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.




Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Book Lovers' Day




Somewhat unfittingly for a day described as Book Lovers' Day, I have made a pile of paperbacks ready to donate to the Save the Children charity shop. It's all part of that mad phase I've described as giving up with aggression, although "reduction with passion" may actually be a more accurate description.

To be honest, I have always had a difficulty when it comes to parting with books but when it reaches the stage that they are piled on the floor, tumble out of wardrobes and are even stored in suitcases, you know it's time to take action and building yet more shelves isn't what we have in mind.

I'm not sure why it is that so many of us accumulate books, especially when they are not rare first editions. Perhaps we are all latent librarians at heart. 

I once read that bookcase displays were indicative only of a desire to demonstrate one's learning so all could applaud, but, as some of my paperbacks fall very definitely into the category of chick-lit, I am not convinced. On my part, I believe retention has been governed more by a prospect of either reading the book again or passing it on to someone with a brief endorsement. That said, some books have sat on our shelves so long that they have yellowed with age and although they have that wonderful attractive, musty smell they really would no longer be a joy to peruse and in some instances might even fall apart when you turn the pages. 

Sadly and save as a curio of doubtful scent, many of my old books serve no purpose although the sentimental attraction remains strong. Take the copy of Alice in Wonderland given to me when I was in hospital at the age of eight as an example, the typeface is unattractive, the odd drawings which it contains are crudely sketched, the cover is torn and, were I to seek to reread it for the nth time I'm sure there must be a free e-book version to download instead. It's hard, but the proper place for books like this is clearly re-cycling and if I donate them to a charity shop it may even be able to  make some money from having them collected.

Newer books are harder to part with but I have resolved to limit my paperback collection of read books to a few shelves of my favourite novels, ready to pass on and recommend. The others will be sold by Save the Children to raise funds for a good cause. There are occasions when I know I have lovingly fingered through a read book, recalling the story with enthusiasm and the memory of the enjoyment it brought at the time but I know I am not going to re-read every one of the books I have been hanging onto; they were enjoyable but there are so many others out there to  be brought into my home and read instead.

I hope that I am not making this sound easy. I'm keen and eager to see the task through but reducing let alone giving up treasured books is painfully difficult. Fortunately I have been helped by the discovery of Goodreads a wonderful app that allows me to keep a virtual bookshelf of  the books I have read, aided by a brief synopsis of the story and all sorted alphabetically by author or even title if I prefer.

Of course paperbacks are only half the story; there are of course still the hardbacks and non-fiction to sort, as well as "coffee-table" books, not to mention the suitcases I've already referred to and, after my initial sort-out, now a greater percentage of books to read before disposal even becomes an issue. However, the space created by giving up is exciting and liberating and where once I could never have envisaged a shelf without an array of books on it, now I see scope for simplicity and unencumbered living.

It's Book Lovers' Day and I love reading; is this normal?

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Brain Training




We all read those scare stories suggesting that if you dare to retire then, without the intellectual stimulation that work brings, your brain will quickly turn to mush. Consequently I know people who diligently don't move from the breakfast table until they have at least had a good stab at completing the daily crossword or won't travel without a compendium of sudoku puzzles or brain training programmes. Whilst I enjoy the challenge of  both crosswords and sudoku, to my chagrin they do not figure in my daily routine and I have been known to express fleeting concern that my mental capacity could be diminishing, without the constant taxing and testing that professional life brings. 

I am therefore little short of euphoric to have learnt this week of a report from the Global Council on Brain Health that effectively dismisses the health benefits of puzzles and mind games. Instead the Council's report concludes that whilst we can have an impact on how our brains change as we age, the best activities to enhance a person's cognitive reserve involve activities that we find enjoyable and challenging, that encourage social engagement and teach new skills. The examples given by the report include learning tai chi, practising yoga (tick), taking a photography class (phew I did that one recently), investigating your genealogy (one of my favourite pastimes), juggling (humph), cooking (tick), gardening (tick), learning a language (tick) or musical instrument (others would not forgive me if I tried this with my lack of musical talent), creative writing and making art (tick), volunteering (big tick).

Indeed the report specifically emphasises the benefit of activities involving both physical and mental engagement and gives the examples of dancing and tennis. It accords exactly with the wise words spoken by my Zumba instructor who insists that the expenditure of energy during her class is incidental to the benefits to the brain as the blood flows to the head and we seek to memorise her routines, struggling to follow her footsteps.

However within the report are words of warning for the retired person. The study showed that cognitive decline (potentially leading to dementia or other conditions associated with ageing) can accelerate when people stop work if by retiring they cease to participate in cognitively stimulating activities.

The conclusions drawn from the report are accordingly that the benefits of what most people consider as brain training games are weak to non-existent and that instead we should find new ways to stimulate the brain and challenge how we think. We should choose activities that involve both mental engagement and physical activity and even better if they also incorporate social engagement and an altruistic purpose such as volunteering or mentoring.

Based on my retirement activity to date, it is a relief to know that I am potentially postponing the onset of dementia for a few years yet. Moreover by remaining mentally active and continuing to learn, the effect may even be prolonged for the whole of my lifespan. I'm not sure if I'll still be doing Zumba at 85, of course, but maybe at that stage the family will forgive me if I do decide to learn to play the trumpet instead.

 

Monday, 31 July 2017

Off Colour



I was not myself at all yesterday, struck down, I suspect, by a mild dose of food poisoning. No appetite, a painful tummy ache, totally overcome by fatigue with weak joints and an unending wave of nausea, I took to my bed. Safe in its confines, I listened first to the stomach fire brigade spray its hoses of bile on the malcontented and noisy dragon beneath and then waited patiently whilst the sewage cleaning operators in the intestine did their work. In the meantime the extremities resembled the polar ice cap as I shivered my way through the day.

At least in retirement there is no longer any pressure to drag yourself out of bed to fulfil commitments in an office diary. However, yesterday was a Sunday so I didn't even have that thought as solace for my condition.

 It is unpleasant being out of sorts but (touch wood) I am fortunate in generally enjoying good health.

As we age, however, I know that it may not always be so. Already wear and tear on vital knee joints, not to mention bursitis and tendonitis can at the least be irritating. Maybe the underlying conditions were always there, certainly old skiing pulls and strains are chief suspects, but it seems only now through attempts at a more physical lifestyle in retirement that they are coming to the fore. 

Certainly there is much to be said for recognising your limitations even when it is sad to have to acknowledge them and  realise that there are some things that it's just not wise to do anymore. Moving on through retirement, reality begins to catch up. 

With reality comes an understanding that life is no longer infinite and time has run out for me for marathon running, mountain climbing, bungee jumping and a host of other activities that I'm sure I really would never have tried anyway. You will note that I am not yet excusing my partaking of the activities that bring enjoyment. However, that knowledge of the finite can make it seem that the pressure is on to fit in everything  that you want to do, before infirmity creeps up still further.

I guess that's where continuous planning and the much berated bucket list come in. To stop retirement dreams becoming unachievable or giving way to the dreaded drudgery of routine, regular reviews, flexibility and in some instances lateral thinking are needed. 

Forgive me, I'm now off to undertake a rational assessment...




Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Giving Up




After my last blog entry I have been contemplating my retirement and am beginning to feel that the next driver is "giving up." I don't mean by surrendering but rather in a very physical way in order to reach that nirvana of a simplified life.

So for me July has been a month to embrace Plastic Free July and abandon added sugar. 

The statistics on plastic are appalling and when I looked in my own waste-bin at the beginning of the month I saw with horror that, despite our conscientous devotion to re-cycling, we were still disposing of more plastic in the form of cellophane-wrapping and cling-film for landfill than any other form of waste. Just realising the extent of the problem that we were creating (and we consider ourselves good at sorting re-cyclable waste from our other rubbish) was a start in the right direction and now it has become a crusade to deliberately shop to try to avoid the worst excesses of single-use plastic whilst looking for items made of other substances for repeat use. It's too late to undo all our errors in the past; the children's toys, coffee capsules, melamine picnic plates, garden chairs, plant pots, all now presumably buried deep in a local authority pit never to decompose in our lifetimes. The plastic containers in the fridge and coathangers in the wardrobe provide a daily reminder of  our wilful disregard for green living. We are, however, now stepping up to become eco-warriors as, going forward, we relinquish the plastic trappings that go with an early 21st century lifestyle. Giving up is good, providing both challenge and ambition whilst benefiting the planet as we hopefully reduce pollution.

Sugar is another horror now scientifically linked to obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes. The Action on Sugar website highlights the issues but it is only when you start to read in detail the written information on food products that you get any appreciation of the scale of the problem. Have you for instance ever tried to find bread without added sugar in your local supermarket? It does exist but elusivity means you have to track it down. On the plus side, the eradication of added sugar from our diet in the last couple of weeks has done wonders for weight loss and energy levels and I can thoroughly recommend it.

In September 2016, I posted a blog entry which I titled Letting Go and Making a Difference.  They were for me the second and third phases of retirement, the movement or divergence from one to the other blurred by an overlap. Giving Up, following  a period of what I can best describe as plateauing, seems to be a natural progression and whilst many might say there is no obvious distinction there is actually a subtle difference stemming from the maturing of retirement. Letting go was as much about the mental state of change from worker to retired person as the relinquishment of physical stuff; there was an understanding of the need to shed and a start to the process. In making a difference I had reached a point where I was energised by my efforts and strove to achieve. To give up is I now believe a natural sequitur but it is more brutal and deliberate, requiring passion, renewed energy and aggressive determination. It goes beyond recognition of and lip service to what must be jettisoned, to deliberate deprivation in order to achieve it. To let go, I must now give up previously perceived comforters rather than extraneous stuff; to make a difference I must give up the comforts of self-indulgence and infinite time. 

Retirement has turned up more challenges.



Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Saving Up for a Rainy Day

Apologies for yet another interruption in service. The last time I made a blog entry I was attributing my lapse to a bout of very welcome but very warm weather. Since then, here in North Yorkshire, we have been paying our penance with days of rain and for a period of one week some rather unseasonably low temperatures. Still variety is the spice of life as they say, and retirement thunders on (oh yes we have had a couple of electric storms too) regardless.

So I have been taking advantage of the wet weather to endeavour to catch up with a pile of administrative tasks left for the proverbial rainy day. Trouble is that, even with fourteen or more wet days, I'm still not up to date and procrastination appears to have successfully defeated my good intentions. On the plus side we have caught up with old friends, finished a course of hospital out-patients' treatment, had a family member to stay, eaten out  on several occasions, read numerous books, worked out in the hope of using up the extra calories, gardened between the showers, been to the cinema, fulfilled various commitments and of course become embroiled in following the annual tennis fest that is Wimbledon.

If I am  honest, however, it all seems a little humdrum and I even fear lest I have actually relaxed into retirement a little too easily. The trouble, of course, is that when we are at home for a prolonged period there is a tendency to fall into a dreaded routine: gym in the morning, coffee at 11am etc.. Routine has crept up effortlessly of late and coupled with a natural tendency towards indolence is proving to be an enemy of the successful pursuit of satisfaction in retirement. I'm guessing that it's a natural cycle now that we have moved into (I can hardly believe it) the third year since cessation of employment. 

The initial phase, as I have already documented, was one of recovery followed by "letting go" and then the application of long practised skills in order to "give back,"  whilst surprisingly finding that what I had planned to do in retirement very much went by the by. Now, however, I sense the advent of a new phase; a time for challenge and maybe even adventure or at least the determination to shed the feeling that we may be at risk of drifting aimlessly and to review the intial aspirations formulated for this period of our lives. I guess I am going to need a few more rainy days to properly explore this concept, but, with the British weather the way it is, those days have to be a certainty rather than a long shot.
 
Whilst I am conscious that this has been another self indulgent critique, I hope that many can empathise with the experience that I have described. In the meantime I close this entry buoyed by the discovery that somebody must read and appreciate these blog entries because it seems they have made it into a list of 100 Top Retirement Blogs. Forever flattered and grateful...




Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Staying Calm



With so many awful things happening at home and abroad at the moment, it is very hard not to be in angry mode the whole time. So instead, I've been breathing deeply and doing what I do best, namely enjoying retirement. Of course, a mini heatwave has helped along with the return of the youngest after her time at the University of Texas. 

You always know when the temperature reaches Mediterranean proportions because not only do you reach for the sunscreen but there's a frantic bid to find the insect repellent, long hidden in a bathroom cupboard, even if it was out of date and of no tangible effect either.

Similarly you always know when the youngest is at home because the laundry baskets fill quicker and the fridge becomes home to all kinds of strange vegetarian foods.


I'm certainly not complaining, especially as we've just enjoyed two wonderful afternoons in the sunshine. The first at Kiplin Hall which I had promised to return to when the sun was shining. I'm not sure that I had banked on 30 degrees of heat, but it certainly made for an enjoyable walk around the lake.



The second was a quintessential trip to the seaside, specifically Runswick Bay from where we walked along the cliffs to a vantage point for a superb view back across the bay where we ate a picnic lunch on the grass, amongst the smell of warm vegetation with the background noise of seabirds and humming insects. Bliss!




To top it all, Sunday was the third anniversary of my retirement from work. The heat put pay to a planned session at the computer musing over the perceived benefits and highlights. In fact when the choice has been between an evening on the patio watching the sun go down or making a blog entry, outdoor living has won every time. The exciting thing about living in the British Isles is that you genuinely never know what kind of weather you are going to get from one day to the next and, when you do get  some real summer weather, everything else goes by the by, or certainly it does in retirement.


Saturday, 10 June 2017

Just One Regret



It's a strange old world and a sign of the times when the winning party loses and the losing party is seen as the winner. That, however, seems to be the outcome of  the election. 

Taking the electorate for granted with its arrogance the Conservatives went hammer and tongs for the United Kingdom Independence Party voters and in so doing forgot that middle England with its intelligent, economically literate, remain-voting  populus would be both repulsed and insulted by the rhetoric. Consequently, although winning the most seats (albeit short of an overall majority), the Prime Minister totally failed in her objective of getting the large majority and mandate she was seeking to negotiate a "hard" Brexit, closing the door to the exisiting arrangements for free trade and the movement of people within Europe.

So, having finished my last blog entry with a feeling of resigned disillusionment, like more than half of the electorate I was overwhelmingly buoyed to find the Government had faltered; the people had spoken up against what it was seeking to impose and, whilst there may be the chaos of a hung Parliament, the mandate was clearly not there for the austere policies and Brexit terms they were seeeking to impose.

Except, and what more would you expect from a Prime Minister and party that does not listen, they are now cuddling up with the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland. The DUP, as it is commonly known, has grown out of a para-military organisation, is involved in smear and speculation concerning financial mismanagement and has policies that make the Conservatives' seem almost acceptable. The DUP is anti-abortion, refuses to accept LGTBQ rights, is sceptical about climate change and numbers creationists amongst its MPs. However, it now has 10 MPs and to keep the Conservatives in power and pursue their rejected policies there is to be an understanding between the two; the May-Dup alliance as it will no doubt be described. An alliance that many commentators believe may even upset the delicate peace in Northern Ireland.

Well we shall have to wait to see what happens but the first protest took place outside of Downing Street last night, wise counsel (particularly on Twitter) is being given and the longer the Government seeks to press on with a business as normal approach, the more millions of us are going to be totally affronted. So, if we thought the election would mean that politics would quieten down and everything would revert to normal, it seems not and this may only  be the beginning.

On the left the Corbynistas are claiming exactly that as they assert a victory, having gained some 30 seats, when only 7 weeks ago it was anticipated that they would be annihilated. Obviously the swing in Labour's favour includes a large protest vote, although many are proclaiming it as the beginning of the rise in support for progressive politics with Keynesian economics. 

As you can imagine, as well as giving the comedy writers hours of wonderful script material, Mister E and I have had plenty to discuss too. What would have been the outcome if Labour's appeal had been more Centrist? Does the impact of globalisation and mass capitalism mean that traditional political theories are ineffective for the 21st Century? Can you redress inequality and provide fairness through policies that the majority of the electorate will truly embrace in the way that the youth vote seems prepared to? Does it require a softly, softly approach from a new centrist approach to do this or can there be a political revolution of thought and support, bringing speedier momentum to the movement for a fairer, greener, more caring and inclusive society?

I had honestly expected to wake up on Friday revulsed by the thought that I lived in a country full of little Englanders whose only thoughts were for profit and themselves. With the final vote in, it seems that the Conservative, DUP and UKIP parties' vote share combined was just 45.1%. My faith in humanity and the British electorate is restored and there is now hope that there really is a way, regardless of the current Governmental chaos and apparent intransigence, to create the kinder society that we seek.

Regrets? There is one. Taking advantage of retirement, I stayed up until 3am on Election Night; why oh why didn't I do my ironing as I watched those results come in? 




Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Long Night Ahead




I honestly didn't intend to do another political post or let off steam again, so hopefully this will be a quieter post. As I type I am conscious that the Polling Stations close in less than thirty minutes and I am steeling myself for a late night. 

It has been a nasty election campaign when the strong and stable image of the Prime Minister has crumbled into a weak and wobbly one, refusing to engage with the public, debate with the opposition, cost her policies or even bother to explain them. That said she will undoubtedly triumph tonight leaving us with the most extreme right wing Government in memory.

The only other viable party in presenting policies that are progressive and socialist, will inevitably have shown itself to be too far left for significant electoral gains. The best one can hope for is a hung Parliament or certainly one without the clear landslide that the Prime Minister was seeking when she chose to call this snap election.

A campaign that was meant to focus on Brexit has instead been a campaign between hope and confusion; honesty and arrogance. Tomorrow will be another day of despair and disillusionment but as someone who hasn't voted for a winning side since 2005, I think I can pick up the pieces and get on with my life.

In readiness for when things get really bad and the NHS is completely in the hands of Virgin Care, and being run for profit not patients, I have at least had the foresight in the last week to get various hospital appointments booked. After all the possibility of purchasing health insurance in retirement will only come at a price and probably one that will make the proposed dementia tax look good value.

Since I last posted here the campaign has also  been hijacked by another terrorist atrocity in London increasing the differences between the parties over police numbers. Why the electorate is going to believe that a Prime Minister who was responsible during her time at the Home Office for cutting police numbers by 20,000 is now going to keep them safe, is beyond me. 

In the meantime she continues to cuddle up to President Trump taking far too long to criticise his ridiculous condemnation of the London Mayor who was trying to reassure people in the city that they should not be alarmed at the sight of armed officers. Trump of course had to use the situation to try to push his own agenda on travel bans and dealing with the anti-gun lobby. I wonder if he understands just how many British hackles rose with his comments and the strength of feeling against a state visit, especially the suggestion that he might even fly in this weekend.

So I am prepared for the worst tomorrow but at least it means that when the Tories do get elected and this state visit goes ahead, Mister E and I will get to attend a demonstration for the first time since my student days and there'll be more time spent ranting on this  blog.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Hot Air



I do feel that my blog entries of late have given themselves over to an indulgent opportunity for a little ranting. The strange thing is that retirement is like a second adolescence in so many ways: I can go to bed late and get up late; I can do what I want to do, rather than be at the bidding of others, and live in a totally selfish bubble if I so choose; my responsibilities are negligible; I can eat at odd hours; there is no reason for commitment to any engagement unless of my choosing; I can make spur of the moment decisions on how to spend my time, be it by curling up to spend a day reading a book or by taking advantage of the sun in the sky to go for a walk; I can spend hours thinking about the meaning of life, talking with friends or even just looking at my phone, should I so want.

Recently however I have also discovered that it is a time for reclaiming the passion of youth; the fight for right and beliefs. I hear many elderly people moaning about election coverage, avoiding the news programmes and generally showing little or no interest in the issues of the day. Perhaps that's what happens in the next stage, but early retirement certainly remains a time for rebirth, political thought and plenty of hot air.

Mind not all hot air is good. Certainly not if it relates to climate change. All of which could lead me to a specific rant against the developments of the day, when it is being reported that the so called leader of the free West has apparently decided to call time on his country's commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. A report that follows on from the revelation that the Prime Minister of the UK is being dubbed Trump's mole after leaked documents show that the UK wanted to change EU targets on "renewables" and energy efficiency, so that they would essentially be voluntary rather than mandatory.

However even in my neo-revolutionary latter years, I need time to sit back with a G&T, enjoy the evening sun and look forward to a luxurious soak in a warm bubble bath. At least with retirement comes  a better understanding, as well as application, of one's priorities.

Cheers!



Sunday, 28 May 2017

Heatwave in an Art Gallery



On Friday we made the decision to head to the city rather than fry ourselves on deck. So we headed from Troon Marina to the centre of Glasgow as the sun burnt down upon us and temperatures reached Mediterranean levels. Although we braved the heat to take in the Cathedral, Necropolis, and the Provand's Lordship it was only inside the art galleries (of which Glasgow has a multitude) that we found relief from the baking temperatures.



It has to be said that Glasgow likes its art gritty and the ends of so many buildings are now daubed with street art murals that we found fascinating like this one at the University of Strathclyde:



In the aftermath of the appalling bombing at Manchester arena only a few days before, we thought the Polygraph Exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art particularly pertinent. It is centred around a two channel video by the German film maker and visual artist, Hito Steyerl, in which she explores the death of her friend in Turkey. Dissecting evidence to separate truth from fiction in a complex world seemed to be the theme for all the exhibits. In the video itself Steyerl traces the casings from the bullets that killed her friend back to the premises of Lockheed Martin in Berlin. Her evidence claimed that it had supplied the weapons to Turkey through the German Government; state complicity unravelled; politics meeting the personal. The theme continued with for instance black and white photographs of the elderly and vulnerable housed in a hostel for the homeless in the city; politics again affecting individual lives.

At Manchester is it too glib to blame the reprehensible actions of one suicide bomber on the delusions of extremism? Are foreign policy, cutting police numbers, a lack of proper employment opportunities for the young from disadvantaged sectors and/or a failure to address radicalisation of some within our multi-cultural society, also to blame for the deaths at the arena of 22 innocent people, many just children?

For the first time ever, I found myself wanting to concur with Trump when he starkly referred to those responsible for the atrocity as losers. Yet as the exhibition in Glasgow pointed out, life isn't that simple. After all this was a US President who just days before had met with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and, like Theresa May only a few months earlier, sought to agree yet another arms deal. But what are those arms being used for? Isn't it Saudi Arabia that has been indiscriminately shelling in Yemen, killing thousands of innocent civilians including children and by virtue of its blockades caused widespread hunger and a shortage of medicines and other supplies? 

Individuals all over the world suffer because political decisions have far reaching and often unintended consequences. The world has become a very complicated place but it behoves no politician well to ignore the fact that people not profit are inevitably at the end of the chain of events started by their decisions.


Monday, 22 May 2017

A Week is a Long Time in Politics




It is often said that a week is a long time in politics. Two weeks or, to be totally exact, since I last posted about the election on 6th May, is even longer.

The intervening period seems like an eternity and we are now a little clearer on the varous parties' policies, some of which actually sound progressive and others, like the potential for the reintroduction of fox hunting and the return of grammar schools, positively Victorian.

On Brexit which is supposed to  be the main issue for the election, we appear to have established that the Conservatives with their Brexit means Brexit approach would sacrifice free trade in return for an unlikely ability to reduce immigration to tens of thousands. Labour on the other hand would negotiate to keep us in the free market with EU immigration essentially controlling itself through market forces. The LibDems however whilst not rejecting outright the outcome of the referendum result last year, believe that Brexit does not necessarily mean Brexit and would give the country a second vote on whatever terms are negotiated. All would have us believe that they remain committed to the NHS but commitment requires funding and with Brexit looming that is not going to be easy.

In the  last few days the Conservative Party which  has continued to insult and wear down the British public with its strong and stable propaganda has arrogantly published a manifesto, light on costings and detail although, presumably in return for the unwavering support of the gutter press, it is promising to give up on Leveson 2. So confident is it of the outcome that its leader has still declined to meet real people preferring staged events on the One Show or with supporters to debate and discussion. We do know that it would intend to use stealth taxes but is already having to talk about a U-turn on its social care reforms, quickly branded a dementia tax by its opponents, although it intends to press on with the removal of winter fuel allowances for pensioners and free dinners for primary school children, giving breakfast (at significantly less cost) instead to those who turn up unfed and early.

In the meantime  the Labour Party, whose policies appear to reflect the Scandinavian model rather than Marxist/Leninist ideology as some of the right wing media would have us believe, remains under fire for its leader who is frequently described as looking like a somewhat scruffy geography teacher. Clearly some hack, somewhere, was taught by a bearded, tieless pedagogue who bored him to tears and the label has stuck, perhaps unfairly. However with proposals to bring rail franchises back into public ownership, abolish student tuition fees and restore funding for the arts there are some exciting ideas to ponder over, although higher taxes for the richest 5% are presumably not going to be popular with many in that 5. 

The LibDems after their odious betrayal of the student vote in the 2010 election, are perhaps surprisingly trying to court the young person's vote all over again with the reinstatement of housing benefit for under-21s, a right to buy housing scheme and discounted bus passes. They are however going to add a penny onto the rate of income tax to pay for everything.

Most people I talk to are increasingly bored and frustrated by the proceeedings and still don't know which way to vote or if they'll even bother. We are being sucked into an election which is becoming increasingly presidential in nature and when people desire none of the party leaders they get turned off, whilst others are ready to vote based on what a leader looks or sounds like rather than considering their party's policies and the credentials of their local candidates. Of course I'll vote, but living in a constituency which would elect the proverbial donkey so long as it has a blue rosette around its neck,  my X on the ballot paper will hardly matter whichever box I put it in.

So, whilst I am now more comfortable with where that cross is going to go, it may be that the only election pledge that will resonate with the population is the LibDem's surprising commitment to legalising wacky baccy. After all if we are going down the pan, it might feel better to be high when we get washed away.



Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Woman Who Lived in a Cupboard



Were I to write my autobiography  based on the last two weeks I doubt if there could be a more fitting title than "The Woman Who Lived in a Cupboard." Yesterday, after all the practice at home, I volunteered to help Save the Children by tidying up a walk-in cupboard. Moreover, I went back today to finish the job.

Obviously this action in itself didn't save many (I mean any) children but it does mean that the lovely volunteers at their local Charity Shop can now get into the cupboard to store day to day items ready to fill empty spaces on shelves and hopefully raise significant sums to help support the Charity's work.

Never did I envisage that, of all the skills I may be able to develop in retirement, an ability to move boxes and stack shelves, producing order out of chaos, would be one of the most useful. 

It's supposed to be a life of creativity and adventure that I'm seeking, albeit without the clutter. However, after spending so much time inside cupboards, I am now thinking about taking root inside one. It could, with the unleashing of the desire for creativity, prove a wonderful ambience for writing that book; once I've cleared the cupboard out of course!


Sunday, 7 May 2017

Beauty and the Box


Nesting instinct, Spring and cardboard boxes; they all came together today. Is it the level of the sun in the sky or the birds hopping around building nests and feeding their young? I'm not sure, but it is always at this time of the year that I get an uncontrollable urge to clear out cupboards.

I confess that when I was working, it didn't get much further than a fleeting feeling but the early years of retirement are a time to tackle all that messy storage and I'm proud to say that I have actually attacked all of my cupboards at some point since retirement, making a better job in some than others.

It would be nice to think that having tidied them once, they might stay that way especially after being previously neglected for a decade or more. Sadly, no. Once that Spring feeling dissipates, the rest of the year is spent filling them up as random items get squeezed in anywhere.

It had reached the point that just opening the door of the cupboard under the stairs was sufficient to send me into a spiral of gloom, so today I took action to dispel it. Piled high with boxes, I had assumed that family members had been placing objects for future use or of sentimental value there and was genuinely not looking forward to the heaving and shifting that a clear out might entail. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I discovered that the boxes were completely empty! 

Mister E was the culprit and under caution confessed all. He has always been a magpie when it comes to cardboard boxes; items of abundant usefulness, he claims. However, and up till now I had always thought he stored them in the garage and disposed of them on a strict rotational basis, assuming always that they failed to prove their use in the interim. I now realise that whilst that may have been the pattern pre-retirement, the cupboard space I have created since has just been too much of a temptation for a boxoholic.

His support during my various decluttering missions and our shared aim for a minimalist approach to living has proven secondary to his love for cardboard boxes. My own struggle with ridding the house of my accumulated "stuff" has been nothing compared to his addiction for packaging.  When I conquer my inablility to sling, he fills the empty space with cardboard. Can there be any hope at all for us succeeding with our quest for simplification, to restore the mess amongst which we live into a state of order and our home into an oasis of calm? Keep reading, I know not.




Saturday, 6 May 2017

Toast


Whilst we were in Italy the Prime Minister decided to call a General Election after 6 months spent assuring everybody that she would do no such thing, and ruining any remaining credibility on her part in the process. Maybe it's a case of keeping up with the Joneses or in this case the Merkels and Hollandes,  as France and Germany both go to the polls this year too. Alternatively, as suggested in many quarters, is it to deflect the potential for losing her majority in the House of Commons after files have been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service amid allegations that up to 20 Conservative MPs breached rules regarding local spending limits in the 2015 election?

Theresa May herself would like us to believe that it's so that the British people can give her a forceful mandate to argue the case for Brexit in negotiations with the EU. Bunkum; as she well knows, the Greeks tried this tactic when endeavouring to secure a monetary bailout and little good it did them.

In any event, the British electorate is surely somewhat fatigued with all  this dashing to the polls. Since I retired and following on from European Parliament elections in May 2014, we've had the Scottish Indyref, the 2015 General Election,  the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections, the Brexit referendum, local elections last week and now another General Election. What a waste of money in these times of austerity just to hear lies, spin and hot air.

Worse still and for the first time in my adult life, I'm not even sure which particular party I want to vote for. The Tories, led by May, have morphed into nasty UKIP adopting much of its rhetoric and rendering it obsolete. The Labour Party, with many supporters doing it proud in the referendum by voting to remain in Europe, has failed to provide any inspirational opposition to the Government and has efficently supported it in triggering Article  50, hastening our exit from the European Union. The Scottish Nationalists led by Angus Robertson at Westminster have been the most effective party in opposing the Government but when you live in Yorkshire there's no possibility of casting a vote in their favour. The Liberal Democrats, wiped out after forming a coalition government with the Conservatives and reneging on their promise to abolish student tuition fees, are attempting to make a come-back by appealing to Remainers and continuing to oppose Brexit; they could almost sound appealing if sadly there wasn't a big trust issue there. I guess that finally leaves the Greens, hot on the environment with the kind of progressive ideas you would expect from a party that has only ever managed to gain one seat in Parliament and, therefore, no prospect of forming a realistic Opposition let alone a Government.

Nobody seems to have any policies or realistic ideas as to where they are taking the country. Whilst the Tories indulge in  base propaganda techniques and sublimial brainwashing with their "Brexit means Brexit," "will of the people" and "strong and stable" slogans (if the latter were even true, why would they need to hold a snap election?), the Labour Party promises us four extra Bank Holidays. I mean: really?

There's a genuine danger here of a very low turn out; a large majority for the most right wing Government I can ever recall; the loss of yet more public services and a hard Brexit leaving our economy reeling and hardship for millions. Nobody fit to govern? We still have to make sure there's a substantive oppositon to prevent the excesses that will otherwise occur.

What a shambles. I don't want to feel depressed in retirement but whichever way you look at it, I can't help thinking that we are toast.

PS If you haven't registered to vote you have until 22 May - click here



Monday, 1 May 2017

Outdoor Sculpture at Pompeii and Elsewhere


I'm not sure what it is about sculpture that ignites my fire but I really get excited by many of the beautiful pieces that adorn our museums and open places, especially when they fit into and amplify their surroundings. If there is one thing I have learnt since retiring, it is that there is no time to waste analysing why I might like something and, when I do, the response is simply to explore it and enjoy the moment (on the basis of course that my taste is impeccable and therefore always lawful). Indeed in retirement I have been able to see so many wonderful examples of sculpture that it would be difficult to recount them all.







In particular large outdoor installations that add to the atmosphere of the environment have left an abiding impression including the special exhibition of Henry Moore's work and then that of Kaws at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, not to mention the Blood Swept Lands and Seas part of which was there also, after first seeing it at the Tower of London. 


As we have travelled, both at home and especially abroad, we have come across wonderful examples of artwork of this nature. Cuba in particular embraced the idea of state sponsored street art and in San Diego there is of course the huge and distinctive Embracing Peace Statue.


More recently in Italy we were fortunate to see a display of Igor Mitoraj's work at Pompeii as the last day of that exhibition was actually today. It would have been hard to envisage a better site for his vast classical sculptures and for me they enhanced our visit.





Sunday, 30 April 2017

Creative Compositions



Since retiring I seem to be taking more and more photographs. Obviously travelling to new places and oodles of leisure time to wander around with a camera provides the perfect opportunity. Moreover and whilst I had originally thought that I would enjoy learning to sketch and paint again, instead I have found myself drawn more and more to the digital world of the camera. So much so that having invested in a super duper compact pocket camera shortly after retiring, a couple of weeks back (somewhere between Madeira and Italy timewise), I upgraded to a digital SLR.


Prior to the age of mega pixels, I did have an SLR film camera but confess that I rarely ever used to shoot with it in anything other than automatic modes. In retirement, however, I hope to be more creative and to this end signed up for and attended a photography workshop on Thursday. 


It took place inside Kiplin Hall, the Jacobean Mansion built for George Calvert who, as Lord Baltimore was the founder of Maryland in the USA. It's not far from where I live but in time honoured tradition and whilst I might travel the world or the rest of the country looking at historic landmarks, those on my doorstep are frequently neglected and I had never before been past the gate. We did have the opportunity to get out into the grounds to try our hand at newly learned skills but the weather was a little dismal. I have therefore made a mental note for myself to return when the sun is shining and take a good walk round the lake as well as a mosey inside the house which was not open (save for the room we occupied) during our visit.

However, I still emerged at the end of the day brimming with enthusiasm and capable of  using far more settings and dials on my new camera than I had thought possible. To be fair the course leader (Guy Carpenter from Gullwing Photography) did point out that a good compact pocket camera can be just as effective for holiday snaps and easier to carry, but the aim is, of course, to be creative. 

Since Thursday I have read the camera manual from cover to cover, a book on photography and the latest edition of Amateur Photography magazine. Best of all though I have been practising: 






Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Celebrations




When you are young there are 18th and 21st celebrations, moving into young adulthood with weddings and christenings and then every ten years one of those BIG birthdays. Of course they continue in retirement, but it is also in retirement that the really significant anniversaries start to happen.


Like so many people Mister E and I married at Eastertime and this year we celebrated thirty years together. We decided to mark the occasion with a trip to Sorrento in Italy where we were joined by what appeared to be an aeroplane full of older couples enjoying significant anniversaries too. Families and those in the decades frequently referred to as "middle-age" were noticeably absent, although there were some young honeymooners.


Maybe it was our destination. The Bay of Naples, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coastline are all beautiful. Romantic Italy. I even heard someone say that the adage, "See Naples and die," was especially poignant. I don't think that was meant to be a reflection on our ages, at least I hope not.




Saturday, 15 April 2017

Loaded with Spring Colour





It has certainly been a magnificent Spring for colour. The daffodils seem to have been a little late, the tulips early and the mix of yellow with the pastel hues of the tulips and the scent and colour of hyacinths has resulted in a magnificent display wherever I have gone.



A couple of weeks back, I also kick started  my own Spring colours with a review of my wardrobe. It followed, I confess, another ladies lunch with those fellow fitness junkies when we were treated to a presentation from the House of Colour. It seems that we are all pretty  much divided into four types of skin tone which dictates the shades we should wear.

I declined the opportunity to pay a not insignificant sum to determine my perfect colour match (experience has already taught me that it is various shades of blue, especially aqua). I was, however, sufficiently inspired to take another look at the colours in my wardrobe where, whilst I was pleased to note that the workplace black was now outnumbered, it still lurked in the corners projecting drabness and misery. 

Spurred by the thought that we all need more colour in our lives, I set myself up for some online retail therapy and the aim of bringing the blue of those hyacinths into my bedroom closets. It hasn't all gone, but after almost three years of retirement, I can safely say that the black outfits have diminished now to only four items. Pale and turquoise blues are much more cheerful.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Perfume and Age



One of the benefits of attending exercise classes regularly is not the highly toned body that could result but rather the ready made group of like-minded people with whom you can share the pleasures of drinking and dining. This doesn't so much undermine the good work put in at the exercise studio but rather ensures that you return for more and work even harder to save spent calories for another meal out.

I can honestly say that I did not know any of my new found gym buddies prior to retiring and yet now they are one of the mainstays of my social life (well we all like food). They are also a source of encyclopedic knowledge, saving me hours of online research. 

For instance last Friday, the sun beating down as Spring very definitely arrived, we rounded off a hard week of Pilates, Fitball, Body Blitz, Yoga, Kinesis Hiit and Barre Concept with a short swim and a long laze in the outdoor hot tub. There then followed a quick stroll to a nearby hostelry where we discussed the topics of the day and put the world to rights.

Now for some time recently I have been aware that I am becoming somewhat indulgent with the bottled fragrances in my bathroom. I couldn't pinpoint the reason but Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum and even the highly powerful real stuff in the little bottles, once applied, just doesn't seem to hold its scent anymore. Of course that's not something I'd necessarily share, even with a gym bunny, but, to my surprise, it came up in conversation. What is more, I am certain that they hadn't sniffed out this issue on my part.

"Age and changing hormones," one lady declared.

"Fix it by applying Vaseline first," another responded.

Well it is certainly reassuring to know that I am not the only person to encounter this phenomenon. I confess that I even googled it afterwards and the underlying factor seems to be dry skin; a symptom of hormones and ageing, of course. I told you: those ladies have encyclopedic knowledge! 

 


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Nectar or Not


Some people love Marmite. Mister E is one of them. Unfortunately I have only once managed to get past the smell in order to taste it and let's say that I was singularly unimpressed. If you have to consume it to be a vegan, no wonder I'm sticking to meat and dairy products.

Of course I understand that  some people suffer Marmageddon moments when there is no jar in the house or Tesco falls out with its supplier and they struggle to even buy the stuff. On my part, however, it haunts  my life. I despise the stuff but am forever running into jars in  my kitchen. I hate the way it sticks to the knife that I invariably find myself washing to put away, or the way it seems to dribble down the side of the jar that I want to put back in the cupboard.

Now I know its reputedly eco friendly, made locally from brewers' yeast and low in calories but still I have never been persuaded to fall for its purported allure.

Today, however, I understand that I could be missing out on important benefits. Research at the University of York appears to suggest that there is an apparent link between eating Marmite and an increase of a chemical messenger associated with healthy brain function. The Daily Telegraph reported the outcome more bluntly indicating that it may boost brain power and stave off dementia.

Wouldn't it be typical if a food item that I find totally unpalatable is the one that could help defeat those senior moments I have been referring to recently and perhaps even help me finish the daily crossword? 

Of course such research is only in its infancy and further studies are required before any benefit in the treatment of dementia can be claimed. In the meantime it will take more than the odd episode of momentary witlessness to get me to volunteer to take a teaspoon a day.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

Madeira




We have just returned from a short trip to Madeira. A week to get outdoors in the sunshine and walk. I've always enjoyed previous trips to Portugal but Madeira was an island that we had always dismissed as being for older folk with what we imagined were elegant hotels on graceful boulevards with an all pervading colonial ambience from yesteryear.

Initially we thought we were right about the older traveller. Although on our first day I managed to refrain from succumbing to a single senior moment, life was not so good for others. For instance, there was the lady at the airport who, upon arrival, removed my holdall from the conveyor belt in baggage reclaim and then took some persuading that the label with my name on it and the brightly coloured string around its handle meant that it was not hers. 

Or, what about the gentleman who sat down in my seat at dinner whilst I was serving myself at the salad buffet? As I returned, he was in the process of drinking then spitting out in total distaste my glass of fizzy water. He was still not convinced he was in the wrong seat, even when his wife, waving a bottle of still water (fortunately it had its cap screwed on) in his general direction, called to him from another table.

Of course my turn came the following morning when I wandered into the plush restrooms off reception, emerged from a cubicle and admired the artistic handbasins rising like trumpets from the floor. I was just about to plunge my hands into one when I realised I was staring at a urinal and was in the Gents! That merited a hasty exit and a quick reminder to myself to place spectacles on my nose in future before endeavouring to decipher the indicative figure on the lavatory door.

So, clearly feeling totally at home in a seniors' holiday destination, what did we think of Madeira?



Well it is hilly, but compared to the walks we generally do in the Lake District not significantly so and only (or so I was told) on the most difficult levada walks do you need to use arms as well as legs. The sun shone warmer and with greater reliability than at home. There was an interesting variety of wildflowers on the hillsides although another few weeks and the agapanthus will be in full bloom which will certainly transform many of the places we walked. Park beds were full of Bird of Paradise flowers and Arum Lillies appeared to grow almost wild. Unfortunately there are very few species of bird on the island which is not on a migration route, but we did see the indigenous Madeiran Firecrest, similar to our own but more colourful. Typical of a volcanic island there are massive black cliffs dropping steeply to the sea and very few beaches.


Also and inevitably for a place where tourism is now the main industry, concrete has spilled over into the landscape in abundance. That colonial elegance glimpsed on some of the older buildings has given way to massive modern hotels clinging to the hills and cliffs around Funchal and what were once farmed terraces now play host to housing and shopping centres. A modern road system includes some 138 kms of concrete tunnels blasted through the rocks and even the airport runway is held up by a series of concrete pillars extending into the sea. The sea front and promenade area too are a bastion of, yes, concrete.

It is a popular stopping point for cruise ships and with several in port on Monday and Tuesday, we made sure to keep away from Funchal on those days. The rest of the island is a relieving mix of greenery and rock, and, apart from visitors, pretty much deserted with most people opting to live or stay within the perimeters of the capital.

The temperature was pleasant and when the sun overdid its work a breeze from the sea kept the thermometer in check. Eating outside, especially for lunch was very much the order of the day and although we rejected the salted cod which features on most Portuguese menus there was always plenty of alternative fresh fish.

What about all the old folk? Well most of them are super fit and clearly go to Madeira to walk up those hills or along the levadas. Also they are not so much elderly as indifferent to the lure of a beach towel, night club or all day English breakfast. Of course that could be not only the defining features  of retirement but also where Madeira really gets its reputation for elegance and taste from.