Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Saga Holidays For Me

[This week the government announced a change in the retirement age law. Companies will no longer be allowed to automatically retire people at the age of 65.]

So now I don’t have to retire when I’m 65? Phew, that’s a relief. I wasn’t looking forward to having that awkward conversation with myself in 7 years time when I’d have had to say apologetically that I wasn’t needed any more – not because my ideas had become old-fashioned or my brain too slow, but because the law said I could be sent out to pasture like an old horse. Like most people who run their own businesses, I have no concept of what retirement actually means.

On the day I joined the BBC in 1973 I expected it would be a job for life. The pension scheme promised you two-thirds of your final salary when you finally handed back your ID card at the age of 60. I kept mine as a souvenir (Staff Number 155658) when I quit to start my own business at 32. Technically I’m already a pensioner, because the BBC now pays me a pittance based on the final salary I was receiving back then. It would just about buy a subscription to Saga magazine.

Of the five trainees who joined on the same day as me, most stayed much longer and did amazingly well: one is even a Lord. I guess their BBC pensions are worth a lot more now.

Me? I’m back where I was in 1984: trying to earn a crust as an independent producer. The problem is that all the editors I pitch to are young; many are younger than my son. They’re commissioning programmes for their bosses the licence payers, half of whom are considerably older than me. Most viewers are over 50, so I think I have a right to carry on making programmes, if only for them. And my own life expectancy gives me another 23 years of potential production.

Besides, with maturity comes a better understanding of what life is about. I was so busy in the eighties and nineties that I raced through my children’s growth and my marriages, never stopping to take a breath. I lived in London, which is no place for a real human being. In those days I would no more have considered relocating back up north than the current BBC staff who are making such a fuss about moving to Salford.

Right now I’d like nothing more than to stop and savour a million things I’ve not made time for. I want to learn the names of all the plants and birds in my garden; I want to read all my unopened books and have one of my own join them; I want to cook more, learn to play jazz piano, and laugh and love through another lifetime of experiences with my wonderful wife. Above all, I want to enjoy every moment of Izzy’s childhood.

Retirement would give me the time, yet I know that none of these things are incompatible with holding down a full time job. It’s all a question of balance. Like the spokes on a bicycle wheel, all the elements of life – career, health, family, love, fun, community and spirituality – are equally essential. Sadly it takes a lot of mistakes to realise that.

My father couldn’t retire either. He was “let go” in his sixties (“Sorry, Bert, we simply can’t carry you any more”, ran the curt letter I discovered with horror one day in a drawer). Soon bored with his allotment, he became a part time bookkeeper. He clearly knew a great deal more about business than any of the people who were hiring him. One of his clients, a restaurant, was losing money and Dad quickly worked out why: the manager was squandering the profits. So they offered Dad the job instead. That’s why, when most people his age were mowing the lawn, he was a happily full-time restaurateur till the day he died.

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