Picture of a judge's wigThis Is Not A BLOG!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 25/07/20

Exit Stage: Left (Part 4)

(For Joy, who's been asking for it. No, really...)

In contrast to the first three parts of this series, this one will be far less structured. Those were describing events as they happened in sequence, whereas this one has no defined time-line, and so is likely to meander all over the place.

A bit like life itself, innit?

I've left it nearly a month before writing this so that some sort of a picture has had time to take shape of Life After Work. I'm not sure that it has, but anyway...

The morning of Wednesday, July 1, 2020 duly dawned. I don't think I was awake for the sunrise itself, but it was always going to be the case that the ingrained habits of the decades would continue to have their influence on my life for some time, so I was probably awake by sometime between 05:30 and 07:00, even if I merely turned over and tried to get back to sleep again.

So there I was, officially surplus to economic requirements. There could have been circumstances in which I would have found myself in a state of mild panic over the future (such as it is). However, I have to say that - bearing in mind the lousy state of my karma - things could scarcely have panned out better.

You see, I had intended to retire at sixty anyway, even if I would have had to live on bread and dripping until my State Pension kicked in (at some infinitely variable point in the future; the bastards have moved it back twice already). The timing of the closure of the office meant that I was going two years earlier, but in addition to the civil service pension, and its associated lump sum (or as a colleague in another office once described it, a 'pension lumpsome'), I would get a redundancy payout as well. This would be crucial in cushioning the effects of a lack of regular income.

I'm not taking the pension straight away, though; I had originally intended to do so but, doing the math (as they say), I found that that would give me a lower pension for obvious reasons, in that I would have been two years short of the full contributions. I then decided to hold off until I reached sixty, but then a better solution was pointed out to me by one of the helpful HR bods they sent up to talk to us. And a very advantageous move it was, too.

You see, my redundancy payment was over £30 000. Such payments up to that figure are tax-free, but tax is then deducted on any amount over that. But if I used the excess to pay for an extra year's pension instead, I would pay no tax on any of the redundo and would get a suitably higher pension and be able to claim it at fifty-nine!

It was, as they say, a 'no-brainer'.

(I would almost certainly have had any tax back from the full payment anyway, as I would have no taxable income during the current tax year beyond my three months' salary. I've had tax deducted from that, of course, but similarly I will get that back and I'm willing to wait until June of next year for it).

One of my last acts as a civil servant had been to download my final month's payslip; my, that big number did look good!

Methodical as ever, I had done some quite detailed projections of my financial situation for the next seven or eight years. When my current account, savings and repayment of 'widows and orphans' contributions were factored in with the redundancy and pension payments, it looked like I would be OK until the State Pension turns up (I should live so long!), but there will be little room for extravagance, so the month in Juan Les Pins has had to be cancelled (I doubt if I could even afford a weekend in Barmouth, assuming I would ever be that desperate).

I have found that, so far at least, I have been able to keep myself occupied and/or amused quite well. The garden has been in need of remedial work for some time, as I've seldom had the luxury of time, weather and arseditude coinciding often enough to be able to get it in better shape. I've given the lawns - a rather grandiose description of them, to be honest; Chatsworth they ain't - a going-over a couple of times (dodging the cat shit wherever necessary) and found that the moss has got into the side section again (last time I got it up with the scarifier, it was like rolling up a soggy carpet), last Monday I spent the whole afternoon cutting the outside and top of the hedge, a multi-species beast, comprising as it does - inter alia - privet, hawthorn, elder (which absolutely mings when you cut it), what may be hornbeam, laurel, lilac and a something I've never been able to identify, and on Wednesday I weeded the whole of the border running along the south side of the house now that the columbines have died off. I also dealt with the five-foot tall common hogweed which suddenly emerged through the fuchsia bush at the back (see pic below; I did make sure that it was a common hogweed rather than a giant one, just in case).

Photo of a common hogweed

In between times (that's a rather roundabout way of saying 'Tuesday', isn't it?), I had a delightful visit from Wendy and Tez, where we spent an hour and a half sitting in the front garden on my deeply uncomfortable kitchen chairs (well, it was easier than dragging the three-piece suite out there) having a reet good natter. I've kept in touch with them and some other former colleagues via e-mail and text message as well, but it's not the same although, as I said before, working from home for the last few months has helped reduce the sense of loss from not seeing anyone.

(While I'm on the subject, my dear friend Siân has beaten me into print with a couple of slim volumes which she has recently published. If you don't have an aversion to buying from Am*z*n, you can get them here and here).

As to the house, well the whole thing needs redecorating from top to bottom, as I haven't done it all since just after the council put the first real central heating system in sixteen years ago, when I spent the whole of my September fortnight's leave up and down stepladders. Now, I can take my time over it (as I have already done with painting the skirting boards and doorframes), although the problem just at the moment, of course, is getting hold of the stuff to do it with. It's an ideal winter job, though, as - having to leave windows open to deal with the paint fumes - you're less likely to get a variety of insect species making themselves part of the décor.

This should also help me cope with a winter without anything else much to do, which has been something which has played most upon my mind when considering the immediate future. I mean - weather permitting, natch - there's always a reason to be getting out into the garden or going for a walk (although this latter pastime is limited by the knowledge that I've walked just about everywhere within a two-mile radius of home down the years, and not enough has changed which would justify the renewed effort. Furthermore, any venturing beyond that is out of the question at the moment, especially with the very real threat of subsequent waves of the pandemic hitting us; don't take any notice of that thatched-roofed killer clown in London, we're not through all this by a long, long way); but the period from October to March is another matter, as there are limits to what can be done without venturing outside, and the potential for slightly knackering up my mental well-being is quite high, especially once the garden has been put to bed for the dark months.

I do have the odd 'project' in mind, though: for one thing, I have a whole load of reel-to-reel tapes which I need to digitise. I did buy a second-hand machine to play them on over ten years ago, but I've had technical difficulties with that (the pressure pad on the playback head had worn down - not the only problem with a machine which, the vendor on eBay assured me, was in 'full working condition', but where all the rubber/neoprene belts and whatnot had to be replaced - and I haven't been able to find or fashion a replacement; similarly, there's just the slightest chance that I might finally learn to play to some reasonable standard the Fender Squier acoustic guitar I bought way back in 2004. Whether I can be bothered, however...

As to my physical condition, well the last few weeks have given indications that some adjustments need to be made. For example, I have - ever since my close encounter with the crematorium four years ago - been on not one but two diuretics (aka 'piss pills'). At the beginning of last week, I felt completely washed out, with a constant ache in the neck and shoulders and my eyes making anything bright look like an old-fashioned black-and-white television with the contrast control on the fritz. I self-diagnosed based on previous experience, and dropped one of the two diuretics to see what would happen. There was an almost immediate improvement. Also - and quite possibly as a result of the dehydration - I have lost about five pounds in weight since I finished working, something which was the opposite of what I would have expected. I am now a mere thirteen stone two pounds, having been thirteen and a half consistently for over three years. But then again, apart from the day I go shopping (usually Saturday, but not necessarily always so, seeing as I now have the freedom to go any day of the week), I don't get up in time to have breakfast anymore.

Which brings me to my sleeping patterns. For nearly three decades, these have been tied to the necessity of getting up at some wretched time of the early morning for five days a week. Now, my usual pattern is about 11a.m. to about 1a.m. Which is fine as far as it goes, but that causes a problem when I have to get up early on my shopping days, and I consequently end up shambling around Sainsbury's in a state of partial zombification.

I've also suffered two or three very disobliging nuits blanches, and it's little comfort to know that I can make up for lost sleep by napping during the day. I know that I need to forge some sort of new routine, but right now I can't be bothered (a further example of my chronic lack of self-discipline). It'll all settle down eventually, I suppose.

And them, m'dears, is the conditions what prevail in the early days of my liberation from official usefulness. More bulletins will doubtless follow in due course.