Tuesday, 28 April 2009


We've been to Cumbria for a few days and were staying in a big hotel in Kendal which has seen better days.

On arrival I was waiting at reception and another couple were waiting behind us when I spotted the receptionist in the room behind the office busy relating a funny story to a colleague. I presumed it was funny because they were laughing a lot. I was just looking round for a bell to ring so as to attract her attention when she spotted us all waiting at the desk. She shouted through 'I won't be a moment' and carried on with her tale. A couple of minutes later, she came to see to our registration. It was refreshing to see that she didn't let work get in the way of her social life! Obviously, they're different up North.

Having discovered that dinner was served at precisely 6.30 p.m. we resolved to eat out at a later time thinking to get a nightcap on our return to the hotel. Later, as we arrived back after a pleasant meal elsewhere, we passed the hotel lounge windows and looked in to see what we later discovered were a coach party of pensioners from even further up North who were obviously enjoying listening to a comedian. We overheard 'My mother-in-law paid me a compliment the other day. She called me a perfect idiot!' This decided us to go straight to our room. I was reminded that hotels up North often provide 'entertainment' in the evening so we were curious to see what would be on offer the next night!

Before that however, we had to negotiate breakfast. On entering the dining room my wife spotted two tables next to each other, both of which were for two people, so we sat at one. A moment later, the girl receptionist who had metamorphosed into a waitress, appeared at the table wielding a highlighter pen and carrying a clip board with a table plan on it. 'Sorry but could you move to the adjacent table because this one's been allocated to a different room.' Remarkably, we did as we were told. Of course, the first table remained empty throughout our breakfast. Sparing you the detail I shall just report that my wife 'played safe' by ordering a poached egg on toast. The egg was perfectly cooked and had then apparently been placed onto the toast using a soup ladle since the toast and indeed the entire plate, was swimming in water. They do things different up North.

The next night, we again returned after a nice meal and looked in at the windows to see a guy playing keyboard and singing. We bravely entered the lounge and my wife took a seat while I went up to the bar to order coffee and brandy chasers. The multi-functional girl had now become a cocktail server! I asked her if she had decaff coffee. 'Yes we do but I'm not serving coffee at the moment.' There seemed to be no answer to this so I took the brandies back to our table.

I was soon indulging myself in people watching and was fascinated by two elderly couples opposite. One of the men was disabled and had a stick. His partner was busy foot-tapping to the music vigorously. The other lady was singing along matching the performer word for word. Actually, he was pretty hot on keyboards and confessed to having been the pianist on the original (1971) Tony Christie recording of 'Amarillo'. He'd been given the choice of payment in the form of cash or royalties. If he'd chosen the latter he'd have been a wealthy man but he wanted to buy a 'Ben Sherman' shirt to impress his girlfriend so he took the cash. Such is life!

On our last night, we almost raced back to join the merry throng having become honorary members of the pensioners party. I made the bar girl a request which she could find no way to refuse and we took our allotted table opposite the same foursome as last night. We were all mesmerised by the organist who's feet, sporting the whitest of white shoes, were flashing across the organ pedals at high speed.

At the end of his show, he announced "take your partners for the Last Waltz". The karaoke queen sitting opposite was up like greased lightning and proceeded to drag her partner onto the dance floor. The other lady joined them to make a three-some, her hips swinging alarmingly to the rhythm. The disabled guy stood with difficulty and held on to the chair and table where he shuffled a little and watched his friends over on the dance floor.

Then I noticed the first couple speak to his wife and the three of them walked across and helped their disabled friend over to the dance floor. Once there, they all linked arms providing mutual support and swayed together as one while the strains of the last waltz drifted round the lounge. They are different up North.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Sometimes I think that my life has just been a preparation for the retirement which I'm currently enjoying. I looked forward to it and started to plan for it early. The amazing thing is that its even better than I hoped it would be and life isn't usually like that.

I know there are many people, my dear wife amongst them, who do not look forward to their retirement. Such people enjoy their working lives and see retirement as an end rather than as a beginning. I completely understand that. What I hope to do here, is to show what makes my retirement such a pleasure in the hope that it might enable others to approach it with less trepidation. The rules are in order of importance. I recommend a jackdaw approach.....just pick out the bits which you like the sound of!

One caveat...there may be times when despite my best efforts, I sound like some sort of saint. Those who know me would fall about laughing at such a notion.

Rule 1: Sort out your health
Sounds pretty obvious doesn't it? You're no use to yourself or others if you're unfit so sort it. Need to lose some weight? There are no excuses now - just do it. (I shed about 15 pounds). Then keep fit by whatever method takes your fancy. In my case I do tennis on Mondays, Pilates on Wednesdays and table-tennis on Fridays plus a bit of walking.

Rule 2: Sort out your relationship
If you are lucky enough to have a significant other, plan your retirement activities around time which is ring-fenced for them. Obviously, if they can join you in the activities that's a bonus but if they fancy a day out and you can't do it because you need to attend a committee meeting at your bee-keeping club it is a recipe for disaster.

Rule 3: Sort out your soul
I was a teacher of kids with special needs during which time I developed skills which I have found I can still use. Firstly, I volunteer crew for a charity which runs two large canal boats and who offer free day trips for disabled groups - both kids and adults. I love boating (see below) so this is a great source of pleasure for me and has the bonus of helping disadvantaged members of society. Secondly, I am training as a 'befriender' at a local children's hospice. Early days but I am going to have fun doing this. Finally, I teach older people how to use their computers - something I'm good at.

Rule 4: Sort out your mind
Margaret Drabble, the author, said 'Jigsaws are very therapeutic...they cure - like a lot of games'. Jigsaws aren't my thing but crosswords are. The world is your oyster here - you are spoilt for choice. Read, keep up with the news (so that you have an opinion), do puzzles. Basically do anything which keeps your mind alert.

Rule 5: Sort out your social life
Keeping contact with people means you can talk, swap ideas, learn, teach and generally communicate. Communication is a life-line. There are plenty of ways to get involved with people by joining local interest groups, clubs etc. In these Internet days you don't even have to leave your house! I play bridge regularly and also belong to a darts league.
In my career I developed management skills and now I put them to good use by running a boating group. There is a pool of 30 or so and I organise boat hire and get a crew of 10 or so together every couple of months. Everyone has fun and its a great way to socialise.

Rule 6: Sort out your interests
I'm talking about hobbies here. In my view, the point about hobbies is that you should be able to pick them up and put them down at will. This way, they are useful as time-fillers whenever you have a spare moment. So they keep boredom at bay. In my case apart from the things already mentioned, I collect stamps (I keep them on a shelf by my anorak).
I have also developed a great interest in Ancestry. Whilst it is fun to trace your roots way back in time, I've found it even better to trace living cousins who I didn't know existed. I have met some of them. I must say that they are all doing a great job of making out that they were pleased to have been discovered! I have put some of them in touch with each other which is very satisfying and I am planning a big gathering for the 100+ relatives I've found which will take place next year (2010).

Rule 7: Sort out your creativity
'But I'm not creative' I hear you say. Rubbish. Do you cook? Create your own recipes and write them up as a personal cookbook. Create a lovely garden. Knit. Paint or draw. Make up photo albums with captions to leave behind you when you fall off the perch. In my case, I'm a frustrated writer. Inspired by Samuel Pepys, I keep a journal. I am also a keen letter writer - and I write long, boring blogs...........

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


From the Headmaster's office:

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Oakey,
As you may know, it is my custom to write to the parents of all students who are leaving school. Carrie has indicated that she feels she has learned all that she can from us (which probably amounts to 2+2=4) and is ready to face the challenges of adult life. Accordingly, this Friday will be her last day with us (Yes!!! WooHoo! There is a God!)

May I begin by thanking you for your much appreciated support over the past 4 years that Carrie has been with us. I am not just referring to the designated parents' meetings but also to the frequent visits which you and your rottweiler made, to explain how we had misunderstood Carrie's behaviour (like when she took the class teacher's purse from her desk drawer "in case it got stolen while she was on duty").

In her time here, Carrie has enriched the school in many ways (amounting to a total of nil). She always had a finely developed sense of humour (she needed to after you named her Carrie Oakey). It was a shame that despite her excellent physical development (if she'd exposed any more of her chest she'd have been arrested), she wasn't able to take part in our various sports (having had a cold which lasted for 4 years, doubtless because she was always under-dressed). However, she undertook many other activities with great enthusiasm (like helping to improve the boys' sex education with practical demonstrations).

Although (lying through our teeth in saying) we are sorry to see her leave, we feel sure that she will be a great success in whatever career awaits her (I understand the massage parlour pays very generous rates).

If I can be of any assistance in the future (and I'm on my knees praying this won't be the case) don't hesitate to contact me.

Yours etc.

Friday, 10 April 2009


Greetings Earthlings.
My name is Suqhjerzn (pronounced Sukqhr-rizzqh-xzn) - but you may call me 'Sue'.
I come from the planet Suqkrzx which is very similar to your planet in that it is ruled by the women but like you, we brainwash our males into thinking that they are in charge.

You may be wondering how I am able to communicate with you in your language. The answer is that we infiltrated your 'Internet' and then Googled 'Translate from Suqkrzxish to English'. It is an impressive search engine!

You have had a lucky escape. We were going to take over the Earth and use you as servants in our mighty empire. However, we have discovered that you possess a quality which we cannot explain and which we cannot therefore control. You call it 'Humour'.

You have suffered many disasters which caused untold misery to your people and yet your response was to make statements which cause strange facial expressions accompanied by loud noises - I believe you term this 'laughing'. A few examples will suffice.

When you fired a puny rocket towards space and it exploded somebody said that one of the astronauts had blue eyes - one blew right and one blew left.

After terrorists flew two planes into high buildings there was a line 'New York, New York - so good they hit it twice'.

Only recently, when many died through an earthquake in Europe, a human said he was thinking of offering Italy the services of his ex-wife because she was brilliant at finding faults.

If you as a race can turn disaster into something to laugh at you are immune to our threats. Humans - we salute you!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


Warning - do not read if you're squeamish or if you're eating!

I've been a member at my gym for nearly a year now and it never fails to amaze me how different the other members look. They really do come in all shapes and sizes. The area has quite an ethnic mix so we have pink members, brown members, black members .... the black members are mostly bigger than me and very well-developed.

All ages are represented from young and virile to old and tired ones. As you'd expect, the young ones are very fit whilst the older ones like me are getting a bit bent and droopy. Some of the really old ones have nasty blue veins showing - not a pretty sight.

Some members have piercings which make me wince in sympathy whenever I see them. Others have tattoos - snakes are very popular I notice. The members have varying amounts of hair of course, except for those who have been snipped short.

Of course all the members have bags to keep their equipment in. My bag is quite big but some of the others have quite small ones. Some of them have long handles so they hang quite close to the ground.

I've only got to know two of the members by name - Richard and William. If they are there I always greet them with 'Hi Willy!' or 'How you doing Dick?'. I always feel that if members are greeted properly, it makes them feel good and stand up tall and proud. For some reason, they've given me the nickname of 'Rooster'.

Anyway that's how things are in our gym. It's very popular. Loads of members hang out there.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


When one of my friends heard I was starting a blog page he said it was time for me to move into a home for the bewildered. I suppose it is a certain kind of madness to want to chat away on here to no-one in particular about matters of astronomical insignificance.

I also 'tweet' on 'Twitter'. This is a place where people go to emulate the birds by twittering away just to announce that they are there.......and it is absolutely brilliant!!!! If you are an interesting tweeter, others 'follow' you and you in turn follow them. You can 'group' your tweets by using a '#' symbol and I do this for a category which I have called 'bewildered'.

I pretend that I am in a 'retirement' home and try to raise a titter in the reader by making old or original jokes to do with old age. A recent example will give you the idea. "A salesman tried to get me to buy a 5-year investment bond. I told him, at my age I don't even buy green bananas!"

I am not trying to ridicule seniors but I do want to remind people that they exist and that some of them are bored witless in retirement homes just because the staff don't realise the lively minds they have around them. I have first-hand experience of this from the time when I had to explain to the staff that the poor old dear they were looking after was in fact my very intelligent and witty mother and if they'd just adjust her drug levels they'd find that out and I'd get my Mum back. (They did - and I did!)

There's a wonderful Grimm's fairy tale which sums it up for me called 'The old man and his grandson'. Just to be clear, I have the greatest respect for the caring professions. They have a tough job with very poor pay. Most of them are brilliant at what they do but one or two might need reminding about their duty to look after the quality of their patients' lives as well as their health care.

My advice is that growing old is to be avoided at all costs:

Two old men in a retirement home were sitting in the lounge and one said to the other, ''How do you really feel? I mean, you're 75 years old, how do you honestly feel?''

"Honestly? Well I feel like a new-born baby. I've got no hair, no teeth, and I just wet myself."

Friday, 3 April 2009


'Neither a borrower nor a lender be' (Hamlet) is OK in principle until you stop to consider that just about everything in life is on loan. I used to feel that I owned the homes I used to live in but in retrospect, I was only borrowing the buildings on those little plots of land and now someone else has them. Like library books, I learned something from each place I 'borrowed'. This meant that I was even more comfortable in the next one.

It's the same with people. I was luckier than some because I borrowed my parents for a longer time than many people get to. Even so, I hadn't finished reading them when they were returned to the spiritual library. How I would love to get them back for a second loan.

As Gibran said, your children are not your children. They are loaned to us and if we are sensible we treat them as we would a first edition of Shakespeare. Remember to learn from them as well as teach them.

When I taught kids with learning difficulties, autism, cerebral palsy etc., I came to realise that in general, they were fascinating characters stuck in damaged bodies. As their teacher, they taught me a lot.

I also worked with their parents - I was the professional but they were the experts. After the shock of discovering that the child they had awaited with such hopes and expectations was handicapped, I like to think that I helped them to realise that even if the cover was damaged, they still had a first edition. All they needed to do was to start turning the pages.