Mondays

Today is a Monday, at least in this time zone. It has little significance for me since I retired, as one day of the week is pretty much like any other now. In fact, I have only just realised that it is Monday.

There was a time when I had that ‘Monday’ feeling. When the precious weekend seemed to fly by so fast, and I enjoyed reading the massive Sunday papers whilst still in bed drinking coffee. But that was long ago, and stopped in 1980, when I began working shifts. I worked shifts for the next thirty-two years, until a week before I retired, in 2012.

That meant quite a few Mondays were not working days for me. Some were spent in bed, after working all night on Sunday, and others were included in blocks of up to four days off, after working for up to sixty hours previously.

There is a certain smugness about watching the world prepare for the dreaded ‘Monday morning’, but that is dampened by knowing that you will be at work the next weekend, when those same people are planning trips away, barbecues in the garden, or dinner parties with friends.

Because nobody wants to go out on a Monday, just because it happens to be your day off. Nobody has parties on a Monday, or appreciates you popping round in the evening, when they have just had a tiring day at work, and have to do the same tomorrow. Being a shift-worker can be a lonely existence, even more so if you are married to someone working the regular nine-to-five.

You have to re-think those Mondays. Make the most of going to places when they are quiet, and all the children are at school. Hit the shops on what is often the quietest day of the week, or go to museums when you might be the only visitor that morning. Mondays can be embraced, instead of being dreaded.

My Mondays in Beetley now mean something of a big ‘day out’ for me. That is the day when I go to the supermarket, and do the ‘big shop’. I get there before the mums have collected the kids from school, and after the large groups of elderly shoppers have gone home to enjoy tea and cakes. I can wander around in uncluttered aisles, and collect my items from the list unhindered by crowds. And I can always find a handy parking space too.

I no longer have to go to bed early, to get up for work on Tuesday. So if I want to, I can drink some wine in the evening on a Monday, and stay up late to watch TV, or read a book.

It is nice to be able to put Mondays behind me. Another benefit of being able to retire at an age when I am still able to be active and alert.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Age and infirmity.

As I have mentioned, I haven’t been at all well lately. So it is no surprise that I woke up (early) from a feverish sleep, thinking about how things change as you get older. I have written about this before of course, but in a few weeks from now, I will be adding an even bigger number next to the 6 in my age. And I woke up thinking about just how fast that seems to come around.

If you have a long time to go before you can even think about retiring, or the thought of sixty candles on your birthday cake seems like some distant event in an uncertain future, then you might do well to read this, and take pause for thought.

I spent the last fifteen years of my working life planning for the time when I could retire on the pensions I had paid into. Research informed me that I would have to work until I was 60, to make it financially possible. So like many before me, I started to ‘count down’ the years until I would no longer have to work, more or less wishing away a great deal of my life, hoping to get older faster. Does that seem crazy to you? Then maybe wait until you get close to that yourself, and see how you feel. By the time I got to my 58th birthday, I was coasting in neutral. I had a date fixed, and had already applied to retire on that day, excited to receive pension forecasts and confirmation in the post.

One week after my 60th birthday, I was no longer a ‘worker’. I was now one of ‘The Retired’, a ‘Pensioner’. With five years still to go before the addition of my official State Pension, I took a 60% drop in monthly income, and moved to Norfolk to live the quiet life. Well, I didn’t plan on it being quiet. I would get a dog, do a lot of gardening, some decorating, and various jobs around the house.

At first, it went just as expected. I didn’t get around to the decorating, but I tackled the big jobs in the garden, painted some fences, and got that dog. That got me out of the house, exploring the local area, and meeting new people. And I tried my hand at starting a blog too. In most respects, life was quiet, also peaceful, and content. This was how I had hoped it would be, and I could anticipate the coming years, planning ahead.

Then one day, I found it difficult to lift a shopping bag from the back of the car. I thought I must have misjudged the weight of it, and was surprised to discover I needed two hands to lift it. After doing some minor digging and weed-clearing the following week, I could hardly hold a cup of coffee later. I went to the doctor, and she took blood tests. I had been taking medication for high cholesterol for around five years before retiring, and it turned out that I was one of the unlucky ones. The tablets had caused muscle wastage, predominantly in my arms. Cells and muscle tissue were found in record numbers in a liver function test, and the medication was stopped immediately, never to recommence.

I had to readjust. I was never again going to have the upper body strength I had enjoyed for most of my life. Jobs would have to be tackled slowly, and I had to buy a small hand-truck to move things around. My arms ached to the point of bringing me to tears, and simple things like opening a stubborn jar lid were now almost laughably impossible.

I was annoyed with myself, but had to learn to live with it.

Not long after that, I felt dizzy in the bath one day. I was sure that the bath had overturned with me in it. Impossible as that sounds, I scrambled out the bath in a panic, knocking over everything in the bathroom. I considered that it might be a stroke, and spent a long time waiting for the symptoms to subside. Then I went to the doctor again. It was Vertigo, a simple painless condition that can seriously blight your life. Lying for even a short time flat on my back was now impossible. Look up at a tree, or down at some weeds, and an overwhelming dizziness would convince me that I was about to fall. The doctor suggested head manipulation exercises, but they didn’t work. So she told me that I would have to learn to live with it.

I needed to readjust, again.

The next summer, I was bitten badly by horseflies, when out walking Ollie. Some of the bites became grossly swollen, and others I had scratched continued to hurt, and bleed constantly too. Back to the doctor, and this time I saw the nurse. She told me not to scratch them, (yeah, like that works) and gave me some cream to help with the swelling and itching. I remarked that I was surprised how long they were taking to heal, and she smiled. “You’re not as young as you were, unfortunately”. On top of having arm muscles with the strength of bath sponges, and feeling dizzy doing so much as changing a light bulb, I now had to contemplate the possibility that a simple insect bite might never quite heal, and provide the possibility of worse infections attacking my bloodstream.

Retirement was becoming a contest with my own rapidly-ageing body. And a contest I was losing.

So the next time you dream about the day of your own retirement, whether it be sailing that yacht around the world, spending time with your grandchildren, or landscaping your beloved garden, I have a tip for you.

Check with your body first.

You’re not the one in charge, whatever your brain tells you.

A Beetley Monday

For many of you, it is the start of the working week. Others might be about to go on holiday, heading off to airports, or packing up the car for a long drive. You may have appointments, a job interview, or be busy dealing with children already bored with the long summer break from school.

But for me in Beetley, it’s just another day. It might just as well be Friday, or Sunday. Days of the week have little or no relevance for me. Ollie has to be walked, dinner cooked later this evening, and if I get time, I might watch a foreign TV serial on catch-up, or maybe even a film I have recorded. Late afternoon on a Monday, I get in the car and go to the local supermarket to do the ‘big shop’. Some people hate shopping, but I don’t mind it at all. The huge air-conditioned shop is a pleasant place to while away an hour as I stock up for the week. I am also content to know that I won’t be back again, util next Monday.

Sometimes on a Monday, I might also do some housework, or even gardening, if it is absolutely necessary. But it is unusually hot here at the moment, so both of those are off my agenda. So it looks like another quiet day in rural Norfolk. Fingers crossed.

Retirement: Some things to consider

In August 2012, I published a post that I titled ‘Ten Tips For Retirement.’ At the time, I had only been retired from work for a few months, and decided to share some of my early observations about something that I had thought would be very different to what it actually was.

Almost four years later, and I have a little more experience about not having to go to work (unless you want to) and the pros and cons associated with the decision to do that. As my wife Julie is much younger than me, so still works, I am not reporting on the classic married-couple retirement scenario, but on a situation where just one is retired.

I didn’t really consider the fact that I would not be physically capable of doing all the things I had expected to be able to do. Past the age of sixty, the body deteriorates at a much faster rate. It is far easier to get tired, to have aching muscles, to hurt your back, or to be unable to lift things, than it was a few short years before. Even the prospect of tasks can become daunting, almost approaching a fear of the endless list of things that have to be done. Instead, I try to do one thing each day at least, seeming to constantly battle the time that appears to be slipping away from the moment I wake up. One of the reasons that time slips away is because of blogging of course.

Started to keep my mind active, and to leave some record of my life and activities in Norfolk, blogging has become a lot more, and taken over a large part of my life. Not that I am complaining. I would urge anyone to start a blog, especially if they are retired. Older people may be in a minority in the world of blogging, but they have lots to offer. It cannot be denied that it maintains interest in things outside of the routine, keeps the mind active, and continues to develop the thought process. Perhaps don’t spend as much time blogging as I do though. Otherwise, stuff will not get done, believe me.

Consider the change in financial circumstances. By stopping work at sixty, and taking my work pensions early, I reduced my income by two-thirds. This means no holidays to far-flung exotic places, as well as thinking hard about major purchases, like changing the car, or buying new large electrical goods. Impulse-buying had to become a thing of the past, as did changing outfits at will, or discarding perfectly serviceable clothes and shoes because they were no longer fashionable. My retirement credo has been to buy the best of anything that we can afford, and then keep it, hoping for a long-life from a product that is better-manufactured than the cheaper option. Keep the older car running, but also buy something new to accompany it. You need reliable transport in rural areas, and two cars are better than one, at least for the time being. As long as one of you is still working, you can afford this comparative luxury. When I am 65 next year, I will receive the State Pension, potentially making life a lot easier. However, this will also push me over the tax threshold, meaning that my work pensions will be liable for income tax. They give with one hand, take with the other.

Getting a pet, in our case Ollie the dog, is something to be carefully considered too. The plus points are obvious. Companionship, a reason to go out and exercise, and to imbue you with a sense of responsibility to something other than yourselves. Ollie became a part of our lives to the extent that we can no longer imagine what it would be like if he wasn’t around. At first, the downsides of pet ownership were less obvious, but they soon appeared. Vet bills that have to be budgeted for, by taking out expensive insurance. Making sure that you are back from anywhere, in time to take him out. Not being able to act spontaneously, without considering things like ‘Can we take the dog?’ Attending overnight functions, such as weddings or parties a fair way from home can be problematic. If you cannot get friends or neighbours to dog-sit, you are faced with the prospect (and additional expense) of using kennels. Holiday destinations have to be dog-friendly, and for the sake of convenience, in the UK as well. Think hard before getting a pet. That’s my advice.

Regular readers will also know that I have become unhealthily obsessed with the weather. When you no longer have to go to work, and the day is your own, bad weather seems like a punishment. You might feel like pottering around in the garden, perhaps driving to a place of interest, or going off to admire a nature reserve, or for a walk along the coast. Then it rains. It carries on raining, until it seems to be raining every day. Then you realise that it really is raining every day. All the nice things you wanted to go and do are no longer possible. But you still have to go out in it, because you have the dog to take out. When the sun finally appears, the day seems to go so fast that you feel cheated of the time to enjoy it. Before you decide to retire, think about weather.

My conclusion is that it is still better to retire as soon as you are able. Live with less income, and get some time back, after all those years at work. Plan ahead, better than I did. Live somewhere near some shops, so you don’t necessarily need to have two cars. Think about what you will do when the weather is bad, and don’t expect to spend all your time enjoying the garden, or the great outdoors. If you want to get a pet, really think about the implications of that decision.

And start a blog. You will be glad that you did.

The Beetley Continuum

There have been lots of theories about how time works. Stephen Hawking made his name with one theory, and Einstein’s ideas on the relativity of time and space continue to dazzle readers. I am not academic enough to fully understand these geniuses, let alone debate their conclusions. I still have trouble imagining that the stars we have been looking at since time began on Earth are no more than the light reflected from explosions millions of years ago. If I consider this fact for too long, I start to get a nasty headache.

However, since retiring from work, and moving to Norfolk, I have begun to develop my own theory about how time works, with particular reference to Beetley Village.

In everyday life, most of us would agree that time drags when you are working, and goes too quickly when you are enjoying yourself. A weekend of two days appears to be far shorter than the Monday and Tuesday that follow it. Doing something unpleasant, like undergoing ten minutes of treatment in a dentist’s chair, feels more like an hour. By contrast, a pleasant night out with friends, a nice meal, followed by some drinks, just whips by in a flash, so that it seems that you are home just after you left. This is of course all about perception, not actual measured time. Or is it?

Once I turned sixty, and moved to a quieter and peaceful life here, I expected that time might pass more slowly. I imagined days crying out to be filled, with the potential to read countless books, and languid afternoons spent contemplating existence. I was sure that a good twenty years were spread out before me, passing at the pace of a graceful swan in motion. My only decision would be how to fill them usefully.

The reality was completely the opposite. Days pass in moments, years fly by in what seem like hours. In six months, I will be sixty-four years old. The three and a half years in between seem to have all but vanished, passed in one or two blinks of both eyes. The face that greets me in the mirror is the only clue to time passing. Like the picture of Dorian Gray, it shows the ravages of time that I have not experienced day to day. Small children once seen cycling excitedly down the street now ride motorcycles, or drive cars. I gaze at them and wonder, ‘how can this be?’ Deciding to spend twenty minutes answering emails, or looking at blogs, I sit at the screen and peruse, as intended. After the allotted time, I rise from my chair, to discover to my amazement, that four hours have passed.

Julie usually gets home from work just after 5.30 pm. We chat about her day, then I prepare dinner, and feed Ollie. After eating the meal, we retire to the living room and chat, perhaps watching some TV, receiving the odd telephone call, or discussing something of import. After about an hour has passed, we discover that it is well past midnight, and time for bed. In that short time, six hours have slipped by, unnoticed by us. On Monday afternoons, it is my habit to drive up to the supermarket, and get the shopping for a full week. I arrive home and unload it, arranging items in cupboards, fridge, or freezer. The next thing I am aware of, it is Thursday, and two days have escaped my notice.

This is very worrying. I know that I am not going mad, and I am sure that I do not have any sort of illness affecting my perception. It has to be something strange, a break in the fabric of time and space. I need the help of a Hawking, a Sagan, or a new Einstein, to investigate the Beetley Continuum.

A Birthday Greeting

It’s to myself actually. I am 62 years old today, 16th March. So, Happy Birthday to me.

I like my birthday a lot. Unlike other festivals, Christmas for one, it is personal, not general. I know that lots of other people are celebrating the same birthday today, and I do wish them well. However, they must forgive me for claiming today, just for me. I used to make a lot more of the occasion. I would claim a ‘birthday week’, taking time off work, and doing lots of good stuff. For the last few years, I have satisfied myself with a day trip to the seaside, followed by a nice evening meal. I will continue this tradition tomorrow (well today, actually), hopefully going off to the north coast, with Julie and Ollie, finding somewhere we have never been before.

The evening meal is booked, a restaurant in the bustling metropolis of Swaffham. Yes, I am being slightly sarcastic, as Swaffham is only a small market town. The problem with living in Norfolk, is that almost nothing happens on Sundays, at least after dark. Most restaurants only serve lunch, then close until Tuesday. We had to settle for Chinese, as they have the good business sense to ignore this rural shutdown. Of course, we could have gone out another night, but then it wouldn’t have been my birthday. With the same sentiments, I do not allow myself any presents, or cards, until the actual day. Why spoil it? After all, I have to wait twelve months for it to come around again.

Being 62 isn’t so bad as I once thought that it would be. I can now apply for my concessionary bus pass, and I only have three years to go until I get my state pension. I have been retired for two years, and despite getting tired more easily, and not being as strong as I was in youth, there is a lot to be said for the contentment that comes with being older. I am more peaceful in mind, and calmer in nature. Less prone to anger, envy, or resentment. I have replaced fire with thought, and my blood pressure has dropped accordingly. There may be more wrinkles to look at in the mirror, and even less hair to brush, but my clothes still fit me well, and I can walk all day without any undue effects.

To make more of my birthday weekend, Julie suggested a trip to The Broads today. After some difficulty locating it, we walked around the calm Salhouse Broad. It is small, but well laid out, and there were few other afternoon visitors. We then went on to Wroxham, and enjoyed afternoon tea overlooking the Broad, watching the boats come and go, and the swans parading the new cygnets. The sun was in our faces, as we sat outside with Ollie, and even the drive home was fuss-free. Life isn’t too bad at all really, even at my new older age.

What’s next?

Believe me dear readers, I do not ask for much out of life. I have given up on the notion of holidays, home or abroad. I am content to pass my time in retirement, writing my blog, spending time with Julie, and walking my dog Ollie, in all weathers, usually bad. I volunteer in the community, and give my time freely, to help the disadvantaged, and local children. I try to be a good neighbour, and to support local businesses and endeavours. I do not claim to be a saint, far from it, but I do try my best to be a decent person, and to have a social conscience.

So, why do things keep going wrong, and mysteriously so? Is it bad karma, from a previous life, or retribution for forgotten bad deeds? Do I expect too much, from my relatively simple life? I rack my brains constantly, to try to imagine what would cause me to be plagued by such a run of bad luck, and misfortune. This may appear to be perceived, but there is plenty of tangible evidence to support my contention. I don’t like posting these ‘woe is me’ articles, I really don’t. However, I feel the need to share all this, in the hope that problems shared are somehow reduced in importance. Of course, I am well aware that many others, perhaps most others, have greater cause to complain than I do. I am not suffering from a serious illness, struggling to pay debts, or looking for employment, in a world where that is almost considered to be pointless. My life seems comfortable, compared to many, and my niggles and complaints no doubt appear to some to be churlish, and whining. None of this helps unfortunately, as the impact of these small events, running one into the other, has no less effect on me than one far more serious occurrence would create.

Earlier this year, I posted frequently about the rash that plagued me. It did diminish eventually, but never went away. It seems this itchy condition will stay with me for the remainder of my life. I just stopped writing about it, as there seemed to be no point going on about it. More recently, I wrote about bad luck with those things that make life more bearable, such as not having floods in your shed, and having a heating system that worked. On Tuesday, the engineer will return once more, in the seemingly endless quest to solve the riddle of my radiators and boiler. Meanwhile, we continue to burn expensive oil, to heat only two of the seven radiators, and to provide hot water. We have replaced almost all the parts that can be replaced, spending even more of our rapidly diminishing savings, to no avail.

We woke up early today, as the archaic practice of putting the clocks back one hour was once again enforced. To our surprise, and immediate concern, we saw water on the top of the wood burning stove. This is not inside a hearth, or fireplace, but free-standing, with extensive pipework going through the ceiling, and out via the loft. We had this installed, again at considerable expense, in September 2012, so the work is out of guarantee by twenty-eight days. Scrabbling around in the loft space did not show anything untoward, but there were discernible drips on the outside casing of the pipes visible in the living room. With precision irony, the wood we had ordered locally then arrived. Half a trailer load, enough to last the winter, supplementing the (not currently working) heating system. This was unloaded onto the driveway, and had to be manhandled piece by piece into the back garden, to fill the log store. The spare wood that was left over was stacked into the back of the garage. It was all spit hardwood, cut to size to fit in the burner, so we thought it a good deal. The local supplier even agreed that I would drop the money off next week, an example of trust in a small community.

After a couple of hours spent sorting the wood, I got changed, and took Ollie for a walk. the weather was dry, despite storms being forecast, but the strong winds made the long walk wearing and tiresome. By the time I got back, I had a bad headache, not helped by Julie’s report that the heating system seemed to have failed completely during my absence. I checked the stove once more. The water seemed to have stopped entering from its unknown point of origin, and I had the (very bad) bright idea of starting a fire in it, in the hope of drying out any water left inside the chimney pipework. Within moments of the wood catching, the room began to fill with smoke. It could be seen issuing from the joints in the pipes, and even from around the well-sealed door joints. As the fire took hold, the smoke got progressively worse. I shut down the valves and dampers, hoping to kill the flames, and eventually put the fire out. The living room was so smoky by now, that we had to open windows to clear it. So, now the wood burner isn’t working either, and we have a house that smells as if we have been in a fire. I have to spend tomorrow trying to chase someone down who is capable of fixing it, or at least diagnosing the problem. We now have no source of heating, and a forecast for the worst storm since 1987. The piles of newly purchased logs can rest easy, as they will not be consumed by fire anytime soon.

On Tuesday, I will stand watching the engineer struggle to come up with a solution to the main heating system, hoping my back isn’t too itchy, as it is embarrassing. And I will undoubtedly cast a glance at the stove, dominating the room as a centrepiece, a cast-iron ornament awaiting costly repair. I might even consider that the installation cost as much as Julie’s car, or that it failed one month after the guarantee period. I will hopefully have got rid of the headache, and the buzzing noise in my head by then as well.

But perhaps not.