Fifty and Not Fecked

I had written a post I’d entitled “Fifty and Fecked”, about how it was hard getting back into employment once you’re into your fifth decade and find yourself out of work. It was a bit of a moan, so I’ve decided I’ll post it if and when I make a real effort – a real effort – to find myself a job. (And only then if I find it actually is quite difficult.)

Born to Run

Born to Run

Instead, I decided to summarise some points from an excellent essay from Garrison Keillor, entitled “Stop Complaining” from a book “50 Things to do When You Turn Fifty”, which is much more positive. Keillor (who’s actually in his Sixties) gives a Moustachian punch in the face to the elderly tendency to moan about almost everything, and recommends some alternative strategies which, I think, are good ones to remember. I also think they apply to almost anyone over twenty, not just those of us thinking about retirement.

  • Stop complaining about growing old. Nobody cares. Instead when people ask how you are, say “Absolutely great, Never better.”
  • Lose 20 pounds in weight. Eat one meal a day, two snacks. That’s all you need. Have one feast day a week when you eat what you like.
  • Give up TV and newspapers for six months or a year and sample an “unmediated life of direct experience”. You might like it.
  • Adopt a new dress style, but make it appropriate. No ponytails! Risk being a bit more conventional in a cool way. Stay trim, keep smart.
  • Put your past behind you and find something that will absorb you today. Your heart’s desire, not anyone else’s.
  • Start telling the truth. Say what you think. Express outrage if necessary. Don’t fear what the Big Cheeses in your life might think. You’re past that.
  • Express simple preferences. Don’t want to do dinner Saturday night with those moaners from across the street? Then don’t. Relax with a glass of wine and talk to your loved ones instead.
  • Talking of wine, try cutting out the booze for six months, if only to simplify things for a while.
  • Fifty is an excellent age for reform.

I really like the sentiments he expresses (apart from cutting out the booze!) Every now and then it’s a good idea for me to turn down the cynicism and sarcasm – much as I enjoy revelling in such an outlook – and turn my attention more to the positive things in life. Inevitably these are the simple things that generally cost little or no money. The moderate life. There’s a lot to be said for it.

Spending Your Pennies

I noticed this advert on Twitter this morning and it struck me that there are several leitmotif images about retirement that many companies reach for when trying to attract prospective pensioners with their cash.

Did You Pack the Preparation H?

Two Portaloos Ahoy!

Firstly, there’s the inevitable scene on the beach. After all, that’s where all pensioners want to go. In real life, you tend to see them huddled in their cars at the coast, sitting staring silently out at the horizon instead of running laughing along the sands. They have a flask of tea and a tupperware box with a cheese sandwich in it, instead of just exiting the champagne and seafood bar, as the pictured couple might just have done.

Blue, almost cloudless skies (there have to be some clouds, this is old age and retirement we’re talking about) frame the scene, but it’s difficult to tell if this is Corfu or Cornwall. It’s certainly not Cromarty, where the rain would be lashing in horizontally from the sea. The Blackpool Tower is also noticeable by its absence, so draw your own conclusions and paste your own geographic dreams onto the beach

The second thing that makes me question if this is a typically British retirement couple is that they look quite cheerful. Nay, joyful. You wonder what news they’ve just received? Is it that David Cameron has blown up the Channel Tunnel? Is it that their forty year old son has finally moved out their home? Or perhaps they’ve discovered they won’t have to contribute to their grandchildren’s school fees? Whatever, it’s clearly news that would cheer up a middle class couple who have a private (Charles Stanley) pension to live on. A state pensioner can forget the beach, unless they’re trolling it with a metal detector hoping they might find a pound coin.

In many of these ads, women take predominance, underling the position that old men are basically pretty useless. The pressure seems to be placed more on the woman to make the most of retirement – it’s the globetrotting grannies and the skydiving seventy year old great aunts that we tend to read about in the papers. The woman will take the lead, the man is in the background. Old blokes as pensioner role models? Not in the adverts, unless they’re pottering around the garden or selling constipation relief. I feel that men only have themselves to blame for this and that we need to take a more positive and energetic approach to our retirement instead of seeing Victor Meldrew as an aspirational figure.

Where is the mobility scooter in this picture, you may ask? I did. Last time I was at the coast, I made a mental note to look into which companies built these things so I could invest in their shares. They were everywhere. I’m not sure I can recall seeing an advert for a mobility scooter though. Bad health is a difficult sell and, if you have your pension with Charles Stanley, that’s clearly not going to be YOUR future.

What else is missing? The Portaloo, of course. For an elderly couple to be having this much fun on a beach, there has to be a vacant toilet somewhere just off camera. To paraphrase for a pensioner, if you can see a loo it means you’re about to pee, if you can’t, you’re peeing.

All in all, the above advert is, for me, an absolute incentive to retire as early as possible. The time to be running joyfully along the sands with a big smile on your face is now, while you still can.


My workday internal alarm clock wakes me before six this morning. Today is Friday, a day when I usually lived the average working man’s fantasy – I tended to “work from home” that day. Have you ever had the facility to “work from home”? Do you agree with the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, when he called the practice a “skiver’s paradise”?

Personally, although I chose to do it, I hated having to work from home. Firstly, you could almost guarantee an early phone call from a colleague in the office that inevitably began “Morning! Where are you today?”

“Ehrm, I’m actually working from home today, loads to do”.

“Oh, right. So you’re at home now?”

Just to induce the guilt. Mind you, that was better than the boss, who would inevitably call around lunchtime and ask the same question. This was to establish the fact that you were, indeed, a skiver.

Well, if I had been deliberately skiving then maybe I could have lived with the guilt. But generally I would have the laptop fired up by eight in the morning in my home office, mobile ‘phone by it’s side, proving to myself that I was really set to work and earn my day’s pay. Ten minutes later and I would have cleared the unread mail, the ‘phone would not have rung yet and I’d hear my wife in the kitchen downstairs fixing her breakfast. Maybe I should go down and have a coffee with her? No! I might miss an important mail from the boss and I’ve got my weekly report to write. I need to get on with that.

In the peace and quiet, I’d be able to write the weekly report in half an hour. No nipping in to see a colleague’s office to have a chat about the dismal state of the business. No opportunity to chat to the lads in supply chain about the week’s football. Just work to get on with.

Okay, report done. Now what? Well, I’ve that budget strategy presentation to write for the end of the month. I could do that. Nah, fuck it, that can wait. Aha! An e-mail to answer. Suddenly the mobile rings, and the name of a colleague flashes up (a colleague I actually don’t mind chatting to) so I answer:

“Hi, you okay”?

“Yeah, good. Where are you today?”

“Home, working on that budget strategy presentation. Where are you”.

“Yeah, I’m working from home too. Loads to do. It’s amazing how much you can get done at home, isn’t it?”

“For sure. I probably get three times the work done here that I would do in the office”.

“Totally agree.”

We’d then go on to talk about nothing for fifteen minutes while I secretly hoped the boss would try and call me now so he’d realise I was actually on the ‘phone and working. No such luck, so I decide to ‘phone another colleague who I bet is also “working from home” to repeat the conversation I’d just had.

Okay. Now what. Better start that strategy presentation. Nah, I’ll do that this afternoon. Ah, three more e-mails to answer.

And so the morning would progress. I’d sit in that office at home finding ways to get absolutely nothing done that didn’t have an urgent deadline to do it within. Meanwhile I’d hear my wife calling her friends, arranging her day, leaving me in peace and putting off the hoovering so as not to cause an awkward moment if and when the boss called. “Jim. Where are you today? Is that a hoover I can hear? Are you hoovering?”

Lunchtime would come ‘round and, maybe if she wasn’t doing anything else, I’d take my other half for a Chinese business lunch down the road. This was a big step for me in the guilt stakes, upping the pressure for the hour of not being welded to my laptop in the home office awaiting e-mails that I could respond to so as to prove that I was working, instead of skiving off having lunch with the wife. So, absolute maximum time I could afford for lunch would be an hour.

We’d get to the Chinese and take our seats, order up our food. I’d check the phone for mail. Hmm. Do I answer that one from the boss’s PA? If I do, it’ll tell her the message has been “Sent from a Window’s Mobile” and she’ll know I’m out and about. I’ll leave that one ‘til I’m back home.

The starters arrive. And, I kid you not, the mobile would suddenly vibrate on the table with an incoming call. The caller’s name? The Boss. The number of times this happened was incredible and inevitably lunch was then rushed and ruined because no way was I calling back from a Chinese restaurant. “Jim? Where are you? Is that Chinese music I can hear? Are you in a Chinese restaurant?! Aren’t you supposed to be working?”

I’d literally twitch through the meal to get back home and return that call. I’d run upstairs to my laptop and quickly return the boss’s call. “Hey, just noticed I missed a call from you?”

“Yes……Where are you today?”

Keep a Journal

I once had a couple of sessions at work with a “life coach” although, being British, we pretended that wasn’t what he was, really. More like a mentor.

We chatted for a few hours about work-life balance, goal setting, self-development, continuous learning and all the usual suspects that people who have the luxury of being a bit self-obsessed are allowed to indulge in.

At the end of the session, he reached into his pocket and said, “You know, you should really keep a daily journal for yourself”, as he dug out a small Moleskin notebook. “You can jot down your thoughts and feelings in this – I find it quite therapeutic, and I wouldn’t be able to go a day without filling it in now”.

This daily journal is what we used to call a diary. Personally, I’d been filling one out for years, and was able to smuggly inform the coach, “Been there, am doing that”, but had to agree with his assessment. It is therapeutic, and I find it hard to start the day without first writing down something in my own.

My Psion 5

My Psion 5

The thing that moved me from thinking about keeping

a diary to actually doing so was technology. I bought a Psion 3 back in 1994 – it was then called a Personal Digital Assistant or PDA – and it enabled me to make entries into its word processor and save them to a disk. Better than that, you could password protect the files. I never looked back and I still think that the keyboard on the Psion 5, which I duly upgraded to, was a work of genius.

Unless you’re a celebrity* your diary is your own. I’m pretty certain mine would be fairly boring to any other reader but, as Mae West said, I keep it and it often helps to keep me. There’s a comfort in knowing that your life and thoughts flow in a certain way, and those that you see most often repeated are what life coaches would probably call your “values”.

Since 1994, technology has stormed ahead, and these days I keep my diary in “The Cloud”. Otherwise known as Google Docs, which doesn’t sound as sexy, but is pretty suited to my needs. The ability to store words, and maybe the odd picture, and access them from pretty much anywhere is all I need.

I’m sure there must be plenty of on-line applications that offer a more “diary like” experience but I can’t recommend them because I’ve not tried them. Google Docs gives me everything I need, although I sometimes worry about the profile that Google will be able to build of me when they finally come to govern the world. Much of my life since 1994 is on there.
If anyone has experience of a good on-line diary let me know. And, if you don’t keep one, I’d recommend you head to Google Docs and start today.

* I do enjoy reading “celebrity” diaries too. Some of my favourites are:

Michael Palin – I think he’s published three volumes now, and all of them are pretty entertaining.
Gyles Brandreth – yes, he’s a bit of a prat, but these diaries are really funny and at the same time totally enlightening about the media and political worlds.
Low Life – not a diary in the traditional sense, but an account of one man’s progression through his own days. One of the funniest and slightly odd books I’ve read (and I’ve read it twice).
Chris Mullen – forget Alastair Campbell, these are the best diaries of the Blair years by a mile.
Piers Morgan – A chronological account of Morgan’s decade as editor of the Daily Mirror. Given the man, and the inability of most of us to stick him, you won’t believe how incredibly enjoyable this book is.
Kenneth Williams – candid in the extreme, funny, bitchy and will make your toes curl.

My Journey to Early Retirement

Long Road Home

I never set out with the goal to retire early. I remember sitting down with a financial adviser, retained by my work at the the time, to review my pensions. He was a bit of a blunt Glaswegian, and quickly got to the nitty gritty. “Now Jim, what are your retirement goals. And don’t say “to retire at 55” because every ***** tells me that and none of them ever gets there’.

I resisted the temptation to tell him he might be part of the problem in case he “sank the heid” in me with a Glasgow kiss. I, too, had the vague ambition of having the choice to retire at 55 – the choice, mind you, not the absolute objective. I quite liked my job, but in my industry the casualty rate was high the older you got, so I saw saving and investing as more of a safety net than anything else.

As it turned out I became a casualty myself when I turned 51 when my career ended in “redundancy”. Fortunately, by that time, I’d amassed enough savings to retire – if that’s what I choose to do, which was always my objective.

How did I do it? Well, in the spirit of keeping things simple, I’ve listed below what I think I learned over the years

  • Take a company pension, if offered. I signed up on Day One of my employment and never even thought about it. Thirty years later and you wouldn’t believe how often I think about it now (with joy!)
  • Save regularly. It doesn’t matter how much. Even a tenner a week will build up. the important thing is to start the habit and continue with it.
  • Increase your earnings. Go for that promotion at work. Take that evening job. Build that eBay business from home. Work hard and save the extra it brings.
  • Stick with an investment strategy that suits you.  Over the long run you’ll come to understand what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, and build confidence that you have half an idea about what you’re doing too.
  • The clearer your goals, the better chance you’ll have of obtaining them. Write down what they might be. Have a plan to get there.
  • Be frugal (within reason!) I like saving money and being tight. There is a limit though and it’s  important to occasionally treat yourself too. I spent a load of cash on some great holidays over the years and don’t regret it one bit.

I think that they’re the main themes I followed over the almost three decades I was in work. I was pretty fortunate in terms of my career, but if I was to pick one of the points above as being the key one, it would be to save regularly, even if it’s only in a glass jar on your sideboard. The principle, and the pennies, all add up.