Let’s retire Pension Age!

Thirteen years is a long time in politics, as they say. 2023 has seen protests across France that have been violent, persistent and politically dangerous for the President. Thirteen years before, the issue was the same, but the strength of protest not as virulent.

In 2010 our holiday in Marseilles was extended by two days courtesy of the rioting French.  We were due to Easyjet home, but the day before we saw notices stuck on lamposts. ‘Greve generale demain’ they said. Our French is good enough to know that means trouble. The trouble was the plan to increase the pension age. The next day transport ground to a halt and in Le Vieux Port the locals filled the streets to protest.  We did notice that the protest was put on hold for an hour for lunch, as the streets emptied and the restaurants filled, presumably so the French could practice what their life would be like when they did eventually retire! Ca va, ce sera la vie.

Emma Beddington in The Guardian gave an amusing comparison of reactions from two cross channel cultures.

Reports last week suggested that the UK state pension age could rise to 68 sooner than planned. I doubt we would even react – if we aren’t on the streets for public-sector pay, corruption or 200 missing asylum-seeking children, this surely wouldn’t fire us up. Compare and contrast with France, where Macron’s proposal to raise the retirement age to 64 triggered epic protests.

Vive la difference!

But my experience (being well beyond 64 or 68), has taught me that retirement has never really been about age…more about attitude of mind.  I’ve met people whose mind is retired at 40, and others whose mind shows no sign of retirement at 80.


My first job as a 21 year old rookie graduate was to help compile the company’s newsletter.  ”Go and talk to those guys in the factory who are  due to retire” they said “Find out what they’re going to do and write a paragraph about each one.” Armed with pen, paper and naivety I approached those approaching 65 and asked about their plans for the future. 

Some said “ No idea. I haven’t made any plans, am a bit worried about health so I may not do too much, there’s a bit of decorating I’ve been meaning to do and the garden will need a trim, we’ll see what happens; just glad to stop working really”

Others said “ I’ve been waiting for this, I’m going to walk some of the national trails, learn a new language, try and keep fit and healthy, make sure I don’t miss work, spend time with the grandchildren, they keep us young”

Another part of my job on the newsletter was writing Obituaries. You can guess what’s coming next!  Yes I’d recognise some of the names, from the interview with them just six months before. Those with no plans or purpose had a very limited retirement.

The others had ridden off into the sunlit uplands of the next stage of life and, if asked the secret of a long and happy life, might have come up with the familiar ‘keep learning, start new things, nurture relationships, keep fit and healthy’…or as Emma Beddington put it :


Work can be great: the majority of silver quitters said they liked their jobs, but equally a word cloud of their thoughts on work read: “Boring tiring stress necessary MONEY”. ……….. it gave me pause to read research from China that suggested eating well, seeing friends twice a week and exercising regularly may slow the rate of memory decline and reduce the risk of dementia. We all deserve the opportunity not to work while we’re still capable of enjoying it.

And what about that age-old ‘pensionable?’ issue of dependence and independence as the years increase?

An even earlier role I had in ‘journalism’ was on my University’s newspaper. I went out on the streets of Manchester to interview tramps.  What insights on life could they bring to the newspaper’s readers, most of whom were between 18 and 21, just like me.

Some were very happy to talk about why they became tramps and how they survive. They engaged with passing people, enjoyed and fought the vagaries of the weather, felt free of society’s constraints and what other people thought of them, and didn’t want state handouts. If you could be happy living on the streets, they were happy.

 Another group did not want to talk, but when persuaded they were clearly frustrated and unhappy. The world was against them (not to mention the weather) and they were not getting what they deserved; they took the money the state offered, but felt entitled to so much more; they curled up on their own in isolation and distrust.

These early learnings served me well in looking at portfolio life at a later point.  At the age of 37 I wrote in my little black book “retire at 52”; I’d just had an encounter at one of those vacuous industry dinners with some very bored, disillusioned and frustrated board members who were just ‘serving time’ towards their retirement. I left corporate life at 51, ahead of schedule!, following some of the learning from those very early days, wanting to avoid being entitled in ‘golden handcuffs’, to be free to do what I most enjoy, to learn new skills, meet different people, keep ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ and yes have a purpose, a positive attitude of mind, and independence.

Portfolio Life, as forecast by Charles Handy in the sixties, was increasing rapidly as a career decision before Covid. The pandemic and working from home convinced many more that there are better ways to work and indeed make retirement and pension age anachronisms of the past!

Emma Beddington again :

So, thanks to Covid, a specific slice of the population got an existential shock and a taste of how nice solvent retirement could be, gathered their colleagues around a Colin the Caterpillar cake, took the John Lewis vouchers and ran. Does that mean my late-40s cohort takes on “oldest person in the workplace” responsibilities? Have they left handover notes? We are way too tired for wisdom.

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