Friday, 30 September 2011

Musings on Retirement

Me, trying to look menacing in Nottingham
Castle - Doesn't work, does it?
"Age doesn't matter, unless you're a cheese".
Billie Burke.

I hadn't planned to stop working at the age of 62. The organisation I worked for could no longer afford to pay someone at my level. So I took redundancy and moved to Nottingham.

I would surely find some work that would keep me going for a few more years, and a couple of Employment Agencies that I signed up with were similarly confident. My brain was no worse than it had ever been, and as long as I wasn't expected to walk miles every day, I was reasonably fit and healthy. Above all, I wanted to work.

I applied for six jobs; five with charities and one with a local authority. Four charities never bothered to reply, which was something that I'd never done in my working life. My view has always been to treat applicants with respect. If someone has gone to the effort of applying for a job, the least you can do is acknowledge that effort, even if it costs money. Cost it in as part of the recruitment budget. The other two applications were acknowledged: "Thank you for your interest in the above position, but I'm sorry to say etc etc". A letter I had written a thousand times over the years, and now I was on the receiving end. All of the jobs I applied for were asking for the sort of experience that I had taken a lifetime to obtain, but not even an interview. After three to four months, with money running out, it was time to make a decision - retirement.

I was not looking forward to applying for benefits. However, my application for Housing Benefit couldn't have been simpler, after all I was used to filling in forms. Rushcliffe Borough Council processed the application very quickly, and even back-dated the money to when I moved to Nottingham. Similarly, my application for Guaranteed Pension Credit was done quickly, following a twenty minute interview over the phone. This too was back-dated. I was very pleased that the whole process was hassle free. Now I was officially retired and living on benefits. That's when emotional turmoil began.

People react to their retirement in different ways.  Some have been planning for it, and financially they are equipped to engage in all of the activities that TV adverts bombard us with, and good for them. Others know it's coming, but are not prepared, and life takes on something of a struggle. Still others, a bit like myself, have it suddenly thrust upon them, and the adjustment is difficult. Stay with me on this please, as I promise you it will be positive.

For six to nine months, it was this adjustment that was difficult to cope with. I've come across others who felt the same way. Benches, whether in parks or built up areas have a way of attracting people. After all, they were placed there for people to sit on. Unfortunately, I seem to occasionally attract the 'needy' who plop themselves down beside me. It's as if there is a sign above my head that says, "Needy? Sit here and tell me your life story". At other times I'm confronted by the, quite frankly, disturbed, who you feel should not really be out in the community on their own. Thankfully, there are others that in conversation, you find experience the same feelings as you.

For me, the adjustment was difficult in four areas (yes, I've been able to analyse it). Having worked almost non-stop for 47 years, it was difficult to come to grips with the fact that I no longer got up with the alarm clock, and went out to work. This meaningful activity was no longer for me, and it almost felt like rejection. In a strange way, what was once mine, now belonged to somebody else, and it was not easy to let go. Allied to work was the important matter of having company. Every day you were mixing with staff, clients, and people from other organisations. Suddenly, you were on your own, and with no regular contact with people you could have a relationship with. It doesn't matter whether they missed you (not strictly true, as you would like to be missed a little bit), I missed them, and this social interaction. Again allied to work was the matter of money. It's generally the wealthy who say that money isn't everything. I had a good wage which allowed me to do anything I wanted to, now that had stopped. I was now living on 27% of my previous income. That was difficult to adjust to. I tended to agree with Spike Milligan, "Money can't buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery". The last difficult area of adjustment was over a car. I'd owned one for 40 years (not the same one you understand), and I felt that it was my sanity. It gave freedom to go wherever I wanted to go. That had to be got rid of for financial reasons - non car-worshippers will not understand this. So for all of these reasons, I was not a happy bunny in a new land.

Then, about a year ago, things changed. I believe that I was sitting in the Arboretum looking at this memorial tree opposite. It was planted on the 50th Anniversary of The Old Contemptibles in the First World War.

It was while sitting there that a number of things entered my head, and suddenly the negatives seemed to fade, and the positives rise to the surface. Life was not going to change (unless I won the Lottery, which was unlikely given that I rarely bought a ticket), so you need to get on with it. Nobody likes a miserable old git, so things are going to get worse if you don't change your attitude. Then I thought of someone who often has coffee at a Kiosk by the Trent, at the same time as I do. He's about my age, is blind, and in a wheelchair, but has the most positive attitude to life. You can't help but think of him and stay the same. This all led to the thought, get a grip.

The outward circumstances have not changed, but life is often more mental than physical. It's not just a question of putting up with retirement; it's enjoying it. I have a lovely flat in a very nice neighbourhood, and it's right next to an excellent public transport system. I'm close to the river Trent, and to the Nottingham Canal, both of which I love to walk along. I enjoy the company of a couple of friends, and attend some jazz evenings. Qualifying for a concessionary bus pass means that I can travel for free on any local bus throughout England., and I make use of this particularly in and around Nottingham.

If I still had a car, I would have been an expert on Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire, because I would have always been out in it. I would never have got to know Nottingham as a City. But with public transport and walking, I've got to know the City very well. I've been able to spend a lot of time with my Sister, as a result of her unfortunate illness; something I would have had difficulty doing if I was still in work. I can visit my family at times to suit them, rather than having to suit me as well.

I've now found time to research my family history, which has been thrilling. I've found nothing exciting, but the thrill was in the research. I've time to research and write a blog, and even if no-one else was interested in it, I would be. All this because I've time, and allowed the development of new interests. There may of course be the occasional dark moments, but I had those when I was working. Life is not at all bad.

I like the advice of M.K. Soni,

"Retire from work, but not from life".

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