09 Oct

Retirement

Retirement. A personal view

Gone are the days when we all believed that we knew our own preordained retirement date. Constant tinkering by successive big governments carelessly messing with people’s lives put an end to yet another certainty as we understood it. Not content with moving the retirement-date goal posts, through gross financial ineptitude (and in collusion with their friendly bankers and insurance companies) our governments continue to eagerly display their total contempt of the general public whom they’re elected to serve and represent; then proceed to wipe out returns on any savings and annuities of prudent workers. And, to add further insult upon insult, proceed to tax savings accumulated from salaries already taxed under PAYE and National Insurance during our working lives.

For those of us who have worked hard from age 16, paying our ever increasing taxes, I strongly feel that by age 65 we’ve contributed our fair share to society; kept our side of the bargain and paid our dues through thick and thin whilst riding the Big One that is life’s roller-coaster: always used and occasionally abused.

And what about the great, as yet unmentioned, mis-selling scandal that is the many thousands of mortgages sold to people who would be retired (i.e. not working and therefore not earning) years before their mortgages would be paid off? To my mind, perhaps the biggest crime of all in this respect is the sale of interest-only mortgages to anyone approaching retirement. Yes, of course, everyone should make up their own minds but the mortgage lenders surely must take some responsibility for their actions and advise clients appropriately. The lenders have a vested interest though because at the end of the day, if you can’t pay off the capital they still actually ‘own’ the house and you’re out on your own. When will this scandal ever be addressed?

Approaching the second anniversary of retirement, I began to think about jotting down a few random notes to reflect, and record, some of my own experiences leading up to the transition from a busy and often hectic career into a fruitful ‘life of leisure’. One of the over-riding considerations before sitting down to write this account was my wish to be as accurate as possible whilst, essentially, to offer an insight into my own thoughts and ideas and, hopefully, to perhaps help others who are either approaching the end of their own working lives and are concerned about the future, or have found themselves already there and are wondering what to do to make the best use of their well-earned ‘Me Time’.

It is all purely relative of course and in the end it all comes down to individual circumstances, personal choices, priorities and resources. So, as you’ve travelled this far to be with me today let’s say a warm “Hello and welcome”, please come in and sit down, have a brew, and if you’re comfortable, and have the time, then we’ll get started.

Luckily for me and for the purpose of this blog, I can still pinpoint exactly when the decision was finally made to call it a day: to say farewell to the office, to step off the treadmill of my working life, to cast off the yoke; to close that book. To move on. To get a life.

It began before that of course, but the decision day is still clear: Sunday 2nd of September 2012 about 11.30pm whilst driving home from the Fylde Folk Festival – so that will be my starting point but, it has to be said, previous events had already been nudging me towards one particular pathway. As I was driving home, the words of the chorus to one particular song kept running through my head: “I’m gonna go to work on Monday one more time, one more time, I’m gonna go to work on Monday one more time”. (Those words stayed with me right through to my final week, especially as I kept substituting Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as appropriate, becoming a daily mantra which always raised a wide smile)

The change (or the challenge – you choose). The winds of change were blowing, carrying me along willingly; urging me just for this once to take control of events. To decide for myself when I wanted to retire, to give up the day job, to take that leap into the unknown; to actually do it, and begin a whole new chapter in the Book of Life.

Did you know that at work nowadays, they’re not allowed to ask directly if you’re going to retire but of course there are numerous other indirect ways of them asking the same question. As I had no plans to carry on working after my 65th birthday I was happy to discuss my thoughts and plans for a life beyond the daily 9 to 5 ritual and the associated twice daily commute. So they knew I would be leaving.

I don’t want to bore you with a long list, but feel that I should mention the one particular incident which brought so many thoughts to their inevitable and, probably, the obvious conclusion.

Phil is best described as an old acquaintance but his death in August 2012 had a most profound effect on my own outlook on the whole work/life balance. I had known him for about twelve years. Like me, he was a keen walker and we both shared a love of the local river bank, the quiet country lanes and field paths. Perhaps the most shocking thing was that at just 47 Phil was some 17 years younger and fitter than me when his heart gave out. He collapsed during a walk, phoned for an ambulance and was taken directly to hospital where he died the following day. It certainly brings about serious thoughts of your own mortality.

So, having made my decision on the way home from Fleetwood, the next question was “When do I want to finish work?” In reality I only needed to give four weeks’ notice but my official retirement date would not be until late the following February.

Monday 3rd September was my recovery day off work after the festival  weekend, time to chill out, go for a walk beside the river, clear my head and compose my resignation / retirement letter. Eventually, after several drafts with each amendment making the letter shorter, I finally arrived at the finished product and it felt really weird as I looked at the four short paragraphs which would close the book on a lifetime of work. The letter was done and signed, and I felt quite a rush of excitement.

If you’re still with me and are simply itching to know what my chosen retirement date was; 31st December and I will expand on that in just a moment for you.

The following day, 4th September, was, coincidentally, the anniversary of the date I’d joined the firm five years previously so there was a sense of symmetry as I handed the letter to my director and sat down to talk through my feelings and reasoning. Her offer for me to go back and work three days a week was considered for maybe a nanosecond – and declined with a smile although I did suggest that if she ever needed my help I’d go in but only if they would pay me on Consultant terms. I even offered a special discounted rate. As if….I certainly wasn’t holding my breath!

Why did I choose 31st December instead of 4th October? Well, it would give me time to a) use my remaining holidays to only work Four Day weeks and b) also enable me to teach my work colleague Sam as much as I could and hand over to her as smoothly as possible to minimise any disruption on my department. I had no qualms at all though, Sam and I had worked closely together for the past five years so I was totally confident that she’d be OK, and it would also mean promotion for her which was a good thing and very well deserved. My other considerations for selecting that date were quite simply selfish and probably obvious to you by now: The company would be closing on Friday 21st (my last working day) for the Christmas & New Year holidays so I only needed to save four days entitlement to cover the whole ten days and I’d be officially finishing work on the last day of the year. And my new life would begin on the first day of the New Year. More good omens, and even more symmetry. Oh, and one other consideration: Did I really want to spend the next seven or eight weeks of the freezing cold winter months scraping the ice off my car windscreen, driving to and from work in the dark, not seeing daylight? Nah, of course not. I was determined to break away from the Mushroom Syndrome.

They let me go early on my last day, which was nice of them, and as I started the car and drove out of my old parking slot I simply couldn’t resist shouting “FREEDOM!!!”

Anyway, the roads were fairly quiet and I got home safely, put the car away in the garage and went for a long hot shower – symbolically washing away “work”. Turned off the clock radio alarm, stripped all my ‘working clothes’ out of the wardrobe and put them in a pile to go into the next charity collection bag. And then I walked round to my local pub to celebrate. Happiness is Retirement.

For everyone who has only ever taken a maximum period of two weeks off in one ‘go’ for holidays you will appreciate that your body clock has that as a set timeframe, therefore with that in mind I could effectively treat the next two weeks as real holiday days but with the added bonus that after those two weeks I was already acclimatised to not having to go to work.

I suppose I’m quite lucky in that I’m divorced and self-sufficient so there was no-one at home nagging me or asking where I’m going, what am I doing today, in short I was free. I am lucky also to have had a number of non-work related interests to which I was able to devote far more time and energy and, being a keen walker, one of the first things I did was to join a local walking group.

I’m fortunate to live in a rather special (to me at any rate) part of the country with the River Wyre some 15 minutes’ walk away and the north Fylde Coast about 40 minutes stroll from my doorstep. The local area, the river and the coastline provide me with the inspiration to write my short stories and from them to progress to setting up my own website (with considerable help and support from my son) to share my thoughts, plus a few stories and poems, with anyone who is interested.

With a couple of stories still in the early ‘thought’ phase I currently have one particular writing project which should keep me busy through the dark winter nights to have finished in time for next spring. Perhaps also, the next big new project will be looking into on-line publishing. Another challenge.

Besides all the walking and writing, I enjoy going to the theatre and again I’m lucky to have a great choice of venues with the Marine Hall in Fleetwood, Thornton Little Theatre, the Opera House Blackpool, and my personal favourite – Blackpool’s Grand Theatre. With the Lowther Pavilion further along the coast in Lytham St Annes there is no shortage of live music, plays, shows and concerts.

Volunteering is also a good venture but for now I do prefer to help people on a one-to-one basis, where I can assist in resolving what to them often appear to be insurmountable obstacles. From letter writing, form filling, phone calls to service providers; standing up for vulnerable individuals and generally challenging the often intransigent and clearly mindless jobsworths of officialdom. Tilting at windmills? Perhaps so, but someone has to do it and whilst I can I will.

Days out and trips away all add to the rich tapestry of life in retirement for me. Plus, I have the time to talk to the local neighbours and folks who I meet along the way. It’s good to talk, and to listen too. To share a smile and a joke, or just to be there with a shoulder to lean on or an ear to hear.

Do I miss work? Have I missed work? The answer is the same to both, a loud resounding “NO”.

Do I get bored? No, I have not felt bored at all, not for a single minute.

Have I succumbed to daytime T.V.? Grrr, No, never, but I do enjoy watching ‘Eggheads’ and playing along with the contestants.

Would I recommend Retirement? Yes, most definitely, and I would also add “don’t leave it too late”. There is a life out there so grasp it firmly – and live the dream, while you can.

To sum it all up in two words: – Freedom and Happiness.

Oh, and one final thought, treat yourself to a large diary – ’cause you’re going to need it! And you’ll begin to wonder how the heck you ever managed to find time to go to work.

Russ Morton

October 2014