Love is not all you need

#RetiredBloke quote

“Those who have some means think that the most important thing in the world is love. The poor know that it is money.”

Gerald Brenan 1894-1987

British travel writer and novelist

‘Thoughts in a Dry Season’ (1978)


A violent, ugly picture of Australian city life

World Crime Atlas: the retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country listed in The Times atlas of the world.


Truth, by Peter Temple

The Plot: Victoria Police’s homicide department is faced with a spate of killings in Melbourne. A young woman’s naked body is found in a luxury apartment block. The mutilated bodies of three drug dealers are discovered in an abandoned warehouse. Police efforts to establish if the murders are related are blocked by corrupt politicians, businessmen and media interests. Beyond the city limits, meanwhile, huge forest fires are threatening small towns across the state.

Where and when: The story is set around the time of the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.

The Detectives: The plot revolves around Stephen Villani, acting head of homicide and a man whose professional and personal lives are hugely compromised.

Sense of Place: The burning countryside is vividly described: “A burning world – scarlet hills, grey-white funeral plumes, trees exploding, blackened vehicle carapaces.” In the city, the heat is different but just as dangerous: “The street door resisted him, then the outside hit, hot air of wood smoke and petrochemicals, fuels ancient and new.”

They combine to create a nightmare: “In the street now, the night wind had brought the smoke from the high country, mingled it with the city smells of petrochemicals, carbon, sulphur, cooking oils and burnt rubber, drains, sewers, hot tar, dogs, balsamic night sweats, the little gasps of a million beer openings, a hundred trillion sour human breaths.”

Temple’s Melbourne is an ugly, violent city: “In the ghostly city, he saw the newspaper bales being dumped, the lost people, the homeless, the unhinged, a man and a woman sitting on the kerb passing a bottle, a figure face down, crucified in a pool of piss.”

Worth reading? Truth is the sequel to Temple’s bestseller The Broken Shore (in which Villani appears as a minor character). I would recommend reading both.


A versatile soft red winner from Loire

The Wine List: the retirement project to sample wine made from each of the main grape varieties featured in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book.

IMGP5899Cabernet Franc

Domaine du Colombier 2012 Chinon, Indre-et-Loire, France

Alc Vol: 12.5%

HJ says: “Outperforms Cab Sauv in Loire, Hungary and often in Italy”

What it says on the label: “distinctively fruity taste and pleasant degree of acidity”

Food combination: “partners most meat dishes or cheese well and would enhance any picnic or barbecue”

Retired Bloke verdict: “We drank this at lunch on Christmas Eve with cold ham and an avocado salad. It was delicious and worked well with all of the flavours on the plate.”

One for the wine rack? Yes. It seems very versatile. The label recommends drinking it slightly chilled in the summer; I can see it would be a nice alternative to the usual dry whites. But suggesting it’s barbecue-friendly is possibly a claim too far.

It’s Not About The Wine: The commune of Chinon is the birthplace of writer, humanist, philosopher and satirist Francois Rabelais.


Retired Lives: the pot gatherer


IMGP5862John Wilson was a local authority adviser on mathematics and computing. He was responsible for teacher training inservice grants, and was Assistant Director of Education for Powys County Council until he took early retirement at the age of 50.

50 seems very early to retire. Why did you decide to retire then? I had planned to retire at 55. My wife was planning to retire the following year. The council was looking to save money, and was getting rid of the education advisory service. I volunteered to go.

Was it a difficult decision? I was not disappointed to go. I worked out that I’d be £100 a month worse off. I thought: ‘why work?’

But was it difficult to make the adjustment? I was not bothered about any loss of prestige or self-esteem when I retired. I had a few things with the council that I followed up on. That work was financially useful.

I understand that you were part of an interesting keep fit project. There was a student in the college doing a certificate to get a gym work qualification. He wanted two older blokes, one who had been fit, and two much younger people. I had played squash at a reasonable level until I was 50. The project was to do a comparison of how quickly we got fit. The end target was to run a half-marathon. I did not do that! My end point was just to get a lot fitter. I did six months with him in the college gym. At home, I walked up and down the stairs carrying weights for an hour every day. By the end of the year I had worn out the carpet. Since then, I have maintained a fitness regime. I have a home gym and spend an hour there every day.

You served as a local councillor for five years. How did you get involved in politics? It started with a discussion around the dinner table. I was complaining that ‘somebody should do something’ and somebody turned to me and said: ‘What are YOU going to do?’ There was a vacancy on the town council, and I was elected unopposed. After a while I realised we had no power at all. I found it a pointless exercise.

The tagline to this blog says there’s more to retirement than gardening; but you are a keen gardener, aren’t you? In the 20 years I’ve been retired, I’ve gathered pots. They have increased in number and size. Now it takes me one and a half hours to water them all. I have hanging baskets as well. But I’ve discovered that the worst bit of any garden is the lawn. To have a good one is a pain! I spend a lot of time out there. Before I retired I had a garden, but that’s not the same thing as being a gardener.

And like many retired people, you enjoy your holidays. Just before I retired, we started going on canal holidays. It did me the world of good. There’s always something to do. If you’re not on the tiller you are the one working the locks. Or you simply get off the boat and walk into the nearest town. There’s now a group of us who spend Christmas and birthdays together. Away from the canals, we have travelled in Europe, America, Canada and New Zealand.

How did your wife adjust to your retirement? I had a year when I was retired and she was still working. Now she is out more often than I am. The church always figured quite large in her life. She is a church warden, and volunteers with the WRVS and Samaritans. So it’s more a case of me supporting her because she does so many charitable and church duties.

Sum up your experience of retirement. There was the professional work at first, then the gardening, the town council work, and holidays all over the world. I have enjoyed retirement as much as working.

Some Celtic romanticism, and a thumper from Hampshire

Fancy A Pint? The retirement project to sample beer or cider brewed or fermented in each county in the United Kingdom.

IMGP5864County: Caerphilly County Borough (formerly part of Glamorgan).

What is it called? Dark-Age

Who Made It? The Celt Experience Brewery, Pontygwindy, Caerphilly. The brewery was started by Tom Newman in his father’s garage.

What is it? Unfiltered unresinous mild ale.

Alc Vol: 4%

What it says on the label: “Elegant smooth chocolate and caramel body with a spice finish … Inspired by the tranquility of the myths of Avalon, the legends of King Arthur and Merlin emerge from ancient pagan myths, tracing dark ripples through history.”

Food combination: “Belgian chocolate mousse.”

Retired Bloke verdict: Avalon? Merlin? Get over yourselves, lads! It’s beer! Not having any Belgian chocolate handy, I had a pork pie with my glass. Off to the dungeons with Retired Bloke.

Fancy another? No thanks. The beer tasted fine, but I don’t think I could cope with another helping of the over-heated imagination.

It’s not about the beer: Caerphilly is the birthplace of comedian Tommy Cooper. There’s a statue of him in the town.

IMGP5866County: Hampshire.

What is it called? Old Thumper.

Who made it? Ringwood Brewery. The brewery was launched in 1978 by Peter Austin, but it was bought by Marston’s in 2007.

What is it? Full of flavour craft ale.

Alc Vol: 5.1% (but originally 6%)

What it says on the label: “a moreish maltiness and a satisfying full flavour”

Food combination: “Best enjoyed relaxing with friends and a cow pie.”

Retired Bloke verdict: A very nice pint. Drank it with beef Wellington and roast potatoes.

Fancy another? Yes please.

It’s not about the beer: The town of Ringwood is home to the UK’s largest slotcar racing centre.

Saying goodbye to my mother

WE buried my mother on Thursday. She died, a week earlier, in the care home where she had lived since February.

My father was at her side when she died, suddenly but peacefully. They had been married for 73 years, so it is some comfort to know he was there when she passed away.

Dad decided that he would not go to the funeral. I was glad. At the age of 100 (it is his 101st birthday tomorrow), the physical and emotional effort would have been too much for him.

I spoke at the service on his behalf. I asked everybody to remember mum as she was throughout her 95 years. Remember the sense of fun, the love for her family, the capacity for hard work, and not least her determination to have things done just the way she wanted them.

I did not want family and friends to be left with abiding memories of how she was in the last year of her life. Dementia’s baleful shadow had darkened the joy, but she deserved much more than for dementia to define her life.

I have written before about the modern phenomenon of people reaching retirement age and still having living parents. My parents, for example, were still young when their parents died. My two grandfathers were hard-working men; one was a coal miner, the other a tinplate worker. Men who did those sort of tough physical jobs tended not to enjoy long retirements.

But for us products of the ‘baby boomer’ years immediately after the second world war, things can be different. Many of us have the privilege of having parents who reach advanced age. With the privilege comes responsibility; often, as in my case, that responsibility eventually comes down to the moment you realise your parents need to move into a care home for their own comfort and safety.

My mother’s long life is now over. Dad remains in the care home that he had shared with mum since June. Both of us are finding ways to adjust to our changed circumstances.