Monday 24 October 2011

The Swinging Sixties

I am not big on birthdays and I never have been, but I have just had a big birthday. A landmark birthday. The biggest since I was 21. I had planned to spend the day hot footing it down to the town hall to collect my bus pass. However, back in June I had decided to investigate what would be necessary by looking at the local council's website. I suppose that I was only mildly surprised to find that the goal posts had been moved by the previous government, in April 2010, just before the election and conveniently swept under the carpet. I do not now become eligible for a bus pass until I qualify for the state pension which is 19 months away.  Some councils have chosen not to implement this change and have decided to absorb the cost. I know why our local council has implemented it. The chief executive is paid more than the prime minister plus five figure bonuses for poor performance. That is where my bus pass has gone! Discovering that I would not collect my state pension when I expected to was, again, something that I found out by lucky accident when shortly before husband hit 60 I decided to investigate my state pension situation. I do remember murmurings, by the previous government, about changes to the pension age but they kept quiet about the decisions that they made. At the very least they could have written to those affected by the change. The Cameron government are being open and honest about the changes that they are making. So hopefully there should be no more nasty surprises.

I am not really in any hurry for my bus pass and state pension. I do not feel old and I do not think that I look old. Although the last time that I visited my mother in the nursing home one of the residents asked me if I was the new lady, meaning a new resident. 'No' I quickly replied 'I'm a visitor'. I thought 'do I look like I belong here?' Most of the residents look as if the got dressed in the dark, in crumpled unco-ordinating clothes. I was wearing a white blouse, blue striped cardigan and denims. (Note to self - wear a mini skirt for next visit to the nursing home).Sadly there is a lady in the nursing home who does not look much older than me.

Some perks have been left unchanged. Eye tests and prescriptions are now free. However, I am hoping not to be ill. Then there is the B&Q Diamond card that offers discount on Wednesdays and Boots health club which offers discount on their own products and I'll get myself a Senior Railcard if I am allowed. There are probably some other schemes that I am not currently aware of. I am not looking for something for nothing, but it is sheer stupidity not to claim your entitlement. I have worked hard for the last forty years. I know that I have not had forty years of paid employment. It was forty years last month since I started university. For those who think that university is a skive and a doddle, the life of an applied science undergraduate is a hard one. We had a 9.15 am lecture Monday to Friday three terms a year for three years and some evenings we did not finish our practical session until after 6.00 pm. Then the practical had to be written up.  During the three day week of the winter of 1973-4 the university buildings were unheated and we regularly spent four hours sitting in an unheated lecture theatre. In those days students lived on the breadline in grotty flats which were nothing like the luxury that the students of today expect. We had no central heating, fridge, telephone, television or stereo. I had a battery operated radio and contact with home was via a weekly letter and a weekly phone call from a phone box. We were happy. We considered ourselves to be in a privileged position. I would not have missed it for the world. It is undoubtedly the one of the best things that I have ever done. After graduation I did one year's pre-registration training and for most of the last 36 years I have worked as a pharmacist, initially in hospital, then the pharmaceutical industry and now in retail.

Recently husband and I have spent some time reinvesting and deferring my pensions in the hope that they maybe worth more when I do decide to take them. Yes, pensions not pension. I know it sounds as if I am rolling in it, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a result of being badly advised and poor investments by the pension providers they are worth very little. However, it is not all doom and gloom as I shall be entitled to a full state pension when the fateful day arrives and the first nine and a half years of my working life was spent in the employment of the NHS then the Civil Service which has rewarded me with a small but bullet proof pension.

However, for the moment retirement will have to wait, as I have agreed to work eleven days of holiday cover between now and Christmas. I have been told that retirement is great and I have been looking forward to it for the last few years. When I first started work I used to think how awful it must be not be able to go to work. For the next few years I intend to enjoy myself before old age and senility set in.

Friday 7 October 2011

The Good Life

Husband and I have been making the most of the recent good weather by spending as much time as we could in our garden, which this year has been a bit neglected as a result of my work schedule and the dismal weather that we have had here in the north west of England. We did have some good weather but it invariably seemed to be on the days that I was working. So once gain I have to apologise for absenting myself from Blogland. Husband has now had his two cataract ops. and it has been ideal recuperation to be able to potter around in the garden in warm sunny weather, even if he has had to wear sun glasses.

This year for the first time we have had a taste of the good life. For those of you who do not live in the UK or who are too young to remember, The Good Life was a TV sitcom about a young couple, Tom and Barbara Good played by Richard Briars and Felicity Kendall, who dropped out of the rat race and tried to become self sufficient by growing fruit and vegetables and keeping a pig. We do not have a pig but we have grown vegetables for the first time this year.

Summer 2010 and this is what our vegetable garden looked like.

The shed was purchased on 2005 to temporarily house the contents of our largely asbestos garage while it was rebuilt. It ended up full of all sorts and it was a mammoth task to empty it so that we could sell it which we managed to do about a year ago.

Summer 2011 the vegetable garden looked like this.

The vegetable garden is husband's 'baby' and I have left it pretty much up to him to organise it and grow what he wants. He bought the raised beds in kit form. He also bought the soil to fill the raised beds and has installed an irrigation system. The plants came from a garden centre. I am not sure if we shall ever get our money back or break even on this project. Next year maybe we shall try to grow the plants from seed.

The first vegetable that we were able to harvest was the spinach and we have continued to pick it on a regular basis for several weeks now. However, the leaves are now noticeably smaller. Next were the lettuces, cauliflowers and broccoli. Unfortunately some went to seed, as we did not watch them carefully enough. This year it has all been a bit of an experiment and next year we shall know better. The mange tout exceeded our  wildest expectations with a bumper crop. We had thought that our Cheshire climate would not be warm enough for them. The peas also did well and were far better than any frozen peas.

Carrots and cabbages have been a first for us. Carrots you would expect to be straight forward, but they have been anything but. Now I know why in days gone by housewives did not go out to work. It takes time and imagination to prepare something that looks edible from a carrot that resembles an octopus. The sprouts look to be about ready to harvest, but we must wait for a frost before we pick them. Amazing is the only description for our potato crop. We did not expect the rather sorry looking seed potatoes that we bought to do much at all, but we have enough potatoes to feed an army. Our courgettes crop has been our best ever. We have grown them before, always from seed I might add. Then there are the runner beans which are still producing.
Also we have had a good crop of tomatoes. I do not seem to have much luck with tomato seeds, so have always bought them as plants. This variety is Gardener's Delight. I find that the smaller tomatoes ripen better, than larger ones, in our relatively cool climate.

Lastly there is the fruit crop. The fruit cage contains raspberries and blackberries. Only the late raspberries have done well this year. Hopefully next year we shall do better with the fruit as we are both partial to raspberries. Finally there are two ancient cooking apple trees in our garden. We have already had some wind falls but will not harvest the main crop for a few weeks yet.

It has been a very worth while experiment. It has given husband more interest in the garden than he has had as he tends to leave most of it to me. Picking fresh vegetables from the garden and eating them within hours, rather than days for supermarket bought vegetables, has been an absolute pleasure.