Retirement: Five Years On

Five years ago today, I experienced my first day of retirement after almost 40 years of corporate working.  I haven’t done a stroke of paid work since retiring and I haven’t regretted that for one minute.  I have been lucky that my health has been good (I know a few new retirees who have not been so fortunate) and that earning and saving during my working life has meant that I could retire in my early 60s and still live comfortably (again, not something that is possible for all). 

Taking The Retirement Step Five Years Ago: Mr Archer Has Left The Building!

I have also been lucky in that retirement moved me more permanently to our family home in a lovely part of Gloucestershire but that I could also keep a degree of access to my London flat for a few years.  That meant that I could wean myself off London cultural life gradually.  That London facility has just been sold and now I am tied much more to Gloucestershire day to day (something that probably means Long-Suffering Wife is a little more long-suffering these days).  However, while cultural exploits are now less frequent, the countryside here is highly alluring, the rural walks are delightful and the pandemic lockdown had already trained me to make the most of the local.

Long, Local, Countryside Walks – A Great Retirement Treat

Five years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect from retirement (that was one of the reasons why I started this blog when I retired) and there certainly have been some surprises along the way.   The Covid pandemic has been a big one and that has curtailed a lot of the travel that I anticipated doing.  Middle Son’s accident a few years ago was also completely impossible to anticipate and has taken a while to recover from.  Now a needless world war is causing more widespread disruption in which to plan.

Pre-Covid Travel We Did Manage: South Africa 2018

Our sons’ locations have also been unpredictable and yet this has determined a lot of our travel.  When Youngest Son was in Australia we went there (twice); currently he is in Belfast and we have visited there twice too.  Middle Son remains in London so we have seen him there but we wait on tenterhooks as to where he will move to next and more permanently. 

Sydney 2019
Northern Ireland Summer 2021; (Typically Very) Early Morning Trip With Youngest Son

Meanwhile, Eldest Son is settled in Edinburgh with his partner and they have produced the loveliest retirement surprise – our First Grandchild – and so Edinburgh has become another regular destination.

Back Streets Of Edinburgh 2022

As I did a year after leaving employment, I have gone back to the initial impressions I had of retirement which I set out after the first six months (here and here).  To recap, the main personal lessons, in summary, were:

  • Work didn’t and doesn’t define me and I don’t miss it
  • There is plenty to do in retirement
  • There is still need for structure
  • Holidays (trips away from home) are more relaxing now
  • I miss London, but not as much as I expected
  • Summer Is A Good Time To Retire
  • Remember That Retirement Affects One’s Partner Too
  • Spend Time Getting To Know One’s (New) Neighbourhood
  • Don’t Rush Into Any New Big Time Commitments
  • Health, As Always, Is Critical.

Once again, I don’t see much to change or add to that.  I have certainly found plenty to do in retirement and have enjoyed getting involved more in the local community, but a key attraction is that little has to be done in a hurry.  Even though I have taken on a few commitments around the village, particularly regarding local climate action, and even though some of these have become quite substantial, the pace is much more relaxed.   As in work, there seems to be much to do but, in retirement, most can wait until tomorrow.

Our Meadow And Vegetable Patches: Varying Levels Of Untidiness

I have been able to create new routines and structures for my day primarily around walking, shopping and cooking.  They help provide some balance between doing and doing very little that create a feeling of busyness but with a flexibility on timescales that is just challenging enough for me.

That flexibility is perhaps the most attractive thing.  We can travel or not.  I can offer to help with something or not (I remain careful not to promise things I can’t deliver).  I can go out gardening today or leave it till later because Wimbledon tennis is on or it looks like rain.  I can take a long walk because the weather is nice or I can sit and play a computer game for an hour or two.  I can cook simply or take the time to explore into new cooking territory.  I can go to a Forest Green Rovers away game halfway across the country or sit nervously alongside the radio commentary. 

Who Wouldn’t Want To Travel Halfway Across The Country To See The New Forest Green Rovers Away Kit?

The choices are more attractive than when I was working, the execution of those choices is more relaxed, and it’s been a very good five years!

My Current Retirement Home

The Little Karoo

The final leg of our tour of the South African Cape was a drive along the coastal Garden Route and across the Little Karoo, a 300-kilometre-long valley formed by two parallel mountain ranges, the Swartberg to the north, and the Langeberg and Outeniqua ranges to the south. From the Schotia game reserve we drove to Plettenberg Bay and stayed for a couple of nights. We then drove inland via Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, Swellendam, Bonnievale and, finally, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch in the winelands.

The scenery throughout the trip was sensational. Plettenberg Bay and nearby Knysna were touristy and Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) food poisoning, and my dodgy knee, prevented us from getting far off the beaten track. But the views of the gorges down to the sea along the coast road to Plettenberg Bay were dramatic, we saw dolphins in the bay, and the beach we overlooked from our hotel was clean, impressive and almost empty.

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Overlooking Plettenberg Bay

As we headed west via another gorgeous beach at Sedgefield and then inland, we stopped off at George to visit a ceramics shop called Wonki Ware. This is a brand that LSW has admired for a long time. Visiting the small factory, and seeing the hand crafting of the wonkiness of the pots, plates and cups, made a lovely connection to the Wonki Ware products we have acquired over the years. Inevitably, we came away with a couple more items.

The Wonky Ware Factory And Shop

The Wonki Ware Factory And Shop in George

Oudtshoorn is in the heart of ostrich farming country so we saw plenty of those. The highlight of the local area, though, was the Cango caves complex. We restricted ourselves to the standard tour rather than the longer ‘adventure tour’ which sounded scarily physically demanding. Nonetheless, we were astounded by the caves. The vast cave structure and its stalagmites, stalactites, pillars and limestone flow-forms, plus the bats, were wonderfully presented by a guide who clearly loved them all.

Cango Caves

The Cango Caves (Sorry About The Lack Of Indication Of Scale – They Were Huge)

From the caves we took an indirect route west through the Groenfontein Valley to Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Barrydale. Much of the route was on decent dirt tracks. The slow pace they enforced was ideal for taking in the wonderful mountain and desert landscape. The mountains had such a grand scale and variety. Some were bare rock, while some were covered with fragrant Fynbos vegetation and others, nearer the winelands, with grass. Some were grey and others were orange or red. Some were rounded but most were craggy and imposing. This drive, and the similar one using even more obscure dirt tracks the following day between Swellendam and Franschhoek, was a holiday highpoint.

We stopped in the middle of nowhere at Ronnie’s Sex Shop for (just) some chips.  (His mates apparently added the middle word, it stuck, the bar became adorned with old fashioned bras and tough looking bikers and the shop has become a tourist attraction).

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Ronnies Sex Shop In The Middle Of Nowhere

Our boutique accommodation in Swellendam was secluded and encapsulated the Dutch heritage that dominates much of the style of the up-market architecture. Our rooms in Swellendam provided LSW’s ‘ooh here’s a bath’ moment (akin to that she had had in Trentham during our Australia trip) and, since Swellendam was not under drought constraints, she loved using it. As usual the food was excellent. However, LSW’s continuing stomach issues prevented her from partaking and, in a rather poor attempt to show solidarity, I ate in our room not the restaurant. I’m not sure that the resultant aromas in our room helped her much.

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Our Swellendam Hotel: Old Dutch Architecture At De Kloof

It was only on our last day, on our route to the airport that LSW was able to have a full lunch. This was at one of the innumerable wineries (Chef’s Warehouse at Maison) in and around Franschhoek. Lunch was really special and memorable – not only for the quality and value of the service, food and wine (and the inevitable mountain backdrop) but also since it marked LSW’s long awaited recovery. I’m no wine connoisseur but the wine tasted terrific and we ended up buying a souvenir crate of it which will arrive at our house in a couple of weeks as a reminder of a wonderful holiday and final lunch.

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Chef’s Warehouse At Maison (Lovely)

The drought is a big challenge in the west of the Cape. We saw a lot of empty reservoirs as we approached Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Certainly  the part of South Africa we visited was marvellous and the weather was perfect throughout – very different from the cold and snow we just missed back in the UK as we left and the snow again this weekend. The physical geography is awesome – both the coast, especially south of Cape Town, and the mountains – but easy to get to. The wildlife – the bird song, the vegetation as well as the well-advertised game animals – was delightful; where else does one see road signs warning drivers to not feed the baboons, to look out for crossing tortoises or to avoid penguins in the roadway? The Dutch and French influence on architecture and the excellent food and wine (at 50% the cost of London) was a pleasure too.

 

The drought is a big challenge in the west of the Cape. We saw a lot of empty reservoirs as we approached Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Drought in West Cape

Evidence OF The West Cape Drought – An Empty Reservoir

Clearly too, security is an underlying issue. During the day almost everyone was smiling and friendly but we were constantly warned not to walk out at night and never to leave anything in our car. Inequality and the racial divide are also obvious. All the towns – except Franschhoek a Huguenot heritage town which seemed uniformly wealthy, stylish and classy – had precarious shanties as well as the gated estates and the contrasts were stark. Almost all the restaurants had clientele that were 95% white and staff that were 95% non-white. By the end of the holiday we were starting to feel a little uncomfortable with that and the way some clientele seemed to treat those who served them.

It will be interesting to see if things have changed by the time our plans to visit South Africa again in a few years’ time come to fruition. Meanwhile, I’m glad to be able to process the wonderful memories of our trip without the pressure of any work and to start thinking about our next excursion.

Small Reserve, Big Game

After a trip around the largely excellent South Africa National Gallery, a wonderful lunch at Constantia Glen (a wine estate just outside Cape Town), and a welcome rest for my gammy knee before packing, we set off on the next leg of our southern South African trip. This was a short hop east by plane to Port Elizabeth to visit a game reserve north of that industrial city.

The trip was made more stressful than planned by a more than three hour delay to the one hour flight – thereby putting our game reserve tour in jeopardy – and an awareness that Long Suffering Wife (LSW) was indeed suffering from a steadily worsening bout of food poisoning.

We made it to the game reserve in time. However, as the tour was about to set off, LSW realised that the prospect of jiggling about in the back of a jeep for several hours with no access to secure conveniences (there were lions about!) would not be compatible with her worsening condition. As she was ushered off to our overnight accommodation for rest and recuperation, I went off with four others and our guide to see the wildlife.

I’ve not been to a zoo since our sons were small and have never been to a wildlife park before, so I was unsure what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised.

The reserve – the Schotia Private Game Reserve – was relatively small but there was enough cross-country bumping around in a big jeep to make it feel as though we were on a wild adventure and that there was a risk we might not see the important wildlife. In fact, the afternoon, night and then morning tour – which fortunately LSW was well enough to make – delivered a close up view of all of the animals I expected to see, and more. Communication between the guides was effective in getting us to the right places at the right times but the tour didn’t feel formulaic.

We saw lions, monkeys, wildebeest, a porcupine, giraffes, elephants, hippos, water buffalo, wart hogs, zebra, rhinoceros, a wide variety of antelope, eagles and other native birds, huge termite hills and massive dung beetles. All could all be seen at surprisingly close range although my inexperience with binoculars and the limitations of the iPhone camera was a poor comparison to my fellow travellers’ cameras. The termite I was encourage to eat tasted of basil – there’s a first (and probably last) time for everything I guess.

Schotia's Lions

Schotia Private Game Reserve’s Lions – Replete And Slow Moving After Apparently Catching A Zebra The Previous Day

Schotia's Rhinoceroses

Schotia’s Rather Grumpy Rhinoceroses

The half-hearted charge of a grumpy rhino on one of the other vehicles underlined the truly wild state of the animals. So too did the distended stomachs of the lions who had apparently killed a zebra on our first day and had hidden in bushes to eat it. They were too fat and lazy to move much when we got to them on the night trip and then the following morning.

 

The braai (South African barbeque) dinner in a traditional style reed-roofed building with open fires and a bottomless bar was generous and I didn’t hold back given I was eating for two in LSW’s absence. Over dinner, our guide shared some of his interesting history as an Afrikaner soldier and dispossessed farmer and his route to becoming a game reserve guide. His views on religion, abortion, and one or two other topics didn’t square with mine but it was fascinating to hear his personal story and his mix of hope and concern for his country. The interlude was also an opportunity to get ideas from my well-travelled fellow jeep occupants (from Germany and Canada) for future overseas trips.

The 20 hours at Schotia was an excellent introduction to what I might have experienced on a larger reserve where more time would have been required and the animals, while greater in number, might have been further away. Maybe we will try the much larger scale of Kruger or Hluhluwe Umfolofi next time (with a better camera) but I doubt we will get better value for money than we did at Schotia.

 

Various Items From The Most Interesting Part Of The South Africa National Gallery Exhibitions In Cape Town – Old And New Textiles And Beadwork

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One Of Several Works By El Anatsui Exhibited In The South Africa National Gallery And Made From Bottle Caps And Seals Sown Together Into Drapes

 

Cape Town With A Limp

We are nearing the half way mark in our trip to the South African Cape. We have been based in a well-appointed, spacious house in a pretty and central part of Cape Town (Bo Kaap). It has incredible views of the iconic Table Mountain and an enchanting wake up call from the local muezzin. The house is owned by a friend I have known since university and who was my Best Man. He loves South Africa and I’m not surprised; from what we have seen already, its amazing.

View From Our Breakfast And Evening Drinks Terrace At The House

View From The Breakfast And Evening Drinks Terrace At The House

We have been blessed with wonderful weather; few clouds in the mornings and sunny and very breezy in the afternoons. That has been great for us but less good for the local population who are experiencing an unprecedented drought. Water rationing is in place – so our morning showers have been short and bracing – but rationing could get a lot more stringent by April if there is no rain. The rationing has certainly got Long Suffering Wife (LSW) and I thinking about resource waste in general. It has been a surprise that recycling here is negligible after the strictures of our local Council in the U.K.

With the weather no impediment, we have got a lot ‘done’. This despite a problem with one of my knees ‘blowing up’ (cartilage tear? gout?). It’s improving and LSW has been very patient with my slow limp and the need to do the driving (I confess, as usual). It’s another reminder of why I retired when I did; before these sorts of issues become routine.

Early on we walked around the smartened-up dock area and later went to an old grain store imaginatively converted into a modern art gallery by Thomas Heatherwick. For me, the building was more interesting than 95% of the art but it is an impressive achievement, showcasing African artists.

The Zeitz Mocaa Modern Art Gallery: A Startling Building Interior

Cape Town is not as walkable as Brisbane or Melbourne where we went last year. Downtown is dominated by the car and we do feel more nervous about personal security – though in practice everyone has been very friendly. So, since that first day, we have mainly been out and around Cape Town by car, taxi and Uber, experiencing the panoramas and excellent food and wine on offer.

Long Street, Company Gardens And Typical Bo Kaap Houses; All Close To Where We Are Staying

The food is right up our street; tasty, locally sourced, healthy and light. The prawn dish I had in a hip restaurant in an old biscuit factory in Woodstock was the best prawn dish I can remember.

The wineries just outside the city are wonderful estates showing off their wares and their scenery and some provide tremendous culinary experiences. Babylonstoren was super and we are returning to Constantia Glen for a meal overlooking the vineyards, and the usual awesome mountain backdrop, for our last day in Cape Town.

Babylonstoren: A More Natural And Integrated Version Of Our Cotswolds Daylesford With Great Wines Produced On-site. Fabulous

The views from Table Mountain and, further afield, Cape Point were jaw dropping. More unexpected was the incredible drive down the coast past Chapmans Peak. The beaches were amazing as usual but the engineering to create the road itself was spectacular.

One Of Many Wonderful Views From Table Mountain

Cape Point: Across False Bay, Dias Beach And The Local Baboons

The ’12 Apostles’ From Chapmans Peak Drive. Worthy Competitors Versus The ’12 Apostles’ (Sea Stacks) We Saw In Australia Last Year

The Aptly Named Long Beach (From Chapmans Peak Drive)

Oh my, I have written enough but still haven’t mentioned the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the wild life and a number of other observations (for example, the welcome scarcity of dogs and insects other than butterflies and a few bees). I’m glad we went to the superbly laid out and informative Kirstenbosch gardens early in our trip. That equipped us with a bit of knowledge that was useful in our subsequent outings.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Note The Schoolkids Loving Their Day There; A Joy To Watch

And we have seen lots of wild penguins, an eagle owl, a tortoise and dassies (guinea pig relations) close up. The penguins are such a sweet laugh when on land!

African Penguin, Indifferent Dassie and Untroubled Tortoise

Hopefully more wildlife, dramatic coast and mountains next week as I perfect my limp.

Evening View Of Table Mountain From Our House