Meanwhile, back in Bath…..

Earlier this week Bath hosted the end of Stage 5 of the Tour of Britain (cycling).  There was great celebration by our local council, and lots of publicity for the event.


Emma Leith’s yarn-bombed bike



Someone updated the wall art in Walcot Street to mark the moment

Many of us turned out on a lovely late summer afternoon to watch as the cyclists and their support teams arrived in Bath.  It was all very exciting – and very very fast.  In fact, all over and done with in about 15 minutes from the first riders coming past to the last.


Didn’t see Wiggo, but I saw the car…


The front runners rushed past…..


And lots, lots more

There were tents and displays to browse in the park, and the award ceremonies to watch there too.

A shame then that our local council (Bath and NE Somerset) has such a blinkered view of cycling that they can’t see past its value as a leisure and sporting activity to its potential for helping solve some of Bath’s seemingly intractable problems – traffic congestion, expensive public transport, pollution, and obesity.


Irony and truth collide

If only the council would invest in making cycling in and to the city safer and more pleasant, there is lots of potential for changing people’s habits and getting more of us on our bikes as the enjoyable and quick way to get from A to B and back again (A being home, B being the local shops, the station, the school, the college, the workplace – you name it).

Fortunately we have CycleBath doing a persistent job of lobbying the council and holding councillors to account, to try to achieve better provision.  This includes the useful mapping exercise Adam the Chair has put together showing which routes through the city work and which ones don’t.  Definitely worth a look.  And if you live nearby and could benefit from improvements, worth a letter to your local councillors asking them to act.


Posted in Bath, Climate change, Community, Cycling, Inspirations, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New York parks – part 1: Brooklyn Bridge Park

Of all the places we went in New York, the parks stand out for me as the places that really wowed me the most.  This is the first in a series of posts about the various parks we visited.  What they all had in common (apart from obviously being in New York) was the way they provided a range of ways to use and enjoy them, in addition to the obvious ones of looking at the planting or just sitting and being (aka people-watching). 

Brooklyn Bridge Park is still in the making, but if the rest turns out to be as amazing as what is already there, it will be a triumph.


This is what we should have had in the UK as our Olympic legacy – real places around the country where anyone and everyone can take part in sport or physical activity, or just enjoy being outdoors, free of charge.


They have taken several former riverside piers (not the long thin kind, but the large concrete slabs that used to be part of the docks), and transformed them into open-access high quality sports places.  Each one has a different provision and a different character.  At each pier people can just turn up and do stuff, all for free.


Trainer frames, not zimmer frames (as I mistakenly first thought)

On offer are soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball, beach volleyball, roller skating, cycling.  And maybe I’ve missed a few.

Then they’ve joined them together with a beautifully landscaped park perfect for running, cycling, walking, and just strolling.




What a sensible municipal exhortation

There are also activities, again for anyone to turn up and join in on, for free.  Take your pick – yoga, tai chi, running, kayaking, film shows, music.

Then, if that weren’t enough, they’ve added a massive outdoor picnic-party space, complete with high quality long tables and benches and permanent barbecue spaces.  Anyone can just turn up (with all their stuff) and picnic – in style.


We were there on hot summer days at the weekend, and every single picnic space was taken by groups of families or friends.  From lunchtime till late in the evening, people came and went.  There were children’s birthday parties.  There were adult gatherings.  The cool boxes were giant.  The food was sumptuous and smelt delicious.  The groups were as diverse as Brooklyn’s people (i.e. very).  And what astonished us was that we didn’t see a single drunk or disruptive person.  Not one. Nor did we see evidence of vandalism or littering.

Maybe that was because there are also Rules.  And people around to make sure the Rules are kept (NYPD officers, park officials).  Lots of them, but we never saw any tension or unpleasantness.  On the contrary – relationships between the party people and the rule-enforcers seemed relaxed and cordial.


And all this on land that could so easily have been used to provide yet more ‘luxury waterside apartments’, just like we see all along the banks of the Thames in London – keeping the waterside for the wealthy, taking it away from everyone else.  I am intrigued to know more about why and how this happened, right here, yet not elsewhere.

We were there several evenings during our stay to enjoy the stunning sunsets across the river over Lower Manhattan.  Watching the Staten Island ferry come and go, the leisure and work boats moving up and down the river, the helicopters and planes silhouetted against the colourful sky, listening to the NYC soundscape – we felt as though we were in a film. (Beautiful photos to follow in a post to come, courtesy of Malcolm).

But there was nothing unreal about the (locally made) ice cream we bought from the kiosk in the park.  It was deliciously, perfectly, wonderfully real.  And surprisingly, it took me to a local poet – Walt Whitman, who grew up and lived some of his life in Brooklyn.  More of which anon.

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Ample Hills Creamery ice cream

Posted in Community, Cycling, Family, Food, Frugal, Gap year, Inspirations, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Gap Year: August and September adventure – Canada and New York

This is an adventure that will take more than one post to write about, plus time for me to mentally process all that we saw and did.  It straddled August and into September.  So this post is no more than a brief introduction.

It was a long-postponed trip, primarily to visit very close friends whose wedding we should have attended back in 2011.  They live in Quebec, and the plan was to spend some time there including being at their wedding, some time for a side trip on borrowed cycles, and then a trip on to New York.

It was all booked and we were ready to go, but sadly a few weeks beforehand Malcolm’s mother suffered a devastating stroke and we felt unable to leave her.  So we cancelled, and promised ourselves (and them) that we would make it one day.

And so we did, almost exactly 5 years late, but we got there.  And oh what a time we had!

We flew to Montreal and were met at the airport by torrential rain and our friend in his car.  We are not by any means seasoned long-distance travellers, so it was all very unfamiliar and exciting.  Malcolm had visited them in Canada once before, but that had been in difficult circumstances.  This was different – a holiday for us, a glimpse into their very different lives, a chance to spend longer with them than we have been able to do for years, and a chance to see something of their country.

We stayed with them for 9 days, while they were working (but he managed to take a lot of time off to show us around).  They are both medical professionals with busy and responsible jobs, and busy and active lives outside work.

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Knitting spot with a view: right by the St Lawrence River

We had some fascinating discussions about some of the differences between medical and social supports there and in the UK; and also about politics here and there. (He is from the UK, she is Quebecoise).   We met her parents and their friends, and spent an evening conversing in Canadian French, which I found fascinating.

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So many pretty verandas

We travelled to a mountain skiing resort to support him as he did (another) Ironman Triathlon.  We went to a remote lake where they have just bought a plot of land where one day they will build a wooden cabin.  We visited glorious waterfalls and parks.  We cycled to the city and back.  We had the most wonderful time.

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Summer street installation, Montreal

And then we caught a train from Montreal to New York – a story of its own, of truly stunning scenery and lessons in how not to run a railway (and how not to ‘welcome’ people to your country).

And then 10 days in New York, staying in an apartment in Brooklyn.  First time for both of us, and what a delight.  I am almost lost for words, all that will come is a string of superlatives.  We are captivated by the place, and especially by the people, and the vibrancy of everything.

If I had to choose a favourite it would be the city’s parks, but then I couldn’t nominate the great food or the stylish people.  Or the stunning sunsets we’ve seen.  Or views across from Brooklyn where we’ve stayed to Lower Manhattan.  Too too hard to choose then.

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Subway mosaic tiling

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Detail of subway tiling (Borough Hall station, Brooklyn)

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Ample Hills ice cream, with a surprising side serving of poetry (wait and see…)

It is indeed ‘the city that never sleeps’, and I am newly in love.  (Can you fall in love with a place and a people?  it seems you can).


Posted in Community, Cycling, Gap year, Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Gap Year: July’s adventure(s)

This month there were two ‘adventures’.  Or to be more precise. one micro-adventure that turned out to be more of an adventure than expected; and one trip that honestly wasn’t in the slightest bit adventurous but was none the less enjoyable for that.

Messing about on the river

First the micro-adventure.  It was Malcolm’s 60th birthday, and for him to decide how we would  celebrate it.  My own birthday celebration was such a lovely experience that he decided he would like to do the same, but with a twist.  The twist was that instead of the long walk we would hire canoes on the River Wye.

A brave move you might think, as one of our number can’t swim at all and had already had two perilous experiences of canoeing, two of us had never canoed before, and four of us were to say the least directionally challenged in boats.  Or to put it more clearly, we’ve never found steering boats came naturally.

The hire company was great.  They provided good information beforehand, clear and concise instructions, and excellent backup.

They gave us two unforgettable and seemingly simple instructions: stay away from the banks, and particularly overhanding trees; try to keep to the middle of the river, but avoid any debris.

It all started so well, and we were loving being at water level, watching the martins skimming the surface of the river catching insects.  Malcolm and I were even working well and effectively as a team steering our canoe (not to be assumed – as two people who are both right even when we completely disagree, cooperation is not a given).

But all of that changed suddenly when we found ourselves racing past oldest son who was clinging on to a tree truck midstream, shouting loudly for help, his partner nowhere to be seen.  At that moment, we looked frantically for her, lost sight of our own steering, and veered suddenly into the river bank and a large clump of willows, from which we repeatedly tried to extricate ourselves, with little success.

Thankfully by that stage we’d realised that she was safe and well, though in the river and soaked through.

Eventually we managed to free ourselves, but then – CLUNK –  we hit something else, the canoe tipped sideways and Malcolm jolted our backwards, leaving me all alone in the canoe with water in the bottom and just one paddle, being swept away by the current.

I’m rather proud of my quick thinking at that point.  I managed to turn the canoe around so I was facing upstream, and used the current to take me to the other bank, where I grabbed hold of a clump of Himalayan Balsalm and held on tight with one hand, waving the paddle high with the other hand.

In the meantime, a kind and experienced canoer had rescued oldest son and daughter-out-law, Malcolm had got to the bank, and they were all ferried across to the same bank as me.  They walked down to where I was, we got our barrel of dry things (clothes, food, mobile phone) to safety, then they helped me out.  Strip, rub down with towels and dry clothes and we were all fine.  Luckily daughter-out-law and I are similar in size so my dry clothes fit her fine.

So, the upshot of it all was that we managed just two of the 11 miles we had planned to go downstream, and we were all safe and well, and managed to see the funny side..  (Youngest son and daughter-in-law managed the whole trip and had lots of fun).

In the event, the organisers were sweetly un-phased by us losing one of the three canoes, 3 of the 6 paddles, and four of the six of us needing to be rescued from just two miles downstream from where we started.  They offered us hot drinks on our return, and we had already planned to eat lunch in their cafe the next day (which by the way was delicious).

A fun day was had by all, just not quite the fun we had expected.

We’re not put off canoeing altogether, but we’re thinking maybe our next outing will be on the canal.  Or maybe in a paddling pool.

More of the same

Our main ‘adventure’ in July was the trip we had booked last summer to go back to the same house in the Black Forest where we have stayed for many years.  So many years, that twice now we have been invited to the village Mayor’s office to receive a ‘long service award’.

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We planned this last year, to follow on from Malcolm’s 60th birthday.  Back then we hadn’t yet decided that we would also be newly retired, nor that we would be having a ‘gap year’. nor that we would also be doing so many other trips during the summer.

So as things turned out it proved to be a lovely relaxed and relaxing interlude in an otherwise busy summer.  The weather was very hot, I had several minor but irritating ailments, and we decided to have a week of walking, cycling, and relaxing.

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A good place to sit and wait out the rain

As always, we ate and drank well from local produce and local shops.  He enjoyed photography and birdwatching longer walks and cooking and reading.  I enjoyed knitting and reading and doing frankly very little.  We travelled by train and bus when we weren’t walking or cycling.

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Market stall, Freiburg

Such a treat, such a pleasure to return to the familiar and the known and the comfortable, and just relax into enjoying it.  A reminder that life doesn’t have to be always about the new and the unfamiliar.  That there is still much to be learned from what we think we already know.  Including allowing ourselves just to be, rather than always have to be doing.

Posted in Family, Gap year, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

And here’s to the NHS!

I never cease to marvel at the amazing legacy our grandparents and parents have given us, after the trauma and turmoil of two world wars – our National Health Service.

Yes, there are (many) things about it that could be better.  Yes, it has been hammered by successive Tory governments, and continues to be so.  Yes, it has been starved of training and goodwill for staff, and now has to rely on poaching staff from other countries.  But, but, but….

My extended family has good cause to be thankful for it.  My mother and my mother-in-law both received excellent care at different times in their lives for different problems.  Our children and their partners have at times needed to rely on it, and it has served them well.  I have recently had (minor) surgery to restore some lost vision and prevent further deterioration.  The treatment and care I received were speedy, effective and exemplary.

And none of us had to worry about paying for it, none of us had to fear the financial consequences of receiving medical care, or the health and other consequences of not being able to afford to do so.  None of us had to make those difficult choices, or were prevented from making choices because we simply couldn’t afford the necessary treatment.

A far cry from the place Big Business, Big Pharma, and much of the Tory Party and their friends would like us to be in.

I find all the talk of the ‘impossibility’ of continuing to fund the NHS in these ‘times of austerity’ completely unconvincing, especially when I recall the times in which it was first established.  On the contrary, we all make choices about how to spend whatever (much or little) money we have, and governments are no different in that.  Tax cuts? or increased tax paid by all, for increased benefits for those who need them?  We make the choice every time we vote.

As a society and as individuals, we can choose to see paying tax as a public good and something to be celebrated.  Because in my opinion paying tax and sharing out what we have more equally is the first step towards a fairer, more equal, healthier, happier, and ultimately safer and more cohesive society.

We listen and watch with envy the vast difference in the life chances between our children and their partners and friends, and those of our Danish friends (and indeed our nephew and his wife in Sweden).  We marvel at how the Danish ones have all been able to buy their own (modest but more than adequate) homes.  How (financially) free access to university and training courses have enabled them to achieve professional qualifications and find reasonably paid work with good working conditions.  How excellent maternity and paternity rights and pay have enabled them to have the children they dearly want.

But all that comes at a price.  They (and everyone else) pay far, far more in taxes then we do.

We could make that choice.  I would make that choice.  Would you?  If only our political system were such that those of us who do make that choice could have our voices heard, loud and clear.

And as for me, today, I’m rejoicing in the fact that my gradually reducing vision has been restored, that my world is brighter and bigger than I realised, and that I can now open my eyes when I want to.

Earlier this month, in the run up to the opening of the 2016 Olympics, we watched a fascinating BBC TV programme about the making of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics.  We marvelled at the atmosphere of optimism and pride that we shared at that moment; and felt sad to see where the intervening 4 years have brought us.

But for now, let’s remember that astonishing opening ceremony, that moment when we came together and celebrated our country and our heritage, and most of all our NHS.

“Play the drum for your mum, and she’ll watch it on TV”.  

Boom boom.  So many dedicated volunteers, so much given for free.  If you want to relive it for a moment, watch it here.  And if you’re in the UK and would like to catch the TV programme, you can watch it here (an edition of the Imagine series).

Posted in Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

While we’re away: a bit of a yarn

Who could resist the wonderful colours?  Certainly not me: when I’m away and visiting a market or strolling through a new town, I always search out the wool shops, the haberdasheries, the fabric stores and the market stalls.  Oh, and the fruit and vegetable stalls.

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Market haberdashery stall, Padova

And I’ve just remembered that in September in Fanoe they have a whole knitting festival!  (One day my friend??  you know who you are…..).  Plus they have several yarn stores on the island, of which Christel Sayfarth’s (see photo below) provided the most glorious of colours and designs (way beyond my ability though…).

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One of many amazing creations by Christel Seyfarth, to be seen in her shop on Fanie

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Over 80 and still running one of the town’s yarn shops. An inspiration!

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Detail from a Fanoe home/museum (hand knitted cotton towels)


Detail inside Strik, Aarhus


Detail inside Strik, Aarhus

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And let’s not forget the vegetables: beetroot on market stall, Freiburg

There’s always the temptation to buy, but it’s the overall effect that is so stunning, and somehow buying just one or two colours would be like choosing just one (or two) colours from the rainbow: it would miss the point.  Though as Malcolm would confirm, that rarely stops me.

Posted in Community, Craft, Inspirations, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

June and July: the allotment update

There seems to be a bit of a pattern emerging here doesn’t there.  That is, not keeping up with the posts.  And it’s not just the posts I’ve fallen behind with – some parts of the allotment have been lacking attention too.

But never mind, as ever, there’s still next year (and the one after that).  I do have plans for the future, and now I have time to put the plans into action.

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So, back to the present.  As ever, June is the month where everything starts producing for real, and in July it really takes off.

I harvested the onions and garlic – a good crop of onions again, marred only by the beginnings of neck rot in some of them when the weather was relentlessly wet and I hadn’t yet brought them in; my best-ever crop of garlic – heads that look like other people’s garlic, rather than my usual teeny tiny misfits.  And tasty too.

We began eating the new potatoes as always early in July.  Absolutely wonderful, as they always are.  We usually cook enough for two meals at a time, and eat them plain boiled the first night and then as a salad or crisped or fried over second time around.

At the end of July, the main crop potatoes are ready for harvest, but they will have to wait until I have time.  I’m just hoping I won’t lose too many in the meantime to blight and slugs.

Courgettes have been producing in abundance since mid June, and the cucumbers have now joined them.  Unlike some people, I can never have too many of either of these crops, and will happily eat them every day.  Plus I give some of them away to family and friends.  Which is lucky.

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After a slow start, the rhubarb has gone bonkers and is growing like mad.  I’ve given lots away, and have some in the freezer to use during the winter.  I love it, Malcolm hates it, so I don’t bother with pies crumbles or the rest, just plain lightly stewed with root ginger and some sugar – perfect with plain yogurt.

The strawberries have been fantastic this year and truly delicious, but unfortunately we went away just when they were at their peak and came back when they were over.    No strawberry jam for us this year, despite the abundance.  Lesson learnt.

Another great success story has been broad beans.  Despite me getting the autumn sown ones both sowed and planted out late they have done us proud, and for the first time ever was able to pick and enjoy early broad beans, and I’ve now picked the last of them.  Definitely one to repeat.

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This year I got the tomatoes planted out slightly earlier than usual and this too has paid off.  We’re not getting so many we can’t keep up, but a steady flow of a few ripe tomatoes each day is more than welcome.  I do still need to find some tastier varieties though – I’m finding these a little bland.

That row of autumn-fruiting raspberries I began planting last year and finished this spring has done brilliantly, and is already producing fruit.  Again, they need to be picked regularly several times a week, and being away hasn’t aided that.  More thought needed for next year and beyond I think.

My very late sowing of climbing french beans seems to have succeeded in evading the slugs and snails, so far at least, and I have high hopes of having enough beans to keep us happy for a while.  These were planted from seed I saved last year.  I’d like to do more seed saving and swapping in future.

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The hens are doing very well, and producing plenty of eggs for us and our children whenever we see them.  I have several friends and neighbours very happy to look after them when we’re away, which involves little more than visiting them once a day to top up their water, make sure they’re well, and collecting the eggs.  This month I bought a large hopper feeder, which means I can leave them a month’s food at a time.  I’ve made a covered space behind the hen house for this, which has also freed up some space inside the henhouse.   There are two current problems – one is some pecking (which I’m trying to treat / prevent using Stockholm Tar), and the other is the ever-present foxes – my neighbour lost all his hens a couple of weeks ago, so vigilance and sturdy fencing is definitely required.  Both of which I have, but it does need a careful eye on the integrity of the fencing.

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Still to come

I managed to sow and plant out a few leeks ready for the winter.  Not as many as I intended, but better than the none-at-all I managed last year.

I am hopeful that my globe artichoke (moved several times but hopefully now in its final position) will produce some flower buds later this year.  If not this, then I’m sure next.

Some but not all of the asparagus roots have taken – I hope enough for it to look more like an asparagus bed next year, and who knows, maybe for us to cut some the year after that.

The apple trees all have some fruit on them, though not nearly as much as last year.

And now the fails.

Several attempts at growing parsley have failed this year.  Likewise, rocket, carrots, coriander and spring onions.  Slugs and snails did for all of them.  I planted three squash plants, only two of which have survived.  Same problem I fear.

Peas and mangetout you already know about

I decided not to risk sweetcorn this year, as my badger baricades are not yet complete and I know I have no hope of success without them.

Fruit – I have neglected the soft fruit bushes a bit this year, but plan to do more on that part of my allotment during the autumn and winter, ready for a good season next year.  Having moved the gooseberry, blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes, late in the spring to their new long-term home, it’s not surprising that I haven’t had much from them.

Flowers – a few of the flowers I planted out succeeded (mainly the marigolds and nasturtiums) but most went the same sluggy way as the rest of the fails.

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Future plans

I have some more construction plans, including making the fencing more secure, more stable, and prettier.  I want to tidy up and plant the small area where I have my mini shed, including creating a small covered sitting space for when the rain comes down, and put up some guttering to fill the water butt there.  There’s nothing quite like being inside/outside when its raining, I just love it.  And I want to grow something over the shed.  I’m still considering a kiwi.

Beauty is a must as far as I’m concerned, and next year I want to create a flower cutting bed.  This requires me to completely clear the old raspberry bed, now overgrown with couch grass and docks.  Not a pretty sight at the moment, but it will be.  Just give me time.

The plans must also include fitting in keeping the allotment productive (and increasing the productivity still further) alongside going away for periods of time.  I want to work out how best to do this: to achieve a balance between enjoying being out there, and enjoying being away other places.  I think this mostly means me finding a rhythm that works for me and my growing, and for us as a couple with more time on our hands.  I don’t want to be constantly saying no to spontaneous trips so that I can catch up with myself, or stick to a self-imposed routine.


Posted in Allotment, Food, Frugal, Gap year, Growing, Local, Local food, Retirement, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments