Friday, 26 June 2009


I believe I have discovered something which is heading for extinction. The item in question has been in existence since at least Roman times and yet society appears to have decided that it is now virtually redundant. I refer of course to the handkerchief.

Historically, handkerchiefs, which were first called simply kerchiefs, have been more than a utilitarian device for blowing one's nose. Waving a white handkerchief was a sign of surrender. In the Middle Ages, ladies would give their handkerchiefs to gentlemen who they fancied as a sign of their favour. In Victorian times kerchiefs were a brightly coloured fashion accessory as evidenced in the musical 'Oliver' where Fagin's boys were trained to 'pick a pocket or two' to relieve gentlemen of their pocket handkerchiefs. In modern times however, they have reverted to their practical function, although the smartly dressed gentleman may still be seen with a neatly folded handkerchief sticking up from his top pocket.

I myself, and those of my generation still tend to carry a handkerchief in our pockets and of course, they are infamous along with socks, as being the unwanted gift of choice. I suspect that carrying a handkerchief on one's person is less common among ladies who no doubt prefer tissues. Apparently, Americans in particular, regard the use of handkerchiefs as unhygienic and advocate the use of tissues as much superior to the good old hanky. No doubt they call them 'Kleenex' rather than tissues! My wife is I suspect, very typical of people who think this way. We have boxes of tissues scattered around the house in varying designs, colours and sizes. She also carries small 'handy' packs of tissues in her handbag which when she needs to sneeze, usually take about 15 minutes to find.

The 'hygiene' argument centres on the idea that rather than pocket your germ-ridden hanky, you should use a tissue and then bin it. This sounds compelling. However, I speak from experience in saying that the people (mainly women), who I see using a tissue, do not bin it. Instead, having used it, they tuck it into their sleeve or pocket for future use. Does that sound like you ladies? In my wife's case - and I'm sure she's not alone in this - she tends to lay little paper eggs which I find on the chair she has used, down the side of the settee, on the floor, even by my pillow in bed! These eggs freak me out!

We are currently experiencing a pandemic by the name of swine flu. The clear advice for stopping the spread of this disease, is to catch your sneeze in a handkerchief or tissue. Posters tell us that if you sneeze into the air, your germs hang around for several minutes during which time other unfortunates may inhale them.

When my daughter recently sneezed with a half-hearted attempt to put her hand in front of her face, I pointed out that she should have used a handkerchief. She laughed at me as if I was an old fossil. 'I don't even possess a handkerchief' she stated, almost with pride I felt. She pointed out that she had put her hand in front of her nose. 'That would be the hand which is currently on the back of that dining chair' I retorted. 'I shall be avoiding touching it'.

Might we re-consider before handkerchiefs become museum exhibits?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


As I mentioned in my last post, I kept dogs for most of my life. Back in the early 1980's, I had a golden cocker spaniel called 'Crumpet'. That's her on the right of the picture. She was such a lovely good-natured dog that I thought it would be a good idea to let her have a litter of puppies.

Accordingly, I took her to a kennels who had a pedigree stud dog for hire who proceeded to 'service' Crumpet. This must have been one of the most expensive 'quickies' in history! Well the time came when she was close to giving birth and I was nervously keeping a close eye on her when one night (why is it always night?) she started to produce.

Nature pretty much took over and after a while, the first puppy popped out. For those of you who don't know, puppies are delivered into this world looking for all the world like sausages! They each emerge in their own little translucent bag and while she is waiting for the next pup to emerge, the mother busily licks the newborn one free from its bag so it can start breathing. She then eats the bag itself which nourishes her in readiness for the feeding to come.

Out they came, 1,2,3,4,5,6. All went well until the last. By now, Crumpet was exhausted and wanted nothing but sleep. So there was number 6, twitching in its membrane sac about to suffocate. Quickly but carefully I helped the pup out of its bag and it started to breathe.

So there they were. Six new born puppies and as you can see they were absolutely beautiful! So much so that we sold only 5 of them, keeping one back who we named Muffin.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


I have recently started to do something which many retired people find themselves doing. Remember this? 'You Tube video clip'. Yes, I've been feeding the birds in my garden. Of course, once you start feeding them, you attract them so you need to be prepared for lots of visitors.

At first I just chucked out some bread then I actually spent money on buying seed. That was a big step! Having spent money on them the birds sort of became a legitimate expense so now I went out and bought a bird table. Then I bought bulk bird seed so I needed a scoop. Then there were fat balls, raisins, seed cakes, a peanut feeder and finally a bird bath.

Well done dear reader, for making it this far. I quite understand that bird-feeding doesn't get me the street cred that say joining the reserve army or hang gliding might supply. 'Where's the pay-off?' I hear you ask. 'So a bird comes along and pecks up a bit of seed then flies off - big deal.' This is a legitimate question so here are the reasons why I am spending my hard cash on food for our feathered friends.

Firstly, there is quite a variety of different birds to see, even in my small urban garden. I'm still learning which is which but I know I see blackbirds, sparrows, blue tits, pigeons, house-martins, thrushes, finches, robins and starlings - and yes, it's fun to try to identify them.

Secondly, they don't just eat the food. They put on quite a cabaret. Sometimes they have a bath. Sometimes they squabble. Sometimes they just hop around looking like an avian line-dancing group. Sometimes they sing - now that really is something! Sometimes they mate. Sometimes they feed their babies by putting the part-pecked food into their beaks. Sometimes they just perch there looking at my window to remind me that we had a deal. I was to put out food and in return they were to tweet and eat. 'So get your ass out here and make with the birdseed!'

But I think there's an even deeper reason. Until my second marriage I'd always lived with dogs. I loved the things and even let my golden cocker spaniel have a litter. (See next post). Sadly my current (and hopefully final) wife gets allergies from them and to be honest, it would be impractical to have a dog since we go away so much on long breaks. So I just can't help but feel that the birds are my surrogate dogs! They are a source of animal fun in my life but without the vet bills.

Sunday, 14 June 2009


An earlier post, 'Retirement Rules' met with surprising acclaim. It dealt with what I regard as the best approach to retirement but as several people pointed out, the advice holds good for any age.

Now there is a somewhat hackneyed expression amongst retired people which goes "I'm so busy now I've retired, I don't know how I used to find the time for work!". Well I believe I may be the living proof of this adage. I still do many things which I used to do while still in employment. Things like playing bridge, stamp-collecting, walking, reading, cinema-going etc.

In addition though, I play tennis once a week. I crew regularly for a charity which offers free day trips on their two large canal boats. I attend a weekly Pilates group session. I organise a group of around 30 boating enthusiasts. I keenly study Ancestry and am busy organising a big family gathering for the 120 or so living relatives who I've newly discovered. I act as a volunteer 'befriender' on a weekly basis at a children's hospice. I run my own blogsite and try to post 2 or 3 times a week (but then you know this already!) I act as an online DJ (pretty much daily). I play in a darts team (OK only Division 2!) I tweet on Twitter (@TonyLetts). I feed the birds in my garden.

My point is that I did absolutely none of these things when I was working. True, I had no option - but work really did prevent me from doing all these things which I so enjoy.

When you retire, you become 'time-rich'. It would be easy to squander all this time as so many lottery winners seem to do with their newly acquired money. Learn from their mistakes and make the best of your time-rich years!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


My previous post, 'Crossing Over', told of the moving moment when I was with my Dad at his death. What followed was surreal almost to the point of being comic!
There I was with a newly dead body - not something I'd experienced before - with the realisation that I was expected to do something about it. Rather stupidly, I decided to phone the doctor - as if he would make any difference! In fact of course, this was the right thing to do since the doctor would be able to pronounce Dad to be dead and issue the death certificate. They also advised me to contact the undertakers.

Dad and I now sat in silence, a very strange event, for an hour or so. Though full of sadness, I was also fascinated to gaze at the dead body. It wasn't my Dad. It couldn't be more obvious to me that he had gone. What I was looking at was just the shell he used to inhabit.

Eventually, the doctor arrived at around midnight I think. He asked a few questions and wrote out the paperwork. I was left with 'Dad' again until the undertakers arrived. There were two of them, one average size and the other very short. Dad was slumped in a sitting position on the settee so they laid out the opened body bag on the floor in front of him. Now they had to pull and slide him forward feet first onto the floor.

Now Dad was about 17-18 stone (240-250 pounds) and these guys couldn't shift him. The short one looked at me with a guilty expression and asked if I would mind helping. I took an arm, the short guy took his feet and his colleague took the other arm. Together we lifted Dad and slid him forward onto the body bag and I vividly remember the moment that his head hit the floor with a big bump! They zipped him up and then the three of us took the bag handles and carried him out to the van.

So one moment, I had witnessed my Dad die in the most moving way and the next I was carrying him out in a body bag. I know he would have seen the funny side of the situation!

Saturday, 6 June 2009


I was with my Dad when he died - just the two of us, at his place. He'd had prostate cancer and had been getting treatment. After a spell in hospital, he'd been allowed home and seemed much improved. So it sort of stole up on us.

That night I'd called in about 7 in the evening and found him dozing on the settee with the T.V. on as usual. On checking, I found he'd not taken his tablets so I mildly ticked him off and got them for him. Then I found he'd not eaten. I cooked him a meal and had to wake him again to eat it. I realised that it was his sleepiness that had messed up his routine and said so. 'Yes! If I could just shake off this tiredness' he said with an air of determination. These were to be his last words.

I left him to eat his supper and popped back home. I was back an hour or so later and found him dozing again with his meal hardly touched. I took the plate away and sat and watched him. He was in a deep sleep and snoring a little. Only now did I realise that this was no ordinary sleepiness. Somehow I knew this was the end. As I watched, the love in me for this dear man became overwhelming. I just sat transfixed watching him. It was moving like music, awesome like Nature can be. I just felt full of a sort of reverential wonder.

Then as I watched, he gave out three big, loud sighs. It was the 'death rattle'. Then stillness and silence. Now came the tears. I went over and knelt by his side holding his arm, talking to him and kissing his hand as I wept deeply.

After a few minutes I sat back and looked at him. I realised that he could have had no better ending. He was in his own home, sat in his normal place, television on and a half-completed crossword at his side. I felt hugely sad but hugely grateful. Grateful for the manner of his death but also for the privilege of being there with him.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


I'm a people watcher. I suppose most of us are. I try not to stare with mouth agape of course. I try not to let any of them know I'm paying them any heed. I'll sit in the coffee shop with my attention flitting from the lady giving a perfect example of bad parenting, to the guy who clearly has no interest at all in his appearance, to the cheery waitress who having done her smile duty with the customers, then has a private moan to a colleague behind the counter about the bloke who was rude to her. Then there's the couple who seem to be heading for divorce, the single lady who's 'on the prowl' for a single male and the old guy who's watching people with great interest - oh yes, that's me.

I'd love to chat with them. I'd like to give the bad mother a little advice on how not to bring her child up to be complete mess. I'd like to give a few fashion tips to the guy wearing socks with sandals beneath a horizontally striped t-shirt which emphasises his fat belly. I'd like to commiserate with the waitress and tell her what a great job she's doing and to ignore the ignoramus who has a degree in rudeness. I'd like to suggest a few positives to the couple who need marriage guidance. I could probably even give the woman on love lookout a few suggestions about how better to display her wares.

But of course I can't say anything. 'Do you really think a coffee shop is a good place to smack your child?' 'Have you thought about wearing a cool linen suit?' 'I just wanted to say how much I admire you young lady'. 'Maybe if you revisited the place you went on honeymoon?' 'In terms of your cleavage Madam, less is more'. Any one of these comments would surely lead to a slapped face, a black eye or possibly hospitalisation.

What a shame that they don't realise that there is a social meddler present who might be able to give them a friendly nudge forward.