A new programme on BBC Radio Ulster at 2pm ‘Time of our Lives’ is presented by Colm Arbuckle and produced by Owen McFadden. Tune in to hear the over 60s reclaim the airwaves! My contribution can be heard halfway in, around 30:30 on playback. If you think my voice sounds strange, it seems to have been slowed down to suit the potential mature audience! I think when they were doing a digital cut, the speed was altered and not restored to ‘normal’ setting! I hope they will invite me back so you can hear what my voice really sounds like! Apologies if you thought something strange had happened in the years since I left RTÉ News…
Well, how are you? What’s the weather going to be like today? It’s a question I continue to get asked, nearly five years after my retirement. Or, more correctly, since I gave up a staff job as a television news reporter and took a voluntary retirement package.
So where, you might ask, does the weather come in? My job was always about news. Since 1984 here in Northern Ireland, that inevitably meant covering sometimes daily killings, and several major incidents. Before that two of my biggest stories were in County Kildare: a train crash and also the disappearance of the racehorse Shergar.
It’s true that my first story on my first day as an RTE News reporter in January 1979 was weather-related, when the temperature dropped to a record low of -18C. The story concerned the transport disruption caused by the snow and ice.
Back then it took me a while to work out why people from the farming community I was introduced to by my then fiancée would usually start a conversation by asking me about the weather. 35 years on and now in semi-retirement, that same question was posed to me as I looked out over the stony grey soil of Monaghan.
NOW I realise that the sunshine or rain enquiry was not because my interlocutor had heard or seen my reports on radio or on the box; it was because he or she thought the famous BBC weatherman Michael Fish had landed in their midst! So if that is my solitary claim to fame when I finally retire, I will be happy in the knowledge that I did have some impact as a television celebrity!
What also pleases me at this stage of my life is to know that manners and respect for older generations can still be found amongst 21st Century youth. When you reach your sixties, and become eligible for the brown travel card, you are glad of the courtesy shown when someone stands up on a bus or train to give you a seat. Or when a stranger unexpectedly offers to carry something for you. I’m already looking forward to the next stage: the blue pass, which entitles the holder to cross-border free travel, as well as within Northern Ireland.
Retirement has given me more opportunity to travel. Two years ago I persuaded my other half to go on a cruise departing conveniently from Belfast to Norway. We already knew a few of those on the trip. By the end of it we had made a number of new friends. Many couples on board were retired. Some, like us, were taking their first cruise. But the vast majority who came from different parts of Ireland had experienced cruises before and were enjoying a new stage of their lives.
If my plans work out, I will do some travelling while my health is reasonable. I do not need to look far for inspiration. My neighbour, who turned 70 recently, loves climbing mountains. He was in Australia before Christmas and travelled to Thailand in February. In October he will be heading to central Nepal and is currently raising funds for the area affected by the earthquake.
I have found that fundraising for charity has been a very productive way of spending some of my retirement. Today I will be helping out at a 10k run that will raise funds for the Special Olympics Ireland team. Previous volunteering shifts included the World Police and Fire Games, which led in turn to the Giro d’Italia cycle race.
All this unpaid voluntary work is my way of putting something back into the community and enjoying a role as an ambassador for Belfast and Northern Ireland. Next week you might come across me in Newcastle, helping to look after the many visitors to the Irish Open Golf. But if they ask me about the weather, I reckon I will just have to check my mobile phone.