A newspaper colleague called last week to tell me he was taking a redundancy package and I felt compelled to warn him about The Question.
It’s the “what are you doing in retirement?” question, the one that dogs you when word spreads that you have ceased full time employment.
“I haven’t actually retired,” I’d reply when I took redundancy, listing the various freelance avenues in which I now worked. “I just took voluntary redundancy and now work for myself”.
They’d look at me, smile and nod and I knew what was going through their minds.
“Who’s he’s kidding?” they were thinking. “They obviously tapped him on the shoulder, told him to clear out his desk and escorted him to the car park”.
At first I tried to convince them that it was a choice I made freely for a number of reasons and which I had no cause to regret. Then I gave up attempting to explain this and accepted the new postal address which had been assigned to me by the world which was care of The Human Scrapheap.
Some people delighted in telling me stories about a friend of a friend who had recently retired. These tales varied in detail but had a common thread and concerned someone who had died within six months of leaving their full time job.
“It was sad,” they’d say looking at me pityingly. “He just lost interest in everything and faded away.”
“I’m quite busy,” I’d insist. “Of course you are,” they’d say. “You must be playing plenty of golf.”
Golf, it seems, is the default sport of everyone who retires. Somewhere it is written that the day after you cease full time work, you head for the nearest golf course. On any given day, the golf courses of the nation are apparently populated with herds of retirees, all swinging and slicing away as fast as their creaking joints will allow.
“I don’t particularly like golf and I’ve never belonged to a golf club. Why would I join one now?” I’d ask.
They’d smile knowingly at this, convinced that the golf gene lay dormant in every male ever born, ready to burst forth the moment they left their full time job. I have, I confess, made some mistakes in my new life, one being to attempt to impress my wife by attending to chores left undone for years.
I stopped doing this after a decision to clean out the garage led to domestic disaster on a scale hitherto unattained.
If only, after cleaning and sweeping and returning my wife’s car to the garage, I had not been seized by an uncharacteristic bout of perfectionism.
The car, I thought to myself, was not parked at quite the right angle and so I repositioned it, reversing slightly and leaving the driver’s door open as I did so. Somehow my foot missed the brake pedal and the car reversed out of the garage, the open car door connected with the garage door pillar and was virtually ripped off its hinges.
My wife failed to see the funny side of this and things were rather tense for the rest of the week.
The damage to the car came to $5000 and as I paid the $600 insurance excess it occurred to me that I could have paid someone to clean out the garage for about $70.
The consensus among her friends in the wake of this stroke of misfortune was that she should insist that I return to full time work before I reduced the house to a pile of rubble.
I also warned by soon-to-be-redundant colleague about the dangers of online shopping.
I never had time to cruise online wine sites when I was working full time but now I do and find it difficult to resist some of the bargains encountered.
As a result, delivery trucks pull up outside the house at all hours of the day and disgorge brown cardboard boxes onto the doorstep.
“I’m saving us money,” I tell my wife. “I think we’ve saved enough money this month,’’ she says, pointing to an under-stairs cellar crammed with bottles of varying vintage.
Coffee has also taken on new significance. It was once something I drank at my desk. Now it is a reason to leave the house and avoid doing the freelance work that is sitting on my laptop awaiting my attention.
“Let’s have coffee’’ has become a euphemism for finding the latest café, browsing through a few bookshops and generally avoiding striking a constructive blow.
“You’ll love it,” I told my colleague who like me, had spent a lifetime on metropolitan daily newspapers. “And believe it or not, there is a life beyond newspapers.’’
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I’m positive,” I replied.
What did you do when you finished full time work? Retire straight away or do something else?