After last week’s blog something a little lighter about the world of retirement. There is no doubt that making an object with your own hands or, at least with your own power tools, is one of those activities that gives great meaning to our retirement lives. Given that, as I’ve written in this blog, finding meaning to our lives in retirement is perhaps the greatest challenge we face, at least behind health and finance and these are areas we can do little to affect, it pays to give this area careful consideration. I believe that many retired people take on a project – anything from painting one of, the now, unused bedrooms, renovating a steam engine or making a rocket that will take you to Mars – something that engages both intellect and our hands. It combines the cerebral with the physical and then some. Add to this the pleasure we get from creating something and, maybe as an additional bonus, learning new skills as we go along, the attraction of DIY / building something / renovating an old banger, etc. etc. becomes apparent. Writing this it makes me wonder why I’m not doing something similar, apart from the obvious explanation – I have no skills in any of the above areas.
Nonetheless, I very much like the idea and, when a friend of mine, who retired at the same time as me from the same job, albeit, and it pains me to say it, at a considerably younger age than me, talked about his plans to build a shepherds hut (see photo above for possible finished product), I was deeply green with envy. This was the same colleague who set me off thinking about going back to work when he revealed, in one of our regular drinking sessions, that he was thinking about going back to the old job. In the end he didn’t go back to work and I did in a small way, at least. He hadn’t started his shepherd’s hut project at this point and frankly I doubted he ever would. He had too many other things on his plate. Mostly family responsibilities, old and new. So while I admired his concept of building the hut from scratch, I didn’t feel at all threatened by it. It didn’t seem like a case of him having found the Holy Grail while I scrambled around in the bushes.
Admittedly, he had an incentive to start in the form of the four wheels for the hut (as I’ll call it for short) which he had already purchased. He had driven all the way to Hampshire* to buy the cast iron wheels that he bought off Ebay, where else, and paid, as I remember, about £500 for the privilege of doing so. It wasn’t that he had done nothing at all with the set of wheels. Being unused for many, many years. The metal wheels and the ‘stub’ axles (I learn these terms from my chum) were permanently welded together. They needed to be separated from each other. This my friend mostly achieved by marinating (as he called it) the whole thing or rather four whole things in WD40. I would, from time to time, enquire – any progress on the hut? Coming along (the wheels that is) nicely in their marinade, was his usual answer. This part of the operation seemed to make little progress and he showed only small amounts of enthusiasm to overcome this inertia. So all in all I wasn’t worried about him having a project and me not having one. I still am not worried but things are moving along.
A combination of WD40, heat and grinding machinery has finally freed the wheels from their axles and he is now in a position to start painting his wheels (see right for proof) and to contemplate how he might take the next step of attaching these, to what he calls, I think, a rolling chassis. To build the base he has bought, he’s good at buying stuff, several pieces of beautiful (and expensive) oak. I’ve even included a photo of these elegant pieces of wood below. How are you going to build the base, I asked? Don’t know yet, was his reply because, you see, he’s making all this up as he goes along. For him, the idea of copying somebody else’s design, is an anathema. The song I did it My Way will probably figure at his funeral (as it did incidentally at my mother’s).
So this is my chum’s way of using his retirement time. When this idea was first mooted, well before our joint retirement, I suggested he could build one for me which I would keep up at our vineyard, but now, introduced to the reality of his very slow progress, I think I was wise to buy my own hut and indeed also the mini-barn referred to in a number of vineyard blogs. I did build them myself, with a little help from my farmer neighbour and, of course, they were both built from kits, another anathema to my retired chum.
So there we are, as I said at the beginning, the idea of including, in retirement, an activity that meant building or renovating or remodelling something, has a lot to recommend it. As it stands however, apart from trying to develop our vineyard, I have nothing in this category as a part of my retirement plans. At the moment I live vicariously through my chum and his shepherd’s hut. Whether his progress will inspire me and whether, as a result, I give up all thoughts of returning to my previous profession, I don’t know. I will include in this blog further reports of his progress and, of course, because this is the kind of self-centred person I am, the effect of this progress on my own retirement ambitions.
*Shepherds huts are, as far as I know, not used in sheep farming in Yorkshire or the north. They were, I am reliably informed, used by shepherds in two ways – one, to sleep overnight when the flock was lambing and two, to follow the flock as they moved around the rolling hills of the Downs. A Shepherd’s hut needed gently undulating land to be pulled, originally by horse and then by tractor, from one pasture to another. I think Kevin McCloud, in one of his many TV programmes, built a ‘personalised’ version. He, like many other people, chose a hut on wheels because its theoretical ability to move meant that it doesn’t require the same kind of planning permission as a static structure would even though it is quite obvious that the owner has no intention of moving it.