After two weeks in France (again) we headed back to London on Friday 11 April. We drove north to spend a lovely evening in Saint-Malo, where the sun came out just as we arrived. On our previous visit we’d seen that it would be possible to walk out on the causeway to the islet where Chateaubriand is buried – if we’d timed our arrival better.

This time the tides were favourable. It made for a relaxing walk at the end of a long drive, with the bonus of views back to the town. There was something of a breeze, but we found a nearby crêperie to enjoy a sundowner, followed by dinner.

A rather dull day-crossing, yet again, and we seemed to be almost the last people to go through customs: an increasingly laborious process since Brexit regulations fully kicked in. Fortunately we don’t have far to drive to get back to Herne Hill.


I’d forgotten why we had to return on the Friday until Anne reminded me that we had tickets to see Cinderella (the Frederick Ashton version) at Covent Garden the following evening.

I’ve never been a big fan of ballet

I’ve only been a couple of times, one of which was in Moscow more than 40 years ago. I’ve always confessed, if that is the right word, that I don’t quite get it. I appreciate the strength and the skill, but does it really tell a story in the way that opera does? But I said to Anne that it was about time we went, if only once, to a proper classical ballet. It’s not cheap at the Royal Opera House!

Punters relax befiore the show

I absolutely loved it: the music, the costumes, the sets and, of course, the dancing.

When you see, and hear, what it takes to pull off something like Cinderella you understand why it is so expensive. There seems to be little that is of the highest quality these days. We have become accustomed to low prices for ill-fitting clothes, filling but poor quality food, generic pop muzak written and performed by computers. We can get by on that, and many people – because, frankly, they are not paid enough – have little choice.

When you’re spending nearly £100 on a ticket you might as well have a decent meal too, so we went to Café Murano, which was very good.

Sea bream carpaccio

This, on the other hand, is unashamed luxury

Two other restaurants I have been to this week and can recommend:

Chamisse (Lebanese)

Toba (Indonesian)


Life has been a bit less frantic than of late, though Anne has been up to Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere again for a couple of nights. Apart from that, it’s been socialising all the way. I have seen friends from my days at primary school, secondary school, university, my first job in London, the British Library. This is not by chance but because I work at it!


We went to a 60th birthday party. Anne came back from the Lakes, and less than two hours later we were on our way to a pub north of Oxford Street. It would have been easy for her to say, “I’m tired, shall we just stay in?” and I would not have blamed her. But we went, and chatted for ages to an ex-colleague we had not seen for well over a decade.

Music in the Oxford Market pub

It was an excellent night out, with great live music.


A couple of days later I spent a fascinating afternoon in Notting Hill with my friend Bob James and fellow ex-members of 70s prog-rockers Skin Alley – a 50th anniversary meeting that deserves, and will soon receive, a blog post of its own.

L-R: Thomas Crimble, Richard Thomas (manager), Bob James, Giles Pope


Two more trips to art exhibitions this week: first to Tate Modern for Hilma af Klint and Piet Mondrian (why yoke them together since they never even knew the other existed? You tell me!)

I learned a lot about two artists about whom (especially in Hilma’s case – see final image above) I previously knew very little.

And the following day to Tate Britain to The Rossettis – a rare opportunity to see so many of DGR’s paintings in one place, since the majority seem to have found their way to the USA. Of course he’s an artist about whom I know much more (the Lady Lever Art Gallery is close to where I grew up); and I helped to make a video about Christina’s weird poem Goblin Market when I was at the British Library.


I continue volunteering for the Herne Hill Society, of which I am now President (a real honour, even if it confers no actual power), including helping to organise the online AGM at the end of March. This week we held a celebration for the astonishingly successful inaugural Herne Hill Excellence Awards (the brainchild of our Chair Rebecca Tee, and for which I take no credit), in the equally astonishing Temple Bowling Club, home to an outdoor green and the hidden gem of a full-scale indoor green with three rinks.

If you’re from South London and are interested in the Awards and the results, you can read more on the Herne Hill Society website.

Announcing the Winner and Highly Commended in the Heritage category

What has this to do with structuring your life?

When you retire it is obvious that your day will no longer possess the structure you used to enjoy, for want of a better word. And that is fine – for most people, and to some extent. But do you need a new structure? You might imagine that I don’t have one, that I just dash around from one thing to another. I do, but I think of my activities as falling into a number of sets. The groupings are vague and arbitrary, but they work for me. For example:

Herne Hill & South London

Maintaining main house, garden and car. The Herne Hill Society (web management, proof reading, advice, social media etc.) Local friends, pubs and shops.

La Bréchoire & France

Maintaining French cottage and garden. French and English friends. Bureaucracy. Booking travel. Collection of DVDs.

Wirral & Family

Maintaining parental home, garden and car. Looking after Mum, relations with care home, family, neighbours and friends. Overchurch Primary School (Facebook group) and Birkenhead School. Tranmere Rovers FC. Financial advisor, lawyers, estate agent.

Academic & Cultural

The Queen’s College, British Library, contacts, language learning, personal archives. Cinema, museums, art galleries, serious reading, subscription to TLS and Apollo magazine. Writing this blog, articles and stories.

One for the Wall & Music

Playing and recording original music (guitar, synth, arrangements and sundry sounds). Web management etc. Collection of CDs. Talking of which, here is a song in progress:

“Monkeys in My Veins” by Bernard Hanaway, performed by OftW

Exercise & Nature

Swimming, walking in parks and countryside. Bird-watching.

Everything else

Admin (post, wills, banks, utilities etc.), washing, cooking, relations with wife and father-in-law!

I dip into each set every day and undertake one or more jobs from most, if not all, of them. It keeps my brain working. But of course I want to maximise the benefit I get from all this activity. I don’t do it just for the sake of keeping busy.


Finding a balance

I’ve started reading a book by Professor Paul Dolan called Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life. It was recommended by a friend on one of our long walks (in this case around Morden Hall Park). Dolan says that “wellbeing isn’t about how we think – it’s about what we do”. We can all make better choices that bring us both pleasure and purpose, but the first step is to find out what the best choices are for each of us. What makes you happy, or unhappy, may not be the same for me. (Examples: other people might worry about getting old and fat so they think you should too. But do you really? What about a job that pays better? It’s your life.) You may want to make some notes to record what you are doing and whether or not you feel it’s contributing to your happiness.

If you spend all day cleaning the house you will achieve a purpose (assuming it matters to you). This will make you feel satisfied, and you can guiltlessly put your feet up and watch a good film or a game of footy on the telly with a well-deserved beer. Not enough purpose or not enough pleasure in the mix and, the theory goes, you will begin to feel dissatisfied with your life. Aim for 50:50.

At the same time you want to minimise the the amount of time you spend doing (or indeed thinking about) things that bring you pain or make you feel like you are wasting your time. If you’re in a job that you hate, stop hoping that it might get better… eventually.

Learn when to hold and when to fold

The same goes for relationships! I talked about sunk costs in a previous post. I’m a procrastinator by nature, but I’ve finally learned what should have been obvious. Tackle those unpleasant but necessary jobs that you don’t want to do, even if they scare you, and get them out of the way so that you can stop worrying and enjoy the rest of your day/life.

Both pleasure and purpose are enhanced when you interact with other people. Socialising makes you happier, almost irrespective of what you are doing. That is why volunteering, as part of a team, can bring so much enjoyment.

Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan (Penguin)

Is gardening a source of pleasure or a purpose? First – with the hard work – comes the purpose. (I am very happy to leave that to Anne!) After that it’s a pleasure to sit in, especially when the sun comes out. Make sure you take time to enjoy the fruits of your labour. If necessary pay someone else to do the hard bit.

Anne’s had a tidy up

I haven’t quite finished Dolan’s book; perhaps I will come back to it in a later blog. It’s short and very well written. I’ll sign off with two short quotes, but almost every sentence is worth repeating out loud:

“Time is a scarce resource and you should not waste it on remaining miserable.”

“There is one almost surefire way to be happier: spend time with people you like.”

3 thoughts on “How to structure your life

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