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.

Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Festive Fever

Eventful or calm and peaceful, I never quite know how to describe that week beginning with Christmas and ending with New Year. Interspersed with periods of: family and togetherness, memories and resolutions, indulgence and even gluttony, activity and then indolence, nostalgia and reflection; it is definitely a unique time of the year.

For us this year was different in that for the first time in modern history the eldest was at the opposite side of the world and not therefore with us to enjoy what have become our own family traditions. Even the beloved Boxing Day Quiz had to be deferred when he failed to rustle up an internet connection on the national park trek that he was undertaking.

A quarter down, we still manoeuvred our way through the week, even managing an overnight trip to Hull before its reign as the UK City of Culture 2017 finished. Less than 80 miles away, it took an end of year cut off date to get us there. Who thought working to deadlines has no application to retirement?

Of course we ended up travelling on the snowiest day of the winter so far, but with the early evening darkness were able to appreciate not only the city's Christmas lights but also a series of robotic installations in the atmospheric old town area by Jason Bruges on the theme of "Where do we go from here?"

There is something almost sureal about standing on a cold December night watching a robot attempt to communicate with a statue of William Wilberforce, not to mention a circle of them working together to send a series of laser beams upwards or the more inquisitive set outside the Minster which seemed to deliberately inquire and to interrogate the visitor beneath.

I really appreciate how art speaks to the individual and we each take something complex to describe but personally moving or inspiring away from it 

We wandered from gallery to gallery.

Amongst them we took in the Turner prize short-list at the Ferens Art Gallery and after seeing the winning collection by Lubaina Himid, I am of course inspired with the idea of buying china plates from charity shops and adding my own artistic flair and cultural message (if only) to them.

An exhibition that stood out for all of us was a Portrait of a City especially the photographs by Martin Parr of food in Hull. It did little to convince us of haute cuisine on Humberside nor were we persuaded of the need to try a deep fried pattie but I was left with the memory of the vibrancy of  the culinary delights on offer and, albeit solely in the imagination, the smell of cooking. 

We also enjoyed the display entitled "Turner and the Whale." JMW Turner's paintings of whaling ships were showcased alongside pictures from the Hull school of art and artefacts from the historic whaling industry in the city. Forget painting china plates, I want to create a masterpiece in oils of sea, and light and waves.

A feverish boost of creativity lasting 24 hours had to be a sure fire way to return home uplifted, motivated and ready to make my resolutions for 2018. Except it wasn't... yes, I had festive fever alright but of the sneezing, high temperature, runny nosed variety. Confined to bed for two days, I missed the New Year's arrival and have been too weak and befuddled to consider my objectives for what is already the present year.

Thankfully the brain fog is now lifting but to make life easier for my somewhat delicate state (I exaggerate), I simply avow to continue with those resolutions from last year which somehow seem even more appropriate with increasing global turmoil. So once again in 2018 and without comment on how I fared last year, I resolve to follow what I seek to be the pattern of my retirement and:

1. Be happy and enjoy the fun in everything
2. Stand up for what I believe in and endeavour to engage others to fight the cause
3. Use less (avoiding single use plastic in particular), live simply and shop locally wherever possible
4. Think globally and be aware of the impact of my footprints on the planet and the suffering of all those in war zones or denied the liberties that I enjoy, doing what I can to raise awareness and improve outcomes
5. In an annual tradition, or perhaps because I'm still suffering from a virus induced delirium, lose weight and get fit.

Finally, albeit a little delayed: best wishes for 2018, everyone.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

You Just Can't Avoid It

There's no getting away from the fact that Christmas is coming. In the last two weeks I've had a Christmas dinner, decorated two Christmas trees, listened to a multitude of Christmas playlists, bought Christmas presents, been to a Christmas carol service and last night even did Christmas zumba with a set of reindeer antlers on my head. Our local town is decked out in Christmas lights and the first question everyone asks is, "Are you ready for Christmas?"

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not necessarily a "bah humbug" person (how can I be with those reindeer antlers) but I have found myself contemplating on how easy it is to get sucked into the whole commercialisation of what is meant to be a Christian celebration. Of course there's nothing wrong with a good party and, after all, the Christians did rather hijack the Roman festival of Saturnalia. However with the word "Christmas" appearing in front of every activity and product, I'm afraid it's begun to get somewhat tedious. 

Yesterday I made my annual Christmas visits to some of the elderly residents of the local almshouse at which I am a trustee. Many were reminisicing about Christmases past and the small stocking (not a specially embroidered Christmas sock) that Santa Claus would fill when they were children with an orange, some small change and nuts; there were no expensive gifts but they were nonetheless appreciative of what they received. 

When we were working, the pressures of preparing for a family Christmas sometimes seemed so great that we regularly escaped by disappearing abroad, preferably to a ski resort where infinite snow and  exercise distracted the mind from the occasion or better still India and Malayasia where life went on as normal.

In retirement we feel better able to confront the exploitation that is now associated with Christmas although I confess that, in the interests of simplification, there are moments when the prospect of treating my nearest and dearest to old socks stuffed with tangerines and a few coppers has a certain appeal. 

All of that said and in time honoured tradition, I'm off tomorrow to buy Christmas stamps for Christmas cards whilst wearing a Christmas jumper for Save the Children's Christmas Jumper Day. "Making the world better with a sweater," and at least the first part of that slogan encapsulates the spirit of Christmas.


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.

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!

Monday, 11 January 2016

A Return to Normality

The last of our Christmas Holiday invaders, in the form of the youngest, left us to return to university yesterday. Normality now reigns supreme after what has seemed like a hectic festive period.

As previously recorded it started with erecting the Christmas tree at the last minute and playing host to a Yorkshire Terrier, small in stature but big on making her presence known. In various stages we were then joined by the youngest, the eldest, the eldest's girlfriend, family on Mister E's side, family on my side. We have only 10 dining chairs which is meant to limit the number we can cater for at any one time; this year the limit was exceeded at 11 when one guest went chairless, but hey he did get fed!

So during our 12 mad days of Christmas we were visited by two eccentrics dressed as elves and a glove puppet. Our youngest suffered from an infection which led to a fever which in turn led to vomiting. I had to take her to the doctor on three separate occasions including Christmas Eve and Boxing Day and during which period we were constantly accompanied by a bright orange bucket. I also worked out that the out of hours GP telephone number is 111 for a reason: if you dial it often enough you realise it actually spells ill!

Meanwhile, the dog seemed to think it was in charge of the cooking, refusing to leave the kitchen during the long periods of food preparation. We solved a murder mystery when our guests included Sigmund Fraud and Dame Barbara Carthorse. Several people ate too much chocolate and the bright orange bucket made another appearance. 

The dog seemed to think it was the only being that deserved to be eating Christmas dinner and when excluded barked constantly. As it did so, the ghost of Christmas present wandered through, gin bottle in hand and in search, presumably, of an orange bucket.

We had a mini disaster in the form of a fire when, instead of burning out, a candle tried to continue its life by eating its way through a table decoration, resulting in Mister E blistering himself by rising to the occasion and extinguishing it single-handedly and before the wet tea towel or orange bucket arrived.

The dog seemed to think it was the only guest at the party and objected to the pulling of Christmas crackers. The living room (still suffering in part from books and other items that properly belong in the study) started to resemble the council tip as gifts were unwrapped and it stayed that way for several days. 

Life was turned upside down, when for the first time in living history, Mister E and I lost the Boxing Day Family Challenge to the next generation and the ghost of Christmas present (or maybe it was one of those elves or a bright orange bucket) walked through again.

The dog seemed to think that our smallest nephew was hunt potential for the New Year's Day Meet and insisted on chasing him around our downstairs. With only three teeth left, however, it rather detracted from the sense of viciousness. At this point someone handed the gin bottle around again or maybe it was the orange bucket but nobody really cared, in fact there was even a suggestion that we had a lion in the house.

Lions, elves, orange buckets, and ghosts; at least we were able to track down the murderer. The newly furbished study was spared the grief of Professor Plum and the lead piping and instead the culprit on this occasion was one Mike Bison.

One mystery remained unsolved however, namely the disappearance of two forks but a search of the wheelie-bin has only revealed a pastry brush and spoon. I'm blaming the ghost rather than family or the dog.

Utterly exhausted, primarily from tidying up, waving goodbye and putting away that orange bucket, I am now about to start on the laundry. I have heard tell that it is a new tradition at Christmastime to bless the family home with a whole term's worth of washing; certainly it is a tradition that both the eldest and youngest seem to have embraced wholeheartedly.

Happy New Year everyone and let's have a peaceful and less frenetic 2016!

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.

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!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

New Year, New Reality

Had I still been working, January would have been one of my busiest months. A hard jolt of reality after the festive break.

I have been intrigued to discover that even in retirement there is a similar feeling. The Youngest and I took down our Christmas tree on Monday and in so doing normality was restored. The Eldest returned to his home in the Midlands and I returned to the gym.

Believe me, it hurt; it hurt so much. Of course, there were no excuses. Whilst I was sufficiently dedicated to have gone on both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, something went badly askew between December 26th and January 5th and I found myself readily adopting the role of a couch potato curled up with a couple of books, piles of mince pies and a drink or two.

Well I'm not complaining; retirement has certainly boosted the number of books I'm reading and last week I rediscovered Graham Greene as well as a superb novel about asylum seekers, "The Other Hand" by Chris Cleave.

I  have also now discovered how quickly my body can stiffen up without regular exercise and it was little wonder therefore that I was queuing at the door for yoga today. The wonder of stretching followed, of course, by 15 minutes relaxation and mindfulness. In future, I shall perhaps strive harder to limit those hours of relaxation so that they are commensurate with exercise that I have taken rather than being a 9 day luxurious and unearned indulgence. But they were good!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Christmas Holiday

Someone warned me that when I no longer worked, Christmas would no longer be a holiday. Well that may be true in one sense. In reality it has felt more like a holiday than ever with the foreboding shadow of the office no longer looming over me as the New Year passes and we head towards the first full working week of 2015.

I recall that when I took the whole of the period between Christmas and New Year away from work, I would inevitably return in January somewhat vacuous. I'm not sure, and it could be simply that I am now empty-headed all the time, but, as on returning from Cuba, it feels like I have had a complete interlude of relaxation that I shall wind down from gradually rather than have abruptly severed.

It has of course been a busy couple of weeks since I last made a blog entry and with the eldest and youngest back at home as well as all our visitors, the joys are multiplied along with the washing-up. Further, and although they are of course both now over the age of 18, they together with our guest provided the perfect excuse for a day out on Friday to blow away the last of the festive cobwebs. 

We headed for Durham City under a blue sky but a chilling wind and enjoyed not only a bracing stroll but also a visit to the cinema to see that  latest whole-family, feel-good film: Paddington. We all laughed out loud but best of all it was calypso music that dominated the sound track to the film. It was like being in Cuba all over again when we moved our hips and made salsa steps down the aisle to the exit door as the final credits rolled.

We took our guest to see the iconic views of the castle and cathedral from Framwellgate Bridge and then into the cathedral itself. Every time I visit, I am always amazed by its sheer size. Whilst the under-25's climbed the spiral steps to the top of the tower, I found myself taking a seat in a pew and enjoying a time of quiet contemplation.

My goodness good food and company, a Latin American band and time for thought; work or no work, it has definitely been a holiday.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Festivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Jet Lagged

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A White Christmas

The four of us went away for Christmas making an opportunity for some family bonding whilst avoiding the excesses of the Yuletide festivities at home. We escaped to the French Alps with its guarantee of snow at Christmas and skiing.

There was a time when Mister E and I used to dream about spending winters in retirement in a chalet in a mega ski resort. Trouble is they were fantasies of two much younger people. We had a superb trip but the reality is that we can’t ski like we used to; we now feel the pain despite covering less distance. We don’t sleep well at altitude and have developed an aversion to going out in bad weather. We now trail along behind our younger family members whereas once we led the pack or, when they were very young, even skied with them between our knees. Our muscles were stiff in the morning and I still can’t bend without aching.

Reality has crept in. Amongst the oldest people on the piste, skiing can no longer be the high priority for retirement that we once thought it would be. Smaller resorts, gentler slopes and a few hours on sunnier days will inevitably be more our scene in the future. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas Wind-Up

The week before Christmas is always stressful as we juggle lunch hours with Christmas shopping; queue in the Post Office to send cards and parcels; worry about the food shopping and preparations as well as a myriad of other tasks, all whilst going about our ordinary business. It is of course made worse by the demands of work with deadlines to meet and those demanding them being all the more unreasonable in the knowledge that the world of business and commerce will virtually close for almost two weeks.

 Mister E has not escaped this year's torture and as a result suggested that we might like to consider planning a luxurious getaway for Christmas next year, in order to celebrate our retirement.

Ever the pragmatist I pointed out first of all that it was probably the busiest time of the whole year to travel and that maybe somewhere out of season before or after may suit us better. Besides I added, I thought it might be rather good to do Christmas properly for the first time in our married lives; spend time getting all the preparations just right and entertaining friends and family with a bit of panache for once.

"This has to be a Christmas wind-up," he replied.