INTRODUCTION


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 Concerns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Concerns. Show all posts

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

A State of Drought


 

Unbelievable it may be but despite all the rain last summer, autumn, winter and early spring, my water butts are now dry. I have 5 large ones all fed from various parts of the roof and the last time this happened was 2006. I remember it well because I had to fill them by hose so that a good neighbour could water the garden whilst we were on holiday; then, contrary to all forecasts, two days after we left the heatwave ended and it poured down for the remaining period of our absence.

Of course, I am the villain of this latest situation having poured litres of water on the garden over the last few weeks in an effort to nurture new seedlings and plants as well as those in established pots and ever thirsty rhubarb.

Now I could go outside and do a rain dance; I could use diviners and try to find a new water source but what I'm doing instead is calling it an official drought and resigning myself to the situation. I seem to recall that whenever anyone in authority has proclaimed a drought in this country, the heavens have always responded by opening. Let's see if it happens this time when, as a registered proprietor of our little patch of earth, I declare a state of despair.

Mind gardens aren't supposed to be just hardwork. After all the effort Mister E and I have put in recently we definitely want some time when we can just sit outside and enjoy the results of our toil. So, having placed an order for rain (Zeus, lord of the sky and rain, are you listening?), can I just clarify that I only want enough to fill my butts and if it can be arranged to fall only at night even better.

Monday, 11 June 2018

A Trip Back in Time Along the High Street



Yesterday Mister E and I had a brief mosey along Northallerton High Street, closed to traffic as it celebrated the 1940's. With live music, albeit an empty dance floor on the pavement in front, bomb disposal experts, an array of vintage and classic vehicles in use in the 1940's, GI brides, nurses with babies in prams and shops with themed windows it was a unique transformation. Coupled with a blue sky, it certainly seemed to have brought the crowds out.

Too often and too close to home we hear about shops closing and the difficulties faced by retailers with competition from online sales, increased business rates and the limited spending power of consumers as their wages stagnate and austerity, coupled with the impending effect of Brexit, continues.

I'm sure demographics must be playing a part too, as more and more of us leave the workplace and move into retirement leaving impulse purchasing behind.


Setting aside the whole issue of fostering nostalgia for bygone years (especially those associated with a role in World War Two) it is good to know that the councils and others are working hard to keep the appeal of  our local town centre and by innovation seeking to prevent its decline. It is after all only two weeks since the same street was closed to host a 10k run, following its previous closure for the annual May Fair and the Tour de Yorkshire, only three weeks before that.

For many spending power in retirement may be less,  but let's please try to apply our expenditure in shopping locally when we can.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

A Garden Permaculture




Hey ho, we're off; a little late but the gardening season has finally commenced. This year I have started it whilst, at the same time, studying a Future Learn course entitled 'Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food' delivered by the University of Dundee in conjunction with the GROW Observatory which is a European wide project for growers and scientists passionate about the land.

It's all about regenerating rather than sustaining the food production ecosystem, recognising the need for permaculture i.e. living within nature's limits through earth care, people care and fair shares (the latter signifying that we should use only what we need and share the rest).

In the case of this project, the course is examining land based perma-design by combining experience, soil observation, water, climate, vegetation and animal life to identify strategies and resources to develop a site (in my case, my vegetable patch).


Currently food production methods are estimated to create 18-30% of all greenhouse gases and place increasing reliance on artificial fertilisers and pesticides as well as on antibiotics in the case of animal husbandry. Diversification is decreasing and I was startled to learn that by the end of the 20th Century the human race relied on only three crops (rice, wheat and corn) to provide 60% of its calories and 56% of its protein whilst just 15 mammal and bird species accounted for 90% of animal agriculture in circumstances where intensive livestock production is one of the biggest water polluters in the farming industry.  Just this week the EU has announced a ban on pesticides commonly used in agriculture that have been having a devastating effect on bees; love them or hate them, bees are the essential pollinators on which so many life cycles depend.

Diets have also altered, especially in the emerging economies of the world  to reflect those in developed countries and there has been a seismic increase in the intake of animal protein and sugar, rendering obesity and related health problems a global rather than a western issue.

Instead of setting land aside to allow nature to recover its mojo, scientists believe that, in light of an ever increasing global population, the answer instead lies in land sharing, applying production techniques that maintain biodiversity; think organic farming plus.

Make no mistake about it, Earth's natural resources are going to become more scarce. I'm not a vegetarian but this course points out that meat production is a killer in more ways than one when half of all cereals grown are fed to animals destined for the meal plate whilst those same animals consume enormous quantities of water. Did you know that it is estimated that 1800 litres of water is needed to produce a quarter pound beefburger?

Although food production has increased with farming intensity, waste has increased too. It is nothing short of appalling that across Europe it is reckoned that one third of the food produced is wasted. We may be growing more but it isn't getting to the mouths it needs to feed. 

It is anticipated that by 2050 the global population will have increased by 60% and to avoid starvation on a massive scale it is obvious that food production needs to change. Malnourishment is linked to poverty but already it is not confined to the developing world with its inadequate agricultural techniques; in the abundant west people go under nourished through bad but cheap food choices with diets high in fat, sugar and empty carbs.

So this year, in my garden and for the benefit of the GROW Observatory project, I am seeking to develop a new permaculture and hopefully save the planet. A few days ago The Guardian published an interview with Dr Mayer Hillman who claims that anthropogenic damage to the Earth is such that there is no hope and most life forms (including homo-sapiens) are destined for extinction, with civilisation ending in the current century. However, as the blogger on This Puzzling Planet points out, it's optimism not despair that  conjures up effective mitigation efforts. From my perspective, retirement is too good to deprive future generations so, whether through fear or hope, I am now going to be digging with the desire of availing them of its benefits. 


Friday, 20 April 2018

The Sounds of Spring



The temperature, which until this week seemed to have been in denial about the arrival of Spring, may have delayed my early flower display but it doesn't seem to have stopped the annual bird mating season. Male songbirds have been launching into full throttle from daybreak. I love the idea of living in harmony with nature and there's nothing more delightful than the melodic  dawn chorus of a choir of blackbirds and songthrushes.

Unfortunately for us, this year, one out of tune thrush has been welcoming the dawn every morning from a strategic position on the roof above our bedroom. "Cherie, Cherie, Cherie," he has been chanting, "Pull it up, pull it up, pull it up."


I could almost feel sorry for Cherie, except she isn't the only one fatigued by his instruction which somedays has continued unabated, or so it has seemed, until dusk.

So could anything be worse than losing sleep daily as a result of a discordant feathered creature and an early bird who never actually catches or rather pulls up the worm?

Well the backing group hasn't helped: two lovestruck starlings on a tree branch outside our window, the male of which proudly demonstrates his powers of mimicry as he raucously shrills in echo to the thrush, "Shree, shree; here we go, here we go." 

Johnny Thrush and the Romantics; it's easy to appreciate why not every retired town-dweller is looking to downsize to the country.

Fortunately and perhaps it is just coincidence but two phenomenally warm days seem to have brought a halt to the proceedings. Miraculously where there were only bare twigs at the beginning of the week, buds have now started to appear and open on the trees and bushes and all colours of flowerheads are now nodding in the garden. I am fervently hoping that the mad menage of two legged crooners has matured too and perhaps will now concentrate its efforts on nestbuilding and raising young.

Of course, it's not only birds that can create a cacophony of sound. Have you ever heard a village worth of lawnmowers, all making the first cut of the season together? Well, it may have seemed a strange choice but despite a sudden and twenty degree hike in the temperature over the previous week, rather than relaxing in the garden and living according to and in attunement with the weather as I have constantly been advocating in retirement, we fled 40 miles to Newcastle's city centre. 



To be honest we did need to view some light fittings but also enjoyed a good walk along the Quayside (laughing at the surprising display of palm trees in tubs at 55 degrees North, but entirely appropriate for the continental feel to the day) as well as through some of the many squares and back streets. We ate out and also crossed the river to take in an art exhibition at the Baltic, "Turning Forty Winks into a Decade" by Sofia Stevi, suggesting she hadn't been getting much sleep either. Perhaps that out of tune song thrush gets about.



Thursday, 12 April 2018

With Apologies to Jigsaw Aficionados



Now I know there are multitudes of people who love them but I am really not a jigsaw type of person. The idea of spending hours piecing together something that is only intended to be pulled apart again has always seemed to me a monumental waste of effort; not the kind of creativity I am looking for in retirement at all.

However, faced with a day of rain falling in torrents during the youngest's recent visit, we decided to tackle a rather nasty 1,000 piece puzzle challenging ourselves to complete it in one go. Foolhardy as well as stubborn, it took us 6.5 hours. On that basis it's just as well that time is plentiful in retirement, although I understand champion puzzlers (apparently such people do exist) would complete it in less than half that time.

So did we get anything out of our effort?

There was certainly no sense of achievement, just relief, finishing it only through sheer determination. Unlike walking to the top of a hill and admiring the view, a completed puzzle looks like the picture on the box that you see from the very beginning, thus for us detracting from any sense of reward. 

Sitting on the floor for such a long time (yes, I'm sure experts do them at tables) my knees ached as did fingers unaccustomed to such an excessive bout of directed use. Secretly, however, I was a little pleased to discover that those aches were shared with the youngest and truly had nothing whatsoever to do with age. Similarly, my eyesight wasn't alone in being strained by its concentrated  application. Moreover, we were both equally exhausted when the task was done. 

Clearly it's an activity at which generations can compete equally, requiring no handicap or headstart and you don't have to get out of breath. Yet still the idea of entering a Jigfest is anathema to me.

Whilst early retirement is an opportunity to recapture the freedom and self-indulgent use of time, invariably abused and unappreciated in adolescence, so far it doesn't extend to going right back to my childhood years. I am still at a point where I can think of rival demands upon my time. Will the future deliver me to a point where I can truly live in the present, freed from all pressing requirements? If it does then, come a truly bad weather day, who knows, I might just be persuaded to attempt another jigsaw but it would have to be no more than a quarter of the size.



Sunday, 8 April 2018

Preparing for Disaster




I'm conscious that when we retired in the summer of 2014 it seemed that we were never still, dashing from place to place, event to event for many months. Winter, coupled with a touch of retirement-complacency, however, seems to have a dampening effect on activity levels and it can be all too easy to slip into a hibernation malaise or even, in light of recent weather conditions, a rain associated disorder.

The return of the youngest for a week was therefore a welcome wake-up call making up for the lack of Spring, that seasonal harbinger of action.

So as well as our Easter Sunday venture, a trip to the cinema ("The Greatest Showman") and a day splashing in the pool and hot-tubs (inside and out) at the spa attached to the gym I frequent, we decided that learning how to make cheese would be a useful diversion.

In my quest for a simpler life, I am conscious that were the backbones of society ever to crumble then my chances of survival as the last person on Earth would be slim to say the least. Once I had raided the local shop of provisions and eaten my way through my vegetable patch, to what extent would I be able to endure? Surrounded by wild flowers and plants from hybrid seed would I ever produce an edible bean again? Could I dig a well, generate electricity or even construct a wheel? How would I round up a field of cows or shear a sheep and spin its wool to knit or weave?  Winters in retirement obviously give me far too much time to ponder.



In that vein and pandering to my imagination, we ventured into the Yorkshire Dales and to the Wensleydale creamery at Hawes. After a detailed demonstration as well as a peep into the actual factory, I'm not sure that it will be worth my while practising the ancient art of cheesemaking. If disaster strikes, however, I learnt enough to experiment, assuming always that I have it in me to extract some rennet from the stomach of a calf. 


Of more immediate use and greater enjoyment was the opportunity to sample some twenty or so varieties of cheese produced on site, as well as delighting in a wander around Hawes which we hadn't visited since those non-stop days of early retirement and Le Tour de Yorkshire.



Saturday, 27 January 2018

Lessons in Life from Alfred Wainwright



It is hard to visit the Lake District and not be reminded of Alfred Wainwright, the celebrated fellwalker and author whose Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells in seven volumes remains the leading authority on hill walking in the area.

Whilst out in the open air last week many of his written thoughts also came to mind. The joy of shared experience and of the human sub-conscious perhaps, or an attempt to answer the most profound of questions that haunt our every moment.

Wainwright's answer however, whilst illuminating, fell short of providing a definitive answer to that one word question, "Why?":

"...more and more people are turning to the hills; they find something in these wild places that can be found nowhere else. It may be solace for some, satisfaction for others: the joy of exercising muscles that modern ways of living have cramped, perhaps; or a balm for jangled nerves in the solitude and silence of the peaks; or escape from the clamour and tumult of everyday existence. It may have something to do with man's subconscious search for beauty, growing keener as so much in the world grows uglier. It may be a need to re-adjust his sights, to get out of his narrow groove and climb above it to see wider horizons and truer perspectives. In a few cases, it may even be a curiousity inspired by A Wainwright's Pictorial Guides. Or it may be, and for most walkers it will be, quite simply, a deep love of the hills, a love that has grown over the years, whatever motive first took them there: a feeling that these hills are friends, tried and trusted friends, always there when needed. It is a question every man must answer for himself." (Book 4, The Southern Fells)


Perhaps I ought not to have placed too much faith in an author who is also notorious for writing,"There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." (A Coast to Coast Walk).  

The Lake District is renowned for its wet weather (how else could it be so green) and even clad in appropriate layers with waterproof trousers, hooded coat and boots, there was no disguising the torrents of rain and swirling cloud that followed the snow and for most of the week deprived us of any kind of view whilst turning the ground into a slippery muddy bog.

Still there is always his: "The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body." (Book 7, The Western Fells)


Unfortunately, in my case he totally underestimated the effect. I certainly spent a week in our favourite location in Langdale revelling in a forest beside a beck surrounded by high ridges. However, whilst I may have felt blessed in body, somewhere along the way my capacity of mind let me down again. Moreover and as has previously been the case, my lack of mental awareness was again closely related to a beloved camera. Last March I regaled for you the tale of how the dropping of a camera case set off a chain of  inopportune lapses. Then on our last stay in Langdale, in August 2017, I managed to leave behind the camera charger that I so much needed for the ensuing trip to Norway, recovering it a month later (and that after mislaying a charger for my previous camera). On this most recent occasion, however, I have outshone all previous failings and appear to have left behind my recently acquired camera, lens protector, case and USB connector! My mind may have been blessed, but with what I do not care to speculate. 

Of course, I am still in denial. Didn't I check our lodge before leaving; surely the camera case and contents were by my feet throughout the journey even if I can't now recall actually seeing them there; how come I even felt smug in the knowledge that I had most carefully made sure to pack the charger and ensure that the camera and accessories were piled on a chair for collection with an assortment of other important items all of which made it home? Was I really so distracted by the rain tumbling from the sky in torrents that, in preparing to make the short run from door to car, I overlooked my most treasured and constantly used item?

Yes I have made a telephone call. Somebody is ringing me back tomorrow. In the meantime I can only hope and draw solace from another of AW's quotes:
"You were made to soar, to crash to earth, then to rise and soar again."

At present, I am in crash position, crumpled and dejected.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Having a Wobble



One thing I hadn't anticipated experiencing in the early stages of retirement was the wobbling phenomenon. It's not so much a gait issue as the realisation that when I try to balance, especially on one leg (as you do) I no longer feel steady. Now, all things considered this could be an age-related issue, but after experiencing a marked and rapid decline in my ability to hold a yoga pose or even stand on tip-toes, coupled with increasing pain in my knees and feet when I undertake bouts of sustained exercise I decided it was time to take professional advice. 

Amazingly my doctor did not dismiss it as a symptom of ageing or even a vivid imagination. Instead she referred me to a consultant to take another look at the degeneration in the knees which is of course common as we hit middle age and beyond, ably assisted in my case by too many pulls and strains whilst skiing. Reassuring me that I am not even on the cusp of requiring knee surgery whilst prescribing some seriously effective painkillers/anti-inflammatories, the consultant in turn referred me to a physiotherapist.

Her initial diagnosis four weeks ago was that  whilst my glutes, quads and hamstrings are all playing their required roles, seriously tight calf muscles are having a deleterious effect. I was duly handed a rubber exercise band and a list of exercises to undertake at home, with a promise to keep up my gym work-outs and classes. Apparently, there's no such thing as too much exercise.

A month later, I can honestly say that steadiness is returning and I returned for a physiotherapy review today. The tightness is disappearing and now centres on the achilles tendon rather than the hamstrings. I have been given more exercises and assured that whilst the degeneration in the knees is irreversible, there is absolutely no reason why balance mode cannot be restored. 

It seems the cause has nothing whatsoever to do with age but rather insufficent stretching out after exercising! Oh la la, my days in the gym are not yet ending and nor is a wheelchair beckoning.

The battle for fitness continues ....


Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Use It or Lose It



There seems to be a general acceptance that as we age, we grow weaker and frailer. Indeed research suggests that it is not uncommon for us to lose up to 8% of our muscle mass each decade from the age of 30. Try telling that to the trainer at the gym who has just re-set my new workout programme and now has little me lifting 10 kgs. 

"It will get easier," he has promised. Although to be honest I am more persuaded by his intimation that it will change my body shape. Who says you can't develop abs after 50?

National guidelines on physical activity recommend that, in order to stay healthy, adults should undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week as well as strength exercises on at least two days a week. However, a report published by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists last week, concludes from a survey it commissioned that almost a quarter of over 65's do no strengthening activities at all, leaving them prone to the risk of falls and ill-health. Moreover 34% of those approaching retirement (aged 55-64) miss the target too.

Bearing in mind that the Society suggests that gardening and carrying shopping bags help to keep us in shape, it is hard to understand why so many are failing to meet the criteria set out in the guidelines. If there was ever a time to switch from buying cuppa soup and tea bags to potatoes and two litre bottles of milk, it is clearly in retirement.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Off Colour



I was not myself at all yesterday, struck down, I suspect, by a mild dose of food poisoning. No appetite, a painful tummy ache, totally overcome by fatigue with weak joints and an unending wave of nausea, I took to my bed. Safe in its confines, I listened first to the stomach fire brigade spray its hoses of bile on the malcontented and noisy dragon beneath and then waited patiently whilst the sewage cleaning operators in the intestine did their work. In the meantime the extremities resembled the polar ice cap as I shivered my way through the day.

At least in retirement there is no longer any pressure to drag yourself out of bed to fulfil commitments in an office diary. However, yesterday was a Sunday so I didn't even have that thought as solace for my condition.

 It is unpleasant being out of sorts but (touch wood) I am fortunate in generally enjoying good health.

As we age, however, I know that it may not always be so. Already wear and tear on vital knee joints, not to mention bursitis and tendonitis can at the least be irritating. Maybe the underlying conditions were always there, certainly old skiing pulls and strains are chief suspects, but it seems only now through attempts at a more physical lifestyle in retirement that they are coming to the fore. 

Certainly there is much to be said for recognising your limitations even when it is sad to have to acknowledge them and  realise that there are some things that it's just not wise to do anymore. Moving on through retirement, reality begins to catch up. 

With reality comes an understanding that life is no longer infinite and time has run out for me for marathon running, mountain climbing, bungee jumping and a host of other activities that I'm sure I really would never have tried anyway. You will note that I am not yet excusing my partaking of the activities that bring enjoyment. However, that knowledge of the finite can make it seem that the pressure is on to fit in everything  that you want to do, before infirmity creeps up still further.

I guess that's where continuous planning and the much berated bucket list come in. To stop retirement dreams becoming unachievable or giving way to the dreaded drudgery of routine, regular reviews, flexibility and in some instances lateral thinking are needed. 

Forgive me, I'm now off to undertake a rational assessment...




Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Giving Up




After my last blog entry I have been contemplating my retirement and am beginning to feel that the next driver is "giving up." I don't mean by surrendering but rather in a very physical way in order to reach that nirvana of a simplified life.

So for me July has been a month to embrace Plastic Free July and abandon added sugar. 

The statistics on plastic are appalling and when I looked in my own waste-bin at the beginning of the month I saw with horror that, despite our conscientous devotion to re-cycling, we were still disposing of more plastic in the form of cellophane-wrapping and cling-film for landfill than any other form of waste. Just realising the extent of the problem that we were creating (and we consider ourselves good at sorting re-cyclable waste from our other rubbish) was a start in the right direction and now it has become a crusade to deliberately shop to try to avoid the worst excesses of single-use plastic whilst looking for items made of other substances for repeat use. It's too late to undo all our errors in the past; the children's toys, coffee capsules, melamine picnic plates, garden chairs, plant pots, all now presumably buried deep in a local authority pit never to decompose in our lifetimes. The plastic containers in the fridge and coathangers in the wardrobe provide a daily reminder of  our wilful disregard for green living. We are, however, now stepping up to become eco-warriors as, going forward, we relinquish the plastic trappings that go with an early 21st century lifestyle. Giving up is good, providing both challenge and ambition whilst benefiting the planet as we hopefully reduce pollution.

Sugar is another horror now scientifically linked to obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes. The Action on Sugar website highlights the issues but it is only when you start to read in detail the written information on food products that you get any appreciation of the scale of the problem. Have you for instance ever tried to find bread without added sugar in your local supermarket? It does exist but elusivity means you have to track it down. On the plus side, the eradication of added sugar from our diet in the last couple of weeks has done wonders for weight loss and energy levels and I can thoroughly recommend it.

In September 2016, I posted a blog entry which I titled Letting Go and Making a Difference.  They were for me the second and third phases of retirement, the movement or divergence from one to the other blurred by an overlap. Giving Up, following  a period of what I can best describe as plateauing, seems to be a natural progression and whilst many might say there is no obvious distinction there is actually a subtle difference stemming from the maturing of retirement. Letting go was as much about the mental state of change from worker to retired person as the relinquishment of physical stuff; there was an understanding of the need to shed and a start to the process. In making a difference I had reached a point where I was energised by my efforts and strove to achieve. To give up is I now believe a natural sequitur but it is more brutal and deliberate, requiring passion, renewed energy and aggressive determination. It goes beyond recognition of and lip service to what must be jettisoned, to deliberate deprivation in order to achieve it. To let go, I must now give up previously perceived comforters rather than extraneous stuff; to make a difference I must give up the comforts of self-indulgence and infinite time. 

Retirement has turned up more challenges.



Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Saving Up for a Rainy Day

Apologies for yet another interruption in service. The last time I made a blog entry I was attributing my lapse to a bout of very welcome but very warm weather. Since then, here in North Yorkshire, we have been paying our penance with days of rain and for a period of one week some rather unseasonably low temperatures. Still variety is the spice of life as they say, and retirement thunders on (oh yes we have had a couple of electric storms too) regardless.

So I have been taking advantage of the wet weather to endeavour to catch up with a pile of administrative tasks left for the proverbial rainy day. Trouble is that, even with fourteen or more wet days, I'm still not up to date and procrastination appears to have successfully defeated my good intentions. On the plus side we have caught up with old friends, finished a course of hospital out-patients' treatment, had a family member to stay, eaten out  on several occasions, read numerous books, worked out in the hope of using up the extra calories, gardened between the showers, been to the cinema, fulfilled various commitments and of course become embroiled in following the annual tennis fest that is Wimbledon.

If I am  honest, however, it all seems a little humdrum and I even fear lest I have actually relaxed into retirement a little too easily. The trouble, of course, is that when we are at home for a prolonged period there is a tendency to fall into a dreaded routine: gym in the morning, coffee at 11am etc.. Routine has crept up effortlessly of late and coupled with a natural tendency towards indolence is proving to be an enemy of the successful pursuit of satisfaction in retirement. I'm guessing that it's a natural cycle now that we have moved into (I can hardly believe it) the fourth year since cessation of employment. 

The initial phase, as I have already documented, was one of recovery followed by "letting go" and then the application of long practised skills in order to "give back,"  whilst surprisingly finding that what I had planned to do in retirement very much went by the by. Now, however, I sense the advent of a new phase; a time for challenge and maybe even adventure or at least the determination to shed the feeling that we may be at risk of drifting aimlessly and to review the intial aspirations formulated for this period of our lives. I guess I am going to need a few more rainy days to properly explore this concept, but, with the British weather the way it is, those days have to be a certainty rather than a long shot.
 
Whilst I am conscious that this has been another self indulgent critique, I hope that many can empathise with the experience that I have described. In the meantime I close this entry buoyed by the discovery that somebody must read and appreciate these blog entries because it seems they have made it into a list of 100 Top Retirement Blogs. Forever flattered and grateful...




Saturday, 10 June 2017

Just One Regret



It's a strange old world and a sign of the times when the winning party loses and the losing party is seen as the winner. That, however, seems to be the outcome of  the election. 

Taking the electorate for granted with its arrogance the Conservatives went hammer and tongs for the United Kingdom Independence Party voters and in so doing forgot that middle England with its intelligent, economically literate, remain-voting  populus would be both repulsed and insulted by the rhetoric. Consequently, although winning the most seats (albeit short of an overall majority), the Prime Minister totally failed in her objective of getting the large majority and mandate she was seeking to negotiate a "hard" Brexit, closing the door to the exisiting arrangements for free trade and the movement of people within Europe.

So, having finished my last blog entry with a feeling of resigned disillusionment, like more than half of the electorate I was overwhelmingly buoyed to find the Government had faltered; the people had spoken up against what it was seeking to impose and, whilst there may be the chaos of a hung Parliament, the mandate was clearly not there for the austere policies and Brexit terms they were seeeking to impose.

Except, and what more would you expect from a Prime Minister and party that does not listen, they are now cuddling up with the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland. The DUP, as it is commonly known, has grown out of a para-military organisation, is involved in smear and speculation concerning financial mismanagement and has policies that make the Conservatives' seem almost acceptable. The DUP is anti-abortion, refuses to accept LGTBQ rights, is sceptical about climate change and numbers creationists amongst its MPs. However, it now has 10 MPs and to keep the Conservatives in power and pursue their rejected policies there is to be an understanding between the two; the May-Dup alliance as it will no doubt be described. An alliance that many commentators believe may even upset the delicate peace in Northern Ireland.

Well we shall have to wait to see what happens but the first protest took place outside of Downing Street last night, wise counsel (particularly on Twitter) is being given and the longer the Government seeks to press on with a business as normal approach, the more millions of us are going to be totally affronted. So, if we thought the election would mean that politics would quieten down and everything would revert to normal, it seems not and this may only  be the beginning.

On the left the Corbynistas are claiming exactly that as they assert a victory, having gained some 30 seats, when only 7 weeks ago it was anticipated that they would be annihilated. Obviously the swing in Labour's favour includes a large protest vote, although many are proclaiming it as the beginning of the rise in support for progressive politics with Keynesian economics. 

As you can imagine, as well as giving the comedy writers hours of wonderful script material, Mister E and I have had plenty to discuss too. What would have been the outcome if Labour's appeal had been more Centrist? Does the impact of globalisation and mass capitalism mean that traditional political theories are ineffective for the 21st Century? Can you redress inequality and provide fairness through policies that the majority of the electorate will truly embrace in the way that the youth vote seems prepared to? Does it require a softly, softly approach from a new centrist approach to do this or can there be a political revolution of thought and support, bringing speedier momentum to the movement for a fairer, greener, more caring and inclusive society?

I had honestly expected to wake up on Friday revulsed by the thought that I lived in a country full of little Englanders whose only thoughts were for profit and themselves. With the final vote in, it seems that the Conservative, DUP and UKIP parties' vote share combined was just 45.1%. My faith in humanity and the British electorate is restored and there is now hope that there really is a way, regardless of the current Governmental chaos and apparent intransigence, to create the kinder society that we seek.

Regrets? There is one. Taking advantage of retirement, I stayed up until 3am on Election Night; why oh why didn't I do my ironing as I watched those results come in? 




Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Long Night Ahead




I honestly didn't intend to do another political post or let off steam again, so hopefully this will be a quieter post. As I type I am conscious that the Polling Stations close in less than thirty minutes and I am steeling myself for a late night. 

It has been a nasty election campaign when the strong and stable image of the Prime Minister has crumbled into a weak and wobbly one, refusing to engage with the public, debate with the opposition, cost her policies or even bother to explain them. That said she will undoubtedly triumph tonight leaving us with the most extreme right wing Government in memory.

The only other viable party in presenting policies that are progressive and socialist, will inevitably have shown itself to be too far left for significant electoral gains. The best one can hope for is a hung Parliament or certainly one without the clear landslide that the Prime Minister was seeking when she chose to call this snap election.

A campaign that was meant to focus on Brexit has instead been a campaign between hope and confusion; honesty and arrogance. Tomorrow will be another day of despair and disillusionment but as someone who hasn't voted for a winning side since 2005, I think I can pick up the pieces and get on with my life.

In readiness for when things get really bad and the NHS is completely in the hands of Virgin Care, and being run for profit not patients, I have at least had the foresight in the last week to get various hospital appointments booked. After all the possibility of purchasing health insurance in retirement will only come at a price and probably one that will make the proposed dementia tax look good value.

Since I last posted here the campaign has also  been hijacked by another terrorist atrocity in London increasing the differences between the parties over police numbers. Why the electorate is going to believe that a Prime Minister who was responsible during her time at the Home Office for cutting police numbers by 20,000 is now going to keep them safe, is beyond me. 

In the meantime she continues to cuddle up to President Trump taking far too long to criticise his ridiculous condemnation of the London Mayor who was trying to reassure people in the city that they should not be alarmed at the sight of armed officers. Trump of course had to use the situation to try to push his own agenda on travel bans and dealing with the anti-gun lobby. I wonder if he understands just how many British hackles rose with his comments and the strength of feeling against a state visit, especially the suggestion that he might even fly in this weekend.

So I am prepared for the worst tomorrow but at least it means that when the Tories do get elected and this state visit goes ahead, Mister E and I will get to attend a demonstration for the first time since my student days and there'll be more time spent ranting on this  blog.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Hot Air



I do feel that my blog entries of late have given themselves over to an indulgent opportunity for a little ranting. The strange thing is that retirement is like a second adolescence in so many ways: I can go to bed late and get up late; I can do what I want to do, rather than be at the bidding of others, and live in a totally selfish bubble if I so choose; my responsibilities are negligible; I can eat at odd hours; there is no reason for commitment to any engagement unless of my choosing; I can make spur of the moment decisions on how to spend my time, be it by curling up to spend a day reading a book or by taking advantage of the sun in the sky to go for a walk; I can spend hours thinking about the meaning of life, talking with friends or even just looking at my phone, should I so want.

Recently however I have also discovered that it is a time for reclaiming the passion of youth; the fight for right and beliefs. I hear many elderly people moaning about election coverage, avoiding the news programmes and generally showing little or no interest in the issues of the day. Perhaps that's what happens in the next stage, but early retirement certainly remains a time for rebirth, political thought and plenty of hot air.

Mind not all hot air is good. Certainly not if it relates to climate change. All of which could lead me to a specific rant against the developments of the day, when it is being reported that the so called leader of the free West has apparently decided to call time on his country's commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. A report that follows on from the revelation that the Prime Minister of the UK is being dubbed Trump's mole after leaked documents show that the UK wanted to change EU targets on "renewables" and energy efficiency, so that they would essentially be voluntary rather than mandatory.

However even in my neo-revolutionary latter years, I need time to sit back with a G&T, enjoy the evening sun and look forward to a luxurious soak in a warm bubble bath. At least with retirement comes  a better understanding, as well as application, of one's priorities.

Cheers!



Sunday, 28 May 2017

Heatwave in an Art Gallery



On Friday we made the decision to head to the city rather than fry ourselves on deck. So we headed from Troon Marina to the centre of Glasgow as the sun burnt down upon us and temperatures reached Mediterranean levels. Although we braved the heat to take in the Cathedral, Necropolis, and the Provand's Lordship it was only inside the art galleries (of which Glasgow has a multitude) that we found relief from the baking temperatures.



It has to be said that Glasgow likes its art gritty and the ends of so many buildings are now daubed with street art murals that we found fascinating like this one at the University of Strathclyde:



In the aftermath of the appalling bombing at Manchester arena only a few days before, we thought the Polygraph Exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art particularly pertinent. It is centred around a two channel video by the German film maker and visual artist, Hito Steyerl, in which she explores the death of her friend in Turkey. Dissecting evidence to separate truth from fiction in a complex world seemed to be the theme for all the exhibits. In the video itself Steyerl traces the casings from the bullets that killed her friend back to the premises of Lockheed Martin in Berlin. Her evidence claimed that it had supplied the weapons to Turkey through the German Government; state complicity unravelled; politics meeting the personal. The theme continued with for instance black and white photographs of the elderly and vulnerable housed in a hostel for the homeless in the city; politics again affecting individual lives.

At Manchester is it too glib to blame the reprehensible actions of one suicide bomber on the delusions of extremism? Are foreign policy, cutting police numbers, a lack of proper employment opportunities for the young from disadvantaged sectors and/or a failure to address radicalisation of some within our multi-cultural society, also to blame for the deaths at the arena of 22 innocent people, many just children?

For the first time ever, I found myself wanting to concur with Trump when he starkly referred to those responsible for the atrocity as losers. Yet as the exhibition in Glasgow pointed out, life isn't that simple. After all this was a US President who just days before had met with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and, like Theresa May only a few months earlier, sought to agree yet another arms deal. But what are those arms being used for? Isn't it Saudi Arabia that has been indiscriminately shelling in Yemen, killing thousands of innocent civilians including children and by virtue of its blockades caused widespread hunger and a shortage of medicines and other supplies? 

Individuals all over the world suffer because political decisions have far reaching and often unintended consequences. The world has become a very complicated place but it behoves no politician well to ignore the fact that people not profit are inevitably at the end of the chain of events started by their decisions.


Monday, 22 May 2017

A Week is a Long Time in Politics




It is often said that a week is a long time in politics. Two weeks or, to be totally exact, since I last posted about the election on 6th May, is even longer.

The intervening period seems like an eternity and we are now a little clearer on the varous parties' policies, some of which actually sound progressive and others, like the potential for the reintroduction of fox hunting and the return of grammar schools, positively Victorian.

On Brexit which is supposed to  be the main issue for the election, we appear to have established that the Conservatives with their Brexit means Brexit approach would sacrifice free trade in return for an unlikely ability to reduce immigration to tens of thousands. Labour on the other hand would negotiate to keep us in the free market with EU immigration essentially controlling itself through market forces. The LibDems however whilst not rejecting outright the outcome of the referendum result last year, believe that Brexit does not necessarily mean Brexit and would give the country a second vote on whatever terms are negotiated. All would have us believe that they remain committed to the NHS but commitment requires funding and with Brexit looming that is not going to be easy.

In the  last few days the Conservative Party which  has continued to insult and wear down the British public with its strong and stable propaganda has arrogantly published a manifesto, light on costings and detail although, presumably in return for the unwavering support of the gutter press, it is promising to give up on Leveson 2. So confident is it of the outcome that its leader has still declined to meet real people preferring staged events on the One Show or with supporters to debate and discussion. We do know that it would intend to use stealth taxes but is already having to talk about a U-turn on its social care reforms, quickly branded a dementia tax by its opponents, although it intends to press on with the removal of winter fuel allowances for pensioners and free dinners for primary school children, giving breakfast (at significantly less cost) instead to those who turn up unfed and early.

In the meantime  the Labour Party, whose policies appear to reflect the Scandinavian model rather than Marxist/Leninist ideology as some of the right wing media would have us believe, remains under fire for its leader who is frequently described as looking like a somewhat scruffy geography teacher. Clearly some hack, somewhere, was taught by a bearded, tieless pedagogue who bored him to tears and the label has stuck, perhaps unfairly. However with proposals to bring rail franchises back into public ownership, abolish student tuition fees and restore funding for the arts there are some exciting ideas to ponder over, although higher taxes for the richest 5% are presumably not going to be popular with many in that 5. 

The LibDems after their odious betrayal of the student vote in the 2010 election, are perhaps surprisingly trying to court the young person's vote all over again with the reinstatement of housing benefit for under-21s, a right to buy housing scheme and discounted bus passes. They are however going to add a penny onto the rate of income tax to pay for everything.

Most people I talk to are increasingly bored and frustrated by the proceeedings and still don't know which way to vote or if they'll even bother. We are being sucked into an election which is becoming increasingly presidential in nature and when people desire none of the party leaders they get turned off, whilst others are ready to vote based on what a leader looks or sounds like rather than considering their party's policies and the credentials of their local candidates. Of course I'll vote, but living in a constituency which would elect the proverbial donkey so long as it has a blue rosette around its neck,  my X on the ballot paper will hardly matter whichever box I put it in.

So, whilst I am now more comfortable with where that cross is going to go, it may be that the only election pledge that will resonate with the population is the LibDem's surprising commitment to legalising wacky baccy. After all if we are going down the pan, it might feel better to be high when we get washed away.



Monday, 10 April 2017

Perfume and Age



One of the benefits of attending exercise classes regularly is not the highly toned body that could result but rather the ready made group of like-minded people with whom you can share the pleasures of drinking and dining. This doesn't so much undermine the good work put in at the exercise studio but rather ensures that you return for more and work even harder to save spent calories for another meal out.

I can honestly say that I did not know any of my new found gym buddies prior to retiring and yet now they are one of the mainstays of my social life (well we all like food). They are also a source of encyclopedic knowledge, saving me hours of online research. 

For instance last Friday, the sun beating down as Spring very definitely arrived, we rounded off a hard week of Pilates, Fitball, Body Blitz, Yoga, Kinesis Hiit and Barre Concept with a short swim and a long laze in the outdoor hot tub. There then followed a quick stroll to a nearby hostelry where we discussed the topics of the day and put the world to rights.

Now for some time recently I have been aware that I am becoming somewhat indulgent with the bottled fragrances in my bathroom. I couldn't pinpoint the reason but Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum and even the highly powerful real stuff in the little bottles, once applied, just doesn't seem to hold its scent anymore. Of course that's not something I'd necessarily share, even with a gym bunny, but, to my surprise, it came up in conversation. What is more, I am certain that they hadn't sniffed out this issue on my part.

"Age and changing hormones," one lady declared.

"Fix it by applying Vaseline first," another responded.

Well it is certainly reassuring to know that I am not the only person to encounter this phenomenon. I confess that I even googled it afterwards and the underlying factor seems to be dry skin; a symptom of hormones and ageing, of course. I told you: those ladies have encyclopedic knowledge! 

 


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Magna Carta Part 3




This week I read "I Am Malala," gaining an insight into the growth of the influence of the Taliban in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, culminating in the shooting of Malala Yousafzai. We are hearing so much about the growth of populism in the West that sometimes one needs to be reminded that the political situation is far more dire in other parts of the world. The populace that could least afford it readily parted with cash and jewellery initially in the mistaken belief that the Taliban would bring about much needed change and so alleviate the difficulties under which they were living. Illiterate and uneducated people, suffering as a result of a lack of action by politicians and disinterest as to their plight, actually thought the Taliban might improve their lot. Malala is, of course, described as the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.


After my visit to Runnymede the previous week, it was probably a fitting book to read. King John, forced to sign the Magna Carta by his Barons after squeezing as much gold from them as he could (in part to fight in Crusades against the Muslims of the Middle East), came the closest the UK has ever got  to having a written constitution. For the first time in the modern world the concepts of freedom and equality under the law were acknowledged in writing. Runnymede is even referred to as the birthplace of Human Rights' legislation.


Does anything really change though? 


The Kennedy Memorial on land gifted to the USA is also at Runnymede. The Memorial Stone sits at the top of 50 steps (one for each of the states) and is inscribed with an extract from the Declaration of Freedom in the inaugural address given by President JF Kennedy. 

"This acre of English ground was given to the United States of America by the people of Britain in memory of John F Kennedy President of the United States 1961-63 died by an assassin's hand 22 November 1963 Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill that we shall pay any price bear any burden meet any hardship support any friend or oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and success of liberty."


I think that there are certain leaders in the world today who could do with visiting this special place before we all turn in on ourselves and unpick the enormous progress made in the twentieth century towards lasting peace and understanding between nations and nationalities.

You may not agree with what New Labour stood for, but the mantra of "Education, Education, Education," surely has a resonance in these dark days. Certainly Malala and her father were and still are determined to fight for the right of all children, including girls, to be educated. In the words of Save the Children's Every Last Child campaign: "every child deserves a chance to grow up healthy, learning and safe."



As a prequel to reading Malala's book it was probably also fitting that our next stop was Oxford, a city steeped in learning since at least the 12th century. A reminder too though of the connection between the Church and education; historically the power of the Church over those who could neither read nor write; self enlightenment and development through literacy, study and understanding.







Oh my goodness, how I just love retirement. There's so much time to explore, absorb and then, almost best of all, try to collect my thoughts to write a blog entry about it afterwards.







Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Losing My Marbles and Other Things


I have experienced a difficult few days when my joy at becoming a scatty being has been offset by the realisation that this is not the state of nirvana I have been seeking in retirement. To throw away years spent honing my organisational skills and memory capacity is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after all.

I may be searching for a simpler life but this does not mean I also want a simpler mind. Terrifyingly, in my quest for simplification, I may just have overdone it.


It all started, like the birth of modern democaracy, at Runnymede. In the process of taking one of a number of photographs, I failed to realise that I had dropped my camera case. Half a mile later the omission registered, steps were retraced and the bag was retrieved from the damp grass on which it was lying.

Never satisfied, however, I excelled myself the following morning. I must confess that I do have a previous history where hotel room key cards are concerned. Consequently I have vowed to be scrupulously careful in my handling of them, ever aided by all kinds of dire warnings from Mister E should I dare to even think of losing another. So it was that I set off for a pre-breakfast dip in the hotel pool, dutifully hanging onto the keycard at all costs. I waved it at the  man at the desk in order to enter the swimming area and promptly forgot all about it. I remembered, of course, when Mister E enquired as to its whereabouts, after I had knocked on our room door for him to open it.

Once again we retraced our steps but this time to no avail. So, original keycards cancelled, new ones provided and a full English breakfast consumed, we set out to walk along the Thames and into Oxford, a gentle stroll from where we were staying. After a while, I was obliged to stop so that I could adjust what was beginning to be a most uncomfortable sock. I untied my lace, removed my foot from shoe intending to smooth out the wrinkles which I could feel accruing but could find none. I peered into my shoe and there smiling up at me was the missing keycard. I had put it in a safe place after all.

Well you might think that would be the end of my appalling lapses for one weekend but worse was to follow. On returning home on Sunday, I opened the cloak cupboard to hang up my jacket and hanging from my peg was an item I did not recognise. Closer examination suggested that it was a similar colour and style to my winter coat but a size smaller and much more battered than I could recall. Somebody, somewhere must be wearing a woollen navy coat that's rather more generous across the chest and significantly smarter than theirs used to be.

Finally, just when you think your memory won't play any more tricks on you, at least not if you concentrate really hard, I lost my watch. It was AWOL for 40 hours during which time I had any number of imaginary conversations with the insurance company and police explaining how we must have been burgled in the dead of night without realising because I had definitely left it on the bathroom window ledge and, despite checking under the soap, toothpaste and even in the plug hole of the sink, it had disappeared without a trace. I found it late this afternoon, twinkling on the floor of the eldest's now vacated bedroom (yes he has flown to New Zealand), cupped in the sleeve of a discarded and dirty sweatshirt. How it got there shall remain one of life's mysteries.

So, enough of this carefree living; there are occasions when it is almost as stressful as working full-time. Indeed another valuable lesson has been learnt: just like everything else in life, the succesful navigation of  retirement needs ongoing organisational and observational skills . Disengagement of the brain can only lead to disaster.