Lessons for Lockdown gained from enforced Retirement

A few years ago I “was retired”. I say “was retired” advisedly since the emphasis is firmly on the passive form of the verb (being sent into retirement, rather than being in a state of happy retirement). But some of the lessons learned from the experience have stood me in good stead. After all, just as a few years ago I found my situation changing overnight (new readers might like to check out an early blog post of mine from February 2018 for the backstory) everyone’s normal daily routine has been changed by the lockdown that is currently nearing the end of its first week, with another three week extension having been announced a couple of days ago. Some of the advice was some I reapplied that my father had passed onto me, about how he coped when his time in the forces came to an end. He retired in an era when mental weakness was not admitted, and the challenge of Civvie Street saw at least two of his friends struggle to adjust to their non-regimented life.

Stick to a routine: when I stopped working there was suddenly no need to get up in the morning, as I didn’t have to have breakfast, commute and log-on at the office. However, I quickly started building new routines (granted I had a career marked by routine too!) First up was ablutions and getting dressed. Then putting the kettle on and having some breakfast. Stick to a separate routine for days of the normal working week, and have separate routines for the weekend. There was an interesting contribution by Stephen Fry on the Andrew Marr show yesterday, which mentions a routine being useful for dealing with the online overload that social media, as well as routines.

Have some me time: while I have always been someone to busy myself, when I retired I took some time out to have some “me” time. With my wife working as a teacher and it being term-time I had a lot of time to do things, and so I chose go off on daytrips and do things that interested me. Obviously with lockdown it is more difficult, especially if you don’t live at home. With my wife and I sharing a desk, we have had to take a “me time” approach that doesn’t involve us both being at the desk. I tend to do crosswords, and have a pot of tea. Otherwise I go out onto our terrace and potter about for 15-20 minutes or read a book. At last I am also making inroads into the memory sticks of programmes that my brother gave me in January when we last saw each other. What a treat!

Eat well and exercise: my metabolism slowing down has meant that I am prone to weight gain, particularly if I overdo it on seconds. I have learned to portion up food well, and that has even filtered through to cereals, which I find now go a lot further than when I was slopping in non-weighed portions. But more importantly I have learned to be careful about overdoing the carbs ensuring a varied and balanced diet – it is not meant as a criticism, but an Austrian diet does little for my waistline. Similarly, make sure that you also get some exercise. Exercise is another part of my “me time”.

Clean your home: you might never have such a good chance to do a thorough spring clean as now. My parents were very fastidious cleaners, partially because by moving from one base to the next, they felt it a duty to keep accommodation spick and span. My grandfather had been a hopeless hoarder, and my grandparents regaled me of tales of horror about his standards of cleanliness and cleaning, particularly in his final years. If you are a filing slouch, use the current time to get back on top of it, and to throw away as much unnecessary paper as possible.
You might also like to consider what services you can do electronically (think of those silly little A6 bank statements that accumulate very quickly that you pay to receive unless you fastidiously go to the branch foyer statement printer to get them, thereby avoiding the postage fee every quarter. My particular bugbear is for insurance when every year you get 50-60 pages of paper replacing last year’s 50-60 pages. And if you finish cleaning everything, consider what you can also digitalise. I have just finished doing the last thirty CDs in my collection, and no longer listen to a CD. They will probably find a place of willhaben very soon. If only the option had been there when I moved to Austria for my vinyl collection.

Connect with others: I have never been a fan of big gatherings (like British Embassy Outreach events) but nevertheless do crave company. And have a lot of friends who are also relatively solitary creatures. I of course have daily contact with my wife, but there are times when I also need to talk “Blödsinn” and chew the fat with similarly minded men of my age – especially as my major outlet, the model railway club, is off limits for a while. In the digital age, fortunately Skype Beers are a possibility, and the beer can be real. I have been skypeing with my brother a lot, and when we can get hold of her, with our kid sister. And my brother and I have been able to keep in touch with June, who helps Elderly Aunt. We’ve sent her some money to ensure that she has enough credit for her phone to ring and check up on Elderly Aunt, and to make sure she has some money for some groceries for herself as our way of thanking her for being a reliable source of assistance for our old aunt.
From the Stammtisch we all make sure each other is well, and we ask for a daily Lebenszeichen – our Whatsapp group is doing a brisk service. But, I have also used to the time to sit down and reconnect with friends – sending e-mails to extended family members who I haven’t seen for a while, have a quick chat with some friends around town, who I also haven’t seen in a while. When the all-clear finally comes through, there should be brisk trade in bars with all the nights out that are promised. I don’t do Facebook, but maybe it is a good time for people to connect with their 2,758 friends on Facebook (or perhaps have a cull to a more manageable number?).

Keep it in perspective: finally don’t lose sight of the goal. When I knew it was lockdown for a week here, I started by breaking it down into a number of days – and sketched a plan for how to fill the week. Now it is until after Easter, so I am doing a plan for the next three weeks, about what to do. I’ve added items like letter writing (there will be a large print one to Elderly Aunt for example), gardening on the terrace, cooking for the freezer, repairing two model trains (four hours can fly by cleaning model trains in a flash). There is a daily constitutional around the Heinrichshügel (and occasional contactless errands for dear old Werner) and a trip down to the supermarket. I take a shopper down with me, to stop me buying too much, but also to build in another walk that way. As we go to bed each night, my wife and I say, that we are another day closer to the end of the lockdown. And remark that we’ll not take everything for granted when everything gets back to normal.

Keep safe and healthy, everyone. And remember: wash your hands, stay at home, and try to make the best of it all!