Sunday, 11 October 2015

Living in the border lands

Living in the border lands
When I tell overseas members of my Facebook group that I live near the border between England and Wales I suspect that it conjures up images of the Mexico/USA or the Canada/USA border. Our border is nothing like that!

It is totally undefended and passage in either direction is entirely unregulated. There are no “border controls” and it is only on the major roads that there is even a sign to tell travellers that they have crossed from one country to the other. Any English or Scottish person can move to live and work in Wales without permission.  

To an outsider this casual approach might seem rather strange especially once they realise that Wales now has its own Parliament and some of its laws are different from those that apply in England. The Welsh people even have their own language, and in a few areas it is still the first language of the residents, though everyone also speaks English.  It is thought important to preserve the language, so all road signs have both languages as soon as the border is crossed, and children in Welsh schools are taught the Welsh language. 

There are many castles along the border between Wales and England that date from the time when the English and Welsh felt the need to build defences against each other.  Some are almost total ruins, others are well preserved, and all are now popular tourist attractions, many on hilltops and in isolated positions. In 1282 King Edward I of England won control of Wales, though some hostility continued for another 200 years. 

Our passports declare that we belong to The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Great Britain is the largest of the British Isles and to the west of it is the island of Ireland. Great Britain is comprised of England, Wales, and Scotland and all three used to be politically separate countries.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

He can write cogent and thought-provoking prose and I cannot!

I have known Pete Birks since 1979 and over the years I must have read literally hundreds of thousands of words he has written. He and I are close contemporaries and we share many views on world affairs - perhaps the biggest difference between us is that he can write cogent and thought-provoking prose and I cannot!

"My only takeaways from the first 60 years of my life (there won't be a second 60 years of my life) are that (a) nearly everything that people tell you is wrong and (b) you don't need to get it right first time. If you don't repeat your mistakes, you are ahead of 99% of the population."

My regret is that I did repeat my mistakes. I gave too many people second, third or even twentieth chances to improve before consigning them to the outer darkness. It was only once they were no longer around that I recognised how demotivating, manipulative and toxic some folk can be!

"I can't say that it's great to reach 60; although, as the saying goes, it's better than the alternative. There are consequences of growing old that you can only let the young eventually find out for themselves. The consequences are physical, mental, and external."

It can be easy to slip into a routine where every week feels almost identical. Indeed it would be surprisingly easy to make every day almost indistinguishable from those on either side. In Church Stretton there really is no excuse to be bored or lonely. There are meetings and events going on every day of the week - all it requires is for the pensioner to make the effort.

"I can afford not to, and there are many, many things that I want to do outside of my old work. There are so many books to read, films to see, musical pieces to learn. There's so much knowledge out there and, thanks to the Internet, much of that knowledge is now free."

"For the next decade, paradoxes remain. I have long suffered a lack of imagination and ambition. "Getting out there" requires a phenomenal act of will on my part. It's for this reason that I tend to return to the same places again and again on holiday. I like the familiar; I dislike the unknown. But the risks of the unknown, the "what's the worst that can happen" need to be faced. OK, Rome might be a nice place full of shits, and Paphos might remind me a little bit too much of Manchester in exile, but I only found Nice by accident; I only discovered San Francisco because I was willing to fly 5000 miles to see a movie, and I only saw Arizona because my job took me there."

Like Pete I could afford to retire and once the financial need to be in paid employment had vanished it proved almost impossible to remain motivated. That said I certainly didn't want to put all my previous life behind me. I had built up a lot of experience in the twin fields of teaching and school governance and I am comfortable that I made the correct decision to remain a school governor.

Rather sadly two major parts of my previous life have disappeared in the ten years since I retired. Both stamp and postcard collecting had seen their membership base shrink considerably as the former hard core enthusiasts have died but were not been replaced by fresh blood. There are a few auctioneers and dealers hanging on by their fingertips but much of their stock is priced at such unrealistically expensive levels - particularly in relation to the many on-line auctions - that their sales per month must make for sorry reading.

The whole concept of free knowledge is an interesting one. Specialists groups that generate a magazine as the largest single membership perk must be finding it difficult to create material that isn't already available for free elsewhere.