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Ducking out

In Carradale the one big event by which we residents can mark the passage of the seasons is over for another year, thus heralding the end of the holiday season and the slide towards winter. I write, of course, of the annual Duck Race, an event which brings the whole village together in one place to celebrate nothing less than the voyages of hundreds of small yellow plastic toys down a short stretch of Carradale Water. Carradale duck racePointless though this activity may seem, the event brings with it the kind of excitement normally reserved for a big football match or possibly an episode of Strictly Come Dancing (I speculate) as we all stand on the river bank cheering on the one we have chosen and named for the occasion. The organisers must have heaved a sigh of relief as this year we were blessed with superb weather, lots of sunshine and conditions underfoot along the river that needed only stout shoes and not, as so easily could have been the case, wellington boots. For twenty two years now (so I am told) this event has been a feature of village life, a way to raise church funds but also a social gathering par excellence. That it should take this bizarre pastime to bring us us all into one place at the same time is strangely British, I fear, but no less welcome for that.

Kate was unable to enjoy the day with me on this occasion as she was away in England visiting family. So there I was striving to complete the tiling around our new multi-fuel stove so that I could use it to take the chill off the evening, at which point it suddenly struck me that I was alone in our house here for the first time since we moved in. Maybe it was this that made me become reflective, to begin thinking that despite now being well into our third post-retirement year, something keeps peeping its head over my mental horizon, a slightly worrying thought that niggles away at me just when I ought to be relaxed and carefree. I am aware that the source of this comes from my working life for the years leading up to retirement which was, like that of many, a pressured, self-driven existence. This was not something I was particularly aware of at the time but it had become very much part of my mental landscape just the same. My working days never simply took care of themselves, they always had to start with a plan, sometimes concocted many days ahead, and then this measured afterwards against what had been achieved. If a day did not end with the satisfaction of progress being made towards its goal then it felt like a day wasted, one that ended with a real sense of disappointment. Worse than this was the fact that the goal still hung there with less time now to achieve it, pressure creating more pressure.

This was the treadmill which I walked, daily, and for so long that the behaviour had disappeared into my character; it became a part of my very being. It is as a result of this that today I do not find a state of relaxation very easy to achieve and despite no longer needing to, I find myself setting goals which I later measure against what I have done on the day. So why is it that I am still this way, more than two years after having to be? Why is it that, as our friend Paul would say, I still have ‘ants in my pants’?

Part of the answer to this may lie in what Kate and I have done with our lives since retiring, most of which is recorded in the pages of this blog. We have sailed extensively and travelled nomadically around the shores of the British Isles. We have lived abroad for a time, refurbished and re-decorated a house, then just this year moved north to God’s own country to do more of the same again. We have set ourselves targets and then driven ourselves towards achieving them, not against our wishes, I hasten to add, but nevertheless behaviour like this does not comply at all with the retiree stereotype; it looks more like we are still working! In our post-retirement lives there has always been something to do next, something to plan for, a journey to make or a task to perform.

We enjoy being this way, not fitting the mould is the way we think about life, it is what we are comfortable with. But what next? For the first time since retiring we have settled in one place, Carradale, a place we love and have no intention of leaving. We are beginning to live differently from the way we have lived over the last two years, a more settled existence. For the moment there is still plenty to do here, the jobs are queuing up for some months ahead – there is decorating to do, we have a new shed on the way and we are soon getting some roof windows fitted which will transform our tiny back bedroom into a workroom Kate can take over. But what is niggling away at me is whether I am equipped mentally for what is peering at me now, an end to our target-driven lifestyle when all the jobs are finished and all we have to look forward to is ‘normal’ life.

As I see it now, one of two things could happen. Either our whole personalities will change, the ‘ants in the pants’ will run away from us creating something new, something more in keeping with the populist view of our status, or else we will throw ourselves into new things, driving ourselves on into new adventures ever more bizarre and unlikely. Hmmm, I wonder which it will be.

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