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Problems With Paleo

2014-07-09 13.38.57I’ve just started to read The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease, Heal Your Body. It’s an impressive well researched book with with a massive ‘science based’ restricted food list. This focus on restricting natural foods seems to increasing characterise paleo books and it’s in stark contrast to similar whole food diets which really just promote the avoidance of processed foods.  Whilst I like the concept of paleo eating, I find myself having more sympathy with moderates like Michael Pollan who  promotes a much simpler message “Eat whole food, not too much, mostly plants”.  The Paleo fans though are on a mission to eliminate huge swathes of whole-foods from our diets, even more for auto-immune sufferers.  It worries me, even though I am a big believer in the basic paleo hypothesis, I worry about the reductionist “this scientific study shows that this micro nutrient is bad” approach can lead us in the wrong direction.

This is where the problem lies though for me. We know that prior to the introduction of agriculture humans seemed to be healthier, but we also know that different groups ate a hugely varied diet and to a large extent they all thrived.  They thrived even when some mix of grains, nightshades, beans, honey and starchy tubers were part of their diet. 

I know from my own personal history that I can thrive on many different diets, for example when I was at school, and quite an athlete, that I ate mostly bread, biscuits, fruit and cheese, in my late twenties and very healthy I ate mostly bread, ham, granola, cheese, milk, apples and pears.  Not exactly a paleo diet, but then there are much more extreme modern examples like picky kids that grow up mostly eating custard cream biscuits or students who do great on toast, baked beans, pasta and alcohol.  My 70 year old mum who is healthier than most 20 year olds eats a mostly vegetarian diet.

The lesson seems to be that we can do ok on an incredible variety of diets, but that MOST OF US thrive on whole foods of all types.

The Paleo fans though are on a science inspired mission.  They have trawled through every scientific paper they can find that identifies a negative food effect and added the offending foods to the ‘don’t eat it’ pile.  Eggs and dairy cause allergies, beans contain anti-nutrients, grains damage the lining of the gut and on and on and on.  This wouldn’t be a problem if all this science applied to real life diets and to most real people, but looking at the world around me tells a different story.  I’ve no argument with the improvements that a paleo diet brings over a processed food diet, my concern is just that a very appealing dietary ‘approach’ is being made too restrictive by cherry picking science to support almost a religious point of view. 

In particular it’s the obsession with scientific papers investigating single anti-nutrients in foods that worries me.  On the one hand paleo fans seem content with widely varied macro nutrient ratios being acceptable, but unable to accept that in real diets a mixture of mostly nutrients and a few anti-nutrients might be just fine too.  Similarly I think when I’m exercising a lot a small amount of low nutrient dense food like sugar or oats seem to be exactly what my body is craving, not yet more vegetables or fat!  Strongly promoting Ketogenic Diets is a worry as well, I think we have much more evidence of whole food diets (including whole grains) being healthy for large populations of people in the long term (think vegetarians) than we do Ketogenic Diets.

Several of my relatives lived well into their 80’s and 90’s eating many of these banned foods, many of my peers are much healthier than I am but eat a much worse diet.  I’ve tried the strict paleo approach and eliminated these banned foods for 30 days and felt no benefit at all.  For example I’ve never felt better in my life than when I ate a small bowl of toasted oats every day, eggs seem to be the most nutrient rich and versatile foods on the planet, a stick of Red Leister cheese is more desirable to me than chocolate and completes my day.

Personally I find Chris Kresser and his Paleo Template approach to be a good interpretation of the paleo concept.  It takes paleo as a starting point and then adds additional modern foods into that diet if they are tolerated well.  This seems a much better approach than rejecting any food that wasn’t available or convenient 10,000 years ago or that contains a substance that some scientific study found issue with, , but even Chris isn’t happy with 50g of oats every few days, I am.  If I worried about every science study that found a risk factor in life I would never eat anything, I’d never go out in the sun, get on my bike, or go hiking either.

But I do still like the paleo approach.  I think it makes sense to eat the most nutrient dense whole foods as the basis of our diet, but I don’t see these other foods as poisons to be avoided at all costs.  For me that makes Paleo, a fad diet no better than a vegan diet.  I cringe when Paleo diet books say it might be acceptable at a family party to have a few BITES of cake,  for me this is insane, just eat a full slice and be done with it, actually have two slices.  I don’t think a glass of skimmed milk a couple of times a week is going to cause me any problems nor are a couple of tea spoons of sugar a day, the human body just isn’t that fragile.

So given this rant, how do I personally eat?  I follow what I consider a simple strategy:  The core of my diet is 6 cups of vegetables, a table spoon each of coconut and olive oil, 3 cups of berries, half a banana, a couple of servings of meat, a couple of free range eggs and some full fat cream.  On days when I don’t exercise I won’t need to eat anything else, but if I do exercise then I might add some mix of 85% dark chocolate, a protein shake, some wheat free cake, a small bowl of oats, some nuts an apple, or some cheese.  Every few weeks I will eat a couple of slices or toast, a home made sausage roll, a custard tart or a bar of MILK chocolate and not worry about it one bit.

I believe in animal welfare, nutrient dense whole foods comprising mostly vegetables, but I also believe just as strongly in the resilience and adaptability of the human body.  I believe in ‘everything in moderation including moderation’.  I freely admit that I feel better following this type of diet than one based on grains, but I’ve found have no room for fanaticism of any kind in my life so far.

Photo was taken in Kendal after a long day’s hiking.  I was on my way to Caffe Nero to enjoy a lovely guilt free Chocolate Torte:

This deliciously rich cake is made using premium Belgian chocolate, eggs, sugar and butter. We have incorporated a two stage bake process to achieve the perfect texture. Important: This cake is made without flour. However it is not a gluten free product, because it has not been kept segregated in the bakery, and because of the risk of cross contamination.

Reducing My Cost Of Living In Retirement

2014-07-11 12.39.33Foremost in my mind while planning for retirement is how to balance my costs and income and key to making this work is my assumption that my cost of living won’t rise that much in retirement.  There are many reasons for this optimistic view, some of them are just general economic trends, some my own lifestyle choices and the rest are down to decisions that I’m planning to take about my investments.  I definitely concluded that my cost of living will stay fairly stable or decline and that I won’t be the victim of inflationary lifestyle costs (I might fall victim to inflation eroding my savings, but that’s not the topic of this post).  When I’m developing a strategy at work I try to make sure that it’s resilient to uncertainty and so being able to vary my cost of living to match my income is an approach that I highly recommend and I described that in a separate post.

So let’s get on with looking at costs in more detail, but before I do it’s worth pointing out that I own my own home and have no debt, which makes planning a lot simpler as does cultivating low cost hobbies like playing musical instruments, sketching, reading, walking, listening to music, gardening, DIY and meditating.

Minimising ‘Fixed’ Costs

The first and most important strategy is to live simply, to resist the temptation to link satisfaction in life with owning stuff, in fact I think the inverse is true. Beyond a certain level, more stuff leads to less life satisfaction, stuff weights me down.  I’ve believed this to be true academically for many years, and I’ve read enough by proponents of simple living to know that’s it’s true in real life for some people.  I’ve personally practiced not buying stuff for nearly 8 months and I’m now confident that it’s true for me too.  It’s a shocking personal revelation because even though I had this academic understanding, prior to this experiment I’d been an avid acquirer of gadgets, tools, clothes and books.  Having broken the addiction to buying things I’m well on the way to controlling my costs.

The second key factor is minimising the cost of replacing and fixing things that break.  There are several beliefs and approaches that I’m currently using or planning to use to minimise these costs.  First up is the belief that in many areas of consumer goods costs are falling not increasing, pretty much anything high tech is following this trend, provided I don’t buy at the high end. These deflationary pressures seem to apply to Software, TV’s, computers, games consoles, cycling and hiking clothing and shoes.   I do have some top quality second hand waterproof jackets and trousers, but people tell me these will last for over a decade, so I considered them a good investment, they contrast nicely with the low cost end of line, end of season and just plain cheap stuff I normally buy.

Then there’s all those ‘white goods’ fortunately I have a strategy that has worked well for me there too, buy high quality products with 10 year warrantees.  I might pay a little over the odds, but they really do seem to just keep on working and they are repairable.  Then we have household furniture and decoration where I will again be following a strategy that’s worked well for me for the last 30 years, decorate with paint not wallpaper, buy quality leather sofa’s and chairs, select solid wood furniture and lay laminate flooring.  Most of what we have bought in the last 30 years is still just fine.  Charity shops are a great source of replacements.

The last big area of cost is maintaining the house and here the strategy has three key elements, all of which I have already done, replace wood with materials that don’t rot, get to know a few local tradesmen and finally wherever possible do the work myself.  Learning the skills to fix stuff, and then fixing stuff with those skills are both very rewarding activities. 

Finally get loads of insulation in the roof and the walls, minimise draughts, fit porches to minimise warm air loss through doors and get a high efficiency boiler, with on demand water heating.

Minimising Food Costs

Not long ago I would have been the worst person to ask about minimising food costs.  I love to eat out, I used to buy most of my food from M&S, I bought what I liked regardless of season and always bought animal products from sources with the highest animal welfare standards.  I haven’t really compromised any of these standards in a big way, but I have reduced my costs considerably through a few changes:

  1. I’ve replaced two meals a day with green smoothies.  These have allowed me to buy a whole range of cheap vegetables from Aldi without much consideration for quality, because it all looks the same blended.  I can mix up a smoothie for about half the cost of a traditional salad and get more greens.
  2. I’ve turned over almost all of my vegetable patch to berries and greens, especially fast growing ones like kale, spinach, lettuces, spring onions and the like, I get three or four crops a year and that’s about half of what I eat for 6 months.  Where I can, I now also get frozen veg rather than fresh (sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, runner beans …) and veg that keeps really well like Red Cabbage.
  3. Debbie and I eat a berry salad each night, but we add a heap of spray cream to it that makes it much easier to eat fruit that’s a bit battered, under-ripe or otherwise not top quality without noticing, we buy cheaper and throw away a lot less
  4. Instead of expensive beef, I eat supermarket fresh ‘best quality’ 100% beef burgers and I eat free range chicken joints rather than skinless breasts saving nearly 50%.
  5. For a treat I eat a mini 85% dark chocolate bars from Aldi, from a pack of 5
  6. For infrequently purchased expensive foods I have an Amazon Prime subscription giving me typically 25% off shop prices with no delivery or transport costs
  7. I no longer take any vitamins, because I have such a nutrient dense diet
  8. When I do a lot of exercise and need some carbs I’ve swapped the expensive cheese cake for the 40p a severing Super Nutty Granola from Jordan’s, which is much healthier, has no gluten and tastes great!
  9. When I eat out I drink tap water,  when I go to cafe’s and don’t want the expense of eating I buy a bottle or water or diet coke
  10. When we go out for meals now we are transitioning to picnics in the summer and friendly local eateries where we can get a good meal served by people we know for £5 per person.

Minimising Experience Costs

The previous section covered all of those hard costs that are difficult to avoid, we try to minimise these costs because we (especially me) don’t believe in stuff.  I want to save up money for experiences. 

When it comes to experiences though I like cheap too.  I’m at my happiest when walking and cycling and these have the benefit of reducing my pain levels and increasing my resilience too.  We live two minutes away from a 30 mile coastal walk and cycle path so we don’t need to travel, but if we do we are an hour away from the Lake District and 30 minutes from the Rivington reservoir system for fantastic hill walking, lakes and canals. 

When we want to get away for a longer break we like low cost options, like Premier Inns and off season caravans.  When it comes to holidays I much prefer five, off season, low cost weeks in UK beauty spots to one week abroad.  This is especially important as I have 12 weeks holiday a year and this will be even more true in retirement.

These exercise related experiences can get even cheaper though because in retirement we have even more out of season flexibility and the option to enjoy low cost B&Bs, youth hostels, house swaps and camping to make longer adventures affordable, like hiking the long distance footpaths.

Many other forms of entertainment experiences are reducing in cost as well though, here’s a small sample:

  1. Low cost afternoon movies for the over 50s
  2. 2 for 1 movie nights
  3. Free music streaming services
  4. Public libraries and their eBook lending services, audiobooks, physical books and magazines and cafe like reading spaces
  5. Free TV and movies from Amazon prime
  6. Amazon book subscription service, coming soon to the UK
  7. Free online courses
  8. Amazing free podcasts and blog posts
  9. Newspapers making much of their content available for free
  10. Low cost public transport for elderly people and for everyone like Megabus

Non-obvious cost decreases

There are a lot of cost reductions and new opportunities that we can expect to arrive in the next few years and even more in the next 10-20 years.  Some of the things I’m already seeing are costs lowering as a result of additional automation, we can expect these to filter through into restaurants and shops, my health club has just reduced it’s costs through automating the car park and reception.

Some of my favourite areas of innovation that are going to have a big impact on my costs or enjoyment include:

  1. Cost effective electric bikes and soon cars allowing me to travel more often, further and on more days of the year
  2. Improved public transport
  3. Virtual 3D HD tourism experiences allowing me to visit the wonders of the world ‘from the comfort of my own home’
  4. Employment will reduce and so the average number of working hours will reduce to share jobs around more fairly. I think wages will fall a little and people will have more time to volunteer.  Older people who are struggling will likely benefit from this.
  5. While the costs of caring for the elderly is likely to increase in the highest quality nursing homes, we have four children to help with that a little but more importantly I’m expecting that dramatic improvements in home assistance robots, home safety and health monitoring, drone deliveries of essentials to the rear patio etc. will allow me to live in the comfort of my own home for a very long time

Cost Increases

There are a few areas where costs will increase, but not many:

  1. I expect the cost of heating and lighting my home to increase, but I’ve hedged against this cost somewhat by buying solar panels a few years ago.  I’m going to be enjoying those feed-in-tariff payments until I’m over 70
  2. Food prices will increase, due to shortages and fuel costs but I’m hedged against those a little too because I can grow a lot more of my own food than I do now and I already buy quite a bit of locally grown quality food which won’t increase as much

Overall then I’m very optimistic, but I’m also very thankful that our fixed living costs are fully covered by our index linked pensions!

The photo today is of the old quarry, part of the wonderful Rivington Reservoir system that in just a few years time will be just a short hop away from our house in an affordable electric car, fuelled up for free from our existing solar panels.

Filling My Days In Retirement

2014-07-15 11.19.17Over the last couple of years I’ve been adding to a list of things that I like to do, or would like to do in the future.  This isn’t a bucket list, it’s a list of the type of things that I enjoy, mixed in with a few ideas and links to web sites.  I used to keep this list in Simplenote, but then I discovered that they don’t keep a backup so I’ve decided to move the list over to this blog.  It makes a nice complement to the series of articles I’ve been writing on retirement.  Most of the things on this list are daily activities, a bit like a checklist for what a ‘day lived well’ would look like.  Unfortunately there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything on the list, but over a week there should be a good mix of most of these types of activity.  I’ve already gone some way to achieving this balance and I know that because I keep a track of what I do each day in an app called lift. Tracking is useful because it makes it impossible to lie to myself, but just scanning the list each day and updating it with what I’ve done provides a nice gentle reminder or nudge to do better tomorrow, or keep up the good work.

Onto the list:

  1. Fix/improve something every day (paint, weed, oil, repair)
  2. Create some thing every day (blog, art, make, poems)
  3. Tend (look after) something every day (garden, collect litter, tidy, clean)
  4. Help someone every day (answer questions on the web, do DIY for elderly, garden for someone, deliver lunch, volunteer at http://www.ncirossallpointfleetwood.co.uk/)
  5. Keep mobile most of the day (walk, cycle, swim, housework, gardening)
  6. Learn something every day (read books, watch an online course, learn by doing – craft) here are some examples, crafts, cooking, photography, programming, running, drawing
  7. Appreciate beauty every day (music, art, photography)
  8. Have fun every day (laugh, run, jump, play games)
  9. Spend time with people every day (go out for meals breakfast, lunch, dinner, chat, TV time, cafes, talk to strangers on walks, say hello)
  10. Spend some time relaxing every day (meditate, yoga nidra, listen to music)
  11. Have somewhere to sit and read that’s perfect for different weather conditions
  12. Save up jobs for rainy days, so I have plenty to achieve
  13. Have lovely spaces to learn in & create & experiment & read – study, library, greenhouse, workshop
  14. Read the classics, read other series of books, start reading new genres
  15. Go on challenges (coast to coast, Pennine way …)

As befits the random lists of activities in todays post, I chose a random photo to go with the post.  It’s a picture of a ‘dog rose’ that I spotted by the footpath that runs alongside the Royal Lytham Golf Course.  We used to have hundreds of these growing through the brambles in the orchard, at the bottom of the garden, that was a major feature in my childhood memories.

Retirement Lifestyle Design

10173524_10152733331030828_824944048215180311_nThis post is part of my series on planning for retirement. It’s going to be a short post because it just provides an overview of how I’ve been thinking about the shape that I want my retirement to take and some of the considerations that I’ve factored in so far.

Foremost in my mind is the need for a resilient approach to the uncertainties of retirement, these include:

  1. The weather, I need a mix of activities that will occupy me regardless of the weather, but I also want to get out and about in bad weather which means nice places to go, not too many icy hills and as good a weather as we can affordably get in the UK
  2. My health, currently about 10-20% of the time I’m in a flare and struggle to get around on foot or bike, but ideally I still need to move about as much as possible.  That means a swimming pool close by and ideally not too many hills.
  3. My cost of living, inflation might be an issue and healthcare costs might increase so we don’t want our fixed cost of living to be too close to our income, in other words we need to have variable costs we can reduce if we need to
  4. My income, we want 70-80% of our income in low risk, inflation linked investments or defined benefit pensions
  5. Where our children end up living, our children might end up all over the world, so we might travel more than expected, so we don’t want to be too tied down by where we live.  This means not too big a garden, don’t get a dog until we have retired and have a better idea of travel

Next up what type of activities do I want to fill my retirement with,  this is what’s been going through my mind:

  1. Making progress towards a goal is one of the most important things to me, and I get a great sense of fulfilment from creating things
  2. Working in a state of flow is extremely enjoyable, flow states are also linked to creating things
  3. Movement is hugely important to my health challenges, but also to my general health and enjoyment of life
  4. When I’m in a flare I won’t be able to work in flow or get much enjoyment from movement though so I need some enjoyable activities saved up to look forward to during these bad days
  5. Rainy day activities are important
  6. Although I’m happy being alone, I do like to get a fair bit of social contact each day in addition to family time at night, even if it’s just saying hello to people in the street, or in cafes much better are walks or cycle rides with friends …
  7. Be more mindful, pay attention, count my blessings, savour the good stuff, be open, express my joy in life
  8. Pursue a calling, something bigger than myself, I have one idea in this area which is to try and get Lytham St Annes to become a Transition Town.
  9. Give back probably through volunteering
  10. Possibly have some flexible way to supplement my income
  11. Learn to slow down

As I mentioned earlier spending as much time as possible in a state of flow is important, here’s how it’s described:

One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals. This adds direction and structure to the task.  One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.  The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state

Keeping a healthy brain becomes very important in retirement,  my work keeps me challenged at the moment so I don’t give it much thought but I can’t take it for granted, some ideas I have:

  1. Play games to challenge my mind – chess, word and number puzzles, jigsaws, crosswords and memory games
  2. Pursue a new interest such as learning to play a musical instrument, taking a course or going to the theatre
  3. Break up my routine – take a different route to the shops, breakfast in different cafes, change the order of my morning routine, go on hikes or bike rides in new places, read books I wouldn’t normally read
  4. Read a book – discuss it with a friend or online
  5. Pursue cultural activities like going to plays, museums, concerts, galleries, conferences
  6. Go to community meetings, take an interest in local politics
  7. Read the paper (maybe not)

Subsequent posts in this series will build on these basic ideas.

The photo today is nicely in keeping with todays post, having fun playing on the beach, just a few miles up the coast at Cleveleys, it’s not often that the sea comes close to shore in St Annes and it’s all sandy so we don’t have skimming stones.

Retirement Planning and Longevity

2013-12-26 08.40.00This post is part of my series on planning for retirement.  Although it’s not the best of topics to think through, retirement planning demands that you consider how long you expect to live. At least it does for me as I have a mix of money purchase and defined benefit pension schemes.  Despite having a nasty auto-immune condition I’m actually extremely healthy, I don’t drink, smoke, have any recent family history of heart disease or cancer and my blood work shows no risk factors for diabetes, or heart disease.  So I expect to live a long time.  I’m also lucky to have simple tastes in life, low cost hobbies and own my own house so my expenses are low, I have a fighting chance of funding that long life.

Breaking this down in more detail then:

  1. I expect to live longer than the average for my generation, probably into my 90’s
  2. I expect that within 40 years medical advances will have pushed my life expectancy well beyond 100 maybe a lot further
  3. I enjoy life, keep myself fit, eat well, don’t stress out, get plenty of clean seaside air, am easily entertained and have 4 children so I expect to have plenty to live for during those many years ahead of me
  4. The advances in technology that we can expect in the next few decades will transform entertainment, especially for people getting older, so hopefully I won’t get bored
  5. The last 10 years have taught me that the rough and tumble of a large enterprise are inconsistent with my auto-immune condition in the medium term, so I need to retire early, some time between 55 and 60, I’m not going to be working into my 70s!!
  6. The endless stream of redundancies flowing through my company may hit me before 55 and getting another job as a chronically ill 55 year old are pretty slim to non existent

Conclusion, Debbie and I need enough income to cover our expenses for a long life!  This is my current strategy:

  1. If I’m made redundant next year, aged 51, I will fund the following 4 years until I reach 55 mostly from savings with some state benefits for the kids, it will be a real struggle!  My wife Debbie is going back to University next year, but hopefully she will be earning again once she finishes her diploma. 
  2. If I’m made redundant after I’m 53 then I can comfortably survive on savings until retirement.
  3. Once I get to 55 I will take the full tax free lump sums from my two money purchase pensions, and draw down from my remaining money purchase pension pot my tax free personal allowance of £10K each year until I’m 65.  This should be enough to comfortably cover my expenses.
  4. Debbie can draw one of her defined benefits pensions from aged 60, but she will probably defer that until we need it at 65
  5. Once we get to 65 Debbie and I will start to take our defined benefits pensions (Debbie has two, I have one).  These are all CPI or RPI linked and so should be safe forever
  6. I will then probably take the remainder of my money purchase pension pot, which should have a few hundred thousand left and buy an index linked annuity.  Again this should be safe for life, but it might be better to leave this as a pool of cash invested in the stock market and draw on it as required for big events.  The risk would be low given that I have the other pensions as a cushion.
  7. When we get to 67 we will start to draw the index linked state pensions which should also be safe for life

So by 67 all of our pensions will be index linked to either CPI or RPI and we will still have about £50K in the bank.  The pensions should cover our basic lifestyle costs and some simple luxuries, so we should be fairly confortable. 

My challenge between 55 and 65 will be to discover some simple, sustainable, low stress way to top up our income a little just in case, I want a way of earning money that’s flexible, takes no more than 10 hours a week and earns at least £10/hour.

I have a few concerns with this plan:

  1. The stock market crashes before I can extract the money from my money purchase pensions that I intend to live on between 55 and 65
  2. Rampant inflation erodes the value of the cash that I’ve saved and the tax free pension lump sum that I intend to live on between the ages of 55 and 65
  3. The stock market crashes before I can buy an annuity with what remains of my money purchase pension pot
  4. The pension providers break their commitment to keep pace with CPI/RPI
  5. Another financial services meltdown that compromises the pension/annuity providers ability to keep paying, probably caused by all these pensioners living much longer than expected
  6. We need to move into a care home or pay other medical expenses not covered by the NHS

I do have some contingency though just in case any of the above happens:

  1. It’s conceivable that I could keep on working beyond 55
  2. Debbie is hoping to get a teaching job in a years time and keep working for a while, maybe until she is 55 or 60
  3. I might find a new source of income when I retire
  4. One or more of the four kids might be able to help out their poverty stricken parents
  5. We can downsize our house or do equity release

There are a few options to this plan.  The biggest is that I’m currently assuming that we stay in our existing house with our existing expenses. One option we are considering is moving to a more expensive house that might be smaller but is hyper insulated and has a bigger garden, allowing us to significantly lower our expenses.  This would make sense if we expect to live a long time, but would tie us down considerably and probably mean moving to a more isolated location, neither of which appeal.  The other option is to buy a slightly smaller house, but in a more stunning location we currently favour the beach front at Cleveleys.

The previous post on retirement showed a beautiful sunset, but really a sunrise is more applicable for retirement and that’s what this post deserves.  I took this picture while out with Anna on my 50th birthday, from Granny’s Bay a few minutes from our house.

My Strategy For Early Retirement

10171820_10152720213775828_1463267121307557904_nThis is the introduction to a series of posts on my strategy for a successful retirement. Over the last few weeks I’ve started to write about my plans for early retirement, with each post that I’ve written I’ve started to develop a better appreciation of how my plan for retirement will shape up, but I’ve not had much structure to my writing. This post is an attempt to provide that structure, to outline my strategy and provide an index to the many posts that will eventually comprise it.  As I’ve not yet retired, these posts should not be thought of as a guide to early retirement, they do however provide my attempt at developing a strategic plan for how to approach retirement.  When I finally retire I’m planning a whole new series of posts that can be written with the benefit of practical experience.  That said I do have some qualifications for writing this plan,  due to poor health I’m already to some extent semi retired, by trade I am a strategist and I’ve read a few books.

  1. First Thoughts On Planning For Retirement, the post that launched this series with my first embryonic ideas on most of these topics
  2. Retirement Planning and Longevity (covering longevity, inflation, index linked pensions, annuities)
  3. Retirement Lifestyle Design (covering resilience to uncertainty, flow, progress, movement)
  4. Reducing Cost Of Living In Retirement (covering cost increases, cost decreases, inflation or deflation)
  5. Personal Preparations For Retirement (covering strengthening relationships, getting house ready, baseline fitness)
  6. Being Satisfied In Retirement (covering daily activities like fixing, creating, tending, making progress, helping, learning, appreciating, having fun, meeting people, planning for rainy day, variety)
  7. Do I Want To Work In Retirement? (covering paid, casual volunteering, working for a cause, downsides)
  8. How I Plan To Spend My Time In Retirement (covering balance, will I have as much time as I think, rainy days, winter months, stay at home or go on holiday, variety, routine)
  9. How Much Money Do I Need When I Retire?  (Estimating my cost of living and income)
  10. Thinking About Where To Live In Retirement (covering stay home, trade up, trade down, move to a new place)
  11. Planning A Creative Life In Retirement, one of the keys of a fulfilling retirement for me will be to spend more time creating, I have lots of ideas
  12. Hobbies For Retirement, I can’t think of anything to say that’s not already covered in this great article
  13. Learning Priorities for Retirement, when I retire I imagine that I will have more time to pursue all those things that fascinate me, learn new skills, learn new languages
  14. Practicing Retirement (covering part-time work, holidays, low cost living, low cost travel, low cost accommodation, how robust is my body)
  15. How long should I keep on working? (covering when’s the right time to retire, the temptation to keep working)
  16. Coping With Declining Energy and Resilience (covering chronic illness, injury, muscles, tendons, energy levels, electric bikes, pacing, seaside walks/cafes)
  17. How To Be Idle (covering becoming comfortable with being idle without being bored)
  18. Books about retirement (books I recommend and books I don’t)

The photo that I chose for this post is a slightly ironic Cleveleys sunset.  I certainly don’t see retirement as the sunset of my life, but even if it turns out that way, it sure is beautiful!

Updating My Research Agenda

2014-07-09 13.50.19As I mentioned in a previous post I work in end-user computing, mostly focussed on strategy.  I’ve worked in all aspects of end-user over the years, but my research areas have always focussed on how to make people, places and teams more effective and happier at work.  From a technical perspective this means that I’m interested in productivity, personal computing in all its many form factors, collaboration and all the associated cloud computing services.  Over time the specific research areas change and this post updates my previous posts on this topic.  I’m expanding my research to include the whole service lifecycle but focussing in more on business development.  It makes for a nice change and a new set of challenges.  The big change from a technical perspective is the increasing acceptance of OSX into the enterprise in the last year, so that gets a bit more focus.  The other areas on the rise include the mobile personal computing in all it’s forms, the connected car and a return to interest in optimising physical workplaces, spurred on by the leading IT companies and financial services seeking to attract and retain the very best employees.

There are some big changes coming though and I’m keen to dig into these this year, while most of the buzz in the industry concerns cloud services, big data, mobility and security but these are either over-researched already or are not that relevant to the end user space.  These are the areas that I’m more interested in:

  1. The structural changes that are coming to work as a result of smart ‘machines’ and continued off-shoring, that will significantly impact the average knowledge worker and since knowledge workers represent 70% of jobs in the developed world this is going to be BIG
  2. Changes to the way that enterprises source the work they need to get done, reducing their permanent staff levels significantly and instead leveraging specialist service providers, innovation and service market places, business process out-sourcing and the like.  This move to more work being done external to the enterprise will further accelerate the adoption of web applications, remote desktops and applications and public cloud services
  3. End users are already sourcing many of their end-user productivity and collaboration services from the public cloud, soon the enterprises will follow, leaving existing enterprise service providers scrambling for new ways to add value.  These public cloud providers have matured a lot by providing low or no cost services to consumers and SMEs, they are now after the big money from larger enterprises and are rapidly adding the security, compliance and policy controls that enterprises demand
  4. The productivity arms race is starting in earnest. Knowledge workers and the high performance teams they are part of will need to find the processes and tools to compete or die 
  5. The very best knowledge workers will dramatically outstrip the average as they use the best IT tools in the market and the best operating models to innovate and then orchestrate a network of equally productive specialists to help them deliver.  This pressure to perform or die will drive a new focus on personal and team productivity processes and technologies.  The decade long focus on ‘cost reduction’ will be replaced by a drive to ‘improve productivity’ and knowledge workers will demand this from their employers, or they will do it themselves, through Bring Your Own Everything approaches in order to keep their jobs
  6. With a rising interest in productivity enterprises will be looking for insights into their users experience and productivity blockers, this will lead to new interest in usage, reliability, performance and user experience monitoring.  The economies of scale provided by the cloud are rendering direct IT costs almost trivial when compared to the business value that they enable, so insights into benefits delivery (successes and failures) will increase
  7. The consumerization of the workplace will complement consumerization of apps and devices. In the same way that consumers became dissatisfied with their enterprise IT they will soon start to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the terrible offices they are forced to work in.  High performance employees will either invest in their own high tech, collaboration optimised home offices, start to embrace co-working spaces or drive their employees to re-invent the office to serve their needs, rather than than the needs of their facility managers

Phew, that’s a lot of new stuff to track, I think the direction is clear, but the pace is highly variable.  As I mentioned earlier I have a new job with more focus on business development and so there are a few new research areas associated with that:

  1. What customers want, digging into how they think about their needs, how customers needs and users needs might differ, how customers need to change in this mobile/cloud first world
  2. Making the complex sale, how to respond to complex requests with standard services, how to migrate customers to standard services, how to match customers complex needs to our services
  3. How analysts think about the service lifecycle, how do we demonstrate our ability to execute and completeness of vision so we can communicate to them optimally
  4. What the largest technology companies in the world are doing, especially in terms of cloud infrastructure and software

With these big ticket areas addressed, I will now list the business as usual research topics that I need to keep ticking over. 

Research About People

  1. Happiness at work
  2. Personal knowledge management and productivity
  3. Enterprise knowledge management, communication and collaboration
  4. Work life balance, especially as it applies to different generations and people with chronic health conditions (like me)
  5. The negative correlation between ever increasing hours worked and effectiveness at work (and home)
  6. The research currently going on promoting reduced working weeks for business, social, sustainability, equality and personal reasons
  7. Consumerization and the trend towards employee self sufficiency
  8. How leading edge companies motivate, retain and enable their employees
  9. Mavericks at work (like me) and how to manage them, or not
  10. Innovation at work, particularly how innovation is enhanced by relaxation, meditation, working out of doors, walking meetings
  11. The changing nature of work and especially the evolution of knowledge work, automation and the rise of smart machines

Research About Places

  1. I’ve laid out in some detail a series of blog posts that I intend to write on this topic in my blog post Reinventing the Modern Workplace but here is a summary
  2. Workplace design and the evolution of the work place
  3. How workplaces needs to be designed flexibly so they can respond to changing needs
  4. How workplaces need to be zoned to accommodate different types of work
  5. The impact of poor workplace design on productivity, team working, virtual team working, innovation and retention
  6. How leading edge companies use workplace design to attract, motivate, retain and enable their employees
  7. Innovation at work, particularly how innovation is enhanced by workplace design, working out of doors, walking meetings
  8. New workplaces, homes, co-working spaces, cafe working, walking meetings

Research About Teams

  1. The process of collaboration: co-development, communication, co-ordination, contextual, commitment, co-decision, and connecting
  2. Collaborative authoring, review and discovery
  3. Search
  4. Social and professional networking, expert location
  5. Designing physical and virtual workplaces for team working
  6. How leading edge companies motivate, retain and enable their employees
  7. Innovation at work, particularly how teams can enhance but also impede innovation
  8. Project and programme management
  9. High performance teams and how to create and enable them
  10. The changing nature of work especially the rise of independent specialist high performance teams/small businesses and the market places where they sell their services into enterprises

General Enterprise IT Research

  1. The service lifecycle from product strategy, development development, solution/sales, discovery and assessment, readiness and remediation, implementation, migration, operations, support, benefits delivery, evolution and evergreen
  2. How to segment an enterprise’s needs into work types, collaboration types, mobility types, place types, cost focussed areas, value focussed areas …
  3. Personal computing devices, all form factors and operating systems, including application and desktop virtualisation
  4. Intelligent buildings and transport
  5. The provisioning and management and support of devices and applications
  6. Collaborative computing devices, applications and services, supporting All the dimensions of collaboration: co-development, communication, co-ordination, contextual, commitment, co-decision, and contact
  7. End-user computing as a platform for layered applications
  8. Management of application services
  9. User support, self help, self service and self heal
  10. Cloud infrastructure, security and automation
  11. The evolution of software development processes and tools
  12. The totality of the end user experience, rather than vertical optimisation of individual processes/services/lifecycle phases
  13. OSX in the enterprise
  14. Direct Cost Of ownership, Total Cost of Ownership and Total Value of Ownership modelling and business case development, especially as it relates to the all of the above

Keeping track of all of this through, scanning, reading, sense making, curating and communicating takes up a lot of my time, much of this time spent in cafes, walking and cycling, and that’s how it went today.

I took the photo above in Kendal after a long hike in the hills looking down on the eastern shore of Windermere listening to the excellent audiobook The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.  I captured the core themes of this post using the voice recorder on my iPhone as I walked and then sketched out the content on my laptop in Caffe Nero Kendal, shoes off, ice cold coke in hand and eating cake!

How Much Money Do I Need When I Retire?

2014-03-26 11.48.46As part of my planning for retirement and perhaps forced retirement (redundancy) I’ve been trying to figure out how much money Debbie and I need to live for the next 20-30 years.  When we are in our eighties I think our costs will reduce a little because we will probably downsize.  I’m assuming that the kids will have left home, be working and paying their own contribution or they will be earning their own pocket money and some kind of child benefit (depending on their age) will fund the rest.  I think this is a reasonable assumption as they are all working now and earning enough to pay their own way. As I was doing this I must admit that I was a bit surprised at just how high our expenses are, given how simply I think we live, but the numbers don’t lie.  Working through these calculations I’ve decided to structure our expenses into four layers and I’ve tried not to be too optimistic:

  1. First layer being the mandatory costs of housing, maintenance, insurance, heat, light, water, taxes, furniture, push bikes, white goods, basic phones.
  2. Second layer being the cost of clothes, basic food needs for nutrition, TV and TV licence, internet, home PC
  3. Third layer being the simple pleasures in life, more expensive foods, eating out, cinema, theatre, smartphones, health club
  4. Fourth layer being the luxuries, a few weeks of holiday, a car, more travel for hiking and cycling, more eating out, gadgets, garden investments, better house maintenance, furnishings and decoration

In my calculations I’m assuming that neither of us are working, which is unlikely as Debbie has good skills, enthusiasm and is just embarking on a teaching diploma, but the extra costs associated with her working will be easily self funding.

So how does these costs stack up:

  1. £11,000 basic mandatory housing costs
  2. £9,000 basic living costs  – Total £19,000
  3. £3,000 simple pleasures – Total £22,000
  4. £10,000 simple luxuries – Total £32,000

This is looking pretty good. We have a fair amount of savings in cash, 3 final salary pensions and 2 money purchase pensions and provided I continue to keep working for the next 18 months I will have a fairly stable income of about £35K indefinitely, more if Debbie is working.   I’m very thankful for those Final Salary pensions!!

I’m planning to keep working until I’m made redundant or I feel that my health demands that I give it up, the longer I work the better this picture becomes. These calculations assume that I will work for another 18 months until I am at least 52.  The years between now and 55 are the most perilous financially and if I don’t manage to keep working for the next 18 months I would probably need some government benefits to help me with the kids expenses and they would be eligible for the non-means tested ones.

Of course this all assumes that the stock market doesn’t crash, annuity rates keep at their current rate, interests rise a little, inflation keeps low, so there is still quite a lot of risk that I’d like to insulate myself from.  I especially don’t like my future being totally dependant on the financial services industry, I’d rather have a small-holding but then that has it’s own risks!

The photo is of our lovely dunes, living by the sea in a small town where everything we need is within walking distance has a big impact on keeping living costs low.  All of those tempting seaside cafe’s don’t help though!

People First

2014-07-11 12.48.52As I’ve said on this blog many times, throughout my career my over-riding motivation and interest has been to make peoples lives better.  For the last 20 of those years it’s been by improving their productivity, eliminating frustrations, improving autonomy, enabling effective team working and creating work spaces that enhance the work experience.  Ultimately I want people to be happy and effective at work.  In the last 10 years as mobile working has become widespread these objectives have expanded to improving peoples work life balance and now work life integration, but I’ve always been working on personal computing (not personal computers) and collaboration.  I’m convinced that my interests in these areas closely align with where my company needs to invest to grow it’s business. I like to summarise this as the need to focus on people, places and teams. 

As end-user computing matures the device, applications and infrastructure management considerations are gradually fading in importance with the rise of BYOD, the cloud and well behaved applications.  However the need for people, the places they work in and teams they are part of to be effective as possible has never been more important.  In fact there’s a particular niche that I’m really excited about that I call VIPPP or Very Important People, Places and Processes, but I will leave that for another post.

Despite the technology world having transformed beyond all recognition in the last two decades, everything I believe in, am interested in and expert in has remained pretty much the same.  That said even though every project that I’ve run in a people centric way has been very successful, it’s been incredibly hard to convince a stream of managers over the years to focus on people rather than technology.  Even Microsoft’s people centric IT vision a few years ago was really just glossy marketing, the reality was a company focussed on stove piped products and technology, Satya Nadella might finally be changing that, as this extract from his recent open email shows:

At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more

The world is changing though and not just at Microsoft, I’m seeing a new focus on people everywhere I look:

  1. Experience design is becoming as important as product design
  2. End to end integrated eco-systems are replacing individual disconnected products
  3. Mobility and personal clouds are the buzz words on everyone’s lips
  4. Everyone realises that productivity is what users are looking for
  5. Personal knowledge management is seen as a more achievable start point than enterprise KM
  6. Enterprises are realising that people collaborate best when their personal productivity and PKM needs have been met

It’s all very encouraging,  even when people don’t say they have a people first strategy that’s often what they really mean:

  1. Although everyone is talking about mobile this is just really this years way of thinking about personal computing, just taking it to it’s next logical step.  Unfortunately people assume that mobile is the end goal,  but the end goal is still personal computing,  personal computing is device independent, context sensitive, anticipates needs, available in whatever form factor suits the task at hand.  Personal not just mobile is the goal.
  2. When people talk about cloud they are still really talking about personal computing,  the cloud is just a way to make a users personal computing environment available across multiple devices, to provide common services to those devices and applications and to keep working on behalf of the user when their devices are ‘off’.  The cloud is still personal, it just extends personal computing to an ecosystem of devices and services.  Of course there’s many layers to the cloud, but the one that interests me is all about people.
  3. When people talk about security, most of the focus now is on protecting users from themselves.  IT professionals are usually pretty good at protecting their computing environments on their own.  Typical users need help though.  The myriad security protections that we put in place allow users behave like real human beings again, rather than security procedure manuals, and still stay protected.  The new realism within the security world comes from the recognition that security measures need to fade into the background, to be baked into the design of systems, so that they don’t get in the way of getting things done, otherwise they will be ignored or worked around
  4. Big data is all about generating insights about people or marshalling and visualising data and presenting it in a way that is useful to real people who need to get things done.

I’ve focussed so far on personal computing rather than collaboration, but we see a return to a focus on people there too:

  1. Gone is the focus on collaborative portals where people upload files that they want to share.  We are returning to the beloved file system, that is a people first working environment that provides any device (cloud assisted) file access and one click sharing.
  2. The any device access to a personal ‘single inbox’ benefits of email are being recognised with all systems now supporting email subscriptions and innovative email clients finally starting to appear
  3. Gone is the focus on users carefully curating collections of knowledge assets that other people can never find and rarely want anyway.  We are returning to a focus on personal knowledge management and easy ways to promote and discover the few documents worth sharing via tagging and search
  4. Gone is the focus on heavy weight dedicated voice telephony hardware for most users.  We are returning to personal telephony devices, albeit sometimes with VOIP clients on the smartphones and PCs

Unfortunately though despite all this focus back on people, especially in consumer IT, in the enterprise we seem to be poorly equipped to do our part:

  1. We have few people who are skilled in understanding the needs of users, the way they think, behave, are motivated
  2. The discipline of experience design has not grown from it’s root in software development to crafting user experiences that orchestrate the multiple devices and services that users need to get their jobs done
  3. We have few people who understand how to improve user productivity, build high performance collaborative team working solutions, to design high performance workplaces, to enable and support VIPPPs
  4. We don’t collect the metrics that enterprise need to visualise their benefits delivery success, to coach their users in more effective business practices, to figure out what’s working and what’s not and why

Despite all this I’m fairly happy,  there’s still a lot of opportunity to improve peoples lives, to deliver major business benefits and agility improvements to our customers and to make money doing it.

The photo today is of my favourite spot in Rivington, taken from a bench with a view!  I sketched out this post sitting on that bench as I reflected on a conversation with Stu Downes that touched on many of the topics discussed.

Working With Chronic Illness

2014-07-09 11.58.19On average I’m meant to work 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, every other week.  It’s a carefully crafted working pattern designed to reduce stress and break up my working time to stop me being drawn into time critical work commitments and exposed to too much stress.  In many ways I am my own worst enemy at work because I love the challenge, I get excited about solving problems and get too drawn in, too engaged.  This is great for a few weeks and then the pain and fatigue start to build up, I start needing pain killers every day, the migraines come back.  My sleep starts to suffer, the pain gets worse, the migraines get worse and then I crash with massive pain, crushing fatigue and brain fog.  Weeks or months later I gradually work my way back to health and repeat the cycle. During the weeks that I’m suffering I do almost no work which makes it hard to keep on top of key events, more depressing when I’m off work and more stressful when I do finally get back to work.

It’s taken years to figure out how to stop myself being drawn into work in this way and to provide enough breaks and rest and recovery time to keep me on an even keel.  I still seem to get as many flares as I ever did, but with this working pattern they are short and I work my way back to health within a few days instead of weeks or months.  It’s been much better, my life is in balance.

The insights that led to this work pattern were:

    1. It takes a lot of willpower, time and energy to do the things that I need in order to do the things that help me live well, that willpower, time and energy needs to come from somewhere
    2. I need to work with a small number of people that I know, people who respect me and value my contribution but also understand and can live with my limitations
    3. Work almost always brings with it stress, the less time I work the less stress, the less stress the lower the pain and the better the sleep, the better the sleep the less pain ….
    4. Although pain in and of itself doesn’t stop me working, it wears me down, pushing through the pain works for a while, but in the end it catches up with me
    5. Failing people or looking stupid and worrying about both is very stressful in it’s own right.  When I do time critical work, an important presentation, a key report, then there’s a 20-30% chance that I will do it badly or not be able to do it at all.  I worry about this and the worry makes my health worse.  There’s little worse than trying to deliver a presentation when you can hardly think straight, can’t remember what you wanted to say and can’t talk coherently.  You wouldn’t believe how long it sometimes takes to write these blog posts, the number of re-reads and re-writes needed and even then I don’t catch all the mistakes!
    6. I am much healthier when I have plenty of time in motion, working half days means I get to alternate an hour of sitting and an hour of moving for most of the day.  Doing my moving mostly in the morning is important as I fatigue quickly and by late afternoon I am getting very weary no matter what I’ve been doing
    7. Getting drawn into time critical work is the biggest risk to my health, it’s stressful and hard to disengage from, but it’s also such great fun.  It’s hard for others to pull me in and for me to draw myself in when I have an irregular work pattern.  My fragmented work pattern pretty much guarantees that I only work on non-time critical activities
    8. Flares creep up on me, once a negative cycle starts each day I am a little bit worse, but I push that aside when I am engaged in work and just pop the pills, that works for a while, until it doesn’t.  Forcing the 3 day weekend and the alternate week breaks into my schedule prevent this creeping pattern
    9. If I do the right kind of work there’s little correlation between the hours that I work and the value that I provide
    10. Any kind of ‘work’ counts, if it involves some combination of  immobility, stress and intensity.  So hiking too much, sitting by my daughters hospital bed for 2 days or watching an entire series of 24 over a weekend are all equally as bad as spending a week writing a difficult report.
    11. Even with all this careful work design, I don’t expect to be able to work until I’m 67 so I am gradually learning how to fill my time with fulfilling non-work activities, when I stop working this means that I’ve reduced the risk of a big bang transition going badly

    By far the biggest challenge in my working life has been on how to respond to the good days.  When I feel good I want to work, I make progress, I get excited by that progress and others recognise it.  I draw more work to me and get drawn into that work and it’s very rewarding.  Feeling good is euphoric (especially when I’m used to feeling bad) and I tend to over-commit myself, at the time I find it hard to remind myself of the risk, until the crash comes and I feel stupid. 

    The critical insight though I’ve saved for last:

    The most important thing is to remember that I am chronically ill, even when I feel good.  On the good days I need to focus on building up my physical and mental reserves, not on burning them up!  When the bad days come around again, as they always do, I will be stronger.  This is the key lesson that the last 10 years have taught me.

    There are dozens of subtle elements to my work style that help me maximise business value and maximise health, but one is key:

    Working alternate weeks has been the breakthrough strategy.  One of those weeks is holiday (I buy extra days from my employer) and is a complete break from work, the other week is a ‘think week’ a time for rest, study and reflection.  This think week is of value to my work, although to be honest I probably have just as many good ideas while on holiday.  It’s the alternate week pattern that maximises my recovery time, helps me build my resilience, stops me getting too engaged in work and provides a rhythm to my life that used to be so unpredictable.

    There are some major challenges and frustrations with this working pattern though.  If you add up the total hours that I’m working and divide by the number of weeks in the year it averages out at 8 hours a week, once you subtract from that the stupid emails, mandatory briefings, time sheets and other routine admin we are talking about 7 hours a week.

    To do something useful in 7 hours I need to be very disciplined and do only very specific types of work:

    1. Coaching — is probably the best type of work.  It’s not time critical, it provides the person being coached with a different perspective, it’s a way of leveraging my many years of experience and the insights and ideas from all the research I do
    2. Reviewing – comes a close second, especially reviewing things early in the lifecycle, when it’s possible to shape outcomes without too much time commitment
    3. Challenging – as I’m using it here challenging means providing an alternative viewpoint.  I normally do this by developing my own independent view of the answer to a problem from first principles.  This alternative view can be especially useful because it’s been created without the influences of conventional company wisdom and group think

    All of these activities though have their downside, they provide an ‘outside in’ perspective, which is not always welcomed by those receiving it and I’m often doing it based on very little knowledge of the thousands of hours of careful work that have gone on behind the scenes of the projects that I’m reviewing or challenging.  This outside-in work can be a bit isolating and lonely and I greatly miss working closely with a high performance team day in day out.

    It’s been a long process of discovery, but as this progress report shows, I’ve come a long way.

    In closing despite all the carefully designed ‘safe guarding’ that I’ve designed into my life sometimes it’s important to just say ‘sod it’, I will attend that 4 day conference, I will host that 2 day workshop, I will do that 12 mile hike and live with the consequences later, just not often.

    The photo is of a tarn just to the south of Windermere town,  I took this photo a week after a bad flare, my pain mostly dissipated.  So I was working on my physical fitness and listening to a great business book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” a title that inspired this post.

    For reference I have Adult Onset Still Disease, Reactive Arthritis, Secondary Fibromyalgia and Hay Fever, sometimes it’s the Hay Fever and heat in summer that’s the last straw!