I have been told that I will not truly understand retirement till I have been retired for over a year. Until then it feels too much like just a very long holiday. That may be true, but boy am I enjoying this very long holiday. We are now nearly a month into our summer narrowboat trip, and while every day something goes wrong, also every day we get to enjoy the wonderful countryside and slow pace of canal life.
This week we have had the excitement of Bingley five rise, the biggest staircase of locks in the world. We have found ourselves stuck in one of the widest locks in the world at Castleford (we called an engineer). We have spent Saturday night with our eldest son on the boat right in the centre of Leeds. I have wandered the streets of Saltaire and Shipley looking for a barber. We had a wonderful evening in a brew pub with two of our friends we have not seen for six years. And every afternoon we have sweltered in the heat. Even though we have insulation, a narrowboat is basically a steel can, and gets so very hot in the sunshine.
I think my favourite day of all this week was moored up in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the Aire valley, and just chilling, reading a book, watching a film, painting my poles.
It may feel like a long holiday rather than “proper” retirement, but it is so much more relaxing than any holiday I have had before. I love it.
This week marks the six month anniversary of me retiring, and is an appropriate time to reflect on what I have learnt.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
We have been living on our narrowboat this week. We are lucky that it is moored relatively closely to our house so we can stay there without breaking too many rules, and it needed some maintenance for the start of the season. It is amazing how good it felt to get back to being on the boat. We so miss travelling on it, and hope that maybe next month we will be allowed once again to cast off the ropes and set off along the canals. The dogs loved it too. When we bought the boat I worried that the dogs would get claustrophobic, or would hate the engine noise, or would keep jumping off in the water. But like us, as soon as they arrive they seem to settle. The only problem we have with them is that they consider the towpath as being part of their territory, and so bark at other dogs walking nearby.
I was reading an article on a narrowboat forum this week, and came across the idea of “shiny narrowboaters”. These are people who care more about the appearance of the boat than what they do with it. I think that I am quite shiny. One of the jobs I did this week was repainting the roof and one side of the boat (I ran out of paint). I also varnished some woodwork, changed a left hand cleat for a right hand one (getting too technical for a blog here!) and put up a sign that was made for me by my work friends when I retired. I think the boat looks very smart.
However, for some in the narrowboat community, I am concentrating on the wrong things. Boats are about living on, not about polishing. I am sure there is some truth in this, but I still like it to look good.
One of the things I love about narrowboating is that the canal community in incredibly varied and tolerant. We have hippies who want an alternative life, We have young people who cannot afford a house. We have people on their first ever canal holiday, and those that have lived their life here. We have people who make their living on the water, and those like me, who have retired from all that, and want the peace. And we all rub along just fine. There is something about the common enjoyment of boating that brings us all together.
And so yes, some may call me “shiny” but it is said with a smile, and with respect. I love my narrowboat, and I love my friends on the water. Good health to you all, whether shiny or not.
This week I watched a whole cricket test match for the first time. A couple of blogs ago I wrote about learning to love American Football (well done the Buccaneers). At least with cricket I know the rules. And I have been to a day of a test match before – it requires a very different mindset to watching short form cricket such as 20:20. You settle into your seat, and read a newspaper or have a drink while the game goes on slowly slowly. One of my followers, Matt, commented that American Football is like chess with violence. Test cricket is like chess but slower. And this week I committed to all five days of England against India.
For many people, the idea of spending five days watching a sports game would seem to be a complete waste of time. Especially when one of the likely outcomes is a draw. But the opportunity for me was a luxury that I would never have chosen when I was working. And I found it to bring a kind of mindfulness.
Over the years I have practiced a little amateur meditation in order to wash away the cares in my mind. By actions such as concentrating on relaxing areas of my body, I have found a peacefulness that has helped during times of stress. I found the test match did much the same for me. There were moments of excitement when I sat forward to see whether a wicket would be taken or runs scored. But for much of the time I found that repeated quiet defensive play became really quite relaxing.
Now I should confess that in UK time, each day started at 4am, so I missed the first hour or two. I also often took the dogs out in the snow while listening to the match on my headphones. But I think the principle of enjoying slow play still applies. So much so that I plan to watch the second test starting tomorrow.
Most of us live in a rush where we resent wasted time. Technology such as mobile phones has made this worse. How many of us look at our phones whenever we get a spare 30 seconds? Even when we go on holiday, too many of us are “always on”. So I think I am privileged to be learning that taking time just to be me can be so rewarding.
Have you ever watched a test match? Or maybe took several days to do as little as possible? Let me know.
12 months ago I was in India . It seems a lifetime ago. When I was working I used to visit India two or three times a year and much of it became routine for me. But I never lost the sense of privilege and I would have an adventure to see a new place each time. A year ago it was Jaipur, the famed Pink City. It was very hot but also very beautiful.
Twelve months on, and I am no longer working, and certainly no longer hot. I still feel privileged, because near where I live in Scotland we have beautiful countryside and the snow has made it even more energising. But I do often wake up and think of a new adventure to go on, only to realise that the pandemic rules still get in the way.
I feel as if in the past year everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. We have all been through restrictions that I never thought would happen. We have all seen a level of illness and death that feel more like a war than a virus. But in other ways it feels as if someone has just pressed pause on our lives, and as soon as vaccines allow, we will all burst from our cocoons more eager than ever before to seek out new adventures and live the life that has been denied to us these past 12 months.
I guess in reality international travel is unlikely until the world has been vaccinated but even to travel in the UK would mean so much. I want to meet friends and family. I want to meet strangers. I want a hug. I want to be jostled in a busy pub. I want noise. I want to be able to get in my car or my boat and travel without a destination.
What were you doing 12 months ago? Will it be something that has changed your life, or a year to forget as soon as you can?