WHAT do Lucius Quintius
Cincinnatus and Sir Jimmy Young have in common? Answer: An inflexible
attitude to retirement. Cin-cinnatus, a semi-legendary, ancient Roman,
living around 450 years BC, wanted it with an un- swerving passion that
stood out in the dusty annals of classical history. Sir Jimmy, the
veteran Radio 2 programme presenter, was pushed into it, snarling at the
BBC, thus illustrating, in a broad-brush manner of loose speaking, the
different attitudes to giving up work when millions of employees in
Britain will be encouraged to toil on beyond 65 to tackle the country’s
growing pension problem.
Cincinnatus, a heroic, early Roman republic good egg, was consul for
many years and, with no hint of an occupational pension, retired to his
home farm. No sooner was he enjoying his rural idyll when senatorial
deputies erupted into his farmyard, urged him to forsake the plough for
power by returning to Rome, becoming dictator and helping a fellow
consul’s army knock the living Latin daylights out of enemy forces.
He did that, but instead of revelling as Forum favourite with top man
status, gave up dictating after only 16 days, straightened his laurel
wreath, hitched up his toga and retired farmwards to resume the simple
Sir Jimmy, 81, who for 29 years was a popular Radio 2 presenter, told
listeners in a bitter farewell broadcast that not only did he not want
to leave the airwaves, but he also intimated that the BBC had tossed him
aside like a drained, long-life battery.
He will probably never retire fully, unlike millions in Britain today
who ended work early, or at the statutory age and are either bustling in
happy-ever-after land, or in the limbo of the lost, bored, frustrated,
with tempers (if male) around the house like arthritic rottweilers, and
fed-up with structureless days characterised by what has been described
as "the long littleness of life", or with pointless walks, sometimes
including those on the golf course, visits to health and recreation
centres where the flesh and bones are pounded in the quest for the holy
grail of fitness.
As Hamlet observed:
"If all the year were playing holidays
To sport would be as tedious as to work ..."
Too true, and while the retiring male may be told by his boss, "We’re
not so much losing a worker as gaining a parking space," his wife is
likely to be warned, "Retirement means twice as much husband on half as
I know retired people who can fill the unforgiving minute with 60
seconds’ worth of distance run by doing voluntary work, playing bridge
seven days a week, sleeping in libraries, crossing fashionable deserts
to raise funds to protect the natterjack toad or prevent premature
puberty in penguins. There are some who will find retirement
satisfaction by finding new skills such as building a three-feet-high
replica of St Paul’s Cathedral out of cocktail sticks, or thrills
including bungee-jumping from hang- gliders, but for many, a happy
retirement is a mirage never to be transformed into reality.
For those who have held prominent positions at work, the sudden loss of
status can be self-esteem-shattering. In sonic terms, it goes, "I am
deputy vice-president of Consolidated Corsets - boom boom," followed by
"I am now retired - squeak squeak."
What many retired want is to be still at the job - on the shop floor,
supermarket counter, leading some boardroom battle to plan or prevent
hostile bids, and, for office workers, to return, even as part-timers,
to a paradisal pagoda of plots, cliquish coagulations, triumphs,
disasters and front-and-back stabbings which is also a
grapevine-festooned matrimonial bureau, tea-bar, reading room and
fashion house where work, sometimes inadvertently, gets done.
As Noel Coward observed, "Work is more fun than fun," especially for
those who regard retirement as they would dental root canal surgery.
Given that occupations must be available for the young when oldies cling
to jobs like lim-pets on ships’ hulls, I hope future toilers will be
allowed - if they wish - to work for as long as their minds and bodies
hold together, or until managements threaten them with humane killers.
There are many, like me, who would plough on even if attached to a
drip-feed in a mobile oxygen tent: Cincinnatus would not have approved,
but Sir Jimmy would. Pass us the amber-coloured embalming fluid. Cheers!