INTRODUCTION


There seems to be a scarcity of UK retirement blogs out there (other than those proffering financial advice) and in the absence of my being able to read about other people's experiences, I instead offer you my own "Great Big Retirement Adventure."

My husband (Mister E) and I have moved from the initial concept through the planning stages to implementation and this site is intended to record the whole process. What I am seeking from retirement is now very different to what I thought I was planning and has gradually developed into a quest for fitness and a desire for simplification, with a transition away from both a highly organised lifestyle and the personality traits reflecting a pedantic professional career. Indeed I recently described myself as "a goofy idiot" who enjoys smiling at sunflowers; a far cry from the pre-retirement professional and an indication of just how far I have travelled.

Please visit from time to time and do add your comments. The blog is in reverse chronological order but popular posts and those highlighting our journey are specifically pinpointed below on the right hand side together with a list of topics covered. Alternatively you may prefer to look at the summary or wisdom we have acquired or even our have done list with its retirement atlas and dip in and out of the blog using the links given.




Monday, 26 December 2016

Relax, It's Christmas




I have been very concerned by the number of stressed out people I spoke to in the days immediately leading up to Christmas. The desire for the perfect menu, properly wrapped gifts, and clean home after what sounded like weeks of shopping and writing cards, was reducing normally sane people to a frazzle.

In my last blog entry on the issue I had concluded that 8 days is long enough to prepare when you are no longer working. In fact after I posted that, Mister E and I disappeared off for another bout of DIY activity in Nottingham, staying four nights and returning only on the evening of  Tuesday 20th December. That, of course, left only 4 days or half the time I had planned on.

Maybe it's a change of attitude in retirement; the lack of awareness of work colleagues getting ready or a Yoga and Pilates induced plane of freedom from anxiety. Alternatively and perhaps after all the years of pre-Christmas stress, finally the realisation has dawned that it is after all just one day.

Whatever, Caree has come a long way since 2013 when she was still only contemplating retirement and succumbing to the pressures of Yuletide planning whilst juggling her professional commitments. Then you will recall that she had the rather romantic notion that it  might be nice to "do Christmas properly" for once; log fires, tinsel, entertaining and home baking with perhaps a Christmas carol or two playing in the background.

The following year and the first Christmas in retirement, preparation was much more relaxed but still following a familiar pattern, save that there actually was more time for planning and execution. I suspect however that by 23rd December I may have been having second thoughts as a flick back through this blog shows that I was extolling the virtues of Cuban life and, somewhat subtly I admit, raving against the pitfalls of the consumerist society with its luxury goods, overpriced necessities and brazen marketing.

2015, I recall, was a little more chilled until reality caught up after an incapacitating virus struck and upon recovery there was that inevitable last minute panic. 

Manipulated by merchandisers rather than Church to believe that "Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year," for so many it ends up being the most stressful. Certainly that was the dismal vibe I encountered last week from the conversations I referred to above.

So how did my 4 days of preparations this year go?

Well there was a wobbly start when I discovered that the youngest was actually coming home for the holiday period from Texas a day earlier than I had written in my diary but a tranquilising Yoga session on Wednesday morning restored the Karma and that afternoon I cleaned her room  before decorating it with tinsel and snowmen. There was even plenty of time for a cup of tea with a neighbour and another with Mister E before we went to meet her at the station. Upon our return a dose of jetlag meant she soon crashed out, leaving me free to take advantage of a subscription to Amazon Prime with next day delivery; Christmas present shopping done!

Thursday morning saw me in the Kinesis room at the gym, priming those muscles ready for any weight Christmas might throw at me. I spent the afternoon taking the youngest to the dentist and to make her own  gift purchases. I succeeded in falling over ignominiously in the middle of the town centre when I tripped on the kerb but that's another story. Upon our return we indulged in a wrapping paper fest (my online order had arrived) and packed up the car with gifts that we then delivered to my mother's home.

On Friday I whizzed around our house with the vacuum cleaner. Mister E and the youngest went to do the major grocery shop and I wrapped more presents. Then at 3.30pm, I disappeared to meet like-minded friends in the spa attached to the gym where we work-out; a swim and laze in the jacuzzi preceded an early evening meal out together. 

By the time I returned home the eldest was there too and our family Christmas would have begun in earnest except that the following morning (Christmas Eve) I had promised to work a shift in the charity shop for Save the Children. It's not quite like manning a soup kitchen on Christmas Day, but it did give me the opportunity to buy those Christmas cards that I am yet to post; obviously I chose winter scenes with blank insides for my own message; there is after all no point wishing anyone a Merry Christmas several days after the event. At 1pm, voluntary work over, I braved the last minute shoppers thronging the High Street as I went on a quest for items overlooked from the shopping list the day before. Whoever could have imagined that there would be a run on Christmas crackers in North Yorkshire? Four shops later, however, I tracked down a supply and, inventory complete, returned home.

Late afternoon the youngest and I embarked on our annual tradition of  bedecking the Christmas tree at the eleventh hour. I tidied up our spare room ready for our Christmas Day overnight guest and the festive period began with a mince pie (bought not home baked) and a glass of wine.

I am proud to say that we enjoyed a fraught-free Christmas Day following  the most relaxing run up that I can remember.

If anyone is thinking of following suit then my top tips would be:
  1. Cut back on the gift list (or try Secret Santa instead) and stick to consumables rather than trying to find the perfect present
  2. Only do essential cleaning; nobody is going to measure the dust in your house and subdued lighting will hide it
  3. Don't send cards if you don't have time; consider telephoning friends instead
  4. Restrict your decorations to a tree and one or two special pieces (vases of flowers or seasonal pot-pourri)
  5. Factor in plenty of time for yourself in the run up to your celebrations
  6. If you really have reached the nirvana of being totally chilled out about the whole thing, take yourself away for a long weekend just before
  7. Whilst Christmas may have appropriated the date of a pagan festival, it was never intended to be a mass consumer orgy and never forget, to quote from Robert Browning, "Less is more"
  8. Remember too that Christmas is a time for celebrating the birth of a child, yet the world is full of children suffering because they are in the wrong place, disabled, a refugee, from a minority group or even because they are a girl. Reach out to help every last child.



Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Blind Making the Blind




I shall begin with the proviso that I am unsure whether or not the statistics I am about to quote are correct, but I do know that Pareto would at least approve.

So: I am one of the 20% of women who own a sewing machine. Until  last week I was also one of the 80% of women who own a sewing machine and do not use it.

However, in a sudden burst of creative activity my reliable little dressmaking aide has been placed on the desk in the eldest's bedroom which, since he did kind of leave home seven years ago, I am slowly taking over as craft room.

The task which I set myself was to make a window blind for the small box room in the Nottingham property. The previous blind had given up the ghost but an inspection suggested to me that it would not be beyond the wit of man nor indeed Caree's limited ability to replicate the design.

I confess I have never made a blind in my life before. To be honest I would also struggle to recall anything I have ever made with the sewing machine except perhaps a cushion cover, generally having used it only for mundane tasks like hemming trousers. 

Nevertheless the result has given me great pleasure. I hung it over the weekend and was certainly relieved to dicover that it both fitted and worked. There's a lot to be said for creativity; success definitely endows a halo of self satisfaction.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Christmas is Coming



It is very easy  to lose track of time in retirement. Without young children in the home, colleagues at work or even an Advent Calendar to remind you of the number of days to go until December 25th, there is of course a risk that Christmas Day can creep up almost unawares.

Today however my Christmas run up officially began when our Pilates wind down took place to the accompaniment of Silent Night. This was followed by a gym workout the sole purpose of which was to burn as many calories as possible in order to join fellow gym bunnies for a festive meal. Unfortunately three courses, including turkey with all the trimmings, really meant that  I ought properly to have returned for an overnight stint if all damage was to be avoided. With cards still to buy and write, it was not too difficult to formulate a legitimate excuse.

Tomorrow is Christmas Jumper Day and then there are 8 days to get those cards posted, presents bought and wrapped, food sourced, house cleaned, decorations put up and family welcomed. Goodness that's a whole week that I never got whilst working; plenty of time!


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

What Really is Great About America




This entry is written in response to a comment on my last blog entry by the writer of My Retiring Life. It seems that more than half of American voters are not surprisingly down in the dumps about their country after a campaign based on making America great again won, creating incredulity around the world as well as a plentiful supply of ready material for comedians and news reporters.

The USA is of course internationally accepted as the World's number one superpower, so why on Earth would anyone seek Presidential Office on the basis of making it great again? Isn't that creating an emormous wound through self deprecation, especially if one cares to analyse what promises were made to fulfil the slogan? 

However, I do not wish to get embroiled in politics here and certainly am not qualified to comment on US' social and economic issues. Instead I want to tell you about the top ten positives in addition to air quality, that make an Englishman sit up and notice in America:


1. The friendliness and willingness to  converse and, a little like the UK, the further you get away from the capital city, the friendlier people are. Except the distances are so enormous that when you compare the welcomes you receive in Texas, you have to think Tyneside and Scotland multiplied by thousand of miles. Yes Texas is certainly a country in itself (a little insular perhaps, as we found when asked if we get American films in England) but you can get off a bus feeling you have made a life-long friend with the driver and, although not recommended for all kinds of reasons, even want to take your waitress home with you.

2. It's casual.  I never once felt I was being judged on a lack of dress-sense or occasion. Common sense prevails and comfort is the number one priority.




3. It has white sand beaches in abundance, long enough to put Northumberland to shame, equally deserted and a whole lot warmer.


4. In tourist areas as wells as at transport hubs and gas stations there are toilet restroom facilities, impeccably clean and all without charge. No "out of order" or "closed due to council cuts" signs.


5. Okay I  may just be talking California here but it doesn't only have organic produce, it has organic supermarkets and I mean big ones with choice, ready meals and toiletries cosmetic and bathing products.


6. There are clean, convenient public transport systems in the cities and best of all they are  good value (only $3-$5 for a day pass), underused and uncrowded (I am not referring to rush hour in New York).

7. Linking to the metropolitan bus services we found easily accessible park and rides to leave your car for free in both San Diego and San Antonio and how clever is this, they occupy otherwise unused wasteland under flyovers and elveated sections of freeway. Indeed on-street car parking was readily available in the small towns that we visited and there was no lack of chargeable car parks in the bigger cities, although for convenience we preferred to use the bus routes.




8. History abounds. Never believe anyone who tells you America has no history. Yes the whiteman may not have got there until the 15th Century but there were native American tribes all over the place before then and I've never been anywhere that is so good at preserving its old wooden churches, houses and other buildings. They even have National Historical Parks: San Diego Old Town and the LB Johnson Ranch were two of our stops and of course the Freedom Trail in Boston.



9. It's an enormous country and the wilderness is fantastic. National and State Parks are plentiful and offer an opportunity to immerse yourself in the past in another way, getting back to real nature. In our case a long walk at Enchanted Rock in the soaring Texan heat and a visit to Hamilton Pool certainly brought us closer to understanding the hardship of frontier life. Otherwise a drive outside of urban areas will reveal roadkill of a somewhat unusal type for the closeted Brit: armadillo, racoon, snake, deer and possum.


10. Finally and despite its love for paper cups and plates, plastic cutlery, fries and burgers, there were fantastic eating places everywhere we went. In fact the only disappointment was ordering marrow in Austin when, expecting a dish of green vegetable, it was actually a meaty bone!




Post script. I am adding an Eleven: art. Art galleries, live music and sculpture abound. Annoyingly so when you are browsing a high street for a baker's or grocery store and all you can spot are coffee shops and galleries, but what a recognition of the part art and music play  in elevating human life.




Friday, 9 December 2016

The Long Commute




I have been doing a lot of commuting lately. Not that daily drudge but a weekly motorway trip to and from the Midlands as I immerse myself in DIY getting our rental property in Nottingham ready for re-letting. It's been an opportunity to call in on a friend en route, stay in one of our favourite hotels (offering cut price bargain rates in what was clearly a down season before the Christmas revels began in earnest) and brush up on my decorating skills. The intention to blog has always been there but, as on the month long trip to America that preceded this bout of industrial activity, there never seems to have been the time. Just like those old days of daily working and commuting perhaps.

Indeed sitting in the car one Tuesday evening as I sought to escape the city lights along with thousands of other road users, I was captivated by how many people repeat that inescapable journey not once a day but twice. Streams of cars held up by traffic light after traffic light and all jostling for position as two lanes meged into one and then back again. A toxic mix of brake lights and diesel fumes. I lie not, it took 54 minutes to travel 6 miles out of Nottingham and to the motorway!

Was I enraged? Far from it. In fact I convinced myself that in retirement we should all try an awful commute now and again, not to prove that we can still do it but rather to remind ourselves of one of the many joys of retirement: namely the ability to time our journeys to avoid queues.

Needless to say when we stayed there this week we deliberately left much later in the evening and had a quicker if less reflective journey. 

One of my pet hates at the moment though is air pollution. I had not expected to notice such a difference in air quality in the large cities of the USA but walking through Boston, Austin, San Diego and San Antonio those nasty vehicle emissions were hardly noticeable. There was a time when here in the UK people would laugh at a neighbour who chugged out in what was considered a cheap French import,  puffing clouds of exhaust fumes behind them. Then somebody must mistakenly have persuaded the Government that diesel was less harmful to the planet enabling it to be sold as cheap as, if not more cheaply than, petrol. Now almost everyone seems to drive an engine  powered by it, oblivious to the toxic health bomb they are helping to create.

Consider the description of diesel exhaust as taken here from Wikipedia: "Emissions from diesel vehicles have been reported to be significantly more harmful than those from petrol vehicles. Diesel combustion exhaust is a source of atmospheric soot and fine particles, which is a component of the air pollution implicated in human cancer, heart and lung damage, and mental functioning."

I know that in retirement many look to conserve their pounds, drive a smaller car and for less miles. So let's sit down and do the arithmetic. Work out what the premium for the diesel engine over the petrol one is; how many miles we are likely to drive; then the total cost compared to a petrol engine. Next when we know the saving (assuming there is one) add in the risk to our own health and that of everyone else breathing in the nitrogen oxides including the animals that we eat; the cost to and burden on the NHS (just when we approach a time in our lives when we may want to depend on it more often). It is estimated that in London 10,000 deaths a year (23,500 across the UK as a whole) are attributable to air pollution resulting in the Mayor only this week announcing a doubling of funding to try to tackle the crisis.  His announcement followed a report a week ago that Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City plan to ban diesel vehicles by 2025. The world is waking up to the problem, and retirees must too.

If you are still not convinced, take a trip to the USA (paying to offset your carbon footprint of course) and note the difference as you travel its sidewalks. 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

A Letter to America




Dear America,

I have just returned from a 4 week stay in the USA in which Mister E and I have travelled from Boston to San Diego spending time in Massachusetts, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas and California. I can't claim to know you but we had a fantastic trip meeting many friendly people all in the grip of election fever. Fortunately we had the foresight to be flying home on election night at the same time as West Coast polling stations were thinking of closing.

We learnt the result at approximately 3am Pacific Coast time, speeding 34000 feet above the Atlantic with the assistance of a 120 mph tail wind. The British Airways Captain was ultra professional in the way he announced it: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I have received the result of the Presidential Election from Canadian Air Traffic Control. For those of you who wish to know it, I propose to give you it without comment: Trump 289 seats..."

I'm not sure that I even heard or took in Clinton's tally (at the time I think it was 218) but I had absorbed enough during my stay to know that 280 seats would clinch it. I looked across the aisle at the woman in the reclining seat opposite Mister E; she was stunned. The man at the other side of the screen to me appeared similarly dumbfounded. There was a collective silence; a mutedness that continued for the remainder of the journey.

Neither the result nor reaction was a surprise. Throughout our stay we have conversed with what the Press is now describing as suppporters of a liberal elite (I think they mean free thinkers); they were all united in their intense dislike of the racism, homophobia, hatred, misogyny, policies, political inexperience and lack of statesmanlike dignity of Trump. They were also all of the view that Clinton was not the best candidate the Democratic party could have fielded and that as a result Trump might just do it and he did.

Back in the UK political commentators have been falling over themselves to describe it as a bigger calamity than the Brexit Referendum result and indicative of far right nationalist forces at work across the globe feeding off the misery of the poor and those estranged from the  political classes. Our left wing politicians have been quick to condemn the approach outlined by Trump during his campaign trail; the right wing as espoused by the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and (good God no) UKIP big mouth, Farage, to express their willingness to work with the President-elect. Sycophancy at its worst.

The left of course sees it as further evidence of its interpretation of Brexit: a cry by the unemployed and working classes against privilege and political elitism. How else can those MPs now justify support for the triggering of Article 50 and our exit from the EU as well, conveniently, of retaining (they hope) the support of a small majority in their constituencies? Not surprisingly it might also help their re-election. 

The right see it as further legitimisation of the outcome of the referendum when 51.9% of the popular vote decided that despite 40 years' membership of a Union that has brought so many benefits to the UK, it should now turn its back on the source that has proven itself  able to deliver on human and workers' rights, clean air and water, food quality (the list goes on) but also and, just for the capitalists reading this, economic prosperity as a nation. The right too are banking on that 51.9% for re-election but won't yet call a General Election to actually test the water.

I remain to be convinced that the outcome of the UK's referendum and the Presidential Election is attributable to a surge in right wing nationalism arising from poverty and estrangement. Such similarities as there are lie more in the tactics deployed to manipulate a popular vote than the outcome. Politicians have long known that the easiest way in the world to grab votes is to peddle their policies for the masses, offering different sectors of the population what it thinks they want without coming clean on the effect on others or society as a whole; how easy to blame failing social and economic policies on foreign migrants; to whip up unity based on hatred and to tell lies. We all know politicians lie (isn't that why we are supposed to dislike them so much) but, when the media repeats those lies day in, day out, some of it sticks.

In the UK we were subjected to an appalling referendum campaign but in the area where the politicans ran a positive campaign, Scotland voted to remain. That's right: Scotland; a country which flies its own flag and is inhabited by raving nationalists and high unemployment, showed the people of the world that not all of the UK lives in fear of Eastern Europeans taking their jobs, Angela Merkel telling us that our supermarkets can only sell straight bananas or Jean Claude Junker taking NHS money to spend on undemocratic Parliaments in Brussels.

America, it was the same for you. Although only half of you bothered to turn out to vote the majority of those who did cast their vote for Clinton. Like the Brexiteers not everyone who voted for Trump is really racist; I'm pretty sure that they don't all support the views he expressed on abortion or gay people either and I'm fairly certain that you are not about to undergo a resurgence of nationalistic populism of the type expressed in the 1930's.

Ultimately and like the UK, you have a free press, the rule of law and the ballot box. What perhaps we both need, going forward, is a review of our election processes making them fit for the 21st century digital age and influence. Fortunately for you, there are already strong voices indicating that their opposition in Congress will be loud and effective and you get to go to the ballot box again in two years for those House of Representative seats that weren't up for grabs this time around. As here there will be instances of deplorables, as Clinton undiplomatically named them, thinking that the outcome has legitimised terror on those whom Trump has castigated in his rallying calls. As here, the rest of you (no matter for whom you voted) will refuse to condone such behaviour and will stand up against illiberal and unfair practice. Moreover you will do it in an upright and honest way with good faith and understanding and, unlike the voices in the wilderness currently agitating against a "hard" Brexit, you will know you are in a majority.

Yours sincerely,
Caree


Tuesday, 4 October 2016

A Bad Hair Day



Oh dear I have just had one of those awful 24 hour periods, an interruption to the otherwise halcyon days of retirement. 

It started yesterday when I climbed the step ladder intending to start painting the kitchen ceiling in the house that we let out. I noticed a slight bulge in the wallpaper on the adjoining wall, decided to investigate and next moment became involved in what felt like a serious demolition process as I stripped the wall back to the brickwork. I just hope the kitchen fitter who starts work next week is a competent plasterer too.

Returning home, however, my series of mishaps continued when I discovered a nail in the tyre of my car. Fortunately it is not yet deflating so I took it to the local tyre fitter who agreed he could repair rather than replace it. He went to retrieve the locking wheel nut remover from the spare wheel toolkit in the boot. Horror of horrors, it was missing. A thorough search of the car failed to locate it and slowly the truth dawned, I have never had cause to use it since buying the vehicle last March and in the early honeymoon days of bonding with the car never even thought about checking its presence. How does one argue the case with the garage that supplied the car?

Well I started by ringing; several times; nobody ever returned my call despite endless promises that they would do so. Tomorrow (assuming the tyre is not flat and the car driveable) I shall park myself on the forecourt in protest and have rung the gym to cancel my fitness classes in readiness. After all if good fortune decides to do the dirty on me, I am not giving up without a fight.

My next run in with Lady Luck followed fairly quickly when I went to the hairdressers for a cut and colour. I agreed to try something different so long as it wasn't purple. When, after two hours, I emerged from under the towel looking a little like Cruella de Vil, even the stylist's face fell. It took another two hours to remedy the situation even if I am now sporting a sophisticated ash blonde look when I all I had been expecting were fair highlights.

Then when you think nothing else can go wrong, my computer very clearly said "no." Switching it on a message appeared suggesting that crucial hard or software (it knew not which) was missing and I needed to reload the original installation programmes. Fortunately I had made an installation back up as well as storing copies of all my documents and media in "the Cloud", but it still took hours to retrieve everything.

At the end of the evening I sit here slightly reeling. I've never experienced a day like it! Still it just goes to show, retirement isn't always plain sailing or uninterrupted joy.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Letting Go and Making a Difference




Three months into my third year of retirement and it is good to realise just how far I have come. Reflecting on the period of time that has passed, I can now look  back and recognise three different phases. They are not separate or distinct; the boundary between them ebbs and flows but there is nevertheless an obvious progression.

The early days, weeks and months were a time for healing and recovery. An opportunity to relax and to take the first steps towards a new healthier, fitter self. There may still be some way to go but the pattern has been set.

Gradually and alongside those baby steps from enervation to vigour grew a sense of letting go. Like healing and recovery, it manifests itself on two levels: the physical and the mental. The clutter from both house and mind is being dissipated. Life is simpler; the habits of a working existence have been dropped. Activities and commitments have altered. Although there remains much to clear out especially of a physical kind ( household stuff and clothes with no longer any clear purpose in retirement),  there is now obvious and steady progress. 

A milestone was reached this week when I even made the decision to change the name on my driving licence from the birth name that I used professionally throughout my career to the married name I have always used at home. There are other changes that I know I shall be making in measured and deliberate fashion over the coming months. To let go in the early days felt brave, in Year 3 it is empowering.

Now too I have begun to recognise the dawning of a third phase; the period where I make a difference and which gives the motivation for getting out of bed every day. Whether I am decorating at home or in our rental property; clearing the garden; helping out in the Save the Children shop or campaigning on its behalf; acting as Parish Clerk or as an almshouse trustee; even just cleaning the windows: I am making a difference. To know that I am achieving, that my pursuits are worthwhile and that I can perceive the change as a result, is exciting and a spur for further self-enterprise. 

Life is invigorating and stimulating despite not knowing what the ultimate outcome or next phase will be. After 27 months, retirement is still novel enough that it remains an adventure into the unknown.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Smiling at Sunflowers, Again



There's something about sunflowers and I have of course blogged about them before, here and here. Maybe it's the challenge of growing them or just the huge flower heads that appeal. Either way I am turning into a goofy idiot who enjoys staring and giggling at them.

This year I have grown giant beasts and although they have been late to flower I can now report that they are finally in bloom atop what resemble mighty bean stalks almost twice my height. Little wonder I am transfixed and smiling. In the hope that you might participate in the enjoyment, I thought the one pictured was worth sharing.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Harvest Effect




The view around us at the moment is illustrative of the season; late summer mellowing into autumn and all around us the harvest coming home. Indeed in the last week I have dug up and stored  the remainder of the potato crop whilst continuing to pick beans, tomatoes, lettuce and spring onions not to mention copious buckets of apples.

We've also been enjoying some glorious weather although perhaps it was a little premature to hear it being described as an Indian summer. Certainly the local farmers don't have any faith in such a prediction  because they were working through the night to get their cereal crops in. Indeed when we awoke and drew back the curtains this morning there was a haze that seemed to stretch for miles; a rural smog of harvest dust.

Unfortunately it had also entered through the open bedroom windows to irritate eyes and nostrils. Peeping in the mirror after a sneezing fit, one eye was bloodshot and remains so. Whilst therefore I might have sought to prolong the good weather a little longer (after all we did wait rather a long time for summer to start this year), I couldn't help but cheer when it began to rain mid-morning. However it's now been replaced by a stiff breeze that's moved the dust on but also created a deluge of windfall apples that now need processing into pies, jam or the freezer.

Is this what retirement is? Farming by another name?


Friday, 2 September 2016

Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne


The natural world was thrown aside in favour of car chases and violence this week when we went to see "Jason Bourne," the newly released sequel to the four previous films based on Robert Ludlum's books. Matt Damon gave his all again returning to a role that this time smacked of Bond without the dress suits and one liners but which easily matched Shwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian for testosterone and bare chests. I checked my watch only twice during the showing; a reputable indicator of either the film's entertainment value or Damon's pectoral muscles.

When I returned home I switched on my PC to be greeted by the usual swathe of newsfeed advertising. One was a curious promotion that proclaimed: "Live longer by avoiding men." 

I do fear this so-called intelligent advertising. Usually it is so stupid that it invariably pushes items that I have already ordered online. Sometimes however it seems to spookily read my thoughts or more likely a recent search term. On this occasion, surely it didn't link the purchase of the cinema tickets online with the dangers of watching male egos fight it out on the movie screen? Big Brother protects me from myself.

Alternatively, perhaps it has detected my postings to a retirement blog and in which case am I shortly to be inundated on posts about sheltered accommodation, zimmer frames and funeral plans? Darn.. I wish I hadn't typed those terms; I may be retired but I'm not yet ready for horlicks and early nights.


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Enjoying the Elements



We returned from another week in the Lake District on Saturday, staying, as we always do, in a lodge in the Great Langdale valley. It has the wonderful advantage of being able to park the car and then not use it again and instead walk everywhere. We also enjoy a superb view of the Langdale Beck and the visiting wildlife from our accommodation.


The problem with the Lake District National Park, however, is invariably the weather. All the wonderful scenery, the lakes and greenery, come, as one must expect, at the price of heavy rainfall. So, on this visit, torrential rain prior to and at the time of our arrival caused the River Brathay at the bottom of the valley to burst its banks and somewhat inconveniently run across the road. Following other vehicles like a sheep, I plunged into the moving torrent, made it to the other side but at the cost of what remain internally wet driving lights, although at least they are still working.


Walking for the next two days was interrupted by flood water and even games of Pooh sticks were off the agenda. However, we moved quickly from downpour to radiant sunshine and enjoyed at least two days of blue skies, sunshine and a heat that was not entirely supportive of tackling steep inclines (I panted a lot). 


Then we had the dank, miserable overcast day, fit only for enjoying a lakeside stroll but without the views, before the cloud lifted and we could return into the hills.


How does one define a trip of this kind in retirement? If we enjoy it so much, why don't we  adopt the lifestyle as a permanent one rather than seeing it as a break from normality? When working it could be defined as a well-earned holiday and much needed change; how does that sit with retirement which many would define as one long holiday? Do we need the banality and farming landscape of home in our every day lives in order to appreciate the rugged beauty of the fells?


I don't  know the answers. As time goes on, I think I am becoming more wrapped up in enjoying the freedom of retirement than in understanding a logical narrative that explains where one goes next. Unlike the world of work, retirement is a spiritual and emotional experience that extends beyond the confines of diligence and grafting. It is being played out on a higher level than the chronological record of the working years and in so doing invariably defies a target-led, rational progression. In the early years at least it remains a time for exploration and exploitation of the senses and, when you make it to the top of some of those Lakeland fells, you are literally spinning,  unless that's just the altitude effect.


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

American Relations



So just as the youngest left England for Texas, one of our US cousins and his family flew in from Wisconsin. We played host for two nights of their trip and it was an absolute delight to meet the children who I'm sure thought we were another pair of boring old relations living in a strange country that can't spell simple words like flavour, puts dessert spoons above the table mat rather than to its side, drives on the wrong side of the road and calls jelly "jam".

However, having as yet failed to complete the decluttering of our home (a job that remains on the retirement to do list) we were able to win them over by sorting out the youngest's old dolls' house, rekindling my own plans to renovate it and proving once again that parting with possessions is never easy.

Still visitors staying over has proved a useful spur in finishing the makeover of the bathroom and cleaning corners of the house that probably haven't seen a duster for longer than I would care to confess. We got rid of  a broken ornament or two and had a general tidy up. Now to keep it that way, make haste with the redecorating and maybe throw away a few more items, we just need to invite the whole of the American continent to join us. 



Friday, 12 August 2016

Flying to America




No I have not flown to the USA today but I may well have done. It is the youngest who has gone but I am fast discovering in retirement that I seem to do far more than ever for my children despite the fact that they are technically both now adults. No doubt if therefore they had asked me to wing my way across the Atlantic, I would have had a go. The youngest, however, is spending a year studying at the University of Texas in Austin and there have been some frantic preparations going on of late, aggravated by culturally-different (better described as indifferent) bureaucracy. 

For instance amongst the list of "must-haves" was a certificate to evidence that either you have been innoculated against or are not carrying tuberculosis. Has anyone ever tried to acquire such a certificate in the UK where the disease has been eradicated to the point where the dreaded BCG vaccination was abandoned several years ago on the basis that it was unnnecessary? Certainly the doctor's surgery could neither issue such a certificate nor recommend a body that could and when an online search produced reference only to one specialist unit in London that treats people suffering from the disease (usually in foreign visitors or immigrants apparently) but does not issue certificates, she had to give up the quest.

Interestingly we have received an e-mail reassuring students and their parents about the introduction of the Carry On Campus law. It's not another in the series of English Carry On comedy films but rather legislation upholding the right to bear arms within the university perimeters subject to certain restrictions. Talk about reassurance. I've almost gone mental at the thought.

Then there appears to have been an aversion from the private hall of residence she is to live in to communicate by  e-mail as instead it prefers the medium of letter and text message (but only to those with a zip code and US mobile, sorry cell-phone). When it has remembered, an occasional Facebook message has been sent instead. Consequently the youngest was not informed that invoices are obtained by logging into an account for which she was never sent a PIN and please don't get me started on paying that bill.

Oh okay, I'm going to rant anyway. Strangely, and perhaps it's a privacy or money laundering issue, but you are not permitted to know the details of the destination bank account. As a result the ability to make an international transfer is denied. Instead we were invited to send an "e-check." Try asking an English bank to do one of those: "We can make an international payment," is the not unsurprising stock response.

Then there was the option of using something called "Discover" but we never did discover what that is.

Of course there was the ubiquitous facility for payment by debit or credit card which we had hoped to avoid because of the ridiculous transaction fees that our banks can charge when sterling is changed. 

"Are there any other means of payment?" she enquired. 

"No, but you can give us a money order on arrival," we were informed. A what? Obviously another banking term unknown to our Anglo Saxon systems but which would appear to resemble a humble postal order. "You might be able to use your currency card to pay for that or else withdraw cash at an ATM and buy it in the premises across the road."

Well we could hardly risk that, especially as there is of course a daily limit on the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from an ATM. So rejecting the potential for the youngest carrying a wadge of cash  it had finally reached the point of  reaching for the good old reliable visa card. Except that without a USA zip code the site really did not want to accept my payment. 

Several attempts later and after liaising with my bank and the recipient, payment was made but only after I had to tick a box consenting to a twenty six dollar "convenience fee." Twenty six dollars to use a credit card and the insult of calling it a convenience fee after the hassle we had gone through; I cannot forgive.

Mind it is not just the USA that looks to charge for fresh air. Manchester airport is onto a clever little earner with car parking fees; £45-99 for an overnight stay at the onsite multi-storey. I'm sure I could get bed and breakfast cheaper for myself than that rate. Instead we arranged to pay less than a third of that for hotel parking last night and then, just as my faith in faceless capitalist profiteering had hit rock bottom, the gentleman at reception waived the charge.

When we visited Cuba, I recall our guide impressing on us that prices there are set according to need, so that essential items are priced lower than non-essentials; white rum for instance is treated as an essential and virtually given away. What a brilliant system. Forget open market economics and pass me the bottle. After all the hassle of getting the youngest airborne, I could do with a drink!




Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Worrying is Over for the Moment




It seems that as we age, we are more likely to suffer from anxiety (a generalised anxiety disorder being the most common diagnosis) than dementia. Cynics amongst us might say that is because we all start to worry about suffering from dementia. I'm not convinced, at least not when I wake in the middle of the night and wonder if the tomatoes are ripening. That  said if moonshine doesn't really mature tomatoes and turn their skins red, it could be dementia itself (rather than a heightened level of concern) that causes ludicrous thoughts at unearthly hours.

Anyway in search of calmness and tranquility away from all the worries that go with raising fruit and vegetables, the youngest and I took ourselves off for an extended day at the gym. A workout and then yoga were followed by an afternoon in the spa. Sauna, hot-tub, steam room, tepidarium, tropicarium, igloo and pool; we emerged relaxed, albeit a littled wrinkled on the fingers from all the water.

Now if you don't believe in the reputed beneficial health effects of a spa, please don't mock because our day clearly produced good karma. Not only did we feel well but, on my foraging trip into the greenhouse this evening, guess what I finally picked to go with the lettuce and cucumber? Yes...ripe red cherry tomatoes!



Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Manual Labour




There is something intrinsically gratifying about toiling with your hands. I find the application of emulsion paint to walls (of which there has been much lately) almost therapeutic, whilst the delight of the outcome remains a source of pleasure for many weeks. It is probably just as well as the last fortnight has seen us remodel the bathroom, continue with the painting of the hall and begin work on external masonry at the eldest's home in Nottingham where I surprised myself by repointing an outside wall of the house ready for a coat of masonry paint on my next visit.

In the meantime and with temperatures that are now happily average for the time of year, the vegetable patch has continued to grow successfully and the sweetcorn I was fretting over has pollinated and sprouted horse-tails which is surely a good sign. My angst now is focused on the ripening of my tomato crop; the greenhouse has gone into overdrive in producing  the most delicious tasting cucumbers but the masses of cherry tomatoes remain steadfastly green.

Of course any spurts of growth amongst the vegetables is usually accompanied by an increase in weeds. Sadly that's where the manual toil offers less satisfaction. Pulling a hoe across hardened clay soil has never been my idea of fun. Enter, therefore, the youngest just back from volunteering on an organic farm in Sweden. She can now weed like a demon on a mission, leaving me to lean back in my garden chair and think about the next decorating project.


Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Perseverance Finally Rewards




One of the enjoyable parts of retirement is spending time in the garden, or perhaps to be more precise even weeding. Now I don't claim to have a garden that is completely free of intruders but I have to say it looks heaps better than three years ago. I mulched large areas in the spring which has helped to suppress the growth of unwanted interlopers and have also been fastidious in setting aside time each week for tending to the vegetable patch, hoeing  and pulling out weeds  by hand.


The weather has not been brilliant this summer by any means. Indeed and until two days ago it seemed that we were destined to suffer April temperatures and showers indefinitely. It has however had the advantage of forcing me to spend more time in the greenhouse, raising plants under glass to a greater level of maturity than I might normally have done before planting them out.


Inevitably there have been anxious moments not least as a result of the decision to try growing sweet corn. All the advice was that these days a crop can be successfully raised even in the Northern counties, if the weather is mild. I think I must have heard somewhere that we were destined to enjoy a warm summer this year and decided to give it a try in the sheltered walled area of the plot. Sadly last week a wander through the vegetable patch suggested that it may be stagnating as benign temperatures continued to prove themselves elusive.
 


Of course all that changed this week when the temperature rose gradually and to the extent that yesterday tarmac was softening on the road as the thermometer hit the dizzy height of 31 degrees celsius (88 degrees fahrenheit) in my garden, whereas seven days ago it could only muster 15 (59 fahrenheit).


I had completely forgotten what a hot, lazy day in the garden feels like; pottering with a watering can and trowel, before seeking respite in the shade listening to the birds and the hum of insects. Best of all there was finally an opportunity to enjoy and admire the result of all that hardwork and to breathe a sigh of relief when the sweet corn clearly appreciated the sunshine too.



Saturday, 16 July 2016

Northumberland


So this week we spent a couple of days in Northumberland revisiting old haunts from the decade when we kept a boat at Amble. 


It is strange how some places improve and others decline, leaving us a little disappointed by our hotel which is now part of a chain and whilst we had expected the man on the door in the frock coat and top hat would have retired had hoped, in vain, that if the chef had followed suit he would at least have been adequately replaced.




On the plus side Amble itself has really benefited from what is clearly an upmarket regeneration, designed presumably to replace the fishing industry with tourism.
 









Despite the stormy skies, Northumberland's beaches never fail to please. If only they had stupendous weather to match the miles of golden sand, but then they wouldn't be so brilliantly under populated.


We took in Northumberlandia opened only in 2012, the vast sleeping giant of a woman carved into the site of a deserted open cast coal site and approached from the car park through a delightful beech tree wood. Living as we do in North Yorkshire, beech trees are sparse but the memories of a childhood garden surrounded by them came flooding back when prompted by the olfactory organs.
 



 The Alnwick Garden is approximately fifteen years older but for some reason had escaped all our previous visits to the area. It was not as large as I had imagined but the main water feature is outstanding and the roses and delphiniums were in full bloom. 

 
 
 We particularly enjoyed a guided tour of the Poison Garden with the guide's explanation of the dangers lurking behind some of our most common plants including Giant Hogweed. 
 Mister E also clearly revelled in the rope bridges adjacent to the tree house as he bounced along ahead of me sending waves of nausea behind him and quite deliberately.
  I once heard tell that Northumberland has more castles per square mile than any other area of the British Isles, I'm not sure if it's a myth or fact but we certainly took in two of the finest of them with Dunstanburgh and Alnwick, as well as the fishing harbours of Seahouses (North Sunderland) and Craster famed of course for its kippers.



There are no motorways running through Northumberland. The landscape takes in views of the Cheviot Hills and boasts the northern-most National Park in England with its dark sky status. It has a stunning coast line and innumerable historic sites starting with Hadrian's Wall and Lindisfarne. Nevertheless it remains an overlooked county when it comes to tourism and that of course is part of its attraction.