2021-10-11 Neglected space

Neglected space

I have been absent from these pages for too long and I am sorry for neglecting those kind readers who have been wondering where I have disappeared to. In some respects, it has been a troubled time for me; I have been struggling to keep my balance.

I guess I am suffering from that well known phenomenon – retirement blues. The absence of external demands (with a few exceptions) has compounded the lassitude I’ve felt in recent years and left me with no clear idea of where I’m going for the last stage of my life (maybe many years yet, of course).

The immediate pleasures and satisfactions are great: the lovely house in this lovely place; a lovely partner and the comforts of domesticity; tolerable physical health with no great troubles and a brain that still appears to be functioning well.

One of the directions to take is probably to do something socially useful, distracting at least. I’ve toyed with the idea of volunteering to work in the Oxfam bookshop or the city museum or taking an active role in some kind of charitable work. The initiatives I’ve taken haven’t resulted in any movement, in fact, in any response at all. I wonder if being a 76 year-old, white male means one belongs to an oversubscribed category of available hands. I shall keep looking and trying.

New occupations

It seems that I’m still regarded as useful by some. I’ve recently delivered online workshops for the Saudis (again) and for the annual global conference of a major pharmaceuutical company, based in Germany, reaching a few hundred people in total. I’ve been invited to become a member of a national advisory committee for the Saudi Food and Drug Administration; this will involve a few meetings a year, whether virtual or on-site I am not yet clear.

I did ten and twelve hour days preparing for these events (the final day before one of them, fifteen hours). I was pleased to find I could still exert myself to that extent and content with the standard of work – as were the clients. I’m anxious that, being out of the swing of professional life, I shall progressively lose touch and risk being seen to be so. I don’t want to get to that point.


I’ve been trying to persuade myself that it is entirely legitimate to spend time reading, not as an activity to fill time or inform my professional needs, but as a complete and authentic activity. It sounds daft to say this, but I think it results from reading in the past having been tucked between lots of other things, or seen as a reward for ‘serious’ hard work which was the real priority. To sit down with a book at 9am (or even 2pm) seems like dereliction of duty – when, in fact, there is no longer any duty but enjoying myself. It’s absurd, but I am trying to reform my expectations and habits.

Not to say that I haven’t been reading a lot. I’ve been getting through two or three books a week and profoundly enjoying many of them. The wonderful Richard Osman and the Thursday Murder Club (now two books in print); Simon Garfield and On the Map (the entertaining and learned writer who was responsible for Just My Type); Sad Little Men by Richard Beard – a coruscating account of the damage done to eight year-old boys by their forced exile to boarding school and the results of their injuries, visible in the behaviour of the great army of public school boys running the country; the beautiful, astonishing and amusing Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo – and lots more. Such riches! It’s so difficult going into Blackwell’s or Waterstone’s and not buying an armful.

Writing, on the other hand, for months I have failed to deliver at all (including this blog). There is something eroding my energy and my soul and I have to find out what it is and banish it.

Estate life

Sunny days delivered the full delights of the garden and riverside life; walks to Osney Lock along the towpath, especially through the woods, are a joy; sitting in the garden with a book has been wonderful. We have not mown the lawn this summer, though the benign intention did not produce the swathes of wild flowers I hoped for; I think we’ll have to seed those probably. The biggest delight of the summer have been the trailing geraniums on the balcony – which, after my initial doubts, swung into colourful growth and draped their troughs with long flowering tendrils and looked splendid – quite continental in their extravagance. My three little gardenia shrubs have finally broken through the assaults of slugs and snails and are beginning to fill out with new growth (though still only tiny). Whether they will survive the winter is a question we have to address and do something about.

I’ve had my flu shot and three Covid shots and am set for the winter. As far as I was concerned, it was all done with real and impressive efficiency. The broader situation in the UK really seems pretty worrying – high infection rates; masks being abandoned almost everywhere; caution thrown to the wind, as far as I can see. Difficult to predict how it will turn out, but I am not optimistic.

Domestic life has returned to some degree or order and predictability now the young man of the house has a permanent, full-time job. He’s working at an equestrian supplies and event management company in Bicester, employed to do just what he knows and is trained for. It requires a bike-train-bike commute which takes about an hour each way. Following last-minute assignments for day and night shifts previously, it’s a comforting move to a more settled life. It appears to be going well – a welcoming, efficient, humane company that needs his skills.

Well, it’s a cool, bright day, and I should go out for a walk. I’ll try to be more reliable in future. I hope you are all doing well and keeping safe and healthy.