Category: Retirement

Journeys

HollyMy leisure-time reading has just taken me to a book by Mike Carter, a man who cycled around Britain a few years ago, coincidentally going the same way around the country as we did on Cirrus Cat, anticlockwise. As it happens his journey took place during the same summer as well, which may account for the fact that the conclusions he draws on the state of the country, and the welcoming attitude of its people, were very similar to our own. But of all those he met and wrote about I was most struck by his account of Steve, the ferryman who takes passengers across Salcombe Harbour in Devon. Himself a well-travelled cyclist, the simple wisdom of this man almost took my breath away. His view of life and of how he feels we should view life’s many challenges, made me re-read this section of the book several times until I had committed to memory something I felt I should take away with me. “Finishing lines are good”, the author quotes, “but their most important role is to get you over the start line in the first place.” How true this rings today when too often we are focussed upon goals and achievements, so many of which are meaningless in their own right, when it is the journey itself that is important.

Our son Mike’s journey is now complete and whilst Kate is supervising his introduction to Carradale life, something he seems to be taking to rather well, I am wrestling with the estate agents dealing with the sale of my mother’s house down south here in England. I feel as though I am having to push through treacle to get anyone, solicitors included, to even attempt to speed things up. It is as if the whole English sale and purchase system is geared towards sloth and even to suggest that things could be done quicker is met with surprise and alarm, horror even. Small wonder the housing market is in recession at the moment. The contrast with the more efficient Scottish house buying and selling process, where much of the work is done up front by the seller, is self evident and I know which I prefer. Estate agents, however, are of the same mettle all over the universe.

Grumbling over.

I take a weekend off to visit friends Rich and Gerry and help them celebrate Rich’s retirement from full-time work. Joining us is the other Richard whose retirement last year we tried to celebrate in a weekend of sailing on the sheltered waters of the River Swale in Kent, and when due to atrocious weather we were forced indoors.Fishing smack in the Swale This time around the weather looks far more favourably upon us and in the middle of a brief heat-wave, we all take to the water on board Waxywoo II and Courageous, respectively a yacht and a sailing dinghy. The silt-laden waters of the Swale and the River Medway are places where traditional sailing boats are plentiful so it is far from unusual to pass by some beautifully restored piece of floating wooden history like this ancient fishing smack. Our own craft are a little more modern but over two days on the water we manage to sail, swim, potter around a few creeks on the Isle of Sheppey and generally have a ‘Swallows & Amazons’ type adventure with plenty of scrapes and jolly fun. Just what I need to take my mind off the madness of house removals.

Wendy with her babiesRich and Gerry generously feed and water me at their Dungate home where we find that in our absence, Wendy, one of the badger-faced ewes who live in the orchard behind their house, has given us a real treat by producing two fine lambs. She manages the whole business entirely on her own, with no human help, so we are very proud of her, although she does look a little sheepish in this picture.

Hovering expectantly around the comfortable barn where Wendy had installed herself was our old friend Hot Horns, a ram who loves having his thick coat tickled just behind his head.Hot-horns the badger-faced ram In fact he is tolerant of almost any human attention he can get and although he wasn’t saying much one has to wonder whether he was an active participant in Wendy’s big event.

My mother is now finally re-locating, making the long journey north, and will stay in our home until she can take up residence in the house next door which she is buying for herself. She has great plans, naturally, to add new features here and there, to decorate the place to her own taste throughout, to tame the wilderness that is the garden, and no doubt there will be a long list of other jobs in the months to come. Once again a member of our family plunges into a house renovation project. Mere age alone cannot stop this – it is in our genes, I fear. At least it will take Mum’s mind off of the fact that she has left behind the over-crowded warmth of south-eastern Britain with its tame hedgerows and tightly clipped lawns as she struggles to adjust her eyes to the rather less kempt surroundings of the scenic Highlands with its dramatic views and rugged mountains.

plane interiorThe final part of her journey is inside the fuselage of a twin-engine Otter aircraft piloted by a lady we all assume is the air hostess… until she takes her position in the driving seat. Flying in a plane this size is flying in the raw, intimate and noisy, unlike the insulated, flying-above-the-clouds Airbus 319 that brought us as far as Glasgow. Propellers whirling we pick up speed then spring into the air and level off just high enough to clear the chimney pots then head towards the Isle of Arran whose mountains loom at us on the horizon. This being a new experience for me my camera is shooting in every direction, sometimes capturing part of the plane in shot (oops, is that the wheel!) or sometimes a yacht sailing not far below us. power station chimneyAt times we are so close to the ground that it feels like we might just bounce off it and a power station chimney we pass over looks almost close enough to touch. But we do clear the peaks of Arran then soon we are starting our descent to Campbeltown Airport where we make a gentle landing then taxi towards the tiny terminal building just as a fire engine rushes towards us – normal procedure, apparently.

Kate has driven out to meet us to complete this lengthy journey, the finish for me but the start line of a brand new journey for my mother.

Ducking out

In Carradale the one big event by which we residents can mark the passage of the seasons is over for another year, thus heralding the end of the holiday season and the slide towards winter. I write, of course, of the annual Duck Race, an event which brings the whole village together in one place to celebrate nothing less than the voyages of hundreds of small yellow plastic toys down a short stretch of Carradale Water. Carradale duck racePointless though this activity may seem, the event brings with it the kind of excitement normally reserved for a big football match or possibly an episode of Strictly Come Dancing (I speculate) as we all stand on the river bank cheering on the one we have chosen and named for the occasion. The organisers must have heaved a sigh of relief as this year we were blessed with superb weather, lots of sunshine and conditions underfoot along the river that needed only stout shoes and not, as so easily could have been the case, wellington boots. For twenty two years now (so I am told) this event has been a feature of village life, a way to raise church funds but also a social gathering par excellence. That it should take this bizarre pastime to bring us us all into one place at the same time is strangely British, I fear, but no less welcome for that.

Kate was unable to enjoy the day with me on this occasion as she was away in England visiting family. So there I was striving to complete the tiling around our new multi-fuel stove so that I could use it to take the chill off the evening, at which point it suddenly struck me that I was alone in our house here for the first time since we moved in. Maybe it was this that made me become reflective, to begin thinking that despite now being well into our third post-retirement year, something keeps peeping its head over my mental horizon, a slightly worrying thought that niggles away at me just when I ought to be relaxed and carefree. I am aware that the source of this comes from my working life for the years leading up to retirement which was, like that of many, a pressured, self-driven existence. This was not something I was particularly aware of at the time but it had become very much part of my mental landscape just the same. My working days never simply took care of themselves, they always had to start with a plan, sometimes concocted many days ahead, and then this measured afterwards against what had been achieved. If a day did not end with the satisfaction of progress being made towards its goal then it felt like a day wasted, one that ended with a real sense of disappointment. Worse than this was the fact that the goal still hung there with less time now to achieve it, pressure creating more pressure.

This was the treadmill which I walked, daily, and for so long that the behaviour had disappeared into my character; it became a part of my very being. It is as a result of this that today I do not find a state of relaxation very easy to achieve and despite no longer needing to, I find myself setting goals which I later measure against what I have done on the day. So why is it that I am still this way, more than two years after having to be? Why is it that, as our friend Paul would say, I still have ‘ants in my pants’?

Part of the answer to this may lie in what Kate and I have done with our lives since retiring, most of which is recorded in the pages of this blog. We have sailed extensively and travelled nomadically around the shores of the British Isles. We have lived abroad for a time, refurbished and re-decorated a house, then just this year moved north to God’s own country to do more of the same again. We have set ourselves targets and then driven ourselves towards achieving them, not against our wishes, I hasten to add, but nevertheless behaviour like this does not comply at all with the retiree stereotype; it looks more like we are still working! In our post-retirement lives there has always been something to do next, something to plan for, a journey to make or a task to perform.

We enjoy being this way, not fitting the mould is the way we think about life, it is what we are comfortable with. But what next? For the first time since retiring we have settled in one place, Carradale, a place we love and have no intention of leaving. We are beginning to live differently from the way we have lived over the last two years, a more settled existence. For the moment there is still plenty to do here, the jobs are queuing up for some months ahead – there is decorating to do, we have a new shed on the way and we are soon getting some roof windows fitted which will transform our tiny back bedroom into a workroom Kate can take over. But what is niggling away at me is whether I am equipped mentally for what is peering at me now, an end to our target-driven lifestyle when all the jobs are finished and all we have to look forward to is ‘normal’ life.

As I see it now, one of two things could happen. Either our whole personalities will change, the ‘ants in the pants’ will run away from us creating something new, something more in keeping with the populist view of our status, or else we will throw ourselves into new things, driving ourselves on into new adventures ever more bizarre and unlikely. Hmmm, I wonder which it will be.

Home from home

It feels like we have done a lot of crazy things in the thirteen months since our working lives ended and we cast off into retiree-land, so I suppose our latest venture is really just par for the course. Maybe I need to recap, just as a reminder of how we got to this point.

It all started whilst we were spending last winter in Italy, our first post retirement winter and living for the first time for many years close to my brother as well as being surrounded by beautiful mountains. As the months passed we had slowly begun to realise that something about our retirement plan wasn’t quite gelling for us. For all the thoughtfully prepared choices Kate and I had discussed between ourselves and talked about in the years leading up to April 09, something was missing. We discovered we now wanted something we hadn’t thought we would want and this came as something of a shock. We had discovered that to live aboard a boat all summer and to live in rented accommodation, somewhere different, each winter has left us feeling strangely uncomfortable, even unsettled. What was missing was ‘a home’, and this was odd because we kind of thought we could do without it. The boat is our home for a large part of the year and we are comfortable with this but we now feel that along with this we need something on solid ground, a base, so that even when we are on board we can think of it as ‘home’ and mentally place ourselves there. (If my explanation here sounds woolly then maybe this is something that confounds logic and I therefore give up trying to explain further.)

So this is how we find ourselves in Yeovil, Somerset taking responsibility for a property we acquired some years ago as a buy-to-let investment, planning to make it our home. Now if you had asked me twelve months ago whether I expected to be sitting here at this stage in my life I would have said “No chance” but here I am nonetheless. Although to be honest there isn’t much sitting going on – we have very little furniture to call our own – but at least here we are surrounded by four walls.

There is a small trade-off to acquiring the home, however, which is that the house needs much work done to make it what we would call habitable. We have a sound structure but internally things are not as we would want. So we have a project, a winter project, to look forward to which we think will keep us busy until the sun returns to the northern hemisphere.

After a brief visit to the property it will be ‘business as usual’ as we continue our sailing circumnavigation of Britain. Later in the year, however, this blog could well become something rather different as instead of bounding up and down mountains it is more likely to be a stepladder and instead of recounting tales of rushing rivers or twisted kneecaps it will be all about painted ceilings and plumbing elbows.

Crinan in Argyll is a long way from Yeovil and our journey there by train and bus promises to be no less tiring than when we travelled south. The difference now is that we’ll soon be arriving in one of the prettiest places in the land.

Twelve months into retirement

From her winter home in Oban we moved Cirrus Cat first to Loch Aline, or Loch Alainn as it is known locally then on to Tobermory on Mull, making use of the new genoa to sail into a brisk south-westerly then into a wild northerly wind, the sail pulling us along at over 7 knots when the sea was flat enough. We still have a lot to learn on how to handle a sail this powerful. Kate expressed some disappointment at the absence of dolphins or seals on our journey but I guess it is just too early in the year for them to show themselves. This time last year we were just setting out on the adventure we call ‘retirement’, not really knowing what was in store for us. Kate’s diaries place Cirrus in the South East of England, at Gillingham Marina in the Medway, and us visiting our friends near Sittingbourne before last minute shopping and casting off to go north.

Reflecting on all we have done in the last twelve months we realise that we have still to complete our original ambition of circumnavigating the UK. Events late last year cut short this plan and left us ‘stuck’ here in the Western Isles instead of smugly secure in some West Country creek and although this is something we have always seen as a positive – it has given us much longer here than we expected – we feel in some ways we still have a mission to accomplish. It is early to be sailing this far north, very few boats venture out this early for very good reasons – it can be cold and the weather unpredictable. We will wait for the weather to come right before venturing forth but before long we’ll be looking for northerly winds to blow us southwards again.

At the first opportunity we have taken ourselves off into the hills for a spot of walking, just to take in the ambiance that is uniquely Scottish. Lichen drapes from the branches of trees giving them a grey-bearded look and higher up we caught a distant glimpse of two roe deer just at the same moment they spotted us. Not being able to smell us they seemed unconcerned and casually ignored our presence.

We were walking beside Loch Aline looking for, and soon finding, Tennyson’s Waterfall where a small mountain stream drops some 20 metres into a natural amphitheatre ringed by a line of brown cliffs. Some of the stones here are soft and green in colour, and the cliff being undercut it is possible to walk behind the screen of water and look out at the view across the Sound to the Isle of Mull in the distance. Of course, Kate just had to risk the cold shower to get here. Her feet would already have been wet because the one thing almost guaranteed about walking in Scotland is wet feet. The ground often has a sort of bounce to it, the moss and the tussocks of grass lying over peat bog or hiding marshy areas into which the feet sink ankle deep.

On a completely different topic, just a few weeks ago we were held up in the UK by the effects of industrial action affecting air travel – in our case it was the French air traffic controllers. Am I the only person to see the irony in the present massive disruption to air travel caused by the Icelandic volcano, just weeks after the end of latest of the strikes here in the UK? Surely the great god of the skies must be thinking ‘You call that disruption…. I’ll show you disruption!’.

Retirement, but not as we know it!

This week we have been working hard, far harder than we might have chosen to had we thought about it for too long. This week we have been laying large, square, floor tiles.

This came about because, well, we like to think we are kind people and when friends have a problem, like a job that needs to be done, we try to help if we can. Our French friend, Guy, is waiting for operations on both knees and one hip whilst his wife, Noëlle, is waiting for him to lay floor tiles in their ‘salle de séjour’ or living room. So, realising that laying floor tiles is the last thing we would want to do with stiff and painful knees and a defective hip joint, us Trotts have come to the rescue.

There is a payback for us, of course, in that whilst we are staying with them in their comfortable, centrally-heated house in the countryside just north of Lyon we are fully fed with whatever Noëlle can conjure up in her plentiful kitchen. This is worth more, in my humble opinion, than forty-five square metres of ‘carrelage’ (tiling), an aching back and bruised knees. Fortunately Kate and I both like garlic, which is generously added to most things we eat, and also wine, which is generously supplied by Guy from his vast cellar beneath the house. Eggs are kindly donated by a dozen hens who run free in the garden and there are fresh vegetables as well, safely protected from the hens of course, and every day we are eating winter salad freshly picked but a few minutes before.

One of the differences we observe in houses we have either stayed in or visited in both France and Italy is the absence of fitted carpets. In both countries they seem to regard the concept of a wall to wall woven wool floor covering with some distaste; in their view it is a source of infection and a completely unnecessary complication when it comes to cleaning. On the contrary I, as an Englishman have grown up with the idea that a fitted carpet is something desirable, indeed something to be aspired to, so the unforgiving ceramic floors seemed rather strange to me at first. Whilst I can see the sense of this in a warmer climate, as in parts of Italy, where a cool surface seems a generally good idea, here in Lyon where the winters can be every bit as fierce as those in the UK this explanation seems to make little sense. The fact that we have not unduly noticed cold from these hard floors penetrating the soles of our feet is because every house we visit has had a handy stock of slippers (the French word is pantoufle) close to the front door, a variety of colours and sizes to cater for every visitor. As likely as not these are soft, backless ‘flip-flops’ and a common sound, therefore, is the whispery ‘shflipp, shflipp’ noise made as one progresses across the tiled surface.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, ‘les pantoufles’ are big business over here. Your average shoe shop will have a large and prominent display of the things, often outside on racks where they hope to catch passing trade. One such shop, situated in Italy but close to the French border so as to catch the carloads of French tourists who pile across the border each day for the slightly lower prices on food and many other items, we named ‘Pantoufle-R-Us’ for its stunning external display. And to think that all this is due to tiled floors.

Noëlle, keen to show off the new tiles as soon as possible to her distant family and also being a regular internet user, carries her small notebook computer and its integral webcam with her as she tours the house. The computer uses a wireless internet connection and she chats with the screen as she walks about, a bizarre sight, but for efficiency one cannot fault her technique. She tilts the screen so that her sister, who lives in Switzerland, can admire the tiling from afar – far better than any photograph.

Next Page »