It is that time of year when I instinctively look forward. Yesterday we celebrated the winter solstice in our usual way by watching the sun rise over the river Irwell on the shortest day of the year, happy to know that the days will now start to get just a little bit longer and spring and summer are on their way. After the sunrise we treat ourselves to a leisurely breakfast before going on to work. So it feels fitting in this forward-looking time that the day I have been dreaming about since I was 16-years old and started my first working day as an optician’s receptionist has arrived. That 16-year old wanted retirement immediately with all the impatience of youth and truly [and mistakenly] thought it was wasted on the elderly! Now, at the age of 57, I am equipped both financially and mentally, for taking life easier and I am looking forward to my new life as a retiree.
It has sometimes felt like a long slog through over 20 different jobs but it feels appropriate that on my last working day I will be busy producing another beautiful spreadsheet for the organisation; I will never stop getting a thrill and joy from what Excel can do and how clever it is. As I beaver away I will be mulling over my working life; how for over 40-years I have had to get up when work dictates, rather than when my body is ready; I have had to follow orders and regulations, no matter how stupid they might seem and I have sometimes felt that it is my employer that gets the best of me, rather than my family. I have experienced the drudgery of working for the ‘man’ and the independence and uncertainty of self-employment and in between I have been grateful to find sympathetic employers that gave me the right balance of freedom to be creative and a strong framework of support that allows me to give my best.
Of course, I am celebrating today as my ‘retirement’ marks the end of daily nine-to-five office work. But my future won’t be completely idle as I will continue to be a travel writer. This certainly isn’t as glamorous as it sounds but is a passion of mine that I can work on when I wish and is by no means a full-time job. There is also a liberation in knowing that if I write something fit for publication I receive payment, if I don’t, well it’s not the end of the world because we have those savings. I feel very lucky to be moving in to this new and exciting stage of my life.
Despite claiming that I try to be something of a minimalist, I have a number of guilty secrets; 30 books I have read but keep because I might want to read them again; a wardrobe with more than 33 things in it and all sorts of other sentimental clutter. I have certainly failed to meet the minimalist standard. I don’t have a huge wardrobe and with clothes I do [mostly] only keep things I like and wear, even if an item doesn’t get an airing very often [the exception is the frock I wore at my graduation that sentiment still hasn’t allowed me to throw out]. I like well-made and comfortable clothes and have ditched anything that requires ironing as having an iron-free life is important to me. I have items of clothing that I hope will last me the next 25-years or so until I die [assuming I make it to my 80s].
This weekend I surveyed my wardrobe wondering what to wear for our Christmas meal out with friends. I picked out my ‘Christmas’ top and wondered how long I had owned this particular item. I knew there was a photograph of me wearing it at a NHS Christmas meal; I am sitting between two lovely colleagues at one of Preston’s swishest nightspots and we are resting after dancing, in front of me is a large glass of wine. I searched through the computer and found the photograph dates back to 2003. I know that the top wasn’t new then, so I reckon it is at least 14 years old but despite its age I still think of it as my ‘best’ wear.
Owning good quality clothing makes me happy. This deep-lavender coloured top is from Laura Ashley, is well made and I think / hope it will last me to the end of my days. It was bought by my lovely partner as a gift when 3/4 length sleeves were the fashion – a real bonus for those of us who are on the short side as there is no need to fold over the sleeves. The fabric is velvety and has a self-coloured paisley pattern within it. When I pick it out of my wardrobe I immediately think of Christmas parties I have worn it at … yes I am far too sentimental to be a true minimalist but you can’t accuse me of wasting money.
I get such a thrill when a stranger does you a big favour so here is the story of our postman who made my day this week. With so much happening at work, so many long-standing colleagues being made redundant and so many leaving presents for everyone to buy I thought I could slip quietly away in to retirement without anyone noticing. But my lovely and generous colleagues had other ideas and sent me a retirement present I will always remember, a beautiful Italian leather album with beautiful cream textured pages interwoven with tissue. This is such a lovely thing to own and perfect for creating a memento of sketches, postcards, tickets and other memorabilia from our next big trip. But how this perfect retirement present reached me is a tale of a postman who went above and beyond the call of duty.
You may recall I have been working from home since the summer and I have clearly continued to provide such efficient administrative support from my home-base that some of my colleagues never even noticed the change. I work for a national organisation and my colleagues are dotted around the North-west and the Midlands so communicating by email and telephone has always been the norm. This week I received an email from a colleague in the West Midlands that mentioned I should expect a parcel that day; however when I checked where it had been posted to found it was on its way to the ‘old’ office that is now closed up and empty. After an initial panic, he emailed me the receipt and I could track the parcel and so could see it was on its way to this abandoned office. Armed with the receipt I walked to our local Royal Mail collection depot to see what would happen with the parcel. After a long back and forth negotiation with supervisors they were happy [or at least satisfied] that I could collect the parcel from them, even without the failed delivery card, if I provided ID and headed paper from the old office [thank goodness I have been using this as scrap paper].
Back at home there was a knock on the door at lunch time. The ‘old office’ is near to my home and we share a postman. I often pass the time of day with this postman both at home and at work and he had noticed that I was one and the same person [I have an unusual second name]. He had arrived at the shuttered and deserted office with my parcel, noticed who it was addressed to and put the parcel back in his bag to bring round to our flat later on his round. He presented the parcel hesitantly, clearly worried about whether he had done the right thing, but I was over the moon. I am so grateful for his thoughtfulness and quick thinking and amazed that even in a big city like Salford it is impossible to be completely anonymous.
For the past few years Quays Culture have organised a Lightwaves event at Salford Quays and Media City during the Christmas festive period. Last year we had large white illuminated rabbits and before that we had curtains of light whose colours changed as you walked through them. This year Quays Culture have surpassed their previous offerings of light in these dark days and we have a series of light sculptures around the quays for everyone’s enjoyment. The star of the show is shown above, this collection of 198 small boats float in Eire Basin, changing colour [you can decide the colours on your mobile phone] and transforming the end of the quay into a rainbow of colours reflecting against the black water with the stunning Detroit Bridge as a backdrop. Called Voyage and designed by Aether and Hemera this is a triumph that entertains young and old and is so entrancing it is almost impossible to walk away from.
Once you have torn yourself away from the small boats, there is a further interactive light art installation is in front of the Lowry Theatre. Here Heartbeat only lights up when two people hold hands and connect with the sculpture, completing the circuit and revealing the heart symbol. Created by GNI Projects this is a sculpture for the romantics and scientists in us.
Over at Media City there are trees in a multitude of colours, a sound sculpture that resounds with cosmic rhythms when the rows of strings are struck or strummed and a large neon sign proclaiming Today I Love You. For those of us who have fond memories of visiting Blackpool Illuminations, there is also a small selection of figures that have travelled down the M61 to spend a few days in Salford.
Quays Culture’s mission is to contribute to Salford Quays being a place to visit and provide international examples of interactive art and they have certainly achieved that this year. The exhibits are only here until 18 December so get on down.
Browsing Twitter and Facebook you might think that in 2016 everyone is seizing the day, living in the moment and treating every day as if it is their last. Reading posts and tweets it is easy to see a community where everyone is practicing mindfulness, has grasped minimalism and is enjoying experiences not possessions. And then I go to a rock concert and see people around me who are not present and who think they can concentrate on more than one thing at once. It doesn’t seem to matter how much they have paid to see a favourite band, there are always plenty in the audience who will spend most of the gig going back and forth to the bar and then [as a consequence] to the toilets. I have seen people checking their emails on their phone during a set and others take the opportunity of a quiet and emotional moment in a song to have a loud conversation about which bus they will catch to get home! I don’t find it difficult to be in the moment at a rock concert; my ears are full of the music, I can feel the bass shaking my bones, I am moving to the beat and my brain is listening to the words or singing along. I really enjoy being immersed in good loud music with lots of other people and I always smile my way through a rock concert.
I certainly don’t let irritation with the fans whose minds seem to struggle to just let go and soak in the music and atmosphere spoil my own experience. I accept that people will take photographs [and I clearly take one or two myself] and, although I don’t understand it, I tolerate the many who will even film an entire track. But, I do find my brain occasionally wandering in to spheres of wonder; how can you dance with a drink in your hand; why, when you have paid for a ticket, you can bear to risk missing your favourite track because you are using the bathroom and what possesses anyone to think a rock concert is a suitable place for an intimate conversation.
Maybe I am too old school. I bought my first ticket for a concert in 1972 when I went to see Slade, backed by Thin Lizzy and Suzi Quatro … and I was hooked to the thrill of live music. Over the years I have seen many hundreds of bands from the mega-stars such as The Rolling Stones in 1976 to Karine Polwart, a beautiful Scottish folk singer. I have seen Black Sabbath five times, paying just £2 in 1977 and £55 in 2013 and Muse eight times, including a memorable gig in Grosse Freiheit, a lovely cosy venue in Hamburg [and where the Beatles played]. Back in the 70s the bar would close while the band was on and as a teenager I had usually queued for hours to get to the stage and so I guess just being there for the music became normal.
We saw Placebo this week and it was a great concert and the crowd was no worse than usual; the woman who insisted on shouting conversations with her partner didn’t spoil it for us. I will continue to support bands by seeing them live and I will continue to be truly present for the couple of hours they are entertaining me.
I am now winding down from paid regular work and looking forward to the days when I can spend my time watching the red squirrels scampering around the trees, stopping to gaze at every beautiful sunset and chatting to every cat I meet and not feel I should be using my time more effectively. I am looking forward to being able to sleep until we wake up and spend the day reading a good book if we want or heading off for a walk just because it is a sunny day. All these things got a bit closer as this week Mr BOTRA (Mr Back On The Road Again) told his boss at work that he will be leaving in March 2017 and now there is no stopping us! His boss, who clearly knows him better than mine, wasn’t surprised that we were planning an early retirement and more travelling and was only disappointed because she had him in mind for a promotion when a colleague retires. While a promotion might have been nice it is nothing compared to have the time and space for walking up craggy mountains, sitting on warm sand on a deserted beach or kicking dry leaves along a woodland path and these [and more] are all things we will soon be enjoying.
Of course, we have lots of plans to do all sorts of wonderful and helpful things during our retirement but one that I am really looking forward to is doing very little. I am looking forward to knowing there is no reason why I can’t spend half-an-hour watching the wren from our dining room window as it potters around the bushes or sit and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin or even [if I want to] just while away the day reading tweets on Twitter!
As one of the workers, my working day has a structure and I am expected to produce things and be available. This means that evenings and weekends are precious periods of relaxation when I try to cram in all the other good stuff. I know that our retirement will be more than just evenings and weekends 24-hours a day and it will certainly give us time to improve ourselves in lots of way, by giving our time and learning and exercising and … so on. But I hope it also gives us the space to have time to slowly linger.
I thought it would be nice to publish an occasional series of blog posts showcasing the best of Salford; a city that is my home and is one of the ten boroughs that make up Greater Manchester. The city has a long history but has generally been over-shadowed by its Manchester neighbour. Even in the past, although Manchester and Salford both grew during the industrial revolution as textile mills and terraces of houses were thrown up, it was Manchester that developed a commercial centre that drew in the shoppers. I am starting with LS Lowry, a Salford hero whose distinctive paintings may have played a part in the prevalence of the view of Salford as a grim city [although Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town probably played a part too]. And yet in the last ten years or so Salford has pulled itself out of the gutter. The arts centre, The Lowry, was the beginning of the transformation of Salford Quays from industrial wasteland to lively and smart destination that is now popular with tourists. The geometric building of The Lowry holds over 400 of LS Lowry’s works and an archive of other material relating to the artist.
LS Lowry found his own distinctive way of painting and drawing. He is best known for his pictures of the industrial scenes of Salford. Using a basic colour palette in his oil paintings that mirrored the colours of the mills of Salford; the red brick buildings and the black smoke; ‘Going to Work’ and ‘Coming from the Mill’ are in his familiar style. Jeanette Winterson brilliantly described Lowry’s Salford paintings as ‘painting the trauma … of industrialisation’.
Visit the Lowry gallery on Salford Quays and you will soon see that there was more to Lowry than mills and the working people of Salford. In his later years Lowry’s subjects moved on to empty landscapes and seascapes, many painted on visits to friends in the north-east and Cumbria. Berwick-upon-Tweed has a walking trail with interpretation boards celebrating Lowry’s paintings of the town during his many holidays there.
If you are in the area get along to the Lowry and take a look at the range of LS Lowry’s work.