Friday 27 April 2018

Retirement beckons

On Monday I'm retiring after 53 years of paid work, broken only by two lengthy periods of unemploy-ment after being made redundant. I've done all sorts of jobs, including local newspaper reporter, sub-editor, bookseller, typist, admin worker and press office assistant.

I've got no qualifications of any significance, so I've just charmed and bamboozled my way into one job after another. I did once obtain a journalism proficiency certificate, but as it was based on typing and shorthand skills and was well before the age of computing and word processing, it's now valueless.

I've had all the usual reactions, such as asking me what I'll do once I'm retired, asking if I feel sad to be leaving my job, expressing envy that they can't retire themselves, and even asking me if I'll be moving back to England (no way - I love living in Belfast).

Then there's the comment that my retirement will be "well-earned", which can be interpreted in several different ways. It could mean that I've put in many years of hard physical labour (which I haven't), or that the length of my working life is impressive (not really), or that I've been very successful in my chosen occupation (mainly bookselling, where the only visible success was finding the book a customer was looking for).

Probably the best definition of "well-earned" is having survived many years of emotional ups and downs caused by crappy working conditions, rude bosses, aggravating work colleagues, awkward customers, quirky computers, miserable wages, lengthy commutes, and so many utterly tedious tasks.

I shall relish the fact that I don't have to put up with any of these ordeals any longer and can do exactly what I want. It's someone else's turn to maintain their sanity despite whatever is thrown at them.

Unlimited leisure will take some getting used to. Or maybe not. I might just take to it like a duck to water.

Monday 23 April 2018

Pampering required

I do like my comfort as I get older. Gone are the days when I would put up with spartan, rough-and-ready conditions, telling myself it was much more fun and much more "real" than pampered luxury.

It's a very long time since I went to rock festivals in fields swimming in mud and litter, shivering in a leaky tent and joining endless queues for food, drink and toilets. Nowadays I'll only go to a gig in a warm indoor venue with proper seating and toilets that don't mean a wait of 20 minutes. Or alternatively I'll stay at home in even greater comfort and listen to a few CDs.

Likewise I've never been camping since a disastrous experience at the age of 13 when I went to a two-week Boy Scout camp in Yorkshire and it rained solidly for the whole fortnight. I was soaked and miserable from start to finish and couldn't wait to return home. Any suggestion of camping since then has filled me with horror and met with a prompt and unshakable refusal.

For several years I lived in a damp, dismal, under-heated bedsit lacking any mod cons and so dispiriting I hesitated to invite anyone round. I spent as much time as I could in more appealing places like museums and art galleries. What a relief it is now to be in a warm, cosy house where visitors are welcome.

I used to cycle everywhere as a teenager, but I'm no longer prepared to be freezing cold, deluged with rain, splashed by passing cars or insulted by angry motorists. Not to mention the time it takes to get anywhere. I prefer to be in a car with a roof over my head, cocooned in warmth and moving at a steady clip.

I'll leave others with greater resilience to enjoy rugged lifestyles. A bit of pampering is more to my taste.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

Bottle opening

It's still a hot topic - who is more knowledgeable, youngsters or oldies? There are young people who regard older people as ignorant and behind the times, and oldies who regard the young as clueless and wet behind the ears.

Personally I believe it's a mixture. Both oldies and youngsters are clued-up on some things and baffled by others. No age group has a monopoly on knowledge. Just because you've lived for 60 or 70 years doesn't mean you've acquired more knowledge than a teenager. You may just have accumulated more wrong ideas and pointless skills.

A recent survey reveals 40 things oldies are more likely to know than youngsters. Like how to sew on a button, multiply without a calculator, wire a plug, spell correctly, play chess, iron a shirt, polish shoes, name different birds, make marmalade or give first aid. I'm pleased to say I can do most of them, so how clever am I?

But youngsters could no doubt name 40 things they know that oldies probably don't know - especially things involving technology or passing exams or the damage we're doing to the planet or academic bullshit. And of course they'll ask why anyone needs to know how to sew on a button or make marmalade.

I certainly don't feel I'm more wised-up than the young. For all the things I'm familiar with, there are dozens of other things I know nothing about. Furthermore I'm now much more conscious of my enormous ignorance than when I was young. Back then I was confident I understood all the world's problems and how to solve them. The tangled complexities of life totally escaped me.

Still, some knowledge is important, some isn't. As long as I have the essential skills like opening a wine bottle, unwrapping a chocolate bar, swearing at politicians and dodging Bible bashers, everything's just fine and dandy.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

A torrent of bugs

One familiar media standby is poor hygiene and how this or that everyday object is crawling with nasty bugs that could finish us off. In fact it's nothing short of a miracle that we're still alive, given the horrendous torrent of germs we're constantly exposed to.

Surveys keep telling us that the level of contamination on our smartphones, computer keyboards, dishcloths, kitchen worktops or toilet seats is staggeringly high because of our filthy habits.

The latest hygiene scare comes from a professor at the University of Arizona, who tells us our shoes are teeming with dangerous bugs. He says a new pair of shoes worn for two weeks could pick up 440,000 units of bacteria. Although he concludes the risk of catching anything really nasty is low, he suggests regularly cleaning your shoes with detergent.

Is he serious? How many people are going to keep scrubbing their shoes with detergent on the off-chance that if they don't, they're not long for this world? I would hazard a guess the number isn't far off zero.

Personally I take no special hygiene precautions other than washing my hands now and then, not wearing outdoor shoes in the house, and occasionally sweeping the kitchen floor. Am I constantly ill? Not at all. I'm actually remarkably healthy.

But I'm aware that a surprising number of people are hygiene-crazy and probably horrified enough by these scare stories to scurry around cleaning everything in sight and worrying they'll miss that one lethal bug that could do them in. The daily stream of lurid health warnings is the last thing they need.

The reality is that we're probably far more likely to die from jaywalking than from a vicious germ on the worktop. I'll say it loud and proud - I'm not afraid of my dishcloth.

Thursday 5 April 2018

Namby pamby

One thing I thank my parents for is that they never expected me to conform to a gender role but just let me be what came naturally. They never expected me to like or do certain things because I was a boy rather than a girl.

They never expected me to like sport, or stamp collecting, or climbing trees, or films with tough male heroes. I did have a model railway and a Bayko building set (sort of like Lego), but that was my preference and nothing to do with them. I used to play keeping house with my sister and I used to play with her dolls and her cuddly toys.

Likewise my parents didn't expect me to be muscle-bound or physically tough. They didn't expect me to be impassive or unemotional. And they didn't expect me to hide my vulnerability or insecurity. They were very non-coercive in that respect.

Boarding school however was a different matter. There was a strongly masculine atmosphere. You shouldn't be emotional, you shouldn't show your vulnerability, you had to be competitive and forceful and loud, you had to be a sports-lover, and if you were bullied or pushed around, you just had to suck it up. Any hint of anything feminine or "namby-pamby" was firmly squashed.

Fortunately not much of this macho outlook rubbed off, partly because it just wasn't me, partly because of the more easy-going attitude at home, partly because it struck me as immature and repressive. How I endured it for so long (five years) without rebelling or running away, I don't know. I must have been a very stoical child.

Some people say boarding schools have changed and they're much more enlightened nowadays. Somehow I doubt it. In a boys-only community without any girls to challenge them, a masculine ethos must inevitably take over and permeate everything.

They sure as hell won't be admiring each other's new frocks.

Pic: Schoolboys who weren't allowed to wear shorts came to school in skirts.