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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Life After Work

Things that I think about when I water the hydrangeas.
• Sam North
Is sudden retirement about to happen to you?


I think about all those people who are only now thinking about (or forced to) taking early retirement because it isn’t going to be safe to go back to an office or academia.  It’s bad enough contemplating returning to a restaurant or your local pub or cinema (skipping Unhinged in Screen 6) now we know that the moment you relax lockdown the virus spreads exponentially. See the real Florida stats if you don’t believe me.  Worth noting that in the US Red States where lockdown barely existed the median age for catching the virus is now 35 (N. Y. Times 6.26.20).

As jobs abruptly vanish - sudden early retirement beckons. For many this means a drastically reduced income, others a more comfortable, less stressful time. I fall into the former category and I have say, if I could, I’d still chose ‘work’ over retirement in more normal times. (Should we ever get back to normal in my lifetime).

Retiring now, if you’re in a couple that can still tolerate each other is probably great. Two incomes sounds good to me.  But if single, it’s fraught with problems.  First of all, don’t downsize immediately. Assess your needs.  Three years ago I happened to live in a very nice house by the beach on the best road in town. But I had a mortgage I couldn't afford and I knew the roof would need replacing costing around £40,000.  I told myself, sell up, buy a barn conversion, live the life you always wanted and put some money aside for a rainy day.  Sadly when things go wrong in a barn conversion they get pretty darn expensive.  And guess what – living in the countryside sucks.  It’s not safe to walk anywhere. Farmers shoot at things, birds mostly, but they hate walkers, and they spread pesticides over everything. Worse the shops don’t deliver.  A year later sold at a loss when the rest of the property market went up 10%.  Decided to buy something modest in a less than interesting neighbourhood and still have some rainy day money.  Chez Money Pit quickly took care of the rainy day money, especially on rainy days.  You know when your family tells you helpfully ‘you made your bed, now lie in it’.  That sucks too.

OK, many thousands later and all new ceilings, the house is way overpriced for the neighbourhood; but during lockdown a private south-facing garden came into its own.  There always has to an upside, right?  Lesson learned?  Stay the hell put. Fix the damn roof!

When you retire, you’d better have a hobby.  All those people you used to call friends in the office or other place are still working (when not on furlough) and they don’t cherish seeing you in your anecdotage unless they specially want to unload all their problems and drink your wine.  If you are the kind of person who derived your sense of worth from work, retirement is not for you.  Half time is better than no time and it will pay more than the pension ever will.

Hobby? Golf? Tennis? Carpentry is the only hobby you can do safely right now but be prepared to discover no one will be interested in the mug rest you made, or the wonky chair and not even your memoirs, or the racy novel you finally got round to writing.  Agents and publishers want young, photogenic, ethnic, trans and tragic, definitely not ‘old’.  (Unless you can contrive to be on a Celebrity Shit Show or lead a politically correct protest movement).

Better to connect with your growing vegetables and flowers, which you will find absorb a lot of time and anxiety.  Get a pet. They will care about you, especially around dinnertime.

As a retired person you are only allowed to redecorate your house once a year, anything more is obsessive. Do not use the ladder. Ladders will kill you, its a statistical fact.

Cruising?  Are you kidding?  Have you heard about the shared air-conditioning? Diamond Princess anyone? Ballroom dancing is too close for comfort these days.  Stick to the Twist. Oops sorry about your hip-op.

What if you’re retiring in America?  If you don’t have a cash pile to pay for healthcare, NEVER EVER retire.  Better to die on the job than the street.  You may have noticed the Texas Republicans and Trump are trying to get the Affordable Care Act repealed and I know you’ve been so impressed with the state of private health care during Covid-19. (Sending people home with $250,000 + dollar bills to pay for the ventilator you were on or we’ll take your house).  That’s 23 million people who will be denied healthcare and they want to reduce the money for Medicare too.

So the lesson is, only retire if you are married, have a nest egg, are perfectly healthy and have an excellent network of friends or family. Research where you want to live and take your time. After all you just won the free time lottery.

Sam © Sam North July 2020
Fiction by Sam

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