The Fighting Temeraire (Turner)

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It’s not often I travel to London these days, and I can’t actually remember the last time I visited. One of my favourite places in London is the National Gallery, where many of the paintings on display feel like old friends. The Fighting Temeraire by Joseph Mallord William Turner is one of those old friends, a familiar point of reference amongst the myriad of paintings.

Turner’s painting shows the final journey of the Temeraire, as the ship is towed from Sheerness in Kent along the river Thames to Rotherhithe in south-east London, where it was to be scrapped. The veteran warship had played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, but by 1838 was over 40 years old and had been sold off by the Admiralty.

Not only am I currently separated from London by distance and circumstances, the gallery is also closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, it’s still possible to view the collection online, read detailed descriptions of the paintings, watch informative videos and have a virtual tour.

Freddy’s 5th Birthday Party

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Welcome to my world of children’s birthday parties, a place I didn’t expect to be inhabiting in my 60s, but that’s how life turns out sometimes. With two grown-up children and two grandchildren, how did this happen? I retire later this year!

That said, I’m loving being a father to three small children (Matilda is three and Pollyanna two) and it also keeps me young and active.

We decided to change the venue for the party at short notice because of a Coronavirus outbreak. The Parks was an excellent alternative venue, with a soft play area and party room. We used the Golden Chippy (our local fish and chip shop) for catering, even though it was four miles away from the venue, because we had 100% confidence that our order for pizzas (and other bits and pieces) would be ready at the exact time we wanted. They didn’t let us down.

Before the party, Freddy helped me compile a Spotify playlist for the occasion. If you’re interested you can find it here.

All things considered, it was an excellent party. A big thank you to my lovely wife Naomi for all the hard work preparing and delivering it, and for all that was involved in changing our plans at the last minute. I just did all the running around, fetching and carrying, and being silly with the children.

Thank you everyone for coming and for Freddy’s lovely cards and presents. We’ve got the children bathed and in bed now, so we’re both ready to relax.

See also here (from 2018) On Being an Older Father

Coronavirus Disruption

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We found out this morning that the venue we’d booked for Freddy’s 5th birthday party had a confirmed case of coronavirus. What should we do?

The venue was very helpful on the telephone and understood our predicament, accepting that we may have to cancel and make alternative plans. They’ve been told they can continue as normal, but they’re doing a deep clean today to reassure staff and customers.

We don’t want to panic and add to the problem, but what if parents and grandparents don’t turn up with their children and grandchildren? The current government policy is to contain and delay the inevitable outbreak as long as possible, so should we plan for later in the year?

Given that I’m in a high-risk category (my age, asthma and prone to chest infections), as well as the fact that others in the same situation will be there, should we make alternative plans?

Update: I guess this is the type of dilemma we’re all going have to face in one way or another in the coming days. In the end, we decided to make alternative plans, and I’m so grateful that my wife Naomi is dealing with all of the arrangements.

See also here: Freddy’s 5th Birthday Party

 

A Very British Eclipse

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As parts of South America witness a total solar eclipse, I’m reminded of the day in August 1999 when I fulfilled a boyhood ambition of witnessing one.

As I travelled down to Devon from South Wales (the eclipse was only going to be total in parts of Cornwall and Devon) I really started to capture the excitement when I stopped at a Service Area on the M5, as there was something of a party atmosphere.

I eventually parked on the waterfront at Kingsbridge, near some good public conveniences that were open 24 hours, and attempted to get some sleep in the car. Waking soon after 4.00 am I decided to make my way the coast, heading for Slapton Sands. I arrived at about 5.00 am and was totally unprepared for the level of traffic and activity going on.

There were some quite large car parks, and I managed to get one of the last spaces. It was right next to the beach, people were sleeping in cars and vans, in tents, and in sleeping bags on the beach itself. As it started to get light, there was no way I was going to get any more sleep, so I decided to get the bike out and go for an early morning cycle ride. There was a great buzz in the air; it was one of those occasions when people were drawn together by a shared experience, strangers found it easy to talk to each other. Telescopes, cameras and the like were being set up on the vantage points, and the smell of cooking was hanging in the air. By this time the authorities had closed off the car park entrances, and the refreshment vans were doing brisk business.

By about 8.00 am the traffic had become even busier, but there was nowhere to go, no sooner had people parked half on the road, half on the grass verges, they were moved on. Fields were opened up for the cars, but these eventually filled up, and still the cars were coming, causing chaos in the narrow country lanes.

I managed to see the eclipse at various stages, up to about 70% covered, but then the threatening darker clouds came and obscured the view, but nothing can prepare you for the experience of totality, and it’s impossible to adequately describe in words.

the approach of darkness
the drop in temperature
the quietness that descended on the crowds
the expectation
the moment of totality
the darkness during the day
the birds flying off
the applause of the crowd

Because of the cloud cover, I saw nothing more of the eclipse as the Moon finished travelling across the Sun, although the Sun did break through later on.

And that’s my experience of the eclipse, something I will never forget. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t actually see the full eclipse, but I experienced something equally unique; it was moody, eerie, and atmospheric, to be under cloudy skies when the shadow of the Moon travelled overhead at nearly 2000 mph, a very British eclipse.

Burns Night 2019

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Even though I’m English I do like to have haggis, neeps and tatties on Burns Night each year. Sadly, I feel I’m letting my Scottish friends down today by not having this traditional meal. I’ll have to make up for it in the coming days; although my wife Naomi doesn’t like haggis, she’ll have to have Scottish mince, pie or something else. Liking haggis as I do, I’m fortunate that my local fish and chip shop does haggis in batter, so I can always get her an alternative.

To make up to my Scottish friends for now, here’s a famous poem by Robert Burns, which I dedicate to Naomi (although I’m not leaving her as the poem suggests).

My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June :
My love is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I :
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun :
And I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only love,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my love,
Thou’ it were ten thousand mile.

Happy Burns Night to all my Scottish friends!

Note: the photo is from a previous year.

Essential Albums and Musicians

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I use the opportunities that driving with the family provides to introduce my young children (well mainly Freddy aged 3 at the moment) to great music. This morning it was the classic Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, previously we’ve listened to The Beatles and a few others.

I’ll probably leave it a while before introducing them to Metallica and Radiohead, for example, but what would you suggest is essential music they should be hearing at an early age? Not necessarily your favourites, but essential classics, albums and musicians. I look forward to your suggestions.

Discovery Museum in Newcastle

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Towards the end of our summer holiday 2018, we visited the Discovery Museum in Newcastle (just a few miles down the road from our home in Wallsend). It was a chance to see Stephenson’s Rocket which was on loan to the museum at the time of our visit.

Entry to the museum is free, but they do suggest a £5 donation. Even without the Rocket, there’s plenty to see and do for all ages. In the time we had at our disposal it wasn’t possible to see and do everything, so we’ll definitely be back for a return visit sometime.

The museum is a science museum and local history museum situated in Blandford Square in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. It displays many exhibits of local history, including the ship, Turbinia. It is one of the biggest free museums in North East England, and in 2006 was winner of the North East’s Best Family Experience award at the North East England Tourism Awards. It is managed by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. Wikipedia

Click here for the Discovery Museum website.