Retired? Never been busier . . .


A week ago or so, I received an email from an old friend who, like me, had spent much of his career in international agricultural research. He was writing to tell me that he had now retired, giving me his latest contact details, but also musing on the void he was feeling now that he was no longer gainfully employed. Apart from a couple of small consultancies he did wonder how he was going to fill his days.

I know how he feels. I didn’t have to retire when I did at the end of April 2010. I was not yet 62, but having decided that my pension would keep us comfortably, Steph and I decided to return to the UK and begin a new life in retirement. My Director general, Bob Zeigler, did his best to persuade me sign another contract and stay on at IRRI until 65. But I felt there were other things I wanted to do, places to visit, and we would only be able to enjoy those if no longer tied to an 8 to 5 regime.

Nevertheless, it was still a shock to the system once we’d returned home. I did find myself, from time-to-time, at a loose end. However, on receiving that recent email, I got to wondering what I had done over the past six years, how I’d filled my time. And once I compiled my list, I’m both surprised—and impressed—with my energy and activities.

So here goes:

  • I initially took up swimming on a daily basis, but once the local council reinstated swimming and parking fees for pensioners within about four months, I felt I could no longer justify such an expense of about £7 daily. So I took up walking, as much on a daily basis as energy and weather permitted, and really got to explore my town and surrounding countryside. I must have walked somewhere between 2000 and 3000 miles.
  • The house was in need of some TLC, so in the first year back (2010) I set about decorating most of the inside. There’s still one small bedroom (now Steph’s work room and full of all her things) and the kitchen to complete. I’m inclined now to find a professional decorator for that, and in any case, the kitchen could do with a complete refurbishment after 30+ years.
  • I oversaw the complete refurbishment of two bathrooms and a downstairs toilet/washroom (in late 2010), the erection of a new garden fence (in 2014), and the re-roofing of the house, the remodelling of our drive, and the installation of an electric garage door (all in 2015).
  • Professionally, I rejoined the editorial board of the science journal Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution published by Springer, and have regularly reviewed manuscripts over the past three years.
  • PGRCCI co-edited (as lead editor) a 16 chapter book—Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change—published in 2014 by CABI, and also contributing one of the chapters.
  • In 2010 and 2014, I organised (as Chair of the Scientific Committee) the major science conferences at two international rice congresses in Hanoi, Vietnam (IRC2010) and Bangkok, Thailand (IRC2014), each attended by more than 1000 participants.
  • I also undertook two short consultancies (a week each) for the CGIAR through IRRI, contributing to the development of a common financial and administrative online tool called One Corporate System or OCS. This took me to Malaysia and the Philippines in 2012 or 2013. I don’t remember the exact dates. My involvement was curtailed as I rather spoke my mind when I saw that things were going awry, and my perspectives were not particularly appreciated. But I could see some pitfalls that the project managers were not willing to recognise. As far as I know there are still some challenges for the full implementation of the system.
  • Since March 2016 I have been leading the team for the evaluation of the CGIAR program for Maintaining and Sustaining Crop Collections (also known as the Genebanks CRP), commissioned by the CGIAR’s Independent Evaluation Arrangement in Rome. This evaluation will involve me until early 2017. In fact we have only really just begun. Even so, the evaluation has already taken me to Bonn, Germany at the end of April, to Montpellier in the south of France in mid-May, and to Rome, Italy just two weeks ago. I’m scheduled to make a 12-day trip to three CGIAR centers in Peru, Colombia, and Mexico at the end of July, to two more in Kenya and Ethiopia in October, before returning to Rome for a week in mid-November to draft a report.
  • I began this blog, A Balanced Diet, in February 2012, and have now posted 308 stories comprising, I guess, at least 300,000 words, probably more.
  • We became members of the National Trust in 2011, and English Heritage last year. We must have visited more than 40 properties, some for a second or even third time. Descriptions of these visits are one of the staples of this blog. I think we have visited most of those within a 50 mile radius from home, some a little further afield, and we have now picked the low-hanging fruit. Time to think about some trips where we book ourselves into a bed and breakfast for a couple of nights much further away.
  • Besides my consultancy travel to Vietnam (twice), Bangkok (three times) and the Philippines (at least half a dozen times), we have travelled to the USA each year since 2010, and will be there again for three weeks from early September. This is of course to visit our elder daughter Hannah and her family in Minnesota. But each year (apart from 2010) we have also made a trip to explore other regions of the country:
    • in May 2011, we had a spectacular road trip through Arizona and New Mexico;
    • we headed north along Lake Superior on the Minnesota Riviera in May 2012;

Grand Canyon album

04-20130523 131 Chelsea Flower Show

  • Music is very important to me, so hardly a day goes by without something being played on my iPod (connected to my sound system) or on CD. I have catholic tastes in music, just depending on my mood.
  • On 23 May 2010, I went to my second rock concert to hear Mark Knopfler and his band play at the LG Arena in Birmingham during his Get Lucky Tour. A great evening. (I’d been to my first concert in 2008 [?] in St Paul, Minnesota, to see the great Fleetwood Mac).
  • History books have been my main reading material, and I am a regular visitor the Bromsgrove’s public library. Since my accident last January I haven’t been able to get about as much so have delved more into books I bought in the UK in past years, those given me for Christmas, or the novels of Anthony Trollope (his Barsetshire chronicles) that I haven’t picked up for more than 30 years, but which I am thoroughly enjoying once again.
  • Yes, my accident in January certainly curtailed my mobility, but at least I was able to spend more time reading or working on this blog.
  • In February 2012 we visited Buckingham Palace where I was invested with the Order of the British Empire (Officer or OBE) in a ceremony presided by HRH The Prince of Wales. An unbelievable experience.
  • Philippa (our younger daughter, pictured with Steph and me at Buckingham Palace above) married Andi in New York in October 2010, and was awarded her PhD in psychology from Northumbria University in December.
  • But perhaps the most important happenings in the past six years have been the births of my four grandchildren: Callum Andrew (in August 2010), Elvis Dexter (in September 2011), Zoë Isabel (in May 2012), and Felix Sylvester (in September 2013). We only get to see Callum and Zoë once a year. Elvis and Felix live in Newcastle upon Tyne so we see them several times a year either when we travel the 250 miles northeast, or they come down to Worcestershire. But next weekend (2 July), Hannah and Michael, Callum and Zoë fly over here for two weeks holiday. And we are meeting up with Phil and Andi, Elvis and Felix in the New Forest where we have rented a holiday home. It will the first time we will have all been together, and the first time that the four cousins will meet each other.

So, there you have it. Quite busy, and I don’t intend to slow down if I can help it.

Be careful what you wish for . . .

IMG_1623I’m proud to be British. But yesterday, 23 June, was a profoundly depressing day.

I’m also old (67 going on 68, if that counts as old), white-haired, and very ANGRY. I belong to that generation that overwhelmingly sold the youth of the UK down the river yesterday when they voted to leave in the referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union (EU).

There’s just one important difference. I voted to Remain. I was proud to be a British member of the EU. Now that has been dashed.


Now we are faced with the unedifying prospect of a (Not Caring) Conservative party led by the likes of ex-London Mayor and professional buffoon, Boris Johnson (BoJo), and his sidekick Michael Gove (MiGo) who always looks as though someone has just shoved a poker up his rear end.

From a photo I saw in one of yesterday’s newspapers, when they spoke at a news conference, they seemed as surprised – and as worried as many of us – that the vote had supported Leave.


The Muppets, aka Michael Gove and Boris Johnson

Well BoJo and MiGo, it’s up to you now. You led the electorate down a slippery slope with your claims and beliefs not supported by any credible factual information. And the majority of voters, especially all the Little Englanders, duped by the virulent and racist propaganda spread by the moronic Nigel Farage (NiFa) of UKIP (immigration was the big issue it seems), placed their X in the ‘Leave’ box on the voting slip.

There was an interesting article in The Guardian newspaper today. The article surmises that BoJo really didn’t expect the Leave side to win the referendum – and frankly has no idea how to salvage the situation. Brexiters, be careful what you wish(ed) for!

It was a close call. Just under 52% of a 72% turnout (referendum statistics and maps here). A high turnout admittedly. Even so, that’s only 37% of the total electorate actually voted in favour of Brexit. Surely the bar for winning should have been set higher in light of the expected constitutional and far-reaching economic and social change that Brexit would inevitably bring about. But maybe that’s jumping the gun.

The country is now fragmented, a ‘house divided’. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain. England (apart from London) and most of Wales voted to Leave. This will surely lead to a second referendum for Scottish independence, and who would really blame the Scots this time round if they made the choice to go solo. The Northern Ireland perspective is much more problematical. After several decades of peace (more or less) after ‘The Troubles‘, could that increasing stability and prosperity be put in jeopardy if a border has to be set up between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This alone should have been enough to make voters pause for thought. No-one wants to see a return to the violence, both in Ireland and in mainland Great Britain, of the 1970s to 1990s.

poundAnyway, it’s too late now. The electorate has ‘spoken’. The pound has fallen off a cliff, and more damage has been done to the British economy in a few hours than the contributions to the EU would have cost the country for many years to come.

The tone of debate in the referendum campaign was banal on so many occasions. And I was appalled listening to several members of the public asked on TV why they had voted to leave the EU.

I didn’t think my vote to leave would count‘, said one man, obviously regretting how he had voted in the light of the immediate aftermath when the value of pound fell, the stock market crashed and the Prime Minister resigned.

Another woman wisely commented (and I paraphrase): ‘We have taken control back and can now make our country great again, just as it was hundreds of years ago‘. How prophetic!

Another ignorant woman (and I’m sorry to have to use such a description) voted Leave because she claimed ‘All those immigrants are taking OUR (my emphasis) money and sending it back to their countries. It’s our money‘. I don’t think anyone ever questioned how she disposed of her legally-earned income.

It has to be admitted that the Remain side did not run a smart campaign. They did not persuade the electorate of the benefits of EU membership, and continuing membership. The campaign was hijacked by unsubstantiated promises of untold wealth outside the EU and growing fears of immigration. Oh, and the fact that everyone would be queuing at our door to make agreements with us.

OK. The EU is far from a perfect institution. But, warts and all, I still feel very strongly that it’s better to be in rather than out. We are now floating, rudderless, in uncharted waters. It seems our former EU partners wish us to float off westwards into the Atlantic, and as soon as possible. Far from countries lining up to support us, even close allies like the USA have indicated that when it comes to trade deals, the UK will have to join the queue. Heaven knows how our economy will shape up over the coming years. I’m not optimistic.

It’s a great pity that this lecture by Michael Dougan, Professor of European Law at Liverpool University, was not compulsory viewing for everyone intending to participate in the referendum.

I have many fewer years ahead of me than I have already enjoyed. With all the economic, constitutional, and political turmoil, we can expect the next years to be challenging. But I feel for my daughters’ generation and their children. Bigotry, false promises, and downright lies have condemned us all to an uncertain future.

There are even (anecdotal?) reports in the media that immediately after the polls closed on Thursday there was surge of Google searches from the UK for ‘What is the EU?’ I despair.

The leaders of the Brexit campaign now have to deal with the aftermath of the momentous decision to Leave. Are they up to it? Probably not. Many are second-rate or failed politicians, and that does not bode well for the country of my birth.

And I just came across this on Facebook, posted by Josh Valoroso:

I voted to remain in the European Union but I guess I should congratulate those who supported the Leave campaign.

  • Congratulations to Boris Johnson, a political flip-flopper who has convinced the general population he is a cuddly, bumbling, caricature as opposed to the publicly schooled politically astute ego-driven megalomaniac he is.
  • Congratulations to Michael Gove, former Education minister who genuinely believed all schools could be “above average” and who literally said about the EU campaign “This is not the time to listen to experts”
  • Congratulations to Nigel Farage, man of the people who is actually a former commodities broker and deeply divisive. The man who put up Nazi-inspired propaganda just last week.
  • Congratulations to the Baby Boomers; you’ve already fucked our economy, our healthcare, our housing market, our education, and our pensions and now this.
  • Congratulations to “My name is Death To Traitors, Britain First”.
  • Congratulations to everyone who doesn’t believe in scientific research, academia, arts, culture, and intellectual development.
  • Congratulations to the firm who flew a Brexit plane over Jo Cox’s memorial service.
  • Congratulations to everyone who doesn’t believe in social mobility or social progress.
  • Congratulations to everyone who is deathly scared of anybody who looks or sounds slightly different to you.
  • Congratulations to everyone who believes we’ll now have a brand new hospital every week with the money we’ll save (if only we had access to a skilled workforce from which we could staff them eh!).
  • Congratulations to everyone who wanted to “get our country back”. You haven’t got it back, but you’ll get the country you deserve.
  • Congratulations to Katie Hopkins.
  • Congratulations to everyone who hates the NHS and our education system and thinks that someone, somewhere should making profit from these systems.
  • Congratulations to Nick Griffin.
  • Congratulations to everyone who wanted to seize power from the “unelected elite” by leaving the EU but who happily clap like a seal when new pictures of a fucking royal baby come out. “They’re better than me because look….he’s royal. He’s made from like different sperm and that”.
  • Congratulations to everyone who is against universal workers’ rights, universal human rights, maternity leave, climate change interventions, and labour laws.
  • Congratulations to everyone who is against the scary scary refugees but at the same time support bombing the countries from whence they came.
  • Congratulations to everyone who believes this will make the country better.
  • Congratulations to those who believe more of our wealth should be shared by fewer of our people.
  • Congratulations to everyone who disagreed with the politics of Jo Cox who refused to acknowledge the cause of the hatred and anger which may have led to her assassination.
  • Congratulations to the constituencies who received masses of EU funding recently to repair damages caused by flooding who voted Out. You fuckwits.
  • Congratulations to those who say “You have no right to tell people how to vote” but who made their mind up because they saw six minutes of a televised debate during the Gogglebox ad breaks and they thought “That guy has funny hair”.
  • Congratulations to every single person who voted to leave the largest single economic market in global history.
  • Congratulations to everyone who thinks we’ll now travel back to the glory days of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Everyone was much better back then don’t you know?
  • Congratulations to everyone who voted Out because they listened to the racist elements of our society.
  • Congratulations if you are indeed one of the racist elements of our society. Not everyone who voted Out is a racist, but all the racists voted Out.
  • Congratulations to everyone older than 70 who voted Out whose vote somehow counts as much as mine, you’ll only have to live with the consequences for a few more years. Well done you. As of 04:35, at least 60% of over 65s voted Out compared to just 24% of 18-25 year olds. Nice one you guys! Thanks so much
  • Congratulations to everyone who is persuaded by characters, by headlines, by propaganda, by impossible dreams, by xenophobia, by racism, by idiocy. You hate facts and you’re right, facts are scary, especially when you disagree with them.
  • Congratulations to anyone who voted for the above.
  • Congratulations to anyone who loves political, financial, and social instability. It normally works out fine….

Seriously. Congratulations to you all. Well fucking done…..