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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.
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Good riddance January 2021

What a perfect time it was to give up my retirement transition year blogging.  After my daily diary entries of 2020 finished on January 1st nothing much has happened. There would have been so little to write about, good job I’m scaling my blogging to once a month. 

I can’t even motivate myself to get too worked up about the latest set of Covid restrictions that has left us all locked down and locked in.

At the UK’s very impressive rate of vaccinations we should have most of the over 80s jabbed and protected in the next couple of weeks.  Yet no one is talking about how and when we get back to something like normality – all the things that used to bring joy when I started my diary over a year ago seem forever out of reach.

In the early weeks of the year I felt a real sense of gloom about the future but slowly as the worst  January of my life grinds to an end I’m starting to feel a bit better.

February is the real start of Spring in my book, the days get longer, green shoots of recovery appear in the garden, there’s  Valentine’s Day and it’s just four short weeks until March.

My daily life so far this year has been a groundhog day of running, I’ve upped my kilometres target by 20%, followed by a calming hot tub soak, writing chapters for my new book about the future of work post-Covid, an evening walk, cook, eat, TV, repeat.

I keep in touch with my kids through weekly Zoom calls, ring my Dad and ‘speak’ to friends mainly through Whatsapp. 

On more of a weekly basis I’ve watched all the Coventry games on Sky or iFollow, I continue to do a bit of political work, do a couple of online weights classes every week and have a few good books on the go.

Some of my big ToDos of the month have been done – I’ve finally got round to selling my old iMacs, have bought a wonderful new iPhone 11, done a few jobs round the house and am managing to bear down on our energy costs thanks to the new smart meter.

A couple of good things have happened in the world – Brexit got done and that cliff edge we were warned about by remoaners is nowhere in sight.  The relative performance of the UK and EU on vaccine procurement and roll-out makes me optimistic about our independent future. 

I was also glad to see the demise of the Donald, Biden hardly inspires but anyone is an improvement on odious Trump who’s behaviour in his final weeks in office spoke volumes.

I’m even looking forward to some aspects of next month.   At least there’s some sport to follow – the England v India Test Series, Australian Open Tennis and might even watch next Sunday’s Superbowl for the first time in my life.

Biggest excitement is the arrival of a new lawnmower on Tuesday – whch says it all I know! – soon followed by the first mow of 2021, hopefully with a bit of Spring sunshine to lift the spirits.

My final blog, my ten take-aways from 2020

366 days of blogging and here it is, my final post.  The end of the year in a life of a 60 years-old man transitioning into retirement.   And what a year it’s been and how different to the one I planned. 

Our last day of 2020 was spent enjoying the simple pleasures that Covid has forced upon us.  A walk into town, a home cooked meal and a night watching TV.  Quite a contrast to the first day, seeing in the New Year amongst a crowd of revellers in the Maltese capital Valletta.

Last night we lay on the sofa drinking wine, eating the final dry slice of Yule Log and the least favourite chocolates from the Heroes tin watching Britain’s Favourite 80s songs on Channel Five. 

It felt a fitting end to the year, a reminder of simpler times when Sting could sing of a schoolgirl getting too close to her teacher, when Simon Le Bon’s flat vocals mattered not a jot and Rick Astley’s dancing seemed kind of cool.

We drifted in and out of consciousness agreeing that the 80s really did have the best music and lamenting the loss of too-soon departed music greats such as Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Prince and George Michael.

When it was finally time to announce the most popular 80s hit we were both sound asleep. This was 11pm and there was no way we were going to force ourselves to stay awake.  

So a few, a very few, Happy New Year messages to close friends and family and then off to bed, only to be woken by the bangs and whizzes of fireworks confirming the end of this god awful year.

So what have I learned these last 12 months?  What has the extra insight of writing about my life on a daily basis given me?  In no particular order, here’s my ten take-aways:

  • Take nothing for granted.  The extraordinary levels of freedom, wealth and comfort most of us enjoy in modern Britain are unprecedented in human history.  We should never forget that.
  • Try to love the normal.  However you live your life you cannot always be eating, drinking, partying, travelling.  Enjoying your routine, your day-to-day is a crucial component of long-term happiness.
  • Still dream, still plan, make sure all the fun stuff happens but value every minute when it does.
  • Don’t count the days, make the days count.  A bit of a cliché, I know, but counting down to the end of lockdowns or the start of holidays means you’re not making the most of the moment you’re in.
  • There is too much bad news.  Even when we’re not in the midst of a global pandemic it seems to me that our always-on media is fixated with the bad.  Contextualise it, zone it out or turn it off.
  • Don’t get wound up.  There’s so little we can control.  Accept that.
  • Spend more time with the people who matter, family and the friends that make you feel good.
  • Go out more, whether it’s just walking to the shops, digging the garden or running a marathon being outside for some part of every day feels good.
  • Find YOUR purpose, don’t just fill your time.   Work gives most of us something to do and payment for doing it.  When retirement beckons you still need a purpose.  Try and find whatever it is that has meaning for you, take your time, don’t just fill it.
  • Thank your lucky stars you’re healthy and do all you can to stay that way.

Thanks to all those who’ve read my blogs – over 10,000 of you from more than 80 countries.  Thanks especially to all those who have taken the trouble to ‘like’ them and to follow me on social media.

This website will stay live for another year and I’ll be checking in to the social media accounts from time-to-time so stay in touch and if you’ve found what I’ve written interesting or useful that’s great to know.

Happy New Year! Have a wonderful 2021.

2021 Resolutions Part 2

Despite the grim news of more lockdowns – my town is now in ‘Stay at Home’ Tier 4 – I’m going to plough on with my new year resolutions assuming that eventually the world returns to normal. Yesterday, I looked at the key areas of health and purpose, today I’m focusing on everything else.

Social

Despite the restrictions – or maybe because of them – I feel like I’ve made a few more friends this year.  This has included getting to know the neighbours better thanks to the Thursday Clap for Carers.  I’ve also connected with more with people because of my new involvement in politics and have got a bit closer to others I already know at the gym and tennis club.  I also managed to rebuild relations with a few people when I started preparing for my 60th birthday.  I want to keep this up in in the New Year by seeing a wider variety of people in different social settings.   I’ll also do a bit more on social media – more posts, likes and friends on Facebook and developing more of a profile on Instagram, Twitter and other social media.

Leisure

I want to play even more tennis next year now that after 15 coaching sessions I’ve at last made a modest improvement to one aspect of my game, my second serve.  Finding more time to read is another goal.  I had a couple of proper books for Christmas plus there’s a backlog of downloads on my Kindle to get through.  I’ll also visit more National Trust properties, something I really only started doing this year.  I enjoyed getting to know not only the properties and their grounds but also some previously undiscovered nearby towns and villages.   Getting back to watching live sport will be a big moment.  Everything from watching Coventry City play to big sporting events such as Wimbledon and Henley Regatta.

Travel

With travel restrictions set to be in place until Easter, we’ll have to fit a whole year of holidays into just nine months.  That will involve making the most of our campervan for weekends away, our long late summer holiday to France and the already booked November fortnight in the Caribbean.   I will particularly look forward to some of the special times that come with travel – from beach raves to foam parties, from cosy pubs to cool rooftop bars.   There might be space to try somewhere new – maybe Greece or Croatia.   It could also be time for a bit of train travel and to, at last, take out the Senior Citizens Eurail pass and start planning to work my way through my Travel Bucket List though that may have to wait until 2022.  One thing is for sure, I will never again take for granted the freedom to travel.

Finances

I managed to tidy up my pensions and organise my savings somewhat this year.  Next year’s focus will be on keeping costs as low as possible both at home and work.  Things like using my new Smart Meter to save on energy costs and making sure all needless direct debits are cut or cancelled.  Might have a bit more of a dabble in the stock market which has started to pay off at least over the last couple of months.

Home

Last year saw the redecoration of all the worst rooms in the house plus some long-awaited window replacements so apart from a few tweaks here and there that’s job done for now.  The main focus will be on the garden.   The big initial project will be digging a pond, the creation of a new vegetable patch and the ongoing work involved in keeping the garden neat, tidy and weed-free.

Family

I try to see my kids weekly and aim to carry this on the New Year and beyond.   I’d like to try and vary what we do, not always something based around eating which often takes a lot of preparation. We’ve also got a weekend away planned, a gift for my 60th, that was cancelled because of Covid. I’ll keep up my weekly phone calls and at least monthly visits to my Dad plus try to see a bit more of the inlaws we are closest to.  I will also continue in my lifetime quest of being the best husband possible and will closely follow Mrs Jones’ guidance on how best to do this.

That’s feeling like a full year already which is lifting my lockdown gloom and firing me up for an exciting 2021. 

My 2021 resolutions – health and purpose

This is the penultimate blog in this year in the life of me – a man transitioning into retirement.

For the final two blogs I’m looking forward to next year, hopefully a better year, making a few resolutions.  Today I’m thinking about health and purpose.

Health

At my time of life, perhaps at all times in life, health is uppermost, without good health, little else can be achieved or enjoyed.

Most of my health-related energies have gone into running.   Yesterday I achieved my target of 1000 kms in a year.   I’m going to up it slightly this year and aim for 100 kms a month, 1200 a year.  I’ll also vary my routes a bit more this year and do even more outdoor runs.  

Trouble with running is it took up most of my energies and I really want to do something else that focuses on my upper body – core and arms.   This is something I’ve consistently failed to achieve but maybe now’s the time.  Today I’ll buy a Men’s Health type magazine and hopefully get inspired!

I’m also going to look at my Fitbit – do 10% more steps, get my resting heart rate down from 63 to 60.

Health, of course, is about more than physical fitness – it’s also about looking after your body generally  – and how you’re feeling mentally.

I’ve started drinking more, this year.  Weekend wine has wended its way into weekdays while gin o’clock now begins sooner.   It’s time now to get a grip on this and so the year will begin with another dry January that I fully intend to complete.  I’m hoping this month of abstinence will lead to a permanent change to my relationship with alcohol.

Just doing the above should keep my weight below 12 stones, something I managed to achieve until recent weeks for most of 2021.

My mental health has also taken a battering thanks to Covid’s impact on my transitional year.  Too often I’ve found myself feeling anxious, just generally or about things that never used to worry me.   I’ve not been sleeping so well either.  This is going to be a tougher nut to crack – I fear!

One idea is to sign up to some sort of Zoom-based mindfulness or meditation class that I could do a couple of times a week.  I’m sure there must be something.  I also want to work on a more chilled mindset, just spending time doing nothing, no phone, no to-do lists, no TV.  The new set of lockdowns predicted to start tomorrow should certainly give me the space to indulge this.

Continuing the health theme, I’m going to look into alternatives to our local doctors’ surgery where it is now very difficult to get in an appointment.  Depending on cost I might look to pay for an annual health check or sign up for a service such as Doctor Care Anywhere.

Purpose

One of the biggest things I’ve learned this year is that I still need a purpose.  Work gave me one for 40 years, not so much through the work itself, but the drive it gave me to deliver an income.

Running my own business, as I still do, should have enabled me to shape my future, decide what to do and who to work for.   The reality was that too much energy went into keeping key customers happy and covering staff and other overheads.

I’m glad those days are behind me now and that I now only work on projects, or for people, I like.  Something I’m determined to make sure continues.

I’ve used the extra time and space I’ve had this year to start up a couple of other projects which should give me all the focus I need.

Firstly there is the political – I want to get selected and then elected – as a County Councillor.   I’m some way on my journey with the former but the latter will be a much greater challenge.   I also want to make progress in my role as a Branch Chairman and achieve the goals I’ve set myself.

The second is to write a book or more precisely co-write a successful book.  Over the last couple of months I’ve been working with a former work colleague on the contents and marketing of a business book.  We’re going to be writing a chapter a week for the next couple of months. 

Both projects will keep me very busy and are things I’ve always wanted to do.  They’re exciting and also have the potential to generate some useful and validating income.

Tomorrow I’ll look at my goals for my home and garden, relationships, travel, leisure and more and reflect on what I’ve learned during this tumultuous 12 months.

1000k in 2020. I did it!

Today I achieved my goal of running 1,000 kms – that’s 621 miles in old money – in a year.  More than from Land’s End to John O’Groats or indeed the other way which, at least, is downhill! 

I completed the last 5k this morning just as the snow began to fall.  Mrs Jones acted as pacemaker and motivator, I needed her there to drag me over the line Brownlee brother style if I collapsed with a 100 metres to go.

In my head I waved to the cheering spectators Steve Ovett style as I rounded the final bend.   There was bunting, banners, flags and a tickertape welcome as I crossed the line in a respectable but slightly disappointing 30 minutes and five seconds.   

Mo Farah was on hand to slap me on the back and to ask me how I’d managed the feat at the grand old age of 60 particularly following this year’s cancellation of parkrun. I then made my way to the medal podium, high-fiving other Olympians such as Daley Thompson, Steve Cram and home town hero Dave Moorcroft.  

There stood Seb Coe waiting to award me my medal, soon the national anthem started to play and I watched the Union Flag rising catching the wind to waft majestically while I tried to suppress a patriotic tear.

OK, none of that happened though I did buy myself a celebratory Greggs sausage batch, as we call them in these parts, and a Salted Caramel Latte.  Most of my runs took me past this Greggs and the distinctive breakfast smell lifted my spirits as I powered through the final two kilometres.

Today’s milestone is right up there in the pantheon of Brian Jones’ sporting achievements.  Highlights of 60 years of endeavour include:

  • Scoring a maximum 180 in darts, sadly no one witnessed it as I was practising alone.  I had so many goes that a monkey throwing darts randomly would have eventually achieved the same feat!
  • A snooker break of 24 involving six consecutive pots
  • Completing video games Sonic the Hedgehog, Asteroids and Space Invaders
  • Reaching the final of a Table Football tournament while at University
  • Being quite good at WordFeud

Somewhat more athletic achievements included:

  • Ski-ing a red run without falling over after about a hundred attempts
  • Ending up in the top group of a tennis doubles tournament
  • Winning more games than I lost in the county summer tennis doubles league 7W
  • Being crowned champion, yes champion, of a Center Parcs tennis tournament. 

Running though is more my thing:

  • Earlier this year I ran a 10k in a decent time
  • Completing 49 parkruns.  Been waiting nearly a year for the big 50.
  • Running a half-marathon many years ago in about two hours, 20 minutes.  In truth I was nearly last and for about two miles felt like I had lost the power of forward propulsion and was effectively running on the spot!

Topping all of that is today’s achievement.  What next I ask myself.

Covid killing conversation

I went back to the gym today before it closes again for another month or two. I did my usual treadmill session and swim and was looking forward to a chat with like-minded men of my own age.

This used to be an important part of my BC – Before Covid – routine enabling me to enjoy the undoubted benefits of exercise and the added boost of social interaction, something that I’d started to miss without work.

Today I bumped into a couple of old faces.  The first was a very overweight man in his mid-forties,  he was huffing and puffing just getting his kit on.

I felt dutybound to enquire about his Christmas and soon regretted it.  It had not gone well.  He’s not been getting on with his sons – both in their early twenties – since Covid began.   Apparently they think he’s responsible for the pandemic or at the very least being a bit over the top about it all.

They’re both carrying on as normal, travelling to see girlfriends and not making much effort to socially distance. They argue they are staying in their bubbles but he says that they’re in so many bubbles they might as well be in a “bloody bubble bath” which I thought was a nice line.

Now with mask removed so he could take a long draw on his inhaler, he told me he was “paranoid about Covid” and following all the rules. 

This all made living under the same roof, particularly over Christmas, a recipe for disaster.  I tried to empathise and mentioned that he’s far from alone in having to deal with family disputes about Covid venturing that me and Mrs Jones had disagreements about it.

Oh how I wished I’d never said that.  He was quick to ask which side of the debate I was on and I knew my lockdown scepticism would not go down well.  For a fleeting moment I thought I’d just pretend that it was me that was all for lockdown and Mrs Jones who hated the restrictions but I couldn’t lie.

I blabbered on for a few minutes trying to sound as reasonable as possible advancing my arguments which centre around keeping the vulnerable safe but allowing others to carry on with normal life. His body language became more belligerent and I started to flounder before making a sharp exit to the gym.

After the treadmill I always treat myself to a swim but try to be careful and only get in when it’s quiet.  I waited a good 20 minutes, found a clear lane where I could do a few lengths and annoyingly it soon started to get busy.

As I was getting out I could see fat inhaler man in the skimpiest set of Speedos bounding straight into the pool not giving a moment’s thought to his and anybody else’s health.  

I shut myself in the steam room and started to feel cross.  Surely he should be keeping himself out of harm’s way and who’s fault was it that he was fat and more vulnerable in any case.  Why should everybody else’s freedom have to be curtailed just to protect him.

I banished these thoughts away and opened my waterproof Kindle.  To my annoyance I was joined by another old face – a trim and fit older man in his sixties – who just wouldn’t stop talking.  Could he not see I was reading.

After a few grunts from me the conversation inevitably turned to Covid.  He, it turned out was on the other side of the big Covid debate.   He began his diatribe by saying he’s not educated enough to really know what’s going on – that doesn’t stop most of us I thought. 

I stopped listening after a while but his rant included such gems as Covid was “nature’s way of correcting the imbalance” and as is the case with rats the “human race needs periodic extinction events”.

I tried to moderate the conversation but we did at least agree that we’re glad we’re not the Prime Minister having to make the decisions about all this. 

I used to like my morning chats but now Covid has spoiled even that.   I either disagree with people’s views or just find the topic boring, after all none of us really know what’s right and there’s nothing new to say.

I just felt glad that both these men talked to me rather than each other!

Glad Christmas is just one day!

I wish it could be Christmas everyday, sang Wizzard’s Roy Wood. Was there ever a song title so misguided.   Truth is I’m glad that Christmas comes but once a year. 

After a little more socially distant socialising on Boxing Day, today is all about getting back to normal.  I’ve enjoyed the socialising, presents and overindulgence of this year’s festivities but me and my body are more than happy to get back to routine.

Trouble is there is still pork pie, cheese, meat, dips, desserts and more in the fridge. There are cakes, sweets and biscuits tempting me in virtually every room of the house.

Worst of all there is so much wine and spirits that I’d have enough stock to trade as a trendy tavern for a week or two if it was allowed here in tier 3.

The first and most important part of the normalising process began this morning with a bracing run – all of 7k – in my new trainers and woolly hat.  

The sun was shining and for at least 10 seconds I felt like I was enjoying it, just glad to be alive, still able to run despite the new half-a-stone in weight I’d managed to accumulate in just a few days.

If I can stay disciplined now – resist all the temptation in the house – I should be able to lose most of that extra chub before New Year’s Eve.

At least I’ve managed to skip a meal today – a light scrambled egg meal will do for breakfast and lunch – and we’re planning a salad this evening with some of those fridge left-overs.  Trouble is I’ve just seen a half-empty pack of wine gums and couldn’t resist finishing the box and then we had a small chocolatey treat after breakfast.

With Christmas done and with a quiet few days ahead I’m starting to think about what next.   There’s not a lot in the diary and I’m resigned to a tier 4 lockdown in the coming days.

At least there was some cheering news in this morning’s paper, Brexit has been done.   Whether you’re a leaver or remainer surely it’s good to know that four and half years after the referundum, this turmoil is now at an end.

Being the optimist I used to be, I am also excited about the new journey our country can embark on as a free and independent trading nation.

Even better news is that the roll out of the new Oxford jab could see millions vaccinated in the coming weeks perhaps enabling restrictions to be relaxed as early as February.

My morning run, the return to normal life and some good news at last is making me think that I can start looking forward positively, time to start thinking up a few New Year resolutions.

A Christmas message

Just another day Christmas Day isn’t it? Well it is and it isn’t.

After all that’s happened this year, there was no better reminder that family is pretty much all that matters.

Thankfully, unlike so many others, we were able to spend it with ours. How strange it is we need food, drink and presents to oil the wheels.

Cooking a Christmas dinner for six – the first time we’ve done it for years – felt like such a big undertaking when really it’s just a glorified Sunday dinner.

The addition of those little extras – pigs in blankets and just a few more vegetables – coupled with the longer cooking time of the turkey – seems to complicate the process exponentially.

An hour behind schedule – not that it mattered at all – it was finally time to serve up the dozen or so elements of the meal, gather every one to the table, find space for the serving dishes while keeping it all hot and vaguely presentable.  We just about managed it and still found time to squeeze in the obligatory marital bicker.

The meal was beautiful and well received by all, apart from the grumpy teenager – another important part of all family Christmases.

Washed down with champagne and strong red wine it wasn’t long before it was time for those desserts that only come out this time of year including yule log and trifle.  Super rich, chocolatey, creamy food just after you’ve eaten your biggest meal.

Then as you slowly digest all you’ve eaten an afternoon of more present opening, conversation and drinking awaits before, guess what, more food!  Pork pie, cheese and biscuits, dips, more turkey, ham, profiteroles – just what my stomach was crying out for. 

Despite the protests of my gut, all felt perfect and it was.  Then, out of the blue, a message from my sister saying that my Dad had a funny turn over his Christmas dinner.  

Thankfully after being checked out by a medic he was given the all-clear and seemed fine when I spoke to him later. Maybe a bit too much drink, getting over-tired who knows, but I do worry with him in his mid-eighties.

Earlier I’d rang to wish him Happy Christmas and got distracted during the call not really paying attention to what he was saying.  How I would have regretted that if something worse had happened.

Later that evening we all sat and watched, the new Disney film Soul.   Before I fell asleep – another inevitable Christmas Day event – I got the gist that the film was about being positive and making the most of life.

After this year, this day and the news about my Dad, it’s a message I need to carry into the rest of my life, whatever happens.

Christmas Day 2020 is here at last.

By 8.35am we’d opened all our presents.  It takes weeks to buy them, hours to wrap them and minutes to open them.

I’ve been a very lucky boy – great pressies from Mrs Jones including some new trainers and a new running cap.  It’s a beautiful bright sunny day and there was more than a part of me that wanted to go for a run imagining myself gliding through my 5k in record time thanks to my new superlight, aerodynamic Nike trainers, my new cap and nothing else.

Thankfully I resisted the temptation, had a bacon sandwich and uncorked a Bucks Fizz for breakfast.  I then did my stint in the kitchen pealing spuds and doing some of the Christmas dinner basics before Mrs Jones takes over to do the clever stuff.

Yesterday was quite a fraught day partly thanks to me deciding it would be a good idea to get the downstairs toilet decorated in time for the big day.  There were various last-minute mishaps including a cracked mirror on the corner cabinet but we get through it all in the end.

After visiting the elderly relatives we were then wrapping until 10.30pm before having a Christmas Eve hot tub and gin & tonic session to help us calm down before bed.

Today we’ve got family joining us for Christmas dinner and I feel blessed to be spending it with them when so many can’t because of the latest Covid lockdowns.

At least the world of politics gave us something good yesterday as it now seems once and for all Brexit is done, we have our trade deal with the EU and we can stop talking about that.  There will be a day when we stop talking about Covid too, I cannot wait.

Anyway enough of the real world, today should be all about tradition so here’s a few awful Christmas Cracker jokes with the first one being so very apt!

Why is Parliament like ancient Bethlehem? It takes a miracle to find three wise men there.

Why are Christmas trees so bad at knitting? Because they always drop their needles

What do you get if you eat Christmas decorations? Tinsillitis

Why did nobody bid for Rudolph and Blitzen on eBay? They were two deer

What did the stamp say to the envelope? Stick with me and we’ll go places

Who hides in the bakery at Christmas? A mince spy

What did Adam say the day before Christmas? It’s Christmas, Eve

What did the snowflake say to the fallen leaf? You are so last season

What do you get if you lie under a cow? A pat on the head

What athlete is warmest in winter? A long jumper

What is the best Christmas present? A broken drum, you can’t beat it!

What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus? Claustrophobic

What do elfs learn in school? The elf-abet

Did Rudolph go to school? No, he was elf-taught

If you and I were socks, we’d make a great pair!

Why are Santa’s deers always wet? Because they’re reindeers!

What is Santa’s favourite pizza? One that’s deep-pan, crisp and even

What do snowmen have for breakfast? Snowflakes

What movie do the Three Wise Men watch on Christmas Day? A Star Is Born

What did Santa do when he went speed dating? He pulled a cracker

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Santa’s on his way

I’ve had my final advent calendar chocolate, there are presents everywhere – some to open, some to wrap – and elderly relatives to visit.   It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

I’ve just checked and the wonderful NORAD Santa Tracker and for some people on our planet the big man is already on his way.   Even at the age of 60 I struggle to get my head round the fact that for some Christmas Day has already here and for others it won’t start until well after my presents have been opened.  That fact truly messes with my concept of time.

I know Father Christmas is on the move – he’s already delivered over 12 million presents – thanks to the NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) Santa Tracker.  Each year, since 1955, using radar and other technologies it has tracked Santa’s journey from the North Pole delivering presents to children all across the world.

As a growing child I thought that Santa’s feat was just fanciful but now with the advent of Amazon I think it’s highly possible..

It all started on December 24, 1948, when the United States Air Force issued a communique claiming that an “early warning radar net to the north” had detected “one unidentified sleigh powered by eight reindeer at 14,000 feet, heading 180 degrees.”

It became an annual event on December 24, 1955 when, according to legend, a Sears department store placed an advertisement in which they told children they could place a call to Santa Claus and included the number ME 2-6681.

The calls allegedly came through to Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command Center as one digit was misprinted.  In some versions of the story, the calls were coming in to the “red telephone” hotline that connected CONAD directly to command authorities at the Strategic Air Command.

Colonel Harry Shoup, who was a Crew Commander on duty, answered the first call and supposedly told his staff to give all children who called in later a made-up “current location” for Santa Claus.

In 1958, the North America Air Defense Command (NORAD) took over the reporting responsibility from CONAD, and the reporting became more elaborate as the years passed. On December 24, 1960, for example, NORAD’s northern command post provided regular updates of a supposed sleigh operated by “S. Claus” which it identified as “undoubtedly friendly”.

Eventually, NORAD openly published a hotline number for the general public to call to get updates on Santa Claus’ supposed progress.  Today, it relies on volunteers to make the programme possible. Each volunteer handles about 40 telephone calls per hour and the team typically handles more than 12,000 e-mails and more than 100,000 telephone calls from more than two hundred countries and territories.

Most of these contacts happen during the 20 hours from 4 a.m. on December 24 until midnight on December 25. A website called NORADSanta.org was established to allow access for Internet users.

In 2014, NORAD answered more than 100,000 phone calls. In 2018, more than 1,500 volunteers staffed the phone lines despite the shutdown of the US government.  In December 2019, the noradsanta.org website received 8.9 million visitors. 

This year, NORAD announced they would continue the Santa Tracker, despite Covid, with a limited number of volunteers answering calls. It’s great to see this wonderful tradition continuing in what has surely been the most challenging year since the service began.  I hope it continues for ever more, a bit like Santa.

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