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 Physically Active. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Physically Active. 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.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

G-Force

 

It's been another busy week here in retirement, governed, or so it seems, by g-force*.

As ever I've been spending time in the gym where strengthening the lower back muscles and glutes seems to have been the order of the week. I guess I've made the grade,  because I've managed to spend my afternoons in the garden digging the ground, moving soil and transferring plants from the greenhouse to grow in the newly constructed vegetable beds which Mister E has made for me.

I've been exhausted by evening, covered in grime and ready for the hot bath that has generated sufficient recovery to enable me to spend the twilight hours concentrating on the GDPR or to give it its full title the General Data Protection Regulation which took effect on May 25th. Something to do with my previous life but I'm responsible for its implementation at the Almshouse where I am a trustee and, of course, am following an action plan of change as Parish Clerk. So much administration (she says gritting her teeth).

The sun has been gleaming and at the prospect of spending my time in the great outdoors, some mornings I confess I've actually felt giddy with excitement as I've leapt out of bed.

Gradually grilled by the glow from the glare of the glimmering sun, life is so good!

* a force acting on a body as a result of acceleration or gravity



Friday, 1 June 2018

Friday Finish




Back in the day, hot summer Friday afternoons were tedious affairs heralding the start of something much more relaxing after a stress-filled working week and then followed quickly by weekend plans, invariably spoiled by unseasonal rain.

Retirement Land  is so different that at the end of a Friday afternoon and a series of days in the garden all with  pleasant sunshine, it was hard not to feel a little smug when, at 5pm, the heavens opened. Fortunately it must just have been a passing cloud as the shower was fairly brief. With more rain forecast for tomorrow, however, it's good to know that seeds have been sown, borders weeded and all is beginning to look under control outside.

After a couple of  summers of unsettled weather, it is a joy to be able to savour home and garden, stepping from one to the other as the mood suits with doors and windows wide open. We have managed to proceed with plans for our herb and wild flower borders and Mister E has been skilfully constructing timber frames for my vegetable beds. Having built the house almost twenty years ago, one of the plans for retirement was to be able to enjoy both it and the plot on which it stands; this year our aspirations are being realised.


Tuesday, 29 May 2018

A Derbyshire Walk




Derbyshire and the Peak District are not on our doorstep but they are close to the home of a dear friend who has only very recently retired. The sun hasn't stopped shining since she did and she is revelling in the pleasure of being outside when everyone else is inside working. The first of her retirement challenges is to walk the boundary of the Peak District National Park, raising money through sponsorship for a local charity supporting refugees.

I stayed overnight so that I could accompany her on what is a relatively short section of the walk just south of Chatsworth House which looked magnificent in the sunshine with its fountains a tempting sight in the heat. We ambled between two quintessential English villages, Beeley and Winster, passing through a third, Rowsley. We strolled in woods, across meadows abundant with wild flowers and over moorland. We stopped briefly by the Nine Ladies Stone Circle, with stones that are approximately two feet in height; it definitely is not Stonehenge although it still holds a mystical quality.

Unfortunately, although I had a camera with me, our conversation was so engrossing that, save for the first flower meadow, I forgot to take photographs.

What did we talk about? Retirement, of course! My friend may be newly initiated and still in the early honeymoon period but I sensed a true convert, starting on the path to fitness and already enjoying the healing powers of outdoor life.


Monday, 14 May 2018

Manic Mondays




I think all my regular retirement activities came together in one enormous manic episode of non-stop activity today. Goodness me it was just like being back at work when court cases would invariably run over or be slotted in for an urgent mention next morning, and once again I didn't finish until 9pm.

 So I started with a morning commute for a gym workout; went to the almshouse I'm a trustee at to complete some forms and at 1pm presented myself for a shift at the local Save the Children shop covering for a volunteer on holiday and even eating a sandwich at my desk (happy memories) for lunch. I got home with just sufficient time to prepare for a Parish Council meeting this evening and which I then clerked from 7.30 pm.

Before settling down to type this blog, I've chatted on the telephone, soaked and rinsed berth cushions (subject material for my next blog entry), watered my greenhouse plants, watched a little television and then finally switched the computer on. Short of hopping off on a long journey, visiting an art exhibition or decorating, I think I've pretty much experienced my whole retirement lifestyle in one day.

Seriously, why do people laugh when you say you don't know how you ever found the time to go to work?

Anyway it felt good, but even better for not having to get up early and repeat it all again tomorrow.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

A Chilly Easter Sunday



When I was a child, Easter Sunday would invariably mean being decked out in new sandals and a summer dress. The youngest returned home for Easter this year but, apart from the fact that she'd never let me choose shoes or clothing for her, the temperature was such that there was no way I would even have dared suggest we wear such items. 



Instead layered up in a multitude of fleeces we visited Bylands Abbey (one of the many monasteries scattered around the Yorkshire countryside that have been in ruins since Henry VIII embarked on his policy of dissolution and plunder). 

 
From there and despite the low temperature we made our way to the White Horse, a renowned landmark carved out on the hillside to the east of Thirsk in the 19th century by, according to some accounts, a local schoolmaster and his pupils. Sadly it was looking rather grey and supports erected to prevent slippage of the stones were doubling as a collection point for wind borne litter. It's due a re-paint and spruce up this year but apparently in the interests of health and safety the Forestry Commission, rather than the group of volunteers who have been caring for it, are to carry out the work in future, suitably dressed, harnessed and tethered. I do wonder if some of those school children who helped in its construction (no ropes or harnesses involved presumably) wore sandals and dresses, of the Victorian type of course. Nevertheless, at the bottom of the hill, we spotted their hardy descendants queuing for ice-cream despite the 4 degree chill!

Does age (as well as more than 150 years of Health and Safety) bring commonsense or wimpishness? Not only did I seek to be cocooned in layers on the outside but the idea of removing gloves to devour frozen fare held no appeal. My nose alone was icy enough for my taste.

The benefit for us of walking in the cold was reaped instead when we re-entered the warmth  of indoors and conjured up a pot of tea.

 

Sunday, 25 March 2018

That Ongoing but Elusive Quest




Aware of my penchant for mixing exercise with food (the only justification I can find for eating more), I realise that I have overlooked telling you about my day out with an old friend last week. With all the snow and rain we've been inundated with recently, we agreed to meet at Fountains Abbey near to Ripon believing that it would get us outdoors but provide some alternatives in the event of extreme weather.


In the end it turned out to be a dry if chilly day. However, any hope of following the footpath into Ripon itself disappeared in a quagmire beneath our feet. Instead we returned and then stuck to the purposefully constructed paths around the estate. Whilst not flat, the ascents are so insignificant that there is no risk of breathlessness intervening to impede non-stop chatter.

It was a perfect choice and on this occasion not only was there a cafe to finish our walk in but also another for a pre-stroll coffee and cake.


Yes, when I mused on walking my way to fitness in the early days of this blog, I forgot about the refreshment breaks. No wonder 3 years and 9 months into retirement that I continue to wear out the soles of my feet on what seems to be an elusive quest. Still I can thoroughly recommend the National Trust's scones and flapjack.

 

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Lower Back Pain




Episodes of lower back pain apparently affect most people at some point from middle age. How to alleviate them has been a matter of historical dispute by experts and I noticed that both today and yesterday the Guardian published articles about a series of reports in The Lancet. The consensus seems to be that bed rest and medical intervention are unhelpful and that sufferers should keep exercising.

It all reminded me of one of our conversations this week at the gym before consecutive Barre and Yoga sessions. Several classmates hobbled in, others rubbed painful joints and we were all full of the woes that aches and pains bring. The level of torment varied from individual to individual but we were as one in our belief that a little exertion and some stretching would cure the problem. Of course there's no such thing as  a miracle remedy and I'd be lying if I said that everyone skipped out of the door and home, twinge free.

The great thing about being a believer though is that we were all there again this morning, ready to be put through our paces once more. I am full of admiration for the lovely ladies that I exercise with, many well into retirement, and all anxious to build or maintain a strong core not so that they will look good in a beach bikini but rather to assure fitness into old age. 

Routine tasks like bending over to fasten a shoe lace, getting up from a chair, climbing in and out of the bath all require the use of core muscles. Lifting, twisting, cleaning and even sitting need them too. Core strength can prevent the debilitating effects of lower back pain, aid balance and reduce falling. We all need it, regardless of whether or not we aspire to continue to swim, walk or play sport into our nineties .

Exercise of one sort or another is probably one of the most sociable activities to undertake in retirement and yes, we did all go out for lunch afterwards today.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The 3 x 60 Challenge




So much is written about the post-work bucket list that as you approach retirement, you inevitably feel that you should have one. A tick list of 100 things to see and do before you die. You don't even have to think up your own any more, the Internet is full of them. Glance through them if you will and you quickly get the impression that retirement must be full of adrenalin rushed grandparents throwing themselves out of aeroplanes or climbing Kilimanjaro.

Indeed the eldest recently sent a book to Mister E and me entitled "101 Coolest Things to Do in Great Britain." Now it is a good read and has some, shall we say, "interesting ideas" but for those that hold the most appeal I can honestly say that I've already been there, done them, got the photographs. There are others that wild horses wouldn't drag me to. It may be cool, but somehow Mister E and I attending Bestival is beyond even the most vivid of imaginations.

The problem with trying to buy into somebody else's dream is obviously that it is their dream and not yours. Moreover if any retired person has really adopted or even adapted a 100 item bucket list prepared by somebody else what have they been doing up till now apart from working?  Not to have determined what I really enjoy doing in the first part of my life and knowing from that what I wanted to build on or expand in the next part, would have seemed to me a gross disservice to both my imagination and experience.

Of course most people must land on Planet Retirement with all kinds of plans and good intentions, borrowed or otherwise, but, as this blog has probably charted, life doesn't necessarily follow the pattern proposed. Freedom and flexibility can foster indolence, but how many people ever include in their Must Do List "never rising before 10am"?

Before we retired, we had plans which I carefully documented on this blog (lest I perhaps forget). Ah yes, with reference to my preceding paragraph, a quick refresh would suggest I did plan on occasions to revel in doing nothing! 

Plans can be very different to bucket lists. In our case they were probably better regarded as a statement of intent, rather than a checklist to work through. In so far as we have any inventory of items to tick off, it is unwritten, shifting according to circumstance; a vague, unstructured catalogue or wish list, driven by impetuosity and whims. I prefer it like that. Imagine instead waking every morning knowing that the next item on the list awaits preparation and then conquest. How disappointing never to make it to the end of the list; failure to succeed in retirement. Or perhaps it would even be worse to complete the bucket list, and then be confronted by an abyss. What would follow? Contentment or an empty life?

I'm not proposing that in retirement we should all drift aimlessly, although if that is your preferred option then why not? If a competitive workplace has been your driving force for decades, however, then there may well be an inevitable tendency to look for specific goals and targets in retirement. Perhaps that even explains why the initial starting point is to think in terms of a bucket list.

However, I can well and truly say that, fast approaching my 4th anniversary of retirement, if I ever had a bucket it has now well and truly sprung a leak. Instead and with my big 60th birthday at the end of the current week, I have set myself 3 simple challenges. They are intended to fit in with my lifestyle and initial plans. So as I have previously mentioned  I am going to read 60 books this year (11 already down, 49 to go); I am going to swim 60 times (only 8 sessions to date, 52 to complete) and I intend to visit 60 unfamiliar places (impeded by wintry conditions, I haven't even started). I cannot countenance failure, and if necessary shall spend December swimming from place to place, paperback in hand.


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.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Disappointed by a Lack of Traction



This post comes with a health warning: the title reads, "Disappointed by a Lack of Traction." That is "traction," not "attraction." 

Okay warning over, what is Caree blogging on about today? Too old for acne, she can't have discovered another wrinkle, surely? No, let me say again this post is about traction or rather a lack of it.  

There I was after a week of relatively mild weather thinking Spring might be just around the corner when boom another snowfall hit, all 3 inches of it and life was thrown into chaos. It must sound ridiculous for those who live in countries used to regular winter snowdrifts but believe me, it now only takes a couple of millimetres and it seems that the whole of the British Isles grinds to a halt.

As I have written on various previous occasions, one of the great things about retirement is the ability to fit one's life around the weather. So much so that treacherous road conditions throw up two obvious choices: a cosy duvet day or an 'I'm smugly looking out of the window knowing I don't have to go out' kind of day. 

Except this morning I didn't want either of those options. 

It's Thursday and that means I'd booked into 3 fitness classes; kicking off at 9.30 a.m. with a core class in the kinesis studio, followed by 45 minutes of zumba before finishing with a well deserved and usually much needed stretch out in Pilates. Getting to the gym requires a 7 mile drive, much of it along country lanes, providing a period of quiet contentment before and after exercise and the closest now that I ever get to a morning commute.


Ever eager, I decided to set off early in light of the likely road conditions. Miss Scarlet whom you may recall I acquired in March 2015 is still an unknown quantity on snow and having stupidly dismissed Mister E's offer to fit winter tyres a few weeks ago (after all why would I need them in retirement, now there's no obligation to go out in extreme weather?), I set off regardless. 

Did I mention that we live at the bottom of a hill? I must have got all of 6 yards up it before I began to slip and slide relentlessly whilst a little light appeared on my dashboard warning me of a lack of traction presumably on the off chance that I had not noticed that my car was refusing to point in the direction I wanted. I reversed and took a run at it but Miss Scarlet indignantly refused to go any higher up the incline. Head down and shamed, I slowly edged backwards to our drive; typical front wheel drive car, there was plenty of traction in reverse gear but only absolute desperation would force me to use that all the way to the main road.


So there we have it: I didn't get to the gym; I realised why for most of my latter years of working I always had a four wheel drive car; I understand better the virtues of winter tyres and the limitations of my totally inappropriate choice of motor car for the handful of bad weather days we get a year. I also reminded myself that in retirement, I really don't need to drive anywhere. Instead we went on a beautiful walk to a local lake cum conservation area, past the medieval church and castle, and all the time with distant views of the Yorkshire Dales and Moors. Attractions on our doorstep that we don't appreciate as often as we should.




Better still, having cleared the drive of snow, Mister E has just suggested we should have mulled wine like we do up high on blue sky days in Alpine ski resorts. Moreover, he's not going to make me sit on the patio in salopettes to drink it!

Planet Retirement, where life is bliss and you can enjoy your snowflakes.



Thursday, 11 January 2018

Back in Circulation



 So today turned out to be my big day and after two weeks in the grip of an influenza like illness (as I've seen Australian flu defined) I finally returned to the gym. When working it was accepted practice to attempt to struggle on regardless and when you did succumb to a virus, to return prematurely often causing what seemed to be a resurgence or lingering of symptoms. That said, the company of others, a change of scene and an assignment to task the brain can work wonders at uplifting the spirit.

In retirement, however, it is  easy to cosset yourself at home, break all contact with humanity and allow yourself to be nurtured slowly back to health. The trouble is staying in and warm, can become somewhat tedious after a time. Further, woe betide, if you allow yourself to fall into the trap of thinking that the older you get the longer these things take to shake off. With that mindset, I could stay in bed for months.

So a little like returning to work, I decided to throw myself back in at the deep end and to do three fitness classes this morning. As a result I talked to any number of people, smiled, laughed and got out of the sickness rut. It wasn't easy and on several occasions I thought the dreaded fever was returning, whereas  in reality whilst I was circulating with colleagues, my heart too was pumping overtime to get oxygenated blood circulating around my body and to recently unused muscles.

Consequently I returned home a trifle flushed, very tired but resolute in my determination to return tomorrow.

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.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Brain Training




We all read those scare stories suggesting that if you dare to retire then, without the intellectual stimulation that work brings, your brain will quickly turn to mush. Consequently I know people who diligently don't move from the breakfast table until they have at least had a good stab at completing the daily crossword or won't travel without a compendium of sudoku puzzles or brain training programmes. Whilst I enjoy the challenge of  both crosswords and sudoku, to my chagrin they do not figure in my daily routine and I have been known to express fleeting concern that my mental capacity could be diminishing, without the constant taxing and testing that professional life brings. 

I am therefore little short of euphoric to have learnt this week of a report from the Global Council on Brain Health that effectively dismisses the health benefits of puzzles and mind games. Instead the Council's report concludes that whilst we can have an impact on how our brains change as we age, the best activities to enhance a person's cognitive reserve involve activities that we find enjoyable and challenging, that encourage social engagement and teach new skills. The examples given by the report include learning tai chi, practising yoga (tick), taking a photography class (phew I did that one recently), investigating your genealogy (one of my favourite pastimes), juggling (humph), cooking (tick), gardening (tick), learning a language (tick) or musical instrument (others would not forgive me if I tried this with my lack of musical talent), creative writing and making art (tick), volunteering (big tick).

Indeed the report specifically emphasises the benefit of activities involving both physical and mental engagement and gives the examples of dancing and tennis. It accords exactly with the wise words spoken by my Zumba instructor who insists that the expenditure of energy during her class is incidental to the benefits to the brain as the blood flows to the head and we seek to memorise her routines, struggling to follow her footsteps.

However within the report are words of warning for the retired person. The study showed that cognitive decline (potentially leading to dementia or other conditions associated with ageing) can accelerate when people stop work if by retiring they cease to participate in cognitively stimulating activities.

The conclusions drawn from the report are accordingly that the benefits of what most people consider as brain training games are weak to non-existent and that instead we should find new ways to stimulate the brain and challenge how we think. We should choose activities that involve both mental engagement and physical activity and even better if they also incorporate social engagement and an altruistic purpose such as volunteering or mentoring.

Based on my retirement activity to date, it is a relief to know that I am potentially postponing the onset of dementia for a few years yet. Moreover by remaining mentally active and continuing to learn, the effect may even be prolonged for the whole of my lifespan. I'm not sure if I'll still be doing Zumba at 85, of course, but maybe at that stage the family will forgive me if I do decide to learn to play the trumpet instead.

 

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...




Sunday, 2 April 2017

Madeira




We have just returned from a short trip to Madeira. A week to get outdoors in the sunshine and walk. I've always enjoyed previous trips to Portugal but Madeira was an island that we had always dismissed as being for older folk with what we imagined were elegant hotels on graceful boulevards with an all pervading colonial ambience from yesteryear.

Initially we thought we were right about the older traveller. Although on our first day I managed to refrain from succumbing to a single senior moment, life was not so good for others. For instance, there was the lady at the airport who, upon arrival, removed my holdall from the conveyor belt in baggage reclaim and then took some persuading that the label with my name on it and the brightly coloured string around its handle meant that it was not hers. 

Or, what about the gentleman who sat down in my seat at dinner whilst I was serving myself at the salad buffet? As I returned, he was in the process of drinking then spitting out in total distaste my glass of fizzy water. He was still not convinced he was in the wrong seat, even when his wife, waving a bottle of still water (fortunately it had its cap screwed on) in his general direction, called to him from another table.

Of course my turn came the following morning when I wandered into the plush restrooms off reception, emerged from a cubicle and admired the artistic handbasins rising like trumpets from the floor. I was just about to plunge my hands into one when I realised I was staring at a urinal and was in the Gents! That merited a hasty exit and a quick reminder to myself to place spectacles on my nose in future before endeavouring to decipher the indicative figure on the lavatory door.

So, clearly feeling totally at home in a seniors' holiday destination, what did we think of Madeira?



Well it is hilly, but compared to the walks we generally do in the Lake District not significantly so and only (or so I was told) on the most difficult levada walks do you need to use arms as well as legs. The sun shone warmer and with greater reliability than at home. There was an interesting variety of wildflowers on the hillsides although another few weeks and the agapanthus will be in full bloom which will certainly transform many of the places we walked. Park beds were full of Bird of Paradise flowers and Arum Lillies appeared to grow almost wild. Unfortunately there are very few species of bird on the island which is not on a migration route, but we did see the indigenous Madeiran Firecrest, similar to our own but more colourful. Typical of a volcanic island there are massive black cliffs dropping steeply to the sea and very few beaches.


Also and inevitably for a place where tourism is now the main industry, concrete has spilled over into the landscape in abundance. That colonial elegance glimpsed on some of the older buildings has given way to massive modern hotels clinging to the hills and cliffs around Funchal and what were once farmed terraces now play host to housing and shopping centres. A modern road system includes some 138 kms of concrete tunnels blasted through the rocks and even the airport runway is held up by a series of concrete pillars extending into the sea. The sea front and promenade area too are a bastion of, yes, concrete.

It is a popular stopping point for cruise ships and with several in port on Monday and Tuesday, we made sure to keep away from Funchal on those days. The rest of the island is a relieving mix of greenery and rock, and, apart from visitors, pretty much deserted with most people opting to live or stay within the perimeters of the capital.

The temperature was pleasant and when the sun overdid its work a breeze from the sea kept the thermometer in check. Eating outside, especially for lunch was very much the order of the day and although we rejected the salted cod which features on most Portuguese menus there was always plenty of alternative fresh fish.

What about all the old folk? Well most of them are super fit and clearly go to Madeira to walk up those hills or along the levadas. Also they are not so much elderly as indifferent to the lure of a beach towel, night club or all day English breakfast. Of course that could be not only the defining features  of retirement but also where Madeira really gets its reputation for elegance and taste from.





Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Beautiful People and a Council Tip



The DIY activity at the house the eldest has been living in at Nottingham reached mammoth levels over the last 10 days. With the eldest safely out of the way in a ski resort with Mister E, I once again drove that familiar 120 mile route down the motorway, paintbrush in hand. I spent five days cleaning, decorating and meeting with the letting agent we have appointed to manage the property, now that the eldest has submitted his thesis and is pursuing his destiny elsewhere.

It was not all work in that on three evenings I gave myself a break to sneak out and meet old friends from my own university days in the same city. One dear lady I had not in fact seen for 27 years and another only once before in all that time. It was of no consequence; time rolled back and nothing had changed. Not only do we still have much in common but we are all now beautiful people. The days of acne angst, emotional crises and a lack of confidence are all long gone and we have emerged as wiser, interesting and more graceful beings. Those still working have found a new balance between work and leisure, opting for part-time and flexible positions as they manoeuvre towards retirement and those who have taken the plunge are filling up their days with exercise, hobbies, travel and voluntary work. Pilates and a desire to work hard at retaining fitness and good health was a common theme. It has taken until our sixth decade but at last we seem to have life sorted; we are in control and, we agreed, feel comfortable with ourselves.

At least I thought I did, nodding vehemently when the suggestion was put. However, returning home to North Yorkshire utterly exhausted and then adding to it with a series of fitness classes and other activities I felt particularly drained two days later. So it was that at 9.05 on Friday morning I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, contemplating getting out of bed whilst revelling in the thought that I would have a weekend "off"(yes even in retirement you need the odd one or two of those). 

Then, suddenly, it happened; the telephone rang and my  plans, or lack of them, were thrown into disarray. It was the letting agent confirming that within the space of two days he had found the ideal tenant (great news) but....... he wanted to move in immediately. A hasty family conference with Mister E and the eldest, fortunately with all limbs intact despite their escapades, agreed yes. After I had confirmed our concurrence, panic set in: three rooms still to decorate; all the eldest's worldly goods to remove; more cleaning; IKEA furniture to build; blinds to cut to size then fit; utilities to transfer; keys and instructions to sort. What kind of mad plan was this? Could it actually be achieved in a weekend?

It could and it was but the days were long and hard and when it reached the point that we were held up by traffic trying to reach the Council tip before it closed at 4pm, I could have cracked emotionally. Arriving with what I thought were ten minutes to spare, we were greeted by a five minutes to closing announcement and I found myself running from skip to skip, throwing unwanted chipboard, empty paint cans, cardboard, textiles and broken household goods as I went. There was no grace and beauty left; this was ugly but it was effective.

We finally left late on Monday evening, in a car weighed down with everything from bedding to a bicycle. We had stretched ourselves so hard that we had skipped lunch and hardly noticed, the hunger pangs long gone, as a muted and drained contemplation of our achievement dominated the two hour journey home. There was no strength left to unpack at the other end just a warm bath, pyjamas and bed.

Two days later, I have lower back muscles still screaming in agony (although Fitball and Zumba sessions in the interim may not have helped); I remain totally confused as to the day and date; our hall is piled high with bags and dirty washing but the tenant has moved in. 

I have crossed this weekend off (a pile of books at the ready) and on Monday I shall once again emerge as a serene being.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Letting Go and Making a Difference




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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Enjoying the Elements



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


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


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


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


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


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