New Experiences

I have been encouraged by the variety of things I have found to do out here in rural England having retired from job and metropolis.

Clearly there is far less variety than in London and we often have to drive rather than walk, as before, to get to it. But what I am finding is that the relative lack of choice is actually creating a refreshing expansion of my experience by forcing me to see and do things that I would probably not have considered pre-retirement.

There have been a few very enjoyable examples in the last couple of weeks.

Last week and this we ventured to a local, independent, single-screen cinema I have never visited before in Wotton. It turns out to offer a limited but attractive programme of films about a month old that are in the tier below the Hollywood blockbusters that dominate, rather tiresomely, the local multiplex.

Wooton Electric Picture House

Wotton Electric Picture House

In both visits I saw films (Maudie and The Big Sick) that I would not normally have chosen to go out for but which turned out to be very good.   More predictably, given that Maudie is a gritty biopic about a painter of naïve pictures in Nova Scotia and The Big Sick is a rom-com with a happy ending, Long Suffering Wife (LSW) also loved them, so they can come recommended. Had I still been working in London, I would have missed both.

Saturday evenings have long been the only ones that I usually spent fully out of London. Post-retirement I can afford to use them less sparingly. Last Saturday we went to a concert of classical Spanish guitar in our local village church. It wasn’t well publicised or particularly well attended. Pre-retirement, I wouldn’t have spotted that it was on and, even if I had, I doubt I’d have used a precious Saturday evening on it. But I was so glad I did – it was a remarkably high quality performance by a relatively local chap called Alan Brinley Shaw.

Alan Brinley Shaw

Alan Brinley Shaw at Horsley Church

I’m looking forward to more of the similar.

New Routines

August is coming to an end and, two months into retirement, I can look back on a relaxed and enjoyable month. I occasionally wonder about how things are progressing at work but don’t miss the patterns of everyday work at all. Instead, I’ve settled, very quickly, into a different pace of life and new routines.

I get up about an hour later than I used to. That is something I want to ‘improve upon’ since, by most criteria, its rather wasted time lying in bed doing no more than Candy Crush and Facebook/Instagram catch up.

Then on week-days, its breakfast of coffee, fruit and yogurt followed by a walk into Nailsworth, the local town, for a few groceries and the newspaper. At the weekend I have maintained the pre-retirement treat of bread and jam or toast and Marmite (yum, yum!). On Sunday’s the walk to town is typically delayed until after lunch when LSW and I drift to the bar mentioned in the previous post.

The walk to Nailsworth (of 25 minutes each way) is a highlight for me. It’s so different from the noisy, crowded commute into work in London. There are a number of alternate routes but my favourite is through the grounds of a local college that teaches practical skills to pupils who are disabled or have learning difficulties. The grounds – a former trout farm, lakes and woodland – are traversed by footpaths the college allows the public to use. It is wonderful to see the horticulture, creativity and craft of the pupils and to watch the seasons develop through the year and be reflected in the colours and wildlife.

Once I get back home, activities are driven by my to-do list and the weather. The new structure of to-do lists I introduced a couple of weeks ago is working pretty well. The only issue is that I keep putting on the daily list just those things that I want to do and none of the boring stuff I should do!

I read a chunk of the newspaper before lunch (almost always salad, much as it was pre-retirement). I might also fit in some ‘learning Italian’ if LSW isn’t around to hear my embarrassingly faltering attempts.

Afternoon and evening activities fall into a less consistent pattern than those before lunch. They are peppered by experiences that add variety to the basic, new routines that have emerged. More about some of these post-retirement experiences later…..

Music, Music, Music

Very nearly 10 years ago today I went to a gig at Kings College London to see a Scottish miserabilist singer called Malcolm Middleton. It was the first gig I had been to for a very long time but it was terrific and it re-kindled my excitement for live music.

Since then I have been to see over 300 gigs in London (I know because I’m the sort of bloke who keeps records of these things). Indeed I have seen Malcolm Middleton another 4 times since that wonderful evening 10 years ago.

I love the music itself (usually), the intimacy of the smaller venues and the anonymity. I’ve turned up after work in a suit to several of these gigs and no-one cares about that, or my grey hair, or that I am usually 2-3 times older than the fellow audience members.

Now I am retired I have more time to attend music events. However, I have been concerned that, having had to move out of London, I won’t find the opportunities to do so and will miss the variety and quality on offer in London.

In the last week or so, I have started to explore local venues with LSW and I’m much encouraged.

There is certainly variety. LSW and I have been to a local village festival featuring bands adept at 70’s and 80’s cover versions. That was great fun, though the pub car park we were standing in got a bit cold after a while – it’s an English summer after all!

France Lynch MusicFest

France Lynch MusicFest

We then went to a fundraiser in aid of a local church roof repair with experienced opera singers, young musicians just starting out and, believe it or not, the Stroud Ukelele Band. Fun for a good cause….

Concert For Pitchcombe Church

Concert For Pitchcombe Church

Then, after a few quality checks on Spotify, LSW was persuaded to come with me to see Sam Brookes at The Prince Albert pub a few miles from our home. Co-incidentally, he was on a bill for a gig I went to in London over 4 years ago. He was very good and I am sure I will be a regular attendee at this venue, alongside its very mixed audience where, as you will see int he picture, I will no longer be the oldest.

Sam Brookes at The Prince Albert

Sam Brookes at the Prince Albert

 

 

 

Finally I am already now a regular Sunday afternoon attendee at The Vault which is just a pleasant 30 minute walk away from us. Here the well named ‘Super Chilled Sundays’ comprise of a beer or two, perusal of the Sunday paper sports pages and magazines, completion of the Guardian Quick Crossword with LSW, and local musicians doing their stuff to create a comfortable ambience. It’s all very relaxing and a wonderful change from having to pack up and leave for London on a Sunday afternoon as I had to do until retirement.

The Honeymoon Trio at The Vault

The Honeymoon Trio at The Vault

 

My musical investigations will continue deeper into our local town of Stroud – I have high hopes for a new venue opening there – and into Bristol. Plans are being made and tickets being bought for both. There will be more on my revised musical journey in due course.

Music, Reading and Box Set Catch-up

I’m not a musician (at all!) but I have always loved listening contemporary music. For the last decade, I have particularly enjoyed watching live performances, usually in small, intimate venues in London.

I have also always enjoyed reading. During my working life, I have got on best with fiction that can be read in 5 to 10 minute doses just before sleep (do people really read books at a sitting as they claim in some book reviews?)

Additionally, in terms of cultural pursuits, I have always enjoyed going to the cinema and watching TV drama.

Now work is out of the way, I can spend more time on all of these cultural activities.

Reading is something that I have already stepped up. My new year’s resolution of reading more than 16 books in 2018 now seems achievable, despite a slow start to the year pre-retirement. I’m enjoying that pleasure of finishing a good book increasingly frequently. The only problem is that the habit of falling to sleep after a few pages, which used to be fine having gone to bed, is now creating what might charitably be called successive siestas.

Despite those soporific moments, I have recently finished A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain; I would recommend them all. I can’t imagine when I last completed three books in 6 weeks (though admittedly the former was only 150 pages and felt a bit of a lovely cheat).

Having moved from living above Cinema 2 and 3 at the Barbican to a village near Stroud, the options for watching current and relatively high brow film have drastically reduced. LSW and I did see Dunkirk at the Stroud multiplex last week which was fine. However, the cinema there generally only manages kids films and blockbusters.

I’m told there are local independent cinemas I should visit and there are occasional live broadcasts of West End Opera and plays at the multiplex. I will try out all of that in due course but my immediate retreat from arty cinema has been to catch-up on TV drama series.

I particularly like the new wave of continental crime thrillers – will they still be available after Brexit? Most recently, I have been watching I Know Who You Are (Spanish), Black Widow (Dutch), Dicte (Danish) and The Passenger (French) and it was only my predilection for delayed gratification that prevented me ploughing through all of these at an unhealthy rate. With the facilities afforded by catch-up TV, there is an almost unlimited supply of gripping drama.

I miss the London music scene but I am starting to explore the local live music options. More on this next post….

Buongiorno!

I have started to put a bit more structure into my days.

Previously, at work, most days were run around a cycle of regular meetings. Lots of more ad hoc meetings were inserted between these and, when possible, time was blocked out to catch up on the avalanche of mail or to develop some presentation or other. Time didn’t always exactly fly by but it rarely felt my own; there was always some pressure to fit in one more meeting or to respond to a deadline or request.

Now there are lots of things I could do. Indeed, there are lots of things I want to do. But, in most cases, the time pressure isn’t there; ‘tomorrow’ will do. As ever, where there are important deadlines (for example, choosing my Fantasy Football Team for the new season by this Friday!) the tasks are tending to drift to the last minute. Some things never change perhaps!

So, to add a bit of drive and structure, I have exercised my penchant for lists by extending my retirement ‘bucket list’ into a more sophisticated set of lists of things to do – today, this week and medium term. Each day, I am moving the weekly items into the daily list and then challenging myself to complete at least the majority.

Some daily items are semi-permanent. From this week, I have included Learning Italian amongst these items. This is in preparation for a potentially extended visit to Italy next year. I plan to spend 45 minutes a day working my way through an Italian for Absolute Beginners book and CD. In practice, this might only be on days when LSW is out of the house and so out of earshot of my embarrassingly slow progress. Given my paltry linguistic skills, learning basic Italian is the toughest thing on my retirement ‘bucket list’ and, having stumbled my way to page 5, I am as daunted as ever. But it’s on the daily list so I’m giving it a go!

By the way, for the minority who may be interested in how Forest Green Rovers got on at the weekend in their first League 2 game: we drew. It was an exciting, entertaining game in front of well over 3,000 fans. What seems clear already is that not only is the quality of the football superior in this higher league, but also that the refereeing is significantly better. So far so good although after a draw and then a loss last night, we could do with a win sometime soon.

Meanwhile: arrivederci!

FGR's First English Football League Game

Australia – We Are Coming!

One month into retirement and it’s generally been an unremarkable week as I have rested my dodgy knee.

However, we have had news from Australia from our Youngest Son (YS) that his application for a visa extension has been granted. He will be staying down under for at least another year. That new certainty has allowed Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I to book a holiday there during which we will be able to see him (and his girlfriend, who is the one actually doing the job Australia needs) in his new found paradise.

What is great of course is that we can go for longer than would have been the case had I not been retired. We still have to fit the holiday around LSW’s part time work commitments but we will have almost all of October to skip through Singapore and Hong Kong and spend time around Brisbane and Melbourne.

We have friends and relatives in Singapore, and YS has been based in Brisbane for over a year now, so we are going to be well guided there. However, any ideas for ‘must-do’ things in Hong Kong and Melbourne would be welcome.

The only down-side is that I will miss several Forest Green Rovers games while I’m away. The build up to our first season in the Football League proper has been impressive. The sustainability and green agenda espoused by the Chairman, allied to the fact that the club represents the smallest settlement in the country, has attracted a lot of media interest (for example: The Guardian: Forest Green Rovers in League 2 and slots on Sky, ESPN and even Al Jazeera TV.

Last season’s playoff win at Wembley was so emotional but tomorrow we will find out if the team are likely to back up the recent hype with quality performances on the pitch in League 2! Of course there is trepidation about what the new season might bring. We could win or lose our first game 4-0 – there are just no benchmarks yet. Either way, the build-up is tense and exciting. I can barely wait!

Victory at Wembley 2017

Victory at Wembley 2017

Vital Health!

This week has reminded me of the vital importance of one’s health. Despite some excesses in youth, and a continuing predilection for some of the things labelled in the press and by medical knowledge as ‘bad for us’, I enjoy good health.

One of the reasons for retiring when I did was that I wanted to enjoy retirement while my health allowed me to do the things I have had to ration in the past due to work – activities such as gardening, travelling and walking in rural and mountain idylls. It has therefore been frustrating to have spent the last week nursing a painful and swollen knee.

However, a pause in physical activity has allowed me to contemplate some of the more difficult and less exciting and long postponed items on my list of things to do: proper tidying my study, thinning and cleaning up our now vast paper filing systems, backing up my laptop, and even thinking about the approach I should adopt to learning Italian. Also, I have been able to step up reading.

I am lucky enough to have some lovely places to read in both inside and outside the house – even with my knee up and with an ice pack perched on it! I have just finished The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and am now well into a lovely, slim volume called A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler – I recommend both. But it’s great to combine the reading with idle observation of birds and bees from my position in the garden (see below), and with planning for resumption of normal activities.

Flexible ‘Holiday’ Weekends

Wife and I have just come back from a weekend in Suffolk visiting very old friends (I mean people who have been friends for a long time!) who retired last year. We had a ‘great time in Eye and Southwold and surrounding countryside. There’s a lot of sky, the landscape has a very different feel from our part of Gloucestershire, and that was refreshing. Also, during our visit to the arcade of automata machines designed by Tim Hunkin on Southwold Pier (Southwold Pier Automata), and over dinner, I laughed more than I had for ages.

Our friends shared their experiences of retirement with us. Clearly it takes time to find a new equilibrium and balance of duty sharing. They are still finding theirs and Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are just starting our journey on this. I can already see that I am going to have to do more driving – which I hate and have been able to largely avoid in recent years – and more housework.

The other thing that became clear at the weekend is how retirement has created flexibility in travel timing and so, the ability to avoid the worst traffic. We visited our friends at the weekend because they are managing a major building programme at the moment and unfortunately we couldn’t leave earlier than we did on Friday because of LSWs community shop commitment. But we missed the height of the rush hour and could travel back on Monday morning rather than have to rush to get back for the normal working Monday rise and shine. That was a real, valuable, new treat.

I definitely overdid the boozing, cheese and ice cream (now I’m feeling on permanent holiday, ice cream feels a more normal luxury). Also, I evidently overdid the walking – or maybe it was the excessive, unpracticed use of the accelerator pedal in the car after so many months of not driving – since I am now laid up with a swollen knee; a small price to pay for a great first long weekend away in retirement.

Changing Routines

Two (relatively) big events have occurred in the last week. I saw my first two Forest Green Rovers Football Club games of the new season (both friendlies against much smaller clubs). The new football season is starting at last and I have my ticket for our first game in League 2. I can’t wait.

Second thing was the celebration of the replacement of the collapsed and then stolen local post box. I’m now in a rural community (Dowend, Horsley) that comes together for things like this and pulls out all the stops – rather different from the polite insularity of the Barbican in London. So, we had our local MP, speeches, balloons, tea and cake including one decorated as a parcel; lovely!

I wouldn’t say that I have found a new routine yet but there has certainly been breakage of the old one. Obviously the structure of weekends and weekdays has gone. As someone already retired told me, “Every day is a Sunday”. Also the routine of getting up and changed for work and then the whole structure of work, coffee, work, lunch, work, tea, work, home has gone. So far, that is not missed at all!

I have kept some things the same. For example, I’m still getting out of bed pretty early, I’m drinking coffee in the morning (if only to keep the addict headaches away!) and I’m only having bread at weekends. Some things that I only did at the weekends are now happening every day such as the 50 minute return walk to the local town (Nailsworth) to get the newspaper. I’m a creature of habit at heart.

Some routines I’d like to preserve have been harder to maintain. For the last 12 years I have been counting the number of no-alcohol days I have each year. The intention has been to increase them each year. The graphs I maintain show I have been partially successful over the years but this year’s target of 125 days is in serious jeopardy now I have retired.

It’s just so tempting – especially in this sunny weather – to slip onto the terrace with a beer or stroll up to the pub for a pint (or two). The temptation is even greater after I have undertaken things on LSW’s list of activities long postponed in anticipation of my retirement. A start was made yesterday to clearing out the stables – starting with twenty 30kg sacks of render that was massively over-ordered last year and is now past its use by date. After filling a skip with stuff like that, a beer was definitely required! And so another no-alcohol day slides out of reach….. oh well….

 

I’m Outta Here!

It’s been a happy couple of weeks, and momentous ones. I have been weaning myself off London living. Last week was spent clearing the Barbican flat ready for ES and his partners’ occupation. This week I returned to just be a comfortable tourist. Now I am back in Gloucestershire with a bunch of tourist photos and ticket stubs. ES moves into the flat today and it is the end of an era for me.

Recently LSW and I have established a pattern of doing things around the flat that should have been done years ago and which are now too late for me to benefit from; for example, putting up decent curtains, fixing the thermostat on the kitchen sink water supply, and affixing a metal panel that has been loosely dangling from the wall. All should have been done 10 years ago!

I continued that pattern this week by finally going on one of the popular Barbican Architectural Tours on my last day of living there. It underlined how interesting the estate and its history is and pointed out a lot of things I didn’t know. The great weather allowed some decent shots of the site, its mix of Roman, Medieval, and brutalist architecture, the latter softened by uniquely populated window boxes. I’m glad I did the tour, even so late in my time there; my experience of living in Ben Jonson House (pictures below) felt rounded out.

I will miss London loads though. In the last two weeks I have seen friends and family there, been to informal but excellent restaurants, and sampled the sights and culture of what might currently be the greatest city in the world. The British Museum was impressive, wandering around Greenwich was fun and the Fahrelnissa Zeid exhibition at the Tate Modern was uplifting.

But the highlight was probably a (final?) visit to the Lantern Society – a folk club in Farringdon (http://www.thelanternsociety.co.uk/). I love the intimate atmosphere and that about 50% of the audience are the performers. I recommend it to everyone.

The availability of all these sources of culture and pleasure in and so close to the Barbican has been wonderful for me in recent years. I’ll just have to search and plan harder in Gloucestershire to find things to fill the gap that leaving London has created. I’ll keep you informed of the discoveries I make.