Somebody said something to me last week and it started me thinking. The somebody was one of our gardeners, let’s call him Adam, and the something he said came about after I had put in one of my relatively rare shifts driving the Land Rover and trailer to pick up wood chippings – see photo above for evidence. I enjoy these trips, they make me feel a) useful and b) manly. Yes, I know, sad isn’t it? But there you are, I feel as if I’m doing my bit for the firm (JHG Gardening, still available for hire for gardening and landscaping – actually we’ve been light on the landscaping which is what gardening firms do when the winter arrives, so let me know if you’re in the Leeds area and need any such work carrying out – see my hand-crafted advert at end, well, the words anyway). Collecting the trailer full of chippings was quite good fun, trying to reverse the trailer between the gates to our drive which are about two inches wider than the trailer, theoretically, although in reality, the gates seem narrower than the trailer. This was challenging – far too challenging for my reversing trailer skill level. The challenge was only met by Adam and our other gardener – call him Nick – man-handling the very heavy trailer (who would have thought that wood chip could be so bloody heavy) into the drive and even stopping it before it’s considerable weight demolished the garage at the bottom of our sloping drive. What manly fun we had.
But this was not what started me thinking, although the prospect of needing a new garage briefly crossed my mind. No, what started me thinking was that after all this knock-about fun, Adam said to me, and I think I quote him right, ‘it’s good to get out with the team isn’t it, P?’ What sparked the subsequent train of thought was two-fold, a) I realised he was right, it had been enjoyable in a teamy sort of way but, perhaps more important, b) it made me realise how much the concept of team had figured in my working life and was so patently absent in my retirement. So the title to this blog is wholly ironic, there is no part of my retirement life that involves being a member of a team – of any kind.
Let me say right up front, that working as an educational psychologist is not a particularly teamy kind of job. Unlike teaching (my previous career) you’re pretty much out there on your own. Team meetings (or any other kind of meeting with colleagues) were relatively rare, particularly in a county like North Yorkshire which is big and spread out. Sounds like I’m complaining about this but in fact, in my previous job in Leeds, I was a team leader / member of the senior management team and frankly this was something of a nightmare. Managing psychologists is what’s technically called a mug’s game. It’s that old chestnut of being akin to herding cats. It is said there is no ‘I’ in team. Let me tell you that a ‘team’ of educational psychologists is full of I’s, all wanting to do what they thought was right (for them?). It was a pain and I was delighted to leave it behind and move on to North Yorkshire as a theoretical member of a (admittedly rarely met) team and therefore, by definition, a person who similarly took no notice of management’s attempts to ‘reign me in’, would that be the phrase?
Set against this apparently entirely negative past experience of team-ness that I am seemingly looking back on with some nostalgia to the point of wanting to recreate it in my retirement, let me just briefly pause to remember one positive experience of being in a team, running it sometimes, when I was allowed. For about 4 years I was involved in something called The Positive Behaviour Project. I won’t bore you with the details at this distance but suffice it to say it was a team of creative individuals who were greater than the sum of their parts rather than the above – nuff said. Oh, and did I mention, the whole project was my idea, needing ‘only’ the talented individuals to make it work. If you’ve read these blogs before you will know I’m big on having ideas and then getting somebody else to make them work.
So, as I say, this gardening interaction and my slightly rose-tinted reflections on my past career, got me thinking about whether I should be pursuing the notion of some kind of team-involvement but, in a retirement context. An interesting thought, problem is that’s pretty much where it stopped being interesting. I paused for a few moments to consider how other retired people might meet the need to feel a sense of belonging (a basic human need psychologists tell us) to some kind of group or team. A drama group, brass ensemble, choirs, walking football team (seems to be popular at the moment), sports club in a non-playing capacity, book clubs, bridge clubs, slimmer’s world, support groups and on and on. So it’s not like there isn’t plenty of choice.
And do you think that any of these appeal to yours truly? Ah, (after 370+ blogs) you know me so well. No, they bloody well don’t. That’s the easy part, the hard part is why don’t they appeal? First, let me say it’s not the content or the focus on these groups / teams, and it’s not, at least not entirely, to do with me being an increasingly grumpy old git. Best I can say is that’s it’s to do with a feeling of having responsibility to others and of course there’s an element of the classic Groucho Marx’s line – I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member, it’s about feeling trapped by ‘the team’, about having to turn up on a weekly or whatever basis and hence completely contrary to that sense of freedom that retirement promises to the unwary. Teams mean, to me at least, structure and hence restrictions and I haven’t given up the structure of my career to feel tied down. Of course there is a down side to this philosophy of retirement but now is not the time to explore it.