Go Out To Grass Early (25 July 1975)
I note with lively interest the decision of Milton Keynes Borough Council finance director Mr Norman Chambers to retire at what is at present regarded as the early age of 55.
I know nothing of the background to this retirement, but I presume it is simply a case of a man being able to see his way to retiring at that age and deciding to do so. As such it has my hearty approval.
Such retirements should be the rule rather than the exception. I would have done the same, if I had had the wherewithal.
Generally speaking, over the whole gamut of employments a man is past his best at the age of 55. It applies as much to the stresses of white collar jobs as to the strains of blue collar and no-collar jobs.
All who can do so should get out while they and their wives can enjoy themselves and not linger on to the stage at which one or both already have a foot in the grave.
If you are a housewife I hear you say, “I don’t want a man round my feet in the kitchen all day.” And I say “You wouldn’t be in the kitchen all day. For at least half the day you would be out and about with your husband. Wouldn’t you like that?”
Folks say retirement is a danger to men: they die of boredom. Fiddlesticks. They die because retirement has come much too late. No man should live to work: he should work only to live.
I remember the late W.S. Billingham, one time manager of the Bletchley Co-operative Society. He retired at 55 and celebrated his 65th birthday by throwing a tennis party and tournament in which he nearly won his own prize. He also watched cricket at Northampton, took part in Bletchco plays, sang The Messiah with local choirs (although he was a professed agnostic) and went walking in his beloved Lake District. He lived no longer than most – but he lived.
There is one type of old businessman, however, with whom I have empathy. I call him the founding father. Long years ago, when he was barely in his twenties, he scraped together a few pounds to set up on his own account. Originally it was a one-man affair and it was a milestone for him when he could take on a boy. But thanks a good deal – though by no means entirely – to his hard work, perseverance and acumen over the early decades, his business is now worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds. A large staff is employed. Sons and grandsons have joined him in the firm. Sometimes they wish him gently out of the way, but he still insists on playing a part, even if now it is only to pursue his old ingrained habit of going round switching-off unnecessary lights and heaters and ticking-off the drivers when their vehicles with his name on them are not spotless. His wife has died. He has worked at the business too long to have any other interest left in life. He should be allowed to follow it to the end.
There can be no such excuse for the merely titular employers in big companies and even less for their managers. All should go gaily out to grass before their well-springs dry up and while they are still able to enjoy what they have earned.
I was pondering these things the other night when on the TV screen came Brian Connell’s interview with a millionaire turkey farmer and a self-made one at that. Aged, I should think, in his fifties, the farmer told of his early struggles and of how he and his wife coped. Then, after 25 years, came the blow. He suffered a heart attack and simply had to sit back.
Instead of fidgeting, he began to enjoy the relaxation. What’s more – and this is the point – he found that his managers made more profit when he wasn’t there than when he had been.
I have heard very similar stories told by other millionaires and near-millionaires.
And now for a retirement which was certainly not that of a millionaire, but which I have been very pleased to hear about for all that. I refer to the retirement of Mr Jack Simpson who, at the age of 71, has rightly deemed it wise not to climb ladders in Queensway any more for the purpose of cleaning windows – a job he has done for the past 30-odd years.
For all that time he has been the most prominent ex-Geordie in the town. He once told me how he got here – I think some kind of mistake of officialdom was involved, but I have forgotten.
However, he soon made his mark by taking other marks off and his short, wiry figure, with cloth cap and wash-leather hanging from a jacket pocket will be missed by old habitués of the street.
His partner in combating grime, his younger relative Ted Stevens, will miss him. They have had their ups and downs (no joke intended) during their partnership of 28 years – periods when owing to illness of one, all the work has fallen on the other, but they have pulled through.
They have always been good for a laugh and a bit of a banter. When they cleaned the upper windows of the old Gazette office in Queensway they were frequently invited by those within to step back and admire their work. Jack, at any rate, can now do that without disaster. Good luck to both.