Week 479

Sunday, 25th February

A glorious, glorious day of blue sky and sunshine. We (I)  have luxuriated in doing very little. Newspapers and three football matches have left me satiated with relaxation and self indulgence. The whole day has looked like summer and felt like winter. A couple on Brighton Beach featured in The Sunday Times exemplified the atmosphere.

Actually, Pauline has made stock and cooked whitebait out in the garden but it wasn’t somewhere to rest and relax. In the kitchen, the febrile political situation was centre stage as I read through the blogs and the newspapers and the unsavoury but unctuous Charity organisations are still making plenty of waves. These self-serving, hierarchical organisations which see themselves as businesses and entitled to equivalent perks while claiming special, charitable concessions are at the centre of this mess. They are, of course, propped up by successive governments who want to keep the problems they address at long arms’ length. I am loathe to repeat it but I have been warning of this for40 year’s.

Monday, 26th February

A seriously cold day that didn’t get much above 4C/39F although it was beautifully clear and sunny. We went to the Health Club but ducked outside swimming and restricted ourselves to 70 mins in the gym. I watched interviews from Parliament Green and they were conducted in heavy snow. Amazing. Train companies were already cancelling schedules for evening services in anticipation of problems. Today, we ate red meat for the first time in many months. Pauline cooked peppers stuffed with a Bolognese sauce and topped with Parmigiano. It was absolutely delightful.

The 8th Century crypt in repton church.

I originated in Mercia – one of the most powerful kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England; it held a position of dominance for much of the period from the mid-7th to the early 9th century. More specifically, I originated in Repton, the capital of Mercia. Repton, on the banks of the River Trent, has long been well known for its public school centred on St Wystan’s church with its Anglo Saxon crypt which is the burial place of two Mercian kings – Ethelbald in 750 AD and Wiglaf in AD840. Today, I stumbled upon a research paper from Bristol University reported in EurekAlert! which is a blog of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Don’t ask!

Skull of C8th resident of Repton.

EurekAlert! reports that researchers from Bristol University have firmly identified through carbon dating, bones in a mass grave, first discovered in the 1980s, as expressly connected with the dates when it is know that the Viking Great Army wintered in Repton, Derbyshire, in 873 A.D. and drove the Mercian king into exile. Even more interesting to me was the fact that carbon dating from almost 40 years ago led to the belief that the bones were considerably older  but recent and more accurate dating methods have been reapplied and this specific date confirmed.

What was especially interesting was the explanation for that discrepancy between the two dating processes. Apparently, the older test could not distinguish a problem that is now known. The bones of fish that formed a part of the people’s diet, carry the carbon from much earlier times and become embedded in the bones of those who ate them. This carbon trace persists and was difficult to eliminate in the original tests. Fascinating for a major fish eater. I will have my date of birth tattooed on my bones just to be clear.

Tuesday, 27th February

Woke to an icing sugar sprinkling of snow. This decoration always makes the world come alive. Because of this major change to the world, fewer cars left houses in our neighbourhood to go to work. Teenagers took the day off from school – although the schools weren’t closed – and ran through the village pelting each other with snowballs. They had to work hard to gather enough snow to make a snowball but 15 year olds seemed very excited about it.

We drove down to the post office to collect a parcel in the village and, on our return, saw a young woman examining the underside of her car. She said, she had passed her test 5 years ago but had never driven in snow and didn’t realise how slippy it was. She had skidded into the kerb and thought she had damaged her suspension. It is a bit of a novelty this white stuff.

I must admit to something of a guilty secret. The parcel I had gone to collect this morning included a ‘selfie stick’. Actually, for a mere £20.00/€22.75, I received a telescopic stick to fit my smartphone, a Bluetooth switch to attach to the stick and control the smartphone remotely and a mini-tripod to attach the smartphone to also for remote photography. I have had to accept that I so rarely use my digital SLR and so often photograph with my smartphone that I should address the issue. At the same time, although I am not thrilled by my appearance on camera, I am unable to include my wife and myself in recorded experiences. We may, in future times, regret that. Hence the selfie stick.

Wednesday, 28th February

A bitterly cold but bright and sunny day. Watched reports from London of strong and settling snow, of frozen harbours down the south west coast. We felt lucky with our lot. We’ve done some shopping and a full workout at the gym although swimming will only resume at the weekend as the temperature gets above freezing. Today has not got above 2C/36F and much of it has hovered around -2C/28F.

I’ve always enjoyed photography. Pauline bought me my first SLR camera – a Ricoh – in the early 1980s. I loved it. For a while, I thought I was quite good but I didn’t persist and, each time I picked it back up, I became increasingly dissatisfied with my efforts. Later, around 10 years ago, I bought (school bought me) a very expensive Canon DSLR and thought I was the bees knees. The trouble was, as I bought tripods and expensive wide angle and telephoto lenses, my bag became so cumbersome and heavy that I left it at home more than I took it with me. Then I got a smartphone and, quite contrary to my prejudices, found I could take perfectly acceptable photos for my Blog with that alone. Suddenly, I realised that I hadn’t taken my camera bag out of my office for months.

Photograph by Bob Sanders – Sunrise over Jubilee River, Windsor

My brother, Bob, has obviously more staying power and determination. Not only is he prepared to get up and out early in the morning but he seems to relish braving the cold and wet in order to take a good photograph. Today, he was rewarded by getting this picture in the Evening Standard. I think you will agree, it is not bad for a little brother. Wouldn’t mind a large copy of this framed on my Lounge wall – if he’s looking for 40th Wedding Anniversary presents. I ought to add that, by coincidence, Pauline & I celebrate our 40th Wedding Anniversary this year.

Thursday, 1st March





First day of March. Happy New Month. It has been a bitingly cold day – -2C/28F but without snow. The news media has obsessed with bad weather all day and chosen the worst spots to site its journalists so the worst of the weather can be showcased. Standing in front of a motorway and telling us nothing is moving as cars drive past doesn’t instil confidence. When the quotes they report are this original – Stranded motorist on M80: ‘It’s like a car park’ – you know they are struggling to keep a story alive.

I am really ashamed to admit that we didn’t leave the house today. Actually, that’s not quite true. We did pack our exercise bags and open the garage door. The air outside was so cold that Pauline said, Are you sure you want to do this? Like anyone just setting off for the gym, I wasn’t sure, so I said: We’ll give it a miss. and came back in the house. We both spent the rest of the afternoon feeling rather bad about that decision but we both have to live with it.

Friday, 2nd March

M62: Junction 23 – 22

We must have had a flurry of snow overnight because there was evidence of an icing sugar sprinkling this morning – in places. It was -1C/18F when we got up at 7.00 am but we didn’t realise that until we stepped outside. The morning news was full of weather-related problems on the media. Our old friend, the M62 motorway between junctions 23 – 22 was one of the worst hit. It is, after all, the highest stretch of motorway in the country. We travelled it for around 40 years twice each day.

Near our old home.

This week, has seen long delays and, today, complete closure. Snow, accidents and 90 mph winds have all combined to bring this about. The school that superseded ours was closed on Wednesday, yesterday and again today. Often, we did the difficult journey only to find the school’s condition was so bad that we had to close and then make the dangerous journey home. It took us most of the day and we arrived home more stressed than if we’d worked a normal day. At least we haven’t exposed ourselves to dangerous driving conditions this time. We’ve stayed at home for the second day running which feels bad but will do us good.

Our Sifnos friends have given us dates for when they are coming. We are really looking forward to seeing them again. Since we left three years ago, we have only met them briefly in Athens a couple of times. It will be lovely to spend time together this Greek Easter.

Saturday, 2nd March

Well, Spring has finally sprung here on the South Coast. We have woken to a lovely, sunny day and a reasonable temperature of 7C/45F and we got to 10C/50F in mid afternoon. Of course, that is not quite true of all the country and the media outlets, in particular, are still running old (cheap) footage of the past few days and looking to keep the story rolling while they find resources to catch up. Lots of horror stories abound about snow from Surrey to Scotland and I wrote about the chaos on the M62 across the Pennines yesterday. I particularly liked this slight dig at the hype which was posted on Twitter under the caption:

Getting bloody ridiculous now on the M62.

We are really looking forward to going to the Health Club this afternoon after two day’s absence. We are going rather stir-crazy. We are committed to a good week of exercise and our bodies feel they need it. We will start swimming outside on Monday. Hoping to avoid polar bears.

Week 478

Sunday, 18th February

Not quite such a wonderful day with plenty of cloud although still warm. The past few days have certainly felt like harbingers of Spring. Birds have been more active. Neighbours have been cutting and feeding their lawns and, about 10 miles away in Brighton, people have been swimming in the sea. This lady was featured in The Sunday Times today.

We swim outside most weathers but at least our pool water is heated. Yesterday, we swam under gorgeous blue skies and sunshine. Today, the water visibly steamed up into the cloudy sky. In the past 18 days, we have done a gym and swim on 14 of them. We have swum 10.5 kms / 6.5 mls. It may not be impressive for good swimmers but I am rubbish, have a frozen shoulder and always precede my swim with 70 mins cardio vascular exercise in the gym. So, to be blunt, I’m fairly buggered before I get in the water. That is what I say to the old ladies who swim past me at least. It’s amazing how popular swimming outside is down here. However, Sunday is always a quieter day – probably because everyone’s out shopping – and today we had the pool (pictured on the right) to ourselves.

Monday, 19th February

Little Bob.

Happy Birthday to my little brother, Bob. He is 66 today. He likes taking photographs and I like many of them. He didn’t take this one but it is very evocative. I think, ironically, that it was snapped on Bognor Regis beach over 60 years ago.

A disappointingly damp, grey day. Not cold but not inviting. I am seeing it through prejudiced eyes because I have a cold. We had already decided to have a day off from exercise and feeling under the weather has only confirmed that. Pauline did the last feed for our neighbour’s cat. Our neighbours are home from Cancun this morning.

We did go out for a while to drop off a parcel and then went on to the beach to buy fish from the fishermen’s shack but there was nothing available today. Obviously there was a poor catch last night. I had been looking forward to fresh sea bass for our meal but roast chicken was the substitute and fantastic it was too.

Tuesday, 20th February

A dull and fairly grey day at the start which brightened up as it developed and lit the water with twinkling sunshine as we swam in mid-afternoon. Because I am such a creature of habit, I find going out to exercise daily easier than returning to it even only after one day’s break. Nearly turned round in the car park today as we walked to the Health Club. Fortunately, my better nature/conscience (aka wife) stiffened my resolve and I left three hours later feeling wonderfully refreshed.

Exercise seems to have the opposite effect on me to the one my reason tells me. I go out feeling hungry and return from exercise not even thinking about it. Reason tells me that calories expended should mean increased demand for calories replenished. The opposite seems to be the case. As a complete ignoramus about how my body works, I have to seek higher authority for this puzzling phenomenon. Pauline tells me that exercise draws Glycogen from the body as I exercise and that will continue for a while as I drive home. What it is to have a wonderful wife who can explain all the mysteries of the world.

When I’m reduced to accessing BBC Bitesize, you know my level of knowledge and understanding.

I love my wife even more today because she has saved me around £100.00/€113.50. We received a notice from our house buildings/contents insurer today saying our cover would be automatically renewed in a couple of weeks and the premium would be – about £130.00 more than last time. Of course, we never allow automatic renewals and had specifically said so on the initial contract but they were trying it on as usual. What they didn’t allow for was my wife. If you know about stuff like glycogen then you can handle insurance companies. A quick search on the web found identical cover for £100.00/€113.50 less. It was with our current insurer.

When she phoned to enquire why, she was told that it was just for new customers. Pauline’s reply was that she would cancel her current contract and reapply as a new customer. After a pause, the sales girl answered, Well, you could do that but I’ll see if I can save you the trouble. Moments later, we were offered exactly the same terms as a ‘new customer’ without ‘sales’ having to fill out all the forms again. The price for Building & Contents plus legal cover fell from £297.00/€336.00 to £197.00/€223.00 at a stroke. That’s my girl!

Wednesday, 21st February

Sun changes everything.

Spring is back again. Gorgeous sunshine flooding into the kitchen from the patio doors which are open to the fresh air. Quite delightful. My neighbours have started feeding and cutting their lawns. I’m holding off for another week or so in case winter turns back round and bites us.

I remember (quite) a few years ago in Yorkshire spending the whole of March and first half of April in balmy weather then breaking up for Easter and setting out for Manchester Airport for our flight to Athens. Out of absolutely nowhere, a blizzard hit the motorway. Cars and lorries were sliding off and into each other and it took us twice as long through terrifying driving conditions to make our flight. We did but the experience has never left me.

We did a lovely, full exercise programme this afternoon and the sun managed to hold out and light up the pool. Our aim is to do Tuesday – Saturday, a five, consecutive day stretch. Sunday will become a day of rest because there are so excellent football matches to watch.

Thursday, 22nd February

Gorgeous day from start to finish. It had been a clear, cold night although there was no sign of frost in the morning. However, as we drove out around 9.00 am, our car infotainment unit read 3C/37F and there was a chime as the icy road symbol appeared. The road certainly didn’t feel or look icy and it started us thinking that, throughout the two winters we have been living here, we have not seen a gritting lorry or grit on the road. Over 40 years in Yorkshire, it was one of the most common, Winter sights on the motorways we travelled.

We are told that some really cold weather may be on the way for our area. We were going to swim outside again today but it was so popular in the sunshine that we gave it up as not worth the fight and settled for longer in the Sauna and Jacuzzi instead. We still came home and griddled swordfish steaks in the garden which really is beginning to feel rather spring like in this wonderful sunshine.

Friday, 23rd February

Weekly shop at Tesco in wonderful sunshine but a chilly breeze. Mountains of salad, sides of salmon, swordfish steaks, tuna steaks, smoked salmon and then off to the Marina Fishermens’ Cabin to buy fresh, locally caught sea bass.

Compared with the farmed fish we see in supermarkets, these are expensive but worth it. Four, large sea bass cost £52.00./€59.00. Most of the fish, etc., is locally sourced and it feels good to be buying such quality food.

Did our 5th of 6 exercise sessions today and swam in sunshine twinkling on the outdoor pool as a raw breeze grazed our backs. After 70 mins in the gym and 30 mins in the pool, I am beginning to cramp and feel tired. Off to the sauna for 10 mins and then 20 mins in the Jacuzzi and water jet massage area before shower and home to smoked salmon salad. A lovely end to the afternoon and the sun is still shining.

Saturday, 24th February

The sun just keeps on coming. It makes one glad to be alive. A chilly start to the morning at -1C/30F but with no sign of frost at 7.00 am. By 10.00 am, Pauline is making chicken stock in the garden and I am luxuriating in reading the newspapers and blogs. It almost feels like a weekend.

The Greek newspapers are running an ongoing story about combatting tax evasion or just straight failure to pay tax. The state are tightening the screw by allowing authorities to access bank accounts, safety deposit stores, etc. to confiscate debts owed to the state. The Independent Authority for Public Revenue will first target major enterprises, wealthy (non) taxpayers, bars and restaurants as well as people illegally letting out property and failing to declare their incomes from the rent. The Greek state has hundreds of billions of euros still owing to it by corporations and individuals and that amount is growing annually.

Of course, Greeks want all the services of the state but just don’t like the responsibilities and costs forced upon them. It is almost ten years since smoking in public places was banned but you wouldn’t know it. That law is universally ignored in practice. Non-smokers are just starting to raise their voices and to demand that law enforcement is brought to bear on society. Greek Society and Law Enforcement are two, totally incompatible things.

Week 477

Sunday, 11th February

Lovely blue sky with strong sunshine that made the house feel hot but belied the cold outside. As usual, it has been a day of newspapers and football although we did go for a full workout and swim at the Health Club. As I watched a match at our old home of Huddersfield, I shaded my eyes against the sun flooding in through the window while snow blasted across the Huddersfield ground.

Found time to read the Greek newspapers this morning and was interested to read that, following the conclusion of the bailout program in August, the Greek Finance Ministry officials expect a period of monitoring by Greece’s creditors, probably lasting four years to the end of 2022, during which the country will be asked to implement the reforms it has committed itself to. Despite public statements about a ‘clean exit’, the supervision is expected to be strict.

It is unlikely that the Syriza Government will still be there by the time the country is set free of supervision. They are unpopular and beset by problems relating to a scandal of corruption in the State Medical supplies industry, continued wrangling over the name of former Yugoslavia and continued downward pressure on social support and pensioners across the nation. I would expect Νέα Δημοκρατία to take over when that is put to the electoral test.

Monday, 12th February

A cold start to the day – -2C/28F at 7.00 am – but we eventually experienced a high of 10C/50F as we swam at around 3.00 pm. Because the morning was so bright and sunny, I used it to valet the car inside and out. We are going on a shopping trip to France soon so I wanted to prepare by filling the washer bottle, checking the oil and tyre pressures.

After a hot bowl of homemade soup which my wife seems able to rustle up in minutes with minimal ingredients, we wondered what on earth to do for an hour when the Daily Politics is on recession. We even set off for the Health Club earlier than usual. Mondays are always rather busy in the gym and even more so as temporary members who joined for a cheap, 3-month trial on a wave of New Year Resolutions are flooding through the facilities. Actually, we are not even half way through February and this initial enthusiasm is beginning to die down but it is also Half Term which increases visits of parents and children. That is the worst. Children!

When we got home around 4.00 pm, our back garden was still flooded in sunlight, sheltered and warm. We griddled, mushrooms, onions and chicken breasts outside in the garden. Pauline had made chicken stock out there this morning. We joked that we hardly needed an oven nowadays because we cook so much outside.

Everything we griddle is marinated in Greek olive oil and there was a interesting article on television this evening about the insect which is currently blighting and destroying olive trees in southern Italy – in Puglia particularly. Huge olive groves have been laid to waste by an insect ravaging the age old trees. It will only be a matter of time before it spreads north through Italy and south through Greece. In addition, successive droughts of the past five years have seriously reduced crop sizes and, for the British buyer, the collapse of the euro has increased the price. For us, it is the perfect storm.

Tuesday, 13th February

Happy Pancake Day

As my ‘Times’ newsletter informed me this morning, the problem with Shrove Tuesday is the risk of a load of terrible pancake jokes which fall flat.

You shouldn’t have to put up with that crêpe.

The morning didn’t start well. The night had been one of strong winds and driving rain. So it was this morning as we ventured next door to feed our neighbour’s cat. It (He)wasn’t there. We put out the food and called our best cat calls but no sign of Como. He has a cat flap in the patio door and is microchipped to open it. With visions of cats squashed on nearby roads running through our imaginations, we left.

Within an hour, we couldn’t get cats out of our heads so we walked back through the wind and rain to be greeted by  ….. Como the cat. He’d eaten all his food and was begging for more. Of course, he got it!

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

The weather was so awful by lunchtime that we decided to stay at home. I took advantage of our enforced leisure to reappraise our Edinburgh trip. We’ve discarded driving, and taking the train and now favour flying from Gatwick. It only takes just over an hour and costs just £22.00/€24.70 per person each way. We will have to leave our car at Gatwick and travel by tram from Glasgow Airport to our hotel on the Royal Mile but all of this is preferable to other transport. We will only go for 3 or 4 days but, in our experience of cities, that is enough. It will give us plenty of time to meet up with our friend and see the major sights. We are not tourists by any stretch.

Wednesday, 14th February

What a horrible day – certainly not one for lovers. It started off cold and sunny but soon delivered, cold and dark with heavy rain and that is persisting well in to the evening. It’s definitely affected next door’s cat. He doesn’t want to go out, keeps crying and is absolutely starving. I know the feeling. Actually, we did go out to the gym but couldn’t face swimming. I know I will already be wet but driving, cold rain on your back is not a pleasant prospect.

Received our tax code notice from the Revenue & Customs and it was accompanied by the now customary illustration of where tax take is spent. I am always amazed by how small a proportion of the pot is spent on the UK Contribution to the EU budget. If only those complaining about the money flooding away in to Europe would recognise his point. Membership of the biggest single market in the world for such a small price. I have deliberately tried not to proselytise  on this topic in my Blog but this personal event today allows me to step over that line for once.

Thursday, 15th February

Up early this morning and out on the road to the Channel Tunnel. We were booked on a 9.20 am crossing for a shopping trip. After two days of rain, we had fortuitously chosen a sunny day to cross the channel. We waited for half an hour at the Folkeston side and drank coffee while reading our iPad newspapers. Quickly loaded aboard the train, we relaxed with our reading for the quiet, 30 mins journey. Rolling off into Calais by 11.00 am (ET), we drove straight to the wine store.

I have lots of red wine and I am trying to reduce my consumption. At the same time, I am aware that this source may be about to dry up altogether so it is important to maintain stocks against future deficits. This is the first time for many years that I’ve majored on white wine. It is particularly appropriate because we are eating so much fish nowadays. Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc were well represented today. Of course, I couldn’t resist a few cases of Red Bordeaux and some Spanish Tempranillo which I’ve recently begun to enjoy. I spent about £535.00/€600.00 and then we drove on to Auchan in Coquelles where we bought lots of duck, fish and vegetables.

We had set ourselves quite a tight timetable and were soon off back to the Tunnel where we got on the 2.15 pm train home. As we drove on our way back through Kent and into Surrey on the M23 near Gatwick, we came upon the most horrendous crash involving 5 or 6 vehicles which had completely closed the entire North-bound motorway for about 5 hours. The tailbacks went for miles. Really felt for anyone driving to the airport for a flight. They had no chance of making it. Fortunately, we were travelling South and soon arrived in sunny Sussex. We do this sort of trip a lot but it still strikes us as we relax at home how strange we had been in another country only hours ago.

Friday, 16th February

I have loved bacon since I can remember. Mum served it for breakfast most mornings in my first 18 years of life. When I left home, it was a weekend breakfast treat – especially smoked. However, Pauline and I have tried through almost 40 years of marriage to eat mainly home made food. Pauline has made all the bread we ate. We began to make our own pasta and tried to make our own sausages. Biscuits, cakes, etc. have all been home made. Nowadays, you could count on the fingers of your hands the things that we purchase that have been pre-processed. We don’t yet smoke our own salmon. We don’t roast our own coffee beans. We don’t make our own cheeses. We don’t press our own olive oil. Short of that, there is very little we buy that could be considered as commercially processed.

We have tried to turn our diet to mainly fresh produce. Every week, we consume

  • 5 packs of cherry tomatoes,
  • 3 cucumbers,
  • 2 packs of rocket leaves,
  • a head of broccoli,
  • a head of cauliflower,
  • 4 peppers
  • 3 packs of mushrooms,
  • 10 onions
  • 2 garlic bulbs
  • 14 large oranges,
  • 7 mangoes,
  • 21 bananas
  • 2 packs of blueberries

These are combined with one major protein each day:

  • swordfish or tuna steaks,
  • cod loins,
  • salmon fillets,
  • sea bass,
  • whitebait,
  • calamari,
  • chicken fillets

The protein element is cleanly cooked with olive oil – usually griddled but also roasted. We try to use little salt and to flavour with herbs – dill, tarragon, oregano, thyme, bay, sage, parsley mainly.

The reason that I raise this at all is not out of self congratulation but because the British media has majored this week on the cancer risks of highly processed foods. Who knows how reliable the recent research is. After all, for years we didn’t eat eggs or butter based on that sort of research. However, it does feel reasonable (if that isn’t an oxymoron) to follow a largely natural and ‘clean’ diet where possible and that is what we do and have done for years. Just occasionally, if we eat somewhere unusual and are forced to compromise our diet or if we have a brainstorm and think wouldn’t it be enjoyable to break all the rules, we always end up regretting it and wondering how we ever craved those commercial foods at all.

Saturday, 17th February

What a wonderful, wonderful day. It has been blue sky and strong sunshine from dawn to dusk. From getting up at 7.00 am until sitting down at 6.00 pm, I have been on the go. I’ve hardly read the newspapers or blogs.

Vacuumed the house, valeted the car, home made soup for lunch, off to the Health Club for a full, 3 hr session. Swimming under azure blue sky in warm sunshine is the perfect way to finish a hard exercise session. My phone has registered 15,000 paces so far today.

Back home, we griddled fresh tuna steaks in the garden and ate them with the new (Sanders) craze of rocket and remoulade plus tomato and cucumber salad. I really do prefer chilled red wine but, on this Spring-like day, a bottle of sauvignon blanc really raised the spirits to sky high. It is hard, sometimes, to believe life can get much better than this.

Week 476

Sunday, 4th February

Sussex in February.

Another day, another week of retirement. The day is lovely with blue sky and strong sun although cold at only 6C/43F but you can’t have everything. Indeed, wonderfully freeing as Retirement is, it is not easy being at a loose end.

When we first stopped working 9 years ago, someone asked us how we would cope without achievements. That didn’t really hit me at the time. I remember thinking after completing the 11+, ‘O’ Levels and ‘A’ Levels, a Cert. Ed., a B.A. and an M.A. that it would be wonderful not to have to sit another exam. I remember thinking after deciding my Professional life had peaked that it would be wonderful not to have to prepare for and go through another interview. Retirement seemed an extension of that letting go and yet, it is all so hard to do.

Summer in France.

One learns that achievements in life are essential to existence. If someone else doesn’t set the bars, we have to set them for ourselves. That is essentially what I have learnt from Retirement. Right from the word ‘go’, we set ourselves life style goals of early rising, healthy eating, weight loss and daily exercise routines. Gradually, we have intensified and refined those goals but, largely stuck to them as we enter the final year of our first decade of retirement. At the same time, we set ourselves challenges of travel and experience.

Originally, we set our time in our Greek house to be revised when we were 65. Actually, circumstances conspired to bring that forward by 3 years and forced us to reconsider our plans. Last year, we challenged ourselves to do a 2000 mile European drive and visit places that we had previously just sped past. Not only did we do it but we felt we had achieved something in its completion. This year, we will fulfil an ambition that Pauline has long held which is to live in France, shop in local markets and cook with the best, French ingredients. For a month or so we will do that.

November in the Sun.

Because of our involvement with Greece, we have both felt that we neglected Spain. This year will mark our first attempts to redress that. After returning from six months in Greece, we both felt that UK winters were pretty dour and cold experiences but didn’t feel justified in jetting off again for sun. This year, we will do exactly that with a villa in the Canaries for November. All of these things we said we would do, planned to do and will achieve this year – fate willing.

The trick is to keep all the plates spinning for as long as possible which is why we are off to the Health Club this afternoon and hope all the workers are enjoying playing out and avoiding achievements for another day.

Monday, 5th February

Snow on Camber Sands

A chilly but sunny day. We reached 5C/41F but only 60 mls/96kms away on Camber Sands near Rye there was snow. It was strange to see that picture as we set off to swim outside in the sunshine.

We’ve done six out of the last seven days at the Health Club and we will have an enforced day off tomorrow because we have a software engineer visiting from British Gas. I will miss the exercise but it will give me chance to complete our plans for a trip to Edinburgh in April. We have intended to visit every year for about 40 years. We have ex-colleague friends who live and lecture at the university there.

For about 40 years, we have been exchanging the same, two Christmas cards with increasing piles of infills – short newsletters of our year’s activities. Now, we are going to do it and drive the 450 mls/725 kms. We will do it in two legs each way. I have more or less chosen hotels and routes but still have to confirm them. Just before that, we have friends from Sifnos visiting and we want to return to Poole in Dorset again to revisit another ex-colleague friend. Well, we pledged to travel this year and we are really going for it.

Tuesday, 6th February

A chilly and frustrating day. The sun was out but the temperature didn’t get much above 5C/41F. We drove to Rustington to do some shopping and then home for hot, home-made, turkey & vegetable soup. No Health Club today because the Gas Man Commeth. Actually, there were three of them all booked to visit three houses 100 metres apart. Brilliant planning not lost on the engineers themselves as they realised the lapse in economy. BG had updated the operating system that governs the transmission and presentation of our gas and electricity consumption on a smart monitor in our Office.

To get some activity under my belt, I decided to clean the car while I waited for the engineer but it was so cold that I was grateful when he turned up and stopped me. This was his second visit and, after an hour of effort – mainly spent on his mobile phone to his office – he announced that, in conjuction with his fellow workers in the vicinity, he would have to return for a third visit in a month bringing a new meter. Brilliant!

Our shopping trip in the morning had put a few steps on my watch but, by 8.00 this evening, I was getting itchy about not achieving my target. My lovely wife agreed to get fifteen coats on and set out in the 2C/36F night with me to walk off the rest of my paces for the day. After all, she knew I would get lost after a few steps from the house without a sat. nav.. It was freezing but made me incredibly happy as my watch buzzed ‘GOAL’.

Wednesday, 7th February

Glorious day but chilly again. Only 2C/36F as we went down to the village to pick up an Amazon parcel from the local Post Office. The village looks lovely this morning. The renowned Gastro-Pub, The Lamb, was bathed in sunlight and the pollarded  trees in the square looked stark against the crystal blue sky. We feel so lucky to have settled in this lovely, little community with attractive and healthy surroundings that are pleasing to the eye.

I hate buying clothes and leave most of that to my wife. I have needed a new pair of casual shoes for months but baulked at paying £70.00/€79.00 for them. When Pauline found some I both liked the look of and the price, she ordered two pairs. They’ve turned out to be very pleasant – for £35.00/€39.50.

Thursday, 8th February

I don’t understand weather. Looked out of the window at 7.00 this morning and everything looked wonderful. The sky was blue, the sun was just coming up at the back of the house and it looked as if it was going to be a lovely day. Breakfast is accompanied by two smartphones and two iPads plus Radio 4’s Today programme. I am addicted to some apps on my digital media. For a long time, I was constantly checking the £/€ exchange rate. I still do it but not so often now. I am wedded to my Garmin Connect app which calls up my exercise data from my watch and analyses it.  Of course, I regularly check my on-line calendar app for appointments, activities, payments to be made, etc.. I also regularly check the weather app for temperature data. Why? I’m not sure but I’ve got into that habit.

This morning, my weather app, which is very reliable, told me that the outdoor temperature was -6C/21F. There was no sign of that outside – no frost, snow, ice, wind. I stepped outside to check for myself and, sure enough, it was very cold. Later, we drove down the appropriately named Water Lane which had been flooded by a water main burst and it had obviously turned to thick ice. Later in the day, however, we were happily swimming outside in an air temperature of 10C/50F.

Á propos of absolutely nothing, this is our village Postman 130 years ago. He rode about on this bone-shaker over unsurfaced tracks.

Friday, 9th February

There was rain overnight and still some in the morning. Fortunately, it gave way to blue sky and sunshine by the time we left for the Health Club and persisted after we had completed our gym work and gone outside to swim. The breeze was distinctly chilly as we swam today but we are tough and ploughed on through our 30 lengths and ran back to the sauna to warm up.

Back home, we went round to our neighbours’ house to get instruction on how to look after Como, their cat, while they are away. In addition, our post today brought the results of our ‘poo test’ which announced that we were both tested clear of cancer and that our next test would be in two years time. Of course, developing bowel cancer now would not be picked up for two years so it is hard to be completely relaxed but, at least for now, we are clear.

Saturday, 10th February

Homemade Beetroot Chutney.

A day at home. It is wet outside but, inside, the kitchen is pervaded with the smells of beetroot chutney and roasting chicken.  Pauline is making a new batch of chutney which will see us through the summer. The Summer? We haven’t even reached Spring yet although Farming Today, which I listen to at 6.30 am on Saturday mornings, was based in Lambing Sheds in Gloucestershire this morning and reminded us that Spring is not so far away. It still feels a long time coming.

I have written about my antipathy to ‘Charities’ before but it has raised its ugly head again and we should really address this issue. I preface my remarks by saying that I am not opposed to the principle of charity as such. Indeed, it would be inhumane to be otherwise. I am perfectly happy to give things to people who I know are in need and I do. What I am opposed to is the state concept of charity which pervades our society and allows government to hide behind it.

Why should churches be considered charities? Religion is a matter of personal choice and should be funded by those who choose it not by the state’s exemption from taxation. Why should establishments of privileged education be charities? If you can afford to buy privileges for your kids, you don’t need charity. ‘Free’ State Education is readily available. What I particularly object to is the charity industry. A couple of years ago, The True and Fair Foundation’s report – “A Hornets’ Nest” – found that 1,020 charities were spending less than 50 per cent of their total income on charitable activities. Some of the charities are some of Britain’s best known voluntary organisations such as Cancer Research UK, the Guide Dogs for the Blind and the British Heart Foundation. Age UK spent just 48 per cent.

It is the panoply of ‘organisation’ that takes inordinate amounts of the gullible donors’ hard earned cash. Charity administrators pay themselves salaries that the ordinary donors could only ever dream of. So much of this work should be done by our government and by levying the appropriate taxation levels not left to the tenuous reliability of charity organisers. Kids Company went under with allegations of chaotic accounting, spurious claims of effectiveness and sexual abuse being investigated by the police. Now the sex scandals of Oxfam hit the headlines. If nothing else, these two examples throw up question marks about the degree of scrutiny of due process from the Charity Commission.