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.