Caree Risover charts her retirement through planning to implementation and enjoyment.
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.
We returned today from a brief trip to Dumfries and Galloway in South-West Scotland. It is an area of the country that I was not familiar with and we had promised ourselves that we would visit outside of the tourist season. With heavy rain, snow, hail and strong winds we could, however, have chosen our weather better. It seems that even in retirement the diary can get cluttered and fitting in last minute journeys to take advantage of the weather forecast does not always work out.
In fact I must make a note to try to free up committing myself quite as much, otherwise I am never going to be able to take advantage of one of those last minute bargain travel opportunities to an exotic tropical paradise. Incidentally if anyone knows where I find them, I shall be pleased to be enlightened.
In the meantime, we saw what we could. We were disappointed by Gretna Green which has been turned into some kind of Disneyland for coach-trips but enjoyed both Nithsdale and the Galloway Forest as well as the shoreline from Newton Stewart to Kirckcudbright.
I do find the red sandstone from which most of the buildings in that area of Scotland are constructed rather overbearing, although it is a vast improvement on the concrete and pebble-dash that covers so many houses just a little further North. It was, therefore, a delight to see Gatehouse of Fleet where most of the buildings have been painted white.
We spotted castles in abundance and the whole area is dotted with hills and lochs.
Coming home today we stopped in Carlisle on the English side of the border. A couple of weeks ago The Guardian newspaper highlighted twenty places referencing 800 years of English history since the Magna Carta. As someone who loves tick-lists and with Mister E, in an off-guard moment, expressing an interest in expanding his historical knowledge, I took advantage to drag him to both the castle and the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. We now understand much more about border skirmishes since Roman times as well as the part Carlisle played in the Jacobite rebellions.
Indeed a walk around the town afterwards revealed this plaque which, if interpreted literally, would suggest that Bonnie Prince Charlie even stayed in Marks & Spencer.
The fact that we were close to the border was aptly emphasised by these street signs and the Guildhall, Market Place and Cathedral all deserved a good stare too.
The timber framed Guildhall dates back to the 15th century and although I loved the cheeky painted gargoyles, they were apparently only added in the mid 1800's.
FinallyI have promised Mister E nineteen similar future outings to finish that checklist and continue his historical education!
My plans for retirement as recorded on this blog include de-cluttering our home and as recent blog entries have suggested I am on target with this. So much so that this week even Mister E has been inspired to tidy up his own area of our communal study.
Many years ago I acquired a book entitled "How to Stay De-junked Forever" by Dawna Walter ( a well-meaning relative possibly gave it to me, I do not recall). It was based on a TV series by the BBC called The Life Laundry which must have aired some 12 years ago.
The book emphasises that "de-junking is a way of life, not a one-time experience" and then seeks to prove the need to embrace its rallying call for change with a series of surveys on readers' shopping habits, state of their home, cleaning practices, their emotional responses and the effect on their relationships.
Interestingly, I perused the book this week with the aim of conjuring up a dose of motivation to move my de-cluttering process to the next level, and noted that pre-retirement my survey answers showed that whilst I had never sunk to the depths of clutter and disorder taking over my life, I was suffering from days where everything dragged me down. Now, however, it would seem that the same survey recognises the progress I have made and concludes that I am "on the right track to leading a clutter-free existence" albeit with room for improvement.
Apparently the next step on my de-junking journey is "to take a close look at each room... and make sure that it is as comfortable, welcoming and suited to (our) needs as it can be." Somehow I had never expected that throwing away objects accumulated over preceding decades would be so difficult.
"Patience is a virtue," according to the well known proverb. In retirement, time is more abundant and with it patience too. I certainly proved that yesterday when I visited the bank to close the account to which I referred in this blog last week. My visit took 1 hour and 10 minutes; so long that I was offered a chair!
Unfortunately it seemed that not only did the Building Society with which I had originally opened the account no longer exist after being taken over by the bank which I was visiting, but also: staff were unfamiliar with the workings of their new computer system; my account had been branded as dormant; because the account was in the surname I was born with and have used professionally (as opposed to my married name which I use more frequently now), identity appeared to be a tricky issue notwithstanding production of my driving licence, passport, birth and marriage certificates together with proof of signature and my ability to hand over all paperwork relating to the account.
In my pre-retirement days the hassle and time needed to sort the account was such that yesterday I certainly felt justified in putting it to one side until retirement. Indeed as I waited I imagined what my reaction would have been at the prospect of a whole seventy minutes eaten up by painstakingly slow bureaucracy, when I was perhaps working to a deadline. Somehow I was not certain that I would have lasted the wait.
However with the rest of the day's commitments already fulfilled, my time in the bank was neither stressful nor irritating. The staff were extremely polite and trying their best to be helpful. In those circumstances I felt, therefore, that I had no alternative but to be patient.
Ultimately I was rewarded twice over; firstly with a cheque for the closing balance and secondly with an undeniable feeling of virtuosity: a just return for the patience and reserve that I can now so ably demonstrate.
I have indicated before in this blog how much I am striving to avoid routine in retirement. I can also see how easy it must be to slip into such and to stick to: regular waking and rising times; a scheduled shopping day; a timetable of classes and appointments; a list of household chores; an unvarying weekly television menu; a usual bedtime.
In fact I sometimes feel that I have to work really hard to avoid committing myself to the cycle.
I enjoy my visits to the gym and fitness classes, but deliberately visit at different times and frequently pencil in alternative arrangements at the same times as the classes. Also and to avoid the humdrum of daily life, there is a need for planning; to book tickets for events and performances, trains or flights with or without accommodation. I scour the internet and magazines for details of what is on at my favourite venues and also at some that are unfamiliar to me. I am trying out an assortment of creative activities and endeavour to engage with as many different people and situations as possible. I get up and go to bed when my body tells me to do so and not the wall clock.
It is exciting but certainly a more difficult option to taking life as it comes. However, were I to be waiting for someone else to bring the experiences to me, they might never happen. In retirement as in any other phase of life, we are in control of our own destiny but, and perhaps it is because we appreciate our time so much more now when compared to all those hours devoted to the work ethic, Mister E and I are acutely aware of our desire to extract a dose of daily fulfilment rather than tedious contentment. Maybe there will be time for the boredom in another decade or two.
However, I must surely never get to the point where I look at the food on my plate and think:"It's curry, it must be Thursday."
As well as giving time for hobbies and travel, retirement is also an opportunity to pursue things you feel passionately about. On my part I now enjoy being able to play a fuller part in my roles as a school governor and charity trustee. I am conscious however that retirement also brings the potential to help to alter the world; to activate about and engage with the powers of change.
To date and for me this has probably amounted to little more than signing a few petitions and writing letters of protest. I hold certain ideals and principles dear and try to live my life in accordance with them but hardly anticipate whole-scale change as a result. Am I being defeatist before I start?
This evening Mister E and I went to the cinema to see Selma, the story (or at least part of the tale) of Martin Luther King and the fight for equality for blacks in America. It was immensely powerful and a reminder of the need to activate and stand up for what we believe in. "If we know then we must fight for your life as though it were our own," wrote James Baldwin, " For if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night."
But how many causes today are caught up with or symptomatic of self-interested nimbyism?
How many are being pursued by yoghurt-knitting warriors who don't understand either the science or contrary arguments to their causes but simply enjoy the battle?
What are the really big movements for change out there (discounting climate change and animal rights)?
What should they be or is it the case as John Osborne said that "There aren't any good, brave causes left. If the big bang does come and we all get killed off ..... It will just be for the Brave New-nothing-very-much-thank-you?"
In retirement, as I have previously alluded to in this blog, there has been the opportunity to catch up with all manner of chores and administrative tasks that I allowed to build up over a period of time, not least in the last few months of working. It's not that I thought I would be bored, just that some things could wait until I had more time.
Tackling the ironing basket and cleaning nooks and crannies were relatively easy jobs but the piles of paper (most of which I have ended up shredding) were more tricky to sort. In the last few weeks, my excitement has grown as I finally spotted the table top emerging from beneath a mound of potentially recyclable waste. Today however I am not sure if I should be hanging my head in shame or holding it high with pride for I have uncovered a letter and form from 2009. They relate to the closure of a postal savings account (opened prior to Internet banking) and now paying 0.01% interest. At the time the requirements of the bank to secure the release of nominal funds were too complicated to address amongst all my other obligations and so I put the paperwork to one side whilst I concentrated on what I considered to be more important issues.
Not only have I now rediscovered the documents, but this evening I have also spoken to somebody on a helpline and been told that what in 2009 had to be done by post can now be achieved in much simpler fashion by visiting a branch of the bank directly. Call it progress on both the bank's and my parts, but I feel buoyed as a result.
Yesterday I thought Spring was almost upon us. We had two hares in the field adjoining our garden preparing for their annual boxing contest; hosts of blackbirds at the foot of the feeders chasing one another; the sky was blue and the temperature actually got into double figures at 10 degrees Celsius.
What a contrast this morning when a thick frost coated everything and then a freezing fog descended and lingered for far longer than forecast.
Fortunately last night Mister E and I had gone to the Gala Theatre in Durham to see one of the country's better known comedians, Al Murray as the Pub Landlord. I'm afraid some of his language was rather blue (as we had known it would be) but the content was otherwise intelligent, perceptive and hilarious. The health benefits of a good laugh cannot be emphasised enough and, in our case, have got us through today's dismal and cold weather with some additional chuckles thrown in for good measure.
I recall once hearing about Laughter Yoga. I think I should suggest it for members at the gym instead of the exhausting Spin session I attended for this morning.
Normally I prefer to write in my blog posts rather than post photographs. However at 5pm when I was leaving the gym, everywhere was shimmering in a red glow. Driving down the road, I realised that the sunset was phenomenal and after loitering a little to enjoy it, sped up again to get home to get my camera out.
I really have begun to appreciate colour, now that with retirement I have the time to enjoy it. The new camera has started to come into its own and whereas often photographs of sunsets can be a disappointment, the results tonight were rather pleasing. It was a glorious display from the natural world, with sun and clouds in perfect positions for thirty minutes or more of awesome entertainment. I just couldn't stop watching (and clicking).
Oh dear when the weather is ropey, I am discovering the joys of hibernation. Not literally, as I have not yet deteriorated into a day-time snoozer, but it is proving really good to snuggle up inside with my computer or a book.
I poked my head outside yesterday to visit a number of banks and meet friends for lunch, but then it was back home and a session with Future Learn, the UK university MOOC website. If I am not broadening my horizons by direct experience, it has to be the next best thing.
This week I have been exploring the diverse worlds of Empire, Shale Gas and Fracking, and The Night Sky. If I do not learn as much as I might hope, I do at least have a greater appreciation of how much there is to try to understand and how little I actually know. It is also considerably more fulfilling than gaining cpd (continuing professional development) points because a third party requires it or alternatively learning with the shadow of an examination hovering over you.
When we awoke this morning, the world outside had been transformed by a slight snowfall. A little like not having to leave the house when it is still dark, I revelled in the thought that I didn't have to drive out of the village on untreated roads in the snow and ice to go to work.
Three hours later though I did venture out for a yoga class. The sky was a brilliant blue and the ice on the lane into my village was only just beginning to thaw. As I drove along, I recalled with a wry smile of how, for more winters than I care to count, I had been careful when ascending the slope at the beginning of the lane, manoeuvring the left hand bend a quarter of a mile outside the village and finally of trying to bring the car to a halt at the junction with the main road.
Today and for me, setting out much later than would have been the case, there was no problem but, to my dismay and once on the main roads, I passed the scenes of three earlier accidents: a car upside down in a hedge; two cars pushed onto the verge after a collision; a car where the driver had been cut free and rushed to hospital by air-ambulance.
I do hope that everyone who was involved recovers. On my part it is a great relief not to have to encounter slippery road conditions at peak times with the risk of an oncoming driver losing control of his vehicle.
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?
Mister E and I seem to have eaten out on an inordinate number of occasions in the last couple of weeks, in part attributable to and during our trip to the Lake District but also locally since our return as well as on our day visit to London.
It seems that there is something of a revolution taking place with restaurant menus.
Perhaps it is a result of the growing prominence of vegetarianism or alternatively part of a desperate fight to counter the effects of obesity, but the last two years has seen a definite rise in the number of dishes featuring butter-nut squash and now too it would seem kaleslaw. I blame the likes of Jamie Oliver myself!
There was a time not so long ago when eating out, certainly in the North, was based on a choice of stodgy carbohydrate-laden dishes featuring such delicacies as Cumberland sausage, battered fish and chips, lamb shank and roast potatoes followed of course by sticky toffee pudding, treacle tart or chocolate sponge all with custard.
I am sure that none of those traditional dishes was in any way beneficial in the fight against clogging arteries, heart disease and middle-age spread. They were however always welcome after a long day out on the fells when you could tell yourself that you were only replacing calories expended by tramping in the hills.
Now when perusing the menu after an active and tiring day you can, halo justly shining, tell yourself that the meal will be another healthy addition to your virtuous day. That is, until you see the size of the portions; taste the cream in the accompanying sauce; oil in the dressing and note the enormous chunks of bread to accompany your plate.
It's just as well I rarely eat more than two courses these days, often just one, otherwise, and despite all the exercise, I really would be on the verge of developing a heart problem.