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 Ranting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ranting. Show all posts

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.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Resolutions for 2017

The first page of a new year and with another 364 days to go we all need to be working together to plan a happy ending. That anyway was my thought as I contemplated the making of this year's New Year's Resolutions. 

I was actually surprised to read that most people's resolutions involve losing weight, taking more exercise and making time in their busy lives for family and friends. To think that there was a time when I actually thought that I was unique in both my ambitions and failings.

Now that I know that fellow humanity shares so many goals and aspirations, I want to reach out with this year's resolutions to strive for objectives we can all embrace together. 2016 was an appalling year on so many levels, so I now undertake in 2017 to:

1. Make someone smile every day
2. Ensure I have a good daily laugh too (I sense my family groaning already at my sense of humour)
3. Stand up for what I believe in and endeavour to engage others to fight the cause (oh dear my poor MP is undoubtedly already groaning  at the thought of those extra e-mails)
4. Use less, live simply and shop locally wherever possible
5. Think globally and be aware of the impact of my footprints on the planet and the suffering of all those in war zones or denied the liberties that I enjoy, doing what I can to raise awareness and improve outcomes.

In retirement we have the time and wisdom to contemplate the need for change and, if we summon the energy, to action it.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The Long Commute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 13 November 2016

A Letter to America

Dear America,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

A Bad Hair Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 12 August 2016

Flying to America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Great Big Fall Out

I was hoping not to blog about the aftermath of the referendum again but after a long journey to and from Scotland today I felt I had to. The Scottish journey (a swift reconnoitre to explore options in the event of a second independence referendum?) is probably irrelevant, save that it meant a lot of time was spent listening to the radio when I could hardly believe what I was hearing about recent hate crime, the recriminations and party games being played out at Westminster and now, of course, the young people of London have marched to the Houses of Parliament to show the strength of their upset.

I can't say that the EU is something I feel any more passionate about than Jeremy Corbyn allegedly does. It's been around now so long, it's just a comfortable pair of carpet slippers and imagine having a referendum over those. Like most people I know, however, I could see that to try to unpick a system that we have lived by, built on and fully integrated into our business life and economy for over 40 years, could only bring volatility and upset. I didn't fall for Project Fear and am sure that given time and good Government which sadly we are currently lacking, things will calm down although it seems inevitable that the economy will shrink and there will be further austerity measures, but for how long, of course, nobody can say. 

My main concern in voting Remain was to try to counter the hatred and racism that I could see an Out vote unleashing and to prevent a take over of the elected Government by its extreme right. Unfortunately 51.9% of the electorate were against me and because nobody thought to require a two thirds majority or whatever level would have been appropriate to alter the status quo we are where we are. Just imagine if every  local club, partnership, company board and organisation voted for major decisions on such a basis, there would be complete chaos and fall outs every time an important issue had to be decided upon.

Being on the wrong side of an election outcome is nothing new and I am resigned to it. I have lived in one of the strongest Conservative held seats in the country for over thirty years, so as somebody who never votes Tory feel pretty much disenfranchised anyway. 

What does concern me though is not only the apparent absence of leadership (we should have a new Prime Minister by a date in September, three months away with the country already in melt down), but also the escalating hate crime. For instance who would believe, if it hadn't been videoed, that grown men in Manchester would feel that they could legitimately abuse an American who has lived here for 18 years on a public tram, because he is a foreigner. 

In the meantime and because statistics released show that the younger the voter (yes I bucked the trend) the more likely they are to have voted Remain, I now find Social Media full of older adults, who really should know better, calling those young people scum, wasters and other terms that I would prefer not to repeat. The posts are usually against photographs of the Great War suggesting that in some way the youth of today don't understand the hard realities of life and sacrifices that have been made for them. When the  Treaty of Rome was signed back in 1957 it was, of course, intended as a way to rebuild Europe and ensure that nations with long histories of strife between them would trade rather than fight and in which respect it has been an overwhelming success. What is wrong therefore with anyone, especially the young, wanting to remain in such an organisation which, when I think of it, is now beginning to sound much better than those old worn slippers?

With an outcome so close and of such consequence, those who feel sore at losing have full right to give voice to their frustrations especially when they believe that the result was affected by deliberate lies and propaganda. Yes the nation now needs to unite but in a way where, so far as possible, everyone can be acknowledged. Boris Johnson tried to start the process with his letter in the Telegraph yesterday but, as usual is living in dreamland. It was however a recognition of what is needed, in trying to reach out to everyone (albeit conveniently forgetting promises he had made along the way). 48.1% of the electorate cannot and will not be ignored, especially if they are young and passionate. The UK did not vote to eject foreigners from our soil. 51.9%, however, voted to leave the EU. We are all affected, feeling helpless and hurting in some way. A strong leader is needed to sort out the aftermath and in the meantime we all need to behave like adults and do everything we can to prevent hostility and division.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

#More in Common

Apart from the result, of course, there are two other worrying outcomes of the referendum. The first is the apparent total absence of any plan to implement an Out vote and since yesterday's announcement that he would be resigning, any visible leadership from the Prime Minister or indeed anyone in Government.

The second is the indisputable fact that the outcome has legitimised divisions between the 51.9% who voted Out and the 48.1% who voted to remain, as well as between the various sectors of society.

It is  only last week that an MP was brutally murdered outside her constituency surgery by a thug who from the name he gave to the Court subsequent to his arrest (Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain) appears to think he was acting in Britain's interest. I have already blogged about the absurd unleashing of hatred as a result of the referendum campaign and remain concerned about living in a country where our fair and liberal values appear to be at risk or undermined.

On Wednesday I attended the More in Common event in Trafalgar Square, a memorial for Jo Cox, MP on what would have been her 42nd birthday. She had worked hard throughout her short life for those in need at home and abroad and was a genuine humanitarian. The occasion was sombre and very moving. So much so that by the time the cast from Les Miserables appeared on stage to perform "Do You Hear the People Sing" there could hardly have been a dry eye in London.

I don't want to have a retirement where the movement of myself and others is restricted; where there is unnecessary hatred and prejudice; where the politics of the country are isolationist, inward looking, arrogant, mean or small-minded. As Jo Cox in her maiden speech said, "We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us."

Those present in Trafalgar Square pledged to Love Like Jo. It is a vow that all of us now need to take if we are to get through the chaos and difficult days, months or even years that lie ahead.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Wrong Vibes

I spent most of this week in London, rushing back by train on Thursday to the ballot box. The vibes in London, which has to be the greatest cosmopolitan city on Earth, were such that I was convinced that the result of the EU Referendum campaign would be a decisive vote for Remain. 

Totally exhausted from the long days walking pavements (London may be cosmopolitan but its concrete slabs are hard on the soles), I did not have the energy to stay up late to watch the early results come in and instead got up at 6am to dash downstairs and seek confirmation of the result.

Needless to say I was rendered speechless as shock gripped me and I realised that all the weeks of unsavoury rhetoric had not repulsed the electorate after all. An attempt to silence the extreme right in the Tory party had backfired and we are now committed to leaving the European Union after forty years.

Apart from the lunatic fringe, nobody seemed to be celebrating, not even the victors. Reality suggested that there was no obvious plan to move things forward and as the pound plummeted and the Prime Minister (when did I ever think I might be sad to see David Cameron go so quickly) announced his intention to resign, we appeared to be both leaderless and without direction. I guess it's at times like these that tin pot nations are taken over by military coups but apart from some soothing words from the Governor of the Bank of England (a foreigner taking a Briton's job apparently) shell-shock reigned supreme.

Of course there are all kinds of theories as to why the vote went the way that it did. Why did hard core Labour supporters vote against their party and with extreme neo-facists? Was it a vote against austerity without realising that we could now end up with a government that cares far more for the politics of capitalism than the current regime? Was it swung by mavericks who thought their vote wouldn't count and the establishment (along with virtually every so-called expert) would get its way regardless? Or was it, as in the case of one woman I saw interviewed, because the local council has closed the public toilets in her home town? I know sh*t happens, but seriously?

It doesn't matter; the fact is that we are leaving and suddenly life seems potentially scarier and more uncertain than it was. Retirement plans certainly need to be re-evaluated. A forever home in a warmer climate for instance would be burdened with issues; petrol costs are likely to increase making road trips more expensive; guaranteed increases in the State Pension (if I live long enough to reach an age when I can claim it) may be consigned to history; further austerity cuts (not immigration) could increase waiting lists for the NHS just as bodily parts begin to deteriorate. Without the EU will my children benefit from the workers' rights that have been implemented over recent decades or will they be chipped away at bit by bit? Will they have the advantages of living in a "green and pleasant land" or will the environmentally friendly policies of the EU be abandoned to allow farmers for instance greater freedom in lieu of their subsidies that may now reduce?

Curiously we have been told that the older the voter, the more likely they were to vote leave. The generation that  has never had it so good in part because of the EU has pulled up the draw-bridge and for what? Nobody seems to know the answer apart from some silver tongued privileged blokes who like being photgraphed with pints in their hands as though they speak for the common man whilst talking in riddles.

I certainly hope the electorate hasn't been completely hoodwinked; that Europe doesn't implode as a result of our decision to walk away from the table at a time when global pressures require more unity not separation; that a deep and prolonged recession can be avoided and, most importantly, that we can counter the hatred building up on our streets.

There's a lot of reshaping to do and not just for retirement. 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

A Distraction for a Wet Afternoon

So how do you distract yourself on a wet and cool June day when, upon returning from the gym, you decide it's too unpleasant to step out further? How about donning a fleece to combat the temperature and then watching England and Wales battle it out on a football field in France, all from the comfort of your living room?

Now I'm not  a great fan of international football, at least not when it gives rise to populist nationalism. However, after (to quote the Archbishop of Canterbury) "the inexcusable pandering to worries and prejudices that is giving legitimisation to racism" in the current referendum campaign, the football stadiums of Euro 2016 surely provide an ideal opportunity to demonstrate camaraderie between European nations both on and off the pitch. It's a shame therefore that there are some who are so vocal with their abuse and anti European sentiment. 

The thugs waving England flags and behaving like hooligans on foreign soil demonstrate exactly what bigotry and hatred leads to when unleashed, whilst narrowmindedness is not, as we are now witnessing in the UK, confined to those in replica football strips.

So, having got that off my chest, can I just add that I did feel sorry for all those footie supporters from England and Wales who aren't retired and couldn't take a day's holiday to watch the game which I thoroughly enjoyed; they missed a treat.


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Happy Feet

I travelled to Leeds today with a bulky briefcase. Inside were 5 sheets of paper and a pair of shoes with heels. I changed as I entered the building where I was participating in a business meeting for a charity that I am a trustee of. It's a well rehearsed procedure on my part, implemented years ago when I discovered that walking from car parks and stations across towns and cities to courts and appointment venues, really couldn't be managed in anything that wasn't comfortable and as my feet aged, the definition of what was comfortable changed with them. In fact if I'd worked much longer, I would quite possibly have been spotted eventually sprinting along the footpath in carpet slippers; you know the kind: corduroy, a dull pattern and fur across the top in a total mismatch of colour. Fortunately I did the decent thing and retired before my lack of fashion sense became a total embarrassment.

Today it was reported that a London receptionist had been sent home from work for failing to wear high-heels. The poor woman had been expected to don heels of between 2 and 4 inches whilst spending her day conveying clients to meeting rooms. Now the Internet is ablaze with righteous indignation at the treatment of women in the workplace; why should the female office worker be obliged to put the long-term health of her feet at risk for an outdated dress policy?

I recall working in firms where women were not allowed to wear trousers although at some point in the 1980's rules were relaxed and an element of equality in the dress code was introduced although sadly it doesn't seem to have extended to below the knees. Well I know one thing for sure, if men were to be forced to totter around an office in stilettos for even half an hour there would be a very quick change of policy.

Here on Planet Retirement, of course, and save for rare trips to Leeds I have no such problems. Almost the reverse, as having always worn slippers in the house I continued that habit in retirement only to find that they can be equally as bad if worn for hours on end; clearly feet require more support than a pair of sheepskin mules can offer. I have now reached a happy compromise that will have bunion-endowed receptionists in central London drooling with envy: during the day I wear flat shoes with moulded insoles to prevent my instep from collapsing.

You see, feet love retirement too and there's no overbearing employer threatening to sack you if you don't comply with an outmoded and sexist shoe policy.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Read On Get On

Anyone who follows my Twitter account (yes I do have some followers) will know that I have been doing my best to promote Save the Children's latest campaign linked to ReadOnGetOn and its petition for investment in early years' education. Children from this country's poorest areas can be 15 months behind their better-off peers at only 5 years old. Young children's brains are like sponges ready to absorb the information around them which is why nurseries can do so well in preparing children for school and for learning to read. To this end Save the Children wants the government to ensure that there is a qualified early years teacher in every nursery by 2020. 

Today my participation culminated in a children's storytelling event with free books and balloons whilst asking parents to consider signing the petition. I'm pleased to say that support was overwhelming and I chatted to so many nice people that I actually forgot that I had been on my feet for 4 hours. 

One of the many great things about retirement though is the ability to wear comfortable shoes whatever the occasion. Forget those office stilettos, my flat heeled ankle boots were just the job. A successful day, at more than one level!

Friday, 15 January 2016

Techno Headache

Modern technology is a strange phenomenon. On the one hand it has the ability to simplify complex records and calculations; provide access to and storage for copious data; enable us to remain connected, tracked and subject to so many reminders and notifications that we never miss a second of news nor a pre-arranged appointment. On the other hand it can be a pernicious intrusion into the quietness of life; a thief of time and the most frustrating experience when it fails, as it so constantly does, to deliver as promised.

Now I know there can be a large amount of human error attributable to these failures; for instance I am still struggling after 18 months of owning a particular model of Smartphone to work out how to answer it before it switches to Voicemail. Of course, if I received more calls this particular issue might be overcome but, having grown up in an era when we were taught to limit telephone use because of the expense, my generation hasn't really cottoned onto the "push a shopping trolley with one hand whilst your other is holding a phone to your ear" brigade.

That said, I do not castigate myself as a complete technological numpty. I use the phone as a calendar and access way to the Internet; I have What'sApp to communicate with the family and various social media accounts; I keep accounts on Excel, can  use a variety of macros in Word and am now becoming prolific with my use of Microsoft's Movie Maker. I have ventured into the world of Google Docs; all of my devices synch; I use wifi to transfer photographs from my camera to phone and bluetooth for a hands-free communication experience in my car.

Why therefore did the gods conspire to thwart me when I wanted to do a simple transfer of my mobile phone number from one network to another? I make so few calls that I have been running my phone on Pay as You Go. Unfortunately my provider decided to shut up shop with effect from today and in order to retain my number all arrangements had to be completed by yesterday.

It was to be no problem. I obtained the necessary Pac Code and a new Sim card from another provider all in good time. On Monday of this week, my only problem was a surfeit of credit on my existing network. I cleverly reduced this by sending a text to donate to a worthy cause and sent messages to several friends (who like me and for similar reasons never use their phones to ring). On Tuesday evening I checked the remaining credit and sent another charity text to clear the balance, except it didn't. That was a bit of a quandary. Did I proceed with the transfer regardless and let the Charity deduct from my new account, leaving me to claim back the balance on the old by cheque from the closing network or wait to see if the text worked its magic and cleared my balance? 

I decided to leave matters overnight.The following morning the charity had still not taken its dues; the text had clearly been sent and I was left holding a credit balance that I didn't want. I decided to change tact; donated it to another good cause (knowing that I might still have to pay out to the other charity but feeling it was worth it not to have to enter the realms of copious on-line forms to reclaim a relatively modest sum or worse still donate it to the erstwhile mobile network company's profits) and then logged on to hand over my Pac code and change number.

It was at that precise moment that the new network provider's website decided to hang, and to hang and to hang. A check revealed that it was not my computer but the website itself. There were five hours to go until the 5pm deadline after which transfer requests would not be processed in time to take effect by yesterday. All Wednesday afternoon was therefore spent in a pattern of logging on and hanging. 

The deadline came and went, and my number went with it.

I had no choice but to spend Thursday logging into all my online accounts changing my personal information and updating my mobile number to the new one provided with the new network's Simcard. Some insist on sending OTPs, One Time Passcodes (you see I even know the terminology) to the old number and there was much changing of Sim cards whilst I still had access to both networks, frantically trying to ensure that I completed the task before I would drop into the murky world of re-registrations and requests to Banks for pin codes in order to jump through their security hoops.

Of course, I still have to notify all those friends who never ring of the number change, giving them their own headache of altering details on their phones.

So it is that a transaction that could almost have been simple has dominated the week causing me to despair for the future. How ever will I manage when I really can't even half follow what is required of me to keep a phone in my pocket that will actually ring so that I may one day just stand a chance of being able to answer it.

"It's all down to market forces and capitalism," said Mister E. "Life was simpler in the days of a monopolised telecommunications company. Imagine it letting you lose your number," he added in a moment of Corbynista type philosophising.

Ah yes, the simple life; the life I am seeking in retirement. It looks like I still have a long way to go and I either learn to use and live with this technology or give it up completely; if only!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Yes It Is

A few weeks ago I wrote a post which I headed, "Is Travelling Really Brutal?" I can now confirm, sincerely, that it is.

Into my fifth day of bed rest following our return from India on Wednesday, I am suffering from the rewards of travel: a foreign common cold or influenza virus, I assume, and for which I have no inbuilt immunity. Forget the typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis and other inoculations with which we protect ourselves in order to travel; perhaps what I really ought to have had was a flu jab. Mister E had his and has fought his affliction with considerably more success than me. When I visited our surgery, I received a typhoid booster and declined the offer of an injection against rabies.

I guess the tell tale signs were there in Delhi when I began to suffer from a sore throat. However, in a city now notorious for the worst air pollution in the world, the itchy throat, red eyes and sneezing all seemed at one with breathing in the acrid atmosphere.

50,000 lorries belching out their diesel fumes purportedly pass through the city every night and in the crowded daytime streets motorcycles, automotive rickshaws, buses and cars join in a stop start procession of honking horns and exhaust fumes, There are apparently 8.5 million vehicles on Delhi's roads and they do not have European standard filter systems.

At the station one can be forgiven for mistaking the diesel engines for steam trains such is the thick particulate matter expelled by them.

Add to the mix coal fuelled power stations within the city perimeters as well as cement works and brick factories around it and it is not long before the lethal cocktail of noxious gases begins to scratch at your facial orifices.

Exiting the arrival hall at Indira Ghandi Airport in Delhi, a pervasive fog hovered around us as we made our way along the covered concourse to our taxi. The driver insisted that it was just mist that Delhi gets all the time. Later one guide would dismiss the obvious effects of air pollution as dust through lack of rain and another as the left over fumes from fire crackers set off for Diwali, three weeks before. There is an aura of pollution and also denial.

I love the vibrancy of India. Nowhere else on Earth are you so aware of life being lived in all its different guises around you: man and beast; rich and poor; sick and well. Sadly, however, in its rush to industrialise India has failed to take heed of the lessons of the west. Having rescued its populace from dire infant mortality rates, it must surely now have burdened them with the agonies of chest and lung infections and all the other harmful cancers and diseases that inevitably emanate from inhaling a chemical mix the human lung was never intended for.

It is clear that there is a green campaign out there and some companies have adopted eco-friendly names and logos (Greenlam and Greenheck were very evident on advertising hoardings) but they do no more than mock the polluted air around them. Delhi's streets too are lined with trees and shrubs; even if they could photosynthesise beneath the layers of grime weighing down their leaves that would only deal with the carbon dioxide and not the sulphur and nitric oxides that hover together with free radicals, volatile compounds, carbon monoxide and other noxious gases.

Coughing our way to the airport for our return flight, Mister E and I were of the view that despite a wonderful trip (about which I shall write more separately) we are unlikely to seek to expose ourselves to such uncomfortable and polluted cities in the future. Although the Indian Government has now announced that the use of private cars will be limited to alternate days commencing in January, I anticipate that this will do little to rectify the situation which must surely get worse before it improves. Indeed it is a sad indictment of a country that it can ban the smoking of cigarettes in public places including outdoors in many areas, but has not sought to take effective action to alleviate a more widespread hazard.

It is, therefore, little wonder that I attributed my coughing and sneezing on the flight home as an attempt to cleanse my lungs of the potent Delhi smog. When we got home at lunchtime on Wednesday and I crawled into bed, I assumed my fatigue arose from the overnight flight back. Five days later that is clearly not the case. The pollution induced coughing of hundreds of thousands of people obviously spreads germs so effectively that my hand sanitiser was no match in the fight for protection against a humdinger of a cold.... but at least it isn't rabies! 

Thursday, 19 November 2015


The Situation is Getting Worse - Save the Children  Yemen, You Tube

With Syria and the refugee crisis grabbing newspaper space for what seems like months now, when I became a voluntary Community champion for Save the Children it came as something of a shock to me (as I'm sure it will to most people) to realise that the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today is probably in Yemen. Pulverised by a bloody civil war and now the infiltration of Al Quaeda and ISIS, it is subject to a commercial blockade that is preventing effective aid reaching those who need it most at a time when it is estimated that 80% of the population are reliant on organisations like Save The Children and the UN for food and health care.

Prior to the conflict Yemen was already the poorest nation in the Middle East but the statistics are now horrific. It is estimated that: 
21.1 million people are in need of aid and 9.9 million children are affected
12.8 million people do not even have access to the basics for survival and hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of dying of malnutrition
15.4 million people have no access to healthcare
20.9 million people are in need of water and sanitation

The crisis is huge and yet it is constantly ignored by the media and politicians. The EU Council has, however, met earlier this week to discuss the position and drawn helpful conclusions.

Save the Children is seeking to raise awareness. We need our Governments to exert their influence on Saudi Arabia which is imposing the blockade, in order to allow humanitarian aid and protection for those in Yemen who will otherwise surely die. 

No child is born to die.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Day After the Night Before

So I managed to stay up until 4.15 am and was back up to follow the televised coverage of the election at 8.30 am. I now feel pretty bad on two counts: the result and fatigue.

I am not sure what I was really expecting the outcome to be, but with my love for colour would have been content to see the possible emergence of a rainbow coalition with a few progressives in there pressing for a reduction in austerity and much needed changes in society. In retirement I now suspect that it is very easy to get cocooned in your own little philosophical bubble and perhaps become unaware of the political inclination of the country. Of course I was not alone in failing to anticipate the sudden leaning to the right resulting in a majority Conservative government; certainly the opinion polls were far off the mark too.

Is it because people are already forgetting the horrors of the Tory years from 1979 to 1997 (or were even too young to experience them) ? Did the electorate really vote purely on the basis of self-interest and greed or did it fall hook, line and sinker for the need to cut the deficit and balance the books within the next Parliament? Unfortunately economic theory was hardly debated and, a bit like the comparisons Margaret Thatcher used to make with her father's grocery store, we were constantly told that running the country was like managing a household budget. A dumbed down easy to understand sound-bite that the electorate has bought into and in so doing signed up to £12 billion cuts of a kind we know not what, because we have not yet been told.

So I guess that austerity can only get worse; inequality, food bank numbers and housing shortages will continue to rise whilst public services and welfare benefits will be cut still further. Back-door privatisation of the National Health Service will continue and life for so many people, especially in Northern England, Wales and Scotland, will become harder whilst the rich will benefit from tax cuts. The alleged trickle-down benefit of capitalism has been seriously disparaged globally and yet we have elected a Government on that platform and given it an outright majority of seats.

No wonder we didn't open the champagne last night and it is raining today.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Rant

Life may be stress free in retirement but that still does not stop me getting angry or being grumpy. Indeed I think I should use this blog a little more often to let off steam, so to speak.

Today my  anger is directed at those councils and their crews who insist on resurfacing roads by a method that seems to involve little more than throwing a pile of chippings all over them. At the same time they erect signs warning of a lack of road markings, risk of skidding and the need to travel at 20 mph.

Now I won't say we weren't given warning that the main road adjacent to the access lanes from our village was to  be resurfaced today, but it is a route that I needed to travel in order to avoid a 5 mile detour on my journey to the gym. Naively I thought it would be okay but, and let me extend my anger still further, I had failed to take into account some of the other road users who would be travelling that road at the same time. That is to say the twerps travelling in the opposite direction at 60 mph or the young man in the car behind me who decided to overtake and then accelerate to 60 mph, all kicking up the newly spread chippings and showering my car as they did so. As you know I only took delivery of the vehicle a few weeks ago, but at least it gave me the opportunity to give some good blasts of the horn which until now I have had little cause to use.

On my return journey  I decided to avoid the offending section of road and make that detour. Guess what, it too had been subjected to the chipping method only a couple of days before and, with lorries trundling down it at over 50 mph, there was no place to hide!

Moreover and whilst I am on my rant, what was with the weather today? That detour gave me a wonderful view of the snow on the hills and temperatures were only a third of what they were last Thursday with a biting wind to boot. It is the end of April isn't it?

Monday, 2 February 2015

A Rant

Working in a service industry, one of the stresses of my working life was responding to the ever increasing expectations and demands of clients. However, I speak from experience when I assure you that at the very least I always made sure that I returned telephone calls the same day, unless this was impossible as a result of circumstances beyond my control and in which event my secretary would contact the caller to explain the position and confirm a mutually convenient time for me to ring back.

Imagine, therefore, my frustration when for the second working day in a row my attempts to resolve an issue concerning a broken door still under guarantee have been thwarted by one Mr X's failure to speak to me. My calls have been met with a very friendly receptionist saying, "I'll put you through," and then reverting to advise, "I am sorry but Mr X isn't at his desk at the moment, can I take your details and I'll ask him to return your call?"

Of course, he has not done so and to add insult to injury when I last rang at 4.25 pm today the switchboard had closed. Who, in the present economic climate, is doing so well that they can actually afford to close shop before 4.30 pm? Not Mr X surely, especially when he still had not had the decency to fulfil his commitment and return my call.

I am sure you can vividly imagine the icily polite message which I left on his firm's answer-phone service.

Fortunately the relaxed aura that goes with retirement has militated against me being whipped up into a state of high dudgeon as a result; frustration and irritation, yes. However, I am now revelling in the thought that poor Mr X, who, according to comments posted on the Internet, is incapable of meeting customer satisfaction with a proper after sales service, is probably so stressed himself that he is unable to take my call. After all the weather is far too cold for him to be on the golf course.

Unfortunately his headache will get a great deal worse if he persists in evading my attempts to contact him. Freed from the shackles and time commitment of work, I can pursue him like a terrier. Obviously and in addition to adding my comments to those already available on the web, I may even have to threaten to take legal action to enforce the guarantee. A nice little court case might be all I need to keep me entertained over the rest of the winter. 

Alternatively am I now so relaxed and free from the cares of the world that I invalidate the guarantee  (potentially worthless as it is, if Mr X will not return my calls) and call out a locksmith?