The very best thing about being retired

Exactly three years ago today, on 31 March 2018, I trudged out of the office for the last time, bade farewell to the world of work and joined the ranks of the retired. Technically I was made redundant, my post deleted as part of yet another local government cost-cutting exercise. But since the manager who designed the restructuring exercise was me I could have no complaints, particularly as my employers compensated me handsomely for my noble sacrifice.

And anyway, I was exhausted. The restructuring had been dragging on for months, and many valued colleagues – several of whom I had personally appointed and nurtured – were certain to lose their jobs. I was doing what had to be done in the context of a rapidly shrinking budget, but I’d had enough. Surely, I thought, there must be more to life than this. Just give me my pension, and let me get on with it.

But adapting to retirement took longer than expected. Work brought a welcome structure to my existence, a secure framework of expectations, routines and relationships around which to arrange the rest of my life, and without it I was all over the place for a while. In addition it had given me purpose and status – I had an important job to do, and many people relied on me – but overnight all this was swept away. My social interactions also diminished when the daily water cooler banter and tea point chats abruptly ended. Suddenly I found myself a stranger in a strange land.

On the positive side, retirement brought an end to the frantic rushing around that had characterised my earlier life. I could do domestic chores when it suited me and take as long as I liked over them, rather than desperately cramming everything in on weekends. More importantly, it freed up time to travel as and when we wanted, rather than at times dictated by the business needs of my employer. Our rewards have included six weeks touring New Zealand, and a magical return trip to Yellowstone National Park. Nearer to home, until Covid intervened we finally found time to visit many of those places in the UK that had been on our “to do list” for years.

There are lots of things I don’t miss at all about work: the morning commute, for example, as well as the stifling risk aversion and mindless bureaucracy that are endemic within local government culture. But the thing I miss least of all is regular contact with politicians. During the last decade of my career I had the dubious pleasure of spending a lot of time with politicians.  As this was in local government their capacity to wreak mayhem and misery was geographically constrained, but it didn’t stop many of them having a damn good try.

The average politician is less trustworthy than an alligator with terminal toothache

To be fair, some of the politicians I had dealings with were capable, decent, well-meaning human beings, regardless of party affiliation.  They simply wanted to make life better for their local community. However the majority were, in my humble opinion, cut from an altogether different cloth: ignorant, incompetent, self-important, totally lacking in self-awareness and less trustworthy than an alligator with terminal toothache. Time spent in the company of politicians is rarely time well spent, as I learned to my cost during my last few years at work.

And so I am pleased to report that despite all the wonderful things Mrs P and I have done since 31 March 2018, the very best thing about being retired is that it is now 1,096 days since I last spoke with, or was in the company of, any politician. Long may it continue.

A different fly

So, at last, after what seems like months of posturing, we have a new Prime Minister.  Politicians, don’t you just love ‘em?  During the last decade of my career I had the dubious pleasure of spending a lot of time with politicians.  This was in local government, so their capacity to wreak mayhem and misery was geographically constrained, but it didn’t stop many of them having a damn good try.

Flies Reproducing Life

PHOTO CREDIT: “Flies Reproducing Life” by JC-canon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

To be fair, some of the politicians I had dealings with were capable, decent, well-meaning human beings, regardless of party affiliation.  The majority were, however, cut from an altogether different cloth, incompetent, totally lacking in self-awareness and less trustworthy than an alligator with terminal toothache.

Douglas Adams, one of the funniest British writers of the late 20th century, had the measure of politicians.  He wrote, in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

“The major problem – one of the major problems, for there are several – one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.  To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.  To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

Mark Twain’s masterpiece of pithy observation, written a century earlier, shows that – unsurprisingly, I suppose – the marriage of naked ambition and gross ineptitude is not a modern phenomenon.  He wrote:

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

In their separate ways, Adams and Twain highlight democracy’s greatest flaw: the people who get themselves elected to serve us.  But to put it another way, aren’t we the fatal weakness?  Us, the electorate, we gullible souls who put an ‘X’ next to the name of a person we’ve almost certainly never met and assume that he or she will do right by us?  We, who rarely ask the right questions or listen intelligently to the answers when we do.

I’ll leave the final words on this subject to Derbyshire folksinger / songwriter Lester Simpson.  The title of his song We Got Fooled Again is a clue to Simpson’s take on the political process, but if there’s any doubt the first two lines tell us all we need to know:

“In the name of progress we believe the lies
And get the same old shite, just different flies”

Couldn’t have put it better myself.