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)

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Posted in Family

This Week’s Homework Is A Family Affair

Laura's school homework book
Homework – it’s a family affair

When I first see my daughter’s homework assignment for this week, my first thought is “She’s got off lightly!”

These were her instructions:

Child: Now you are in a new class, you should start to do something new to show that you are getting older. Why not set yourself a new goal or target? Make your bed, get dressed without help, choose the clothes you wear, help with the cooking, wash up or tidy up, do your homework without being told.

But then I read on. There are instructions for parents too.

Parent: Now your child is in a new class, you might want to set yourself a target. Read a story with your child at least once a week, help your child spend some time with a friend, take your child to the park, walk your child to or from school, get up nice and early so you don’t have to hurry in the morning.

I’ve done all of these most days in the last week, so no novelty there – but the last one is a delightful surprise:

Have some time to yourself.

Suddenly I’m warming to this assignment.

As a family, we discuss which targets we will choose.

My husband’s is to take Laura swimming once a week. A keen swimmer himself, he’s been taking Laura swimming since she was tiny, but lately the habit has lapsed. He’s pleased to receive this prompt to take her again.

Laura suggests that she pledge to wash up. She’s not daft – we’ve got a dishwasher. After we point this out, she decides she’ll empty the dishwasher every day instead.

I think hard about my own target and come up with one that feels liberating but strangely naughty: I decide not to work at weekends. This, I realise, should benefit not just me but the whole family. I need no further persuasion to give it a go.

On Saturday morning, resisting the urge to turn on my computer, I feel as if I’m playing truant. My husband trumps my achievement by taking Laura swimming straight away, followed by a trip to the Chipping Sodbury Mop (the odd, historic name for the funfair that’s in our nearest town this weekend),  making it an all-day outing.

Which means even further liberation for me:  I enjoy the rare luxury of a day at home alone. In fact it’s so rare that for a few moments after they’ve gone,  I cannot think what to do. But then long-buried ideas bubble up to the surface, and I spend a pleasant day dashing about the house doing all kinds of constructive and satisfying tasks:

  • My Welsh dresserreorganising the utility room
  • sorting out the ironing
  • cleaning the birdbath and replenishing it with fresh water
  • hanging two strings of bird seed from the apple tree
  • picking a big bunch of sweet peas from the back garden
  • gathering two big handfuls of late cherry tomatoes  from the greenhouse
  • harvesting lots of runner beans and a couple of courgettes
  • making some vegetable soup
  • finishing a book I’d started reading on holiday a month ago (Susan Buchanan’s Sign of the Times, set mainly in Scotland, where we were holidaying)
  • giving the Welsh dresser in the kitchen a much-needed polish and rearranging the display on its shelves
  • Tidy kitchen windowsill with two pot plantsdecluttering the kitchen windowsills (a bigger job than it sounds, believe me)
  • bringing back into the house three huge succulent plants that were taking a summer break in the front garden
  • getting out all our winter hats, scarves and gloves, washing them and hanging them up to dry

And I didn’t even have to empty the dishwasher.

Sweet peas from my gardenWithout this assignment, I’d have spent the whole day sitting in front of my computer and have nothing tangible to show for my supposed day of rest. Instead, I feel like I’ve given half the house a face-lift and benefited the garden birds too.

Just as I’m sitting down with a cup of tea to admire my newly tidy kitchen, Gordon and Laura burst back into the house, all aglow after a lovely daddy-and-daughter day together.  They look very happy.

All in all, it’s been a very satisfying piece of homework for all the family.

I don’t know what mark Laura will get on her homework this week, but I’d give her teacher top marks!

In the mood for more homework? Here’s a post about some from my own schooldays: And So This Is Christmas

Or if you’re in need of further inspiration on the subject of tidying up, try: Tidying Up, Gary’s Way 

Posted in Uncategorized

A Life Less Resolute

“2011 will be the year in which I ….” Resolve hangover cure

Can you complete that sentence yet?  Chances are, you can neatly slot in an answer inspired by your New Year’s resolutions.

Not me.  It’s not that I don’t have ideas for resolutions.  I’m certainly eligible for all the usual suspects:  eat less, drink less alcohol, go to bed earlier, exercise more.  But last year I didn’t actively make any resolutions, yet 2010 turned out to be one of the best years of my life.  It’s a formula I’m happy to repeat.

How did it happen?  Well, a radical resolution actually came at me from out of the blue, several days into the new year.   It was as sudden and unplanned as Newton’s apple falling on his head and, in my small sphere, about as revolutionary. I was in the first meeting of the year with my boss when I suddenly heard myself calmly tendering my resignation. It was unprovoked by her: we hadn’t had a row or a punch-up.   But in a light-bulb moment, I suddenly realised what I really wanted the new year to bring:  a better and less stressful work-life balance.  Amidst the sturm and drang of the Christmas break, spent caring for a very poorly daughter, this idea must have been churning away in my subconscious, but I simply hadn’t noticed.   I’m not sure which of us was the most surprised at my resignation – me or my boss.  But both of us recognised, several months down the line, that I was a happier, healthier person for this impulsive decision, and I’ve not had a single regret since.

So this year, I’m going to take the same approach.   Though I love the new beginnings and the promise that a new calendar brings, I don’t think New Year’s Day is the best time to make resolutions.   In any case, for most people in the UK, the word “RESOLVE” is inextricably associated with the commercial hangover cure of the same name – and probably quite a lot of them have consumed it today.   This doesn’t exactly create the most positive vibes.  Far better to let the freshness of the new year permeate the subconscious and see what surfaces at its leisure.

So watch this space.  Anything could happen in the next 365 days…

Happy New Year!

Posted in Uncategorized

A New Beginning

After 29 years of constant employment, I decide it’s time to move my work-life balance a bit closer to home. Well, actually, into my home…  so I hand in my notice, set up a retro website (can a website be retro?), order some pretty business cards with a cutesy message on the back saying “Don’t forget to write”, to remind myself as much as anyone else, and hey presto, here I am!  It is the antidote to selling my soul: I have restored it to its original ownership and it feels very good indeed.