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Retiring? Really? This is what many of my younger colleagues asked me one year ago when they learnt that time was up for me. Some even thought I was pulling their legs, they claimed that everybody could see I was still too youthful to retire. Of course, this went down like honey, as the saying goes, but youthful is not the same as young, and I had indeed reached the official age of retirement after teaching for 38 years at secondary grammar schools. The change wasn't abrupt, I can't imagine how people feel who're made redundant from one day to the other. I glided from my summer hols into my retirement, the hols just never ended so-to-speak. When the end of my working life was getting nigh, I learnt a lot about other people. Even people I haven't got close contact with asked me when I would retire. What was it to them? One day a neighbour yelled across the street, "How long have you still got?" as if I were in prison. I yelled back, "Five years" which was correct then. Another yell, "Oh, my God!" I told her later that I found this insulting. She had been a teacher herself, she obviously assumed that I was suffering like she had done, why didn't she ask me if I was? When retirement was imminent it went on. "I envy you." "Lucky you!" "I'm counting my years." Remarks like these had nothing to do with me, only with the speakers' attitudes towards their own jobs. Only a tiny minority asked me how I was feeling about the situation, this was a question I could accept, albeit not answer precisely. I was unable to imagine what my life would be like without trotting to school every day. I liked my job, I didn't feel burnt out, I cherished the contact with young people, the pupils in the classrooms and the colleagues in the staff room during breaks. Would I miss this social interaction? My husband told me to apply to the Ministry of Education to let me stay some more years. He asked, "What will you talk about in future?" My habitual conversation starter after school was, "You can't imagine what happened today!" But no, deep down, I felt that it was enough. Another series of questions I was bombarded with was, "What are you going to do now?" Fortunately, most people answered them themselves. "Travel, of course", they said or, "You're such an active woman, you won't get bored." Thanks for the compliment, I thought, but may I first get used to the new situation and then answer? I didn't have a hobby for which I wanted more time than I already had, more online activity perhaps? But I can't read more books and write more reviews than I already do. I didn't want to do anything with my hands, built model aeroplanes or landscapes for toy trains, for example. Men seem to like doing things like that. Gardening wasn't an option, either, and it doesn't occupy one all the year round, does it? One thing I knew I'd do and cherish above all else: I'd get up late! For nearly four decades I had lived against my biological rhythm, school starts at 7.35 am in our town. I would have breakfast during the long break after the first two lessons, i.e., between 9.10 and 9.25. If at all. One morning I woke up and knew precisely what I wanted to do, namely to go to uni as a 'guest-listener'. German unis accept adults who want to listen to lectures and seminars. They're not allowed to write papers or take part in exams, they just attend. Not all lectures and seminars are open for them, but the ones which are are regular ones, the oldies sit beside the students. We're not talking special programmes for senior citizens here like Ikebama or Oregami or foreign language courses. The nearest uni is 25 minutes by train away from where I live, rather convenient. ----- I suggested the category last July and started writing the review in the first weeks of my retirement. Suddenly I thought I must be mad to write about something I hadn't really experienced yet. Maybe I would feel bad, miss pupils, teaching, all the hullaballoo and the chats with my colleagues and feel empty? Maybe 'cutting the umbilical cord' wouldn't be so easy as I thought? Doesn't one read about retirees all the time who become depressive? I decided to let the review rest and come back to it after a year had passed. Now I can honestly tell you that I'm enjoying my retirement. I'm in my second term at uni and learn new and interesting things every time I go there. The students don't seem to feel molested by me (in one seminar I'm the only oldie). At the end of last term I took part in a test just for fun - I got back only an average mark which amused me immensely. I had learnt but not thoroughly enough, the same old lame explanation I had heard a zillion times when I was on the other side of the desk. I've never been overzealous or meticulous but now I enjoy procrastination to the full. I intend to do something, then I don't feel like doing it or something hinders me, so what? 'Why put off 'till tomorrow what you can do today?' "Why not?" is what I says now. No empty hours then? Sadly, not only retirement comes with old age but also afflictions. I don't want to bore you with details, suffice it to say that I have to spend some time at the doctor's and physiotherapist's. I'm confident, though, to get over them in the near future, maybe I'm going to take up an offer then to do a German conversation course with foreign women with the aim of helping them to integrate into the new society. Up to now I haven't accepted anything resembling my teaching job even from afar, but this may be interesting. And then there will be more travelling. Last week something happened that's still occupying my mind. I was walking along a street not far from my old school at about 10 am and heard loud music. I saw a lot of young people jumping around and thought, "Ah, so the A-level exams are over." It has become a custom to celebrate this with a loud party (no lessons then for the younger pupils). At about 6 pm the event came back to me and suddenly I was dumbstruck. Why hadn't I gone and joined them? I know nearly all of the pupils, one group I even taught for three years and we had the best possible relationship. They would have been genuinely pleased if I had come, but the idea simply didn't occur to me. If I needed proof that the cord was cut for good, this was it.
When I was young I used to visit my Mum in the hospital where she was a Senior Ward Sister, one of the wards that she had to oversee was a female geriatric ward and I often spent my time chatting to the patients. I was old to enough to have a reasonable conversation, but as I was still in single figures, I understandably had a limited knowledge of the world of politics and finance. There was a recurrent theme that ran thru the conversations- how they used to be able to do something but could now longer afford to when they retired e.g. " I used to have a shampoo and set once a week- I'm lucky if I can afford it once a month now". I came away from all these regularly themed conversations drawing the conclusion that one day the government had announced that no woman aged 60 or over could return to work and in turn they would be given a paltry subsistence. I carried on believing this for quite a while- my talks with the patients only serving to confirm my belief. This could be the only answer, as if not why, using the aforementioned example would you not just have a shampoo and set once a fortnight and save for the future. Oh the naivety of youth. One day, I remember not how, I recall finding out the truth from my Father- the pension had initially been intended to be enough for a reasonable standard of living, as long as you had paid sufficient national insurance contributions, but sooner rather than later this had not been the outcome and people reaching pension age had found themselves wanting if they had no savings. So I knew by about the age of nine , that it was essential, vital, that when I grew up I had to save for my retirement. Over the years my Mother was promoted to Matron and my conversations at the hospital were somewhat infrequent. Nevertheless I heard the same theme- "I used to be able to afford and now I can't" on the bus, in magazines on tv etc; etc; etc. Now if the people were living on the bare minimum I would have been able to understand the problem- but they weren't- the we used to able to stories made that perfectly clear. So maybe you should think about whether you should be saving the money you spend on non essentials- like the skinny double shot cappuccino - because it'll be as you realise later in life, what you have to live on in retirement - when you will wake up and smell that coffee.