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, 30 June 2015

Never Satisfied

Well summer has definitely arrived and with it soaring heat and humidity. The daily variations in our temperature never cease to amaze me and to the extent that differences of 10 degrees celsius are not uncommon. So this week we are being treated to temperatures in the twenties, last week there were days when they failed to reach 14 degrees. Mind it is hard to be satisfied and I'm quickly learning not to plan retirement around expectations of the perfect day; the British climate hardly knows such a thing!

So today I regret that after completing a fitness class and a gym workout, I had to declare the day too hot for anything productive and took instead to a reclined position on the garden lawn with a glass of water in one hand and a book in the other. Moreover and for one nasty moment I thought about the luxury of an air conditioned office.  All those years when I have spent summer trapped inside an office building and suddenly I am lured by the fantasy of a cool environment with a chilled water dispenser. It didn't take long to get that fantasy in check, especially when, should the heat really become unbearable, I can presumably always go and sit in the car with its air con unit, taking a jug of water from the fridge with me.

Also, it was only yesterday when I was revelling in the joys of visiting the arboretum at Thorp Perrow in magnificent weather, free of the weekend crowds and remembering how much I had longed for the freedom to enjoy such summer days when trapped behind a desk.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Travel Fears

The world can be a dangerous place and the headlines today only added to the fear with news of terrorist attacks in France, Kuwait and on tourists in Tunisia. In retirement do you take the view that you want to travel regardless or are you circumspect as to your destination and even to the extent that you stay in your home country? 

Is it better to be cavalier and argue that when you have come as far with your life as retirement, nothing is going to stop you continuing in the way you want? Alternatively is it more sensible to cower at home, examining the world  from the safety of your computer or television set?

What about the risks of flying compared with driving to the supermarket or gym, and is staying at home really safe anyway? 

Ultimately it is not of course what statistics (or the FCO's website) say, it's how you feel about the proposed journey and destination. Unfortunately my professional training taught me to see the pitfalls in everything. However it also meant that I had to chart a common-sense and balanced way around the obstacles, weighing up the risks to advise clients how best to proceed. I can see that such expertise is likely to remain useful for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Gardening Woes

I have finally planted my vegetable patch after first giving priority to the flower borders. Save for onions and potatoes which are growing rapidly, it is currently a mass of neatly groomed earth hopefully nursing seeds that will shortly break through the surface.

When working I had to put up with most temperatures in order to tend the plot, drawing the line only at digging in the rain. In retirement I was, therefore, looking forward to the scope to spend my weekdays in the garden. Now either the weather has been particularly cold and windy this year or alternatively I am becoming very choosy but this week I have had to pull myself up short, don a fleece and get out there after realising that if I wait for the thermometer to hit the mid teens (celsius) and the sun to shine too, I might never get all my seeds sown.

Now they are in, it would be easy to imagine that I have induced a state of heat and drought to descend upon the North East of England. However, after studying the long range weather forecast this seems very unlikely at the present time, and I anticipate being spared the joys of heaving watering cans from butt to vegetable patch for some time yet.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Reflecting on an Anniversary

I know, I can hardly believe it myself, but today marks a full year since my last day at work. Do I regret the decision to retire? Of course not.

Yes to begin with there was a learning curve and given my time again I really would have worked harder at retaining an element of fitness pre-retirement, but I can say in all honesty that I just love being in charge of my life again to the extent that I can choose what I want to do by the week, day or even hour.

Obviously not everything has worked out the way that I had envisaged. For one thing, I had not realised how active I would be in retirement compared to being office bound and indeed just how much time I would spend on my feet whether it be for physical exercise, walking, shopping, on holiday or even household chores and gardening. Looking back I certainly did not expect to factor into my weekly routine so many exercise classes or to have taken up Yoga and Pilates.

Conversely I had been concerned that when at home and with a fridge and pantry at my disposal there would be every opportunity to snack and that I might find myself fighting hard to resist temptation in that respect. In reality, I am generally too busy to even think about eating, other than at set meal times. 

I was also concerned lest I might miss the work ethic. Whatever was I thinking? Perhaps that I might end up lying in bed all day, suffer from brain mush or even a lack of daily purpose. Fortunately I have not been overtaken by those conditions and although I have missed the wide range of social interaction that working can offer, retirement presents more than sufficient opportunities for mixing and socialising too.

The last year has been a period of experimentation and adjustment with occasions when I have probably tried to fit in too much in an effort to work out what suits and what doesn't. I have discovered that I can apply myself so as to learn online, exercise and give more time to the voluntary positions that I hold. However, I am now ready to take on the serious challenges of interior design and giving our home a make-over, learning a new language and stepping up the travelling, having to date only flirted with these. Whilst, therefore, initial plans remain intact, the next twelve months may see a shift in priorities and commitments in order to meet those challenges.

In the meantime and especially on this 12 month anniversary, I am just going to keep smiling; I can't help it!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A Circuit of Arran - Days 3 and 4

At Lochranza we saw Oyster catchers with their unique shaped beaks and red legs as well as black guillemots which in the UK are very much limited to the West Coast and islands of Scotland as well as Northern Ireland. 

A shag passed us in its low flight over the ocean and on land we saw red deer grazing their way through the village and regarded as a pest by the local people. 

Leaving to head east on Wednesday and then southwards to Lamlash we heard our first cuckoo of the year and noted that even if we were well wrapped up against the chilling sea breeze, seals were basking on top of rocks in the sunshine. Unfortunately we had to wait for our next mooring to gain any benefit from the sun's heat as on our voyage southwards the sails blocked out its rays and my layers of fleeces remained intact.

We were just commenting on the fact that we had not spotted any dolphins on our trip when the tell-tale noise of air being expelled through the blow-hole of a cetacean gave the game away and the fins and tails of porpoises were soon clearly visible.

With gannets undertaking their vertical dives at all points of the compass, we thought we had seen our complete wildlife collection for the day. However, returning to our dinghy on the jetty after a stroll around Lamlash itself, we came across a pair of swans and on the back of one, between its slightly raised wings, nestled two cygnets.

In the shelter of the bay at Lamlash with the town on one side and Holy Island on the other, we benefited from a heat trap sheltered from the wind chill and I finally removed those layers. Perhaps it really is June and for the first time on this trip I didn't wear socks in bed.

Indeed the next morning we didn't even turn the boat heater on and so with the benefit of a benign temperature we headed out from the bay and across the Firth of Clyde towards Troon and so completing our circuit of Arran. 

Whilst sailing in these waters as well as other yachts there are numerous working vessels. So we spotted a ship laying cable, the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries that connect the Scottish Islands to the mainland and various small fishing trawlers all with nets extended. There are certain rules of the sea governing who has right of way. It's a bit like playing Rock, Paper, Scissors and although yachts under sail can take priority, even they must give way to boats that are actively fishing.

So our final day's sailing was devoted to altering course on a number of occasions in order to avoid any serious shipping incidents. Indeed I must have been so busy watching the various fishing exploits taking place to port-side that I completely missed the silent arrival on the scene (presumably from the huge depth beneath) of a submarine. Curiously, and despite the well-established naval base just to the North, in all our years of sailing we had never actually come across one of those off the bow before. No avoiding action was needed; it had no difficulty in outpacing us!

Monday, 15 June 2015

A Circuit of Arran - Days 1 and 2

Last Monday (8th June), Mister E and I seized the opportunity of what we understood would be a calm weather window and set off on a four day voyage. Our time away was limited by a dental appointment for Mister E and a family party on Saturday evening, and the plan was therefore to round the Mull of Kintyre and spend two days on Gigha before returning to Troon and then home.

The one thing I have learned about sailing over the years is never to rely on that weather forecast and that everything is always at least twice as cold, wet and windy as we expect. Hence I can only blame our lapses in preparation on the fact that it was our first outing this year. I should, of course, have gone with instinct and taken a hot water bottle in addition to my heavy duty sleeping bag, inner lining and blanket. Instead I had to rely on socks and multiple layers of clothing to stay warm in bed.

I also assumed that two towels would be sufficient when of course in the absence of perfect conditions, they never seem to dry again after use. As for the total absence of sun tan cream on board after a late autumn clear out, whatever were we thinking? Having learnt the hard way in the past, that was definitely something that we could not set off without and so I made a quick trip into town before setting sail in order to acquire some of that high protection white lotion.

It was cool and overcast when we set off shortly after 10am and although the sky brightened on our South Westerly course, a chilly wind dominated. 

As a result I remained well wrapped up and did not bother applying that sun tan lotion. An error that I regretted later that evening. Offshore, the sun strikes noses brutally!

By 3pm I had run out of fleeces to add to my various layers of clothing. Of course, those bronzed gods that appear on all the promotional literature for boats had abandoned our vessel long before we took delivery and although some warmth was generated by pulling ropes and winding winches, it really wasn't sufficient. At that point, approaching the Mull of Kintyre (made absurdly famous by Paul McCartney and a band of pipers but in reality notorious for its wind and tides), with 2 reefs in the mainsail, an increasing wind and only me for crew, Mister E made the decision to turn around and we headed into Campbeltown for the night.

Anchored in the lock we were well-sheltered from the wind and I spent the night being rocked gently in the bow of the boat. In fact the experience was not unfamiliar to one I once had in a flotation chamber at a day spa. There, artistic types apparently flock to float in salt water inside a darkened tank, and where the effect on the senses is purportedly to generate new and imaginative ideas. Of course, all I got in Campbeltown was a vivid dream but I'm sure it is something that, given time, we may be able to market!

The next morning we were greeted by much calmer conditions and on emerging from Campbeltown Loch pointed Northwards and sailed (assisted by the motor on occasions) up Kilbrannan Sound between Kintyre and Arran. The Argyll mainland is an absolute delight of hidden beaches and beautiful countryside, although you don't always get to see it in such lovely sunshine, which is why it probably remains so unspoiled.

Our destination was Lochranza on Arran, where we arrived mid-afternoon, mooring overnight to a visitor's buoy. It really was an idyllic setting both on the water and, when we went ashore, in the village itself.

We had a pleasant stroll on land, taking in and exploring the interiors of the ruined castle (there is always something slightly thrilling about climbing spiral staircases even when you know they are only going to lead to the open air) and the local bar, as well as around the village. Unfortunately my camera chose to run out of battery power shortly after our arrival and that lack of preparation I referred to at the beginning of this blog entry meant that I had not even brought the charging lead! I did have my phone, but that was, of course, flat too! Ah well, it saved dropping either or both of them overboard from the dinghy; you have to look on the bright side, after all.

Monday, 8 June 2015


Mister E and I made a trip to Durham last week. It is somewhere that I have visited frequently throughout my life, but this was the first occasion on which I have used the Park and Ride facility. As retirement is the time for new experiences, instead of heading into the City to trawl the multi storey car-parks for a space charged by the hour, we parked the car in a spacious outdoor facility adjacent to the motorway from where we were able to head into the centre by bus. Amazingly there was no charge for parking and whilst there is a fee for the bus ride, Mister E who holds a senior citizen's bus pass (I am still too young and as the age for eligibility keeps being postponed may never  qualify) was even exempt from this. 

All in all we found the process most convenient and will not hesitate to make use of it again. 

Although next time I shall make a much better effort at remembering where I have placed the return bus ticket and so spare myself the embarrassment of unpacking my handbag in public view.

Living in the countryside and driving a car, I rarely travel by bus and indeed associate such with hopper facilities at airports. As a result entering Durham on one almost conjured up the excitement of a holiday although fortunately I had left my luggage behind.

Tourists were certainly the dominant traffic along the narrow pedestrianised streets and, as the sun was shining, ice-creams and strappy tops were on display in both the Market Square and on Palace Green. 

Our purpose was to view the Magna Carta on display in a special exhibition timed to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the original by the King and Barons at Runnymede in 1215.

The copy held by Durham Cathedral is actually of the later 1216 version of the Charter which was signed on behalf of King John's successor, his son Henry III, the original having been declared null and void by the Pope shortly after its completion. It may be a year younger but its condition was amazing; it was almost impossible to believe the age of either the vellum or ink. More surprising was its size which was nowhere near as large as I had imagined, although the 1216 version did omit a number of clauses that were in the original. Of course, I could not read any of it, in light of the stylised script and the Latin shorthand used.

The Exhibition itself which runs until the end of August is entitled "Magna Carta and the Changing Face of Revolt." It tells the history of the right of the individual to speak out and act against authority and raises the question whether the common good can justify rebellion. Leaving the exhibition all visitors are asked to post a plastic token to indicate what they might consider protesting about; restrictions on privacy and free speech seemed to be winning the day, although four content or alternatively cowardly souls had placed their voting tokens in the receptacle marked: "I would never protest."

Life has certainly come a long way since those Barons sought to extract for themselves and other free men what we might consider as very basic human rights. However, they started a process which has endured throughout the centuries of a balance between rebellion and political engagement. I am certainly grateful to  be able to have attained and enjoy a retirement in which I can exploit the many freedoms that those who came before me agitated, protested, and made sacrifices to achieve.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

It's All Greek to Me

When I first travelled to Greece in 1979, English was not so widely spoken and all signs were, understandably, in Greek. Now it is rare to see even a road sign that is not translated into the Latin alphabet, as used in English and most other European languages. To make my life easier for travelling around Greece, I dutifully learnt the country's alphabet with its false friends like B which is actually a V, or P which is in fact an R. It was invaluable, especially when it came to deciphering the destinations of the buses that we caught repeatedly. 

Apart from a few basic words, however, I have never mastered the language. Somehow when you travel somewhere and everyone appears to speak such impeccable English you are very discouraged and end up telling yourself that it is hardly worth the effort. 

It has, however, always been my intention in retirement to learn more foreign languages and in light of the fact that it is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, Spanish is top of the list. With an ambition to travel widely, I believe that it would certainly be wise to expand the limited vocabulary that I currently possess in circumstances where hand signals only go so far. That said the thought of evening classes has no lure; it's that commitment thing again and if there is one thing that I don't want to be doing at this stage of my retirement it is over-committing.

Learning from a text book is, of course, not only old hat but also very difficult although useful if you have a desire to decline verbs as was the old fashioned way at school: Amo, Amas, Amat etc.. The eldest has, however, introduced me to Duolingo a brilliant little app which I have downloaded onto the iPad and which constantly introduces you to new words and sentence structures, and tests you regularly even sending daily alerts reminding of the need to practice. However, progress is still slow and I am beginning to wonder about going native and immersing myself in language classes in say Madrid for Spanish, Lisbon for Portugese and so on. Come to think of it, I could even try Athens for Greek.

In the meantime, Future Learn has come to the rescue in sustaining my interest with a course in Dutch. Did I say it was all Greek to me? I of course meant Double Dutch!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Never Ending Paint Job

I have been busy painting recently. Unfortunately you will recall from a previous blog post that decorating was  one of those chores that was left for retirement. Although I do actually enjoy painting there was just never the time to do it and the thought of being disrupted by "getting a decorator in" never appealed. Now there are walls aplenty to paint and theoretically heaps of time, except that there are still other activities competing for attention.

Speaking to the youngest on the telephone tonight she told me that she had been staying with a friend whose home was nicely decorated, the implication being that it was not like ours. 

Hmm, maybe it was a little over ambitious or even plain silly to leave such a momentous task for so long, in the naive hope that, once we had a little time, we would quickly sort it. In fact I have an overwhelming feeling that our home could become like the Forth Bridge and when we get to the end, it will be time to start again in the hallway.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Miss February

I went to a Ladies' Charity Lunch today; the first time since ceasing work. What a relaxed and lovely occasion it was. It took place at Rockliffe Hall where a glass of Prosecco, friendly company, a delicious meal and a moving speaker all combined into a memorable event. Best of all I did not dash there from an office and I did not have to return there either, nor undergo the macabre punishment rendered these days for "taking a lunch break" (even when a working lunch) of making up the time by working late.

The event was in aid of Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research and Angela Baker, otherwise known as Miss February and played by Julie Walters in the film, recounted the story of the Calendar Girls' phenomenon. She had us in laughter and tears, often at the same time.

It is astounding to think that the idea for a calendar could ultimately lead to raising over £4 million to date for research and which in turn has helped, we were told, increase survival rates by 80%.

So why the picture of the sunflower on this blog entry? Those lovely ladies from the WI behind the Calendar Girls adopted it as their emblem because "You can't help but smile when you see one," explained Angela,  and she's right isn't she?