When is it ok to stop counting the years?

I SPENT a morning cutting back and removing weeds and other sorts of vegetation from my parents’ and great-grandparents’ graves. It would have been my parents’ 75th wedding anniversary that day. But does this actually have any meaning? When do we stop recording ‘would have been’ birthdays and anniversaries? There are Birthday Memories notices in local newspapers, with families remembering somebody’s birthday, often decades after that person’s death. Why do we do this? Does it help to keep their memory alive? But memory is malleable; how we remember, changes; what we remember, alters.

Group therapy

I HAVE joined two Facebook groups, for people who like to discuss books they have read and films they have seen. So far, I have written about two books and two films. I can see me doing more of this, with other groups dedicated to the things I have been writing about on this blog. Perhaps, eventually, these groups will replace the blog; in the meantime, I’m toying with the idea of changing the name of the blog (if I can summon up the energy to make all the alterations that seem to be required for something apparently so simple.) The working title is It’s A Retired Life; I am undecided about an exclamation mark.

Awkward relationship

I HAVE started a new photographic project. The Gower Peninsula, just west of Swansea, was the UK’s first designated Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty. My Gower Churches project will try to look at how some of the peninsula’s oldest buildings fit into that landscape. It has got off to a less than promising start; the first church was wedged between a hotel and a modern house; the second was on a busy road junction.

Never on a Sunday

RETURNING to the first topic in this post, last Saturday would have been my mother’s 97th birthday. We put yellow roses on her grave. The next day, we went to the cinema to see the latest Tom Cruise film. My mother was probably turning in her grave at the thought of her boy going to the pictures on a Sunday.

Out of harmony

CHATTING with the other retired blokes after our regular morning swim, I discover that Posh John (He Went To Boarding School) is teaching himself to play the piano, using tutorials on YouTube. This sparks shared reminiscences about schoolboy piano lessons. Dave The Photos recalled his relief when his lessons came to a sudden end after six months, when his teacher unexpectedly died. I recall my teacher, who was the village vicar’s wife, advising my mother that she stop wasting her money on piano lessons, and buy me a new football instead.

Advertisements

Are there any olderpreneurs here?

HEALTH CHECK: more over-65s are using their skills and expertise to launch their own businesses.

FORGET the idea that people retire with a sense of relief that work and business are now things from their former life that they never need worry themselves about again.

It turns out that many of us bring the curtain down on our careers, only to start a new act, running our own businesses.

Research by the global banking giant Barclays reveals that, over the last decade, the fastest growing age group of business owners was those aged over 65. Between 2006 and last year, that age group recorded a 140 per cent increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment.

We may not be pulling down a regular pay cheque any more, but the good news is that many of us are putting the skills and expertise we have built over many years to profitable use.

Perhaps it is no surprise that former teachers and doctors are well represented in this category.

There is another, less welcome, motive behind the increase in ‘olderpreneurship’, however; some of us are becoming our own boss later in life because our pensions are not enough to maintain the lifestyle we want.

Of course, the internet has made it much easier to launch a business these days – but the rate of business failures is still as daunting as it ever was.

But, according to the Office for National Statistics, whatever the reason for starting our own business later in life, most of us are very happy with our new self-employed status.

Are you an olderpreneur? Have you started your own business since you retired from the day-job?

Never mind the distance, watch the clock

Monday, August 7

Back in the pool, which has been hosting the Welsh championships, and therefore closed to the public for a week. A change of strategy; rather than swimming 1,000 metres in whatever time it takes, I swim for 25 minutes, regardless of the distance covered. This has two advantages for a retired bloke; I don’t have to remember to keep count of how metres I’ve swum, and it is no longer made obvious to me that I’m getting progressively slower. What they call, I believe, a win-win outcome.

Tuesday, August 8

I have started reading On The Map, a history of cartography, by Simon Garfield (this is one of the hardback books I bought for 1 penny each). In his foreword, Garfield writes how our idea of maps has been affected by modern technology such as map apps on our smartphones, and Google Earth on our computers. I realise that I don’t use – or, indeed, have – either of these things.

Wednesday, August 9

A national newspaper survey of Premier League football clubs’ fans reveals that only 5 per cent of Swansea supporters are “extremely confident” of the team having a good season. This would be perturbing, except for the fact no other club’s fans are markedly more optimistic. It just proves that following a football team is a nerve-wracking and confidence-sapping experience. People who don’t understand this are prone to such fatuous remarks as: “looking forward to the game?”

Friday, August 10

The Current Mrs Feeney and I are in the kitchen, thumbing through the newspapers after breakfast. TCMrsF reads out a name, and asks if I know him. I say that I was in junior and senior schools with him. She passes me the page of death notices. Shocking.

Sunday, August 13

My final appearance on the Jamie Owen Show on BBC Radio Wales this morning. The show is being taken off air at the end of this month. “You sounded hesitant,” says TCMrsF. An opinion that is backed up by The Daughter. Everybody wants to be a critic.

 

The truth is staring us in the face

Sunday, July 30

They say there’s no fool like an old fool. A survey finds that three-quarters of older British men believe they become better looking with age. This contrasts with only 56 per cent of men aged 16 to 24 feeling confident about their looks. How come? Perhaps the explanation why 71 per cent of the over-65 group thought they looked younger than their years is found elsewhere in the same survey; younger men look in the mirror more often.

Driving back from Cheltenham, we find ourselves stuck in a traffic jam on the M4 at 6.30 on a Sunday evening. The cause is the apparently perpetual problem of congestion approaching the Brynglas tunnels outside Newport. The Welsh Government has been loud in its protests at the UK Government’s cancellation of rail electrification west of Cardiff, but it should be concentrating on making a decision about the route of the M4 relief road, and get on with removing a bottleneck that has a far more severe impact on business and leisure traffic into Wales.

Monday, July 31

It’s 8.30pm, and our kitchen is full of animals. Our neighbours moved house today. They did not take with them their cat (Next Door’s Cat, an occasional player in the never-ending drama that is this retired life journal). So he’s in the room. But so, temporarily, are next door’s two dogs, waiting to be collected and taken to their new home. All is surprisingly harmonious.

Tuesday, August 1

I have started reading Darktown, a police procedural novel set in Atlanta in 1948, as part of my World Crime Atlas retirement project. One-third into the story, and I am already immersed in the book’s deeply shocking portrayal of a city where even crime, and its victims, are strictly segregated. Very impressive story telling by the author, Thomas Mullen.

Friday, August 4

Why do so many people confuse going to the cinema with going for a picnic? The people sat on either side of me at this afternoon’s screening of War For The Planet Of The Apes were fully equipped with popcorn (two, large), drinks (ditto), bags of chocolates, tortilla chips, and a tray of assorted dips. When I want to eat, I go to a café; when I want to watch a film, I go to a cinema. I like it that way. I don’t much like having to watch and listen to a film over the sounds (and smells) of my neighbours’ marathon grazing sessions.

The days of Crabs and Kings

 

Monday, July 24

I attended the funeral of one of our band of retired blokes early-morning swimmers.The chapel at Swansea Crematorium was full, with as many people standing outside in warm sunshine. While there was one hymn – All Things Bright and Beautiful – there were no readings from religious texts, just a passage from the works of the Roman poet Seneca. There was an invitation, however, for “those of faith” to recite the Lord’s Prayer. I do not regard myself as a believer, but found myself joining in the familiar words; somehow, it felt appropriate.

Tuesday, July 25

I cut the grass, and put out four bags of garden refuse to be collected for recycling. Then, The Current Mrs Feeney informs me that, actually, it is our week for plastic and general household rubbish.

We drive with The Daughter to Rhossili, which once again has been voted one of the best beaches in the world. We thought a brisk walk to Worm’s Head would be very enjoyable. The car park was full; as was the overflow; and the overflow’s overflow. Mental note to self: do not visit Gower beauty spots during the school summer holidays.

Wednesday, July 26

The young man in the men’s outfitters was a very good salesman. “This jacket makes you look slimmer,” he said. I raised an eyebrow, or two. “Not slimmer,” he said; “it brings out your naturally athletic shape.” We left with the jacket, and a shirt.

At last, good news for Swansea. Planned electrification of the railway line has been scrapped, the tidal lagoon proposed for the bay is becalmed, and the football club’s best player looks poised to join a rival Premier League club. But research reveals that Swansea’s student population is happy with the price of a kebab and a pint of beer in the city.

I spend £5 in an antiques centre, on a book of classic British steam locomotives. So far, I have re-acquainted myself with Castles, Arthurs, Nelsons, Crabs and Kings, from my trainspotting days in the first half of the 1960s. My memory of the King Arthur class is particularly poignant; travelling from Swansea to Paddington, we passed ranks of them, lined up in sidings on the western outskirts of London, waiting to be delivered to their final destination, the breakers’ yard.

Friday, July 28.

The United States is confused, because there are no Americans in it. The French are annoyed, because there are not enough Frenchmen in it. The British have been enthusiastic about it. But I found Dunkirk, the latest movie about the evacuation of more than 300,00 British soldiers from under the noses of the German army in 1940, slightly disappointing. It is well-done, but offers nothing especially innovative or original. Perhaps tellingly, the most emotional moment is when the movie’s score reworks that Remembrance Sunday staple, Nimrod.

I have been absorbed in reading Murder at Wrotham Hill, the story of the killing of a female hitch-hiker by a lorry driver in Kent in 1946. The author, Diana Souhami, describes it as “a sort of fugue about killing,” and the detectives, pathologist and executioner in the case involved in “the industry of death” (a telling phrase, since the book includes a lengthy diversion to look at Nazi atrocities in death camps, and the conviction – and subsequent execution – of camp officers and staff in Allied war crimes trials). One small detail I found arresting; when a hanging was carried out – at 9am – the prison clock was always prevented from chiming that hour.

Saturday, July 29

The Daughter samples the Pouilly-Fumé I pour with our Chinese takeaway, and declares it the nicest wine she has tasted. “Expensive tastes,” says TCMrsF. “I wonder where I got that from,” replies TheD.

Retired Life Journal

Wednesday, July 5

I have ‘connected’ on a social media site with somebody who was a fellow student at Swansea University College in the mid 1970s. I have lost contact with everybody I went to university with; he, by contrast, is still in touch with all of his old crowd. This does not make me feel any better about my poor record in keeping up friendships.

Tuesday, July 11

We are in a pharmacist store; while The Current Mrs Feeney is looking for holiday supplies for our forthcoming trip to Spain, I wander down the Men’s Styling aisle. Hair gels on sale include Clay, Fibre, Gum, Paste, Putty, and Wax. We’ve come a long way from the days when my father would set off for work each morning with a gleaming head of Brylcreemed hair.

Back home, TCMrsF is trying out outfits for Spain: “Does the pink in this top go with the pink in this skirt?” she asks. This displays touching faith in the colour co-ordinating senses of one who, yesterday, she chastised for wearing purple socks with brown chinos.

Wednesday, July 12

The Welsh Government has announced plans to get a million people to become fluent in the Welsh language. The number of children attending Welsh-medium schools is to increase by a third, to 30 per cent of all seven-year-olds. I am sceptical about Government targets, but acknowledge the sea-change in official attitudes to the language. When I entered my grammar school in Swansea, in 1962, our form-master informed us that Welsh lessons were compulsory in our first year, “but after that you can drop it for something useful.”

Thursday, July 13

On the plane from Cardiff Airport to Spain, to stay with friends in their villa in the hills above the Costa Del Sol. As we ascend, the man sat directly in front of me clamps on a pair of earphones, and starts playing the first of what turns out to be a series of electronic games on his Playstation, leaving his wife to deal with the needs of their small daughter for the duration of the 150 minutes flight. I look quizzically at TCMrsF: “He’s an arse,” she responds.

Friday, July 14

Spain is enduring a heatwave, even by its own high-summer standards. The mercury sticks stubbornly above 40 Centigrade (that’s more than 100 Fahrenheit in ‘old money’). We meet up with a group of British ex-pats who gather in a (blessedly air-conditioned) hill village bar every Friday afternoon. One of them strokes my hand and tells me that I am lovely. “She says that to all the men,” my friend informs me later.

Monday, July 17

Malaga. TCMrsF and I spend three hours looking at the collection in the Picasso Museum. At the end, I have a slightly clearer idea of what Cubism was ‘about’ – but cannot shake off the suspicion that modern art is a practical joke played on gullible rich people.

Friday, July 21

Back home. TCMrsF and I watch a dvd of The Lobster. It is set in a future when single people are given 48 days to find a partner or be turned into an animal of their choice. Those on the run from this fate are called ‘loners’ and are hunted in the woods. Every loner slain grants the hunter an extra day in his or her quest for love/compatibility. It’s a film about love, loneliness, and social pressures to conform to the accepted norm. I thought it interesting; TCMrsF’s view changed, from “quirky” initially, to “rubbish” by the end.

Saturday, July 22

We are joined by The Daughter to watch a dvd of I Daniel Blake. I was the only one of us who had seen the film before. Re-watching it only reinforced my initial view; as a piece of political propaganda, it’s powerful; but as a drama, it’s one-dimensional.

 

Retired Life Journal

Sunday, June 25 I ORDER three books – two hardback and one very large paperback – from second-hand booksellers via Amazon, for the grand total of three pence (plus packing&postage, but you cannot have everything, I say). A good deal for me. Should I feel guilty? I recall attending a literary prize giving event where the chairman of judges described Amazon’s large distribution depot in Swansea as “The Death Star.”

I still spend plenty of money in High Street booksellers, so decide not to feel too bad about it.

Wednesday, June 28 WE are in a Debenhams store, where The Current Mrs Feeney points out a very small child having her nails varnished at a nail bar. I am not sure this is a good idea.

I buy two pairs of long swimming shorts, if you get my meaning. I now have six pairs of shorts, of varying length, as I seek the perfect marriage of efficiency in the pool and comfort at the poolside. Life was much simpler when I could wear Speedos without looking like somebody who was trying to get a pair of small songbirds past customs.

******

images

THERE is a story in this morning’s newspaper about a verbal spat between former tennis star turned commentator John McEnroe, and Serena Williams (left), who must have a decent claim at being the sport’s greatest female player. McEnroe has said that Williams would be ranked around 700 in the men’s game, reigniting some old arguments about gender equality in tennis.

I have a small contribution to make to this debate. A few years ago, a neighbour who had enthusiastically taken up the sport, knowing that I had played a bit in my twenties, invited me to a game on our local courts. She regarded my protests, that I hadn’t picked up a racket for decades, as gamesmanship. She assured me that she was stepping onto the court with some trepidation.

As I recall, I was losing 4-0 when I tore a calf muscle and hobbled off home. The racket has remained under the stairs since.

Unknown

Thursday, June 29 VIOLINIST Nicola Benedetti (above) has come to the defence of those of us of a certain age who enjoy going to classical music concerts. In response to suggestions that symphony concerts should focus on attracting younger audiences, at the expense of older enthusiasts, the 29-year-old musician told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: “I can’t believe how offensive it is to categorise a group in that way and encourage a generation gap.”

Even better, Stephen Hough, the classical pianist and composer, added: “With old age comes wisdom, patience, subtlety, contemplation.” The Current Mrs Feeney says this is absolute proof that I cannot yet be old. I’m not sure this is a compliment.

Saturday, July 1 WE go to an antiques fair at the National Botanical Gardens. At one of the first stalls, I quite like a painting, but am not sure if I want to buy it. At the end of our visit, I buy myself a double-scoop ice cream cone (vanilla and fruits of the forest ripple, since you ask). TCMrsF says I have five minutes to eat my ice cream and decide if I want to buy that painting. Ice cream consumed (delicious), I decide against the purchase.

“You’ve kept me standing here for five minutes. We could have been walking back to the car,” says TCMrsF. Baffling, yes?