The reason for holidays

We’re having a few days away, trying, unsuccessfully, to get a little pre-Summer sun. The concept of  Holidays obviously derived from the phrase Holy Days, when labourers, apprentices, servants, etc would be released from their work, to travel home to the bosoms of their families, for a few days.

I wouldn’t imagine that they could contemplate being away from work for perhaps two weeks as we often have now, or what we do with our free time.

Looking back as a child,  I remember the summer hols especially,  being free from school clothes, and playing in the countryside where we lived, or walking out to our grandparents, who had a small Irish farm-holding near Lisburn.

I never remember being bored, as we had cows to chase, trees to climb, streams to cross, knees to graze, tents to sleep in, tomatoes to water, lettuces to gather, a black labrador to entertain, water to drink from a well, frogs to catch and return to a damp area, cricket and football to play with neighbouring school pals, as well as the children’s television programmes on the black and white TV.

No, life was busy, but we always looked-forward to the  trip on the train to the beaches of Bangor and Newcastle, for a day. It might have been on the organised Sunday School picnic, or just with the family. Mum always had a long flowing skirt, white sandals, and a cardigan (which she had probably knitted herself) ‘….in case it gets windy’. She carried a leather, or wicker, bag, containing the waterproofs,  towels, sandwiches,  and all the other essentials for a 1950’s day at the sea. Dad was photographed in a suit, and tie.

Staying at a boarding house, for a week (we always went to the same one in Newcastle, County Down) meant suitcases and games to keep us amused if the weather was bad, and the fact that it was at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne meant that there was always an element of risk of rain or cloud. Whatever happened we generally had a good time.

Into teenhood, and brother and I did Youth Hostelling around the Mournes. Carrying everything in our ruck-sacks, we endured rain and wind, unheated primitive premises, self-cooked food, basic sleeping conditions, but again we had good times.

Proper holidays were out of the questions during my late teens, due to father’s on-going health problems, but brief trips to Ireland, from Scotland (where I now lived) allowed me to keep in contact with friends and relations. But they were exactly that….not really ‘me-time’.

Marriage and then later, holidays with our children, meant that we started doing what had happened to us as children. Buckets and spades, hotels near a beach, in the South of England and the far North of Scotland, ice cream, wet swim suits, sand in the shoes and in the car, in-laws, etc were all part of very-happy times. Pleased to say that we were always proud of how our son and daughter behaved in public, and with other children. In comparison, scenes of screaming, ill-disciplined children would grate on the ear and must have caused embarrassment to many a parent.

As they grew to teenage-hood, and we took them abroad, they would meet with other children, and entertain themselves, with only the occasional return for some money. Again there were no problems, and cans of coke, and chattering with their new friends, allowed Lady and me to blether with other similar parents, with similar children. We began to feel independent adults again!

The time came when they organised their own holidays, and we did our own thing. We still had our own business, so breaks were fitted-in with the requirements of our staff and their school children. They were therefore limited, so we chose carefully, going on cruises, and to places we had dreamed-off, as we fortunately had more disposable income.

Then came retirement, in 2011, and the extra available time allowed longer and more distant times away from home. Also the knowledge that we did not have to go back to work, makes a big difference. We have spoken-to, and become friends with, people from other countries, stayed in the house of a Nethetlands family and they have stayed with us. This has given us a much-wider breadth of vision about life and politics from a European perspective.

We are quite happy, now, to sit in the bar in the evening, and chatter with complete strangers in a foreign language. So our holidays have changed from going to see things and places, to giving us the chance to meet new people……..

Our holidays, and what we expect to get from them,  have changed dramatically, but it is still nice to go away, and return home, in equal measure….however, the connection with different people and different cultures still holds the greatest attraction for me.

What about you?

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The People Who Never Sang….



I think that I first became really interested in ‘singing’ when I was ‘just a wee boy’ in a Junior Choir at our church in Northern Ireland. I came from a family steeped in amateur music. My Mother ALWAYS sang, my Father sang in choirs in church and also in male voices, as well as conducting; cousins, and uncles were singers and an aunt was a piano teacher.

So it was probably not surprising that I would sing in choirs and also learn the piano and organ (reasonably successfully), and the clarinet (unsuccessfully). Junior and senior  church choirs, playing the organ at services, and choral and instrumental composing meant that I was in the thick of what was the great interest of my family, and this was no doubt a large part of their legacy to me.

I was probably about 18 when I was playing regularly at church services , and taking a choir of people old enough to be my parents, and perhaps grandparents! The bravado of youth obviously shaded me from my mistakes, but hopefully I did something right!

After Evensong Lochgilphead

The ‘formal’ Angelus Singers at Lochgilphead…

As you can imagine, many of these choirs required a rigid discipline in attendance and standard of singing to operate well, as we had Church-year timetables, and music, to perform. No good getting the Christmas anthems ready for mid-January!….or having half a choir turn up for the Easter Service!…..or someone hitting a bum note, or a wrong entry!

But there was  a sort of self-selection process going on, where people would not put themselves forward for membership if they felt they had no voice, or a poor one. And it obviously worked well, in that most of the choir-members I met, and dealt-with, had quite reasonable voices.

But, what about the folk who, despite our protests, thought they had a poor voice, or were TOLD by someone that they had a poor voice, or were embarrassed, or did not have the time, or were not tremendously motivated? We obviously never saw them, so there MUST have been a waste of natural talent out there.

Jump forward some decades to Gareth Malone on television, who parachuted-in to various places across the UK to form some type of choir, and obviously left it to underlings to get on with the practices. He would then appear again to conduct some item. It made good television, but not really practical in today’s hectic world!

Meanwhile I had given up full-time organ-playing and was happy to occasionally fill-in, and with there being fewer choirs, that door had been closed. Retirement had come, but I still longed for the heady days of choral music…..but surely that was all history, now, and I had better get used to it……but I was not to reckon on the  U3A, the University of the Third Age, which we only joined a few months ago!

I have blogged about it before, and the great motivation it engenders in people.  Someone had said in passing, in front of a crowded room at our first meeting, that there was a wish for a Singing Group, and that ‘Harry might be happy to start one!’ So there was a challenge! But where to begin?

Now, remember that the age-group range  of the Members probably centres on the early 70’s…..some are in their 90’s! You cannot start analysing and auditioning folk of this age, so the only two criteria would be, could they stand-up (even with help), and breathe?


The interest was amazing! We had 22 with us today at one of the weekly practices, we have 13 pieces on the practice list, and we sing lustily for an hour after some warm-up vocal exercises. Not everyone can come every practice (retirement is busy, you know!) so we are never exactly sure who will be there, but some have been to every practice. No notice is taken of previous experience, musical skills, embarrassment levels, etc, and mistakes are very common. But we are now singing lots of old post-war favourites, and rounds, in parts, and very good they are, too.

I have been given loads of music to look through, by members, so that there is always a new piece every week, of THEIR favourites.

We laugh, we joke, we do little musical tricks, ask them to ‘volunteer’ as  soloists, and have a thoroughly-great relaxing time. Everyone goes away smiling, and making sure they know when the next practice is. And beside all this the voices are really very good!

Personally, I have had a new lease of life, back to helping people find the joy of singing, and this time with no constraints of any kind, on the music, or the musical ability; simply the idea of having fun as a group, and, of course…….they will never be able to say ‘WE NEVER SANG’

P1050874A few of our Singing Group who obviously enjoy themselves in a relaxed atmosphere

(can you spot the 90-year old?)






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…..


……..another 25 things you might not need to know about me

A while ago I did some self -analysis, and this is just the first follow-up…….

51 We are now retired but I took a long time to get used to it

52 We now have a lovely daughter-in-law

53 We seem to be as busy as when we were working

54 The weeds in my garden seem to be as prolific as before, even although I do some weeding every day

55 I still can’t do the Rubik’s Cube

56 I rarely get a chance to have an afternoon nap.

57 I have kept a daily diary since 1958

58 Jobs DO expand to fill the time available

59 My hair now looks less like my father’s…..

60 …….and more like my grandfather’s

61 I am more tired than I was when younger….yet I sleep less

62 Lady of the House and I have both had our 70th birthdays, but neither looks our age

63 Am confirmed in my belief that Nationalism and Patriotism have no place in today’s civilised world

64 Enjoy having young people around; it makes me feel very wise

65 Enjoy having much older folk around; it makes me feel youthful

66 Enjoy having people the same age around; it allows me to see if they have mellowed better than me

67 I am beginning to forget how to tie a tie

68 I am not interested in installing Windows 10…..Windows 8.1 is confusing enough

69 I am now reading some of the books I got as presents over the years

70 I now have more ‘old togs’ than ‘good clothes’, which is fine

71 I enjoy the old comedy sitcoms and panel game-shows much better than the modern foul-mouthed ones

72 Love our Quirky Nissan Juke

73 Use my tablet computer more than my laptop, except when doing lots of typing

74 When younger, Could never imagine what 70 would be like… I can’t imaging what 80 will be like…..hopefully

75 Still enjoy a good blether and a laugh with friends….the best tonic you can have




A secret corner of Scotland…

Lady of the House achieved yet another birthday last week. Nothing unusual about that, and we usually go somewhere quite conventional for a nice meal…you know the kind of place….a country house hotel, a specialist Italian restaurant, the place where we first had a meal when courting, or have a meal in-house. But this year was different. However I’m getting ahead of myself……

You will already know of our great love of the County of Argyll in the west of Scotland. There is no question that within a travel distance of about 90 minutes from our house, some of the most dramatic and interesting scenery, along with travel-friendly roads, is available. We’ve travelled most of these roads before, but some were when the children were small (a not-inconsiderable time ago) or on business (when the minimum time required to transverse said roads was important)

Now that retirement is reached, and the weather is brilliant, time takes-on a new dimension. It is something to be enjoyed because of what it allows you to do, and permits seeing scenery with new eyes. A measure of how little I took in many of our previous experiences was the number of times Lady said we had been at a certain tea-room with the children, or stopped at a certain view-point for a picnic, but it had failed to make a lasting impression because of the haste with which such weekend visits were made. We now had more time just to enjoy doing things with no need to entertain others in the process.

We left Lenzie, and curved round the south end of Loch Lomond, past Duck Bay, over the A818 hill to Helensburgh. Once a thriving seaside/holiday town, the seafront shops have been blighted by the council up-rooting the main road so it is difficult to stop there…so we passed through without stopping, and all the small shops suffer!

Because of the deep water Gare Loch in the lower reaches of the Clyde, there are military establishments in this area. The first is the Faslane Submarine Base where nuclear subs are serviced, opposed by the Faslane Peace Camp. The construction is spectacular and secretive, and therefore photography near the base is not exactly encouraged! Travelling further north on the A814 we meet the township of, (not surprisingly) Garelochhead and turn southwards into a peninsula, one of the hidden gems of Scotland. with a lovely narrow road (B833) which hugs the coast, down to the area of Rosneath. It has an attractive centre and Church, and the views of the Gare Loch across to Greenock are spectacular.

We ate, on the advice of locals, at (perhaps, surprisingly) the local caravan site


We are not caravaners by nature or practice, but the welcome at the bistro, the courtesy of the staff, the quality of the food and the walk we did round the impeccable site might have swayed us a little! We even had a mother duck and six little ducklings accompany us on our walk. The photo shows the lovely view from the Caravan site, across Gare Loch to Rhu and Helensburgh.

Heading clockwise through Kilcregan and Cove, (again with beautiful views) we came upon another great surprise. The houses here are built on a grand scale….many are colossal! Some take on the image of castles. Most of them were founded on the proceeds of the tobacco trade, at which Glasgow excelled. The owners were known as Tobacco Barons and fortunately the present owners seem able to keep the buildings in a good state of repair. It is difficult to drive safely around here as wonderful new sights are pointed-out as they appear round each corner.

Further north up this little road is RNAD Coulport, where nuclear warheads are stored in the

Coulport Roundabout - - 160841.jpg

hillside, and docking is provided for visiting submarines. All a bit spine-chilling, especially as you are in this idyllic setting. The photo shows the roundabout at the gates. In order to transport this rather strange cargo from the midst of the country-side, a brand-new road was built to the centres of population, and luckily there were suitable stopping-places provided to view the vistas.

There is a debate about what would happen to both Coulport and Faslane bases (with repercussions on the employment of the indigenous population) should Scotland demand, and be given, independence.

Our trip ended by returning through west Dunbartonshire’s Gartocharn, Croftamie and Dumgoyne. Any enquiry via Google will show all of these places to be delightful villages. We are SO lucky, to have all this on our doorstep!

Semi-retired?…not really!

Three months into our semi-retirement and we seem to be as busy as ever we were before we retired! We do have a little more freedom, but this is partly off-set by the fact that people who would have come along to the office, now phone, and I have to go out to see them….which is more time- and petrol- consuming.

We are gradually discarding the information files we have held-onto for years (for no apparent reason!); out-dated leaflets and posters; spare parts, instruction leaflets, and ink-cartridges for long-discarded printers and computers; power supply cables; non-working pens, rubbers galore; programme discs for ancient computer programmes. For some reason we didn’t dump them all at the time of the move, but simply piled them into boxes ‘to be sorted-out later’.

Sanity is starting to return to the household as we get used to working in the confined space available now, compared to the luxury of space we had before. We thought that the business would die naturally quite quickly, but our loyal customers and patients (some of whom we have know since the late 1980s), are quite tenacious, and are still seeking help in their 80’s and 90’s.

The best thing still is that we don’t need to be up and out for after 8 in the morning. The one downside is that we are now attending more funerals than ever before!

….but we can’t do anything about that!

A strange feeling!

So, just after our 43rd Wedding Anniversary,Young Lady of the House, and I are officially moving into semi-retirement. Last Friday,  we closed the shop where we have provided a local service for the last 13 years. There were other places before that, since 1984, but this had been the first one where we to be exposed to the ‘walk-in’ general public.

We’re not retiring, just moving back to our house, and providing a peripatetic service….(if you don’t know what it means…shame on you!). This meant that we had to sort out all the ‘stuff’ we had gathered in our offices over all the years, as well as records which we felt we just ‘had to keep’. This had to be compressed into one room, while still having everything available for instant access, as the phone calls and faxes are still coming-in.

Unfortunately the e-mails are not…..aaaaaarrrrgggghhh!

Our computer specialist has been in this evening and has found our lovely computer to be full of errors….so will have it tomorrow to clean it out and reload.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as we don’t HAVE to be up early in the morning, we don’t have to be available immediately to all and sundry who want me to do things they should be doing themselves, we don’t have the cost of insurance, heating, lighting, advertising, unwanted phone selling etc. We will still be able to provide the vast majority of the service we have provided recently but in a more relaxed way. I will still have to go out to my patients, some at a distance, but I can fit it into a day-trip with the Young Lady of the House, to some of the lovely parts of Scotland.

……..we’re really looking forward to all that…..once we can get the 15 boxes of stuff cleared and put away somewhere, where we can find them again!


Maybe I should retire here!

Headed-up recently into Argyll…yet again! A previous post was about a long weekend break when we could explore the side roads. However this time it was a quick day trip along roads familiar to tourists wanting to see the wonderful scenery. We used the A828 road between Glencoe (of massacre fame) and the Connel Bridge. A few miles south-west of Ballachulish there is a little hamlet called Duror which features in the history of the Stewarts of Appin.

 If you want to know more about the area, I am assured that the book ‘Kidnapped’ by Robert Louis Stevenson gives all the lowdown on the bloodthirsty history.

But this wasn’t the reason for our visit. It was to visit a little Anglican Church, which is so small that it could be missed behind the trees on the road. If you Google Street the phrase ‘Duror Argyll’ you will be right at the spot where the church is.

It has a delightful organ which was made in Germany (it is believed) in approximately 1683. If so, it is probably the oldest church in regular use in Scotland!  There is also a belief that perhaps George Frederick Handel had played it, but it is probably impossible to verify it at this distance in time. The present organist, Kerr Jamieson, temptingly suggests that the connection may have more to do with the fact that there is still a working handle to pump the air for the bellows!

They have a Community Choir, and with such beautiful countryside no doubt photography and rambling are all part of the life up here. It gets more enticing every day……maybe another long weekend is called-for!

Just a short call…

Are you one of those people who are happy to agree with the old Irish saying ‘Never do today ,what you can put off till tomorrow’ . Well, I can be a bit like that. If it’s a nice day we should be out enjoying the scenery….the weeds can be pulled tomorrow! If there’s a good film on the television…well then, the dishes can wait!  I don’t need new clothes…these old ones are fine!

 Today, I made a phone call I meant to make a while ago.  I shouldn’t have put it off…there was no good reason.  It definitely had to be made. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Lady of the House had been at me for weeks to get on with it… know how it is, guys?

It’s not that it was crucial, or critical…I could have put up with not making it…the world was not going to change….no-one would be particularly affected by it, besides myself. 

On the other hand, why wait? What reason could I keep giving to the family or others as to why I hadn’t made that simple move?  I’m a grown, mature adult, so it wouldn’t be difficult….perhaps a little embarassing….but I just had to lift the phone, dial the number (if I could find it again…) and get on with it. It wouldn’t take long, and having done it, I should feel a great weight lifted off my shoulders.

I decided to bite the bullet and late this afternoon I found the number and called. I was instantly in touch with the person to whom I had to speak. After a few minutes of trivial chat, I knew I could not delay or I would get cold feet and hang up the phone!

The person was very pleasant about it all, seemed to sympathise with me and was certainly helping me with what I needed to say. It took longer than I thought, but there were no unpleasantries and the chap on the other end was very pleasant and professional about it all.

I thanked him profusely for being so understanding and helpful, and, as predicted, I did feel a great sense of relief when he finished the conversation with……

………..’Thank you for applying for your Old Age Pension’………dammit that’s what made me feel ancient!

A small advert….


Can I be slightly cheeky………I’m taking the chance to use this facility to tell you (at least those in the UK ) about a small national Charity which might be of interest to you.

As you may know, I have spent over 30 years working in the area of hearing impairment, and must soon be coming to my ‘Best-Before’ date! (I hasten to add, here, that if any of my patients read this…..I have NOT retired!)

Like anyone who has spent many decades within one field of endeavour, it is difficult to imagine the world without being there with at least some  influence, but the folks involved managed long before I was born and will, no doubt continue long after I and all my contemporaries are gone! But I certainly wish to continue to help folk by providing expertise as required….nothing really unusual about that!

One of the less-known, but no-less important, Charities is actually a recently-formed combination of two…Firstly…Hearing Concern, providing support at a local level over the UK to those individuals and family members who have acquired a hearing loss but use speech as their main form of communication, and require some help…… Secondly….The Link Organisation which provided concentrated residential care in Eastbourne, for groups or individuals who require concentrated help or counselling following deafness. They complement each other so well, that it is surprising that no-one thought of a merger, before now.

The new name is not terribly original….Hearing Concern Link…..nor is the webname, but it continues to provide much-needed services throughout the UK with a wonderful bunch of volunteers and a relatively-small staffing..   Give it a thought, or just have a look at the link below to see what a bunch of dedicated people can do to help those less fortunate .

P.S. and what about the picture at the top. Ot was of course Ludvig van Beethoven, who went deaf relatively-young, but still succeeded in producing great music until his death almost 200 years ago.