Posted in Personal life

Far from Retiring (Nor Am I Shy)

A post-birthday post about my busy life and why I’m not retiring any time soon, despite reaching 55

Birthday card showing pic of crowd with caption "Debs didn't expect so many of her Facebook friends to show up for her birthday party"
Birthday card

Last weekend I reached a particular milestone birthday that in the heady days of my twenties, I had speculated might be my retirement age. 

In those days, I worked as a journalist on a trade press magazine in the telecommunications sector, called (no surprises here) Telecommunications. I was based in central London, in a mews building round the corner from Buckingham Palace and Victoria Station. This wasn’t quite as idyllic as it sounds, because our office had virtually no windows, thick walls and a heavy outer door, which made it feel like a nuclear bunker.

This may sound like a high-tech magazine, and I suppose we were cutting-edge in those days, but it makes me smile (and feel ancient) to recall our office technology:

  • Cover of Telecommunications magazine from September 1988 showing large mobile phone
    This passed for cutting edge technology in September 1988

    We had an early fax machine across which we had to send copy to our American head office each month, and they’d fax us back the proofs to check. It was always touch and go as to whether it would work.

  • The fax machine was a step up from the telex machine, used to send urgent messages. This was not far removed from using Morse code:  I had to type messages via punched holes on a paper tape, each letter showing up as a specific formation of dots. Once I’d punched the paper tape, I dialled up a phone connection and threaded the paper tape through, so the message was transmitted faster than I’d typed it. Transatlantic calls were expensive in those days, and saving seconds counted.
  • The single, shared office printer – a newfangled daisy-wheel – was so noisy that it had to have an acoustic hood. Whenever anyone wanted to print, we had to plug a long cable into the back of their desktop terminal, because there was no such thing as wifi printing. Or indeed wifi.

An Era of Reform

We were on the cusp of denationalising public services, including the government PTT monopolies. British Telecommunications was daringly abridged to British Telecom to sound modern, before being more ruthlessly honed down to just BT. Mobile phones were the size and weight of a brick. If you managed to make a simple phone call on one, you were doing well. As to apps – well, they were unheard of.

Another institution undergoing radical change was the government pensions scheme. For the first time, we were allowed to divert a small fund into a private system.

I still don’t really understand what it was all about, I just blindly followed advice patiently provided by our boss, who had a PhD in nuclear physics and had worked at CERN splitting atoms, assuming that if he was that smart, his advice would be a safe bet.

Accordingly, I signed up for the scheme he proposed, which required me to designate my expected retirement age. I chose 55. am unimaginably distant age for one aged just 25 – more years distant than I’d already lived. We fondly imagined that by 2015, our biggest social problem would be how to fill the long, idle days freed up for us by labour-saving technological advances.

What they didn’t foresee was the economic crisis that would rule out early retirement for all but the lucky few.  Nor had I counted on still feeling so young and active by the time my policy matured. (My young nephew, turning 11 this week, thought I’d just hit 45.)

Still Far From Retiring

To the outsider, it may look as if I am living in retirement, as I work for myself from my peaceful country cottage. Sometimes, particularly when planning weekday lunch dates with friends, I even fool myself. When everything I do is something I love (well, apart from the housework, anyway), it’s hard to equate it to real employment.

It was only when lunching with a former colleague on Friday that I realised just how hard I still work. When Diana, who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, I made myself hoarse reeling off the long list:

Cover of pension advice leaflet headed "It's time to choose"My friend Diana’s career had been in accountancy, and she is a brilliant budgeter. After I’d reeled off this list, she looked at me calmly and said: “You’re doing too much. When do you ever sleep? Go home and have a rest. Take the rest of today off.”

As I drove home trying to stop my eyes crossing from sleep deprivation, I realised that she was absolutely right.

When I got home to find a letter from the insurance company asking me whether I was ready to take my retirement payout, now that I’d hit 55, or whether I wanted to defer, there was only one realistic choice. I phoned them straight away.

“Please defer the policy,” I told them. “I shan’t be retiring any time soon.”

We agreed they’d review the policy each year from now on, and be in touch this time next year to ask whether I’m ready to retire.

But I think I already know the answer.

If you enjoyed this birthday post, you may also like these from my archive:

The Only Certainty in Life: Birthdays and Taxes (on my mum’s 80th birthday)

There’s No Time Like the (Birthday) Present (on discovering the elixir of immortality – allegedly)

To be kept informed about all my news and events,
sign up here for my monthly enewsletter (free short story with every issue!)


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

16 thoughts on “Far from Retiring (Nor Am I Shy)

  1. What I want to know is how do you keep it all straight and not show up for the radio interview on the wrong day and for your dentist appointment when you were supposed to be doing a radio interview? 🙂 As for retirement, I think it’s a quaint notion.

    1. Ha, yes, a quaint notion indeed! I keep a paper diary to try to make sure I don’t get muddled up, but I must confess we did once show up a day late for a Channel Tunnel crossing! My husband hasn’t let me forget that (it was entirely my fault) and I haven’t been through the Tunnel since. Well, we always found the cross-channel ferry more of an adventure, anyway – even storms at sea are preferable to the risk of reliving that embarrassment! (This post recalls how we came very close to having to sail in gale force winds – ugh!)

  2. Reading your post, I’m smiling. Why? Because I achieved the same milestone as you about a month ago (my profile photo is a teensy bit out of date), and I also can’t believe I ever contemplated retiring so soon!
    I’ve been self-employed for around 15 years now, love it, and have extreme difficulty explaining to people like mortgage companies, that I never intend to retire, and that if I want more money, then I’ll find more work.
    They really don’t know how to take that, but I honestly can’t see a time when I’d want to retire – how boring would that be?

  3. Dear Debbie, Warm congratulations on your 55th birthday and many happy returns of the day. What a tremendous volume of work you’ve been doing, and no sign at all that you’ll be slowing down any time soon. Indeed, your birthday post makes it clear that you’ll be going from strength to strength. More power to you, Debbie. I really would like to pay your fee for designing my website and getting it going, so please send me an invoice when it’s convenient. And later, perhaps you’ll teach me how to amend and update things so that I can finally run my website myself. My state of health is such that I have decided to take time out from my writing for an extended period. I want to be out of my study a lot more and get fresh air blowing through my brain cells until I feel renewed. I shall, however, continue my direct marketing campaign to my target audience. Kind regards. Enver

  4. Wonderful post Debbie and one that I had to comment on as it turns out we share the same birthday so a very happy belated birthday. I’m a few years behind (49) but laughed when you recalled the ‘office technology’. Back in those heady days I worked in the law and our offices were situated in a street full of other law firms. Great excitement was caused when one of them got a fax machine and we would all traipse round to that office to use it at £1 a sheet!! They must have been raking it in 🙂 I now have my own business and am working harder than ever with the writing as the added extra (though I wish it were the other way around – haha!) so I can’t imagine retiring any time, let along soon – do people actually retire nowadays?

    1. Happy belated birthday, Georgia! I managed to spend my birthday offline, so will have missed it if a reminder of your birthday popped up on Facebook!

      Gosh, £1 a sheet for fax – they must have made more money from that than from their law practice, for the shortlived days that the fax was actually useful!

      We were always very conscious of how much photocopying cost us per sheet, too, (so no change there!) but that didn’t stop us from assembling a fine gallery of self-portraits (of our faces, I hasten to add!) taken on the office photocopier, all looking a bit like Martians. Well, I always have been easy to please!

  5. Actually I was plotting a novel based on the mania of the independent publishing world, and you would be the main character!!! I hear the pens being picked up – who can write it first? You are an inspiration to all 🙂

  6. I retired to write full time a few years ago, and that’s a choice that keeps me more active than ever. I’m glad you are enjoying your country cottage and your busy writing career.

  7. First of all, Debbie – happy belated birthday! I am not far behind you (49 next month) and about five years ago my husband drew up an amazing wall-plan for me called “Sue’s path to retirement”. (Like you, I am self-employed.) On it, he showed my working hours steadily decreasing, from six days a week at the start of the chart, down a day a week every three years until I cruised into gentle retirement. It was a work of art, Debbie – colour-coded and everything. So here I am five years into the grand plan, and how many days a week am I working. Six, of course! It’s a lovely plan, but work is just too much fun.
    Happy birthday again, and here’s to many more years of the best sort of busy-ness!

  8. Interesting post, Debbie. I can’t say I’m working harder than before – full-time tutor in further education with a more than full timetable, including three evening classes was pretty gruelling – but I’m certainly working hard. And when friends suggest coffee/lunch outings, I nearly always have to refuse, but I would hate it to be other than it is. A life without writing would be so empty.

Leave a Reply