskin Mill Lake On The Way To The Local Town - One Of My Favourite Local Places

Ruskin Mill Lake, On The Way To The Local Town – One Of My Favourite Local Places

My best achievement of the year was that I did exceed my target of no alcohol days.  I beat the target of 140 by 4 and that made it my best year since measurement began (and, frankly, since I was a teenager).  Also frankly, and a little embarrassingly, it felt like hard work achieving this.

14 Years Of Tracking No-Alcohol Days Per Year

14 Years Of Tracking No-Alcohol Days Per Year (With A Generous Trend Line in Red)

This year I have also been tracking the number of alcohol units I have each day using the Drinkaware app.  I now have a baseline against I can record what I hope will be future reduction but it has been a scary exercise.  I consume an average of 35 alcohol units per week.  That is more than double the recommended weekly average.  I must therefore look for a significant improvement next year – I’ll try an initial 10% – but know that also will be tough given habits that have built up over decades.

Tracking Of Alcoholic Units By Month In 2019

Tracking Of Alcoholic Units By Month In 2019

I did plan to create a plan for volunteering during this year.  I haven’t really done that but I have stepped up involvement in the construction of the local Neighbourhood Plan and that did consume a lot of time at various times of the year.  I am also a core member of the local Carbon Neutral Horsley group that is encouraging moves towards carbon neutrality by 2030 in the Parish.  Both these local initiatives are going to be a continuing focus in 2020.

I failed on all my other 2019 resolutions despite the freedom and flexibility retirement offers.  The compost bins near the vegetable patch are in reasonable shape but have not been redeveloped as planned.  I’m dropping that resolution since it is replaced by a wider plan to decide on what to do with our nearby and gradually crumbling stables.

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also failed, after a bright start, to engineer significantly more trips out to see parts of the UK this year.  We’ll carry that resolution forward though because we have enjoyed the trips we did make, such trips will be more climate-friendly than air trips abroad now we have our electric car, and I still feel that my knowledge of the UK countryside needs renewal.

Christmas Morning From Our House

Christmas Morning From Our House

I will also carry forward the resolution I had to listen to less news and more music.  LSW and I both palpably failed on this.  We listened to the BBC on the radio morning, noon and night as the Brexit and other debates unfolded.  LSW and I both spent hours ranting at what we heard and my only comfort is that when I have stayed with my parents this year, I heard my Dad doing exactly the same; ranting at the radio must be a genetic trait!

One resolution I will add this year is to read more books.  In 2018, I read a number of what I thought were excellent books: The Milkman by Anna Burns, Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves, Before The Fall by Noah Hawley, The Dry by Jane Harper (very relevant with Australia on fire at the moment) and, most of all, A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles.

During 2019, I didn’t read anything I considered as good as these.  Nonetheless I loved the reading process, the thinking involved and the relaxation (sometimes too much, as I often slipped into ‘siesta’).  Given my enjoyment of reading I really should find time for more.  I plan to read at least 20 books this year thereby beating my record of 17 in 2018 and 16 in 2019.  I hope to find some more great books among these.

So, onwards to 2020!  I am rather despondent about several aspects of the world and the current political situation in the UK.  However, I think that 2020 is going to be a far better year than 2019 and I’m going to aim to meet my resolutions for the new year with a spring in my step – all 192,648 of them!

Me Setting Off Into 2020!

Me Setting Off Into 2020!

Back In The Shire

Those who follow this blog, or otherwise know me, will know that I am an urban man at heart.  For most of my adult life, the city – specifically London – has been the place to live and the country has been something to visit.  Now I’m retired to the country and visit the city.  I had a good dose of London life earlier this month but, for the last week or so, I’ve thrown myself into rural living back in Gloucestershire; it has been relatively various, worthy and entertaining.

The rainy weather hasn’t prevented me getting out for daily, lengthy walks.  LSW and some of her local friends have taken me on some routes I have not ventured on before and that has been enlightening.  I continue to get to know the area and to enjoy walking in it.  I’m comfortable that my steps target for the year is going to be met easily – one of the few 2019 resolutions that will be, I fear.

Local Beech Woods

A New Walk Through Beech Woods

Of course, Christmas is coming (putting my 2019 resolution target for alcohol free days in jeopardy).  I attended my first party of the season last week courtesy of the management of the Horsley Village Community Shop.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) works there very part time and so was invited gratis.  I paid an entrance fee to attend alongside her.  It was a very lively and pleasant celebration and a chance for me to get to know a few more local people.  The event packed out the village pub for the second time in a few days following the monthly village quiz a few days before.

The village shop, like the village pub, survives on the margins of commercial viability.  The shop is reliant on hardworking management and a squad of very part time volunteers like LSW.  I have been tempted to join this assorted band but have focused instead on helping with the Neighbourhood Plan and a small volunteer group looking to promote carbon neutrality in the village.

Delivery of Fresh Duchy Farm Vegetables To The Horsley Community Village Shop

Already, the Parish Council has supervised the planting of over 100 small trees this Autumn as part of a drive to increase carbon sequestration across the Parish.  More planting is planned and there are even grander plans in our nearby town of Nailsworth.  There, a symbolic start was made with the planting of a single holm oak and the distribution of around 100 smaller trees to those, including LSW and I, who turned up to watch.  We picked up a guilder rose tree and now need to complete the bargain by planting it.

Tree Planting In Nailsworth

Ceremonial Tree Planting In Nailsworth – The First Of Many!

One further bit of worthiness was a bit of renovation of the Horsley churchyard paths that I arrived just in time to make a minimal contribution to.  Village activities like these all help to make me feel part of the rural life here after decades of city living.

Gravel Laying In Horsley Churchyard

Gravel Laying In Horsley Churchyard (That’s My Spade Resting Lower Left)

The Neighbourhood Plan is now drafted and under review by Stroud District Council.  The hardcopy available in the village shop looks great and the pictures, especially, bring it to life.  It will be interesting to see what critique the Council provide – especially of the proposed ‘local green spaces’, one of which is adjacent to our land.

Comments and subsequent reworking of the Plan are not likely until next year and current attention is on consultation around the wider Gloucestershire County Local Plan.  I have some work to do in the New Year to help provide the village council with comments on this Plan from a carbon neutral and sustainability point of view.  I also need to analyse and present some recent village survey data on thermal efficiency.  Until all that is done, I don’t feel like tying myself down to a shift in the village shop.

Christmas preparations are underway in our house. Some of the Christmas lights are already up.  The Christmas tree is bought and will be erected and decorated next week.  That is all LSW’s province.

Christmas Lights In Our Kitchen/Diner Reception And Down The Stairs

My main Christmas task is to develop the annual family Christmas quiz.  This will follow Christmas dinner (with the 19 members of LSW’s family including me and our sons who will all be with us this year) and has become a bit of a tradition over the last decade or so.  I have also taken on making Christmas party hats from old newspapers and packaging these up with jokes from the Internet and a chocolate.  The first batch of ten hats is nearing completion – this is a small stab at recycling rather than buying lots of throwaway crackers.

First Batch Of Christmas Paper Hats

First Batch Of Christmas Paper Hats (Tasteful Financial Times Pink)

I’m back up to London next week to see the Moving to Mars exhibition at the Design Museum that Eldest Son is keen to see and for which he has bought tickets.  The visit gives LSW and I a chance to wish Eldest and Youngest Sons’ girlfriends happy Christmas personally.  From London I will then travel north to Nottingham to do the same with my Mum and Dad.  Then, it will be back to the shire once again for the Christmas Pub Quiz and the rest of the festive period.  All good!

Autumn In My Little Town

View Of Nailsworth Looking South

View Of Nailsworth Looking South

I’ve been retired for well over two years now.  New daily routines have shifted as I have settled into retirement and as the seasons have cycled around.  However, when I am not away from home, one of the daily constants has been that I walk into the local town of Nailsworth to pick up the newspaper and buy the day’s groceries.  It’s been one of my great and most consistent retirement pleasures.

These walks have been particularly splendid recently as the Autumn colours have intensified across the hills and valleys through which I walk.  Also, in recent weeks the streams in the valleys have gushed with copious amounts of rainwater and have provided a noisier soundtrack to the burgeoning Autumn colour.

Sun Catching The Tops Of Trees In Ruskin Mill Valley

Late Sun Catching The Tops Of Trees In Ruskin Mill Valley

There are multiple routes and detours that I take to create daily variety.  However, the most rewarding walk is through the bottom of the valley between our home and Nailsworth centre.  I thought I would share a few pictures of this frequent and favourite walk.

Satellite Picture (Courtesy Google) OF My Walk Into Nailsworth

Satellite Picture (Courtesy Google) Of My Walk Into Nailsworth – From The Blue Dot (Upper Downend), East Then North-East Up The Valley To Nailsworth

The start point is, of course, my home in the hamlet of Downend near Horsley.  Our field has a small stream running through it.  This joins the Downend stream nearby and I head north-east down through its valley in which our hamlet nestles.  When this reaches another, larger valley I continue north to where it opens out to a confluence of rivers around which Nailsworth has thrived, first as a mill town and now as a small (monthly) market town.

Upper Downend

Upper Downend

As I leave Downend, I pass some old cottages and houses and cross the Old Horsley Road.  I then dip downwards into the larger, wider valley flanked by dense woods to the east.  Following the ever enlarging stream, I pass some small fields and a couple of pretty lakes.  The larger of these is often the haunt of a swan, herons, kingfishers and several varieties of duck.

Much of the land in the valley, and up the slopes to the east, is owned and managed by Ruskin Mill Trust.  The college here caters for challenged teenagers.  The grounds include two historic wool mills, several acres of woodland, a biodynamic livestock and fish farm, a shop where some of the produce is sold, a forge, a popular café, and an arts centre and music venue.  Locals like me are privileged to have access to these grounds which are always evolving in interesting ways under the management of the Trust and which often teem with fish and birds.

Craft Workshops And Running Water In Ruskin Mill College Grounds

Craft Workshops And Running Water In Ruskin Mill College Grounds

Views Near Ruskin Mill College

Views Near Ruskin Mill College

Beyond the college grounds I cross the road and the stream (now a small river) once more.  As I approach the outskirts of Nailsworth, I look out for dippers in the stream.  I had never heard of these birds before seeing them here and also in Downend itself.  They are shy but fascinating to watch as they live up to their name by dipping their heads up and down and dive into the water to catch their prey.

Dipper Habitat On The Outskirts Of Nailsworth

Dipper Habitat On The Outskirts Of Nailsworth

Nailsworth sits at the junction of two valleys and is overlooked by typical Cotswold woodland and hillsides (‘Cotswold Tops’).  The best time to visit is early morning when wood smoke and mist often sits above the town but below the hill tops.  The floral displays in the town this year have been award winning and many of the narrow streets and Cotswold stone buildings are always attractive.

Nailsworth Clock Tower

Nailsworth Clock Tower

Like many such towns in this age of the internet and same day delivery, it is a struggle to establish a thriving retail business in Nailsworth.  There is a persistent turnover of small independent shops and probably more shops selling small gifts and vaping equipment than is necessary.  However, some good clothes, homeware and hardware shops have prospered.  There are also a few decent pubs and café/restaurants, plus – critically for me – a newsagent, a small supermarket and health food store.

Roofs Of Nailsworth

Roofs Of Nailsworth

I’m an urban man at heart – the country was always a place to visit rather than live in through the first 60 years of my life.  I still hanker after London having left it upon retirement.  But this Cotswold landscape I now find myself living in is very attractive.  While I still can, my daily walks into the local town will continue to help me experience and appreciate it.

Postscript: I mentioned that Ruskin Mill College have a small music venue and Long-Suffering Wife and I thoroughly enjoyed a gig there last night.  The main act was Trio Dhoore who are three young, charming Flemish brothers who play diatronic accordion, guitar and, a first for me, the hurdy gurdy.  The music was wonderfully deep, rich and warm and the banter between tunes matched this warmth perfectly.  The trio of brothers seemed to enjoy the evening as much as we did; it was a lovely couple of hours.

Trio Dhoore At Ruskin Mill

The Rather Wonderful ‘Trio Dhoore’ At Ruskin Mill

 

Summer’s Slow Demise

The weather during most of September has been excellent.  Now, though, summer has gradually drawn to a close.  There are still warm and sunny intervals but rain clouds are more prevalent, the tiring trees are dripping brown, and the streams are filling up.  Autumn is here.

The new walled garden still looks full of colour – Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has done a great job of maintaining its life throughout the summer and now on into Autumn.  The dahlias, which she has tried growing for the first time, largely succumbed to the slugs early on, but those that survived now look magnificent.  The scabious, salvia, cosmos (my small contribution), gaura and ever-resilient verbena bonariensis still look great and the last of the bee activity of the season continues to feed on these.

Last, Fading Colour In The Walled Garden

Last, Fading Colour In The Walled Garden

The badgers took all the sweetcorn – they didn’t leave one for us! But there are still vegetables to harvest – leeks, beetroot, potatoes and chard – plus one last elephantine courgette.  However, thoughts are now moving on to clearing away the vegetable beds, planting bulbs for next year and putting in a couple more trees.  We have ordered loads of alliums which I (and the bees) love and some more narcissuses for the field.  I have gathered some wildflower, hollyhock and foxglove seed and now need to do something with it!

We can see a lot of the ash trees in the vicinity are diseased.  We have a very impressive, large ash at the edge of our property.  It looks appears to be thriving but must surely be threatened by the surrounding ash die-back disease despite its current good health.  We need to get ahead of the damage and start planting to fill potential gaps.  We have just ordered a cherry and a whitebeam to offset the cutting back we did earlier in the year, and to augment the little orchard we have established over the last few years.  However, more tree-planting may be required.

I attended my Parish Council meeting for the village we now live in last week.  This was one of a series of meetings I attended related to carbon footprint reduction in the village, local sustainability initiatives and climate change.  At the Parish Council meeting I supported a move towards our village becoming carbon neutral and one of the first steps is to plant a 1,000 trees in the Parish.  It’s a start and we’ll offer to take three or four more in our field.  But I’m aware that other trees will die or need to come down because they obstruct power lines adjacent to our land, so all we are likely to manage is a rough equilibrium.  I hope others with space do better.

Local Tree Planting Scheme To Reduce Flooding

Local Tree Planting Scheme In Kingscote Woods To Reduce Flooding

As we have become increasingly aware of the climate change and sustainability issues, so LSW and I have suffered increasing angst about air travel which has such a big carbon emission impact.  Our trips to Canada, Australia (twice!), South Africa and cities in Europe in recent years have magnified our carbon footprint.  We haven’t looked to offset these trips up to now but are certainly planning to do so in the future.

Fortunately for the planet, our prevarication in the face of Middle Son’s accident, and then my mother’s recent falls, have given us excuses to shelve our summer and autumn holiday plans to burn up more exhaust in the upper atmosphere.  Maybe we will train-ride to Lyon for a few days in October…..

Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy the local walks.  The wildlife on the way to the local town each day is constantly shifting in character and behaviour.  Seeing it every day allows observation of the slightest changes – the loneliness of the swan, the arrival of little egrets, and the growing snuffling aloofness of the increasingly porky pigs.

Local Wildlife - New Chicks, Lonely Swan, Foraging Old Spot Pigs And, If You Look Carefully, Little Egrets

Local Wildlife – New Chicks, Lonely Swan, Foraging Old Spot Pigs And (If You Look Carefully) Little Egrets

This fascination has been augmented by the joy of being able to pick and eat the blackberries on the way.  Even better, there are enough – it has been a truly wonderful year for hedgerow blackberries – for cooking and for freezing for breakfasts and puddings during the forthcoming winter.

Masses Of Wild Blackberries Picked In Less Than 30 Minutes

Masses Of Wild Blackberries Picked In Less Than 30 Minutes

I shall miss the summer as it creeps away.  I shall miss the casualness of not having to worry too much about whether it is going to rain or the need for a coat.  I shall miss the sun and sitting and walking in it.  But Autumn will have its splendours too, and we are lucky enough to have a house that can withstand the winter cold.  In those circumstances, even winter can be attractive.  Goodbye summer.

Gentle Times

It has been a quiet, tender period since my last post some three weeks ago.  There have been the odd bursts of activity to get Middle Son (MS) up and down to London for his fracture clinic checks and, this last weekend, to help move him back to London into his new, wheel-chair friendly flat in Walthamstow.  However, most of the time in the last three weeks or so has been spent at home in Gloucestershire.  The focus has been on gentle activities supporting MS’s recovery, and to break up, as best we can, his boredom with his lack of mobility.

Looking for ways to break up MS’s day while he was at home with us led us to eat out at local pubs a little more than usual.  We have frequented our local village pub a few times, a local café called Jolly Nice, and also The Crown in Frampton Mansell which we hadn’t visited for ages.  These trips have all been very pleasant diversions for MS, Long-Suffering Wife and I, especially given the excellent summer weather.

Frampton Mansell And The Crown Inn

Frampton Mansell And The Crown Inn

I have also continued to get out for early morning walks on a fairly regular basis.  Both the garden and the local walks are lovely at this time of year when the sun is out.  The gentle meandering around the local lanes and footpaths has been very relaxing and calming.

Less calming has been the start of the English Football League (EFL) season.  My team, Forest Green Rovers (FGR), are in EFL2 and they won their first game of the season with a wonderful goal.  It was very exciting by the end of the game.  Future diary arrangements will be constrained by the FGR fixture list – I love it; LSW, not so much.

Kick Off At Forest Green Rovers' New Lawn

Kick Off At Forest Green Rovers’ New Lawn

Other sport has dominated recent weeks too.  In particular, MS and I have been watching and discussing the tennis at Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the cricket World Cup.  It’s been great to have someone around to bounce reactions to the action off of. I’ve loved it; LSW, not so much.

The time at home has offered the opportunity to invest more time than usual in a few local community projects.  One has been participation in a fans forum with the CEO of FGR.  More time consuming has been work done with members of a local group promoting energy sustainability and carbon neutrality in our village and work on the final drafts of the village Neighbourhood Plan.  I’ll cover some or all of these more in a subsequent post.

The only other events of note in this restrained and gentle period have been another visit to the Lee Krasner exhibition at the Barbican and a brief visit whilst in Walthamstow to the William Morris Museum.  LSW and I plan to visit the latter again in a couple of weeks since we didn’t have a huge amount of time, entry is free, and I, for one, found it quite hard to concentrate on what I was seeing.  The museum is housed in a lovely building and the exhibition looks informative and excellent so more on this soon.

The William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

The William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

I went to the Krasner exhibition just a few weeks ago while MS was in hospital but had the chance to pop in again while in London a couple of weeks ago.  It was every bit as impressive as the first time.  Again, I particularly enjoyed her relatively early work but also that passage of her work that was drenched in colour a few years following her mental recovery from the death of her partner (Jackson Pollock) and then her mother.  There was a refreshing irreverence too in the way she often cut up old works to make new ones; she is quoted as saying “I am not to be trusted around my old work for any length of time” and that amused me.  The exhibition was almost as uplifting as FGR’s win!

Burning Candles, Lee Krasner, 1955

Burning Candles, Lee Krasner, 1955. An Example Of A Collage Created From Ripped Up Previous Works.

The Eye Is The First Circle, Lee Krasner, 1960

The Eye Is The First Circle, Lee Krasner, 1960, In The Barbican Gallery

I’m looking forward to the rest of August during which LSW and I have a couple more visits to London planned.

Walking, Drinking And Bending at 63

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

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

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

Bluebell Woods Near Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

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

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

Birthday Walk West Of Horsley, Gloucestershire To Owlpen And Back

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

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

Sunlight Through Trees Near Owlpen

Sunlight Through Trees Near Owlpen, Gloucestershire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasty Birthday Present From Middle Son

Tasty Birthday Present From Middle Son

Doing More With Soup

On A Local Walk Recently Recommended By The Sunday Times

Another Beautiful Clear Autumn Day: On A Local Walk (Recently Recommended By The Sunday Times)

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) is in the second of her twice-annual gap between garden guiding and packing hampers in a warehouse.  We failed to maximise use of this gap to get away on holiday this year.  However, the weather has continued to be great and we have managed some lovely, long, local walks together – usually with rest and relaxation in a pub at the end of them.

Pinbury Park

One Of Our Favourite Local Walks Around Sapperton And Pinbury Park

Despite sustaining these walking expeditions, I’ve slowed down overall as autumn has drawn in and the days have got shorter.  I’m not getting as much done as I did in the summer.  It’s nice that I have the ‘slow down’ option but it doesn’t feel right; indeed, it’s not.  I should be trying to get more done in a shorter daylight period and shifting to tasks that don’t need daylight.

I recall that I went through a similar period or relative sloth last year after the early glow of not having to go to work every day had started to wear off.  Then, I needed to structure my days a bit more and the main response was to set out layered to-do lists – for the long term, the medium term and for the immediate.  Those to-do lists worked then and so I have resurrected them in the last week.  They hadn’t entirely lapsed but I haven’t been maintaining them religiously enough to drive activity.  Now I am, I’m already feeling the benefit and the quiet satisfaction of ticking things off.

To be fair to myself, I do have an excuse for recent relative inactivity.  I strained something deep in my right side while digging up a particularly long-rooted and recalcitrant dock plant in the meadow.  I didn’t think much of it at the time but getting old means longer recovery times and, three weeks on, I’m still struggling with it.

After a couple of weeks I started looking up possible other causes for the nagging ache.  Predictably (for those who know me), I ‘Googled’ liver disease, kidney failure, pancreatic cancer and other disasters.  More rationally, LSW rubbished that as catastrophist, ‘Googled’ side strain and confirmed that such muscle pulls can take 1 to 2 months to repair.  She’s right and avoiding bending and sharp movement is the only treatment.

That has been my excurse for reducing the amount of gardening I have been doing and for stepping up my investment in sitting on the sofa reading fiction.  I have just finished the excellent Before the Fall by Noah Hawley and am now half way through the remarkable Milkman, the Booker Prize Winner by Anna Burns.  Unfortunately even the high quality of the prose is usually insufficient to prevent inadvertent siestas.  It is those little sofa dozes I most want to cut out.

One way of sustaining activity has been to increase cooking of meals.  I have had some unexpected success with some (admittedly straightforward) Yotam Ottolenghi evening meal recipes.  Also, as we have moved from summer to colder weather, I have swapped out the salad lunches which I used to make for LSW (ready for her return from her mornings’ work) for soups.

Dinner Looking Roughly Like It Did In The Recipe Book

Dinner Looking Roughly Like It Did In The Recipe Book

These soups take longer to make than the simple salads I made routinely earlier in the year.  However, there is a greater sense of achievement (and better aromas) in cooking combinations of celeriac, leeks, beetroot, apples and so on than there is in simply slicing lettuces, cucumbers and tomatoes into a bowl.  Also, I can make quantities that last us for days so the cooking doesn’t need to be daily.  Anyway, I’ve got the time, vegetable soup fits with our aim to reduce meat consumption (and our impact on the planet), it just feels better that the ingredients are in season, and the warmth of the soup feels in tune with the chillier temperatures outside.

One other achievement not requiring much movement of my side has been that LSW and I were in a Quiz team that won a charity quiz event.  This was at the nearby and beautiful Westonbirt School which I had not been to before.  I had a good time being supportive of other team members who knew far more answers than I, and LSW and I took away a bottle of Prosecco each for our efforts.

Approaching Westonbirt School And Victory In Their Annual Quiz

Approaching Westonbirt School And Victory In Their Annual Charity Quiz

Earlier that same week, LSW had also won her end of season quiz at her place of work.  She is on a roll!  I can’t make our local pub quiz next week (due to a clash with football – Forest Green Rovers are doing well since you ask!) but I expect to hear of more of her quiz team’s success at that.

Hopefully, by then, I will be fully operational and firing on all cylinders again.

Pleasantly Full Days

Life seems to have been particularly busy in the last ten days or so since my last trip to London.  There I got a dental check-up (my teeth are fine), visited the Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece Exhibition (fascinating and beautifully laid out) and took Middle and Eldest Son to dinner and The Lantern Society, my favourite Folk Club (what a treat to catch up with them both!)

At The Lantern Society

At The Lantern Society

Rodin's The Thinker And The Kiss

Rodin’s The Thinker And The Kiss – Two Items In An Intriguing British Museum Exhibition

The weather has been highly conducive to gardening.  We have had long periods of sun, but reasonable temperatures, and just enough rain.  As a result, many days have been dominated by clearing weeds, planting out seedlings, localised manual watering and working out how to keep the destructive birds, mammals, molluscs and insects at bay.  Almost everything that needs protection now has some form fencing, netting or other damage prevention measure in place.  I will now sit back, wait and watch the ways the animals will thwart me anyway.

In my last post, I compared the post-modernist house of Erno Goldfinger to a previous house of ours.  My last visit to London and overnight stay in the Barbican reminded me, too, that the post-modernist gardens there are now being echoed by Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) planting of our new walled garden.  Our final load of gravel and the water feature have now arrived and so our new garden just lacks maturity, but there are already some similarities with the Barbican gardens (although the scale there is massive compared to that of our ex-car parking area).  It has certainly been pleasant sitting in the new garden in the sun with a glass of wine after sweating over weeds, seedlings, bean poles and netting.

Our New Garden and The Barbican Gardens

Our New Garden And The Barbican Gardens; Ours Has Some Maturing To Do!

LSW and I have also been enjoying the annual Nailsworth Festival and, especially, two walks arranged under the auspices of the festival.  The first was a history walk in the vicinity of our house.  It added to our knowledge of the footpaths, industry and religious history of the area – particularly the historic presence of the Quakers and Baptists in what was once one of the largest non-conformist settlements in the country.

History Walk

An Attentive Audience On The Nailsworth History Walk

The second was a 12 mile walk billed as being a walk from Nailsworth to ‘the sea’. In fact, ‘the sea’ was the tidal estuary of the River Severn at a point where a number of sea going ships were beached to bolster the coastline alongside the canal along which we had walked. The so-called Purton Hulks, were an interesting climax to a full day of walking up and down the Cotswold escarpment and across the Severn valley in perfect walking weather. LSW and I certainly pushed up our daily step count averages that day!

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Purton Hulks

Purton Hulks

We also had a good day out walking in New Quay and Aberaeron in West Wales. We were staying with friends who have a second home there in what seems to be a lively and familiar community of second-homers based in London, Birmingham and South Wales. The health benefits of all the recent walking were offset by rather too much tasty food and drink in New Quay. On the route back from Wales, these indulgences continued as we stopped off at a family party celebrating a brief visit of one of LSW’s first cousins (once removed) from Singapore; lovely!

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

The food, drink and merriment isn’t going to stop this week with more of the World Cup to watch and celebrate (I hope), and the marking of LSW’s birthday with dinner in London on the way to a weekend in Paris.

So: busy and full days, full weeks and, as I near 12 months of retirement, I will shortly look back on a full year.