More than one former colleague who came back to visit told us it had taken a year or more to get used to retirement. I doubted this would happen to me. Without exception they wondered how they’d found time for a full-time job.
I marked my retirement by leaving my wristwatch in the bedroom unless I had an appointment to be on time for. Nevertheless, I entertained thoughts of a part time retirement job, or perhaps volunteering (an animal rescue shelter was my first preference). But my husband had bought a house in the Cambridgeshire Fens, and I still had a foot in the London suburbs that I didn’t want to give up. Most of my children and one of his live in the area (one was actually living in my home at the time, albeit temporarily).
Keeping a pied-à-terre would mean regular trips between bases, and employers expected even volunteers to be available for regular work. I looked around for something that would fit into a peripatetic lifestyle. I can’t think why I decided on proofreading as a possibility. At work, I’d been in the habit of running my campus-wide emails past the Senior Librarian before I sent them out, to flag up typos and the other errors I’d missed.
In spite of this awareness of my authorial shortcomings, I registered on a mail-order proofreading course and proceeded to work my way through the assignments. The course convinced me that checking the minutiae of others’ prose wasn’t how I wanted to spend retirement.
With similarly hazy recall of my days selling Tupperware and Avon (and the rest) I signed up as an ‘independent distributor’ for a company that sold – sells – eco-friendly products. The concept seemed worthwhile and, unlike most direct sales ventures, I didn’t have to pay out for a ‘starter kit’. I simply bought the products I liked the look of for my own use and some catalogues. Order forms, advertising leaflets, tutorials were available online to download.
I was, as always, my own best customer. But stuffing catalogues through doors proved a good way to get to know my new locality. (I discovered that Fenland communities tend to build houses in the back gardens of other houses, which can be interesting.) I still use the company’s products myself, and occasionally a customer calls me for items from the catalogue, but I don’t pound the streets any more. Even before lockdown more products were being sold through distributors’ websites than by doorstepping.
For a couple of years, I worked for a home shopping venture, dealing with customer queries, complaints, returns and refunds. Using the company’s Skype account, I called customers back, took payments via Sage Pay and filed reports to Action Fraud. I also collated sales and refunds. Compared to customers, spreadsheets were easy. I’d been devising spreadsheets and collating performance indicators over multi-site institutions for my last three employers.
The customer portal became a constant background to each day; customers expect a prompt response to problems with purchases. Even on holiday in our ancient motorhome, we sought out campsites that offered wireless internet. Following the Easter Sunday when my laptop died, I had another up and running by Easter Monday. That first Christmas I gained an insight into how many people spend Christmas and Boxing Day on shopping channels and websites. The queries and refunds that followed filled my weeks well into the New Year.
The following Christmas was less demanding. The company had dropped its level of TV advertising and was moving into different fields. Later that year, I was happy to hand over my responsibilities to another member of staff looking for extra hours.
The absence of daily portal checks was liberating. My hours-based earnings – never generous – had dropped as the orders reduced and I spent less time on queries. But the commitment had still been greater than the income merited.
I finally embraced retirement.
A large garden with two fishponds demands a certain amount of attention. I could now spend time in it without being pulled back – as if on elastic – to the laptop and customer emails.
I don’t have green fingers. Even with time to lavish on the garden, things die. I prefer natural-looking gardens to manicured borders anyway. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)
Gardens are for sitting in.
In the evenings, while watching TV, I crochet to keep my hand from straying so often to the Scotch at my side. I don’t knit because I drop stitches. In crochet, it doesn’t matter if you drop a stitch or forget to put your work away out of dog-reach. (A ball of wool is fun to play with – ask any cat.)
But one household can only use so many scarves, ponchos and blankets, and I never was a doily sort of person. If crochet was for evenings, how was I to fill my days?