Ups And Downs Of Walking

Anyone who has read this blog over the last few years will know that one of the greatest pleasures I have taken from retiring, and therefore having more discretionary time, has been in walking around the vicinity of our home in Gloucestershire.  That has continued in the last few quiet weeks of Covid-19 semi-lockdown.

Typical Local Cotswold View From A Local Walk

The weather has become distinctly Autumnal.  Now there are puddles and a sogginess underfoot on some of the footpaths that is requiring more care and more mud and waterproof footwear.  However, the weather has been largely good and recent walks have continued to be full of interest.

Autumnal Sunrise From Our Bedroom

The berries on the trees and hedgerows remain vibrant and fungal growths on tree stumps seem to have become more extravagant. 

Autumn Fungal And Mushroom Blooms

The local streams have become little gushing torrents again following the rain and the birds are noisy with their staking out of their territories. 

Local Streams And Waterfalls Are Filling Up

The changing seasons are bringing shifting palettes of colour to the views from walks where the green of fields and trees has previously dominated.  I am hoping that the warmth of the summer that accumulated in our woods has allowed trees to make the sugars that will bring out even more brilliant browns, reds and yellows as the month progresses.

The only irritants on my local walks have been the increasing prevalence of discarded face masks and dog poo bags along the way.  I have read that the standard plastic face masks take 450 years to decompose.  In recent years I have seen a raised consciousness of how the oceans are filling up with our plastic waste and I feel that we have begun to understand the potential (all bad) implications of this for the food chain and wildlife degradation.  Suddenly we have found a way of reversing that progress through carelessness in disposing of face masks; frustrating!

Perhaps I shouldn’t get started on dogs and their owners’ misuse of poo bags.  It makes my blood boil and I’m sure the issue is getting worse.  Of course, no-one wants to step in dog poop.  Picking it up and disposing of it safely should be a basic requirement for any dog owner.  But many choose not to do so when their dog is on a footpath crossing a field.  That endangers not only my shoes but also livestock in the field.

Locally Bagged Deposits Including The Particularly Egregious Example Pinned On A Stile Behind A ‘Please Clean Up After Your Dog’ Sign

Some dog owners are diligent in picking up their mess.  However, when they do, most use plastic bags that usually take centuries to decompose and create micro-plastic particles that simply end up poisoning the earth or flow into the oceans.  Googling ‘dog poo bag decomposition’ produces pretty frightening results.  Then there are the worst dog owners who pick up the poo and then, astonishingly, leave the bag swinging in a nearby hedgerow or lying by the side of the path; disgusting!

Disappointing Use of A Grit Bin In Our Lane – Dog Poop and Plastic!

Of course, dogs bring huge amounts of pleasure to millions of people.  But I worry when I read that people in the UK alone have bought 2.2 million dogs in the last six months of Covid-19 lockdown.  Will spotting discarded poo bags be the norm on any outing?  And what about the meat consumption of all those pets and the impact on greenhouse gasses that has?

I know – I shouldn’t have started my rant.  Rant over!  I’ll focus on enjoying the views during my walks by looking upwards and hoping my mud-proof footwear deals with the rest.

A Surprise Test Event

The undoubted highlight in what has been a further two weeks of Covid-19 quietude was a surprise test event held at Forest Green Rovers Football Club (FGR) – my team!  Test events to ‘test’ the efficacy of running sporting events that are open to the public during the pandemic have been scheduled across several sports for some weeks.  Because of the latest surge in infections many have been cancelled but apparently FGR were asked, at short notice, whether they wanted to hold one.  They obliged by inviting all their season ticket holders to take part.

Once I knew that my allocated, socially-distanced seat in the stand wouldn’t be in any potential driving rain, I jumped at the chance.  In the event, it was a sunny day.  The attractive, hilly walk to the ground felt like old times, and the whole occasion was a very exciting break from Covid-19 routines. 

There were socially distanced queues for temperature checks and then to get into the stadium.  The imposition of face masks muffled my cheers of team loyalty and those of the other 500 supporters.  But, not only did was event an emotional highlight, it felt safe.

The game itself was one FGR should have won.  However, following two players being sent off (the opposition), a missed penalty (us) and a scorching last-minute-of-injury-time equaliser (us), we had to be content with an eventful and dramatic draw. 

FGR vs Bradford City; The Only Professional Game I Will See Kick Off Live This Season?

Unfortunately, the increasing progress of the Covid-19 infection rate means that this event is likely to have been a one-off.  Further attendance of live FGR games feels a long way away again.  But I feel lucky that I had a brief reminder of the visceral pleasure of live football in a stadium.  (And we didn’t lose!)

As another highlight, Long Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) mother took us out for a very pleasant lunch (only our second restaurant lunch in 6 months) at The Potting Shed.  We also walked to the relatively new Wild Carrot Cafe on the very rural edge of the Parish and have made a few visits to our local and increasingly pandemic restriction-bound local pub.

The Wild Carrot Cafe, Chavenage

Otherwise, waking life has been a merry-go-round of walks, day-to-day shopping, meals and catch up television.  Outlander (just Series 1 so far) has been our latest TV box set plough-through.  That was very watchable except for the rape and torture scenes during which I tended to go off to make my warming evening drink!

There have been a few little frissons of excitement courtesy of nature.  I saw my first lizard (other than slow worms) in the garden.  We also had a huge dragonfly perch briefly on our garden table.  The friendly pheasant is back. 

Garden Visitors

Indeed, the garden continues to be a bountiful pleasure with masses of chard, huge but tasty beetroot, courgettes (of course) and masses of wonderful dahlias from two plants that have survived the cold of the last two winters. 

They Just Keep On Coming: ‘Cafe Au Lait’ Dahlias

The walled garden we had built three years ago is still laced with lots of white, purple and pink flowers among the tall grasses and shrubs.

Still Lots Of Colour In The Garden

Meanwhile, achingly slow progress is being made on a new garden behind and above the house.  LSW loves a project and, when the builders have finally completed the terracing and walling, there will be loads of work for us to do to clear unwanted plants (bind weed and hypericum is rife, is hard to eradicate and both LSW and I hate it) and renew the area with new ones.

Diggers In Our Garden Once Again

We are so lucky to have the space to be able to enjoy a garden and enough cash to be able to remodel it.  The garden has been such a boon during these weird, pandemic times.  It’s such a shame though, that this weirdness will continue, as most of us feared, into autumn, winter and beyond.   I look forward to my next sporting test event – whenever that may be – as a sign that these weird times may be ending.  Stay safe, all.

Colourful Hedgerows This Year (Black Bryony, Hawthorn and Rose Hips)

Football Coming Home?

Last weekend, I went to my first live football game for almost 6 months.  Granted, it was a relatively small local village affair but it stoked feelings of regret for the football I have missed due to the Coronavirus and some excitement for the delayed but impending advent of the new football season.

The match was played on our village playing field – an unassuming but picturesque venue – between our very own Horsley United and a guest team.

Pre-Match Line-ups For Horsley United And The Guest XI

Pre-Match Line-ups For Horsley United And The Guest XI

The match was a celebration of Horsley United’s promotion to Stroud District League 2 last season.  Somehow, the organisers had managed to attract three ex-Premier English League footballers to play for the opposition (Deon Burton, Lee Hendrie and Lee Carsley).  Each of these showed their class (and their age) and they added an unexpected gloss to a very pleasant occasion.

I have to say, too, that Horsley United look a much better team this season.  While Stuart Hendrie (Lee Hendrie’s younger brother and another professional footballer) was probably the best player on the pitch, two new young Horsley strikers caught the eye and ultimately won the game.  I look forward to seeing village football again soon.

My main team, Forest Green Rovers, have also started playing friendlies.  The building anticipation for Forest Green Rovers’ new season in English Football League 2 has been accelerated by the streaming over the Internet of some of the more important friendly games and the availability of season tickets.  I fear that social distancing in the main stand, which has reduced capacity by about 75%, will mean that my allocated season ticket seat will be near the front or sides of the main stand where the risk of getting very wet in westerly storms is high.  However, I may get lucky and, anyway, I have waterproofs and I can’t wait for the season proper to start.

Initially, games will be streamed since the stadium can’t be opened until infection and death rates are lower.  There is hope that this will be sometime in October but, given the experience of other countries in Europe, our confused approach to lock down in the UK, and currently rising infection rates, I’m not so optimistic.  My purchase of a season ticket within an hour of sales starting was an act of faith and of support for the football club I love; hopefully, it pays off.

Forest Green Rovers's Current Stadium

Forest Green Rovers’s Current Stadium

In the two weeks since our trip to Northern Ireland I have become aware of how much I needed that trip away from home for the first time in five months.  The lock-down days have now returned to their rather lustreless routine.  The walks through local nature continue to be very pleasant – I spotted some bats a couple of evenings ago which was an example of how uplifting little incidents on these walks can be.  The garden continues to be a pleasure even in the relative wetness of this year’s August.  The gentle rhythm of walking, shopping, reading, listening to music, cooking and eating, snoozing and watching catch-up television generates contentment if not outright excitement.

One Of The Local Walk Pleasures - A Glorious Sunset

One Of The Local Walk Pleasures – A Glorious Sunset

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has found another outlet from this routine with another short trip – this time with a work colleague to (very) northern Scotland.

Her absence has accentuated the predictability of my own home routine.  I look forward to LSW’s return.  I look forward to the return to a football season.  I look forward to other signs of post lock down normality.

Another Bonus From Having Time In Retirement To Stroll Through The Local Countryside: One of 'My Five A Day'

Another Bonus From Having Time In Retirement To Stroll Through The Local Countryside: One Of ‘My Five A Day’

Actually, as I think back over the last couple of weeks, there have been more breaks from lock-down routine than it feels.  Eldest Son visited us on his way to a camping trip.  Middle Son is visiting us tomorrow following a meet up with friends in Bristol.  We also managed a very pleasant ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ lunch with friends last week at our local and excellent William’s Kitchen.  Another move toward normality is the restart of the monthly series of village pub quizzes from next month.

I helped keep some semblance of momentum around the village quiz going earlier this year.  Now, the local pub is setting up a quiz that will be adherent to the government guidelines for social distancing, for making too much noise and for having too much fun during the pandemic.  Despite my general hopelessness at answering the quiz questions, I am looking forward to participating in something that, like the start of the football season, suggests we have turned a corner in the pandemic.  Once again, my fingers are crossed.

Out And About In Northern Ireland

Youngest Son (YS) took us out for two major trips away from Belfast while we were visiting him for the first time in his new environment in Northern Ireland.  The first was a drive south for a walk in the Mourne Mountains in County Down.  Then he persuaded us to make a very early start to visit the Giant’s Causeway on the north coast of Antrim.  YS loves sunrises and sunsets; on trips he has arranged for us in England, Australia and now Northern Ireland he has repeatedly proven that he is fully justified in that!

Sunrise Starting To Illuminate The Giants Causeway, Antrim, Northern Ireland

Sunrise Starting To Illuminate The Giant’s Causeway, Antrim, Northern Ireland

The first thing that struck me when we approached the Mourne Mountains was the character of the stone walling separating fields and gardens.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are very familiar with stone walls since they are ubiquitous in The Cotswolds.  Indeed, we are currently having a few new ones built to create some terracing in our garden.  But the walls around the Mourne Mountains are very different and very striking.  Essentially they are huge, rounded granite boulders placed on top of each other so their very weight gives the walls strength.

Granite Wall In The Mourne Mountains

Granite Wall In The Mourne Mountains

Even more impressive was the fact that these walls not only skirted the mountain slopes but also sat on the ridge lines right up and over the highest peaks.  The ‘Mourne Wall’ was constructed between in the early 1900’s to define and enclose the catchment area for the Silent Valley Reservoir.  The wall is 22 miles long, crosses the peaks of 15 mountains and keeps farm animals away from the reservoirs and rivers that flow into them.  It’s an amazing feature – both in terms of simple engineering and of beauty.

Walking Up Beside Part Of The Mourne Wall

Walking Up Beside Part Of The Mourne Wall

We were blessed with perfect weather for walking.  It was sunny but a great deal cooler than the simultaneous overbearing and sweltering weather back home in Gloucestershire.  The wispy and puffy clouds not only helped with the backdrops to the photos but created a constantly shifting, dappled shade across the muted mauves, greens, greys and browns of the mountainsides.

Views And Granite Rock Formations At The Summits

Views And Granite Rock Formations At The Summits

The circular walk was challenging but not exhausting.  The views from the peaks of Wee Binnian and Slieve Binnian were easily worth the exertion.  The subsequent substantial and carbohydrate laden brunch at Railway St felt very well deserved.

Our second trip out of Belfast with YS started before 5.30am.  YS drove us snoozy oldsters out to the Giant’s Causeway Heritage Site.  We effectively had the place to ourselves throughout our visit and as the sun rose over the cliffs and started to illuminate the causeway, we felt very privileged and pleased with YS’s insistence on an early start.

The Giants Causeway

The Giants Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway itself was much as I had expected – after all, it is so well documented in pictures including some we had seen when YS had visited the place a few weeks earlier.  What was a more unexpected pleasure was the walk around the adjacent cliffs and the ruggedness of the nearby coast.  That feeling of wildness was enhanced by the lack of other visitors at such an early hour, but also by the path closure signs (which we partially ignored) which warned of rock falls for which there was plenty of recent evidence.

Some of the 40,000 Hexagonal Basalt Column Tops Forming the Causeway And (Bottom Left) Other Huge Columns Forming Cliffs

Some of the 40,000 Hexagonal Basalt Column Tops Forming The Causeway And (Bottom Left) Other Huge Columns Forming Cliffs

YS took us on to see Dunluce Castle which was one of the locations used for The Game of Thrones television series (Greyjoy Castle apparently).  It is certainly spectacularly located and, when the coronavirus has passed, it would be great to visit this National Trust property more fully.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

We then went on to White Rocks Beach which was a further geological surprise: chalk cliffs backing a beautiful sandy beach.  Then, after a brief walk around Portstewart, we refuelled with breakfast in The Three Kings.

White Rocks Beach, Antrim

White Rocks Beach, Portrush, Antrim

Old Salmon Fisherman's Cottage Near Portstewart

Old Salmon Fisherman’s Cottage Near Portstewart, County Derry/Londonderry

We made and attempted a couple more stops to see some of the dramatic landscapes used in The Game of Thrones series.  But the visits to White Park Bay and Boheeshane Bay were brief or aborted as, by now, crowds of other tourists were gathering and car parking was becoming problematic.  I can feel another 5.30 am start being required next time we visit Northern Ireland to see YS!

White Park Bay, Antrim

White Park Bay, Antrim

There certainly will be a next time.  Some aspects of the tour around Counties Antrim and Down were expected: the calming greenness and the quiet, rural character.  But there were many surprises too and we want to see more.  Perhaps the multi-day itinerary we had planned for a walk along the South West Coastal Path in England last June, but which we had to cancel due to the coronavirus, will switch into an Irish coastal walk rather than just be rescheduled for next year.  Who knows, but we certainly enjoyed this first taster of Northern Ireland very much.

Resplendent Nature At Every Turn

Retirement has brought me closer to Nature and I seem to have had even more than my usual exposure to Nature in the last two weeks.  The local walks have been particularly good.  The rain in June and early July has made the pastures, hedgerows and trees a lush green and the recent sun has brought out the garden and wild flowers so they are now showing off their peak displays.

My Favourite Field

My Favourite Field – Filling With Maize This Year

One walk was especially spicy in underlining our closeness to Nature.  We were crossing a field with a neighbour during a walk that we hadn’t undertaken for a while, when we saw another figure crossing the field at right angles to us.  Thirty yards out, we could only see the man’s bare and bronze torso above the wheat.  As we crossed paths though, it became clear that we had met – and then briefly engaged in conversation with – the infamous ‘Naked Rambler’.  Our neighbour remarked that his naked rambling exploits are frequent since ‘he was brown all over with no tan lines’.  I could only mutter that I hoped he looked out for stinging nettles.  The encounter made our day.

The Naked Rambler

The Naked Rambler (Picture Courtesy The Evening Standard – I Didn’t Have The B*lls To Take My Own Picture Of Him)

We also completed a series of walks when my Best Man (BM) visited us last weekend. He has been working from home and in isolation throughout lockdown and needed a break.  Fortunately the weather was excellent and we were able to visit our now re-opened pub for our first sit down (outside) meal since lockdown started.

On A Local Walk: Strip Of Green Manure In Full Flower

On A Local Walk: Strip Of Green Manure In Full Flower

A highlight during his stay was a long walk during which we saw a field sown with green manure coming extravagantly into flower.  Another marvellous natural phenomenon was the sighting of a crazily large number of small white butterflies fluttering together in the sun and drinking from wet mud on our path.  Both were uplifting sights.

Flowers In The Strip of Green Manure - Antirhinums, Phacelia, Sainfoin And Many More

Flowers In The Strip of Green Manure – Antirrhinums, Phacelia, Sainfoin, Bladder Campion And Many More

BM works for a large oil company which is trying to shift away from fuelling (literally) carbon emissions.  His job is changing and intense.  Even while he was with us, he had to prepare a short presentation that he was due to give on the following Monday.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were sufficiently intrigued by this that we signed up for the public event he was a panel member for and run by the ‘World Business Council for Sustainable Development’ entitled ‘Nature Action for a Healthy and Resilient Future’; what a couple of mouthfuls!

As I listened in to the webinar, I was reminded of my own corporate work life by the business jargon being used by the numerous presenters including BM, and how it flows off the tongues of business professionals.  I was also left with a greater feeling of hope for Nature and the planet.

I suspect that the event was populated largely by the ‘green mouthpieces’ of the corporations that were represented.  However, several sounded convincing about their company ambitions and commitments and the scale of the opportunity to turn our destruction of the planet around while creating millions of worthwhile jobs in new green industries was clear.

Optimistic-Looking Daisies

Optimistic-Looking Daisies

I have just started reading Wilding by Isabella Tree.  She is so aptly named given that the book is the story of how a failing arable farm has been turned into a successful experiment for re-wilding a large tract of land in Sussex.  The timeline at the start of the book shows how allowing nature to reclaim intensively farmed land can bring back flora and fauna diversity very quickly.  Given the chance, Nature can recover surprisingly quickly and I’m enjoying Isabella’s account of her experience.

Butterflies Everywhere: Comma, Peacock, Small White, Ringlet And Skipper

Butterflies Everywhere: Comma, Peacock, Small White, Ringlet And Skipper

I have continued to busy myself with some local climate action activities – my small push towards alleviating the pressure on Nature.  There is also much to do in the garden and on the allotment given that we are in peak growth season for vegetables and weeds.  We are thinking up creative ways to use the inevitable courgette mountain, we are eating chard with almost every meal and the runner bean avalanche is about to hit us.  In the next week too, I will need to brush up on my blackcurrant jam making skills since I have a bumper blackcurrant crop this year.

Flowers Among The Veg On The Allotments

Flowers Among The Vegetables On The Allotments

Nature is amazing.  Just last week, we saw a recurrence of another incredible phenomenon we have been lucky enough to spot a few times before: the inundation of our home valley by seagulls predating on flying ants.  It is almost unbelievable that the gulls will fly over 25 miles from the nearest coast on just the right day to catch the flying yellow meadow ants that rise from their nests in our neighbouring fields on just a couple of days a year; but there they were again.

Garden Views: Panorama From Our New Gate, Hollyhocks and First Use Of The New Fire Pit

Garden Views: Panorama From Our New Gate, Hollyhocks and First Use Of The New Fire Pit

Nature can also do us damage.  Badgers rip up crops, deer eat the roses and strawberries, earwigs are eating the dahlias, blackfly are tormenting my beans and hay fever can be really annoying.  The climate emergency and the creation of new human diseases when we encroach too much on the wild are macro problems far greater than my local problems with wildlife.  The solutions to these are going to be challenging to find but my immersion in Nature this week underlines the importance of doing so, and gave me some more hope.

New Beginnings

Blowy Day In Our Field

Blowy Day In Our Field

Life in our home has become a little quieter since lockdown eased enough for Youngest Son (YS) to leave us for his new start in Northern Ireland.  The Monopoly Deal box has gone, the breakfast coffee isn’t quite so consistently good (YS is a qualified barista!) and there isn’t as much energy and enthusiasm in the house.  We miss him.

The upsides are that he is with his girlfriend again at last, is excited about a new career as videographer in Belfast, and my study is empty of all his stuff.  I have also taken on YS’s grocery lockdown delivery slot for the Village Shop which is making me feel more helpful and virtuous.

Otherwise, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I continue much as we have throughout the lockdown.  The main twist to our lockdown routine has been triggered by the gradual opening of the village pub, now, mercifully, under new management.  It has been great to re-integrate visits to our local pub into our activities once again.

We first tried the take-away arrangements, sipping beer on the kerbside from a bottle and glasses that we had brought.  Then, at the weekend, we paid our first proper visits, post-lockdown, to see the changes the new leaseholders have made to improve the pub and make appropriate social distancing possible.  Although the pub was busy, we felt safe and the changes that have been made to the interior – narrowing the bar and moving the kitchen – have made the pub look and feel like a local pub for the first time.

Approaching The Hog

Approaching The Hog Post-Lockdown

Critically too, the new leaseholders already know loads of people in the village and so I believe villagers will want it to succeed more than ever.  The pub has had a chequered history and now is a difficult time for anyone in the hospitality business, but, as we chatted to fellow villagers, it felt like a positive new beginning for The Hog at Horsley.

I am hoping for new beginnings and directions elsewhere too.  The coronavirus outbreak has forced massive re-thinking in government and in many families.  There is talk of building back the way we live and the economy in a better, greener way.  A recent YouGov poll suggested that only 6% of people want a return to the same type of economy as before the coronavirus pandemic.  Hoo-ray!

Hopefully the re-build of the UK will involve increasing home working, walking and cycling and an improved electric car charging network to reduce carbon emissions and reduce air pollution.  Perhaps Treasury money will be found to create an enlarged skill pool (re-trained baristas perhaps) for the retrofit of homes through improving insulation and replacement of oil and gas boilers; that would create jobs and reduce our carbon footprint.

Maybe too, we will see promotion of renewable energy, more sustainable and diverse food production, and a continuation of the local community support groups that have taken off during the lock down.  I’m still hopeful that something positive will come out of the mess the virus outbreak got us into.

The Way To Go?

The Way To Go? Local Wind Turbines Near Forest Green Rovers’ Ground

In our small village climate action group we are looking at how, amid the virus disaster, we can help to perpetuate some of the positive side-effects of the lockdown on the village’s carbon footprint and its resilience to the climate emergency.  We are trying to promote our existing community assets such as the pub and shop, encouraging local and sustainable food production, and investigating community energy schemes and better, greener local transport solutions.  We have a plan – indeed, just last night, I presented it to the wider Stroud District Climate Action Network – and we just need more time and energy (probably a little more than we actually have) to implement it.

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

My involvement has been focused on trying to help sustain the revenue growth the Community Shop has seen during lockdown.  I am reluctant to become a full blown volunteer (beyond my new weekly delivery duties) or Committee Member.  That is because I fear that, on top of other regular commitments LSW and I already have (and will have when the football season starts again!), signing up formally might be an obstacle to the sort of travelling we want to do – once that is unencumbered by the current coronavirus fears and constraints.

However, I am anyway getting increasingly involved in trying to understand how we sustain the popularity of the shop as lockdown continues to ease.  It’s interesting and more complex than I thought and I think that I can help – we’ll see how this participation develops.

Another recent new beginning is that LSW and I are re-starting outings away from the local vicinity.  The easing of the lockdown has allowed LSW to see more of her old workmates during tours of local, recently re-opened gardens.  Then, this week, we drove several miles south to Old Sodbury.  There, we took a break from the numerous local walks from our house to explore one of the many Cotswold Way circular walks.

It was a lovely blustery walk that took in big views and an impressive Iron Age fort, and it was fun simply because it was new to us.  We will try some of the other parts of the Cotswold Way – it is something I have long wanted to traverse – but we will have to get used to meeting more people on the way than we are used to in our equally attractive local walks.

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

We are very spoilt for lovely, quiet walks where we live.  Amid all the current change – positive and negative – those remain consistently enjoyable.

Pushing The Lockdown Boundary

CroAt a time when the Governments special adviser, Dominic Cummings, is dominating the news with his transgressions beyond the coronavirus lockdown boundaries, we too are pushing the lockdown envelope – albeit in much less obvious, controversial or dramatic fashion.  Our story is considerably less convoluted; we want to see our closest relatives and friends face to face.

Over the Bank Holiday weekend, Youngest Son (YS) offered to drive to London and back to collect Eldest Son (ES) and his girlfriend.  This enabled them to stay for a couple of days at our house and spend extended time out of their little flat in which they have been rather cooped up.  We eschewed hugging and touching but it was lovely to have them with us for a while and to catch up on their plans together.  Their visit was a welcome break from our normal routine.  It was an excuse to show off the garden and the local countryside and to eat slightly more luxuriously than usual.  It also provided an extra couple of players for our rounds of Monopoly Deal (now all but cemented into our daily cycle of lockdown-life).

Not Socially Distanced (But Pretty Safe) Monopoly Deal

Not Strictly Socially Distanced (But Pretty Safe) Monopoly Deal

Long Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) mother also visited us one afternoon (lockdown rule compliant) and a couple of other friends come over for a drink (non-compliant) last week.  We have also continued a regular social distanced Sunday lunch drink in our garden with a couple of neighbours (marginally compliant).  All these little events help pass the lockdown days in relaxed conversation in the continuingly gorgeous weather.

Peonies At Peak In The Garden

Gradually the lockdown is going to be relaxed.  In some ways I don’t want the peace and quiet of the lockdown to end.  But I know that the lockdown is hard for so many and, in any case, I’d love to be able to visit my Mum and stay with my Dad.  I want to see the return of live music venues, sport, cafes and restaurants.  I want to have a party! Instead of running an online village quiz (which fortunately was successful and fun) I want to participate in the village quiz in the village pub!

YS – a videographer by trade as Wilson Archer Films – has kept himself busy while staying with us with self-training, a week of work in London for London Flower School, helping with deliveries for the local community shop and (usually) thrashing LSW and I at Monopoly Deal.  He has also been developing a video of our house and garden.  This is to add to his portfolio as a real estate video producer and to help LSW, potentially, market the house as a location shoot in a no-Covid-19 future.

The Videographer At Work

The Videographer At Work

This is all well and good, and LSW and I have loved having him and his chirpy energy around, but YS is desperate for lockdown relaxation so he can stop living with his parents, see his girlfriend again and set up a new chapter of his life with her in Belfast.  Everyone wants to get back to something closer to normality.

Flowers From London Flower School Left Over After YS's Shoot

Flowers From London Flower School Left Over After YS’s Shoot, Gracing Our Dining Table

Meanwhile, the days have largely continued to circle around the walk into town for the daily shopping, a walk in the brilliantly green woods or across fields carpeted with wild flowers, a bit of gardening, three meals a day and TV in the evenings (LSW and I really liked Normal People).

Underrated Cow Parsley On The Way To Forest Green

Underrated Cow Parsley On The Way To Forest Green

In the marvellous Spring weather all of this has felt like an illicit pleasure – knowing that key workers and many others are having a tough time, even as the lockdown rules slowly fall away.

Inquisitive Cows In the Field On the Hill Behind Our House

Inquisitive Cows In the Field On the Hill Behind Our House – A Change From Endless Pictures Of Lambs!

So Much To Do, So Much Time?

CoroGorgeous Spring weather is here but the lockdown to prevent the rapid spread of Covid-19 continues.  So many in the UK and worldwide are horribly constrained by the lockdown and I am fortunate that I can continue to enjoy this wonderful Spring.

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

Longhorn Cow Enjoying The Same Views As Me

There are arguments raging as to whether the UK lockdown was aggressive or early enough, about how long it should last and how it should be relaxed over time.  Given the evident lack of testing and tracing capability, and the paucity of vital protective equipment available to health care workers, it seems to me that the lockdown should have been implemented much earlier.

I wonder why our Prime Minister was openly glad-handing others so long after the infectiousness of the virus was clear, and why did the Cheltenham race festival with its 100,000 racegoers take place in mid-March?  Given that a pandemic was an obvious risk, why did we not have more equipment in our stockpiles in anticipation?

Now we have ‘let the cat out of the bag’, as it were, it looks like getting it back under control is going to take an extended period of social and business restrictions.  That is already creating huge economic and social problems.  Loneliness, anxiety, depression are all bound to increase.  Worries about domestic violence, money, entertaining and educating kids, and many other unplanned problems are mounting for many.  It is hard to imagine what life in the UK might be like in a year or so if the lockdown cannot be relaxed significantly by then.

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

New Life, Blissfully Unaware of Covid-19

Meanwhile, I continue to be one of the lucky ones.  I haven’t contracted the virus and don’t know anyone personally who has suffered badly from it – yet.  I don’t have to work or travel any more.  I live in the country and so can still get out and about without needing to worry about social distancing while outdoors.  Indeed, the countryside is splendidly empty of people, vibrant with wildlife and looks lovely in the fullness of what has been terrifically consistent Spring sunshine.

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

Peak Blossom In The Field Next To Ours

I am maintaining my 15,000 steps a day average by finding ever more extravagant detours into the surrounding rural wilderness on my way to the newsagent in town.  This walking, in combination with a steady reduction in alcohol intake over the last three months (in line with my New Year resolutions) has got my weight down close to my target.  That, plus plenty of gardening, is improving my overall health and readiness to take on Covid-19 if and when it hits me.

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

Rural Wilderness On The Long Way to Town

My days are surprisingly full.  There is so much music to listen to and so many box-set series TV to watch (I’m loving Trigonometry and Devs on the BBC at the moment).  There are so many books on my ‘To Be Read’ shelf still (I’m half way through Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and enjoying that).  I play games on my mobile; I am keeping my empire in Forge of Empires going and gradually improving my battle technique in Clash of Clans.

Yet these are all just fill-in activities around the main, constant structure of almost every locked down day (Sunday is still a slight exception).  Tea in bed is followed by leisurely breakfast.  Then there is the round-about walk into town for the newspaper followed by digestion of its main stories.  Then I make a salad lunch which is followed by the first game of Monopoly Deal of the day with Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and Youngest Son (YS).

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards

Monopoly Deal; A Cut Down Monopoly Game With Just Cards. More Fun Than It Sounds!

Most afternoons I work in the garden – there are simply more jobs in the garden than I can fit into the time and my reserves of energy – or I spend an hour or two writing this or moving forward the village Neighbourhood Plan and Climate Action Network group.

I stop to follow the daily government briefing on Covid-19 at 5pm.  It’s repetitive but worth listening to, I think, for the subtle attempts to re-write history and the almost obsessional denial of any mistakes.  Those denials are even with hindsight and in the knowledge that no-one could get the response to the pandemic entirely right.  Indeed, there may be no ‘right answers’ and certainly none we can discern yet.  YS still can’t get over how much I chunter on to the radio with my moaning about politicians.

If it is my turn to cook then I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for that.  I’m finding that while recipes are invariably right about cooking times, they underestimate preparation time (by me, anyway) by 300%.

Finally we will eat and then play another game of Monopoly Deal before retiring to the TV room.  The day is crowned with another railing against politicians on the television evening news and then its reading in bed and sleep.

Special events rarely disturb this pattern.  LSW and YS have deemed Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as ‘drinking days’.  On these we often lap up the privilege we have of a garden to retreat to, by taking a bottle of wine up to the fading warmth of the setting sun at the top of our field.

Evening Wine In Our Field

Evening Wine In Our Field

The Thursday ‘Clap for Carers’ has become an increasingly important interlude and is now accompanied by a neighbour playing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ proficiently and commendably on saxophone.  Also a new virtual, monthly village quiz has kicked off; I’m scheduled to arrange the May occurrence so preparation for that will fill a rainy day or two.

There seems to be so much to do.  I do hope we find a way to end the lockdown soon but it has helped me fit all these local activities in.

No April Fool, Lockdown Is Real

April is here!  The lambs are in the field running and jumping hither and thither.  Buds are bursting and flowers are proliferating.  We have had a spell of sunny and almost warm weather.  Normally, this would be a time for rejoicing at the season of renewal.

Lovely Signs Of Spring Alongside My Walks

Lovely Signs Of Spring Alongside My Walks

Who would have thought at New Year that, by April Fool’s day 2020, we would be well into an indefinite period of not being able to get closer than two metres to another person (outside of one’s household).  But it’s no April’s Fool joke; how things have changed in three months!  It is incredible that the misuse of a bat (or whatever) in Wuhan can have had such a damaging impact, so rapidly, on our globalised world.

I’ve recorded here before that I am much relieved that I am retired during this ‘lockdown’ period.  I know of several in our village who are struggling to work from home due to the poor local broadband service quality and I wouldn’t want to be reliant on the Internet.  In any case, the ultimate flexibility of my retirement schedule means that I can adapt easily to the new restrictive contact and movement regime.

In practice, my routines haven’t changed very much yet.  Because we live in a very rural area, I can still go on walks safe in the knowledge that I will meet, and have to skirt around, almost no-one.  I visit the ever reducing number of local shops rather less and my usual walk through the local college grounds has shut.  But that just means I am gardening a bit more and trying new, less popular walking routes.  Armed with my hand sanitiser, I feel fairly safe.

Deserted Local Valley

Deserted Local Valley

We are very fortunate that we live in a lively and neighbourly village.  Growing an already good community spirit was one of the key themes coming out of a village meeting on climate change that I helped to arrange in February.  (Goodness, was it really so recently?  Such a gathering would be unthinkable just six weeks on!)  One positive is that the virus crisis has engendered that increase in community sprit despite the need for ‘social distancing’.

More people than ever are willing to stop and have a more-than-arms- length chat from their gardens or as one passes in the lanes.  The hamlet WhatsApp group Long Suffering Wife (LSW) has established is operational and buzzing with information and produce swaps.  The village shop has so many volunteering to deliver essentials that my offer hasn’t yet been called upon.  The clap for care workers event last Thursday evening was vibrant and moving.  Villagers have shown solidarity in adversity by erecting flags and banners to celebrate the village.  All of that has been rather uplifting against the depressing backdrop of economic collapse and the suffering of so many less fortunate.

About 20% Of Homes In Our Village Have ‘Hearts Around Horsley’ Banners Or Flags Out As A Show Of Community Solidarity Against The Virus

A real downside of the lockdown is that I am not able to visit my Mum and Dad. Indeed, because she is in a care home, not even my Dad can visit my Mum now.  Dad and I, and some of my sons, are writing letters to her to give her a reminder that she is in our thoughts.  There’s no denying though that it is a tough time for everyone giving and receiving nursing and social care at the moment.  At least Mum and Dad, and the rest of us in the family, are all free of the virus so far.

It has dawned on Youngest Son (YS) that he is going to be staying with us, and apart from his girlfriend, for some time.  He has no work now so is glad of the food and roof over his head, and he is pleased he is out of London.  However, no matter how many times we play Monopoly Deal to keep him entertained, he can’t wait to get on with ‘real’ life again.  In contrast, Eldest Son (ES) and Middle Son (MS), who work in London in the games and advertising industry, are busier at work than ever.  They are responding to the demands of the increased number of couch potatoes playing videogames and watching TV.

Many of the impacts of the virus outbreak have been predictable – in type, if not degree.  Others have, for me at least, been more unpredictable.  It has been encouraging, for example, to see how quickly air pollution has reduced since the economic slowdown.  Humans, as well as nature, adapt quickly to change and it will be interesting to see whether some of the new habits – local shopping, greater reuse of materials, walking not driving, and so on – persist after the lockdown ends.

Levels of (Nasty) Nitrous Oxide (NO2) Measured By Satellite Over China And The UK 2019 Versus Last Week (Relative NO2 Levels Shown In Pink)

I wonder too, whether more people will drift to the countryside from the cities where the infection rates are more concentrated and lockdown leisure pursuits are more limited (we will get fast broadband out here eventually!)  Certainly, I feel very lucky that I live in a house large enough to enable its occupants to sit in their own room when they want, amid a garden that, once the weather warms a little more, will be lovely to sit in, and in a spirited village that has wonderful, accessible countryside around it.

Stay safe.

Spring Lambs.  Watching Them Gambol In The Field Opposite Our House Is A Rare Privilege

Spring Lambs. Watching Them Gambol In The Field Opposite Our House Is A Rare Privilege

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