Starting the adventure – part 2

We are in England. The next stage of our narrowboat adventure starts here. The journey from Scotland has frayed our nerves but we have got here. The weather just about held for our journey along the Clyde. As you can see from the picture of us rounding Dumbarton Rock, it is a wide river.

Lifting the boat out of the river in torrential rain and then putting it back in in England was equally nerve wracking. I knew the guys were experts but seeing the boat hanging in the air, it just looked as if it could topple over very easily!

But we got here safely and the English canal network journey has begun. We are travelling down the Dearness and Dove canal into Sheffield, with both our sons, Rob and Tin. Because of Covid, Mandy had not seen Rob for two years and it was a great reunion. Next week we go back up to Doncaster, across on the Aire and Calder to Castleford and then onto the great Leeds and Liverpool canal, ready to start our journey over the Pennines to Lancashire.

Despite some pretty shocking weather in recent days, we are already remembering why we own a narrowboat. Pootling along some beautiful countryside with very few cares. It even helped calm my nerves for the England game on Wednesday night.

I hope you are also relaxing as we head into the summer.

Have a great weekend, Pete

Starting the adventure – part 1

After several years of dreaming, several months of preparing, our narrowboat adventure has fully begun. We left the Kelpies a week and a half ago, and after a couple of days on the Union canal towards Edinburgh, we set off along the Forth & Clyde to Glasgow and the Clyde.

What was meant to be a two day trip actually took four. Our engine overheated and went bang with lots of smoke. We had to stop and call out River Canal rescue who removed a possibly faulty thermostat, probably exacerbated by the vast amount of weed in this canal that has not been used by boats for two years. Then when we could get going again, two lift bridges at Clydebank broke down, and the only automated drop lock in the world stopped working when we were in the middle of it. A drop lock is where you drop down in the lock to go under a road and then come up the lock on the other side. A marvellous piece of engineering – when it works!

So we are now at Bowling – a marina at the end of the canal. Since we arrived here our batteries have drained too fast because the solar panels appear to be faulty, and we were using too much electricity. We are having to run the engines for several hours each day to provide power. Then our bathroom sink started leaking, soaking everything underneath it. A quick trip to a caravan parts shop in Glasgow, and some very dodgy plumbing from me appears to have fixed it for now.

On Sunday we plan to take our most perilous journey, an hour on the wide tidal Clyde river, up to Dumbarton Sandpoint where we will wait till Tuesday and then be lifted out by crane onto a lorry to travel down to the English canal network for the rest of the year. My fingers are crossed. If there is no blog next week you will know why.

What have I learnt this week? A reminder that in narrowboating, patience is everything. If something can go wrong, it probably will, and there is no point in getting upset. Better to relax and enjoy the moment.

Have a great week.
Pete

Ten lessons I have learnt in the first six months of retirement

This week marks the six month anniversary of me retiring, and is an appropriate time to reflect on what I have learnt.

On the cut this week
  1. Work is much less important than I expected. Many people would tell me that after 35 years I would miss the challenge of work, and that I would be back soon. It has not turned out that way. I have been offered odd days of highly paid work and have turned them down. Maybe that will change in the next six months but for now, retirement is definitely for me.
  2. Sleep is great. I have always got by on about six and a half hours of sleep. Although I still like to get up early, I now have about eight hours of sleep. It definitely helps my well being.
  3. Food and drink are far too accessible. At work, even working from home, the rhythm of meetings kept me busy all day. Now it is much to easy to reach for the cookie jar. One for me to watch in the next six months.
  4. I love the freedom to do the unexpected. Yesterday, we were moored up, and I discovered the Falkirk monument was nearby, commemorating the battle between Jacobites (Scots) and Hanoverians (English) in 1746. I spent a happy afternoon wandering the battlefield imagining how it would have been.
  5. Mandy and I really like each other. I had heard so many stories of couples that retired and found that over the years they had grown apart. I am not saying we never argue, but most of time it feel like we are a team. I love it.
  6. It can be as motivating to do a trivial job in retirement as to solve a billion pound problem at work. I truly loved my work. I felt I was involved in big decisions that really mattered. I loved being involved in fixing the problem one day when no-one in the UK could make a faster payment. But surprisingly it was equally motivating yesterday to fix the electrical horn on the boat.
  7. I miss the people from work, but am making new friends. The good news is that I have stayed in touch with quite a few of my old colleagues. Also a little surprising because I am terrible at staying in touch. But I have enjoyed getting to know new people in my new life, especially on the canals. Boaters are an eclectic bunch, but always interesting.
  8. I think I will always be a planner. I had great intentions of not planning anything and just seeing where we ended up. But I do plan a lot – where we need to be when, what we need, what we will do. I like to think I am now prepared to be more flexible to circumstances changing. But I do like a plan!
  9. I enjoyed the stress of work, but I am enjoying more the abscence of stress. There is something energising about the adrenaline associated with stress. In most of my roles, I was “always on” 24 by 7, ready to deal with major incidents. It was exciting. But I don’t miss that stress. My blood pressure is down and I feel better in myself.
  10. Retirement is about enjoying the moment, not about distracting yourself. We had plans to go to Orkney for a month and then travel on the canals, as a way of distracting myself from wanting to work. These plans got disrupted by Covid, but in some ways I am glad they did. As we set off for four months on the canals now, it is all about what we will do, who we will see, and how lovely it is.

Are you retired or thinking of it? What is your experience?

Why is it hard to say goodbye?

Despite Scottish Canals running out of water this week, we should finally set out on our adventure on Monday. From Falkirk to Glasgow, and then a week later out of the water to a lorry to take us down to the English canal network for the rest of the season. It is a retirement promise that we have planned for a number of years, and should have started in March, if this pesky pandemic had not happened. But as I write this morning, I am struggling to say goodbye to the marina where we have seen berthed since we bought the boat, and to the comfortable way of life we have had in Scotland, with a house in short driving distance from the boat.

This is particularly strange because throughout our lives, Mandy and I have moved house many times, usually for my work, and have always balanced the excitement of new challenges to be greater than the loss of certainty from where we were already happy. And strange because we do plan to come back to Scotland in the winter, for other adventures, such as a month in Orkney.

I guess I am a little nervous of the trip to England, specifically the short journey from the canals, along the Clyde to the boatyard to be craned out. The Clyde is a wide tidal river, carrying big ships and fast moving craft. We have been getting prepared, including this week borrowing the heaviest anchor and chain I have even seen on a narrowboat – just in case. But it is still scary. I am also a little nervous about what happens when things break down. I have done the training in plumbing, electrics and engine maintenance, but that is not the same as doing it for real.

However, I can feel the positive energy from being nervous, and I am desperate to get back to cruising – to wake up each morning in a different place, to reclaim the relaxation from chugging through the countryside at 3mph. And one thing I have loved this year since retirement is spending most of my time with Mandy. Perhaps surprisingly, given that we have spent much time apart over the years through work, we find we still really enjoy each other’s company – most of the time anyway.

What about you? What is your attitude to major change? Excited by the anticipation or scared of what could go wrong?

Have the jabs made you invincible?

Today marks a milestone for me. Two weeks after my second vaccination means that my immunity to Covid is about as high as it will get. My chance of getting the disease is much lower now, and even more importantly, the chance of me getting seriously ill and dying is very small. It makes me feel invincible.

Yesterday lunchtime Mandy and I felt invincible enough to go across the road for lunch at our local bistro. This new café opened at the start of last year and the owner, Kumar, was immediately faced with months of lockdown, and yet no reduction in costs for things like council tax and licensing. We have really wanted to support this local business but it is a small room and we were honestly scared, so yesterday was the first time. Kumar could not have been more welcoming. I had their oriental vegetarian burger, made with lentils, lemongrass and coriander and it was delicious. And maybe because we have both had two jabs/jags now, we did not feel nervous at all. Thanks Kumar.

I was reading this morning a report from the Bank of England, saying that the UK economy is growing rapidly as we have opened up again. That is good news and I guess we all need to put particular effort into supporting local businesses. Amazon has had quite enough of my trade this past year.

The other thing I should have been be getting excited about this week was our expected trip down to England with our narrowboat. We were meant to be leaving our marina on Tuesday for a little tour of the Scottish lowland canals, before lifting the boat out of the water near Glasgow, and taking it down south. Unfortunately Scottish Canals have a big problem this week with the main water feed into the Forth and Clyde canal, and all boat movements have been stopped. This is immensely frustrating because there is nothing we can do. Even being invincible is no help.

Grrrrrrr.

How are you feeling this week? Invincible? Frustrated? Excited?

Enjoy your weekend, Pete

Of the world population, what percentage lives in low-income countries?

I have been reading a book this week called “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling. It is a fascinating read because it uncovers many of the misconceptions we have about the world. For instance our brains love the simplicity of splitting the world into haves or have nots, rich and poor; while the truth is that most of the world is in the middle. We also tend to have a negative view of the world because we hear many more negative stories than positive ones. As Hans says, a journalist would not last long writing stories such as “plane does not crash” or “child does not die early”. And us slightly older people tend to romanticise our memories of youth, remembering the great days playing out, rather than the nights we went to bed hungry.

The really positive news in the book is that key measures across the world continue to get better. When you read the title of this blog, what percentage did you come up with? Typically people choose a number well over 50%. That was true until about 1990. But it has been decreasing from around 85% in 1800 and the decrease has accelerated. The figure today is around 9%. I have spent a lot of time in India over the past twenty years, and a common comment from me is that alongside the wealth you see so much poverty, But I realise now that comment is based on what I first saw. When I started visiting, around 40% of the Indian population were very poor. The figure today is more like 10%.

The book was written in 2017 so does not have as clear a view as we do today of climate change and the pandemic. Do they halt the progress in its tracks? No, but they are both catastrophic events. Global warming is too late to reverse and some of the same challenges to how we think stop us paying attention. Newspapers in the UK this week have had headlines about the hot weather, but all in a positive light. And the pandemic continues to cause larger numbers of excess deaths than we have seen for years. But if the stats from the UK and US are to be believed, vaccination can break the link between transmission and death, so I remain optimistic that in 12 months time we will have bounced back. And the underlying improvements in society we have seen will continue – less poverty, less hunger, more gender equality, cleaner and available energy, improved health.

There are a whole range of free online quizzes on this subject available at gapminder.org. Go and have a look. You may well find your view of the world needs an upgrade!

Have a positive weekend, Pete

What should I do with hundreds of old newspapers?

Last weekend I went to stay with my Mum in Salisbury. The main reason was to see her for the first time in eighteen months, but it was also to try to sort out a move of nursing homes for my Dad. He has advanced Alzheimer’s dementia and needs 24 by 7 care. It is a sad situation and it is important for me to remember him how he was, rather than how he is now.

So while I was in Salisbury I went up into the loft and reclaimed eight or nine boxes of my Dad’s old newspapers. Now before you think that my Dad was a slightly strange hoarder, these are not just any old newspapers. It was his hobby to collect papers from many years ago. They are fascinating to read, partly for how the front page headline stories were portrayed, such as when the Titanic was sunk, or when the world wars ended, or when we landed on the moon. But also equally for the inconsequential stories and adverts throughout the paper. Who knew so many corsets were sold a hundred years ago?

Dad has papers from as far back as the seventeenth century, but his biggest collection is from the year of his birth – 1936. They paint a real picture of a year that mixed everyday stories with what we now know was the preparation for a war that changed the lives of everyone across the globe. I wonder if in 90 years time, someone will be reading the newspapers from the start of 2020, fascinated by what was being said about a little virus in Wuhan and how that contrasted with page after page about how we were all so cross about Brexit.

I have brought the newspapers home to Scotland and over the next week I plan to curate them, rebox them and hopefully find time to read a few. I do not have so long before we set off on our summer tour of England on the narrowboat, so much of that reading may have to wait.

As I have begun going through the boxes, I came across a speech my father had given to the local rotary club about his hobby. He tells a story about how he was travelling back on a train from London reading one of his old newspapers about the death of Queen Mary. A fellow traveller asked why he was reading a fifty year old paper. My Dad replied “I guess I am just a slow reader”. I am looking forward through my ongoing retirement also to become a slow reader.

Did your parents have any unusual hobbies? What do you think of them now?

Ten reasons to meet people again

I have been on a bit of a tour this week. From Scotland I drove down to Sheffield for a walk with my son, daughter in law and dog, and then on to Market Harborough for training courses in plumbing and electrics at the Narrowboat Skills Centre, Debdale Wharf, working in a classroom with four other students and an instructor. Since I was in England, I took the opportunity to meet up with a friend from when I was working, and I visited an aunt and her family. Both live relatively close to where I was training. I have eaten in restaurants and pubs. I have even been to a cinema. Then tonight I head on to stay with my Mum for the weekend. We talk most days, but as with my son, it will be the first time I have been with her in eighteen months.

With Simon at Hambleton, Rutland Water

I have to confess that after so long being generally isolated, it has felt very strange to be with people again – strange and a little scary. In some ways I would like to retreat back into my safe bubble at home. News from countries like India continues to be frightening. But there are good reasons to start meeting people again:

  1. Isolation is not great for my mental health. I know that everyone has reacted differently, but now is the time for me to come back blinking into the light.
  2. The economy needs growth. Forecasts are for a huge “bounce” in the second half of this year, but that will only happen if we get back to work and back to leisure activities.
  3. I need to relearn social skills. I have written in a previous blog that I have introvert and extravert traits. This last year has made me more introvert and now I need to get out there, or hide in a corner.
  4. There are many things I want to do in my retirement and I can’t do them if I am scared of being with other people.
  5. The vaccines work. Even where the faster spreading variants are prevalent, vaccinated people seem to be relatively safe from severe symptoms.
  6. Gossip is fun. I am not sure if you have found the same, but remote conversations lack nuance and body language, and so the “water cooler” gossip doesn’t happen the same way. I know it is naughty but we all like it!
  7. If not now, then when? I can’t wait for everything to get fully back to normal, because I think that may take decades.
  8. Teams work. Next week I am meeting a couple of fellow narrowboaters to see if we can travel the river Clyde together late in June. It is a big tidal river and frightening alone on a flat bottomed boat, but as a team we will all feel safer and can help each other.
  9. People are interesting. I have always been a people watcher. I love the ways we are all different and can learn from each other.
  10. I have really missed my friends and family. Zoom, FaceTime and Teams are great, but are not the same as being with people.

What about you? Have you sneaked out of lockdown to meet people, are you still prohibited, or like me are you now just beginning again?

What day is it?

I was out walking along the coast in Fife yesterday with one of my sons and my sister in law. I realised that I was not sure what day it was. One of the benefits of retirement is that I can do anything on any day. No longer do I need to wait till the weekend to go for a long walk, or go shopping, or fix the crack in the bathroom tiling, or visit my new great nephew for a cuddle, all of which I did yesterday. Rather I have the flexibility to avoid crowds and do what I want when I want.

The wonderful coastline of Fife in Scotland

But the downside can be that every day is like another. I chatted to my sister in law, who has been retired for seven years. She deliberately builds routine into her weeks to help provide some structure. She eats fish on a Friday. She cooks a roast Sunday lunch. She tries to make Friday evening as relaxing as it was when she was working. Maybe I should do the same. But I am in that honeymoon period of retirement when the freedom to do anything on any day feels simply wonderful.

I know when people say “they have no idea what day it is” they often mean that the person is losing it. Sadly, my father has advanced Alzheimer’s dementia and really does not understand the world any more. And I am wary of the naysayers in my old work, who told me not to retire because my brain would turn to mush. And I am aware that even though my life now has few meetings and appointments, I recently missed a meeting with my financial adviser, not because I was too busy, but because I was not busy enough. But it honestly feels great to wake up in a morning and know that today I can do pretty much anything I want.

Especially now lockdown is easing in the UK, those freedoms are widening. On Sunday I head down to England for some narrowboat training. I had better not miss the course because I forget what day it is!

What about you? If you are retired do you always remember the day? If you are working, do you long to be freed from the constraints of routine?

Have a great weekend, Pete

Nice weather for the time of year?

On Thursday morning I woke up to sprinkling of snow on the ground. Snow in mid May is weird even for our very variable weather in the UK. This time last year we were in a heatwave and I was sitting outside in my shorts. I have a friend who insists on wearing shorts from April to October. He also will not turn the central heating on during this period. For me, short wearing is only for the hottest of weather. We have had the central heating on all year, and we even had a proper fire in our wood burning stove twice this week.

When we are in our narrowboat, cold mornings are a treat for me. It is a admittedly a shock to get out of a cozy bed, but a dash to the stern of the boat to turn the heating on, and within 40 minutes we are warm again. In mid-winter I love the sound of the ice cracking around the boat. Throughout the year, I love the mist rising from a cold canal as the morning sun’s rays first begin to warm the day.

I am missing the sun. In previous years I could travel to warmer countries, either with work, or for holidays. Since the first lockdown, that has all gone, and we are down to the vagaries of the British weather. I saw a post this week from a fellow Scottish retiree, who lives in Crete and was complaining about 38 degrees of heat. She got a lot of responses from here saying we could all do with a few days of that.

Ah well. It is the most British of past times to complain about the weather. I know there are more important things going on in the world. But snow in mid May?

How is the weather wherever you are?