15th Dec 2017 was the last Friday of the teaching term, a time for wrapping things up for the calendar year. By tradition, The Institute puts on a Christmas Dinner [that couldn't be beat] and invites present and past staff to eat it together. Those who have passed the portals of retirement are individually recognised by their line-manager and given a clock by the President. The retiree is then encouraged to say a few words, which sometimes extends to rather too many words. The best speeches are something like "So long, thanks for all the fish; retirement is great, hope to see you next year". On Friday one of the retirees, who has spent the last year in a maelstrom of chemotherapy, got a little chokey in her 3rd or 4th sentence but bravely perked up with "I'm sorry, I didn't intend that, it must be the morphine . . . if anyone wants morphine tablets, I have loads".
The previous day, I was inveigled up to Dublin for a meeting at 1530 and drinks afterwards. I was a bit early, so dropped I to say hello to my pal Tony, whose crap-detector I tribbed in 2013. We see each other rarely and predictably spent some time giving updates on where are the kids on life's journey. Then, looking at his grey head, I asked if he was still planning to retire at 65. The government have recently opened the gates to allow public servants to work up until the age of 70. Better to have them working than drawing the pension and contributing nothing but unasked-for advice from the wings. Tony, now 61, was still up for downing tools at 65. He explained that early retirement had punitive effect on your pension entitlements: if you jack it in at 60, you'll be 30% down. Then he said a peculiar thing "Of course, if I got sick, I'd go sooner so I can enjoy my health". "Whoa", I said, "if you're thinking that you should retire now before you get sick." I just don't get it. If your work is not a chore, if it seems productive, then why not keep at it? If it is a chore and you don't like Mondays then you're doing nobody any favours by continuing. You're just providing the wherewithal to procure more stuff. Me, I'm awash with stuff, lucky I love my work. Our mutual friend Mario Fares was working away correcting manuscripts from his hospital bed the day before he died.
Of course there are very good community reasons to retire at 65 or sooner. If I continue to occupy my desk at The Institute until I'm 70, I'll deprive some young woman of science of the chance to get a job, earn some cash, buy a house, start a family. She'll be a much more credible role-model for the students than me. No matter how enthusiastic and bouncy I am, I know the kids look at me and think "Gramps".