So what is this U3A?

One of the lovely things about retirement is that you are less restrained by the time restraints of working hours, and you have the opportunity of generally choosing how you will fill the many hours now available.

I have to admit, here, that following our retirement from our business in 2011, my wife and I had totally-different approaches………

….She loved it as she had looked-forward to it for years. She could do all her housework at her leisure and she could encourage me to take her out for coffees, or we could drive further afield, and even abroad…….

….On the other hand, I missed the day-to-day decision-making which I had enjoyed/dreaded in equal measure for nearly 40 years. Demands for lectures, training, and advice, from my professional colleagues, ceased , and there was a feeling of ‘I’m not needed any longer, and all my life-skills are redundant’, so I felt very sorry for myself !

We both needed an aim in life again, and this is where the U3 A came on to the scene. We had known of the Open University, but were not really interested, because of the fact that it is for those who may well live a relatively-solitary life.

We wanted something with people-contact, in the same kind of situation as us, and somehow we heard of a U3A meeting for old codgers at our local Golf Club (simply used as a suitable meeting place, so no golf clubs required!). We went along and immediately found ourselves amidst over 50 laughing, happy retired folk, who welcomed us with metaphorically-open arms. And it has been like this ever since.

U3A (University of the Third Age) is a long-established international group of self-organised, self-funded, self-motivated local groups who decide what activities they wish to have, and then one of the members takes responsibility for organising each activity. We have about 20 different activities including walking, table tennis, men’s lunch, speakers, poetry, travel, local history, Spanish, Singing Group…….the list goes on and on.

Now, from having empty days in  our calendar, we have to juggle our time to get even the mundane things of life done!

So if you are retired, and want to fill your later years to the full, why not Google  ‘U3A’ and then just go along……you know it makes sense…..


Band of Gold

I still remember the balmy autumn evening on the putting-green in Victoria Park, Glasgow, in August 1966, when I proposed to my wife-to-be, and, fortunately for me, she accepted! (crikey, that’s almost 50 years ago!)

Victoria Park on our engagement evening Sept 1966

…….. and the lovely emerald engagement ring she chose a few days later. Unfortunately the colour rendering does not show the superb dark emerald colour. For those not around at the time…..the original photo was taken as a ‘slide’ or ‘transparency’ and had to undergo digitisation for its storage into eternity.K's engagement ring Sep 66

I understand from friends, (male and female) that the decision about the engagement ring ranks second only to the bridal dress in importance. As one would expect, the Lady had a sore tum with nerves, so I expected there to be much deliberation as we set-off for the jewellers. However, there was little question in the eye of the young Lady when she spotted this one, in McGowans of Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. She took to it instantly and I breathed a sigh of relief. My signet ring choice was quite easy!

But all was not finished. After wearing it for a little time she felt that the ring was slightly too small so it had to be taken back to be stretched. No problem there, but when we uplifted it again, tears were forth-coming, as it was now much too large! Eventually, sizing and engraving were satisfactorily completed, so that showing them off to friends and relations could begin in earnest!

Now we have to fast-forward a year which we mostly spent apart as I was working in Watford. I either flew-up or came overnight by bus about once a month to see my fiancé who was still proudly wearing her engagement ring. Must have been true love!

One of the things we had to do during these weekends was to finalise the wedding arrangements. The purchase of a wedding ring was on the agenda, but in my diary it hardly rated a mention when we got it on 24th  Aug 1967 along with the final Reception details, Marriage Registry paperwork, getting music for me to play at a wedding, and booking our honeymoon!

All went smoothly at the wedding in October, and those rings continued with her all our married life. Even during her two pregnancies, the wedding ring never had to be removed, even when it was thought wiser for the engagement ring to be tucked away for safety. Baking, washing, house-cleaning, etc all were done with the ring firmly in place.

She has worn them faithfully all those years and they always ‘looked-right’ on her.

So, you might say, what is the purpose of this blog? A good question, which indicates that you have been following the thread……….

Well, one day recently, in the baking frenzy just before Christmas, both rings were sensibly removed because of the sticky nature of the ingredients. Although Lady of the House is usually well-prepared, it was suddenly necessary for us to go to a local shop to get some baking products.

Normally I might have been sent alone, but at my age I probably could not be relied-on to come back with the right goods…I would have got raisins instead of sultanas, or baking powder instead of baking soda…you know the scenario!

So I was to be the driver, in my old clothes, and Lady would dash in to Sainsburys to purchase said goods, alone. We were only a minute into the journey when, you’ve guessed it……no rings!

Suddenly, concern was expressed from my Lady about the bare ‘ring finger’…..’I hope I don’t meet any of our friends, because, what will they think?’. ‘I’ll just have to keep my left hand in my pocket, so that no-one will see’. ‘Maybe you should come in as well, so that folk will see that we are still together’. ‘Maybe I have some gloves in the car which I can wear, to cover my hands’. ‘Perhaps YOU can go in to get the few things, and I will just sit in the car’.

Suffice to say that she DID go in, and met NO-ONE we knew, no gossip was started, and we returned home safely. But it set me wondering………. men do not, as a rule, wear rings all the time, and I don’t think that it worries us,………but married women ALWAYS seem to have their wedding ring on.

But why is this so? Is it a ‘status’ symbol (in the true sense of the word) within their peer group?. Is it boastful? Is it pride? Is it a visual indication to the world, of the promises made on marriage? Or is it a statement of their love for another human being? I’m not a woman so cannot speak for them but would like to think the latter might be right………

We were both 70 this year and the lovely joint birthday present from the family was a casting of our clasped hands (please ignore what look like dirty fingernails!). Our rings are in evidence, (although mine is now on my ‘pinky finger’ and if anything indicates love, this surely must be high on the list…..P1050515.JPG


24 hours on…….and some fear!

The early hours of Saturday morning, in fact almost all of it, were taken up with trying to absorb the full impact of the terrorist attack at the Bataclan Concert Hall in Paris. Of course, we have seen it before, it regularly happens in war zones, and it will, no doubt, continue to happen for time immemorial.

However with modern communication we can hear about events within seconds and are constantly updated without pause for thought, so that you feel closer to it, following it in real time.

So it was with some trepidation that we went to the Glasgow Concert Hall last night to attend another one of the RSNO winter programme. We go regularly so never gave thought to our security and repercussions of such a large gathering of people in the ‘second city of Empire’, enjoying wonderful music….but you don’t do you?

We were really looking forward to the programme as we already knew two of the three pieces, and there is always a ‘buzz’ as the amphitheatre fills up. But last night was different. Instead of being almost full, I reckon that it was only one-third or one-quarter full. Now whether or not the poor weather, the programme content, shock, or even an understandable fear, was to blame, I have no way of knowing, but in any case there was a subdued feeling within that audience.

The bubbly, cheerful Music Director, Peter Oundjian, usually bounces onto the stage to the adulation of the audience. This time he was quieter and the applause mirrored his attitude. He very often speaks to us before and during the concert and this was to be no exception, but for a different reason……

He spoke very briefly about the events and was obviously pleased that we had all turned up on such a terrible night and under the traumatic circumstances. He then outlined what would happen to acknowledge the French tragedy……..

The opening piece was the short Langsamer Satz, by Anton Webern. An idyllic love proclamation to his beloved Wilhelmine, it reminds me of a punt gliding down a stream. Unfortunately he never heard it played as it was discovered after his death. It comes to the gentlest of closes and fades to silence over quite a period.

As the silence hung like a cloud, the lights gently dimmed to an almost-complete darkness. There was no applause, as he had requested, and we all sat with our own thoughts and fears. I have to say I felt no anger at that time, only an over-whelming peace and tremendous sadness together.

I don’t know how long it lasted but the lights came up gently, and we proceeded to the second item…but how do you follow such a poignant event? There was no way they could have known in advance about the events or changed the programme but somehow the next item was very suitable….. the Brahms Violin Concerto.

Not everyone who is reading this will enjoy Classical music or know of this wonderful piece. It has many tremendous melodies woven through it, and as it is a ‘strong’ piece requiring a lot of energy from the bow arm of the player, we usually hear it played by a man. But this evening was different…..

On to the stage came a willowy tall young lady called Vilde Frang, with a wistful, almost sad, look in her eyes. She then proceeded to play this piece in the only way a woman would….the violin almost became her child as she taught it to speak, drawing out notes and expressions that we never knew existed. We then saw this child in tears, in joy, jumping about full of the fun of life, and wonderfully happy. It was a joy to listen to, and as I said  in a previous post the lachrymal glands were somewhat active!…But what the hell, I was crying tears of joy and emotion whilst others across a short stretch of water were in anguish, uncertainty, unbelief, grief and pain.

The applause seemed to be a great corporate sigh of relief, allowing us to breathe again. The final piece was the well-known Symphony No 41, by Mozart. Strangely, he wrote his three final Symphonies in the Summer of 1788, while he was in depth of despair over his finances, losing some of his children, his marriage problems and falling out of favour…..yet he managed to rise above his problems and leave us with some of the most remarkable and mind-blowing music from an uplifted troubled soul.

May we hope that those affected by the events of only a few hours ago, directly and indirectly (and I suppose we all are) see some glimmer of hope in the coming Season.

True Independence…fact or fiction?

At one time, I think politics was simple….or at least simpler than it is now…..

I obviously can’t really comment on the era of the Whigs and the Tories, as they were only presented to me on the shiny pages of my history school books, so I can only relate to the mid-20th, and early 21st Century.

Basically it would start with our parents, and where they felt they were in the pecking-order of life. If you were in the upper echelons of employment or had a ‘profession’, you could be thought of as being ‘Conservative’. This was presumably that you wanted to retain the status quo. If you had dirty fingernails or had a ‘trade’, working for an employer, you believed in the concept of ‘collective negotiation’ to get better working conditions. You might well follow your parents’ choice, and wives might have followed their husbands…but not now methinks!

It was really as simple as that. You voted for the candidate whom you thought would help to fulfil your aspirations….one, or the other.

We were each part of a community, Local Council, United Kingdom, the Commonwealth of Nations, Eventually were added the Western Alliance, NATO, European Union (originally called the Common Market), United Nations, O.P.E.C, and numerous others. The discussions and decisions to join these were mostly taken at Government level, with little or no input from the population at large. The exception which I remember was Ted Heath’s Common Market populist vote, which took us into what is, today, something quite different to what we voted-for.

So we were inextricably joined in a criss-crossing network of nations, striving to reach voluntary compromises,,..not perfect…but which allowed even the smallest of nations to have their say on the world stage.

There were other groupings of course, such as the great Russian empire, which started to crumble, when some of the nations wanted to break-away, with subsequent terrible violence, atrocities, and bloodshed. The opposite also occurred in places like the USA, and Italy which were properly formed as great nations, when all the warring areas handed-over some of their status to a greater centralised power to provide unity. Again, not perfect, but better together.

The decisions made in Great Britain to become part of each of these power-blocs were often passed across party lines, as it was realised the benefits of strength in unity. All the conflicting evidence for and against could be calmly analysed and  assessed by all the experts involved, before a final decision would be taken in Parliament. They were therefore not part of electioneering every four years.

So let us get one thing straight. Almost NO country is ‘independent’. We all rely on other countries for our world-wide defence systems, rescue services, oil, raw materials, trade (both ways), places for holidays, breathing spaces to allow our over-worked environment to recover etc. We are not independent, we are all MORE inter-dependent than we ever have been!

We need to be at peace with our (world-wide) neighbours. If we do not get-along together, we will all fail together!

……..But politics and the Party system are now much more complex. The old walls of Boss v Working Man, have been greatly disfigured if not broken down entirely. The large change in the ethnic demography in these islands over the last 60 years has meant that our representatives in government have more complex problems relating to service provision, and employment prospects for those with language and cultural. differences. Many of our representatives in local, national, and international governance are from parents who were not born within the UK.

This diversity is to be welcomed, (because where would we be without the Indian and Thai curries, the Italian pizzas and pastas, as well as Chinese, Cantonese and Vietnamese food? )  But it does bring the realisation that the’ British Person’, (if ever such an animal existed) and the’ British Nation’, are not as we knew them 50 years ago. We have moved on, but not in an isolationist sense, where it is ‘Us’ against the ‘Rest of the World’.

I would repeat that we  have all become more integrated whether we like it or not. The thought of untangling it all is awesome!

Other parties came into the frame such as Lib Dems, UKIP, Green Party, etc  and all made your one vote much more valuable as you had more options, and with women freed from following what their husbands said, and younger people voting, we now had much more cross-voting. A fluidity of voting patterns, much more difficult to forecast, and pollsters’ projections did not hold the validity they once had…..Some folk changed their allegiance from Local and National elections, and were much happier to vote on the opinion of the candidate on a specific issue instead of the party they represented in general. What a mess…..

For many decades we have had, in the UK, political parties who wished to influence the Government of the day to provide funding and support for the history and culture of their specific nation. I have no problem with this, as this was well within their sphere of expertise and experience. Even without seats in any legislative assembly, they punched well above their weight, in the influence they could bring to bear. The Sinn Fein attempt to break up all of the UK failed, but now perhaps we are seeing a set of (faltering) steps in the path of peace with power-sharing. Plaid Cymru in Wales (left-wing social democratic) is still very much a minority party, but manages to make its point.

In Scotland we have a devolved Parliament in Edinburgh controlled by the SNP, which has had very little experience in real power.  Their sole raison d’etre seems to be Independence, Independence, Independence. They have been given an un-precedented amount of devolved portfolios, and are struggling badly trying to handle them…..and yet they want more. They have a poor grasp of financial, and international affairs (both very necessary in 2015!).  A considerable amount of money has been spent on a ‘Scottish Marketing’ exercise involving Gaelic signs and language education. None of this is remedying the faults in the economy or the financial demands they have made. It appears to be for internal gratification alone, and gaining more votes….but why?

If you want to establish an independent nation (and a majority in 2014 said they did not want independence) you need to build relationships with all of those who pay the piper, and also other countries, and institutions. This they are blatantly failing to do, and by omitting them, they are making it even more difficult for the next administration to recover the lost ground, and bring us out of this quagmire.

Can I come back to my original question…….is true independence possible in the 21st Century? My assertion is that it is NOT possible to be totally independent and dictatorial in this day and age. It is also a universal truth, in business, that you can be promoted, or promote yourself, to your level of incompetence. What we currently have is such a scenario, where continual whining about how little comes from central funding and trying to operate in areas of their non-expertise, whilst ignoring the failings within their own financial capacity to handle, they are building up an enmity which may well take many decades to cure……..

Keep right on to the end of the road…….

I don’t know about you, but I have a fascination with dead-end roads, especially in the countryside. In some ways the sign we use can be a bit disappointing, or even intimidating….’Not worth going down this road’…’There’s nothing to see’…….. ……’Better to turn round while you 7559_signs[1]have the chance’……you know what I mean.

However there usually is something to see…a beach, a loch, a little pier, a house, an old church, and often they have a lovely view. Someone obviously thought that it was worthwhile building and maintaining a road for good reason.

And so it was that yesterday, along with two of the ladies in my life, we set off for one of the loveliest dead-end roads in the west of Scotland. Skirting the historic City of P1010551Stirling, you take the A84 and A873 through Thornhill. There you will find the excellent restaurant ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ where you could stop for excellent refreshment. Continuing to head west and joining the A81, you pass  (or stop to admire), the only lake in Scotland, the Lake of Menteith. It is tiny, but the village is called  Port of Menteith, and it feels quite proud of its watery neighbour, and the Inchmahome Priory.

Just as you come to Aberfoyle, you enter the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, and head on the B829, which has the afore-mentioned ‘dead-end’ sign . The B designation is a good indication that this road is not for the faint-hearted driver, as it is single-track with passing places. P1040845But we managed to stop and pick some blackberries on the way, on the side of Loch Ard.

I should say here that it was not me driving, as medical advice was that I should not get behind a wheel for a little time yet. So it was the Lady of the House, who was in control. (She is, of course often in control when I am driving!) Daughter was in the front passenger seat helping with the negotiation of this nasty but lovely road.

Wonderful country houses abound along here with the sweeping drives, and gardens which would have engaged a number of full-time gardeners at one time. Lovely it must be to live in such locations, but what about the winter? 4WD vehicles would be more suitable than a flash car when the snow comes, or trees fall over the roads, or accidents block roads.

When you are able to stop to admire the vistas, Ben Venue, Ben P1040838Vrackie, and Ben Lomond all offer great views, so a camera, and binoculars are advised on this trip.

Water is not normally in short supply here, and so several lochs have been dammed and channelled to provide water for Glasgow and the Central Belt of Scotland. Besides Loch Ard, where got the berries, Loch Chon also is beside the road, and both offer boat fishing. The water here and ultimately fed to Glasgow is very pure and no lime-scale is produced in kettles or washing machines…….and it is lovely to drink, especially in a glass of amber liquid!

As we move northwest, we are travelling between two large lochs….Katrine (Glasgow’s main water supply) and Lomond (known the world over for the Bonnie banks). At a T junction you can turn right to Stronachlachar (an awkward-sounding word for non-Scots), with a Pier-head Tearoom.

P1040851However we were turning westward past the lovely Loch Arklet heading to the village, or more-correctly, the clachan of Inversnaid.

This is probably the most awkward part of the road as it drops sharply to the northern tip of Loch Lomond, and indeed the Banks are Bonnie as promised in the song. Suddenly, from a narrow country road we descend into a large car park, beside the massive Inversnaid Hotel, and situated beside the pier for boats cruising Loch Lomond.

So, you may ask, why has this large Hotel beenOld Photograph Inversnaid Scotland[1] built here in a remote area, and is obviously popular, with high-occupancy rates? The old photo shows how long it has been operational.

It was built in 1790 by the Duke of Montrose as a quiet hunting lodge. It achieved exposure to the world, when Queen Victoria visited there several times, for privacy. Whether the impropriety involved with John Brown, her ghillie, occurred here I do not know. It has obviously been extended over the years.

We had a very tasty meal in the hotel, chosing the Inversnaid Burger, which consisted of P1040865chicken, bacon and cheese. Afterwards, we went to examine the waterfall just beside the hotel. There has been no appreciable rain recently, so no  great torrent of water, which was a bit disappointing. There are lots of little walks in the area, which we could not explore due to time restraints.

The pier is a place of constant activity during the day, and P1040858no doubt, there is a fair bit of freight brought in by boat. Looking across the Loch, you can see the village of Inveruglas, and the large pipes of the Loch Sloy Hydro-electric Power Station on the hillside. They have a Visitor Centre about the area, so is well-worth visiting.

Two other facts about the area…….

Firstly……The local primary school was, in 2010, the most expensive/pupil in education costs, in the UK. It is said it was £54,000 per pupil! Presumably some may have been accommodation costs for those who could not commute each day, in the scattered community.

Secondly……The famous Rob Roy was basically an outlaw involved in castle-rustling, and in the Jacobite rising. He hid in a cave, close to the Hotel, and which can be only approached by water, and was well-hidden. No doubt the locationis pointed-out to all those on the cruise boats.

……so there you are, a true end-of-the-road journey, which provided on a very-pleasant autumnal day, a lot of visual excitement with the gorgeous scenery,  a trip on narrow roads, a pleasant meal, and plenty of blethering!…….

And the day was complete on our way home, as we popped-into a tearoom in Aberfoyle………pleasure complete……


Colzium etc….some photos….

Just a few random shots from the ‘Non-Driving Day Out’ Blog….sorry about the contrast in some of the shots….very-intense, rather-low sun to blame….Click on the link below to see some more of our lovely scenery…..You Lucky People!

Light and dark in the overgrown paths

Light and dark in the overgrown paths

Lots of cones about

Lots of cones about

A particularly-large cone

A particularly-large cone

Colour disappearing from the leaves....

Colour disappearing from the leaves….

Almost transparent....

Almost transparent….

Looking like an up-turned boat.....

Looking like an up-turned boat…..

Just imaging having to trim these trees!

Just imaging having to trim these trees!



Friendly dog with four tennis balls

Friendly dog with four tennis balls

The burn...

The burn…

Could not resist the colour of the water...

Could not resist the colour of the water…

Ripening for winter.....

Ripening for winter…..

A shady nook....

A shady nook….

Proudly standing....

Proudly standing….

Sun changed within a minute.....

Sun changed within a minute…..

Feeling rather uncomfortable.....

Feeling rather uncomfortable…..

Still uncomfortable!......

Still uncomfortable!……

Good lady beside our Quite-Quirky Juke.....

Good lady beside our Quite-Quirky Juke…..

From the summit of the Tak-Ma-Doon the heat-haze

From the summit of the Tak-Ma-Doon Road…in the heat-haze