Tag Archives: work/life balance

Planning ahead

I’m getting to a certain age where I must begin to consider what I’m going to do with my time when I become “retired”. Leaving aside the rather worrying notion I may well never actually retire as the UK’s official retirement age creeps ever upwards as we all live longer, I still need to think about how I’m going to live out the autumn years of my life. There is an age disparity between myself and Best Beloved of some quarter century, and it’s pretty obvious to both of us I may well not have the pleasure of his company into my dotage. We don’t have dependants, so once he’s gone I will have to be self-sufficient for as long as I can manage it. 

Moving swiftly on from that rather depressing thought, I’m currently letting myself have a little daydream, which I amusingly call my Retirement Plan. There’ll be none of that checking into a retirement apartment, or sheltered accommodation, or even getting myself on Crusty Cruises around the Mediterranean. My plan is predicated on my inheriting Best Beloved’s estate. As we have no mortgage or major outstanding debt, I would hope to be able to liquidate the house and invest the proceeds. I would then purchase a mobile home (RV, self-propelled tin snail, whatever you fancy) and set off to explore the glories of the land of my birth.

The vehicle will need to be large enough for me to live in comfortably. It will need sufficient secure storage for my camera gear and a laptop, as well as clothes, food and the usual prerequisites of life. It will need to be self-sufficient for the times when I can’t plug into the grid. It will need internet access of some kind. To offset the size of the living van, I can hitch a small car to the back. Once I’m safely berthed in a campsite somewhere I can use the car to explore, reasoning a small car is easier to park than a bus, and drier than a moped or bicycle! 

The basic idea is now settled. I am assuming I really will be setting off on, and be able to fund in some way, a Grand Tour of the British Isles. What’s happening now is I am beginning to think about the places I want to visit, and the best way to cover the country to see the best bits. It’s not like I will have a time limit. My time will be my own, to spend as I please. If I land up somewhere, I might spend a week, a month or even longer. It would be really great to get to know an area on more intimate terms than the usual tourist traps. When I’m ready, weigh anchor and away I go.

It would be useful to have some kind of underlying tour plan, and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to book berths in advance when I can. To avoid traffic I am considering overnight driving between stopping places, allowing myself a day or so once settled to prepare for my visit. Although I plan to be on the road permanently, I should also allow for times when I may be unwell, or the weather just too inclement, where I ought to heave to in a hotel for a time.

I’d love to be doing the Grand Tour until I am incapable of doing it any more. I certainly don’t want to spend my dotage in a “care” home, or dying in my favourite armchair in front of the goggle box, and there won’t be anyone in my immediate family who can “look after” me. I want to be out and being active for as long as I can manage it. I need to be independent and self-sufficient until I can’t manage any more.

What’s brought on this late-onset wanderlust? I think I can lay the blame on the BBC for giving us excellent documentary television programmes like Coast and Town. Both these shows have opened my eyes to the wonders that abound in my homeland. I have lived my entire life in the bottom right-hand corner of England, with all too rare and painfully short forays to other parts on holidays and odd trips. I simply have not experienced much of my own country, and I plan to see as much as I can before I shuffle off this mortal coil.


As an added incentive, I’ve recently acquired a copy of The Lie of the Land by Ian Vince. Subtitled A spotter’s guide to the Britain beneath your feet, I thoroughly recommend it. Superbly written, easy to read, and sufficiently in-depth to seriously whet your appetite for more, it will act as my guide book on my journey. While considering the book, you might also take a look at the British Landscape Club web site, where you can currently buy signed paperback editions of the book, and become a member of the club. Membership is free, and you get a lovely badge you can wear with pride.

That’s enough for now. I shall go back to planning trips and day-dreaming about my retirement.


Mmm, Dungeness | Flickr – Photo Sharing!


It’s been a while since my last post. There’s a very good reason for this: I’ve got myself a new job. As you probably know if you follow my ramblings, I’ve been looking for full-time employment for ages, and finally my searches and applications have paid off.

While the upside of a steady income is excellent news (I can think about the new shiny things I haven’t been able to afford for a long time) the downside is the distance I have to commute to get there. The round trip is nearly 80 miles, although it’s almost all motorway. I take my time, setting off with time in hand in the mornings for example, but it’s still the best part of an hour at the beginning and end of the day.

Being positive, the job is near the English Channel, and I can see the sea with all its various moods from the office windows. The pay will be very handy after a lengthy period of drought on the income front, but it means I’m having to think about scheduling my photographic trips a little more carefully. The above photo shows Dungeness from the seafront near the office, and I am planning a day out visiting that very place before the summer is out — only now it’ll have to be a weekend instead of a mid-week trip as I had originally been thinking.

Anyway, the first week of work is under my belt. I have kind of settled in, no-one’s complained too loudly if I’ve made an error somewhere, so let’s hope it lasts a good long time. I am already making plans for the income!

Where next?


I made the mistake of going self-employed in my chosen profession a decade ago now. For the first few years, I made an adequate living. Things looked fairly rosy. Then the work dried up, I couldn’t seem to get new business that made ends meet, and I ended up going into paid work again. Stupidly, when that job made me redundant, I didn’t sign on as unemployed but rather chose to relaunch the freelancing designer/jobbing artworker career.

That was a mistake. I should have gone on the dole until something else came up. Instead, I’ve struggled to make ends meet, relying on Best Beloved to cover the increasing gaps in income. Thankfully, he’s retired on a reasonable pension, so we can afford groceries and utility bills, and the occasional luxury item. But that’s not the way it should be. We still find we’re liquidating assets and downsizing in order to make ends meet.

I’ve made a little money over the past few years, here and there, odd regular jobs, a stint at a small company in south London, but that’s all gone now. I found my creative spark had been snuffed out by increasingly inept and recalcitrant clients who always seemed to know my job better than me. I tried, in vain, to find other gainful employment, outside the creative industries. I spent a month as a temporary worker in a warehouse, and vowed never to go back unless there was absolutely no other option left on this planet.

With some former colleagues, I tried to launch a new business, but that barely got off the starting line. Literally. Despite the best efforts, our venture was let down by various parties, and so it is withering on the vine. I suspect it won’t make it beyond the summer before it’s wound up. A shame, because it seemed like a surefire money-making scheme at the time.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying for over a year now to find a new job. Unable to, or unqualified for, almost everything else, I have fallen back on “what I know”. I have lost track of how many applications have been submitted, but in all that time I have had one interview (failed, apparently, because I didn’t seem keen enough at the interview…) and two rejection emails, one of which was just yesterday.

It appears I am now, to put it simply, not the right candidate for the only job I can actually do. I’m either not qualified (20 years’ experience in the business don’t mean anything compared to a paper qualification, apparently), or it seems I’m deemed too old (being only a few years shy of my half century). To where do I turn now? 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t ask for much in life. I just want to be solvent, be able to pay the bills, and have a bit left over for the nicer things in life. I don’t need a lot, really, to be happy. 

Don’t think I haven’t considered alternatives, either. Which, for example, among my various hobbies and pastimes could reasonably give me an income? I can construct and decorate models, but no-one gets rich doing that, and there are plenty better skilled at it than me. I can take a decent photograph, but if there ever was a cut-throat business photography since the dawn of inexpensive DSLRs is it.

So, some combination of those things? Well, I am good at the model photography, if I do say so myself. I put together a portfolio booklet last year, and posted it with a covering letter to various model railway magazine editors and publishers. I had one response, but no further contact. Being the reticent kind, I haven’t followed up as I should have, so another golden opportunity evaporated. 

I am still here on Square One. 

I simply don’t want to continue flogging the dead horse of the creative and design work. Yes, it’s what I know best, but I really have no wish to continue with it. It bores me, clients piss me off, and no-one pays me on time when I do get work. It’s a thoroughly dispiriting situation to be in, and I don’t really know where to go next.

I know you’re supposed to go and get the work. I know you are supposed to chase the opportunities, jump at every chance, never let a good opportunity pass. Sadly, I am so disillusioned with the whole thing I simply don’t want to any more. Effort expended is effort wasted, at least in my experience. Better to just sit here and watch the world pass me by, rather than struggle on doing something which isn’t really appreciated when it’s done.

My apologies for this most depressing post. It helps to get it out my system, though. Looking back, I managed to miss most of the good opportunities that came my way, and now I find myself conked out, on life’s scrap heap.

Still, something might happen. It can’t go on like this for much longer. You never know what’s round the next bend in the road. It’s why I have adopted the motto “onwards and sideways”, because that’s just what life is like right now.



Another week passes in which I haven’t taken a photo, or even taken my camera gear out of the bag. If I am as keen a photographer as I make out, this is a worry to me. Why would I neglect a creative interest so? What could possibly be a reason for not getting out making pictures?

First, the excuses. I don’t have time (the most feeble excuse known to man). The days are too short and dark. The weather has been inclement. There are no interesting things to photograph within walking distance (with the price of fuel these days, I keep unnecessary car journeys to an absolute minimum). The house is so cluttered I can’t find room for a small indoor studio.

They are just excuses. I am smart enough that I should be able to go out for a walk and get some images, no matter what the weather or lighting conditions. It’s part of the fun of photography, after all, this need to learn new stuff, to push the boundaries of my knowledge. 

While I ponder such matters concerning digital photography, and whether I may as well sell my gear if I am not going to actually use it, I’ve been finding some time to digitise images from my past photographic life. I have been making pictures on and off for nearly 30 years now, and I have drawers and boxes stuffed with film negatives and prints just crying out to be seen again. A request from an old acquaintance for images I might have from a model railway thing I was involved with some years ago gave me cause to actually pull negs out of their dark hideaways to find suitable shots.

Of course, I discovered loads of other images I had forgotten about. I set the strips of negatives to one side, and made myself a promise I would at least try to get the more interesting stuff scanned fairly quickly. I have been doing just that these past few days — though this first pass of scans is more to see what’s there than to truly archive the images. A few things have to slot into place before I can get the proper grown-up scanner in place to make proper archive versions.


In a way, I hope being able to review stuff I took when I was much younger and greener will encourage me to get the modern gear out and keep at it. I need something to really fire my enthusiasm again. As I type, I realise it’s been nearly four months since I last handled the DSLR. This is not good. Not good at all.

Life Is a Journey: Countering Stress and Depression – The Dalai Lama

One of the approaches that I personally find useful is to cultivate the thought: If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. In other words, if there is a solution or a way out of the difficulty, you do not need to be overwhelmed by it. The appropriate action is to seek its solution. Then it is clearly more sensible to spend your energy focussing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you cannot do anything about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be for you. This formula, of course, implies directly confronting the problem and taking a realistic view. Otherwise you will be unable to find out whether or not there is a resolution to the problem

This paragraph of the Dalai Lama’s article struck home. Click the link above to read the full article.

A friend posted a link to this via Facebook, but I’ve sought out an alternative copy for those of you who dislike the social network that’s taking over everything.

BBC News – Is working with your hands better than just with your head?

As millions of workers drag themselves back into the office to contemplate another 12 months of drudgery, many will be wondering if they are in the right job.

Writer and mechanic Matthew Crawford thinks a lot of us would be better off trading in our mouse for a screwdriver. His recent book, The Case for Working With Your Hands, has been a huge hit in his native United States, praised by critics and politicians alike.

Mr Crawford, who used to run a Washington think tank but now mends motorbikes, says it is no wonder people are miserable at work. Jobs have become so specialised and process driven that it is hard to see what difference you are making. And in those rare cases where one’s impact is obvious, the result may seem pointless.

I’m obviously not alone.

I need to get out more!

I’ve just been fiddling with a new theme for the blog, which is nice. I’ve just realised, though, I’ve become a bit obsessed with BBC News in the past month or so. I think I need to get out more, or change my outlook a bit, so my blog posts don’t all end up being just a rant against the news agenda.

Actually, with reference to my last post here about modelling, I spent much of this past weekend in our workshop. I was knocking out some 4mm scale wagons, which have been lying about on my shelves for over a decade. I’d decided they’d be better put to good use on Cobdown’s Wouldham Town, so I dusted down the reference works, got the tools out and knuckled down. There’s a short train on the bench now, just waiting for some paint. They should make their first public appearance at the Wigan FRM model railway exhibition, 11th and 12th December.

With a creative and sometimes restless mind, it really does me good to get away and create things with my hands. I really need to make more space for it in my life, when life lets me.

Being away

This past weekend I’ve been out with colleagues from my model railway club, attending an exhibition with our OO layout Wouldham Town. We weren’t that far from home, so we had to travel back to our own beds, rather than be put up for a couple of nights.

It struck me just now, as I try to catch up with innumerable emails and electronic messages, how being in an online world has changed the way we communicate. Not so very long ago, you would go away for a fortnight’s holiday. You probably wouldn’t have a mobile phone, and you certainly wouldn’t expect to have to contact anyone unless in dire circumstances. You’d return, hopefully refreshed, to a pile of letters on the doormat, and you’d return to the daily round and catch up with the news and gossip over the following few days.

Life seemed to have a slower pace then.

I’ve been away for three days. I feel I’ve missed a large chunk of my online life simply due to not being able to access Twitter or Facebook while I was away – don’t say it! I don’t need and can’t afford a “smarter” phone.

What does that say about me and my life? Well, it says I have a lot of friends scattered around the globe, and the only really sensible way to keep up is via the interwebz. It also tells me I should get away from the Twitter natter more often. It’s easy to mark all messages as read in my client app, and anything important that I really need to know will generally be communicated to me in other means.

Email is trickier, but I have developed a keen sense for scanning subject lines for anything important, then a swift select all and delete deals with the rest.

I’m not sure whether I enjoy this on-demand style of life, or whether I need to be able to control the level at which I give in to it. The real test will come in a couple of months, where I will be away from my desk for at least four whole days with no interwebz at all. How will I ever cope?

So, what’s been happening?

I’ve been a little quiet round here. There are several reasons for that. I’ve been having a good, long, hard think about life, the universe and everything.

To put it mildly, my life is in the doldrums. It’s been this way for a while now, and it’s not helped in any way by not having work, not having my own income, and several other things I won’t bore you with.

I’ve been hunting for work – proper salaried work – for a while. I fire off applications and never hear anything in return. That’s a fib, actually. I got a reply from one to say the vacancy had been filled already. So, that was good. After a fruitless search for something other than what I’m supposed to be good at, I’ve had to fall back on trying to find jobs in the very line of work I don’t think I’m any good at.

Only – breaks out the violin – I haven’t the self-confidence to apply for the proper graphic designer jobs any more. My self-esteem has been battered out of me by a succession of clients who always seem to know better, and reject any good design for something they’ve knocked up in any number of Microsoft Office packages. You get the distinct impression that people think because you use a computer to create the work, they can do the same thing. How hard can it be?

There’s a peachy job vacancy that’s come up in the past couple of days. A few years ago, I’d have jumped at it. Today, I’m finding all kinds of excuses to prove it’s not worth my time applying for it. How sad is that? I should just do the deed, and if I don’t hear anything then assume the prospective employer doesn’t know a good thing when they see it and doesn’t deserve me anyway.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a couple of freelance jobs that don’t exactly set my world alight. They don’t hold any interest for me, and because of that I keep tending to put them off. I should just jump at them, all guns blazing, give it my best shot, take the money and run. There’s also the Britstock Photo company which we keep banging away at knowing something good will come of it sooner or later.

Whatever, I still need to earn a crust or two while Britstock Photo gathers momentum.

This past week, I have purposely avoided sitting here at my desk. I’ve made myself go and do hobby stuff. I’ve treated it as a holiday, a short break. I’ve picked up things I’ve not touched in something approaching a decade, and loved every minute of it.

I’ve been rediscovering my modelling habit. Dusting off a project started back in the 1990s to make a collection of accurate scale models of the aircraft that were used on both sides in the Battle of Britain. A 1/72nd scale Gloster Gladiator, from a plastic kit almost as old as me, finished to represent one of the planes sent to France in 1939, is the latest to emerge from the workshop.


It’s not strictly speaking accurate in every respect, but I’ve relearned some techniques I had mislaid, discovered some new ones, and generally had a fab old time.


I’ve discovered there is still a life away from the computer and the internet. I’ve also discovered that I really should invest some time in a suitable little patch of scenery for photographing the fruits of my labours. The wreckage of our back yard is not exactly photogenic, or anything like a suitable backdrop against which to photograph model aeroplanes!

Whether this renewed and refreshed creativity will help me sort out other aspects of my creative life, I don’t know. It’s definitely helping clear my head, though.