Ten years on: a new chapter

It was ten years and nine days ago, exactly, that I started this blog with my first tentative post. It was just a couple of days after I had turned 50, and was feeling rather down, as I remember. I’ll leave it to the arithmeticians to work out my age now, and to armchair psychologists to figure out how I’m feeling about it. Certainly, much has happened in those ten years.

In the first place, this blog took off in a way I had not really expected. I had started with some vague ideas of recording my thoughts on the books I read, and, while I still do that, I also write a great many other things that don’t really belong to a book blog. Which, I suppose, is why I stopped calling it a book blog. I like to have this platform to spout my views on various matters (trying as best I can to steer clear of politics); and, lately, much has appeared on here of an autobiographical nature. I suppose that is inevitable, given how very nostalgic I feel for my childhood years, and, further, given how fascinating I find the topic of the mind’s development (at least, my mind’s development, as my mind is the only mind I feel I can comment upon with any confidence). And if nattering on about myself sounds tedious and narcissistic, I can only plead in my defence that I do try, at least, not to be too dull.

But do not fear: I shall not be using either the 10th anniversary of my blog or the 60th anniversary of myself to churn out here yet more nostalgic reminiscences, or self-regarding retrospects of this blog. Rather, let me bring you up to date with an exciting new development which may, in part, explain my neglect of this blog in recent weeks.

The fact is, I am now retired. I have been a retired man for this last week. Approaching 60, and aware of my dodgy ticker, this seemed a good time to call it a day. So I checked my finances, went through the pensions and all that stuff, and, just two days after officially becoming an old man, I became also a retired man. All of this needed a bit of running around, reading official documents, signing forms, and the like; and that didn’t really leave me much time to write here. Also, given how little I have been reading, neither has there been much to write about.

But now, all is changed. Now, as I write, it is Sunday evening, but I am not going into work tomorrow. My brain has not quite adjusted to that yet. When I choose my shirt in the morning, I do not need to pick a work-shirt for an office day, and a casual shirt for a casual day: it’s all the same now, whatever I wear, whatever the day.

That first Monday, I got out of bed at the usual time. I dressed as usual, and left home as usual, but, on the way to the station as usual to catch the usual commuter train, I went into coffee shop instead, and spent all morning with a coffee and a book. It felt so good!

The book I am reading, by the way, is the second volume of Ramachandra Guha’s biography of Gandhi – Gandhi, The Years that Changed the World, 1914-1948. The first volume, Gandhi Before India, had focused on Gandhi’s earlier life, and on his campaigns in South Africa; the second, which I am assured may be read independently of the first, focuses on the Indian independence movement. I particularly want to read this, as I would like to be as knowledgeable about this period of history as I pretend to be. And also because Gandhi was such a fascinating man. A very strange man, certainly: Einstein had said about him: “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.” Guha, despite his obvious admiration for his subject, does not write a hagiography; neither, thankfully, does he write a hatchet job, which, given some of the less pleasant aspects of Gandhi’s personality, would have been all too easy. Gandhi remains a controversial figure for many reasons, but I would like to understand something of his life and times, and of his person, before passing judgement. It is too easy to pass judgement.

But regardless of subject, starting on a thousand page book is quite an adventure for me these days. Since my rather serious illness a few years ago, the effects of which are still with me, my reading, which was never prolific to begin with, has declined significantly: I was getting too physically exhausted to read anything more than a few pages a day of anything that taxed the ageing cerebellum. I am determined now to bring my reading back to a level similar to what it had been.

The other thing I am determined to do is to learn French properly. Of course, there are many courses available, but I am not so much interested in conversational French: I know how to ask for a baguette at the boulangerie, or directions to the bureau de poste. No – I want to read some of the fabulous literature that country has produced. This time next year, I want to be reading Molière in the original French. I mentioned this on my Twitter account, and in no time I was inundated with various suggestions on what to read – all very good suggestions, and all very helpful (except for the joker who suggested I start with Proust! – he knows who he is!), but I have to take it a step at a time. Currently, with the aid of a French-English dictionary, I am working my way through a drastically abridged and extremely simplified version of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. The full text of Le Misanthrope is still some distance away, but I think it is achievable.

I am also reading more poetry, as I had promised myself I would. (I am still pursuing Clive James’ translation of Dante, and enjoying it greatly.) And, of course, I want to spend some of this extra time I now have, unexhausted by the pressure of office work, to revive this sadly flagging blog. Will it change after the first ten years? Well, I hope so! I want no more of those routine posts I used to put up every time I read a book: the only thing more boring than reading a post about a book where the writer has nothing of any great interest to say about it is actually to write such a post. But even without such posts, I will have, I trust, things to say. Mainly, though not exclusively, on literary matters.

So, in short, I now declare this hiatus over. A new chapter in life is opening for me. And, hopefully, a new chapter in the blog as well.

Now, before I get any further, I think I should respond to the various comments I have received on this blog in the last few weeks and haven’t yet responded to. This blogging lark ain’t easy, y’know!

34 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Linda on February 23, 2020 at 11:44 pm

    Wishing you all the best.


  2. Posted by Tony on February 24, 2020 at 12:02 am

    Enjoy your free time, and don’t rush with the French. I’ve been learning Korean (slowly…) for five years now; as an adult, learning a language really is a long-term project 🙂


    • I know a fair bit of French (though conversation tends to go a bit too fast for me), so hopefully, it shouldn’t take me too long to get to a stage where I can at least read some books. But you’re right – no rush, take things easy! I could get used to this life! 🙂


  3. Posted by Kathy Tipping on February 24, 2020 at 12:45 am

    Looking forward to your Blogs being a more regular highlight in my inbox! Good health and happiness in all your future days, free from the daily grind. Learning highbrow French eh? Maird… this lad is just too cultured by far – hope he will still want to talk to his Anglo-Scouse Franglais chummette ! Happy Retirement and blogversary 🙂


    • Sorry Kathy – but, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I’d never stoop to talking with someone so lacking in class that they want to talk with someone like me!

      (PS That Bluebeard’s Castle was stunningly good, by the way!)


  4. Posted by Jonathan on February 24, 2020 at 1:06 am

    Congratulations on your retirement. I look forward to your new posts.


  5. Congratulations on this new chapter in life! I am turning 60 myself this year, a milestone that is weighing heavily on me. Although I won’t be able to draw my spectacular $400/m pension for months, I have finally become comfortable describing myself as “retired”. I started on sick leave several years ago, and then when I started to float myself on savings I called myself “semi-retired”. Once I finally sold my house (for a good profit) and was able to live on a modest investment income, I finally felt I could let go of the idea that this state was temporary. However, I wonder if the lack of that marker of official retirement has left me squandering much of my “free” time. I am a volunteer editor with a literary magazine which consumes much energy, but I am not doing as well with my own reading and writing goals. And, like you, I am learning a language—in my case Hindi. I’ve been to India three times in the past two years but my primary goal is to keep the mind active with a grammar, vocabulary and script that are so different.

    Speaking of Gandhi, I visited his final ashram, Sevagram, in Wardha in central India last fall. It was quite a moving experience and I stocked up on a number of books there, mostly dealing with his early years and the development of his philosophy. As to his reputation, I don’t know. We somehow expect our saints to be without flaw while the boldly and proudly flawed are rewarded with political positions of power. That I cannot understand.


    • I don’t think I’ll be doing anything that’ll take up too much of my energy: after all, it was the fact of my getting too physically exhausted too often that prompted this retirement. But I agree, it’s important to keep the mind active. In terms of finance,I obviously won’t be getting as much as I used to, but I’m certainly not going to work myself to death for a bit of extra income!

      I think you have seen far more of India than I have, and know the country better than I do. The book on Gandhi I mentioned really is quite fascinating, by the way!


  6. Posted by David Gouldstone on February 24, 2020 at 3:43 am

    Happy (belated) birthday, and wishing you every happiness in retirement! (Though I’m sorry to hear about your health problems).

    Although (on the whole) I loved teaching, I don’t regret for a moment retiring in 2016, and I’m sure you won’t either. I’m looking forward to your future blogs.

    Shamelessly bigging up (as I believe young folk say nowadays) my own blog, I wrote a little celebratory piece on my retirement: http://www.icknieldindagations.com/2016/07/normal-service-will-be-resumed-as-soon.html


    • I enjoyed reading your post! Exploring parish churches seems a splendid way to spend one’s retirement. There is a very old church not far from us (St Mary’s in Thorpe, Surrey: https://www.stmaryschurchthorpe.co.uk/) which is listed in the Domesday book, and is well worth a visit.

      I had initially planned to work a bit longer, but I had a heart attack and a bypass operation a few years ago, so having no more to do with the stress of work seemed a good idea. I have certainly enjoyed the first week of more or less uninterrupted reading!


  7. Posted by Leela on February 24, 2020 at 4:10 am

    Best wishes for good health and much joy as you ease into retirement! I hope you will add some unusual travel destinations and adventures to that list of projects😊. Then, if you have the time and energy, may I suggest that you add a little volunteering work into the mix. The latter has enriched my retirement immensely!


    • Time is not the problem now – but the energy, sadly, is! But yes, once I’ve settled into this life a bit, I’ll see how I feel about things. I am already in a committee running the local music club, but I should, in time, take up something else as well, I think, Let’s see how it goes!


  8. Congratulations, both on the blog anniversary and on your attainment of another set of 10 orbits. I must confess that I am envious as regards the retirement.

    The first “long” book I read in French was actually an abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo, believe it or not. Then a few years later I let my French get terribly rusty. So I started up again 15 years after that with some short Simenon novels, and found that I progressed quickly. I can read almost anything in French now, so my advice is to keep plugging away. Your progress will surprise you and the rewards are worth it.


    • My french right now is so poor, I feel a bit embarrassed about it, but yes, I’ll certainly keep plugging away. The very idea of reading those Moliere plays in the original has me excited!

      The retirement was, in a sense, forced on me, as I was finding it difficult to cope physically with the office work, but I’m so glad now I made that decision!


  9. All the best in this new chapter. I have really enjoyed your non-literature posts in the past. And at the Cabin prior to this Blog.
    I am 70 and retired 12 years ago. Rest, naps, and contemplating one’s navel are at least as necessary as learning languages and making retirement into a project, methinks. I am looking forward to your future posts. Thanks


  10. Congratulations for both major milestones. It’s lovely to be retired and spend (most) of your time doing things you actually enjoy! Good luck with the reading and writing – I look forward to reading more of your thoughts in the future.


  11. Posted by Eugenia z on February 24, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    Happy birthday and congratulations on your retirement! Wishing you all the best!


  12. Congrats and hope the retirement turns out to be a happy and fulfilling one. Look forward to your posts!!


  13. What is your Twitter name?


  14. Thank you all for your good wishes.I always wondered what I’d look like at 60: well, given all the hair covering my face, I guess I’ll never know. But I shall certainly continue scribbling here, as I have become rather addicted to it!

    All the best to everyone,


  15. I turn 60 in two years, but I won’t retire from the university until another five years after that. Congratulations, happy birthday, and thanks for bravely leading the way! As long as you write, you’ll have readers.


  16. Belated Happy Birthday and congratulations on your retirement.
    I hope you do succeed in taking things easy – but I know from experience that, once one retires, one often finds oneself busier than ever! The only difference is that you can choose your time (mostly).
    And yes – your blog is bound to evolve over the years. I know mine has. I am sure, however, that yours will always be a pleasure to read 🙂


  17. Happy late birthday and serious congratulations on your retirement. I’m still a few years away (well, about five, maybe) but I’m looking forward to the day that I can say adios to the work wardrobe. Again, congrats. Hope you continue to enjoy it!


  18. Congratulations on your birthday and on your retirement. Think of the reading you’ll be able to get done. Think of the writing. It’ll be a life of the mind all over again. Best wishes.


  19. I have always thought that retirement (if one is in relatively good health and doesn’t have to worry about covering basic expenses) can truly be a wonderful period in one’s life. You are no longer expected to schedule your whole life around your work, to curb your inclinations.. You are free to organize your time just as you wish, free to explore your interests, discover some new ones, learn things.

    As I see it, mine would include a lot of reading, learning about art, learning how to paint, learning new languages, discovering foreign cinematographies, growing herbs and vegetables…

    Have you maybe read Lydia Davis’ essay on learning Norwegian?

    Happy birthday and all the best in your retirement! May it be a joyful one.


    • Oh – learning Norwegian would be good! I’d love to read Ibsen in the original!

      But no – let us keep the ambitions realistic for now. I am getting back into the habit of reading again: I had let things slip these last few years. Currently, I’m nearly half way through Ramachandra Guha’s biography of Gandhi, and am pursuing my French studies in the afternoon.

      I am not too sure about painting, though! Sadly, I am as untalented in the visual arts as I am at just about everything else. But at least I cn go to the galleries in London and admire other peoples’ art!


      • Or Russian, so you can read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in the original. 😀

        I adore Ibsen – would love to read him in Norwegian too.. Speaking Swedish helps, I can understand most of the text, but that, of course, is not good enough. One day…

        Hope you’re satisfied with how your French studies are progressing and are enjoying it.

  20. Enjoy all this reading time! Take care and good luck with the French.

    Molière is my favourite playwright, I understand why you want to read him in the original.

    I’ll second Scott’s recommendation about Simenon and I’ll add Philippe Djian. They have in common to write excellent books with short sentences, not too much slang and not too erudite vocabulary.


    • I am making good progress wit the simplified version of Dumas. But yes, I’ll have a look out for Simenon, and for Philippe Djian. Until now, I had been using the pressure of work as an excuse, but I have no excuse now!


  21. Posted by Chris Jennings on March 7, 2020 at 10:10 am

    I’m a bit late to this, but best wishes for your retirement, Himadri.

    And so the decade-long labour on your book “Shakespeare in Context” begins at last!


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