Someone not seen for some years looks much older since we last saw them. How old are they, anyway? The consensus in the car is that they are maybe forty-five or forty-six; they look much older. ‘They look older than me’, I comment, ‘and that’s saying something’.
Sitting on a bus in Austria last month, returning from a day’s skiing above Bad Gastein, a young instructor sat beside me. ‘What do you do in the summertime?’ I asked him.
‘In the summertime’, he replied, ‘I skipper a boat in the Caribbean; in the wintertime, to fill in the time, I teach snowboarding’. I smiled; it seemed an idyllic life; to have the skill and fitness to master mountain and sea put him in realms beyond my imagination.
‘What about you?’ he asked. ”You are retired?’
‘Retired? I would like to be, but our pension fund collapsed, I think I will be working when I am eighty’. I had not the heart to tell him that I was fifty-two and even under normal circumstances would still have another thirteen years to work.
‘Working until you are eighty is OK’, he said, ‘if I am fit; I would like still to be working’.
Sometimes the idea of working long into the closing years is inviting, at other times it seems a prospect infinitely bleak.
Visiting a parishioner in hospital yesterday, a squall of rain struck with stinging force as I left the building to walk back to the car. Hurrying to escape a soaking, a now familiar pain returned. The doctor explained it in detail after an angiogram last month. The slight obstruction in the arteries causes a shortage of oxygen which causes the arteries to go into spasm, bringing a sensation of pain in the chest. It is nothing to worry about, medication will clear the offending blockages, but at such moments the idea of being retired seems attractive.
Not that retirement is an option for a long time, the managers of the Church of Ireland pension pursued an investment strategy that even a schoolboy studying economics would have said was flawed. Piling money into the shares of banks that were lending to people in a property bubble, the Church sustained spectacular losses. The Church of Ireland as a whole lost €17 million as shares in Allied Irish Banks plummeted, and that was only one of the holdings.
Were I to be retired, though, what would I do? Would it just be something that was attractive for a year and that then became boring?
At the moment, there seems nothing more tempting than sitting under a tree in the south of France and reading a book in the warmth of the afternoon sunshine; travelling no further than the local market or to the nearby town for rugby matches at the weekend. Perhaps it would become dull, but the chance of reaching the point where dullness set in would not be such a bad thing.
At the moment, the thought of reaching such dullness seems very, very far away.