REFLECTIONS ON A FIRST YEAR OF RETIREMENT
Under the trees is our shady spot together with a bench-table
I retired on the 28th September 2001 and my wife on the 2nd November in the same year.
We spent the remainder of the year preparing for Christmas and making plans for the
year to come. I had spent all my working life, apart from National Service, working in an
Office, wearing a suit and tie five or six days a week. Since I retired I have not once
worn a suit, tie or even a jacket preferring to wear either scruffy or smart casual.
We planned to spend the early part of the year decorating and improving our home in part
of a restored Mill, this we managed to keep to, completely re-decorating and laying laminate
floors throughout. The problems came as the Spring warmth tempted us more and more to spend our
time outside by the river. There are trees on our private length of river bank and their boughs
sweep down to touch the water. We set to to create a living arbour by some judicious but light
pruning making a small area just large enough for a table and chairs with our backs to the relief
stream and our faces to the river. The other residents of the Mill seem to prefer to use the
terrace so that they can hear if a telephone rings or someone comes visiting so our small patch
has become truly ours.
In spring we saw the visits at dawn, infrequently, and dusk, much more frequently,
of the Kingfisher as he called for his breakfast or for a bite to eat on his way home almost as
if he was on his way to and from work. He would perch on the steel bar over the sluice just feet
away from the housing for the lifting mechanism where the Grey Wagtails had built their nest
and were feeding their young. These birds the Kingfisher and the Grey Wagtails seemed to use the
river like a fast food joint, the Kingfisher not tarrying long and the Wagtails departing with
empty beaks but after a few minutes flying and sweeping over the river returning with beaks
stuffed full to feed to their offspring. A veritable high speed fly through restaurant. We watch
the plentiful Mallards, the dab chicks and the Moorhens who are a timid bird but they come close
to the dappled shade of our hideaway.
There are Swans too but we try to discourage them from staying. We know from some past years
that if they nest they will drive off the other wild life to secure the maximum amount
of food for their young cygnets when they are hatched even to the extent of drowning any young
ducklings foolish enough to stray too close. These large elegant birds are ruthless in their
establishment of their feeding area,their behaviour paralleling that of some humans.
We also have a pair of unidentified ducks (geese?) known to us as Compo and Nora who, when we
first saw them, were in full moult and these birds, not handsome at the best of times, made
Nora?s wrinkled stockings and Compo?s string tied trousers look positively elegant by comparison,
but they are our constant companions never wandering far. They to, like human couples, have their
quabbles and will avoid each other sometimes for several days but eventually they will make up
and be seen together again. The river at this time had finished it?s winter spate and fined down
to it?s transparent summer glory. Below the surface we could see the silver flash of small
fish as they darted about seeking food. The larger fish lie in the stronger current waiting for
food to come to them as they rise and fall to intercept the next morsel.
In late spring we take the first of our holidays, taking our Grand-daughters to stay for a week
in the castle on magical Brownsea Island, a favourite haunt of ours. Here there are literally
hundreds of peacocks and peahens, a bewildering variety of chickens, French partridges and the
Island is home to a large number of Red Squirrels. The Island has a history varying from being
a grand Island retreat, a working community producing cut flowers and the clay for sanitaryware
and a home for a recluse who let the Island return to its wild state. In spring large areas are
covered in Azaleas and Rhododendrons, other areas are smothered in Bluebells. Truly a wondrous
place. This was our first holiday actually taken although if we had stuck to our plans it
should have been the third but that is how our lives had become.
As summer arrived the shade in our hideaway had deepened and we had begun to take our lunch,
a bottle of wine and books out with us. We have over the years ate in many fine restaurants
but the French bread, pate and cheese we lunched on was their match and as to the wine in
our time we have partaken of the wines of the Pomerol but none tasted better than the robust
cheap reds we drank at the riverside. We have over the years planted herbs and the perfume of
Rosemary, Thyme and Mint would combine with the Honeysuckle on the summer?s breeze. Often
we would return indoors the books unopened and forgotten. We would often grin inanely at each
other in sheer pleasure. During the school holidays our Grand-daughters would sometimes join us
sometimes searching the riverbank and other times wading in the river with small hand nets or
turning over rocks and stones to see the freshwater Crayfish that lurk underneath. Later in August
we took our Daughter and Grand-daughters on a far more boisterous holiday to a holiday camp.
Apart from trips out and short breaks this was to be our last holiday of the year although we had
planned to have four.