I am probably from the last generation of managers that worked with a personal assistant (PA). As I was promoted in my last few years, I found my successors did not get the privilege. Automation and cost cutting meant that PA’s were seen as a thing of the past, like smoking at work, or executive dining rooms.
This week I have been organising a visit to India in February. It is just for a vacation but when I was working this would have always been a job for my PA. And this week I realised quite how hard it is. Getting flights, hotels and meetings all to fit is no easy thing. I think I have managed it but I do wish I had a PA.
You can see how old I am from the fact that I have printed off my confirmations. I can give you the excuse of experience of India airports where you can’t enter the terminal without a printed ticket, but in truth I needed the paperwork to give me confidence that I had everything booked. I think I did OK but I do know that when something goes wrong while I am travelling (which it will) I will want to call my PA and will miss them.
So I want to say thank-you to all my PAs over the years. You were awesome and made me successful.
Can robotics really ever replace a great PA? What do you think?
While we have been travelling on the narrowboat over the past two years we got to visit a lot of friends and family we had not seen since lockdown. But there were a few we missed out so this week we set off on a road trip. I am writing this in a cozy pub hotel near Stratford on Avon. This morning we are off to Hove in Sussex to see one of our sons. Then from there we travel to Surrey to stay with our sister in law, and then on to a vast mansion on the south Devon coast, where some friends are house sitting. From there it is to the far end of Cornwall, to stay at the Pig Hotel, where our other son is working. Back via Salisbury to see my Mum, and then to a village near Cambridge where Mandy’s Aunt lives. Finally we stay with Mandy’s brother in Lancashire and then home to Scotland via our friends in the Yorkshire Dales.
It will be quite an adventure and a good run out for our new car. Our old Qashqai had served us well for five years but was costing us more to maintain than it was worth, so after much prevaricating we have opted for a 2019 Kia Sportage. It is absolutely fine to drive but petrol heads will be disappointed that the main criteria for purchase were space in the boot for our dogs’ crate, and lots of “toys” inside like sat nav, apple play, parking camera. Immediately after signing for the car, I felt a bit of post purchase dissonance – would an XC40 have been more sensible, could I have negotiated a better deal, would a 2020 model have been better? But now we have had it for a few days, I am happy. It will do us very nicely.
Some of the route aligns with canals we have traversed this year. Journeys that took us several weeks in the boat are completed in a few hours. I prefer boating because you see so much more on the way but I admit I am enjoying being able to go left and right as well as straight on, as we do on a canal. When we see friends from the boat, they sometimes suggest meeting at some pub in the countryside, and we have to point out that the narrowboat is not great across land!
So on with the trip. It may not be Route 66, or even the Highlands North Coast 500, which we enjoyed a few years ago, but I am excited. I quite enjoy this retirement lark.
It is over three years since I last got my eyes tested, so this week I popped over for a test to my friendly optician – Robert Callendar in Linlithgow. The good news is that my eyes remain healthy and my prescription is unchanged. I was happy because I thought I could keep my existing glasses, but Robert was in sales mode and persuaded me otherwise.
I was born short sighted and wore glasses till I was about 40, when I had my eyes lasered to get 20-20 vision. I loved not having to wear specs, and I still would rather not. But a few years ago I realised that I could not read small print, and got some reading glasses. Then, when I had my last test, I found my distance vision was also deteriorating, so I got some glasses for driving and watching TV. Now I have the two pairs, but most of the time I do not wear any.
The optician suggested I get some varifocals, so that I could wear them all the time, without worrying about where they are, but I am holding onto my identity as someone who does not wear glasses. If my prescription had changed I would have been persuaded, but I did not want to spend money. This is where my salesman optician got smart. Rather than continuing to argue for varifocals he just asked whether I had been wearing sunglasses on the narrowboat this year. Apparently not wearing them at my age on sunny days can lead to cataracts. That did make some sense and when I mentioned we were hoping to go skiing this year his eyes lit up.
So I have ended up ordering some fancy Bolle prescription sunglasses, with rose-blue lenses which apparently are best for bringing out contrast on the piste.
I do feel as if Robert has stolen my wallet, but I am pleased my eyes have not deteriorated these past few years, and I am looking forward to testing out my new sunglasses. As Huey Lewis said, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades”.
My wife, Mandy, and I did not learn to ski till we were in our forties. It was at a time in my life when every year I would try something new. I learnt to fly a plane, to scuba dive, to do long distance walks, and to ski. The last two hobbies have stuck with me, but we have not been skiing since January 2020. Just as the pandemic was beginning we found ourselves in Morzine, France. We had great sunny days on the piste, and nervous evenings in crowded bars. Since then, lockdowns have prevented us having a ski holiday. More importantly, Mandy has had both her knees replaced, so has been very unsure about whether she will be able to ski. But we have missed it, so this week we took a trip to the “snow factor” artificial slope in Braehead, near Glasgow.
The very good news is that we both can still ski. Mandy remains a little scared that an accident could damage her new knees, but we have done the research and the risk is not really any more than with natural knees. She plans to stick with the easiest pistes (green and blue), but that is fine. Neither of us are into scaring ourselves on the slopes. Rather, we love the scenery, and the fresh air in the mountains.
So my next job is to find somewhere to go, with nice easy skiing for us both, and a few more tricky intermediate runs for me. Probably France – perhaps La Plagne, Les Deux Alpes, Morzine or Courchevel. Any thoughts from my ski savvy readers?
In the UK we have had a pretty volatile week in the markets after what seems like a crazy mini budget, giving away millions in tax cuts, funded by massive borrowing. In a country usually noted for financial sobriety, it has been a shock to feel like a banana republic. This crisis coincided by chance with the six monthly visit from our financial advisor, Neil. We have worked with Neil for about six years. We pay him quite a lot for his advice, You might ask why we would do that, when post retirement, we have reasonably simple finances. No money coming in, and the savings pots not changing very much. The reason we work with Neil may surprise you. We value his life advice as much as his money advice.
When we started working with Neil, his main questions were not about things like our risk appetite and pension valuations. Yes he dealt with all that stuff, and we have done a mix of things with our money. But – the questions were about what we wanted to do with our lives. He would then work to make our money fit our choices. Our answer was that we had always talked about retiring early and owning a narrowboat. He told us that the disappointing thing was that many people have dreams about retirement, but very few actually fulfil them. The temptation of working just a few more years is too high, either to get more money, or because they don’t want to let go of the status work gives them, or simply because of habit.
Around this time, a very good friend passed away suddenly. He was younger than either of us, and it was a shock that reinforced Neil’s advice. If we had this dream, why not follow it. So we bought the boat pretty much immediately. And we put a date in our minds for retirement – end of 2020. I did wonder if having made that decision, work would start becoming boring as I trudged through it to retirement. But in fact it reinvigorated me and my last couple of years working were amongst my most fulfilling and successful. In the final three months I started reducing my hours to get myself ready, and on 2nd January 2021 I retired and we set off on our new adventures.
It was good advice from Neil, and that is still what we get. When we met him this week we were talking about moving house, something we have talked about for a few years. We have prevaricated because we could live anywhere and it has been hard to choose. We seem to be narrowing down on the North West of England but are not sure. Neil’s suggestion is to sell up, rent somewhere where we think we want to live, and take our time to see if it is right for us. With likely falling house prices, we are unlikely to lose. He also told us not to scrimp on what we spend on a new house because it is “just changing asset classes”.
Good advice. Mind you, after this week’s mini budget, maybe we would be better off living outside the UK. What do you think?
Last weekend we spent a couple of days at a very special mooring. Ellesmere Port is a run down small industrial town, on the south bank of the river Mersey and next to the Manchester Ship Canal. It does not have much to commend it, but it does have one gem. It is home to the National Waterways Museum. The old port is at the end of the Shropshire Union canal, where is meets the ship canal to the sea. It was once a thriving area, employing hundreds of people loading and unloading goods. After years of neglect, in the 1970’s a group of volunteers got together to clean it up and turn it into a boat museum. They did an amazing job and today it houses several acres of old buildings, exhibitions, boats and history. And best of all, we got to moor overnight in the middle of it.
We stayed for a couple of nights, and during the day got to visit all the exhibits and look around the town. But even better, in the evenings, the staff locked up the museum gates and we were left all alone. We had a special key so we could get in and out, but I loved wandering around the museum with the dogs, taking a close up look at the old terraced houses, the heavy port equipment, the boats themselves. It was kind of spooky although I did not see any ghosts. I could, however, imagine the dock workers busy in the docks, and the boat owners, living in their tiny cabins, behind a large barge full of coal or grain.
We are nearing the end of our six month narrowboat trip for this year, and this was a great experience to add to the memories. A night at the museum may not have been quite like in the movies but it was something very special nevertheless.
This week we took the Shropshire Union canal down into Chester, an ancient city that grew up from a Roman garrison settlement called Deva. The Romans built it here because it was roughly in the middle of the area of the UK they had conquered, it had good Roman road connections, and at the time it had good access to the sea through the river Dee. After the Romans, it continued as a successful medieval port city, and the Normans developed it further with a castle, a large cathedral and extended city walls.
These walls are possibly what Chester is most famous for. I walked a couple of times all the way around them, there are fine views across the countryside up to the Wirral and down to Wales. You can look down on Chester racecourse. You can see the Roman amphitheatre and ruined columns in a garden. The north side has the canal running alongside, utilising what once would have been a moat.
We moored up in a basin near the city centre, and just across from Telford’s Warehouse, a large pub, based in the headquarters of Thomas Telford, who built this canal. We had a fine meal with excellent craft beers, and even more excellent company of two of our nieces and a new boyfriend, who had to undergo a full inquisition from me and Mandy, testing for suitability. He passed!
The weather has turned this week and it has become wet autumn. But we have slowed down our travelling as we near the end of our summer on the boat, so a bit of rain can usually be avoided. And that has given more time for visiting Chester. Next year we plan to do a little less travelling and a little more visiting. Perhaps after two years, we are realising that retirement is more a marathon than a sprint.
As I have travelled the world I have been in many bars, but have never found anything quite like a British pub. There are caricature “Irish Pubs” in many a city, but they just aren’t quite the same. Perhaps it is the inclement British weather that means we desire cosiness and that is what is different. Perhaps it is our unusual taste for warm beer. But today let me tell you about my favourite pub.
In 1987 we were on one of our first narrowboat holidays, doing the Four Counties Ring with friends. We stopped one night in the middle of nowhere and came across this pub, the Anchor Inn. The postal address is High Offley, a little village in Shropshire, but in reality it sits by itself, next to the canal. Presumably it was a farmhouse that started serving drinks when the canal was built, around 1830.
Although it looks reasonably large on the photo, the pub itself is just two small front rooms in the house. When we first found it, all drinks were fetched from the cellar. Nowadays they have electricity and chilled lager and cider on tap, but if you want a pint of real ale or scrumpy, they still go down into the cool cellar to get it.
Since 1987, we have visited maybe ten times. It is far too out of the way to be a regular haunt. But a few times making a special effort driving, and of course whenever we travel the Shropshire Union Canal, we go to see if it has changed. Sadly, Olive, the landlady for over 50 years, passed away last year. But her daughter has taken over and it is just the same. This week, the conversation in the pub was all about narrowboating. Where have we been this year? What have we seen? And the Wadworth’s 6X was served perfectly.
I know that over the years British pubs have had to change to survive. Most now serve good food, and have light, airy spaces. I do like those pubs. But sometimes it is nice to find favourites that have not changed, and the Anchor is one of them,.
When you see a doctor in a British film checking on mental capacity, the two questions they always ask are “Who is the Prime-minister?” and “What day is it?”. I have struggled with the second of these questions this week. Indeed, for the first time in 20 months, I nearly missed getting my Friday blog out, because I thought it was earlier in the week. Does this mean I am getting forgetful in my old age? Or is it just that days are much like each other when retired?
We are back on our narrowboat and off on our travels. The next month or so will see us travel the Staffordshire & Worcester and Shropshire Union canals, hopefully making it to Ellesmere Port before returning to a marina near Chester for the winter. We do have a couple of days off each week, but because we are not working, there is no reason for these to be at the weekend, and we both lose track of days.
I have some coping techniques. I have an alarm on my phone on a Thursday afternoon to remind me to write a blog. When it is Grand Prix season, I am always reminded when it is a Sunday – race day. But still, during the week, the freedom to do what we want each day, can mean that any day is like any other. As Pooh says in the picture above – today is my favourite day.
Oh by the way, I think the Prime-minister is Boris Johnson, but based on his permanent holidays, I may well be wrong.
When I come to write my blog there is usually one event from the week that I want to write about. It might be something surprising that has happened, an insight I have gained, or just an occasion I have enjoyed. This week I am struggling because I have had two really great days out. On Sunday I went to “The Hundred” cricket match at the Oval in London. On Tuesday I spent the day at the Edinburgh Fringe. So let me tell you about both, and you can decide which is better.
Starting with the cricket, it was a blisteringly hot day in London, but there was plenty of water and plenty of beer, so I kept myself lubricated. I was with my brother, two nieces and a fiancé, so it was a family day out and there was a good mix of banter and chat. My brother had brought a picnic and we settled down to watch the game. The Hundred is a twenty over game (like the India Premier League Twenty Twenty) but for some reason, each over is five balls instead of six. The women’s game was first and sadly was a bit boring, especially since “our” team, the Oval Invincibles, lost. The men’s game was more dramatic, culminating in an incredible score of 108 for one of the batters. After the game, we retired to the pub to let the crowds disperse, before heading to the train station, and for me an overnight sleeper train to Scotland. What a great day out.
The Fringe was also a wonderful day. Edinburgh Festival has been cancelled for the past two years, due to Covid so there was a real excitement in the air, as I wandered the streets and alleyways. Over the years I have learned not to cram too much in, so I saw just three booked shows. The first was in a free venue, and showcased five up and coming comedians. Perhaps my favourite was Carla Gordon. Watch out for her on your screens in coming years. The second show I went to was also stand up comedy, but was with a very established comedian, Simon Munnery. He is known for being alternative which I think is code for a bit weird. But I did enjoy the show very much and laughed a lot. I then had a couple of hours to wait, so I sat in a little park, watching street performers, till it was time for the Dean Friedman concert. Dean is a 1970s singer from New York that I have followed for years. He did not disappoint, with a good mix of old and new songs, and I walked back to the station feeling extremely happy.
So two really excellent days out, and a nice break from our semi-permanent holiday on our narrowboat. But which was better? What do you think?