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Fit, solvent, free – what now?

How does it feel to be 60? This life landmark, once meant old age, now it can be the start of life’s best years. As I head towards retirement this daily blog – see below – is about what I do, think, feel and the choices I make at the start of my sixth decade.
Continue reading “Fit, solvent, free – what now?”

Work naked – my 10 tips for successful home working

Mrs Jones worked from home for the first time yesterday.  It’s something that she, and her key worker employer, have been resisting for years.  Now’s that coronavirus is upon us, the time to give it a try has finally come.

From the employer’s point of view their reluctance is, I suspect, about control, from hers it’s about routine and social interaction.  She also feared there’d be too many distractions at home and she wouldn’t have the discipline for it.  Strange, I thought, as she’s just about the most disciplined person I know. 

So how did it go?  She disappeared into my home office – I leant it to her for the day – bang on 7.30am and barely emerged again until way past her normal finish time.  I helped keep her going with a couple of cups of tea and she did ask at one point what food there was as if I was responsible for organising the office canteen!  Thankfully there was a half-empty – or full! – bag of dorritos and some sour cream dip.

At the end of this first day, I think it’s fair to say she was a bit of a convert.  Free of interruptions she’d been highly productive, had enjoyed the extra hour in bed and didn’t miss the daily hour-long commute.

None of this surprised me.  I’ve been home-working successfully for a couple of decades now and am quite an advocate.  Here are my ten tips for successful home working:

  1. Be prepared – get your office ready for the big day, notepads, pens, bin all need to be in place.
  2. Get the IT sorted – make sure you can connect your work laptop to the wifi, access the shared drive, work the printer.  As with any new environment this can take days to properly sort and can be very frustrating when things don’t work.
  3. Set up a WhatsApp group which is purely for office banter – this gives you the all-important social interaction that can help make work fun.  Be careful what you say though, your employer may be able to read what you’re typing.
  4. Give yourself a break – resist the temptation to stay in your office all day.   Go elsewhere in the house or nip out for a coffee or a bite to eat.
  5. Try to avoid snacking – you have a fully stocked fridge and kitchen a short walk away.   Resist the temptation to pick.  Best tip is don’t have any snacks in the house at all.
  6. Vary the routine – don’t be afraid to take your laptop and smartphone and work in another room just for a change of scene.
  7. Make use of the extra time – you’ll be saving hours a day getting ready for work and commuting.  Use some of that time, before or after your work day, to exercise or take up a new hobby.
  8. Know when to stop – it’s so easy once you’re all set up to carry on working.  You have to discipline yourself to stop at a certain time or else work can take over everything.
  9. Lock the door when you have to – other family members need to know when to leave you alone. You don’t want a Professor Robert Kelly moment happening to you – see picture above – when you’re talking to the boss!
  10. Focus on output – this is when home-working gets really addictive.  Over time increased productivity will mean you can get the same work done in less time.   You can spend less time working and achieve just as much!

From my perspective the extra hour in bed was nice, so was the lack of noisy hair-related devices that marks the start of everyday.  It was also good having Mrs Jones at home, even though we had little to do with each other it was just nice to know she was nearby.  

She was pleasantly surprised about how it went, saw it as something to try again and felt that, in the future, it might help in her retirement transition journey.

We’re all too miserable for April Fools’ Day

Truth is the first casualty of war, so the saying goes. I’m betting that today will see a massive decline in April Fools’ pranks so maybe humour is the eventual casualty of a worldwide pandemic.

To keep us smiling through the gloom here’s a round-up of some of the best to ever grace the earth.

Spaghetti Trees

In 1957, BBC’s Panorama ran a story on spaghetti trees in Switzerland enjoying an abundant harvest as the result of warm weather and of course, the “virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil.” If the concept of pasta growing on trees appears unfathomable to you, it certainly wasn’t for the hundreds of us Brits who phoned up asking how they could plant their own. The Beeb’s hilarious response? “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”  I’d like to think we’d know better now but somehow I doubt it!

UFO lands in London

A bizarre looking flying saucer led thousands of Londoners to call the police in 1989, warning them of an alien invasion.  The saucer turned out to be a prank hot air balloon that had been designed to look like a UFO, masterminded by Richard Branson.  The Virgin boss had intended for it to land in Hyde Park, but poor weather conditions meant he had to land a day early in the wrong location.

Gmail Motion

Google can’t resist a prank or two on April Fools’ Day. In 2011, the tech giant announced it was launching Google Motion, which would allow users to control Gmail with their bodies. Cue loads of people making ridiculous faces in front of their screens with to avail.  Other fake Google products to add to the mix include Google Romance, Gmail Paper and Google Voice for Pets.

Instant colour TV

In 1962, the Swedish national network brought their technical expert onto the news to inform the public that its black-and-white broadcasts could be made into streaming colour – all they had to do was view the TV through Nylon stockings.  Thousands of Swedes were fooled, with many flocking to buy stockings to place over their TV sets.

Big Ben goes digital

The BBC was back at it again in 1980 when its overseas service told Brits that Big Ben was getting a digital update.  The station took the joke one step further by saying that the clock’s hands would be given to the first four people to call in.  It was a step too far though, apparently, as “surprisingly, few people thought it was funny.”

The left-handed whopper

Left-handed products have, for reasons unexplained, become an April Fools’ Day tradition.  The most famous is a Burger King advert published in USA Today in 1998 announcing the launch of a new “left-handed whopper.” The fast food outlet said it contained all the same ingredients as a normal whopper, but the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the comfort of left-handed customers. The following day, Americans flocked to Burger King demanding the new left-handed whopper, only to later realise that they had been pranked. 

San Serriffe

In 1977 the Guardian published a seven-page supplement detailing the idyllic features of a small island located in the Indian Ocean named San Serriffe.   The Guardian was inundated with calls from members of the public wanting to know more about this up-and-coming holiday destination, not knowing that the fake island was named after printer’s terminology.

Let’s hope today proves me wrong and the media do decide to give us all a break from this unrelenting bad news.

Here endeth mad March

I see month-ends as a good opportunity to review how my retirement transition journey is progressing.  When I started writing this blog I worked out each month represents one-third of one percent of the average remaining lifespan of a 60 year-old in the UK. 

I find it motivating – not depressing – to know that since the year began I’ve used up one percent of what might be left of my life.  It’s a reminder to make the most of every month, day, hour.

The C-word raised its ugly head for the first time in my review at the end of February.  That surprised me, it feels like we’ve only been living with coronavirus for a couple of weeks. I guess that’s true of the lockdown and the daily updates on deaths and infections but it’s been part of our consciousness for quite a while now.

We certainly made the most of those first couple of weeks in March starting with our week away in Morocco.   We basked in perfect weather in a smart hotel and enjoyed greatmeals every night– tapas, tajines, French, Italian – how I’m already missing restaurants so much.

We enjoyed what’s turned out to be our last night out on March 14th in Royal Leamington Spa.  Had a great Turkish meal and spent the evening in a couple of bars – followed by an impromptu night in a hotel, this could turn out to be our last night for quite a while.

That same weekend we celebrated my oldest daughter’s 25th birthday as a family which is the last I’ve seen my kids and their partners.

I’ve managed to stay reasonably fit – did my first ever 10k race – and keep the weight off despite my hip injury and the closure of my gym and tennis club.   Feeling less healthy though, achy and tired which could be overwork in the garden or coronavirus anxiety.  It’s been a bad few weeks for sleeping and I’m still feeling a little manic.  Would really like to get myself reading but just can’t settle right now.

Finances have taken quite a bit of a hit.  Today I’ll be paying my business’s Corporation Tax and on top of that my small holding of shares, an ISA and one of my pensions have all dropped alarmingly these last few weeks.   I’m not too worried though as I’m confident they’ll recover and I’ve got years to wait before my main pension starts.

Best news is that I now have a beautiful garden with a manicured, neatly edged lawn, shrubs planted, paving swept, beds dug and a new tidy seating area in the sun.

Me & Mrs Jones – good name for a song! – are doing alright too after the bickering of the holiday.  Maybe the world situation is making us less petty or maybe we’ve realised that in this time of social isolation we’re all each other’s got!

Freedom – the elusive gift never to take for granted.

“Better to die fighting for freedom than be a prisoner all the days of your life.” Bob Marley

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” John F. Kennedy

 “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” Bob Dylan

Three people with three very different takes on freedom. 

2020 was, I thought, going to be my first year of real freedom – retired and no longer a prisoner of work with no need to conform. Like Dylan, I knew there had to be trade-offs to make the most of this new found liberty.

I was also blessed to live in one of the freest countries on earth, what could go wrong?  

This morning I checked my phone’s newsfeed to discover that the following were not only illegal but were resulting in widespread public condemnation and derision:

  • Having a barbecue in your back garden
  • Visiting your Dad on his birthday
  • Walking in the Lake District
  • Hosting a karaoke party
  • Playing football in a park

I know it’s temporary, and probably for the best, though I have to admit it’s making me feel more than just a little uneasy. The police seem too keen to enforce the new rules which is why I’m so glad we’ve got a libertarian Prime Minister who clearly has enacted all this as a last resort.

How ironic that I’d been contemplating freedom and what I’d do with it since the beginning of the year.  I’d asked myself questions like:

  • Would I want to be on holiday all the time?
  • Would I want to give up work completely?
  • Would I just eat, drink and be merry?
  • Would I lie in bed all day watching box-sets?

The answer to all these questions has proved ‘no’.   I’ve chosen not to do any of these things – for the time being at least –  to stay fit and to give my life variety, balance and purpose.

Perhaps when the chance of real freedom returns – and let’s hope it’s sooner than we fear – I’ll think a little differently.  I know one thing’s for sure I certainly won’t be taking freedom for granted ever again.

How to survive April now that lockdown is here

That’s the challenge I’ve been facing up to this morning.  My ever-growing semi-retired need to give my life routine and purpose has got me thinking.

I’m convinced the lockdown will continue – might even get more severe – throughout all of the 30 days of April.  That combined with the ever more depressing news about coronavirus deaths and infections could make next month the worst ever, so far.  The weather forecast doesn’t look great either!

Then, after that, there’ll be probably be more lockdown, still no sport to look forward to, no Wimbledon, no Euros football, no Olympics.   What a great start to the 2020s this has been!

Here’s a few things I’ve decided to do to keep my spirits up:

  1. The 30 Day Ab Challenge. With my bad hip pausing my outdoor running campaign it’s time to once again focus on that elusive six-pack! I’ve downloaded an ab app which will “get my body in shape, build muscle and burn fat.. and… 30 days is just about the right amount of time to add a new habit or subtract one.” Roll on April 1st!
  2. Cycling – you are allowed out to go outside once a day to exercise so I’m getting on my bike. To make it interesting I will need to give my daily trips a bit of focus. I’ve decided I’m going to 30 village churches – they’ll be shut mind you – over the month. I’ve got an old OS map and think that’s just about feasible within the distance I can reasonably cycle in an hour or so from home.
  3. Perfect three dance moves – last summer we spent an evening at a French beach dance club. There, dancing on a podium was the coolest guy I’ve ever seen. He wasn’t that young or that good looking but he had confidence, style and the most rhythmic, economical way of moving. He looked amazing and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I wanted to be that man, Mrs Jones wanted me to be the man! I vowed then to learn a few dance moves to debut at my 60th birthday party in June. Sadly now I’m going to have postpone it which should give me the extra year I need to learn them. I’ve found a YouTube video to get me started.
  4. Eight new meals – With restaurants closed we’re going to be cooking at home more than ever. I’ve made it my mission to come up a couple new meals each week to add to the dozen or so we just endlessly rotate. I’ll be scouring those dusty old recipe books later today.

That along with my usual activities such as gardening, office work, reading, keeping in touch by phone with my dad and daughters and maybe doing a bit of NHS volunteering should just about get me through!

UK lockdown week one, how did I fare?

It’s only day five of the full lockdown, but the partial lockdown – shutting down of pubs and restaurants – started this time last week.  In truth I guess it’s gone better than I hoped which in no small part has been down to the sunny weather.

I’ve managed to replace my early morning gym sessions with a run outside which I’ve really enjoyed.  Altogether I’ve actually done more kms – 21 in total –  than I usually manage in the gym.  Only trouble is I’ve managed to hurt my right hip.  It came on a bit on Wednesday and then felt a lot worse yesterday.

It hurts more when I’m running up hill so I think it’s a bit of tendinitis brought on by my body getting used to the greater impact of outdoor running.  This feels like a real blow as it was important part of my day and was helping to keep me sane. 

Now, I’ll have to give it some rest and that’s the activity that keeps the weight off. Last thing I want is to start piling on the pounds.  Instead I’ll give cycling a go – so have brushed off my bike – and will force myself to use those weights I’ve been ignoring in the garage for the last 12 months.

The sunshine has also got me out pretty much every day for hours on end in the garden which is looking the best it’s ever looked and has certainly given me a focus.  Still plenty more to do out there I’m pleased to say.

I’ve missed seeing the kids but spoke to them a few times on the phone plus have been in regular contact with my Dad in what has been a traumatic week for him.   This has gone some way to relieving the social isolation I’m starting to feel.

I’ve been listening to more music – both in the garden and when I’m running – and have rediscovered the joy of getting to know an album, listening to all the songs rather than just a couple for my playlist.

Sky TV subscription reduction

I’ve also finally got round to negotiating a reduction in our Sky TV subscription which was spectacularly successful phone call.  It had ballooned up to £73 a month and occasionally more when we paid to watch a new film. 

I eventually found the hidden customer service number, gave them a ring only to get the automated message telling me I might have to wait for an hour to get them to answer.  I put it on speakerphoine and prepared or the long haul only them to pick up after just five minutes. A very chat ensued and they agreed to cancel  the sport – an easy decision for me as there is none – with immediate affect.  That saved about half of the fee surely, that’s something they should be doing automatically for everyone.

I then decided I didn’t need Sky Cinema which we rarely watch and have ample access to films through Netflix and Amazon Prime which knocked off another £11 making my new subscription just £25 a month.  Result!

With the weather set to turn cold and grey next week – plus my hip injury keeping me from running – I have to admit I’m not looking forward to the next seven days of incarceration. 

Main thing I suppose is that I still feel fit and well – unlike our Prime Minister, Health Secretary, Chief Medical Officer and heir to the throne!

In the midst of the virus, life goes on.

Yesterday morning my Dad rang to break the news that his partner of two years had been diagnosed with “terminal cancer”.

She’s not long turned ninety so both she and my Dad have been self-isolating.  She was alone when she was given the news and he was alone when she gave him the news in a brief phone call. 

My Dad choked on the word “cancer” as he told me the news.  How difficult it is to say that word when it’s personal.   He didn’t know any details as yet but sensed it sounded bad what with the involvement of Macmillan Nurses.  I wanted to go and see him, give him a hug but couldn’t because of this damn virus.  I’ll ring him today and see how he is when he’s had chance to absorb the news, find out more.

30 years of service

Some hours later Mrs Jones came home from work at the end of a very special day, it was 30years ago that she started work at her current place of employment.

She was applauded as she arrived at work, the office had pictures – some not entirely flattering – of her through the ages and her desk was decorated with 30 year bunting.  The big boss even made her not one but two cups of tea.

She got various gifts, there was the obligatory speech and she had congratulatory calls and emails from colleagues throughout the day.

The fact that fewer people were at work because of the virus made the anniversary more personal she said.  I think she could feel the love and respect of her colleagues, something I very much share too. What an achievement it is to work somewhere for 30 years and it was lovely to see it honoured appropriately.

Clap for carers

Later, at 8pm we were one of the millions of people who stepped outside our front door to clap for carers and our NHS. There was a good response with most neighbours out, Mrs Jones even did an uncharacteristic whoop. 

As the sound of clapping and cheering reverberated up and down the street I felt moved to tears, something that’s been happening a lot lately.  I also had the sense – as you do sometimes – that I will remember this moment for the rest of my days.

Life goes on but not as we know it.

I’ve signed up to be an NHS Volunteer Responder

I got personally thanked by the Prime Minister yesterday and in the same breath he mentioned my home city, Coventry.

I’ve joined the huge army of NHS Volunteer Responders who have signed up to support NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the point he did his press conference about 325,000 volunteers – the population of Coventry – had come forward.  Now the total stands at over half a million and they were only looking for 250,000 people.

I’ve felt particularly useless – not being a keyworker, not living near older people and with my Dad already well sorted – so it feels good to be able to help.

This mass outbreak of altruism is also wonderful to see. When you exclude all those who are working, children, those looking after them, the elderly and ill 500,000 must be a very big part of what’s left of the population.

We’ll be supporting the 1.5m people in England who are at most risk from the virus to stay well.

There will be four main roles:

Community Response volunteer: This role involves collecting shopping, medication or other essential supplies for someone who is self-isolating, and delivering these supplies to their home.

Patient Transport volunteer: This role supports the NHS by providing transport to patients who are medically fit for discharge, and ensuring that they are settled safely back in to their home.

NHS Transport volunteer: This role involves transporting equipment, supplies and/or medication between NHS services and sites, it may also involve assisting pharmacies with medication delivery.

Check-in and Chat volunteer: This role provides short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness as a consequence of self-isolation.

I’m now waiting to be vetted and to find out what, when, where and if I’ll be needed.  You can join me and sign up here.

My guilty day in the garden

Almost felt guilty yesterday.  While it seemed like the rest of the world was going to hell in a handcart – how appallingly apt that phrase is, see below – I was having a lovely day in my garden.

I spent most of it in the Spring sunshine planting, weeding, edging and carrying out a range of other gardening tasks. I set up the patio set, tidied the shed, got the jet-wash out in readiness and felt a small frisson of excitement at the thought of creosoting the fence! 

It even got warm enough to wear shorts in the afternoon. Having spent a lifetime working in offices, now that I’m semi-retired there’s nothing I like more than spending time outdoors in the sun.  Makes me wonder whether I was in the right line of work.

When I’m in the garden and the sun’s shining it’s reached the point where I prefer to be active, rather than sitting still.  I’ve at last learned to pace myself – gardening’s something you can’t rush – plus the variety of tasks can keep me going all day.

I really can sense the sun’s vitamin D doing me good plus I swear I can discern my blood pressure and heart rate drop. The sense of well-being is particularly welcome at this time where I worry that every cough or ache could be the start of the dreaded coronavirus.

This unexpected spell of fine weather feels as if the creator who has been using this virus to punish us for our millennial selfishness is now giving us all a bit of respite.  Perhaps humanity is already starting to learn its lesson.

  • To hell in a handcart refers to the Great Plague in London. The dead were left in the street in the 1600’s and were collected by a bailiff.  He did not want risk horses so used a handcart like a wheelbarrow to transport them to a common grave.

UK lockdown – so many questions, so many emotions

Truly unbelievable, we’re in a police-enforced lockdown and only allowed to leave the house for these reasons:

  • To go to work (if you’re a key worker)
  • To shop for groceries, medicine and other essentials, infrequently
  • To exercise outside (once a day)
  • To provide care or help a vulnerable person
  • For any medical need

So many thoughts, so many questions, so many feelings.

Looks like Mrs Jones will be sent home today so the two of us will be together 24/7.  We’re so blessed to have a home big enough us to accommodate this.   I’ll start sorting out a spare bedroom later today for her laptop and work files.  How will we cope with each other? 

A real trial run for when we’re both retired and living together full-time.  I’m so glad we have a garden and a shed.   Yes, a shed with a kettle in it, internet access and a dart board, a bit of space to myself!

At least it looks like the core elements of the coronavirus retirement routine I put in place yesterday have survived.  I can go out for exercise.  Yesterday I did a 7k run, today I am planning a 20k bike ride which I think should be allowed.  

I spent part of yesterday afternoon at a garden centre – half wondering if it would be closed – buying a few plants and some wood stain for the fences and shed.  That will keep me busy for a few days at least.  Never made it to the D-I-Y shop, wonder if I can get the paint for the bedroom wall from Amazon.

I can work too, I already work from home and many of my public sector and SME clients provide either essential services or can operate online.   Will I get paid though, how will they keep the finance teams going if most of us are to work from home?

Who will be working?   Will construction continue and build my daughter’s home, will take-aways still operate – McDonalds has already closed – will they still produce my beloved Daily Telegraph?  When will I get a haircut, I’m glad I bought that new body hair-shaver, maybe it’s time for a crew cut!  

Have I got enough wine to see me through – musn’t panic buy!  Will the bins I put out last night be emptied today.  Is the tip going to stay open?

I do, by the way, know these are truly such trivial concerns. I’m fit, healthy, have no real financial worries though hasn’t my pension plummeted in the last few weeks, am so glad it’s not due to start until I’m 65. 

I think about our Prime Minister – this positive, good time sort of man – who’s having to lead the country through this. How ironic.  At least his usually sunny disposition means you believe him when he tells you this is serious.

I also think about the hundreds of thousands of people both in the UK and across the world who will die or suffer terrible ill-health as a result of this awful virus.

Then there’s all those who will be kept apart from the people they love as they isolate or stay at home.  And there’s those who will be so worried about their livelihoods.  I think in particular of the hard-working self-employed who no longer have a business and the income that goes with it.

I also think about all those providing the essential services that keep the country going.  It brought a lump to my throat when I saw just now that 7,563 retired clinicians have responded to the call to return to work.  What heroes they are putting their own health at risk – some no doubt will be in their 70s or have underlying health conditions – to help others.

We’re told these rules will be in place for three weeks but we all know it will be longer, probably a lot longer.

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