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.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Calm after the Chaos

There were memories of pre-retirement days this week when I suddenly woke up to the realisation that Christmas was fast creeping up on us and there was rather a lot of mundane stuff to get through in readiness for our various visitors. I am pleased to report, however, that there must be something about years of working to court timetables, because everything has pretty much slotted into place: the study is decorated and refurbished; the menus are planned and ingredients purchased; the house has finally been cleaned; the beds are made and finally, this evening, the tree has been decorated. I confess that 8pm on Christmas Eve might have been the latest ever in the history of the Risover household  for the adornment of the tree but it is now done and all to the tune of Jingle Bells and Let it Snow.

It took until Monday to feel anything like normal again after being knocked out for what feels like most of December. However, I am pleased to report that I returned to Pilates and Yoga this week, stretching out all those stiffening joints after their period of disuse. We are also dog-sitting for the festive period, giving lie to the slogan that "a dog is for life not just for Christmas," as she is definitely going back in early January. 

She may look cute and be great company, but boy can she be demanding. Fortunately, however, she appears to have an aversion to walking in the rain, so life is not all bad and, when it is fair, she even provides an excuse for walking down roads I would not normally tread and talking to all those people I invariably only wave to as I pass by in a car. It is often said that dog owners are less stressed and have better social lives than those without a four legged friend and a dog basket. I am beginning to understand why.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Now He Tells Me

We have been back at home for 10 days and save for a slow walk to the Parish Council's noticeboard which now comes under my charge, I have not been out. Indeed I spent the first 4 days in bed, which has to be some kind of record for me exceeding, I suspect, even the time spent there with measles in my childhood. 

The last time I recall being knocked sideways by a cold like this one, it originated abroad too, in that case by way of present from Baku in Azerbaijan. Whilst I would normally consider myself to be a fit and healthy specimen of humanity, unfortunately it seems that I must concede that such immunity as I possess is of no effect against foreign viruses.

This has caused a slight hiccup to plans for December, as we have stripped our study ready to decorate. We are now on a very tight schedule to complete the job so that the books, paper and other paraphernalia now spread all over our living and dining rooms, can be safely returned, together with the new furniture, currently resident in the hall, all before the eldest and youngest join us for Christmas.

If that wasn't bad enough, there is also the tricky issue of Christmas shopping. Hooray for the Internet, however, and whilst it seemed to take far longer than browsing the real shelves, I have avoided the strains of traffic jams, parking and overloading myself with packages to do it all online yesterday afternoon. It is a shame that I forgot the Christmas cards and wrapping paper but am counting on a full recovery before final posting dates.

I had assumed that Mister E's failure to succumb to the same virus must have been attributable to his flu vaccination and was kicking myself for not having such myself. However, he has now confessed that he was also given a "super jab" by the doctor, available from the NHS when you attain the age of 65. My investigations (again online) have revealed that what he was given was PPV or pneumococcal polysaccahride vaccine which is a single one off injection giving long term protection against some 23 strains of the pneumococcal bacterium. I have a few years to wait  but, in the meantime, would urge anyone who does qualify to make sure they get this jab, especially if they are intending to travel abroad. Mister E is certainly living proof of its effectiveness for I am yet to hear him sneeze.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

SPECTRE - Final Trailer (Official)


Before we left for India we went to see the new James Bond film, "Spectre." I am not always a fan of 007 films but I did enjoy this one, especially as it drew various ends from previous films together and at the same time was full of all the high points that make a good Bond movie, not least the humour. I'm not sure if you are meant to laugh out loud at some of the antics but our cinema audience certainly did.

I am reliably informed that Daniel Craig is the Bond actor with more Martinis per film than kisses, and perhaps that added to Spectre's appeal.

The daily newspapers in India clearly suggested a huge fan base for the films there although it seems that Indian audiences are not treated to the whole film as Bond's passionate embraces have been reduced by 50% in order to ascribe to it the equivalent of our 12A certificate. 

Also some of the language which, compared to many films, I did not find too offensive, has been altered. Thus in India, "asshole" is dubbed "idiot," and "bastard" has become "bighead." Both of those I understood. 

I am a little nonplussed however as to why "balls" is dubbed "cats," but then there is much about India that I cannot claim to understand!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Passage Through India

It is hard to do justice in describing the attraction of India. It is a country where vibrancy hits you in the face and makes your head reel. More than 1.35 billion people, many dressed in a brightly coloured sari or salwar kameez, a vast array of wildlife, magnificent temples and wonderful scenery. There's constant background noise whether of people, birds, machines or honking horns.

Every direction you look there is something that catches your eye, so different to home that you are entranced, captivated and amazed. Camels help pull loads or plough fields; monkeys chatter on street corners; whole families travel on one motor-cycle or alternatively pile into a vehicle with friends too and like everywhere in the world, women work hard whilst men operate the gadgets.

Everything is different and very much happening right in front of you with people bathing in tubs off the highway, sleeping on the steps of the mosque or beside the road; eating their meals and washing up in the street; drying their washing on the riverbank.

Even in the remoter rural areas you cannot escape the gift of human life. Nowhere are you alone.

Add to the mix the thousands of Hindu gods; the reverence paid to birds and animals, the innumerable sacred places. The land that gave us Buddhism, yoga, the caste system and was invaded by Persians, Huns, Mogul warriors and the British, is a vast melting pot of sensatorial experiences.

It is not the most comfortable country to travel in. The heat and dust as well as the pollution I have already written about, are inevitably tiring. Once fabled for the beggars on the streets, prohibitory laws and growing prosperity have curtailed this issue but in turn increased the hassle from street hawkers and the risk of petty crime and scams from touts.

Poverty is still there. India may be the world's biggest democracy but it is no welfare state. To see human beings living in makeshift shelters scratting through rubbish alongside pigs is heart breaking to encounter and one best dealt with by donating to the numerous charities seeking to alleviate hardship there.

It is a good place to visit in December to get your own life into perspective, appreciate your blessings and understand how irrelevant the material goods of Western society with its mass-marketed and tinsel-wrapped Christmas really are.

Our trip on this occasion concentrated on the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur with a brief respite in the foothills of the Himalyas at Shimla where the British encamped for the summer months.

It is also possible to experience a glimpse of colonial life in good hotels where great food and service, albeit at European prices, abound. I assure you, however, that being greeted by hands in prayer, a bow, a "Ma'am" makes every rupee spent worthwhile, especially if the government taxes levied on your stay in some way go back to help the local economy.

Indian food is delicious with no Balti curries and instead a tasty mix of spices, nuts, pulses, yoghurt, rice, vegetables and meat, yielding exotic flavours and of which my favourite had to be cottage cheese stuffed with prunes and almonds; imagine that if you can!

Na-ma-ste is the only Indian expression a tourist needs to know. It's a fitting term that seems to cover hello, goodbye and thank-you when delivered with your own bow, palms together, thumbs against the breast bone. Oh and don't forget to dress modestly yourself; many tourists seem to adopt a European version of Indian dress with a long top and flowing trousers and scarves; certainly a silk scarf worn across the front of the shoulders, Indian style, comes in useful especially for popping over your head when entering a mosque or other holy place.

The roads are slow not only because of the volume of traffic but also the dogs, cows and even elephants wandering along them; we actually saw all three in the centre of Delhi! Although taxi rides are not quick, they are good value with a driver effectively being hired by the half day and as well as conventional motor cars you also have the option of cycle and automated rickshaws.

The rail system, for which India is rightly famous, is probably better for travelling longer distances, from the narrow gauge track between Kalka and Shimla to the Shatabdi Express which trundles along at just 70 kilometres an hour. There are official porters who carry your bags on and off the trains, using their heads as well as their arms and an array of food was served as part of the package with each carriage having its own designated waiter. There's even a separate toilet compartment for the ladies  (it is just a hole in the floor) but it is shirked by most European travellers, who are also less than keen on tucking in to the snacks and meals served, with an eye on the possible consequences. I certainly paid the price the next day for tasty bhaji in a paper bag.

Rail travel even has the added bonus of retiring rooms. Mister E and I got quite excited when we saw those, thinking they were made for our current status but in fact they appear to be a dormitory for tired travellers, whose journeys take so long.

We also tried the Delhi Metro system. It did not look as though many Europeans venture underground but the air conditioned carriages are akin to those used in London and the station platforms smart and clean. Moreover you can travel 4 stations for 12 rupees which is roughly equivalent to £0.12; now that would not even buy you five inches at home!  

Of course India is changing. It has altered significantly since our last visit but it still hasn't lost the vibe and excitement that the proximity of so many people can bring. It is not a destination for a luxury spa break or beach resort and you definitely would not go there if you want to spend your night clubbing and wake up to an all day English breakfast. However, if you want buzz and unique experiences there can be nowhere else better suited on the planet. It's somewhere to go early in retirement for you still need your fitness and mental faculties to cope with uneven pavements, screeching monkeys, crossing the road and avoiding those tourist scams. 

You know it's been worthwhile when you return home exhausted (in my case ill too) but always invigorated!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Yes It Is

A few weeks ago I wrote a post which I headed, "Is Travelling Really Brutal?" I can now confirm, sincerely, that it is.

Into my fifth day of bed rest following our return from India on Wednesday, I am suffering from the rewards of travel: a foreign common cold or influenza virus, I assume, and for which I have no inbuilt immunity. Forget the typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis and other inoculations with which we protect ourselves in order to travel; perhaps what I really ought to have had was a flu jab. Mister E had his and has fought his affliction with considerably more success than me. When I visited our surgery, I received a typhoid booster and declined the offer of an injection against rabies.

I guess the tell tale signs were there in Delhi when I began to suffer from a sore throat. However, in a city now notorious for the worst air pollution in the world, the itchy throat, red eyes and sneezing all seemed at one with breathing in the acrid atmosphere.

50,000 lorries belching out their diesel fumes purportedly pass through the city every night and in the crowded daytime streets motorcycles, automotive rickshaws, buses and cars join in a stop start procession of honking horns and exhaust fumes, There are apparently 8.5 million vehicles on Delhi's roads and they do not have European standard filter systems.

At the station one can be forgiven for mistaking the diesel engines for steam trains such is the thick particulate matter expelled by them.

Add to the mix coal fuelled power stations within the city perimeters as well as cement works and brick factories around it and it is not long before the lethal cocktail of noxious gases begins to scratch at your facial orifices.

Exiting the arrival hall at Indira Ghandi Airport in Delhi, a pervasive fog hovered around us as we made our way along the covered concourse to our taxi. The driver insisted that it was just mist that Delhi gets all the time. Later one guide would dismiss the obvious effects of air pollution as dust through lack of rain and another as the left over fumes from fire crackers set off for Diwali, three weeks before. There is an aura of pollution and also denial.

I love the vibrancy of India. Nowhere else on Earth are you so aware of life being lived in all its different guises around you: man and beast; rich and poor; sick and well. Sadly, however, in its rush to industrialise India has failed to take heed of the lessons of the west. Having rescued its populace from dire infant mortality rates, it must surely now have burdened them with the agonies of chest and lung infections and all the other harmful cancers and diseases that inevitably emanate from inhaling a chemical mix the human lung was never intended for.

It is clear that there is a green campaign out there and some companies have adopted eco-friendly names and logos (Greenlam and Greenheck were very evident on advertising hoardings) but they do no more than mock the polluted air around them. Delhi's streets too are lined with trees and shrubs; even if they could photosynthesise beneath the layers of grime weighing down their leaves that would only deal with the carbon dioxide and not the sulphur and nitric oxides that hover together with free radicals, volatile compounds, carbon monoxide and other noxious gases.

Coughing our way to the airport for our return flight, Mister E and I were of the view that despite a wonderful trip (about which I shall write more separately) we are unlikely to seek to expose ourselves to such uncomfortable and polluted cities in the future. Although the Indian Government has now announced that the use of private cars will be limited to alternate days commencing in January, I anticipate that this will do little to rectify the situation which must surely get worse before it improves. Indeed it is a sad indictment of a country that it can ban the smoking of cigarettes in public places including outdoors in many areas, but has not sought to take effective action to alleviate a more widespread hazard.

It is, therefore, little wonder that I attributed my coughing and sneezing on the flight home as an attempt to cleanse my lungs of the potent Delhi smog. When we got home at lunchtime on Wednesday and I crawled into bed, I assumed my fatigue arose from the overnight flight back. Five days later that is clearly not the case. The pollution induced coughing of hundreds of thousands of people obviously spreads germs so effectively that my hand sanitiser was no match in the fight for protection against a humdinger of a cold.... but at least it isn't rabies! 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Communal Concerns

In these harrowing times of explosions, shootings, war and terrorism, it is easy to carry the miseries of the world on your shoulders. Add climate change and sustainability to the mix and the problems of the planet weigh heavily.

It has therefore been a relief to become Parish Clerk and realise that what keeps the local community and fellow citizens awake at night is not always the prospect of invading ISIL warriors nor even of strange beings from Mars, but rather:

The turning off of street lighting after midnight;
Dogs fouling on public footpaths;
Drivers speeding or illegally parking their motor cars.

It is good to get a local perspective on the issues of our time.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Great Dream

I have just discovered the Action for Happiness' website. Reading its pages has to bring a smile to anyone's face. However the page that caught my attention is labelled 10 Keys and on it are set out ten keys to happiness.

I can't believe that since retiring I have been on a journey of self discovery in which I have succeeded in identifying almost all those aspects of life; instead all I needed to have done was to read this website! Still now that I have found it, I am delighted to note that I have been on the right track all along, no wonder retirement is proceeding so happily!

The Action for Happiness whose patron is the Dalai Lama has an impressive Board of Directors committed to helping people take practical steps for a happier and more caring world. In so doing, and using Great Dream as an acronym, we learn from them that:

 Giving or doing things for others makes us feel better too. I sense more commitment to my voluntary causes, family and friends coming on already.

 Relating or connecting with people. Oh yes, I'll take any excuse to socialise!

 Exercising or taking care of your body which sounds like another excuse to fit in an extra trip to the gym or fitness class with more opportunity to socialise when doing so too.

 Appreciating by noticing the world around you; a favourite theme of mine now when I am out and about.

 Trying out or learning new things. You don't really want a list of all the Future Learn courses I have now completed do you?

 Direction or having goals to look forward to. I wonder if my bucket lists count? Ticking off lists certainly  makes me happy!

 Resilience or finding ways to bounce back. Inbuilt stoicism, it's all part of the British psyche I'm sure; maybe it's attributable to all that rain.

 Emotion or taking a positive approach. Why it was only last week I was blogging about positivity!

 Acceptance essentially of yourself and being comfortable with who you are. Sometimes a difficult one and frequently the borderline between happiness and depression. As you edge into retirement, however, age, wisdom and most of all confidence should see you okay on this score.

 Meaning or being part of something bigger. That old chestnut, the meaning of life or how to be happy and for which we come full-circle. However and if anyone needs any ideas I can commend volunteering with Save the Children.

As the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, "Happiness is not something that is ready made. It comes from your own actions."

Thursday, 19 November 2015


The Situation is Getting Worse - Save the Children  Yemen, You Tube

With Syria and the refugee crisis grabbing newspaper space for what seems like months now, when I became a voluntary Community champion for Save the Children it came as something of a shock to me (as I'm sure it will to most people) to realise that the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today is probably in Yemen. Pulverised by a bloody civil war and now the infiltration of Al Quaeda and ISIS, it is subject to a commercial blockade that is preventing effective aid reaching those who need it most at a time when it is estimated that 80% of the population are reliant on organisations like Save The Children and the UN for food and health care.

Prior to the conflict Yemen was already the poorest nation in the Middle East but the statistics are now horrific. It is estimated that: 
21.1 million people are in need of aid and 9.9 million children are affected
12.8 million people do not even have access to the basics for survival and hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of dying of malnutrition
15.4 million people have no access to healthcare
20.9 million people are in need of water and sanitation

The crisis is huge and yet it is constantly ignored by the media and politicians. The EU Council has, however, met earlier this week to discuss the position and drawn helpful conclusions.

Save the Children is seeking to raise awareness. We need our Governments to exert their influence on Saudi Arabia which is imposing the blockade, in order to allow humanitarian aid and protection for those in Yemen who will otherwise surely die. 

No child is born to die.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

National Trust in East Anglia

Back in September I was explaining how our limited use of National Trust membership was causing Mister E and me to query whether or not to continue with it. I am delighted to say, however, that whilst journeying around East Anglia we must have visited the equivalent of a year's worth of properties.

Indeed on route to Norfolk, we took a break just off the A1 near Grantham in order to visit the childhood home of Isaac Newton at Woolsthorpe Manor. The apple season is of course, in full season in October so what better time to call as it was in the orchard here that Newton is reputed to have had his Eureka moment with gravity as well as conducting his experiments to split light. The tour around the house does not take long, but it was one of the most informative that I have visited with an introductory film in one of the farm outbuildings and, in another, hands on activities  seeking to demonstrate Newton's Laws of Motion and other discoveries.

Moving on to Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, we were admiring the impressive Georgian frontages on the North Brink overlooking the river when, partially driven by a desire for afternoon tea, we entered Peckover House and garden, originally owned by a banking family. Tea was delightful but so too was the garden with its pet cemetery, croquet lawn, vegetable plot and herbaceous borders. A real oasis of calm and beauty in the middle of a busy town. 

The North Norfolk coastline along which we drove is, of course,  owned and maintained by the National Trust for the free enjoyment of everyone and that Guildhall in Kings Lynn is also owned by the Trust albeit managed by the local council with restricted opening.

When we awoke one morning to the rain coming down in torrents, we took advantage of our membership to visit Blickling Estate, enjoying morning coffee and a browse in the bookshop before the main house opened. It is a magnificent mansion, donated to the Trust by the Marquess of Lothian and built on the ruins of the home of the Boleyn family where the second wife of Henry VIII is believed to have been born.

Then we headed eastwards towards those large sea defences and Horsey Windpump, one of the original windmills used to pump water from the fields, and now in the Trust's ownership enabling visitors to climb to the top floor with views across the Broads.

Dunwich Heath and Beach too are cared for by the National Trust and are in an area designated as of outstanding natural beauty.

Staying with friends, only a stone's throw from Sutton Hoo, obviously necessitated a visit there. It is the site of Anglo Saxon burial mounds which, in the mid 20th century revealed the burial chamber of a king, the treasure from which is now in the British Museum and which of course we saw earlier this year. Apart from some clearly disturbing piles of earth in the middle of a field there would, of course, be nothing really to see but the National Trust has put together an impressive exhibition explaining Suffolk in Anglo Saxon times and the burial customs that were followed. The home of the former owner of the site has also been preserved in its original 1930's style and looking out of the windows towards the river estuary it is easy to imagine the sound and view of RAF Spitfires flying overhead as they returned from their wartime missions.

Finally we had a day out starting at Flatford Mill where John Constable painted his famous Haywain picture and, as well as opening the land, the National Trust provide a small exhibition about Constable's work. We walked across the river into Essex to Dedham and back before finishing the day at Pin Mill, again in the care of the Trust, with wonderful panoramic views over the River Orwell and the scene for Arthur Ransome's novel, "We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea."

Now what would we have done without those membership cards?

Monday, 16 November 2015

Suffolk after Norfolk

Proceeding down the coast, Lowestoft, the most easterly place in the United Kingdom, was our first stop in Suffolk. 

Like so many former fishing ports, it has obviously known better times but, as the birthplace of Benjamin Britten, musical fountains outside the tourist office, choreographed to spray to a background of his music, were a pleasant touch.

It has two piers of which the South Pier, adjacent to the river entrance, had only recently re-opened whilst the Claremont Pier remains closed on its seaward side, as does part of the Blue Flag Beach for repairs to the sea wall to be carried out.

The elegance of the Victorian resort of Southwold, dominated by its lighthouse and with the famous beach huts (we noted one for sale at £90,000!) and bustling pier, restored since our last visit, was in marked contrast to Lowestoft.

However, for sheer solitude, Dunwich, a thriving seaport from Roman times until the 14th Century when it was destroyed and swallowed up by the sea in a series of harsh storms, would be hard to exceed. The beach is shingle and the huts are for fishermen but the ruined priory, surrounding heathland and an old fashioned beach cafe continue to attract visitors even on a bleak October day. It was listed in our history tour of England, so made another tick on that list.

Despite adjoining each other Suffolk is very different to neighbouring Norfolk. The vast skies are muted by a more undulating leafier landscape; the houses are of traditional wood and often thatch design  or painted in pastel shades, invariably pink; it all helps make Suffolk villages quintessentially English. No wonder perhaps that Britten decided to make his permanent home therefore at Aldeburgh, just a little further down the coast where we enjoyed a bracing walk to the Martello Tower.

Continuing our journey led us into riverside territory with visits to Woodbridge, Ramsholt and Bawdsey on the River Deben and Pin Mill with its old barges on the River Orwell.

Some of our Suffolk highlights were inland and I shall post about our visits to the National Trust sites in that vicinity separately. We did however finish our trip with a stop at Bury St Edmunds which is an interesting spot. I loved the legend of St Edmund the Angle King who was killed in battle by so many arrows that he looked like a hedgehog according to one Aelfric of Eynsham; he was then beheaded but his head was protected by a wolf until his supporters found it, and when they placed it with his body it miraculously reattached itself! If the story was not enough the Cathedral too is amazing. Not because of the wonderful light inside or its painted roof but because this is a building of recent construction in a Gothic design, the tower being completed only in 2005.

Although the town has many delightful Georgian buildings and we enjoyed exploring the narrow streets and Abbey Gardens, I was also please to find a modern outdoor shopping area with some unusual but fittingly styled flats above. If I lived closer, I would definitely go to Bury for my retail therapy.