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.




Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Magna Carta Part 3




This week I read "I Am Malala," gaining an insight into the growth of the influence of the Taliban in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, culminating in the shooting of Malala Yousafzai. We are hearing so much about the growth of populism in the West that sometimes one needs to be reminded that the political situation is far more dire in other parts of the world. The populace that could least afford it readily parted with cash and jewellery initially in the mistaken belief that the Taliban would bring about much needed change and so alleviate the difficulties under which they were living. Illiterate and uneducated people, suffering as a result of a lack of action by politicians and disinterest as to their plight, actually thought the Taliban might improve their lot. Malala is, of course, described as the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.


After my visit to Runnymede the previous week, it was probably a fitting book to read. King John, forced to sign the Magna Carta by his Barons after squeezing as much gold from them as he could (in part to fight in Crusades against the Muslims of the Middle East), came the closest the UK has ever got  to having a written constitution. For the first time in the modern world the concepts of freedom and equality under the law were acknowledged in writing. Runnymede is even referred to as the birthplace of Human Rights' legislation.


Does anything really change though? 


The Kennedy Memorial on land gifted to the USA is also at Runnymede. The Memorial Stone sits at the top of 50 steps (one for each of the states) and is inscribed with an extract from the Declaration of Freedom in the inaugural address given by President JF Kennedy. 

"This acre of English ground was given to the United States of America by the people of Britain in memory of John F Kennedy President of the United States 1961-63 died by an assassin's hand 22 November 1963 Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill that we shall pay any price bear any burden meet any hardship support any friend or oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and success of liberty."


I think that there are certain leaders in the world today who could do with visiting this special place before we all turn in on ourselves and unpick the enormous progress made in the twentieth century towards lasting peace and understanding between nations and nationalities.

You may not agree with what New Labour stood for, but the mantra of "Education, Education, Education," surely has a resonance in these dark days. Certainly Malala and her father were and still are determined to fight for the right of all children, including girls, to be educated. In the words of Save the Children's Every Last Child campaign: "every child deserves a chance to grow up healthy, learning and safe."



As a prequel to reading Malala's book it was probably also fitting that our next stop was Oxford, a city steeped in learning since at least the 12th century. A reminder too though of the connection between the Church and education; historically the power of the Church over those who could neither read nor write; self enlightenment and development through literacy, study and understanding.







Oh my goodness, how I just love retirement. There's so much time to explore, absorb and then, almost best of all, try to collect my thoughts to write a blog entry about it afterwards.







Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Losing My Marbles and Other Things


I have experienced a difficult few days when my joy at becoming a scatty being has been offset by the realisation that this is not the state of nirvana I have been seeking in retirement. To throw away years spent honing my organisational skills and memory capacity is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after all.

I may be searching for a simpler life but this does not mean I also want a simpler mind. Terrifyingly, in my quest for simplification, I may just have overdone it.


It all started, like the birth of modern democaracy, at Runnymede. In the process of taking one of a number of photographs, I failed to realise that I had dropped my camera case. Half a mile later the omission registered, steps were retraced and the bag was retrieved from the damp grass on which it was lying.

Never satisfied, however, I excelled myself the following morning. I must confess that I do have a previous history where hotel room key cards are concerned. Consequently I have vowed to be scrupulously careful in my handling of them, ever aided by all kinds of dire warnings from Mister E should I dare to even think of losing another. So it was that I set off for a pre-breakfast dip in the hotel pool, dutifully hanging onto the keycard at all costs. I waved it at the  man at the desk in order to enter the swimming area and promptly forgot all about it. I remembered, of course, when Mister E enquired as to its whereabouts, after I had knocked on our room door for him to open it.

Once again we retraced our steps but this time to no avail. So, original keycards cancelled, new ones provided and a full English breakfast consumed, we set out to walk along the Thames and into Oxford, a gentle stroll from where we were staying. After a while, I was obliged to stop so that I could adjust what was beginning to be a most uncomfortable sock. I untied my lace, removed my foot from shoe intending to smooth out the wrinkles which I could feel accruing but could find none. I peered into my shoe and there smiling up at me was the missing keycard. I had put it in a safe place after all.

Well you might think that would be the end of my appalling lapses for one weekend but worse was to follow. On returning home on Sunday, I opened the cloak cupboard to hang up my jacket and hanging from my peg was an item I did not recognise. Closer examination suggested that it was a similar colour and style to my winter coat but a size smaller and much more battered than I could recall. Somebody, somewhere must be wearing a woollen navy coat that's rather more generous across the chest and significantly smarter than theirs used to be.

Finally, just when you think your memory won't play any more tricks on you, at least not if you concentrate really hard, I lost my watch. It was AWOL for 40 hours during which time I had any number of imaginary conversations with the insurance company and police explaining how we must have been burgled in the dead of night without realising because I had definitely left it on the bathroom window ledge and, despite checking under the soap, toothpaste and even in the plug hole of the sink, it had disappeared without a trace. I found it late this afternoon, twinkling on the floor of the eldest's now vacated bedroom (yes he has flown to New Zealand), cupped in the sleeve of a discarded and dirty sweatshirt. How it got there shall remain one of life's mysteries.

So, enough of this carefree living; there are occasions when it is almost as stressful as working full-time. Indeed another valuable lesson has been learnt: just like everything else in life, the succesful navigation of  retirement needs ongoing organisational and observational skills . Disengagement of the brain can only lead to disaster.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Manana


We spent last week in the Lake District. Our previous visits in January have always been accompanied by blue skies and crisp frosty, often snowy, weather. So much so that as ever expectations were raised only to be thoroughly dampened by predominantly dank, misty days with a stream of interminable drizzle. 

There was a time when using up precious downtime away from the office to stare miserably through low cloud would have ruined the trip. Millions of workers feel the same which explains the upsurge in package holidays, cheap flights and the European short city break. Who wants to risk wasting holiday entitlement on bad weather?


On Planet Retirement however nobody cares. Bad weather is all part of the experience and in any case we can always go back another day.



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. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Enjoying the Elements



We returned from another week in the Lake District on Saturday, staying, as we always do, in a lodge in the Great Langdale valley. It has the wonderful advantage of being able to park the car and then not use it again and instead walk everywhere. We also enjoy a superb view of the Langdale Beck and the visiting wildlife from our accommodation.


The problem with the Lake District National Park, however, is invariably the weather. All the wonderful scenery, the lakes and greenery, come, as one must expect, at the price of heavy rainfall. So, on this visit, torrential rain prior to and at the time of our arrival caused the River Brathay at the bottom of the valley to burst its banks and somewhat inconveniently run across the road. Following other vehicles like a sheep, I plunged into the moving torrent, made it to the other side but at the cost of what remain internally wet driving lights, although at least they are still working.


Walking for the next two days was interrupted by flood water and even games of Pooh sticks were off the agenda. However, we moved quickly from downpour to radiant sunshine and enjoyed at least two days of blue skies, sunshine and a heat that was not entirely supportive of tackling steep inclines (I panted a lot). 


Then we had the dank, miserable overcast day, fit only for enjoying a lakeside stroll but without the views, before the cloud lifted and we could return into the hills.


How does one define a trip of this kind in retirement? If we enjoy it so much, why don't we  adopt the lifestyle as a permanent one rather than seeing it as a break from normality? When working it could be defined as a well-earned holiday and much needed change; how does that sit with retirement which many would define as one long holiday? Do we need the banality and farming landscape of home in our every day lives in order to appreciate the rugged beauty of the fells?


I don't  know the answers. As time goes on, I think I am becoming more wrapped up in enjoying the freedom of retirement than in understanding a logical narrative that explains where one goes next. Unlike the world of work, retirement is a spiritual and emotional experience that extends beyond the confines of diligence and grafting. It is being played out on a higher level than the chronological record of the working years and in so doing invariably defies a target-led, rational progression. In the early years at least it remains a time for exploration and exploitation of the senses and, when you make it to the top of some of those Lakeland fells, you are literally spinning,  unless that's just the altitude effect.


Friday, 12 August 2016

Flying to America




No I have not flown to the USA today but I may well have done. It is the youngest who has gone but I am fast discovering in retirement that I seem to do far more than ever for my children despite the fact that they are technically both now adults. No doubt if therefore they had asked me to wing my way across the Atlantic, I would have had a go. The youngest, however, is spending a year studying at the University of Texas in Austin and there have been some frantic preparations going on of late, aggravated by culturally-different (better described as indifferent) bureaucracy. 

For instance amongst the list of "must-haves" was a certificate to evidence that either you have been innoculated against or are not carrying tuberculosis. Has anyone ever tried to acquire such a certificate in the UK where the disease has been eradicated to the point where the dreaded BCG vaccination was abandoned several years ago on the basis that it was unnnecessary? Certainly the doctor's surgery could neither issue such a certificate nor recommend a body that could and when an online search produced reference only to one specialist unit in London that treats people suffering from the disease (usually in foreign visitors or immigrants apparently) but does not issue certificates, she had to give up the quest.

Interestingly we have received an e-mail reassuring students and their parents about the introduction of the Carry On Campus law. It's not another in the series of English Carry On comedy films but rather legislation upholding the right to bear arms within the university perimeters subject to certain restrictions. Talk about reassurance. I've almost gone mental at the thought.

Then there appears to have been an aversion from the private hall of residence she is to live in to communicate by  e-mail as instead it prefers the medium of letter and text message (but only to those with a zip code and US mobile, sorry cell-phone). When it has remembered, an occasional Facebook message has been sent instead. Consequently the youngest was not informed that invoices are obtained by logging into an account for which she was never sent a PIN and please don't get me started on paying that bill.

Oh okay, I'm going to rant anyway. Strangely, and perhaps it's a privacy or money laundering issue, but you are not permitted to know the details of the destination bank account. As a result the ability to make an international transfer is denied. Instead we were invited to send an "e-check." Try asking an English bank to do one of those: "We can make an international payment," is the not unsurprising stock response.

Then there was the option of using something called "Discover" but we never did discover what that is.

Of course there was the ubiquitous facility for payment by debit or credit card which we had hoped to avoid because of the ridiculous transaction fees that our banks can charge when sterling is changed. 

"Are there any other means of payment?" she enquired. 

"No, but you can give us a money order on arrival," we were informed. A what? Obviously another banking term unknown to our Anglo Saxon systems but which would appear to resemble a humble postal order. "You might be able to use your currency card to pay for that or else withdraw cash at an ATM and buy it in the premises across the road."

Well we could hardly risk that, especially as there is of course a daily limit on the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from an ATM. So rejecting the potential for the youngest carrying a wadge of cash  it had finally reached the point of  reaching for the good old reliable visa card. Except that without a USA zip code the site really did not want to accept my payment. 

Several attempts later and after liaising with my bank and the recipient, payment was made but only after I had to tick a box consenting to a twenty six dollar "convenience fee." Twenty six dollars to use a credit card and the insult of calling it a convenience fee after the hassle we had gone through; I cannot forgive.

Mind it is not just the USA that looks to charge for fresh air. Manchester airport is onto a clever little earner with car parking fees; £45-99 for an overnight stay at the onsite multi-storey. I'm sure I could get bed and breakfast cheaper for myself than that rate. Instead we arranged to pay less than a third of that for hotel parking last night and then, just as my faith in faceless capitalist profiteering had hit rock bottom, the gentleman at reception waived the charge.

When we visited Cuba, I recall our guide impressing on us that prices there are set according to need, so that essential items are priced lower than non-essentials; white rum for instance is treated as an essential and virtually given away. What a brilliant system. Forget open market economics and pass me the bottle. After all the hassle of getting the youngest airborne, I could do with a drink!




Saturday, 16 July 2016

Northumberland


So this week we spent a couple of days in Northumberland revisiting old haunts from the decade when we kept a boat at Amble. 


It is strange how some places improve and others decline, leaving us a little disappointed by our hotel which is now part of a chain and whilst we had expected the man on the door in the frock coat and top hat would have retired had hoped, in vain, that if the chef had followed suit he would at least have been adequately replaced.




On the plus side Amble itself has really benefited from what is clearly an upmarket regeneration, designed presumably to replace the fishing industry with tourism.
 









Despite the stormy skies, Northumberland's beaches never fail to please. If only they had stupendous weather to match the miles of golden sand, but then they wouldn't be so brilliantly under populated.


We took in Northumberlandia opened only in 2012, the vast sleeping giant of a woman carved into the site of a deserted open cast coal site and approached from the car park through a delightful beech tree wood. Living as we do in North Yorkshire, beech trees are sparse but the memories of a childhood garden surrounded by them came flooding back when prompted by the olfactory organs.
 



 The Alnwick Garden is approximately fifteen years older but for some reason had escaped all our previous visits to the area. It was not as large as I had imagined but the main water feature is outstanding and the roses and delphiniums were in full bloom. 

 
 
 We particularly enjoyed a guided tour of the Poison Garden with the guide's explanation of the dangers lurking behind some of our most common plants including Giant Hogweed. 
 Mister E also clearly revelled in the rope bridges adjacent to the tree house as he bounced along ahead of me sending waves of nausea behind him and quite deliberately.
  I once heard tell that Northumberland has more castles per square mile than any other area of the British Isles, I'm not sure if it's a myth or fact but we certainly took in two of the finest of them with Dunstanburgh and Alnwick, as well as the fishing harbours of Seahouses (North Sunderland) and Craster famed of course for its kippers.



There are no motorways running through Northumberland. The landscape takes in views of the Cheviot Hills and boasts the northern-most National Park in England with its dark sky status. It has a stunning coast line and innumerable historic sites starting with Hadrian's Wall and Lindisfarne. Nevertheless it remains an overlooked county when it comes to tourism and that of course is part of its attraction.