Saturday, July 13, 2013

Protecting the standards

This post first appeared as a column in the Good Living section of The Press, Christchurch

Ken Strongman

One of the tasks of retirement that presents itself with a creeping insinuation is protecting the standards of society.  Being an elder statesperson somehow conveys that right, or it seems to because one has more time to think about them.  It’s not exactly a matter of ‘Things weren’t like this in my time’ or ‘Back in the day…’ whenever the day was.  It’s more a question of ‘What on earth can they be thinking about?’

Take language (you knew this was what was coming).  The word ‘like’ has lost all meaning, other than to say that one likes something.  Anyone below about 30 would say this is as ‘It’s like that ‘like’ has like lost all like meaning, other than to like say that one like likes like something’.  Or something like that anyway.  Can’t they hear themselves?  Don’t they like think about what they are like saying?  And one receives some very odd looks if one tries to comment on this.  Where’s he like coming from?’  It’s best not to think about it; the attempts to get through the non-working day are enough.

Then there is what I think of as the hard ‘t’.  It has come to us from America via Auckland according to my observations over the last few years.  ‘We’d bedder get ged going’  ‘Would you pass the budder?’  ‘How are you gedding on?’  It’s even crept into radio and television speak, particularly amongst the female newscasters.  Again, there’s not much that can be done aboud id other than to take care oneself.

In the end, the language changes through common usage and there it is.  Rearguard actions in this area will not win the war. Well, just one final salvo perhaps and I’ll come straight out with it: I think it’s due to laziness.  ‘Bedder’ is easier to say than ‘better’; it is, try it.  And sticking ‘like’ into every phrase saves the bother of saying exactly what one is thinking, if in these circumstances one is thinking at all.

Now, this introduction to what this column is really about does not help my cause much although it was good to get it off my chest.  It is actually a matter of standards around the house that I’ve been working up to.  There would seem to be an essential difference between men and women when it comes to housework and the general state of affairs around the place.  I quite like a bit of tidiness and a smattering of cleanliness but this is never, and I repeat, never, up to the standard that my fine wife likes to live by.  And I am now at home far more than I used to be.

From time to time this causes a hint of tension that leads to a definite improvement on my part – at least as I see it.  A nagging doubt remains though that the improvement is probably not good enough.  And it is definitely useful to pay some attention to nagging doubts of that sort rather than to allow them to slip all too easily out of awareness.  These moments also lead to finding good and noble things to do that take one out of the house, as well as the odd convivial conversation indoors about the division of labour.

My strong advice to all men who have retired is to re-think your standards around the house, learn to do more cooking, vacuum under and behind things rather than simply what you can see.  Above all, just get on and do it; don’t wait to be asked.  And then go out and find other standards to uphold.

Which brings me to standards of dress and general deportment.  This again is something that needs to be said only to men.  Women naturally maintain the highest levels in these matters.  As a retired man, matters of hair length, including unfortunately nose and ear hair that seem to put on a growth spurt after retirement don’t often reach conscious thought.  And changing one’s jeans more than once a month or so seems a bit much.  Take heed; such ways of being do not go down well at home.

Do your best around the house.  Try to stay looking reasonably sharp.  In other words, the maintenance of standards begins at home.  Don’t worry too much about people, even in public notices, not knowing how or when to use the apostrophe, or even to know what the apostrophe is.  The difference between ’its’ and ‘it’s’ is hopeless now and the use of an apostrophe in any plural word is becoming commonplace.  Just don’t worry about it.  Although did I just hear ‘How about pudding the keddle on’ from across the room?

And before you comment, think of John Kenneth Galbraith’s words  “Where humour is concerned there are no standards…”

Having nothing to do with pilates

This post first appeared as a column in the Good Living section of The Press, Christchurch

Ken Strongman

The other day, I was on the outskirts of a conversation between my lovely wife (not retired) and two other fine women of our acquaintance.  The discussion was energetically animated, or animatedly energetic, comparing the breathing techniques used during pilates and yoga.  It was something to do with the stomach hollowing on the in-breath in the one and the out-breath in the other.  A surreptitious mental probe of my stomach as I attempted to breath in this exciting atmosphere suggested no movement at all.  Thus I was provided with another good reason to have nothing to do with either pilates or yoga, in any of their forms.

Other than some confrontations on the squash court with other aged partners, my gym preferences centre on the cardio rooms and in particular the cross-trainer.  We even have one at home, bought by my wife in an enthusiastic moment but to what I think is her delight, used by me.  At least it is being used.

The cross-trainer is, in my view, one of the great inventions.  One can go at any speed, with any resistance (including some at the top end that are impossible to move against) for any length of time, using arms and legs, legs only and even arms only if one pretends that the legs cannot move of their own volition.  All the while, a heart rate measure reassures one that life goes on and the calories are being counted.  I really hope that those calorie counters are roughly accurate although there is no way of checking. If not, there is considerable room for delusion.

There are some unusual possibilities that I have not yet been game to try on what I now regard as my personal cross-trainer.  I might sometime have a go at the arm blaster (how can that work?) but am definitely not game to try the X mode. Most odd though is the glute kicker.  While there are quite a few people I wouldn’t mind kicking in the glutes, I don’t often deserve this myself and am puzzled as to how the machine would accomplish it. I’ll only ever find out by mistake.

Sometimes it is worth trekking to a gym to use another style of cross-trainer surrounded by other enthusiasts rather than by cars and ladders in the garage.  These public gyms are a mixed blessing.  There is much comfort to be gained from sidelong glances at bodies in worse shape (it is to be hoped) than one’s own.  And there is some misery to be gained by unwitting glances at the other sort.  The real problem is that, with the ageing frame, the best that can be hoped for is a sort of maintenance rather than aiming at the fantasy body that prompted earlier years in the gym.

So, it is usually best to keep one’s eyes to oneself in the gym – it helps concentration.  Although, it is pleasant to be asked by some young thing how to raise the seat on the bicycles.  The down-side comes with the knowledge that for oneself, it always has to be lowered rather than raised.

Thinking of gym conversations, one encounter began with a question from another ageing semi-jock – having glanced at me, he asked: ‘how many are you pulling?’  At first puzzled by this since I was not sure that I was pulling anyone and, in fact, I’d probably forgotten how to, I smiled politely.  ‘Come on’, he said, ‘how many?’.  I clicked and told him how old I was.  He grinned and proudly told me his age, which was a couple of years more than mine.  I’m not sure what he was proud of, perhaps something like having made it longer than me in the gym.  I don’t know what has happened to him but he’s not been around for some time.  And I’m unsure whether I’m pulling my years or they are pulling me.

Just as a footnote and in case, inspired by this column, you are thinking of looking in at a gym, beware the changing rooms.  If you have not been in one for some time, you will find that they themselves have changed.  The showers are individual and have locks on their doors and there are electric hair driers chained to the wall.  Are these the expectations of youth?

As Winnie the Pooh has it  “A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.”

Doing time

This post first appeared as a column in the Good Living section of The Press, Christchurch

Doing time

Ken Strongman

Being a retiree bears an uncanny resemblance to Alice having disappeared down the rabbit hole.  It’s to do with time.  At the best of times, time is a slippery concept.  On the one hand it can be measured with a degree of exactitude enough to excite a pedant.  I have no good notion of what an atomic clock is, nor how it might work, but it can certainly give those who want to know a very precise notion of what time it is.  Of course, the moment they know the time, that time  has changed so they can never quite capture the moment, at least not at a human level.  And herein lies the rub.

As a member of the work force one has to arrive at work at a particular time, give or take, usually give.  And one has to leave at a certain time, usually with a bit of take.  Appointments have to be kept roughly on time, a ten minute leeway being within acceptable limits in our culture.  But far more important than this is subjective time.  This allows some things to pass in a flash, time spent with particularly loved members of the family for example.  Whilst the same period of ‘objective’ time, with or without the atomic clock, can last interminably.

So, work is time driven and, after a decent period of adjustment, retirement isn’t.  Subjective time is to the fore. Getting up in the morning no longer has a sense of urgency, the morning newspaper seems longer than it once did, the days merge.  What day is it? becomes a frequent question.  This is not creeping senility, although such unwelcome analyses do sometime appear unbidden; it is simply that the days no longer have a distinctive flavor. To have the weekend be little different from the week takes some getting used to.  The tyranny of the clock is muted.

As time goes on, for go on it certainly still does, there can slowly develop a slight resentment of any appointment at all.  This tendency disturbs in many ways.  One does not want, for instance, to lose all standards and turn into an aging hippy, letting it all hang out.  There’s enough of a tendency for various bits to hang in unaccustomed ways without adding to this particular decline. The answer lies in giving some structure to the non-working week. 

Care has to be taken though.  Thoughts of structure could drive one to religion; at least one day in the week would be different from the remainder.  Fortunately, there are other ways of bringing this about.  Quite a few retirees of my acquaintance start (or in some cases, continue) going to the gym regularly.  Terrific; fixed points in the week and one is doing oneself some good, probably.  More about this gym behavior at another time – it is not all balm to the troubled spirit.

The gym is one thing.  Cafes and coffee drinking with friends is another.  Shopping for bargains.  Wasting hours finding unwanted items on that wonderful garage sale – Trademe. There are many possibilities for structure but they do not include watching sport or old movies on the box for most of the waking hours, and some of the sleeping ones as well.  Or reading pulp fiction, or not too much of it anyway.  In short, one has to provide some of the structure that working life used to burden one with.  Subjective time can hang heavy, but structured, objective time has no value associated with it, if and when one gets away from racing against the clock.  It simply provides a framework against which one can attempt to optimize one’s experiences of subjective time.

It is no easy matter though.  One does not want the day to be mainly composed of time so absorbing that it seems to flash past. Because then time is passing too quickly and one is naggingly aware that there is less and less of it remaining, a thought of which one stayed blissfully unaware throughout those working years.

It used to be said that one ‘has to find something to do’ in retirement.  What this really means is that one now has the time to get to grips with the nature of time and how to spend it.  Wisely of course, but not too wisely.  In this context, wisdom smacks of a slightly unwelcome rectitude.  It’s best to chase fun in whatever way works, always keeping a touch of the permissible disreputability of increasing years.

As J.B.Priestley said “A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours.”

Over the Hill

Over the hill - the beginning

This post and all others in the Over the Hill series first appeared as a Column in the Good Living section of The Press, Christchurch

Ken Strongman

Retirement is an event that looms for months if not years before it begins.  There is to be an occasion of some sort; a dinner, a party, some type of farewell function.  It is a moment or two during which a presentation is made of something that one would probably never otherwise own.  And there are speeches, the best of which sound disturbingly like obituaries.  Although, with luck, the retiree also has an opportunity to speak, even to recount some scurrilous and embarrassing stories and to say a few things that have long been waiting to be said.

The event occurs and is borne with a mixture of dignity and good humour, a nagging feeing of wishing to go disgracefully held at bay unless the drinks have slid their way too easily into an empty and somewhat tense digestive system.  But that this event is not retirement becomes apparent during the next few weeks and months.  The farewell event has been nothing more than a rite of passage, a way of being eased from one state to another, from being a vibrant member of the work-force to being a marginally less vibrant member of the non-work-force. After the wedding comes the marriage.

Retirement is a process that simply starts with the big event and then extends in numerous directions for some indeterminate length of time. It begins with a feeling of having broken up from school, with the prospect of the holidays to come.  And so it is for a few weeks until one realizes that the holiday is perpetual, or at least that it will last as long as one lasts oneself.  This realization is the first of many that come thundering into consciousness with a clash of cymbals echoing somewhere in the background.

Thoughts then turn away from holidays to vague ideas about what is expected of one in retirement.  The spectre of the gradual approach of a Zimmer-filled life enters unbidden.  Odd little prompts occur at the time when one would normally have been rising from another night of semi-refreshing sleep to slide through the daily ritual that led one to work.  But these prompts lead nowhere other than to existential thought.  Oddly, the world seems to be continuing without one’s help.  How can this be?  Morbidly, is this what death will be like.  See how the thought processes are tending to deteriorate.  Of course this is not like death, since one will presumably not be around to experience its aftermath.

So, inevitably one starts to look ahead, which is, after all., what one has been doing throughout life.  But one rapidly learns not to look ahead too far – the inevitable end-point starts to approach too fast for comfort, without much light shining at the end of that particular tunnel.

Fortunately, the alternative soon arises from whatever bit of creativity that hangs over from a lifetime of misuse.  Retirement allows a whole new set of possibilities.  One is free to roam the world in search of almost anything, with nothing other than the exigencies of domesticity to get in the way.  The world at large has expectations of retirees and it might be fun to see what these are and to dispel them.  And the good thing about it, is that it gets one out of the house, much to the relief of anyone else that remains in it.

An end-point.

“The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off.”  Abe Lemons.
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