What were you doing 12 months ago?

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?

I never expected to like American Football

I am a Brit and have never had any time for American Football. I have considered it a manufactured sport, designed for the benefit of television networks, who can add the maximum number of adverts against the minimum amount of sport, I don’t understand why the players need helmets and pads, and for a nation that laughs at cricket, the terminology is obscure and hard to understand. A touchdown does not require touching the ball down. A quarterback can be anywhere on the pitch, not a quarter back. It is a good thing to go out of play so long as you have gone forward a few yards. Worst of all it is called “football” but the ball is rarely touched by a foot.

Tom Brady (C) Jeff Hamisch USA Today

So I find myself quite shocked that I have been getting excited about this year’s playoff games and I may even stay up to see the Super Bowl live in a week’s time. I have been learning the back stories behind the people. Tom Brady has proved he can be a star in any team, not just the Patriots. Andy Reid has shown that old school methods can take a team to successive Super Bowls. I have learnt that MVP stands for “Most Valuable Player” (man of the match) not “Minimum Viable Product”.

I confess that I still believe it would be better without al the breaks, and I guess I still prefer to watch Rugby. But it is a good lesson for me that this is an excellent time for me to throw away preconceptions and to be open to learning new things.

Do you have any preconceived biases? Perhaps you hate test cricket as a game where a match lasting five full days can end in a draw. Perhaps you hate Bollywood films where aged male stars pretend to play twenty year old romantic heroes. Perhaps you think people who live on a narrowboat must have a screw loose. But every bias like this closes us off to new ideas and new opportunities.

I still think it should be called “Throwball”.

What do you think?

Ten reasons retirement is better than work

After last week’s moan about missing people at work, and the things I had planned for my retirement that have been postponed due to COVID, I have been reflecting on what is really good about being retired. It is not a bad list.

  1. I am more healthy. My blood pressure is down, I have lost a little weight, and I am getting out to walk most days during the week as well as at weekends.
  2. I get to read. My old work colleagues used to complain because I have always found time for self development books and I would bore them with insights from them. But now I also get to read more lightweight books. I am currently half way through Robert Harris’ “Archangel” and Richard Clubley’s “Orkney – A Special Place”.
  3. I am no longer “always on”. For at the past 30-40 years I have been on call for incidents or issues. It feels like a weight has been taken off my back.
  4. I get to do jobs around the house. This week I oiled my wooden floors, waxed my furniture and replaced a security light. These kind of jobs used to hang around for months because I never had the time.
  5. I gain new skills. I have mentioned previously about learning the euphonium. My playing is apparently not quite as awful as it was a few weeks ago. I have also been trying to learn basic electrics to help with our narrowboat.
  6. Sleep is better. I no longer wake in the middle of the night worrying about some work issue, and remarkably for me I have started getting up around 7am instead of 5am.
  7. I can be spontaneous. OK, lockdown is not helping here. But I can change my plans at any point. I am writing this blog first thing in the morning with many options for today and no fixed plan. I never thought I would like that but it is great.
  8. There were things at work I always hated, such as performance reviews. I can’t tell you how good it feels that I will never have to do them again.
  9. I have more time with my wife, Mandy. We are really loving doing things together, from playing cards to watching great films.
  10. I am my own master. Instead of half my life being driven by a diary of meetings and deadlines for others, everything I do is my choice. It feels great!

I have often felt that writing a blog is self motivating, and this one has certainly reminded me why I made the call to leave work this year. I am very lucky to have had this choice.

What about you? If you are working, what would you love to change? If you are retired what are the best things for you?

Are you missing people too?

When I retired I knew I might miss the routine of work, the self-identity it gave me, and the money. I also I expected I would miss my friends at work. But I did not realise how much I would miss just being with other people.

Of course the pandemic lockdown has made things so much worse. Had we been able to follow our plans we would be in Orkney right now. That was deliberately a long break to decompress from working, but I would have been seeing new places and meeting new people. In particular I was hoping to see the Aurora Borealis, so you can imagine my envy when there was a spectacular display on Monday night.

Orkney Ring of Brodgar this week (photo by Anne-Marie Clouston)

When I was at work, very often from 0730 til 1730 I would be back to back in meetings, whether face to face or zoom. I honestly did not think I would miss them and in many ways I don’t. I love that I now have the freedom to do what I want and not just what my diary tells me. But I do so miss being with other people. I love my wife and my son. But I want the stimulation of talking to others.

I know I should not complain. There are many people very ill and dying from this plague. There are those shielding or self-isolating that have no-one at all to talk to. There are many who would love the peace that I have. But boy I miss people.

How is it for you? Are you in a busy family squeezed together and self-schooling, where my complaint sounds like heaven? Or do you miss people too?