Sunday, 12 September 2010


If like me you grew up during the eighties you will remember the song "Who wants to live forever" by Queen, well every now and again i have a similar feeling of anxiety and dread when i think about work. In my case i am not too bothered about living forever, but what i do worry about working forever.

I remember when i was much younger I wanted to earn some money for myself, especially when holidays beckoned or i needed some new clothes. My father had never seen the value in expensive training shoes or sportswear, probably because we didn't have the money, but also because he used to remind me of how he had to walk to school in bare feet on broken glass when he was small, because he couldn't afford shoes and even the glass had to be borrowed - if anything cost over $0.24 it had to come with 4 tyres and a steering wheel.
What he hadn't realised was that at school i was being ridiculed, beaten and traumatised for life by wearing Nicke' Abbibas and Pumar apparel. The chance to earn some money would enable me to buy my own clothes that didn't have "beat me senseless for wearing 'un-cool' clothes" blazoned on the back, however finding work at 14 wasn't so easy - I lived in an area where there weren't any paperboys (or girls), mainly because no one had a newspaper delivered - it was seen as POSH and frivolous, why pay someone to deliver your newspaper when you had 4 or 5 kids doing nothing in your own home, especially when fetching the newspaper for your dad might have meant he let you keep the 2 pence change - if you were lucky.

I remember once, one of my uncles (Ray) who to us lived in a posh area because they had trees, wanted someone to chop up some wood for his open fire (again posh), it was just before our summer holidays and me and Martin, my younger brother, jumped at the chance. We thought it was the perfect job. Letting a couple of juveniles cut, pull, break, smash and hammer a load of wood - and get paid for it!
Then the icing on the cake, he told us we would need to use the small chainsaw he had just brought - was this man crazy? We were known for burning anything that was flammable, smashing anything that was expensive and basically ruining anything good, and he was going to let us loose with a chainsaw.

"I want to go first - I'm the oldest" I yelled at my younger brother, who by this age was already taller and stronger than me. We argued for hours until he conceded, and our father dropped us at Ray's house, he was waiting for us with an open garage stacked to the roof with timber - Noah hadn't used as much wood when building the arc. Still we thought with a chainsaw we would make quick work of it and receive our bounty in full, er no. The chainsaw must have come from the same Chinese factory that made Christmas cracker toys, and was about as useful. We toiled for 8 hours trying to make a dent in the mountain of winter fuel, taking it in turns to slide the blunt instrument across the damp, green, knot ridden railway sleepers and 500 year old oak tree trunks. After what seemed an eternity our dad arrived to pick us up and we were released from our shackles. To get us threw the torture we had planned what we would spend the money on, a new computer game for the Sinclair Spectrum, a pair of Reebok trainers, a kite etc. Ray gave us our pay in a brown envelope, just like a factory worker might receive his weekly pay. I knew instantly it would not be enough to fulfill our dreams, even without opening it I could tell it contained coins - coins weren't good.

I learned several valuable lessons that day, firstly my uncle was as tight as a fishes arse, secondly always agree the fee upfront and perhaps most importantly that the size of the remuneration received isn't necessarily connected to how much sweat you lose trying to earn it. Since then I have lived by these rules, and looked to find a job that meant I perspired little and earned a lot, I'm still looking!
Which brings me to the point of this blog, I am fast approaching 2 anniversaries, 40 years on the planet and 22 years in full time employment (albeit for a multitude of companies). The 40 doesn't bother me, however the 22 does, why? Well probably because according to recent reports, by the time I approach retirement, the UK government will have raised the pensionable age to 70. The thought of another 30 years working feels me with dread, don't get me wrong the first 22 have been a blast, 4 continents, a dozen countries and a bewildering variety of responsibilities and experiences. But to think I have to go and do it all again plus some more - pass the razor blades now.
I can't imagine another 30 years of getting up at 6.00am,working out how to keep my well paid job, please my bosses and stay ahead of the young pretenders, I'm already tired, grey and past it. Sleep is my favourite hobby, next to snoozing and 'resting my eyes'. I long for the weekend, and dream of lazy holidays spent sleeping in the sun, afternoon siestas and late mornings, I work for free time these days, not for money.

My children,  talk to me about wanting to start work and earn some money, my daughter already has her life mapped out, leave school at 16, get dad to buy her a chocolate shop and she will make millions devising new ways to form chocolate into ever more desirable shapes - she's 8 years old, and her one passion is to start work ASAP. I tell her not to leave school, college,or  university until they kick her out kicking and screaming - work is for dummies, leaving school at 16 will leave you with another 54 years of work! 54 years that's more than the average life expectancy in South Africa, Tanzania or Mada-bloody-Gascar. My elder son feels the same and despite owning everything a 12 year old boy could possibly need or want, he longs to earn his own money, sounding like an old fuddy I send him to his grandad who at 60 has just retired, 5 years before the current UK age for retirement as he was fortunate to have worked for the civil service (how does that work? They make the rules that tell us we must work longer, retire later and pay more into the state pension system, then they retire on inflated pensions younger than anyone!).
My father started work at the age of 14, plucking chickens in the back yard of the butchers shop his family lived above in Aston Cross, Birmingham. He covered 46 years of employment without a single sick day and no break between jobs. He is the epitome of what society wants - a tax paying, hard working, never complaining worker ant, stuff that -become a soldier ant, directing, organising and telling everyone else what to do, or better still go for the queen ants job, work for yourself, avoid as much tax as possible, fail to pay your debts on time, and pay yourself unrepresentative wages whilst everyone else does the work, if all that fails get a government job, be good at football or marry well!

For me, I have already planed my next move. It's a job I noticed about 10 years ago whilst on holiday in Cornwall. We were staying in a holiday home called the "little house" in St. Ives which is right on the harbour wall with uninterrupted views of the bay and the small town beach. Just outside of the front door a man with skin like a hippopotamus's backside and the colour of recently varnished mahogany, sits there day in day and day out, his trusty dog lies by his side and an old women brings him a freshly cooked bacon sandwich for elevenses, a cheese and pickle roll for lunch, and a cool pint of scrumpy cider for tea. He spends most of the day sucking on his pipe and snoring, only waking to take a couple of pounds off the visiting tourists for the days hire of a deck chair or windbreak. No employees, no bosses, shareholders or worries - ah that's the life, bring it on, only do it before those civil servants make me work another 40 years.

1 comment:

  1. Like you, I crave the free time away from work. That way I can be at home to fix the leaky plumbing,repoint the bricks, re-shingle the roof, mow the lawn.....