Author: Clients in Action

Malaysia awaits

In Malaysia, we stepped, with barely a ripple, into the lives of a young British expat couple teaching at the British International School. They were honeymooning in Greece for six weeks, leaving two entertaining young cats as our hostages in a 12th floor apartment in Petaling Jaya.

Kuala Lumpur is an easy city to live in – much like Johannesburg, but a lot cleaner and with functioning public transport including a modern metro rail network, monorail and free bus services. Grab taxis (their Uber equivalent) are plentiful. The warm and humid weather is not oppressive. Electricity, though expensive, was paid for by our hosts, so we basked in the coolth of the aircons and fans in the condo and had fun working as digital nomads on their efficient Wi-Fi. We had no need to shelter in the many malls where Malaysians hang out in their droves to escape the heat.

Malaysia is safe and relatively affordable. The impression is one of modern shopping centres, high-rise office buildings and condos (we stayed in a 36-story building with swimming pools, tennis courts, gym and its own shop), and golf courses. Malaysians love their golf courses! We were astonished to learn from our hosts that they pay nothing for their water consumption, so perhaps the SA constraints on keeping golf courses green don’t apply.

Our cats needed far less attention than 14-year-old Beamer in Goa. At our hosts’ suggestion, we grabbed opportunities for overnight and weekend trips around the country. (Inter-city travel is cheap in Malaysia.) We went to Melaka, Penang and Langkawi (all on “peninsular” Malaysia though Penang and Langkawi are islands up north near Thailand) and to Sarawak on Borneo.

Both Melaka and Georgetown, Penang, are fascinating World Heritage Sites. The street art, famous in Georgetown, has spread to Melaka – simply wandering around is a fabulous treasure hunt (click here to see all the images of this remarkable and unique street art).

You never know what murals you will find around the next bend as random artists have caught on to the idea and are adding their own touches, some more inspired than others. (In 2012, Penang’s municipal council hired Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, to breathe new life into the atmospheric inner-city Chinese shop-houses. He cleverly built real artifacts like bicycles and trishaws into his murals, creating fabulous photo ops for tourists. Read more at www.penang.ws/penang-attractions/penang-street-art.htm.

Those trips taught us about Malaysia, a more subtle culture than in India. A few things stood out:

  • Malaysians are incredibly friendly and interested in who you are, where you’re from and why you’re visiting. They are known for religious and racial harmony and actively welcome people from other countries. Malaysia is one of a handful of countries with special schemes to attract long-term foreign retirees.
  • It is home to an unusually diverse mix of nationalities. Apart from Malaysians, the permanent population includes Chinese, Indians, Koreans along with ex-pats from around the world. We had great fun socialising with a group from Australia and New Zealand who taught us to play Mahjong. Addictive!
  • Food is important to them. They don’t talk about the weather: always the same, there is nothing to say. They ask if you have eaten recently – they routinely eat five meals a day. That opens a discussion about what you had and where, your favourite dishes and what to try. They embrace food from other Asian countries: it’s as easy to get Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Indian meals as Malaysian. Penang modestly calls itself the Food Capital of the World, with some justification.
  • Bahasa Melayu (the Malaysian language) is apparently easy to learn and we enjoyed picking up common words and phrases to entertain Grab drivers and shop assistants who seemed appreciative of our efforts. English, though not the official language, is widely spoken.
  • They are hard-working, a common trait in South-east Asian countries, but love celebrations; everyone happily adopts the different religious holidays – perhaps more public holidays than SA!
  • It is a regulated society where newspapers toe the party line, alcohol is heavily taxed and driving is conservative.

While we were in the region, we explored Borneo, where we saw a different side of Malaysia: exquisitely beautiful jungles, beaches and rocky shorelines … and even warmer hospitality than in Western Borneo, if possible. The highlight was seeing orangutans in their natural habitat.

Of course, we couldn’t miss the opportunity for a return visit to Singapore, a longtime favourite city. It blew us away yet again, particularly with the technological and artistic brilliance of its astonishing visual displays. We arrived just in time for their Night Festival.

We both find travel enriching. We immerse ourselves with wanton curiosity in the culture, languages, food and lifestyle of other communities. As we interact, we become richer, not in pecuniary wealth, but as more informed, understanding and rounded human beings. Perhaps we also leave a tiny bit of ourselves as we engage with a shop assistant or Grab driver enough to brighten their day.

What’s your next adventure?

If you haven’t already taken a turn on the streets decorated with street art, click here.

The Goan exchange

Chartered clients, Andrew and Barbara McGregor, have found a unique way to travel; it allows them to soak up local culture, indulge their love of pets and have an affordable vacation. Here is their account of their stay in Goa with Beamer, the black Labrador.

It’s April. Trees are donning their orange and burgundy attire and the sun disappears behind the Magaliesberg noticeably earlier. Barbara decides that winter at Harties is not a great idea.

Where, she asks, can we go for three months that’s warm? We don’t want to live in hotels – too expensive, and we want to meet locals and experience living in a community, rather than visiting as sight-seeing tourists. But we don’t want to be stuck in one place for too long. And, it must be affordable – our sad ZARs don’t last well on the global stage.

With that bar set, she turns to her best friend for advice. Never one to let her down, Google produces a couple of house- and pet-sitting opportunities – one in India, the other in Malaysia. It’s very simple – get yourself to the house and live in it free, utilities included. One of them even includes a car for our use.

The rest of April is a blur of organising flights, visas, meds, travel insurance and researching the ins and outs of living in foreign countries. All is quite happily done online from home, provided you dodge the Indian visa scammers. Just to add spice, Barbara takes a tumble, resulting in a total hip replacement. Committed to our hosts in India, with tickets booked and paid for, delay is not an option.

Airport and airline staff at ORT, Mahe and Mumbai are amazing, conjuring up extra legroom seats, wheelchairs and queue-jumping porters to smooth and expedite our passage to India. Two nights in Mumbai and a daytime train trip (much more interesting than flying) to Goa completed the first part of our travels. We settled into our home for the next five weeks with Beamer, a delightful black lab. Having recently bid a sad farewell to our 21 year-old Fudge, it is such a pleasure sharing walks and playing fetch with Beamer.

India is such a diverse country (think: over 400 languages) and Goa, the smallest and by far richest state, boasts even more diversity. Having been a Portuguese territory for 450 years, it adds that heritage to the diverse mix of religions, cuisine, place names, sport (soccer is the main sport in Goa, not cricket) and susegad, a word derived from the Portuguese sossegado, meaning quiet. It is used to describe the contented attitude to life, perhaps best described as ‘laid back’, that characterises Goa.

Our beautifully furnished home is in the Goan capital of Panaji (although the locals remain more comfortable with Panjim, its colonial name). Atop a hill that dominates the city, we are welcomed into a small gated community of delightful neighbours, with whom we socialise every evening as the light fades. A five-minute drive in our little smart car takes us into the middle of town, with cars, bicycles, scooters, motorised rickshaws, pedestrians all teeming around each other as if dancing as they move around the city, hooting as they go with no hint of malice.

Indians classify food as “veg” and “non-veg”. Goa has a lot more non-veg (pork and a lot of fish) than most other parts of India. We fell into a mainly veg habit and enjoyed excellent meals at restaurants recommended by locals, and then shopping at the wet market for ingredients and recreating dishes at home for the next few days. We have come to really enjoy the freshness, lightness and flavours of the veg meals we learned to cook in Goa.

Apart from food – for us and Beamer, our days are taken up with walking the narrow streets in Panaji, and driving to the beaches, small towns, farmlands and markets outside of it. Some days, we are content to relax in the coolth of home. It is the end of summer and the monsoon is brewing as the heat and humidity rise.

They say “time flies when you’re having fun”. Having left home not knowing what lay in wait, our time in India disappeared in a flash and, all too soon, we’re bidding our old friend Beamer farewell and heading off to Malaysia.

Don’t miss out on the next leg of the pet-sitting trip for the McGregors: click here to travel to Malaysia and meet two quirky cats.

Historic end to an amazing trip

In Munich, Tony Emmerson from Trafalgar Tours took us to our hotel where we joined the Sound of Music Tour group comprising people from all over: Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand and three other people from South Africa.

Munich Opera House

We visited the Opera House, Ludwigstrasse, Hofbrauhaus and Marienplatz and watched the glockenspiel delights. The Dachau Concentration camp memorial, the first Nazi camp established in Germany, was very sad to see. Dinner was at a hofbrauhaus where the half eisbein and local beer and wine were delicious – no one could finish their portion.

From Munich we were driven by luxury coach to Oberammergau for two nights, stopping off at Neuschwanstein Castle en route. Oberammergau is a beautiful little village where the Passion play has been performed every decade since 1634, fulfilling a vow the villagers made when spared from the Black Plague.

In Seefeld, we rode on a horse-drawn cart through the forest and saw blue berries growing under the trees. Despite being their summer, it was extremely cold, with snow and rain. We jumped onto a speed train to Innsbruck for a visit to the Olympic Ski Resort, the old city and the Golden Roof House where cuckoo clocks are made.

Neuschwanstein Castle

In Salzburg our hotel for two nights was the house in which The Sound of Music was filmed. It is in these huge gardens that the children used to play in The Sound of Music. We visited the Hofburg Palace and Mozart’s house, ate Mozart chocolates, and put a heart-shaped lock on the bridge over the Danube River. The Avenue of Trees was the film location of the famous “I’m 16 going on 17” song, and we strolled to the stairs in the garden, the glass garden house and the iron garden gates seen in the movie. The Salzburg Cathedral also deserves a visit.

For one dinner in Salzburg we did a “B my guest” outing with Trafalgar – a visit to a local farm hosted by a farmer and his wife farm on 7.5 ha of pastures with eight cows, and homemade cheese for sale. The 2.5 ha of woodlands are important to them for the wood in winter. The farmer’s wife sells a wide variety of dried herbs and herbal ointment. Two beehives supply honey and bees’ oxygen to help people allergic to stings, with an apparent 90% success rate.

Then, onto Vienna via the beautiful lakes of Mondsee and a visit to Mondsee Abbey where Captain Von Trapp and Maria were married.

A city tour included the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the breath-taking Baroque Schonbrunn Palace and gardens, and the famous St Stephen’s Cathedral. We attended a Mozart Concert in the Opera House and tasted local foods, wine and beer.

Our last day in Vienna was a city tour in Bratislava, the capital of Slovokia which was behind the iron curtain for many years. We saw the UFO Bridge and spotted a cannon ball stuck in an exterior wall of a house in the old city. Beer is cheaper than water.

We flew home via Doha onto OR Tambo and then finally home after a wonderful trip. We both had contracted pneumonia on the boat. Though we had packed one lot of antibiotics, one bottle of cough mixture and one packet of sinus medication, it was not enough for two of us. Allan ended up at the Doctor onboard and a follow-up visit in Oberammergau at a cost of US$376 US Dollars for the ship and 105 EUROs for the Europe visit. Fortunately, we had insurance cover, but it’s a lesson to be learnt – take medication per person.

If you missed the start of this amazing adventure, click here.

From Jordan to Venice, full steam ahead!

After entering the Red Sea, we docked in Aqaba, Jordan. We did the excursion to Petra, an ancient stone carved city. 2.5 kms through a narrow stone passage leads you to the magnificent Treasury carved in the mountain. This stunning site was followed by a visit to the amphitheater, Royal tombs, library and jail, all carved into the mountains. It was extremely hot there. We skipped the horse carriage ride and donkey ride, as the animals are not very well cared for and we could not support this. Back to the ship, then, to sail away to the Suez Canal.

We joined the convoy at a little town, Suez, our ship being second in the convoy. Each ship has a tug to guide it through the middle of the canal, with one nautical mile between each ship. This trip of 11 hours was spent on our balcony watching pilots boarding the ship. On either side of the canal is Egypt; you can see the boundary fence on the one side between Egypt and Israel – we noted the army soldiers and army vehicles. We exited the canal at Port Said.

The following day was sailing, and we docked in Katakolon, Greece. Katakolon is beautiful, so green and well known for its olives. At the Ancient Olympic city we saw where the Olympic torch is lit for every Olympic Games. A Folklore show was a chance for us to dance and break plates, enjoying the local food and wine in between.

The next stop was the following day in Kotor, Montenegro, the entrance to which is via an extremely beautiful Fjord with snow on the Alps Mountains. We explored Kotor, Budva and the millionaires Isle of Saint Stephen.

From Kotor we sailed to Split, Croatia: a morning excursion of the old town, lunch on the promenade, local shopping and a walk back to the ship.

Our final stop was Venice, where we spent four days. On disembarking, we caught a water taxi from the harbour to Hotel Scandinavia situated at Santa Maria Formosa Square – very central. Venice’s narrow alleyways are actually their pathways, and some are so narrow that they are a mere arm stretch wide. We visited the Saint Marco Square, the palace and the Bridge of Sighs. On our gondolier ride our oarsmen sang and told us about some of the palaces we went passed. We visited the glass-blowing factory on Manuro Island, and many beautiful churches. We met lovely people. Delicious fresh cherries from a seller in the Santa Maria Formosa Square was often our lunch – Venice is rather expensive.

When we took a water taxi from our hotel to the airport, we paid 120 EURO – way too much as the hotel said it would be 105 EURO.

For the next installment of this exciting trip, you land in Munich. Click here to buckle up.

37 days, 12 countries and a lot of fun!

In July, Chartered clients, Allan and Gail Stephen, set sail from Durban to travel to the islands: Reunion, Mauritius, and the Seychelles. Then, crossing the Equator, they sailed onto Jordan, the Suez Canal, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia and Venice. They flew over the Alps to Munich and bussed to Oberammergau. Salzburg was next, and from there to Vienna and last stop before flying home was Bratislava. Read their own account in three interesting installments before you book your own ticket!

Our journey started on the MSC Musica, with four days in Venice on our own, and a flight to Munich, where we joined the Trafalgar tour. It was a trip of a lifetime!

We met two other couples from Port Elizabeth, and enjoyed the shows, games and especially the view from our balcony on the ship. It was lovely watching the departures and dockings from our twelfth deck cabin. Our package included priority boarding, anytime dining, all drinks, internet access, 80 pieces of laundry, a gift and farewell photograph.

Our first stop was La Possession, Reunion, where we spent the day touring the Cirque De Salazie Volcanics Caldera and visiting a vanilla plantation, tasting local food. At Port Louis, Mauritius, we swam with the dolphins (though there were too many boats chasing them) and toured with a guide who pointed out significant sites. It was election time, and we found the canvassing of the political parties fascinating. Shops closed at noon as it was a public holiday.

After two days at sea, we docked at Port Victoria, Seychelles. We visited the St Anne Marina Nature reserve on our first day and The Wild South on the second. We snorkeled in the beautiful clear warm blue ocean. We overnighted there so that the ship’s exterior could be changed as we were passing Somalia: all exterior deck lights were off at night and the ship sailed on GPS; two war vessels in the distance sailing with us with six snipers on board.

The next seven days at sea saw us crossing the Equator to the Northern Hemisphere. This transition was marked by a King Neptune Party where the guests handed the ship’s Captain a huge key to pass through the Equator. The entertainment and catering crews outdid themselves!

To read about the Stephen’s exciting excursions in the Northern Hemisphere, please click here.

A love of people plus a love of music makes a harmonious life

The Silhouettes’s music gives their audience and them meaning and joy

There’s a certain nostalgic element to music. “As we get older, we tend to forget things, and music revives precious memories. Smile and people smile back. Play music for them, and you feed their souls,” says Chartered client, Ian Davis.

Ian speaks about his wife, Trish, his work and his music, with enthusiasm and passion. Here’s a man who gave up his rock-star band at age 23 years to focus on his career, his family and their retirement savings. He rekindled his passion for music 40 years later in retirement, and now shares his music – at no cost – with people at housing and healthcare centers for the elderly.

Born to be a musician

Ian has always loved music and taught himself to play guitar at 13 after his father passed away. “I was lost when my father died,” remembers Ian, “and music helped clear my head. I sounded terrible at first, but kept on playing.”

Ian’s motto is to “practise, practise and practise.” A career in music takes patience, persistence and long hours. Very few people sign music contracts and it takes years to earn an income.

Ian started his first band at age 21, when he met his fellow band members in Salisbury, Zimbabwe; they were soon offered two extended contracts in Durban. At one of his gigs Ian met his wife, Trish. “I saw her enter the room and walk across it. Two weeks later I asked her to marry me,” recalls Ian. Trish supported Ian to pack up his life in Zimbabwe and move to South Africa.

At 23, Ian gave up his band (but never his music) and started a career in training and development with Trish at his side.

Earning an income

Ian especially loved developing previously disadvantaged people in the packing, loading and transport industry, travelling all around Africa to help people improve their social and business skills. He ran his own business two years before officially retiring and his on-line training courses for the transportation industry are still used today. “You must love what you do!” says Ian.

Now retired

On his and Trish’s retirement, Ian picked up his guitar again and considered starting a new band. He bumped into Brian, an old friend and original band member of nearly a half a century ago. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Their new band – The Silhouettes – comprises four members with Ian on lead guitar. Each member has a favourite, but all love the music of The Shadows. “We also play 60s and 70s music,” says Ian “and our fans tap their feet and get up to dance!”

Giving back with music

The band plays for people in retirement facilities, and for the mentally and physically challenged. “We enjoy playing for our audience! And they enjoy us!” says Ian. “It is a wonderful, fulfilling opportunity to play for people who don’t get to go out, whose kids don’t visit and who often can’t look after themselves. We entertain our audience with music and humour,” adds Ian.

“Our music has a purpose,” says Ian. “Music has attachments and reminds us older people of times gone by.” While Ian and his band bring joy to so many people, it’s all about give-and-take. “I have learnt so much from my fellow band players; we work as a team, support one another and cover the other’s mistakes,” reflects Ian.

Having the time to do what you love in retirement

Being retired is all about how you approach it, a positive attitude and having the time to do what you love! “It brings me great joy to bring a smile to someone’s face. Music keeps my mind active. When I hear a great song, I feel compelled to learn it. I don’t read music, but I can write lyrics and chords. I teach myself from listening to the tune. It sometimes takes me three weeks to learn a new song,” says Ian

Ian believes that music stimulates the imagination. It brings you to a place where anything is possible. He always leaves home with a notepad and pen and gets his inspiration from what he sees and hears. “I write lyrics as I go, sometimes having to visit the library to research what I saw, and then I compose the music.”

Ian certainly has all the characteristics of a great musician: passion, the right attitude, talent, and natural curiosity. “When I’m feeling down, I pick up my guitar and the world is right again,” says Ian.

Thank you, Ian. Your generosity is like music to our ears and your story struck a chord with all of us!

Chartered hosts a 50-Plus Skills workshop

50-skills-plus

Are you approaching retirement and wondering what you will do with all that time? What will replace that sense of purpose that work gave you? Or are you already retired and ready to find a new kind of work?

To assist our clients to plan their transition from full-time, formal employment to a fresh view of work in retirement, we invited Lynda Smith, owner of 50-Plus Skills and CEO of Refirement Network to run a workshop at Chartered House.

Even if you have looked forward to not clocking in, being accountable for your time and attention, hitting the traffic, and just being able to set your own daily schedule, the novelty of not working can soon wear off.

Lynda Smith has a vision to engage all those over 50 in South Africa through 50-Plus Skills.

Lynda Smith invites the retired community of South Africa “to learn and unlearn, to discover and to create a new season”. Thanks to medical advances and technology, we are living longer lives, and the gift of this longevity is that we can continue to make a valuable contribution to our communities through our skills and experience.

“Be courageous and engaged,” says Lynda. She encouraged her audience to keep up with technological trends, to continue your learning journey, to redefine work – it can be without remuneration, it may take the form of mentorship, it can be philanthropic support.

50-Plus Skills is not a recruitment company, but is a place to share opportunities and offerings.

Lynda’s 50-Plus Skills is on online community where you can connect with other retirees on their own journey of discovery, with people seeking skills, with those creating new ways of working.

To become a member, go to www.50plus-Skills.co.za The cost of membership is R500 pa and includes a half day life planning workshop

Chartered clients were encouraged to engage with 50-
Plus Skills.

From Retired to Restored

It took Mike Pennel three years to refurbish and restore his 1951 MG TD. This was his part-time job, while he was still working full-time for a prominent car manufacturing company. Little did Mike know that this labour of love would be the start of his new business venture in RetiremeantTM. He was reinventing himself and is now a specialist restorer of vintage cars.

“Vintage cars are a bit like us golden oldies,” he says. “They are full of wrinkles and dents and can’t be returned to perfect condition again. But they can be restored for a new lease on life.” For Mike, this type of personal restoration has meant far less pressure and much more joy!

Turning his passion into business

Mike’s MG TD arrived in parts in boxes

Mike bought his MG TD three years before officially retiring. “It arrived on a flatbed truck with all the parts packed into boxes,” remembers Mike. He spent weekends in his garage, painstakingly rebuilding and refurbishing every single part of the car while documenting every step of the re-build. He now fields questions on restoring TDs, and restores cars and components for other clients – all through word-of-mouth. Mike is selective of his clients and the work he takes on. “It has to fit into my area of expertise and meet my time-lines,” he says.

Having spent his whole life in the motoring industry, Mike has the expertise and passion to excel at what he does, while having fun at the same time. “The motor industry retires at 60. Time just creeps up on you. When I suddenly realised that I had to retire, it was all panic stations – I was not ready! I had not planned anything. Thankfully, I was asked to stay on for another three years which served my purpose in many ways,” says Mike. “When I finally retired at 63, I was ready. I had phased in my retirement with my hobby and knew exactly how I was going to spend my time.”

“The important part,” says Mike, “is to manage your time. Thinking back, I don’t know where I ever found the time to go to work.”

The pleasure of a task well done!

Planning your time

Mike’s advice is to plan the hours that you are willing to set aside for work every day. Even though his work is filled with pure joy and satisfaction, Mike allocates part of his day to other activities and interests. He has joined the German Shepherd dog club committee and apart from finding great joy in training his German Shepherd, he often gets called upon to restore the clubhouse. “Mike is always busy. If he is not fixing something in the house or clubhouse, he potters around the garage sorting things out,” says Natalie.

Natalie is fully supportive of Mike’s new business. It keeps him busy and gives her the time to follow her dreams.

Putting your creative passion to work

“I have always loved crafts and making boxes, trays and various décor items. When Mike asked what I was planning to do with all this stuff, I realised that I needed a creative outlet that would allow me to earn money at the same time,” says Natalie.

Natalie enrolled for a cake decorating Diploma and passed her course in her early 50s. “It wasn’t easy,” reflects Natalie. “I used to come home and ice my entire kitchen table, scrape it off, and ice it again!”

Natalie used her new skill to start a cake baking and decorating business. They refurbished their kitchen and she is very proud of the two ovens. “It also guarantees that we have dinner at night,” says Mike smilingly.

Natalie loves spending her time baking, piping and decorating, all from the comfort of her own home, with her orders also mostly coming in through word-of-mouth. “I am by no means artistic,” says Natalie, “but I love what I do!”

Natalie shares that her biggest challenge now is to grow her business. “I need to market my business better, but at the same time, I don’t want to be overextended,” says Natalie.

Mike and Natalie both spend part of their time giving back. With Mike’s skills coming in handy at the dog club, Natalie donates her time baking for a retirement home and child welfare project, and offers cake decorating workshops at retirement homes. “I love to teach and share my passion,” says Natalie.

Mike and Natalie share their tips for a successful RetiremeantTM:

  1. Be prepared. Retirement can be a shock. You may be ready financially, but you must be prepared mentally.
  2. Invest time in your hobby – who knows, it may turn into more than just that. Join a club or support group – be involved.
  3. Manage your time wisely – you don’t want to be so overextended that you cannot fit retirement into life.

Mike and Natalie have certainly restored their RetiremeantTM into an exciting new adventure. We wish them the very best of success in their new business ventures.

If you would like to contact Mike or Natalie, we have included their email addresses below:

Mike: mikepennel56@gmail.com
Natalie: natpen63@gmail.com

The land of lakes, cakes & the brave

Did you know that you can become a Scots lord, laird or lady?  You simply purchase a souvenir plot of good Scottish land and the title comes along with it. Chartered clients, Norma and Rhys Rolfe, harboured no such desires while visiting there … rather, to spend time with family and enjoying travelling the countryside in their mobile home.  If you have spent any time on our Retire Successfully website, you would have followed these inveterate explorers across continents, and here is their account of their most recent trip.

It is hard to believe that we have been in Scotland for nearly three weeks … how the time flies. We so enjoyed the first two weeks with the family who all seem to be doing well. The six grandsons grow by the day and are all studying hard for their exams (or I think they are).

The bright-yellow rape was in flower and added to the beauty of the countryside.

Our motor home was waiting for us, and having stocked it for our trip, we set off for Buckinghamshire where we spent a night with an old school friend of mine. He has a large business and a farm, and it was very interesting hearing his views on Brexit and China as he does a lot of business with the Chinese.

We then drove up the M1 to the Eastern Yorkshire Coast, certainly not the best way to see the countryside, but a fast way to get anywhere. They are building vast numbers of new homes on what were green belts all over the country, but not improving the roads, and this is leading to more congestion. An interesting fact was that the country was able to rely on wind power only for a few months last year.

Home to thousands of birds

We visited Bempton Cliffs where the largest number of sea birds nest each year, including the Puffins. They number over half a million, and after the fledglings are able to fly, the rest of the year is spent on the water in the Atlantic Ocean. The Puffins are most interesting birds as they eat eels found 70 meters below the sea. Their chests are so powerful that they can flap their wings 400 times a minute.

Discovering Scottish history

We also visited Whitby abbey built in the 7th century. Whitby is famous because this is where Captain Cook started sailing, and where the Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure, and Discovery were built. Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick makes much of Whitby whalers.

The weather and camp sites have been kind to us. The one in the picture is a good example. We are in Durham a lovely old city in Eastern Yorkshire with a magnificent old Norman Romanesque cathedral. We were able to visit our eldest grandson who is studying mechanical engineering at the Durham University.

Camping in the Scottish countryside

Not how you play, but that you do

Chartered client, Stephen Marcus Finn, has found joy in resuming his piano playing, after a break of five decades from lessons, and at age 67. A passing challenge set him on a renewed path of learning, with him loving the process of studying and practising. His story is an inspiration to aim for enjoyment, not perfection, in our learning journeys.

At the Grahamstown Festival three years ago, my wife bumped into a colleague who said he had taken up the clarinet again. She told him that I’d started playing the piano, after not having had lessons for about 50 years – I was 67 then. He challenged me to do my Grade 8 within the year, as that was what he’d be doing, having Grade 7 already. My wife accepted, despite my protests of never having played any exam, and not even knowing the difference between a major or minor key. At her behest, however, I promptly started learning theory, eventually passing Grade 8 with the ABRSM with distinction, and continuing lessons intensely with my superb and patient teacher.

My practical was different. I could never hear the difference between the keys and any aural test by my teacher was a disaster. I graduated to hearing aids only after the exam, having read a magazine article about how older people lose hearing facility – so, I wasn’t alone.

Came the exam in just under a year, and I breezed into the room with a smile and a “Hello”, only to be met with a scowl and a, “You can try out the piano.” It was a Kawai and I was used to Yamahas. The touch was so different, I thought I’d need five minutes to get attuned to it. But after 10 seconds (I kid you not), I was told to start with scales, my strongest point. Well, each one I played, I had to restart twice as I fouled up. My Bach (always suspect) went really well, my Beethoven (generally acceptable) was, yes, acceptable. My modern piece (which I thought I could play brilliantly) sounded as if I’d never played it, or even the piano, before. I saw the examiner wincing. Sight-reading was good, but then came the aural tests. I knew I’d get 0 for those, so just tried to work out what the examiner would ask me, guessing wildly all the time.

To my astonishment, I passed quite well, despite a horrendous mark for the scales. My aural result was stratospheric.

I didn’t cover myself in glory but I loved the whole process of studying and practising. And my wife’s colleague? We found out a year later that he’d only been joking when he’d challenged me. But what an inadvertent favour he’d actually done me.

As a postscript, for my 70th birthday I gave a recital for my wonderful teacher, my family and friends, playing Chaminade, Alkan, Scriabin and Foulds. As one of my children said afterwards: “It’s not how you played, Dad, it’s that you played.”