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Thursday, 16 July 2020

A View from the Wrong Side of 60

When I started this blog I had just passed a landmark: I was fifty years old, and not particularly enjoying the fact. Ten years later unsurprisingly I reached sixty. Briefly I toyed with the idea of renaming the blog to reflect the passing decade, but to be honest, I wasn’t so bothered this time. I had learned from Aviva’s See how long you’ve got to live web page that it was nearly odds on that I would make it as far as ninety. My life didn’t seem so close to closing as it once had.

So I entered my seventh decade much more cheerfully than I entered the previous one.

But then last July I began my fifth decade of paid employment. God, that sounded dispiriting ! It didn’t help that so many of my friends had already retired, so by the autumn I had made up my mind to join them. On Friday 31 January I said goodbye to the office for the last time.

Some people supposedly don’t know what to do with all the spare time that retirement gives them, but I had loads of ideas, and luckily none of them were particularly expensive. They did tend to involve me being sat on my backside all day though, which didn’t sound very healthy. I had to make sure about that extra thirty years so I did some research. Turned out I already ticked most of the relevant lifestyle checkboxes, but the two most important were keeping physically active and socially involved. These would require a bit more effort. Still, I had seven days a week free, so how hard could it be to do regular exercise and meet new people?

By the end of March I was locked down at home sitting on my backside. My gym was closed, my U3A membership sat unused.

Luckily I’d anticipated the gyms getting closed, so I’d bought a dumbbell set from Argos the week before lockdown began. I’d expected the weights to be made of metal, but these ones were plastic. Obviously there had to be something heavier inside, though it wasn’t clear what. They each had a plug on them, but I declined the temptation to prise one off to have a look inside.

Anyway, they seemed to work fine, except that I noticed the occasional tickle on my scalp when the weights went over my head. It took a few weeks but I finally twigged that they’re full of fine sand. Also that the plugs could do with being a lot tighter.

Some of them have now lost enough sand that you can squeeze them and hear the remaining sand rubbing together inside. They’ll do for a long while yet, particularly as I am now handling them with a lot more care. Meanwhile I have to speculate how much of my muscle gain is just the weights getting lighter.

For aerobic exercise I decided to walk up and down our stairs every day for thirty minutes, quickly downgraded to twenty when I found out how hard it was. Actually the hardest bit is overcoming the tedium of the view of our stairwell; that and remembering to avoid the eighth step up, which really creaks.

The oddest thing about retirement was how quickly all the concerns of my previous job disappeared. I went home on the Friday, and I remember that evening still thinking about how to fix the last bug I’d been tackling. By Saturday though, all that was gone, and since then I’ve hardly thought about the project I worked on for a decade. I did program a bit in February and March, and I will again in the future, but surprisingly I haven’t missed exercising the computing skills I built up over forty years.

Not that I haven’t been releasing my inner nerd (never far below the surface anyway). I’ve taken it upon myself to relearn the fundamentals of Abstract Algebra, and now know once again the definition of Groups, Rings, and Fields. I dug out my university exam papers on the subject, and there is clear evidence that there was a time when I also knew what a homomorphism or a kernel group were. Yet when I met these definitions again recently I’m not sure there was even the sound of the faintest of ringing bells.

A common dream I’ve had in recent years involved finding myself back at university as a mature student. If this happened in reality I would be studying Biology, but in my dreams I’m doing Mathematics again, and always in the dream there is the worry that I will no longer be up to it. Based on my slow progress remastering the intricacies of Group Theory, my unconscious fears are fully justified. Nevertheless, back in real life I find the study engaging and enjoyable, and maybe I do still have my mathematical chops, because I’ve recently found myself waking up from dreams about cosets and quotient groups, and I’m pretty sure that never happened when I was a student.


  1. Hope that you are enjoying your retirement,maybe I need to start my 50 Blog in August😁

  2. It's very good, thanks, Alistair. Not quite what I was expecting, but what is nowadays?