PC 62 Retirement, Retired, Retiring and Retire

Eek! What awful words ….. so many connotations of the end of life, finished, the scrapheap!! But actually we shouldn’t read them as such, should we?

Some years ago at a post-theatre supper party (sounds grander than it was!!) a guest asked a close relative of mine what he did. “Oh! I’m retired!” he responded, effectively ending any further conversation. I was reminded of this exchange the other evening, when a long-established friend of Celina’s family came to supper. “And what do you do?” he asked after the initial pleasantries were out of the way. I accept that youthful looks belie my actual advancing years; I fell into the trap and replied: “Oh! I’m retired!” I later apologised to him, saying that my response was very lame, and went on to tell him what I had done in my three careers, so as to encourage conversation. He is a dentist and conversations with dentists are often completely one-sided. You sit in that chair: they talk to you; your mouth’s open and the gums are numb; the suction device struggles to clear the saliva; and he (or she as I have been treated by a number of female ones) asks “Oh! And how’s so-and-so?” ….. and blah blah ….. and all you can do is mumble and look appealingly into their eyes as if to say: “Please stop asking questions!”. But I digress!

My first ‘retirement’ was from the British Army in 1985, on a pension large enough to buy one glass of wine a day! After twenty years’ service I was still under 40 and another career beckoned. It seems to me that my step-father’s generation had made the long career in one company or organisation their ‘goal’, one you started after school or university and left when you were 65; the gold watch in your pocket and the grateful thanks or otherwise of your colleagues ringing in your ears. It was the aspiration of the middle classes (actually when I was typing this I missed the letters ‘m’ and ‘d’ and typed ‘idle’ classes before realising my error – or maybe it wasn’t an error?). Frankly it should be ‘working’ classes as we all need to work. Retirement isn’t necessarily confined to older age; “The Home Office (forcibly) retired him on a full pension, as it was reorganising the department.” The phrase ‘put out to grass’ was often used in this context; it rather sadly originated in farm use, animals too old for other work were ‘put out to grass’.

People now talk about having fun when they ‘retire’, as if they didn’t before they stopped working. In my professional business coaching days, I tried to get my clients to identify where they could have fun, even if they were ‘working’. Surely you don’t want to wait until your mid 60s before you can indulge yourself in joyous activities? This word ‘retirement’ is now linked to places where the elderly ‘rest’. To the west of Hove is the town of Worthing, known unfairly maybe as God’s Waiting Room, and to the east Eastbourne, near the Continent (of Europe) and incontinent; such is the density of the elderly!

There is a rather archaic use in relation to an unassuming, unassertive, effacing person. “A retiring acquiescent woman with a fondness to be on her own.” For me it conjures up a rather sweet, quaint character who actually contributed to the fabric of society in a funny way. Is anyone ‘retiring’ anymore?

It can of course be used to describe the withdrawal from a race or match; participants ‘retire’ from a race because of equipment failure or personal injury or retire from the sport, say rugby, because they’re not able to keep up (trying to avoid using the words ‘too old’ here!!). It’s not the end of life as we know it!

I love the use of the word to describe withdrawing from a particular place or indeed to just somewhere else.  “He retired to bed.” And I imagine silk pyjamas, slippers and a little ‘nightcap’ (material or liquid?). The use of the word ‘retire’ in a courtroom actually means of course the start of work for the jury. “The judge finished his summing up and the jury retired (out of the courtroom) to consider the evidence and come to a conclusion as to proven guilt.”

And finally, it’s used as another word for ‘retreat’ in a military context: “lack of numbers compelled the British force to retire“. Researching the background to the Indian Mutiny of 1857, as a great great grandfather had been in the country at the time, I came across the story of General Charles Napier’s foray into what is now Pakistan. His orders had been to put down an insurrection of Muslim rulers who had remained hostile to the British Empire in the Indian subcontinent. Napier’s success went to his head and, despite huge diplomatic efforts to make him and his army retire, he greatly exceeded his orders by conquering the whole of Sindh Province. Napier was supposed to have despatched to his superiors the short, notable message, Peccavi, the Latin for “I have sinned” (which was a pun on I have Sindh). This pun appeared in a cartoon in Punch magazine in 1844 beneath a caricature of Charles Napier. The true author of the pun was, however, Catherine Winkworth, who submitted it to Punch, which then printed it as a factual report. Later proponents of British rule over the East Indians justified the conquest thus: “If this was a piece of rascality, it was a noble piece of rascality!”

Oh! To have that knowledge of Latin to enrich my writing! So, no retirement, just fun, like scribbling another postcard !!

Richard – 20th February 2016 – richardyates24@gmail.com

PC 61 Somewhere to lay your head

It may be that you catch up with my postcards in bed, getting ready to sleep; I hope my banging on about this and that doesn’t keep you awake or indeed produce a soporific state? If I get my mathematics right, whilst this won’t be applicable to any of you, there have been some twenty five thousand two hundred and eighty something times when I have laid my head down, ‘to sleep, perchance to dream’, and whilst I can’t remember every place …..  a few come to mind, some generic, some particular.

I recall laying my head down on bunk beds, iron bedsteads, futons, slatted beds; sofa beds – wow, have you ever had a decent mattress on a sofa bed?; adjustable beds in hospital; water beds, so cold and clammy; on a car seat, waiting for a ferry; on a floor in a half built house in Aachen, Holland on a hitch hiking holiday aged 17; in a railway sleeper carriage, the ‘clickety clack’ rhythm rocking you to sleep; in a sleeping bag on a blow-up Lillo; on an apartment floor a few years ago, trying to get comfortable on old coats and cushions; or even on an aircraft seat – once you’ve experienced an upgrade it’s difficult to opt intentionally for discomfort!!

I get the basic sizing of beds, as in ‘single’and ‘double’ but then we get to ‘Queen’, a bit bigger that a double. The late Queen Victoria was extremely small; our current queen only average, so why it is bigger than a double? Then the king – as in “I need a bigger and better bed that my wife” and jokingly Emperor. One of the last great western self-styled emperors was Napoleon and he was famous for having small man syndrome – so you name the largest bed size after the smallest …….?

You put your head on someone’s lap for a little nap – an expression of intimacy/closeness. Firstly you hear the gurgling torrent that takes place the other side of the epidermis and then in the background the sound of the beat of the heart – well, that’s a good think to hear but you really can’t fall asleep with the noise in your ears, can you?

Talking of sounds, many years ago I went off to Manorbier in South Wales to make a reconnaissance of a live missile firing facility. My Battery Sergeant Major accompanied my small party and we were accommodated in a wriggly-tin roofed Nissen Hut in the nearby training camp. Across the road that ran beside the camp was a small, single track railway line that was used by the occasional cargo train. After a supper in Tenby we retired to bed. The bed itself was comfortable, my head hit the pillow and I was soon asleep. At some stage in the night I was shaken awake by the sound of a train rumbling past outside. Sufficiently compos mentis within a minute or so, I realised it was actually the rattling sound of the Sergeant Major’s snoring from next door.

I have sailed around the waters of Britain, extensively in The Baltic, occasionally in the Mediterranean and once a long haul across the Atlantic to the tiny islands of Bermuda. Up in the bow, in the forepeak as it’s known, under sail you suffer the rise and fall, the crash and shudder, the rushing noise of millions of gallons of water just past your head; difficult to sleep but exhaustion normally kicks in. Amidships, the port and starboard berths required a certain athleticism to clamber into. I once saw the opposite berth almost vertically above me as we broached (sort of capsized!) in a dramatic squall in the North Sea – water poured in, the mainsail ripped but then the yacht righted itself.

In charge of the directions we should take to Bermuda, I had the associated navigator’s bunk. With the chart table in constant use, getting into my berth was difficult; I had to double up, before straightening out and sliding my head under the table. Feeling queasy when sailing at the best of times, being claustrophobic, with the underside of the table 6 inches from my head, did not make sleep easy!

When you’ve had a tiring day, nothing better to fill the bath with steaming hot water, fill a glass with some crisp white wine*, and ……. soak! Gradually the issues of the day drift away, you drift away …… and you wake up later in a cooling bath with wrinkly skin! Nice Huh!

Part of Louis de Bernière’s latest novel “The Dust that Falls From Dreams’ covers the First World War and he describes the horror of living and sleeping in the water filled trenches. You will imagine that in the early weeks of my officer training at Sandhurst, we dug many holes and some we occupied for a day or two; some were dry and others filled with water in the pouring rain. Sleeping half standing up was not the easiest position to adopt but needs must. I also remember actually falling asleep standing up on the third day of a long exercise. Up a couple of hours before dawn, trekking to the start of some manoeuvre, and then waiting and waiting. Only woke up when the chap behind me moved forward and bumped into my back!!

In the steaming jungle in Belize in Central America, we first made the A-frame by chopping down some suitable saplings with a machete, then lashing them together. You tied the poncho to it, as a hammock, got the mosquito net in place, and settled down for the night. Of course ear plugs are essential in the jungle for the noise of the other inhabitants is deafening!!

Many years ago I tried camping again when going for a walk-about in the Australian island state of Tasmania. This is a dramatic, remote part of the world, one of rare natural beauty and delightfully uninhabited. As part of the circumnavigation, I hiked into the Freycinet National Park, complete with freeze-dried food for supper that night. I was awoken in my tent in the early hours by a Possum chomping its way through a bag of Chicken Supreme. Poor thing – it rushed off but not before it had completely emptied the little aluminium sachet – I often wonder what happened when it got thirsty and drank ……. (Dried food expands very quickly when it meets water …..!!)

But, for all of the above, when all’s said and done, there is nothing remotely as pleasing as one’s own pillow, in one’s own bed, on which to lay your head!

Richard 6th February 2016 – richardyates24@gmail.com

*Although I gave up alcohol fourteen years ago it doesn’t mean I can’t recall the delight of a glass of a NZ Cloudy Bay or a Pouilly Fuisse!! Yum! Yum!