Sunday, 30 August 2009


I often muse about what I would do if I won the lottery and I would guess that for most people, this is their favourite pipe dream. But which is the second favourite?

As a true Brit, I moan a lot about the weather. Every day, up and down the country, people are saying 'I'm sick of this climate. I wish I lived in Spain / The Bahamas / Australia etc. I have often thought that if I did live in a different country, I would choose the Netherlands. This is based on thoroughly enjoyable holidays spent there which of course, is a very bad way to make this choice. You need to check many different aspects of a country before you decide which is your dream lifetime destination.

So I searched for the facts and found 'The 2009 Quality of life index'. This provided me with every detail I needed. Heading the list is France with the Netherlands in joint 11th and poor old U.K. in joint 20th. Well pardonnez mois but our old enemy France is not where I wish to live. Among other things, La Grève makes the place a total flop as a country to live in as far as I am concerned. La Grève is their frequent habit of going on strike and blocking roads with lorries or harbours with boats until the issue is resolved. So I needed to examine the data from my personal point of view.

Firstly, call me a wimp but my dream country needs to score full marks for 'Risk & Safety'. This reduced the list to 55. Then I love my freedom so full marks are required here too. Down to 35 nations now. Aren't you glad that I am an anorak so you don't need to be one?

Next item in order of importance for me is health for which I required a score of at least 70% and this reduced the field to 23 countries. A notable casualty here was the United States! Infrastructure is important because I like my creature comforts so a modest 65% here took the list down to 15. Now I looked at Leisure & Culture and applied a filter of 70% which left me with my top 10 of which 9 were European. Here is the list in alphabetical order:

United Kingdom

Much as I love nice weather but not wishing to be shot on a sunny beach, you will understand why only now did I look at climate. I wanted 80% or above and was surprised that the U.K. was still in the remaining 6 at this stage. Now I considered Environment and looked for a minimum 70% score which left the top 3 which were France, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.

The final parameters were Cost of living and Economy. Since these are closely related, I tackled this by taking the two scores for each nation and adding them together. My home nation suffered badly here scoring only 39.5% and finishing 3rd. Next with 59.5% came France (phew!) but with 61.5%, Luxembourg came through to win.

So whilst I am content to live in the third best country in terms of my preferences, Luxembourg is at the very least, a future holiday destination!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009


You may recall dear reader, that a while ago, I published a post called 'Pierrot' which introduced you to my grandfather's college yearbook. The book was put together between 1904 and 1907 and 'Grampa' (Herbert Pearce) continued to add to it throughout his life.

I love the thought that I am able to keep these jottings alive by reproducing them here. He was a lovely man and would no doubt have been astonished to be told that his notes would survive and make it into cyberspace in the form of the internet!

I promised that we would return to Pierrot's album and so I present you with a poem written by Herbert in August, 1944. This was about 4 months after my parents married. It tells the salutary tale of the boy who assisted the milkman in the days when milk was delivered to your doorstep in glass bottles. The illustration was drawn by Grampa too.

Please enjoy the tale of:

The Mushroom

A mushroom grew in the early dawn
On a small, trim, green suburban lawn.

The lawn's
fat owner smiled with joy -
He took small heed of the milkman's boy.

Damp and warmth and the week wore on -
A child's cry - 'Father! The mushroom's gone!'

The fat man's wife at the garden gate -
Why is the milkman's boy so late?

The milkboy rests 'neath funeral pall.
It was not a mushroom after all.

Sunday, 23 August 2009


I must confess straight away that I'm not too good with finances. I have to have an adviser to help me manage my savings (must be over £10 in that piggy bank by now). However, I think I have the basic idea of how the market economy works. In essence, someone makes something and offers it for sale, you decide you like it so you buy it. Would you agree with that? Well it ain't necessarily so!

My friends on Twitter convinced me that I should look at buying an Apple iphone. According to them, the iphone is so clever it can help you to manage your life as well as a personal assistant could. They tell me it can even do the ironing and take the dog for a walk! Somehow, I think that might be a slight exaggeration.

My next step was to go online and read the reviews. These were very positive with only a few slight reservations. The bottom line seemed to be that the iphone was the best of its type. Following this I downloaded the Apple video and a very pleasant gentleman called Nelson kindly spent 15 minutes of his time showing me all the features and gizmos on the phone until I was dribbling with desire. I was convinced.

My dear mother, may she rest in peace, earned the nickname of 'Instant Betty'. If she wanted something she had to have it right there and then. Now I am much more patient than that. Having decided I want some thing I can wait 20 minutes for it if necessary. I could even stretch it to an hour if I had to. So it was that at the very first opportunity, I found myself in the Apple shop playing with an iphone. It was love at first sight. I was so attached to it that I wanted to keep holding it while I made my purchase. I caught a sales assistant's eye and he swiftly moved in for the kill.

I didn't exactly play hard to get, but thought I better ask a couple of questions in a pretence of not yet being certain. That done and still fondly caressing the demonstration iphone in my sweaty hand I told him I would buy one. and mentally kissed goodbye to the £550 or so which I was about to spend. He asked me whether I was already with o2, the phone service provider. I said that I was with one of their rivals, Orange. He then explained that I could only buy an iphone to use with o2 since Apple in their infinite wisdom had signed an exclusivity deal with them.

What madness was this? It was like Ford saying you could only buy their cars if you used 'Messo' petrol or Sony telling you that unless you got your electricity supply from 'Sparkytronics' they wouldn't sell you one of their TVs. So Apple, you have a wonderful product but I think you are rotten to deprive me of one.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


I discovered fairly early in my search for a career that I was not cut out to be a salesman. My first effort came as a student when I had a summer job driving round selling ice cream. I should correct that to trying to sell ice cream! This was in the late 1960's before decimalisation and I was selling cornets at sixpence each (about 2.5 pence). The deal was that I was paid either 10% of my sales or £1 whichever was the greater for a 5-hour shift. Now I'm sure that your Maths has informed you that I needed to sell more than 40 cornets to start earning extra money. That may not seem too arduous a task but it was beyond my talents and after a week of earning the equivalent of 20p per hour I jacked it in.

Undaunted, my next attempt at becoming a salesman involved going from door to door selling vacuums. I was told that I would receive full training for this which turned out to be accompanying an experienced salesman as he did his thing. I watched him sell several of the machines and the time came when I was sent off on my own to attempt a sale.

The address was that of a gentleman who had phoned to request a visit so prospects looked good. I did the confident greeting. I showed him the handsome looking cylinder vacuum and then did the demonstration being completely adept at plugging it in then pushing it round the carpet. Now I was ready to close the deal but as I pulled out the paperwork disaster struck. He asked me to show him how to remove the tube, re-assemble it and fit attachments. There followed what must have appeared to be an octopus wrestling contest as I grappled with tubes and connectors until the sweat was dripping off me. He decided to find an easier machine and I decided to find an easier career.

Now you might feel that I would already have established that selling was not for me but apparently I was a slow learner because not long afterwards, I found myself sitting in a small flat which was home to a family who clearly had only a little money but a lot of children, four of them in fact. I watched as the salesman I was with convinced the father that he would be letting his children down and ruining their education if he didn't buy the 24-volume set of encyclopaedias which to my mind were an outrageous price. The life-changing moment for me was when, as the father signed the paperwork committing himself to a string of hefty monthly payments, I noticed for the first time, that there was a set of older but perfectly good encyclopaedias on the shelf behind him. That was the point at which my career choice veered sharply away from being a salesman.

Nevertheless, I am going to have one final attempt at selling you on the idea of buying a household item. After a lifetime of using a wide variety of can openers with varying degrees of success I believe I have finally found the perfect one. Though a little more expensive than some at just under £16, after many months of use I can vouch for the fact that it opens the can first time, every time. It leaves no sharp edges. It doesn't make contact with the contents of the can so doesn't need washing after use. It's made by the Swiss with their watch-making precision. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Zyliss Can opener. Have I sold you on it?

Sunday, 16 August 2009


The birth of my daughter Amie was the most amazing event in my life. I was 31 years of age and I think you can read the pride and the wonder in my expression as I gazed down at this tiny creature.

It had not been an easy birth. My wife was in labour for some 25 hours or so. For a day or two, there was some concern for her breathing and she was kept in intensive care but all proved to be well and we were rewarded with this delicate, beautiful baby.

It certainly felt like a reward! We had been trying to start a family for around seven years and during that time, there had been fertility tests, advice and way too many excruciating and dramatic abortions. We were downhearted and it put a tremendous strain on our marriage but we never gave up - so yes, I think Amie was indeed our reward.

We had the nursery all ready. Baby toys had been bought or received as gifts and the same was true of the numerous girlie baby clothes which we had so enjoyed shopping for. Could things be any more perfect?

Well yes they could. She proved to be a troublesome baby. My wife and I suffered many sleep-deprived nights as we took turns to try to persuade her to sleep. There was one night which I'll always remember. It was perhaps 3 a.m. and I had been singing and rocking her for some two hours or more. Still her little lungs kept finding the breath to scream and cry. My nerves were really jangling. Then for one brief second the red mist came down and I knew how easy it could be for parents to flip and hurt a screaming child.

It was fleeting because my senses kicked in and I took firm control of myself and my emotions. I continued to gurgle, sing and coo at her and mercifully, in no time at all she was asleep. Her work was done and I had passed the test.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


When I look back at the stage of my life when I was a young man, I can't help thinking 'What if?' I do this only as random musing, not with any sense of regret. I am very happy with the way my life turned out. Some things were the result of choices which I made and some came about by chance.

There was however, one particular decision which I always regard with amusement. I was about 20 and was working for a company called Harveys who still exist today. They are vintners producing a range of fine wines, port and sherry their trademark product being 'Harveys Bristol Cream'.

I started working in the postal department where I was single-handedly responsible for the despatch of all orders which were to be sent by post rather than by the more usual freight deliveries. It seems that I did a good job for after about 6 months, my manager called me into his office and told me that he was so impressed with me that he was going to arrange for me to be moved into whichever department I wished. I was shown each of the many different departments and their contribution to the business was explained to me.

Eventually, I had a clear vision of how Harveys worked and narrowed my choice down to two areas - 'Wine-buying' and 'Cost Accounting'. The former would involve a great deal of travel to the many vineyards which the company dealt with and the work centred around negotiating future purchases. The latter would involve no travel whatsoever. The nature of the job was to keep track of the cost of wine bought from the vineyard then to add in shipping costs, custom costs, bottling costs and so on. Having informed the company exactly how much a particular wine had cost them, someone else then added on the amount of profit required and so the selling price was arrived at.

As you may have guessed, I chose Cost Accounting. I think the reason I did so was because I had completely lost my mind of my fear of flying. Even so, it is hard not to see this as a missed opportunity of some sort. If my description of cost accounting above makes the job sound in any way interesting don't be fooled. I was bored witless by it and soon left the company.

So while I sometimes muse about what might have been if I had travelled the world as a wine-buyer, I also feel that it was somehow a lucky escape which enabled me to later discover my true purpose in life, teaching children with special needs.

Sunday, 9 August 2009


In some ways, many of the things which I have chosen to do since retirement are a bit stereotypical. I haven't bought a Harley, nor have I acquired a pond full of coy carp. However, I have taken up fitness activities such as Pilates and also like to mess about on the water. Both of these are fairly common things for newbie retirees to undertake.

Another new interest which many of my retired friends share is Ancestry. It was something I always knew I would be interested in 'when I had the spare time'. Well now I have.

I began by buying a brilliant beginners book which told me pretty much all I needed to know in order to start my new hobby. It is called 'The really, really, really, easy step-by-step guide to creating your family tree using your computer' which should get in the running for a longest book title competition!

There are two distinct areas involved in the study of genealogy. Firstly there is the obvious aspect of tracing your ancestors. This entails both discovering who they were and also where they lived, what work they did and so on. The second aspect is to trace living fellow descendants who you don't yet know exist.

In Britain, population censuses started in 1841 and it is fairly easy to use those to trace most of your ancestors at least that far back. All that is needed is to join one or two of the popular genealogy sites and search away on your computer in the comfort of your own home. These sites will put you in touch with other people who share some of your ancestors and you can then copy information from their family trees to quickly build your own.

As interesting as finding out about your ancestors is, I soon became obsessed with tracking living relatives down. I chose to start from my paternal great grandparents who had eleven children. Of course, I knew my grandfather's descendants but only a handful of those of his siblings.

It has been a long, hard search but I have now found them all - there are 149 of us! Most are in England and a few in Australia. I have met some of my new found cousins and in the process, I encountered one who had no idea that she had any relatives at all. To see her joy in discovering what a large family she belonged to has inspired me. I now plan to host a family gathering for the 149 relatives. Even if only half attend, it will be a wonderful day.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


My wife has been away for a few days so I've been 'home alone'. I have plenty to keep me amused and I've rarely ever suffered from boredom having many choices of activity available - computer, books, letter-writing, TV, music, gardening, newspapers, puzzles. The list is almost endless. I've lived on my own before marriage and was always perfectly happy with my own company. I'm reasonably domesticated and can cook, clean and so on.

So I wasn't really expecting to feel such a degree of emptiness in the house. There's no-one to touch base with. The places where she should be are vacant. There's no noise other than any I make myself.

The place is eerily tidy without the 'clutterbug' around (this being the name she calls herself!). I can go in the bathroom any time I need to without having to wait. I can play music when I want and as loud as I want. I can go out without explaining where and why.

Being a cheery soul, this has set me thinking about bereavement. My wife and I have talked about death and like many couples I'm sure, have agreed that we would ideally hope to die together so neither is left behind. We don't always get our wishes though do we? Since I am older than her, the odds are that I will drop off the perch first but what if it were the other way around? These few days are like a dummy run. I can give thought to how I would live on my own and what changes I would make in the house without the pain of having lost her.

I would obviously gain a good deal of space in the bathroom cabinet for all my lotions and potions. I would have lots of extra room in the wardrobe for my beloved shirts which are rather squashed in the space currently available - but knowing me, I'd just buy more shirts to fill the gaps.

There's no point in considering this any further. The bottom line is this: What a small price it is to put up with a few creased shirts and a bit of clutter for the delight of living with your best friend!

Sunday, 2 August 2009


Some good friends of ours asked if we'd like to join them for a holiday in Norway. It was a time-share so there would be no accommodation costs and we were delighted to accept. So we soon found ourselves jetting over the North Sea towards Scandinavia. Flying is not my thing so I was dosed up on tranquillisers and spent most of the flight avoiding looking out of the windows. Basically, I preferred not to be reminded that we were 30,000 feet up in the air in a large cigar tube!

After landing, the girl on the Hertz desk at the airport gave us an opportunity to try out our 'essential Norwegian'. Her name was Freja and she was from Athens! I offered to do all the driving with the aid of my Sat-Nav which I fondly call 'Helga'.

We stayed at a ski resort in log cabins which were very well appointed and comfortable. They were really attractive since their roofs were turfed in grass and covered with wild flowers in bloom. The grass prevents the snow from melting so that it helps to insulate the cabin. However there was no snow it being August, so the resort was in its summer guise.

Strangely, the light bulbs in the cabins were very dim which made my wife's make-up sessions a real trauma for her. I thought she'd be pleased when I came up with the cunning plan of using our bedside table lamps inserted one under each bra strap to provide lighting for both sides of her face but she just gave me one of her looks. To be brutally frank, she needn't have bothered because she rapidly developed an unfortunate skin allergy which meant that her eyes had raised red areas beneath them – a bit like sunburnt tortoise skin.

We spent much of our time at the resort walking amid the beautiful scenery which almost every part of Norway seems to boast. At the time we stayed there, they were holding their annual Peer Gynt festival. The performances took place on three nights and were in the open air on the shore of the beautiful lake Gålå. There was something quite magical about hearing the strains of 'In the hall of the mountain king' ringing out across the conifer forests. We were also lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the start of the play, when the cast arrived in small boats across the lake, emerging from eerie mists.

On the penultimate day Helga and I drove us all to a National park. This was at very high altitude, so high that there were no conifers to be seen. Instead, there were stunning views across snow-capped mountain ranges - beautiful!

All good things come to an end and on the final day we set off for Oslo. At last my wife had the chance to do some shopping, except that I haven't yet mentioned that Norway is extremely expensive so there were certainly no bargains to be had. Nonetheless, she managed to find something she could afford to buy in a clothes shop so her eyes were twinkling out above the scabs below them!

It had been a wonderful holiday with good friends for company but we all agreed that beautiful as Norway was, next time we went away together, we'd choose a country where we could afford to buy a beer!