The Wine List #13

THE retirement project to sample a wine made from every grape variety listed in Hugh Johnson’s pocket wine book.

IMGP5769Grape: Chenin Blanc.

Wine: Tesco Finest South African 2015, Swartland.

Alc Vol: 13.5%

What it says on the label: “Ripe apple aromas are followed by subtle pear, honey and spice notes, with a hint of apricots.”

Food combination: “Serve chilled on its own or as an ideal partner to spicy dishes or mild curries, as well as seafood and shellfish.”

Retired Bloke verdict: The Current Mrs Feeney says I can never take a hint, so the apricots unsurprisingly passed me by. I certainly got a nose and mouthful of apple, though. With a cavalier disregard for the best efforts of the copy writer behind the label, we drank it with a rich chicken pie; it worked fine for us. In fact, we liked this a lot more than the Chenin Blanc from the Loire that we tried last month.

One for the wine rack? I was going to say no, but we changed our mind when we had a glass each to finish the bottle the following day. So now it’s a yes.

It’s not about the wine: Jan van Riebeeck, Dutch colonial administrator and founder of Cape Town, called this region “Het Zwarte Land” (The Black Land) because the endemic Renoster Bos flowering plant takes on a dark appearance during the winter rains.


I give in. Book me.

IMGP5772THIS arrived through my letterbox this morning, courtesy of Amazon (which a bookseller of my acquaintance once described as The Death Star) and Robin Summers Books in Suffolk. It is the Algerian stop on my journey around the world’s crime fiction.

The astute among you will now be thinking: “Wait a minute. Didn’t this Retired Bloke say this was going to be a digital odyssey? E books on his Kindle, he said. This looks suspiciously like one of those old-fashioned print on paper efforts. What’s going on?”

Hands up. Fair cop. I’ll come quietly. Fact is, I couldn’t find any crime novel set in Algeria that has been released as an ebook. In my efforts to find one, I kept coming across glowing reviews for the books of Yasmina Khadra. So I gave in and bought one.

You may call this a U-turn. I prefer to think of it as a policy realignment. Perhaps there’s a future for me in politics?

Anyway, I shall have to rename My Kindle World Tour Of Crime Fiction project. I’m going to call it World Crime Fiction. It will have the added bonus of saving significant wear and tear on Retired Bloke fingers (the two that he uses to type with).


Who are you calling old?

TODAY the postman delivered an official-looking communication. It arrived in one of those envelopes that says “Government stuff” at a glance.

Sure enough. It was from the Department for Work and Pensions, confirming that from December 25 I will be receiving a weekly State Pension.

That’s very pleasant, of course. It’s nice to know the Government appreciates all I’ve done in 40-odd years of employment (some of them very odd indeed) to keep the country’s finances in rude health.  Payback time, so to speak.

Just a nagging thought. When I was still editing newspapers, I would from time to time take the news desk to task for insisting on describing anybody over 65 as an “old age pensioner.” I’d point out that many of these “old” people were buying motor bikes, backpacking around the globe, and running ten marathons in as many days.

Now, I suppose, I’m about to join these ranks of the official old.

Meanwhile, those of you who have been paying attention will be aware that Retired Bloke is fond of a retirement project (also known as hare-brained schemes). There’s the one to drink a pint of beer from every county in the United Kingdom (Fancy A Pint?), or the one to sample wine made from every grape variety in viniculture (The Wine List), or – in a sober interlude – the one to read a crime novel set in each country in the world (Kindle World Tour of Crime).

Just in case I found myself with an idle moment, I’ve come up with another. Photographing Gower. Idiot.

In case you don’t know it, the Gower peninsula is a 70 square mile promontory jutting into the Bristol Channel immediately west of Swansea. In 1956, it became the first place in Britain to be designated an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The landscape includes hills, valleys, beaches, cliffs, commons, woodland, marshes and caves. It is home to castles, medieval churches, Iron Age forts, and prehistoric standing stones.

To sum up, it is a rich and varied place of wonder. But just how rich, I didn’t really appreciate until I sat down and did a mental run-through of Gower’s bays.

Starting on the edge of the city and working anti-clockwise, we have Bracelet, Langland, Caswell, Brandy Cove, Pwll Du, Pobbles, Pennard Burrows, Three Cliffs, Tor, Nicholaston Burrows, Oxwich, Port Eynon, Horton, Mewslade, Fall, Rhossili, Llangennith, Blue Pool Corner, Burry Holms, Broughton, Llanrhidian Sands, and Whiteford Burrows.

Ye Gods! And don’t get me started on the castles and churches!

The suspicion grows that, of all the hare-brained schemes that a Retired Bloke is prone to, this one may prove the real humdinger. Oh well, it will keep me busy in my “old age.”

Meanwhile, by way of a taster, here is a small gallery of Gower to be going on with.

Retired Bloke and the leaves of autumn

I DON’T know if you’ve ever spent any time raking and sweeping-up leaves in what can be generously described as a stiffish breeze?

I suspect it is good for those of a philosophical turn of mind. Personally I’d rank it, as an act of utter futility, as being up there alongside reading Henry James for the gags.

Not rewarding, if you get my drift.

I find gardening, as an activity, is full of these little sub-plots that leave you scratching the head and wondering “why?”

Take weeding. You spend hours uprooting native plants that are perfectly adapted to the local conditions, and ask for nothing more than to be left alone to thrive undisturbed.

Then you replace them with the sort of flowers and bushes that spend all their spare time writing stinky reviews on TripAdvisor about the soil, the climate, and the north-easterly aspect.

And for the rest of the season you find yourself on your hands and knees tending to these ungrateful and temperamental foreigners, while ripping the head off any restless native that has the temerity to show itself.

Presumably there is a Higher Being who decided these things are Good For The Soul. In the Retired Bloke book of life, they are filed under Mystery.


Fancy A Pint? #14

The retirement project to sample a pint of beer or cider brewed or fermented in each county in the United Kingdom.

IMGP5748County: Somerset.

What is it called? Barn Owl.

Who made it? Cotleigh Brewery Ltd, Ford Road, Wiveliscombe.

What is it? A bitter, brewed with Pale, Crystal and Chocolate Malt with Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops, plus ‘Cotleigh yeast’. It was brewed to aid conservation of owls for the Hawk and Owl Trust.

Alc Vol: 4.5%

What it says on the label: “A copper coloured premium ale with hints of toffee and nut with a smooth malty bitter sweet finish.”

Food combination: None suggested. I drank it with a very tasty Florentine pizza.

Retired Bloke says: I really liked this. It was everything it said on the label. Delicious.

Fancy another? Yes please!

It’s not about the beer: There are two Iron Age forts – Clatworthy Camp and Elworthy Burrows –  near the town.

Everything has changed: a moral dilemma

WE passed a sad and significant milestone in my mother’s journey in dementia on Friday of this week. For the first time, she did not know who I was. She thought that I was her father. Nothing could convince her otherwise.

Today, she seemed brighter when I visited her at the care home where she lives with my father. She seemed to understand when I told her that yesterday Jacqui and I went to see our son and grandchildren in Gloucester. I left her sitting quietly in the lounge when I went to see my father in his room.

When I came back, everything had changed. She was terribly agitated. Her hands gripped desperately the arms of her chair. Her legs continually jack-knifed up towards her chest. Her eyes were staring straight ahead at sights known only to her. She was having urgent and angry conversations with or about her sister, dead now for thirty years and more.

Earlier this week, a mutual friend informed me that an ex-work colleague’s mother-in-law had died. I telephoned my ex-colleague (he was Best Man at my wedding 27 years ago). He explained that his mother-in-law had fractured her hip in a fall, and had died in hospital after contracting pneumonia.

I said I was very sorry. “Don’t be sorry,” he said. “It’s a blessing. Her dementia had got so bad that she didn’t know who she was, or where she was, anymore. Her death was a release for her and us.”

I am not ashamed to admit that I have reached the point where I simply want the same release for my mother. Is it morally wrong to wish for the death of a parent? I cannot believe it is.

Perhaps I am being selfish, wanting to remember my mother as she was, not as she is. And I know that, if she is ‘spared’, worse is to come for her yet.

I have written before about how Britain’s ageing population means more and more will face this situation; people who have reached retirement age themselves, with parents who are still alive but struggling with the physical and mental consequences of advanced age.

I find myself increasingly impatient with the medical and religious arguments against what is called assisted suicide. I know my mother, a proud and independently-minded woman, would not have wanted her closing days to be like this.

Distressing for us; surely insufferable, in her lucid moments, for her.