IT is four years next month since I left the world of full-time work and toddled off into hard-earned retirement.

Much as I loved the half century I spent pounding a keyboard, I was quite looking forward to loafing about doing a great deal of nothing.

After 50 years of deadlines, night jobs and pushy PR people, I was ready to spend more time with my family.

And for the first year, it was just like being on holiday, as Mrs Hextol and I enjoyed lots of foreign holidays, days out in this country, and pottering round garden centres.

After a while though, idleness began to pall, and I was getting under Mrs Hextol’s feet. “You might have retired, but I’ve still got all my housework to do and I can’t get on while you are sitting around moping,” she declared one day.

So I decided to do my bit for the community, by putting myself forward for the parish council, as a kind of poacher turned gamekeeper.

Few people in the land have spent more time at parish council meetings than me as I would regularly go to at least three a week at one stage, back in the days when parish pump politics were the bread and butter of local papers.

One parish council I used to go to started its meeting at 6.30pm, and had a break at 9.30pm for coffee and would still be talking about the county council not sending the gully sucker round frequently enough beyond 11pm.

There was no email then and the council minutes were kept in vast ledgers laboriously filled with grandiloquent copperplate script, read out interminably at each meeting by the clerk.

Parish council elections were always fiercely contested, but over the years, interest in grass roots government has waned considerably, and a contested parish election is the exception rather than the rule.

For that reason, I was able to take my place at the monthly meetings as a co-opted member, without having to face the electorate – which is perhaps just as well!

As well as joining the parish council, I also became involved with the town hall committee, with special responsibility for running the bookings diary.

Bellingham Town Hall dates back to 1862, when it was formally opened after a lengthy fund-raising campaign involving the sale of shares, and innumerable smoking concerts and other fund-raising efforts.

The wooden clock town was a gift from the four graynes, or leading families, in the area – the Charltons, Milburns, Armstrongs and Dodds. For many years, the tower was painted a particularly strident shade of purple, chosen to match the Rolls Royce in which the Queen passed through the village on her way to open Kielder Water back in 1982.

The town hall is a registered charity, which means regular fund-raising activities have to take place to keep the ancient structure in sound condition.

One of the biggest money spinners came a couple of weeks ago, in the form of the annual jumble sale.

Now I always naively believed that jumble sales were relatively low key affairs, but I really had my eyes opened.

I had to hand deliver little notes to many houses around the village, asking for any unwanted items which could be sold for the benefit of the town hall. It was lashing down with rain, I broke the zip on my new anorak and had my fingers snapped at by several letter box lurking dogs before the job was done.

And on the night before the sale, the hall was filled by a veritable army of ladies of a certain age, diligently rummaging through innumerable black bags and cardboard boxes crammed with a cornucopia of clothing, shoes, crockery, paintings, books, jigsaws and much more besides.

I was the only man there, as the jumble sale junkies expertly sorted their way through the offerings.

There were designer labels galore, rubbing shoulders with hand-knitted items, some of which appeared to have several previous owners, and one box of crockery came carefully wrapped in newspapers dating back to just before the days when the town hall played host to Geordie super group the Animals, who hit the number one spot with House of the Rising Sun.

The day of the sale coincided with the full fury of Storm Dennis and I feared the worse. However, bargain hunters by the score poured through the doors – and we made just shy of £1,000!