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…..

 

To the Beautiful north of Scotland…Brodie Castle

One thing I love about being away on holiday is the variety of breakfasts available. I like to serve myself and can try things for the first time. Having said that, I had a Full Scottish Breakfast every day! Presumably every British area has its version….but it is still probably based on egg, bacon, sausage, beans, black pudding, fried bread/hash etc,…… good healthy stuff! Much toast and coffee and I’m set-up for the day. The Kingsmills Hotel was our place of repose for the night, and next morning dawned with a blue sky, and you can see Lady of the House waiting patiently, and wrapped-up, for our SAM_0379friends to collect us for the day.

For those of you who don’t know the area, Inverness and north can be windy. When preparing for our trip, I looked at videos I had made over the years, and speech was often drowned by the wind. So that it makes the use of a even a modern video camera very difficult. So it was to be my still camera only.

We, and our local friends  have been members of the National Trust for Scotland for many years, and we make use of the facilities as much as poss. There is a variety of outdoor-nature-historic,-gardens to see but the further you go from areas of population, the options decrease.

SAM_0389

However, Brodie Castle is one of these places where you can spend equal time inside and out. We were blessed with bright, cold blue skies, and the extensive grounds were chosen for exploration while the weather held-up. Long wide avenues, tree-lined tracks, a well-populated duck- (and swan-) pond and a private family graveyard would give us plenty to see. Last time we were here was in 1996 and we met Ninian the 25th Brodie of Brodie, but he now passed away.

The castle itself was built in 1567, but the family presence there goes back to the granting of the lands around the castle stands in, during 1160, by King Malcolm IV.

SAM_0392But first of all we had to fortify ourselves against the bitter winds, and this was achieved by repairing to the warmth of the little tearoom in the castle. This is one thing which the National Trust for Scotland does well……they have volunteers who serve in the tearooms, and use local baking and cooking where possible.

So hot chocolate and highly- calorific cake were consumed avidly before we set-out. The gentleman in the picture (I use the word ‘gentleman’ for the sake of retaining his friendship) may well be known to watchers of Grampian Television News, as he provides signing for those with a severe hearing impairment.

The swans and ducks were very friendly – indeed they followed us along the towpath- but it SAM_0407may have been the desire for food! I can imagine both swans and ducks providing food in the early days, but now they are now just for show. Along the side of the pond was a narrow track with trees, whose leaves were turning in colour. I much prefer walking on non-manicured lawns, amongst untrimmed trees, and crunching on the leaves. And this was certainly possible here.

It was a wonderful time, not just because of the natural beauty, but also because there was no wind. We were well-protected amongst the trees, but still left with a ruddy glow to our cheeks.

One relatively-known fact is that Scotland, and especially the north, has superbly beautifulSAM_0425 beaches. You will see some more later, but just along from Brodie is the town of Nairn. famous for oatcakes, and as the holiday home of the singer Harry Lauder, A thriving town, but it was the beach we had come to see.

I think most of us love beaches, either because of childhood memories, the fact that there is a sort of ‘cleansing effect’ from sea-air, or we find some strange affinity with a vista which seems limitless.

So today we had seen three different environments…the castle, purely man-made…the gardens, nature tamed by man, and…..the sea and beach, still largely free from man’s interference, but for how long?

Off tomorrow up the rugged east coast to the most northerly point of Scotland’s mainland………come and join us….

European friends…

It was just about a year ago that we were on holiday on Lake Como, in Italy. Sad to say the weather was worse there than it had been in Scotland, and the hotel and food left a little to be desired. Luckily it was a secondary holiday, so we were happy to make the best of it.

There was a wide range of nationalities represented, as you can imagine, and I always enjoy speaking a foreign language. The difficulty arises when you catch short snatches of what is obviously not English, but are unable to identify it. I once had a long chat in German with a gentleman at the Mozartblick viewpoint in Austria, and only when we asked each other where we lived did I discover that he came from London, and of course I was from the west of Scotland! Red faces and laughter were evident in equal measure!

And so it was at Lake Como. Staring out at the rain, I sensed a Germanic conversation drifting towards me from a couple. I was in the midst of commenting on the weather in German, but was informed that ‘We are not Germans’ in German, and then repeated in an undistinguishable lingo. It turned out they were from the Netherlands, and from such a rather unfortunate start, we grew to be regular conversationalists in English which they both spoke very well!

Over the relatively-few days when our holidays overlapped, we found a bond developing, and since they had never been in Scotland, they were invited to come to our house to see some of the best of our wonderful country. Such offers and acceptances are easily made, and just as easily allowed to lapse. But we felt there was something in this one, and exchanges of Christmas cards, and the arrival of a Dutch-English Dictionary, seemed to weld the friendship together, and eventually dates and provisional plan were agreed.

It was probably at this time that a few minor thoughts crossed the minds of both families…..we didn’t know each other well, would they like our food, could they manage English for a solid eight days?, what if it rained all the time? would they be comfortable staying in someone else’s house? what about their political views?, could I learn a few words of Dutch? We were also having a large party at our house at the same time, for Son’s 40th birthday, so how would they manage in a large crowd?

Suffice to say that all went perfectly. From the meeting at the airport we felt we were in the presence of lovely friendly people, who settled well into our house, and seemed comfortable to be with. The weather was unbelievable, and trips to Aberfoyle,the Trossachs, Dunoon, Inveraray, Glencoe, Loch Lomond, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Crail went well. Unfortunately there are so many great places to be seen that they could only visit a few. The eventual parting was accompanied by a number of tear-stained faces, and many hugs!

We have seen how two different cultures can get along so well in the intimate spaces of a house and car, such that even possible disagreements in culture or politics do not have to prevent people from being part of a friendly human race. We are now saving our Euros so that we can make a return trip, but I must try to get my tongue round some of their very strange-sounding words..because they’re not German, you know!

….pass it on!

I have been recently having fun on Facebook, talking about a mythical character or animal called Herman, whom we have been looking after for the last 10 days for our neighbour’s children. The amount of guessing by respondents has been fantastic, and the secret is now out.!

I have been caring-for and feeding (at no great expense) a sourdough yeast mixture which they handed-in with a sheet of instructions to ensure that the proper attention was provided. This has now been done for the appropriate time, and I am now the proud possessor of a large amount of starter which I will now pass to appropriate folk with the same instructions. I will be left with a small amount, to which I can add many ingredients and bake myself a a cake.

It is a beautiful example of how we can pass around something quite small and insignificant, generate some fun, give away most of the result, and still have something left with which to make something nice for ourselves.

For those who were not reading the FB status or want more details, click on the link below.

http://www.hermanthegermanfriendshipcake.com/

…..exhausted!

Our children are now mature adults and long-since flown the nest. Children’s books, Lego, and dolls had been packed into boxes in the loft. The Drive where we live is quite mature and few children are around to chase from the garden or criticise for playing football in the road.

When we heard of the coming of a young family, next door, it was with an understandable slight concern that the peaceful existence we had enjoyed for a couple of decades might be shattered for ever!

However the worries proved fruitless as one admired how the expected racket was absent. Glancing through the fence we could see the occasional gentle skirmish, and girlish giggling, but nothing causing any problems.

As their courage grew, we would be greeted with ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’, so they obviously did not bite! A brief afternoon visit to our house saw them clinging round Mum and Dad, until I produced a massive  box of Lego, once much-loved by my son. He had given strict instructions that it was never to be given away, and so the wisdom was proved. Many a weird vehicle and building was produced that day.

So the ice was broken, but it took a little time before they came over to spend a sunny afternoon in the garden with us. This would give Mum a bit of breathing space and relative freedom for a few hours. Surely it  would be easy to keep two lovely children amused. But it was only then we realised how long it had been since we had children around us.

We started with making small posies of flowers. There are numerous bluebells in the garden just now and plenty to be made into small sprays to be taken back to Mum. Then they got  the chance to plant lettuce, onion sets and strawberries in pots, for taking-care-of at home. This involved much compost-spilling and having to be shown how gently the plants were to be held with small fingers so as not to damage them. Using a long-spouted watering-can proved quite difficult with small hands, but eventually mastered. Tidying-up then ensued, and no problem there. Each pot was carried home individually with no complaint.

‘What can we do now’?  ….was the call…..’OK, time for a break, a drink, and a biscuit, as we sat in the gazebo out of the bright sun. This allowed the pretence of being in a magic house which could land anywhere in the world. This theme lasted but a short time before a bit more physical exercise was called-for. Valient attempts with shuttlecock and badminton racket on the lawn caused frustration and laughter in equal measure as there were as many misses as hits! And all the while came the questions…Why? What? Where? When? How?….as young minds strove to make sense of this very-complicated world.

And so the afternoon came to an end, they went back to see Mum and Dad, and we got on with our own weekend events. Next day we were presented with little posies by Axxxx, and Dxxxxxx was shouting through the fence…’Can we come round?….

…..no problem….just let me have a snooze first!

In Service ….together

Last Sunday night we attended an Ordination at an Episcopal church where we used to attend. This is a service when someone who has been studying for the priesthood over a number of years, is admitted to what is curiously called the Order of Presbyters. This is a fancy word for minister, in the Episcopal Church, and in the New Testament it was a synonym for Bishop, meaning a local leader in the early Church. Curiously it also means a teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church.

Whatever, the lady in question has been known by us for about 30 years, and in front of a packed Church made her vows.

The Bishop in his short talk indicated that this was not only important in the life of the local Church but in the whole local community, which was well-represented by all the local churches and clergy. So thank goodness that sectarianism is not a problem in this area.

On a broader spectrum is is very pleasing to see that the ‘Irish question’, if not solved in a truly-political way to some, seems at least to be lessening as an aggressive force for suffering and evil, and we may eventually see the genuine friendship and handshakes we witnessed last weekend, on a beautiful Summer evening, in a small church in the west of Scotland.

…….Now if we could only see it world-wide….

Friend or Family?

family

A couple of Sundays ago our Provost at the Cathedral preached on the strange precept that we can turn a famous saying round and get nearer the truth.

We normally say that ‘You can choose your friends but not your family’. but he asked us to consider that ‘Your friendsare not really chosen, the friendship forms itself, but you do choose how you will relate to those we call ‘family’.’

It seemed a very strange concept to me, especially when we talk about ‘making friends’, but it set me to thinking……maybe certain friendships are ‘natural’ in that they seem to appear from no-where….a chance meeting on holiday, speaking to someone at a bus-stop…..in my case, meeting the Lady of the House first at a car with a puncture. There was nothing contrived about it…it just happened and that chance meeting has always felt as if it was meant to be and we were the lucky recipients of chance.

Family members are another matter…we have no choice of who are our relations….but we do actually decide and select those with whom we choose to keep in contact. We do act in different ways to nephews, neices, uncles, aunts, parents, children etc…..each interaction is different and we choose how we will communicate with them.

So do you get on better with friends or relations. Let me know….if you have the courage to put it in print!