Midlife Relaunch

20:30 Sunday 26th December 2010 BBC Radio 4

ANNOUNCER: Now on Radio 4 we follow three stories of people who’ve tried to change their lives with a mid-life relaunch.

FIONA: Right girls, breakfast.
FIONA: I’m Fiona and I’m fifty six, unfortunately very nearly fifty seven, and I have spent most of my working life in inner city housing, working for both local authorities and housing associations. But nine years ago now at the age of forty eight, children are grown up, and I decided I wanted to do something which I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child, and that was to become a dairy farmer. So I’m now in Scotland, wotking a two hundred acre dairy farm with my husband. It’s difficult to think of one trigger which made me think, yes this is the time to pack in a secure and relatively well-paid job and just go for it, was probably meeting Ian who’s my husband. He’s always worked in farming in a small way. And it just rekindled the interest I had as a child.
FIONA: This is an Aberdeen Angus heifer. Isn’t she beautiful? (LAUGHS) That’s Peonie. Cows are wonderful. I’ve always loved cows. As a child I loved cows. I used to beg my Mum to have a cow on the back garden, although she was never very keen on that idea. I don’t know why I love cows so mush. They’re just gentle creatures, with big eyes. They respond well to you caring for them. Cows are just lovely. (LAUGHS).

(SOUND ANNOUNCER RADIO 4: It’s six o’clock on Monday the twentieth of September. Good morning This is Today.)
STEWART: I’m Stewart, and I was born in Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.
CHRISTINE: I’m Christine. I’m just fifty nine. Up until seven and a half years ago we used to live in Nottingham ..
CHRISTINE: There you are. Poached egg. And I’ll put you a fresh tea and coffee on.
CHRISTINE: and I was teaching at the University of Nottingham and at a girls’ private school, teaching singing lessons.
STEWART:Have you got the Lurpak?
CHRISTINE: Did you get it out of the freezer?
STEWART: I started life as a bus driver, and worked the way through the ranks to Inspector, and from there became a Quality Manager. I realised at about twenty one years with my company, I had another nineteen or so to do before retirement. And I realised I was just over half way there. So I had almost as long to do as I’d already done. And that was a terrible realisation for me. It was quite a small office, which incidentally had no windows. It was a bit of a gloomy hole. I was almost getting stir-crazy in there, and I longed to be outside,
CHRISTINE: The boys were at university, and they were moving on with their careers, and I felt that we could just go into retirement doing what we were doing, carrying on the same, working all week, getting home at weekends, doing the washing, the ironing, the shopping, all ready for Monday when we went back to work. And I thought, well, there must be more we can do. We’re not finished. We’ve still got life left in us yet. We’re over fifty, OK. But let’s do something now for us.
STEWART: I was enjoying the furniture and woodwork side of things at home, and I could see that I was certainly leaning towards probably becoming a woodworker more than a busman.
CHRISTINE: So after all that, now we run a bed and breakfast and a woodwork and carpentry business near Tain in the Scottish Highlands. It’s like almost being born into another life. And we talk about our previous lives. We talk about it like it was ..
STEWART: It’s so very different for us.
CHRISTINE: And it’s like we’re different people, with different friends, in a different life. It’s like we’ve walked through a door into somewhere else. And to think we may not have done it.

DENISE: Hello. Come in. Come in. (LAUGHTER) How are you (SOUND GREETINGS)
DENISE: My name’s Denise. I’m fifty four years old. I’ve worked all my life as an accountant. I live in Southsea in Hampshire. And I’m in the middle of making a really big life change. My partner and I are moving to Cyprus to start a new life, hopefully for good.
PAUL: My name’s Paul. I’ve worked in a sixth form college, teaching biology and psychology for twenty five six years or thereabouts. And I think it’s something like six or seven days time we’ll be getting on the plane for a brand new life.
DENISE: You know, this is such a nice thing to do today. I wanted to say goodbye to a lot of people, so we’ve just said to everybody, come round, between two and seven, coffee and cakes, and say goodbye and get our address. We’ve had th e whole summer off, and we realise that we didn’t want what we had before. We didn’t want Paul to just get a job in a school somehwre, and for me to get a contract wortking for some accountancy somewhere, and just be stuck on the M27 again, you know, living in the same house. And just ..
PAUL: Doing the same old same old. A rather boring style of life. To say nothing of the British weather. That is an issue too.
DENISE: And we just thought, no. We want more than this. And it comes to a point where you think, I want to do this before my hips go.
PAUL: Ah. I think your hips are wonderful.
DENISE: But you know, really, if you’re going to do it, we’re probably at the optimum moment as far as children and grandchildren and eveything.
PAUL: Yes. We don’t have too many responsibilities any more.
DENISE: My parents are gone. Your Dad’s sort of sorted, isn’t he?
PAUL: Yes.
DENISE: And, you know, we’re just .. it’s now or never really.
PAUL: We had a brainstorm. We said come on, if we’re going to go somewhere, where would we want? Went onto Google, checked out the best places in the world, and the first two that came up were Ecuador and Panama. And we think, maybe not. That’s a bridge too far.
DENISE: We did get terribly excited about the Galapagos for a while though.
PAUL: (LAUGHS) Nice idea. Yes. We pressed a few more buttons and then up came Cyprus. Neither one of us had given a moment’s thought. Where is Cyprus? (LAUGHS) Let’s just check the map.
DENISE: I’ve been there for a week, twenty years ago, and the only thing I could remember about it was that it was hot. The pavements were high. And it had a Debenhams.
DENISE: And you know the really nice thing is not one not one person, of all our friends, all our family, has shown any sign whatsoever, of negativity. Not one person has said, ooh, are you sure? Everybody’s behind us one hundred per cent. Well, to our face. (LAUGHTER)

FIONA: Oh I think my family all thought I was completely barking, when I gave up a good paid job. My children, I don’t really know what they thought. I think they felt, oh Mum’s cracking up. They weren’t overly bothered.
FIONA: Here’s my Poppy. Here’s my old girl. Isn’t she beautiful? Look at those big black eyes. How could anybody not love a girl like that? Big soft black eyes she’s got. And she’s so gentle. Lovely soft nose. This will be five daughters and two granddaughters. All from Poppy. Polly, Posy, Primrose, Pansy, Peonie. She is such a special girl. I suppose Poppy just epitomises the whole experience I think of working with cows, and the fact that .. it’s certainly not a money-spinner. I don’t think many people go into dairy farming to make money. But the rewards are just tremendous in other respects. Look how trusting she is. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? It’s just so satisfying.

CHRISTINE: Come on Dana.
CHRISTINE: Every day it’s important to get out with the dog for the walk. It’s beautiful in the countryside, and it really does me good. I can forget about the bed and breakfast and all my tasks. We live in such a wonderland. It just reminds you of where you are and why you’re here. And this is the nice part, sneaking around, listening to the sounds. Wood pigeon there. And the birdsong.
STEWART: Standing on the front lawn here, looking out towards the view, the tractor just going across the field. The seagulls are following in the tractor’s wake. And the tide’s in. Huge sky, right from one side to the other in all directions. And it’s just the most wonderful spot. Living here as we do, it is incredibly rewarding. It’s absolutely fabulous. And it’s not about money. I know when I sat with my father-in-law, as he died from cancer, I rewalised that life is about getting on with people, not earning money.

(SOUND ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Larnica Cyprus. The local time is ten past one, and the outside temperature is twenty four degrees. Please remain seated with your seatbelts fastened until the aircraft comes to a complete standstill. FADE OUT)
PAUL: We’ve been in Cyprus now for six months. It’s June, coming up to the hottest time of the year. It’s a beautiful sunny morning. We’ve had a lovely breakfast out in the garden, surrounded by the grapevines and the carob trees, and the olive trees, and our little lemon tree. It’s little short of idyllic.
DENISE: I absolutely love my garden here. I have to water each evening and morning, or else everything just withers..
PAUL: Well, we allowed ourselves to come to Cyprus on the premise that one of us would have some sort of income, at least one of us. I’ve applied for jobs. Nothing’s come up. So it’s a bit of a daunting situation we’re in right now.
DENISE: We assumed, I assumed, we assumed (LAUGHS)
PAUL: OK. Are we settling for we?
BOTH: We assumed ..
PAUL: We probably did.
DENISE: .. that Paul would have had a job by now. I’d been an absolutely complete workaholic accountant, and the deal was really that we would come here ..
PAUL: And I would keep her in the manner to which she wished to become accustomed.
DENISE: I wanted to be a housewife. I wanted to make marmalade.
PAUL: And I a hunter-gatherer.
DENISE: I wanted to make marmalade.
PAUL: There was nothing to gather. And I hunted and hunted and nothing happened.
DENISE: And I really really had this dream. And quite honestly I still have this dream of that happening. But ..
PAUL: Why Not?
DENISE: .. it hasn’t happened. And it cost us so much more money to get here than we would have ever thought.
PAUL: That was a shock. That was surprising.
DENISE: I would have said all ..
PAUL: All the hundreds adding up. And then you’ve got all the thousands adding up.
DENISE: Yes. And I would have said all in all, it cost us four or five times as much as I’d thought, as I had allowed for to get here. And that was a real shock. Because that was money that we ..
PAUL: Set aside.
DENISE: .. designated to live.
PAUL: Yeah. The money situation I suppose is the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
DENISE: We live very frugally. About three weeks ago .. I think it was the high nineties, a hundred degrees, and it wasn’t cooling down at night, and we had no air-conditioning, and we had no mosquito nets on the windows. And we had just this feeble little fan whirring away in the corner. And I honestly thought I .. well I ..
PAUL:  .. pass out. It was so unbearable.
DENISE: It was so horrible.
PAUL: It was really bad.

FIONA: This is typical Ayrshire weather really, rain. We have rain that’s horizontal. Rain that’s vertical. Rain that swirls round in the wind. But it’s usually rain. And the Scots have so many different words for different sorts of rain. I think today would be descibed as dreich, which is a sort of miserable, grey damp day. The rain is coming down, but it’s not absolutely pelting down. But this is the normal sound. And you get up on a dark winter’s morning to go and start milking, it’s the sound of the rain on the roof. It was unbelievably hard to begin with. It was physically probably harder than I expected. I’ve never been shy of hard work, but I did find it physically difficult. You can’t be ill, because there’s nobody else to do the work. So since I’ve been here I’ve had bronchitis, I’ve had pleurisy. But you still have to get up and do the work, just perhaps try and go back to bed for an hour or two in the middle. There’s no option really. I broke a finger, slammed it in the Land Rover door at the end of last week. But you still have to get on with your work. So that’s hard.

CHRISTINE: Well we’ve stripped the beds now. Stewart’s got everything in the dishwasher, and now he’s starting on the bathrooms. And then there’s the main part of the house to do then, the hall, doing the carpets. And we have a doggie, and she’s got white hair. And then under the table, or where they’ve had breakfast, needs to be vacuumed for any crumbs or anything. Check the sofa, that everything looks smart. And I’ve got to fit in somewhere the preparation for the dinner tonight. Yes I like to get everything ready earlier on during the day, when I’ve got a meal in the evening, so that the meal runs smoothly. And ..
STEWART: What’s the pudding?
CHRISTINE: What’s the pudding? The pudding is cranachan, it’s that Scottish pudding with raspberries and fruits and cream with Scottish honey and malt whisky and toasted oatmeal.Ooh did I (INAUDIBLE) I bet it’s burned. Oh no. Oooh. Dear. Well it’ll have to be done again.

PAUL: Yes well since I’ve been in Cyprus I play a bit of music, but here I am, surrounded by Greek music, and why should I resist? So I’ve had the pleasure of taking up a bouzouki, under the careful guidance of Nicos who runs a music shop in town.
PAUL: Here we’ve arrived at Nicos’ Music Shop, and we’re just about to see the man himself. (GREETINGS EXCHANGED IN GREEK) Yes, when I came in and saw these bouzoukis I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. (LAUGHS)
NICOS: Well music is heaven.
PAUL: It is. It is. Absolutely.
NICOS: You’re going to play like me.
PAUL: Oh my God. I wish. I wish. I’d just love to get a bouzouki. I have to save up.

DENISE: We had a really bad day. We were waiting for Paul’s van to finally get all its final documentation, and registration, and duty, and all this kind of thing to be sorted out.
PAUL: There’s a lot of paperwork. And we knew it was going to cost. We knew it was going to be ..
DENISE: We thought maybe four hundred euros, something like that. And I was as happy as Larry. I was wandering around the house, thinking Oh that’ll be great. The car will be sorted finally. And then Paul phoned me up and he said I don’t know how to tell you this. It’s nineteen hundred pounds.
PAUL: Euros.
DENISE: Euros. Nineteen hundred euros. And it was like it kicked me in the stomach. Becuase I’d had this two thousand pounds emergency fund that I’d kept to one side. And that’s it basically, gone. And it was such a kick. But I said oh I’ve bought some mail up from the bank,
DENISE: .. and you open the first letter and it was ..
PAUL: A rejection.
DENISE: A rejection.
PAUL: From one of the ..
DENISE: Schools.
PAUL: .. schools that I’d applied to .
DENISE: And then another school that he had really high hopes for.
PAUL: I had good reason to have high hopes.
DENISE: You got an email saying ..
PAUL: A good rapport with the headmaster etcetera.
DENISE: An email saying ..
PAUL: We’re terribly sorry. So talk about coming in threes, we were dumped out. We just stared at each other blankly, didn’t we?
DENISE: It was quite horrible. Paul did what he tends to do, which was say I’m really tired I’m going to lay down.
DENISE: And I sat here and I just thought I don’t think I can do this anymore. This is just too much. And I went upstairs and I woke him up. And we had a really long chat. And I said, Paul, I’m not being horrible, and I’m not attacking you, but you’re not tired, you’re depressed. And you’re depressed with good reason. And this is what you do. You hide. You hide and sleep. And you’re not helping me, and you’re not helping us. We’ve got to sort this out.
PAUL: I think .. we’ve got contingency plans. (THEY LAUGH). Trust me, we have. Yes. We are .. we’re living on optimism, and sometimes it has to be generated, it has to be self-generated, because things don’t always go as well as you’d like. But that’s life, isn’t it?
PAUL: But here we’re changing our mindset, we’re changing our way of looking at things. I have to say I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s a very good thing.
DENISE: Mmm. If the worst comes to the worst we’ll just eat the tortoise.

CHRISTINE: Welcome to —–. Hello Flavia.
STEWART: Hello Flavia.
FLAVIA: Hello. How are you?
SUSAN: I’m Susan. Hello.
CHRISTINE: Hello Susan.
STEWART: Hi Susan.
FLAVIA: What a wonderful place this is. And gorgeous weather we have.
CHRISTINE: Well it’s seven o’clock and three new guests have arrived. Three ladies. And I’m just preparing their evening meal. And then afterwards they’ve promised us that we’re having a musical evening.
CHRISTINE: I do play the piano for guests. In fact we’ve had some lovely evenings with some guests that want to sing, and we’ve had really great times.
STEWART: There’s no point in doing what we do without the other one. If anything happened to the other one, I would might as well, well in my case anyway, I might as well just pack it in. There’d be no point in carrying on.
CHRISTINE: We feel like we’re doing it for each other, don’t we? We’ve said that before.
STEWART: Absolutely.
CHRISTINE: I’m doing it for you, and you say, well, I’m doing everything for you.
STEWART: Without a partner, there’s nothing really. It’s pointless.

DENISE: Day one hundred and seventy two of our move to Cyprus. Sixth of July. We’ve had a terrible couple of days. I’m amazed that we’re still friends. I don’t know of many couples could have lasted. We’re living on a pittance. I think that we moved here with too little funds. We were very naive. We assumed that we would have found a job by now, one of us, if not both of us. We haven’t. We can’t actually afford to move home, even if we wanted to. And I don’t think I want to. We’re not coping very well with the heat. And it is terribly, terribly hot. It was ninety six the other day. And I think when you’ve got other worries, when you’re laying awake at night anyway, it’s not very easy. But we have .. we genuinely did it with too little money and too little thought. It’s a horrible dilemma, it really is. And I don’t know where it’s all going to end, I really don’t. Watch this space.

FIONA: Just as the light starts to fade, The hens all put themselves to bed. It’s very good. I don’t have to chase them round the farmyard. And they like to roost up on the hayracks, off the ground. They just tuck their heads under their wings and off they go to sleep until the morning. Just singing themselves to sleep. Goodnight girls. It’s been a dream for me. And it’s been a fantastic experience. Financially, well I think I’ve said before, you don’t really make any money at dairy farming. No we just muddled through. But I’m tired. I am physically very tired. And now, coming up fifty seven, I like considered and properly, and we’ve improved the herd since we’ve been here. We’ve won awards. And I wouldn’t like that to slip. That’s just the sort of person I am. If I can’t do it properly, I don’t want to do it. And it would upset me and frustrate me to see things slipping. So I’d rather go when the going was good, I suppose. I’ve absolutely loved this, and I should hate to say goodbye to the cows. I think now is the time to look for something new.
FIONA: Poppy’s better. She’s such a sweetie. She hears my voice, she’ll normally come over to me. She’ll put her chin up to be tickled. She is very very special. And I really really don’t want to leave her here when we go. The decision has been made that we will put the farm on the market this year, which we’ve done. We think we’ve sold it. And my dad who’s eight four now, and not in the best of health, and I would like to spend more time with him. My daughter, she’s had a few difficulties recently. She’s got three children. So I’d like to spend more time with her, and my three grand-children. And my son who was involved in a major accident last year, and is doing really well, but I feel the distance from him and his partner as well. So I’m looking forward to being able to spend more time with them. I need to be there for other people now.

STEWART: We really do wish we’d done this earlier.
CHRISTINE: Twenty years or more earlier.
STEWART: Yes. Anothet ten or twenty, or even fifteen years would have been .. even five years .. would have been a huge benefit for us. Yes.
CHRISTINE: We won’t be able to retire really. When we left our jobs, we left pensions behind, although some of the pension’s passed through. But we knew we’d left that behind. We wish we’d been a bit younger, and feeling we’d got more years in front of us to do more projects. Because we still keep thinking of ideas of things to do. But that’s what we feel. If we’d only come earlier, we could have done .. We often talk like that.
STEWART: Yes indeed.
CHRISTINE: But we still talk about what we can do now.
STEWART: I still want to build a tree house. That’ll be fun.
CHRISTINE: And an extension to the stable, and a summerhouse.
STEWART: Yes. All that. Yes.
CHRISTINE: And etcetera etcetera.
STEWART: I can do that.
CHRISTINE: And an extension.
STEWART: I can do that.
STEWART: Eventually. I can do that.

PAUL: Well it’s the first of August. And we’re still here. It’s about a hundred and eighty six days since we began our adventure, and things have taken a nice turn. A very surpising nice turn.
DENISE: A friend of ours, Jill, suggested that she’d seen this school in Nicosia was locating, and she suggested that Paul sent his CV in.
PAUL: Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I sent an email to them, and within twenty four hours the headmistress got back to me and said we’re very interested in your CV. I’d love to meet you. Can you find some time? My goodness, I found time alright. The next day I went to see her in Nicosia, and within minutes it was clear that she wanted me to work with the school. And she simply said as much.
DENISE: I just can’t believe it. I’m still pinching myself. And as far as I’m concerned everything’s just fallen into place. The money that we’re going to be .. that Paul’s going to be earning will be enough for us to more than survive. All in all, our life is looking pretty rosy. I’m terribly excited about our future. At no point, however bad things got, at no point did I think that I wanted to go back and live my life as it was.
PAUL: We hung on, hope beyond hope beyond hope, and trusted that something would take the place of these doubts. And indeed it has. My investment I suppose, in a way that only I could, is that I’ve invested in the island. I’ve bought a bazoukoi.

ANNOUNCER: Midlife Relaunch was produced by Kim Normanton and Elizabeth Burke. It was a Loftus Production for BBC Radio 4.

Broadcast 20:30 26th December 2010 BBC Radio 4

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