Thursday 16 March 2017


When I woke this morning my to-do list was, amazingly, empty. I have written before about how the blissful state of being  en retraite  is nothing like how I dreamt it would be. My imaginings of having oceans of time to go to the coast, sit in the garden, read, even read the papers, travel and people-watch never became reality.

But - for once - today - I can read, catch up with the papers, even sit in the garden ... and next week I can go to the coast. Why? Because we are in a new season!

In my dreams of retirement I had forgotten something called winter - which annually eats up four months of garden-sitting and people-watching. It's too damn cold to be outside unless you're jogging. And I don't jog.

I'd also forgotten housework has to be done and no matter how long I put it off there's always ironing.
Machines wash and dry clothes and dishes but they don't press shirts, trousers, t-shirts, jeans etc.

Retirement isn't one long blissful journey to foreign shores with endless sunshine and a heavy privy purse to pay for it all. Retirement is simply not leaving the house every morning to go to a place of work in exchange for a salary cheque at the end of the month. So how have I replaced that ' going to a place of work' ?

I do clean, dig the garden, get workmen in to fix our 125 year-old-house (and pay for it handsomely.) If I didn't live in an old house would I have more money for travel? More importantly would I have the time?

If waking -  with nothing vital to tackle - as I did today - was less of a rarity maybe I would have time to wander abroad. But, I wonder, why am I so busy the rest of the time? Perhaps writing a novel has taken over where my job left off. I read far more now - as much to inform myself of the craft of writing as for enjoyment - and perhaps I'm more particular about the state of the house and garden. Maybe I'm using more of my free time on domestics than I care to reveal. After all I'd never admit that retirement has meant my cooker hardly ever looks in need of a polish. I can't imagine myself bragging to anyone about the latest vacuum cleaner and how much better my carpets are now I have time to devote to them. And I rarely tell anyone I bake my own bread - but I do. ( Just don't pass it on.)

I did dig my herbaceous borders and raised vegetable beds a few weeks ago and the miniature daffodils always look brilliant for my birthday. This year was no exception. I have to admit it, grudgingly, retirement has meant I do more around the house and garden. It doesn't sound glamorous but it makes sense that, as a result, I rarely wake with nothing on my to-do list.

But today I really am going to read-for-pleasure and loosely plan part two of my trilogy - i.e. begin making notes for my second novel. It opens in 1939, from the pov of a very young volunteer soldier - a rich field - and continues through the war to the emergence of the NHS and the end of rationing.

I have my father's diaries of his duties in an armoured car during the big campaigns of WW2. He was in the Royal Corps of Signals. To be able to use his first hand notes and experiences of battle in The Italian Campaign, in El Alamein, the D-Day landings and - even more frightful - being part of the liberation task force for Belsen - should translate vividly into a novel.

But first find his diaries. That will take days of searching. Time - there's always something to eat into it. And perhaps if I really am a writer it would explain why I don't feel as if I have left work. I haven't. I've just exchanged one modus operandi for another. My choice. No-one made me use my time in this way. And - in theory - time is what I do have. I certainly didn't when I was an employee.

Sunday 5 March 2017

March On!

The weather men tell us March 1st is the first day of spring. The spring equinox is March 21st but we don't put the clocks forward until the end of March. This is why winter seems so long here; it's too late after shortest day, December 21st, to wait for much needed extra hours of light. My iphone calendar tells me it was dark at 5.20 pm on 30th October - my husband's birthday, the night after putting the hour back. Four 'rough' months later - 1st February - it was dark at 5.30pm. Isn't that about the time we should be moving the hands of the clock forward? Early February would be roughly two months after shortest day ... October 30th is roughly two months before that date, shortest day is just about in the middle of those two dates.

Why do we have to trudge through near-darkness for almost eight weeks longer than I would deem necessary? There is a reason - something to do with the shift of the moon or the inclination of the earth. Or some other half-remembered truth.

I was a school girl when the experiment to do away with light-saving took place. The issue was that to gain longer, light evenings we had to trade this for evil, black mornings. We were dressed in flourescent arm bands as it was so dark in the mornings on our walk, yes walk, to the primary school gates. The experiment showed light evenings, ie putting the clocks forward before the end of March, was too dangerous for morning rush hour traffic. The mornings were simply too black. That's the reason we suffer long dark evenngs in February and March; to do otherwise means dangerous roads and school children at risk of accident.

Nature doesn't stop, thankfully; it believes it's spring whatever time the big hand is telling us. This weekend our miniature daffodils have bloomed and are sitting in their barrels and tubs on our front steps, welcoming visitors, postmen and passers-by. Our primulas also look beautiful and another barrel - of pulmonaria - is ready to move to the front of the house too. Spring is in the air. There was real warmth in the sun on Thursday.

I always look forward to this time of year; it's my birthday in ten days time, prunus are flowering, scattering petals confetti-like along our semi-rural road, and gardens start to look very pretty. It's still dark at 6.45pm on the fourteenth of March - not light at 8pm until we alter the clocks. I crave the light nights!! We need sunshine and daylight, especially for us, this year, as mum died so soon after we put the clocks back. It was already dark by 5.30pm the night she left us. It's been a long four months since 4th November.

Given the horrendous stories from here, the USA, Syria and many places covered by world news it's good for the soul to see spring come round again.  Since Brexit, Trumpism and the terrible underfunding of our NHS, prisons, libraries, schools, the disabled ... the news seems more miserable  as the weeks go by ...  it's important to remember the good things. Seed packets at the ready, forsythia blossoming, an array of cut flowers to be had and good company. Solid, fun friendships forged with like-minded folk equally stumped by events in the news are of the essence. My manuscript is with my editor - that's draft three of my novel - but the first time she has read the whole in one sitting. Editing and making cuts has taken me some weeks. Now to emerge from in front of the screen! Get out into the fresh air. Spring clean (!). It's March. Things are moving forward.March on!