It’s finally happened. After over 50 years at the coal face, this old dobbin has been put out to grass! Retirement: an end to the rat race, a life of leisure and ease, a well-deserved break, a time to put your feet up and move into the third age. But just how retiring is retirement?
So far I am in the “it’s a bit of a holiday” stage of retirement. While I know that my services are no longer required (or wanted probably) my mind and body still respond like Pavlov’s dogs every Monday morning, because the instinct is still to get up and go to work. Fortunately there is a growing realisation that this is a false reaction and that, in any case, I am not interested in the world of work.
Like most of us, work is, I meant was, a means to an end. It was something you did to obtain the resources to do the things you really want to do. I was fortunate in that I had some options to ensure that the remuneration and tasks required were reasonably rewarding in themselves, but many don’t. I saw many whose work was so unrewarding that from middle age onwards they yearn for retirement. The sad thing is that expectations can be unrealistic and the reality is therefore a let-down.
For a good retirement I think you need a good enough income, fairly good health, and a flexible outlook. The silent generation (those born between 1928 to 1945) and many of the baby boomers (those born between 1946 to 1964) benefitted from greater affluence, asset inflation (principally housing) and the formation of the NHS. The generations to come may not be so lucky, and that is a concern for the future wellbeing of Britain. How well will future generations retire? Will the fear of abject poverty return in old age?
One important element for a good retirement is happiness. Many wives dread the day when their spouse retires and probably this is when divorce is contemplated. Divorce and marriage is in decline in the UK, but the ONS has found that marriage and divorce on the rise for the over 65s. The pandemic and the various lockdowns may well have tested many marriages to destruction. We can ponder on why this is happening, but it is another phenomenon of societal change in Britain. Divorce is no longer seen as taboo, and putting up with an unsatisfactory spouse or partner, as previous generations endured, is no longer necessary or optimal. Whether, of course, living on your own or with someone else is better, depends on your circumstances.
I must admit that at this time it all feels a little strange. I feel like a pit pony that has been let out into the sunlight. There are no obligations to employers or work colleagues. The politics of work no longer apply. You are no longer a striver, seeking promotion or reward. You are a has been, a former employee. For those who believed they were indispensable it can come as a shock, almost a bereavement. I had an uncle who retired under circumstances not of his choosing, and he was never reconciled to his new situation, even though financially he was well provisioned. Money is not everything. His retirement was a bitter and unfulfilling third age .How one retires can shape your future in the third age.
Enlightened organisations help the employees transition to retirement, most don’t. We do not have a culture of preparing for retirement, yet for many it will last for years if not decades. This may be because mass retirement is a recent phenomenon. Until the middle of the 20th century, old age meant poverty or incarceration in the workhouse. In Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee, the author describes the grim fate of an old couple, no longer able to care for each other after decades of marriage. They were separated, sent to the workhouse, and both expired shortly afterwards. I well remember the fear within my grandparents and great grandparents that workhouses engendered, long after the last institutions were closed.
One thing I have found strange is that everyone congratulates you on reaching retirement, as if you have been awarded a gong. While I may be the first male of my family to reach the age of retirement, it was through no effort on my part, I just kept on breathing for long enough to reach old age.
Retirement to me means that deadlines, presenteeism, and over-activity are unnecessary. I believe it gives me time to think, ponder and observe life. I am quieter than I once was. (I can still become vocal when I see injustice and there is a lot of it about) but I am trying to take stock and, wherever possible, become more genial. So many old people seem to become parodies of Victor Meldrew and Hyacinth Bucket of sitcom fame, and being angry all the time is bad for your health. It is a stock in trade of a newspaper or a website to show angry old people jumping up and down over something they think is the end of civilisation as we know it, whereas, in all but a tiny number of cases, it isn’t.
The one thing they should be worried about is climate change, yet the over 70s are not as worried as other age groups for the future. Perhaps they think it won’t affect them or that the actions required will be inconvenient, or will hamper their lifestyle. Perhaps if they experienced the extreme heatwaves of the Mediterranean countries on a regular basis, they might consider the effect of excess mortality during heat periods with some seriousness and demand action.
For many, retirement is a period of fulfilment, where long desired activities or goals are met. The growth of the cruise industry and sale of Harley Davidsons and sports cars to old blokes, is a testament to that statement, though in the case of motor vehicles it may also be a cause of an early demise.
We are in a golden period of good retirements for many. The length of retirement has grown. No longer is it retirement at 65, dead by 75. Many are living to 80 or 90, having benefited from 20 or 26 years of retirement. Improved health care and less physical work, for many but not all, may be factors in a longer life expectancies.
I am considering my options, what do I do with the time bequeathed to me in the third stage of life, having completed the first two stages of hatch and match. Dispatch is the final stage and is unavoidable. There may be trouble ahead, so let’s all play the music and dance while we can.