Retirement Is Not Roses All The Way (10 May 1974)
“You’ll be all right now you’ve retired,” they said. “Your time will be your own. Getting up when you like and going to bed when you like. Doing a bit of gardening, then sitting in the sun with your feet up. Tripping off with the wife two or three days at a time. Roses, roses all the way…”
Well, well! It is now twelve months since I retired from regular work and all I can say is that at best they were only half right.
They overlooked the two most important points. Health and wealth, or rather the lack of one or the other or of both.
There is a lot of well-meaning chit-chat nowadays about a need to train for retirement. The notion is that retirement leaves you with next to nothing to do all day, with a consequential liability to early death from boredom. And that’s all my eye and Betty Martin.
For one thing, your wife hasn’t retired and never will retire and she’ll keep you busy if nothing else does. So let no money be spent on inviting oldsters back to school.
Any man who has reached the age of 60 or 65 and doesn’t yet know what to do with his spare time will never learn. The only training possibly needed is how to cope on about a third of your previous income and a third or less of your former strength.
I myself looked forward to retirement as the time when I would be able to indulge in a number of interests which up to then I had approached only in a desultory sort of way.
For instance, all my life I have been a lover of the countryside. And all my life, wherever I have been, whether at work or on holiday, I have been curious about the history and make-up of that particular place, since only the past can explain the present.
I thought to satisfy both these inclinations by walking every road, lane and by-path within reasonable range. Each one of these tells its own tale of present or former parish boundaries and the like, while some also lead to former thoroughfares which are no longer there.
I might even have been a second Bill Purcell. Remember old Bill? How in his retirement he used to keep all the local footpaths open by regularly walking over them? And how he plagued both the farmers and the council by his one-man campaign for preserving public rights-of-way?
Not that I concurred with him altogether, or even by half. He wrote letters to the Gazette about everything under the sun, some good and some far from good. But we missed him when he had trodden his last mile and had removed his last bit of barbed wire. Heaven knows what he would have done about the new city.
And why can’t I do that myself? Simply because for the past eight years I have not been able to walk more than a 100 yards. And similarly with my wife.
I had also thought to size-up every village in the Newport Hundreds and particularly to visit every ancient parish church. But that, too, is now off. Not so much walk-wise as car-crash-wise.
Grubbing about on archaeological sites is too trying on the feet. So what I am left with in the historical line is the sedentary etymological approach – of which more anon.
I do, however, have enough other and unrelated interests to assure you that whatever else I may die of, it will not be of boredom.
I suppose that writing this weekly column could be called one of them, though its main purpose as far as I am concerned is to help provide enough money to run a car. Without a car both my wife and myself would be not housebound, but largely estate-bound and unable to get even to the nearest post office. Mileage has to be kept down to the equivalent of not more than £1 a week on petrol.
Buses are not the complete answer. As for the suggested dial-a-bus service, you first need a dial and I should say that nine-tenths of the people who could most benefit do not have one.
This column, therefore, is a necessary discipline for as long as it may continue. It takes from one to two-and-a-half days a week to produce, depending on the amount of research and rewriting involved. Sometimes hard, rarely easy. And usually written three or four weeks ahead of time.
“You’ll be able to get up when you like and go to bed when you like,” they said. This is true – within limits. Those limits are imposed by my tummy, which works like a clock. From the habit of years it rouses me at 7.15 a.m. precisely and tells me feed-time is approaching. So I get up, dress and all that, go downstairs, cook breakfast and devour it while listening to the eight o’clock news magazine on Radio 4. And so another day has begun, exactly as it began when I was at work.
Our only regulate “date” is Thursday morning or afternoon. That is the day the government pays me for not spoiling any more paper. It is also the day the government pays my wife much less for helping me not to spoil it.
Then to the grocery shop. And the prices, missus! Shop around? That’s for folks with more puff – if the difference amounts to anything in the end. The truth is that modern towns are not built for unmodern people. It’s always 100 yards or more from any car park or bus stop to where you want to be.
But then, we must count our blessings. There’s probably worse to come!