Planet Retirement can sometimes be a bewildering place and with a scarcity of UK retirement blogs out there (other than those proffering financial advice) I thought I'd keep my own.

Please visit from time to time and do add your comments. Popular posts and those highlighting my journey are specifically pinpointed on the right hand side together with a list of topics covered. Alternatively you may prefer to look at the Summary or the Tips from Wisdom Acquired or even our Have Visited List with its retirement atlas and dip in and out of the blog using the links given.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

My 2014 Video

Thanks to Auto Awesome by Google, here is a video of moments from this blog in 2014.

Viva La Revolucion

Recent news that there is to be a relaxation of the stand-off that has persisted for over 50 years between the USA and Cuba, was of great interest following Mister E's and my recent visit. We both agreed , however, that it would be sad to see Cuba transform into another westernised nation where market forces and money dictate society's values.

Indeed I rather fancy our own country's adoption of many of Cuba's values, when and come the revolution, I would propose that:

1. Goods be priced according to their social need and white rum in particular be freed of all duty so that everyone can afford to drink it on a daily basis
2. Fields should henceforth be ploughed by oxen and the mass application of toxic pesticides prohibited
3. Every home should have a dog and, if in the country, chickens wandering outside
4. Cars (unless 1950's models) should be replaced by horses and carts
5. The hard shoulder of motorways should be reserved for those horses and carts, as well as hitch hikers. All other vehicles should drive at an appropriate speed to accommodate them
6. No giant advertising boards be displayed other than for the purpose of exalting the aims of the revolution and its leaders and certainly  not for the purpose of marketing goods
7. Only 6 customers to be allowed inside a bank at any one time
8. Shop shelves to be stripped of all  luxury goods and choice
9. All music to be provided by live bands playing tunes everyone can wriggle their hips to
10. Everyone to promenade in the evening in their local park or square, and smile and talk to each other.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Festivity

Last week I met a former work colleague for lunch. How the memories came flooding back.

Yes she had a day's holiday but only because there had been no convenient time earlier in the year to take it. How often, when organisations prohibit employees from carrying over holiday from one year to the next, are you left with a glut of days that could have been enjoyed in the summer sunshine to spend on dull, cold, grey November or December days instead?

Yes she too had written and sent Christmas cards before the last posting date and had begun to wrap presents to place under the tree. However whilst I had been able to do this during daylight hours mid-week, she had been obliged to use her evenings and weekends.

Working in an office, the pressure begins to be applied as soon as someone fires the starting gun and you attend the first party of the season. They start in early December and continue until Christmas Eve when hot sausage rolls and mince pies are rolled out, although hardly to waive off starvation until your return to work.

On Thursday night I went to my only party of this year's Christmas season. Just a week before the big day, it seemed to be well-timed; the company was jovial and it gave me an opportunity to wear a dress and heels for the first time in several months. However, I can honestly say that I haven't missed the December rounds of  drinks and canapes when the primary aim is, of course, to  promote your business wares.

Far nicer this year to meet up with a colleague and end up giggling relentlessly when, after we had eaten, we proceeded to try on wigs in a neighbouring store.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Six Months and Still Counting - Reflections on a Sixth Month of Retirement

Yes it has now been six whole months since the big retirement date and I can honestly say I am still counting my blessings, as a result.

Of course most of month six was spent travelling which of itself is always a liberating and stimulating experience. We were away 18 days in total, something I had never managed during all my years at work. Best of all, not only did I return on a wave of excitement and inspiration but it is still with me. In those old office days, three days back behind my desk and it would have been a faded memory.

However, I confess that even I have  bored myself rigid with all 598 of my photographs, not to mention the Instagram retouched versions!

So instead I have now thrown myself into getting organised for Christmas. When you are working, leaving everything to the last fortnight becomes an overstressed panic. This year, it feels like oodles of time, especially now the youngest is home to help and to feed through even more ideas. 

I'm unclear whether Mister E feels the same. Upon our return there was a request for his professional services which he has agreed to fulfil on a part-time and flexible basis. He, therefore, did a day's work yesterday. All is not lost with him, as one day was sufficient to remind him of the pitfalls of commitment. He only does two more days before Christmas and is already maintaining that he will deserve a break!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Cuba Timeline

Bleary eyed since touching down at Gatwick on Tuesday morning I am conscious that I have not described our wonderful Cuban adventure. It is a fascinating country which we journeyed through in a small group of 12. Our companions were similar to ourselves, for the most part early retirees determined to spend their retirement years travelling and learning. Cuba gave us all the opportunity for endless conversations about its architecture, politics, people, history, music, food, vehicles, rum and cigars.

I cannot do it justice in a blog entry and can only recommend that, if at all possible you visit before it gradually emerges into the 21st century and begins to replicate life in the western world as we know it. For the time being, however, its buildings and agriculture are locked in a time warp along with its 1950's motor cars. The people are good humoured and benefit from free education until 18 and beyond, together with free health care with a ratio of doctors to patients that should be the envy of the UK.

There is no doubt however that the country is governed by a socialist regime with a one party communist system. There are evident shortages of many items that we take for granted and although mobile phones and the internet have recently been introduced, smart phones and wifi have not and computers are essentially accessed at libraries and other hubs.

The people work long hours and in the fields the techniques used are invariably those from a bygone age with ploughs pulled by oxen, tilling undertaken by hand, and horse and carts used for transportation.

There are no shortages of posters and, where we might be accustomed to marketing slogans, in Cuba they instead exhort the workers to remember that the revolution continues. Indeed Fidel Castro is accredited as pointing out after his 1959 victory that the real revolution had only just begun. 

We stayed and ate in government run hotels and restaurants. The menu was limited and invariably offered two or three of pork, chicken, pulled beef or fish all served with boiled rice and black beans. It was nevertheless most edible but when we arrived at a joint venture hotel by the beach to relax before returning home were spoiled by a large array at every mealtime of cosmopolitan food reflecting most parts of the globe.

Cuban music is a melodic fusion of African and Spanish sounds, giving rise of course to so many Latin American dances and it was not unusual to hear a band play and then intuitively people start to salsa. Indeed a celebration of the landing of the revolutionary leaders in The Granma Yacht on 2nd December 1956 coincided with our visit to Santa Clara when the square was taken over by couples dancing.

The whole country is a mass of colour from the painted houses to the lush green countryside which stretches between white sand beaches to lush tropical rainforest. There are humming birds and the tocororo, the country's national bird, has feathers that reflect the blue, white and red of the Cuban flag.

The best known exports are cigars which we saw being made by hand and rum which we tried on a daily basis (just to ensure that standards were being maintained you understand) in the most popular cocktails all invented in Cuba: the Mojito, Daiquiri and Cuba Libre.

UNESCO supports many projects there with the cities we visited boasting world heritage sites whilst areas of the countryside have been declared biospheres.

All in all it was a stimulating, thought provoking and inspiring journey made all the better by a helpful and knowledgeable local guide who accompanied us throughout and answered even our most difficult questions.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

From Jet-lagged to Anaesthetised

Strange thing about jet lag is that you go all day feeling absolutely exhausted and then suddenly can't sleep because you are still on Cuban time. 

I am unsure if it was a wise move but in my quest to sort out my body for further retirement adventures, I had agreed to have a minor op this morning. To be honest I felt so tired that lying on the trolley I did wonder if I could fall into a sound sleep without a general anaesthetic. I was not of course given that option and when I came round in the recovery room reckon I was suffering from a double dose of dopiness, at 5 am Cuban time.

The good news however is that I am prohibited from driving, operating machinery (apparently even the kettle counts) and cleaning for 24 hours. Good old Mister E, he's been cooking and making endless hot drinks for me. When I enquired about the cleaning, he was equally as helpful.

 "That will wait for tomorrow, then you can do it," he said.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Jet Lagged

We returned late last night from two weeks travelling around Cuba. Needless to say after a 21 hour journey door to door, no sleep on the overnight flight from Havana to Gatwick and a five hour time difference, I feel totally spaced out today.

I was concerned that  age might accentuate jet lag but am pleased to note that, if anything, it was far worse when I was younger. Clear evidence that there are other advantages to maturing that go beyond simply retiring.

Mind, the change in climate has come as a bit of a shock. You can  become accustomed to blue skies and heat very quickly!

Also it seems that Christmas is coming. Preparations in Cuba were very low key although tourist hotels invariably had a Christmas tree. Driving back from the airport yesterday we were conscious of the Christmas songs on the radio and, when we stopped at a supermarket to buy provisions, were hit by the tinsel and bauble marketing; all very much a stark contrast to the bare and basic shelves we saw whilst away. 

Once the fog of tiredness lifts, I guess I may have to think about some preparations of our own.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Reflections on a Fifth Month of Retirement

As well as reaching the dizzy anniversary of five months' retirement, I am also conscious that it was last November that I began this blog with a statement that retirement was no longer a vague notion. In the early days I was filled with all kinds of concerns but once I actually took the plunge and embraced retirement, everything has been going more or less swimmingly.

In the first four months, however, we were blessed with dry, warm weather and trips away. The last month has been a little different. Yes we have made short trips to Edinburgh and London but we haven't been away for any significant period.

I am someone who has always been accustomed to dashing around, a little like a plate spinner in a circus, running from one stick to another in an effort to keep the plates on the top revolving. Whilst I never intended retirement to become quite the same hive of activity, I am also determined that it should turn its back on the humdrum of repetitiveness.

Having stripped work out of the schedule, for the last few months I have replaced it with the jobs I never had the opportunity to do, people I had rarely found the time to see,  a fitness schedule and various trips that I have wanted to make. Whilst neither the eldest or youngest has been at home for the last two months, there are other plates that I still keep spinning, so I have set and marked exam papers; continued with my activities as a school governor and charity trustee; pursued various hobbies and interests.  I have felt so busy that I have even deferred the start of an interior design course that I want to be one of my main pursuits, certainly in early retirement,

Whilst I have resisted getting into any kind of proper routine, I am conscious that it has been pilates on Monday, yoga on Wednesday, trustees' meeting on the first Wednesday of the month, governors' meetings on the second Tuesday etc.. Immediately it lends a different perspective to my life as a retiree. Days are so varied that there is no doubt time seems to move slower than at any time since I was at university and life is full, enjoyable and almost hedonistic. 

Sometimes, however, there have been opportunities to sit and ponder.

Perhaps its the meditative element of the yoga I have taken up or maybe the start of a crushing lull after the high of a summer of activity and the euphoria of leaving work, but I've even  been thinking about that old nugget: the meaning of life. 

I am aware that without a job, people can find that in retirement they lose a sense of identity and self-worth. I feel no loss in that respect and do not accept that it is work that gives life a purpose, or at least not in my case, for I am still a mother, wife and daughter. They are all far more important roles than that I ever held as a professional and I can also now give more to my other roles as a school governor and charity trustee.

No the pondering goes much deeper. Is it actually permissible to be spending my time doing what I want to do, and, save for periods devoted to voluntary causes or family needs, essentially simply enjoy myself? Is it right that self-fulfilment can be reached by enjoyment rather than struggling in a hair shirt? Is it acceptable not to be on a permanent mission to alleviate the ills in society? Does it depend on one's religious and spiritual perspective as to whether I am in a good place or heading for eternal damnation?

Is it time to head to the library for a philosophy book or even see a therapist?

I firmly believe that there is nothing at all wrong with enjoying life in whatever way you please so long, of course, as you cause no harm to others in doing so. However, in the transition that I am still making there appears to  be a sense of guilt for being able to spend all day considering a crossword clue should I so wish (no I haven't actually done that) or reading the paper from cover to cover (being totally honest, it doesn't, of course take me that long) when previously there were always other priorities.

It feels alien to live so much in the present that I can do whatever I feel like doing, making my selection based for the most part on what gives me the greatest pleasure. Finally in month five I have met the demon that could destroy my feelings of well-being in retirement: my conscience and, after more than three decades of prioritising other people's problems, it's asking if it's right that I am no longer doing that.

This is a demon that I am, of course, well on the way to conquering because deep down I know that, however strange it may feel, there really isn't anything wrong with enjoying life. I no longer buy chocolate as a treat to eat at my office desk, having such a great time I don't need the cocoa buzz. When the conscience pricks, however, I tell it the same as I did when I devoured that chocolate: I deserve it!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Good Read

During these short dark days of November, I have discovered that very little beats snuggling up on the sofa with a blanket and a good book.

I know there are people who make a point at work of putting their feet on the desk at lunchtime and opening up a paperback. It was something, however, that I could never do, preferring either a blast of fresh air or alternatively (and regrettably far more likely) to continue working with the aim of finishing at a reasonable hour.

Fortunately some ten years ago, I was involved in the formation of a Village Reading Group. It has proved to be my salvation in that I have been compelled to read at least one book every six weeks so as to join in the discussion as to its literary merits and, at the same time, enjoy the convivial company of a group of keen readers and their hospitality, as we meet in each other's homes on a rotational basis.

Yesterday evening was our scheduled meeting and, despite retirement, I still only started the book (All in One Basket by the late Duchess of Devonshire) on Sunday afternoon. It comprises of a variety of what are essentially "cuttings" of various articles that she penned for magazines or newspapers or alternatively speeches that she gave. Whilst eminently readable and full of dry wit and an acerbic humour, it was still somewhat tedious to sit down and try to digest them in one go. 

So again, yesterday lunchtime, I snatched another two hours on that sofa until other pursuits distracted me. However, and with a matter of only three hours to go, I was essentially saved by a queue at the Medical Centre. I know that GPs are coming in for a certain degree of criticism lately but we benefit from a wonderful rural practice where all the staff know you and are friendly and, except for three evenings a week, every surgery is operated by the doctors on a "drop in, no appointment required" basis. 

From the queue I encountered 10 minutes before the first consultation, I could only assume that everyone waiting had taken their places up to an hour before. It was a mad situation and the noise was churned out at high volume with acquaintances and friends greeting each other, neighbours chatting, children playing with toys and performing for a ready made audience and then, every now and again, a doctor or the practice nurse calling out for a patient to join them in a consulting room.

Nonetheless a chair in the corner beckoned and although it wasn't quite my sofa, I settled down and finished the book just before my turn to see the doctor. Back in my pre-retirement days, I would never have had the foresight to have taken the book with me or patience to have read it in a crowded waiting room. Best of all two of the staff in the dispensing pharmacy attached to the practice had read it too, so I even managed to explore a few ideas and criticisms ready for the Group meeting.

Hopefully as the days shorten still more, I can increase the number of books I am reading and maybe even finish them without a trip to the doctor.

Friday, 14 November 2014

A Little Space

So here it is: a photo of the new chair taken with the new camera referred to yesterday.

Thanks to a 9am meeting for me at a local school, Mister E was apparently able to proceed in peace. There are some things you just can’t do together and for which we all need our own space.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Bits and Pieces

What is it about modern life that has to make everything so complex?

This week I have finally got round to replacing both my camera and computer chair. The previous camera lasted nearly 8 years but recently succumbed to a large crack and is now held together by sticky tape. The chair I am presently sitting on suffers eruptions of foam from its stuffing, messing the floor as well as causing discomfort to my posterior from the gaping hole in the seat.

The trouble is that mastering the art of using any electronic device requires a great deal of patience and training. The new camera came with two instruction manuals, a CD rom and a link to two websites. It's little wonder that I never fully utilised all the functions on my last camera. Now I'm retired, however, I thought that, without work to interrupt, learning all the various functions would be a breeze.

Not so, if I want to use it to its optimum, there's at least another two or three afternoons of hard graft to be put in to properly understand its capabilities and then presumably weeks of practice. 

As for the chair. I only got as far as reading the first paragraph of its instructions which pointed out that a drill is required to properly piece it together. A job for the engineer here I thought, calling for Mister E. He seemed quite animated at the thought of a construction job but once he'd spread the bits all over the floor, he realised that he couldn't make it without reading the instructions and suggested leaving it until tomorrow.

Now in Caree's Utopia, chairs would all be delivered ready to sit on and cameras really would work by pointing and shooting.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Cinema

I can hardly believe it; I have just been to the cinema twice in less than 48 hours. Once to a large multiplex and today to a smaller auditorium in a converted station. What makes the two visits most unusual is that I cannot honestly remember when I was last there: a year perhaps, maybe even two. The entrance to the multiplex was a vast hangar of neon lighting, popcorn and posters. The converted station by comparison is an historic delight, lacking only the steam train puffing through what is now a bistro area.

With darker and colder days, watching a film seems like an enticing activity and, in the run up to the Oscars and other award ceremonies, there are invariably some exciting film releases.

In our pre-retirement life, we would always intend to see the films that were commended to us by friends or rated in independent reviews. Regrettably we never quite got ourselves sorted in time and occasionally resorted to buying the DVD a few months later or invariably not even managing to do that before the film was given its television première when, frequently, we would forget to either watch or record it.

Now, in what I shall refer to as "my double decker moment," (you wait for ages for a bus and then two come along at once), I have seen both "Gone Girl" and "Mr Turner."

The first was a psychological thriller with unexpected twists along the way and an ending that I had not anticipated. The second was a masterpiece of acting by Timothy Spall as he took on the role of an eccentric JMW Turner.

If I had been working, I have no doubt that they would both have been on my To See List. In retirement it has however turned from a wish list to a check-list, with entries ticked off.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Empty Nest Syndrome

The youngest arrived on Saturday morning and left to return to London this afternoon. It was a quick visit but we managed to squeeze in a trip to see my mother, a meal out, a visit to the cinema and a good old fashioned Sunday dinner. It all felt very busy, although the youngest has never been loud, the house was noisier than we have become accustomed to, and there just wasn't as much time to spend together as we would have liked.

Seeing her off at the station was a moving experience but, of course, it's only a few more weeks until she'll be home for a month.

Upon my return and, solely out of interest I assure you, I found myself looking up Empty Nest Syndrome on Wikipedia. Apparently all parents are susceptible but those who are dealing with other stressful events such as, and it cites "retirement" as a specific example, are particularly vulnerable! Oh dear!

However, it does point out that coping mechanisms include pursuing one's own hobbies and interests (full marks there); keeping a journal (presumably this blog counts); taking advantage of the opportunity to spend more time with your spouse (Mister E and I virtually walk hand in hand into the sunset together); even (but I do draw the line at this one) going back to work!

Whilst I sympathise with those who do suffer from depression when their children leave for university, I can probably draw comfort from the fact that my lack of desire to return to work must be illustrative of the fact that life feels rather full at the moment. So much so that I would struggle to consider myself afflicted by such a syndrome and instead am somewhat proud that, together with Mister E we have prepared the youngest for living away, even in a city as vast as London and as different to our home village as one could imagine.

Of course we keep in touch by a variety of means that were never available years ago, including Face-time, direct messaging, e-mails, text and mobile phone. I even send postcards although I haven't yet got down to letter writing and would certainly never expect one back if I did.

The article in Wikipedia concludes however by referring to a recent trend, described as the Boomerang Generation. It seems that the offspring you thought had moved out, sometimes return! I'll really know how much I'm enjoying retirement if, should such a scenario seem likely in the future, I find Mister E and I discussing downsizing!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Shopping and Packing

I don't go shopping any more.

Well that's not quite true but when you live 10 miles from the local town and you're not going in every day to work, the High Street and its shops begin to acquire a rarity value. Yes, we still eat, so yes we still visit the supermarket (although to be honest now even find the time to browse delicatessens, butchers and greengrocers which do actually still exist).

What I don't do so often is impulse buy; with 5 lunchtimes a working week, there was an inevitable temptation to do so when the real motive, of course, was simply to pop out for a breath of fresh air.

Now a shopping trip is pre-planned and has a purpose. As a result I go into shops less frequently than before and there is an objective for each visit. This week, however, I was side-tracked. Perhaps it was the large sign saying 50% off or maybe, knowing that my suitcase virtually fell apart on our return flight from Greece last month, I was sub-consciously looking out for a replacement. Either way, I made an unplanned purchase of a wheeled hold-all  but am, of course, overjoyed with it, anticipating that there may be an opportunity or two to use it in the future.

When I was working, holidays were a mad panic where I would first have to undertake manic hours to clear my desk, sometimes leaving so much dictation that it was not even all typed in my absence. There have been occasions when I have gone into the office at 6am to finish jobs, before leaving on holiday later the same morning and others where I have stayed until 10pm the night before.

All trips were characterised by packing in a rush when it was a question of throwing as many suitable items as I could muster into whatever bag I could find within the limited time left. I would ensure that I at least had my passport, travel tickets and credit card, taking the view that anything else if forgotten could be bought en route. It didn't quite work out the time Mister E stayed at home to work and I took the eldest and youngest on a self -drive holiday without my driving licence, but you live and learn.

In retirement, the process has proved to be more leisurely. I have been able to pile the items that I want to take on the bed, consider carefully their suitability and any other options. I have a toilet bag that is now always packed and ready simply to drop into my main bag. I have time to label my luggage after checking beforehand to establish the exact address for our destination. All in all I can arrive on holiday feeling relaxed and prepared and not ready to flop from the stress and turmoil of getting there.

Better still, whilst away there are no mobile phones to answer, e-mails to check nor mountains of post and messages building on a desk awaiting my return. At home the ironing has been done, the house is tidy and all bills settled before we leave.

You know what, travelling is now so easy and exhilarating that I can't wait to get packing and use that new bag!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Isolation, Pressure and Compromises

It would be wonderful if this was a picture of my greenhouse and garden but it was actually taken in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh last week. Still I have been working on my own autumnal vegetation and, bit by bit, that end of season tidy-up is beginning to show results.

The dip in temperatures this week means that, with the weather staying dry, there has been time each day to devote to:
 Chores and creativity indoors, and
 Pruning, shredding, digging and creativity outdoors, once the air temperature has warmed and before the sun disappears in what almost seems like the mid-afternoon.

I know that there are people who insist that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. However those same people generally don't go hot air ballooning when it's blowing a hurricane outside or cook a Sunday roast when it hits 30 degrees and everyone else is tucking into salad on the patio.

The great thing I've discovered about this time of the year, however, is that retirement allows you to take advantage of two hour windows of sunshine and I've begun to fit my day around the conditions.

With so much to complete before winter kicks in, I do feel as though I'm on a tight timetable. I am also conscious that since returning from Edinburgh my diary has not been as sociable as recently. As a result walking to the postbox seemed like a big event as I waved and chatted to a number of people and I even tried to strike up a conversation in the middle of a delicate balancing exercise in Pilates. A warning sign perhaps that retirement could become a time of splendid isolation were I to let it and that deadlines and the pressures that go with them are for those who work, not those seeking to enjoy life. 

Suitably admonished, I have checked my diary but the last few days are definitely a blip. Free time over the next week looks as though it may be in short supply. Oh dear, clearing the garden when the weather conditions are right may not be feasible after all. There may be more flexibility in retirement, but there are still compromises to be made.

Friday, 31 October 2014

End of October

It was the warmest Halloween day on record today apparently. Certainly my memories of carving turnip (we had never seen a pumpkin) lanterns as a child is always against a background of duffle coats and scarves and perhaps occasionally a touch of snow too.

This year I have actually succeeded in growing pumpkins, both in my greenhouse and outside, as we have revelled in one of the driest summers for several years. I know you have no control in these matters but it really was a superb summer, weather-wise, to retire.

Now of course, record or no record, the nights are drawing in and there have been rain showers a plenty over the last few weeks as well as some strong, blustery northerly winds. Mind, such weather is not unwelcome. My garden may have been looking great during the last few months but it has been at the expense of neglecting the interior of my home as well as some much needed household "admin."

So this week I have been able to find time to concentrate on a new Future Learn course on Creative Writing coupled with those routine chores that I love to ignore. If there's time tomorrow, I have even sorted a pumpkin recipe or two that I want to try.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

An Exhibition of Modern Art

Last Sunday we went to Edinburgh for two days. One of the highlights was visiting the National Gallery of Modern Art where there is currently an exhibition entitled Generation - 25 years of Contemporary Art in Scotland.

Well I'll give retirement its due. I now discover that not only do I have the time to enjoy a display of this kind but also, now my brain is no longer cluttered by work related issues, I can actually remember the exhibits and continue to derive excitement from the memory of them.

Like all displays of modern art there are always some that you look at and think well I could have done that myself - the handwritten adverts for cheap package holidays of the kind displayed in many travel agents, are a case in point. There are others where I am still puzzling over the meaning and especially, in this context, the videos. 

To come away from an art gallery, however, and still be buzzing about it several days later is a real high. Proof indeed that art really is intended to stimulate the mind, inspire and excite rather than simply be admired.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Pounding Pavements

Earlier in the week, Mister E and I made a trip to London to see the youngest and also to gape at Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London commemorating World War I.

We walked for hours across London and even when we used the Tube there were inevitably flights of steps to conquer.

Despite the work in the gym on all those leg muscles, I have to confess that walking along the platform at King's Cross for a late evening train home, my gait was more of a hobble than a stride.

I don't know whether it was the hour at which we got home (just after midnight) or the exercise but getting up next morning when I had a commitment at a local school was not easy. The day passed in something of a haze of fatigue when I not only watched students compete in a land rover pulling competition but shared their pain!

Still I was back on the treadmill on the second day with a new aim: to reduce recovery time after pounding city pavements!

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Greek Island Tick List

Whilst Mister E and I were away in Greece, we not only enjoyed the delights of the mainland at Sivota and Parga but also manage to tick off another two Greek islands: Paxos and Antipaxos.

Historically the area (mainland and islands) had been under Venetian influence and it showed in the architecture of the buildings clustered around amazing natural harbours, hardly visible as you approach from the open sea by boat.

I also crewed on a yacht in the waters off Corfu but as we didn't land, can't cross that one off the bucket list just yet.

Sailing on a charter boat provided an insight into the cruising experience enjoyed by so many in those waters.There is certainly an attraction, especially with flat seas and guaranteed sunshine. However the lack of wind, risk of being cooked with nowhere to hide from the soaring heat and anchorages that could resemble car parks, one could also resist the allure. Despite the rain, perhaps Scotland has some advantages.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Reflections on a Fourth Month of Retirement

Although I seem to be cramming so much into my life at the moment, I have also noticed a tendency to procrastinate and perhaps even take far longer over something than I would have done previously or to fritter away time on something I might, in my working life, have considered pointless. Inevitably I have joined that league of retired people who openly confess, "I don't know how I ever found the time to go to work."

In any event and whilst it had been my intention to start an Interior Design Course this month, I have postponed the start date due not only to an apparent lack of time but a need also to brush up those artistic skills. I did however take my sketch book with me to Greece, where we spent a week, and I am certainly improving from my first efforts a few weeks ago, although I know you are going to say that my attempts at hibiscus fall far short of those of Georgia O'Keefe.

My main priority remains maintaining the fitness challenge that originally started for four weeks in July. I'm pleased to say that I do seem to be managing to get into the gym, pool or do a fitness class five times a week, The damage inflicted by years at the office desk seems enormous  but for a large part I believe reversible; it's just going to take time

I have taken on board some advice I read this month which is not to plunge headlong into too many new commitments as a result of retirement and instead to take up to two years to find out what works best. So October has been and retirement continues to be a period of experimentation when I dabble with various interests and the development of skills as this blog must surely document.

In many respects the real adoption of retirement has only started this month with the youngest's departure to university. Mister E and I are now very much exploring our shared interests and activities. Our trip to Greece also delayed the onset of autumn but our return has been greeted by much lower temperatures and more unsettled conditions, tempting us to stay indoors. That is at least giving me the opportunity to take control of various administrative tasks that I have neglected for too long and for us both to settle some longer term joint plans.

I think it was David Bowie who is attributed with saying, "I don't know where I'm going from here but I promise it won't be boring." At the end of Month 4, I can fully endorse that.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Hillside Holiday

Last week Mister E and I stayed in a hotel on the Greek mainland built into the side of a cliff. I never did count the steps from the water's edge to our room in the gardens but there were certainly a lot of them. They also seemed to increase in number when the sun was at its hottest. However hearing other guests panting with the exertion of climbing them was some comfort.

Out of season many visitors were advancing in age and it was noticeable how much harder the terrain, including walking across a shingle spit to the beach and water-sports equipment, was for them than for the younger guests.

With an eye on the future, I have made two mental notes:
1. Continue my fitness challenge
2. Ensure that I check carefully the gradient surrounding holiday destinations when I too struggle with steps.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Stress and Neuroses

A major aim in retiring was to reduce stress and increase time for relaxation. Sometimes I wonder though has my professional training and experience taught me to see the pitfalls in everything, causing stress and neuroses regardless?

So today I have booked advance train tickets to London so that Mister E and I can travel to see the youngest. To secure a discount I have applied online for a Two Together railcard.

Is it normal to worry in case the card which should arrive within 4-7 days doesn't arrive in time, when we aren't travelling for weeks? What about the photographs we have uploaded? What if they are not in the format required?

There are times when you just have to let go and accept that everything might not work perfectly; que sera sera. Yes when I can actually say that to myself, a stress free existence will be within reach.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Cuckoo has Landed

We certainly had an interesting day today. We headed into Harrogate to look at the pictures in an exhibition in the Mercer Art Gallery entitled "From Turner to Hockney." There were some beautiful pieces depicting Yorkshire, its towns and cities, the sea and the people seen through the eyes of many artists. I  was delighted to discover pencil drawings by the Bronte family; clearly they weren't just talented writers but also accomplished at sketching too. I really need to get some more practice in, if I am ever going to be able to produce anything nearly half as good.

Then we had lunch, a delightful mix of Swiss and Yorkshire, in the renowned Betty's Tea Rooms before strolling around the gardens at Harlow Carr. I spotted teasels that put the solitary plant on my walk earlier this week to shame and the arrays of dahlias were simply magnificent.

We stayed out far longer than we had intended, taking advantage of what must soon be the end of this long dry warm spell. 

When we got back there was a parcel waiting for me. I guess I have to be careful what I wish for, or even refer to on this blog, because a cuckoo flew out. It has now taken up residence on the youngest's empty bed and seems to be making itself quite at home. Worst thing is that it sings if you press its back. No prizes for what it sounds like: "Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo.."

Finally a wonderful sunset closed the day. It was accompanied by a cacophony of sound from the circling crows and geese flying overhead. Fortunately the cuckoo was silent.