Hope the voyage is a long one

 

06.11.2018 Saillans (5)
I can’t resist cats, pretty tea-towels and net curtains

I heard the author Louis de Bernieres talking on the radio and {as so often happens with radio programmes] he took me to a new place – Ithaka by Constantine Cavafy.  He was sharing a poem that had changed his life and it resonated with me too.  The Greek island of Ithaca or Ithaka identifies with Homer’s Ithaca, home of Odysseus and his odyssey to return there.  Ithaka is our goal, the thing we get up for every morning or our own quest.  But like Odysseus, it is the adventures and discoveries along the way to our quest that are important and there are good reasons why we shouldn’t rush the journey just to get to the end of our odyssey.  Constantine Cavafy speaks of the importance of enjoying the road to our own Ithaka, pausing to appreciate the route but keeping ‘Ithaka always in your mind’.  We can then hope to arrive at our Ithaka older and wiser after years of learning on the way.  ‘Without her you wouldn’t have set out’, Constantine Cavafy reminds us.

Louis de Bernieres interprets Ithaka and ‘what you’re destined for’ as every human’s inevitable journey to death.  We take the first steps on this journey as soon as we are born and we all hope that this is a long and interesting journey.  ‘Ithaka’ and Louis de Bernieres’ response, ‘When the Time Comes,’ are poems that intimate that we would do best to enjoy whatever life throws at us and hope that we don’t reach the end of our journey until we are old.  Louis de Bernieres poem has become popular as a reading at funerals and I can see why.

To someone who adores to travel those words, ‘And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas, And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them’, make me smile.  Even if my own Ithaka comes tomorrow, I have been lucky enough to have found those and other treasured places … but hopefully my journey will continue a little longer. 

Ithaka, Constantine Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka 
hope your road is a long one, 
full of adventure, full of discovery. 
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: 
you’ll never find things like that on your way 
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, 
as long as a rare excitement 
stirs your spirit and your body. 
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them 
unless you bring them along inside your soul, 
unless your soul sets them up in front of you. 

Hope your road is a long one. 
May there be many summer mornings when, 
with what pleasure, what joy, 
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations 
to buy fine things, 
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, 
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities 
to learn and go on learning from their scholars. 

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for. 
But don’t hurry the journey at all. 
Better if it lasts for years, 
so you’re old by the time you reach the island, 
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, 
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. 
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. 
Without her you wouldn’t have set out. 
She has nothing left to give you now. 

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. 
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, 
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

When the Time Comes, Louis de Bernieres

When the time comes, it is better that death be welcome,
As an old friend who embraces and forgives.
Sieze advantage of what little time is left,
And if imagination serves, if strength endures, if memory lives,
Ponder on those vanished loves, those jesting faces.
Take once more their hands and press them to your cheek,
Think of you and them as young again, and running in the fields,
As drinking wine and laughing.
And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas
And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them,
Some other place if that should please, some other music
More suited to your taste.
Consider, if you can, that
Soon you’ll shed this weariness, this pain,
The heaped-upon indignities, and afterwards — who knows? —
Perhaps you’ll walk with angels, should angels be ,
By fresher meadows, unfamiliar streams.
You may find that those who did not love you do so now,
That those who loved you did so more than you believed.
You may go on to better lives and other worlds.
You may meet God, directly or disguised.
You may, on the other hand — who knows? — just wander off
To sleep that seamless, darkest, dreamless, unimaginable sleep.
Do not be bitter, no world lasts forever.
You who travelled like Odysseus,
This is Ithaca, this is your destination.
This is your last adventure. Here is my hand,
The living to the dying;
Yours will grow cold in mine, when the time comes.

Failing frugality: Year two of financial independence

05.28.2018 Lago di Corlo walk (2)
The pan is empty

It is now over 18 months since I finished the nine-to-five and 15 months since Mr BOTRA last had any paid work.  At the end of 2017 I was feeling pretty smug as our spending of £24,000 in our first year of retirement was well under budget – clever us I thought.  Now it feels as if all manner of expenses were just waiting in the wings for year two.  We are just over half way through our second year of spending our savings and we are on target to spend £3,000 more than last year.  You may recall £27,000 was our budget for each year. What has gone awry?

The campervan

Just over £1,000 of our additional spending in 2018 has been on the campervan.  Our Devon Tempest is now over three years old and with over 30,000 miles on the clock has needed some TLC this year; two new tyres [it will need two more before the end of the year], new brake pads all round as well as general servicing.  The conversion has also needed a bit of work as we had to have the water level sensor replaced.  There have been other odds and ends such as a new kettle and replacement levelling blocks too.  This year has been spend, spend, spend on the ‘van.

Holidays

Holidays remain our priority.  As well as the usual costs for ferries and campsites we have had a long weekend in Milan this year for a significant birthday [not the cheapest city to visit and our trip cost just under £1,000] and we have paid almost £400 up front for a holidays for 2019.

Health

Our health is important but this has been the year we have both had to have new specs and Mr BOTRA has had some expensive dental work, totalling over £900.

Clothing

We wear everything until it falls apart and when it comes to gear we like to buy quality kit but with so much free time we are out walking a lot of the time and it seems that even quality gear doesn’t last forever.  This year we have had to replace walking shoes and other bits and bobs of clothing, pushing this budget line to over £800 already this year.  Last year it was much less, maybe next year it will be too!

Increased cost of living

We know the cost of food has increased in the UK and we have noticed this in our spending.  In 2018 we are spending an average of around 16% a month more than we did in 2017.  I don’t think we have changed what we eat or where we shop so this must be related to an increase in the cost of fresh vegetables and other staples.  In addition with the pound falling against the euro our supermarket shops on our holidays abroad have become more expensive.

Don’t panic

We monitor our spending so that we can keep it in check and avoid any problems but there are three reasons why we aren’t in a panic yet about this increase in our spending.

Firstly, we had given ourselves what we thought was a generous budget of £27,000 a year and we are currently projecting around that amount for 2018.  It could be that our first year of not working was particularly cheap and the budget we set was accurate rather than generous.

Secondly at the moment my travel writing income will more than cover the £3,000 projected increase in our spending for 2018 over 2017.

Thirdly, we have that emergency fund.  We are glad we saved what we needed and a little bit more to give us a cushion in the tough times.  This emergency fund increased last year as we spent under our budget and it increases every time I have a travel article published.  We don’t really want this to dwindle to nothing and hopefully it won’t.

Looking ahead

On reflection our campervan, our health and our trip to Milan together more or less account for the increase in our spending.  Only the wonderful trip to Milan was really optional and we won’t be repeating this in 2019.  We will keep monitoring our spending and see if we need to revise our budget and perhaps rethink some of our regular spending.  We have already arranged to switch our gas and electric supplier to save us a small amount and we have come up with some new water saving ideas too but there are others areas of spending that we could pull back on if we need to in the future to keep us on track.

 

 

What if you had loads of money?

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A very expensive house boat on the River Thames

We were at a travel show recently and began to daydream about what we might do if we didn’t have to live on our budget and had a bucket-full of money to spare.  We have a good and happy life spending our £24,000 a year, we travel around Europe in our campervan, socialise, eat as much ice-cream as we need and go to the cinema and concerts pretty much when we want.  Our frugal lifestyle isn’t exactly impoverished and we are content with the life we have because it is the one we chose.  Although I find it hard to put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t need to watch the pennies [after 40-years of thrift] I have pushed myself to have fun playing the what-if game?  So … what if a premium bond win or a surprise inheritance suddenly gave us an extra £10,000 to spend, what do I think we would do with it?

  1. Topping up the contingency fund

No surprise here, we might be really boring and just add this to our contingency fund but that isn’t really playing the game is it?

2. Travel

Turns out if we had a chunk of money I would mostly want to use it to do something we certainly couldn’t do without the money and this is travel to see far-away friends.  We have dear friends in the USA and in Australia and spending time with them would be such a wonderful treat.  We have the time now and it is really only the cost of the flights that stops us packing a suitcase and going.  Unfortunately, our current budget doesn’t quite allow for this trip on top of our European trips in our campervan.

The other trip that is hugely expensive but that I have on my wish list is taking the campervan to Iceland on the ferry [over €3,000 for 2018] but what a trip that would be; in my dreams we would spend a month or so touring around Iceland, just imagine …

3. A new home?

I am comfortable living in the less wealthy side of town  where our neighbours are hard-working individuals who don’t go to work in suits but often leave early in the morning in a high-vis jacket; I like living alongside these down-to-earth folk.  £10,000 wouldn’t be enough to make moving home worthwhile but double that might have us considering buying somewhere in the posher [and more expensive] part of town.  We certainly wouldn’t be buying an expensive house boat on the River Thames.

4. A shopping spree?

Even with money to burn we wouldn’t start buying stuff.  Would we buy a new campervan I hear you ask?  Our current Devon Tempest works really well for us, is only three-years old and has done just 26,000 miles; this hardly merits replacement.

5. Giving

In my dreams I have enough money to be able to give a chunk of cash to one or more of my favourite local charities, helping them to be financially stable, and still have enough left over to shower my friends and family with gifts.

These might be harmless musings but it has spurned me on to start calculating the cost of my dream trip to visit our faraway friends.  Having under-spent on our £27,000 budget by £3,000 in 2017 I might hang on to this dream by just a tiny thread.  If we under-spend again in 2018 it might become a real possibility in the future.

 

 

What I wish everyone knew about rock music

Turbowolf (2)
What a rock concert looks like when you are only 1.6 m tall

We had a good position in the middle of the floor, safely on the edge of the mosh pit.  In front of me energetic fans ebbed and flowed like waves on the beach as they flowed towards the stage and back.  As the tempo increased the band screamed ‘Jump,’ and these people reached for the roof, briefly levitating and bouncing off each other like human pinball.  I could feel the rhythm of the bass guitar to my core.  ‘Jump as high as you can and try and stay there,’ the band instructed; there was so much energy in the room this seemed possible.  No one was checking their phones or talking about their day at work, everyone was completely in the moment.  A mosh pit might look like chaos but there are rules to keep everyone safe in this bundle of energy; someone fell and my daughter-in-laws strong arms quickly pulled him up before he was crushed, at the end of a song our son waved a handbag he had found in the air until the owner claimed it.

I have written before about my love of loud rock music; the noise, energy and total immersion of the experience.  Academy Three part of the Student Union building in Manchester is a small [holding 470 people] and intimate venue on the third floor.  Turbowolf have a loyal following that made for a great night of heavy rock music but you might be forgiven for never having heard of them and attending one of their gigs is not on everyone’s tick list.  Every person that was there on Friday night was there because they love rock music, not because it was somewhere to be seen and brag about.

We walked home in gentle rain, hot, happy and tired and soaked in mass-produced lager spilt from glasses as fans rushed to join in the fun at the front.  It is a feeling I want to hang on to.

 

You can’t get too much winter in the winter

2018 Feb Lowther Shap and Preston (20).JPG
Lowther Castle in Cumbria is a stunning ruin

Retirement has completely changed my experience of winter and given the season a different character that is new and refreshing.  I have always dreaded the winter and would become quite low in November as the days got shorter and colder.  But now we are retired and no longer tied to just two days of freedom we can take off for a day trip or camping tour as soon as sunshine is forecast.  This flexibility means that winter starts to feel like a succession of fantastic frosty and sunny days and is suddenly much more enjoyable and fun.  Last week we spotted another window of opportunity to make the most of the blue skies and we headed north.  After some mooching around the border city of Carlisle with its red sandstone castle and marvellous museum, we visited the dramatic ruin of Lowther Castle whose roof was removed in the 1950s to save the estate from crippling taxation.  The castle and gardens have been recently opened up and are a fantastic place for a day out at any time of year.

We returned south via another ruin, Shap Abbey.  Set in an idyllic and peaceful valley the remains of this ancient abbey are open to the public, although only one tower remains from the original buildings.  From the village of Shap we had views to the Lake District fells dusted in snow and in the sunshine the north-west of England showed off its most beautiful side.

We popped in to Preston for old times sake and were pleased to see the hot potato and parched peas stall [the original street food] was still doing business in the Flag Square.  Continuing south to the town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire we had a great day walking in more sunshine.  Then the weekend arrived and with it the drizzle.  We met friends for a pub lunch and a walk and had a lovely afternoon thanks to excellent waterproofs but it would have been better if the fine weather had blessed those working folk too.

PS the quote is from Robert Frost.

 

 

Winter sunshine & walking in the Peak District

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Near Birchen Edge above Baslow in Derbyshire

The forecast was for a cold and sunny few days and so with nothing in the diary we were able to hop in to the ‘van and take a couple of nights in the Peak District to make the most of the fine weather.  We stayed at the Caravan and Motorhome Club Chatsworth campsite which is in a peaceful walled area in Chatsworth Park.  We gave the stately home a miss and walked through the glorious countryside but if you did want to visit it is very near to the site.

On a sunny and frosty morning we walked out of Chatsworth Estate to Baslow, where after a coffee, we climbed through woodland and out on to the open moorland behind the Robin Hood Pub on to Birchen Edge.  These Peak District edges are glorious places to walk, with views over the crags in to the valleys below, I always enjoy the lofty feeling of walking along these distinctive features.  On Birchen Edge we passed Nelson’s monument, a tall thin stone pillar on the rocks.  This was erected by a local business man thirty years before the more famous monument to Nelson in Trafalgar Square.  Our walk took in not one but two of these stunning Derbyshire edges.  After a boggy section of moorland we followed the track towards Baslow Edge, finding the Wellington Monument that celebrates the 1815 Waterloo victory.  We walked along the top of Baslow Edge and as the sun started to set we returned to our pitch via one of the many paths under the crags.

We also took in a lovely walk around Longstone Moor, a beautiful limestone ridge that is criss-crossed by paths.  This area was once a thriving lead mining area but is now a quiet and less visited spot among the bustle of the Peak District.  The area around Baslow is lovely but it does get plenty of visitors and finding space to yourself is near to impossible on a fine day.  On Longstone Moor we met no other walkers and we had a sense that the space and fresh air was just ours to enjoy.  We did find the crowds when we popped in to the Packhorse Inn for a swift half.  This charming pub in Little Longstone had welcoming warm fires and is happy to serve walkers with muddy boots.

 

My first year of retirement in numbers

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Above Castleton in the Peak District

Twelve months retired – so how has that gone?  We’ve certainly packed a lot in to the last year and at home we have settled in to a pattern for a shared retirement that is comfortable and relaxed.  At home we both have our own projects and interests and often beaver quietly away at these before taking an afternoon walk around the neighbourhood or cycle to the supermarket.  But we were only home for eight months of the year and those holiday days have a different pattern of walking and cycling and discovering new places.  In some ways this year has been unusual as after the incident in Greece we were without a campervan for two months while it was off the road.

I have managed to keep my resolution to not say ‘I don’t know how I ever had time to go to work’ which I guess must annoy all those people who are squeezing work and life into their seven days.  We have also made a conscious effort to do just / at least one thing each day.

Holidays and trips – 16 different holidays from one-night to two months.  We had planned two longish trips to mainland Europe in the spring and the autumn and we had a wonderful trip to Spain and Portugal in September and October but our trip to Greece in the spring didn’t go quite according to plan.  Now this is all over we can look back on the whole Greek tragedy as a learning experience [although one we would have preferred to do without] and we haven’t let the trip knock our confidence; we might even head off to Greece again in the future.  In the UK we spent a few weeks in Scotland, went to the wonderful Upton Blues Festival and various other short breaks.  We have been away in the campervan for about 120 nights during the year.  This is less than we would have expected as the ‘van was off the road for a couple of months.  We tried other types of holidays and these just confirmed that the campervan life is the one for us.

Number of accidents in the campervan  – 1 (see above)

Number of times we have set the alarm clock – NONE!

Writing travel articles – 8- this is a similar number of travel articles for MMM as last year.  This doesn’t sound many and it truly isn’t and is in no way a full-time job.  But I work slowly and each 2,000 words represents about a months work – research, travelling, taking photographs, further research, editing photographs, writing and editing.  In addition I write some campsite reviews and short articles.  This makes my retirement a working one, although if it felt like work I would stop tomorrow.

Number of matinees we have been to – Three – hurrah!

Number of times I have wanted to go back to nine-to-five work – NONE!

Foreign languages learnt – 3 [although I am not fluent in any] – before our spring trip we both worked hard at learning some Greek with flash cards and 1970s TV programmes and our efforts were generally appreciated.  I also used Duolingo to brush up my Italian.  In the summer I learnt Spanish on Duolingo and TV learning and Mr BOTRA picked up some Portuguese.  This learning meant that we could confidently book in to campsites and order in cafes.  Mr BOTRA also keeps his German up to scratch.  Next year we will want to learn some Croatian and Slovenian phrases as well as brushing up other European languages.

Good deeds done – Never enough!  I wanted to do some good in retirement and continue to do the things I listed in this previous post.  My elderly neighbours situation has recently worsened and I feel guilty for not helping her more.

Tai chi – Between once a week and daily!  While we were away in September and October we practiced tai chi every day, a combination of fine weather and peaceful campsites made this easy and fun to do.  At home we just about have enough space for tai chi without bumping in to each other and so manage to do occasional practice, as well as get to our weekly class.

Number of books read  – 64 – this year I have made a conscious effort to read more travel books and fiction as well as novels.

Number of blog posts in 2017 – 101 – I managed 78 posts on Back On The Road Again and just 23 posts on my Memorial Bench Stories blog [I must try harder].

Number of days we haven’t been outdoors for at least half-an-hour – 4 [this is a guess] – mostly we like to get out and enjoy some fresh air even if it is raining and we get out for just half-an-hour.

It has mostly added up to a good year and bring on year two of retirement, I’m loving it.