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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 29 - Mirage of a happy retirement never to be transformed into reality

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 son-of-the-soil life.

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 much money".

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!

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