Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Ho, Ho, bloody Ho. Not all of us can retire!

Live from a warehouse in Lapland

I was just taking a breather from another exhausting night of packing and labelling millions of presents when I came across this so-called "retirement blog" written by John. I can't believe this bloke. He is always going on about the freedom that retirement brings, how it has opened up new opportunities.  He is not the only one.  There's an army of bloggers out there all chirping on about how they can now do this, or do that. Well aren't you lucky. But take a second and think about those like me who don't get the chance to contemplate a new "phase in their life" because we do not have that choice. We have to keep working!

I know it sounds like I'm moaning but please hear me out. In my job I'm simply not allowed to retire. I don't have that luxury and I blame the Americans!  For years I was just associated with a good slap up feast and plenty of grog, no problems there, but then the yanks had this great idea that I should be called Santa Claus and that I should start delivering presents to all the children of the world who believed in me.  Thanks very much America.  Because of that reinvention, for the past 150 odd years I've had to spend all year buying and wrapping presents and then on Christmas Eve I've got to deliver millions and millions of those presents all around the world.  150 years in the same job. You try doing that when you're 500 years old!

Oh and then I read John's blog; he retired at 60! 60 is not an age to retire.  I was just breaking in new reindeer at 60, my beard was in its infancy and I was working on a new business model which someone stole and is now called Amazon.  Retiring at 60 indeed. I don't think John knows what a decent lifetime's work looks like- alright Donner and Blitzen I'll get your food in a minute I'm just having a rant. So there you have it- I'm 500 years old, I've been delivering presents for about 150 years and I have no prospects of retiring. I am not allowed to retire and to make matters worse I'm not paid anything. Nothing, nada, zilch. No salary, no pension and on top of all that - I have to supply all the presents.  Can you Adam and Eve it? (yes I do actually come from London originally readers not bleeding Lapland or Norway). Luckily I have been reading some other blogs that give decent advice about investments otherwise I'm not sure where the money would come from to buy the millions of presents I have to buy each year.

Oh, and while I'm having this moan ( I hope you will bear with me because this week is unbelievably stressful) please take into account another fact.  There is no way I can retire because I am the one and only father Christmas. Sure there are plenty of fat old men dressed up in department stores but they are just pretending.  They can't fly through the sky at thousands of mile an hour delivering millions of presents. So I'm stuck with it.  A job I can't retire from and a zero hours contract that pays nothing. You retirement bloggers don't know you're born!

This letting off steam has helped. I feel like I have got a few things off my chest and I'm calming down a bit now. On reflection I have to admit there are some perks to the job, it's not all doom and retirement gloom. Firstly I don't age.  I got to about 75 and then stopped ageing which is quite neat I suppose. I sometimes need reading glasses but overall I'm in pretty good shape for a 500 year old. Then there is all that food on Christmas Eve; mince pies, sherry- lovely jubbly- I tell you after a few million of those it can be tricky getting down the chimneys. Oh and of course there's the travel-I do get to see a lot of the world, although I have to get around so quickly I can't really get to engage in the local culture.  The best thing about the job though is seeing those little faces on Christmas day; unwrapping the presents I delivered during the night. That's priceless and makes all the effort worthwhile.

Anyway I have spent too long doing this. My reindeer need feeding and the sleigh needs last minute tuning. John and those other bloggers clearly have too much time on their hands if they can knock out these posts every week- it would be nice if once in a while people like that could offer to help, it really is a struggle doing all the present wrapping and delivery with just a handful of elves and a few reindeer.

 A final word; I do actually feel sorry for John (he says ironically barely able to contain the laughter). He slaves away at his blog every week and gets a few people reading his stuff and a handful of comments here and there.  Without wishing to gloat, I, on the other hand, must have received over a million letters from kids this year and am followed by millions of people worldwide-just look at all the Santa apps and trackers you can download!  Maybe I should start a blog? 

So in this season of goodwill let's be nice to John, let's give him the present he really wants - tell other people about his blog and maybe even follow him- I'm sure he would appreciate it. In the meantime I've got to do my final preparations.  Over a billion presents to deliver in 24 hours and no prospect of retirement. But you know what, I wouldn't really want it any other way.


Merry Christmas Everyone

Father Christmas aka Santa Claus,Papa Noel, Saint Nick

Saturday, 17 December 2016

My mate alcohol.The end of the beautiful relationship? (a second but different post about alcohol)

Breaking up is hard to do

It's hard enough ending a meaningful relationship, harder still when it's  a relationship with a friend with whom you have had such good times over the years.  In my case this friend entered my life for the first time when I was just five.  I was at a wedding in Holland and my German uncles felt it was a good idea to introduce me to champagne. I think I liked it. That was a fleeting encounter and our meetings were infrequent over the next ten years.  Then I became a teenager and our friendship blossomed. Since that time, from the age 16 or 17, my friend has been a more or less constant companion.  That means our friendship has been pretty solid for the past 44 years. Up until recently that is. The cracks in our friendship are beginning to show. My trusted old friend may have to be shown the door and I feel torn.
Old friends reflecting on a long and complex relationship in Dublin

Teenage kicks

Although I had enjoyed a few tastes of wine and beer growing up it was during the teenage years that I realised that alcohol and I were  going to be a good friends. As a nervy, anxious teen I remember my new friend getting me through a few awkward first dates.There was one night in particular.

I was 17 years old and a gorgeous girl (let's call her Sue) had agreed to go with me to a party I had been invited to.  She looked great, lovely clothes, but I had a jacket on that was too big for me (my mum was still buying my clothes at this point and thought I would "grow into" my new jacket).  I was nervous and hardly spoke on the bus journey to the party.  We arrived. The other boys were eyeing up Sue like adolescent stags posturing and positioning themselves to take advantage of any nervousness and indecision on my part.  The horror of teenage mating rituals.  I knew what I was supposed to do; put my arms around her, dance with her, send out an unmistakable message to the stalking males. But I was shy and nervous around girls at that age and the self doubt crept in; if put my arm around her would she shriek in horror and revulsion and everyone at the party howl in derision at my mistaken idea that she could be remotely interested in me? And yet, if I did nothing, then I would surely lose Sue to one of the testosterone boys and down that path lay humiliation and what I was convinced would be an eternity of singledom. 

At that moment my friend stepped in. He took the form of a bottle of beer, I drank deeply then reached for a second.  I reached in my pocket for that other friend (long since dismissed) "the French Cigarette." I puffed at the cigarette and held the bottle.  I felt transformed.  I was no longer a boy. I was an all smoking all drinking man!  I felt the waves of fear and anxiety receding. The beach of teenage confidence revealed itself and shimmered through the smoke of my Gauloise. I stepped into the rock pools of beery confidence. My slightly befuddled brain spoke to me, "You look cool John, she wants you,what are you waiting for."

What a plonker I was! Of course I didn't look cool, but what was important was that I felt cool. I also felt relaxed and started chatting to Sue and joking around.  I was confident and enjoying myself.  I danced and chatted with Sue and even got a kiss.  The stags suddenly all looked like miniature Bambis and I was the stag of the loch (funny how alcohol affects self perception isn't it?)
One beer and I'm alpha stag
I was in heaven and in my mind the thing that had made this possible was my friend; alcohol.

 Celebration Time

During those next 40 years we have experienced the best of times together and the worst.  We have celebrated weddings, christenings, landmark birthdays and even the false dawn that was a Labour victory in 1997. We've met some great people together, had some crazy parties  and survived some awkward situations. With such a shared history why would I even be considering saying goodbye to such a friend?

 Should he stay or should he go? 

Well, the fact is, my friend is simply not as much fun as he used to be. Let me explain. In the good old days at Warwick University or in the many Youngs pubs of Wandsworth and Putney where I grew up, we would go out and have mighty craic as the Irish would say.  Drinking all manner of wonderfully exotic beers and lagers from around the world, I would loosen up, enjoy myself, lose my inhibitions, do and say things I would not normally do and say and then after a few hours sleep, wake up, shake off the mildest of hangovers and get on with the day.  What pals we were. It was a great relationship. Loads of fun and pleasure for what seemed like just the scantiest of paybacks. Even better, this friend was one that was freely available, enjoyed by many of the adults around me and almost portrayed as the birthright of any decent English man or woman. After all Churchill kept the Brits going by giving speeches fuelled by brandy and champagne. Would it be hyperbole to say my friend helped win the war?
Churchill was a Great Briton and a known heavy drinker - often drinking  a couple of bottles of champagne every day but at the same time he abhorred drunkenness!

A well known exchange between Churchill and Lady Astor:
"You, Mr Churchill, are drunk."
"And you, Lady Astor, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning."

And so it continued, social events, gatherings, end of term parties; everything seemed a bit easier and more chilled with a drink. This is probably something that many people can relate to; the role drink plays in lowering our anxiety, reducing our inhibitions and releasing our playful side. If things had stayed like that it would have been lovely and my friend would be one I'd be happy to have stick around for ever. 

Reflecting yet again - but that Dusseldorf Alt does taste good!

The trouble is this friendship started to change.  It metamorphosed from a genial companion into a leather clad dominatrix.  It started to suggest I could never have a good time unless he was around.  He became a control freak with borderline personality disorder; "Oh, so you were going to go to that christening without me were you. Oh and using the old "I've got to drive" excuse? You know you'll need me later when you're stuck with those tedious relatives.  And when people expect you to be funny? What's your plan then eh? Oh and how are you going to deal with social anxiety?" So you book a taxi and give in.  But even more insidious is the way this friend started to make me feel physically. The mild hangover payoff of my twenties becomes three days of feeling exhausted, lacking energy and seeking the most carb filled, fatty snacks imaginable.  In short the payoff becomes grim and no longer worth the brief moments of fun.

On the other hand there are times when the friendship still feels good. Retired, my friend and I still enjoy cosy evenings in together, a couple of glasses of rich Rioja watching a great film and that's fine, but evenings out? At 61 even a few beers down the pub can leave me feeling grotty the next day. My poor old retired body just can't process my old friend like it used to. This becomes mightily apparent when I have my two or three days a week without my friend. When this happens I invariably sleep better and wake up with more energy.  In short my friend is not really giving me much these days.  The payoff is no longer working to my advantage. 

In January both this year and last, I tried the "dry January" challenge. I lost weight, blood pressure went down and I felt great.  True I had to avoid pubs (which I love) and eating out in restaurants was hard without wine. I will do the same during the January 2107 but my dilemma for the year and onwards will be; do I say goodbye to my friend once and for all or do I say, "Look, I've grown up and it's not really appropriate to hang out with you all the time? We can meet up for meals now and then, but the days of partying are over." 

Hey that's no way to say goodbye

So it's either thanks pal but good bye for ever or thanks pal we are going to be seeing a lot less of each other.

If my friend and I can accept a change in the frequency of our encounters  maybe it's not so much an end to a relationship but about changing the terms of that relationship. It may be that we have related to each other in such a way over such a long time that the only way is a complete break. That is what I have to decide in the coming year. Being older and with my friend taking an increasing toll on physical health as you get older now is the time for a re-evaluation.  

But hey ho, right now it's coming up to Christmas and my friend is in great demand. He's suggesting a night out with old chums in London tomorrow.  What a tempting offer.  December is not the time to break up with my friend; a week before Christmas, he'll be devastated!

Great - my "friend" has just reminded me that we have to go and do the big Christmas shop before Going to London and he's only gone and put gin at the top of the list. What a rascal he is!

Feliz Navidad Everyone
Here's hoping 2017 is going to be better for the world than 2016 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

First rule of retirement- Do the things you love to do!

Part of the abbey ruins at Leiston
 Drama in the Suffolk Countryside

A relatively short post this week because life has suddenly become very busy.  Last weekend I went up to Leiston Abbey in Suffolk and took part in a weekend arts course for the siblings of children with special needs.  The lovely people at Pro Corda asked me along to do some drama work with a small group of 9 to 13 year olds based on the story of Aladdin.  Not having worked with young people since July, I had forgotten how much energy and enthusiasm they have and how infectious that enthusiasm can be and also how tiring it can be trying to keep up with them!

In short I had a great time but it was exhausting but exhausting in a good way.  I had ideas but those youngsters had better ones, I had a few things planned but they wanted to do that and more.  I could barely keep up!  It reminded me how privileged  anyone who has the opportunity to work with young people is.  They are bursting with ideas and doing drama with youngsters is just so much fun because young people instinctively want to explore and create. Drama and the arts offer the perfect pathways to do both.

The Pro Corda site including the fantastic thatched barn
I had two ladies helping me who also acted as pastoral staff and it was great to see how they engaged with both the youngsters and the drama. The group also took part in singing with Andrew Quartermain who runs Pro Corda and Sarah Francis who did set design with the group.  We put together a show in little over one and half days and also managed to pack in a party, talent show and watch a film. I also managed to find an hour for myself where I just roamed the leafy pathways around the abbey, took in the crisp, bright Suffolk scenery and realised I needed to get out to the countryside more often.

Our magic carpet created by the youngsters and Sarah

And what of poor old me? How did I cope? The most difficult thing was being that person who stands up and leads who has to generate interest and enthusiasm amongst a group of young people, in other words being a teacher again. There was the initial shock to the system but then I was pleasantly surprised how easily I got back into working with the group.  After a while it's not about leading, it becomes about collaborating, helping young people to find different ways to express character and narrative.  What I particularly like about working with young people is their inventiveness and this group were very inventive believe me.

The experience of last weekend demonstrated to me that my drama teaching was one of the most rewarding parts of  my role in school prior to retirement. It is one of the aspects of my work that I  will continue with and whether it's at Pro Corda or my local drama group, working with young people is a very life affirming and privileged thing to be able to do.  There is a lot that us more mature folk can offer the young but there is also a huge amount that they can show and offer us. 
The Lady Chapel- brought back to life from the ruins

For me the experience of last weekend  highlighted the most positive aspect of retirement, namely the opportunity to pick and choose what you do, when, for how much time and with whom.

On that basis retirement is one of the more rewarding events in my life; I just wish I could have done it thirty years ago.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's off to work we go!

The phoenix hobbles about

This blog was supposed to be about the joys of retirement.  John the phoenix of retirement arising from the ashes of salaried servitude, spreading his wings and suddenly becoming a renaissance man; changing the face of modern literature in the morning, becoming multi-lingual over lunch (si, mon amie, das ist richtig!) creating canvases of unimaginable beauty and translucence in the afternoon whilst simultaneously sculpting his body into an athletic form that Usain Bolt could only dream of and then winding down by crafting the odd song or poem before a period of mindfulness and spirituality that would bring shafts of enlightenment both to himself and the world.  If only.... The truth is that my lofty goals have not quite been realised.  Yes, I have started a Spanish class and I have been on my exercise bike now and then but that's about it. 

Hopes and fears 


The main thing is, and being serious now, I have enjoyed the freedom that retirement brings. I have taken advantage of this  freedom, like many other retirees, to do the things I couldn't really do whilst working full time. It has been a fantastic and liberating experience. However, I recall that this time last year the prospect of retirement slightly frightened me. Where would I get the social interaction, the buzz of being called upon to sort problems, the sense of purpose that work provided?  My fears were such that I had put in place all sorts of ideas and plans that I hoped would generate the odd bit of work. I had signed up to do some occasional work at one school, registered at an agency for private tutors and had told an educational provider in Suffolk that I would like to work with them at some vague point in the future. Then I retired. It was unexpectedly wonderfulMy fears were unfounded.  I had plenty of activities and ventures to get stuck into and I started my volunteering which helped me discover a new sense of purpose and meaning.  Throughout September and October I heard nothing about me doing any work but I was more than happy.  I had plenty to get on with and I did not need work financially.

That wasn't supposed to happen

Then about two weeks ago something strange happened; all of my paid work contingency plans materialised around the same time.  

The school where I had worked asked if I could come in for the day and cover a teacher.  That was last Thursday. Lovely, one day of work every few months would hardly be a heavy demand on my time. At the same time some provisionally discussed work teaching drama in Suffolk became a reality.  The trouble was they wanted me to start this December- the next two weekends in fact. This was now looking like "being at work" again. In addition someone approached me to start private tutoring of her son through a site that I had forgotten I had registered on as a tutor. Finally a school I had hoped to work for, offered me some tutoring with them. I was caught unawares. What was I going to do?  How was I going to fit all this in, did I want to fit it all in?

Going back to where I'd worked


Well I did do the day back at the old school.  To be fair I had said that I would be happy to do the odd day of cover. The interesting thing for me was how dislocating that experience was.  Going back to a place where I had been deputy headteacher and now being a supply teacher took a bit of getting used to.  As one cheeky lad put it, "You don't work here any more, so you can't tell me off." Ah, the familiar but inaccurate refrain repeated to so many supply teachers.  But it was not just that.  Brilliant though it was seeing the students and staff, something didn't feel quite right. I'd left and come back but no longer belonged in the same way. I had become the equivalent of a tourist and that gave the day an interesting twist.  I started to see things in a different way both positive and negative.  I was the outsider looking in rather than the insider projecting out. I enjoyed the day but I also missed my freedom and it really hit me how much work completely dominates many people's lives.  I was only working for one day but I couldn't escape the feeling that I was tied to someone else's priorities and timetable for that day.  I admit I did go home and appreciated all over again how liberating it would be to wake up the next day and be answerable to no-one but myself as to how I would spend that next day.

An exciting new venture


So what about these coming weekends?  Well strangely these feel very different.  As a supply teacher you have to do what's asked of you with no choice. You could be teaching any subject to any age and you have little control over what you are expected to deliver. The coming weekends are different.  I have been asked to lead drama sessions to groups of students, linking in with other creative professionals to produce a mini production around the story of Aladdin. I am firmly back in control over what I prepare and what I will present to the students. The great thing about creative subjects is that the students will bring their ideas and creativity to the weekend so I may control the input but the output will be dependent on what we all contribute and the students will have a large element of control in this.  As a result, the coming weekends will not, I am sure, feel like regular days at work. The lack of restriction, the freedom, the unknown outcomes, this is not the usual stuff of regular work days. People coming together, exploring, creating, laughing and developing is how I dreamed education would be.  It will be exhausting but I am sure it will also be exhilarating and fun.  I will be working with new people in a different environment free of the curricular and assessment restraints that now so often stifle real learning and creativity in many schools. In short, working in a way I'd hoped to when I first became a teacher. I can't wait.  

The other work; tutoring, both one to one and in another school, I have declined. I have enough for now. I will do the odd day of supply at my old school if they want me and as long as I enjoy it. I do hope to become further involved  in the weekend drama work over the next year. For me that will be about attaining what I had always hoped for; doing something I really enjoy, something I would choose to do in my spare time, with people I respect and in a way that still leaves me plenty of time for the other important activities and people in my life. As these weekends will be a completely new venture for me I shall report back next week.

Dream scenario? 

So yes, on a small scale, I am going back to work, but in a way that I had always dreamed of; on my terms,doing things I really enjoy and gain satisfaction from and still with plenty of time to pursue my other interests. I feel fortunate.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Bruce Springsteen Part 2- A Difficult Post

A Difficult Post?

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Bruce Springsteen saying what an inspiration he is to people of any age but particularly to those, like me, just entering into their sixties.  Age appears no barrier- the songs are still beautifully crafted and played, the concerts epic in quality and endurance.  To anyone thinking that the best is in the past once you hit your sixties, Bruce is the emphatic riposte.

That was all said in the last post and I indicated that there was more to come. I left the story hanging in the air after recounting how the students' entertainments committee turned down the chance to have Bruce play Warwick University for a pittance and how I ended up with a warped copy of his "Wild,the innocent and the E street shuffle"LP.  Yes, I saw him at Wembley in 1985 and yes, he was amazing, but that's an experience shared by hundreds of thousands of fans.  The next part of the story is 22 years later in 2007. The problem has been that the next part becomes very personal and I think I have sub-consciously been putting this off; not knowing quite how to approach it, maybe not really wanting to approach it at all.

In this respect this post has little to do with retirement. It should perhaps have a different home.  It is personal so I hope you will bear with me on this.  I do not want it to be maudlin or sentimental.  It's more a "public thank you" posting. I suppose it's my way of saying "thanks " to some amazing people.

In 2006 my son George was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Emergency surgery followed.  Devastated by a grim prognosis he soon refocused and was determined to do an illustration degree at Brighton University.  He was accepted and had a fantastic first year keeping his illness as hidden as he could.  He did not want to be defined by cancer and certainly would have hated anyone highlighting it at the time.  

By Christmas 2007 things took a turn for the worse as the tumour returned.  Macmillan cancer support were fantastic; supporting George and the family with practical as well as emotional support.  So first thank you there.  The person who supported us then told us about the Willow Foundation.  This is essentially a charity that aims to give seriously ill young adults (George was 20 at the time) and their families a memorable experience. We thought George would not go for this but he then learnt that this could include going to a concert.  George loved his music and thought it would be fantastic if he and some family and friends could have a special day out at a concert of his choice.  He found out that Bruce was playing the O2 that December and we passed on his wish to Willow.  Willow Foundation - our second big thank you.

Willow Foundation lay on VIP treatment for the big night
Willow contacted Bruce's manager, Barbara Carr.  Now at this point we were hoping that we might get tickets for an already sold out show at the O2.  That would have been fantastic. George had picked up his parent's love of Bruce's music and would have been over the moon at just being able to see Bruce live in concert.  Barbara and Willow had other plans.  Sure we got the tickets; six altogether, but they had laid on so much more. Cadillac pick up, champagne and smoked salmon for the drive, VIP passes and backstage clearance and a one to one encounter with Bruce himself just before he went on stage.  It was a truly memorable day.  George's illness was forgotten that day and we all burned brightly throughout that unforgettable experience; laughing, eating, singing, drinking, dancing and lapping up the whole experience. In short, we were living. Maybe it was living in a bubble removed from the realities of what George was facing but isn't life like that sometimes; finding refuge in bubbles of joy? 

George and Bruce December 2007

George took my warped LP with him and got it signed by Bruce who laughed at the story of how I had obtained the record. Barbara Carr checked in with us throughout our time at the concert.  She is an amazing woman and no wonder Bruce has stuck with her throughout his career.  What we didn't know until we met her is that she had lost a daughter to sarcoma in 1993.  Her daughter, Kristen Ann was 21 when she died and there must have been a real resonance with our son George's story. Barbara Carr started  a charity to fund research fund in memory of her daughter and you can find a link here.

So- thanks as well to Bruce and Barbara.  Between them and Willow foundation we had a brilliant, happy and unforgettable day with George.  Job done. But the next bit is the bit that I find amazing. That concert was in December 2007 and  George died in July 2008.  All who knew him were devastated. That day of the concert, the fun we had, the magic of meeting Bruce, drinking too much in the VIP lounge; all great memories that still mean so much.  Then in 2009 out of the blue Barbara Carr makes contact.  She knows about George but wants to invite his brothers, George's mother and myself to Bruce's upcoming concert in Hyde Park.  VIP tickets again. We were all incredibly grateful but also overwhelmed.  This woman, overseeing a global artist's world tour remembers us and goes out of her way to invite us to another Bruce concert.  When the world seems a dark place such acts of kindness and thoughtfulness really do make the world a brighter place. We were overwhelmed by this act. Celebrity and stardom can affect some people's values and make them removed from real humanity; not Barbara. She is a women who puts people first.   

So there we have it.  I have told that little tale.  Bruce and Barbara are not saints, they are real people who have not forgotten how to connect with other people.  They have "kept it real" and that is part of the reason why Bruce Springsteen has such devoted fans.  He connects and may he long do so. He surrounds himself with others who share his values.  How we need those values in the world right now.

So thank you Macmillan cancer support, The Willow Foundation, Bruce and Barbara. People and organisations that do what they do not for money or glory but because they care.  So a little request.  As it's coming up to Christmas why not order some cards from Willow Foundation or just make a donation to either the Willow Foundation, Macmillan or the Kristen Ann Carr Fund.  What they do really makes a huge difference.  

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Holy Trinity of Retirement- Oh Sing Choir of Angels

Bruce will have to wait- sorry Boss

I know I said I would get to the second part of my Springsteen story but it will have to wait as I have to report on last weekend and some reflections I want to share based on that weekend and these first few months of retirement (or as I now like to call it, using the far more positive Spanish word, "La Jubilacion").

Explain the title please!

Let's start with the title- the Holy Trinity of La Jubilacion.  It's true that I am really enjoying life after my salaried slavery and I have my Holy Trinity to thank for that. It seems to me that three things have to be in place for people to enjoy a happy and vibrant Jubilacion. You can probably guess these three amigos. They are:

1  Money- ie a decent pension and some savings
2  Interests/Activities/Projects/Work of one's choosing
3  People to interact with

Of course each one of these in the Holy Trinity of happy Jubilacion is subjective and open to interpretation; how much is a "decent" pension, how many people does one need to interact with and so on. I am not going to go into the detail now, I just want to indicate that in my experience these are the three crucial components and that I am fortunate enough to have these in place and that having these things in place has made my first few months of Jubilacion varied and rewarding. I am also very aware that not everyone who retires is lucky enough to have all three things in place at the same time. In particular isolation is a real threat to the well-being of many retirees and a subject deserving of its own post. So that is for a later date.

The respectable face of a staff choir weekend-all little angels
For now I want to focus on the positive side of interacting which often combines with the second key element of the Holy Trinity; namely interests and activities.  

Last weekend - Oh Sing Choir of Angels
Whilst working at my last school I became involved in a staff choir.  Last year we went away for a weekend in Suffolk; had input from an amazing musician and vocal coach and sang at a church carol concert attended by the whole school community and parents. Lovely, but that was part and parcel of being at work. It was in the past and unfortunately retirement can mean losing some positive aspects of work as well as the negatives.  Then came an invitation,"We are off to Suffolk for another choir weekend, why not join us?"  Would it be appropriate to go back and join my former colleagues for a weekend singing? Yes. Would I be the outsider, the colleague that couldn't let go? No, of course not. It would be great to see old colleagues, the setting was away from the school and most importantly the wine would be flowing. (If by any chance parents of children attending the school are reading this let me point out that no one drank excessively or disgraced either themselves or the school- and I say that with a straight face and I supply pictures as proof)

I kept telling them- all these things are bad for you!

 It was a lovely weekend; catching up with ex colleagues and doing something we all love- singing.  I have to put in a big mention here to Andrew Quartermain and his team at Pro Corda.  Based at Leiston Abbey, Pro Corda is not only a music training centre for some brilliant chamber musicians, it also runs courses for children with special needs, for adults learning or improving piano and many other activities based around creativity in music and other art forms.

The weekend of singing, socialising and planning how I will fit in with their rehearsals back at school, reminded me how important this type of contact is in retirement.  Whilst at work we have a ready made source of contacts and interaction but in retirement one has to work at either maintaining networks or creating new ones.  It also reminded me how much I enjoy singing.  It seems that whenever people get together and sing; laughter, fun and real connections within the group spontaneously emerge. Singing takes us away from the everyday and reminds us that we are capable of being part of something wonderful and uplifting ( well maybe after a few more rehearsals). It is certainly something I will add to my list of things in which to become more involved. 
Yeh- that's right, the fat old  bloke on the right is me

The choir of angels from Kingswode Hoe at the amazing Leiston Abbey

Non, je ne regrete rien

Now after all this gushing about seeing old colleagues and singing, you might think there could be regrets about leaving my job, my career. Not at all. The job carried too many restrictions.  It left little time to pursue my other interests and left me sometimes stressed and exhausted.  Yes, I miss aspects of my work, but in totality, leaving full-time work counts as one of the best decisions I have ever made.  One thing I did miss though was teaching drama and I am really pleased that the lovely people at Pro Corda have asked me to join them as a drama teacher on some upcoming weekends, working with both young people with special needs and then with the siblings of these youngsters.  Perfect- doing something I love in a wonderful Suffolk setting with some talented colleagues in a time-limited burst.

Being put through our vocal paces by Andrew at Pro Corda
Before my retirement I was worried that I would miss work, feel a bit cut off from people and not find enough intellectual and creative challenges.  I needn't have worried. Through a mixture of luck and planning I am taking part in activities that stimulate, challenge and give me real pleasure and purpose but I also now have the freedom to organise my days as I wish.

It was fantastic spending the weekend singing with my ex colleagues. That little choir of angels. Even better was not having to go to work at 8 am the next day. My holy trinity of retirement is thus far looking out for me very well indeed.

                      Springsteen next, I promise.

Important Addendum- I published this post yesterday and in the middle of the night woke with a rasping cough and an aching knee.Then it hit me.  The Holy Trinity of retirement was wrong.  There was another key element; health. How could I have forgotten thatIn hindsight I should have gone for the four horsemen of retirement: Financial security, Interests/activities, people to interact with and reasonably good mental and physical health. Apologies.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

It could never happen, could it?

Dear Blog readers, I know I said I would bring you the next part of the Springsteen story but I have to put that on hold. You see I'm very excited and I need your help.  I have decided to write a spoof political TV series. Yes, I'm branching out. It's going to be satirical take on what's happening in the world of politics. A kind of ridiculous spoof.  

Now, before I submit my proposals to the major networks I want to try out the outline to the first couple of episodes on you out there, see what you think, get some feedback, you get the picture.  The main thing I need your help with is in getting feedback on whether I have gone too far with the satire, because even a good spoof has to have a bit of credibility.  Look at Spinal Tap; a spoof rock documentary, ridiculous in parts but it worked because it was not too far fetched. It could have happened. That's where I need your help.  Have I kept my ideas within the bounds of credibility or have I gone too far? Could the events I outline really ever happen or has my wild imagination got the better of me?

Let's get straight to it.

Episode 1 

OK, so this is set in the near future.  It starts in a country not that dissimilar to the UK. Let's give it a name, this country, something like the "Federal United Combined Kingdom of Entitled Districts" or F.U.C.K.E.D for short. Now in the opening episode we learn that this country has previously joined up with other nearby countries and they have this great idea that they will work together, form a union where goods and services can be traded freely and the people in each country can work and travel freely in any one of the member states.  Sounds great doesn't it, although maybe a bit idealistic. Anyway the people of F.U.C.K.E.D. enjoy relative economic progress despite the effort of a bunch of bankers to crash the economy of the whole world a few years previously. Now F.U.C.K.E.D. benefits from workers from the nearby countries coming over and filling the gaps in its workforce.  These workers are not that important, they just keep the hospitals going, pick the fruit and vegetables and build houses whilst paying more taxes than they receive in social spending.  What a good deal for the land of F.U.C.K.E.D. I hear you say.  Now comes the funny part.  The people of F.U.C.K.E.D. have a referendum and this right wing, cigar smoking, beer swilling nutcase together with some ex public school toffs persuade lots of people to vote to leave this union, pandering to their bigotry, xenophobia and racism.  No-one thinks it will happen, because it will really mess up the country, it's a crazy idea. But it does happen. All in episode 1.

The people of F.U.C.K.E.D. vote to leave the union and completely mess up their country, their economy and their future because they don't like workers from abroad coming in and helping them out and they don't want to enjoy peaceful cooperation with the other countries.  What do you think? Have I gone too far?  I think maybe I have. As if any of that could happen? People would never commit such self -inflicted damage would they? No, you are right, it is too far fetched.  It's not credible.  OK let's leave episode 1 and go to .........

Episode 2

Here we change the setting.  We imagine a country, no, let's have a superpower, a bit like the USA but we will call it States Harmoniously Inter Twined or S.H.I.T. for short.   Now just like in Episode 1 it relies on there being a big chunk of formerly proud working class people who have had their traditional industries and communities ravaged over the years and who, looking for someone to blame, are manipulated by let's say a billionaire who himself has exploited these very same workers. Already too far fetched?  Stay with me.  This man convinces a major political party to let him run for president even though he has no experience of public office .  He also convinces the electorate that all the problems of  S.H.I.T. are caused by Moslems, Jews, women, Mexicans, in fact anyone who isn't straight, not handicapped and doesn't likes carrying guns. 

The Episode will look at his madcap attempts to become President.  I bet you are thinking it's already crossed the line of credibility; like what are you going to do next John, give him a cartoon hair comb over, an ex model wife who steals other people's speeches and a set of quotes such as:

"We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated."

"You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

 "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's, like, incredible." 

 ‘You know what I wanted to. I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard. I would have hit them. No, no. I was going to hit them, I was all set and then I got a call from a highly respected governor... I was gonna hit one guy in particular, a very little guy. I was gonna hit this guy so hard his head would spin and he wouldn’t know what the hell happened... I was going to hit a number of those speakers so hard their heads would spin, they’d never recover. And that’s what I did with a lot – that’s why I still don’t have certain people endorsing me: they still haven’t recovered."

Now you probably thinking that I have just gone for pure comedy, making up quotes that no politician would ever make.  It's too preposterous especially as the person who does become President of S.H.I.T. has complete control over using the country's nuclear weapon capability. But it was fun making up such ridiculous quotes. Anyway, moving on. For full comic and satirical effect this crazed, egomaniacal billionaire with no political experience wins the election. 

I wanted this episode to be as crazy and as funny as I could make it. He wins the election by manipulating and pandering to the base instincts of the electorate (bit like that German guy in the 30s I suppose) and the only one opposing him is a woman that not many people like either.  Again you will probably criticise me on this- am I expecting my audience to believe that in a country of 350 million people, the electorate only had the choice between two ridiculously flawed candidates??? Well, remember this is a spoof, a comedy so I think artistic licence allows the improbable.  Bottom line is that by electing this man to be president  the people of S.H.I.T. completely mess up their country, their economy and their future. Sounds a bit like Episode 1 doesn't it? Except after this election everyone else in the world is worried too.  What a hoot! A laugh a minute.

And there you have it. My plot outlines for a new political spoof.  The West Wing meets  Airplane and Naked Gun. An, "In the Thick of it" without the subtleties. I know it's made up and ridiculous but remember it's a comedy. Not meant to be taken too seriously.


Now where's the gin?

Friday, 4 November 2016

Bruce Springsteen

First Things First

What's in a word?

Doesn't that sound better than Retirement?
In my last post I mentioned that I did not like the word "retirement." It has negative connotations of withdrawing from the world and suggests a person is used up and redundant.  I needed a new word, a new term.  The wonderful Janis reminded me in her comment on my last post that the Spanish word for retired is "jubilado," which I'm sure must be derived from the Spanish word "jubilo" which in turn means joy.  I think it's great that the Spanish word for retired is linked to the word for joy and happiness; a much better connotation than our dreary "retire." As a result I have decided that I am no longer retired, I'm "jubilado."  Great. The only trouble with "jubilado" is that in colloquial Spanish it apparently means, "to get rid of." Oh well, back to the drawing board.  
Can you imagine a wine labelled "retired"?- I don't think so

A new snappy phrase for retirement?  (Probably not)

What we have to take into account is that there are many people in their 50s and 60s who work but who don't see it as work because they enjoy it so much.  The sense of freedom, of "jubilo"  that so many retirees experience is freedom from working to someone else's agenda, having to be there when you would rather be doing something else, having to do a job on terms that are set by someone else.  I will work and volunteer but I will do so on my terms and for that reason I'm going to think of my retirement as "Freedom From Salaried Slavery" or FFSS for short.  What a catchy little phrase that is. Bound NOT to catch on. Oh well, let's get to the tenuous link.

Tenuous Link 

Let's now think of people, maybe in their 60s who still work at their day job even though they don't have to and who do it because they love what they do.  These are the lucky ones. The blessed. But who fits that bill?  Oh, I know, someone like say, Bruce Springsteen.  (There, that's my tenuous, tortuous link).

Oh Bruce What's wrong with you?

In truth I have wanted to write about Bruce for some time and I think this blog is a legitimate place to talk about The Boss.  After all he is well into his 60s, he did retire from some menial jobs, albeit in his 20s and I am sure he reads this blog in between taking out the recycling and kicking his heels at home when not playing huge gigs, writing successful  books, touring the bloody world, making astute political comments and generally being the "coolest" guy on the planet. Are you picking up some simmering resentment?  It's true, I hate to admit it.  He is just too bloody perfect!  

 No More Heroes?

In England we like to knock our heroes, build them up only to then knock them from their pedestals.  Not only do we demolish our heroes but we enjoy it too, we love it. It's just,well, there's nothing to knock down and demolish with Bruce. He's a spoilsport. If you are reading this Bruce , please take note: demolishing heroes is our national past time -so play the game, please. Release a rubbish album, walk off stage after 45 minutes, do something crass, support Donald Trump. For inspiration look at some other artistic heroes:

Paul McCartney, great in the Beatles but since then; wings and the frog chorus, do me a favour.
Eric Clapton, steady decline since the days of the Yardbirds and Cream.(ooh controversial)
Shakespeare, a one-hit wonder with Hamlet.  

You get the picture.

And then there's Bruce.  Try as I might I cannot knock him off his pedestal.  The man has consistently produced great albums throughout his career.  He continues to be relevant.  He is mega-famous and rich but is still authentic and genuine.  As a performer he continues to deliver fantastic concerts, connecting to his audience and giving them high octane, high sweat,value for money performances which last much longer than they should. He's kept it real. He's written songs that are timeless. There are not many artists you can say all that  about.  Bruce, please give us something with which we can knock you!

Bruce, I love you!

The truth is I love Bruce.  Unconditionally, completely and yes,I'm expecting his baby any day soon.  First and foremost I love Bruce for the reasons outlined above.  Great songwriter and performer who hasn't let fame and fortune turn him into a monumental pain. In terms of this blog and writing about a new phase of life in your 60's, Bruce is pure inspiration. He is the embodiment of the phrase, "age is all in the mind." In August this year Bruce, 66 years old, and his band set a new record for longest gig on American soil- 4 hours and 1 minute in East Rutherford.  His longest show ever was 4 hrs 6 minutes in Helsinki in 2012 when he was 62 years young (apparently he also played a 35 minute acoustic set a  few hours prior to this gig). That is a million miles from retiring.It is a majestic two fingered salute to ageing and notions of, "taking it easy." A regular guy becomes legend. But this legend is not just "out there," removed from the real world.  His is knee deep in the swamp of existence and I, like many others, have my own personal connection or relationship with Bruce.

The Beginning of a Beautiful Relationship-Bruce and I 


Relationship you say? Well, let's add a proviso.  Me and Bruce don't catch up regularly; we don't hang out on the boardwalk knocking back beers and playing pool. We met briefly just once.  In fact he probably has not heard of me, but there is a connection; a personal angle in my love and respect for Bruce that for me is very real. 

Let's go back in time. It started when I was at university in 1975.  His album, the "Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" had been sent to the entertainment committee at Warwick University.  I was helping out on the fringes of this committee and we would be sent lots of albums from record companies trying to promote their acts to get bookings for them at the student union.  Bruce's album arrived along with many others.  There was also some blurb about Bruce (who was unknown to most of us at that time) proclaiming that he was the next Dylan. (Poor Bruce would have cringed at this crass marketing I'm sure).  Not a great way to promote a relatively unknown  artist at that time.  I had never heard of Bruce Springsteen so I asked if I could listen to the album.  I was told to take the album and keep it as the committee had no intention of booking this upstart Dylan wannabe.  I took the album but when I went to play it I noticed that it was extremely warped as it had been left on top of a radiator. I put a coin on top of the stylus to stop it from jumping around the warped record and listened.  I was blown away.  This album had everything, sweet acoustic numbers,  Latin infused songs , a great band and I suddenly got the Dylan reference: the lyrics were incredible, the songwriting sharp.  I think we could have booked and have had Bruce Springsteen play Warwick as his first UK concert but we had turned down the opportunity.  We turned down Bruce! I seemed to be the only one saying, "This guy is great, I think he's got a future."  Now there's an understatement.  A few months later ,"Born to Run" came out, Bruce played the Hammersmith Odeon and the rest, as they say, is history. It would be 10 years before I got to see Bruce play live for the first time and 33 years until I actually got to meet him. But that can wait until next time.

An unwarped replacement which Bruce signed for my son in 2007
The handwritten set list for his December 2007 O2 show is on the right