Wednesday, 28 September 2016

One day in retirement, a snapshot

Subtitle: -    One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Not) 

(with apologies to Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

So, this morning, a pleasant sunny day plonked slap bang in the middle of September, felt like a good one to do things, to celebrate the privilege of being retired.

Perhaps the weather contributed, perhaps it was the feeling of returning to normal existence after a busy summer and installing a new kitchen, and hopefully the prospect of a quieter day than yesterday when reading unpleasant news stories and enduring a dental appointment.   
That passing thought provides a salutary reminder that these comfortable inconveniences are miniscule compared to Ivan Denisovich’s day in the Stalinist gulag (or to current conditions in Aleppo).

Musical anniversary

Aware that tomorrow sees the first board meeting of the Ulster Orchestra a week before the start of the new season, I have a number of substantial papers to read within the next twenty-four hours.   
Thirty to sixty minutes of intensive study while my brain is relatively fresh will suffice before the eyes pop out of my head. The reading might even sharpen the breakfast appetite.

Having joined the board two and a half years ago, I had not realised just how precarious its financial situation was at that time.  In retrospect it was a good time to join, if only because the process of observing crisis management in action and trying to assist is a rapid way to learn about an organisation.

It also brings out the best in the staff and management who are battling for the survival of a cherished institution.  The current position, while imperfect, is more stable than it was then.  The programme for the new season, our fiftieth anniversary, is the best I have ever seen[i].  Prospects are exciting, there is positive momentum, and we have a beautiful abundance of events, a veritable cornucopia.

On the actual anniversary date of the first concert, which took place on 28 September 1966, the orchestra is staging “50 concerts in 1 day” in a wide variety of venues across Belfast[ii].  

Two days before that massive undertaking, the orchestra will perform live on 26 September in a BBC radio concert of music from the 1930’s; and three days after the birthday, a blockbuster 50th anniversary platform concert on 30 September will feature the 1976 Moscow prize-winner Barry Douglas performing Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto.

Photographic update and postscript:- 
two weeks after the day featured in this snapshot, the Ulster Orchestra achieved its crazy target of performing at 50 venues in one day. Great credit goes to the musicians and the staff for a superb achievement.

Rafael Payere conducts the Ulster Orchestra in Victoria Square shopping centre

Trumpet duo Patrick McCarthy & Paul Young welcome early morning commuters at Central Station

Crystal anniversary

On a more mundane note, after a tasty breakfast of sliced chilled giant orange followed by toasted veda (we have the best bakeries in the UK) with cheese on two slices followed by a third slice coated with factor 15 manuka honey, it’s time to check for text messages.

One of my favourite apps is Whats App, where texts are free and sending photographic attachments is also free – anywhere in the world.   
I am pleasantly surprised to see a photo from my eldest daughter of a crystal vase displaying beautiful sunflowers.  Two days ago I ordered this bouquet to be delivered to her and Bob in Scotland to mark their fifteenth wedding anniversary (crystal – I checked the nomenclature on Google, as you do).   
The gift was to arrive before 6 pm, but was delivered just after 9 a.m today.  I’m impressed and happy with good service.  Make my day.

Classic car landmark

On Saturday, I had successfully put my 42 year old car, an MGBGT, through its statutory MoT test, it having failed its original test a couple of weeks previously.  
A problem with ageing cars is that bits are always falling off.  Replacement parts can be difficult to find – and expensive.   
In the interim and to pass the retest, I had to have the engine’s cylinder head and gasket replaced, as well as a number of other parts.

The total cost was, unsurprisingly, a fairly hefty sum.  But with this classic car in overdrive approaching its first time round the clock and the milometer today sitting at 99987, I can justify the investment as a present to mark a significant landmark, like another anniversary.  That will be reached sometime over the next week.  
For the first time since the successful retest four days ago, I take the car out for a five mile spin round the block.  She performs beautifully, which is a relief, sounding and feeling like a purring new engine.  
Like her owner, the MG prefers good weather.

Photographic update and postscript:-

42 years 4 months and 19 days after registration, the MG breaks through 99,999 miles and return to zero.

Blooming nature

Having booked a gym class at midday, I have spare time sufficient to justify my domestic existence.  Taking advantage of the morning sunshine, it’s opportune to address something annoying in the back garden.   
A couple of plants, large bushes really, have been growing like mad, encouraged by the welcome late summer sun and are crying out for judicious pruning.  So, under the close supervision of my wife, out come the shears and a rake.  Chopping begins in earnest.  
In half an hour and assisted by a little sweat, normality is restored to the offending vegetation.

Before getting my mountain bike ready for the short trip to the gym, I make a mug of hot chocolate and accompany it with a cereal bar.  It’s been two hours since breakfast and energy will be needed to get through the 45 minute spin class and the two-way trip.


My usual gym, which is two miles from my home, is closed for several days to be refurbished and refitted.  While that work continues, members are allowed to use the company’s other gyms anywhere in the UK.   
Thanks to satellite technology and my other favourite app, Endomondo, I know that the nearest alternative gym is exactly 4.81 miles from where I live, not a large distance or inconvenience on a bike, especially on a nice day.

So, full of the joys of spring, even though autumn is approaching (and best put off for as long as possible), I set off arriving in time at this gym with time for a short warm up and a series of stretching moves.   
This place is enormous compared to my nearer venue.  It has about three of four times the floor-space, it has a bigger swimming pool and has two powerful Jacuzzis and a cavernous modern steam room, good for relaxing aching limbs after exercise classes.

Despite my creative writing tutor’s ban on using clichés, I’m tempted to say that a change is as good as a rest and to add for emphasis that variety is the spice of life – but I won’t, even though both pertain.
It’s the sort of place that you would be unsurprised to meet smooth-talking people who sell gleaming new cars or glitzy modern furniture.  
That is because this gym is located in an area full of car showrooms, garden centres, household appliance outlets and furniture shops.  An off-centre location which town planners refer to as an area of comparison goods shopping.

People these days talk a lot about networking.  Occasionally, chance encounters can be beneficial.  After the spin class, I began a conversation with someone I saw at the class.  It emerged that he works nearby for a company which publishes magazines, including one that features social and sporting events, prize-givings, dinner-dances and the like.  
It’s the kind of magazine you read when idling nervously in doctors’ waiting rooms.  A useful exchange ended with him providing me with the editor’s details as a prospective PR contact for the orchestra’s business.


Having spent the previous night at the cinema watching the new film “Café Society” by Woody Allen, a quiet night at home beckons.  Before embarking on this article, I start reading the first few chapters of a novel described on the cover as “winner of the Los Angeles Book Prize for fiction” and one which my wife has strongly recommended, “The Twelve” by Stuart Neville.

Catching up on TV with the latest successes of inspirational athletes from across the globe in the Rio Paralympics gives me the spark to procrastinate no longer.  I had been pondering writing about a recent European city break, but have changed my mind.  The travel topic can wait.

Instead the subject will be one day in retirement, today, not necessarily typical - and a lot less severe than that of Ivan Denisovich.   
But perhaps one that will, in retrospect, be regarded as having been reasonably productive and satisfying.

©Michael McSorley 2016


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