Posted in Events, Writing

The Michael & Debbie Double Act Strikes Again!

bcfm logoI always love doing radio, especially when the show’s presenter is a great friend. Today I was pleased to be the studio guest of Michael MacMahon, one of BCfm Silver Sound’s hosts.

About Michael and Me

Cover of The Wedding Speech HandbookI’ve known Michael for quite a few years now, having met through our shared interest in writing. Although Michael writes non-fiction books and I write mainly fiction, we get on famously and are often helping each other out in practical ways. Michael is a popular fixture at my Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, renowned for his rendition of Prospero’s speech from the Tempest at our closing ceremony. I’ve chaired his launch events for both of his books, and each time it has been great fun.

The most recent of these launches was just last month, for The Wedding Speech Handbook, when we dressed up as if for a wedding, complete with buttonholes, wedding cake, and in my case my best wedding hat!

Celebrating Michael’s new book about weddings in style (he’s seated, left in his DJ) 20181127 – Photo @JonCraig – 07778 606070

What We Talked About on the Show

Today on the Silver Sound show, we were talking about how and why people shouldn’t think in terms of retirement, but instead of how to reinvent themselves, as indeed both he and I have done with our writing careers. I was very interested to hear about Michael’s plans for his next book, interviewing people who have reinvented themselves in retirement – including my dad, who, as I mentioned on the show, embraced multiple artistic hobbies after a career in computer engineering.

How to Listen to the Show

If you’d like to hear our wide-ranging conversation, you can catch up with it online via BCfm’s website Just click on “Silver Sound” in the programmes list, then on today’s date (20/12/18). We’re on for the first hour from 10am, chatting from about four minutes into the show, after the news at the top of the hour.

Post-Script Coincidence

After the show, we parted company, but a little later an email from Michael pinged into my inbox. “I get dozens of emails every day, but this was the first one I opened when I got home,” he wrote, forwarding the one he’d received to me:

screenshot of Amazon ad

I think Jeff Bezos must be watching us…

What’s Next for our Double-Act?

We’re hoping to stage a joint event on a wedding theme in the new year, involving both his Wedding Speech Handbook and my collection of short stories, Marry in Haste. More news to follow in due course!
For more information about Michael, his multi-faceted reinvention of himself, and his excellent books, visit his website, – or tune in to Silver Sound to catch his show!
Posted in Personal life

Far from Retiring (Nor Am I Shy)

A post-birthday post about my busy life and why I’m not retiring any time soon, despite reaching 55

Birthday card showing pic of crowd with caption "Debs didn't expect so many of her Facebook friends to show up for her birthday party"
Birthday card

Last weekend I reached a particular milestone birthday that in the heady days of my twenties, I had speculated might be my retirement age. 

In those days, I worked as a journalist on a trade press magazine in the telecommunications sector, called (no surprises here) Telecommunications. I was based in central London, in a mews building round the corner from Buckingham Palace and Victoria Station. This wasn’t quite as idyllic as it sounds, because our office had virtually no windows, thick walls and a heavy outer door, which made it feel like a nuclear bunker.

This may sound like a high-tech magazine, and I suppose we were cutting-edge in those days, but it makes me smile (and feel ancient) to recall our office technology:

  • Cover of Telecommunications magazine from September 1988 showing large mobile phone
    This passed for cutting edge technology in September 1988

    We had an early fax machine across which we had to send copy to our American head office each month, and they’d fax us back the proofs to check. It was always touch and go as to whether it would work.

  • The fax machine was a step up from the telex machine, used to send urgent messages. This was not far removed from using Morse code:  I had to type messages via punched holes on a paper tape, each letter showing up as a specific formation of dots. Once I’d punched the paper tape, I dialled up a phone connection and threaded the paper tape through, so the message was transmitted faster than I’d typed it. Transatlantic calls were expensive in those days, and saving seconds counted.
  • The single, shared office printer – a newfangled daisy-wheel – was so noisy that it had to have an acoustic hood. Whenever anyone wanted to print, we had to plug a long cable into the back of their desktop terminal, because there was no such thing as wifi printing. Or indeed wifi.

An Era of Reform

We were on the cusp of denationalising public services, including the government PTT monopolies. British Telecommunications was daringly abridged to British Telecom to sound modern, before being more ruthlessly honed down to just BT. Mobile phones were the size and weight of a brick. If you managed to make a simple phone call on one, you were doing well. As to apps – well, they were unheard of.

Another institution undergoing radical change was the government pensions scheme. For the first time, we were allowed to divert a small fund into a private system.

I still don’t really understand what it was all about, I just blindly followed advice patiently provided by our boss, who had a PhD in nuclear physics and had worked at CERN splitting atoms, assuming that if he was that smart, his advice would be a safe bet.

Accordingly, I signed up for the scheme he proposed, which required me to designate my expected retirement age. I chose 55. am unimaginably distant age for one aged just 25 – more years distant than I’d already lived. We fondly imagined that by 2015, our biggest social problem would be how to fill the long, idle days freed up for us by labour-saving technological advances.

What they didn’t foresee was the economic crisis that would rule out early retirement for all but the lucky few.  Nor had I counted on still feeling so young and active by the time my policy matured. (My young nephew, turning 11 this week, thought I’d just hit 45.)

Still Far From Retiring

To the outsider, it may look as if I am living in retirement, as I work for myself from my peaceful country cottage. Sometimes, particularly when planning weekday lunch dates with friends, I even fool myself. When everything I do is something I love (well, apart from the housework, anyway), it’s hard to equate it to real employment.

It was only when lunching with a former colleague on Friday that I realised just how hard I still work. When Diana, who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, I made myself hoarse reeling off the long list:

Cover of pension advice leaflet headed "It's time to choose"My friend Diana’s career had been in accountancy, and she is a brilliant budgeter. After I’d reeled off this list, she looked at me calmly and said: “You’re doing too much. When do you ever sleep? Go home and have a rest. Take the rest of today off.”

As I drove home trying to stop my eyes crossing from sleep deprivation, I realised that she was absolutely right.

When I got home to find a letter from the insurance company asking me whether I was ready to take my retirement payout, now that I’d hit 55, or whether I wanted to defer, there was only one realistic choice. I phoned them straight away.

“Please defer the policy,” I told them. “I shan’t be retiring any time soon.”

We agreed they’d review the policy each year from now on, and be in touch this time next year to ask whether I’m ready to retire.

But I think I already know the answer.

If you enjoyed this birthday post, you may also like these from my archive:

The Only Certainty in Life: Birthdays and Taxes (on my mum’s 80th birthday)

There’s No Time Like the (Birthday) Present (on discovering the elixir of immortality – allegedly)

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Posted in Family, Personal life

A Two-Sheet Solution

English: Toilet paper 日本語: トイレットペーパー
(Photo: Wikipedia)

With just a week to go before I leave my salaried job, my thoughts have turned to our household economy.  I will have to find ways of saving money.  

This idea does not upset me.  In fact I am looking forward to the challenge.  Ever the optimist, I anticipate that I will find an upside to enforced frugality.  Already I have become addicted to a certain cut-price supermarket chain whose cheap goods have an appealing exoticism.  My weekly shop now feels like a lightning tour of mainland Europe.  It is exciting to pick up a product which lists its ingredients in 20 different languages.  It is refreshing to see that the manufacturer has not assumed that English is more important than the other, showing a sort of inverse imperialism.

Poring over the supermarket till receipt, I am reminded of a conversation with my grandmother who, in preparation for my grandfather’s retirement, was rehearsing aloud to me one day the economies that she planned to make.

“I will use two sheets of lavatory paper instead of three,” she confided.

Even then, at the age of 8, I was impressed by the elegant simplicity of this solution.  At a stroke, Grandma had sliced a third off her future toilet tissue budget.  This logic could be rolled out right across her storecupboard. Sharing a teabag between two mugs instead of allocating one each will halve your tea costs.  A level teaspoon of sugar instead of a rounded cuts a quarter off.  Substitute sherbet pips for sherbet lemons – my goodness, on a one-to-or one basis, you are  talking about an 80% saving at least.

I have always wondered why climate campaigners don’t adopt this sensible system for saving energy. If only everyone would just use less power, there’d be no need to do battle over controversial wind turbines or nuclear power plants.  It just takes a little effort and imagination.  There would be unexpected benefits too.  Turn off the lights while you’re watching television, for example, and you’d gain the atmosphere and excitement of a cinema.  Add a box of popcorn (home- made, of course, for a matter of pence  – and healthy into the bargain), and you’re set up for a very cheap and environmentally-friendly evening in.This system would work equally well with fuel.  Instead of keeping the usual three lamps on in the dining room, turn on only two – hey presto, a third off your dinner-time lighting bill.  Use an inch less water in the bath, and you’ve got a 10% cut  but you’ll still be just as clean.

I am therefore ready to embrace this economy business wholeheartedly.  At least, until my husband emerges from the bathroom that I’ve just stocked with multilingually-labelled toilet paper (10 rolls for £1, what a bargain!) “I hope you’re not economising on toilet paper?” he pleads, a pained look on his face. And I haven’t even told him yet that he’s only allowed two sheets.