On January 14th 2010, one week shy of my 60th birthday, I crawled out of bed at five in the morning, to be ready for work at seven. Drinking the first cuppa while checking the news on the web, I felt a pain in my chest. Not surprising. I was a heavy smoker. Then it spread to my left arm, and I made the connection immediately.
Instead of work I ended up in A & E, wired into a mass of machinery. They were not certain, so they kept me in for 24 hours. Diagnosis. Not a heart attack but a shot across the bows. Possibly angina. More tests would be needed to confirm it. With five years left of my working life, this was just what I didn't need.
Snowy Manchester, January 2010
Two days later, the doctors having given me the thumbs up to fly, we left Manchester under a carpet of snow and took off for Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It was dark when we landed and by the time we got to our hotel in Playa de Las Americas, all we really wanted was a bite to eat, a cup of tea and some sleep.
I woke up the following morning and stepped out onto our balcony in glorious sunshine with a spectacular view of the island of Gomera, twenty miles away
Gone were the overcoats and thermals. I sat out enjoying my first cuppa of the day wearing only a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. I watched a hydrofoil, almost lost in the sunlight sparkling off the sea, make its way from Los Christianos to La Gomera, and to my right, I could see the tiny cone of Mt Teide huddled with the island's other peaks.
We spent a week in Tenerife, and we took in the usual sights: Los Gigantes, the Dragon Tree at Icod, and of course, a visit to the Teide National Park.
Las Roques de Garcia & Mt Teide
Evenings we enjoyed live entertainment and karaoke at a local, English pub
No snatched snacks. Instead we took leisurely meals in a number of restaurants. The only stress I encountered was when my wife took us shopping in Las Americas, but hey, I'm a Yorkshireman and you know what we're like when it comes to spending money. Such hours as we had free, we passed around the pool.
An easy, lazy life
And yet, we knew we would have to face my health problems when we got back. Could I carry on working 55-60 hours a week, crawling out of bed in the middle of the night, hassling with bosses, other road users, impossibly tight schedules? The heart attack of January 14th turned out to be a non-event, but the real one could be waiting round the corner.
Those seven enjoyable days in Tenerife reminded me of something my late mother-in-law used to say. "You're a long time dead, so enjoy it while you can."
A stress-free me
I had a private pension I could draw, we had my wife's private and her state pensions and we had our savings. My health was unlikely to improve, and in fact, it would be another year before it finally bottomed out and I began to get better, by which time I'd added COPD and Type 2 Diabetes to the list of problems.
So I bit the bullet and opted for early retirement, and quite frankly, it was the best move I ever made
Almost five years on, the health problems are still with me. I get out of breath quite quickly, my knees, ankles and elbows ache in the cold and damp weather, and I have to keep an eye on my diet. But stress is a thing of the past.
I was lucky that I could afford to give up work, but although I reach official pension age next January, I still haven't fully retired. I'd been a part time writer for years, and now I'm a full time writer. Since retiring, I've turned out more than a dozen novels. I know many people in the same position I was, who cannot do anything other than carry on working and trust to luck that they don't drop.
These days, my wife and I enjoy life. We've been back to Tenerife twice, and visited the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria. We've also been to Torremolinos, Majorca, Benidorm twice, and in a few weeks, we're celebrating my wife's seventieth birthday in Cyprus.