Flavours From the East

Cooking every day can became a chore (‘I know’ – I hear you say) and so over the years I have attempted to introduce variations and themes to make it more interesting for both myself (the cook) and the family (the diners).

When the children were young I would have ‘themed’ dinners – ‘Curry’ nights, visits to ‘Mexico’, a ‘Taste of the Orient’. I would make two or three main dishes with traditional accompaniments giving the children an opportunity to develop their palate. I remember one year when I made a traditional banquet to celebrate Chinese New Year. There was approx. 7 courses and the only dish I did not make was a soup, which I secretly purchased from Sainsbury’s – guess which one was the only dish complimented! (Still hurts ?)

Anyhow I digress – nowadays with only husband and I to cook for I select a specific cookbook and use it for a week. It is also a way of ensuring that the cookbooks are used – many of mine have laid unopened for many a year, now once I have used a book for a week I can tell if I would use it again. If so, it goes back on the shelf – if not I put it in the charity box.

 

 

Last week’s book was ‘Sirocco’ by Sabrina Ghayour. At first, I thought it was a Persian Cookbook although once I started reading the recipes I realised that many of the recipes were her interpretation of other countries dishes given a Persian twist.

 

 

We started with ‘Seared Steak, Roasted Vegetables, Whey Dressing and Pepper Sauce’, well it was Father’s Day and he does like a steak. Although the recipe called for Sirloin Steak I used Ribeye. It looked the better choice at the Butcher’s and was very tender. I cooked it for only 3 minutes each side rather than the 4-6 suggested by the recipe. I did not have any Whey so used a good quality natural yogurt. Overall a very nice dish – no leftovers.

 

The following day I made the ChickenBerry Rice, not sure what I did wrong but the rice just would not cook. In the end I added some boiling water and left it for 10 minutes. Although it had an enjoyable subtle taste we found it rather dry – next time I will consider an accompanying sauce, more in the style of an Indian Biryani.

Tuesday was the day for Spice Roasted Duck – this was very much in the style of the Chinese dish Peking Duck yet with different tastes. I used Duck legs rather than a whole duck, basically because it was the only fresh duck I could find.  Nor could I find any Pomegranate molasses so used basic molasses and added some pomegranate juice drained from the seeds. Chinese pancakes were not available either so I used flour tortillas, this worked although was not as dainty a dish as it would have been. I had worried that the molasses sauce would be too sweet but when added to all other ingredients everything balanced nicely.

Next day was a real treat – Burgers, a rare event in our house. These were titled ‘Kofta’ Burgers and as I was not serving them in buns I added a few oven-cooked fries – an even rarer event! I am not fond of burgers, but these were enjoyable. I now wonder if it is the texture of ‘normal’ that I dislike as these were very easy to eat. I followed the instructions to work the mixture thoroughly which breaks down the protein (so it says) and results in a smoother texture.

On Thursday we ate ‘Lemon, Turmeric & Black Pepper Salmon’. Well – I didn’t have any Salmon although did have some Hake in the freezer so decided to use that. I think it worked well – and looked pretty.

The end of the week and I was planning to cook a Lamb dish but we went out to eat Tapas with our son and his girlfriend so I wasn’t In My Kitchen after all.

Photo Acknowledgements:

Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash   Featured Image

Photo by Christiann Koepke on Unsplash End Photo

 

 

Couch 2 5Km Update 3:

Oh Lordy, Week 8 and it is really serious now. Continuous running for 28 minutes! I’m an old lady, what was I thinking??

Encouraged by the third run of week 7, as 3.8Km is close to 5.00Km, I felt I ran further and faster. Indeed, doing 4.4Km on the first run of the week. Although still a mixture of trotting and very fast walking rather than any Paula Radcliffe style of running. I am protecting my knees, nursing my back and have a blister on my right little toe – I should be at home watching daytime TV.

Week 9 – now expected to run for 30 minutes continuously – 30 MINUTES!  Only 2 more minutes per session than week 8 I know BUT psychologically it is enormous.

I feel that I have moaned and groaned my way through this whole challenge and I don’t care. Despite the heat, the knees, the blister, the hay fever etc etc I am still here – and that is what counts.

 

My first run of week 9 was in our local park and very pleasant, well, if I hadn’t been running it would have been. Still a mixture of jogging and very fast walking but I did cover 4.828Kms – so frustrating. Although also good, if I had achieved the 5Km I would have packed up and gone home – only joking.

The second run was back in doors at the gym and I was feeling confident after Run 1. So exciting as I actually ran non-stop for 2 Km! As time passed I thought to myself Michael J. should surely have been saying ‘You have run for 10 minutes, doing really well’ – or similar, looked down at the App and it was on pause! 

Luckily, I had set the machine to move for 40 minutes so I had some idea of progress but in the end only ran 4.4 Km. Oh, never mind. Always tomorrow (my Scarlet O’Hara moment)

 

Run 3 is the point at which the 5 Km should be achieved – I decided that I really should start taking this seriously (sounds of an awakening competitive gene, methinks) So, I have chosen to delay the 3rd run and instead train for the final attempt. Hayfever and a heatwave helped my decision. So now everyday for a week I will do something fast. I can now run 2Km non-stop in less than 15 minutes. Today I have just ran/walked without pause or slowing for 40 minutes and covered 5.295Km. not really achieving the objective (as that includes the ‘warm up’ walk) but does feel good.

Looking back on first C25K post – I said that June 25th was the date of the final run. Today is 26th ….. so encouraged.

Photo Acknowledgements:

Photo by Zac Ong on Unsplash Featured Image

Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash Timer

Photo by Bradley Wentzel on Unsplash End

 

Recognising and Avoiding Loneliness

Loneliness is a complex and unpleasant emotional response to isolation, the sense of a lack of connection and/or communication with others. It can occur both when physically alone and when with others. It can have an impact on both mental and physical health.

Most of us would describe it as ‘having no one to talk to’ or ‘no-one understands or listens to me’

It is important to understand how it occurs, how to avoid it and how to manage it if it is a position you recognise in yourself.

It does appear easy, once retired, to reduce social contact and to become socially isolated.  It can occur without you even realising – oh, the excitement of not having to go out to work every day.

Yet, it is important to ‘stay in touch’. This could be with established friends, new social activity or chatting ‘over the wall’ with the neighbours. See also a recent post ‘Staying Social’ on following link.   http://www.perpetually49.com/planning-for-retirement-stage-3/

Like many of us I was only on brief nodding terms with neighbours whilst working but now have time to chat – beneficial to both of us as it also promotes the neighbour’s interactions and sharing of news and views.

Studies show that brief interventions, even with strangers in a bus queue, improved the sense of well-being. That making a connection is good for us and reduces a sense of isolation.

Other studies have demonstrated that face-to-face communication increases the production of endorphins- the chemical in the brain that boosts well-being and reduces pain. So, leave the computer and go outside. Talk to a neighbour, ‘What about?’ you may ask. It’s Britain – talk about the weather.

Follow the link https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/loneliness for more information and articles.

There is nothing wrong with being on your own and many of us, me included, enjoy our own company. Feeling lonely is something different entirely. It is that sense of not connecting – either you are missing social interaction or feel uncared for and/or disconnected from the people who surround you.

Avoiding social isolation may be easier than you think – it often needs some courage (but then, you have greater inner strength than you realise)

Alongside leaving the house and talking to neighbours there are other steps you can take.

What are your interests? List them and then look locally for groups, evening classes etc. that would ‘fit’. These need not be costly.

Have you skills and experiences that could be shared and utilised by others? You could volunteer at a group/charity nearby. Follow the link below for information ovolunteering.

https://www.gov.uk/government/get-involved/take-part/volunteer

Appreciate that ‘first time’ nerves can hold you back although, as is often said ‘all journeys start with the first step’.

Attending any group does not commit you for life. If it is not ‘your thing’ then look for something else, although do give everything a fair chance. There is no rush, enjoy all the interactions you make.

Remember that loneliness can also impact on your physical health and perspectives on situations. An article from The Independent identifies some of the impacts lack of social interactions can have.

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/loneliness-lethal-condition-therapy-psychology-cox-commission-ons-health-a8311781.html

Studies show that people with a sense of loneliness do not cope as well with illness as people with healthy social interactions. Those with a sense of loneliness are shown to exaggerate severity of illnesses and often require changes of treatment as ‘nothing works’. There is also evidence that indicates the socially isolated consult their family doctor for minor illnesses more than those with social support groups and – loneliness can lead to depression.

The links below has some useful information and articles on ‘self-help’

https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/the-facts-on-loneliness/

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/#.WyOjokgvxPY  

An organisation started by Dame Esther Rantzen, The Silver Line, is funded by donations and manned by volunteers to offer support and company for those recognising their loneliness. Feel Lonely – follow the link, give them a call. Would like to offer support – follow the link, give them a call. https://www.thesilverline.org.uk/

Loneliness is a disease of our time and there is even a Minister for Loneliness (at time of writing this is Tina Couch) yet there are some simple steps that you can take to avoid this and steer yourself towards maintaining health and well-being.

As stated throughout the post – engage in simple small talk with those nearby – neighbours, shop assistants, dog walkers etc.

Enjoy your own company, plan your day so it has focus. Treat yourself to ‘outings’ such as the theatre, cinema or Coach trips.

Go somewhere on a regular basis, by doing this you become ‘familiar’ to others and more likely to feel comfortable engaging in conversation.

Make a connection with others yourself – join a local club where you have an interest (a shared interest is a conversation already started)

Understand why you feel lonely. Making connections may not remove this sense of loneliness unless you understand why it’s there. Is it new? Is it embodied over time? Once you acknowledge the reason you can work towards a solution.

Acknowledge you may need help to do this. Embrace who you are.

Photo Acknowledgements:

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash – talking with neighbours Photo 1

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash – Featured Image

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash – volunteer Photo 2

Photo by pina messina on Unsplash – Photo 3 Visit Dr

Photo by David Clarke on Unsplash – Photo 4 Silver

Photo by Lydia Torrey on Unsplash End Photo

Be Wise about your Pension

Gosh, this is tricky subject and there is soooo much information out there it is easy to become confused and SCAMMED (so be careful who you share your information with)

Years back it was much simpler – occupational and/or private schemes seemed to stick to what you agreed with from the start – and you received your state pension at 60/65 (gender and date of birth dependant), although don’t start me on changes to the age at which you receive your state pension and how many years in advance you were informed of the change. Women especially have been affected by this and it has made a difference to many plans and incomes.

I do agree, that as we are generally living longer and healthier, it makes sense to work longer. It is just the process seemed to come around very quickly – and the dates changed regularly making planning difficult. I, myself, was informed of 3 dates and each was further in the distance. Anyhow I digress.

Back to pensions. As you will be aware the changes to how you access your private pension schemes has changed. These changes may or may not impact on how you access your occupational pension – for many this is still only accessible as a regular ‘income’ monthly/weekly as is the State Pension.

The need for a decision is in relation to many private pension schemes as you can access this in many ways – from all at once to retaining a monthly sum as income. Oh, what to do? And how to do it in the most tax efficient way.

I am not a pensions advisor nor a financial expert so can only share my experience and what sources of information I discovered.

I have a small private pension into which I have contributed a small monthly amount over the decades. Commenced when the children were young, and I was aware that working part-time would impact on my occupational pension. The monthly ‘income’ amount quoted is very small and thanks to the changes I can consider accessing it in a variety of ways that suit my circumstances.

So first, to understand the options.

As always, my first stop was Google, as you would image there are many links to ‘pensions advice and retirement’. From large nationally recognised insurance companies to firms I had never heard of but being ever cautious I went initially to the government site which explains the State Pension, is easy to read and appears to be updated regularly.  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/your-new-state-pension-explained/your-state-pension-explained

For information relating to your occupational pension it is best to discuss this with your employing organisational. Although the following sites also gives some clear guidance.

https://www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk/

https://www.gov.uk/workplace-pensions

https://www.workplacepensions.gov.uk/employee/

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/pensions/types-of-pension/workplace-pensions/

So back to private pensions. You may have an independent financial advisor and if so that is obviously the person to contact. I am guessing that there is already a relationship of trust there and, even if you also consult other avenues, it is a good place to start. If not, then the company who hold your pension savings is a must. The independent companies selling and supporting private pension schemes have had to change how they handle business in relation to the change in laws so should have both up-to-date guidance and impartial advice.

I contacted my Pension company once I was approaching my  retirement date to discuss my options, complete required forms etc.

The first thing I was instructed to do was make an appointment with Pension Wise – a free government advice service  www.pensionwise.gov.uk

The meeting can be face-to-face or using the telephone. As I prefer communicating face to face with people I have never met that is what I selected and found it very worthwhile. How to make contact and arrange appointments are on their website (link above).

Alongside discussing my specific options the Adviser also worked through all other options so I felt that if I had had any doubts previously I would have left more informed and with guidance as to where to go next. By the time I arrived home an email with a link to a summary of the meeting and links for further advice was already in my Inbox.

Of specific note was to check policies for any special features and fees that the pension plan may have in the small print – these can sometimes limit the options available.

The following links are ones highlighted to me and may be of assistance when considering options:

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/categories/getting-advice-about-retirement  – many pages on various topics around retirement and how to source financial advice

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/introducing-a-pensions-advice-allowance/introducing-a-pensions-advice-allowance-consultation – details about the ‘pensions advice allowance’, which I had never heard of. Allows a sum to be taken from tax-free sum to use for funding cost of financial adviser.

https://www.fca.org.uk/  – amongst other advice this site has a list of known SCAMs

www.unbiased.co.uk – how to locate a local finance adviser in your area

A brief overview of what advice pathways are available to use when considering your options – hope it helped.

 

 

 

Photo Acknowledgements:

Photo by Steven Lewis on Unsplash Featured Image

Couch 2 5Km Update 2:

I must admit I struggled with Week 5 – not just my dislike of running but oh, my knees! I felt that the level of activity and length of runs was really a noticeable ‘Step Up’. Although let’s be honest – it is not really running, still just light jogging with Michael Johnson’s verbal encouragement in my ear but, oh it hurt.

I had great plans for Week 6 as I would be in Stockholm, Sweden and the weather forecast was good. The hotel had a gym so I thought I would try that out first – it was small and busy and I felt guilty ‘hogging’ the running machine so the first run of the week did not go to plan. Not to fret, I thought, I would do Run 2 outdoors.

Up early and in the dawn sunshine I set off from the hotel. The paths and roads were surprisingly busy for 7.00am and I did become lost on a few occasions which was distracting. I decided that I really should put the plan ‘on hold’ although I kept the legs moving by doing my own version of running/brisk walking for the rest of the week then re-started Week 6 once back in England. This will delay the actual 5km run.

Who am I kidding – I was never going to maintain the timeline.

Stockholm, in case you have never visited, is a beautiful city. Reminded me of both York and Venice but more of that in a different post.

Back to the task in hand. I re-started the sessions by running/walking along the banks of the river Tees in lovely spring sunshine.

Week 7 was another ‘Step Up – and Oh, my calves! I stretch, I warm up, I cool down and yet this week my calves have letting me know that they do not like running either.  As the Hay Fever season was with us I thought it may be best to move indoors do a session in the gym.

Well, that may have worked except for the guy on the running machine next to me. He started off well then slowed and coughed and wheezed and stopped. Then once settled he would start running again – then the coughing and slowing would start, then settle. I diagnosed Exercise Induced Asthma (can take the girl out of nursing but not nursing out of the girl) although knowing that did not stop the distraction as I was conscious of him all the time.

Run 3 nearly didn’t happen as in the morning I twisted my back and caused it to spasm. I kept changing my mind as to whether it would be best to delay exercise for a day. In the end I decided I was just taking the easy road because running is not my thing so – 400mg of Ibuprofen and off I went (this is not a recommendation, nor advice). I covered 3.8Km in the 35 minutes which was really encouraging and my back felt a lot better.

Week 7 complete and on to Week 8, I’m still in the game.

 

Photo Acknowledgements:

Photo by Jennifer Birdie Shawker on Unsplash (Featured Image)

Photo by Peter Wendt on Unsplash (Stockholm)

Photo by Elijah Hiett on Unsplash (Hayfever)

Photo by Yuki Dog on Unsplash (end photo)

 

China 2017 (Part 2)

Boarding the small boat that would take us along the River Li from Guilin to Yangshuo was a pleasant surprise as reviews we had read implied the boats were old, not very comfortable and not to expect very much for lunch – not the case at all.

 

Very modern boats and lunch was very fresh indeed, I photographed it arriving.

 

 

The scenery along the river was spectacular, I did take some photographs although mostly just stared in awe.

 

 

Each mountain is named after its appearance – Horse’s Head, Elephant Trunk etc. – some were easy to spot and others we struggled to identify. The river meanders through the hills and the sway of the boat encourages relaxation, it was a struggle to keep awake.

Yangshuo itself is a small town and the gateway to Guangxi Province. Arriving after lunch our guide and driver whisked us up into the mountains to the nearby Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. I was so excited that I would be sleeping in the same bed for two consecutive nights. Once we had deposited our luggage we were off on a two-hour bike ride (we were offered the option to walk but exercise to wake us up sounded a good idea).

It was good to see the local culture close up as we both rode and walked along the river watching the fishermen, bathers and rice farmers enjoying their day.

The Retreat (https://www.yangshuomountainretreat.com/) is set on the banks of the River Yulong amongst hills and fields away from the bustle of normal life. The rooms are simply but elegantly furnished, with no Telephones or TVs (hurrah). The hotel is committed to ecological sustainability and remains rooted to its original mission. Providing training and employment for the local population – as well as Ex-pats with skills to share. It is possible to join in classes during the stay – Yoga, Meditation and Basic language skills were on offer and appeared popular. Below is the view from my room.Whilst at the retreat we went to see a performance of the Impression Liu Sanjie on the River Li. This is an amazing production on the river using the mountains as a backdrop. It is directed by Zhang Yimou, who produced the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening show. The cast are mainly local farmers, fishermen and ethnic family groups alongside a few national stars. It tells the story of local folklore aided by lighting and moving platforms. My photos do not do it justice (taken very quickly at the end). Go, if you ever have the opportunity.

Next day we had no scheduled events and it was good to laze about in the morning exploring our local area. After lunch we decided to be brave and chanced the Yulong River Bamboo Rafting experience. Well, it was not as scary as it first looked although I did spend more time making sure I stayed on board than enjoying the passing scenery! We decided to walk the 3km rather than use a taxi – had not considered the temperature, the traffic or the narrowness of the road – added to the adventure I thought.

We ate in the Retreat Restaurant in the evenings to enjoy the quietness – would certainly recommend the food.

Soon our little respite was over and we were back on the road, this time heading to a real adventure. Ahead of us was a 4 hour drive then a 30 minute hike up a steep mountain path that had no vehicular access. The drive was picturesque as we made our way to Longji and the Dragon’s Back range of rice terraces. We were to stay in the village of Ping An at the Longji One Hotel.

Bamboo was much in evidence – everything from buildings to cooking utensils appeared to be made of this local resource. The rice is grown and harvested today just as it was hundreds of years ago, with each family having an allocated space. Initially I thought the village had a medieval air about it and worried that the young generation would be left behind their peers in other cities and countries – a wasted thought I soon discovered. Looking in houses as we walked by I noticed TVs and many other electric appliances alongside the ‘mobile phone’ in constant use with some interesting Apps. Alongside Apps for translating languages I also discovered that there was an App that identified flowers and fauna from your photographs (now on my phone and used regularly)

We walked through the mist and drizzle ever upwards to view the terraces. As we were early in the year the rice was being planted and the individual terraces and paths were very visible making it easier to understand how it all worked.

 

 

Although informed by our guides of the ‘minority’ groups in this area of China it was interesting to actual meet the people who have worked hard to maintain their regional cultures. Such as the ladies of the Miao, who we referred to as the ‘Silver Ladies’ because of the locally made ornate silverware that they decorated their costumes with.

On the way back down the mountain, the next day, we passed through a small market where we purchased some silverware and tea as gifts and persuaded a lady of Yao culture to un-braid her hair. It is their culture to only cut the hair twice in a lifetime – once as a very young child and again at the age of 18. The cut hair is saved and is incorporated into the ‘up-style’ bun daily.

Onto Sanjiang and the regional centre of the Dong Minority group. Again, the first impression is of a bygone time – but oh my – the beauty and history of the ‘Wind and Rain Bridges’.

Again Bamboo was the commonest material for buildings and furniture. Having left behind the rice planting we were surrounded by tea bushes and it was a joy to walk leisurely along the paths, although some paths were rather steep (good that I had ‘trained’ before leaving UK).

Tea is not a drink I choose although here I felt it would be impolite not to and what a delicious drink when the ‘two leaves and a bud’ travel such a short distance from plant to pot.

Up and out to catch a train and car to Zhaoxing and to see rice grown in small fields and irrigated by centuries old water wheels and ….

 

 

…..the majesty of the ‘Drum Towers’.

 

 

We attended a theatre production explaining local culture and history, walking back to the hotel in the dark with the bridges and towers illuminated was a joy (no way is my camera good enough to reproduce the sight – just take my word it was worth seeing)

Having spent a day swapping trains and spending a night in Changsha we were soon on our way to Zhangjiajie (or Avatar country as we referred to it) and two days trekking in the stunning UNESCO World Heritage park. Although I must admit – we returned each evening to our rather smart hotel. There is only so much ‘roughing it’ my husband is prepared to do. Both up in the mountains and following the river lower down was just beautiful and despite the huge number of people also visiting the area it so vast it accommodates us all easily.

The first day was the toughest – at some points we had to walk sideways through very narrow passages between the mountains or crouched low to pass under overhanging rocks. ‘How do you manage bringing overweight people here?’ asked my husband. 

 

 

Our guide replied ‘Oh, we don’t. We put them in the cable car’ ‘There’s a cable car!’ we both shouted in mock (real) horror! We used the cable car to descend – adding another opportunity to view the landscape and to escape the rain which had been with us all day. Second day the weather was dry and warm which made the river side walk even more special.

All of a sudden we realised that we had reached the end of this adventure, we intend to visit again –  going north to visit the Terracotta Army and the Wall.

It was amazing.

 

Planning for Retirement (Stage 3)

Planning for Retirement (Stage 3)

Staying social-able

A big gap in social interaction occurs very suddenly once you are no longer in the workplace. It is easy to spend the day without speaking to anyone. Whilst, after a hectic and stressful occupation, this may sound idyllic, absence of social stimulus can lower your mental and physical well-being.

Relationships with colleagues often contribute to your social interactions in life. It is simple to calculate how many hours per week you spend in the company of professional colleagues and in differing environments. The absence of this following retirement can create a ‘big hole’ in your life.

Although many relationships formed through work can result in lasting friendships it is also true that these can fall by the wayside as the changes within the workplace occur and the ties that formed the relationship are loosened.

Despite the permanence you consider your relationship to have it can falter and, even if it doesn’t, I would recommend investigating what you can do with yourself now that you are no longer leaving the house daily to go to work.

Alongside supporting mental health and well-being by interacting socially with friends and family it is possible to avoid loneliness which brings with it a host of issues I thought may be better written about in a separate post. (Coming soon)

Do leave the house – but where to go?

You could investigate this both locally and nationally, so below I have briefly done both. Pathways to national information appears very straight forward so I have listed this first.

National Groups and Links

Thanks to web search engines such as Google, Yahoo etc it is easy enough to discover what national bodies are ‘out there’ and keen for you to participate in their activity and/or cause. By inputting key words, relating to your hobbies and interests, into a search engine can lead you to all sorts of information and even more ‘links’ which distract you for hours!

As examples:

Interested in gardens? By entering ‘Gardens to visit near me’ into Google several links to sites offer the opportunity to investigate this further 

https://www.ngs.org.uk/

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/

https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/search-form

 

 

 

Interested in group travel abroad? By entering ‘travelling abroad in groups’ several links appeared leading to companies wishing to whisk me away to unlimited numbers of exotic places 

https://www.explore.co.uk/experiences/holidays-for-solo-travellers

https://www.intrepidtravel.com/uk

http://www.statravel.co.uk/travel-china.htm

 

 

Want to volunteer in Britain or abroad? Entering ‘Volunteering in Britain’ again resulted in many links – in fact I followed many and completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing. I had not realised that so many opportunities were there. The main concern that I would have on reading some of these sites is ‘are they looking for someone young? A student on a gap year?’ Whilst initially this seemed to be the case when reading further into some sites the majority are mainly looking for people with – time, skills, interest – and you are most likely to have those in abundance.

https://www.prospects.ac.uk/jobs-and-work-experience/work-experience-and-internships/volunteering

https://do-it.org/

https://www.environmentjob.co.uk/volunteering

 

Walking along the River Tees last week I noticed this poster advertising for volunteers to assist with maintaining the waterway and its surroundings. Find out more at Canalrivertrust.org.uk or email: customer.services@canalrivertrust.org.uk

 

 

Another national source of information is, of course, newspapers. Especially the weekend supplements, many print articles such as ‘the 20 favourite coastlines’, ‘20 popular pubs’, ‘10 favourite Yorkshire walks’ etc. For many years I would read these, planning on which I would undertake – never to have the time.

A few years back, as a team building exercise, myself and some colleagues were challenged with following a scripted walk around an area of London. It was an area not unfamiliar, or so I thought. What I learnt was that I would be so intent on arriving at a meeting informed and on time that I never actually looked where I was going! It is easy enough (once again thanks to the internet) to obtain information of such walks in your area and create a social event with family and/or friends. There is sometimes a small cost to download the instructions but not always, so arrange a date and off you go.

https://www.ctguides.com/preparedwalks

https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/the-street-art-walk

https://www.pinns.co.uk/devon/ashclystforest.html

https://www.walkingenglishman.com/daleswensleydale.html

I recently discovered a walk along Regent’s Canal (www.theoutdoorguide.co.uk/britains-favourite-walks) and so will be meeting up with a friend in early summer and following the route. It is described as a ‘country walk’ so I am expecting to see a different side to London.

To stretch your mind, you could also consider day/evening classes at local educational centres – often listed through the LEA websites for example https://sunderlandcollege.ac.uk/19-plus/short-courses/ lists vocational courses available in Sunderland. Another option is to visit the Open University website which offer free courses via the Open Learning page http://www.open.edu/openlearn/

Although I have no up to date experience of the OU I did study for my first degree through their undergraduate programme and found it a very enlightening experience, very efficiently run with a high standard of course materials and support.

Local Activity

Local information, surprisingly, is more difficult to identify. I discovered that some group activities are shared only amongst the people who already know and not all use the internet (and if they do it was frequently out of date). So, the challenge was finding out how to find out.

I discovered that it is common for local interest groups to share information in the buildings where they meet – so I spent some time walking around the village looking at notice boards outside such places as The Parish Hall, the Church Halls and of course – the Post Office (that ancient stalwart of village news and gossip). Local Libraries are another site that will distribute information via its notice board, although commonly those are only open part of the week, so you may have to call more than once to gain access.

One very useful pathway for discovering activity opportunities is a weekly/monthly newsletter which lists the meetings and venues for each month. Where I live we are fortunate to have both – the monthly newsletter is paper-based and delivered to the door. The weekly ‘roundup’ is an electronic newsletter delivered via email – which means you must join a mailing list, which means you have to know about it in the first instance. I only discovered by chance – eavesdropping on a conversation in which it was mentioned, and then I had to confess to my nosiness in order to sign up ?

Joining up to local groups can be a scary prospect, going anywhere as a stranger is daunting at the best of times. I find doing so in a community where I live can have added concerns. Whilst the first visits are to assess the level of interest, required commitment, cost etc if you then decide not to formally ‘sign up’ the ‘locals’ could take this decision quite personally. So, I decided to develop a strategy whereby I attended the groups that interested me and where I knew there would be people who I already know. Initially attending those I had always had an interest in and would manage to work into conversations that ‘I am just trying out the wide choice of activities over the next 12 months, I had not realised there was such a hive of activity’ (which I hadn’t until I started looking). Then I gradually expanded to attend those where I was interested although didn’t know anyone who went.

These included groups in nearby towns. I have always been a frequent reader and over the years have set myself reading challenges – this year my challenge was to join and participate in a Book Club. For a variety of reasons, I could not join the local ones so decided to investigate others nearby. I took a guess that a Bookshop would have some information so approached Waterstones – and not only did they know of some in the town they also had one that met in their store monthly. Alongside of this group I was also informed of a Writing Group that met regularly on a Sunday morning, again in the store. I have no intention of writing a novel yet am aware my writing experience was mainly of official reports, finance papers and projects – all of which had meant my writing style was formal and instructive, not a style that would be conducive to the ‘Blog’ arena I was planning on being part of.

Joining the groups meant I had to follow my own advice re ‘being comfortable in the company of strangers’.

Joining In

Choosing an event where the participants sit and are expected to listen is, in my experience, a good place to start. If everyone is basically listening, then everyone is ‘on their own’ to a certain degree plus as a ‘first timer’ you would not be expected to contribute – this gives you space to analysis how the group works and what level of contribution is given. Most interest groups are just that – full of interested folk, this is not an exam, people are there because they are sharing an interest and it gives them a reason to leave the house.

This doesn’t mean that you do not make any contact at all – go in the room, introduce yourself to the person at the door (there is always a person at the door), grab a coffee/tea – say hello to the person next to you in the queue and/or the person on the chair next to yours. Introduce yourself, say that it’s your first time – with some luck it will be a chatty individual who gives you some hints as to how the meeting works. If the event interests you go back next time – or review the scheduled topics for future meetings and go to those of interest (I do that as I think it reduces the sense of commitment until I am sure I want to be a regular attender)

It is important to build up connections, even in localities where you have lived some time you may not know the names of the people to who you say ‘Hello’ as you pass them on the paths.

Recognise ‘first time’ nerves – our confidence is often underpinned by our expertise and position. Having retired from the workplace can cause a temporary lack of confidence as we adjust to the new life and altered status. It is important that we understand the normality and commonness of this.

Just think – at one time all the people in the room you are walking into walked into that room for the first time too. Building connections and gaining recognition takes time – something you now have plenty of.

If you are already involved with local activity groups you could offer to extend your commitment. When working it is often difficult to take on roles that maintain the group – now that you are no longer working perhaps doing so is something you can consider. Alongside of ‘helping out’ the extended involvement often results in widening your relationship with others. There is a danger you may feel that once recognised as the ‘Secretary’ means you will be doing the job foreveeer. To prevent this, prepare your exit plan – state how long you will take on the role and stick to it. If all is going well you can always extend the time period, although I never do – I take on roles for a maximum period of 3 years and then even if I am enjoying it I step down.

If interest groups are not your ‘thing’ or the thought of joining is too daunting it is still important for your well being to be outdoors frequently and maintaining even a basic level of social interaction.

Walking outside daily builds face recognition, for yourself and for others to recognise you. Do it often enough and folk start to say ‘Hello’, this initial greeting assists with sense of belonging. Because people have seen you the next time you meet, perhaps in a shop queue, they are likely to start a conversation because there is facial recognition and a sub-conscious acknowledgement they have seen you before.

I was in a local shop in the queue when I recognised the man in front of me. He said ‘Hello’ pleasantly, it was the week before Mother’s Day and I noticed he was buying a card so remarked on this – the queue was moving slowly so we had a good conversation about mothers and thanking them for their efforts etc. He was eventually served and left the shop. The assistant asked me if I know him – ‘I certainly know his face’ I said ‘just cannot think of his name’. She replied ‘He’s Kevin Keegan’ (A world famous International footballer and Premier league manager in his time – just in case you were wondering)

Face recognition – important for human interaction.

Photo Acknowledgements:

Featured Image – Photo by Rhand McCoy on Unsplash

Garden photo – Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

Travel Photo – Photo by Tommaso Pecchioli on Unsplash

Walking photo – Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash

Post Box – Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Book Club – Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

People Meeting – Photo by Juri Gianfrancesco on Unsplash

People dancing – Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash

Adore/endure – Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash