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What shall I do with all my eternity leave – aka retirement?

Blog | By Susan Hamlyn | Apr 20, 2020

Empty hours (Credit: Matteo Ianeselli)

“How’s school?” I asked Ned whose dog, Bailey, was engaged in a thorough rogering of my dog who was nonchalantly eating mud. Ned walks Bailey after school, before homework, and although he is just twelve, it’s a given among us daily dog walkers that we converse as equals.

“It’s rubbish,” Ned growled. “My only good teacher’s on eternity leave.”

I commiserated, of course, and we established that she might indeed return some day. On the way home, I pondered the notion of eternity leave and its possible application to my world.

We are all, sadly, familiar with the man (it usually is) who is made, unwillingly, to retire and who, never coming to terms with it, dwindles into elderliness, decline and – all too often – a premature demise.

Others of us, of course, yearn for the day, save for it, plan trips, schemes and enterprises of all kinds just waiting for the off. A fortunate few never retire because they like what they do and have the choice of carrying on. And, there are, of course, those who simply can’t afford to stop working and battle on until forced by incapacity or other exigencies to stop. However, while far more of us – men and women – now work, either full or part time, after our seventieth birthdays, around 90% of us have packed it in by then.

Whatever our feelings about the cessation of paid work, most of us who get to “retirement age” wonder quite what it’s for, and what we are for when we are not paid to be who we have always been. There is the fear that our careers, experience and long-accrued expertise will no longer be recognised and that we will be seen not as who we are but simply as “old”.

So what might the notion of “eternity leave” have to offer? Grandparent duties enchant – or afflict – many and make us essential in way that, perhaps, our parents were not when our children were young. And, of course, our grandchildren are wonderful. Sticky, intractable, noisy and inexhaustible but, of course, wonderful. But it is in the nature of grandchildren that they too, as time gives up toddling and starts to sprint, will also need us less.

It occurs to me that, if one could accustom those of us horrified by the prospect of the end of paid employment to think, not of “giving up work” but of a never-ending furlough, it might be less daunting – a perpetual break from, well, from what? Are there not things one would be all too happy to give up?

That will differ from person to person depending on the nature of the work but – here’s a few possibilities of things one might give up with rapture and rejoicing:

Being woken up by an alarm clock before one is ready to wake up; wearing work clothes; commuting; incompetent bosses; incompetent subordinates; snatched lunches; no lunches; huge lunches; unreasonable clients; outdated websites; new websites; crashed websites; cut-throat competitors; unanswered emails; deadlines; incomprehensible directives; box ticking; one’s own omissions, mistakes and ineptitudes; forms, reports, inspections and appraisals; health and safety; the IT department – you can make up your own.

Imagine! Eternity leave from all that!

As the old hymn goes, E’en eternity’s too short – for all that one need never do again.

Sounds good to me.