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

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

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

Showing posts with label Learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Learning. Show all posts

Monday, 23 May 2016

Sunderland Day Trippers

We made use of the wonderful weather on Friday for a tourist trip up the road to Sunderland and Roker. Sunglasses on our noses and camera in the hand, we took full advantage of the sunshine to stroll along the beach and also dodge the inevitable shower with visits to the National Glass Centre and the City Museum and Winter Garden.

It ended up being a day of learning, taking in Sunderland's history of glass-making and ship building. I had expected a little more from the temporary exhibition of glass loaned by the Museum of Glass in Tacoma whilst The Good the Bad and The Ugly - New Works by Andrew Miller was, can I say, a little stark. However the setting of the Glass Centre right on the banks of the River Wear is certainly dramatic and it is hard to decide whether the highlight of a visit there is the glass blowing demonstrations or the homemade scones served in the cafe. Of course stopping for coffee and a cake is a significant feature of any day out in retirement and I never fail to marvel at the number of other over fifties partaking in similar manner.

Next the walk along the seashore was a brisk one. It had to be to walk off the effects of the scone before we proceeded into the city centre to visit the Museum with its range of galleries.

In contrast to the National Glass Centre, the Museum is crammed full of exhibits; the minimalism of the first venue replaced by a vast array of curios presented in an educational way. International Garden Photographer of the Year entries were also on display (visiting until 26th June) and the Museum was worth a visit for those alone; hardly surprising, therefore, that I came out musing over the prospect of purchasing a more sophisticated camera. 

In the Winter Gardens attached to the Museum, the lift up to the tree top walk was out of order, so we strolled amongst the hot-house plants at ground level instead. The noises emanating from a healthy fibre-glass specimen from the Jurassic period echoed around the conservatory dome although, when I think about it, does anyone really know what a dinosaur sounded like?


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Landscape and Sculpture

I have always been attracted to the sculptures of Henry Moore and today the youngest and I paid a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where 500 acres of his native Yorkshire countryside plays host to many of his larger pieces. There was also an indoor exhibition of his work, aptly entitled "Back to a Land," where his deep relationship with the land was explored.

In light of my current "well-being and nature kick," I'm wondering now if the appeal of his work to me lies in its relationship with the natural world.

Moore himself is quoted as saying:
"I realised what an advantage a separated two piece composition could have in relating figures to landscape. Knees and breasts are mountains. Once these two parts become separated you don't expect it to be a naturalistic figure; therefore you can justifiably make it like a landscape or a rock. If it is a single figure you can guess what it is going to be like. If it is in two pieces, there's a bigger surprise, you have unexpected views."

The park was one of Moore's favourite backdrops for his sculptures. In the background to the current exhibition we were told that he loved the changing skies, weather and seasons and thought the sheep roaming the land were the right size to balance his work.

We thought it quite beautiful: art and landscape brought together with the opportunity for a decent walk to appreciate all the pieces.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

A Health Trip

Well it is said that retirement is a journey and also that it is full of surprises. Certainly I had never expected to be embroiled in so much physical activity in retirement, becoming, if I am allowed to quote from the urban dictionary, something of a "gym bunny." Mind, you would never think it to look at me, but bit by bit the abs and glutes are developing.

So the natural progression from all the exercise has to be to think in terms of general healthy living and, of course, that old chestnut: what we eat and drink.

I thought I had tackled that a few weeks ago with My Fitness Pal but no, in the true spirit of moving on a stage in the journey, I have now started another Future Learn Course, this time from the University of Aberdeen on Nutrition and Well-Being. So far I have been absorbing some fairly basic facts about carbohydrates, protein, fats and micro-nutrients but do not have a clue where this trip is leading, especially when I have completed the course.

Will it stop with a cookery lesson perhaps or move into the world of medicine and/or alternative therapies? I have no idea but I am not getting off now, the journey is too exciting!

Monday, 8 June 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 6 June 2015

It's All Greek to Me

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Election Night

The polling stations have just closed and the counting of votes in our National Election will now begin. Retirement has meant that not only have I had more time to follow the campaigns of the various parties but have also been able to examine their manifestos and learn a little about current economic and political theory. With nobody able to predict a likely winner, it has also been one of the most intriguing election battles in my lifetime where and for once, we have heard from politicians who believe in society rather than simply markets, commodities and money.

It is my plan to stay up tonight because and for the first time since 1979 I have no office to go to in the morning. Even in 1979 and with university finals looming, I recall going to bed not long after midnight, the result by that time being obvious and a gloom having descended, as a result, on my student house.

Mister E and I have discussed whether or not to put champagne on ice in case the outcome should defy predictions of a hung Parliament and the need for wrangling between potential coalition partners. We are, you might say, enthusiastically optimistic or perhaps just looking for an excuse for a celebration.

It is going to be a long night, but may the best party win so that I at least get to sip bubbly at some point in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Maths Underfoot

There were not many signs of Spring today when Mister E and I did an 8 mile circular walk in the Yorkshire Dales, although at least the gorse was in bloom.  We had sunny spells interrupted by hailstorms, meaning that much of the time I was well huddled inside my coat.

I recall some 11 months ago making a blog entry about walking my way to fitness and am pleased to record that things are definitely moving in the right direction. That said I am sure that, like yesterday, conditions today were probably more conducive to staying in with a good book than tramping along muddy tracks. 

One of the books that I have been dipping in and out of lately is "17 Equations that Changed the World," by Ian Stewart. It is in essence a chronological account of mathematics and its role in the evolving world, where everything seems capable of being traced back to an appropriate mathematical equation.

I wondered, therefore, whether it would be possible to write an equation identifying the formula for optimum fitness by walking. In other words, how much distance must I cover before I reach my full potential? Mister E wouldn't be drawn on it and in the absence of a cold bath and Archimedes, an apple orchard and Isaac Newton, I guess I shall just have to keep on walking. Presumably I shall know when I reach my destination

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Reflecting on Nine Months of Retirement

My last day at work was 18th June, nine months ago. Nine months is also, of course, the gestational period for a human baby. Sufficient time to develop from a fertilised egg cell into a living infant. Very similar in fact to my own transmogrification.

Prior to actually taking the plunge there was excitement tinged with a degree of nervousness and, dare I say it, even fear.  However and since completing the dive there has been no looking back and I can honestly say that to date I have had no reason to regret my decision.

Last summer, in the early days, it felt as though I was a complete novice at everything I touched. A feeling emphasised by leaving a career in which I was professionally skilled and  competent for a completely different lifestyle for which it felt as if I was totally under-qualified. I have still many years to go in the art of retirement before I might justifiably call myself a Master, but am now very much accustomed to my new life as well as the challenges that go with it and which bring so much enjoyment. I am learning as I go and this blog hopefully records the wisdom picked up along the way and lessons learnt.

To begin with, it did feel like a never-ending holiday but nine months on it is now a pattern of life without commitment, timetable or routine unless they are of my choosing. There is still ongoing hard-work behind the scenes to develop fitness and maintain good health to enjoy retirement, hopefully for a long time into the future. On reflection, I should not, of course, have worked so hard that I lost sight of  a good work-life balance but retirement is all about looking forward and not backwards. Nine months on, I now realise how stressed work made me feel but can only trust that I escaped before there was any long-term damage and revel in the benefits of what has been a natural healing process.

I recall that there was a point where I began to feel guilty that life feels so hedonistic. It is strange, however, how you can get used to almost anything and those twangs of guilt have definitely disappeared four months later. In part I believe this is because my memory of that previous hair shirt style of living is fading fast. That's not, of course, because  it was a long time ago ( we are talking only nine months) but more because of  the change that has been taking place as I have developed into a frame of mind where I accept who I am, what I want and strive to carve myself that life. I obviously have nothing to feel guilty about anyway, but I guess it was an inevitable phase in moving onward in retirement that in shedding the burden of  decades of working you take time to adjust to the pleasure of life being your own to do as you will. When you do, it is proof that you have forgotten how it felt being shackled to the work ethic.

"I think, therefore I am," wrote Descartes. What's different for me now, is how I think. Years of straight-lined analytical thinking have been cast aside as I become open to ideas floating into my mind from all directions. Primarily through Future Learn, I have embraced a diverse variety of subjects, disciplines, and ideas. It takes time but gradually my mind is opening to the discovery of a great big universe out there and of which I was only vaguely aware stuck at an office desk.

My long-term aim is to rediscover my creative inner and I have been shocked at how much that day job has squeezed my creative juices to extinction. Although I have tried sketching, creative writing and various low-key crafty projects, my successful route for rehabilitation has come from the rediscovery of colour, first from visiting various modern art exhibitions and then from experimenting with photography. I am much more aware of detail than ever before; there is time in retirement to appreciate it: I see, therefore I am. 

Moreover now that I see  so much more, the joys of travel and exploration are extended, both in the UK and abroad. 

So after nine months, there are no regrets as I continue to totter with baby steps in that big new world of retirement. Our plans remain in focus and if  there is any lesson to be drawn so far in seeking to achieve them, it is simply that everything takes time, preparation and planning.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Lincoln Visit

Mister E and I spent our weekend in Lincoln. It is a city that we have only visited briefly, once before, but found it a beautiful destination. Sometimes in the quest to travel and experience new cultures or with the familiarity of what is around you every day, you forget how many wonderful sights there are to see in the UK.

It was also a fitting destination for the 800th anniversary since the Magna Carta was sealed, as the charter itself was drafted by Stephen Langton, the then Archbishop of Canterbury who had earlier studied as a cleric in Lincoln. Copies of the Magna Carta were distributed to a number of places of worship throughout the country and that of Lincoln Cathedral is purportedly the best preserved of the four that survive to the present day.

We stayed in the Old Palace which was the historic home of the Bishop of Lincoln but which now operates as a hotel with bedrooms in a converted church in the grounds, all directly under the imposing structure of the Cathedral. 

We also visited The Collection, another museum (as in Carlisle and London) chronicling the history of a city from 450,000 BC to modern times and after 3 such museums in less than two weeks am proud to say that we can now both identify and differentiate Neanderthal and Anglo Saxon tools (or so it seems) from sight.

Many might argue that the climb (it is even called Steep Hill when you reach the higher part)  up Lincoln's main street  from the river to the Castle and Cathedral at the top are unsuitable for some visitors. We however found it an ample excuse for tucking into the large cooked breakfast at the hotel before setting out to explore on foot and seeing such fascinating sights as:

The house dating from the 12th century and believed to be the oldest surviving dwelling in the UK. Its first inhabitant was Aaron a Jew and moneylender, in the days when the Normans encouraged Jews to settle in England in order to provide loans, something Christians were then expressly prohibited from doing.

High Bridge the oldest bridge in the UK which still has buildings on it.

The half-timbered house that is now the Visitor Information Centre

The Cathedral by night

The Stonebow and Guildhall in use since 1520

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Out of Season Travels

We returned today from a brief trip to Dumfries and Galloway in South-West Scotland. It is an area of the country that I was not familiar with and we had promised ourselves that we would visit outside of the tourist season. With heavy rain, snow, hail and strong winds we could, however, have chosen our weather better. It seems that even in retirement the diary can get cluttered and fitting in last minute journeys to take advantage of the weather forecast does not always work out. 

In fact I must make a note to try to free up committing myself quite as much, otherwise I am never going to be able to take advantage of one of those last minute bargain travel opportunities to an exotic tropical paradise. Incidentally if anyone knows where I find them, I shall be pleased to be enlightened.

In the meantime, we saw what we could. We were disappointed by Gretna Green which has been turned into some kind of Disneyland for coach-trips but enjoyed both Nithsdale and the Galloway Forest as well as the shoreline from Newton Stewart to Kirckcudbright. 

I do find the red sandstone from which most of the buildings in that area of Scotland are constructed rather overbearing, although it is a vast improvement on the concrete and pebble-dash that covers so many houses just a little further North. It was, therefore, a delight to see Gatehouse of Fleet where most of the buildings have been painted white.

We spotted castles in abundance and the whole area is dotted with hills and lochs.

Coming home today we stopped in Carlisle on the English side of the border. A couple of weeks ago The Guardian newspaper highlighted twenty places referencing 800 years of English history since the Magna Carta. As someone who loves tick-lists and with Mister E, in an off-guard moment, expressing an interest in expanding his historical knowledge, I took advantage to drag him to both the castle and the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. We now understand much more about border skirmishes since Roman times as well as the part Carlisle played in the Jacobite rebellions.  

Indeed a walk around the town afterwards revealed this plaque which, if interpreted literally, would suggest that Bonnie Prince Charlie even stayed in Marks & Spencer. 

The fact that we were close to the border was aptly emphasised by these street signs and the Guildhall, Market Place and Cathedral all deserved a good stare too.

The timber framed Guildhall dates back to the 15th century and although I loved the cheeky painted gargoyles, they were apparently only added in the mid 1800's.

Finally I have promised Mister E nineteen similar future outings to finish that checklist and continue his historical education!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Protest for Change

As well as giving time for hobbies and travel, retirement is also an opportunity to pursue things you feel passionately about. On my part I now enjoy being able to play a fuller part in my roles as a school governor and charity trustee. I am conscious however that retirement also brings the potential to help to alter the world; to activate about and engage with the powers of change. 

To date and for me this has probably amounted to little more than signing a few petitions and writing letters of protest. I hold certain ideals and principles dear and try to live my life in accordance with them but hardly anticipate whole-scale change as a result. Am I being defeatist before I start?

This evening Mister E and I went to the cinema to see Selma, the story (or at least part of the tale) of Martin Luther King and the fight for equality for blacks in America. It was immensely powerful and a reminder of the need to activate and stand up for what we believe in. "If we know then we must fight for your life as though it were our own," wrote James Baldwin, " For if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night." 

But how many causes today are caught up with or symptomatic of self-interested nimbyism? 

How many are being pursued by yoghurt-knitting warriors who don't understand either the science or contrary arguments to their causes but simply enjoy the battle?

What are the really big movements for change out there (discounting climate change and animal rights)? 

What should they be or is it the case as John Osborne said that "There aren't any good, brave causes left. If the big bang does come and we all get killed off ..... It will just be for the Brave New-nothing-very-much-thank-you?"

Retirement is getting deep!

Friday, 6 February 2015


Oh dear when the weather is ropey, I am discovering the joys of hibernation. Not literally, as I have not yet deteriorated into a day-time snoozer, but it is proving really good to snuggle up inside with my computer or a book.

I poked my head outside yesterday to visit a number of banks and meet friends for lunch, but then it was back home and a session with Future Learn, the UK university MOOC website. If I am not broadening my horizons by direct experience, it has to be the next best thing. 

This week I have been exploring the diverse worlds of Empire, Shale Gas and Fracking, and The Night Sky. If I do not learn as much as I might hope, I do at least have a greater appreciation of how much there is to try to understand and how little I actually know. It is also considerably more fulfilling than gaining cpd (continuing professional development) points because a third party requires it or alternatively learning with the shadow of an examination hovering over you.

Friday, 31 October 2014

End of October

It was the warmest Halloween day on record today apparently. Certainly my memories of carving turnip (we had never seen a pumpkin) lanterns as a child is always against a background of duffle coats and scarves and perhaps occasionally a touch of snow too.

This year I have actually succeeded in growing pumpkins, both in my greenhouse and outside, as we have revelled in one of the driest summers for several years. I know you have no control in these matters but it really was a superb summer, weather-wise, to retire.

Now of course, record or no record, the nights are drawing in and there have been rain showers a plenty over the last few weeks as well as some strong, blustery northerly winds. Mind, such weather is not unwelcome. My garden may have been looking great during the last few months but it has been at the expense of neglecting the interior of my home as well as some much needed household "admin."

So this week I have been able to find time to concentrate on a new Future Learn course on Creative Writing coupled with those routine chores that I love to ignore. If there's time tomorrow, I have even sorted a pumpkin recipe or two that I want to try.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Following in the Steps of Novelists, a Painter and a King

Today I gave the Youngest a lift to Bowes so that she could picnic with friends. As I also had to pick her up afterwards I passed the interlude 4 miles away down the road from her in Barnard Castle. It was an appropriate destination at a time when I continue to follow the Future Learn course on England in the time of Richard III, for the castle there was one of his main residences for some 10 years or more and he was also a great benefactor of the town's Parish Church.

To pass the time I took my sketch book and made some rather rough drawings of the castle moving to a point close to where Turner himself sketched and then painted the bridge and castle. It's been a long time since I drew for pleasure and I confess that I am rather rusty but practice makes perfect as they say and retirement is now affording the time and opportunity for improvement. It was certainly a good way to fill in a couple of hours, although the passing visitors craning to peer at my artistic efforts were somewhat disconcerting.

With the castle as well as the 18th century Buttermarket, 19th century Bowes Museum, the market town layout and numerous antique shops, Barnard Castle remains an attractive place for a visitor and in today's sunshine there seemed to be plenty of tourists.

It's said that William Wordsworth, Daniel Defoe and more recently Bill Bryson have all visited and, of course, it is there that Charles Dickens stayed whilst researching and writing Nicholas Nickleby. Perhaps it's as well I was only there for an afternoon, otherwise creative impulses might have encouraged me to try my hand at writing a novel rather than drawing a few lines in a sketch book.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Wharram Percy

I expected that giving up the intellectual stimulation that I have always derived from my work might create a void. I am pleased, however, to report that this does not seem to have been the case. Alternatively I've just been too worn out physically to concern myself with my mental faculties.

Nevertheless and in an effort to ensure that my brain doesn't degenerate too quickly into mush, I have started another Future Learn course. This one is on England in the Time of Richard III. Whilst by no means as academic as the previous courses I have undertaken with Future Learn, it has perhaps been the most interesting, prompting me to start reading about the Medieval Period and also yesterday to visit Wharram Percy.

It was a glorious sunny day and driving through the Yorkshire Wolds one could enjoy their beauty at its best. 

Our destination was a rare surprise; the most famous and thoroughly investigated of all the deserted medieval villages, tucked away in its own little V shaped valley complete with original Church and a restored fishpond, with the site of the manor and peasant houses and plots clearly visible. Wandering along the grass paths, I could almost imagine being back there 700 years ago with the smell of wood-smoke hanging over the valley and the villagers going about their daily lives as they worked the land to provide a living.