A week ago or so, I received an email from an old friend who, like me, had spent much of his career in international agricultural research. He was writing to tell me that he had now retired, giving me his latest contact details, but also musing on the void he was feeling now that he was no longer gainfully employed. Apart from a couple of small consultancies he did wonder how he was going to fill his days.
I know how he feels. I didn’t have to retire when I did at the end of April 2010. I was not yet 62, but having decided that my pension would keep us comfortably, Steph and I decided to return to the UK and begin a new life in retirement. My Director general, Bob Zeigler, did his best to persuade me sign another contract and stay on at IRRI until 65. But I felt there were other things I wanted to do, places to visit, and we would only be able to enjoy those if no longer tied to an 8 to 5 regime.
Nevertheless, it was still a shock to the system once we’d returned home. I did find myself, from time-to-time, at a loose end. However, on receiving that recent email, I got to wondering what I had done over the past six years, how I’d filled my time. And once I compiled my list, I’m both surprised—and impressed—with my energy and activities.
So here goes:
- I initially took up swimming on a daily basis, but once the local council reinstated swimming and parking fees for pensioners within about four months, I felt I could no longer justify such an expense of about £7 daily. So I took up walking, as much on a daily basis as energy and weather permitted, and really got to explore my town and surrounding countryside. I must have walked somewhere between 2000 and 3000 miles.
- The house was in need of some TLC, so in the first year back (2010) I set about decorating most of the inside. There’s still one small bedroom (now Steph’s work room and full of all her things) and the kitchen to complete. I’m inclined now to find a professional decorator for that, and in any case, the kitchen could do with a complete refurbishment after 30+ years.
- I oversaw the complete refurbishment of two bathrooms and a downstairs toilet/washroom (in late 2010), the erection of a new garden fence (in 2014), and the re-roofing of the house, the remodelling of our drive, and the installation of an electric garage door (all in 2015).
- Professionally, I rejoined the editorial board of the science journal Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution published by Springer, and have regularly reviewed manuscripts over the past three years.
- I co-edited (as lead editor) a 16 chapter book—Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change—published in 2014 by CABI, and also contributing one of the chapters.
- In 2010 and 2014, I organised (as Chair of the Scientific Committee) the major science conferences at two international rice congresses in Hanoi, Vietnam (IRC2010) and Bangkok, Thailand (IRC2014), each attended by more than 1000 participants.
- I also undertook two short consultancies (a week each) for the CGIAR through IRRI, contributing to the development of a common financial and administrative online tool called One Corporate System or OCS. This took me to Malaysia and the Philippines in 2012 or 2013. I don’t remember the exact dates. My involvement was curtailed as I rather spoke my mind when I saw that things were going awry, and my perspectives were not particularly appreciated. But I could see some pitfalls that the project managers were not willing to recognise. As far as I know there are still some challenges for the full implementation of the system.
- Since March 2016 I have been leading the team for the evaluation of the CGIAR program for Maintaining and Sustaining Crop Collections (also known as the Genebanks CRP), commissioned by the CGIAR’s Independent Evaluation Arrangement in Rome. This evaluation will involve me until early 2017. In fact we have only really just begun. Even so, the evaluation has already taken me to Bonn, Germany at the end of April, to Montpellier in the south of France in mid-May, and to Rome, Italy just two weeks ago. I’m scheduled to make a 12-day trip to three CGIAR centers in Peru, Colombia, and Mexico at the end of July, to two more in Kenya and Ethiopia in October, before returning to Rome for a week in mid-November to draft a report.
- I began this blog, A Balanced Diet, in February 2012, and have now posted 308 stories comprising, I guess, at least 300,000 words, probably more.
- We became members of the National Trust in 2011, and English Heritage last year. We must have visited more than 40 properties, some for a second or even third time. Descriptions of these visits are one of the staples of this blog. I think we have visited most of those within a 50 mile radius from home, some a little further afield, and we have now picked the low-hanging fruit. Time to think about some trips where we book ourselves into a bed and breakfast for a couple of nights much further away.
- Besides my consultancy travel to Vietnam (twice), Bangkok (three times) and the Philippines (at least half a dozen times), we have travelled to the USA each year since 2010, and will be there again for three weeks from early September. This is of course to visit our elder daughter Hannah and her family in Minnesota. But each year (apart from 2010) we have also made a trip to explore other regions of the country:
- June 2013 saw us on the Oregon coast with Hannah and family, followed by a road trip to Crater Lake and the redwoods of northern California, flying into Portland at the start and returning from Sacramento;
- in May 2014 we made a 2000 mile trip from St Paul, MN to Yellowstone National Park, via the Badlands and the Black Hills of South Dakota, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana (that was fought 140 years ago today!), and returned by air from Billings, MT;
- last year we had a short break in Chicago, travelling from St Paul and back on the Amtrak Empire Builder.
- In September 2012 we spent 10 enjoyable days with my eldest brother and his wife Pauline in their beautiful house near Tomar in central Portugal, joining several of my cousins there as well.
- In May and early June 2015 we made a 2000 mile road trip round Scotland, including the Outer Hebrides. Spectacular!
- We attended the 100th Chelsea Flower Show in London in 2013, a day out at Kew Gardens in 2014, and Gardeners’ World exhibitions at Birmingham’s NEC in 2010 and just a week ago.
- Music is very important to me, so hardly a day goes by without something being played on my iPod (connected to my sound system) or on CD. I have catholic tastes in music, just depending on my mood.
- On 23 May 2010, I went to my second rock concert to hear Mark Knopfler and his band play at the LG Arena in Birmingham during his Get Lucky Tour. A great evening. (I’d been to my first concert in 2008 [?] in St Paul, Minnesota, to see the great Fleetwood Mac).
- History books have been my main reading material, and I am a regular visitor the Bromsgrove’s public library. Since my accident last January I haven’t been able to get about as much so have delved more into books I bought in the UK in past years, those given me for Christmas, or the novels of Anthony Trollope (his Barsetshire chronicles) that I haven’t picked up for more than 30 years, but which I am thoroughly enjoying once again.
- Yes, my accident in January certainly curtailed my mobility, but at least I was able to spend more time reading or working on this blog.
- In February 2012 we visited Buckingham Palace where I was invested with the Order of the British Empire (Officer or OBE) in a ceremony presided by HRH The Prince of Wales. An unbelievable experience.
- Philippa (our younger daughter, pictured with Steph and me at Buckingham Palace above) married Andi in New York in October 2010, and was awarded her PhD in psychology from Northumbria University in December.
- But perhaps the most important happenings in the past six years have been the births of my four grandchildren: Callum Andrew (in August 2010), Elvis Dexter (in September 2011), Zoë Isabel (in May 2012), and Felix Sylvester (in September 2013). We only get to see Callum and Zoë once a year. Elvis and Felix live in Newcastle upon Tyne so we see them several times a year either when we travel the 250 miles northeast, or they come down to Worcestershire. But next weekend (2 July), Hannah and Michael, Callum and Zoë fly over here for two weeks holiday. And we are meeting up with Phil and Andi, Elvis and Felix in the New Forest where we have rented a holiday home. It will the first time we will have all been together, and the first time that the four cousins will meet each other.
So, there you have it. Quite busy, and I don’t intend to slow down if I can help it.