THE PLANNING STAGE
I began to read about retirement.
I have been amazed at how much better life has been without the pressures of work and also the adjustments that had to be made that I hadn't previously contemplated. These were particularly pronounced in the early days although and to begin with it felt as though I was just on one long holiday. In part I still haven't completely woken up from that feeling. Everything that I do now has an un-rushed quality about it and brings a pleasure that there is time to savour and savour.
The difficulty has been in choosing what to do and the first year ended up being a period of transition and healing coupled with a time for experimentation and adaptation as we started to figure out what works for us. Indeed it took the first 12 months to sort our priorities for the early years of retirement and we were grateful for wise advice not to commit to anything new in that initial first year period, even postponing some of the plans that naively I thought we might jump straight into.
We were taken by surprise at how physically active retirement can be and after sedentary office work how much time is actually spent on one's feet. The need to be fit in order to enjoy retirement superseded pretty much everything else and in so far as I adopted any routine at all then it was with a mixture of fitness classes and gym workouts.
We chose Greece as a perfect destination for relaxing and discovered that even in retirement there is still enjoyment to be derived from chilling out, possibly because we are so busy at home or when exploring in the UK (by foot, car, train or boat) and abroad (Cuba being our first long haul destination in retirement).
Little by little we sought to simplify our life, and de-cluttering was the first major task in this connection. We were also able to structure our life around the weather and so be more cognisant of it, waiting for settled periods in order to garden or sail and travelling later in the day in the winter. With forethought (and when we remember) we can also structure road and other trips to avoid peak season and traffic.
As we established ourselves firmly in our new stage of life, we turned to the projects we planned and had postponed for retirement, particularly the redecoration of our home. To begin with, the holiday mood prevented us from taking on a task that seemed gargantuan in nature and so needy of our time. I am not sure whether it became a case of necessity or simply recognition that time is actually plentiful but the redecoration project finally got underway although even now it remains a work in progress.
By 12 months I had begun to free myself from regular commitments that I had carried over from pre-retirement days. Flexibility in our routine is key to how we now enjoy life. My quest for fitness and well-being expanded into eating for health and learning about nutritional requirements whilst I also found myself spending more and more time in the great outdoors enjoying the natural world. At the end of our second summer of retirement, I felt better able to commit, albeit with greater flexibility than before, becoming Parish Clerk to the Council of the village where we live and a campaigner for Save the Children. Yes, despite my best efforts to become a bohemian spirit, I have taken on responsibilities where my well tested skills from three decades of legal practice were being put to good use. Neither position restricted the ability to travel and the autumn saw us visiting Albania, Greece, East Anglia and India.
All the effort put into regaining an element of fitness lost to years of desk work and stiffening joints, paid off when we travelled from one ski resort to another in Switzerland. Then Spring arrived and the pleasures derived from such in 2014 were mirrored if not amplified as the second year of retirement began to draw to a close.
Analysing the first 30 months or so I realised that I moved through overlapping phases of healing and recovery, letting go and then seeking to give back and make a difference. This continued in Year 3 when travel too remained important and (for the first time since I was a student) we enjoyed an extensive 4 week trip, on that occasion to the USA.
In Year 4, everything moved up a gear. There was more energy, drive and passion especially as I embraced on a mission to reduce whether it was dependence on plastic, extraneous stuff, previously perceived comforters or even my own weight. An understanding had crept in that once liberated from mental and physical clutter accumulated over decades, we would be able to enjoy and concentrate on the important things in life. We also began to appreciate what really is important and to try to live life accordingly and in the knowledge that it is finite. We travelled frequently including a long trip to New Zealand and shorter ones to Madeira, Italy and Norway as well as road trips closer to home. We stepped up the work on our house and garden and, together with a number of personal challenges, took on a new project, restoring an old 32 foot yacht to replace the X37 we had sailed for the previous decade.
Entering Year 5 there was a feeling of vitality and exuberance coupled with the beginning of a force that felt calmer and wiser. It finally seemed as if we were beginning to get the hang of retirement and were learning how best to mould our lifestyle to suit.
I was flattered to be asked to speak to a new retirement network in Bristol about the joys of retirement and as well as repeated trips to Crinan to work on the boat restoration project, slipped in trips to the Adriatic, Madrid and back to New Zealand via Dubai. In the meantime we continued to raise produce on a vegetable patch, undertake home decoration, exercise, spend two separate weeks walking in the Lake District, socialise with friends and family and I finally got to go on an art workshop and take up painting once more.
The main frustration was that there just never seemed to be enough time to fit in everything that we wanted to do and then, transitioning into Year 6, the penny dropped: there is sufficient time, you just can't do it all at once.
During Year 6 I really felt that I began to master the art of contentment and living in the present. I'm not one to go mad on all the mindfulness trends but deep breathing, quietness and appreciation especially of the natural world certainly seem to make up a bigger part of my life. Relaxation and enjoyment, creativity and phyical exercise dominate. The first mini health incident (I guess they will always chequer retirement, however fit we think we are) occurred and an increasing consciousness of potential frailties. Our far flung travelling was curtailed as pleasure was extracted instead from familiar destinations and activities although we did add the Isle of Man, Cyprus and Corfu (a last minute holiday of the type that I hadn't really equated with needing in retirement) to our travel journal. It had actually been our intention to try to visit all of the EU countries for a final farewell pending expiration of our free right of passage as a consequence of Brexit but, of course, COVID 19 intervened and we enjoyed an enforced and lengthy staycation instead, slowing down whether we were ready for it or not.