Retirement Society

In my last post, I talked about the importance of knowing where your money goes and, in the way of these things, I chuckled when I heard a guru of “expenses tracking” – Vicki Robbin, co-author of the classic Your Money or Your Life – being interviewed by the Mad Fientist on his most recent podcast. I almost gave up on listening right through to the end of this interview however because, to be honest, this woman is a verbal Duracell Bunny on amphetamines. She just won’t shut up! The Fientist was lucky to get two dozen words in edgeways as the ideas, stories, recollections and events of Vicki’s life just poured forth like a torrent. It didn’t help that when the Fientist did actually lever a question in, she’d answer, “You know, that’s such a GREAT question”, an American cliche in interviews that’s becoming so common (like beginning sentences with the word “So”) that it’s almost an insult.

So I stuck with it, and in the end was glad I did, because as the podcast came to a close, Vicki began to talk about some subjects that I’d like to tackle myself in my blog, about some aspects related to retirement finance that you don’t necessarily think about. Or don’t want to think about. Top of the list was a comment she threw out from the welter of information she’s gathered over the years. “Loneliness is expensive”, she stated, and went on to talk about how vital it is to have a developed network of friends and community around you as you grow older. This was in the context of quite a lot of other material about community living and how to develop and look after yourself in retirement once you have the finances covered.

When I had my year out sampling early retirement, this was something that struck me personally quite hard – just how much my community, my network and several of my close friends, were actually all connected to my workplace. When that vanished, well, they didn’t exactly vanish too, they just receded rapidly over the horizon! People I’d spoken to every working day for several years were suddenly out of reach. Clearly I couldn’t call them on a daily basis just to chew the fat, but I made the effort to keep in touch maybe once a fortnight. Which then dropped to maybe once a month. Meanwhile the casual acquaintances at work, whose company I often enjoyed even if in small doses, well, they did vanish, only to be glimpsed occasionally on Linkedin as a reminder of the community I once had.

Okay, this seems obvious now, and I was cognisant of it when I was at work too – my workplace pretty much was my community. But leaving it was something I hadn’t really prepared for, nor was it something I was ready to pragmatically replace. I’m not, and never have been, a great fan of clubs or societies. I never liked the Scouts or the Boys Brigade as a lad, so thoughts of joining a “club” like the Round Table, or the University of the Third Age, or the local Historical Society, really didn’t appeal to me. Even clubs I was a member of, like my local golf club, I’d no interest in getting more involved with. In fact, the guys I do golf with, we all take an almost perverse pride in how little we join in with any of the club’s activities, slagging off our perceived notions of just how small-minded and parochial, if not downright snooty, that culture seems to be.

What other community interests and ventures could I take part in? I tried some voluntary work when I was retired but, ye Gods, after coming from the world of “real work” the way these organisations seemed to do things quickly drove me scatty. They were like how I thought the worst of the public sector might work. Meetings that would drag on and on with nothing really decided, or done. Hours spent discussing the organisation of a coffee morning or a checkout collection at the local village Tesco, while I’d be sitting there thinking “There are seven Tescos in our town, why don’t we do all of them, every day, for a week! Now that would raise some real cash!” When I voiced this opinion, the (elderly) members just looked at me as if I’d gone insane. Soon we’d be back focusing on the more important things, like who was going to organise the tea and coffee for the next meeting? And which biscuits should be bought, given the budget situation.

My wife’s managed to develop a wide circle of friends through her attendance of classes at the gym where I’m a regular member too. But, I don’t know, I find gyms really quite unfriendly and distant places, at least for men. Are blokes slightly embarrassed to be there? Or are the type of men interested in developing their fitness quite insular and introverted? Are we too competitive and proud to be friendly? I really don’t know, but in my experience gym’s are just not overtly sociable places. Perhaps this is the old “How did you find the people in the last village?”* adage, but I don’t think so. There’s more to it than that.

As I write this, I think, “Maybe I’m just becoming a crotchety old git?”, Victor Meldrew over the back. But surely he was such a strong and popular character because he ciphered some hard home truths to people about how they might become if they’re not careful? Victor Meldrew is seriously no role model for retirement but not because he’s ridiculous. It’s because we see in him traits that we can see in ourselves but find difficult to face up to. As you grow older, your tolerance bandwidth shrinks unless you work to enlarge it.

To return to the podcast, Vicki talked about how we’ve put work and money on a pedestal while sacrificing just about everything else before it. We’ve no time, or energy, or inclination to nurture much outside of family – if we actually get to see the family much itself, after the commute and long day at work.  There’s some statistic that about 50% of us don’t even know our neighbours names these days. Arguably that’s a good thing but, if I take out the facetiousness, it clearly isn’t a good thing at all. Especially not for older people.

There’s now some interesting data being punted around about how the biggest division in society is between people who leave their home town and those who don’t. People who value community ties before the career path. Guess where the Brexiteers and Remainers sit? Well, forget the cliched politics of the stereotyping that this debate has grown out of, I find it a relief just to read of a way of looking at our society that’s not fixated on class, money, status and the individual. If Brexit sparks a debate about the importance of culture and community outside of the economic factors then that’s a good thing, is it not? As we grow older we need a social and community support network almost more than we need cash. Given that the generation coming up isn’t going to have much of the latter, we need to think an awful lot more about how to nurture the former.

*The Parable of the Two Villages
A man who was traveling came upon a farmer working in his field and asked him what the people in the next village were like. The farmer asked “What were the people like in the last village you visited?” The man responded “They were kind, friendly, generous, great people.” “You’ll find the people in the next village are the same,” said the farmer.

Another man who was traveling to the same village came up to the same farmer somewhat later and asked him what the people in the next village were like. Again the farmer asked “What were the people like in the last village you visited?” The second man responded, “They were rude, unfriendly, dishonest people.” “You’ll find the people in the next village are the same,” said the farmer.

15 thoughts on “Retirement Society

  1. I’d agree with you on the gym point. I’ve been exercising in them for years and made precisely zero friends there. I don’t think I’m particularly unfriendly either. It just feels unnatural to strike up any kind of conversation beyond ‘are you using that bench mate?’.

    “A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realisation that you can’t make old friends.” Christopher Hitchens.

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  2. I used the gym regularly for many years and didn’t make any friends until when I started doing the group classes – even then, I had to make the effort, ie I turned to the two ladies who stood on either side of me in the class every week and introduced myself – previously, I’d only just said ‘hello’ to them; I now count them among my closest friends.

    Guys tend to ‘bond’ over sport, which is easy if say you like football or support a certain team (or not). I know a couple of guys who did like football started to support their local non-league club and have found a new little community there where they can help out.

    One of my ex-colleagues who has gone into semi-early retirement has been telling us how he’s started going to his local pub a lot. We were getting worried until he said that they had a great pub quiz.

    I guess there are things to check out and try out – it’s just finding something that suits you.

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    • Pubs are funny places too, especially in Scotland where I grew up. In my Scottish local, honestly, blokes would come in on their own for about three years before anyone would even acknowledge their presence! But then, once they were in and part of the regulars, they were in for life.

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  3. Not sure how you’d make friends at the gym without it being immediately super awkward. What would be your introduction? “Hey mate, you look really tough, wanna grab a beer?”. I mean, for the same reason women don’t like to be talked to when they’re at the gym (because they’re a 95% chance you’re trying to hit on them), men would probably be like “err, what’s your intent exactly?”.

    Because people don’t go to the gym in order to make friends, they’d probably get the wrong impression from the start?
    Maybe that’s just me.

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    • Fair comment, but when you’re walking past blokes that you’ve seen for, literally, years and they avoid eye contact even to nod “hello”, I find it quite strange. I don’t want to be “best friends forever”, just a bit of civility and a welcoming social atmosphere is all I’m looking for!

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      • I’ve never been to a gym – much prefer a good long walk up and down hills, nice countryside – a good day out really. Mind you I’d probably be the first to admit I’m “careful with money” ;-). The lack of even eye contact with other people, for me at least, goes way beyond the gym stories.

        I walk up and down the lane from my house to my parents’ most days and am constantly amazed at two things: first that there are so few other people who walk (unless it’s dog owners and there’s not many of them either) and, second that so few of them bother to acknowledge my existence let alone say “hello/not bad this morning/thought I’d get a walk in before it rains/etc”, nothing ! What’s happening in people’s lives these days that we’ve come to this ? Maybe the recent Royal observations concerning depression and mental illness explains some of it, I don’t know, but I do know it wasn’t like this 20-30 years ago for whatever reason (at least in my experience).

        My first point goes hand-in-hand with the observation that everyone round here seems to drive everywhere – nobody seems to walk despite the lovely area, crazy !

        Honestly, if I go for a good long full day’s hike up and over some of Lakeland’s worthy ridges I meet and chat to quite a few people (curiously mostly retired ex-teachers, but often people who’ve finally quit the rat race anyway). Maybe it’s the “holiday” aspect of it that explains it but it’s rare to find anyone wanting to stop to chat back home for whatever reason.

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  4. I take exception to your comments about Vicki Robin’s interview with the Mad FIentist. I listened to it too, and marvelled at the vitality in her voice: she sounded decades younger than her stated age. “She just wouldn’t shut up’ — huh? Why should she? She was the one being interviewed! Why should the Mad FIentist ‘get a word in edgewise’? He was doing a great job as an interviewer, keeping himself in the background and eliciting great stories from Vicki (I have enjoyed hearing Brandon tell his story on other podcasts where he was the interview subject).
    Yeah, since you’re wondering whether you’re betraying any old git tendencies, those derogatory (sexist?) comments put you definitely in that territory, imho.

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  5. I’ve always been averse to joining clubs etc. I love the social elements of that sort of thing but I find they always tend to attract people that want to make stupid rules and wearing uniforms and all that nonsense is not for me.

    Funny you should mention golf (as you know I’m a fan of that as well!). I’ve been a member before and never went to one social thing at all, just wasn’t interested really in making friends (very unsociable at all). Now 6 of my mates play our own little comps a few times a year and a few months ago one of them suggested we get a proper “society” name, and get matching t shirts with printed logo etc… I was thinking “oh god, please no…!!!!” Luckily the reaction was luke warm and nothing ever came of it… haha.

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    • I’ve always tried to steer clear of committees and other time-consuming (seemingly for the sake of it) groups. On that at least I think I can agree with Jeremy Clarkson’s comments about such things.

      A few years ago, my parents feeling it was “time for a change”, moved from a large-ish house and garden to a two bedroom flat in town because they felt they didn’t want the upkeep of a garden. Apart from then discovering they badly missed having a garden, the flat was one of about three dozen in a block managed by a property company, with the dreaded “residents committee” to supposedly look after residents’ concerns. I’m afraid I could see where this was heading before they did (having had my fill of the bloody things in my working life), tried to talk them out of it and failed miserably. It took about five years but they eventually saw the light, sold up and bought a place just down the lane from where they were all those years earlier … with a nice large garden to do whatever they wanted in. Frankly, they’ve never been happier and I’m thankful not to have to listen to any more tales of seemingly endless beaurocracy, “regulation” this and “compliance” that.

      As for the “committee”, it seemed to consist of the usual types filling copious amounts of otherwise spare time pontificating about relative trivia and achieving sod all. Clarkson would’ve throttled half of ’em before the first coffee-break ! 😉

      Me ? I find sanctuary/deep breath/peace & contentment starts with a nice bright morning in a light airy greenhouse with my hands in warm compost, potting on, well pretty much anything really, but you can’t beat the strong aromas of basil and tomato plants en masse 🙂 Nothing much bothers me when I’m in that environment (unless Yorkshire’s following on down in Hampshire, that is !)

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  6. As a guy, the best way to make friends would be to join your local golf club and enter into some competitions. You’ll be paired with people and they’ll most probably invite you to have a drink after the game.

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