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?

Last night I had the strangest dream

It was nothing to do with boats to China (80s pop reference). Rather it was about cricket. I was playing with a group of colleagues in India from my old job. And I made the most amazing catch – diving, rolling, clutching. This is a strange dream for many reasons, not least of which is I am genuinely terrible at catching!

Ben Stokes – sportskeeda.com

What caused the dream? Probably a combination of things. I had made and eaten a rather spicy curry. I have been listening to a lot of cricket matches from the Indian Premier League (IPL). I have been talking to my old employer about a tax issue.

But it was a nice dream. I woke with a smile and felt good. I wish I was better at sport but my hand-eye co-ordination is rubbish. Instead I have always espoused the mantra “It is not about the winning. It is about the taking part”. The dream last night reminded me that just as with so may other parts of life, that winning is good too.

I am lucky to have had many wins in my life and have many more to look forward to. Plans are now firming up for our narrowboat summer in England. Hopefully we will be moving the boat from Scotland in the first week of July. It is all very exciting.

But I still feel happy that I caught the ball last night. Even if it was a dream.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or is that a narrowboat coming towards you?

I have been walking through a couple of canal tunnels this week. Some of the most exciting and scary times on a narrowboat are travelling through tunnels. Most canal tunnels have very little space around the boat profile. This is deliberate because when the canals were designed, the boats were pulled by horses, and the horses would not go through tunnels, so the boats were “legged” through by two strong men, lying on either side of the barge roof and using their legs to “walk” along the tunnel. These days we have engines and we have to steer 50-60 foot long boats through the tunnel with often less than a foot space on either side.

Falkirk Tunnel

There are two keys to success. Don’t be overconfident and don’t panic. Fluid mechanics give us a big advantage because the water being pushed either side of the boat as you travel through the tunnel, gives pressure to keep the boat away from the walls. But if you are overconfident and drive too fast, or if you panic and over-react to each boat movement, then before you know it, you are bouncing the boat off the walls side to side.

I wonder of there is an analogy. Here in the UK the Covid numbers have fallen right back. Deaths and hospitalisations are very low, since so many of the population are now vaccinated. Society is reopening, with shops, bars, gyms, cinemas now back or soon to be back. In a month or so we will be nearly normal. There is talk about Coronavirus treatment in pills taken at home next winter. It really feels that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

But two things could get in the way. One would be overconfidence. If we relax the rules too fast, give up on social distancing, refuse to self isolate, then it will be back. The other would be to panic. There are some horrible new variants out there, but the science is working and we can steer our way through this perilous tunnel.

Have wonderful weekend. Let me know hat you think.

How close are genius and madness?

This week I watched the 2014 film about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys – “Love and Mercy”. I had only been peripherally aware of the story and found it fascinating. Wilson was the creative leader of the band behind such great pop tunes as “Surfin’ USA”, “California Girls” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”. Then in 1964 he had a nervous breakdown and stopped touring. He concentrated on working in the studio and wrote & produced the “Pet Sounds” album, generally recognised as one of the greatest records ever made. He then started on what he saw as his legacy – “Smile”. It was never finished as a Beach Boys album. His mental illnesses and use of drugs had caught up with him and his genius had turned to madness.

Wilson is now diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, an illness that amongst other things, gives him auditory hallucinations (voices in his head) . He also used a great deal of psychoactive drugs. He credits his illness and these drugs for helping him write great music. He is famous for long, complex sessions in the studio where he would bring together arrays of musicians to build the layered sound that became his trademark. If you listen to “God Only Knows” for instance, you can hear such weird instruments as orange juice containers, and Wilson uses two different musical keys at the same time. Without much doubt he is a musical genius.

But I also listened this week to his 2004 version of the “Smile” album he never finished with the Beach Boys. It received great critical acclaim, but I found it hard to listen to. Lots of great musical ideas mashed together. Like eating ice cream, a curry and pasta all at the same time.

During my life I have only a few times worked with creative geniuses. And each time I have found their strong emotions to be unnerving. Perhaps because as a white middle class Brit, my own emotions are so stunted. I could never allow myself to get that close to mental fragility to release the best of my creativity. That is certainly a gain for me. I wonder if it is also a loss.

What do you think? Do you need to be at least a little mentally unstable to create great beauty?

Why even losing a water bottle can hurt

I now this sounds ridiculous. I know it is a first world problem. I know people are dying around the world from the pandemic. But I am upset today because my water bottle is broken.

Firstly let me be clear that this is totally my fault. I put the bottle in a dishwasher and… well you can see. And it is just a water bottle. I am sure I can pick up another for a few quid. But it upsets me. I think there are two reasons.

The bottle has a branding from my last job. And so losing it is a reminder that I am no longer working. I love my retirement, but as each link to work goes, I also lose that part of my identity that for forty years defined who I am.

I find myself getting increasingly upset about trivial things these days. I cry at the most innocuous of films. I cried when I heard my niece had had a baby this week. I even cried at the weekend watching ”Saturday Night Takeaway”, the lightest of light entertainment TV shows. Part of it I think comes from the retirement. I am more relaxed, more vulnerable perhaps. I no longer have to put on my emotional armour to deal with the stresses of a job where managing crises was a frequent occurrence.

And I also blame Covid-19. For more than a year we have lived under the threat of severe illness and death. We have all found ways to get on with it but now that the UK seems to be coming out the other side I think that 12 months worth of adrenaline and cortisol is washing out of my body and making me more emotional.

Or maybe I should get a sense of perspective!

Have you lost anything trivial and been unreasonable upset?

Ten reasons to get the Vaccine

On Sunday my wife and I had our first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it made me reflect on why we all should be vaccinated if we are able.

  1. It can save our lives. Admittedly, as an overweight mid fifties man, I am more at risk, but the evidence shows that the vaccines prevent near 100% of deaths from Covid-19, in all age groups.
  2. It will save other people’s lives. There is clear evidence now that the vaccines reduce the transmission of Covid from you to others and therefore helps stop the spread of disease to those that are not yet vaccinated.
  3. It protects the health service. Sadly we have seen some health services across the world come close to breaking down in recent weeks. In the UK, we got pretty close in January. None of us want to see people get sick and die without the support of doctors and nurses.
  4. Even for young adults, Long Covid is a real risk. The vaccine helps stop the disease and protects you against long term symptoms.
  5. The vaccine does not discriminate. Unfortunately the disease is more prevalent in some ethnic groups, The vaccine however, is effective for all. In Scotland, the biggest challenge with vaccine take-up is amongst Polish and some Black communities. We need to protect them too.
  6. It gives our children a future. Not only does the vaccine for adults mean that fewer children will lose their parents, but it means that they can have normal lives at school and with their friends. There has been more than enough damage in the past year.
  7. Any side effects are well worth it. My wife had no real side effects at all. I had a pretty bad 24 hours, with fever and muscular ache. But a day later I was feeling fine. And the benefits far outweigh any issues. If I got Covid it would be so much worse. If anyone is worried about the risk of getting blood clots for instance, the most likely way of getting a clot that will kill you is to catch Covid.
  8. The vaccines have been properly tested. Some people are suggesting that because the vaccines were approved in months rather than years, there is more risk. This is not true. No corners were cut. Instead, literally billions of pounds were spent accelerating the testing.
  9. All the vaccines work. In the UK we have Pfizer and AstraZeneca with millions and millions of jags now given safely. The other approved vaccines are also rolling out effectively – Moderna, Sputnik, Sinovac. I am looking forward to the new French vaccine Valneva being approved because it is manufactured a couple of miles from where I live. The evidence I have seen is that against hospitalisation and death, they all protect equally well.
  10. It is better than another lockdown. I have written before about how fed up we are all getting with the restrictions. We have a clear route map out now, but it can only happen with the extensive vaccine rollout.

I apologise for writing a preachy blog. I also apologise for winding up those that really want the vaccine and have not yet been offered it. But this is important. If you have been offered the vaccine, please take it up. I respect people who choose not to take up the vaccine. But I think they are mistaken.

And if you are not sure, rather than listening to internet guff (even this blog!) please talk to a healthcare professional.

Why should you write a blog?

I have read a great deal on blog writing. Some say that it is a self absorbed activity – shouting into the wind. Some say that it is a way of supporting others by sharing experience. I can only speak for myself and say that I love writing my blog because it allows me to get my head around what is happening in my life and how I choose to respond to it.

Photo credit content-writing-india.com

So if it is for my benefit, why publish? For many years I used to write a private diary. I called it my “win, learn, change log” and every day I would identify sone small success, something that had gone less well that I would learn from, and one change that I would make as a result of either. In general I found this a healthy and therapeutic activity; good for my mental health and good for my personal development. By publishing a blog I get much the same response but publishing it makes me less self absorbed, less repetitive and more outward looking.

If you follow my blog you will know that I am recently retired and reflecting on how to spend the rest of my life. That gives me choices and I get to share them with you, dear reader. As the blog develops I hope that more of my followers respond with comments and we can have more of a dialogue.

I have read that, like Facebook, blogs are now passé and that younger people are preferring to share their life experiences based on video in Tik Tok and Instagram. I will stick with words. I love to write and I love to write my blogs.

How about you? Do you already write regularly? If so, what do you get from it? If not, why not start today?