Tag Archives: retirement

Slipping Slowly Out Of The Mainstream.

5 Mar

DON’T GET OLD SON. —-  My father Maurice recently gave me a piece of advice. “Don’t get old son,” he said. Mum and dad are now in their later 80’s and in most definitions of the word, are now “old”. They are still quite happy and retain some degree of independence, although they now have a small band of people who come in to help. My mum, Jessie, sleeps with a stick by the bed because she has a bad leg that she “could do without.” My dad finds it difficult to serve up a cup of tea because his hands shake. He is reluctantly having to give up driving soon because he no longer has total command of the foot- pedals. They both take an array of tablets to counteract various problems. Their short term memories are slowly declining although long term recollection still seems to be intact. Yet they remain contented and happy despite the extra visits to the doctor. Their life is quiet and comfortable. They have their family, their friends and their faith. Most of all they have each other and their enduring love.

But I know what dad means when he implores me not to get old. The advancing years have seen the whittling away of their health , fitness and mobility. They have seen a slow erosion of their independence. Their life has gradually shrunk. This year they finally gave up the idea of having an annual holiday because they didn’t want to have to cope with the effort of travel. Their life has in effect been marooned in a quiet backwater, well away from the hectic, hurley-burley of the mainstream. They have changed from looking after their 3 children, which they did very well, to having to be looked after to a certain extent. It’s a delicate business — judging how much help an older person needs and how much independence they can safely retain. It’s a question of treating them with respect and dignity. Looking out for someone includes looking out for their feelings as well. I am well over 20 years younger than my parents, but even now, in my early 60’s, I am starting to experience some of the consequences of age and the feelings they induce.

60 IS THE NEW 40 ISN’T IT?  —-  Some people may already regard me as an “old” person or at least getting that way. I am 62. To a young child I must appear ancient with my grey hair and the wrinkles fanning out from my eyes. I have acquired a bit of a beer belly despite hardly drinking any beer ( life’s so unfair) and I am so dependent on  my reading glasses that I go into a panic if I lose them ( which I frequently do!). I have decided not to be bo-toxed or have plastic surgery, even if I could afford it. I have also decided not to die my hair or disguise myself behind make-up. As a friend of mine used to say:” What you see is what you get.” However, with life-expectancy rising and retirement/pension ages being constantly pushed up, I don’t really think of myself as old. Didn’t somebody say that 60 is the new 40? ( or maybe 50.) Either way, I think they have a point. I feel fairly fit and healthy, don’t get out of breath when climbing up the stairs, have an active mind and numerous things I still want to do . Thus I’m not ready to be written- off just yet.

A YOUNG PERSON’S WORLD.  —-  Despite all of the above, I still sense the clock ticking. I’m also aware of a subtle change in attitude to me, especially from younger generations. I don’t like it and in my unkinder moments I dub it “the arrogance of youth.” Let’s face it — it’s a mostly young peoples’ world or so it seems. One only notices that as one gets older. To judge from our TV screens and especially the adverts, a visitor from Mars might think that the World consists of exclusively 20 and 30 somethings. We see young people: eating, drinking, cooking, joking, wearing the latest fashions, driving the latest cars, putting on make-up, styling their hair, partying, travelling and so on. Just every now and then an ageing Michael Parkinson appears, advertising insurance or a funeral down-payment scheme. but mostly it’s the young who dominate. Not many from my generation appear in this “glamerous” media world or on the air-brushed covers of glossy magazines. Apart from the odd distinguished actor like Maggie Smith or Anthony Hopkins, or “evergreen” rock stars like Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart, we “oldies” have largely disappeared from the mainstream of public consciousness.

ON THE SCRAPHEAP?  —-  The perceived change in attitude to me probably started when I retired. I was lucky enough to attain slightly early retirement at the age of nearly 57. I was ready for it after the stresses and strains of nearly 35 years in the front-line. I don’t know how my dad carried on in full-time work until the day before his 65th birthday. He did extremely well, as did many others, and I admire him, and them, greatly.

At first people congratulated me and wished me well. But then, as I have written before, I experienced a subtle change of attitude. Some felt sorry for me because I had “nothing to do”. Two friends suggested I might like to do a part-time job or take up charity work. The attitude was (is) that one is only doing something worthwhile if one is doing a job.( preferably paid.) Reading, writing, blogging, listening to music, singing, walking, travelling, photographing, meeting friends, going to the theatre or cinema, playing and watching sport, visiting museums and galleries, researching family history etc – didn’t seem to be good enough. One aquaintance even described retired people as being on “the scrapheap” and thus kindly gave me my blogging title. It was as if I had changed from a figure of envy to a figure of pity.

My income dropped considerably once I retired but so did my status in society and possibly my level of respect from others. How many times have you been asked at a party : “What do you do?” It usually comes straight after: “What is your name?” The person in question is probably not interested in your recreational pursuits or voluntary activities. He or she is primarily interested in your paid employment. Your answer to that question goes a long to deciding someone’s opinion of you.

THE PENSION PROBLEM  —-  Just as respect for the unemployed is probably quite low as shown by the benefit “scroungers” campaigns in certain newspapers, so I suspect ( in my current hyper-sensitive state) that respect for retirees also dips after they leave work. I have been quizzed by people who genuinely cannot understand how I fill my time. I have also been the butt of the occasional “joke” about them having to work even harder to pay my pension. The big increase in the pensioner population has become a massive issue for the government. Where is the money going to come from? Thus I cannot fully enjoy my retirement because I’m aware that some regard me as a financial burden on society and a contributer to one of the country’s biggest problems. I don’t like this feeling of being regarded as being a bit of a “parasite”, although nobody has actually said this to my face. Maybe it’s all a figment of my over-active imagination? In answer to my imagined accusers I say that I’ve always paid my taxes in full and still do, as an occupational pension is far from tax free. However the feeling still persisits that some respect me a little less because I am no longer fully “contributing”.

WHEN THE CHILDREN FLEE THE NEST.  —-  I feel as though I live a full and stimulating life which I enjoy. However, along with paid employment, another of my major life functions, that of being a full time parent, has now slid away into the past. My 3 children have all grown up into adulthood and lead their own independent lives. One of them, my daughter Joanna, now has her own two daughters with her partner Allan. So I am not completely redundant as I have an important part-time job as grandad. Obviously I have not entirely given up my role as a dad. Once a parent, always a parent. For instance I was recently called upon to make one of the speeches at my son’s wedding and I was also enlisted to help cut the cake. If Joanna, Catherine or Ian need help, I am always there. However, I am no longer required on a day-to-day basis. I no longer have to work hard to support them financially as they now support themselves. It’s inevitable , but once your children leave, you experience that uncomfortable feeling of redundancy and of being inched a little further away from life’s centre stage.

BECOMING OLD FASHIONED.  —-  It is futile to try to remain in employment indefinitely or to try to stop your children from leading their own lives. Both retirement and children leaving home are inevitable and highly desirable developments once the right time arrives. However, other developments as one gets older are not so easy to swallow. For instance one gets slightly mocked for being old-fashioned. There I go — being super-sensitive again! I feel this is happening to me even though I have tried hard to keep-up with ever-changing trends and technological changes. Change is a permanent feature of our society. Being resistant to change opens one up to the accusation of being “out of touch”. Popular music is a case in point. I rejected my parents’ “boring” brass bands and light classics in favour of pop, blues and rock music. Mum and dad hated all that and I categorised them as “old-fashioned” — ie unwilling to change with the times. I lined up with Bob Dylan when he sang:” The Times They Are a Changin'” However, now it’s my turn. I refuse to give up my rock music in favour of: House, disco, rap, hip-hop, boy bands or X factor winners. To me they are all pretty “rubbish”, the same term used by my parents in the ’60’s. Despite trying to move with the times, and I am getting into new artists all the time, my tastes have diverged from the mainstream of popular music and I have ended up in a minority taste, “alternative” world. Some might say I now exist in a sort of musical time-warp although I try not to wallow too much in nostalgia.

CHANGE FOR CHANGE SAKE?  —-  As I get older, I find myself getting more and more resistant to change. I used to criticise  other people  for this very thing, but now it has crept up and happened to me. Sometimes, particularly in the fast moving world of technology and communications, I suspect it is change for change sake. Actually, I know the real motivation — it’s to make money by generating constant demand for the new. Back in the 1950’s it used to be about buying the latest washing machine or vacuum cleaner. Now we are constantly being enticed by the next generation of cell-phone. I’m waiting for the one that can do scrambled eggs! A slick marketing campaign probably featuring David Beckham, persuades us that something we had never even thought of before is now absolutely essential to our lives. I laughed out loud when they came up with the idea of the camera phone. Surely it’s better to use a specialised camera to take a picture rather than something tagged on to a mobile? It doesn’t even have a zoom! But I was wrong. It caught on big time, partly because people desperately wanted to keep up with the Jones’s but also because the technology improved so swiftly that the pictures were ( are) actually pretty good. So the laugh is on me. You cannot even buy a mobile these days that doesn’t have a camera. It’s now thought of an integral component of every mobile along with: a clock, a radio, the Internet and a sat-nav, things that until recently we would have imagined to be “essential” componants of our phones.

My resistance to these so-called new necessities of life has pushed me further into a side stream and out of the main current. There I wallow around in an ever-shrinking pool of people who don’t want to, or cannot stay in the hectic mainstream. I suspect that I am sometimes derided as being out of touch or being a sort of modern Canute. However I think there is more to life than scrabbling around trying to acquire the latest gadget.  I still don’t use a mobile very much and agree with the comedian who said that ” mobile phones are for people who are frightened of being alone.” What’s wrong with a bit of peace and solitude? Until recently I thought  blackberries and apples were tasty fruits that  made delicious pies, but now I find they are actually smart-phones and laptops. I somehow struggle through each day without using the now ubiquitous I-Phone, but if I proudly announce this to yonger people I am greeted with cries of disbelief and derision. I think they think I am joking. Another example of how old-fashioned I am is that I refuse to have a machine telling me where I am and where I have to go . I would rather use my brain and something called a map.

THE GENERATION GAP  —-  By the time one gets to a certain age, one has enough experience of life to work out quite a bit about it. I have worked out a set of values which form the foundation of my life. In fact I think my well thought out values are worth sharing with others in order to give them the benefit of my experience. Therefore it is a bit galling to be criticised for repeating what I sincerely and passionately believe. Repitition is seen as boring even if one believes that what one is saying is valuable. It’s a case of knowing looks which interpreted mean: “There he goes again. We’ve heard it all before!” This is very frustrating. Even if I have genuinely discovered that the meaning of life is a lot more than 42 ( as in the Hitch-hiker’s Guide), I am only allowed to say it once and then have to move on to different topics in order to avoid being a social embarrassment. It’s also a bit irritating trying to impart knowledge and “wisdom” to people 2 or 3 generations younger than me but finding that they think they already know it all.

What I’m saying in my grumpy old man way is that experience is not valued enough in our society in my opinion. Once a person is regarded as “past it” or “over the hill”, then his or her opinion doesn’t count so much. Older peoples’ views are more frequently dismissed and as people get older they are more and more likely to be patronised.  Maybe I’m getting a bit too sensitive here but I feel it has started to occasionally happen to me. My wife feels the same. It’s very frustrating — this feeling that I am gradually being marginalised. The irony is that I am guilty of the same behaviour with regards to my parents. I quite often claim that I know better than them or decide not to discuss certain issues with them because they “wouldn’t understand.”

RESPECT AND DIGNITY.  —-  My conclusion to this rambling piece is that I don’t enjoy some aspects of getting older, even though I’m still only in my early sixties. I don’t like being eased out of the mainstrean and into a back-water by some of the attitudes of society. However, to be fair, if I want more respect from others who follow in my footsteps, then I must confer confer more respect on those who have gone before. Now that I have shed some of my major life roles I am very sensitive about being categorised as a : “has-been.” I also a bit touchy about being labelled as “old-fashioned” or ” a stick in the mud.”. I know I also have to moderate my behaviour to an even older generation in order not be seen as a hypocrite. In my wisdom of 62 years I believe that “respect” and “dignity” are two of the most vital ingredients of a happy life. That includes self respect as well as respect for others. I agree totally with what one of my former teaching colleagues put up on his classroom door: “Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.” I must phone up my mum and dad for a chat!

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Getting up from the Couch and Walking with the Spirit of Clive.

6 Oct

Just over 5 years ago I retired from full-time teaching. I also retired from stress, exhaustion and getting up at 6-15 in the morning! At first everyone congratulated me and wished me many years of rest and happiness. However, it was not long before the questions came: “What are you going to do with your life?” “How are you going to fill your time?” “Won’t you get bored?”  People didn’t seem to be satisfied when I told them I intended to relax, have leisurely cups of coffee and read the newspaper. Neither did they appear to be very interested when I talked about writing my memoirs or catching up with my reading. The questions persisted with an increasing note of concern. I needed to say something to shut them up!

So one day, while undergoing yet another gentle third-degree, I suddenly announced that I intended to tackle the Coast to Coast. This is the famous long distance hike from St Bees in Cumbria, across the Lake District, the Pennines and the North York Moors to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. It had been devised and popularised by the legendary Arthur Wainwright. That dramatic declaration stopped my inquisitors in their tracks! Clearly this was regarded as an eminantly acceptable retirement project, much more challenging than having a lie-in or enjoying a relaxing breakfast in the conservatory. From then on, my questioners adopted an air of admiration and excitement when I told them of my plan, and their previous concerns about me wasting my life and slowly going to seed, quickly evaporated. Even I got quite excited and found myself looking proudly in the mirror from time to time. By completing this epic challenge I could transform myself from zero to hero! I swiftly acquired the maps and guide-books, including a copy of Wainwright, the hallowed bible of all serious walkers. I talked knowledgably about routes, mileages, equipment, communication and back-up plans.

However my initial enthusiasm soon wa(i)ned ( sorry about the pun Arthur), and I increasingly succumbed to the twin attractions of the couch and Sky Sports TV. This had the added appeal  of not having to wear: hiking boots, thick socks, over-trousers, waterproof and wind-proof jackets, hat, gloves and scarf. All I needed was a dressing gown. Also, I did not need an OS map or compass to navigate myself between the sofa, the kettle and the telly.

But all good things come to an end. I started to tire of the daily inanities of Sky Sports news, and got sick of stuffing salted peanuts down my throat. I even got fed up of coffee after about the 8th cup of the day!(very bad for me I know.) Worst of all though, was that I started to put on weight! I developed a sort of spare tyre around my middle, which was a big shock for someone who had always been slim or even skinny  and who actually had been nicknamed “OXFAM” at school after taking his shirt off for PE. Something had to be done. I resumed running — dragging my extra bulk around the local streets. I bought a bike and even took up swimmimg. I also resolved to do more walking.

The walking group I had once belonged to, the “Gateshead Boghoppers”, had now broken up, but my saviour came in the shape of my dear friend Clive. Once he had retired from his stressful job in the NHS, we agreed to go out walking together . We went out every month irrespective of the weather and were soon joined by a mutual friend: Colin. Soon Colin dubbed us  the MATES — the acronym standing for Men Against The Elements. This was because we battled against : rain, wind, snow, fog and whatever else nature decided to throw at us.

It was on these MATES walks that the subject of long-distance footpaths cropped up again. Colin had done several including the Pennine Way. I had already broached the subject of the Coast to Coast ( as opposed to the Couch to Couch) with Clive and we had agreed that it would be good to have a go at it. Once Colin got in on the discussions, he sensibly suggested that we cut our teeth on the Northumberland Coastal Path, a mere 66 miles! There was no escape for me now. I had painted myself into a corner. My impressive but deliberately vague pronouncement that I intended tackling a long distance trek was now hardening into reality. With the impressive efficiency as befits an ex-teacher and ex-military man, Colin set about organising our 6 day walk. Dates were fixed, routes worked out, accommodation booked and deposits paid. I graciously accepted my fate and willingly crossed the Rubicon. We were all looking forward to our first major MATES expedition.

However, with just 2 months to go, tragedy struck! Shortly after one of our regular walks during which we excitedly discussed our final plans, Clive was involved in a terrible, fatal moter-bike accident in Scotland. Colin and I were shocked and stunned. Clive had been retired for barely 2 years and we had so many plans for our post-work future together. The news was so shattering that for some time we didn’t know what to do or say. It was only when Clive’s funeral was approaching that Colin and I realized what we had to do. We agreed that we wouldn’t cancel the walk, but would go ahead with it in Clive’s memory.

So it was that at the end of September, 2011, Colin and I set off on a lovely sunny day from Berwick-uopn-Tweed, heading south. Ahead of us lay 66 miles of beautiful Northumbrian coast and countryside. To the unknowing people we encountered there were just 2 of us. But we knew that there were really 3. Clive was with us in spirit every step of the way. He was constantly in our thoughts. We even mistakenly called each other Clive at times. At the end of each day we toasted him. In a funny sort of way the 3 MATES were still together.

On the second day, en route from near Lindisfarne to Seahouses, we detoured on to the St Cuthbert’s Way, another long distance path. The highlight of this was a visit to St Cuthbert’s Cave. We were on part of the route taken by the monks of Holy Island while carrying the coffin and remains of their former Abbot- St Cuthbert, famous for his inspirational preaching and his miracles. They had left the island in 875 AD to escape continued Viking raids and were to wander around for decades before finally bringing the Saint’s remains to rest at Durham.( where the cathedral stands today.)  St Cuthbert’s cave is a special, atmospheric place. It is an overhanging outcrop of sandstone supported by an isolated pillar of stone. It lies in the middle of a sloping pine wood and is flanked by boulders which guard its entrance like silent sentinels. The cave sits in a peaceful, beautiful setting. Knowing its religious connotations, it seemed in my mind to have a spiritual aura about it. Not only had the monks laid the body of the saint in the sanctuary of the cave, but much later, in the 1930’s, the local Leathers family had had the ground consecrated to serve as their burial ground.

Before we left, Colin took a photo of me standing in front of the “sacred” cave. At the time we thought nothing of this and walked on. However, when I later showed this picture to my wife Chris, we noticed to our surprise that it revealed a strange, ethereal glow all around the top half of my body. Straight away Chris declared: ” That’s Clive!”  Maybe it was just the sunlight slanting through the trees, but the light hovering around me had such an unusual luminosity about it, that it is tempting to think that at that moment I was enveloped by the energy of my departed friend. He wasn’t with us in the flesh but maybe his spirit was accompanying us on our trek. In a funny sort of way, that strange, ghostly glow may show that our old MATE Clive, completed the Northumberland Coastal Path with us afterall!