The wheel of the year turns, and a pause for reflection

The Ermine household took itself to the West country at the beginning of the year, for a time of rest, and reflection on the year passed and the year to come. The culturally preferred way of doing that in the UK is to get hammered on the last day of the old year and welcome in the new with a humdinger of a headache and hazy recollections of indiscretions. Nothing wrong in that in itself, but it gets tougher on the constitution as you get older 😉 So happy new year to y’all if you’re still here!

It so happened that Mrs Ermine wanted to go the the Oxford Real Farming conference. That’s an alternative to the conventional Oxford Farming Conference, where Owen Paterson told the assembled mass of agri-business that he was going to pay for PR to convince the recalcitrant refuseniks of  the Great British Public that GM food is good for them. Really it is. I’ve offed the GM rant to later as it isn’t the main topic here.

So we stayed at a lovely campsite near Oxford for a couple of days. Oxford looked pretty much like it did three-and-a-half decades ago when I went up there for an interview, only the tourists have changed,

old-worlde building graced by asian lady
old-worlde building graced by pretty Asian girl wrapped up against the British weather. Time moves slowly in Oxford; Photoshop her out, fade to grainy black and white and it could be the same as my 1978 photo

Wandering around the city you can practically smell the old money oozing from the stones

old money keeping this gilded gate nice. It would be shabby if paid for by an Austerity Britain council
old money keeping this gilded gate nice. It would be shabby if paid for by an Austerity Britain council

Then it was time to move on, to Glastonbury in Somerset, for a period of reflection on the year past and the years to come. The weather was kind to us – we were prepared to eat the cost of a lost booking if the weather had turned all snowy,  since  our FWD camper van is back-heavy and handles poorly in the snow. We had a lovely few days in a magical environment, though I fear a 1970s revival seems on its way by some of the garb on show.

on the tor, I'm sure there's a 1970's revival in there somewhere
on the tor, I’m sure there’s a 1970’s revival in there somewhere

We stayed at a self-catering cottage near the town, and ate well from the slightly off the beaten track greengrocer and the fine town butcher, both near the market cross.

alrternative shopfitting for this greencrocer, but their stuff was good
alternative shopfitting for this greencrocer, but their stuff was good

Although it’s ringed by the usual rash of out of town shopping and supermarkets, the people in the town have enough non-clone-town concerns to support a decent number of shops, and not the usual rash of casinos (not one I recall) and charity shops that infest the hollowed-out High streets of many market towns.

Yup. Think we get the message of what's important to some folk round these parts ;)
Yup. Think we get the message of what’s important to some folk round these parts 😉
Recession? What recession? We don't do that round here
Recession? What recession? We don’t do that round here
I love city streets in the rain, okay so it's cheesy and Thomas Kincade but so what
I love city streets in the rain, okay so it’s cheesy and Thomas Kinkade but so what, it’s kind of magical. And no chain stores, no clone – town Britain

You can’t really talk about Glastonbury without a reference to the eponymous Tor so here it is. It’s still a right grunt to get up it, though it is easier now than it has been for me in the past.

Glastonbury Tor
Glastonbury Tor

One of the joys of this holiday is we rented a really characterful stone cottage in nearby Butleigh that dated from the 1500s, though we had the advantages of modern plumbing and electric heating. There was a wood stove in an enormous inglenook, but this was more for the atmosphere than a useful source of heat as it was leaky as hell and tiny. It made me appreciate the quality of my own wood stove, but hell, it added character and we had electric heating to do the real work 😉

wood stove

So where’s the personal finance angle? Well, it was also a good time to look back at six months since leaving work, what happened, what is likely to happen, where I want to go.

what happened since leaving work

  • I lost some weight. That is not a bad thing. I haven’t consciously tackled this, it seems that the stress while working had negative physical effects.
  • I drink less coffee – often just in the morning. Hell, I can even code without it, despite it being the software writer’s legal drug of choice.
  • I drink a little bit less booze. Okay a lot less compared with the immediate end of my working life. That stress thing again I guess 😉

One of the things that became clear, is that I started my journey unprepared, particularly psychologically. I had expected to get to 60, retire normally and get on with life. In 2009 I discovered I needed to do that 8-11 years short. In times of need the Ermine will fight, and so I chose to fly into the storm, accept the rotten work environment but save madly.

Unwisely I assumed that the primary risks were financial, that I would be kicked out. In retrospect this was not the case. I had already accumulated significant capital, unlike everybody else in Britain is seems I paid down my mortgage rather than going on holidays and buying cars with the increased house prices. And indeed lived significantly below my means, accumulating capital in terms of housing and some shareholdings, as well as the usual rainy day fund. I measured this against income, but in fact it makes more sense to measure it against outgoings, which made it bigger in effect.

The financial risks were overblown. I could probably  have made it bailing in 2010, because I had projected my outgoings to be the same as while at work. A life retired is one where you can take joy in things that are free and low cost, those which take an investment of time, or improving skills, becoming self-critical and honing one’s art rather than searching for the technological quick fix or having to pay over the odds to pack everything into the weekend.

One of the gifts that not working has done for me is that I can aim to do things with respect, or not do them at all. When I was working I had to do all sorts of things ‘just because’. I couldn’t respect anything to do with the stupid performance management system. WTF is the point of a performance management system – my performance showed in what I did. The back of house guys in the Olympics could see what was going on in real time, because of the efforts of me in high-level design and the subcontractors in mid and low-level and getting boots on the ground. I didn’t need some stupid prick ticking boxes or not. And indeed all due respect to my last and final line manager who got the balance on this right, it was the previous one who was the box-ticking prick. But I had to do PM, ‘just because’ some management consultant twits on an MBA said that was the way to do things. Where the hell were these guys when the West was built, funny how they only showed up as it is being lost!

There are very few things I have to do just because somebody says so now. So when I do something, I try and take time, to address the job in hand, reflect a few moments, and then engage properly, indeed to live intentionally. Whether it’s roasting a chicken, cutting a piece of wood or designing a piece of kit. While working I sleepwalked like an automaton through stuff that needed to be sleepwalked through, but also through things that needed to be done with respect.

I missed two risks. No man is an island, entire of itself. In flying into the storm of organisational values that had become so disconnected from mine, the Ermine’s brilliant white pelt was tainted as I had to run with some of the stupidity and pretend to agree with what I believed to be arrant rubbish. I paid for being so at odds with the values New Lean and Mean Firm. Overtly, by nearly being ejected for struggling after parting the ways with DxGF. And covertly, because in retrospect pretending to be something I wasn’t for so long seriously damaged my physical and mental health.

In 2007 I came to Glastonbury with a couple of pals. And failed to climb the Tor, I got too out of breath and abandoned the attempt. Which is piss poor, the path rises 80m in about 400m linear distance. Now I can’t say that I raced up it this time but I was okay, stopped a few times to gather strength but the recovery was a couple of minutes, not tens of minutes then fail as it was five years ago. And not too many people overetook me 😉 . I am sure that Mr Money Mustache would consider that a really low grade performance but I’m not him, I’m probably twenty years older. And I don’t have the physical fitness fetish. Decent for my age is what I want. His original weight target is what I’d like, it’s roughly what I weighed at 21, and at least  it isn’t so bad I’d have to lose half my body weight to get there. I have absolutely no comprehension of why he wants to become heavier. Good luck to him, I’m sure he’ll get there by the end of the year!

I want to be able to cycle up the grade from Tuddenham on an ordinary road bike at more than walking speed without feeling like shit for fifty yards afterwards. I’d like to be able to cycle from Ipswich to Minsmere and back again. Pumping iron and being able to lift cars single handed – nah. Life’s too short for that, even if doing that makes it a little bit longer. Each to their own.

So much for physical health, but not living my values cost me mental health too, it robbed me of hope and fire to illuminate my world, to choose life and direction. When I left, I gained by the removal of much of what was wrong. It looked good, and for some time I did not miss the hole – the absence of agency and direction that should have been there but wasn’t. I followed the originally designed financial plan, but the greatest fear was running out of money. So, like an unconscious pilot slumped at the controls, the plane to run on autopilot, and it did well ,the original flight plan was sound. I tried to wrestle against my net worth falling, but that was a fight I can’t win. By various synchronicities events conspired to make it look as if I could win, but it won’t be possible in the medium term. It doesn’t need to be, I don’t need to satisfy Micawber’s rule over the next few years, and my original plan did not demand that. It had two requirements – that I should not run out of cash, and that I allocate my ISA allowance each and every year for several years to come.

Hope is a fragile thing. DW played for time, and guided the inspirationless ermine across the gap until the spark of the internal flame could strike and hold again. There are times in life when one must be prepared to fall back and fall back until somewhere, like Albert Camus in Return to Tipasa, in the midst of winter you learn of the invincible summer that lies within.  Somewhere in Glastonbury this happened. It is time to ease back into the pilot’s seat and survey the controls. Not necessarily time to do anything yet, but to look and see if anything has changed that the flight plan needs to take into account.

GM rant

My personal objection to GM food isn’t that it’s bad for you. I mean, some variants will no doubt turn out to be bad for you and/or the environment in general. But there’s plenty of regular millennia old stuff out there that’s bad for you. Try making wine out of ivy or eating foxglove, or most fungi. Plants are aggressive bastards, out to kill you with strong poisons[ref]if you have ever tried eating red kidney beans without boiling the suckers for ten minutes you get to know this up close and personal. I saw the results in a student flat when one guy sampled a couple of red kidney beans on the stove. The results were dramatic, he didn’t make it to the bog before chundering violently[/ref] in the fight for Darwinian supremacy. Vegetables have feelings too and don’t actually want to be eaten by great hairy apes. Fortunately a whole host of humanity has gone before to ID or learn how to cook the nasty stuff. We didn’t need GM to make a mess of the environment – DDT, the non-decaying plastics waste choking the oceans, there’s more than enough mess made perfectly conventionally. Continue reading “The wheel of the year turns, and a pause for reflection”