Showing posts from 2014

My 2014 Video

Thanks to Auto Awesome by Google, here is a video of moments from this blog in 2014. Enjoy!

Viva La Revolucion

Recent news that there is to be a relaxation of the stand-off that has persisted for over 50 years between the USA and Cuba, was of great interest following Mister E's and my recent visit. We both agreed , however, that it would be sad to see Cuba transform into another westernised nation where market forces and money dictate society's values. Indeed I rather fancy our own country's adoption of many of Cuba's values, when and come the revolution, I would propose that: 1. Goods be priced according to their social need and white rum in particular be freed of all duty so that everyone can afford to drink it on a daily basis 2. Fields should henceforth be ploughed by oxen and the mass application of toxic pesticides prohibited 3. Every home should have a dog and, if in the country, chickens wandering outside 4. Cars (unless 1950's models) should be replaced by horses and carts 5. The hard shoulder of motorways should be reserved for those horses and carts, a

Christmas Festivity

Last week I met a former work colleague for lunch. How the memories came flooding back. Yes she had a day's holiday but only because there had been no convenient time earlier in the year to take it. How often, when organisations prohibit employees from carrying over holiday from one year to the next, are you left with a glut of days that could have been enjoyed in the summer sunshine to spend on dull, cold, grey November or December days  instead ? Yes she too had written and sent Christmas cards before the last posting date and had begun to wrap presents to place under the tree. However whilst I had been able to do this during daylight hours mid-week, she had been obliged to use her evenings and weekends. Working in an office, the pressure begins to be applied as soon as someone fires the starting gun and you attend the first party of the season. They start in early December and continue until Christmas Eve when hot sausage rolls and mince pies are rolled out, alth

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

Yes it has now been six whole months since the big retirement date and I can honestly say I am still counting my blessings, as a result. Of course most of month six was spent travelling which of itself is always a liberating and stimulating experience. We were away 18 days in total, something I had never managed during all my years at work. Best of all, not only did I return on a wave of excitement and inspiration but it is still with me. In those old office days, three days back behind my desk and it would have been a faded memory. However, I confess that even I have  bored myself rigid with all 598 of my photographs, not to mention the Instagram retouched versions! So instead I have now thrown myself into getting organised for Christmas. When you are working, leaving everything to the last fortnight becomes an overstressed panic. This year, it feels like oodles of time, especially now the youngest is home to help and to feed through even more ideas.  I'm unc

Cuba Timeline

Bleary eyed since touching down at Gatwick on Tuesday morning I am conscious that I have not described our wonderful Cuban adventure. It is a fascinating country which we journeyed through in a small group of 12. Our companions were similar to ourselves, for the most part early retirees determined to spend their retirement years travelling and learning. Cuba gave us all the opportunity for endless conversations about its architecture, politics, people, history, music, food, vehicles, rum and cigars. I cannot do it justice in a blog entry and can only recommend that, if at all possible you visit before it gradually emerges into the 21st century and begins to replicate life in the western world as we know it. For the time being, however, its buildings and agriculture are locked in a time warp along with its 1950's motor cars. The people are good humoured and benefit from free education until 18 and beyond, together with free health care with a ratio of doctors to p

From Jet-lagged to Anaesthetised

Strange thing about jet lag is that you go all day feeling absolutely exhausted and then suddenly can't sleep because you are still on Cuban time.  I am unsure if it was a wise move but in my quest to sort out my body for further retirement adventures, I had agreed to have a minor op this morning. To be honest I felt so tired that lying on the trolley I did wonder if I could fall into a sound sleep without a general anaesthetic. I was not of course given that option and when I came round in the recovery room reckon I was suffering from a double dose of dopiness, at 5 am Cuban time. The good news however is that I am prohibited from driving, operating machinery (apparently even the kettle counts) and cleaning for 24 hours. Good old Mister E, he's been cooking and making endless hot drinks for me. When I enquired about the cleaning, he was equally as helpful.  "That will wait for tomorrow, then  you can do it," he said.

Jet Lagged

We returned late last night from two weeks travelling around Cuba. Needless to say after a 21 hour journey door to door, no sleep on the overnight flight from Havana to Gatwick and a five hour time difference, I feel totally spaced out today. I was concerned that  age might accentuate jet lag but am pleased to note that, if anything, it was far worse when I was younger. Clear evidence that there are other advantages to maturing that go beyond simply retiring. Mind, the change in climate has come as a bit of a shock. You can  become accustomed to blue skies and heat very quickly! Also it seems that Christmas is coming. Preparations in Cuba were very low key although tourist hotels invariably had a Christmas tree. Driving back from the airport yesterday we were conscious of the Christmas songs on the radio and, when we stopped at a supermarket to buy provisions, were hit by the tinsel and bauble marketing; all very much a stark contrast to the bare and basic shelves w

Reflections on a Fifth Month of Retirement

As well as reaching the dizzy anniversary of five months' retirement, I am also conscious that it was last November that I began this blog with a statement that retirement was no longer a vague notion.  In the early days I was filled with all kinds of concerns but once I actually took the plunge and embraced retirement, everything has been going more or less swimmingly. In the first four months, however, we were blessed with dry, warm weather and trips away. The last month has been a little different. Yes we have made short trips to Edinburgh and London but we haven't been away for any significant period. I am someone who has always been accustomed to dashing around, a little like a plate spinner in a circus, running from one stick to another in an effort to keep the plates on the top revolving. Whilst I never intended retirement to become quite the same hive of activity, I am also determined that it should turn its back on the humdrum of repetitiveness. Having str

A Good Read

During these short dark days of November, I have discovered that very little beats snuggling up on the sofa with a blanket and a good book. I know there are people who make a point at work of putting their feet on the desk at lunchtime and opening up a paperback. It was something, however, that I could never do, preferring either a blast of fresh air or alternatively (and regrettably far more likely) to continue working with the aim of finishing at a reasonable hour. Fortunately some ten years ago, I was involved in the formation of a Village Reading Group. It has proved to be my salvation in that I have been compelled to read at least one book every six weeks so as to join in the discussion as to its literary merits and, at the same time, enjoy the convivial company of a group of keen readers and their hospitality, as we meet in each other's homes on a rotational basis. Yesterday evening was our scheduled meeting and, despite retirement, I still only started the

A Little Space

So here it is: a photo of the new chair taken with the new camera  referred to yesterday. Thanks to a 9am meeting for me at a local school, Mister E was apparently able to proceed in peace. There are some things you just can’t do together and for which we all need our own space.

Bits and Pieces

What is it about modern life that has to make everything so complex? This week I have finally got round to replacing both my camera and computer chair. The previous camera lasted nearly 8 years but recently succumbed to a large crack and is now held together by sticky tape. The chair I am presently sitting on suffers eruptions of foam from its stuffing, messing the floor as well as causing discomfort to my posterior from the gaping hole in the seat. The trouble is that mastering the art of using any electronic device requires a great deal of patience and training. The new camera came with two instruction manuals, a CD rom and a link to two websites. It's little wonder that I never fully utilised all the functions on my last camera. Now I'm retired, however, I thought that, without work to interrupt, learning all the various functions would be a breeze. Not so, if I want to use it to its optimum, there's at least another two or three afternoons of hard graft

The Cinema

I can hardly believe it; I have just been to the cinema twice in less than 48 hours. Once to a large multiplex and today to a smaller auditorium in a converted station. What makes the two visits most unusual is that I cannot honestly remember when I was last there: a year perhaps, maybe even two. The entrance to the multiplex was a vast hangar of neon lighting, popcorn and posters. The converted station by comparison is an historic delight, lacking only the steam train puffing through what is now a bistro area. With darker and colder days, watching a film seems like an enticing activity and, in the run up to the Oscars and other award ceremonies, there are invariably some exciting film releases. In our pre-retirement life, we would always intend to see the films that were commended to us by friends or rated in independent reviews. Regrettably we never quite got ourselves sorted in time and occasionally resorted to buying the DVD a few months later or invariably not eve

Empty Nest Syndrome

The youngest arrived on Saturday morning and left to return to London this afternoon. It was a quick visit but we managed to squeeze in a trip to see my mother, a meal out, a visit to the cinema and a good old fashioned Sunday dinner. It all felt very busy, although the youngest has never been loud, the house was noisier than we have become accustomed to, and there just wasn't as much time to spend together as we would have liked. Seeing her off at the station was a moving experience but, of course, it's only a few more weeks until she'll be home for a month. Upon my return and, solely out of interest I assure you, I found myself looking up Empty Nest Syndrome on Wikipedia.  Apparently all parents are susceptible but those who are dealing with other stressful events such as, and it cites "retirement" as a specific example, are particularly vulnerable! Oh dear! However, it does point out that coping mechanisms include pursuing one's own hobbies an

Shopping and Packing

I don't go shopping any more. Well that's not quite true but when you live 10 miles from the local town and you're not going in every day to work, the High Street and its shops begin to acquire a rarity value. Yes, we still eat, so yes we still visit the supermarket (although to be honest now even find the time to browse delicatessens, butchers and greengrocers which do actually still exist). What I don't do so often is impulse buy; with 5 lunchtimes a working week, there was an inevitable temptation to do so when the real motive, of course, was simply to pop out for a breath of fresh air. Now a shopping trip is pre-planned and has a purpose. As a result I go into shops less frequently than before and there is an objective for each visit. This week, however, I was side-tracked. Perhaps it was the large sign saying 50% off or maybe, knowing that my suitcase virtually fell apart on our return flight from Greece last month, I was sub-consciously looking out

Isolation, Pressure and Compromises

I t would be wonderful if this was a picture of my greenhouse and garden but it was actually taken in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh last week. Still I have been working on my own autumnal vegetation and, bit by bit, that end of season tidy-up is beginning to show results. The dip in temperatures this week means that, with the weather staying dry, there has been time each day to devote to:  Chores and creativity indoors, and  Pruning, shredding, digging and creativity outdoors, once the air temperature has warmed and before the sun disappears in what almost seems like the mid-afternoon. I know that there are people who insist that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. However those same people generally don't go hot air ballooning when it's blowing a hurricane outside or cook a Sunday roast when it hits 30 degrees and everyone else is tucking into salad on the patio. The great thing I've discovered about this time

End of October

I t was the warmest Halloween day on record today apparently. Certainly my memories of carving turnip (we had never seen a pumpkin) lanterns as a child is always against a background of duffle coats and scarves and perhaps occasionally a touch of snow too. This year I have actually succeeded in growing pumpkins, both in my greenhouse and outside, as we have revelled in one of the driest summers for several years. I know you have no control in these matters but it really was a superb summer, weather-wise, to retire. Now of course, record or no record, the nights are drawing in and there have been rain showers a plenty over the last few weeks as well as some strong, blustery northerly winds. Mind, such weather is not unwelcome. My garden may have been looking great during the last few months but it has been at the expense of neglecting the interior of my home as well as some much needed household "admin." So this week I have been able to find time to concentrat

An Exhibition of Modern Art

Last Sunday we went to Edinburgh for two days. One of the highlights was visiting the National Gallery of Modern Art where there is currently an exhibition entitled Generation - 25 years of Contemporary Art in Scotland. Well I'll give retirement its due. I now discover that not only do I have the time to enjoy a display of this kind but also, now my brain is no longer cluttered by work related issues, I can actually remember the exhibits and continue to derive excitement from the memory of them. Like all displays of modern art there are always some that you look at and think well I could have done that myself - the handwritten adverts for cheap package holidays of the kind displayed in many travel agents, are a case in point. There are others where I am still puzzling over the meaning and especially, in this context, the videos.  To come away from an art gallery, however, and still be buzzing about it several days later is a real high. Proof indeed that art really i

Pounding Pavements

Earlier in the week, Mister E and I made a trip to London to see the youngest and also to gape at Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London commemorating World War I. We walked for hours across London and even when we used the Tube there were inevitably flights of steps to conquer. Despite the work in the gym on all those leg muscles, I have to confess that walking along the platform at King's Cross for a late evening train home, my gait was more of a hobble than a stride. I don't know whether it was the hour at which we got home (just after midnight) or the exercise but getting up next morning when I had a commitment at a local school was not easy. The day passed in something of a haze of fatigue when I not only watched students compete in a land rover pulling competition but shared their pain! Still I was back on the treadmill on the second day with a new aim: to reduce recovery time after poundi

The Greek Island Tick List

Whilst Mister E and I were away in Greece, we not only enjoyed the delights of the mainland at Sivota and Parga but also manage to tick off another two Greek islands : Paxos and Antipaxos. Historically the area (mainland and islands) had been under Venetian influence and it showed in the architecture of the buildings clustered around amazing natural harbours, hardly visible as you approach from the open sea by boat. I also crewed on a yacht in the waters off Corfu but as we didn't land, can't cross that one off the bucket list just yet. Sailing on a charter boat provided an insight into the cruising experience enjoyed by so many in those waters.There is certainly an attraction, especially with flat seas and guaranteed sunshine. However the lack of wind, risk of being cooked with nowhere to hide from the soaring heat and anchorages that could resemble car parks, one could also resist the allure. Despite the rain, perhaps Scotland has some advant

Reflections on a Fourth Month of Retirement

Although I seem to be cramming so much into my life at the moment, I have also noticed a tendency to procrastinate and perhaps even take far longer over something than I would have done previously or to fritter away time on something I might, in my working life, have considered pointless. Inevitably I have joined that league of retired people who openly confess, "I don't know how I ever found the time to go to work." In any event and whilst it had been my intention to start an Interior Design Course this month, I have postponed the start date due not only to an apparent lack of time but a need also to brush up those artistic skills. I did however take my sketch book with me to Greece , where we spent a week, and I am certainly improving from my first efforts a few weeks ago, although I know you are going to say that my attempts at hibiscus fall far short of those of Georgia O'Keefe. My main priority remains maintaining the fitness challenge that orig

Hillside Holiday

Last week Mister E and I stayed in a hotel on the Greek mainland built into the side of a cliff. I never did count the steps from the water's edge to our room in the gardens but there were certainly a lot of them. They also seemed to increase in number when the sun was at its hottest. However hearing other guests panting with the exertion of climbing them was some comfort. Out of season many visitors were advancing in age and it was noticeable how much harder the terrain, including walking across a shingle spit to the beach and water-sports equipment, was for them than for the younger guests. With an eye on the future, I have made two mental notes: 1. Continue my fitness challenge 2. Ensure that I check carefully the gradient surrounding holiday destinations when I too struggle with steps.

Stress and Neuroses

A major aim in retiring was to reduce stress and increase time for relaxation. Sometimes I wonder though has my professional training and experience taught me to see the pitfalls in everything, causing stress and neuroses regardless? So today I have booked advance train tickets to London so that Mister E and I can travel to see the youngest. To secure a discount I have applied online for a Two Together railcard. Is it normal to worry in case the card which should arrive within 4-7 days doesn't arrive in time, when we aren't travelling for weeks? What about the photographs we have uploaded? What if they are not in the format required? There are times when you just have to let go and accept that everything might not work perfectly; que sera sera. Yes when I can actually say that to myself, a stress free existence will be within reach.

The Cuckoo has Landed

We certainly had an interesting day today. We headed into Harrogate to look at the pictures in an exhibition in the Mercer Art Gallery entitled "From Turner to Hockney." There were some beautiful pieces depicting Yorkshire, its towns and cities, the sea and the people seen through the eyes of many artists. I  was delighted to discover pencil drawings by the Bronte family; clearly they weren't just talented writers but also accomplished at sketching too. I really need to get some more practice in, if I am ever going to be able to produce anything nearly half as good. Then we had lunch, a delightful mix of Swiss and Yorkshire, in the renowned Betty's Tea Rooms before strolling around the gardens at Harlow Carr. I spotted teasels that put the solitary plant on my walk earlier this week to shame and the arrays of dahlias were simply magnificent. We stayed out far longer than we had intended, taking advantage of what must soon be the end of this long d