In February, and immediately before the COVID-19 virus started to get out of control and lockdown measures became imminent. My wife, (aka) the dragon lady, decided that it was time for me to retire. She said YOU’LL enjoy it, and at first, I was sceptical. Being from the orient, she can be extremely persuasive, but she wouldn’t like it if I called her a bully, she isn’t. I know what I’m doing, and I have her exactly where she wanted me.
Soon, and after a little reflection, the idea of retirement sounded very attractive, because I knew exactly how I would spend my time as a retired gentleman of leisure. I would become a writer. Yes, a wordsmith who’d spend pleasurable hours crafting tales of wonder which would engross and educate the masses. If they failed to sell, well, the fallback position was simple. They at least would entertain me while writing them. I had spent many years fantasising over this possibility and had already written my first book, and now, suddenly, my time to work at it full time had arrived.
I’ve always loved my work!
You’re probably wondering what I had done before retirement and the answer is many things, although for 95% of the time I was a writer. No, not a novelist or entertainment writer. I was better known as a copywriter. Businesses often contacted me to write for them, if they interested me, and we agreed over price, I became the guy who wrote their sales letters, which you would probably refer to as junk mail, especially if they arrive through your letterbox. However, most of my writing was for myself and my own small business. Everything I did, whether it be writing a sales letter, an email, a new website page, or the script for a video I was about to record, it all started with written words.
They never understood!
I found surviving school difficult, and then in my early twenties, I was diagnosed as being profoundly dyslexic. This answered a few childhood problems, which earned me the rather cruel label of being a bit thick. I love writing with a true passion, as it always makes me think deeply, and it stretches my imagination to its very limit.
The reason the dragon lady wanted me to retire however was for a completely different reason. The late autumn and the winter of 2019/20 seemed to me a particularly cruel one. It was damp, cold, and made my sixty-three-year-old bones creak and complain. My wife said that from October onwards I continually moaned and bellyached, as well as hugging radiators wherever I sat.
I openly admit with every advancing year I disliked the cold more and more. Even worse, however, is the dark, dull and long dingy days. I’m not hard to please, I’m really not. Give me a bright blue sky and a sunny day, and the cold becomes so much more bearable. By contrast, this winter seemed to linger in almost perpetual twilight and I began to look for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. They had actually already arrived in the guise of Coronavirus and were about to reveal themselves.
My continual moaning and negativity irritated the dragon lady a lot, but it’s not all my fault. You see, I was born with a faulty rogue and hereditary jean. I knew how she felt and sympathised with her as the men in my family all seem to be expert moaners. Well, my late father was. He was a true expert and could have easily moaned for England in the Olympics if there had been a category for it. With an attitude which was permanently set to pessimistic, he could moan about the same subject for days on end. I suppose I caught moaning from him and I depressed the family on a daily basis with the unfairness of the British weather.
Enough was enough!
The dragon lady had passively consumed as much as she could take of my annual winter depression, and as a result taken positive action to stop it happening again. Her solution was a simple one of which I thoroughly approved. I couldn’t change the inclement weather. However, I could change my location to a warmer and sunnier climate, and the dragon lady had the perfect place. I was being banished!
You see, her childhood home was Cebu in the lovely Philippines. It was the island where we got married (twice), but that’s a different story.
We had spent much happy time here together when our children were young, and until school commitments took over. It was a place I looked upon as my second home, and an island to which I was always very willing to return. She knew this. The dragon lady actually came from a small and pretty fishing village in the south of the island called Oslob. If you’re interested in seeing whale sharks up close, then Oslob is definitely the place to visit.
Here, a few years earlier, she had very wisely invested into some beachfront real estate she purchased from her grandma for the equivalent cost of two McDonald meals at the local drive-through. I exaggerate, but it wasn’t expensive, nor did it require a bank loan. Now she was ready to climb onto the Philippine property ladder. This was the first time I realised my wife had already started to build us a house, and she’d been at it for eighteen months already. More precisely, build me a house as she had no intention of retiring yet as she is much younger than me. She is also great at keeping secrets. Her intention was for me to spend the six colder months of the UK year in our second home. Here I had a large Philippine family who I got on with well and we regular chatted by video. My wife and kids would be just a video call away, and my sister-in-law right lived just next door and would make sure that I behaved myself.
An Ideal location!
The building was complete, although it now needed a few months’ work and a sizeable bank balance to make it habitable. Situated right on the beach, it stands three stories tall with a large roof terrace for me to sit and write while looking out on the tropical deep blue sea to the east, and the green mountains to the west. This would certainly keep me out of mischief, and it would be all complete in time for the next autumn and the arrival of the cold and damp weather in the UK.
So, with everything in place she suggested I retire, it was very timely, and so with her big surprise I was both delighted and couldn’t wait! However, I was in bad need of some winter sunshine and an infusion of natural vitamin D. So; I told my family I would treat them to a retirement celebration in Egypt. No one wanted to come, although this didn’t surprise me! You see, in addition to being a bit of a moaner, I am what you would call different. The words my family choose to use are either flamboyant or outrageous, sometimes both! I speak to myself, am obsessively tidy and get up really early and either write or read for many hours as well as continually playing background classical music. I have usually eaten breakfast and am re-engrossed in a book, or scribbling on a notepad again before they even consider surfacing from their beds in time for lunch. I’m a sun worshiper and spend as much time basking as possible, but by eight pm my eyelids become heavy and I am ready for bed. Apparently, I’m boring, and everything they are not, and this is why my family class me as being strange.
In the UK I tend to be rather reclusive, so holidays, for me, are the perfect opportunity to meet interesting new people from other exotic cultures and backgrounds. For my kids, a holiday with dad had the same appeal as spending a week locked in the village stocks. The dragon lady couldn’t get time off. So, in early March, with the ink still wet on the cheque for my pre-paid cremation, my business concluded and my accountant took charge of my final books and I was free. The very next day I headed off for a week of sun, self-indulgence and enjoyment in Hurghada Egypt alone.
I had booked a five-star luxury bungalow by the beach and had a great time. I’m good on my lonesome and rarely have arguments with myself. For the majority of the time, I buried my head in a book or I had a pen in my hand, which lead to some confusion. Kind and caring matriarchs of different cultures showed both concern and interest in me. They wrongly thought I was a sad and lonely old man without a family. They were wonderful and although we often spoke different languages, at almost every meal someone or some family asked me to join them. The same thing happened on the beach and by the pool, and I began to understand how kids who had been put up for adoption felt. I used my holiday to plan and map out my new retirement career. The weather was as you would expect amazing, and by the end of my holiday I was brown, refreshed and looked forward to seeing the dragon lady and my children again.
Hindsight is a valuable asset!
Back in the UK, the COVID-19 virus had been winding up while I was away. In hindsight, the holiday in Hurghada was about as smart as using plastic saucepans to boil water. Ours was the last flight to leave before Hurghada airport was closed, and holidaymakers became trapped there for weeks on end.
The day after I returned home, lockdown in the UK began. I had just enough time for a kiss and a cuddle with the dragon lady before realising not only did I have to lockdown but also isolate from my wife, also who is an NHS nurse. Being a Type II diabetic, and on the rotund side, apparently, I had to be so much more careful than everyone else! So, even in my house, I isolated myself from the rest of the family. They would do my shopping for me and the TV became my best friend. In the beginning, it seemed funny as I spoke with my wife and children on the phone, even though only a thin wall separated us.
Then the weather became truly Mediterranean, and we became more Covid savvy and educated. My family would practice social distancing and happily sit at the opposite end of the room from me. Wearing their light blue face masks, they resembled a trio of dental hygienists, but this was the way it had to be, and their way of avoiding passing infection.
Rodents, lots of them!
As the UK weather warmed up rats started to appear in our garden, some were bigger than Yorkshire terriers. In twenty years, I’d never seen one in the garden before. Now there seemed to be a plague of them, and it soon became obvious that the new neighbour was responsible for attracting them. They were throwing out the remains of their food for the birds and even placing piles of seed on a bird table. So much food was available that the local bird population grew fat, unhealthy, and started having heart attacks. This annoyed me because they seemed less inclined to get rid of this blight which they had brought upon us.
More truthfully, they did nothing positive to reduce the population of rats they attracted. They only took measures to drive them away from their property and on to mine. With the rats, they had attracted and then repelled. In a week, I killed ten of them in humane traps that you certainly would not want to catch your fingers in. Their neighbour on the other side had similar results and the rat population first diminished, and then with the help of poison disappeared completely. I was still annoyed at their lack of action to the problem they had created and felt really vindictive. But what could I do? Actually, I could do quite a lot, and I turned this true and annoying tale into a short and very embellished quite chilling story I called rats, God, I hope they don’t read it! My levels of creativity grew and multiplied, and from having initial difficulties in finding story ideas, I now found inspiration everywhere I looked.
The early bird catches the worm
In May, I booked my flight to Cebu with Singapore airlines. I was leaving on the thirty-first of October and returning on forth of April. With one-hundred and fifty-six days of guaranteed warmth to look forward to, I rubbed my hands together in satisfaction. I smirked with pride and thought I was clever booking my flight so early and getting the cheapest price. This was the first step of my migration, and in satisfaction I put my head down to my work and got busy writing every day.
Did it really happen?
For me, that first lockdown was easy and was hardly noticeable. The dragon lady and I recently commented on just how lucky we are living here. Our home is in a little village on a long and sandy West Country beach. I can walk for exercise at any time without coming within a hundred yards of anyone. We also have a wonderful sheltered and secluded garden where I spend much of my time reading and writing. If I have too much sun, I retreat to my small office situated in the roof of our home overlooking the sea and beach. Or to our large and sunny conservatory. I kept myself really busy and engrossed in my writing, and most weeks I wrote either two or three short stories. By August I had thirty stories all ready for publication.
Lifestyle has always been my priority!
Even before the virus I never went out much, and now with my children fetching my food for me I had everything I needed at home. The only thing which I missed was driving my car in the Somerset levels for a change of scenery. It’s one of my favourite places, and armed with a box of sandwiches and a couple of thermos flasks of strong tea, I would often spend a full day making notes and writing stories while enjoying the serenity this beautiful area offers. I considered ignoring the travel ban because surly it didn’t apply to an old fat guy who didn’t meet or interact with anyone. The only time I got out of my car was to empty my bladder of the two thermoses of strong tea I had just consumed. For God’s sake, I was travelling to my place of work! However, at the same time, I’m a bit of a pussy when it comes to rules, especially breaking them. So, I stayed at home as ordered by Boris, and in sixteen weeks I only had to refuel my car once. Eventually, this cruel restriction was removed and once again I was free to work in my car if I wanted to. I was loving the early part of my retirement.
The next step!
In August, I started to prepare for my impending migration to my new winter home in just three months’ time. The first thing I did was to apply for a Visa. In the past I had never needed one as I had always travelled with the dragon lady and they would immediately give me a one-year stamp in my passport upon admittance at Mactan International, which was Cebu’s airport. Now, however, things had changed quite dramatically, and a visa was an absolute requirement, even for chubby Cebu veterans. Especially if I was travelling alone, as I had planned.
I spent hours reading up on the requirements on the Philippine Embassy website in London. Nothing was clear, and almost as if it was written in hieroglyphics by chimpanzee’s as it made very little sense. You may be wondering why I didn’t either call them or send them an email requesting assistance, I did. No one would speak to me, and neither did anyone answer my emails. Eventually, I downloaded a Visa application which was equally unclear and I gathered my requirements to have them notarised. Now this was something new for me as well.
Where would I find a notary was the first challenge? But I found one in my small local town. My appointment took just fifteen minutes, but for twelve of those my requirements my paperwork sat patiently on the desk of the notary along with my passport while he busied himself surfing google. It truthfully took him three minutes AT MOST to look at my passport and stamp my application form and sign his name. Fifty pounds please, he coldly requested without the slightest hint of guilt or emotion. As I punched my pin into his card machine, I felt swindled. With this and another fifty-five pounds charge for my visa, as well as fifteen pounds in recorded delivery postage, visas didn’t come cheap. Chasing around and sorting it out took time.
Research can be so beneficial!
As you can imagine, I was as excited as a five-year-old on Christmas morning to learn about Oslob and what surrounded my new home. Although I have spent much time in the Philippines, I have never visited Oslob before. Google Earth is absolutely amazing and without charge allows me or anyone with Internet virtual access to walk the streets and highways and easily navigate all aspects of the community, where for six months of the year I will soon become a citizen. I got a true feel for the place and how to get to where I wanted to go. The technology is amazing, and the photos I think taken with two high definition fisheye cameras mounted on the front and rear of a car and fired automatically every 20 yards or so as it drove along. I arrived at this conclusion because the same car appeared in every photo for some miles. The photos being digitally stitched together along with aerial photos to allow anyone to experience anywhere in the world they have photographed.
Facebook and how it destroyed my day!
It was at this point that I developed a new and really bad habit, which for a while wasted a ton of my valuable time. From Google earth, I discover the local community Facebook pages where along with local news and events, things that I plan to buy, and local services I plan to use were advertised. If I had additional questions, I could contact the vendor quite easily via Facebook messenger. I learned of one lady who could make my shirts for me, so I contacted her. I also made inquiries of a few other people. 3 AM the following morning it became abundantly clear that small-town Filipinos didn’t have a clue about the seven or eight-hour UK-Cebu time difference. My mobile phone sitting on my bedside cabinet rang loudly, indicating that someone was trying to video chat with me. The dragon lady was unimpressed.
I soon had eight or nine new Facebook friends in Oslob, and these were growing by the day, and boy was they social. I was probably the best entertainment they have had for a very long time, and questions and greetings came thick and fast. The more I answered, the more they asked, and suddenly I became overwhelmed with messenger chat. I had allowed myself to become distracted and now I was working less than half the hours I should have been with my writing. “Ignore them,” the dragon lady warned, and she was correct I should have done so. Unfortunately, that’s not my way. I would describe myself as open and a very polite person, and when somebody greets me, I feel it’s only polite to greet them in return. When someone asks me a question, I feel almost obliged to provide an answer. Unfortunately, a “I’m busy right now,” message made no difference at all, and some days I became involved in two or three such conversations at the same time. I didn’t want to have any of them, and my work and objectives went totally down the toilet.
The solution was simple.
Eventually, I took my wife’s advice and ignored them and felt so guilty. I began by not replying to their greetings or messages, however, the notification on my messenger app continued to “ting” away on my computer and cell phone often two or three times a minute, so I switched them to silent. I left them a final message saying how I wouldn’t be using messenger as much in the future as I had allowed it to distract me. I hope they understood, but I don’t think they will.
In late August, the Philippine embassy phoned to say I had not sent them all the requirements. I was so annoyed because I have sent everything; they had requested me to provide. The lady on the phone told my wife the best way to enter the Philippines was with her, and that she should travel with me. I suddenly felt like a disobedient child who needed accompanying to school. They returned my little parcel, and we upgraded it by this time included my wife’s passport and our marriage certificate as requested. I wrote more secure registered delivery envelopes, and I submitted my visa application for the second time.
Two days later they called again to say we still hadn’t provided proof of my wife’s Philippine nationality. I started to feel as if they were being purposely obstructive. Apparently, they wanted my wife’s Philippine passport, which she no longer renewed meaning without changing her appearance she had now become English and was no longer Filipino; we were both amazed. Even if she had accompanied me to Cebu, without proof of nationality she also would be denied entry. This meant she would have to reapply for a Philippine passport and citizenship. She immediately booked this with the Embassy, the earliest appointment being for the 6th of January 2021.
What initially seems a simple task was becoming more difficult by the day. Then, if that wasn’t enough, Singapore airlines cancelled my flight ticket. Apparently, they weren’t allowing anyone other than Singapore citizens to enter their airports. Apart from the house that now sat finished and patiently awaiting my arrival, I was back at square one.
Then came the bombshell!
We learned even if the immigration allowed me into Cebu, I would have to pay for a Covid swab at the airport and pay for a special taxi to a special hotel to wait at least two days for the results of my test before travelling by another special transport the four hours’ drive to my house where I would STILL have to lockdown for fourteen more days. S**T! The cost of this process was stupidly high and didn’t cover the cost of food.
Angry and frustrated, I have decided to wait.