Both Mrs Summerhouse and I have turned down opportunities to work since we retired. And I mean work as in actually getting paid for it. My ‘refusal’ was a couple of years ago after making a partial come back and Mrs SH’s was very recently. She had been asked by an ex-boss to go into her college and work as, what you might call, an art consultant. It didn’t take her long to say no, as she said, she didn’t want to go back to work and now, neither do I, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been confusing, for me at least, to be retired. And let’s not forget our true calling workwise, running our gardening business. There’s a lot of stuff in the media about how people should be working longer and how the money would soon run out for those of us who retired at the usual, in the past, age of 65.
Mrs SH’s lack of interest (and I can’t say I wasn’t relieved) in working brought to mind an article I’d saved from the internet about people retiring later and working longer. Yes, that old chestnut. The article, under the above titular heading, said, In 1960, average life expectancy in the UK and the US was about 70, with many men retiring at 65. Today people in these countries are expected to live to about 80 – yet the average retirement age is 64. “It is ironic that the age at retirement from the workforce has been dropping at the same time that life expectancy has been increasing,” the NIH report said.
It went on to reference a Dr Eugster, the headline was:
Charles Eugster isn’t your average professional.
True, like tens of thousands of others in his Swiss hometown of Zurich, he heads to his office most mornings, a commute that involves a walk up a steep hill for 10 minutes, a half hour train ride, followed by a 10-minute tram journey. Once there, he works at updating his website, writing, and conducting research into ageing. What makes him exceptional is that he’s doing all of that at the age of 97. But could he be trailblazing for the rest of us? He certainly thinks so. Dr Eugster attributes his longevity to the fact that – bar a pause in his early 80s – he has never really stopped working.
He’s even got his own bloody website. Maybe I’d get more traffic to my blog if I posed in a vest like Charles. He was a dentist by the way, not sure I’d fancy having some 80 year old bloke probably half blind, with shaking hands and wearing a vest, poking a very sharp instrument in my mouth and I say this just having come back from the dentist and that pointy thing is sharp even when, or maybe especially when, wielded by somebody who looks like he’s still in the sixth form, as my dentist does (sorry Andy). It’s his birthday today but I daren’t ask how old he was. 14, you say, really who’d have thought it. I digress. Let me go back to the article (link at end of blog) before sharing my take on all this.
We’re used to hearing about mounting pension liabilities in the industrialised world, what’s often referred to as the pensions “time bomb”. An ageing population coupled with falling fertility rates and thus a shrinking workforce from which to extract taxes, means governments and companies are struggling to pay out the pensions of the elderly. Compounding the problem is the fact that most of us are living longer than ever before as well as evidence showing that retired people have more health problems.
“People seem to forget how old we are becoming,” Charles Eugster says. “How on earth do you think we are going to pay for all those years of doing nothing?”
Two points right up front. first, I’m fed up with hearing about health problems in the retired specifically how much us diabetics are costing the health service. Take a look at drug company profits before criticising us, mate. And my second point, the key one really, is Charles supposing that if we aren’t working we’re not worth the paper our pension statements are printed on, that we are, in his words, ‘doing nothing’. How very dare he. And excuse me for having worked for forty plus years with about two weeks off sick in total. I kind of thought I earned my pension, but who knows, but my point is, I think it helps to keep busy, not busy for the sake of it as in a recent blog, but ‘project busy’ like my friend building, albeit slowly, his shepherd’s hut. In our own sweet way some of us haven’t ‘stopped working’ in Charles’s words. In fact some of us have never been busier but what we do wouldn’t carry the label ‘work’.
I suppose what bugs me is that some people, and the catch is I might be one of them, don’t value what we do and therefore our self-esteem drops simply because we don’t engage in this thing called work. It really should be possible and here I’m pretty much speaking to myself, to feel good about ourselves even though we are not technically working i.e. getting paid for our efforts. We shouldn’t need the base coinage that goes with an activity to feel that what we’re doing is worthwhile.
So what to do? That’s the question, how do I convince myself that what I do do is a legitimate activity, every bit as legitimate as this thing called work? We have one or two friends, three actually who worked until they were nearly 80, two of them were Kiwis and one was American, I am very fond of all of them but I never envied them, I thought they were a little silly and the reason I thought them silly, and my optimistic note, is that I believe when a person does retire it’s not to do nothing but rather to reinevent themselves as another person, somebody with a redefined identity, a bit like me and becoming a writer and we know how that worked out. I’m going round in circles here (that’s the problem with this free flow of consciousness style of writing) and I’ve reached my writerly target of 1000 words so I’m going to stop writing about retirement now, until next time..