Wednesday, 26 June 2013

My Brilliant Career

As you get older, there are certain days when you can see the shape of your own life.  It may not be a pleasing shape but, like the face you see in the mirror, it's the only one you've got.  Today was such a day.

Today we had a farewell lunchtime "do" for our Chief, who is retiring.  It went as well as these tribal things can, with warmly awkward words from people unaccustomed to public speaking, jokes, a presentation, and lots of familiar, semi-historic faces whose associated names have somehow evaporated from one's mind. The Ur-Chief was there, the one before the current one, the one who appointed me.  His opening salvo ("What, are you still here?") I took in good part, as he was looking frail and, after all, he'd given me the job 30 years ago on the understanding I'd be moving on to greater things in five years.  Old enough to appreciate my reference to the "pram in the hallway",* he is nevertheless of a generation that will never understand why any man's career would be halted by the arrival of children.  He, after all, had six.

Looking forward, the shape of my employed life -- a.k.a. my brilliant career -- is about to take a curious twist.  For the Chief's successor will be a woman who was once a trainee at the same time and place as me, and whose boss I was for about a year, before she did move on to better things.  That's going to be interesting.

But only for a short while.  I have now told enough people that I intend to take early retirement next year when I turn 60 to overcome any degree of cold feet when the time comes.  It will simply be too humilating not to have gone.  What, are you still here?

I must admit, I recoil at the prospect of one day having to stand up there, having the shape of my life described by a virtual stranger to people who have only the vaguest idea who I am. I have often said that the problem with retirees is that there's never anyone left, by the time they go, who remembers them when they were good at their job.  It may already be too late, but I intend to be moving on before that happens.

Who was that masked man?

* It comes from a once-famous essay by Cyril Connolly, "The Enemies of Promise", describing the life-factors and choices that work against the realisation of early "promise" in a career.


Martin said...

I recommend slipping away quietly, Mike, although I suspect that's not going to be an option.

Andrew Sharp said...

From my, albeit limited, time in teaching I know that there were two directions you could face. Upwards towards the powers that be or downwards, pretending to be sideways, to the students. The former were the ones who built careers but the others got on better with everyone else.

I'm not sure that some of us ever really got the idea of what having a career was about. Let's just be comfortable enough to be allowed to keep thinking our own thoughts, thank you very much.

Mike C. said...


They'll have to take me alive, first! I have bribed the guards and know all the secret exits...


I had a brief spell, 1984-1989, when the idea of a full-on career was quite attractive -- kind of an 80s thing -- but it wore off, and then the kids arrived, and I went part-time, and found I preferred working in 3rd gear, and, and ... Next thing you know, it's time to retire, on a final-salary pension with 30 years of contributions... I'm not complaining!


Anonymous said...

Apart from the fact that I couldn't feckin' afford to retire anyway - very few journalism jobs have decent pension set-ups, and I've not stayed long enough working for any of those that do (though I have a wife who'll get a teacher's pension in 14 years' time ...), I've realised that, boring though it might make me sound, I enjoy being a journo too much to want to retire.

But I have the warning example of my grandfather, who worked as a carpenter and joiner for St*v*n*g* Council until he was 70 (you were allowed to do that even in the 1960s, if your employer would let you) and afterwards admitted that he wished he had quit work earlier ...


Mike C. said...


Yes, I am very aware that I'm very lucky indeed to have a decent pension waiting for me. Not that I haven't earned it...

Mind, I do get v. cross when private-sector types complain about their pension prospects, when they haven't actually paid anything into a pension scheme... A fair chunk of my not-very-generous salary has been deducted into our scheme from the git-go.

I have the counter example of my father, who worked for Geo.W. King in Stevenage for 30 years, only to be made redundant and pension-less at 55 when Tube Investments took them over in 1972. TI simply stole the pension fund, which they were able to do in those days. Mum and Dad lived on state benefits for the rest of their lives.