The most frequent question asked of those approaching retirement is: what are you going to do? The most potent answer to which is: what do you do on your day off?
After 365 consecutive days off it is satisfying to report that retirement is everything that it is cracked up to be – i.e. it can be whatever you want it to be. As with any period of spare time, it’s easy to squander away aimlessly, but it is equally easy to fill. It’s all a matter of mindfulness – filling the mind – but the joy, of course, is that the contents of the mind are no longer determined by the people who fill your pockets.
The sufficient filling of the pockets is the only criteria of which to be confident before taking the leap into the great geriatric hinterland. Old is the new younger than old, and it’s possible to cease working across a great age range, but there is no doubt that this rite of passage is one that is perceived to have a non-return valve, and it cannot be detached from its association with decline and joint replacement. That connotation is one of the causes of trepidation for those contemplating unsaddling the workhorse.
It is much better, be assured, to visualise retirement as an elevation, to escape to Elysian uplands and the reaping of rewards long prized during the incarcerations of the necessary evils of employment.
A diurnal diary was faithfully filled just to see how the days were spent, and each page is satisfyingly stocked. A lot has happened, and much of it – projects and tasks – were completed more quickly than they would otherwise have been.
The most curious facet of retirement is that the way that it reconfigures one’s perception of time. Time concertinas. It stretches, that’s for sure, but much more recurrently, it compresses. One of the most frequently witnessed rhetorically asked questions by the retired is how did I fit everything in when I was working? That’s because time is squeezed. Before you know it, it’s bedtime again.
A den is good. A new shed was bought; a place for self-imposed banishment. It has become a beloved playtime workshop and fair-weather office. It’s ten yards from the back door and ten parallel universes away.
Hobbies are good. Model making was the formative obsession of my childhood and revisiting those techniques has been both restorative and extending. Despite age-darkened eyes and less dexterous hands, trains and boats and aeroplanes have been made. (“Never call them ‘planes’,” said Kenneth More as the tin-legged Douglas Bader in Reach for the Sky, and this wholly biological biped never has.) In days of youth model making was Airfix plastic, but now, in knotted maturity, it has grown into wood. A very particular boat is being constructed, to help to fill the imaginative hold with Scandinavian cargo for a forthcoming untitled text.
Wordsmithing projects abound. This blog was begun. Lots of small scribblings and one large opus (currently under revision) have been penned.
The maintenance of the fabric of the premises and estates of the homestead has filled many a day and many more wheelie bins. Day trips aplenty have been enjoyed, taken at the wisp of a whim. Cafes urban and feral have been hunted and harpooned. Holidays have been taken during term-time; what joy!
Books, long postponed, have been read, and others, much frequented, have been read again. New areas of interest opened like pearl-concealing clams in a cooker. Radios 3 and 4 have been constant companions both pleasurably adding to the aforementioned mind-filling.
Regrets, regrettably, have been none. This, it has to be admitted, has been the most agreeable realisation of all, and the most surprising, for the day job was much loved, as were colleagues both close and outlying, and those whose improvement was tutored in return for pay were universally liked also. There was much to be missed, but none of it is.
There was a particular colleague, whose generosity was especially valued at the time of a crucial career change many years ago. He often spoke of times and seasons. In spring, one may have fond memories of glorious autumn leaves, but those joyful recollections are not manifestations of ‘missing’ something. The memories are as beautiful and plentiful as the individual fractals of forest foliage and their value resides in their temporal location. So it is when looking back at the fourteen thousand days of paid occupation. The joys were in the fascination, fathoming and fulfilment of the tasks thrown up by the job. The fun was always in the mind-filling. That work has stopped; the fun goes on.
Taking the leap from working life needs courage. This is partly because we have come to prefer to define people by their profession. Such labelling is neither justified nor accurate. There are mundane occupations but there are no mundane people. There are difficult jobs and there are difficult people but the two need not be connected. You are not defined by what you do. ‘Retired’ does not necessarily mean ‘not working’. When you are retired you can work as if your life does not depend on it.
Every retiree is a personal prospector and the message from this pioneer is check your pockets, pack your bags, cross the employment Rubicon, and climb inside the temporal concertina.
Oops – there goes another squashed day.