Thursday, 6 August 2020

Thursday: Roman London and Electric Cars

Two completely unconnected things that have been on my mind this week are Roman London and electric cars. I decided - a little late in the day! - that I haven't taken enough advantage of all the many things that have been available online since March, so I signed up for a virtual tour of Roman London and a talk about Roman domestic items found in London. Although run by different organisations, I thought the two events would fit well together. The tour on Sunday evening was with Footprints of London, an organisation which in normal times runs guided walking tours, but has now started offering online "tours" for a small charge. Then today I "attended" a talk run by the Layers of London mapping project in which an expert from the Museum of London Archaeology talked about the the connections between domestic items and location. 
I really don't know a great deal about Roman Britain (or Roman London), so I learned quite a bit from both talks - more from the guided tour, I think, which gave me good ideas of places I would like to visit. For example, part of the old Roman wall can be found in London Wall underground car park in Bay 52! One Roman site I have visited is the Mithraeum, which was mentioned in both talks. The remains of the 3rd centuryMithraeum were discovered in the 1950s but were moved to a different site to allow building work to take place. That building was demolished in the early 21st century and the Mithraeum was moved  back to its original site and incorporated into the basement of Bloomberg's newly built European HQ. The Mithraeum and an exhibition of items found on the site is free to visit, but (even in non-Covid times) has to be booked in advance. The pictures on this post are from my visit two years ago. 
The other theme of this week has been electric cars. We have decided the time has come to replace our main car, which now has pretty high mileage and is getting more expensive to maintain. It also runs on diesel, which when we bought it was supposed to be more environmentally friendly than petrol, but is now considered to be the worst fuel to use. Just before everything locked down we had started looking into electric cars, and had more or less decided - with a bit of trepidation - that we would switch to fully electric. As Covid risks now seem relatively low, we booked test drive for two different cars this week. Yesterday we tried out a Nissan Leaf, and today a Kia e-Niro. After trying them both, we decided the e-Niro was the best in terms of looks, feel, range, warranty, and overall quality, but the Leaf was better to drive, cheaper, has more safety tech, and is more comfortable for M who has scoliosis and needs a car that feels right for his back. After lots of discussion, we have settled on the Leaf in a special edition model which has a larger battery than the model we were initially thinking of, and includes various extras that will make it easier and more comfortable to drive. We are hoping we may be able to order one tomorrow.
I am now back to working-at-home on my archives job, and M will be going back to 111 at the weekend - another step back towards a new normal. TG is mainly being very teenage and getting up in time for lunch and binging on Glee. H decided we needed to plant flowers, so we went on a trip to a local garden centre on Tuesday and bought some bedding plants to put in pots round the patio. We had coffee and cake in the cafe while we were there, which again, was a nice bit of normal. Yesterday while M and I were out test-driving the two girls got them all planted and we have sorted out a system which should mean someone remembers to water them. I have black thumbs and the sum total of our gardening knowledge is very, very small, so I am not hopeful that they will survive, but at least we are trying! 

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Sunday: London Calling

I missed London - so yesterday I went on a day trip. Covid infection rates are still quite low (although they may be starting to creep up again) and Saturday trains are not usually too busy, so I decided to risk taking the train and spending a day pottering in London. It was quiet. In a normal year, London would now be heaving with tourists. I walked down from Euston Station through Bloomsbury and Covent Garden. The road leading to the British Museum, which hasn't yet reopened, was eerily empty. Covent Garden was not as quiet as it looks in the photo below, but was far from its normal bustle and missing the usual street entertainment.  

I had planned to get myself some sushi for lunch, but most cafes and takeaways were closed. I imagine without the tourists there just isn't enough business to be worth opening. I ended up going into Boots to pick up a drink and a sandwich to make sure I had something to eat. I did find a Pret open in the Strand, but most branches seemed to be shut. I sat on a bench in Trafalgar Square to eat and enjoyed the relative tranquillity - it is just a shame it comes at such and economic cost. 

Most of the museums have not yet reopened, though will be opening over the next week or so, but I had booked myself a slot to visit the National Gallery. Everything was very well arranged. Visits are free (except to their Titian exhibition), but need to be booked in advance online so that they can limit numbers. I had a 12.45pm time slot and spent a couple of hours there. Three one way routes had been set up for different sections of the main galleries, and there was also a free exhibition of paintings by the Dutch painter Nicholaes Maes. I saw quite a few old favourites and discovered some new ones, like this self-portrait by 18th century French portrait painter Elisabeth Louise VigĂ©e le Brun. I have the Smartify app on my phone which allows you to scan a painting with a phone camera, identifies the picture and the artist and gives information on them - easier than peering at captions on the wall, and very helpful for social distancing! The National Gallery offered free Wifi which was very helpful as the 4G signal wasn't great.  

After lunch I bought a slice of vegan salted caramel and chocolate cheesecake and a coffee with soya milk from Cafe Nero and took it down to St James Park - although I am not currently eating a plant based diet, I do still try to avoid dairy, both on ethical grounds and because I don't think my body likes it much these days. After my coffee and cheesecake I walked down The Mall to Buckingham Palace - literally down The Mall, which was only open to pedestrians and bikes. 

I walked through Green Park and Hyde Park, past Kensington Palace and then up to Notting Hill tube station, about three miles altogether. I noticed that as I walked it got gradually busier. The tables outside the large Serpentine Cafe in Hyde Park looked pretty full, there were a lot of pedals on the lake, and at the western end of the park quite a few groups of people picnicking or (in at least one case) partying. I also saw a couple of family groups who I think were celebrating Eid a day late. Although they weren't sticking to social distancing, at least the groups were outdoors and not indoors. My favourite discover in Hyde Park was this statue, called Serenity.   

I was a bit unsure about taking the tube, but couldn't face an hour's walk back to Euston so settled on taking the Circle Line which is a high level line - no escalators, and more open platforms. It wasn't too bad, though I had to change at Edgware Road and waited a while there for a train so the platform got busier than I liked. Most people were wearing masks, though there were a few chin-maskers (why do they do that? Answer, I guess, is so that if they spot anyone in authority they can pull it up and pretend they were wearing it all the time!). My train carriage back home also had chin-maskers and no-maskers. Fortunately it was quite empty and I was able to put plenty of space between myself and the idiots. I'm glad I went, as I suspect that once we get into the autumn things things will get worse again and I will be much less likely to want to travel on public transport. With that in mind, I'm trying to make the most of the summer while the risks are low enough to feel safe going out and about. 

Friday, 31 July 2020

Friday: Thoughts on Decluttering

All the junk has now gone to the rubbish tip and there is just a bit more organising and freecycling to do in the garage. Much of what we cleared out was child related - toys, games, and things left over from our homeschooling days (we stopped homeschooling 13 year ago!). Now TG is 14 it was more than time to get rid of all this, but doing so was bittersweet after 25 years of having young(ish) children. Quite a bit of it was stacked up in the living room before it was taken to the charity shops, and each time I passed there was a pang of sadness to see everything go. In reality, it was nothing to do with the Stuff itself, it was all about the memories. The pink Early Learning Centre toy cash register that TG loved ... or the Hama beads that all three girls spend hours and hours using (only to then spend days nagging me to iron them and fuse the pictures together!) ... or the Pop to the Shops game that TG adored (which replaced another Shopping Game that H obsessed on to the point where we got rid of it because we couldn't bear the thought of starting all over again with TG!) ... or the outgrown chemistry set, because TG is now old enough for real labs ... and so on. 

Of course, getting rid of the Stuff doesn't mean getting rid of the memories, and in any case most of it hadn't seen the light of day for years. Some things had come from charity shops in the first place, and it was well past time to send it on for use by other families. We were also able to pass on TG's collection of Sylvanian families toys to the six year old girl next door, to her great excitement. We kept some timeless toys for any future grandchildren - Lego (not sets, just a large box of bricks and bits into which any sets long ago merged), a box of Duplo, a Playmobil toddler train set, and our large collection of Playmobil. 

I suspect we still kept too much. Inside I long to be minimalist, and just keep what I truly need or love, but it is still hard to get rid of things that might be useful. H was a star, and kept asking when I last used things - if the answer was a blank stare or waffle, out it went! Our medium term plan is that when TG finishes school in four years we will sell our house and buy somewhere smaller. It has been a wonderful family home, with plenty of space for five of us - even in lockdown we had four adults and a teenager here without feeling we were under each others feet - but when it becomes just myself and M plus TG in university holidays, and then eventually just the two of us, it will be far to large for our needs. At that point we intend to be utterly ruthless in getting rid of anything we rarely use, or which isn't much loved. Partly to be sure that when we move to a smaller space we actually use it for living in, not as a storage facility for Stuff; also partly so that our daughters will not be faced in future with having to deal with a house full of Stuff when we are gone or incapable of doing it ourselves.The garage declutter has been a good start, but there is still a lot else that need to go. R took everything of hers when she moved out, H will do the same, and TG's stuff is confined to her room. M is naturally tidy and not an accumulator of Stuff, so I'm afraid most of the rest is down to me.  

This evening we went to visit friends. They don't have a garden, but at the beginning of lockdown they took on an allotment (a kind of community garden divided into individual plots). They are mostly using it to grow veg but also have a small grassy area, so we bought fish and chips and sat there to eat them and chat. Part of northern England has been put under a restriction which bans people from different households meeting in each others houses, but with one brief exception we have stuck to socialising outdoors even though we are technically allowed to visit indoors. In winter when it is too cold to sit out, I doubt we will be socialising in person much at all unless we go for walks. Today was a very hot day but the weather changed in the evening and became cloudy with occasional drops of rain. It ended with a spectacular sunset and a red rainbow - the colours were altered by the sunset and only the red spectrum was visible. 

Thursday: Decluttering

As I do not go back to my archives work until next Monday, we decided that a free week would be a good opportunity to declutter our garage, which had got seriously out of hand - the downside of living in the same house for nearly 30 years and raising three children here is that we have accumulated Too Much Stuff. A lot of the Stuff had ended up in the garage which had become  a dumping ground for anything that didn't have anywhere else to go. 

The plan was that H and I would do the sorting and organising, and that M would be in charge of disposal and take the evicted Stuff either to a charity shop or to the rubbish tip / recycling centre as appropriate. The plan worked well. H was ruthless over what to keep and what to chuck and stopped me holding on to things I didn't need but was inexplicably reluctant to get rid of. M managed to sweet talk three charity shops into taking two car loads of Stuff between them - during lockdown lots of people decluttered then held on to Stuff until the charity shops reopened so they have been swamped, and as they have to quarantine anything coming in their capacity to take items is limited. I was probably the weak link of the three of us, but H and M kept me on task! There is still a mountain of junk waiting to go to the tip tomorrow, and we can't do the final tidying and organising until that is gone, so I can't post before and after photos yet. Oh, and there are a few items which we need to try to freecycle.

Today has been the first day of what is forecast to be a two-day heatwave, so I spent much of it outdoors in the garden. After all the decluttering I feel fully justified in being lazy for the last couple of days of my time off work. I did start the day with an exercise session and finished it with a three mile walk - we met R and her dog for a walk round the Duke of Bedford's deer park. We saw quite a lot of deer, including some stags who were bellowing loudly. We also broke the dog, who was exhausted by the end of the walk with hardly enough energy to jump into the car. Even his tail was tired. 

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Saturday: A Trip to the Seaside

For the last twenty years our favourite location for a UK family holiday has been Weymouth in Dorset, staying on a caravan park near the sea at Bowleaze Cove. The park is not part of a chain and is very well run, and over the years we have watched it improve the facilities it offers year on year. When hotels and holiday accommodation was allowed to reopen at the beginning of July we realised we could book a few days break in Weymouth at a very reasonable price, so we did!

The caravan park had put lots of coronavirus precautions in place, and we trusted them to have everything thoroughly cleaned and well organised. In the end the five days we spent there were a wonderful bit of "normal" after everything that has happened over the past few months. We decided that as the statistics are looking pretty good at the moment, now was the time to venture out a bit more. We ate out one evening, and had afternoon tea at a favourite cafe, which both seemed quite momentous! Overall I felt quite safe with a couple of exceptions, both of which were outdoors when we found ourselves on paths with pinch points which made social distancing impossible, although we were only passing people briefly and only sharing space with them fleetingly.

On Tuesday we spent the day pottering around Weymouth and sitting on the beach. It was busy-ish. Based on experience we thought about half the numbers we would expect on a sunny day during the school summer break. There was plenty of space on the beach without feeling crowded. We indulged in a holiday tradition of eating takeaway pasties for lunch while sitting on the harbour wall, and bought artisan ice cream from a nearby shop. Their vegan peanut butter ice cream with sea-salted caramel is one of the best flavours I have had, with or without dairy.

On Wednesday H wanted to visit Lulworth Cove or Durdle Door, and we decided on Durdle Door as it has a larger beach and the weather forecast was good. Despite visiting the area so often, we had somehow never been there before, although we have been to Lulworth several times. We wanted a walk, so we parked at Lulworth and walked along the coast path to Durdle Door. There was a one way footpath system in operation which made it a very much longer walk - quite a lot of people simple didn't bother with it and went the wrong way down the shorter route. We were good and followed instructions! The beach was beautiful. Definitely somewhere we will go back to. The only downside was the steps down were two-way traffic and very busy, although there was plenty of space on the beach once we got to the bottom. The walk was tough going in places for myself and M (mainly the initial climb up from Lulworth) but well worth it. After our beach trip we went for coffee (or tea) and cake at the cafe where we had booked a table.

Thursday's trip was in the opposite direction, heading west from Weymouth to Lyme Regis, famous as a setting for Jane Austen's novel Persuasion and for the Cobb harbour where the French Lieutenant's Woman was filmed. We had been there before, but a very long time ago and I was the only one who remembered it. We walked all the way out to the end of the Cobb (a stone harbour wall first build by Edward I in the 13th century), sat on the beach for a while, had some amazing Asian street food for lunch (filled bao buns and salad), bought and ate fudge, and had takeaway coffee sitting on deckchairs overlooking the beach. There may also have been ice cream.

Yesterday we checked out of the caravan, drove part of the way into Weymouth and then walked the rest along the seafront, spent some time on the beach, and repeated our pasty and ice cream lunch from Tuesday before heading back to the car and home. I think we all came home feeling refreshed and better for the change of air and scenery. We are hoping now that we may be able to book another short break for the beginning of September, before TG goes back to school and H starts her new job.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Saturday: Calories In, Calories Out

I have burned almost a record number of calories today, according to my Watch - about 1100, thanks to a 40 minute cardio class this morning, which I mostly managed to hang in with, and a walk this afternoon.

I am not sure it totally makes up for last night's fish and chips, some amazing chocolate cookies with a biscoff filling that H made yesterday, and some lemon cake. The cake was also made by H, and was the first attempt at a cake for her BF's neighbour who is celebrating her 80th birthday this weekend. Very unusually for H, it sank in the middle so she made more and left the first effort for us to eat. She made home made lemon curd to drizzle over the top, and there were left overs to add to the sunken  cake. The final cake looked wonderful, with a mix of (bought) sugar flowers and her first attempt at buttercream roses on top.

Our walk this afternoon was in Milton Keynes, starting at what was a pre-Reformation Benedictine Abbey where the surviving buildings (barns) are now part of a Discovery Centre complex. The walk included the remains of a Roman villa, a 13th century church, and some concrete cows. The original concrete cows were made for the new town in 1978 by an American artist and have been in various locations since - they are now in the Milton Keynes museum. The set we saw today are replicas, but on the original site. They have had a coat of paint since I last saw them, though one or two are missing their heads.

Apart from exercising, I have watched my way through three episodes of Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain TV series, which for some reason I had never got round to watching before. I am also making good progress with my Rennie Mackintosh cross stitch picture, and have done a bit of reading. I do like Saturdays! Unfortunately, when M goes back to work at 111 next month, I'm afraid they won't be as relaxed.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Friday: Summer Holidays

Today was the end of the school term for TG and the official start of the summer holidays. She ploughed on to the bitter end, and finished off her last bit of school work this afternoon. Huge credit to her for being so hard working and determined throughout this term of school-at-home.  I had a bit of freelance work to do this morning, and now have two weeks off from my archives work to look forward to. Next week we should have been going up to Yorkshire for H's graduation, followed by ten days at Lake Garda in Italy. As it is, we are going to Weymouth in Dorset for a few days, and are feeling lucky to be able to do that. There is no doubt the last few months has made us more grateful for small things.

Yesterday evening we met up with R and went for a dog walk round the parkland at Woburn Abbey. The Abbey (on the site of an earlier, medieval abbey but now the country estate of the Duke of Bedford) has a huge deer park, with footpaths crossing it at various points. Last time we went we walked in a slightly different direction, but this time we walked closer to the Abbey itself. At one point a large group of deer ran across the path ahead of us - just too far away to get a good photo.

I was asked on Instagram how Woburn is pronounced here - the answer is Woe-b'n, although I know someone from a family who have lived locally for generations who calls it Woo-b'n, so I imagine that must be the original pronunciation (now virtually extinct).

Today I woke up tired and aching. Between exercise classes and walks I have been doing a lot physically, and I think it caught up on me. I had planned to do a more challenging exercise class with H this morning, but decided to listen to what my body was telling me and pass. M and I did go for our afternoon walk and I did a bit of stretching yoga with H after that. Definitely feeling a bit less stiff this evening than I was earlier.

A couple of friends came round this evening. We had takeaway fish and chips in the garden and sat outside for a long time chatting until it got cold and dark. This was the first warm evening we have had in a while, so it was good timing. I have a feeling we had the best of our "summer" weather was in April and May. Sometimes I am very jealous of people who live in countries where they can rely on getting sun and warmth during the summer. There was one summer a few years ago which was unremittingly cold and dull. I vividly remember sitting in the car on a sunny September day soaking up some warmth, and realising just how long it was since I had felt truly warm - I suppose we couldn't bring ourselves to turn on the heating in July and August.  At least this year we had a lovely warm spring.