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

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