Written by Judith Holder

Voices

Grey Pride

In her monthly column on getting older, Judith Holder talks the R word – retirement.

Illustration by Harriet Carmichael.

Illustration by Harriet Carmichael.

For the first time in 30 years, I am not in paid employment. It doesn’t feel good. The ultimate devaluing process. Suddenly my time is not at a premium and there is no regular reason to put work clothes on which now feel like armour.

I am without my armour, in a strange no man’s land which I think people call ‘semi-retirement’, which is code for I’m retired but in denial. It’s not all bad. Amazingly, despite having spent all my working life in TV, I am loving not being in the media.

In particular, I’m loving not having to kiss everyone all the time. The rule in Luvvie Land is that you shake hands when you meet someone for the first time, then kiss on both cheeks on your way out and from then on every time you meet. Exhausting process.

It also feels wonderful to be free of ambition and I realise what a stranglehold it had on me for decades. It feels liberating, energising to have given it up.

My to-do list is shorter, which is also a huge improvement, but many of the items on it come under the heading of shit pile. Things no one wants to do but someone has to. A lot of other people’s shit piles too, I notice. Making hospital appointments, booking train tickets, filling screen wash, cleaning shoes and redeeming Nectar points or filling in UCAS forms. Ordering replacement fridge parts or taking things back.

“In Japan, older employees are becoming the norm: people think nothing of being served in a bike rental shop by someone in their 70s, and teachers regularly continue until they are 70.”

This says a lot about older people, and the retired. The world assumes, wrongly, that they – or we – are short of meaningful (paying) things to do and therefore can take up the slack on the shit pile front. It says a lot about our currency and status or lack of them in the world.

It also explains why suddenly when postmen, delivery men, painters, decorators whatever – come to the house they want to talk. They think I have time on my hands and therefore would like nothing better than a 20-minute chat. Wrong. Er, just because I am not at work doesn’t mean I’m bored.

Of course, whether to change careers or retire is not going to be a matter of lifestyle choice for most of us from now on. I won’t be able to make a job of being retired like my parents did. With the changes in pensions and retirement ages and the demographic tsunami of oldies on the way I am likely to be out of work like this for a long time in my late middle/early old age because my pension doesn’t kick in until I’m 66.

Three years ago I would have received my pension seven years earlier than is now the case. It’ll be straight to the workhouse for me; I will need to buy a stool and crochet lacy handkerchiefs on the doorstep to make ends meet. Even my bus pass has shifted into never-never land.

The Old Age Pension was introduced in England in 1908. It was means tested; the qualifying age was 70 and payment was the equivalent of five shillings, or £22 per week in today’s money.

The first pensions were paid out – interestingly, most of them to women – in England on 1 January 1909 when, accounts say: “Grateful pensioners were said to have offered flowers, apples, even rashers of bacon to the postmasters and mistresses who handed them their first pension.”

Retirement and pensions were seen as a privilege not a right and that’s the way it’s heading now. Getting old and retirement as a joint concept will be a thing of the past.

What certainly seems to be true is that we are unlikely to have one career, let alone one employer. We will have to change direction, retrain, reinvent and rethink ourselves. And this, perhaps, is a good and exciting thing. In Japan, older employees are becoming the norm: people think nothing of being served in a bike rental shop by someone in their 70s, and teachers regularly continue until they are 70.

“It feels wonderful to be free of ambition and I realise what a stranglehold it had on me for decades. It feels liberating, energising to have given it up.”

On the plus side perhaps, work, belonging to a larger community than the family or neighbourhood feeds self-esteem and I wonder whether self-esteem is the one big anti-ageing product that might actually be free.

But keeping the over-60s at work will take some creative thinking if it’s going to work. We need to offer the over-60s flexible working hours, and the chance to retrain, or rethink their working lives. Many of us have increased responsibilities with ageing parents, or partners with health problems. We are the squeezed middle.

It also makes it a predominantly female problem since we are the ones that tend to cop for most of the caring responsibilities. It’s a complicated problem. Perhaps we need a gap break to consider the next, very different, phase of our working lives. It’s no good pretending that the over-60s want to be stacking shelves or plastering walls, or even working full-time any more: they don’t, and why should they?

We need to be realistic. We need to get real that there are some jobs that are better suited to people over 60 than others. I can’t imagine that many of us would be good at bricklaying or hairdressing at 70. And no one, but no one, is going to employ me in IT.

Perhaps, I could fulfil some long-held ambitions like running a post office on a remote island in the Scillies and stamp piles of letters by hand, or I could be a really corrupt customs official somewhere really sunny and sit outside all day, lollop my way to the desk occasionally and wait for people to bribe me with cash filled envelopes under the table. Or run a wool shop where you only get about three customers a day.

There are all sorts of “jobs” I could still do as long as the world is inclined to employ someone like me on a part-time basis.

Any ideas?

@greyprideuk

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Written by Judith Holder

Producer/writer of the BBC Two series Grumpy Old Women and the spin off books, and co-writer with Jenny Eclair of the three stage shows which have been international hits.