The most significant event of the year was, undoubtedly, moving to the North Leicestershire village of Wymeswold on 24th February. The move itself went smoothly and by the time I got to the East Midlands it was a lovely early Spring day, sunny and surprisingly mild for the time of year. It felt like a warm welcome to our new home.
The rest of the year was spent mainly getting the house straight, getting to know the neighbours, meeting the people of the village and exploring the local area. Other events of note included: attending an episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, starting a music blog, helping out at the General Election, one funeral, one wedding and one operation to fix Mary’s hammer toe.
In approximate chronological order, then …
I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue
Sometime in the autumn of last year we saw that the Radio 4 comedy programme, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue was going to be staged at the Barbican theatre in York in the coming January. We would have booked tickets immediately but we thought we would be moving well before then. If you’ve read my Retrospective for 2014, though, you will know that there were a number of hiccups along the way and, in the third week of November it became clear that we would still be in York when ISIHAC was going to take place. Fortunately, there were still a few tickets left and we grabbed some seats up in the stratosphere section at the back of the hall.
We have been familiar with the format of the show for years: the chairman, asks the four members of the panel to do silly things, anything from singing one song to the tune of another to providing hilarious definitions of words (from the mythical Uxbridge English Dictionary) or playing the vacuous and utterly mesmerising Mornington Crescent. It is a spoof panel game in which the contestants pretend to compete for points that are never awarded; the whole show is really just a vehicle for the comedians on the panel to tell jokes. And it works amazingly well.
On this occasion Sandi Toksvig was in the chair and the panellists were Jeremy Hardy, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer and Graham Garden. The producer, Jon Naismith, was also the warm up act (telling old, but achingly funny jokes) and, as always, Colin Sell provided piano accompaniment when the silly games required some music. The whole show was a hoot; the most enjoyable night out we’ve had in years. As you can see from the picture, we have kept the complimentary kazoos as souvenirs.
A Crotchety Man
I don’t know what possessed me but in January I created a new blog. I use it to publish recommendations and comments about music I listen to. Like this life/general site it is hosted on WordPress but uses a different theme (‘Harmonic’) chosen partly for its name and partly for its picturesque front page. The new blog is called Crotchety Man for what I hope are obvious reasons.
After fiddling with the overall structure for some time I settled on a Home page with About and Browse sections, a Posts page that gets a new post at least once a week, and a Photos page that holds annotated pictures of the Bass, Bass and Cox band (the BBC?). The first post was published on 11th January. As of 15th December there have been 74 posts, the site has had 247 visitors and there have been 459 views. More interestingly, though, it has slowly accumulated 13 followers.
After more than a year of planning and preparation most of our belongings were loaded into a removals lorry on the 23rd of February ready for the journey south the following day.
Mary and I had lived in York for more than 17 years, 16 of them in our dormer bungalow on Lea Way. In many ways we loved that house. Its long, narrow plot meant that it looked quite ‘bijou’ from the outside but it went back a deceptively long way. The study and dining room had been added at the rear of the original 1940s bungalow and behind the dining room there was a conservatory. A slightly curious corridor connected the living room to the study and dining room. Its quirkiness appealed to us.
During the time we were there we made a number of improvements to the property: the roof was completely re-tiled; the garage had a new roof, doors and window; the Leylandii hedge was replaced with a low brick wall; the drainage was improved so that we no longer got a ‘water feature’ in the front garden whenever it rained heavily; the patio was relaid; the living room acquired a marble-effect fireplace and one of its doors was moved; a wooden floor was installed in the dining room; a whole new bathroom was fitted; the electrics were upgraded. It took a lot of our money but we felt it was money well spent.
Strangely, though, leaving Lea Way wasn’t a wrench. I don’t really know why. Perhaps it was because moving out had been dominating our thoughts for so long or because we were looking forward to our new home. Or it might have been because for the last two or three months we had been living among boxes in which were packed half our possessions, a kind of limbo between permanent residence and homelessness. Whatever the reason, when the time came to leave I took just one last look at the house, bid it farewell, climbed into the car and set off for the A1 southbound leaving Mary to dash round with a cloth and the hoover. There was a little sadness as memories of life in York played in my head like a video of recent history but no lump in the throat.
The journey was uneventful. There were no phone calls on the way, nothing to indicate a last minute hitch. By the time I got to Loughborough the sun had come out, it was a pleasantly mild early Spring day and I was confident that everything was under control. Finding a multi-storey car park across the pedestrian precinct from the estate agent I checked my mobile: three missed calls from the removal company starting over an hour ago. How could that be? I swear the phone didn’t ring.
Nervously, I returned the last call. It seems the lorry had arrived 90 minutes earlier and was waiting for me to open up so they could unload. I didn’t ask how they managed to get there so quickly. Proceeding hot foot to the estate agent I was relieved to find they were expecting me and had the keys ready; our purchase had been completed less than half an hour before. After a quick call to let the removals team know I was on my way I grabbed a sandwich and drove the few miles out to Wymeswold.
Soon a lorry load of possessions was being scattered throughout our new house. Most of the boxes were colour coded (we did our best to make it easy for the furniture shifters) but there was barely a minute when I wasn’t directing them to one room or another. In a surprisingly short time every room had received its share of furniture and unopened boxes. Some items obviously wouldn’t go where we had planned and I had to make some instant executive decisions. The garage took anything that didn’t have a natural place to go.
Mary joined us when most of the contents of the lorry had been unloaded. Some 45 minutes later we were able to thank the removal men, watch the lorry disappear down the street, sit down and get our breath back. We were in!
As you will know from last year’s retrospective we had already disposed of a lot of stuff we never used and really didn’t need. It soon became clear that we would have to repeat the cull, even more ruthlessly this time, if we were going to fit everything into our semi-detached 4 bedroom plus study property. The new house has about the same floor area as the old one but spread over more rooms. The kitchen, in particular, has something like half the storage space of the old one. On the other hand we do now have a loft.
Over the next few months pots and pans, cutlery and crockery, books and ornaments, pens and papers, and all the other paraphernalia of modern life were shuffled from room to room like one of those block puzzles… Let’s move this to make room for that so that something else can go there.
As soon as most things had found a home we called in a specialist lighting firm to improve the lighting in the living room and kitchen. Thanks to Mood Lighting we now have dimmable LED ceiling lights in those rooms and a fancy Wi-Fi system to control them. The living room lights are programmed to come on at dusk and, although we’ve never tried it, we can control them all remotely from a smartphone over the Internet. It was fun for a day or two. And even more fun on a couple of occasions when the lights decided to treat us to a light show of their own devising: central pendant on, outer spots dim, all off, inner spots on, brighten, fade…
Sometime in April a solar panel salesman knocked on the door. We had been thinking about installing solar panels here even before we moved so we let the caller make an appointment for later in the week. The idea was to get some basic information – whether our roof is suitable, roughly how much it would cost, what the payback period should be – and resolved to resist the hard sell that was bound to accompany a home visit.
The man who came with the leaflets, the technical details and the laptop presentation was here for just under three hours and gave us a quote that was significantly higher than we were expecting. Needless to say we declined his opening offer. And we didn’t budge when he offered us a special deal if we signed up on the spot. Now armed with a better understanding of solar panels we sought further quotes, which confirmed that the cold calling company wasn’t offering good value for money.
In the end we decided to have a local company install some in-roof solar panels. The in-roof installation method is a bit more expensive than the traditional mounting frames but it looks more attractive and we felt the neighbours would be unlikely to feel we were spoiling the beauty of the village. In any case, this is a small estate of modern houses (around eight years old) and solar panels are hardly anachronistic here.
The panels were installed over two days in early June and have been generating power steadily ever since. I know because part of the package was a smartphone app that monitors the performance of the panels. What on Earth would we do without a smartphone these days?
Our old red sofa and armchair had seen better days, had suffered from being used as the cat’s scratching post and didn’t really fit the new living room so we promised ourselves a new suite. After many hours browsing the Web and walking round furniture shops we finally settled for two sofas from Multiyork: one large 2/3-seater and one small 2-seater, both in duck egg green. They were delivered two days after the solar panels were commissioned.
To complete the furnishing of the living room we still needed some curtains. Choosing those was even harder than selecting the sofas. Then one day, quite by chance, we spotted some curtains we liked in a shop window in Melton Mowbray. We took some swatches home, picked the design with warm plum colours and placed an order. And then we waited.
The curtains were on twelve week delivery – nearly three months – and it seemed an eternity. During the summer having no curtains didn’t matter. The living room has patio doors out to the back garden, which is not overlooked, so we didn’t need curtains for privacy. And in the light summer evenings the curtains, if we had any, would not be drawn. As autumn came, though, we yearned for the new curtains to arrive. Finally, on 23rd September seven months after moving in, the curtains came and we felt the living room was furnished to our taste at last.
One of our friends is a keen Lib Dem supporter (no, not the cat in the photo) and he lives in our Loughborough constituency. One evening in April there was a piece on the regional TV news where they interviewed (briefly) the local Lib Dem candidate in the general election. Although we had only recently moved to the area we recognised him. It was our friend Steve Coltman.
Being Lib Dem voters ourselves we contacted Steve to offer our support and he supplied us with postcards to deliver to the 500 or so households in Wymeswold. After exploring every street, alley and cul-de-sac in the village we completed the task on 16th April. Our knowledge of the geography of Wymeswold improved considerably as a result and we really feel we belong here now.
Loughborough was a Conservative/Labour marginal. Steve had no chance of being elected; his objective was simply to deliver the Lib Dem message and give the voters a middle-way choice. Of course, it was a disastrous election for the Lib Dem party nationally and the Loughborough constituency followed the trend. Unfortunately, Steve lost his deposit but he was quite sanguine about it. That’s democracy for you.
Sometime around 1993 Mary and 35 other former members of the Nottingham IVC club formed a social group called Trent 36. The group is still active and we kept up our membership throughout our sojourn in York. One of the reasons for moving back to the East Midlands was to be able to attend more T36 events and spend more time with our old friends.
Over the years the group has lost one or two of its members, mainly to terminal cancer, but gained a few more by invitation. Although we are all getting older the group remains active organising meals, walks and sundry other social events. At the end of June we were informed that another member of the group, Pete Holland, had passed away. He’s the one in the middle of the photo.
The club had been told Pete was ill and in hospital some two weeks earlier but that news hadn’t filtered through to most of us so when we heard of his death it came as a bit of a shock. A number of Trent 36 members attended the funeral on 7th July where we remembered Pete’s love of folk music, his travels to far off places, his left wing political views and his warm sense of humour.
As if to prove there’s life in the old Trent 36 dog yet there were two weddings within the group this year. One was a quiet, private ceremony (belated congratulations to Stewart and Harriet Buckthorp), the other was a traditional church service and evening reception complete with dinner, drinks and disco. Mary and I were delighted to be invited to the grander of the two.
The photo shows Steve (the aforementioned Lib Dem candidate in the General Election) and his very long-term partner Sheila, who were the bride and groom. Predictably, haste (or lack of it) was a theme in comments by both the minister who conducted the religious ceremony and those giving speeches in the evening.
The whole event was really well organised. From the wedding ceremony itself to the meal, the speeches and the disco everything seemed to go like clockwork. Steve and Sheila had clearly done a lot of planning and preparation. Next time someone speaks disparagingly about the Lib Dems you can quote me when I say that at least one Lib Dem couple are more than capable of juggling the complexities of their own wedding – church service, tea and cakes, photographs, travel and accommodation arrangements, seating plans, menu, etc. – while still enjoying it themselves. After that, managing the UK economy should be a doddle!
Mary has had a bent toe for years. Most of the time it was not a problem and treatment would mean having an extended period off work, so she chose to live with the discomfort. This year, though, seemed a good opportunity to sort it out, while she was between jobs.
The particular condition she had is known as a hammer toe. One of the bones in the affected toe was too long causing the toe to arch awkwardly and making some shoes uncomfortable. The cure requires surgery to remove the excess bone, which means two weeks lying with the foot raised, at least another two weeks with no weight on the foot and something like three months gently getting back into a normal routine.
Mary had the operation on 26th October. I dropped her off at the foot clinic in Nottingham at 9 am and we were told she would be there for at least three hours. There was no point in hanging around that long so I went home, had a cup of coffee and, shortly before 10 o’clock, settled down at the computer to go through my emails. Twenty minutes later, even before I’d opened the last of the emails, the phone rang. It was the clinic calling to say that Mary’s operation was finished and by the time I’d driven back to Nottingham she would be ready to go home.
The nurse trundled Mary out in a wheelchair, one foot bandaged, just as I arrived at the entrance. I was expecting the patient to bring a crutch with her but apparently that wasn’t going to be necessary. Gingerly, Mary was decanted into the passenger seat and I pointed the car back in the direction of Wymeswold.
Once back home we parked Mary on the sofa with a foam pillow and a couple of cushions under her injured foot, strong painkillers within reach for when the local anaesthetic wore off. She spent the next two weeks like that reading books, watching TV and entertaining herself on the iPad while I supplied cups of tea and microwave meals. At night I would carry the cushioning up to the guest bedroom where Mary would sleep and, in the morning, I’d make up the sofa again.
Being confined to the sofa became a bit frustrating for Mary but, amazingly, she never needed the painkillers. Two weeks after the operation we were back at the clinic for a routine assessment. Having inspected their handiwork the clinicians announced that the wound was healing well and Mary could now use her foot in any way that felt comfortable. A few days later she was walking around the house and less than four weeks after the operation she was getting around more or less as normal. The toe was still a bit swollen and got sore if she stood or walked for long but she was mobile again.
It seems the operation was an unqualified success.
It doesn’t feel as though we have been out and about much this year. We didn’t go away for a holiday (again) because we had other things to do and our finances were still in flux. We switched to a local financial adviser who wanted us to move my pension pot to a different financial platform and, in any case, it won’t be clear what our running costs are in the new house until we’ve been here a full year.
Having said that, though, I see from our calendar and photo apps that we visited the following places: Rutland Water, Stoneywell Cottage (twice), Belton House, Waddesdon Manor, the Harwell campus (for its Open Day), Woolsthorpe Manor (Isaac Newton’s birthplace), Snibston Discovery Museum (before it closed at the end of July), Kedleston Hall, Reg Taylor‘s garden centre and swan sanctuary, Calke Abbey, Attenborough Nature Reserve (it rained), Watermead Country Park, Deene Park and the National Memorial Arboretum. (All links are to photo albums on my Flickr site.)
We also wandered round the Richard III visitor centre in Leicester which presents the history of the king’s reign, the story of the dig that found his bones and a fascinating account of the evidence that the remains are indeed those of the last king of England to die in battle.
Concerts and Recordings
Wymeswold is a lively village. There are events for walkers, gardeners and keep fit enthusiasts, there are children’s groups and book clubs… and a few musicians are based here, too. The musical fraternity put on concerts at the village’s Memorial Hall, playing themselves or booking bands from farther afield. Mary and I attended four concerts in the hall this year…
In March we went to see a group called Burden of Paradise, a four-piece band with Snake Davis on saxophones. The band’s website describes their music as “a stylish blend of precisely 47% blues, 35% folk and 18% jazz”. That neatly captures both their repertoire and their off-beat sense of humour. The singer, Helen Watson, had a bit of a cold that night and I don’t think we saw them at their best but it was a very enjoyable evening nevertheless.
A few of the musicians from the village performed at a Clay Street Acoustic concert in May. On the whole they were competent rather than exciting but it was better than sitting in front of the television for the evening.
There were two bookings at the village hall in October. The first featured Holy Moly and the Crackers, a folk band with a distinctly theatrical flavour. They call themselves a ‘gypsy folkNroll’ band, emphasising the up-tempo, rocking style of their music. They performed a sequence of songs that tell a modern English folk story (love, betrayal, drunkenness and debauchery). It was nearly a play, almost an opera. And it was a rollicking good party, too (with a few sad bits thrown in).
Later that month we were treated to some top notch musicianship from Kelly’s Heroes, a Celtic folk band based in Nottingham. They are a 3, 4 or 5-piece band playing Irish, Scottish and traditional folk music at clubs, pubs, festivals and private functions. No gimmicks, just good songs and faultless delivery.
When it comes to recorded music I discovered two bands this year that deserve a special mention: Henry Fool and A Triggering Myth.
My Crotchety Man blog post said of Henry Fool: “… a cosy blend of progressive rock, jazz and atmospheric sounds … strongly reminiscent of Canterbury-scene bands”. Coming from me that’s a rare compliment. (Further, equally glowing reviews can be found here.) Their website hasn’t been updated for some time but I’m hoping to hear more of them in the not too distant future.
A Triggering Myth also sits on the borders of jazz and progressive rock. I have compared them, favourably, with Brand X, Weather Report and Bill Bruford’s bands and, to quote Crotchety Man again, “it just doesn’t get any better than that”. If that sounds good to you I refer you to the full blog post and heartily recommend their Remedy of Abstraction album.
Although not by any means new, one of Blondie‘s lesser known albums, The Curse of Blondie (2003), counts as another of my discoveries of 2015. The album doesn’t seem to be available any more but I saw a copy in a local charity shop and bought it, out of curiosity as much as anything. I’m pleased to tell you that it’s very good. It’s typical Blondie (except for one failed attempt at free jazz) but every bit as good as what they were doing in their heydays.
I’ll mention two more items under this Concerts and Recordings heading:
- Kray Van Kirk’s Kickstarter-funded music video, The Road to Elfland, came through the letter box in October. It contains new recordings of earlier Kray Van Kirk songs, together with three new tracks. The whole CD + DVD package is beautifully produced and is a worthy addition to my collection. (For further details see Shiloh.)
- Earlier this month Universal Music’s Rock and Indie Newsletter featured a number of artists I wasn’t familiar with and I started to explore them. I was so beguiled by a slow ballad called Don’t You Wait by Cloves that I bought the EP. (See this Crotchety Man blog post.)
Last Christmas I bought Mary a voucher for a bread making course. She used it for a one day ‘First Steps’ lesson in April at the Leicestershire village of Bagworth near Ashby de la Zouch. Mary enjoyed it and used her new knowledge to make some home-made pizza the following month when her family came over for the Wymeswold Duck Races. I’d better explain…
The river Mantle runs through Wymeswold and every year six plastic ducks take part in ‘races’ as they float down the river in the centre of the village. Onlookers are encouraged to place bets on the winner and all proceeds go to charity. On the same day there is a “Wymeswold Waddle” fun run for kids and a more serious race for seasoned athletes. The day has become a Spring festival with road-side stalls, music, light refreshments and sundry other attractions. It’s one of those quaint English traditions that we all love and cherish. And Mary’s pizza was delicious.
For Mary’s birthday in May we had lunch at the Hammer and Pincers restaurant some 200 yards down the road. As it was a special occasion I had booked online but I needn’t have bothered. It was lunchtime, mid-week and we almost had the place to ourselves. The food was excellent, the service impeccable and the atmosphere relaxed and welcoming. Highly recommended.
Earlier in the year we joined the Supper Club – a spin-off from the Trent 36 group – and, on Friday 12th June, we contributed to the club’s mid-summer meal. There were eight of us, each pair providing one of the four courses: starter, main, sweet and cheese. All the food was appetising and it was a thoroughly convivial evening. We must do it again sometime.
It had been suggested that one of the best ways of getting to know the people of the village was to take part in their summer Safari Suppers. All participants meet in the village hall for an appetiser and to find out who their hosts will be for the next two courses. Then everyone disperses around the village to have the main course, moves on to another house with a different group of guests for puddings and finally returns to the village hall for cheese and biscuits and coffee.
Initially we resisted the idea because this year the Safari Supper was scheduled for Saturday 13th June – the day after the Supper Club meal. Two slap-up meals in two days might be too much for my poor digestive system. But in the end, as the village event was short of hosts this year, we were persuaded to provide the sweet course. And I’m glad we did. Our main course hosts had prepared an excellent vegetarian meal and we met some very nice people making this one of the highlights of the year.
Talking of highlights… Wymeswold holds an annual Open Gardens weekend. This year it was held on the 27th and 28th June and the weather was glorious. Mary and I volunteered our services and were appointed as stewards at the eastern end of the village where Hall Field was used as a temporary car park. We spent the early afternoon of the Saturday directing cars, taking money and handing out programmes.
After being relieved at 3:30 pm we took the opportunity to visit some of the gardens on show and it was delightful. There were far too many gardens to see in what was left of the afternoon so we toured round again on the Sunday, too. Wymeswold is quite compact but the gardens in the centre of the village stretch a long way back from the road giving green-fingered owners a lot of scope for their creativity. I took lots of photos and made the best of them available to the wymeswold.com webmaster who pronounced them ‘fantastic’ and added some of them to the website.
In September there was the Wymeswold Village Show. Residents were invited to enter fruit and vegetables, home-made jams and pickles, home-baked biscuits and cakes, photos of the village and simple handicraft creations such as a decorated wooden spoon. I submitted one of my more creative photos which failed to appeal to the judges. Mary made a cheesecake and won second prize. I think we must be getting the hang of village life.
From time to time I receive emails from my old university advertising events that might be of interest to its former students. Until this year I’ve avoided these for fear of being trapped by bright young men and women for whom climbing the ladder of success is everything or by ancient academics for whom the only interesting topic of conversation is some obscure body of literature from the middle ages. Of course, not all Oxford University alumni are like that but that institution does have more than its fair share of such characters.
This year, though, there was less excuse; after all, Oxford isn’t all that far from us now. Looking through the programme for the Alumni Weekend of September 18th – 19th threw up sessions that sounded fun for both Mary and myself so we put ourselves down for a few lectures and tours. We both attended lectures on how the brain adapts to the electronic age and artificial intelligence. Mary also chose lectures on inequality in education and how to get published, while I took tours of the chemistry labs and the new biochemistry building and listened to a talk on quantum computers.
Believe it or not it was a most enjoyable weekend. The lectures were easy to understand, interesting and stimulating – like the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures, but for adults rather than children. The whole weekend was well organised and the people we met were pleasant and friendly. Oxford city, though, is even busier than ever. Dreaming spires? Well, yes, but you have to look for them now among the shops, the offices and the traffic. When I was a student there it was the other way around.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
We seem to have packed a lot more than I realised into 2015. I hope you have had an equally fulfilling year.
Merry Christmas and a Happy 2016 to you all.