Thoughts on…. Retirement

There’s something both decadent and deeply disturbing about taking a winter break.

As you get older, hopefully money things have conspired in a positive way to help to soften the harsh reality of an aging, sagging, greying body. For us it means we have had a solid 20 years of two good incomes coming in and in the autumn months this usually means we can sneak in a winter break or two.

This time around we visited Lagos in Portugal. I’m getting to the point where I realise European sea resorts are of two main types; busy dumps or quiet and pretty. While I’d much rather an adventure (and indeed an indie band or two to discover), this time around bumming about a beach resort smiling at the aging surfer dudes rather suited.

This week, on a return hike in the winter sun, we rounded the corner onto Lagos Harbour and decided to stop to unpack our carefully made tuna pate and spicy sardine pate sandwiches. However, we found ourselves mobbed as a large black cat decided to sit on my shoulders as I sat down and bent over to take my hiking boots off, and another huge tabby immediately sat on my beloved’s lap blinking at her. Realising our sandwiches would not stretch to the 8 cats surrounding us, we had a cuddle with our new found friends and re-evaluated our plans. It was clear the early retired ex-pat community had found a project.

Further down the way we had our definitive proof; a lovingly crafted cat home with about 5 layers and 12 different cat beds all constructed with space for feeding bowls and water for the “strays” of Lagos Marina.

We have friends a decade or so older than us, and being ex murder squad detectives (they can tell a cute tale or two) retired early to the sun. I recall their Spanish town ex-pat community getting terribly excited with the prospect of a donkey sanctuary; there were running battles about who would organise the website, who might run the fund raising events, and the rotas for looking after the animals (and indeed who might set up the rotas) were hotly contested roles.

Quite frankly it all stinks of desperation; middle class, late middle aged people apparently “living the dream” in the sun while scrabbling around for things to do. I don’t want to work forever, but neither do I want to die of boredom while pretending it’s great.

I’m an animal lover, but I just hope my retirement turns out to be something better than this; something meaningful and worthwhile. It’s not easy as unfortunately it seems we have a culture where charitable jobs will mean “free” and “unpaid”. If it’s free and unpaid then people can come and go as they please, and not too much is expected of them. Likewise, if it’s free it feels worthless.

I’ve picked up lots of useful skills over the years; I don’t want to work in a charity shop talking to lonely people who smell of wee when I volunteer after I retire. I’m happy to sell my services cheap, but not free so they aren’t valued or respected.

So, here’s the wild idea of this ramble; pay people minimum wage for a charity job but expect something from it; make people bat above their pay scale for the “charity” bit, and give the volunteers something worthwhile and challenging to do (even if its part time).

I’m perhaps unfairly guessing the charities will have none of it; unfortunately those making the decision on what might be a volunteer job are exactly those people who can be replaced by “batting above their weight” minimum wage retirees, but I’m happy to hear otherwise…

Chris R

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