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The International Writers Magazine:On Retirement

Who wants to Retire? Not me
James Skinner

‘Retirement is a dirty word. It means the end of a working life, the down turn on the usefulness marketing cycle, a reduction in economic power or, what is even worse the breakdown in self esteem. The world no longer needs you!

The majority of humans in the civilised and developed world retire at 65. That is the age most state pension funds kick in and the poor sod that is now out of work is faced with a monthly check that will hopefully keep his belly full and pay for the roof over his head until he ‘falls off his perch’ as an old friend described the final day of reckoning. The journey embarked during the ‘golden years’ as many pensioners describe life during the ‘remainder of the days’ can take many routes; from hobbies to golf, from travel to politics, from television addicts to a life of sheer armchair boredom. As age creeps on, each individual will find his own sector of misery or bliss to idle the time away until the undertaker places him in his wooden jacket and the pastor blesses his remains as they catapult into oblivion.

But not all human beings can boast a lifetime of activity that is on the upslope of that hypothetical marketing curve. There are hundreds of individuals in differing professions that are burnt out at a very early stage. They can reach the height of fame and fortune as early as their teens, hit the peak during their mid thirties or, if they’re lucky, physically re-cycle their bank account for another two or three decades. Let’s take each case in turn.

An Olympic gymnast or ice-skater is doomed on reaching her or his mid twenties. The long hours and monthly training that could result in the final pinnacle of success standing on the highest podium of centre stage to receive that long awaited gold medal is over in a flash! The sprinting and throwing athlete, competing in the same venue is not much better off whilst the long distance runner can stretch the time barrier a few years longer. Not much income can be derived from here on yet there are some sports that are extremely lucrative and can offer early retirement and a life luxury the moment the competing individual turns thirty-five.

David Beckham, the English football idol come quasi-film star is a classic example. The guy had barely turned 30 when his top level achievements reached a peak, his physical carcass began to suffer and he was relegated, with all due respects to the USA, to playing in a lower level football league. Ah! But David made sure that football was not his only worldly accomplishment. He is also a glamorous front page idol of male beauty. His gorgeous looks plus clever financial investments have paved the way for him to continue as a ‘model’ for many of the most important fashion firms in the world. Who knows, the Hollywood studios could be his next step into further fame in a different field. Football is not the only sport that can offer multi-million retirement packages at an early age. How about Formula 1 car racing?

Michael Schumacher, born January 1969, winner of 7 world championships plus another 70 firsts, retired at 37 as the best racing driver of all times. He outstripped Juan Manuel Fangio (retired at 47) as the world’s Nš 1 driver. He no longer hits the front page of the sports magazines, nor does he attract German fans to the ongoing races on television, but I bet he is basking in the sun on some forgotten island paradise counting his millions achieved over a mere 15 years of brilliant driving, when not advising Ferrai. He’s left the door open for the younger generation. Welcome Lewis Hamilton; already a potential champion and he’s only 23! There are however, other professions that can cause heartburn or heartbreak; depending on the popularity charts!

Gary Cooper was 51 years old when he hit the peak of his acting career as Marshal Will Kane in the Oscar winning film ‘High Noon’. His female opposite was an upstart called Grace Kelly, barely 23. Considered one of his best achievements, the age difference between male and female roles highlighted the fact that Gary was at the end of the ‘lifespan’ of a film star in a leading romantic role. Take a year or two, this adds up to about 20 years; ‘A farewell to arms’ in 1932 was his real screen debut. John Wayne was another typical old timer that fit the mould. Although he had already played many Western cowboy roles it wasn’t until he hit fame as outlaw Ringo in ‘Stagecoach’ back in 1939 that John was considered a screen male idol.

Exactly 20 years later he starred opposite Angie Dickinson, 25 years his younger as Marshal J.T. Chance in another Western box office success, ‘Rio Bravo’. From then on he was on the downward slope although he kept his fame thanks to his fans who always considered him the ‘Duke’ of tinsel town. The film industry continues to produce both male and female idols that can hold sex appeal image for a limited period so long as the make up team and the ‘face-lifter’ architects can repair the fading frames to fit the cameras.

Then we’ve got politicians!
Now this is a profession that has no age limit regarding retirement. In fact, it is more often a hobby for a great deal of human beings after they have completed a lifetime of activity in whatever other profession they had entered in the first place. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re looking at, what political party governs the country, or what religion dominates the landscape, the panorama of power can be in the hands of members of humanity of all ages that can dominate the political scenery for decades or drop out within minutes. Adolf Hitler snuffed it at 45. He didn’t make it because he blew his brains out just before the arrival of the 7th Cavalry. Fidel Castro landed from Sierra Madre in 1959 at the age of 33 and threw out Cuba’s 1st dictator, Fulgencio Batista who then retired to Spain at age 58. Fidel only recently relegated his leadership to his brother Raul who is pushing 80. Nearly 50 years in the driving seat. Both brothers are way past receiving their retirement package. How about the runners of the upcoming US presidential election? OK, so America’s democracy can allow a two term office totalling 8 years yet the age disparity can be incredible. We all know that John F. Kennedy was only 42 whilst Ronald Reagan kicked off at 70 after ‘retiring’ some time earlier from a film star career, yet take a look at today’s contestants. Barack Obama is 42, Hillary Clinton is 50 and John McCain is about to turn 72! A 30 year span between them! The latter first retired after a brilliant career in the Navy only to turn to politics as his new born profession!

Finally we have the clerics.
Most monks, nuns, ayatollahs, mullahs, soothsayers, witchdoctors or simple ‘fathers’ turn their work into a lifetime vocation. They are in it from start to finish. Once committed to God, the lifespan is a race to the bitter end. They can however, mix religion with other hobbies. You have good examples with the Northern Ireland Reverend Ian Paisley, who kept Downing Street busy for decades, or Reverend Desmond Tutu who became famous for his fight against Apartheid in South Africa as the country’s outspoken Archbishop of Cape town. Both were considered more as political figures rather than members of their religious faiths. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini is probably the most notorious figure of all as he combined both politics and religious authoritarianism in equal dollops of power.

It is obvious that the above examples are contrary to the norm as few of us mortals can achieve fame through sport, acting, politics or the church. However, we should rejoice in whatever financial support we have on retirement as part of our humdrum lifespan. It will always be better than most of the world’s population who still live in abominable poverty and cannot afford a normal standard of living let alone a retirement package.’
© James G. Skinner. June 2008.

Eve of Destruction, my friend
James Skinner
Man is the only animal that that trips on the same stone twice

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