INTRODUCTION


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.




Monday, 26 December 2016

Relax, It's Christmas




I have been very concerned by the number of stressed out people I spoke to in the days immediately leading up to Christmas. The desire for the perfect menu, properly wrapped gifts, and clean home after what sounded like weeks of shopping and writing cards, was reducing normally sane people to a frazzle.

In my last blog entry on the issue I had concluded that 8 days is long enough to prepare when you are no longer working. In fact after I posted that, Mister E and I disappeared off for another bout of DIY activity in Nottingham, staying four nights and returning only on the evening of  Tuesday 20th December. That, of course, left only 4 days or half the time I had planned on.

Maybe it's a change of attitude in retirement; the lack of awareness of work colleagues getting ready or a Yoga and Pilates induced plane of freedom from anxiety. Alternatively and perhaps after all the years of pre-Christmas stress, finally the realisation has dawned that it is after all just one day.

Whatever, Caree has come a long way since 2013 when she was still only contemplating retirement and succumbing to the pressures of Yuletide planning whilst juggling her professional commitments. Then you will recall that she had the rather romantic notion that it  might be nice to "do Christmas properly" for once; log fires, tinsel, entertaining and home baking with perhaps a Christmas carol or two playing in the background.

The following year and the first Christmas in retirement, preparation was much more relaxed but still following a familiar pattern, save that there actually was more time for planning and execution. I suspect however that by 23rd December I may have been having second thoughts as a flick back through this blog shows that I was extolling the virtues of Cuban life and, somewhat subtly I admit, raving against the pitfalls of the consumerist society with its luxury goods, overpriced necessities and brazen marketing.

2015, I recall, was a little more chilled until reality caught up after an incapacitating virus struck and upon recovery there was that inevitable last minute panic. 

Manipulated by merchandisers rather than Church to believe that "Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year," for so many it ends up being the most stressful. Certainly that was the dismal vibe I encountered last week from the conversations I referred to above.

So how did my 4 days of preparations this year go?

Well there was a wobbly start when I discovered that the youngest was actually coming home for the holiday period from Texas a day earlier than I had written in my diary but a tranquilising Yoga session on Wednesday morning restored the Karma and that afternoon I cleaned her room  before decorating it with tinsel and snowmen. There was even plenty of time for a cup of tea with a neighbour and another with Mister E before we went to meet her at the station. Upon our return a dose of jetlag meant she soon crashed out, leaving me free to take advantage of a subscription to Amazon Prime with next day delivery; Christmas present shopping done!

Thursday morning saw me in the Kinesis room at the gym, priming those muscles ready for any weight Christmas might throw at me. I spent the afternoon taking the youngest to the dentist and to make her own  gift purchases. I succeeded in falling over ignominiously in the middle of the town centre when I tripped on the kerb but that's another story. Upon our return we indulged in a wrapping paper fest (my online order had arrived) and packed up the car with gifts that we then delivered to my mother's home.

On Friday I whizzed around our house with the vacuum cleaner. Mister E and the youngest went to do the major grocery shop and I wrapped more presents. Then at 3.30pm, I disappeared to meet like-minded friends in the spa attached to the gym where we work-out; a swim and laze in the jacuzzi preceded an early evening meal out together. 

By the time I returned home the eldest was there too and our family Christmas would have begun in earnest except that the following morning (Christmas Eve) I had promised to work a shift in the charity shop for Save the Children. It's not quite like manning a soup kitchen on Christmas Day, but it did give me the opportunity to buy those Christmas cards that I am yet to post; obviously I chose winter scenes with blank insides for my own message; there is after all no point wishing anyone a Merry Christmas several days after the event. At 1pm, voluntary work over, I braved the last minute shoppers thronging the High Street as I went on a quest for items overlooked from the shopping list the day before. Whoever could have imagined that there would be a run on Christmas crackers in North Yorkshire? Four shops later, however, I tracked down a supply and, inventory complete, returned home.

Late afternoon the youngest and I embarked on our annual tradition of  bedecking the Christmas tree at the eleventh hour. I tidied up our spare room ready for our Christmas Day overnight guest and the festive period began with a mince pie (bought not home baked) and a glass of wine.

I am proud to say that we enjoyed a fraught-free Christmas Day following  the most relaxing run up that I can remember.

If anyone is thinking of following suit then my top tips would be:
  1. Cut back on the gift list (or try Secret Santa instead) and stick to consumables rather than trying to find the perfect present
  2. Only do essential cleaning; nobody is going to measure the dust in your house and subdued lighting will hide it
  3. Don't send cards if you don't have time; consider telephoning friends instead
  4. Restrict your decorations to a tree and one or two special pieces (vases of flowers or seasonal pot-pourri)
  5. Factor in plenty of time for yourself in the run up to your celebrations
  6. If you really have reached the nirvana of being totally chilled out about the whole thing, take yourself away for a long weekend just before
  7. Whilst Christmas may have appropriated the date of a pagan festival, it was never intended to be a mass consumer orgy and never forget, to quote from Robert Browning, "Less is more"
  8. Remember too that Christmas is a time for celebrating the birth of a child, yet the world is full of children suffering because they are in the wrong place, disabled, a refugee, from a minority group or even because they are a girl. Reach out to help every last child.



Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Blind Making the Blind




I shall begin with the proviso that I am unsure whether or not the statistics I am about to quote are correct, but I do know that Pareto would at least approve.

So: I am one of the 20% of women who own a sewing machine. Until  last week I was also one of the 80% of women who own a sewing machine and do not use it.

However, in a sudden burst of creative activity my reliable little dressmaking aide has been placed on the desk in the eldest's bedroom which, since he did kind of leave home seven years ago, I am slowly taking over as craft room.

The task which I set myself was to make a window blind for the small box room in the Nottingham property. The previous blind had given up the ghost but an inspection suggested to me that it would not be beyond the wit of man nor indeed Caree's limited ability to replicate the design.

I confess I have never made a blind in my life before. To be honest I would also struggle to recall anything I have ever made with the sewing machine except perhaps a cushion cover, generally having used it only for mundane tasks like hemming trousers. 

Nevertheless the result has given me great pleasure. I hung it over the weekend and was certainly relieved to dicover that it both fitted and worked. There's a lot to be said for creativity; success definitely endows a halo of self satisfaction.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Christmas is Coming



It is very easy  to lose track of time in retirement. Without young children in the home, colleagues at work or even an Advent Calendar to remind you of the number of days to go until December 25th, there is of course a risk that Christmas Day can creep up almost unawares.

Today however my Christmas run up officially began when our Pilates wind down took place to the accompaniment of Silent Night. This was followed by a gym workout the sole purpose of which was to burn as many calories as possible in order to join fellow gym bunnies for a festive meal. Unfortunately three courses, including turkey with all the trimmings, really meant that  I ought properly to have returned for an overnight stint if all damage was to be avoided. With cards still to buy and write, it was not too difficult to formulate a legitimate excuse.

Tomorrow is Christmas Jumper Day and then there are 8 days to get those cards posted, presents bought and wrapped, food sourced, house cleaned, decorations put up and family welcomed. Goodness that's a whole week that I never got whilst working; plenty of time!


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

What Really is Great About America




This entry is written in response to a comment on my last blog entry by the writer of My Retiring Life. It seems that more than half of American voters are not surprisingly down in the dumps about their country after a campaign based on making America great again won, creating incredulity around the world as well as a plentiful supply of ready material for comedians and news reporters.

The USA is of course internationally accepted as the World's number one superpower, so why on Earth would anyone seek Presidential Office on the basis of making it great again? Isn't that creating an emormous wound through self deprecation, especially if one cares to analyse what promises were made to fulfil the slogan? 

However, I do not wish to get embroiled in politics here and certainly am not qualified to comment on US' social and economic issues. Instead I want to tell you about the top ten positives in addition to air quality, that make an Englishman sit up and notice in America:


1. The friendliness and willingness to  converse and, a little like the UK, the further you get away from the capital city, the friendlier people are. Except the distances are so enormous that when you compare the welcomes you receive in Texas, you have to think Tyneside and Scotland multiplied by thousand of miles. Yes Texas is certainly a country in itself (a little insular perhaps, as we found when asked if we get American films in England) but you can get off a bus feeling you have made a life-long friend with the driver and, although not recommended for all kinds of reasons, even want to take your waitress home with you.

2. It's casual.  I never once felt I was being judged on a lack of dress-sense or occasion. Common sense prevails and comfort is the number one priority.




3. It has white sand beaches in abundance, long enough to put Northumberland to shame, equally deserted and a whole lot warmer.


4. In tourist areas as wells as at transport hubs and gas stations there are toilet restroom facilities, impeccably clean and all without charge. No "out of order" or "closed due to council cuts" signs.


5. Okay I  may just be talking California here but it doesn't only have organic produce, it has organic supermarkets and I mean big ones with choice, ready meals and toiletries cosmetic and bathing products.


6. There are clean, convenient public transport systems in the cities and best of all they are  good value (only $3-$5 for a day pass), underused and uncrowded (I am not referring to rush hour in New York).

7. Linking to the metropolitan bus services we found easily accessible park and rides to leave your car for free in both San Diego and San Antonio and how clever is this, they occupy otherwise unused wasteland under flyovers and elveated sections of freeway. Indeed on-street car parking was readily available in the small towns that we visited and there was no lack of chargeable car parks in the bigger cities, although for convenience we preferred to use the bus routes.




8. History abounds. Never believe anyone who tells you America has no history. Yes the whiteman may not have got there until the 15th Century but there were native American tribes all over the place before then and I've never been anywhere that is so good at preserving its old wooden churches, houses and other buildings. They even have National Historical Parks: San Diego Old Town and the LB Johnson Ranch were two of our stops and of course the Freedom Trail in Boston.



9. It's an enormous country and the wilderness is fantastic. National and State Parks are plentiful and offer an opportunity to immerse yourself in the past in another way, getting back to real nature. In our case a long walk at Enchanted Rock in the soaring Texan heat and a visit to Hamilton Pool certainly brought us closer to understanding the hardship of frontier life. Otherwise a drive outside of urban areas will reveal roadkill of a somewhat unusal type for the closeted Brit: armadillo, racoon, snake, deer and possum.


10. Finally and despite its love for paper cups and plates, plastic cutlery, fries and burgers, there were fantastic eating places everywhere we went. In fact the only disappointment was ordering marrow in Austin when, expecting a dish of green vegetable, it was actually a meaty bone!




Post script. I am adding an Eleven: art. Art galleries, live music and sculpture abound. Annoyingly so when you are browsing a high street for a baker's or grocery store and all you can spot are coffee shops and galleries, but what a recognition of the part art and music play  in elevating human life.




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.