It is that time of year when I instinctively look forward. Yesterday we celebrated the winter solstice in our usual way by watching the sun rise over the river Irwell on the shortest day of the year, happy to know that the days will now start to get just a little bit longer and spring and summer are on their way. After the sunrise we treat ourselves to a leisurely breakfast before going on to work. So it feels fitting in this forward-looking time that the day I have been dreaming about since I was 16-years old and started my first working day as an optician’s receptionist has arrived. That 16-year old wanted retirement immediately with all the impatience of youth and truly [and mistakenly] thought it was wasted on the elderly! Now, at the age of 57, I am equipped both financially and mentally, for taking life easier and I am looking forward to my new life as a retiree.
It has sometimes felt like a long slog through over 20 different jobs but it feels appropriate that on my last working day I will be busy producing another beautiful spreadsheet for the organisation; I will never stop getting a thrill and joy from what Excel can do and how clever it is. As I beaver away I will be mulling over my working life; how for over 40-years I have had to get up when work dictates, rather than when my body is ready; I have had to follow orders and regulations, no matter how stupid they might seem and I have sometimes felt that it is my employer that gets the best of me, rather than my family. I have experienced the drudgery of working for the ‘man’ and the independence and uncertainty of self-employment and in between I have been grateful to find sympathetic employers that gave me the right balance of freedom to be creative and a strong framework of support that allows me to give my best.
Of course, I am celebrating today as my ‘retirement’ marks the end of daily nine-to-five office work. But my future won’t be completely idle as I will continue to be a travel writer. This certainly isn’t as glamorous as it sounds but is a passion of mine that I can work on when I wish and is by no means a full-time job. There is also a liberation in knowing that if I write something fit for publication I receive payment, if I don’t, well it’s not the end of the world because we have those savings. I feel very lucky to be moving in to this new and exciting stage of my life.
I get such a thrill when a stranger does you a big favour so here is the story of our postman who made my day this week. With so much happening at work, so many long-standing colleagues being made redundant and so many leaving presents for everyone to buy I thought I could slip quietly away in to retirement without anyone noticing. But my lovely and generous colleagues had other ideas and sent me a retirement present I will always remember, a beautiful Italian leather album with beautiful cream textured pages interwoven with tissue. This is such a lovely thing to own and perfect for creating a memento of sketches, postcards, tickets and other memorabilia from our next big trip. But how this perfect retirement present reached me is a tale of a postman who went above and beyond the call of duty.
You may recall I have been working from home since the summer and I have clearly continued to provide such efficient administrative support from my home-base that some of my colleagues never even noticed the change. I work for a national organisation and my colleagues are dotted around the North-west and the Midlands so communicating by email and telephone has always been the norm. This week I received an email from a colleague in the West Midlands that mentioned I should expect a parcel that day; however when I checked where it had been posted to found it was on its way to the ‘old’ office that is now closed up and empty. After an initial panic, he emailed me the receipt and I could track the parcel and so could see it was on its way to this abandoned office. Armed with the receipt I walked to our local Royal Mail collection depot to see what would happen with the parcel. After a long back and forth negotiation with supervisors they were happy [or at least satisfied] that I could collect the parcel from them, even without the failed delivery card, if I provided ID and headed paper from the old office [thank goodness I have been using this as scrap paper].
Back at home there was a knock on the door at lunch time. The ‘old office’ is near to my home and we share a postman. I often pass the time of day with this postman both at home and at work and he had noticed that I was one and the same person [I have an unusual second name]. He had arrived at the shuttered and deserted office with my parcel, noticed who it was addressed to and put the parcel back in his bag to bring round to our flat later on his round. He presented the parcel hesitantly, clearly worried about whether he had done the right thing, but I was over the moon. I am so grateful for his thoughtfulness and quick thinking and amazed that even in a big city like Salford it is impossible to be completely anonymous.
I am now winding down from paid regular work and looking forward to the days when I can spend my time watching the red squirrels scampering around the trees, stopping to gaze at every beautiful sunset and chatting to every cat I meet and not feel I should be using my time more effectively. I am looking forward to being able to sleep until we wake up and spend the day reading a good book if we want or heading off for a walk just because it is a sunny day. All these things got a bit closer as this week Mr BOTRA (Mr Back On The Road Again) told his boss at work that he will be leaving in March 2017 and now there is no stopping us! His boss, who clearly knows him better than mine, wasn’t surprised that we were planning an early retirement and more travelling and was only disappointed because she had him in mind for a promotion when a colleague retires. While a promotion might have been nice it is nothing compared to have the time and space for walking up craggy mountains, sitting on warm sand on a deserted beach or kicking dry leaves along a woodland path and these [and more] are all things we will soon be enjoying.
Of course, we have lots of plans to do all sorts of wonderful and helpful things during our retirement but one that I am really looking forward to is doing very little. I am looking forward to knowing there is no reason why I can’t spend half-an-hour watching the wren from our dining room window as it potters around the bushes or sit and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin or even [if I want to] just while away the day reading tweets on Twitter!
As one of the workers, my working day has a structure and I am expected to produce things and be available. This means that evenings and weekends are precious periods of relaxation when I try to cram in all the other good stuff. I know that our retirement will be more than just evenings and weekends 24-hours a day and it will certainly give us time to improve ourselves in lots of way, by giving our time and learning and exercising and … so on. But I hope it also gives us the space to have time to slowly linger.
MRS ONL did a thought provoking post recently that highlighted how many people don’t get to retire when they would choose to. The post was very timely as the small charity I work in has been going through difficult financial times. I have told you about these problems before but things have become considerably worse since I gave notice of my impending retirement [these things are not related]! Every week communications are sent out about someone else who is being made redundant; people who are skilled and dedicated workers who have given so much to the charity and each one of them brings me pain; to say that I feel I am leaving a sinking ship is to understate how fragile this organisation feels at the moment.
Mr BOTRA commented that if I could have hung on a month or more I might have been made redundant too and he is right, I am sure they will move on to the lower grade post when they have finished getting rid of the management tier. And yet I feel pleased that I got in first, not only to save the charity I work for having to find the few weeks salary they would be obliged to pay me as redundancy pay but also for my own dignity; everyone knows that I am leaving to retire and it is my choice; I haven’t had the stress of ‘consultation’ interviews and competing for the one remaining post. Other colleagues have not been so fortunate, are not leaving out of their own volition and will be going straight in to job seeking, a particularly tough activity during the festive period.
I don’t want to criticise the work of the charity, the services it delivers are extremely high quality but unfortunately the higher management took the somewhat reckless decision to grow and spend beyond the secured income a few years ago and individuals are now paying the price for that over-stretching. The new management is taking control of the situation but many good people are being thrown out in the process.
This all really brings home how important having some back-up savings are for those times when employment let’s you down. I feel privileged to be choosing when I can retire and I am very sad that I have colleagues with an insecure future. I don’t intend to sound self-pitying, as I realise how fortunate I am, but leaving a despondent and bruised organisation means that certainly none of them will have any interest in joining my retirement party and there will be no one left to care enough about buying me a retirement present. I will be able to slip away quietly and I think that is most appropriate in the circumstances.
A recently published map of life expectancy in Greater Manchester had a bigger impact on Mr BOTRA than it did on me. Whereas I have long had a sense of my own mortality and tried to live every day as if it might be my last, this hasn’t really rubbed off on Mr BOTRA. It took these figures from the University of Manchester for the short time we might have left to hit home. The pictorial depiction of life expectancy using the Greater Manchester Metro tram map is a good way to demonstrate how deprivation affects life expectancy. Our nearest tram stop is Anchorage and the map suggests that while I might survive until the grand old age of 74 years, Mr BOTRA will pop his clogs when he is just 69.
Of course, as a scientist, he understands that life expectancy is an average and includes all those who die shortly after birth or as young adults and the figures do not actually represent the life span he can expect to achieve. This map and the figures are useful for public health campaigners but it doesn’t really help us plan for retirement and if we really expected to die at 74 and 69 we would have retired long ago!
As a non-smoker, cyclist and hill walker and certainly not poor, Mr BOTRA can expect to live longer than those who live a less privileged life and yet how these lifestyle choices and genes interact to decide a life-span is complex. These thoughts of mortality got us thinking about how the urban area we live in where the air quality is poor might affect our health. We love the vibrancy of living in the city and just hope that our regular forays to the hills and the countryside mitigate this air pollution. Of course, we might be misguided, only time will tell.
What is a tragedy is that in England the wealthy continue to have considerably better health outcomes than the poor, as the map below shows:
Men and women aged 65 years in Manchester have the lowest life expectancy compared to other areas of the UK – men 15.9 years; women 18.8 years. This compares to 21.6 years for men in Kensington and Chelsea and 24.6 years for women in Camden. Healthy life expectancy (years of life in good health) can be as low as 54.4 years old for women in Manchester, compared to 72.2 years in Richmond upon Thames.
My working life started when I was a child of 16 years old; 40-years ago you could leave school at 16. In those years I have slaved for wages in at least 25 different roles [see below]. I started work in the mid-70s with no computers and when the best technology could offer was a calculator. I managed to move haphazardly through different jobs [my working life could never be called a career] keeping pace with changes through continuous learning and finishing in a role where I work remotely.
Some of these jobs have been wonderful and rewarding and I have felt I was making a difference, whereas others have been demeaning, boring or really just pointless. The shortest period any of these jobs tied me to the nine-to-five was one month and my longest time in any single role was five years and six months. There were times when I was working three jobs at a time to maximise income and savings for our travelling plans.
In all of these roles I have grown; I have benefited from gaining skills and knowledge and each new role has helped me to understand something more about who I am. The period from being a Community Development and Health Worker until I left my role as a Community Centre Manager was what you might consider the apex of my working life. As a Community Development Worker I was an independent lone worker and my ‘team’ were the inspiring residents of the area I worked in. These were people who were outside the focus of many public services and they taught me about resilience and the importance of never making snap judgements. My next job in a small charity put me in a supportive team of two other skilled and knowledgeable co-workers and an inspirational and caring manager who fostered a learning environment where it was safe to be creative and make mistakes; consequently we achieved great things. I attempted to take everything I had learnt to my next role as a Public Health Manager, where I was lucky enough to be able to recruit my own team of 20 staff and worked tirelessly to support, nurture and invest in those people so that we became a close-knit team that produced fantastic public health work and gained national recognition.
My paid work in chronological order:
Receptionist at an opticians – first full-time job.
Waiting staff in a hotel
Payroll clerk [at 5.5 years this is the longest I have held any job] – this was the late 70s, I was working in the private sector and encountered my first computer.
Payroll clerk – I twiddled my thumbs for two days a week, tough in the days before the internet.
Administrator sorting and filing microfiche and plans relating to a submarine.
Registrar of Births Marriages and Deaths [the best job] – no computers here just ink and fountain pens, I used to come home with blue-black ink splattered up my shirts.
Customer Service clerk [after being a mum for a few years].
Community Development Worker – [after a break to complete some qualifications] my first experience of working in the charity sector.
Cleaner [while at university and I graduated at the age of 35].
Chef in a Mexican restaurant – while studying food preparation.
Youth Hostel assistant warden [in the Lake District and the Peak District).
Community Development contractor (carrying out training and development sessions with community groups].
Community Development and Health Worker in the NHS – my first NHS role, supporting community action across two areas.
Community Development Worker in voluntary sector development – back with a charity and an inspiring and supportive team who I learnt so much from.
Public Health Manager [I also achieved a post-graduate diploma].
Community Centre Manager
Public Health Co-ordinator
Public Health contractor [carrying out consultations with the public].
Public Health administrator [after our gap year].
Hospital medical secretary – a very small cog in a big wheel.
We visited the Yorkshire Dales National Park recently and met a group of volunteers working on one of the paths while we were out walking. We chatted to the group for a short while about the work they were carrying out and as we walked away we both agreed that we could do that.
Once I have retired fully it is my intention to give some of my time for free and I have started to think about the places I could do this.
I am already the Treasurer for a small charity and I give my time freely as a minute taker to the management board of our flats but not working will free up more time to do some good around Greater Manchester.
I am keen that my volunteering is enjoyable and I am thinking about conservation and environmental organisations where I could do some good for now and the future. I would also like to volunteer locally and support an organisation in Salford. Fortunately, we have plenty of excellent organisations around us.
In addition, I plan to spend time every week [when we are at home] picking up litter and tidying up the bushes around our local area. I used to collect litter walking to and from work every day and I want to spend a bit more time making the area where we live more pleasant to live in.