Week 45

25th October, 2009

This time last year we were blanketed with snow in Huddersfield. It was extremely cold. We were preparing for an Ofsted Inspection and feeling frazzled. How things change. It hasn’t been great weather but at least it’s warm. We aren’t using our central heating yet. We are on an Energy Project. It has nothing to do with environmentalism – we don’t wear sandals – but an experiment in monitoring costs. It is just for fun. I’ve told you before that Pauline records on a spreadsheet-based financial package every item of expenditure. She has done it since 1978 when we got married. Recently, I’ve found out where she got this from.

Pauline’s Mum is still struggling with Shingles and we’ve made a trip or two to Oldham to see her. The other day a bill arrived in the post while we were there. Pauline’s Mum – Jane – got out her accounts book and began recording the payment while murmuring to herself: “Yes, that’s what I had expected.” This could have been Pauline but (a bit) more wrinkly. Pauline forward accounts, spreading annual costs on a monthly basis, setting out contingencies, predicting surpluses, etc.. Now we’ve started to invest money in institutions and not property she is in her element.

26th October, 2009

Over to Oldham from Huddersfield. There are two main ways: the M62 which is the highest and one of the most congested motorway stretches in Britain or the parallel road across the moors known as Nont Sarah’s. When you are a worker, you take the M62 because you kid yourself it is quicker. So often it isn’t. When you’re retired, you go across the moors and savour the view.

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The Nont Sarah’s road is particularly tranquil and picturesque at the moment.

27th October, 2009

Pauline & I are very sad people. We record and tabulate everything. We were made for each other. I know nothing about astrology but I was told that Aries (me) and Libra (Pauline) are a natural pair. Pair of what I don’t know but we do complement each other perfectly. Before I wrote this, I did some research. Aries and  Libra: the god of war and the goddess of beauty. How do they know us? Aries is solely concerned about the “I”; the “we” is left to Libra. Something spooky going on there!

More prosaically, I design spreadsheets, Pauline loves to record things on spreadsheets. For 31 years Pauline has maintained our accounts. For the past 5 I’ve been recording Blood Sugar Levels, Blood Pressure and Pulse rate twice a day. Now we are recording Electricity, Gas and Water meter readings every Saturday. I nearly got into the habit of recording petrol consumption in the car but suddenly saw Dad doing that in his little notebook he kept in the car. Does anyone remember that?

28th October, 2009

Northern Rock sent us our house deeds today and confirmed the completion of our mortgage_settlement.


It probably won’t seem it on re-reading but £270,000.00 felt a lot to get off our minds. Having been burdened with a big mortgage for more than thirty years, we had a bowl of porridge to celebrate. Do you like porridge? I’m hooked on it. I learnt 40 years ago that I have a compulsive nature. If I do anything five times in short succession, I get addicted to it. So smoking, red wine, Greece, etc all became habitual. Equally, if you give me porridge for breakfast, salad for lunch water for dinner, etc often enough, I become addicted to them. Pauline is trying to get me addicted to housework at the moment. I should have told her that was the one exception.

29th October, 2009

Pauline & I agree on most things. Particularly, we agree on Global Warming. We are confirmed deniers but the warmer it gets for us the better. Our Local Authority, Kirklees, however, are totally committed to saving the planet. They try to get everyone separating their rubbish into categories, for example. They try to pretend that they are generating power and other useful things from people like us who they charge for the privilege of being told to separate our rubbish into categories. Can you believe it? Rubbish by definition is something to be thrown away not played with. We pay for Kirklees to collect and throw our rubbish away. Why on earth would we choose to do that for them? However, Kirklees have gone up in our estimation recently. They have Project Warmzone.


Along with about a dozen other companies in the country, they have employed the Government funded agency, Warmzone Ltd, to supply insulation to houses in the Borough. The thrust of this project is to reduce fuel poverty and, in Oldham, the LA is means testing households and targeting the needy. In Kirklees, every single household is being offered additional loft insulation and cavity wall insulation free of charge. Kirklees have employed Miller Pattison to supply this service to us.


They are coming to survey our house next week to tell us what we need. They also provide free energy saving light bulbs and support with maximising central heating efficiency. Nice to see they are taking Global Warming seriously. We pensioners could freeze to death!

30th October, 2009

Yorkshire Water sent us £350.00 back today because we’ve opted for a meter. They wanted to say thank you. Such lovely people Yorkshire Water.

Week 44

18th October, 2009 

We’ve been back in UK for a fortnight and we are still struggling to come to terms with the temperatures in Yorkshire. The last couple of weeks in Greece were 25-26C. The past couple of weeks here it has been 11 – 12C.  Of course, as newly retired persons we are still a little unsure of our finances. Our joint Electricity and Gas bills over twelve months amount to about £2000.00. Now we are at home all day and the LA are not heating us. Today we switched, using USwitch, from British Gas to First:Utility who say they will save us £420.00 per year. That’s worth a good couple of meals out at least. We have done this a couple of times over the past few years but now we’ve got time to torment all these companies with our fecklessness.

19th October, 2009 

Our water bill from Yorkshire Water is £1100.00 per year. We are not metered. We are the only people in the Quarry who are not and our bill is related directly to our Council Tax band. We’ve always resisted a meter because we water our garden so much. In fact, we have become the communal tap when someone else wants to water their garden as well. Our neighbours told us recently that they pay less than £20.00 per month for water and our jaws dropped. We will not be watering the garden now we are away so much so we asked Yorkshire Water for a meter. We emailed them from Greece and they came today. Ten minutes fiddling about in our garage which is where our stop-cock is and the meter was fitted. The whole service was free. We now save about £70.00 a month and I’ve got an excuse not to wash too often!

I knew you wouldn’t be able to live without a view of our stop-cock and new water meter.


20th October, 2009 

Our mobile contracts have been with Three for the past couple of years. That was fine while we were mainly in England. In Greece and on Sifnos the main providers and best reception comes from Vodaphone. In fact, the fastest transport back to Athens apart from a helicopter is the High-Speed Hydrofoil which sponsored by Vodaphone.


What is particularly good about Vodaphone is their International Passport which allows one to use contract minutes abroad as if from UK. Our new contracts bring a smart new touch-screen phone with excellent web browsing and email facilities. Graphics can be snatched from the web, edited and emailed on on the hoof.


21st October, 2009 

On Monday the Waterboard were in our garage. Today it was the turn of the AA. Yesterday, I had spent time in the garage connecting our new mobiles to the voice operated Sat. Nav./Radio/DVD/CD by bluetooth. As a retired person, I am quite slow and had to read the book carefully before completing the operation. To do that, I had to put on all the reading lights. When our phones eventually reported successful communication with Honda HFT, I excitedly returned upstairs to my wife to get praise for being so clever.

This morning I walked downstairs to the car to find the battery completely flat. I had left the reading lights on all night. Fortunately, our car comes with Hondacare – full AA Home and Abroad cover – and within half an hour an nice young man on a bright yellow bike was recharging the battery.


He left with a bottle of wine for his troubles. He was looking round our garage as he charged the battery and couldn’t help seeing a spare bottle. I really like our garage. It is triple size with a double and a single door. As soon as we moved there, nearly ten years ago now, we had it automated so we can drive straight in and walk up the stairs on the inside to the house.

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22nd October, 2009 

How does the time fly so quickly? Every day we are up at 7.00 am but, before I’ve really achieved anything, it’s Tea Time. Not today. By 10.00 am we had paid off our mortgage and about five accompanying Mortgage insurance policies. Pauline and I are flying around the lounge with the lightness of being mortgage-free. Indulge me if this is getting you down but writing about it is the only way I can come to terms with what is happening to me. I am sitting at home reading The Times and eating buttered toast while receiving substantially more income than when I battled down the motorway at 7.00 am each day to a shabby, old school building and some fairly shabby kids. All of this at the age of 58! Is this really happening? I keep expecting the phone to go and somebody to tell me to get back to work. Indeed, Pauline & I had thought we might do a bit of Tutoring or Consultancy work but now we don’t need to, we can’t be bothered.

I spend my time now searching out good investments, special deals for this and that. In a week or so we are off to the South to look at potential properties. Gillingham, Chatham, Sittingbourne, Faversham, Ashford – those sorts of places we intend to explore. Anywhere in the centre of a flood plain.


France may have to wait until the pound strengthens if that happens in my life time. At least we can pop over there from these towns quite quickly and easily.

23rd October, 2009 

Spent quite a chunk of the day with Pauline’s Mum. At 95, it’s hard to cope with shingles. It’s in her hair and across her face and it’s giving her real pain. Pauline’s sister, Phyllis, and her husband, Colin, drove down from Chertsey, West Byfleet to stay with her for a couple of days. We sat and chatted for a few hours. When we go down to Kent, I will call on them and set them up with a colour printer and some internet training.

24th October, 2009 

Desperate day today. Dark, wet, blowing a gale. At least Stoke beat Spurs. Looking forward to United v Liverpool tomorrow. What am I saying? Get a life, John!

Week 43

11th October, 2009

Even after six weeks away, it is wonderful to sleep in your own bed again and that is how it has felt for the past thirty years on the first night after returning from Greece. Not this time! After three months in Greece, Huddersfield doesn’t completely feel like HOME. Our bed, which we bought from And So To Bed in 1980 for £500.00 and which we thought was a massive luxury, now feels tired and ordinary. Rather creaky actually. The bed we had made for us and shipped to Greece six years ago is an absolute delight to sleep in. One of the problems was that I got up in the night, thought I was still in Greece and turned right instead of left for the toilet. I nearly ended up stark naked on the garage roof. I thought I’d grown out of that!

When you’re away for six weeks, the waiting post is colossal. We usually do Keep Safe with the Post Office where, for a fee, they keep all your post until you return. (Of course, nowadays, they just don’t bother delivering it at all.) We have a fantastic postman and, apparently, he needed two bags just for our post and he had to make two trips to deliver it because it was so heavy. Huge piles of post wrapped in thick elastic bands completely covered our dining room table and it took us jointly six hours to open and allocate to new piles of:

  • Must Deal with on Monday
  • Must Deal with during the Week
  • Put in the Diary
  • Interesting – To be read in time
  • Put in the bin
  • Shred & Put in the bin

All the time, I was looking for two envelopes worth our entire year’s salaries. In Greece we could check our Bank Account and we saw our wonderful lump sums arrive. We even saw our pensions arrive but the Redundancy payments that we had worked so hard for failed to materialise. We even phoned our legal adviser to follow it up. She told us the Local Authority had posted them. I had visions of striking postal workers steaming open envelopes. As we worked our way methodically through the mounted piles, we began to form the opinion that Sod’s Law would prevail and they would be the last two envelopes left on the table. True to the Law, we got down to the last two envelopes but there were no Cheques.

The concern level rose distinctly. We went through all the possibilities including that they wanted us to go back and teach. We heard while we were away that two of our colleagues who were desperate to finish and who had been lined up for redundancy had had it snatched away at the last minute. Our Legal Adviser was away until Monday. We had to wait. Meanwhile, I thought I had better try a suit on just in case.

12th October, 2009

Our Legal Adviser is a wonderful woman who works for AMiE, the Professional Association for Leaders and Managers in Colleges and Schools. She was responsible for negotiating a fantastic deal with the Local Authority. We contacted her immediately this morning. She called back to say that the HR representative who she had destroyed in our negotiations had been moved over the summer and had ‘forgotten’ to action our settlement. She gave the HR twenty four hours to sort it out or face legal action.

13th October, 2009

By 9.00 am this morning, the money appeared in our Nat. West Account. That settled, we just prepared for a comfortable day when Pauline’s Mum phoned. She had been in agony all night with a headache. We shot over there. She didn’t look good. In fact she had a suspicious rash diagonally across the front of her face and her left eye was sore and swollen. We called the doctor who confirmed she had shingles. In a 95 year old and affecting her eye that is serious. We had to take her straight to hospital. We were there for five hours. I hate hospitals and yet I’ve been to some wonderful ones recently – public & private. Oldham’s is not pleasant, not well equipped and fairly depressing. What gets me most of all is the modern facade masking the Nineteenth Century mill-style building. I also hate the cripples in gowns and slippers who have escaped the lung cancer wards to smoke in the carpark. You need an oxygen mask to get through the front entrance.

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Pauline’s Mum was discharged with enough pain killers to subdue a herd of bison and told to take it easy. To be honest, if she took it any easier she would be permanently horizontal.

15th October, 2009

It is six days since we arrived from Greece. We drove over to Oldham to see Pauline’s Mum. It is a simple drive over the moors but it looked like the middle of winter. If we had got stuck in a snow drift, we wouldn’t have been surprised. Only one week before we needed sunglasses constantly. The contrasting shots below show Oldham Moor today and the port of Igoumenitsa, the last stop in Greece on the way up the Adriatic before we reach Italy. If you ever buy Sea Bream from the supermarket, the odds are it comes from the fish farms in Igoumenitsa bay.

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16th October, 2009

Pauline’s Mum feels a bit better today and has got other visitors so we are free to get jobs done. Off to the Refuse Disposal Tip today. I refuse to pay and sort my own rubbish so I stick sacks in the car and dump them in the General Waste skip. It’s no hardship and it’s on the way to Sainsburys for some more rubbish. Unless you go early in the morning, the lane leading to the Refuse Disposal Tip is absolutely full of like-minded citizens who refuse to bow to the Stasi Council officials in Environmental Health.

Coming home to find our neighbours mowing our lawns, we phone Northern Rock to get a Redemption figure for our mortgage. We want to settle it next week. Pauline and I have met mortgage payments every month since 1974. Not doing so now will be a lovely feeling. A year ago, when our fix ended, we decided to go on Standard Variable rate just so we didn’t have any costly tie-in at this point. We will be £2670.00 per month better off immediately. Ironically, they had written to us yesterday to offer us a rate reduction for loyalty. We weren’t tempted.

17th October, 2009

Pauline did the dutiful daughter thing by driving over to Oldham. I watch Aston Villa thrash Chelsea. Couldn’t be better.


Received a lovely letter today from Coutts Bank Manager, Sue Riding. While at Nat. West, she was the Accounts Manager who helped us with bridging finance and great encouragement in buying our Greek land and building the house. Not only that, she visited our island to view the land. Like us, she has just retired at the age of 57 and sent us pensioners’ greetings.

Week 42

4th October, 2009

Incredibly hot today – about 85F. I spent two hours watering the fruit trees giving them their last good water of the season. We prepared the car for leaving tomorrow – oil, tyres, washer bottle, and full valet. We didn’t go for a last swim because there were three football matches to watch. They didn’t really live up to their billing even the Chelsea-Liverpool one. As we went out for dinner on our last evening on the island, it struck as fantastic that I was in a short sleeved T-shirt at 9.00 in the evening in the open air. In fact it was 73F as we drove home at 10.30 pm.

5th October, 2009

Pressure’s on this morning. We leave on Speed-Runner at 2.20 pm. We have to pack the car, cover all the furniture, vacuum pack the clothes we are leaving behind, put away all the garden furniture, close and lock all the shutters and then drive down to the harbour to park our car for the ferry. We will walk back to the cafe for a late breakfast and hope to pick up the Sunday papers because it is Monday. Newspapers for eleven weeks will have cost me about £300.00. As I write, it is the most wonderfully serene island day. The sky is pure blue and is reflected in the mirror-flat sea. There is not a breath of wind. There is a tinkle of goats bells on the mountainside and the air is heavy with crushed thyme. The Greeks always do this to us. On the day we leave they make us desperate to stay.However, the car is packed although not with much. It is gleaming clean and so is the house.


The Speed-Runner hydrofoil service is fast. We will only be on it for just over three hours. At 5.30 pm we will roll off into the screaming Piraeus/Athens traffic and drive for three hours out of Athens to Korinthos, over the Corinth Canal to Patras. We will stay at the wonderful Patras Palace Hotel for two nights before boarding Superfast Ferry for our twenty four hour trip up the Adriatic.

Today is Pauline’s 58th birthday and I remember to wish her ‘Happy Birthday’ before we close the shutters and lock them for the last time this year and, after turning off the electricity, driving down to the harbour. Parking by the jetty, we looked back across the bay we swam both ways across each day for 82 days to our house nestling in the foothills.

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Everything went to plan and by 5.30 pm we were fighting our way through the Athens’ traffic over the Corinth Canal to Patras with its spectacular bridge.

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We checked in to the Patras Palace Hotel and crashed out for the night – after dinner and a bottle of wine.

6th October, 2009

We managed to get the Sunday papers and relaxed with those and coffee most of the day. That is, after the gargantuan buffet breakfast taken on the roof terrace. These views of the harbour and the Superfast ferries are taken from the balcony of our room and up on the roof terrace.

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7th October, 2009

Boarded Superfastat 12.30 pm and went to our cabin. Wonderfully warm and calm weather made for twenty four hours of effortless sailing. We spent our time in the internet cafe, eating in one of the restaurants, out on deck reading the papers and sleeping.

8th October, 2009

Arrived in Ancona at 10.30 am – right on time. By 12.00 pm we were in the local super marche buying dozens of bottles of vino rosso and great slabs of  Parmigiano Reggiano


We drove through the rolling hills of Le Marche and up through Emilia Romagna past Bologna, Parma, Milano to the Lakes – Como, Maggiore, Lugano, Lucerne. All the way the weather was warm and sunny but as we descended the Alps to our first real stop – Gotthard Rattestatte – at about 6.00 pm, the rain drew in.

After a brief meal which is always terrible there we pressed on through Switzerland (They have the most expensive and the poorest maintained roads I have ever driven.) into France and, by 11.00 pm, we had reached Aire de Keskastel.  This is ideal because it means we have done two thirds of the journey and leaves just about 300 miles to do the next day.


We are parked in the super efficient filling station grounds. After making a hot drink and then using the service station’s toilet and washing facilities, we put screens up round the car’s windows, recline the seats and snatch a good few hours sleep. It has been a long day.

9th October, 2009

Being creatures of habit, we like to stop in Thionville on the way back to buy wine and foodstuffs in Carrefore there. With the car stuffed to the gills with wine, olive oil, mustards, cheeses, vegetables, etc, we do the last four hours to Zeebrugge. We arrive for 2.30 pm – about an hour before check-in.  The picture below shows Pauline on the dockside making sure no imigrants have sneaked in to our wine boxes.


10th October, 2009 

At this time of year, nothing is busy. P&O arrive in Hull on time at 8.30 am and the short drive down the motorway means we are at home by 10.00 am. We have so much post, our neighbour and her husband had to do four trips carrying it to our house. It took us three hours to go through cursorily. Off to Sainsburys.